PFAW Edit Memo: Progress on Judicial Confirmations (But Not Enough)

From: Marge Baker, People For the American Way
To: Interested Parties
Date: March 8, 2011
Re: Progress on Judicial Confirmations (But Not Enough)

Last night, the Senate confirmed three more of President Obama’s judicial nominees, bringing the number of judges confirmed in this Congress to 10.  Although these confirmations represent marked improvement over the glacial pace of judicial confirmations that persisted through the last Congress, they still fall short of what we need to address the ongoing judicial vacancy crisis.

Currently, almost 100 seats on the federal judiciary sit empty, and that number is expected to grow as judges continue to retire.  In 41 of those instances, the vacancies have been declared “Judicial Emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the Courts.  Although these emergencies rarely gain much public attention, lack of judges on the federal bench has significantly slowed the administration of justice in the judicial branch. While the long delays might not cause lasting harm to deep pocketed corporations who can afford to wait years for cases to be resolved, they can be devastating for individuals and small businesses who need their day in court.

The Senate needs to make headway towards easing the vacancy crisis by confirming President Obama’s nominees in a timely manner. The regular consideration of nominations by the Senate in the 112th Congress is clearly an improvement over the last Congress, but for courts struggling under the weight of enormous caseloads, the pace is far from enough. Yet GOP senators continue to slow walk the confirmation process and prevent qualified nominees from taking their seats.

Of the ten nominees who have already been confirmed, not a single vote was cast against the confirmation of any of them—neither in the Judiciary Committee nor on the floor. 

Steve Jones (Northern District of Georgia)

90-0

Amy Totenberg (Northern District of Georgia)

unanimous consent

James Graves (Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals)

unanimous consent

Edward Davila (Northern District of California)

93-0

Diana Saldana (Southern District of Texas)

94-0

Paul Holmes (Western District of Arkansas)

95-0

Marco Hernandez (Oregon)

unanimous consent

Sue Myerscough (Central District of Illinois)

unanimous consent

James Shadid (Central District of Illinois)

89-0

Anthony Battaglia (Southern District of California)

89-0

Yet despite this broad support, these nominees ended up waiting an average of more than two and a half months after first being reported by the Judiciary Committee before being voted on by the full Senate.

In the first two years of the Bush administration, the President’s nominees faced significantly shorter delays—an average of only 26 days for Circuit Court nominees, and 25 days for District Court.

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All of the nominees confirmed this year suffered long delays due to the GOP obstruction that dominated the last Congress, and it’s important that the Senate not allow a similar backlog of judicial nominees to develop as the President continues to send nominees to the Senate.  At the beginning of the week, nine judicial nominees were pending on the Senate calendar.  Even with the three confirmations this week, that number will increase to 12 by week’s end: Senator Leahy announced that the Senate Judiciary Committee was on the verge of approving six more nominees.

While the Senate has made some steps towards fixing the broken confirmation process, there is still a long way left to go to make sure every American has access to a judicial system that works.

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