Reporters covering the Senate today heard Chairman Bingaman decry the “secret holds” that one or more Republican senators have placed on a highly regarded nominee for the top legal job at the Department of the Interior, Hilary Tompkins. When Bingaman asked for unanimous consent to proceed to her nomination, the Republican Leader objected on behalf of one or more members of his caucus.
Bingaman’s request and the anonymous resistance it has met now means that the senator (or senators) holding up a vote to confirm Tompkins -- an accomplished Native American with exceptional credentials and qualifications -- will be forced to identify themselves within six session days. That’s newsworthy in itself, but so is this: the six-day rule relating to secret holds has never been invoked for a nominee, only for legislation. That means that nominees of the previous Administration were never subjected to an ongoing hold of this type since the law was changed two years ago. Here is Bingaman’s floor statement:
“Mr. President, I am obviously disappointed that there has been an objection raised to the confirmation of Ms. Tompkins. I am advised that one or more Republican Members have placed an anonymous hold on her nomination.
“The Solicitor of the Department of the Interior, the office to which the President has nominated Ms. Tompkins, is one of the most important posts in the Department of the Interior and one of the most important legal positions in our Government.
“The Department of the Interior has broad authority over the administration and care of our public lands and our natural resources. Its many offices and bureaus daily face a broad range of legal issues requiring special expertise in public land law, mining law, water rights law, Indian law and wildlife law.
“She is solely responsible for the legal work of the Department. The job requires a deep knowledge of the law, professional experience and sound judgment.
“In my view, the President has nominated such a person in Hilary Tompkins. She earned a law degree at Stanford University’s law school in 1996. She served as a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice, as a special Assistant U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, as an associate at Sonosky, Chambers, one of the nation’s leading law firms specializing in Native American law, and a chief counsel to the Governor of New Mexico
“As chief counsel to Gov. Bill Richardson, Ms. Tompkins demonstrated her ability to lead and manage a team of lawyers, to oversee the office of general counsel of multiple agencies, and to render sound legal advice.
“She will bring to the Solicitor’s office considerable experience in the areas of environmental, natural resources law and Indian law, as well as expertise in constitutional law and legislative process.
“In addition, Ms. Tompkins has a compelling personal story. She was born on the Navajo reservation. Although raised in New Jersey, she has not lost touch with her native Navajo heritage. If confirmed, she will be the first Native American -- and only the second woman -- to hold the office of Solicitor.
“It’s unclear to me why anyone would object to confirming Ms. Tompkins. She clearly is well qualified for the position. At her hearing in April and in the weeks since then, Senators on the other side of the aisle have expressed concerns about Departmental policies, over which Ms. Tompkins has had no control and no responsibility. Secretary Salazar has bent over backwards to address those concerns. It is my understanding all of those concerns have been addressed.
“In any event, Senators chose to place holds on David Hayes’s nomination to be the Deputy Secretary of the Interior. The holds on Mr. Hayes’s nomination were lifted before the recess. He and all of the other Department of the Interior nominees have now been confirmed, and only Ms. Tompkins’ nomination is being blocked.
“Many of the most pressing problems facing the Department of the Interior are legal problems. During its final weeks, the previous Administration took a number of controversial actions in its rush to lock in those actions before it left office. The previous Administration failed to give adequate consideration to various legal requirements. As a result, several of those actions have been overturned in the courts and Secretary Salazar has inherited this legacy. He is doing his best to address these problems. But he needs a Solicitor. More than four months into the new Administration, the Department of the Interior should not still be without its top legal officer. And Ms. Tompkins should not still be the victim of anonymous holds.”
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