Federal judicial selection

  • March 16, 2012
    Following Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) bold move to file cloture petitions on 17 judicial nominees at once, Senate leaders reached a deal late Wednesday to hold votes on 14 over the next few months. Under the deal, the Senate will hold votes on 12 federal district court judges and two circuit court judges between now and May 7, with votes on a few nominees held each week.
     
    The deal leaves out eight other nominees who are ready for an immediate Senate vote, and does not consider those additional nominees who will reach the Senate floor over the next two months. “The deal Senator Reid reached today with the Republicans who were obstructing any and all action is certainly a step in the right direction,” said American Constitution Society President Caroline Fredrickson. “Of course, the persistently high rate of vacancies on our courts continues – and with one in 10 seats still empty, litigants whose safety, security and livelihoods are on the line will continue to wait years for a resolution in court.”
     
    As part of the deal, the Senate on Thursday confirmed two nominees: Gina Groh to the U.S. District Court for the District of West Virginia by a vote of 95-2, and Michael Fitzgerald to the U.S. District Court for the District of Central California by a vote of 91-6. ThinkProgress reports that Fitzgerald will be “only the fourth openly gay lifetime tenured federal judge in American history.”
  • March 14, 2012

     

    By Nicole Flatow

    Following Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s bold move to file cloture petitions on 17 judicial nominees at once, Senate leaders reached a deal late Wednesday to hold votes on 14 judicial nominees over the next few months.

    Earlier on Wednesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had blasted Reid’s move to force votes on the nominees as a “gimmick,” dismissing allegations that Senate Republicans have obstructed judicial nominations, even though Obama nominees have, on average, waited four times longer for a vote than Bush nominees for a confirmation vote.

    Under the deal, the Senate will hold votes on 12 federal district court judges and two circuit court judges between now and May 7, with votes on a few nominees held each week, Roll Call reports. 

    But the deal leaves out eight other nominees who are ready for an immediate Senate vote, and does not consider those additional nominees that will reach the Senate floor over the next two months.

     “The deal Senator Reid reached today with the Republicans who were obstructing any and all action is certainly a step in the right direction,” said American Constitution Society President Caroline Fredrickson. “Of course, the persistently high rate of vacancies on our courts continues – and with one in 10 seats still empty, litigants whose safety, security and livelihoods are on the line will continue to wait years for a resolution in court.”

  • March 12, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    Ramping up his aggressive push to fill long-vacant seats on the federal courts, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took the extraordinary measure Monday of filing motions to force votes on all 17 district court nominees pending on the Senate floor.

    “Republicans have refused to allow us to even vote - won't even allow us to vote - on these qualified judicial nominees,” Reid said. “Republicans have prevented the Senate from doing its constitutional duty and that's what it is.”

    Motions to invoke cloture have historically been considered extraordinary even when filed one at a time. But the filing of 17 cloture petitions on district court nominees is an unprecedented measure, taken to clear some of the 83 vacancies that continue to plague the federal trial courts.

    “Unfortunately, Republicans have forced our hand,” Reid said. “What else can we do?”

    All 17 of these nominees would fill seats on the federal trial courts, and half of those seats are considered judicial emergencies.

  • March 9, 2012

    The Senate on Tuesday confirmed two judicial nominees to federal district court seats considered judicial emergencies. Mary Phillips was confirmed 95-2 to the Western District of Missouri and Thomas Rice was confirmed to the Eastern District of Washington by a vote of 93-4. But the Senate left behind 18 others who were ripe for an immediate up-or-down vote. “A mere two confirmation votes are disgracefully less than what is needed to clear the backlog and restore a functioning court system to the American people,” People for the American Way notes on its blog. “It isn't even enough to make up for the anticipated four nominations that the Judiciary Committee will likely advance to the floor later this week, resulting in a net increase in the backlog.”

    As expected, the Senate Judiciary Committee did approve four more district court nominees on Thursday, bringing the total number of nominees awaiting a vote by the full Senate to 22.

    The Washington Post reports that Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is planning an effort to force up-or-down voteson a bundle of nominees. With 18 nominations currently pending on the floor, the newspaper suggests that Reid might try to push most if not all of them.

  • March 5, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    A bipartisan duo of law professors emphasized the urgent need for judicial nominations reform in The New York Times this week.

    In a proposal featured in The Times’ “Sunday Dialogue,” the University of Minnesota’s Richard Painter and the University of North Carolina’s Michael Gerhardt lament the “judicial vacancy crisis on our federal courts,” and summarize the reform proposal laid out in their American Constitution Society Issue Brief, “Extraordinary Circumstances: The Legacy of the Gang of 14 and a Proposal for Judicial Nominations Reform.”

    “President Obama has had a lower percentage of his judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate than any other recent president at this point in his term,” they write in The Times. "Filibusters, which have historically been used to block legislation and can be sustained by as few as 41 senators, are part of the problem." 

    Gerhardt and Painter point out that Obama, recognizing the severity of the obstruction problem, recently offered his own proposal for nominations reform: require up-or-down votes on all nominees within 90 days (this proposal was immediately endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid).

    If the Senate adopted this proposal, it would necessarily eliminate much of the long-term obstruction contributing to the vacancy crisis. But, in the event that the Senate is looking for reform with a bit more wiggle room, Gerhardt and Painter have another option for the body to consider: