Senate Democrats

Reid Remarks On Republican Obstruction Of Judicial Nominees

“Republicans have blocked three highly qualified female D.C. Circuit nominees in a row… Today they are expected to block confirmation of District Judge Robert Wilkins, a competent and experienced nominee with bipartisan support.” 

“The type of Republican obstruction we face today has become commonplace. President Obama’s circuit court nominees… have waited seven times longer than those nominated by President Bush.” 

“Appointing judges to fill vacant judicial seats is not court-packing. It’s the President’s right, as well as his duty.”

Washington, D.C. – Nevada Senator Harry Reid spoke on the Senate floor today regarding Republican obstruction of highly qualified judicial nominees, including Judge Robert Wilkins. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:

Today the United States Senate will consider yet another qualified nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, considered by many the second highest court in the land. It is troubling that Senate Republicans, for the fourth time this year, appear poised to reject an exceedingly capable nominee to this court for blatantly political reasons.

Republicans have blocked three highly qualified female D.C. Circuit nominees in a row – Caitlin Halligan, Patricia Millett and Nina Pillard. Today they are expected to block confirmation of District Judge Robert Wilkins, a competent and experienced nominee with bipartisan support.

No Senator has questioned Judge Wilkins’ qualifications or abilities. Likewise, no Senator objected to the qualifications of Ms. Halligan, Ms. Millett or Ms. Pillard. Instead, Republicans have blocked these nominees solely to deny President Obama his constitutional right to appoint judges.

In years past, my Republican colleagues agreed to block judicial nominees only in “extraordinary circumstances.” Those are their words, not mine. In 2005, the senior Senator from South Carolina, Senator Graham, defined extraordinary circumstances for the benefit of this body. This is what he said: “Ideological attacks are not an ‘extraordinary circumstance.’ To me, it would have to be a character problem, an ethics problem, some allegation about the qualifications of a person, not an ideological bent.”

No Senator has questioned the character or ethics of the three woman Senate Republicans have already rejected for the D.C. Circuit – Ms. Halligan, Ms. Millett or Ms. Pillard. Nor has any Senator questioned the character or ethics of Judge Wilkins. So I am frustrated that Republicans would once again filibuster such a highly qualified nominee – a nominee so highly qualified, in fact, that he was confirmed three years ago by voice vote to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Judge Wilkins is an Indiana native who graduated cum laude with a degree in chemical engineering. He received his J.D. from Harvard Law. Judge Wilkins worked as a staff attorney for the well regarded D.C. Public Defender Service. And he was a partner specializing in white collar defense, intellectual property and complex civil litigation at the private law firm of Venable LLP.

Judge Wilkins also helped shine a national spotlight on racial profiling when he brought a landmark lawsuit against the Maryland State Police in 1992, after he and three family members were stopped and searched because they were African-American.

This nominee has a bright legal mind and a remarkable dedication to the rule of law. Under normal circumstances – like the circumstances of his 2010 confirmation – he would be quickly confirmed. And yet he faces a Republican filibuster. Unfortunately, the type of Republican obstruction we face today has become commonplace. President Obama’s circuit court nominees, including nominees for the vital D.C. Circuit, have waited seven times longer than those nominated by President Bush.

Republicans claim they are blocking nominees to this crucial court because the court is underworked, and does not need its full complement of judges. Republicans also claim that filling these three vacancies would amount to court packing. That is absurd on its face. My Republican colleagues were happy to confirm four Bush nominees to this court. In fact, 15 of the last 19 judges confirmed to the D.C. Circuit were appointed by Republican Presidents.

Appointing judges to fill vacant judicial seats is not court-packing. It’s the President’s right, as well as his duty. I do not ask that Republican Senators support the President’s nominees, or even that they vote for them. But it is right and proper that Senate Republicans should give President Obama’s nominees the same fair consideration afforded the nominees that came before them.

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