Chief Judge Implores Senators to Fill Judicial Vacancies

July 26, 2011

by Nicole Flatow

The Senate unanimously confirmed two federal district court nominees today, three-and-a-half months after they were confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In past years, these nominees would have been confirmed the same week they were unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy said on the Senate floor. “For some reason, my friends on the other side think it should be different with a Democratic President than it was for a Republican President, or for that matter, all past Presidents.”

Although the Senate made some limited progress today in confirming Paul A. Engelmayer to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and Ramona Villagomez Manglona to the District Court for the Mariana Islands, “these needless delays perpetuate the judicial vacancy crisis that Chief Justice Roberts, a Republican appointee, wrote of last December and that the President, the Attorney General, bar associations and chief judges around the country have urged us to join together to end,” Leahy said.

Now another chief judge has joined the plea to the Senate to confirm judges.

 “Unfilled positions in our Court present an undue hardship on the citizens residing in the Southern District of Florida, particularly those with cases pending in the affected division of the Court,” U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida Chief Judge Federico A. Moreno wrote in letters to Sens. Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid.

Moreno called on the senators to “expedite the Senate’s confirmation” of two nominees to the Southern District of Florida, noting that the three judicial vacancies in that district have created a “judicial shortage” that is “becoming acute.” Both nominees, Kathy Williams and Bob Scola, were unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As Leahy notes, many other judges and legal leaders have decried the judicial vacancy crisis. But in spite of this outcry, there are now as many current and future vacancies as there were at the beginning of 2011, when senators came to a “gentleman’s agreement” to end obstruction of judicial nominations. As Jonathan Bernstein observed in The Washington Post recently, “It appears … that the deal has now broken down.”

Leahy said this week that the 25 remaining nominees who are ripe for a final vote, most of whom had no opposition from the Judiciary Committee, “could be disposed of within an hour.” With less than two weeks before the Senate is scheduled to recess, and election season fast approaching, the question is, will the Senate answer the plea of Judge Moreno and others to fill these long-vacant seats now?

To learn more about the judicial vacancy crisis and follow developments, visit