Federal judicial selection

  • March 30, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Eric M. Gutiérrez, Legislative & Public Policy Director for the National Employment Lawyers Association


    President Obama routinely gets high marks for his efforts to diversify the federal judiciary by nominating “non-traditional” candidates for federal judgeships. In fact, nearly three of every four nominees confirmed to the federal bench during his Administration are either women or minorities; he also is the first president who hasn’t selected a majority of white males for lifetime judgeships.

    Articles and commentary addressing judicial diversity, however, have focused typically on racial, ethnic, and gender diversity. The National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) recently published a report entitled, “Judicial Hostility To Workers’ Rights: The Case For Professional Diversity On The Federal Bench,” which targets another type of diversity that is equally as important and sorely lacking on the federal bench — professional diversity. Like his predecessors, President Obama’s nominees have largely been corporate lawyers, judges, or prosecutors prior to their nominations, while fewer have been public defenders, legal services attorneys, or public interest lawyers. Even fewer have devoted their professional careers to representing workers and civil rights litigants.

    Overlooking qualified candidates whose professional experience includes representing workers in employment, labor, and civil rights cases inevitably reinforces the image of a judiciary that is unfamiliar with, and therefore indifferent to, the plight of everyday Americans. Moreover, as the NELA report points out, the lack of professional diversity has contributed to the increasing judicial hostility workers face in employment cases and the deleterious effect on workers’ access to the courts to vindicate their rights.

    Justice Byron R. White remarked on the value of Thurgood Marshall’s professional diversity:

  • March 23, 2012
    Following the recent deal to hold votes on 14 nominees, the Senate confirmed three district court nominees Thursday: David Nuffer to the District of Utah, Ronnie Abrams to the Southern District of New York and Rudolph Contreras to the District of Columbia.
     
    Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) voted against Nuffer, in spite of his stated support for his home-state nominee, in continued retaliation against President Obama’s recess appointments of Richard Cordray and three others.
     
    After last week’s Republican boycott of the Senate Judiciary Committee executive business meeting, the committee appeared poised again to lack quorum for this week’s meeting. A number of hours after its scheduled start time, enough senators finally convened to hold over one circuit judge and two district judges. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared one of these district seats a judicial emergency.
     
  • March 19, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    The Senate’s deal last week to confirm 14 judicial nominees over the next several months ensures that at least some long-pending nominees will finally get a vote. But even if all of these individuals are confirmed (which they likely will be), this would represent “just a fraction of the needed judges,” write three House members in an op-ed in Politico.

    Translation: the vacancy crisis on the federal courts persists. And among the overlooked consequences of the persistently high vacancy rate is that it harms our economy.

    “Simply put, they [vacancies] are bad for business,” write Reps. Charles Gonzalez, Emanuel Cleaver II and Judy Chu, the chairs of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. “While litigants’ cases remain pending, they must put their lives — and their business plans — on hold. This uncertainty prevents business owners from making the needed investments to create jobs.”

    The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen elaborates:

  • 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.”