D.C. Circuit

  • October 30, 2013

    by Rebekah DeHaven

    There are 874 federal judgeships in the United States. Of these, 91 are currently vacant, and there are 20 future vacancies. Thirty-seven of these vacancies are in districts that have been declared judicial emergencies. There are 51 nominees to fill these vacancies, some much closer to confirmation than others.

    These figures mean that 10 percent of our federal judiciary is currently empty. Instead of working to fill these vacancies, some lawmakers are explicitly attempting to reduce the number of judgeships nationwide, and promoting the rhetoric that there are more judges than the U.S. needs to administer its justice system. 

    In April, Senator Grassley introduced the “Court Efficiency Act of 2013,” which proposes reducing the number of seats on the D.C. Circuit from eleven to eight. Although Senator Grassley and others suggest that there are too many judges, the Judicial Conference and members of the federal judiciary have indicated just the opposite. In fact, the resounding message has been that the courts are struggling to keep up. In its March 2013 report the Judicial Conference suggested the addition of 70 permanent and 21 temporary judgeships, as well as converting eight temporary judgeships to permanent positions.

  • October 22, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    After more than four years of obstructing President Obama’s judicial nominations and causing the vacancies on the federal bench to hover at or above 80, right-wing organizations are ratcheting up their efforts to re-write history. The Heritage Foundation, proclaims that no obstruction has occurred and that Obama is remaking the federal bench, but asks us to ignore what unfolded during his first term. The lesser-known Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) is out with a slideshow of 13 graphics that aims to support an effort of Republican senators to shrink the size of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where vacancies have languished for years on end.

    Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has long sought to chop seats from the D.C. Circuit, widely considered one of the most powerful federal appeals courts in the land, claiming it has a flimsy workload. Grassley and his fellow Republicans successfully kept Obama from filling one of the D.C. Circuit’s longstanding vacancies until the start of his second term. There are still three vacancies on the 11-member court.

    When Obama announced three nominations to those vacancies earlier this year, Grassley introduced a bill aimed at cutting – you guessed it – three seats from the D.C. Circuit, arguing the Circuit’s current judges had light caseloads and there was no need for more judges. But as the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) and others have noted, Grassley’s claims about the D.C. Circuit ignore reality. The D.C. Circuit hears far more complex and constitutionally weighty matters than the other federal appeals court circuits. 

    The JCN is headed by Carrie Severino, an attorney devoted like the Tea Party to destroying health care reform and mild regulations (Dodd-Frank) of the financial industry. The group's “infographic” containing 13 slides purports to show that the D.C. Circuit “is the most underworked court in the country.” It is, as People For The American Way’s blog notes, a slideshow “recycling old, discredited arguments ….”

    Earlier this year when Grassley launched his latest attempt to slash judgeships from the D.C. Circuit, he claimed, “No matter how you slice it, the D.C. Circuit ranks last or almost last in nearly every category that measures workload.” That statement caught the attention of The Washington Post’s “The Fact Checker,” which concluded it was deserving of “Two Pinocchios,” meaning it contained “significant omissions and/or exaggerations.”

  • July 25, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Even after reaching a deal to move along some executive branch nominations, a gaggle of Republican senators is showing how far it is from giving up on obstructing President Obama’s nominations for long-standing vacancies on the federal bench.

    Yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to consider the nomination of Cornelia “Nina” Pillard to one of the three vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has drawn quick attention from reporters, scholars and activists for some of the accusations lobbed at Pillard, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center with a varied and deep legal career. (And Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) kept insisting the D.C. Circuit, which hears some of the most complex and time-consuming legal matters of all the appeals court circuits doesn’t need any more judges. But Patricia M. Wald, who served for 20 years on the D.C. Circuit, five of them as its chief judge, provides reality here.)

    But Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tried mightily to paint Pillard as unfit to serve on the federal bench. Pillard (pictured) has a widely respected legal career, including varied scholarship, and extensive work as an attorney for the federal government, including the Solicitor General and the Office of Legal Counsel; for mainstream boards seeking to provide services to multinational corporations, such as the American Arbitration Association, and for the long-respected civil rights group, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. But in their questions Lee and Cruz seemed to misstate or misrepresent what Pillard had said in writings and briefs she had authored years before. 

    Pillard has not only taught law, she’s practiced law representing the federal government and individuals seeking to enforce Congress's civil rights laws. But Lee and Cruz during the Senate committee hearing labored to create a far different picture. Specifically they focused on a short symposium article she wrote more than a decade ago that sought common ground on the divisive issue of reproductive choice, and an amicus brief she wrote in support of lower court decisions that had held Operation Rescue accountable for physically blocking women's access to family planning facilities. 

    But Lee and Cruz seemed either to misunderstand or misrepresent Pillard's own words. For example, Cruz claimed that Pillard had once written that abstinence-only education was constitutionally suspect. She did not and tried to explain it to the senator. Pillard pointed out that her article merely argued that such programs should not be bound by stereotypes. Instead she explained that abstinence-only education should be taught without promulgating stereotypes. Moreover that article was intended for policymakers offering ways to bridge a gap between anti-abortion activists and women’s rights advocates by identifying initiatives both sides could agree upon that would reduce the incidence of abortion.

    Cruz and Lee continued their misrepresentation of Pillard's legal work, claiming that in an amicus or friend-of-the-court brief that she equated anti-abortion activists to violent white supremacists, like the KKK. Again, the senators either did not read the brief or they shamelessly took parts of it out of context to tar Pillard. In reality Pillard argued that a civil rights law was aimed at private groups that interfered with or ‘hindered’ the police’s ability to protect people’s rights, no matter who the private groups were. In no way could the brief be read to say that a moral equivalency exists between anti-abortion activists and violent groups like the KKK.

    Pillard in fact has a stellar record reflecting moderate views, and has received the support of Republicans, former law enforcement and military officials, conservatives, and many leading members of the Supreme Court bar from both parties.

    Sen. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) noted that Pillard “has had a distinguished career as a practitioner, as an academic … she’s argued nine cases before the Supreme Court … spent her legal career in public service … and for the past 13 years, she’s worked as a professor of my alma mater, Georgetown University Law Center.”

  • June 11, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Sam Kleiner and Dan Sheehan. Kleiner and Sheehan are students at Yale Law School

    In the upcoming fight to confirm judges for the D.C. Circuit, Republicans are going to try to avoid a discussion of the incredible qualifications of the three nominees and instead claim that we don’t need the judgeships at all. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has introduced a Court Efficiency Act which seeks to transfer three of the eleven judgeships out of the D.C. Circuit because, he argues, they just aren’t busy enough. President Obama, in his Rose Garden address, responded that the Judicial Conference of the United States, chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, has supported maintaining the level of judgeships at the D.C. Circuit.

    Grassley’s argument is, at best, disingenuous. The D.C. Circuit plays a crucial role in supervising the administrative state with its unique jurisdictional focus on claims arising from the administrative agencies. Throughout the Obama administration, Republicans have focused on criticizing the growth of the administrative state. In his dissent this term in FCC v Arlington, Justice Roberts argued that “the Framers could hardly have envisioned today’s vast and varied federal bureaucracy and the authority administrative agencies now hold over our economic, social and political activities.” With their critique of the growth of the administrative state, it is disingenuous for conservatives to now flip and say that the appeals court that is tasked with the bulk of administrative law doesn’t have enough work.

    While it is true that the D.C. Circuit hears fewer cases than other appeals courts, as Grassley likes to point out, this argument misses the point entirely. As the Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit, Roberts delivered a lecture in 2005 entitled “What Makes the D.C. Circuit Different?” His answer: the type of case they hear.“One-third of the D.C. Circuit appeals are from agency decisions. That figureis less than twenty percent nationwide,” he noted. With the legislation creating an array of administrative agencies vesting power for review explicitly in the D.C. Circuit, Roberts noted, “Whatever combination of letters you can put together, it is likely that jurisdiction to review that agency’s decision is vested in the D.C. Circuit.”

    While Grassley complains about the limited workload of the D.C. Circuit, an examination of the statistics from the Judicial Conference confirms that his argument is false.

  • February 27, 2013

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Two hundred and twenty three days is a long time to wait for a new job. Yet, that’s the average number of days that an Obama judicial nominee must wait from nomination to confirmation.

    While they’re waiting, they have to put their professional lives on hold, lest they inadvertently do anything that might stall their confirmation. And, that’s just the average nominee; many have waited much, much longer. Caitlin Halligan, one of President Obama’s nominees to the influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has been waiting nearly three years for her confirmation to go through a bitterly divided Senate. Some say that Halligan’s nomination is controversial because of her statements on the Second Amendment and detainee rights. But, even completely uncontroversial nominees who are rated as “highly qualified” by the American Bar Association, like Bill Kayatta, who was recently confirmed to sit on the First Circuit, have languished for months in the Senate. Robert Bacharach, who was recently confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, had his confirmation delayed in a filibuster aided by his home-state Senators.

    When judges have to wait to take their posts, ordinary people have to wait increasingly longer for routine legal matters to get resolved. Right now there are 88 vacancies in the federal judiciary, about a third of those are considered judicial emergencies – where the judges on a court have so many cases that they are forced to preform judicial triage. In those courts, resolving a civil case can take years because criminal matters take higher priority on the docket, and even those can be significantly delayed despite the constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial. In some districts, there are so many vacancies that a term like “ghost court” wouldn’t be far off the mark. Six judgeships in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which includes Philadelphia, are vacant, along with five judgeships in the District of Arizona. There are even federal courthouses that have literally been sitting empty for years because no one has even been nominated to fill those judgeships.