Some common threads ran through the comments of senators and nominees alike at yesterday's confirmation hearing for six district court nominees in Arizona: The importance of the courts to the American people, and the critical role of experiential and personal diversity among those who serve on the bench.
Sen. Mazie Hirono opened the Judiciary Committee hearing by noting that "our federal district and appellate courts hear tens of thousands of cases each year, ranging from criminal prosecutions to complex environmental and consumer protection litigation. But in order for Americans to receive swift access to justice, these vacancies must be filled." That is especially so in Arizona, where six of 13 judgeships are vacant, where all six current vacancies have been designated as judicial emergencies, and where it's been reported that more than 50 outside judges were needed last year to help the courts keep up with their work.
The six Arizona nominees are:
- Rosemary Márquez, a Latina with extensive experience representing indigent clients in criminal courts unable to afford legal representation;
- Diane Humetewa, who if confirmed would become the only Native American federal judge currently serving, the third in U.S. history, and the first woman ever;
- Steven Logan, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who would become only the second African American federal district judge in the state's history;
- John Joseph Tuchi, who worked as the U.S. Attorney's Tribal Liaison and (quoting from the National Congress of American Indians' statement of support) "demonstrated his knowledge of federal Indian law and his commitment to the critical role of tribes in the American family of governments;"
- Douglas Rayes, who has presided over a variety of types of cases for more than a decade as a state judge; and
- James Soto, who would also bring more than a decade of experience as a state judge to the federal bench.
At the hearing, Sen. John McCain noted that Márquez's "extensive experience in border districts and her Hispanic heritage will be invaluable assets to the federal court in Tucson, where a large portion of the docket is devoted to immigration-related issues." Regarding Humetewa's historic nomination, McCain noted that "the Arizona bench would be enriched by a member who reflects the community it serves." He said that Soto's "ability to understand the very real implications of immigration law on those who live and work on the Mexico-Arizona border will be of great value to the federal bench in Arizona."
Nominee Steven Logan observed that for those whose cases are being heard, "whether it's a civil case or a criminal case, sometimes it's the most important thing that's going on in their lives." He also noted the critical role judges play in preserving the rule of law, citing his experience in Iraq and Afghanistan: "I've seen what happens in a country – two countries in particular – when there is no rule of law that's active."
Sen. Jeff Flake praised the six nominees' "diversity of education and experience that will serve the court well and the state well." He also noted how desperately Arizona needs these vacancies filled: "Talking to those serving on the bench in Arizona now, they're happy to see the caseload probably cut in half" when the six nominees are confirmed.
Fortunately, Flake and McCain can help ensure quick confirmations. Since Flake is on the Judiciary Committee, perhaps he will persuade his GOP colleagues not to do what they have done with nearly every other Obama judicial nominee: demand a delay in the committee vote once it is scheduled, with no explanation or apology. This is a good time to end this obstructive practice.
And even before the Judiciary Committee advances the nominees to the full Senate, both senators have an opportunity to make a swift confirmation possible. Right now, there are 29 judicial nominees waiting for a floor vote, many of them who could and should have been confirmed last year. Their confirmation would reduce the current vacancy rate by nearly a third. Another three nominees will probably join them next week. So the Arizona nominees will be at the back of a very, very, long line.
If McCain and Flake want to help Arizona's overworked courts, they need to push Mitch McConnell to allow quick votes on all the nominees who are already being stalled on the floor.