Senate Judiciary Committee

  • October 19, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Senate confirmed three federal judges today, taking an incremental step toward addressing the high number of vacancies besetting the federal bench.

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy emphasized the slight improvement of the situation, noting that only “three of the 26 judicial nominations reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee” received action today.

    Following the three confirmations, Leahy (pictured) said, “This is an area where the Senate must come together to address the serious judicial vacancies crisis on Federal courts around the country that has persisted for well over two years. We can and must do better for the nearly 170 million Americans being made to suffer by these unnecessary Senate delays.”

    Before the Senate confirmed Robert Scola Jr. to the federal district court in the Southern District of Florida, Mark Hornak to a federal seat in the Western District of Pennsylvania, and Robert Mariana to the federal district court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Leahy, as he has done on numerous occasions, called for an end to Republican-led obstruction of the president’s judicial selections.

    Leahy noted that former President George W. Bush’s judicial nominations did not face similar obstruction.

    “At this juncture in President Bush’s administration the Senate had confirmed 163 Federal circuit and district court judges, and the vacancy rate was down to five percent, with 46 vacancies,” Leahy said. “By contrast confirmations of President Obama’s Federal circuit and district court nominees total only 109, and judicial vacancies are now nearly twice as high with a vacancy rate of over 10 percent.”

    During his floor remarks, Leahy also noted that Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy and Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. have all publicly expressed concern about the increasingly contentious nominations process. Leahy also cited recent letters sent to Senate leaders from American Bar Association President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III urging more cooperation on moving judicial nominations forward. Robinson’s letters to the Senate leaders are available here.

    Tapped blogger Jamelle Bouie, citing commentary from The Washington Post’s Al Kamen about the difficulty of advancing judicial nominations during  presidential election years, notes that “Republicans have a strategic interest in denying the administration’s judicial nominees, even if they are acceptable to most Republican senators. If President Obama loses his bid for re-election, then the incoming Republican president has the chance to fill additional judicial vacancies, especially if a Republican-led Senate ends the filibuster, or if Democrats choose to follow the usual playbook and cooperate with Republican leaders.”

    For more information and analysis on the effort to fill federal court vacancies, visit

  • October 14, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While federal courts grapple with the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. Senators are moving forward on consideration of a bill to repeal the law, which discriminates against same-sex couples.

    Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced today that a bill aimed at repealing DOMA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, would be considered by the Committee in November.

    “The march for equality continues, and now is the time to ensure equality for gay and lesbian Americans who are lawfully married,” Leahy said in press statement. “Next month, I will call up the Respect for Marriage Act for debate and a vote in the Judiciary Committee. The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal [DOMA], which prevents thousands of American families from being protected by laws that help secure other American families. This is part of the nation’s continuing fight for civil rights for all Americans.” (Leahy’s statement notes that President Obama has announced support for the measure.)

    Earlier this year the Senate committee conducted a hearing on the repeal bill, of which Leahy (pictured) is a cosponsor. During the hearing, Sen. Al Franken tangled with Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, a Religious Right organization and longtime opponent of marriage equality, over a government study, which Minnery said supported the organization’s argument that children reared by their biological mothers and fathers fare better than children brought up in different families. Franken countered that Minnery had seriously misconstrued the Department of Health and Human Services report, saying it concluded no such thing.

  • August 3, 2011

    by Nicole Flatow

    The Senate left town yesterday, heading into recess several days ahead of schedule. In its final hour, the Senate confirmed by unanimous consent four of the 24 judicial nominees that were ready for a Senate vote, and scheduled a vote on a fifth nominee for September.

    But as ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson pointed out in a statement after the vote, 19 other candidates were left behind “whose nominations have been fully vetted and could have been voted on immediately.”

    “This current pace of confirming judicial nominees is far from adequate to the job,” Fredrickson said in her statement. “While the Senate is on break during the month of August, matters involving Americans’ safety, freedom, and livelihoods will continue to be delayed. And in some of the most overburdened districts, our judges may be forced to rush through burgeoning criminal dockets without taking crucial time to consider the arguments before them.”

    Most of the 19 nominees that were left behind were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with absolutely no recorded opposition from members of either party. Earlier this week, ABA President Stephen Zach called for the Senate to confirm all 20 unopposed nominees before the recess. And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy pointed out that all 24 nominees could be disposed of in less than an hour.

  • July 22, 2011

    by Nicole Flatow

    The Senate Judiciary Committee approved five more judicial nominees yesterday, all by voice vote without opposition, adding to the list of 26 nominees awaiting approval by the full Senate.

    But the Senate is not keeping pace with the Judiciary Committee; they have held votes on only four nominees in the past two months, while the number of vacancies is once again rising.

    There are now 115 current and future federal court vacancies -- more than the 114 that existed at the beginning of the year, when senators came to a “gentleman’s agreement” to end obstruction of judicial nominations.

    “I’d been fairly optimistic about the compromise that Senators struck at the beginning of the 112th Congress in January, in which Republicans agreed to ease up on obstruction in exchange for Democratic agreement to leave formal rules surrounding filibusters and cloture alone,” Jonathan Bernstein wrote in The Washington Post last week. “It appears, however, that the deal has now broken down.”

    Bernstein points out that getting judges confirmed “doesn’t get any easier when the election gets closer; it’s time for action on judges right now.”

    ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson said earlier this week that senators are now using the deficit reduction negotiations as another excuse not to confirm any nominees.

    “Republicans are playing politics with the nation’s financial obligations, while at the same time kicking other responsibilities down the road,” Fredrickson said. “The rising federal court vacancies are not going to solve themselves. Judges need to be confirmed, and the Republican opposition seems immovable.”  

    While the Senate Judiciary Committee has been consistently moving nominees forward, one nominee, Steve Six, was held over today. Six’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has been opposed by both his home-state senators, but he has received strong support from a bipartisan group of more than two dozen attorneys general, and by former Tenth Circuit Chief Judge Deanell Reece Tacha, who left the court to become dean at Pepperdine University School of Law.

    To learn more about the judicial vacancy crisis and follow developments, visit

  • July 14, 2011

    The Senate Judiciary Committee approved five judicial nominees today, but postponed a vote on former Kansas Attorney General Steve Six, whose nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is opposed by both his home-state senators.

    Three nominees were approved without opposition by a voice vote: Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Higginson for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, DOJ antitrust official Katherine Forrest for the Southern District of New York, and state judge Jane Triche-Milazzo for the Eastern District of Louisiana, The Blog of Legal Times reports.

    Former White House Associate Counsel Alison Nathan’s nomination to the Southern District of New York was approved by a vote of 14-4, and state judge Susan Hickey’s nomination to the Western District of Arkansas was approved 15-3. These five nominees now await confirmation by the full Senate.

    Six was one of several nominees on which the committee did not take action today. Six has been opposed by not only his home-state senators, but also by some abortion groups who have expressed concern about his ties to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who appointed Six as attorney general when she was governor of Kansas, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.

    Six has received the support, however, of more than two dozen attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans, who recently signed a letter supporting Six’s nominations, and former Tenth Circuit Chief Judge Deanell Reece Tacha, who left the court to become dean at Pepperdine University School of Law. University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said Tacha's endorsement letter “comes with the credibility of her long service on the bench and as chief judge.”

    Yesterday, the committee held a hearing on several other nominees. During the hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy lamented that in the past two months, the Senate has taken action on only four nominees, at a time when more than 90 vacancies remain.

    “Regrettably our progress in Committee considering judicial nominations in regular order has not been matched in the Senate, where agreements to debate and vote on judicial nominations have ground to a halt,” Leahy said.

    Visit to learn more about the judicial vacancy crisis and follow developments.