Senate Freshmen and the Confirmation Breakdown

The judicial confirmation process has become a political and congressional quagmire. Now, because Senate Democrats still have not ceased their blockade of conservative judicial nominees to the nation’s circuit courts, despite the bipartisan requests of the ten Senate freshmen, the Republican-led Senate will conduct four cloture votes on nominations this week.

In an attempt to bring the debate on at least one judicial nominee to an end and to make as much political hay of the Democrats’ obstinateness as possible, Republicans will force Democrats, once again, to state their objections to two female nominees (Priscilla Owen, 5th Circuit; Carolyn Kuhl, 9th Circuit), a Hispanic nominee (Miguel Estrada, D.C. Circuit), and a nominee with remarkably strong, bipartisan home-state support (William Pryor, 11th Circuit).

The voting schedule on these nominations looks to be:

  • Priscilla Owen – Tuesday, July 29
  • Miguel Estrada – Wednesday, July 30
  • William Pryor – Thursday, July 31
  • Carolyn Kuhl – Friday, August 1
  • In case you missed it, the ten freshmen Senators of the 108th Congress, including Democrat Mark Pryor (Ark.), wrote a letter to Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) encouraging a bipartisan solution to the current problems in the judicial confirmation process.

    Filibustering Democrats would do well to listen to the requests of their newest colleagues.

    The letter follows.

    United States Senate
    WASHINGTON, DC 20510
    April 30, 2003

    Dear Senators First and Daschle,

    As the ten newest members of the United States Senate, we write to express our concerns about the state of the federal judicial nomination and confirmation process. The apparent breakdown in this process reflects poorly on the ability of the Senate and the Administration to work together in the best interests of our country. The breakdown also disserves the qualified nominees to the federal bench whose confirmations have been delayed or blocked, and the American people who rely on our federal courts for justice.

    We, the ten freshmen of the United States Senate for the 108th Congress, are a diverse group. Among our ranks are former federal executive branch officials, members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and state attorneys general. We include state and local officials, and a former trial and appellate judge. We have different viewpoints on a variety of important issues currently facing our country. But we are united in our commitment to maintaining and preserving a fair and effective justice system for all Americans. And we are united in our concern that the judicial confirmation process is broken and needs to be fixed.

    In some instances, when a well qualified nominee for the federal bench is denied a vote, the obstruction is justified on the ground of how prior nominees – typically, the nominees of a previous President – were treated. All of these recriminations, made by members on both sides of the aisle, relate to circumstances which occurred before any of us arrived in the United States Senate. None of us were parties to any of the reported past offenses, whether real or perceived. None of us believe that the ill will of the past should dictate the terms and direction of the future.

    Each of us firmly believes that the United States Senate needs a fresh start. And each of us believes strongly that we were elected to this body in order to do a job for the citizens of our respective states – to enact legislation to stimulate our economy, protect national security, and promote the national welfare, and to provide advice and consent, and to vote on the President’s nominations to important positions in the executive branch and on our nation’s courts.

    Accordingly, the ten freshmen of the United States Senate for the 108th Congress urge you to work toward improving the Senate’s use of the current process or establishing a better process for the Senate’s consideration of judicial nominations. We acknowledge that the White House should be included in repairing this process.

    All of us were elected to do a job. Unfortunately, the current state of our judicial confirmation process prevents us from doing an important part of that job. We seek a bipartisan solution that will protect the integrity and independence of our nation’s courts, ensure fairness for judicial nominees, and leave the bitterness of the past behind us.

    Yours truly,

    John Cornyn (R.-Tex.)

    Mark Pryor (D.-Ark.)

    Lisa Murkowski (R.-Alaska)

    Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.)

    Elizabeth Dole (R.-N.C.)

    Saxby Chambliss (R.-Ga.)

    Norm Coleman (R.-Minn.)

    Jim Talent (R.-Mo.)

    Lamar Alexander (R.-Tenn.)

    John Sununu (R.-N.H.)