Yesterday, as part of the agreement on 14 judicial nominations reached between the parties last month, Republicans allowed the Senate to hold a confirmation vote for Brian Wimes, nominee for a district court judgeship in Missouri. Wimes was forced to wait four months for a vote on his nomination, which was finally approved by an overwhelming 92-1 vote. At this pace we are losing ground. This morning, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts announced that the number of judicial emergencies has skyrocketed to 39. With this reminder that our federal court system is in a state of crisis, there is no reason to keep putting off long-stalled votes that could be held today.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy spoke on the Senate floor yesterday about the situation:
The Senate is still so far this year only considering judicial nominations that could and should have been confirmed last year. We will conclude the first four months of this year having only considered judicial nominees who should have been confirmed before recessing last December. We have yet to get to any of the nominees we should be considering this year because of Republican objections to proceeding more promptly.
With nearly one in 10 judgeships across the Nation vacant, the judicial vacancy rate remains nearly twice what it was at this point in the first term of President George W. Bush …
That is because of the needless delays in holding confirmation votes. At this point in Bush’s term, the Senate voted on his confirmed district court nominees an average of 22 days after they cleared committee. But due to GOP obstruction, that period leaps more than fourfold to 96 days for President Obama’s district court nominees. As noted above, Brian Wimes was forced to wait 130 days before his nearly unanimous confirmation vote yesterday.
When the two parties reached their agreement last month, 35 vacant seats had been declared judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. As noted above, that number has gone up to 39 today. The number of vacant seats has remained near 100. The number of pending nominees being denied a timely floor vote was 22 then and 21 today.
This is not progress. Instead, these are more clear signs that the pace set by last month’s agreement is too slow. For the good of the American people and our system of justice, the Senate must significantly speed up votes on President Obama’s judicial nominees.