(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – As the “manufactured crisis” on judges entered its 18th hour, Sen. Murray gave the following statement on the Senate floor.
“Mr. President, the majority believes the Senate should spend 30 hours discussing what the New York Times calls ‘a manufactured crisis on judges.’
While our time would be better spent helping laid-off workers by extending unemployment benefits, I’m happy to talk about the confirmation of judges. I’m happy to talk about how these lifetime appointments affect the rights and freedoms of every American. And I’m happy to talk about our impressive record of confirming 98 percent of the judges that the majority has brought to the Senate floor.
But I want to be clear that by spending 30 hours talking about 4 judges who already have jobs, we’re not helping the 3 million Americans who don’t have jobs.
This marathon is the type of political grandstanding that makes Americans scratch their heads and conclude that politicians just don’t get it. We should be spending our time on the urgent needs facing our citizens – in employment, healthcare, and transportation and completing our work on putting the federal budget together.
But the majority has decided that this is the most important issue we can discuss for 2 days, and they control the floor.
I want to focus on four things –
- the importance of the Senate in confirming judges, the progress we’ve made over the past 3 years,
- the success we’ve had confirming judges from Washington state,
- and the jobs crisis that the majority do not want to discuss.
First, I want to put this discussion in context because the judges who serve on the federal bench affect the lives and liberties of every American.
These are lifetime appointments. This is not just a nomination to a commission or an ambassadorship. This is a lifetime appointment for a federal judge whose rulings over the next thirty -- or maybe forty or more years -- will have ramifications for every single American.
As Senators, we are elected to serve our constituents. We are asked to confirm judges whose decisions can change U.S. history and shape the lives of the American people for generations to come.
In addition, we expect federal judges to provide the proper check in our system of “checks and balances” outlined in the Constitution. Without it, our system does not function properly.
We must ensure each nominee
- has sufficient experience to sit in judgment of our fellow citizens,
- will be fair to all those who come before the court,
- will be even-handed in administering justice,
- and will protect the rights and liberties of all Americans.
To determine if a nominee meets those standards, we must explore their record, ask questions, and weigh the responses. This is a tremendous responsibility, and one that I take very seriously.
Here in the Senate we have made great progress in confirming the judges that President Bush has nominated. Just look at the figures.
The Senate has confirmed 168 judicial nominees of President Bush who have come to the floor.
In three years, we have stopped just 4 people whose records raise the highest questions about their abilities to meet the standards of fairness that all Americans expect.
Let me repeat that, we have confirmed 168 judicial nominees. That’s a confirmation rate of 97.7%.
We’ve confirmed 168 judges – that’s more confirmations than during President Reagan’s entire first term. And so far this year, we’ve confirmed 68 judges.
Today, 95% of federal judicial seats are filled. This is the lowest number of vacancies in 13 years. There are now more federal judges than ever before.
When it comes to circuit court judges, we have confirmed 29. That’s more appeals judges than Clinton, the first President Bush, or Reagan had by this point in their administrations.
Now I have to point out that while the majority is complaining today about our 98 percent confirmation rate, it was a different story during the Clinton Administration. Back then, Republicans used many roadblocks to stop block the confirmation of judges who were nominated by President Clinton.
During Clinton’s second term, 175 of his nominees were confirmed, and 55 were blocked from getting votes. During those years, the majority used the committee process to ensure nominees they disagreed with never came to a vote. 55 never received consideration.
So I think the Senate has an impressive record of confirming judges. That’s clear in the 98 percent confirmation rate, the 95 percent of federal judicial seats that are filled, and the lowest number of vacancies in 13 years.
WASHINGTON STATE PROGRESS
Next, I’d like to talk about the process that we’ve used in Washington state to confirm judges. We’ve worked out a system to ensure that Washington judges are nominated and confirmed even when different political parties hold Senate seats or control the White House.
For many years, I worked with a Republican Senator and a Democratic President to nominate and confirm federal judges. And today with a Republican President, I am working with my Democratic colleague from Washington state on a bipartisan process to recommend judicial candidates.
We’ve developed a bi-partisan commission process to forward names to the White House, and it has worked. Both sides have equal representation on the commission. The commission interviews and vets the candidates.
It worked for Senator Gorton and I when forwarding names to President Clinton, and it is working well for Senator Maria Cantwell and I as we recommend names to President Bush. I’m proud that during President Bush’s first three years we have confirmed two excellent judges through this bipartisan commission process.
We confirmed Ron Leighton, a distinguished trial lawyer in Tacoma, who is now a U.S. District Court Judge for the Western District of Washington in Tacoma. We confirmed Lonny Suko as a District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Washington State.
He’s a distinguished lawyer and U.S. Magistrate Judge, who’s earned the respect of so many in his work on some of Eastern Washington’s most difficult cases.
Currently, we are in the process of getting a nomination hearing and confirmation of Magistrate Judge Ricardo Martinez for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
For over five years, he has served as Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court in the Western District. Before that he was a Superior Court judge for eight years. He was also a King County prosecutor for ten years.
Judge Martinez has the impressive credential of being named the first Drug Court judge in Washington state and worked tirelessly to ensure the success of this program which uses treatment services as an alternative to incarceration. I’m looking forward to his nomination hearing and confirmation.
So in Washington state, we’re making real bipartisan progress confirming judges, and it’s a process that I believe serves the people of Washington state well.
I have very little time left, and I want to finish my statement. I thank my colleague.
The time we are spending discussing our 98-percent confirmation rate could be used to address much more pressing issues. The majority is spending 30 hours to talk about four people who already have jobs. I think we should spend that time talking about the 3 million Americans who cannot find jobs.
Mr. President, I conclude by saying in my home State of Washington, 70,000 people have been laid off. They want this Senate to deal with unemployment insurance extension, which we need to do before we adjourn.