by Nicole Flatow
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit holds the title of the nation's busiest appeals court, with twice the caseload of the next busiest circuit.
While the West Coast court experienced some relief when Jacqueline Nguyen of Los Angeles was confirmed to a Ninth Circuit judgeship just a few weeks ago, three other vacant seats remain, all of which are considered judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Paul Watford, nominated in October with broad bipartisan support, would fill one of these seats. But senators have blocked a simple up-or-down vote on his nomination.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid moved to force a vote on Watford’s nomination. The Senate will vote on the motion to invoke cloture Monday, deciding whether to prevent a simple yes-or-no vote on yet another qualified, consensus nominee.
Cloture has historically been considered an extraordinary measure, particularly when it comes to judicial nominations, which the Senate once processed quickly as a matter of course. But since President Obama took office, an exasperated Reid has resorted to the measure 27 times.
Watford was nominated in place of now-California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, whose nomination was also filibustered. In withdrawing his nomination after more than a year and two hearings, Liu cited the Ninth Circuit’s dire need for judges.
Among those who showered praise on Watford were Henry Weissmann and Jeremy Rosen, both former presidents of the Los Angeles Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society; conservative bloggers Eugene Volokh and Orin Kerr; former Bush administration lawyer David Collins; and the general counsels of Verizon, CIRCOR, Mattel and Google.
Nonetheless, when Watford’s nomination was considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, not a single Republican voted in favor of his nomination.
In a letter to senators in November 2010, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and a number of other Ninth Circuit judges implored the Senate to "act on judicial nominees without delay," citing a “desperate need for judges.”
“Courts cannot do their work if authorized judicial positions remain vacant,” the letter said.