This past week marked the anniversaries of Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayer and Elena Kagan while in contrast, many pending federal judicial nominees, who are women, minorities and a cross section of the population, have been left hanging in limbo land. President Obama has had many more diverse nominees than any of our former presidents. In fact, some say it has been “strikingly so.” More than 50% of the Obama administration judicial nominees are women, 21% are African American, 11% are Hispanic, 7% are Asian American, one is Native American and three pending nominees are openly gay. Kathryn Ruemmler, the White House counsel, stated, “The president wants the federal courts to look like America. He wants people who are coming to court to feel like it’s their court as well.”
Yet, it may all be for naught since many cannot make it through the process to receive a confirmation hearing. Even for those who are fortunate enough to make it to the committee, many still await final votes.
A total of 56 federal judge nominees have been left awaiting confirmation while the GOP controlled Congress left for a month long vacation. President Obama made two new judicial nominations in August. U.S. District Court Judge Adalberto José Jordán was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit while litigator Miranda Du was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. Twenty judicial nominations were left lagging awaiting final votes after making it to the Senate Judicial Committee.
It seems that never before in the history of the judicial nominating process has there been such an extreme back log and delay of hearings and votes on judicial nominees. According to the Alliance for Justice, committee Republicans have 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.
So what does this all matter to the average American? It further shows our three branches of government are hardly working in tandem. The president is nominating persons to the federal bench. Our legislative branch is stalling on appointments, like a car stuck in neutral. And the judiciary branch is caught between a rock and a hard place with overworked and burdensome dockets. And if you are a federal litigant, it means justice is further delayed on your case due to the backlog. But 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 over due process. The unprecedented delay benefits no one who cares for justice.
Debbie Hines is a lawyer who has litigated cases in various federal courts across the country. She is a legal commentator who has appeared on TV and radio on issues affecting women and minorities. She also contributes to the Huffington Post and Politic 365.