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Judicial Nominations

Sen. Charles E. Schumer

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Mr. President, I rise today to praise the majority and minority leaders for coming together to make sure we get our pending judicial nominees confirmed in a timely manner.

Today, the Senate is back on track to do what we have always done for decades: confirm judicial nominees--the vast majority of whom are totally uncontroversial--as part of our day-to-day business.

Thanks to the hard work of the leaders of both caucuses, and to Chairman Leahy, who has been persistent and smart and focused on this issue, we were able to avoid having 17 cloture votes this afternoon on judicial nominees--most of whom were unopposed; 13, in fact, were supported by their Republican home State Senators.

While the details of the agreement have not yet been announced publicly--and they will be by Senator Leahy and Leader Reid and Senator McConnell--we know there is an agreement, and that is a good thing.

The bottom line is, I hope we can continue at least at the same pace, when we have cleared the backlog that has existed.

Let's be clear: This is what doing our job is, and it is doing exactly what we have done literally for decades--nothing more, nothing less. I suppose each side could point fingers at the other as to why this degenerated, but that is not the point today. The point today is that we have come to an agreement and, hopefully, it will set the ball rolling on much smoother approvals of judicial nominees in the future, with less altercation, more comity, and actually filling the bench more quickly.

There are more judicial vacancies now than at any time in recent history. One out of every 10 judgeships is empty. As a result of these vacancies, families and business must wait sometimes over 2 years before their civil trial can even start. Even worse, it cost the government $1.4 billion in 2010 alone to detain inmates awaiting trial because there were not enough Federal judges to hear their cases.

The agreement we have reached to work through these judges is certainly not an attempt to jam judges through the process. In one day in 2002--we were here in the Senate--we confirmed 17 district court nominees and 1 circuit court nominee.

I am glad we have come to an agreement. I want to give special thanks to my good friend, Senator Alexander of Tennessee. He and I have talked about this for a long time. I know he has talked to Senator McConnell. I have talked to Chairman Leahy and Leader Reid. His encouragement to move us forward has been very helpful indeed.

Let us talk just about district court nominees for a moment.

The vast majority of Americans want us to confirm good, moderate, pragmatic judges to the U.S. district courts--exactly the nominees whom this President has put forward. After all, judges on the district court do not make law. Courts of appeals and the Supreme Court have a little more latitude, depending on the case.

I have said time and time again--I will say it again--the Senate has an obligation to take a hard look at the President's judicial nominees. My view remains that ideology does matter. Every Senator here has the right to make sure that a President's judicial nominees are within the mainstream. And the definitions of ``mainstream'' sometimes differ. We know that.

There will always be nominees--especially to the courts of appeals--about whom we will disagree. There will even be those who some of us view as so extreme, on either side, that we will refuse to give our consent to holding an up-or-down vote.

But there is a hard look, and then there is purposeful delay, and we have to avoid that by either party at all costs. We need to get the process moving again. When nominees come out of the Judiciary Committee unanimously or by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, there is no reason they cannot be approved on the floor a few days later.

We have come together today. I know we can continue in the future to agree to confirm qualified judges without further obstruction, without furthering the view ``it is my way or the highway.''

I wish to mention one specific way I think we can move forward on judicial confirmations in a meaningful and useful way. In the past, we have cleared the calendar of nominees on whom there is a consensus before going out for recess. Lately, we have not done that. As a result, there were 20 nominees who did not get confirmed before last August and 10 from December.

I hope wherever we are at the end of the summer, we can agree to confirm consensus nominees--those who got unanimous support or close to it--as we always have in the past and fulfill our obligation to the third branch of government.

One other point. Today, this morning, we passed a highway bill, overwhelmingly. It was led by Senator Boxer, one of the most liberal Members of this body, and Senator Inhofe, one of the most conservative. This afternoon, we are going to hear an announcement of specifics of an agreement to move judges forward. Tomorrow, we will be working on a jobs bill that, while there are differences in the specifics, has broad bipartisan support and consensus.

Perhaps an idea; a moment of greater comity that we have seen this week is not just momentary but will last on into the future. The lesson the American people taught us is they do not want obstruction, particularly for its own sake. They understand compromises have to be made in a legislative body, that it cannot be ``my way or the highway.''

Unfortunately, all too often in the past year we have seen too much of that attitude. The fact that we are batting 3 for 3 this week in terms of important issues: a highway bill, judicial nominees, and an IPO bill with broad bipartisan consensus, hopefully, augers well for the future.

Perhaps the era of obstruction and confrontation has passed its high-water mark. Perhaps it is now politically damaging to block legislation for its own sake or because someone does not get 100 percent of what they wanted. Perhaps a new era of more bipartisan consensus and more accomplishments for the American people to deal with our problems is upon us. I hope and pray it is so.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

The clerk will call the roll.

The bill clerk proceeded to call the roll.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV

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Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

Without objection, it is so ordered.