Alexander: Vote to End Debate on Obama Judicial Nominees “Premature” Until Senate Considers Proposal to Move Judges “Where They Are Needed Most”

Posted on October 30, 2013

Says Grassley proposal to move judges from D.C. Circuit mirrors Democratic proposals in previous years, says court would still have enough judges

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“So I’ll not vote to end the debate on the president's nominees until the Senate does in 2013 what Democratic senators suggested and the Senate did in 2007: move judges from where they are not needed to where they are needed most.” – Lamar Alexander 

WASHINGTON, Oct. 30 – U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said today on the floor of the U.S. Senate that he would vote against ending debate on President Obama’s nomination of Patricia Millett to the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court because doing so “would be premature” until the Senate had considered a proposal to move judges “to where they are needed most.” Alexander cited legislation he has cosponsored by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), which is similar to a proposal Democrats made under President Bush. Grassley’s legislation would address three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit by removing one judge and moving the two others to the Second and Eleventh circuits.

“I will not vote to end debate now because I think such a vote would be premature,” Alexander said. “Before the Senate has an up-or-down vote on the three judges, there’s something else we ought to do first. We should first consider the bipartisan proposal that was made 10 years ago to have the right number of judges on this federal appellate court. For more than a decade, senators of both parties have argued that this court has more judges than it needs and that other federal appellate courts have too few.”

The senator cited legislation in 2003, 2005 and 2007 by Senators Grassley and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to reduce the number of judges on the D.C. Circuit, at a time when Republican President George W. Bush was making judicial appointments. In 2006, Senate Democrats, including Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined in calling for a reduction in the number of judges on the D.C. Circuit, Alexander said. Ultimately the Senate and President Bush opted to lessen the number of judges on the D.C. Circuit by one seat, moving it to the Ninth Circuit.

Alexander continued: “The same arguments made in 2006 and 2007 should be persuasive today. Today the average caseload for the D.C. Circuit, even if it was reduced by three judgeships to the eight seats currently occupied, would be less than one-half the national average for circuit courts.”

Alexander continued: “So I’ll not vote to end the debate on the president’s nominees until the Senate does in 2013 what Democratic senators suggested and the Senate did in 2007: move judges from where they are not needed to where they are needed most. That means before we act on the president’s three nominees, the Judiciary Committee and the full Senate should consider Senator Grassley’s legislation that would transfer one judge each to the overworked Second and Eleventh circuits and eliminate one judge. 

Alexander cited data showing that the national average is 344 cases per authorized judgeship this year, and that with eight authorized judgeships the D.C. Circuit’s average would be 149 cases. He also noted that the number of written decisions by an active judge on the D.C. Circuit has dropped 27 percent since 2005. The current slate of eight judges, Alexander said, should be more than enough even with complex cases the D.C. Circuit sometimes hears.

In addition to Millett, the president has nominated Nina Pillard and Robert Wilkins to fill vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, which would bring the total number of judges to 11.

Alexander continued, “Why does it need three additional judges? That’s the question that Democratic senators asked in 2007. … And that’s the question we should be asking today before we fill any more seats for an underworked circuit court.”

 

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