People For the American Way

More Court Vacancies, More GOP Obstruction

During the last presidential election year, Senate Democrats and Republicans cooperated to confirm 10 district court nominees in one day, all by unanimous consent, and all just one day after they were approved by the Judiciary Committee. This year, since the president is Barack Obama rather than George W. Bush, Senate Republicans are sabotaging efforts to confirm 17 district court nominees before leaving town until after the election.

Almost all of the 17 had overwhelming bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee and are strongly supported by both home-state senators, Democratic and Republicans alike. And all have been waiting somewhat more than a single day to get a yes-or-no vote: None has been delayed for less than seven weeks; seven have been waiting since June or earlier; and three have even been waiting since April.  Earlier this afternoon, when Majority Leader Reid sought unanimous consent to confirm the 17 nominees, Minority Leader McConnell refused.

This morning, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts announced that the vacancy crisis in two of the nominees’ districts has unexpectedly gotten even worse. In the Northern District of Illinois, a fourth vacancy has opened up, making the need to immediately confirm nominee Thomas Durkin even greater. The ABA has given Durkin its highest rating of “well qualified,” he is supported by both Sens. Durbin and Kirk, and the workload in that court has gotten so overwhelming that the vacancy has been formally designated a judicial emergency.

In California, one of the judges in the Southern District announced that she will be taking senior status early next year. This is the same district where Latino nominee Gonzalo Curiel would fill an emergency vacancy, if only Republicans would allow a vote. Like Durkin in Illinois, Curiel received overwhelming bipartisan support from the Judiciary Committee, and his qualifications are not in doubt. Yet his nomination has been languishing on the Senate floor since April, simply because Republicans want to obstruct President Obama’s nominees.

To fully exercise our rights as Americans, we deserve a fully functioning federal court system. Perhaps Senate Republicans consider that mooching off government, echoing the worldview of their presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and want to put a stop to it. They’re certainly acting like it.


Gonzalo Curiel, judges, judicial nominations, Lower Federal Courts, Mitt Romney, Obstruction, Obstructionism, Thomas Durkin