WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a letter to the White House, incoming Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid encouraged President Bush to improve the judicial nominations process by consulting with Senate Democrats on possible Supreme Court nominees. Reid referenced successful precedence with respect to Supreme Court vacancies and consultation with the minority party.
A copy of Reid’s letter follows:
December 3, 2004
The Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.
Dear Mr. President:
As I prepare to assume my duties as the Senate Democratic Leader, I look forward to working with you to carry out our shared constitutional responsibility to fill vacancies in the federal courts.
In my view, the Framers of the Constitution intended the President and the Senate to collaborate in the process of appointing federal judges. The Advice and Consent Clause in Section 2 of Article II of the Constitution provides that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint” judges and other officers of the United States. Thus, the power to make lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts is a shared power.
This shared power need not be a source of friction between the President and the minority party in the Senate. To be sure, there have been tensions in the recent past. Democrats were aggrieved by the failure of Senate Republicans to act on over sixty judicial nominations of President Clinton between 1995 and 2000, and Republicans have expressed dismay over Democratic objections to 10 of your nominees in the past four years. But there is also a history of collaboration in filling many judicial vacancies: the Republican-controlled Senate confirmed hundreds of Clinton nominees just as Democratic Senators have supported confirmation of over 200 of your nominees in your first term.
With respect to Supreme Court vacancies, recent history shows that consultation with the minority party before a nomination is announced can help smooth the path to confirmation. In his 2002 autobiography “Square Peg: Confessions of a Citizen Senator,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch writes that at the time of both Supreme Court vacancies during the Clinton Administration, the White House consulted him before choosing nominees. Indeed, President Clinton heeded Senator Hatch’s advice to appoint the widely respected Judges Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer rather than more ideological choices under consideration. The Senate confirmed both nominees by wide margins.
Building on these helpful precedents, I hope we can establish procedures for routine collaboration between the White House and Senate Democrats in the appointment of federal judges during the 109th Congress. Such procedures would go a long way toward restoring the institutional trust that will help us meet the needs of the American people in these challenging times.
The beginning of a new Congress presents an opportunity to renew comity and respect between our parties and between the branches of government. Let us resolve to be partners in the solemn responsibility of filling vacancies on the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. Let us work together on this critical task, as the Framers of the Constitution intended us to.