President Obama will end his second term with more vacancies on the federal courts than there were when he started. Today there are 99 vacancies on the federal circuit and district courts, 33 of which are for courts that are so busy that they’ve been officially designated “judicial emergencies.” This glut of vacancies is in large part due to Senate Republicans’ persistent obstruction of the president’s nominees – even the ones from their own states who they purportedly support. During President Obama’s first term, judicial nominees have had to wait on average three times as long after committee approval for a vote from the full Senate as did nominees in President George W. Bush’s first term.
But some vacancies are due to a less well-known but all too common delay at the very start of the nominations process.
Before he makes a nomination to the federal judiciary, President Obama asks senators from the state where the vacancy has occurred to present him with recommendations. It’s a way to identify nominees from any given state and to ensure home-state, often bipartisan, support for nominees. The problem is, senators from both parties have too often dragged their feet in recommending acceptable nominees, leading to often years-long vacancies in the federal courts.
These vacancies exist despite the fact that most federal judges give months, sometimes even a full year of notice before retiring or taking senior status (semi-retirement) so that a replacement can be found.
This week, senators from Colorado and New Mexico showed how the process is meant to work – and how it would work, if all senators followed their lead.
In Colorado, district court judge Wiley Daniel announced last winter that he would be leaving his seat in January 2013. Colorado senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet set up a bipartisan commission to find qualified nominees for the seat in a timely manner. They then recommended a set of finalists to the White House, which in turn nominated Raymond P. Moore on Tuesday, before the seat he would fill becomes vacant. Of the 18 future vacancies currently listed by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, Colorado is one of only two states with a nominee.
In New Mexico, Judge Bruce Black announced in June that he would be leaving the court in October, just a few short months. So New Mexico’s senators, Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman, announced their bipartisan commission that very day, leading to the president’s nomination yesterday of Kenneth John Gonzales to fill the vacancy.
There is no excuse for seats on the federal courts to be left open for years, as caseloads multiply and litigants face delays. The senators from Colorado and New Mexico showed how the front end of the judicial nominations process can be efficient and fair.
As we continue to reveal the 2012 endorsed candidates of PFAW’s Young Elected Progressives program, here are three more great individuals, 35 or younger, running for office: Andrew Gounardes (NY), Micah Z. Kellner (NY) and Tim Keller (NM).
Andrew Gounardes is running to represent Brooklyn in the New York Senate. He currently serves as a member of Community Board 10 in New York City and is an attorney for the Citizens Committee, a non-profit organization focusing on providing funds for neighborhood improvement. When in school, Gounardes was the first Student Advisory Member to the Panel for Education Policy in New York City and he later worked as a legislative aide to U.S. Senator Robert Menendez. If elected, Gounardes will use his leadership experience to pass legislation improving public education, campaign finance laws and more. Visit his website here.
Micah Z. Kellner
Micah Z. Kellner is running for reelection to the New York Assembly. He has been serving in the Assembly since 2007 and has proven to be a great progressive leader. Kellner is a member on several committees including the Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection and the Committee on Cities. He has been a strong advocate for the disabilities community, as well as for marriage equality and reproductive freedom. Kellner also has fought for increases in the quality of public education through increased funding and is a champion for the middle class, as well, with efforts to make housing more affordable for all New Yorkers. Visit his website here.
Tim Keller is running for reelection to the New Mexico Senate. After graduating from college, Keller established Data Digital Divide, which helps land mine victims in Cambodia. Upon moving back home to New Mexico, he began working for Booz and Company, a management and strategy firm, and eventually rose to the position of Senior Manager. He has built up a strong record in office and with his business experience, has fought to put New Mexicans back to work and improve the economy. Keller was elected to the Senate in 2008 and has been named to multiple committees including: Education, Military & Veterans’ Affairs and is the Chair of Science, Technology & Telecommunications. Visit his website here.
In New Mexico today the state Court of Appeals upheld decisions by the state’s Human Rights Commission and a district court and found that a photography business which refused to photograph a same-sex couple’s commitment ceremony violated the state’s Human Rights Act, which declares that public accommodations like photo studios can’t discriminate on the basis of “race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex or sexual orientation, gender identity, or physical or mental handicap.” The court rejected the business’s claim that they are like a black photography company which wouldn’t want to photograph a Ku Klux Klan rally, pointing out that the “Ku Klux Klan is not a protected class. Sexual orientation, however, is protected.” The right-wing Alliance Defense Fund represented the couple and pledged to repeal the decision.
American Family Association’s Tim Wildmon and the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins said the case points to the danger of the “homosexual agenda.” “Folks, it’s coming to your town, the homosexual agenda, their social and political movement is coming to your town, you can’t avoid it,” Wildmon said:
AFA spokesman Bryan Fischer claimed that New Mexico “kicked out” the First Amendment, and said the further proof that homosexuality and freedom are incompatible:
I just cannot exaggerate the reality of what we face; we have got to come to grips with the fact that in America we are going to have to choose between homosexuality and religious liberty. You can just ask Elaine Huguenin, this Christian photographer in New Mexico, she is not even being allowed by the Court of Appeals in the state of New Mexico to make her own business decisions, to decide who she would like to do business with.
You can see right away the entire First Amendment has just been kicked out of New Mexico, the First Amendment is a worthless scrap of paper now in the state of New Mexico, no respect for freedom of religion, no respect for freedom of speech, no respect for freedom of association. That’s what’s at risk here, ladies and gentlemen, I am not exaggerating this: we have to choose as a nation, it’s either homosexuality or religious liberty, homosexuality or freedom of speech, homosexuality or freedom of association, we are going to have to choose.
Gary Bauer in an email to members of Campaign for Working Families lamented, “In New Mexico, the private bedroom behaviors of homosexuals trump religious freedom”:
For six years the Christian owners of a small photography business have fought the state of New Mexico for violating their religious liberty. At issue in this case was whether the owners would be forced to photograph a homosexual "marriage." When the couple refused, New Mexico's Civil Rights Commission accused them of discrimination and slapped them with a $7,000 fine. So the couple sued.
Last week, an appeals court upheld the Civil Rights Commission's fine ruling that religious freedom could not be the basis for discriminating against "protected classes," including homosexuals. According to one report, attorneys for the Christian couple asked the court to consider the example of a black photographer being asked to photograph a KKK rally. The judge was unmoved. In New Mexico, the private bedroom behaviors of homosexuals trump religious freedom.
My friends, I know the economy is front and center in this election, but the culture war is very real. This election will have tremendous consequences for the values we will pass on to our children and grandchildren. I cannot stress enough just how important it is for every conservative to vote this November.