NEW YORK – The country’s federal courts are in crisis because the Democrat-controlled Senate has not confirmed judicial nominees fast enough, President Bush said Saturday.
"The judicial confirmation process does not work as it should," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "Nominees are too often mistreated. Votes are delayed, hearings are denied and dozens of federal judgeships sit empty, endangering the quality of justice in America."
The Senate has confirmed 66 District Court justices out of 98 nominated. Seventeen more have been sent to the Senate for a vote that has not yet taken place.
Since he took office, Bush has sent 32 federal appeals court nominees to the Senate for consideration. Although Bush says this hand-picked bunch represents "the mainstream of American law and American values," the Senate has only confirmed 14 of them. As of this week, 15 of Bush’s appeals court nominees will have been forced to wait over a year for a hearing.
"There is no good reason why any nominee should endure a year, a year and a half, or more, without the courtesy of an up-or-down floor vote," Bush said in his address. "Whatever the explanation, we clearly have a poisoned atmosphere in which well-qualified nominees are neither voted up nor voted down -- they're just left in limbo."
Bush said if the Senate continues it delay tactics, the federal courts won’t be able to do their jobs in a timely fashion and enforce the law.
"The judicial crisis is the result of a broken system, and we have a duty to repair it," he said.
The president said he wants to work with the Senate on a new approach to filing federal court vacancies. He offered four proposals this week to "break the logjam in Washington and bring the federal courts to full strength," he said.
Bush on Wednesday proposed a "clean start" to the way judges are treated during the confirmation process.
He called on federal judges to notify him of their intention to retire at least a year in advance, whenever possible. Bush also proposed that presidents submit a nomination to the Senate within 180 days of receiving notice of a federal court vacancy or intended retirement. This would speed up the process of obtaining recommendations and evaluations from home state senators and others, while still giving presidents time to choose quality nominees.
Bush has asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing within 90 days of receiving a nomination, saying that "is more than enough time for the committee to conduct necessary research before holding a hearing, as Democrat senators have recognized in the past."
The last part of his plan includes calling on the Senate to commit to an up-or-down floor vote on each nominee no later than 180 days after the nomination is submitted.
"My proposals are fair to all parties and would apply regardless of who is president or which party controls the Senate," Bush said in his address.
"The current state of affairs is not merely another round of political wrangling. It is a disturbing failure to meet a responsibility under the Constitution, and it is harming the administration of justice in America. Our country deserves better, the process can work better and we can make it better. The Constitution has given us a shared duty, and we must meet that duty together."