News Releases

-- Senator Murray's Op Ed in the Seattle PI --



(Washington, D.C.) - Today Senator Murray spoke on the Senate floor about confirming judges to the federal bench. She noted the dangers of a Republican plan to reverse 200 years of Senate rules and undermine the careful balance the Founding Fathers crafted.



Murray's full remarks follow:



Mr. President, I imagine that recently it's been pretty difficult to wake up each morning to read the newspaper if you're a federal judge. Extremists in and out of Washington, DC have declared war on the judiciary – from demanding retribution for recent decisions that lawmakers disagree with to suggesting impeachment for judges who don't toe the party line. It's discouraging, disheartening, and downright wrong.



But what's so concerning about this recent rhetorical assault is that it's being backed by action – action that has nothing to do with judges and everything to do with increasing Republican power at the expense of the Constitution.



Republicans are trying to increase their power by ignoring rules dating to our country's founding. They want to push through radical judicial nominees who will serve a lifetime on the bench by eliminating a two-hundred-year-old American rule allowing each of us in the Senate to speak on behalf our constituents and fight for the ideals we hold dear.



We had an election this past year, and it's true that Republicans ended up with the majority in this body. But that does not mean that half the country lost its voice. That does not mean that tens of millions of Americans have no say in our democracy. That does not mean that Republicans have carte blanche to pack the courts and ignore the rights of the minority. Mr. President, in reality, this isn’t about judges. This isn't about a Senate procedural change. This is, plain and simply, a power grab and an effort to dismantle the system of checks and balances our Founding Fathers created.

Without that system, the U.S. Senate would become a rubber stamp for the president.



It would allow whichever political party is in power – Republican or Democratic - to have all the say over our nation’s courts. I will not stand for that.



This is a basic argument about the future of the Senate and how we will conduct our business. I believe in giving the people a voice, in standing up for those who sent me here, and in protecting the rights of minorities everywhere.



One of the first things every child is taught about the American government is the separation of the three braches. This separation, and the checks and balances that come with it, are fundamental to the greatest system of government ever created. This system is worth protecting, and that's exactly what I and so many of my colleagues intend to do.



Mr. President, I've already said this isn't really a debate about judicial nominations – it's about increasing the amount of power wielded by the majority. But we hear a lot about judges on this floor, so let me put that discussion in context.



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.



When any citizen – Republican or Democrat, in a Blue state or Red, man or woman, no matter what race, color or creed – comes before a judge, we have a responsibility to ensure that they will get a fair shake. That citizen, no matter who or where they are, must know that our system will work for them.



How can we make those assurances if Republicans alone are selecting, considering and confirming them to the courts? Unfortunately, we cannot.



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 205 judicial nominees of President Bush who have come to the floor.



In three years, we have stopped just 10 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 205 judicial nominees. That’s a confirmation rate of 95%.



We’ve confirmed 205 judges – the best confirmation rate since President Reagan.



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.



Now I have to point out that while the majority is complaining today about our 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 95 percent confirmation rate, the 95 percent of federal judicial seats that are filled, and the lowest number of vacancies in 13 years.



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 term we worked together to confirm five 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.



We confirmed Judge Ricardo Martinez for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. He holds the distinction of being the first Latino district judge in the history of Washington state.



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.



I'll never forget calling Judge Martinez from just off the Senate floor after we completed the vote on his confirmation. I could hear the cheers in the background from a truly overjoyed, deserving family.



Also during that first term we confirmed Judges Richard Tallman and James Robart, both of who are now serving their lifetime appointments with dignity.



Mr. President, 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.



Our record of bi-partisanship makes this Republican power-grab all the more outrageous.



The record proves that this isn't about judges at all – this is about destroying the system of checks and balances our founding fathers created to prevent the abuse of government power and to protect the rights and freedoms of all Americans.



Republicans want to destroy the independence of federal judges by rewriting the rules so they can ram through the appointment of federal judges - especially Supreme Court Justices - who will overreach and roll back the rights of the American people.



Mr. President, recent comments by advocates on the other side, and even by some elected officials, have left me worried about the future of the independent judiciary. It seems many in this country are intent on running roughshod over the Constitution, bent on misusing their power to destroy fundamental principles of democracy.



That's not how America works. It is not what our founding fathers intended. In our democracy, no single person and no single political party may impose extreme views on the nation. The Constitutional system of checks and balances was set up for a reason. It has worked for two centuries. There is no reason to destroy this fundamental principle now.



My colleagues and I are standing up to these abuses. We're fighting to protect the historic power of this body to make sure it's not a rubberstamps for sectarian, partisan special interests. And we'll continue to do so.