Judicial Nominees

  • October 29, 2010

    President Barack Obama twice called for reform of the filibuster-one of the procedural tactics that has been used to block confirmation of judicial nominees-this week: first during a meeting with liberal bloggers and again during an appearance on "The Daily Show." "What we've been seeing is unprecedented, and that makes it very difficult for us to move forward," Obama told host Jon Stewart. During his earlier meeting with progressive bloggers, the president said the filibuster is not in the Constitution and "may have arisen purely by accident because somebody didn't properly apply Robert's Rules of Procedure and forgot to get a provision in there about what was required to close debate. And folks figured out very early, this could be a powerful tool. It was used as a limited tool throughout its history. Sadly, the primary way it was used was to prevent African Americans from achieving civil rights."

    The filibuster and other procedural measures have allowed a minority in the Senate to impede the confirmation of qualified nominees, leading to a critical number of vacancies on the federal bench. Matthew Yglesias, a fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund, touches on this connection in a video podcast interview with ACSblog here.

  • October 22, 2010

    The struggle for an independent judiciary and the politicization of judging, at all levels of government, was made clear this week when a retiring administrative law judge on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission alleged that his colleague made a secret deal with a former Republican chairwoman of the agency to rule against all plaintiffs. As The Washington Post reported, George H. Painter, one of two administrative law judges who adjudicate complaints by investors alleging violations of the agency's rules, wrote in a notice that the other judge secretly promised the chairwoman that he would never rule in a complainant's favor. "A review of his rulings will confirm that he fulfilled his vow," Painter wrote in the document, which he submitted at the time of his retirement announcement. Painter said he could not "in good conscience" allow any of his pending cases to go to Judge Bruce Levine, and asked the agency to find an administrative judge from elsewhere in the federal government to take on his cases.

    Meanwhile, Linda Greenhouse questioned whether Chief Justice John Roberts would  "take a page from his mentor," former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and use his end-of-the-year announcement to draw attention to the vacancy crisis and chide the Senate for its inaction.

  • September 23, 2010

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Against the backdrop of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today of several federal district and circuit judicial nominees who were re-nominated by President Obama, pressure is mounting from a variety of sources on the Senate to stop the harmful delay and take immediate action on languishing judicial nominations.

    The New York Times noted in an editorial called, "An Extreme Judicial Blockade," that the Senate Judiciary Committee was set to consider earlier today "nominees for the federal district and circuit court judgeships who have already been approved by the committee once, or even twice."

    The editorial highlighted the re-nomination of Goodwin Liu, associate dean and professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. If confirmed Liu "would be the only Asian-American serving as an active judge on the United State Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit." The newspaper notes that Liu (pictured) "went to Stanford, was awarded a Rhodes scholarship and graduated from Yale Law School. He clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before beginning" his teaching career at one of the nation's top law schools. "Indeed," the editorial maintains, "it is largely his stellar background that is fueling Republican opposition. Mr. Liu, who is 39, is seen as a strong possibility to be on President Obama's short list for a future Supreme Court vacancy."

    Marcia D. Greenberger, of the National Women's Law Center, in a column for The Huffington Post, wrote, "Commentators and journalists have been focusing recently on the pace of confirmations to federal judicial positions - and for good reason. Procedural roadblocks have become routine even for nominees with bipartisan support - resulting in a dramatic slowdown in judicial confirmations."

    ACS distributed to Senate leaders a letter from former federal court judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents calling for the delays to end. "At this moment, our courts are overburdened and increasingly certain vacancies are being designated as ‘emergencies' by the Administrative Office of the Courts because of the length of time the court has been without a judge. This situation is untenable for a country that believes in the rule of law," the judges maintain in their letter.

    The Senate committee, largely along party lines, advanced four of the five nominees, including Liu, who had been re-nominated, the Legal Times reports.

    Following the committee's work, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy blasted the ongoing obstruction of the judicial nominations process.

    "A number of recent articles have discussed the judicial vacancy crisis that has been created by the Republican strategy of slow-walking consideration of non-controversial nominations," said Leahy in a press statement. "These include district court nominations, which have traditionally been considered without delays, and have never before been targeted for obstruction by Democrats or Republicans when supported by their home state Senators. There is no good reason to hold up consideration for weeks and months of nominees reported unanimously from the Judiciary Committee."

    To keep track of vacancies on the federal bench and status of judicial nominations visit the ACS project, JudicialNominations.org or receive updates from Facebook.

  • September 8, 2010
    The slug's pace with which the Senate is confirming the Obama administration's judicial nominations continues to garner media attention and derision from those concerned about a federal bench that has a growing number of vacancies.

    A recent Associated Press article notes that Senate Republicans have remained steadfast in their determination to stall the administration's judicial picks, which has resulted in a situation where the administration has "put fewer people on the bench than any president since Richard Nixon at a similar point in his presidency." The AP notes that "there are 45 nominees awaiting action, two for nearly 13 months."

    Yesterday, The Huffington Post's Sam Stein noted that although the administration has voiced anger over Republican obstructionism "even sympathetic observers acknowledge that the president is largely powerless (if not helpless) on the matter." Stein maintains, "That's because both he and allies in Congress simply lack the tools to force the Republican Party's hand."

    In a piece for the Constitutional Accountability Center's Text & History blog, Judith E. Schaeffer writes that even the president's least controversial nominees - and he has few that have drawn serious controversy - have been victims of the obstruction. Schaeffer notes that in early spring Kimberly Mueller was nominated to fill a vacant seat on the Eastern District of California "and was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 6 without opposition, yet is languishing in Senate limbo, still waiting for a confirmation on the Senate floor."

    Schaeffer says Mueller is "about as uncontroversial as judicial nominees get," citing her sterling legal credentials, including the ABA's top rating and a stint as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in California.

    Schaeffer blasts the Senate Republican's tactics, writing:

    So why is Kimberly Mueller still waiting for a vote? The answer is simple, and unacceptable. Throughout the Obama presidency, Senate Republicans have taken judicial obstructionism to an entirely new level, abusing the Senate's procedural rules to block even the most uncontroversial of the President's judicial nominees and giving new meaning to the phrase "Just Say No." Mueller is one of many of these new pawns in this obstructionist game, which Republicans are playing to increase the backlog of nominees on the Senate floor and keep President Obama from filling judicial vacancies. This rank, hyper-partisanship diminishes the ability of our federal courts to dispense justice fairly and timely, and should concern every American, no matter his or her political leanings.

    As noted here yesterday, President Obama has urged the Senate to cease with the delays, and recently Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has joined that call.

    In article for The Huffington Post, ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson wrote, "The vacancies on the federal bench will continue to grow, considering the glacial pace at which the Senate is moving on the president's judicial selections, resulting in a judicial system that is already overburdened coming to a grinding halt."

    To follow the growing crisis on the federal bench, visit the ACS web-based project, JudicialNominations.org, which includes an interactive map detailing where the vacancies are and how long nominees have languished. Updates from JudicialNominations.org are available via its Facebook page.

  • May 13, 2010

    "The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of Goodwin Liu to be a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, sending him to the full Senate for consideration after a party-line vote of 12 Democrats in favor to 7 Republicans opposed," reports The New York Times' Charlie Savage.

    The Committee also approved without opposition the nominations of federal prosecutor Ray Lohier to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Magistrate Judge Leonard Stark to the District of Delaware. Both nominations were forwarded to the Senate floor without dissent.

    The debate on Liu, a Berkeley Law professor and former ACS board chair, has "increasingly become a proxy for Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court," the Blog of the Legal Times suggested, with Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Committee's ranking member stating, that, "In Solicitor General Kagan, President Obama has chosen another academic who has focused on policy the majority of her career, including in the Clinton White House, and who has never been a judge or seriously practiced law."

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein responded by highlighting three appellate judges who came from law schools and who were in their 30s when nominated by a Republican president: Frank Easterbrook of the Seventh Circuit, Kimberly Moore of the Federal Circuit, and J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the Fourth Circuit.