Archive for the 'Judicial Vacancies' Category
It’s not the president that his Senate foes are hurting when they stall confirmation of federal judicial nominees, says an editorial in New Jersey’s The Record newspaper, it’s the American people that are harmed:
“Conservatives may think they’re hurting the president by doing this, but it’s not Obama who has to wait months or years to get his day in court with a judge whose staff is drowning in paperwork from such a heavy caseload. It’s average citizens waiting for their day in court, for justice to be served.”
While the editorial notes the Senate’s confirmation this week of a new federal judge for New Jersey (see Gavel Grab), it says the federal court system in the state has been deemed a “judicial emergency” for its caseload, and three of its 17 federal judgeships still are vacant. “While partisanship in Congress is hardly a new revelation, the strain it is putting on the federal court system is unacceptable,” the editorial says.
A scholar who tracks federal court nominations in the U.S. has published in the British Guardian a sorry picture of partisan politics and gridlock dragging down the confirmation process in Washington, thereby undermining fair and impartial courts.
The commentary by Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, is titled, “Washington has mired courts in political gridlock – and justice is the victim/Ever since the Republicans recaptured the US Senate, the number of unfilled judicial seats has soared to crisis levels.”
Out of 846 federal judgeships, 72 are vacant, Tobias reports. In 2015, the 11 nominees confirmed by the Senate were the fewest since 1960. Tobias concludes with pessimism about the political landscape this year: Read more
Republicans controlling the U.S. Senate “are flexing their powers to slow down the process” of confirming President Obama’s nominees for the federal courts, The Washington Times reports, shortly after the Senate confirmed only its 10th judge this year.
The slowdown follows action by Democrats, when they were controlling the Senate, to change filibuster rules in order to accelerate the confirmation of judges, the article says. It is headlined, “Obama judicial nominees in limbo as ‘nuclear option’ backfires on Democrats.”
In The Hill, a piece by Prof. Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond School of Law applies the themes of Thanksgiving to the process of confirming federal judges, and notes that whereas federal judicial vacancies stood at 90 in August 2009, they now have been reduced and total 66. Read more
As a result of politicized efforts to stall or block the confirmation of qualified U.S. judges, “we are in the midst of the worst federal court vacancy crisis since 1953,” Michele Jawando of the Center for American Progress writes in a Philly.com op-ed.
Pennsylvania is one of the states with the most judicial vacancies, and it illustrates the impact of the crisis, she says: “Pennsylvanians are being denied timely access to a judicial system that is usually their last resort for critical issues such as citizenship status, access to health care, environmental pollution, employment disputes, and basic civil rights.” She cites the nomination of Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo for the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, awaiting a Senate vote (see Gavel Grab), as an example of political obstructionism in the Senate. Read more
With the Senate having confirmed only a handful of judicial nominees so far this year at the hands of Republicans who “have virtually shut down the confirmation process, we are headed to a judicial vacancy crisis,” Sen. Patrick Leahy said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Leahy is senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s Republican chairman, has countered that the committee has been doing its job holding nomination hearings and that foes have distorted the actual track record of the Senate, in Republican hands since January. Read more
Across the country, numerous federal court judges are spread thin, facing a backlog of cases, calling on semiretired judges for help and wondering if they will ever get reinforcements, a lengthy Huffington Post article says.
Jennifer Bendery’s article is chock full of data about vacant judgeships, high caseloads, deemed “judicial emergencies” and partisan politics in Washington over filling the vacancies. It also gives a glimpse of the impact of vacancies on people who use the courts: “The problem is, when court seats go unfilled, cases get seriously delayed and regular people suffer. In a civil case, that means someone suing an employer for discrimination will wait years to go before a judge. In a criminal case, that means defendants can finish their jail terms before their case is even resolved.” Read more
The Associated Press addresses the issue with an article titled, “Wheels of Justice Slow at Overloaded Federal Courts.” The AP cites the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on the rising delay in resolving civil and criminal cases because of judges’ ever-increasing workload.
The article says that the challenges are “particularly acute” in some federal courts where the judges deal with double the workload of the national average, like in the Eastern Districts of California and Texas.
Not only has the Eastern District of California had a judicial vacancy for almost three years, the article says, but the court has not had an increase in judges since 1978, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The AP reports that California’s Eastern District in Fresno is currently sustained by only one full-time district court judge, Lawrence O’Neill. The situation in the Eastern District of Texas is similar, the AP says.
According to the article, Judge O’Neill says, “We can slow things down because we simply can’t work any harder or faster… But the real important effect of that is people who need our help to move their lives forward are delayed.”
Matt Menendez, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice finds the judicial vacancies that the federal courts are facing today to be “quite bad.” The Brennan Center is a Justice at Stake partner organization.
Legal scholars say, “Congress needs to fill judicial vacancies more quickly but also increase the number of judges in some districts — both issues that get bogged down in partisan political fights over judicial nominees,” according to the AP.
“Shame on us all” for not paying enough attention to our courts, columnist Lori Sturdevant of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes in criticizing Senate foot-dragging on President Obama’s judicial nominations this year.
Sturdevant takes Republican senators to task for not moving quickly enough to confirm Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Wilhelmina Wright to the federal district court, and in the case of other nominees as well. And there can be a big price to pay for partisan delays over these nominations, she adds, saying it’s important even for journalists to take responsibility: Read more
The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado is struggling to handle too many cases with too few judges, says a Colorado Statesman op-ed, expressing concern for the state’s citizens who “cannot get timely justice or resolution of disputes”.
Currently, only seven judges handle all of the state’s civil and criminal trial-level cases. Despite the growing number of Coloradans, Congress has not increased the number of judges since 1984, the op-ed says. The understaffed, overloaded District Court may face a greater change if the number of full-time judges drops to six. According to the op-ed, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn announced he will be taking senior status starting in April 2016.
The op-ed was written by Dave Montez, executive director of One Colorado Education Fund. He notes that Colorado’s two U.S. senators “have each created separate screening committees that do not appear to be planning to work together.” Montez also advocates for diversity on the bench, saying the judicial vacancy “provides an opportunity for our senators to select candidates who reflect the diversity of our state.”
The Huffington Post addresses the U.S. Senate’s delayed action on judicial confirmations across the states in a column headlined, “Congratulations, GOP. You’re Confirming Judges At The Slowest Rate In 60 Years”.
According to the article, an analysis by Alliance for Justice found that “six confirmations is the slowest single-year pace since the Senate confirmed a total of nine judges in 1953.” It adds that the number of judicial emergencies has increased by 158 percent. Currently, there are 32 other judicial nominees whose confirmations are pending in the U.S. Senate as vacancies continue to rise, according to the piece.
Meanwhile, the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune reports that an Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, Wilhelmina Wright, was unanimously approved by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to become a federal district judge in Minnesota. But “whether she will be confirmed by the gridlocked Senate this year remains a question mark,” the Star Tribune notes.
And in Florida, where several judicial emergencies exist, First Judicial Circuit Judge Jan Shackelford is one of three finalists selected to be a federal judge in the state’s North District, according to the Pensacola News Journal. Once the president announces a nominee, the confirmation will await the Senate’s vote, which could take a significant amount of time. Floridian Mary Barzee Flores was nominated for a position on the federal bench for the Southern District in Florida six months ago and is still awaiting confirmation. See Gavel Grab.