Gavel Grab

Writer Blasts Senators for Inability to Confirm Judicial Nominees

Lawmakers seem increasingly unable to fill one of their basic constitutional duties, filling judicial vacancies across the country. Instead, senators continue to obstruct President Obama’s judicial nominees, leading to a vacancy crisis in our courts, says Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Gerald F. Seib in a Wall Street Journal article.

While Obama’s administration should take some of the responsibility for this predicament by not quickly nominating candidates, the “lion’s share of the blame lies with the Senate,” Seib writes.

Senators have historically recommended to the president nominees from their home states for judgeships. However, this process slows down when senators from different parties disagree, and they decline to endorse the nominee or they threaten a filibuster. Read more

1 comment

Commentary: GOP Senators Continue Obstruction of Judicial Nominees

GOP lawmakers continue to play politics with federal judicial nominees, bringing the confirmation process to a grinding halt, reports MSNBC. On Melissa Harris-Perry Saturday, the host and her guests discussed the problems that have led to a rise in judicial vacancies across the country.

According to the program, 40 percent of federal courts are now considered “judicial emergencies” because they have fallen so far behind in their workload without a full bench of judges.

A Longmont Times-Call editorial states that one vacancy in a Texas federal district court has been empty for more than 1,700 days. Another in Arizona has not been filled for more than 1,200 days.

The editorial, entitled “Get Federal Judges into Open Slots,” argues that ”lawmakers are playing politics with federal judicial nominees, which means important cases get delayed, courts are overloaded, nominees endure months of waiting in limbo, judicial integrity is compromised, and the American people get poor service from one the country’s three branches of government.” Read more

No comments

Budget Cuts Cause Delays, Limit Access to Justice

Across-the-board federal budget cuts, known as sequestration, are causing delays in court cases and depleting the resources of federal public defenders.

The Boston Marathon bombing suspect’s trial may be delayed due to staff furloughs at the federal public defender’s office that has agreed to represent him, reports the Associated Press.

On Thursday, members of the Federal Bar Association met with members of the House and Senate on Capitol Hill to appeal for adequate funding of federal public defenders’ offices. Read more

No comments

D.C. Area Federal Courthouses Struggle Under Budget Cuts

Integral individuals to federal courthouses in the Washington, D.C. region have been alerted that they may have to take more than a dozen furlough days in the upcoming months. Federal prosecutors, public defenders and U.S. marshals are all preparing to take unpaid leave due to across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, reports the Washington Post.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth is considering closing the courthouse every other Friday starting April 26. He expressed uncertainty as to the duration of the scheduling changes.

D.C. Superior court spokeswoman Anita Jarman says that funding cuts will limit how often hallways and restrooms are cleaned, as well as when escalators can be fixed.

Federal public defenders may have to take up to 27 days of unpaid leave from now until September. “It’s tremendously demoralizing, even for people who are used to fighting against extraordinary odds,” said public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia, Michael S. Nachmanoff. “These cuts are devastating. At some point, the program can’t survive.” Read more

No comments

Federal Court Officials Announce Courthouse Closures and Furloughs

Federal courts all across the country are announcing that they will be furloughing employees and closing courthouses in the wake of across-the-board federal budget cuts earlier this year.

Courts in Colorado and other states are planning to close on Fridays from April 26 through September, according to the Blog of Legal Times. U.S. Chief District Judge Marcia Krieger of Colorado ordered “an end to hearings and trials in criminal cases” during those five months.

The article states that the full consequences of the $350 million cut to federal court funding are “still unknown.”

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has mentioned that Department of Justice employees may be furloughed, but he will not make a final decision on this until mid-April. Read more

No comments

Federal Judge Says Sequestration Undermines the Mission of the Courts

On Wednesday, federal judge and chair of the Judicial Conference Budget Committee Julia S. Gibbons (photo), testified before a House Appropriations Subcommittee on the dire impact of sequestration on federal courts.

According to the United States Courts webpage, Gibbons warned that under budget cuts, “the Judiciary cannot continue to operate at such drastically reduced funding levels without seriously compromising the Constitutional mission of the federal courts.”

Gibbons noted areas where a lack of monetary resources would prevent the courts from functioning effectively, such as providing legal counsel for individuals who can’t afford an attorney, and paying for security personnel to “ensure the safety and security of court staff, litigants, and the public in federal court facilities.” Read more

No comments

Andrew Cohen: Sequestration a Threat to Our Legal System

Chief judges from all the federal circuit courts will gather at the semi-annual meeting of the Judicial Conference of the U.S. this week, and court budget cuts caused by sequestration will be at the top of their list for discussion.

The public’s legal rights will undoubtedly be denied or delayed by these massive across-the-board budget cuts, says Andrew Cohen in an article for The Atlantic. The judiciary was  designed to be an equal branch of government, and its leaders should not have to “grovel for funding” from the other two branches, Cohen says.

Dennis Courtland Hayes, president of the American Judicature Society, warned in February that up to 2,000 federal court employees could be furloughed or laid off with the new budget cuts in place, reducing resources for individuals seeking legal help. Read more

No comments

Michael Shipp Confirmed to Federal Court in New Jersey

On Monday, the U.S. Senate in a 91-1 vote confirmed Magistrate Judge Michael A. Shipp (photo) to be a federal district  court judge in New Jersey, reports the (Newark) Star-Ledger. With Shipp’s confirmation, “all 17 spots in New Jersey for district court judges will soon be filled,” reports the article.

Despite Shipp’s near unanimous confirmation, the vote came about after vicious partisan bickering, according to a National Law Journal article. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed for cloture in order to force the nomination to come to a vote after Sen. Rand Paul had “threatened to filibuster.” Paul backed down Monday afternoon, the article says, but a bitter debate was sparked on the floor between Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, and the committee’s ranking Republican member, Senator Chuck Grassley.

“The cloture vote that was vitiated had nothing to do with the judicial confirmation process in general, or this nominee in particular,” Grassley said. He contended that Republicans were trying to maneuver around Democrats’ use of parliamentary procedures on other matters.

Grassley went on to say that he was not surprised that senators who have trouble collecting votes for their amendment would “use Senate rules and procedures to bring pressure on the majority leader for a vote.”

Leahy retorted that Grassley was attacking him without having given him any notice first. Leahy also said, “This was the 29th time the majority Leader had been forced to file for cloture to end a Republican filibuster and get an up-or-down vote for one of President Obama’s judicial nominees” (see Gavel Grab for background).

Both sides accused the other of acting unfairly during the debate.

Shipp had previously worked for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, and became the first African-American magistrate in that district five years ago. His character was highly praised by both New Jersey senators.

No comments

When Should Judges Recuse over their own Campaign Contributions?

The growing debate over recusal of judges over campaign cash has seeped into the federal courts.  This time questions involve contributions made by judges.  The National Law Journal reports that two members of the Minnesota Supreme Court, which has been hearing litigation over the prolonged U.S. Senate race recount there, have donated to incumbent Norm Coleman or to a political action committee that has supported him.  Another justice gave money to former Coleman opponent Paul Wellstone.

Two Minnesota justices have already said they will recuse themselves from hearing a recount appeal because they were part of a five-person board that oversaw the original recount.

No comments

The Chief Justice, Judicial Pay, and the Role of the Courts

In his traditional New Year’s Eve message, Chief Justice John Roberts noted that Congress again failed to provide federal judges with something granted to every other federal employee:  an annual cost-of-living increase.  Indeed, judges’ salaries have declined in real terms over the past twenty years. The Chief Justice noted that the entire judiciary accounts for only 0.2% of the U.S. budget.  

“The Judiciary is resilient and can weather the occasional neglect that is often the fate of those who quietly do their work. But the Judiciary’s needs cannot be postponed indefinitely without damaging its fabric,” he noted.  “The Judiciary must also continue to attract judges who are the best of the best.”

During these times,” he added, ”when the Nation faces pressing economic problems, resulting in business failures, home foreclosures, and bankruptcy, and when Congress is called upon to enact novel legislation to address those challenges, the courts are a source of strength. They guarantee that those who seek justice have access to a fair forum where all enter as equals and disputes are resolved impartially under the rule of law.”

No comments

Next Page »