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Bush Calls for Prompt Vote on Judicial Nominees

Aired May 3, 2002 - 10:32   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We have some news going on. President Bush is speaking now. As a matter of fact, he's been talking about his judicial nominees have not been getting consideration by the Senate.

Let's listen in.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank you all for coming, and I want to talk about an important subject and that's our judiciary.

One of the true strengths of our democracy is a judiciary that is fair, impartial and independent. Our courts depend on the dedicated service of men and women who are called to decide disputes.

Yet, today, there is a vacancy crisis on our federal courts. Both the president and the United States Senate have constitutional responsibilities to address vacancies on the federal bench.

I have nominated 100 outstanding jurists for these posts. But the Senate, thus far, has not done its part to ensure that our federal courts operate at full strength. Justice is at risk in America, and the Senate must act for the good of the country.


I want to thank Al Gonzales. He is (SPEAKS IN SPANISH). He's been my lawyer. He's served as secretary of state in Texas. He served on the Texas Supreme Court. He and his able staff work long hours to really find the best possible nominees for the bench, and I appreciate Al's leadership and I appreciate those who work with Al on behalf of the White House for their long hours.

I want to thank you all for coming. Thanks so very much for your interest in this important subject.

And it's an important subject. I mean it's -- talking about an incredibly important part of our country, and I want you all to help spread the word about how serious the vacancy crisis is. You pay attention to this issue, and you can help advocate what I'm about to call the Senate to do.

This is Law Week -- or Law Day, and it's a day we celebrate the legal profession in our democracy and a day set aside to recall the role of law in our society. This year's Law Day theme is "Assuring Equal Justice for All." And that's a noble thing and it's a noble calling. We're all proud of our judiciary. We know that justice and security and prosperity can flourish only in a society governed by law. We're grateful to our federal courts. We're grateful for the vital work that they play in America's system.

Federal judges are key to make sure America functions well. Every day they uphold the rights of an individual, protect the innocent, they punish the guilty. Their rulings are essential to the rule of law in our nation.

To discharge their responsibilities effectively, the federal courts must have judges. Yet today, more than 10 percent of all federal judgeships are vacant. The chief justice of the United States recently warned that the number of vacancies is, in his words, "alarming."

The crisis is especially severe -- especially severe -- in our 12 regional circuit courts of appeals where more than one in six judgeships is vacant. The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, for example, handles some of our nation's highest profile cases, including an important class of cases involving terrorists, but four out of 12 judgeships are not filled.

The Sixth Court of Appeals, which covers Ohio and Kentucky and Michigan and Tennessee, is even worse off. Back in March of 2000, when it had only four vacancies, its chief judge said it was hurting badly and would not be able to keep up with its workload. Today, eight of the circuit's 16 judgeships are vacant, despite the fact that I sent up seven nominations many months ago.

All across America, the wait for justice is growing longer, the burden on federal judges is growing heavier, and the frustration level of ordinary Americans seeking justice is growing greater.

To address this vacancy crisis, I have submitted the names of 100 federal court nominees to the United States Senate. These nominees are notable for their distinction and their accomplishments. They are exceptional for their humanity and their integrity. They are in the solid mainstream of American legal opinion. And they share a principled commitment to follow and apply the law, not to make law from the bench.

But the Senate has confirmed only one-half of my nominees. It has confirmed only nine of my 30 nominees to the circuit courts of appeals. Only nine out of 30. Every one of those 30 nominees, rated so far, have been judged either "well qualified" or "qualified" by the American Bar Association, which has been hailed as the gold standard by Senate Democrats.

On May 9, 2001, nearly a year ago, I introduced my first 11 nominees to the courts of appeal. Yet the Senate Judiciary Committee has held hearings for only three of these nominees. All the others are still awaiting confirmation hearings an entire year later.

The eight still awaiting a hearing include some of the leading appellate lawyers in the nation, some of the most well-respected sitting judges and one of the country's finest law professors. Collectively, this group of eight nominees has argued more than 60 cases in the Supreme Court of the United States. Yet all -- every one of them -- still wait for the Senate to take even the first step down the road to confirmation.

The Senate can do much more, and must do much more, to address the current vacancy crisis.


A year ago, I urged senators from both parties to rise above the bitterness of the past and provide a fair hearing and prompt vote for every nominee.


In my call for a prompt vote, it doesn't matter to me who's in the White House or who controls the Senate. What matters to me is that we have a -- that we address the vacancy crisis, that we solve the problem our nation faces. That's what matters.

Let me tell you what the chief justice said recently, and I want to insist -- I want you to know that he was speaking expressly on the behalf of the federal judiciary. He asked the Senate to grant prompt hearings and up or down votes on all nominees, but the Senate has not acted. And by its inaction, the Senate is endangering the administration of justice in America.

All judicial nominees deserve a timely hearing and they deserve a vote. As everyone here today understands, Americans need and deserve a judicial system at full strength. As we celebrate the rule of law in our democracy, I call on Senate Democrats to end the vacancy crisis in our federal courts by restoring fairness to the judicial confirmation process.


I want to thank you all for your interest in this incredibly important subject. I thank you for standing for justice and fairness. It's the American way.

And one of the things that I talk about when I go to these conferences to try to help developing nations, or I talk about when leaders come into the Oval Office, I always talk about the need for there to be rule of law, that in order for people to be able to realize their dreams, a society must be a society of law and there ought to be rule of law. And our country is a shining example of that. I've been ordered to make sure we continue to shine.

We've got to address problems in a timely way when we find them, and that's what I'm here to discuss, and I want to thank you for your interest.

And may God bless America.


HARRIS: We've been listening to President Bush's remarks this morning from the White House. Lots of concern amongst Republicans that President Bush's nominees for federal judgeship positions have not gone through a speedily as they would like. President Bush was saying that 10 percent of all judgeships right now are vacant, and that's a critical situation.

Let's check with Candy Crowley from Washington. Candy's been covering this issue for some time on Capitol Hill.

Candy, good to see you again. Good morning, Candy. Good to see you again.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's good to see you, Leon.

HARRIS: Now what do you make of what we've heard this morning, and what exactly is the case that you're hearing?

CROWLEY: Well, look, there's a couple of things going on this morning. First of all, the vacancy problem is real, and so there's a logistical problem and a real practical problem. There's also a lot of politics. I suspect within the day sometime before 4:00 this afternoon, you will hear from the chairman the judiciary committee Senator Patrick Leahy will tell you, something along the lines of, look, our record of confirming judgeships is a lot better than when the Republicans controlled and Bill Clinton was in the White House. This has gone back and forth for a while, and judgeships have become really political.

The other thing I will tell you, just from a purely political point of view, and that is that nothing excites conservatives more than this battle over judgeships, because after all, it is in the courts where laws are carried out and case law is made. So if you're an election year and you're looking down the line and you want people to get out and vote and vote for your guys, you want to rouse your base and the base of course is conservatives for George Bush.

HARRIS: Two things here. Number one, is this just another case of, well, you did to our guys, so we are going to do it to you. Or what do you make of the cases that have been made against the nominees that President Bush has presented? Has there been any differences between them and say the quality of the choices made by president Clinton in the past, or what?

CROWLEY: Well, the most notable of course for George Bush has been Judge Pickering, who was not confirmed, or actually his -- within the committee, so it never even got to a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. So there are some problems. I think what we're talking about now is that there just has not been movement, and in the Senate, a single person can block a judgeship from moving through, and I think that happens sometimes. This becomes very political, and yes, I do think there is some, hey, we're moving as fast as we can, and you guys didn't move this fast for Clinton, so there's a lot of politics at play here.

HARRIS: One last thing, does the war and the preoccupation in Washington with it, has that played a role in this, or what?

CROWLEY: I don't know you can make that case actually. You know, Congress, while, obviously, it has been looking in the homeland security. It yesterday did its resolution on the Middle East. Certainly they have been preoccupied as much as the nation has, but you know, that's why they have committees, and the committee has specific duties. And so I'm not sure you can make that case.

But I do think that the Senate Judiciary Committee, which obviously is led by Democrats, will make the case that they have been moving comparatively rapidly compared to years past.

HARRIS: Candy Crowley from Washington. Stop being a stranger. It's a always good to have you with us. You look good.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Leon.




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