Kennedy's One-Time Opposition to Delays of Female and Minority Nominees

Republicans have often, and rightfully, denounced the efforts of Leftists to prevent a number of President Bush’s quality judicial nominees from being confirmed. By blocking votes and dragging the nominees through the mud to make them look as bad as possible, Senate Democrats have delayed and denied justice to the people who are covered by the circuits to which these people have been nominated.

The Democrats’ actions have prompted many observers to point out what seems to be a bias against women and minorities who are conservative. Here are just three examples:

  • The nomination of Priscilla Owen to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, originally sent to the Senate on May 9, 2001, was killed in the then-Democrat-led Judiciary committee last Congress, and has been filibustered in the Senate this session.
  • The nomination of Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, whose name was also sent to the Senate May 9, 2001, was filibustered and denied cloture 7 times this year. Mr. Estrada, tired of the delays and mistreatment at the hands of the Democrats, then requested that his name be withdrawn.
  • The nomination of Janice Rogers Brown, which was made this last summer, promises to offer similar fireworks. Her hearing was already an example of the Left’s unwillingness to thoughtfully consider the nomination of a black, conservative woman to a high-level federal bench. A filibuster of Justice Brown is expected.

Of course, Democrats don’t consider it at all fair that anyone’s character and motivations should be called into question.

Instead, they consider it an outrage that GOPers could even think of making gender or race an issue. They claim that they don’t judge by such things, and that they are fully within their rights to block and delay votes on important judicial nominations.

Contrast the Democrats’ actions and attitudes today with the following speech Ted Kennedy gave just a few years ago when Clinton was making nominations. Maybe it’s time for Senate Democrats (and Kennedy himself) to start heeding his words.

(From the Congressional Record, September 21, 1999, S11102-S11103)

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, for several months, many of us have been concerned about the Senate’s continuing delays in acting on President Clinton’s nominees to the federal courts. Since the Senate convened in January, we have confirmed only 17 judges and 43 are still waiting for action. These delays can only be described as an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional responsibility to work with the President and ensure the integrity of our federal courts.

At the current rate it will take years to confirm the remainder of the judicial nominees currently pending before the Judiciary Committee. This kind of partisan, Republican stonewalling is irresponsible and unacceptable. It’s hurting the courts and it’s hurting the country. It’s the worst kind of “do nothing” tactic by this “do nothing” Senate.

The continuing delays are a gross perversion of the confirmation process that has served this country well for more than 200 years. When the Founders wrote the Constitution and gave the Senate the power of advice and consent on Presidential nominations, they never intended the Senate to work against the President, as this Senate is doing, by engaging in a wholesale stall and refusing to act on large numbers of the President’s nominees.

Currently, there are 61 vacancies in the federal judiciary, and several more are likely to arise in the coming months, as more and more judges retire from the federal bench. Of the 61 current vacancies, 22 have been classified as “judicial emergencies” by the Judicial Conference of the United States, which means they have been vacant for 18 months or more.

The vast majority of these nominees are clearly well-qualified, and would be confirmed by overwhelming votes of approval. It would be an embarrassment for our Republican colleagues to vote against them. It should be even more embarrassing for the Republican majority in the Senate to abdicate their clear constitutional responsibility to do what they were elected to do.

The delay has been especially unfair to nominees who are women and minorities. Last year, two-thirds of the nominees who waited the longest for confirmation were women or minorities. Already, in this Congress, the Senate is on track to repeat last year’s dismal performance. Of the 11 nominees who have been waiting more than a year to be confirmed, 7 are women or minorities. On the 50th anniversary of President Truman’s appointment of the first African American to the Court of Appeals–Judge William Hastie–the Republican leadership should be ashamed of this record, particularly given the caliber of the distinguished African American, Latino, and female nominees waiting for confirmation.

For example, Marsha Berzon, Richard Paez, and Ronnie White have waited too long–far too long–for a vote on the Senate floor. Ms. Berzon is an outstanding attorney with an impressive record. She has written more than 100 briefs and petitions to the Supreme Court, and has argued four cases there. When she was first nominated last year, she received strong recommendations and had a bipartisan list of supporters, including our former colleague, Senator Jim McClure, and Fred Alvarez, a Commissioner on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Assistant Secretary of Labor under President Reagan. Her nomination is also supported by major law enforcement organizations, and by many of those who have opposed her in court.

Ms. Berzon was first nominated in January 1998–20 months later, the Senate has still not voted on her nomination.

The Senate is also irresponsibly refusing to vote on two other distinguished nominees–Judge Ronnie White, an African American Supreme Court judge in the state of Missouri, and California District Court Judge Richard Paez. Judge White was nominated to serve on the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri more than two years ago. Judge Paez was first nominated three years ago–three years ago–to serve on the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

It is true that some Senators have voiced concerns about these nominations. But that should not prevent a roll call vote which gives every Senator the opportunity to vote “yes” or “no.” These nominees and their families deserve a decision by the Senate. Parties with cases, waiting to be heard by the federal courts deserve a decision by the Senate. Ms. Berzon, Judge White, and Judge Paez deserve a decision by this Senate.

While Republican leaders play politics with the federal judiciary, countless individuals and businesses across the country are forced to endure needless delays in obtaining the justice they deserve. Justice is being delayed and denied in courtrooms across the country because of the unconscionable tactics of the Senate Republican majority.

It is long past time to act on these and other nominations. I urge my Republican colleagues to end this partisan stall and allow the President’s nominees to have the vote by the Senate that they deserve.