Good morning. The federal courts play a central role in American justice --
protecting the innocent, punishing the guilty and upholding the rule of law.
Yet, our federal courts today are in crisis. The judicial confirmation process
does not work as it should. Nominees are too often mistreated. Votes are delayed,
hearings are denied and dozens of federal judgeships sit empty, endangering
the quality of justice in America.
Since coming into office, I have sent to the Senate 32 nominees for the federal
courts of appeals. These nominees are men and women with experience, intelligence,
character and bipartisan home-state support. They represent the mainstream of
American law and American values. Yet the Senate has confirmed only 14 of these
32 nominees. As of this week, 15 of my appeals court nominees will have been
forced to wait over a year for a hearing, which is more than under the previous
nine Presidents combined.
There is no good reason why any nominee should endure a year, a year and a half,
or more, without the courtesy of an up-or-down floor vote. Whatever the explanation,
we clearly have a poisoned atmosphere in which well-qualified nominees are neither
voted up nor voted down -- they're just left in limbo. If this situation persists
and judicial vacancies go unfulfilled, the federal courts will be unable to
act in a timely manner to enforce the criminal laws, the environmental laws
and the civil right laws that affect the lives of every American.
The judicial crisis is the result of a broken system, and we have a duty to
repair it. I want to work with the Senate to fashion a new approach to filling
federal court vacancies -- a bipartisan approach that would apply now and in
the future. This week, I have offered four proposals to break the logjam in
Washington and bring the federal courts to full strength.
First, I call on federal judges to notify the President of their intention to
retire at least a year in advance, whenever possible. Because the nomination
and confirmation of a federal judge is a lengthy process, judges who retire
without advance notice can unintentionally create a judicial vacancy for many
Second, I propose that Presidents submit a nomination to the Senate within 180
days of receiving notice of a federal court vacancy or intended retirement.
This will continue, but speed up, the process of obtaining recommendations and
evaluations from home state senators and others, while leaving ample time for
Presidents to choose nominees of the highest quality.
Third, I called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to commit to holding a hearing
within 90 days of receiving a nomination. A firm deadline is the best way to
ensure that judicial nominees are promptly considered. And 90 days is more than
enough time for the committee to conduct necessary research before holding a
hearing, as Democrat senators have recognized in the past.
Finally, I called on the full Senate to commit to an up-or-down floor vote on
each nominee no later than 180 days after the nomination is submitted. This
is a very generous period of time that will allow all senators to evaluate nominees
and have their votes counted.
My proposals are fair to all parties and would apply regardless of who is President
or which party controls the Senate.
The current state of affairs is not merely another round of political wrangling.
It is a disturbing failure to meet a responsibility under the Constitution,
and it is harming the administration of justice in America. Our country deserves
better, the process can work better and we can make it better. The Constitution
has given us a shared duty, and we must meet that duty together.