Judicial Emergency

  • April 24, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    The U.S. Senate made another judicial confirmation on Monday. In a vote of 91-0, the Senate confirmed the nomination of George C. Hanks, Jr. to be a United States District Judge for the Southern District of Texas. Additionally, in unanimous voice votes, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted out two more nominees.  Kara Stoll, nominated to be a United States Circuit Judge for the Federal Circuit, and Roseann A. Ketchmark, to be a United States District Judge for the Western District of Missouri, were both voted out of committee. 

    Overall, the Senate continues to delay on confirming nominees. Republican leadership has refused to accept responsibility for the judicial vacancies. Texas, for example, has ten current vacancies according to the Alliance for Justice. Senate Republicans have done little to alleviate this pressing problem, and have they failed to accept their part in creating judicial emergencies. 

    U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley announced that he will recommend two Iowans for District Court vacancies this week, and it looks as though he will move quickly to move the nominees through the process. The Des Moines Register argues that the senator should apply this same sense of urgency to other nominees.

    Senator Mitch McConnell may be slowing down judicial nominations as means of getting back at Democrats for previous filibuster reforms. But as ACS President Caroline Fredrickson points out in a recent article at Talking Points Memo by Sahil Kapur, these delays may offer an opportunity for progressives to mobilize their base.

    After the confirmation of Loretta Lynch, the Senate now needs to consider Sally Yates to be Deputy Attorney General. Senator Patrick Leahy issued a statement on the nomination and the importance of moving more quickly on judicial nominations.

    There are currently 53 vacancies, and 23 are now considered judicial emergencies. There are 17 pending nominees. For more information see judicialnominations.org.

  • February 27, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to report four judicial nominees to the Senate floor: Alfred H. Bennett, George C. Hanks, Jr., and Jose Rolando Olvera, Jr., to be U.S. District Judges for the Southern District of Texas, and Jill N. Parrish to be a U.S. District Judge for the District of Utah. 

    Also on Thursday, the White House announced the nomination of Mary Barzee Flores and Julien Xavier Neals to serve on the United States District Courts. Flores is nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and Neals is nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

    People for the American Way discuss at their blog the problem with Republican inaction as judicial emergencies increase. Due to delays in identifying recommendations for vacancies and scheduling committee votes, there are now multiple situations in which vacancies have become judicial emergencies.

    There are currently 49 vacancies, and 20 are now considered judicial emergencies. There are 14 pending nominees. For more information see judicialnominations.org.

  • July 2, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Senate Republicans’ agenda of delaying or scuttling judicial nominations has had a particularly corrosive impact on the U.S. District Courts where there are currently 65 vacancies. A July 2 report from the Brennan Center for Justice reveals the large number of vacancies has stayed consistent for five consecutive years for the first time in 20 years.

    Brennan Center Counsel Alicia Bannon in a statement about the report said, “Our trial courts are in trouble. As seats remain unfilled, millions of Americans who rely on district courts are being denied the justice they deserve. District courts can no longer wait. The president and the Senate must find a way to fill these crucial seats. The report, authored by Bannon, also finds that “average caseload in 2009-2012 was 13 percent higher than the average for the preceding four years. Had all vacancies been filled between 2009 and 2012, judges would have had an average of 42 fewer pending cases each year.”

    The larger caseloads are hampering the ability of district courts nationwide to dispense justice, but are having, the report says, an even greater burden on districts where judicial emergencies exist. “Analysis shows that judicial emergencies – a designation of districts with an acute need for judges – have been higher in 2010-2012 than at any other point since 2002,” the Brennan Center notes.

    The report cites several factors that “likely account for the unusually high and sustained level of district court vacancies since 2009. District courts experienced an atypically large number of retirements during the first three years of the Obama presidency, leading to a surge in the number open seats, while at the same time, fewer total district court nominees were confirmed during President Obama’s first term than in other recent administrations. Nominees also faced record wait times from nomination to confirmation in the Senate as compared to other recent administrations, and the President trailed his predecessors with respect to the number of judges nominated during his first three years in office. Finally, many home state senators have been slow to recommend nominees to the President, particularly in states with two Republican senators, which has delayed the process of identifying the nominees.”

    Other reports have shown that Obama has long since picked up the pace of putting forth nominees, but Senate Republicans have not altered their agenda of obstruction. Republicans led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have not only continued to slow-walk the president’s judicial nominations, they are holding up his nominations to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and nominations to the five-member National Labor Relations Board. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has even pushed a measure to cut the number of judgeships on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  

  • December 2, 2011
    Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed cloture Thursday evening on the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. That vote to end debate and hold an up-or-down vote on her nomination will occur  Tuesday at noon. Halligan was nominated to fill a seat vacated in 2005 by now-Chief Justice Roberts.
    As part of a deal to schedule votes on five nominees, the Senate unanimously confirmed the nomination of Christopher Droney to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, notes Judge Droney will fill a judicial emergency vacancy that has existed for more than two years.
    The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out the nominations by voice vote of Jacqueline H. Nguyen to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Gregg Jeffrey Costa to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, and David Campos Guaderrama to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
    President Obama nominated U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy S. Hillman to the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and litigator Robert J. Shelby to the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah.
  • April 22, 2010

    President Obama announced more judicial nominees this week, while the Senate overcame obstruction to confirm some long-delayed executive and judicial nominations.

    Among the nominees confirmed is Duke law professor Chris Schroeder, who President Obama selected to lead the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy. Schroeder is a co-author of Keeping Faith with the Constitution, a book published by ACS. His nomination languished in the Senate for 11 months before being confirmed by a 72-24 vote.  

    Other confirmations include Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and Judge Denny Chin to the Second Circuit. Vanaskie's nomination, announced in August 2009, received Senate approval by a vote of 77-20. Chin was nominated last October and confirmed unanimously this week.

    While Chin's nomination was delayed in the Senate, the Second Circuit became the site of "the worst judicial emergency in the nation, as defined by the Judicial Conference of the United States," The Blog of the Legal Times reports. "There are 920 'adjusted filings per panel,' compared with a threshold for emergencies of 700 adjusted filings per panel."