An opinion piece in the News & Observer, by two attorneys from the UNC Center for Civil Rights, looks at how growing caseloads and a judicial vacancy crisis have restricted diversity and strained the federal courts in North Carolina.
According to authors Mark Dorosin and Brent Ducharme, the political motivation displayed in recent opposition to President Obama’s nomination of a successor to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has occurred when it comes to filling appellate and district judgeships, but gone under the radar. There are currently 76 vacant judgeships on the federal district and appellate courts.
“While the high-profile and abstract constitutional debate swirls around a replacement for Justice Scalia, critical vacancies on the lower courts remain ignored, and the wait for those seeking relief and justice grows longer,” they write.
The Eastern District of North Carolina is highlighted as a particularly bad example of how partisan obstruction has prevented a seat being filled for 10 years (the longest standing vacancy in the federal judiciary by more than four years), and has blocked attempts to fill the position with a judge who reflects the diversity of the region.
“[Jennifer Prescod] May-Parker, the chief of the Appellate Division at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District, would have been the first African-American person to serve as a federal judge in North Carolina’s Eastern District. However, her nomination was blocked by N.C. Sen. Richard Burr and was never even considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” they note. “In Eastern North Carolina, they’ve been waiting 10 years for a new judge – and 143 for one who reflects the diversity of the region.”