Ending the Judicial Nomination Impasse
Leader Frist delivered the following remarks on the floor of the
United States Senate today.)
Throughout the judicial obstruction debate, emotions
have run high on both sides. This should remind all of us, once
again, of the need to return civility to our nation’s capital.
The American people want their elected leaders
to work together to find solutions. To them -- doing what’s
Republican or Democrat matters far less than doing what’s
right for our country.
Let me briefly discuss how we got here.
Never in 214 years -- never in the history of
the Senate -- had a judicial nominee with majority support been
denied an up-or-down vote…until two years ago.
In the last Congress, the President submitted
34 appeals court nominees to the Senate. A minority of senators
denied ten of those nominees -- and threatened to deny another
six -- up-or-down votes.
They wouldn’t allow votes, because they
knew the nominees would be confirmed and become judges. The nominees
had the support of a majority of senators.
Now, in this new Congress, the same minority says
it will continue to obstruct votes on judges. And, even worse,
if they don’t get their way, they threaten to shut down
the Senate and obstruct government itself.
Throughout this debate, we have held firm to a
simple principle -- judicial nominees deserve up-or-down votes.
Vote for them. Vote against them. But give them the courtesy of
Yet judicial nominees have not been given that
courtesy. They’ve gone 2, 3, even 4 years without a vote.
Now 46 seats on the federal bench are vacant -- as case after
case and appeal after appeal stack up.
One nominee -- Priscilla Owen -- has served 10
years as a justice on the Texas Supreme court. She won reelection
with 84% of the vote in Texas, yet she can’t get the courtesy
of a vote to be confirmed by the Senate.
Judicial nominees are being denied. Justice is
being denied. The solution is simple -- allow Senators to do their
jobs and vote.
In the spirit of civility and with sincere hope
for a solution, I make an offer.
This offer will ensure up or down votes on judicial
nominees after fair, open, and, some might say, exhaustive debate.
It’s a compromise that holds to constitutional principles.
First, never in the history of the Senate had
a judicial nominee with majority support been denied an up-or-down
vote until two years ago. However, it was not unprecedented either
for Republicans or Democrats to block judicial nominees in committee.
Whether on the floor or in committee, judicial
obstruction is judicial obstruction. It’s time for judicial
obstruction to end no matter which party controls the White House
or the Senate.
The judiciary committee will continue to play
its essential oversight and investigative roles in the confirmation
process. But the committee -- whether controlled by Republicans
or Democrats -- will no longer be used to obstruct judicial nominees.
Second, fair and open debate is a hallmark of
the Senate. Democrats have expressed their desire for more time
to debate judicial nominees. I respect that request and honor
When a judicial nominee comes to the floor, we
will set aside up to 100 hours to debate that nomination. Then
the Senate as a whole will speak with an up-or-down vote.
The Senate operated this way before we began to
broadcast debates on television in 1986. This would provide more
than enough time for every Senator to speak on a nominee while
guaranteeing that nominee the courtesy of a vote.
Third, these proposals will apply only to appeals
court and Supreme Court nominees. Judges who serve on these courts
have the awesome responsibility of interpreting the Constitution.
So far, only up-or-down votes on appeals court
nominees have been denied. I sincerely hope the Senate minority
does not intend to escalate its judicial obstruction to potential
Supreme Court nominees.
That would be a terrible blow to constitutional
principles and to political civility in America. I hope my offer
will make it unnecessary for the minority to further escalate
its judicial obstruction.
Fourth, the minority of senators who have denied
votes on judicial nominees are concerned that their ability to
block bills will be curbed. As Majority Leader, I guarantee that
power will be protected.
The filibuster -- as it existed before its unprecedented
use on judicial nominees in the last Congress -- will remain unchanged.
Senator Reid and I have been talking almost every
day on this issue. And I’m hopeful he’ll accept my
offer as a solution. It may not be a perfect proposal for either
side, but it’s the right proposal for America.
For 70% of the 20th Century, the same party controlled
the White House and the Senate. Yet no minority ever denied a
judicial nominee with majority support an up-or-down vote until
the last Congress.
These minorities showed self-restraint. They treated
judicial nominees with fairness. And they respected the Senate’s
role in the appointments process -- as designed by the Framers
of the Constitution.
Resolving the judicial obstruction debate, for
me, isn’t about politics. This is about constitutional principles.
It’s about fairness to nominees. It’s about Senators
doing their duty and doing what’s right for our country.
Arbitrarily voting on just a few judicial nominees,
as some have proposed, will fail to restore the Senate’s
214 year practice of up-or-down votes for all judicial nominees
that come to the floor.
Senators have a duty to vote up-or-down on judicial
nominees -- confirm them or deny them -- but give them all the
courtesy of a vote.
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