Reno Criticizes Senate in Delay On Nominees
The New York Times
August 6, 1997
In unusually strong language, Attorney General Janet Reno accused the Senate today of an ''unprecedented slowdown'' in confirming new Federal judges.
''Surely the framers did not intend Congress to obstruct the appointment of much-needed judges, but rather simply to ensure that well-qualified individuals were appointed to the Federal bench,'' Ms. Reno said at the American Bar Association's annual meeting.
Ms. Reno has previously asked the Republican-controlled Senate to speed its confirmation of President Clinton's judicial nominees, but today's speech to a friendly A.B.A. audience was particularly direct.
''We need to put any partisan differences aside and work together to resolve this situation,'' she said. ''Without enough judges, our laws will become empty promises and swift justice will become a meaningless phrase.''
There are 101 vacancies among about 800 Federal district courts and appeals court judgeships, 12 percent of the judiciary. The Senate confirmed 17 Federal judges last year and 9 so far this year.
''At this rate, it would take almost seven years just to fill the existing vacancies,'' Ms. Reno said.
Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the Utah Republican who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said through a spokeswoman: ''The Senate's advise-and-consent function should not be reduced to a mere numbers game. The confirmation of an individual to serve for life as a Federal judge is a serious matter and should be treated as such.''
Mr. Hatch said his committee would ''continue to process qualified nominations diligently and promptly.''
Ms. Reno said President Clinton had sent 62 nominations to the Senate so far this year, 32 of them by the end of May. She noted the Senate confirmed 187 judicial nominees from 1993 through 1995, but added that that pace was ''derailed'' during the 1996 election year.
In contrast, she said, the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed 86 judges during the last two years of the Reagan Administration and 66 judges in 1992, the last year of the Bush Administration.
An A.B.A. member, Martha Barnett of Tallahassee, Fla., former chairwoman of the organization's House of Delegates, said she agreed with Ms. Reno.
''The Senate is deliberately not confirming nominees submitted by the President,'' Ms. Barnett said. ''I think that it's partisan and it's creating a crisis of access to the Federal court system.''
The incoming president of the bar association, Jerome Shestack, declined to speculate on senators' motives, but said, ''I agree with the Attorney General that they shouldn't just hold up appointments and create serious problems for the administration of justice.''
But Theodore Olson, a Washington lawyer and former official in the Reagan Justice Department, said, ''I thought it was a blatantly political speech and somewhat disingenuous since 20 of those nominations didn't come forward until July.''
Ms. Reno also said that critics' calls for impeachment of judges because of unpopular rulings tended to ''undermine the very credibility of the judiciary.''
Ms. Reno said she was alarmed by the ''increasingly heated rhetoric'' among those who criticize judges. Many say they are opposing ''judicial activism,'' she said, but added that there were ''more drastic proposals beneath the surface,'' like calls for impeachment of judges who make unpopular rulings and for elimination of life tenure.
Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company