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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 9, 2003
The President's Call to Action on Judicial Nominees
Ø Two Years Ago Today, President Bush Announced His First 11 Nominees to
the federal appeals courts and asked the Senate to rise above the bitterness of the past and give every nominee fair treatment and a timely up-or-down vote. But 8 of those 11 nominees then waited more than a year without a Senate vote. And today, 3 of these highly qualified nominees still have not received a vote. They are Miguel Estrada, Priscilla Owen, and Terry Boyle. All of the May 9, 2001, nominees represent the mainstream of American law and values, possess extraordinary experience, intellect and integrity, and enjoy strong bipartisan support.
The Senate has a Constitutional responsibility to hold an up or down vote on judicial nominees and to do so within a reasonable time after nomination. As illustrated by the extraordinary delays on these first 11 nominees, the judicial confirmation process is broken. For the sake of the American people and our system of justice, the confirmation process must be fixed. The President reiterated the call he first made in June 2000 ? when several Democrat Senators publicly agreed with him -- for a fair and timely Senate confirmation process for every nominee.
Today the President signed an executive order formalizing his commitment to submit nominations within 180 days after receiving notification of a vacancy. Now we are waiting on the Senate to do its duty ? and ensure timely up-or-down votes for every nominee.
Some Senators are engaging in unprecedented obstructionist tactics and delaying the confirmation process. Since President Bush took office, more appeals court nominees have waited at least a year for a hearing than in the last 50 years combined. During President Bush's first two years in office, only 53% of appeals court nominees were confirmed compared to a rate of over 90% during the same period for the last 3 Presidencies. A minority of Senators are now engaging in unprecedented filibusters of two highly qualified appeals court nominees who have the support of a majority of Senators. And more filibusters are threatened. Yesterday, a minority of Senators for the 6th time blocked a vote on Miguel Estrada and for the 2nd time blocked a vote on Priscilla Owen. Some Senators are applying a double standard to Miguel Estrada and Priscilla Owen.
The delays in the process are causing vacancy crises in many of our nation's federal appeals courts. When the federal courts are understaffed, they cannot act in a timely manner to resolve disputes that affect the lives and liberties of Americans. There is now a 12% vacancy rate in the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Fifteen of the appeals court seats for which the President currently has nominations pending have been declared "judicial emergencies" by the Judicial Conference of the United States. The President has submitted 42 superb nominees for the federal courts of appeals. Eighteen of them are still waiting for a vote in the Senate ? and 8 of those 18 have been waiting more than a year.
The President's nominees are highly qualified and deserve a vote. The President's nominees are known for their character, experience and intellect. Each shares the President's philosophy that judges should follow the law, and not make the law. Each of the nominees has strong bipartisan support. The President's nominees represent the mainstream of American law and values. All of the President's appeals court nominees who have been rated have received a "qualified" or "well-qualified" rating from the American Bar Association.
It is time to fix the broken confirmation process. It's time to restore dignity and fairness to the judicial confirmation process and to address the vacancy crisis, particularly in the appeals courts, as Republican Senator Cornyn and Democrat Senator Pryor recently advocated on behalf of the 10 new United States Senators. The President has proposed a comprehensive three-Branch plan to fix the process and end the vacancy crisis. He has proposed that judges give one-year advance notice of retirement when possible, that Presidents submit nominations within 180 days of receiving notice of a vacancy or intended retirement, and that the Senate vote up or down on nominees within 180 days after nomination. The plan would apply now and in the future no matter who is President or which party controls the Senate. The Judicial Conference has done its part. In March they adopted the President's proposal for one-year advance notice by judges of an intended retirement. The President is submitting nominations within 180 days of receiving notice of a vacancy or intended retirement, and today he signed an executive order formalizing his commitment to prompt nomination. Now it is time for the Senate to act. Every nominee deserves a vote in a reasonable amount of time, a principle that Senators on both sides of the aisle have advocated: Senator Harkin on September 14, 2000 stated: "?I'll just close by saying that Governor Bush had the right idea. He said the candidate should get an up or down vote within 60 days of their nomination." Senator Leahy on October 3, 2000 stated: "Governor Bush and I, while we disagree on some issues, have one very significant issue on which we agree. . . . [T]hat is what we are paid to do in this body. We are paid to vote either yes or no ? not vote maybe. When we hold a nominee up by not allowing them a vote and not taking any action one way or the other, we are not only voting maybe, but we are doing a terrible disservice to the man or woman to whom we do this." Senator Daschle on October 5, 1999 stated: "?I find it simply baffling that a Senator would vote against even voting on a judicial nomination." Senator Biden on March 19, 1997, stated: "I respectfully suggest that everyone who is nominated is entitled to have a shot, to have a hearing and to have a shot to be heard on the floor and have a vote on the floor."
Let each Senator vote as he or she thinks best ? but give every nominee a vote.