Five federal judicial nominees got a nomination hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a sign that Democrats will continue to push aggressively to reduce the historically high number of vacancies on the federal bench.
The hearing came in the first week of the new session, and Democrats focused on how there are now 83 vacancies, which is as many as three times higher than the number of vacancies during George W. Bush’s second term, Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) said.
"As most of these vacancies are in the district courts, the courts Americans most need to be fully staffed so they can receive their day in court, I'm pleased we’ve been able to move so quickly in this new Congress to convene this hearing today," Coons said.
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was not at the hearing, but the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman submitted a statement noting that the committee would be working to fill the vacancies quickly.
"President Obama is the first president in decades who ended his first term with more vacancies than when it began, and the first since Woodrow Wilson to complete a full first term without having a nominee to the D.C. Circuit confirmed," Leahy said in prepared remarks.
"Throughout his first term, judicial vacancies have been historically high for long periods," Leahy said. "We need to do better."
The Republicans at the hearing, including ranking minority member Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), did not make any statements about the vacancies but have said in the past that the Senate has confirmed judges at an appropriate pace.
The five nominees at Wednesday's hearing included four for district court judgeships—Nelson Roman and Analisa Torres for the Southern District of New York; Raymond Moore for the District of Colorado; and Derrick Watson for the District of Hawaii—and Claire Kelly for the U.S. Court of International Trade.
The nominees fielded the typical questions about their background and previous rulings, although Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking minority member of the committee, focused some of his questions on the Second Amendment and a ruling Roman made in a juvenile gun possession case. There were no heated exchanges or obvious signs of opposition to the nominees.