judicial vacanices

  • April 30, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) likes to pin blame for the high vacancy rate on the federal bench on President Obama, saying he has not put forth enough nominees. Some befuddled reporters have bought and pushed Grassley’s line, or at least part of it to report that both parties are to blame in this matter.

    Grassley and others, however, should take a look at the work of Jennifer Bendery at The Huffington Post, who notes, like other honest observers of the fight over judicial nominations, that the obstruction is and always has been the product of Republican senators. A careful look at the judicial nominations process reveals, she writes, “the bigger problem is Republican senators quietly refusing to recommend potential judges in the first place.”

    Obama came into office promising to work with the other party and on judicial nominations that is what he’s attempted to do. In their 2012 book, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein blast Republicans as being largely to blame for the heightened obstruction of nominations and legislation.

    Citing a study by the Alliance for Justice, “Judicial Vacancies Without Nominees,” Bendery reveals it is rather lazy to report that both parties are to blame for the ongoing strife over judicial nominations and the large number of vacancies on the federal bench. Most of the nominees to the federal bench are to the district courts and senators, Bendery notes, jumpstart that process. Senators are supposed to make “recommendations from their home states, and the president works with them to get at least some of the nominees confirmed – the idea being that senators, regardless of party, are motivated to advocate for nominees from their states.”

    The research from AFJ shows that it is largely Republicans who are stalling the process. Michelle Schwartz, director of AFJ”s Justice Programs, told Bendery, “It’s disingenuous at best for Republicans to complain about the number of judicial vacancies without nominees when Republicans themselves are responsible for the majority of those vacancies. Nearly two-thirds of the vacancies without nominees are in states with at least one Republican senator, most of whom have consistently refused to work with the White House in good faith to identify qualified candidates.”

  • December 3, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Senate may soon vote on one of the 19 judicial nominations that were left pending before members recessed in August for electioneering. Even if it does take a bit of time to confirm a judicial nominee, the Senate still has a long way to go to fill a large number of vacanices on the federal bench, which were caused primarily by Senate Republicans' obstructionism.

    Some continue to write that the Obama administration has failed to put forth enough nominations for the federal bench. But that’s merely reciting a right-wing or Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) talking point. It doesn’t add much anymore to the conversation. The Brookings Institution's Russell Wheeler noted earlier this year in a progress report on judicial nominations that while Obama, at that point in his presidency had made fewer district court nominations than Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, he had also made more circuit court nominations.

    The only point that matters is that the federal bench has a high number of vacancies – more than 80, and many of them are judicial emergencies – not because of the number of nominations made, but the number of nominations stalled. Moreover, as an unnamed White House aide told The Huffington Post, it doesn’t make a difference as to when the nominations are made, as long as the Senate continues to obstruct. (Yes, The Post piece cited also includes the lame line about Obama not nominating enough folks for the federal bench.)

    The 19 pending nominees have already been run through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and are ready for an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. Regardless of the battle to reach a budget deal to avoid a so-called fiscal cliff, consideration of these nominees would not take much floor time if the Senate were properly functioning.

    “There is no justification for holding up final Senate action on the 19 judicial nominations that have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and are pending on the Senate Executive Calendar,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in a Nov. 30 statement. “President Obama has consistently reached across the aisle, consulted with home state senators from both parties and appointed moderate, well-qualified judicial nominees. It is time for the obstruction to end and for the Senate to complete action on these nominees so that they may serve the American people with further delay. Delay for delay’s sake is wrong and should end.”

  • November 13, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A week after President Obama handily won re-election - and his party gained in the Senate - one might think the other party would finally understand that elections have consequences. For example, the president has a duty to appoint judges to the federal bench, and the Senate should be ready to provide some advice and consent, not obstructionism.

    Since his first election, however, Senate Republicans have shown tremendous contempt for all things Obama, including the president’s selections to the federal bench. And the result has had devastating consequences for the judiciary. The bench has seen a historic number of vacancies, hovering, at times, near a hundred, many of them deemed judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts of the federal bench. The ringleader of obstructionism in the Senate is its Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). (He famously said early in Obama’s first term that his party’s top priority was to ensure that Obama would be a one-termer. McConnell has now claimed Obama needs to become more moderate. It looks already as if the senator from Kentucky is going to ignore the president’s landslide victory, the majority of the American people and continue dwelling in a rightwing cocoon.)

    He’s being prodded by the rightwing activists who are not ready, likely never will be, to accept the 2012 election results. They’re peddling myths like declaring the Senate does not address judicial nominations during lame-duck sessions or that Obama’s nominees can surely wait a tad longer until he is sworn in for a second term in January.

    Then there’s the National Review Online’ s Ed Whelan, long obsessed with keeping the federal bench tilted as far to the right as possible. So, as Media Matters’ Sergio Muñoz points out in this blog post, Whelan is now urging Senate Republicans to stick with obstructionism. Citing a recent NRO piece by Whelan, Muñoz writes that he is calling on continued obstruction of current judicial nominations and expand it “to any and all Supreme Court nominees.”

  • October 1, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A longstanding meme is that conservatives are concerned about the makeup of the Supreme Court, while progressives, not so much. A paper released by ACS on the opening of the Court’s new term, spells out why progressives should be really concerned about the Supreme Court, if they are not already.

    The paper, “Courts Matter: Justice on the Line,” notes the current high court is typically divided 5-4 along ideology on a host of matters that progressives should be concerned about, such as corporate funding of elections, abortion rights, voting rights, privacy rights and equality. The paper speculates on how a more conservative or progressive high court might address some of the nation’s most pressing legal concerns.

    For example, the document says a “more conservative Supreme Court might uphold onerous restrictions on a woman’s right to choose and otherwise limit her reproductive freedom – and perhaps even overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.” There are two cases decided by a conservative Supreme Court that have already revealed a desire to limit, if not overturn, Roe.

    The high court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey created a new standard for deciding when limits on reproductive freedoms pass constitutional muster. For example, waiting periods, parental consent and informed consent are no limits on women’s freedom to a medical procedure. For that matter states have also mandated that physicians give women lectures on abortion or force them to under ultrasounds to view sonograms. And in a 2007 opinion, the Court upheld as constitutional a state law banning late-term abortions.

    The advancement of marriage equality might also be slowed by a more conservative Supreme Court, the paper notes. In 2003, the high court by a 6-3 vote invalidated as unconstitutional a Texas law banning sodomy. The ACS paper maintains that today Lawrence v. Texas would likely be a 5-4 opinion.

    Let’s note here too that early next year, Jan. 18-19, ACS will host, along with the UCLA School of Law, the Williams Institute, the Yale Information Society, and the Program for the Study of Reproductive Justice, a conference focusing on the impact of Roe and Lawrence and contemplating the future of both equality and liberty concerns. See here for more information about the conference called “Liberty/Equality: The View from Roe’s 40th and Lawrence’s 10th Anniversaries.”

  • September 20, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Republicans keeping to their obstructionist ways blocked an effort by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid to force votes on 17 district court nominations that have languished in the chamber.

    Obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominations has been ongoing since the start of his first term, and the federal bench has a record number of vacancies, more than 80. Sen. Reid had called for unanimous consent to secure confirmation votes for 17 district court nominations. “There are places around the country where we have judges who are tremendously overworked on these cases,” Reid said.

    But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell objected to the move, claiming the president has been treated fairly.

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who has consistently called out Republicans’ obstruction of the president’s judicial selections, decried today’s action.

    Leahy noted that Obama’s predecessors did not face this kind of trouble appointing judges to the federal bench, especially district court judges.

    “However,” Leahy said in a press statement, “Senate Republicans have raised the level of partisanship so that these Federal trial court nominees have now become wrapped around the axle of partisanship. Despite a vacancy crisis that threatens the ability of Federal courts to provide justice for the American people, Senate Republicans now refuse to allow a vote on any of the 17 pending district court nominees, including 12 that have been declared judicial emergency vacancies.”