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A project tracking federal judicial nominations and courts.

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Forward Thinking: The courts matter (Daily Item [PA], 10/12/15)
By Chip Facka: "Pennsylvanians are being denied timely access to a judicial system that is often their last resort when dealing with things like citizenship status, access to health care, environmental crisis, employee/employer disputes and basic civil rights. Right now there is a backlog of more than 16,000 civil and criminal cases pending in Pennsylvania District Courts. Our federal courts make rulings on virtually every issue that is important to Americans....Here’s what’s crazy. Across the country, due in large part to a concerted effort by Senate Republicans to stall nominations of qualified judges, we are in the midst of a crisis in regards to federal court vacancies."

‘It’s The Vacancies!’ (American Constitution Society Blog, 10/12/15)
Russell Wheeler, Brookings: "Federal courts are facing a toxic mix of judges creating vacancies at an usually high rate and some Republican senators exploiting Senate traditions to prevent nominations in their states. And the Senate Judiciary Committee and Republican Conference leadership have aggressively slowed down confirmation of those nominations that make it to the Senate.... In the final two years of the Reagan, Clinton and Bush two-term presidencies -- all with divided government -- vacancies decreased. That seems highly unlikely in these final two years of the Obama presidency. The October 5 confirmation of a district judge reawakened complaints that seven confirmations in 2015 compare poorly to the 33 confirmations at the same point in 2007, George W. Bush’s seventh year in office.... The ultimate purpose of the confirmation process is to fill vacant judgeships, not to create comparative confirmation scorecards. Since January 1, vacant district judgeships have risen from 33 to 54. At this point in the seventh year of the Reagan, Clinton and Bush presidencies, district vacancies had decreased, most dramatically in 2007 -- from 40 to 33."

Editorial: Senate should quickly confirm judicial nominees (Knoxville News Sentinel [TN], 10/09/15)
"Tennessee's three federal judicial nominees are waiting for their Senate confirmation, and the slow pace of moving the nominations through that chamber has aroused suspicions that perhaps the delay is politically motivated.... All three have the support of Tennessee's Republican U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, who have called for the nominees' speedy confirmation....During the last two years of President George W. Bush's administration, the Democratic majority in the Senate confirmed 68 judges. Likewise, a Republican-controlled Senate confirmed 73 judges during President Bill Clinton's final two years.... The more intangible factor is the delay of justice, not only for defendants but also for victims of crime and their families. As [law Prof. Carl] Tobias noted, it is difficult for people to get trial dates and to get their cases heard. This is the issue the Judiciary Committee needs to address with considerable attention. Justice delayed is not justice served. The three Tennessee nominees should be confirmed so they can start to work and bolster the federal judicial system in the state. That would improve the nation's ability to administer justice effectively."

Editorial: Leadership crisis for GOP (News & Observer [NC], 10/09/15)
"The speaker’s chair needs a practical leader who recognizes that rabid partisanship must not be allowed to bring the government to a standstill. Even if the GOP continues to block some of the president’s goals, delay approval of his judicial nominees and do nothing until the next president takes office, that’s preferable to seriously damaging the nation’s economy and its global standing."

Editorial: Action due on court nominees (Commercial Appeal [TN] , 10/07/15)
"Edward Stanton III ... has the support of Tennessee's U.S. Senate delegation — both members of the Republican majority — in his quest for Senate confirmation to fill a vacant judicial post on the district court. It would be a shame for Stanton to become mired in the growing logjam of judicial appointments created by senators who seem determined to delay fulfilling an important responsibility of their office until after the next president takes office in 2017. In fact, Stanton is one of three nominees from Tennessee awaiting action on their nominations by President Obama to fill vacancies on the federal bench. Nashville attorney Waverly Crenshaw Jr. and Chattanooga attorney Travis McDonough also are being kept in a holding pattern — McDonough since last November. If you're wondering if Congress has all but abandoned the business of governing in favor of engaging full time in partisan warfare, consider this: During the last two years of George W. Bush's presidency, the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed 68 judges; during President Bill Clinton's final two years in office, the Republican Senate confirmed 73 judges. But only six judicial nominees have been confirmed since Republicans regained majority control of the Senate last January.... the indisputable fact is that the criminal justice system needs judges. ... The Senate could score some much-needed credibility points with the public if it buckles down and gives Stanton and other nominees to the federal bench a fair and impartial decision about their future."

Views of the News: DELAYING JUDGE NOMINEES IMPEDES CIVIL COURT CASES (Redlands Daily Facts [CA], 10/06/15)
Howard Hurlbut, Guest columnist: "There is such a shortage of federal judges across America that critical civil cases often must wait three to four years for a hearing. Since 1990, there has been a 39 percent increase in district and circuit court filings, but only a 4 percent increase the number of judgeships. Congress has not passed a major increase in judges for 25 years.... The Senate has nearly 70 judicial vacancies waiting to be filled. This year Republicans have confirmed only six of Obama’s nominees."

Justice delayed (Butler Eagle [PA], 10/06/15)
Letter to the Editor by John Neurohr: "Back in November 2014, President Barack Obama nominated Pennsylvanian and U.S. District Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit....We have a serious problem with federal court vacancies here in Pennsylvania, most especially here in Western Pennsylvania. While Pennsylvanians experience justice delayed and denied every single day, it’s time for Sen. Toomey to do his job. Now that the Senate has returned from recess, a full vote for Restrepo should be his first priority."

The Disgraceful State of Judicial Nominations (Huffington Post, 10/05/15)
Nancy K. Kaufman: "This year the capacity of the federal court system to keep up with its caseload is seriously in question. Judicial vacancies are rising and the Senate is likely to confirm the smallest number of nominees since 1953. ... ll six were voted out of committee with bipartisan support and ultimately confirmed unanimously on the Senate floor, and yet were forced to wait an average of 80 days for a floor vote.... wo judicial nominees pending for over six months have not yet had a confirmation hearing -- although if confirmed, both would end a judicial emergency."

Tennessee judicial nominees caught in Senate logjam (Knoxville News Sentinel [TN], 10/05/15)
Michael Collins column: "Judicial nominee Edward Stanton III of Memphis sailed smoothly through his confirmation hearing last week, with both of Tennessee’s U.S. senators extolling his qualifications for the federal bench and calling for speedy confirmation of his nomination. But the Senate has been anything but speedy when it comes to confirming judicial nominees. Nashville attorney Waverly Crenshaw Jr. has been waiting eight months for the Senate to confirm him as the newest federal judge in Tennessee’s Middle District. Travis McDonough has been waiting even longer. President Barack Obama nominated the Chattanooga attorney last November for a judgeship in Tennessee’s Eastern District, but the Senate has yet to put his nomination to a vote. Crenshaw and McDonough are caught in a logjam of judicial nominees awaiting a vote by the Senate. Only six judicial nominees have been confirmed since Republicans regained majority control of the Senate last January."

Senate Gets Around To Filling Court Vacancy After 1,069 Days: One down. Dozens more to go. (Huffington Post, 10/05/15)
Jennifer Bendery: "-- It took them nearly three years to do it, but the Senate on Monday confirmed a desperately needed judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The Senate voted 69 to 21 to confirm Dale Drozd. The seat he fills has been empty for 1,069 days and is a judicial emergency, meaning the workload exceeds 600 cases or has totaled between 430 and 600 cases for more than 18 months. Drozd was easily confirmed, yet he waited 327 days for a vote. Why? Because Republicans are intentionally slow-walking President Barack Obama's judicial nominees. ... Judge Lawrence O'Neill may be the happiest person of all about Drozd's confirmation. He serves on the busy Fresno court that Drozd now joins. In an interview with The Huffington Post last month, O'Neill described the work schedule he keeps in order to juggle his more than 1,000 cases: 75-hour weeks, at least one full day every weekend and no breaks on holidays. He credits the media for keeping pressure on the Senate not to blow off the entire judicial branch of government.... Judge Lawrence O'Neill may be the happiest person of all about Drozd's confirmation. He serves on the busy Fresno court that Drozd now joins. In an interview with The Huffington Post last month, O'Neill described the work schedule he keeps in order to juggle his more than 1,000 cases: 75-hour weeks, at least one full day every weekend and no breaks on holidays. He credits the media for keeping pressure on the Senate not to blow off the entire judicial branch of government."

Tennessee judicial nominees caught in Senate logjam (Commercial Appeal [TN] , 10/04/15)
Michael Collins column: "the number of vacancies on the courts has increased from 43 to 67 since January. The number of “judicial emergencies,” meaning the remaining judges can’t keep up with the caseload, has more than doubled, jumping from 12 to 31 since January. By comparison, during the last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency, the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed 68 judges. Similarly, the Republican Senate confirmed 73 judges during President Bill Clinton’s final two years in office."

How Republican obstruction is destroying the third branch of government (Daily Kos, 10/03/15)
Joan McCarter: "Their obstruction of judges is wrecking that branch, too, and the individual judges.... there's an empty seat in that California district that's been open for more than 1,000 days; judges normally take 500-600 cases annually, but have more than 1,000 in this district; reaching that average caseload would require six new judgeships. That's just one district. The same problems are playing out across the whole of the federal judiciary and what it means for the American people is justice delayed.... Part of the problem is that Congress has stopped creating judgeships—it hasn't done it since 1990, and there's been a 39 percent increase in cases filed at district and circuit courts. The other, massive, problem is Republican obstruction of nominees to existing vacancies, from refusing to work with President Obama to name nominees at all, to refusing to allow them to reach the Senate floor for confirmation."

Senator’s claim about judgeships won’t wash (Montgomery Advertiser [AL], 10/02/15)
Vanzetta Penn McPherson, retired U.S. magistrate judge for the Middle District of Alabama: "Sen. Shelby’s recent statement that he has “negotiated in good faith to find nominees that will serve our state well” is an absurdity. And here is why. Two years ago, the state’s lone congressional Democrat, Rep. Terri Sewell, established screening committees for federal district judges in Alabama. ... our two senators have opposed all of the lawyers considered by the president from the committee’s recommendations, and have sought instead to “pick” candidates (as they have in the past) for the federal bench, without regard for a transparent process and with due regard for opposing the president’s prospective choices. Neither senator can cite a single reason for opposing or rejecting the committee’s recommended candidates that is grounded in legitimate questions about an individual’s judicial temperament, character and integrity, legal and/or judicial experience, or commitment to equal justice.... I served on both of the judicial selection committees"

Republican Senate accused of 'slow walking' Obama's judicial nominees (Los Angeles Times, 10/02/15)
Timothy M. Phelps: "Mary Barzee Flores, a former public defender and state court judge in Miami, was nominated for a federal judgeship by President Obama in February on the recommendation of Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. But since then, Rubio, in consultation with Sen. Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), has blocked Flores from even receiving a hearing in the Judiciary Committee pending “a full review” of her record. Luis Felipe Restrepo, a former U.S. magistrate and currently U.S. District Court judge in Pennsylvania, was nominated for a powerful circuit court judgeship in Philadelphia in November with the strong endorsement of Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of his home state, who said Restreppo would “make a superb addition” to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. But then Toomey blocked progress on Restrepo’s nomination for seven months, and the former civil rights lawyer and native of Colombia is still awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.... There are 11 nominees to lifetime judgeships who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee now awaiting a vote on the Senate floor. Twenty-one more Obama nominees, including Flores, have not had committee hearings. Thirty-eight judicial vacancies are yet to be filled, most of them because Republican senators in their home states — who are accorded a veto by Senate custom — have refused to approve any candidates for the job. There are vacancies that have remained open for four, five, and even nine years, all in states with at least one Republican senator."

U.S. Senate schedules confirmation vote for Fresno judge nominee (Fresno Bee [CA] , 10/02/15)
John Ellis: "Just a few days ago, Drozd’s confirmation vote was languishing along with other federal judicial nominees.... The caseload crunch in Fresno is so bad that attorneys in civil actions are asked if they will allow a magistrate judge to hear the case. ... The Fresno court sends 3 of every 4 civil cases where parties don’t agree to be heard by a local magistrate judge to Sacramento."

More criticism of the Restrepo-confirmation delay (CA3blog, 10/02/15)
Matthew Stiegler: "The Los Angeles Times has this story [LINK] today (headline: “Republican Senate accused of ‘slow walking’ Obama’s judicial nominees”) that features the delay in confirming Judge Restrepo to the Third Circuit. Yesterday, Paul Gordon of People for the American Way posted this informative analysis [LINK] of the current delays in federal judicial confirmations, also featuring Restrepo.... It’s becoming increasingly clear that, when Senator Toomey’s office said way back in May that he was confident Restrepo would be confirmed “by year’s end,” Toomey knew already the Third Circuit would suffer from this inexplicable delay."

More than 70 PA Editorial Board opinions

Editorial: Cruz, Cornyn dragging feet on crisis-level judicial vacancies (Dallas Morning News, 10/01/15)
"When you go to federal court, you expect to have a judge. But in Texas, vacancies in the federal judiciary remain unfilled for months, sometimes years. The system is operating under emergency status from the crush of too many cases and too few judges. And Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, the men empowered to recommend candidates to the president, haven’t moved quickly enough to address crisis-level vacancies in a timely manner. Right now, there are nine Texas vacancies — two on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and seven on its district courts. ... There are only two fewer district court vacancies now than a year ago, and the same number of Circuit Court of Appeals vacancies. The crisis likely will worsen before it improves.... Cornyn and Cruz need to do better. Most of these vacancies were created by judges who left after giving months of advance notice. Yet the senators just now are beginning to formally seek replacements for some of these positions. ... shouldn’t replacements have been agreed upon months, if not years, ago?... It is most likely foot-dragging on the part of the senators .... Crowded courts and long waits mean higher costs and justice delayed. As lawyers, Cornyn and Cruz know what is at stake. Now they need to fix it."

Dozens of Editorial Board opinions

Federal Judges Are Burned Out, Overworked And Wondering Where Congress Is: The people hearing your cases are drowning in work because the Senate isn't filling vacancies. (Huffington Post, 09/30/15)
Jennifer Bendery: For many district and circuit court judges, going to work means doing their job -- plus the jobs of other judges who are supposed to be there, but aren't. That's because federal courts are full of vacancies that aren't being filled by the Senate, and Congress hasn't created new judgeships in many states for decades, despite skyrocketing caseloads. Litigants are waiting years for their civil cases to be heard because criminal cases take precedence. Judges are struggling with burnout.... The Huffington Post talked to half a dozen federal judges about how court vacancies and the lack of new judgeships affect their workloads. All of them said they feel like they're underwater and desperately need more judges"

Editorial: Senate should confirm Drozd as federal judge in Fresno (Fresno Bee [CA] , 09/30/15)
"[T]here are other less attention-grabbing partisan disputes that also tear at the fabric of our country. One of them is the U.S. Senate’s failure to confirm federal judges.... What a shame it would be for justice if the Senate continues to ignore its responsibility to evaluate the judicial nominees and then vote them up or down.... Clearly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has failed to fulfill his promise of showing that the GOP can govern. ... cases in federal courts throughout the land stack up higher and higher. Witnesses die. Memories get fuzzy. And people lose faith in both Congress and the legal system. Fresno’s federal judges handle one of the nation’s highest caseloads. It’s Leahy’s opinion that Drozd is a “noncontroversial” nominee. He should be confirmed immediately. No wonder Congress has 15.2 percent job approval rating. It can’t even get the easy stuff done."

Vermont senator calls for confirmation of new Fresno federal judge (Fresno Bee [CA] , 09/29/15)
John Ellis: "The crushing workload isn’t getting any lighter, and still there’s no sign that Dale A. Drozd is close to winning U.S. Senate confirmation as a federal judge in Fresno....Leahy says the Senate can “alleviate the considerable backlog of cases in the Eastern District of California by confirming (Drozd),” whom he called a “non-controversial pending nominee.”"

Judicial vacancies (Durango Herald [CO], 09/26/15)
Matt Kenna: "This caseload backlog problem will only get worse if one of those seven seats on the trial court is left vacant in April. The entire Colorado congressional delegation has introduced legislation to add two new seats to our federal court for a total of nine for the state. Both Gardner and Bennet are co-sponsoring the Senate companion bill. This is commendable, but they should also work together to prioritize filling the vacancy to be created by Blackburn before he leaves the bench. Colorado businesses need this for economic growth, and individuals need this to protect their rights."

COMMENTARY: The federal judiciary, hampered by that other branch of government; Consider the example of Minnesota's own Judge Wilhelmina Wright (Minneapolis Star Tribune [MN], 09/25/15)
Editorial writer and Columnist Lori Sturdevant: "It isn’t the fault of the Minnesota Supreme Court associate justice that the U.S. Senate’s requisite vote confirming her appointment to the U.S. District Court for Minnesota has not yet happened, though President Obama sent her name to the Hill more than five months ago.... Wright won the judiciary panel’s approval on Sept. 17 on a voice vote with no dissent. She faces no discernible Republican opposition.... only six federal judges have been confirmed by the GOP-controlled Senate so far in 2015. That’s the slowest pace in six decades. It’s allowing a buildup of caseloads in federal courts all over the nation. The number of vacancies on the federal bench has increased from 43 to 67 this year .... When the nation’s pols mess with the courts, people in my profession ought to report it and voters ought to listen up."

Judges as job creators: Expanding economic growth by filling judicial vacancies (Justice Watch, 09/25/15)
"We also know that vacancies mean long delays for the people and businesses who need the courts to protect their rights and resolve disputes—delays that often mean justice is denied entirely. Now a new study sheds light on another real-world impact of judicial vacancies—the economic harms they cause not just for individual litigants, but for entire communities. The new study from The Perryman Group, an economic and financial analysis firm, focuses on the Eastern District of Texas,... According to the report, compared to the current baseline, filling the two current vacancies would create 78,188 jobs and an $11.7 billion increase in “real gross product”—the output of goods and services in the region—by 2030. If the vacancies are filled and two judgeships are added, 148,398 jobs would be created and real gross product would shoot up by $22.1 billion."

Montez: Colorado can’t afford a vacancy on our overworked federal court (Colorado Statesman, 09/24/15)
Guest Commentary By Dave Montez: "In a refreshing moment of bipartisan unity, the entire Colorado congressional delegation — all seven members of the House and both U.S. senators — support legislation introduced this summer to add two new judgeships to the District Court for Colorado. ... The District Court’s caseload backlog problem will only get worse if one of the current seats is left vacant in April."

Editorial: U.S. Senate needs to quit stalling judicial appointments  (Pocono Record [PA] , 09/22/15)
"[J]ustice is not served when you can’t get a date to hear your case — when the backlog of cases is so huge that it could be months or even years before a judge hears your argument. That is the situation in the nation’s federal courts, where the vacancy rate is high, case loads are high, yet the pace of judicial appointments has fallen to a 60-year low.... This is not for lack of qualified candidates, mind you; it’s sheer politics in the U.S. Senate. Take Pennsylvania, which has six vacancies in the federal court and five nominees pending. One of them, Luis Felipe Restrepo of the U.S. District Court, has the support of both Democratic Sen. Robert Casey and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey for his nomination to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Yet he waited nearly seven months before the Senate Judiciary Committee — unanimously — to advance his nomination to the Senate floor. More than two months have passed and nothing more has happened....As a Republican himself, Sen. Toomey should chastize his colleagues for playing politics and remind them of their obligation to appoint judges."

Republicans are clogging the judicial pipeline (Washington Post, 09/22/15)
Catherine Rampell column: "Motivated by a desire both to make President Obama look bad and to delay any judicial appointments until there’s (possibly) a Republican in the White House, GOP senators have thrown obstruction after obstruction in front of the judicial appointment process. As a result, the Republican-controlled Senate has confirmed only six federal judges in 2015.... It’s the slowest pace in over six decades .... The number of judgeships has not kept pace as the U.S. population has increased.... Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate, publicly endorsed the nominee for the Southern District of Florida, but seven months later still hasn’t returned his blue slip. Without it, the nominee, Mary Barzee Flores, won’t get a hearing. In other cases, the Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), has received the relevant blue slips but delayed holding confirmation hearings and votes on the nominees. In still others, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has delayed or outright refused to schedule floor votes for nominees. This happens, I should note, even when the judicial nominees are not the least bit controversial."

Letter: Time to step up for judge (Sentinel [Carlisle, PA], 09/22/15)
John Neurohr: "Back in November of 2014, President Obama nominated Pennsylvanian and U.S. District Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo to join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. ... Either Sen. Toomey is unwilling to go to bat for a nominee that he has repeatedly supported publicly, or he doesn’t have enough clout with GOP colleagues to move the vote forward. Either way, it’s bad news for his constituents."

2015-16 judicial confirmation slowdowns has little precedent in Reagan, Clinton, and Bush administrations (Brookings, 09/18/15)
Russell Wheeler: "Senate Republicans’ aggressive slowdown in judicial confirmations so far in 2015—and what is likely to be a continued slowdown through 2016—are contrary to the confirmation records in the final two years of the other two-term presidencies since 1961—Ronald Reagan, William Clinton, and George W. Bush.... Like President Obama, those presidents submitted nominations to a Senate controlled by the other party. In each of those president’s final two years in office, the Senate confirmed a fifth or more of their full eight-year complement of district and circuit judges.... Anticipated invocations of the mythical “Thurmond Rule”—dictating a shutdown of nominations at some point from early to the middle of a presidential election year—will not stand up well to these data."