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The Honorable Patrick Leahy
United States Senator
Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on President Obama's first judicial nominee, and for two more well-qualified nominees for senior leadership positions in the Executive Branch. Each of these nominees has spent their professional lives in public service.
Mr. Hamilton's nomination has also earned support from across the political spectrum. The President of the Indianapolis Lawyers Chapter of the conservative Federalist Society, Geoffrey Slaughter, who two months ago invited Judge Hamilton to speak before the conservative group, called him "an excellent jurist with a first-rate intellect," and described his judicial philosophy as "well within the mainstream, between the 30-yard lines."
When President Obama first announced this nomination, he noted that "Judge Hamilton has a long and impressive record of service and a history of handing down fair and judicious decisions." In light of his superb record, broad support, and unanimous "well qualified" rating from the American Bar Association, it is no wonder Judge Hamilton's nomination for this important appellate seat has the support of both home state Senators.
I am glad President Obama has picked an experienced jurist and consensus candidate to be his first judicial nominee. I hope the leadership that Senator Lugar and Senator Bayh have shown in coming together to support Judge Hamilton's nomination is a good sign that we will have the bipartisan cooperation that President Obama has called for, that some of us are working hard to create, and that the American people have every right to demand. President Obama is off to a good start. I commend the White House for consulting with the distinguished Senators from Indiana - a Republican and a Democrat - to put forth a consensus nominee whose proven record and bipartisan support should lead to swift approval by this Committee and the Senate.
We will also hear from two more of President Obama's highly-qualified nominees for important posts in the Executive Branch.
Ron Weich is nominated to be Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs at the Department of Justice. In more than a decade on Capitol Hill, he has advised three Senators: Senator Specter, Senator Kennedy, and Majority Leader Reid. I want to put into the record a letter of support for Mr. Weich I received from Senator Kennedy, a former Chairman of this Committee and a Member for more than four decades. In addition, Mr. Weich has a distinguished record of public service as an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan, and as a Special Counsel to the United States Sentencing Commission. He is an experienced Senate hand who has earned the respect of Senators on both sides of the aisle. We know him well as a former member of the staff of this Committee. I am confident he will be a welcome addition to the leadership at the Justice Department, and will make the Department more responsive to congressional concerns than we have seen over the last several years.
I thank Senator Specter for agreeing to add the nomination of R. Gil Kerlikowske to today's proceedings, as well. Chief Kerlikowske has 36 years of experience in law enforcement, including his current service as Chief of Police for the Seattle Police Department. He is the former Deputy Director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Service at the Department of Justice, and is currently President of the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association. He is nominated to serve as the Director of National Drug Control Policy.
Chief Kerlikowske's nomination has received numerous letters of support, including strong endorsements from Republican and Democratic public officials, State and local law enforcement officials, the National Center for Victims of Crime, the United States Conference of Mayors, the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police, and the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.
Mary Lou Leary, the Executive Director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, describes Chief Kerlikowske as a "strong manager," who is "committed to crime prevention" and who "understands the connection between illegal drugs and crime." Arthur T. Dean, the Chairman and CEO of the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America, wrote that Chief Kerlikowske understands that drug policy "must be comprehensive and coordinated" and "recognizes that the perspectives of those closest to the ground - state and local enforcement, prevention, treatment, and recovery professionals - play a critical role in this strategy."
Some on the other side of the aisle may feel rushed because of the weeks they have spent working to delay consideration of President Obama's nominations to lead the Justice Department. We still have been unable to obtain a time agreement to consider the nomination of Professor Dawn Johnson to head the Office of Legal Counsel, for example, even though her nomination was reported favorably by this Committee two weeks ago on March 19.
I have considered Republican objections and concerns throughout the year and tried to be accommodating. I delayed hearings this year for the nominees to be Attorney General, Solicitor General, and the head the Office of Legal Counsel. Our last confirmation hearing was on March 10, three weeks ago. Despite those accommodations, Senate Republicans have chosen to delay Committee, as well as Senate, consideration of nominees.
I understand that Senators could always use more time to prepare, and that this is a busy week. However, with a two-week Easter recess approaching, I did not want to delay this proceeding another two weeks. Last year, as he had earlier in President Bush's term, Senator Specter proposed a protocol for consideration of judicial nominations that called for hearings on judicial nominees within 30 days of nomination. The demand to delay this hearing on Judge Hamilton's nomination past the Easter recess would violate that very protocol. I trust that once they consider his qualifications, the Republican members of this Committee will work with us to consider the nomination promptly upon our return, and not needlessly delay proceeding as has been threatened.
In that regard, it was a bad sign that last month all 41 Senate Republicans signed a letter to President Obama threatening filibusters of his judicial nominees before they were even named. I trust that position is being reconsidered in light of the reality that President Obama has consulted with Senators. These threats of obstruction are not helpful.
I urge Republican Senators to work together with the President to fill vacancies on the Federal bench. Our demonstrated ability to work together to fill judicial vacancies will go a long way toward elevating public trust in our justice system, and ensuring that the American people receive equal justice under law.
All three of the nominees before us are exceptionally well qualified to fulfill the duties of the positions to which they have been nominated. I look forward to hearing from them today.
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