Sen. Grassley Says Obama Court Nominations Wrong Decision

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa is the ranking senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee and he has championed elimination of seats on the U.S. court of appeals for the District of Columbia. Sen. Grassley says the workload of the court doesn't warrant the number of justices and other courts could benefit from those seats. All Things Considered host Audie Cornish talks with the senator about the president's nominations to the court Tuesday.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Joining us now is Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Welcome to the program, senator.

SENATOR CHARLES GRASSLEY: Oh, I'm always glad to be with NPR.

CORNISH: Now, as we just heard from our reporter Scott Horsley, you've actually proposed eliminating some of the vacant seats on this court, shifting two of them to other courts around the country. But the president isn't buying that idea. He points that the Republicans were fine with the size of the court when former President George W. Bush was the one doing the nominating. What's your reply to that?

GRASSLEY: Oh, it's very easy to reply to that. First of all, I led the charge in the Bush administration to eliminate one of the seats that doesn't exist there now. So I've been crusading on getting rid of some of the D.C. Circuit seats and allocating them elsewhere in the country, both under Republican and Democratic presidents, because they have about one-half of the workload in this district that they have in the average of all the other districts.

CORNISH: Now, people who defend the current size of the court say that it's not just the number, but the complexity of the cases, that they're looking at issues of national security and terrorism, and all kinds of federal regulations land in the laps of this court.

GRASSLEY: I would say that you ought to ask that question of circuit court judges in the other parts of the country if they think that having one-half of the workload that they have in other parts of the country that that's justified and you'll get an entirely different answer.

CORNISH: But it seems like there's different ways of sort of calculating this, right? I mean, whether it's the number of appeals pending per active judge or some of the other statistics. What does this matter if it is the president's prerogative to nominate judicial appointments?

GRASSLEY: Well, because other judges and other circuits are very overloaded. And what we can do to help move our government resources from where people aren't being needed to where they are being needed, it just seems to me the most fiscally responsible thing to do with the taxpayers dollars.

CORNISH: When you're looking at the nominees themselves, what concerns do you have about their qualifications? One of them, for instance, Judge Robert Wilkins, was already approved unanimously for his current seat on the district court by the Senate.

GRASSLEY: Well, as far as these three that are nominated, their names come out today, and I haven't - I wouldn't even be able to name them for you. So thank you for naming them. And I'll get into their qualifications, and it could be that I have nothing wrong with their qualifications.

Then you get back to the basic question, the same question I asked since the mid-1990s and the same question I asked in the Bush administration. So if we're successful in eliminating a judge that's not needed in the Bush administration, you know, you're accused of political activity because I'm a Republican for doing the same thing in the Obama administration. But it's a matter of looking at the statistics and...

CORNISH: At the same time senator, you can go...

GRASSLEY: And we're following on the statistical basis that we get from the Supreme Court.

CORNISH: But you also have voted for Bush nominees for these seats in 2005 and 2006.

GRASSLEY: Yeah.

CORNISH: You also voted in favor of Jane Kelly, who sat on the Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, which is your local circuit court, even though that court has a lighter caseload than the one in D.C.

GRASSLEY: I go by the average of all the courts, and that's the statistics I'm using. And also, you want to look back in 2005, the caseload of the judges in the district - D.C. district were more than they are today. Quite a bit different. In 2005, there was 1,379 cases. And in 2012, there were 1,193 cases.

CORNISH: Senator Grassley, the way that this announcement was made today, the fact that the president has nominated three people at once, that he's kind of directly challenged Republicans about the nomination process, does this feel antagonistic?

GRASSLEY: No. You know, what this is, it's an effort for the president to direct attention away from Benghazi and IRS and AP reporters being harassed by the Justice Department.

CORNISH: Senator Charles Grassley, thank you so much for speaking with us.

GRASSLEY: Yeah. Thank you very much. Goodbye.

CORNISH: Charles Grassley is the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee which considers the president's judicial nominees.

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