Judicial Nominations

  • April 23, 2015
    Guest Post

    by K.O. Myers, coordinator of the Iowa Fair Courts Coalition, and Development and Operations Manager at One Iowa in Des Moines.

    On April 14, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) recommended candidates to fill two upcoming District Court vacancies here in his home state of Iowa. If President Obama takes the Senator’s suggestions, he’ll nominate Magistrate Judge Leonard Strand for an opening on the Northern District of Iowa, and state district Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger for the Southern District. The nominations will then go to the Senate Judiciary Committee to begin a lengthy confirmation process where, if recent history is any guide, they’ll collide with one of their biggest obstacles to confirmation: the Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley.

    Article II of the Constitution reserves an important “advice and consent” role for the Senate in confirming the president’s judicial nominees. These are lifetime appointments, with the power to invalidate actions of the political branches. Under our thoughtfully designed system of checks and balances, it makes sense that neither the legislative nor executive should have exclusive control over staffing the judiciary.

    As chair of the Judiciary Committee, Grassley wields enormous influence on the confirmation process. He sets the agenda for the committee, and is responsible for scheduling hearings and votes on pending nominees. Potential judges can’t proceed to a Senate floor vote until they’ve been vetted by the committee.

    Unfortunately, Grassley and his Republican Senate colleagues have enthusiastically embraced the “check” portion of that famous formula, and don’t seem particularly concerned about “balance.” On the day Grassley announced his recommendations, the Senate held its first vote on a judicial nomination, three months after the Republican majority took over in January, unanimously confirming Alfred H. Bennett to a vacancy in the Southern District of Texas. On April 20, the Senate held a second vote, confirming George C. Hanks, Jr. As former Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy noted after the first vote, by April of 2007 the Democratically controlled Senate had confirmed 15 of then-President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees. (In fairness to Grassley, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is responsible for scheduling confirmation votes on the Senate floor.)

  • April 17, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced the nomination of Justice Wilhelmina Marie Wright to fill an upcoming vacancy on the U.S.  District Court for the District of Minnesota. Since 2012, Justice Wright has served as an Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

    Months after its opening session, the U.S. Senate made its first judicial confirmation of the year on Monday. In a unanimous vote, the Senate confirmed Alfred Bennett to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. As the Houston Chronicle reports, however, there are still at least two other pending confirmation votes for Texas federal judges.

    The blog for People for the American Way provides commentary on the first judicial confirmation vote. While the confirmation should be celebrated, the post argues, the delay in reaching this point shows how dysfunctional the confirmation process has become.

    There are currently 54 vacancies, and 23 are now considered judicial emergencies. There are 18 pending nominees. For more information see judicialnominations.org.

  • February 13, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    In Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee Executive Session discussion, four nominees were held over until a later meeting: Alfred Bennett, George C. Hanks, Jr., and Jose R. Olvera, Jr. to be U.S. District Judges for the Southern District of Texas and Jill N. Parrish to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Utah. 

    Despite change in leadership of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the pattern of Republican obstructionism continues with the use of the procedural tactic to “hold over” judicial nominees. Alliance for Justice critiques the practice in a recent blog post.

    The Detroit Free Press reports that in a meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House this week, Muslim-American leaders asked the president to nominate a Muslim-American to the federal bench. There has not yet been a federal judge in the U.S. who is Muslim.

    Vocativ provides a list of the senators that have been the most likely to vote against Obama appointees and stall the judicial nomination process. 

  • February 6, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    On Wednesday, President Obama nominated Waverly D. Crenshaw Jr. and Lawrence Joseph Vilardo to serve on the United States District Courts. Crenshaw is nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, and Vilardo is nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York. These are the first announcements of judicial nominees for 2015.

    Jonathan Bernstein asserts at Bloomberg View that it is time for the Republican Senate to make the first confirmation of 2015. “[I]t’s important for the government to function smoothly, and that means filling vacancies,” writes Bernstein.

    Judiciary Committee members in the House and Senate have introduced a bill that aims to stop sue-and-settle regulation, reports The Hill. Thirty-five groups, including the Alliance for Justice, have published an open letter urging Congress to ensure that citizens can stand up for their rights in court.

    Lawmakers are still considering whether to change Senate rules so that Supreme Court nominees could be confirmed with a simple majority, reports The Wall Street Journal. James Downie at The Washington Post warns Senate Democrats to be careful about their filibuster strategy and response to these proposed changes.

    There are currently 45 vacancies, and 13 are now considered judicial emergencies. There are 14 pending nominees. For more information see judicialnominations.org.

  • December 19, 2014

    by Rebekah DeHaven

    This week we saw a strong ending to the 113th Congress with the confirmation of all twelve district court nominees who were on the Senate floor. On Tuesday, December 16, the Senate confirmed all nominees by voice vote, with the exception of one who was confirmed by a roll call vote (noted below):

    • Haywood Gilliam, Northern District of California;
    • Amit Priyavadan Mehta, District of D.C.;
    • Jorge Alonso, Northern District of Illinois;
    • John Blakey, Northern District of Illinois;
    • Allison Burroughs, District of Massachusetts;
    • Stephen Bough, Western District of Missouri, 51-38;
    • Joan Azrack, Eastern District of New York;
    • Loretta Biggs, Middle District of North Carolina;
    • Robert Pitman, Western District of Texas;
    • Amos Mazzant, Eastern District of Texas;
    • Robert Schroeder, Eastern District of Texas; and
    • Elizabeth Dillion, Western District of Virginia.

    These votes bring 2014 to a close with an impressive total of 89 judicial confirmations. The 113th Congress concludes with only 42 current judicial vacancies and 25 future vacancies. When President Obama took office in 2009 there were 55 current judicial vacancies, and this week's votes finally brought the current number of vacancies below where the President began. In President Obama’s six years, there have been 307 confirmations, adding significant diversity to the federal bench.

    When the Senate returns in January there will be 43 current vacancies and 24 future vacancies.[1] Of the 43 current vacancies, 12 are now considered judicial emergencies. All pending nominations were returned to the President at the end of the Senate session, and President Obama will need to re-nominate them at the beginning of the 114th Congress.

    [1] A Western District of New York future vacancy will become current on 1/3/2015.