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Armando Omar Bonilla

United States Court of Federal Claims
Returned to President January 3, 2017


UPDATE: On September 13, 2016, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) once again single-handedly blocked Floor votes on Armando Bonilla and four other nominees to fill five of six vacancies on the 16 member Court of Federal Claims (CFC) whom the Judiciary Committee approved by unanimous voice votes in 2014 and again on Feb. 26, 2015Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) requested Floor votes and Ranking Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) explained that "This blockade of all five CFC nominees makes no sense, especially because not a single Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee raised a concern about these nominees." Sen. Coons included new letters on the CFC caseload and the need to fill the court's vacancies from the CFC Chief Judge and from a past president of the CFC bar association. Sen. Cotton has single-handedly held up the nominees since July 14, 2015, when he blocked a request by Sen. Coons for Floor votes on all or any of the five, who were first nominated in April 10 and May 21 of 2014.

Sen. Cotton has not objected to any of the nominees but argues that the caseload did not justify filling any of the five empty seats on the 16-judge court. On Dec. 7, 2015Sen. Leahy (D-Vt.) stated that “There are no good reasons for Senator Cotton to continue blocking these nominees.” Sen. Leahy stressed that “the court’s overall caseload has increased nine percent over the last year” and that “a recent letter from the Chief Judge of the [CFC] to the Judiciary Committee has indicated that only one of the nine senior judges is willing to be recalled for full time duty.” On Dec. 8, 2015, Senate minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) lamented that “Senate Republicans are blocking every Latino judicial nominee currently being considered…. [including] Armando Bonilla, who is the first Latino ever nominated to the Court of Federal Claims.”

Sen. Cotton’s stated concerns ignored prior letters from the Court’s Chief Judge and past presidents of the Court’s Bar Association and are dispelled by a detailed analysis of U.S. Court of Federal Claims Caseload, Case Complexity & Fiscal Impact of Decisions, a subsequent letter and a nonpartisan Congressional Research Service report: U.S. Court of Federal Claims: Background Information and Analysis of Pending Nominations (8/4/2015).

The Roll Call newspaper reported that Sen. Cotton’s actions “line[d] up well with the interests of one of his old law firms” whose “employees gave significant political contributions to Cotton.” Sen. Cotton’s purported caseload concerns were not raised when the Judiciary Committee held hearings on the nominees on June 4, 2014, June 24, 2014, and July 24, 2014, and when the Committee approved the nominees in a series of unopposed voice votes on June 19, 2014, July 17, 2014, and Sept. 18, 2014, and again on Feb. 26, 2015 (Sen. Cotton has never served on the Senate Judiciary Committee).

A July 22, 2015 letter to Sen. McConnell from Lewis S. Wiener, President, United States Court of Federal Claims Bar Association 2002, 2014 responded to Sen. Cotton's concerns in detail: "Senator Grassley, as part of his thorough due diligence on behalf of the Senate's Judiciary Committee at the outset of this year, closely examined the issue of the Court's case load, including utilization of the Court's senior judges. Ultimately, Senator Grassley's office directly contacted the Court, obtained relevant information, and the five nominees to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims were reported favorably out of the Judiciary Committee by voice vote on February 26, 2015. ... this letter reiterates the prior urgent request that the five pending nominees be confirmed without further delay to allow the Court to again function at full speed."

On July 10, 2015, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims Chief Judge wrote Senate Leaders "[O]n behalf of the [Court] to urge you to fill at the earliest opportunity the five vacancies pending on our court." She noted that “our caseload continues unabated” and stressed “statutory requirements dictating deadlines for certain types of cases unique to court, including government contract disputes – some of which involve national defense and national security – remain in effect.”

Five past presidents of the United States Court of Federal Claims Bar Association wrote a May 1, 2015 Letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) detailing how “The absence of a full complement of Judges is placing a significant strain on the sitting judges and the court is facing a potential case management crisis,” and urging immediate action to confirm the five nominees. The nominees were also the subject of law Professor Carl Tobias’ “Fill the U.S. Court of Federal Claims vacancies” in The Hill.

Recently, a Court of Federal Claims judge explained the need to delay a November trial to July because of judicial vacancies. Judge Mary Ellen Coster Williams said: "The Court must postpone the November trial. .... As you know, we’re down now six [five] judges, and we have to give priority, by statute, to our emergency cases, and we have a lot of them. ... So, you can’t have the November two weeks. ... I have a very, very full trial schedule myself in early 2016. My earliest trial date for two weeks is July 11th."

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has repeatedly urged Senate Floor votes on Bonilla and the other four nominees. In a detailed July 13, 2015 Floor Statement, he described the court’s workload, how “Armando Bonilla’s story is that of the American Dream,” and the fact that “During the Bush administration, the Senate confirmed nine judges to the Court of Federal Claims – with the support of every Senate Republican.  So far during the Obama administration, only three CFC judges have received confirmation votes.”

On May 21, 2014, President Obama nominated Armando Omar Bonilla to be a Judge on the United States Court of Federal Claims. Bonilla would be the first Hispanic judge on that court; NBC News reported that "Armando Bonilla, Department of Justice associate deputy attorney general, said his own research shows 101 judges have served on the court that dates back to 1855, to the administration of the nation’s 14th president, Franklin Pierce." The Hispanic National Bar Association endorsed Bonilla’s nomination in 2013, and wrote Senate leaders on Oct 28, 2014 urging swift consideration and approval of his nomination.

The Senate Judiciary Committee twice approved Bonilla’s nomination on unopposed voice votes, on Sept. 18, 2014, and again on Feb. 26, 2015, after he was renominated.

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Court of Federal Claims judge: need to delay Nov. trial to July because of judicial vacancies
Court of Federal Claims Judge Mary Ellen Coster Williams: "The Court must postpone the November trial. .... As you know, we’re down now six [five] judges, and we have to give priority, by statute, to our emergency cases, and we have a lot of them. ... So, you can’t have the November two weeks. ... I have a very, very full trial schedule myself in early 2016. My earliest trial date for two weeks is July 11th."