Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Mr. President, I thank the distinguished Senator from [Page: S364] Oklahoma for his courtesy and his leadership on so many issues.
Mr. President, I want to particularly say to my colleague from Vermont how much I appreciate his leadership on the Judiciary Committee, where I serve. Leadership is the mark of his work there. He brings together Members of both parties on so many issues, including this one involving the Federal judiciary. It is, as he has said so eloquently, one of the marvels of the world, one of the historic accomplishments of our republican democracy, that we have a truly independent judiciary that exemplifies the qualities of professionalism, scholarship, integrity, and, yes, independence.
We are here today because we have a crisis in our judiciary. It is a crisis not created by our judges but by this body. It is a judicial vacancy crisis because nearly 1 out of 10--I repeat, 1 out of 10--judgeships in this country are now vacant. The vacancies are double what they were at this point in President Bush's first term.
Every time I go back to Connecticut--as I am sure happens to the Presiding Officer in his State of West Virginia and to Senator Inhofe in Oklahoma--people ask me: Why can't you do better in Washington? Why can't you bring both parties together and avoid the waste and the acrimony and rancor and the gridlock that is the reason for this judicial vacancy crisis? We need to come together and avoid the kind of paralysis that has such lasting and damaging effects on our judiciary.
The President has done his work in recommending qualified nominees to this body. The Judiciary Committee has done its work in reporting many of these judicial nominees to the floor, in many cases with unanimous support. Despite that unanimous support, those nominations languish here.
As we speak, 19 judicial nominations are still pending on the Senate's Executive Calendar. Mr. President, 16 of those nominations were reported unanimously to the floor and all but 2 of them are consensus nominees who received strong bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee.
They have been blocked by the Republican minority. They have been blocked from up-or-down votes. They have been denied those up-or-down votes. That is unfair not only to them but to the American people. It is damaging to this country. It undermines the independence of the judiciary, its credibility and respect. It causes delays in the decisions on cases that vitally affect ordinary men and women who come to our Federal courts for justice. The old saying ``justice delayed is justice denied'' holds true whether it is the great historic cases of this country or the ordinary, mundane, routine cases that involve injuries to individual plaintiffs or defendants. And it discourages qualified people from permitting their names to be placed in nomination. The uncertainty of those delays, the need to put their lives on hold, when they are lawyers in private practice or judges serving on the bench now, causes a severe disincentive that deters qualified people from beginning this uncertain process.
Outside of Washington, there is a clear consensus that the Senate must do better. Outside of the Senate, there is a clear consensus that we need bipartisan cooperation. Not just among politically elected leaders, but the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, members of the bar on both sides of the aisle all agree we must move these nominations. So I call on my colleagues, as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee has done, to do better. President Obama has nominated qualified members of the bar to serve on our district courts, including, most recently, Michael Shea of my State to replace Judge Droney, who has just been confirmed as a member of the court of appeals.
Judge Droney's nomination waited here on the Senate calendar for 130 days, despite the clear consensus in his favor. Eventually, he was confirmed by a vote of 88 to 0. That delay, in turn, caused a delay to the nomination of a district court judge to replace him.
I am hopeful Michael Shea will be confirmed expeditiously.
We should never minimize the importance of careful vetting and scrutiny when it comes to these nominees. But once that process is complete in the Judiciary Committee, blocking these nominees can only be bad for the American people, as well as for the 160 million Americans who live in districts and circuits with vacancies whose nominees are sitting on the Senate calendar. They should not have their ability to access justice denied or delayed. We should reduce the burdens on our courts as quickly as possible so our system of justice will continue to be--and justifiably--regarded as one of the great marvels in the history of democracy, of governance in this world, on this planet.
Our nominees deserve prompt and fair consideration by the full Senate, and I am hopeful the Senate will do better.
I yield the floor.