Statement of Ranking Member Richard Burr
March 28, 2012
Good morning, Madam Chairman, and thank you for holding this hearing to consider the qualifications of Ms. Bartley and General Pietsch to serve as judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Also, I want to welcome the nominees and your friends and family who have joined us. Thank you all for being here today.
This hearing gives us an opportunity to fulfill the Senate’s role of reviewing judicial nominations to ensure that our nation would be well served. As with any federal court, we should consider whether candidates to serve on the Veterans Court are impartial, well-qualified, and have a sound judicial philosophy and temperament. We should also consider whether a nominee will live up to the high standards expected of judges, which include making decisions fairly, promptly, and efficiently.
The obligation to promptly decide cases is particularly important for individuals who come before the Veterans Court. By the time an appeal is filed, a sick or injured veteran may have faced many years of delays, errors, or frustrations while going through the VA claims process. When they finally reach the Court, veterans and their families should rightfully expect a quick response from an entity that was created to provide them with “fundamental justice.”
But, living up to that expectation has been a real challenge for the Court in recent years. Since 2007, the Court has received more than 4,000 new cases each year – a 55% increase over the incoming cases in the prior 5 years. Although the Court has made progress in handling this work, some veterans are still waiting far too long for a decision. In fact, it takes on average 19 months for the Court to issue a decision by a single judge and over 2 years to issue an opinion by a panel of judges.
With more than 4,400 cases pending at the Court, including hundreds waiting on action by a judge, it must be a priority to quickly get decisions to everyone who is waiting. To that end, any judge confirmed to serve on the Veterans Court must be ready to “hit the ground running” and immediately begin to help the Court deal with its caseload. Perhaps more importantly, a nominee must be committed to spending each year on the bench handling cases with the diligence and sense of urgency our nation’s veterans deserve.
Madam Chairman, before I turn it back over to you, I also want to talk briefly about the expectation that federal judges will be efficient in handling their judicial duties. In my view, organizations tend to function at their best when those integral to the operations – like judges -- are personally engaged on a daily basis. If judges have to travel across country to get to the Court, it could make it more difficult to manage staff, work with other judges, or stay on top of the caseload.
That’s why I introduced a bill – S. 2045 -- that would require judges of the Veterans Court to live within 50 miles of the Court’s office, which is located here in Washington, D.C. A similar residency requirement already applies to other federal judges. Also, I would point out that the duties of a judge are supposed to take priority over any of the judge’s other activities. So, it’s hard to imagine a reason for a judge to live far away from where the Court’s facilities, personnel, and other judges are located.
Madam Chairman, I think this bill is a common-sense step to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the Court and to emphasize that, if confirmed, a judge must be 100% committed to the Court’s important work. Our nation’s veterans and their families deserve no less. So, I look forward to working with you and our colleagues to make sure this bill soon becomes law.
I thank the Chair and, again, thank the nominees for being here.
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