Wicker Urges Timely Senate Action on Judges

February 11, 2008

President Bush made a plea last week for the United States Senate to act on the nominations of nearly 200 individuals to fill key positions within the federal government.   He urged Senators to fulfill their Constitutional responsibility to give these nominees an up-or-down vote.   I share his concern that inaction and delay serve to discourage good people from entering public service.

Mr. Bush noted that 28 of the pending nominations are federal judicial nominees, with 11 of those individuals awaiting consideration for positions that have been declared emergencies because the vacancies have allowed heavy caseloads to accumulate.   Five federal judge nominees have been waiting more than a year to be considered, and the names of 17 others were submitted to Capitol Hill more than 100 days ago.

                            LONG WAIT FOR JUDICIAL NOMINEES
The backlog of nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals is an unfortunate example of the Senate’s inaction.  Six of those nominations have been pending for more than six months.  Three of these individuals would fill slots in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, where one-third of the judgeships are vacant.  The American people are not being well served by this turn of events as the workload continues to build in these jurisdictions.  

While the federal judgeship positions get the most attention, there is also a backlog of nominees requiring Senate confirmation in other high-profile government agencies.  Two of the top three leadership jobs at the Department of Justice remain unconfirmed.   These are key positions charged with the responsibility of protecting the public from the threat of terrorism and ensuring the fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.

                                VACANCIES IN OTHER AGENCIES
Other key public safety and public health positions at the Federal Aviation Administration, National Transportation Safety Board and the Department of Health and Human Services also remain vacant because the Senate has not set up-or-down votes on the individuals nominated to fill the jobs.

Management of the nation’s economy is also being affected by the stalled confirmation process.  Three nominees to fill positions on the Federal Reserve Board are awaiting Senate action.  The nominations of two individuals tabbed to assume two of the three slots on the Council of Economic Advisors are also pending.   One Council nominee actually asked to have his name withdrawn from consideration after waiting five months to be considered.   Action on these nominations would be especially timely when the President needs the counsel of the brightest and most experienced economic advisors available.

Under the U. S. Constitution, the Senate has the responsibility to confirm Presidential nominations to a wide range of federal positions.   That advice and consent is an important component in the operation of our government and helps ensure well-qualified men and women are entrusted to serve the American people.  But partisanship and political considerations have increasingly slowed the process in recent years.

The resulting delays in confirming key government nominees have diminished the effectiveness of parts of the federal judiciary and other agencies.  They have also caused many worthy and qualified people to think twice before seeking to serve their country.   I hope we can find a way in the Senate this year to meet our Constitutional obligations in a more timely manner and give swift consideration to these pending nominations.