America's second most important court is now missing over a third of its judges. When Judge David Sentelle took senior status yesterday, the D.C. Circuit Court was left with its fourth vacancy. Only seven active judges – four nominated by Republican presidents (George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush) and three by a Democratic President (Bill Clinton) – currently decide the important and complicated issues, involving labor law, consumer rights, national security, environmental justice, and many more that come before the D. C. Circuit. In most cases, decisions by these judges are the final word because most cases are not reviewed by the Supreme Court.
This vacancy crisis in the D.C. Circuit must be addressed. The President has nominated individuals to fill two of the vacant seats, and the Senate should act quickly to confirm them. One, Caitlin Halligan, was first nominated more than two years ago in September of 2010. Her nomination is expected to be voted on again in the Senate Judiciary Committee this Thursday. The other, Sri Srinivasan, is awaiting hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Because of the types of cases it hears, many of which involve the role of government in protecting the health and well-being of individual Americans, there is no more important court short of the Supreme Court. To bring the Court to full strength, the two pending nominees should be confirmed and the President should submit for the remaining two vacancies strong nominees, from diverse professional backgrounds, who understand the impact of the law and the Constitution on everyday Americans.