WASHINGTON – Democratic Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Paul Sarbanes are urging Senate leaders to get over what they call election-year partisanship and schedule a confirmation vote on the nominations of two Maryland judges to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
President Clinton nominated Merrick Garland, 42, of Chevy Chase, in September 1995 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He nominated Arthur Gajarsa, 55, of Potomac, in April to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
“In order for the judicial system to function at its best, these vacancies need to be filled,” the senators said in a Sept. 10 letter to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.
Forty other Democratic senators also have filed written complaints about the Senate’s pace of judicial confirmations. They are hoping Lott, a Mississippi Republican, will schedule a vote before the Senate recesses for the year. The Senate could recess as early as Thursday.
Both Garland and Gajarsa have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
A spokeswoman for Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, said Lott has not scheduled any time for floor debates because he does not want to confirm appointments made during the Clinton administration.
Republican senators also have signed a letter to Lott, but theirs opposes votes on any more Clinton nominees for judge jobs.
Lott’s press secretary, Kirsten Shaw, said she had no information on scheduling time this week to confirm judicial nominations.
Records kept by the Senate Judiciary Committee show the Senate has confirmed about the same percentage of judicial nominations during this two-year session of Congress as it did in 1991-’92, when President Bush was in office and Democrats controlled Congress.
The Republican-led Senate has confirmed 73 of the 105 federal judicial nominations made by Clinton during this 104th Congress, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said last week. That’s just shy of 70 percent.
During the 102nd Congress, 122 of the 178 nominees were confirmed — about 69 percent.
But Hatch acknowledged that “the processing of judicial nominations — while always a subject of contention between the majority and minority — has been particularly contentious this year.”
The Utah Republican said he hopes the Senate will reach an agreement before its recess.
Sarbanes said without a full complement of judges, trials will move slower, and the other judges will be overburdened with work.
“It is important that our federal appellate courts be adequately staffed to fulfill the increasing case-load demands on the federal bench,” the Maryland Democrat said in the letter.
But Hatch said vacancies for the federal courts have been the lowest since 1990. There are only 18 federal circuit court vacancies and 42 federal district court vacancies, he said.
The White House has asked the nominees not to speak to reporters while they await confirmation, Gajarsa said.
Gajarsa is a partner in the Washington firm of Joseph, Gajarsa, McDermott and Reiner. His resume shows he practices corporate law, international trade, commercial litigation and the representation of Native American tribes.
Garland has been responsible for coordinating the Justice Department’s prosecution in the Oklahoma City bombing case. The principal associate deputy attorney general serves as senior adviser and chief of staff for Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick. -30-