Judicial Vacancies

  • November 21, 2014

    by Rebekah DeHaven

    This week, the Senate voted to confirm eight U.S. District Court nominees. On Tuesday, November 18, the Senate confirmed three nominees:

    Leslie Abrams, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, by a vote of 100-0;

    Eleanor Ross, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, by voice votes; and

    Mark Cohen, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, by voice votes.

    Later in the week, after invoking cloture, the Senate confirmed an additional five nominees:

    Pamela Pepper, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, by a vote of 95-0;

    Brenda Sannes, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, by a vote of 96-0;

    Madeline Arleo, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, by voice vote;

    Wendy Beetlestone, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, by voice vote; and

    Victor Bolden, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, by a vote of 49-46.

  • November 14, 2014

    by Rebekah DeHaven

    The Senate returned this week following the midterm elections and its first order of business was to consider two district court nominations. On November 12, the Senate voted to invoke cloture on Randolph Moss (nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia) and Leigh Martin May (nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia). Senator Reid (D-Nev.) also filed cloture on Eleanor Ross, Mark Cohen, and Leslie Abrams, all nominated to the Northern District of Georgia. On November 13, the Senate voted to confirm Moss, 54-45, and May, 99-0.

    Also on November 12, President Obama made four new judicial nominations: Dale Drozd to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, LaShann Moutique DeArcy Hall to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Luis Felipe Restrepo to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and Kara Farnandez Stoll to the Federal Circuit. 

    On November 13, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Joan Marie Azrack (U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York), Loretta Copeland Biggs (U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina), and Elizabeth K. Dillon (U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia). The Senate Judiciary Committee was also scheduled to vote on nine nominees, but they were held over at the request of Senator Grassley (R-Iowa).

  • November 7, 2014

    by Caroline Fredrickson, President, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. Follow her on Twitter @crfredrickson. This piece originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

    Many may despair -- believing the next two years in Washington will be a long slog of tiresome partisan fights with no positive action to improve the lives of Americans. But moping is the last thing progressives should be about.

    Let's talk judicial nominations. Federal courts are vital -- they decide pressing matters every day, whether they are challenges to employment discrimination, corporate malfeasance, or immigration appeals. Do we just throw our hands up on judicial nominations, buying into a lazy argument that nothing much can be done now with a Senate controlled by Republicans? There likely are many important policy matters that will be shelved. But it doesn't have to be that way with judicial nominations. On this front there's work to be done and it can be achieved with an energetic attitude -- not apathy.

    There are 64 vacancies on the federal bench and if we give up on the federal courts that number will spike and we'll have judges with outlandish caseloads and Americans with a sluggish, inefficient court system. Part of the Senate's job is to confirm judges to ensure our country has a well-running judicial system. We know all too well that for much of Obama's presidency, Senate Republicans have obstructed the process, slow-walked the president's nominations while arguing everything was just fine. Republican leaders who will take control of the Senate in the New Year are talking about cooperation and working with President Obama, but let's be ready to hold them to their words.

    Some of the current vacancies can and should be filled during the lame-duck session. Democrats in the Senate need to get over the outcome of the midterm elections in quick manner and fill 25 vacancies, which can be done -- with the right attitude. There are 16 judicial nominees who have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and are ready for up-or-down votes on the Senate floor. There's no excuse for letting those nominees languish. There are also nine nominees, who have had hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Committee should move those nominations to the Senate floor as soon as possible. This is doable in the lame duck.

    And then the next two years -- again no time for dwelling on what could have been. The Senate Republicans may turn back to their obstructionist ways -- let's hope not. Maybe they'll surprise us on the judicial nominations front and realize this is an area for cooperation. But if not, progressives must be ready to push back and keep up the pressure, reminding as many Americans as possible of the great importance our judicial system is to a well-functioning democracy.

  • November 21, 2013

    by Rebekah DeHaven

    Today the Senate took a historic step to change the filibuster rules for judicial nominees so that they only require 50 votes, and not 60, for confirmation. Referred to as the “nuclear option,” this rules change is a bold move by Senate leaders, and one forced upon them by obstructionist senators striving to block President Obama’s nominees. Quoting ACS President Caroline Fredrickson, “something had to give.”

    Over the course of the past month these obstructionists have halted all three of President Obama’s candidates to fill the three vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit Court. There are no credible doubts about these nominees’ qualifications. Instead, some senators tried to argue that the D.C. Circuit’s caseload doesn’t necessitate filling these vacancies, even though the Judicial Conference, headed by Chief Justice John Roberts, recommended maintaining the 11 seats on the D.C. Circuit.

    The real reason for the blockade lies in the importance of the D.C. Circuit and some senators’ desire to maintain its conservative tilt. Of the eight active judges on the court, four judges were nominated by a Republican and four were nominated by a Democrat. However, there are six senior judges, five of whom were appointed by a Republican. These senior judges routinely hear cases and participate in court decisions, so their importance should not be underestimated. Often described as the second-most important court in the country, second only to the Supreme Court, the D.C. Circuit hears many complex and regulatory cases that involve the federal government. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid explained, “It is a troubling trend that Republicans are willing to block executive branch nominees even when they have no objection to the qualifications of the nominee... And they block qualified judicial nominees because they don’t want President Obama to appoint any judges to certain courts.” With the official government shutdown over, certain lawmakers embarked on an effort to shut down the judiciary instead.

    There are 93 current vacancies in the federal judiciary and 38 judicial emergencies throughout the country. This leaves over 10 percent of the federal judicial system vacant, hindering people’s access to the courts in a timely manner. Facing this dire reality, Senate leaders reformed the filibuster rules to ensure that President Obama’s nominees get a fair vote and are not held hostage to a partisan agenda. The change was a necessary step to stem the judicial vacancies crisis from becoming an even larger emergency in the future, and to get the confirmation process back on track.

  • October 16, 2013

    by Rebekah DeHaven

    As the government shutdown stretches into its second week, Library of Congress events remain cancelled and the National Zoo Panda Cam dark. More importantly Congress’s work on judicial nominations, already gridlocked, has been affected too. The Senate did manage to confirm a few judges. The Senate Judiciary Committee, however, postponed an October 3 hearing to vote on the nomination of U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and for 5 other District Court nominees, and an October 9 hearing for the nomination of Matthew Leitman to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

    Federal courts are on the brink of exhausting their reserves. Courts across the country are considering which employees to deem “essential” and asking employees to work without knowing when they will be paid. Although a deal appears imminent, the public is finally getting a clear picture of what the landscape would look like if courts shut down, and what preparing to run out of resources has meant for our judicial system.

    But this is not entirely unfamiliar territory. Our courts have been hobbled because of insufficient funding and staffing, for a very long time. At the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference in June, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts warned, “we have sustained cuts that mean people have to be furloughed or worse and that has a more direct impact on the services that we can provide.” Similarly, Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said that the “cuts are an assault on the whole system.”