WASHINGTON – Accusing Senate Democrats of playing politics in their refusal to appoint judicial nominees, President Bush said their failure to act has created a crisis in the courtrooms.
Bush said he has nominated 100 jurists to the bench, and the Senate has yet to act on the majority of them. Only nine of 30 circuit court nominees have been confirmed so far.
"The Senate, thus far, has not done its part to ensure that our federal courts operate at full strength. Justice is at risk in America, and the Senate must act for the good of the country," he said in a statement commemorating "Law Day."
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., responded that Bush would do better to nominate candidates "for their ability instead of for their ideology."
"We are working hard to restore fairness in the confirmation process, which was sorely lacking in the previous six years under Republican control of the Senate," Leahy said in a statement.
Bush said one in 10 federal judgeships are unfilled. He rattled off a list of vacancies, including four in the Circuit court of Washington, D.C., where high-profile terror cases will be tried, and in the Sixth Circuit, which has only eight of its 16 judgeships filled.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmed the nomination of Julia Smith Gibbons to the Sixth Circuit. A full Senate vote has not been scheduled yet, but could come as early as next week, a committee source said.
The committee did reject one Bush nominee in February. Democratic lawmakers said Charles Pickering, Sr., disregarded case law when making his decisions. At the time, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., admitted that Democrats would not blindly confirm nominees when their political leanings are too conservative.
Democrats say the judicial crisis began long before President Bush was in office, and actually started when the Republican-led Senate refused to confirm President Clinton's nominees.
Nonetheless, Bush said Democrats have an obligation to the judicial system to see that his nominees are seated.
"By its inaction the Senate is endangering the administration of justice in America," Bush said. "I call on Senate Democrats to end the vacancy crisis in our federal courts by restoring fairness to the judicial confirmation process."