March 02, 2010

NOMINATION OF BARBARA MILANO KEENAN, U.S. CIRCUIT JUDGE FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT

Mr. President, I rise today to urge the Senate to invoke cloture on the nomination of Barbara Milano Keenan of Virginia to be a United States Circuit Judge for the Fourth Circuit.

 

            I had the privilege to chair Justice Keenan's confirmation hearing on October 7 of last year.   The Judiciary Committee reported out her nomination by voice vote on October 29 of last year.   And here we are today over four months later, just now debating the nomination.

 

I take a special interest in the 4 th Circuit, as it includes my home state of Maryland.   In May 2008 I chaired the confirmation hearing for Justice Steven Agee, who also served on the Virginia Supreme Court and was confirmed to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fourth Circuit.   In April 2009 I chaired the confirmation hearing for Judge Andre Davis of Maryland, who was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate by a 72 to 16 vote in November.

 

I mention these nominations by way of background for my colleagues, because the Fourth Circuit has one of the highest vacancy rates in the country today.   Out of the 15 seats authorized by Congress, 4 are vacant, which means over one-quarter of the court's seats are now vacant.   Our Circuit Courts of Appeals are the final word for most of our civil and criminal litigants, as the Supreme Court only accepts a handful of cases.   I had hoped that the Senate will move more quickly to nominate and confirm qualified candidates for these seats.   I also look forward to increasing the diversity of the judges of the Fourth Circuit.

 

So I don't understand, Mr. President, why the Senate has been moving so slowly on nominations, most of which are not controversial.   Of the 15 Federal circuit and district court judges confirmed during President Obama's tenure, 12 have been confirmed unanimously.  Republicans have only voted against three of President Obama's nominees to the Federal circuit and district courts.  I expect that when Justice Keenan comes to a vote, she will be overwhelmingly confirmed, if not unanimously confirmed.   So why is the Senate waiting more than 4 months to act on her nomination after it has been reported by the Judiciary Committee by a voice vote?

 

We started 2010 with the highest number of vacancies on Article III courts since 1994, when the vacancies created by the last comprehensive judgeship bill were still being filled. Judicial vacancies are nearing record levels, with 102 current vacancies and another 23 already announced. 

 

Justice Keenan comes to the Senate with an impressive amount of experience.   She has served on each of the four levels of the Virginia State courts: General District Court, Circuit Court, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court.   She was admitted to the State Bar of Virginia in 1974.   She first took the bench at the age of 29, and fittingly has served for a judge for the last 29 years.   Before serving as a judge, she worked as an attorney in private practice and as a local prosecutor.

 

Justice Keenan has presided over an impressive amount of cases.   She presided over several thousand cases of to judgment as a judge of the General District Court of Fairfax County, Virginia, which includes misdemeanors and smaller civil cases.   As a circuit court judge, she presided over 600 cases that proceeded to verdict or judgment, and handled a wide range of criminal and civil cases, including both jury trials and bench trials.   Finally, Justice Kennan now serves on the Virginia Supreme Court, a position she has held since 1991.   I understand that under Virginia law, Supreme Court Justices serve 12 year-terms, and then must seek reappointment by the state General Assembly.   Justice Keenan was unanimously reappointed by the General Assembly.

 

If confirmed, Justice Keenan would be the first woman from Virginia to serve on the Fourth Circuit.


Justice Keenan earned her B.A. from Cornell University, her J.D. from the George Washington University Law School, and her L.L.M. from the University Of Virginia School Of Law.

 

She received a unanimous rating of "well qualified" by the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which is their highest rating.

 

So I am pleased to join Senators Webb and Warner today on the floor in support of her nomination.   I commend the Senators on the process they used to make recommendations to the White House for the Virginia vacancy.

 

I hope the Senate will invoke cloture on this nomination today, and then take final action to confirm this nomination without any further delay.