Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Confirmation of Jane Stranch

Posted on September 13, 2010

   Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Vermont for his remarks. It is my great pleasure today to recommend to the Senate Jane Branstetter Stranch, from Nashville. Jane has been nominated to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, as Senator Leahy has said.

   She has a distinguished academic background: summa cum laude with Phi Beta Kappa honors from Vanderbilt University, which is not easy to do; Vanderbilt School of Law, with top grades there. She has lots of practical experience, having taught labor law at Belmont College in Nashville.

   Jane's law firm is a family affair. Her father, who I imagine is watching today, is one of Nashville's best known and most respected attorneys, Cecil Branstetter. As a member of the Tennessee legislature during the 1950s he introduced legislation to allow women to serve on juries, so I know he has some special pride today to see the Senate considering the nomination of his daughter to be a federal judge.

   Maybe more important than any of these other things, Ms. Stranch has been very active in her PTA, in her church, and in the Nashville community.

   I was Governor of Tennessee for 8 years. As Governor, I appointed about 50 judges. I didn't ask them their politics. I didn't ask them how they felt about the issues. I tried to determine if they had the character and the intelligence and the temperament to be a judge, whether they would treat people before the bench with courtesy and, most important, whether they were determined to be impartial to litigants before the court. I am convinced that Jane Stranch will be that kind of judge. For that reason I am pleased to recommend her to my colleagues in the Senate.

   I thank Senator Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Reid, the majority leader, and Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, for agreeing to schedule this vote today. All three have been instrumental in this in what is always a crowded Senate schedule. I also want to thank Senator Sessions, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, for his support of this nomination in committee.

   I listened carefully to the Judiciary Committee chairman's remarks. I have no intention of getting into a historical debate with him about whether Republicans or Democrats are more guilty of holding up Presidential nominees. Of course, Members of the Senate have a constitutional right to advise and consent on Presidential nominations. I know a little bit about that myself. President George H. W. Bush nominated me to be the U.S. Education Secretary. As soon as I came to a hearing on my nomination, one Senator said: Well, Governor Alexander, I have heard a number of things about you that disturb me. I was held up anonymously by the other side of the aisle. Then, late one night, I was mysteriously confirmed. I went to see a Senator at that time, whose name was Warren Rudman, one of the most distinguished Members of our Senate. I said: What can I do about these Senators who are holding up my nomination? He said: Keep your mouth shut; you have no cards to play. Let me tell you a story. So Senator Rudman told me he had been nominated by President Ford in the 1970s to, I think, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the incumbent Democratic Senator from New Hampshire had held up his nomination and never would say why. It became so embarrassing that Rudman finally asked President Ford to withdraw the nomination, because he was then Attorney General of New Hampshire and people were beginning to wonder what was wrong with him. I said: Is that the end of the story? He said: No, I ran against the so-and-so in the next election and beat him. That is how Warren Rudman became a Senator.

   Senator Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, was defeated when he was nominated to be a Federal judge by Senators who didn't like his point of view. They voted him down in committee and didn't let his nomination come before the full Senate. Now, ironically, not only is he a Senator, he is the ranking Republican on the committee concerning judges.

   I am sure there may have been times when Republican Members have gone overboard in the exercise of their constitutional prerogative to advise and consent. But as I said, without getting into a tit-for-tat on who did what to whom, I can vividly remember when I came to the Senate in 2003--having appointed nearly 50 judges when I was Governor, as I said, in many cases without regard to party--how shocked I was at the treatment President Bush's judicial nominees were receiving. This included nominees who I knew were perfectly qualified to be members of U.S. Courts of Appeals.

   There was Miguel Estrada, against whom Democrats got together and said ``we are going to filibuster him,'' and they blocked him permanently, even though the new Supreme Court Justice, Elena Kagan, said he would be well qualified to be a member of the Supreme Court.

   Charles Pickering was made out to be somehow unacceptable in the civil rights movement when, in fact, he was a pioneer in that movement in Mississippi in the 1950s and 1960s, when a lot of people were not.

   There was also William Pryor, from Alabama, who was enormously well qualified, and he was blocked by a filibuster on the Democratic side for two years, even though he could have had a majority of the votes. I knew of William Pryor because he and I had both been law clerks to Judge John Minor Wisdom of New Orleans, one of the finest judges who had ever served on the court of appeals--the man whose court ordered that James Meredith be admitted to Ole Miss.

   I was offended by the treatment of Miguel Estrada, Charles Pickering, William Pryor, and others. So I said at the time that while I am a Senator, my view is going to be that any Presidential nominee to the judiciary deserves an up-or-down vote. We had a debate about that and a discussion about that in the Senate. Some may remember the Gang of 14 who came together, Senators on both sides, and they came to an agreement to which I subscribe, which is that a President's nominee to a judicial position deserves an up-or-down vote within a reasonable period of time, except under extraordinary circumstances.

   That is my view today, and I hope the Senate will come back to that view, whether we have a Republican President or Democratic President. On our side, many are still offended by the treatment of President Bush's nominees in 2003, 2004, and 2005. On the other side, as you heard Senator Leahy say, there are some charges about Republican offenses. I think we should look to the future and recognize that Presidents are entitled to respect. They are elected by the people. The Constitution gives them the power to nominate and gives us the power to say yes or no. We should say yes or no in a reasonable period of time and reserve to ourselves the right to say no, as I do, to a nomination, or even to filibuster a nomination in an exceptional case--but only in an exceptional case.

   In this case, I am glad to support Jane Stranch. She is from Tennessee and she is well qualified. I thank the Republican leader, the Democratic leader, and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee for scheduling this vote this afternoon. I urge my colleagues to vote ``aye.''

   I thank the Chair and yield the floor.