Washington, D.C.—Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid made the following remarks on the Senate floor this afternoon as Republicans continue to hold up the nomination of Judge David Hamilton to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
“In a few minutes, we will vote on advancing the nomination of David Hamilton, a supremely qualified federal judge whom President Obama has nominated to sit on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. But as you might have heard – or as you might have guessed if you’ve simply followed the Senate over the past years – Republicans would rather we don’t.
“They would rather that critical seat remain empty, but not because of who was nominated to fill it. Judge Hamilton’s professional qualifications are exceptional. He is widely admired on all sides for his stellar judicial performance and his fair judicial philosophy. Both Senators from his home state of Indiana – one a Republican and one a Democrat – strongly urge his confirmation by this body.
“Senator Lugar, the Republican senior Senator from Indiana, has called Judge Hamilton exactly the kind of person one would want to see on the federal bench. He has called him brilliant, fair and committed to the law. I agree with that assessment.
“The Federalist Society of Indiana – a strongly conservative institution – acknowledges that Judge Hamilton is well within the mainstream. And the American Bar Association has rated him highly.
“The solitary decision of his with which Republicans claim to find fault is one in which Judge Hamilton stood up for the separation of church and state, a principle protected by the first words of our Constitution’s First Amendment.
“No, the reason most of the Republicans in the Senate object to advancing this nomination has nothing to do with Judge Hamilton himself, and everything to do with pure partisanship. Such short-sightedness is the reason why, even though the Judiciary Committee approved Judge Hamilton back in early June, he has had to wait 166 days for this procedural vote.
“Judge Hamilton is far from the first victim of this partisan strategy to slow and stall the Senate. In fact, Republican Senators have made a habit of objecting to the least objectionable nominees of President Obama’s.
“The Senate has so far confirmed six judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals and the District Court. Five of them were reported out of Committee by a voice vote – that means they were so obviously qualified that the Committee did not even feel the need to call for a formal roll-call vote. And when they reached the Senate floor, four of those five passed unanimously by votes of 88-0, 97-0, 99-0 and 100-0.
“And yet Republicans forced us to wait and wait to hold those votes in the first place. They did so for no other reason than to waste the American people’s time.
“This is how Republicans have forced the Senate to operate lately, but it’s not how it always works – or how it should work. When President Bush was in office, a Democratic majority in the Senate confirmed three times as many nominees as we have been able to confirm in the same amount of time under President Obama. The reason is simple stubbornness.
“But let’s be clear: We are not yet voting on whether to confirm Judge Hamilton for this important position. Our votes today indicate merely whether we believe this judge deserves an up-or-down vote before the full Senate. The votes of each Senator today will demonstrate whether he or she believes in the Senate’s power, as outlined in our Constitution, to advise and give its consent to the President’s nominees to federal bench.
“One of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life was the time I spent in law school. It was unlike any other educational experience I had ever encountered. As many in this body who have also endured law school can tell you, we did more than memorize obscure facts and learn rigid legal rules. We analyzed the abstract thinking behind our laws, and unearthed the logic out of which out great judicial system grew.
“One of the very first principles I learned in law school was that of following precedent. In Latin, it’s called stare decisis. It’s how we maintain consistency in our court rulings, and it’s a cornerstone of common law. Precedent is a simple notion: Once a rule has been established, we must apply that standard to all future cases in which the facts are similar to the first.
“This concept predates our courts, our Constitution and even our country. Every aspiring lawyer has studied it, and every judge considers it when deciding a case.
“The future of that same legal system rests before the Senate today. And in the Senate, like in law, what we say in this hallowed chamber and in the public record should set the precedent for our own actions.
“The record is replete with Republicans – including members of the Republican Leadership and the Judiciary Committee – speaking about the solemn responsibility of the Senate to confirm judges. In other words, the record is replete with precedent.
“The Republican Leader, the senior Senator from Kentucky, has argued strongly that a President’s judicial nominees deserve a simple up-or-down vote. He reminded the Senate that our job is to give our advice and consent, and not, as he put it in May 2005, to quote, ‘advise and obstruct.’ I couldn’t agree more.
“Two years earlier, my distinguished counterpart said that filibustering judges – which is exactly what is happening right now at a record pace – is quote, ‘a terrible precedent.’ I sincerely hope the Republican Leader heeds his own words and does not repeat the very obstruction he condemned in the past.
“The Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, the junior Senator from Alabama, has also rightly called the filibustering of judicial nominees ‘obstructionism.’ He has said it is ‘very painful,’ and he has described it as ‘a very, very grim thing.’ He’s right.
“The Senator from Alabama went further to say the following – and I quote – ‘We ought to be pleased that a nominee has cared enough about his or her country to speak out on the issues that come before the country.’ I agree, and I share the belief that those who have chosen to serve our nation must be able to get to work without delay. I sincerely hope the Senator from Alabama’s gratitude will be reflected in his vote this afternoon.
“The Republican Whip, the junior Senator from Arizona, has expressed similar disgust with judicial filibusters like the ones we see today. In November 2003, he said, and I quote, ‘It’s time to take the politics out of the confirmation process, give nominees the up-or-down vote they deserve, and move the orderly process of justice forward.’ He, too, is right. I sincerely hope the Senator from Arizona will consider that orderly process when he votes on advancing Judge Hamilton’s nomination a few minutes from now.
“The senior Senator from Utah, who served as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee three separate times and still sits on that distinguished panel, also spoke out strongly against filibustering judges. He said in 2005 that doing so, quote, ‘undermines democracy, the judiciary, the Senate, and the Constitution.’ Indeed it does. I sincerely hope the Senator from Utah does not contribute to such affronts by voting ‘no’ today.
“The senior Senator from Iowa, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, warned in 2003 that filibustering judges would lead to a, quote, ‘Constitutional crisis.’ Yes, I agree that it would. I hope he helps us avert a filibuster and avoid such a crisis by voting ‘yes’ today.
“The junior Senator from Texas, who serves on the Judiciary Committee as well, and himself was a Supreme Court Justice in his home state, said in 2006 that he hopes the filibuster of judicial nominees – and I quote – ‘should never happen again, and that all nominees of a President are entitled to an up-or-down vote.’ Three years earlier, he called what Republicans are doing today ‘an abomination’ and ‘the most virulent form of unnecessary delay one can imagine.’
“He also said on the floor of the Senate that he finds it, quote, ‘simply baffling that a Senator would vote against even voting on a judicial nomination.’ I find it baffling, too, and I sincerely hope the Senator from Texas will not delay us unnecessarily by supporting his party’s filibuster.
“I could go on and on. The senior Senator from Kansas has said forcing supermajorities to confirm nominees – which is what a filibuster does – is inappropriate.
“The senior Senator from Idaho said it, quote, ‘turns the Constitution on its head and begins a very dangerous precedent with regard to how the nominees for the judicial branch are treated by this Senate.’
“Again, my Republicans friends are right. I sincerely hope the Senators from Kansas and Idaho will make sure filibusters still have no place in the confirmation process, and I hope they do not make such a practice the precedent. They can do so by voting ‘yes’ today.
“I want to reiterate that every single Senator may vote either for or against Judge Hamilton’s nomination as he or she sees fit. That right will never be in jeopardy.
“But that is not the issue before us today. The question before us is whether the President of the United States deserves to have his nominees reviewed by the Senate, as the Constitution demands he does.
“The question before the Senate is whether the nominees themselves deserve to be confirmed or rejected based on their judicial philosophy and experience, and nothing more.
“The question is whether Senators who publicly demanded up-or-down votes when it was politically convenient will follow the precedents they set for themselves, even when it is not. The vote we are about to hold will tell us the answer.”