Editorials and Opinion
Republican Inaction as Judicial Emergencies Jump (People For blog, 02/20/15)
"Texas now has seven judicial emergencies, more than a third of the national total. Two of them have nominees who should have advanced to the Senate floor last week, but were delayed when Republicans decided to delay the scheduled committee vote on four fully vetted district court nominees by two weeks simply because they could.
Another of the newly designated emergencies is in the Third Circuit. The good news is that district court judge L. Felipe Restrepo was nominated to fill this seat way back in November, and that he has the enthusiastic support of his home state senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey. The bad news is that Chairman Grassley continues not to schedule a hearing for this highly qualified nominee (or any other)."
Judicial Selection in Congress’ Lame Duck Session (Indiana Law Journal , 02/20/15)
Carl Tobias: This Article first scrutinizes the Obama Administration confirmation and nomination processes. It then critically explores selection and concludes that Republican obstruction instigated the most open positions the longest time. Because this deficiency undermines swift, economical, and fair case resolution, the Article suggests ideas to promptly decrease the remaining unoccupied judgeships after the session commences.
Republicans Should Move Judicial Nominations Next Week (People For blog, 02/19/15)
"With the Republican-controlled Senate returning to town next week, one of the things they should turn their attention to is moving judicial nominations. Because vacancies are always opening up on the courts, the Senate has to confirm a number of judges just to keep even. So far in the 114th Congress, we are not keeping even.... the Judiciary Committee should vote these four nominees out, and the full Senate should promptly hold a confirmation vote.
It is also past time to hold hearings for people who were nominated more than three months ago, like Third Circuit nominee Luis Restrepo (nominated November 12)."
Benched! The more things change… (Justice Watch, 02/12/15)
"In an interview with Iowa Public Radio, shortly after being named chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said, “I have no reason to believe that the future is any different” for the committee.... He was right. Even with Senator Grassley as chair, Republican obstructionism continues in the Senate Judiciary Committee.... Without explanation, Senator Grassley held over the nominations of four federal judges and Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch.
All four of the judicial nominees are uncontroversial. They would fill district court seats in Utah and Texas, and have the support of their home-state Republican senators on the committee."
Thursday is Test Day for Senate Judiciary Republicans (People For blog, 02/11/15)
"Tomorrow morning, we will learn more about how Chairman Chuck Grassley will run the Senate Judiciary Committee ... and whether Republicans will continue one of the indefensible forms of obstruction that they engaged in for six years while in the minority.... Committee rules let senators "hold over" (i.e., delay) committee votes without explanation. This was done during previous presidencies when a nominee was controversial or when senators needed more time to evaluate the nominee. But during the first six years of the Obama presidency, Republicans exercised this right for all but 12 of his judicial nominees, which was an unprecedented abuse of the rules. ... It's one thing to always demand a delay when you're never the one to have scheduled the votes. It would be another thing altogether for Republicans to routinely ask for delay when they're the ones putting people on the schedule in the first place.... Two of the Texas nominees would fill vacancies that have been officially designated as judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. ... As for the nominees themselves, all four have the strong support of their home state senators, which is not unusual. But in this case, each of those home state senators is a Republican who is on the Judiciary Committee."
Senate Democrats should be careful about their filibuster strategy (Washington Post, 02/04/15)
James Downie: "when President Obama took office, Republicans took obstruction to a new level, blocking even widely popular bills and judicial appointments. Then-Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was right to get rid of the filibusters for most federal nominees, allowing Democrats to finally fill long-vacant judgeships"
EDITORIAL: Offshore drilling would threaten the NC coast (News & Observer [NC], 02/01/15)
"The Obama administration’s plan to open the waters off the shores of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia to offshore drilling puts North Carolina’s tourism and other industries at risk. There should be a strong legal and political push to keep oil rigs out of the Atlantic waters. Environmentalists and some communities on North Carolina’s coast will no doubt provide the legal objections.... Given the political clamor for drilling, North Carolina’s best protection from it happening may rely on the courts, findings that oil resources off the coast are scarce and a continuation of current low prices for oil. With those three factors involved, the drilling may never come to pass.... Given the reality of global warming and the memory of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill into the Gulf of Mexico, the time for such balance is past. The United States should be building to an energy future based on renewable sources without environmental hazards."
Editorial: Time for Senate to end the theatrics and do its job on nominations (Los Angeles Times, 01/28/15)
"These nominations — and others that will follow — will be a test of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s promise to restore what he calls “regular order” to the proceedings of that body.... Even after Democrats abolished the filibuster for most presidential appointments in late 2013, Republicans used other parliamentary stratagems to delay votes even on uncontroversial nominees to federal courts and ambassadorships....when the hearings are finished, the Senate should move expeditiously to an up-or-down vote focused solely on the nominees’ qualifications.
That should be the rule not only for Cabinet nominations but for those to the federal bench, to ambassadorships and to regulatory agencies. The dysfunction of the confirmation process in recent years has been a national scandal."
The Register's Editorial: Good things could flow from water lawsuit (Des Moines Register [IA], 01/26/15)
"The lawsuit the Des Moines Water Works contemplates filing against three Iowa counties is not a war against rural Iowa, as some would have it. Rather, it is a civilized approach to resolving a threat to public health.
The public utility that provides drinking water to a half-million customers in central Iowa has turned to the courts for a remedy for water pollution that the legislative and executive branches of Iowa government have failed to deliver.... the Water Works would be asking a federal court to declare that emissions from the drainage districts managed by the three named counties fall under the definition of "point sources" under the federal Clean Water Act. ... If Iowa farmers and state officials are serious when they say they are determined to clean up the state's water, then they have nothing to fear from a lawsuit that aims to make sure the steps they are taking are having a measurable effect."
EDITORIAL: Backtracking on the Bay (Baltimore Sun, 01/22/15)
"Baltimore County has no shortage of polluted water. ... it came as a bit of surprise to hear Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz offer ... that he'd like to see the timetable for court-ordered water quality improvements delayed beyond the current 2025.... Here's the real craziness of it all: No matter who serves as this state's governor, the EPA is going to hold Maryland accountable for these violations of the Clean Water Act.... it’s not even clear whether existing state standards are sufficient to meet cleanup goals. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and other environmental advocates are already in the process of taking the Maryland Department of the Environment to court on the grounds that subdivisions aren’t meeting the requirements of existing stormwater permits and won’t do enough to reduce polluted runoff.... it's been a tough week for the Chesapeake Bay and anyone who cares about its health — or the billions of dollars in economic benefits and thousands of jobs that are associated with it."
Fill judicial vacancies, including the one in Tennessee (Tennessean, 01/21/15)
Opinion by Tommy Tobin: "With more than 40 vacant seats on the federal bench, our judicial branch is under substantial strain.... One of those vacant seats is in Chattanooga, ... Travis Randall McDonough, Mayor Andy Burke’s chief of staff and counselor, has been nominated for the post.... Tennessee Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, a former mayor of Chattanooga and an attorney, respectively, should recognize the contribution that McDonough could make to the bench in East Tennessee.
Even with our divided government, let’s push our politicians to govern responsibly and consider judicial nominees on their merits."
Citizens deserve to have judicial vacancies filled (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [PA], 01/15/15)
JOHN NEUROHR letter: "On Jan. 8, the Post-Gazette editorial board wrote, “The legislators, who are paid by the public, need to do their jobs. For senators, an important part of that is to act on presidential nominations” (“Congress Returns”)....Locally, there are three long-standing Western District of Pennsylvania vacancies for which Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey should recommend nominees right away. But good nominees with bipartisan support are already waiting for confirmation. One example is U.S. District Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, who has been nominated and now renominated by President Barack Obama to join the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sen. Toomey made public his support for Judge Restrepo, saying he would be a “superb” federal judge. Sen. Casey also called Judge Restrepo an “excellent choice.” Not only is Judge Restrepo qualified, but also he brings much-needed diversity to the bench."
Grassley gets fine start on judiciary (Des Moines Register [IA], 01/11/15)
Prof. Carl Tobias: "The Register's rose to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (Jan. 4 Roses & Thistles) is correct. The new Senate Judiciary Committee chair deserves much credit for expressing his willingness to work cooperatively with Democrats and President Barack Obama on filling the many federal judicial vacancies. The vast majority of Obama nominees have easily satisfied Senator Grassley's criteria, such as competence and moderation, for appointment to the bench. Grassley's Jan. 7 issuance of a checklist of committee priorities, which includes prompt hearings for judicial nominees who did not receive them last year, is also heartening."
EDITORIAL: Emissions reporting: Drillers have the same duty as other industries (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [PA], 01/09/15)
"A coalition of nine environmental groups filed suit Wednesday to force the Environmental Protection Agency to add gas and oil extractors to the list of industries that must report emissions to the federal Toxic Release Inventory....In 1997, the EPA unwisely decided to exempt the industry from the emissions reporting requirement. Now, after trying for two and a half years to get the agency to change its mind, the environmental groups filed suit in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to force a change....If the EPA won’t impose the reporting requirement on gas and oil extractors, the court should."
EDITORIAL: Drillers’ duty (Toledo Blade [OH], 01/09/15)
"Nine environmental groups filed suit this week to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to add gas and oil extractors to the list of industries that must report emissions to the federal toxic release inventory.... after trying for 2½ years to get the agency to change its mind, the environmental groups are suing to force a change. ...If the EPA won’t impose the reporting requirement on gas and oil extractors, the court should."
EDITORIAL: Congress returns: And there may be cause for cautious optimism (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [PA], 01/08/15)
"Although many Washington political players are pondering what Americans should expect of this Congress, it can be summed up fairly simply: The legislators, who are paid by the public, need to do their jobs. For senators, an important part of that is to act on presidential nominations. It is up to Mr. Obama to propose capable professionals as judges, Cabinet heads, ambassadors and other important officials, avoiding controversial nominations that will provoke serious opposition. It is then the Senate’s duty to act quickly on the appointments."
Editorial: A push for federal court diversity No woman of color has ever been a federal judge in Minnesota (Minneapolis Star Tribune [MN], 01/06/15)
"The advisory panel’s review will be only the start of what has become in too many cases a slow, arduous and politically charged appointment process. An applicant who passes muster with the panel must still win the favor of the two senators themselves, receive Obama’s nod and then survive a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate, now controlled by Republicans. Politically motivated delays have become all too commonplace in recent years, to the detriment of smooth-running courts. They could become more prolonged with the White House and the Senate majority now at political odds. This newspaper is rooting for the appointment of a highly qualified candidate who carries little, if any, partisan baggage, and for a fair and expeditious confirmation process. And, like the Infinity Project, we’d welcome an appointment that adds to the diversity of this state’s federal court."
EDITORIAL: A rose to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (Des Moines Register [IA], 01/04/15)
"A rose to U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley for a move suggesting he wants to help President Barack Obama fill vacancies in the federal judiciary rather than continue the acrimonious confirmation process when Republicans take over the Senate. Grassley's office issued a press release in December inviting lawyers interested in two openings in the federal trial courts in Iowa to submit applications to his office. ... Grassley's invitation is a good omen that he wants the Senate to act on the president's nominees. As well he should. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Grassley will be in a position to make that happen, and he should make it happen for all states where judicial vacancies exist, not just his own."
EDITORIAL: The EPA’s move to regulate ‘coal ash’ is a step forward (Washington Post, 01/02/15)
"EPA’s latest move to regulate huge accumulations of “coal ash” is, if anything, too modest.... coal ash pits saw major spills — one in Tennessee in 2008 and one in North Carolina in 2014 — that fouled rivers and endangered people and wildlife. Environmentalists report dozens more instances of air or water contamination ...Environmental activists warn that the EPA declined to classify coal ash as hazardous waste, a designation that would have triggered stricter federal oversight. ... EPA is largely leaving enforcement to the states, which have been the only overseers before now, though private citizens and environmental groups will be able to sue to demand adherence to the rules. The regulations leave room for extremely lengthy delays"
EDITORIAL: Six-year judicial saga finally ends (San Antonio Express-News [TX] , 12/29/14)
"The Senate this month confirmed President Barack Obama’s nomination of Robert Pitman, who has been serving as U.S. attorney for the region, to fill the bench vacated by Senior Judge Royal Furgeson in 2008.
Because of the heavy caseload in the Western District of Texas, the vacancy was classified as an emergency. Still, the dysfunctional environment in Washington led to a six-year vacancy.... the appointments process would be a lot better with less partisan gamesmanship.
And the truth is that even without any vacancies in the Western District of Texas, the state is growing rapidly and needs additional federal judges. Drug and immigration cases along the border continue to increase, and the justice system needs to keep up with the pace."
McCain and Flake's '14 (Arizona Republic, 12/27/14)
Dan Nowicki: "The Senate in 2014 also confirmed six long-awaited U.S. judicial nominations for Arizona that McCain and Flake helped usher through. The group included Diane Humetewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe and the first Native American woman to serve on the federal bench."
EDITORIAL: Chance missed (Greensboro News & Record [NC], 12/26/14)
"Federal regulators considered classifying coal ash a hazardous waste that requires special disposal. Instead, they will consider it no different than the banana peels and candy wrappers you put out in a can at your front curb. EPA passed up a chance to set high standards. The Obama administration took far too long to produce the rules, only publishing them under court order.... The biggest shortfall of the federal rules is that they will not be actively enforced. ...self-compliance seems dubious. More likely, it will be up to citizens to take them to court to enforce the law."
EDITORIAL: EPA falls short on coal-ash rule (Lexington Herald-Leader [KY], 12/26/14)
"Regulations issued last week by the Environmental Protection Agency for waste from coal-fired power plants are welcome but fall short of fully protecting the public. Coal ash — the residue left over after coal is burned to produce electricity — contains varying amounts of carcinogenic and toxic metals ....The EPA, which was under a federal court's deadline to issue a regulation by Dec. 19, decided not to classify coal ash as hazardous, categorizing it instead as solid waste, the same as household garbage. That decision, which disappointed environmentalists and will save utilities billions, means there still will be no direct federal scrutiny of coal-ash landfills and impoundments. Instead the new federal rules will be enforced by state environmental agencies and, more likely in Kentucky, which has a high tolerance for coal industry shortcuts, by citizen lawsuits."
Editorial: EPA's decision on coal ash rule is a disappointment (Knoxville News Sentinel [TN], 12/22/14)
"Under a court-ordered deadline, the EPA announced Friday it would implement the less stringent of two options for regulating coal ash. Essentially, the agency's choices were to treat coal ash as hazardous waste or as little more than municipal garbage. The EPA chose the latter, a keen disappointment.... The adopted rule establishes minimum standards for impoundments but leaves regulation up to the states and citizen-initiated lawsuits. While it is much better than having no restrictions at all, the rule risks uneven enforcement between states and encourages costly and time-consuming court battles. The new federal rule is a welcome alternative to the status quo, but the EPA missed an opportunity to provide the highest level of protection for communities where coal-fired power plants operate."
Opinions: Despite a tough year, an optimistic mood in the White House, (Washington Post, 12/19/14)
Ruth Marcus: "On judges, the most lasting impact of any president’s tenure, Obama won confirmation of 307 federal judges, including 53 on the courts of appeal. I worried about Senate Democrats’ deployment of the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster for almost all nominations, but the move spurred the confirmation of 134 judges in the 113th Congress, the most since 1979-1980. As the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin observed, “When Obama took office, Republican appointees controlled 10 of the 13 circuit courts of appeals; Democratic appointees now constitute a majority in nine circuits.” That alone reflects a quiet, and lasting, revolution.”
Judicial Nominations: Accomplishments and the Work That Lies Ahead (The White House, 12/17/14)
White House Counsel Neil Eggleston: "When President Obama took office, there were 55 vacancies in the federal judiciary. With the Senate’s recent confirmations, we have reached a milestone—fewer vacancies than when we began. Today, there are only 42 judicial vacancies, for a decrease of 25%. But by way of comparison, at this point in their administrations, President George W. Bush had decreased vacancies by almost 40%, and President Clinton had cut them in half. Furthermore, Chief Justice John Roberts and the Judicial Conference of the United States have recommended that Congress create 90 new permanent and temporary judgeships to address increasing caseloads across the country. Finally, President Obama’s judges have waited, on average, almost two-and-a-half times longer to be confirmed after being reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee than President Bush’s judges did at this point his administration—even though the vast majority of our judges are confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support."