As the U.S. Senate finally confirmed the nomination of Judge Edward Chen to a vacant seat on the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of California, ACS conducted a teleconference with bloggers about the ongoing crisis of escalating vacancies on the federal bench.
Chen, a federal magistrate judge since 2001 was nominated to the U.S. District Court seat, which has been declared a judicial emergency by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, more than 21 months ago.
Chen’s nomination, as noted by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy in a statement, was obstructed by Republicans who opposed his civil rights advocacy work. At a point in his legal career, Chen was a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
In Leahy’s statement today, he blasted the opposition to Chen, calling it “ugly.” He continued, “One Republican Senator [on the Senate Judiciary Committee] in explaining his opposition said that Judge Chen has the ‘ACLU gene.’"
Leahy noted that this should have been “an easy nomination to confirm. It is no surprise that Judge Chen’s nomination received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, unanimously ‘well qualified.’"
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid forged an agreement to limit debate on Chen’s nomination, hindering efforts by Republicans to block an up-or-down vote on Chen.
ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson lauded the action, calling it “a disservice to the nation to keep our federal courts hostage to petty politics.”
Fredrickson added that for nearly “two years, Republicans have worked to scuttle the nomination of this highly qualified and experienced jurist.” With federal court vacancies on the rise, Fredrickson blasted the delay tactics as “inexcusable.”
Chen (pictured), as Sen. Leahy noted, will become “only the second Asian Pacific American to serve on the district court bench in the 150-year history of the Northern District of California.”
In today’s ACS teleconference for bloggers, Fredrickson said there is far too little media coverage of the rancorous situation surrounding judicial nominations, which is leading to an escalating number of vacancies on the federal bench. She cited progress such as the recent confirmation of Rhode Island lawyer John “Jack” McConnell Jr. to the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island.
But Fredrickson said that this recent movement of the president’s judicial nominations “belies the truth that there has been a systematic delay of judicial nominees by Republicans in the Senate; people have gotten bottled up after having a unanimous vote out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, completely uncontroversial nominees who are held up because people can simply hold them up.”
She added that this is “a problem that is not getting better, it is getting worse. We anticipate a great number of retirements” of federal court judges over the coming years, which will produce more vacancies.
Professor Stone examined several consequences of the continued obstruction of judicial nominations, saying one of the most damaging is the politicization of the judicial nominations process.
Lemieux, a blogger at The American Prospect and Lawyers, Guns & Money, noted that the federal courts have long been skewed to the right due to the many Republic-appointed nominees. Unless the federal courts become more balanced, it means that policies enacted by the Obama administration are in danger of either being invalidated by the federal courts or interpreted in ways that are far afield from congressional intent.