- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002


Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist says unfilled judgeships are inexcusable during a time of terrorist attacks and threats.

"During times such as these, the role of the courts becomes even more important in order to enforce the rule of law," Justice Rehnquist said in his annual report on the courts, dated today. "To continue functioning effectively and efficiently, however, the court must be appropriately staffed."

Justice Rehnquist has chided senators before for letting judicial nominations languish without confirmation votes. But the Republican directed his latest, harsher criticism at Democrats who have controlled the Senate since June and who now decide if and when to vote on President Bush's nominees.

There are 94 vacant federal district and appeals court judgeships, the most in eight years, the chief justice said.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, defended the confirmation pace during what he called a "tumultuous year for the nation and also for the Senate."

Mr. Bush had more choices approved in 2001 than the past two presidents Democratic President Clinton and Mr. Bush's Republican father before him had in their first years in office, Mr. Leahy said yesterday.

Of Mr. Bush's 64 judicial nominations, 28 were confirmed, Senate records show. That compares with 27 Clinton judicial confirmations in 1993 and 15 in the first Bush administration in 1989.

Mr. Leahy said the Senate will work to fill remaining vacancies after the holiday break.

"The president can help by choosing more nominees primarily for their fairness and abilities, instead of for their ideology," Mr. Leahy said.

Justice Rehnquist said senators "ought to act with reasonable promptness and to vote each nominee up or down." He also said the president should choose judges quickly and try to recruit private attorneys for judgeships.

Hindering efforts to find good candidates for federal judgeships, he said, are the "inadequacy of judicial pay I have spoken [of] again and again, without much result," and "the often lengthy and unpleasant nature of the confirmation process."

In his 16th annual report since becoming chief after his own difficult Senate confirmation, Justice Rehnquist also discussed courthouse safety.

An emergency-preparedness office has been created for the federal courts, and a consultant has recommended tighter security at courthouses, background checks on employees and better protection for judges in and out of court, Justice Rehnquist said.

In the meantime, Justice Rehnquist said, Congress should give the Supreme Court more money for security.

Since the September 11 attacks, he said, federal courts "have gotten back to business, even if not business as usual."

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