We need judges in the court room. There are thousands of cases that are heard each year by federal judges across the country. But a backlog in getting judges confirmed to replace retiring or departed ones has been going on for quite a while. Most people are not focused on the issue because quite frankly, it’s not one that seems to affect most people. But that’s where we’re wrong. A lack of judges affects everyone as federal judges decide issues that affect everyone.
This problem has been going on now for over 4 years. Now it’s like a car stalled in neutral except the car is our judicial branch of government. And the judiciary branch is in an emergency situation in some states due to a lack of judges.
Tracking the nominees since President Obama’s first term reveals an unprecedented delay of voting or confirming federal judicial nominees. To put things in perspective there are a total of 686 federal district judges, 179 circuit judges and 9 Supreme Court justices. All are nominated by the president when a vacancy occurs and must be confirmed by the Senate. Presently, according to a New York Times Editorial on Sunday, April 7, there are currently 85 vacancies which amounts to 10% vacancy. There are 19 district judicial nominees and 7 circuit judicial nominees. This means there are 26 vacancies with nominees and the remaining number of vacancies without nominees. These figures are also courtesy of the Alliance for Justice which tracks the progress of federal judicial nominees and updates every few days. According to the New York Times Editorial, one third of the vacancies has been declared “an emergency.”
During President Obama’s first term by 2011, according to a report by Alliance for Justice, committee Republicans held over votes on every one of President Obama’s judicial nominees, regardless of qualification, in an effort to delay filling vacant judgeships. By comparison to former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton at the comparable time period, President Clinton had 84% of his nominees confirmed; President Bush had 73% while President Obama has had only 61% of his judicial nominees confirmed by 2011.
By far the worst vacancies exist on the D.C. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. There are 11 seats and 4 vacancies. The delay fits well within the Republican strategy on one particular front— where the D.C. court has exclusive jurisdiction over several matters, including national security and the voter rights cases stemming from the Attorney General’s office. Presently, a Republican conservative majority presides. President Obama nominated Caitlen Halligan who recently withdrew her name for consideration after being filibustered on two occasions by Republicans. It remains to be seen if any of President Obama’s judicial nominees will be confirmed to this court.
And if you are a federal litigant, it means justice is further delayed due to the backlog. And for many pending judicial nominees, it means justice for them is unfairly delayed, as they await their “day in court” for a senate confirmation hearing. They deserve no more than a prompt hearing and an up or down vote. We should demand no less from the Senate than to give them their due process. The unprecedented delay benefits no one who cares for justice.
Last week Senator Harry Reid (D. NV) threatened to make changes to Senate rules if no progress is made on judicial confirmations and votes. Well it’s about time that he stopped threatening and took some action as Senate Majority Leader. It would not be hard to imagine what would happen if the Republicans were in the White House and Democrats stalled the vote on federal judges. There would be some action taken to get the job done by now.
Many Americans wonder why should they care about judicial nominees being confirmed. If you care about clean air, environmental issues, social justice issues, privacy issues, reproductive rights, corporate accountability, employment issues, first amendment issues, Voter Rights Act cases to name a few, then you should care about the federal courts and judges to hear those cases. And looking at the big picture shows that our legislative branch is dysfunctional due to our present Republican controlled Congress. And now our judiciary branch is in trouble too. Simply put, we need judges in court rooms.