Cantwell: Time to Advance Qualified Nominees to Understaffed Federal Court
Cantwell in Senate floor speech: ‘Why are these qualified female judge nominees being blocked?’
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) urged the Senate to approve qualified nominees to fill empty seats on the federal judicial bench in a speech on the floor yesterday. On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a vote next week on the nomination of Cornelia “Nina” Pillard to the Court, even under the possible threat of filibuster.
One of President Obama’s two female nominees to the Circuit Court, Patricia Millett was filibustered last week. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals– which has 11 seats – is currently hearing cases with eight judges.
Watch a video of Senator Cantwell’s floor speech here.
Excerpts from Senator Cantwell’s remarks:
- “The American people want to know: why are these qualified female judge nominees being blocked? Just 32 percent of U.S. Appeals Court judges are women. So in my opinion it’s time to move forward with more highly qualified nominees to add diversity to the courts. I’ve not heard any of my colleagues question the credentials of these nominees.”
- “You have to ask yourself, do we have to get women elected to the United States Senate to get women on the Judiciary Committee, to get women on the courts? Because our colleagues aren’t going to do that?”
- “Nominating highly qualified individuals is what the President’s job is. And filling seats on the court is not packing the court. It is simply doing the job.”
Senator Cantwell’s remarks as delivered follows:
It’s great to join Sen. Klobuchar and my other colleagues to come out and talk about the importance of judicial nominees. And particularly today because we are talking about the nomination of more female representation on the court – which I think is incredibly important.
When I served my first two years here in the Senate on the Judiciary Committee, I was struck to find that I – I think at that time may have been the fourth woman in the whole history of our country to be on the Judiciary Committee.
Now I’m so proud that my colleague from Minnesota serves on that committee and does an excellent job. And that we have other representation as well. But the point is, you have to ask yourself, do we have to get women elected to the United States Senate to get women on the Judiciary Committee, to get women on the courts? Because our colleagues aren’t going to do that?
I’m rising today to support moving these nominations. President Obama needed Cornelia Pillard and Patricia Millett and we want to see these vacancies filled. We don’t want the same dysfunction that led to a government shutdown to let us move towards stopping putting people on the court.
Nominating highly qualified individuals is what the President’s job is. And filling seats on the court is not packing the court. It is simply doing the job. On October 31st, 2013, many of my colleagues voted against a motion to end debate on Patricia Millett to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She is a very highly qualified attorney who has argued before the Supreme Court 32 times and is recognized – both by Democrats and Republicans – for her legal acumen.
But despite her qualifications her nomination is being blocked. Had she been confirmed she would only be the sixth woman to sit on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. So I’m questioning the place we are now on this nomination. Professor Pillard is another nominee who has argued her cases before the Supreme Court – including a case to open up the Virginia Military Institute to women for the first time in history and a case defending the family medical leave law.
The American people want to know why are these qualified female judge nominees being blocked? Just 32 percent of U.S. Appeals Court judges are women. So in my opinion it’s time to move forward with more highly qualified nominees to add diversity to the courts. I’ve not heard any of my colleagues question the credentials of these nominees. In fact, Ms. Millet has been called quote, “A brilliant mind, a gift for clear persuasive writing and a genuine zeal for the rule of law.”
So this is not a quote I just read by a Democratic senator or a liberal think tank. That quote is from former Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr in a letter with six other solicitor generals. Top lawyers who served in George H.W. Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush administrations saying quote, “Equally important she is unfailingly fair-minded.”
So the D.C. Circuit Court currently has four judges chosen by Democratic presidents and four by Republicans. There are three vacancies on the court, Republicans are arguing that to fill these vacancies that we shouldn’t do that, just eliminate them.
This is a proposal that is even opposed by Chief Justice John Roberts – who argues that the D.C. Circuit of Appeals is like many of the federal courts, and is operating in a state of crisis. He said that based on our current caseload methods the D.C. Circuit court should continue to have 11 judgeships.
We need a court that is fully staffed. And the primary responsibility of this court is handling the cases involving federal regulations on environmental safety, healthcare reform and insider trading.
So to me we should trust that our judicial branch can nominate and get justices on that court that basically will look at the law and not party affiliation. And stop obstructing people who I believe are qualified to be on the court. I hope that we can move forward.
Ms. Millett is the second female nominee opposed by Republicans after the nomination of Georgetown professor Cornelia Pillard was filibustered. However she joins a long list of judicial nominees who happen to be female who have been opposed – not because of their qualifications – but because they were nominated by this President.
I will submit that list for the record Madam President.
So I hope that this discussion today points out the need that we need more women on the courts. And maybe we also need more women elected to the United States Senate so we can get more women on the courts. But this is about today asking my colleagues on the other side of the aisle not to try to diminish this court to look past this court by narrowing its focus.
Get more people who will support qualified women so we can have the diversity in America that we need represented on our courts, even at the D.C. Court of Appeals level. I thank the President and I thank my colleague from Minnesota for arranging for all of us to be here today to share our views.
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