The Senate is scheduled to vote to confirm New York district court nominee LaShann DeArcy Hall late this afternoon. She will only be the tenth judge confirmed this year, even though it’s already the week before Thanksgiving.
What explains this ridiculously low number?
It isn’t because this is the first year of a new administration, so that nominations weren’t made until several months into the year. In fact, when the Senate convened this year, the Judiciary Committee immediately had eleven circuit and district court nominees from last year to consider, one of them being DeArcy Hall. She isn’t the only 2014 nominee who still hasn’t been confirmed: Third Circuit nominee L. Felipe Restrepo is still waiting for a confirmation vote.
The low number of judicial confirmations also isn’t because the nominees are controversial. Almost all of them faced no opposition whatsoever in the Judiciary Committee or on the Senate floor. But that didn’t stop Republicans from slow-walking them at every step of the way.
Take Restrepo, for instance: He has the support of both his home state senators, one a Democrat and the other a Republican. He had been unanimously confirmed to a district court judgeship in 2013, so the Senate had already done a thorough and recent vetting of his background. Yet Senator Pat Toomey and Chairman Chuck Grassley collaborated to delay Restrepo’s committee hearing until seven months after his nomination. He impressed the members of the Judiciary Committee and demonstrated to each one of them that he was highly qualified to serve on the Third Circuit, yet Grassley delayed a committee vote for two weeks without an explanation. And for the more than four months since then, day after day after day, GOP leadership has refused to schedule a confirmation vote to let an unquestionably qualified jurist fill a vacancy that has been formally designated a judicial emergency. Now more than a year has gone by since his nomination.
The low number of judicial confirmations also can’t be explained by a lack of need for judges. Restrepo is hardly the only slow-walked nominee this year who would fill a judicial emergency. In fact, the number of judicial emergencies nationwide has skyrocketed from 12 at the beginning of the year to 29 today (after DeArcy Hall is confirmed). Similarly, the number of circuit and district court vacancies has risen dramatically, from 40 at the beginning of the year to 62 after today’s confirmation.
Even if every vacancy were to be filled tomorrow, there would still not be enough judges to ensure every American’s opportunity to have their day in court. Judges are so overwhelmed that the Judicial Conference of the United States recommended in March of 2015 that Congress create five new circuit court seats and 68 new district court seats (as well as make permanent nine district court seats that are now temporary). So filling vacancies is a priority.
Or at least it should be, if you value having an effectively functioning federal court system with fair, independent, and unbiased judges ensuring that everyone’s rights are protected.
But the Republicans’ strategy since President Obama took office has been to gum up the works as much as possible, to make the confirmation process as slow as they can get away with in order to maximize the number of vacancies available for the next (Republican) president to fill. This has damaged our courts and coarsened our politics.
In addition to DeArcy Hall, there are 14 other circuit and district court nominees ready for a vote. There is no reason not to act on every single one of them before the Thanksgiving recess.