Six Months Without a Circuit Court Confirmation Vote

Tomorrow, due to Republican obstruction, it will be six months since the Senate has been allowed to vote on a circuit court nomination. Outside of presidential transitions (when new administrations need time to identify potential judges), such long periods of time without an appellate court vote are unusual. They certainly aren't the norm when there are so many exceptionally qualified and noncontroversial pending circuit court nominees, as is the case now.

Currently, there are 20 nominations waiting for a yes-or-no vote, four of them for circuit courts. Not coincidentally, the four that have been blocked the longest are the four circuit court nominees.

Oklahoma's Robert Bacharach is the "newbie" on the list, having been blocked for "only" six months. There is no reason for Republicans to obstruct Bacharach's nomination to the Tenth Circuit: He has the support of Oklahoma's two conservative GOP senators, was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support from the Judiciary Committee, and received the highest possible rating from the ABA panel that evaluates the qualifications of federal judicial nominees. Back in June, Sen. Coburn said it would be "stupid" for his party to prevent a vote on Bacharach, yet his party voted almost in lockstep to do just that when Democrats filed cloture to end the filibuster.

William Kayatta's nomination to the First Circuit has been blocked even longer. He, too, has the highest qualifications and was approved by the Judiciary with overwhelming bipartisan support (way back in April). He, too, has two Republican home state senators who have been urging their party leader to lift his blockade, but to no effect. As Collins wrote in a letter to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell the week after Election Day, "the First Circuit bench is small – it has only six active judges – so any single vacancy hits it disproportionately hard. It now has the highest vacancy rate of any Circuit in the country."

No one has been waiting longer than New Jersey's Patty Shwartz, who was approved by the Judiciary Committee in March, more than nine months ago. Like the others, she has received the highest possible rating from the ABA. Like the others, she has the support of both of her home state senators. And like the others, she is finding her nomination blocked by a Republican insistence on blocking all things Obama.

Finally, there is Richard Taranto, whose nomination to the Federal Circuit was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support back in March. Like the others, Taranto, too, has received the highest possible evaluation of his qualifications from the ABA. Republicans have not given any reason to oppose his nomination, yet they have been refusing any effort to actually hold a confirmation vote for him.

America's circuit courts perform a vital function, each one creating precedents that bind all the district courts within their circuits. Every federal district court case can be appealed to the circuit court, but if there aren't enough judges to hear the appeals, the parties are stuck in limbo. In addition, since the Supreme Court hears only a miniscule fraction of the appeals made to it, it is the circuit courts that have the last word on some of the nation's most important and complex legal issues.

The four circuit court nominees have been waiting for a yes-or-no vote longer than anyone else, and this delay serves only to harm the American people. More than 10% of all circuit court judgeships vacant or soon to become vacant. Given this vacancy crisis, and with nominees like these four, it is inexcusable for Senate Republicans to allow half a year to go by without lifting their blockade on circuit court judges.

PFAW
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