By Glenn Sugameli, Staff Attorney, Defenders of Wildlife's Judging the Environment. Mr. Sugameli founded in 2001 and still heads the environmental community's Judging the Environment project and website on federal judicial nominations and related issues.
In my December 23, 2008 ACSblog post, I mentioned that there were 44 current federal court vacancies and described how "One of President Obama's most enduring legacies will be the nominees he selects for lifetime seats on trial courts, the circuit courts of appeal that have the final say in 99 percent of cases, and the Supreme Court."
Unfortunately, as senators left town until November 15, continuing obstruction by unnamed Senate Republicans ensured that the judicial vacancy crisis will worsen. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) explained:
Republicans have allowed the Senate to consider and confirm only 41 of President Obama's circuit and district court nominations over the last two years. In stark contrast, by this date in President Bush's second year in office, the Senate with a Democratic majority had confirmed 78 of his Federal circuit and district court nominations. That number reached 100 by the end of 2002, all considered and confirmed during the 17 months I chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Indeed, the expressed desire to fill current vacancies has extended across the Senate aisle. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) recently said Senate rules should be changed to allow judicial nominees to more quickly be moved to a vote, that the legislative branch is to a degree holding the "judiciary hostage," and that senators should vote against nominees they don't like, not hold up the process. The Senate finally approved Jane Stranch's long-delayed Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals nomination after her home-state Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) went to the Floor with Sen. Leahy to request a vote.