According to the FEC, a mere 23 wealthy donors have contributed a breathtaking $53 million to the super PACs supporting Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. Sheldon Adelson has said he is willing to give as much as $100 million to Newt Gingrich’s super PAC. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s infamous willingness to drop everything to take a call from one of the Koch Brothers makes clear that wealthy benefactors have access and influence on elected officials far beyond that which ordinary people could ever dream of.
But while the wealthiest of businesspeople seek to buy influence with presidential and congressional candidates, there is one branch of the government that stands apart from this unseemly activity: the federal judiciary. With a promise of Equal Justice Under the Law, courtrooms offer a forum where justice is not for sale. Judges with lifetime tenures don’t rely on big donors to keep them in office or propel them to a higher court.
Most people don’t have easy access to high-level elected officials. But when an individual walks into the courthouse, she has as much right as the mightiest corporate giant to argue her case before a federal judge. Courts have a special and unique role in our society, one that cannot be replaced.
But without enough judges, that special role is at risk. The Congressional Research Service says the federal judiciary is experiencing the longest sustained vacancy crisis in 35 years. While President Obama is nominating highly qualified people to the federal bench, Senate Republicans are engaged in unprecedented obstruction to keep them from being confirmed – even though they have no objection to the actual nominee.
A courtroom where any American can stand equal with the most powerful plutocrat isn’t worth much if there is no judge available. Senate Republicans should explain why they are keeping our federal judiciary from functioning effectively by keeping qualified nominees off the bench.