'Judicial Emergency' Declared in Arizona

A federal judge in Arizona has declared a judicial emergency, effectively relaxing the time limits set for trying accused criminals in 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 Jan. 8 (see Gavel Grab). Judge Roll was among six people who died. His successor as chief federal district judge, Roslyn O. Silver, subsequently declared the emergency, according to an Arizona Republic article, entitled “Judge John Roll’s Death Prompts Judicial Emergency.”

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said he was hopeful that Congress would take action in response to the emergency declaration.

According to the Arizona Republic, amid clamor for tougher enforcement of drug and immigration laws, federal felony caseloads have soared to a record high in the state; and judicial appointments have slowed due to partisan politics in Washington. Judge Roll’s slaying worsened the problem. He had sought an emergency declaration.

“The district court in Arizona urgently needs additional resources. Judicial vacancies need to be filled and new judgeships should be given strong consideration,” the Wall Street Journal quoted Judge Kozinski as saying.

The federal court in Arizona claims the highest criminal caseload in the region covered by the Ninth Circuit and the third-highest caseload in the nation. Two districts in Texas rank ahead of it.

An article in the Houston Chronicle explored high criminal caseload in the border region. It reported:

“A skyrocketing number of immigration and drug cases along the U.S.-Mexico border and delays in nominating and confirming judges to fill vacancies are creating a judicial emergency in Texas and other Southwest states, federal officials say.”

Chief District Judge Fred Biery of the U.S. Western District of Texas said about Judge Roll’s efforts and the Tucson rampage, “Perhaps out of this tragedy people will focus on what is going on down here.”

A Chronicle editorial made a similar point, urging an end to partisan fighting over judgeships:

“Indeed, Roll had attended the congresswoman’s meeting with her constituents to seek her assistance in speeding up the process of filling judicial vacancies. Perhaps that poignant note can serve as the impetus for Republicans and Democrats alike to set aside political differences in the interest of easing a potentially explosive situation. We hope it will.”

To learn more about President Obama’s record on judicial nominations, click here for Gavel Grab.

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