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:
If you are sued for a million dollars, for example, you might choose not to invest that million dollars in a new store, or in hiring new employees, until the lawsuit is over. And if you are suing for money, you aren't likely to spend it until you get it. What federal trial judges do for these litigants, therefore, isn't just to pick a winner and a loser in a particular. The court system provides the oil that helps run the machinery of commerce.
A new White House infographic shows that 16 percent of civil litigants waited more than three years to resolve their cases in 2010, up from just 6.6 percent in 2006. And on the criminal side, the government spent $1.4 billion in 2010 to detain criminal inmates while they awaited their trial, the infographic shows.
“Sadly, few Americans understand the impact these judicial vacancies have on their lives,” wrote Ashley L. Belleau, then Federal Bar Association president, in an April 2011 op-ed. “Those of us who try federal cases know its impact in the continuance of cases for months, even years, without decision. Vacancies and delay add greater costs to already high litigation expenses. For business clients, these costs get passed on to customers. And when the United States is a party to the case, it means that the public is paying that higher tab.”
But all of this was lost on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell when he said of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s move to force a vote on 17 judicial nominees, “This is a needless exercise and a waste of the Senate's time because I assume these 17 people already have a job.”
“It was an epic comment made,” laments Cohen,” … that reminded me of how little respect some lawmakers must feel for judicial nominees, how little understanding they must have of what federal judges do, and how little senators must care about who suffers when worthy nominees are blocked from adjudicating cases as quickly as practical.”