Senator Hatch: Unprecedented Judicial Vacancy Crisis

On March 20, Senator Orrin Hatch, the president pro tempore of the Senate, delivered an impassioned speech about the current state of federal judicial vacancies under President Trump.

Due to Senate Democrats' continued obstruction and efforts to "resist" President Trump and his agenda (as we have highlighted regularly), there are currently 138 federal district and appellate court vacancies. Senator Hatch clearly and concisely explains this crisis and how things compare today to days' past under other, recent Presidents.

First, Senator Hatch looked to recent, past "standards" exalted by Senate Democrats before President Trump took office, to point out the hypocrisy and outright obstructionism [1:20-minute mark]:

One standard is that the Democrats have specifically identified how many vacancies are unacceptable. In February 2000, with a Democrat in the White House, the Democrats said that 79 vacancies were ‘‘too high.’’ In September 2012, with the Democrats both in the White House and controlling the Senate, they declared a ‘‘judicial vacancy crisis’’ when there were 78 vacancies. If 78 vacancies is a crisis, what is the label for 138 vacancies? . . .

A second Democratic vacancy standard is that, as they did in April 2014, we can compare judicial vacancies today with vacancies at the same point under previous Presidents. If that Democratic standard is valid, vacancies today are 35 percent higher than at this point under President Obama and 46 percent higher than at this point under President George W. Bush.

There is a third Democratic vacancy standard. In June 2013 and at least as far back as April 1999, the Democrats have complained that the Senate was not confirming enough judicial nominees to keep up with normal attrition. Well, judicial vacancies today are 30 percent higher than when President Trump took office, and, as I said, at least 33 more have already been announced.

Finally, the Democrats have frequently said that the 107th Congress—the first 2 years of the George W. Bush administration—should be our judicial confirmation benchmark. During that time, the Senate confirmed an average of just over 4 judicial nominees per month. The Senate has so far confirmed 28 of President Trump’s district and appeals court nominees or fewer than 2 per month.

Take your pick. By any or all of these Democratic standards, we face a much more serious judicial vacancy crisis than in years past. . . .

Next, Senator Hatch explained the reality of this situation and how Republicans have tried to get President Trump's judicial nominees to the Senate Floor for a vote and how Democrats have pulled all stops in an attempt to slow the process down to a crawl [5:34-minute mark]:

Under Chairman Chuck Grassley's leadership, the committee has held a hearing for 62 of President Trump’s judicial nominees—more than under any of the previous five Presidents at this point. So that is clearly not the problem. The first sign of Democratic obstruction is the unwarranted and partisan opposition to reporting judicial nominations from the Judiciary Committee.

In February 2012, 3 years into the Obama administration, the Democrats complained that five nominees to the U.S. district court had been reported by the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote. This, they said, departed dramatically from Senate tradition. Today, just 14 months into the Trump administration, eight nominees to the U.S. district court have been reported by the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote. The present rate of such party-line votes in the Judiciary Committee is more than four times what the Democrats criticized just a few years ago.

The below-the-radar obstruction tactics continue when the Judiciary Committee sends judicial nominees to the full Senate. The Democrats, for example, refuse to cooperate in scheduling confirmation votes. They can’t prevent confirmation votes altogether because they abolished nomination filibusters in 2013, but if they can’t make judicial confirmations impossible, they are determined to make them very difficult. Here is how they do it.

Since President Trump took office, the Democrats have forced the Senate to take 28 cloture votes on judicial nominations, compared to just 2 cloture votes at this point under the previous five Presidents combined. Even when cloture is invoked, Senate rules provide for up to 30 hours of debate before a confirmation vote can occur. Nearly half the time under President Obama, a judicial nomination cloture vote was followed by a confirmation vote on the same day. Under President Trump, that has plummeted to 17 percent. The average time between cloture and confirmation votes for President Trump’s judicial nominations is more than 55 percent longer than it was under President Obama. . . .

Senator Hatch concludes [13:00-minute mark]:

We face an unprecedented judicial vacancy crisis. Since President Trump is making nominations and the Judiciary Committee, under Chairman Grassley's leadership, is steadily processing them, there remains only one explanation for the vacancy crisis we face today—plain, old-fashioned, partisan obstruction. The Democrats are manipulating this process at every stage, using the very tactics that they have loudly condemned in the past to make confirmations as difficult and time-consuming as possible.

Even in politics, actions speak louder than words. In July 2012, when there were 76 judicial vacancies, Chairman Leahy said that ‘‘we should be doing better.’’ Today, with nearly twice as many vacancies, I challenge my Democratic colleagues to put actions to those words.

You can view Senator Hatch's entire Senate Floor speech on YouTube and a transcript of his remarks have been published in March 20's Congressional Record (on the first two pages).

The RNLA will continue to highlight this ongoing, unprecedented crisis faced by President Trump's judicial and political nominees.