The Senate is heading toward a weeklong Memorial Day recess with no sign that Majority Leader McConnell will schedule a vote to confirm a long-waiting judicial nominee from Texas. If Jose Rolando Olvera is not confirmed to the Southern District this week, it will be only the latest failure for Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz in looking after their state’s federal courts.
The state has ten judicial vacancies, eight of which are judicial emergencies, and only one of which even has a nominee, despite extensive White House efforts to reach out to the senators.
But the focus this week is on Olvera. He was among four district court nominees – three Texans and one Utahan – approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee way back in February. Three months later, McConnell has allowed the Senate to vote on only two of them, the only judges confirmed so far in the 114th Congress. It is hard to imagine a legitimate reason to delay a vote for so long and deliberately keep a judicial vacancy open longer than necessary.
President Obama nominated Olvera after he was recommended by Cornyn and Cruz, and they praised Olvera and his fellow Texas nominees at their confirmation hearing in January. Yet on February 12, when committee chairman Chuck Grassley delayed a previously scheduled vote by two weeks without offering a reason, not a squeak of protest could be heard from either Cornyn or Cruz, both of whom are members of the Committee.
After they finally cleared the committee, they faced more obstruction, this time from McConnell, who didn’t schedule votes on any of these unopposed consensus district court nominees until mid-April. The Utah nominee is finally get a vote later today. But with the Senate planning to leave town until June, Olvera’s nomination is still languishing.
In the meantime, people and businesses in Texas suffer from the lack of enough judges. The vacancy Olvera would fill has been formally designated a judicial emergency by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, meaning there aren’t enough judges to handle the caseload.
In fact, the situation in the Southern District is so bad that the Judicial Conference of the United States (headed by Chief Justice John Roberts) has asked Congress to create two additional judgeships there. In other words, even with every vacancy filled and senior (semi-retired) judges carrying a significant caseload, Texans seeking to protect their legal rights would still be denied their right to a timely day in court.
Surely if the senators had wanted this vacancy filled in a timely manner, it would have been filled already. After all, John Cornyn isn’t just some back-bencher. As the Senate Majority Whip, he occupies a powerful leadership position.
The Senate should have confirmed Olvera months ago. There is certainly no excuse for the Senate to leave town for Memorial Day recess without confirming Olvera to the bench and allowing him to take up his judicial responsibilities as soon as possible.
Cornyn and Cruz cannot get a timely confirmation vote in a Senate controlled by their own party for an uncontested district court nominee who they themselves recommended to the White House. Or perhaps they can but choose not to. Either way, that’s pitiful.