Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Vacancies' Category

On Judicial Vacancies

In a piece written for The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen discussed the increase in judicial vacancies during the Obama Administration and the consequences of having an absence of judges.  In his words, senators are “starving the federal courts of the trial judges they need to serve the basic legal needs of the litigants who come to court each year seeking redress of their grievances.”

Cohen suggests that the ongoing vacancy crisis could be the outgrowth of a strategy by some senators to minimize the number of nominees sent to the President,  and ultimately limit the number of judges the current White House gets to place on the bench.

Also cited in this piece, a study from the Center for American Progress identified a backlog of more than 12,000 federal cases in Texas where there are seven vacancies without nominees on the federal-trial bench.  For previous coverage of the “judicial emergency” districts in Texas, see Gavel Grab.

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Judicial Nominations Process Remains Mired in Politics

Judicial-VacanciesFederal judicial vacancies remain at high levels, as nominations continue to be embroiled in political fights. In Texas, The Dallas Morning News’ Dallas News  website reports that finger-pointing between the White House and the state’s two U.S. Senators continues, as federal courts that handle Texas cases operate with 10 vacant judgeships.  Highlighting the controversy, the article cites a report by the Center for American Progress claiming that “The blame for this judicial vacancy crisis falls squarely on the shoulders of Texas’s two U.S. senators.”  Senator John Cornyn’s office fired back, claiming that “the senators have sent at least three potential nominees to the White House for consideration,” according to the Dallas News piece.

Meanwhile, a federal judicial nominee in Nevada advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee despite last-minute  “surprise opposition,” according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.   Richard Boulware’s hearing in the committee was uneventful, the paper reported, so a Thursday rollcall vote, in which every Republican committee member except one voted against him, was unexpected.  Critics questioned why those voting against Boulware had not raised objections during his hearing.  Boulware’s nomination advanced after the committee’s Democratic majority voted to move it forward.

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Commentary: Senate Must Fill Judicial Vacancies in Florida

senatelogoDecrying “unprecedented obstruction and delays” in the U.S. Senate over confirming judges, a progressive advocate in Florida says four new nominees for federal district courts in the state must be approved swiftly.

“It shouldn’t be a years-long process to appoint a federal judge. We should expect our senators to fill all the vacancies on Florida’s [U.S.] district courts quickly now that we have extremely qualified nominees,” writes Mark Ferrulo, director of Progress Florida, in a Florida Today op-ed. Sens. Marco Rubio, a Republican, and Bill Nelson, a Democrat, “are the only ones who can make that happen,” he adds.

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On Judicial Vacancies and 'Gaping Holes' in N.J. Justice System

New_Jersey_quarter,_reverse_side,_1999In New Jersey, where the Democratic-controlled state Senate and Republican governor have long disagreed on judicial nominations, there now are about 50 vacant judgeships in the Superior Courts, the Record reported. Overall, there are “gaping holes in the justice system” due to vacancies, the newspaper said.

Case backlogs face the state’s court system, partly due to the judicial vacancies.  In Essex County, for example, where there are 21 Superior Court vacancies, nine judges have been detailed from other areas to help with the workload, and nonetheless 44 percent of criminal cases were backlogged as of last June. That compared to a 35 percent backlog in 2006.

Backlogs cause delays, overworked judges and stress for people who use the courts. “It also drives up the legal expenses for and emotional toll on all of the parties,” said Kenneth Rosenberg, president-elect of the Essex County Bar Association. Read more

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Arizona Not Alone in Suffering From U.S. Judicial Vacancies

Judicial-VacanciesThree years ago, U.S. District Court Judge John M. Roll was waiting to talk to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords about an overload of cases facing the federal courts in Arizona when both were shot outside a Tucson supermarket, Judge Roll fatally. In the wake of this tragedy, the very problem that was on Judge Roll’s mind that day has only gotten worse.

Only last month did the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hold a confirmation hearing on six nominees for federal judgeships in Arizona, arrived at in  deal between the White House and the state’s Republican senators. Last week, the Judiciary Committee approved the nominees and sent them to the full Senate for further consideration.

A Courthouse News Service article documents the large overload facing sitting federal district court judges in Arizona and says, about the federal courts there and elsewhere, “Political obstructionism has taken its toll on courts that have already faced a double-barrel assault from sequestration and last year’s government shutdown.”

Even if the six are confirmed, 29 judgeships deemed “judicial emergencies” will remain, the article says, concluding, “In other words, Arizona is only one part of an ever-present problem – the same issue Judge Roll was intent on tackling more than three years ago.”

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Report: More Trial Court Vacancies Than Before Rules Change

Vacant judgeships on the nation’s federal district courts have increased from 75 to 80 since Senate Democrats forced a rules change in November to eliminate filibusters of most judicial nominations, the Brennan Center for Justice says.

In addition, the current number of trial court vacancies is significantly higher than at a corresponding point in the presidency of Bill Clinton (60) or President George W. Bush (35), the group says in a report. Writes Alicia Bannon, author of the analysis:

“Three months after Senate Democrats reformed the filibuster rules for executive and judicial nominees, Senate obstruction continues in new forms, and courts and litigants are paying the price.  When the Senate returns from its holiday recess on Monday, February 24, it should move forward on confirming pending judicial nominees.”

The Brennan Center is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

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A Trailblazing Judge Steps Down in Arizona, and Another Succeeds Her

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Roslyn Silver is the first woman to hold the top federal judicial post in the District of Arizona.  Court officials have announced that she will step down from her position on September 3rd and be replaced by Judge Raner C. Collins.  A report from kpho.com notes that Collins will be the first African American chief judge in the district.

Silver was appointed to the federal bench by then President Bill Clinton in 1994.  The Associated Press reported that Silver assumed her current position as chief justice after Chief Judge John Roll and five others were killed in the 2011 Tucson shooting that wounded former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others.

The district has not received a new judgeship since 2002 and has six judicial vacancies out of 13 current positions.  Ten additional judgeships have been recommended for the district by the Federal Judgeship Act of 2013.  Vacancies coupled with budget cuts that have created additional challenges that Collins will have to handle in his new position.

Justice at Stake is currently engaged in a five-year judicial diversity pilot project to build a pipeline for future judges of diverse backgrounds in Arizona as well as in other states.  More information on this work can be found here.

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Florida's Stalled Nominations and Multiple Vacancies

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is facing criticism for stalling the Senate approval of two federal judicial nominees he had previously endorsed.  Sen. Rubio has not yet provided a “blue slip” to the Senate Judiciary Committee, a part of customary procedure that signals to the committee chairman that they have the consent of senators to proceed with their state’s nominees.

Sen. Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida had recommended Brian Davis and William Thomas, who are both African-American, for U.S. district court judgeships last year.  The Huffington Post covered the backlash from the Congressional Black Caucus, including public statements from several representatives from Florida.

In addition to the two judicial vacancies it is currently seeking to fill, Florida is anticipating two more vacancies and the Tampa Bay Times has reported that the application deadline for all four judicial positions has been extended to mid-August.   The chairman of the state’s Federal Judicial Nominating Commission, John Fitzgibbons, is quoted as saying, “It is quite extraordinary to have four U.S. district judge vacancies in Florida at the same time.”

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Filibuster Fight Could Affect Judicial Nominations

Lingering ripples over a last-minute deal to avert filibuster rule changes in the Senate (see Gavel Grab) might affect the tenor of upcoming judicial confirmation processes, according to a blog in the Wall Street Journal.   In the past week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threatened changes to Senate rules to curb filibusters that have blocked recent executive branch nominees.  Although judicial nominations had not been included in Sen.  Reid’s proposals, his willingness to threaten a “nuclear option” suggests a similar debate could ensue over judges,  the Wall Street Journal piece says.  Three nominees for the D.C. Circuit Court will be seeking confirmation  in the coming months.

Republicans have previously filibustered two prominent Obama administration judicial nominations:  Berkeley law professor, Goodwin Liu, nominated for the federal appeals court in 2011, and Caitlin Halligan, nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit this past March.  Liu withdrew his name from consideration and Halligan requested to be withdrawn following two filibustered votes on her nomination.

Regarding the absence of judicial nominations from the filibuster debate earlier this month, Lori Sturdevant of the Star Tribune wrote, “… federal judges would be justified in feeling slighted. Their branch of government is as vital to the country as the others, and it has been just as ill-served by Senate gridlock.”  The vacancy rate in U.S. district courts continues to stand at about 10 percent resulting in increased workloads, heavier reliance on more senior judges and delays in court procedures.

For more Gavel Grab coverage on judicial vacancies, click here.

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In Vacant Federal District Judgeships, Report Sees 'Crisis'

The Brennan Center for Justice released today a report addressing federal judicial vacancies and resulting unprecedented workloads that are currently burdening federal district courts.  The report identifies a “crisis” in the district courts and calls for President Obama and the Senate to find a way to fill crucial seats and address three urgent issues:

  • Judicial vacancies have remained high throughout Obama’s time in office, with annual vacancies averaging higher than during the previous administration.  After district court vacancies dramatically increased in 2009 they have continued to rise in number.  For the first time since 1992, the average number of district court vacancies has remained above 60 for five years in a row.
  • Heavy caseloads are a direct result of high vacancy levels, creating unprecedented workloads for sitting judges.  The number of pending cases per sitting judge (for both full-time active judges and part-time senior judges) reached an all-time high in 2009 and was higher in 2012 than at any point between 1992 and 2007.
  • High need districts, cited as having a greater number of judicial emergencies, have the most acute need for judges.  The number of judicial emergencies was higher in 2010-2012 than any other point since 2002, the last year for which comparable data is available. Read more
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