Editorials and Opinion
World-Herald editorial: Rossiter confirmation shows things can get done in Congress (Omaha World-Herald [NE] , 06/29/16)
"The commendable work by U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer on Robert Rossiter Jr.’s judicial nomination shows that it’s possible to get things done in Washington through effective leadership. The Senate voted 90-0 Monday to approve the nomination of Rossiter, an Omaha attorney, as Nebraska’s next federal judge.
Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, stated that “only because of the efforts of Sen. Fischer is Mr. Rossiter’s nomination receiving a vote today.”... As reporting by The World-Herald’s Joseph Morton explained, the vote on Rossiter’s nomination is a rarity at a time when the Senate is otherwise stalemated on such votes. Some 25 judicial nominations are still “languishing on the Senate floor” due to the gridlock, Leahy said."
NEW NEBRASKA JUDGE BOB ROSSITER CONFIRMED (PAPERWORK TO FOLLOW) (Mimesis Law, 06/29/16)
Richard G. Kopf, Senior United States District Judge (Nebraska): "I have written before at Fault Lines about what a wonderful federal district judge Bob Rossiter would be for the District of Nebraska. On Monday, June 27, 2016, at about 6:15 p.m. Eastern Time, Bob was confirmed 90 to 0 by the Senate.... he only had to wait more than a year to have his entirely non-controversial nomination voted upon by a roll call on the Senate floor. By that time, our court faced a “judicial emergency” because we were without one-third of our judge-power for over 18 months.
In fact, nearly three years have passed since Judge Joe Bataillon told the world he intended to take senior status. Still further, Bob had to wait for nearly two year before his floor vote, even though both Nebraska Senators had recommended Bob to President Obama in August of 2014.
Time passes slowly when you are in prison or considered for the position of a federal district judge."
Editorial, 6/29 (Lincoln Journal Star [NE], 06/29/16)
"Dysfunction pervades the nation’s capital. ... Senate Republicans continue to refuse to even hold hearings on President Barack Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.
On an issue close to home the Senate this week finally confirmed Omaha attorney Robert Rossiter Jr. as a federal judge for Nebraska. The position had been vacant since October, 2014, with a workload in the district so heavy that it was classified as “judicial emergency.” There was nothing controversial about Rossiter’s nomination. Nonetheless it took the Senate a year to act once President Barack Obama nominated him."
Live Wire: Sen. Burr blocking judge from bench (Fayetteville Observer [NC] , 06/29/16)
"Q: I was reading that Judge Patricia Timmons-Goodson has been nominated for a federal judgeship and Sen. Richard Burr is going to block her. Why would Sen. Burr block such a good person? I know this woman and her family, and she is a very good person, and she has been a good judge for years. - B.R., Fayetteville
A: President Obama nominated Timmons-Goodson of Fayetteville for a federal judgeship in April. Praise for her isn't just from B.R.
Cumberland County commissioners voted unanimously in May to support her nomination.... She became the first black woman to serve on the N.C. Supreme Court.
U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat who represents many counties in the Eastern District, has said, "Her character and reputation are beyond reproach."... Burr, a Republican, has said he won't allow Timmons- Goodson to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate.... - Steve DeVane
Republicans Aren’t Even Pretending They Want To Confirm Judges Anymore: They’re quietly blocking their own nominees and skipping votes for others. Because Obama. (Huffington Post, 06/28/16)
Jennifer Bendery: "Senate Republicans have never made it easy for President Barack Obama to put judges on federal courts. ... 15 Republican senators are quietly blocking their own nominees in the committee. Take Cruz and Cornyn. They’ve got 12 judicial vacancies in Texas — that’s the most in the nation — and all have been designated judicial emergencies, meaning the courts’ workloads are unmanageable. Both senators publicly supported Obama’s nomination of five people to those courts in March. In fact, Cornyn talked big about his commitment to getting them confirmed .... But none of those nominees has been confirmed, because Cruz and Cornyn won’t turn in their so-called “blue slips” .... Sen. Dan Coats (Ind.) hasn’t turned in his blue slip for his judicial nominee, Myra Selby. Sens. Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.) haven’t turned in their blue slips for their nominee, Abdul Kallon. Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) haven’t turned in blue slips for their nominees, either. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t turned in his blue slip for his nominee, Lisabeth Hughes.... Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he no longer supports his nominee, Mary Barzee Flores,... Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) pulled his support for his nominee, Dax López"
Don Walton column (Lincoln Journal Star [NE], 06/27/16)
"The Senate is expected to confirm the president's nomination of Robert Rossiter to be a U.S. District Court judge in Nebraska on Monday. And, just think, it only took a little over a year for the Senate to act on the nomination while Nebraska's federal court system struggled with an overload that qualifies as a "judicial emergency.""
Editorial: Extreme partisanship blocks judges, cripples federal courts (Palm Beach Post [FL], 06/27/16)
"Think it’s bad that we have an empty seat on the U.S. Supreme Court?
Well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Senate Republicans have been so successful in their strategy of obstructing any nominees by President Barack Obama that there are now 89 vacancies in the federal courts system.
Waiting to fill those spots are 58 nominees, the limbo for some going back almost a year and a half. That includes South Florida attorney Mary Barzee Flores, whose nomination 16 months ago has been blocked by her own senator, Marco Rubio. ... federal courts are where citizens go to protect important constitutional rights on voting access, the environment and discrimination. It’s where consumers and workers go to hold corporations accountable. With those courts crippled, essential liberties may be eroded."
What Republicans' Obstruction Costs Them (Bloomberg News, 06/22/16)
Jonathan Bernstein: "normal opposition includes at least the possibility, and sometimes the reality, of cutting deals giving both sides something. And it has never in the past precluded a certain amount of government business getting done.... Republicans have routinely filibustered against (or, under Republican majorities, simply refused to consider) the confirmation of district court judges, even when Obama’s nominees are not controversial at all."
As I see it: Who's (left) to judge? (Telegram & Gazette [MA], 06/22/16)
Thomas Tobin: "The well-publicized vacancy on the Supreme Court isn’t the only one facing the federal judiciary. Right here in Massachusetts, the retirement of Judge Douglas Woodlock has left a vacant seat on the state’s federal district court. ... The Senate has been mulling over his proposed replacement, Inga Bernstein, for over 300 days and counting.... While Inga Bernstein and another 59 nominees across the country await further action by the U.S. Senate, judicial vacancies have myriad real-world consequences. The fact that there are a total of 89 judicial vacancies to the federal bench is indicative of the gridlock .... In one jurisdiction, North Carolina, there's a judicial vacancy that's been open for more than a decade.... Professor Carl Tobias found that judicial vacancies undermine the ability of the federal courts to provide “expeditious, inexpensive, and fair case resolution.” Put simply, vacancies in the federal judiciary “erode justice.”
Fewer judges mean that available resources are further constrained, especially that of arguably the scarcest resource of all -- time. In thirty jurisdictions across the country, dockets are so backlogged that they have been declared judicial emergencies.... more than 10 percent of more than 800 lifetime-appointment judicial posts within the federal judiciary are currently unfilled."
The Republicans and Court Vacancies (New York Times, 06/22/16)
Prof. Carl Tobias, Letter to the Editor: "“The Senate’s Confirmation Shutdown” (editorial, June 9) is exactly right. The Republican Senate majority’s inaction has perpetuated and worsened the lower federal court vacancy crisis.
The sharp contrast between the number of President George W. Bush’s 68 circuit and district nominees whom the Democratic majority helped confirm in 2007-08 and the number of President Obama’s 18 circuit and district nominees whom the Republican majority has confirmed since 2015 is compelling. Those data show the absurdity of Republicans’ claim that they have restored the Senate to “regular order.”
The G.O.P. must promptly discharge its constitutional responsibility for advising and consenting on the president’s nominees. Indeed, the Senate could confirm the one circuit and 18 district well-qualified, mainstream nominees awaiting final votes in 30 minutes."
Supreme Court Breakfast Table Entry 2: Wither the full court. (Slate.com, 06/22/16)
Dawn Johnsen: "Senate Republicans’ refusal even to provide Judge Merrick Garland a hearing is an unprecedented shirking of a vital constitutional duty .... blocking an enormously qualified, noncontroversial Supreme Court nominee.... we should not be suffering these effects of a Supreme Court (and lower courts) diminished in numbers. And if we fail to keep the issue front and center, our collective passivity will prolong the harms to the proper functioning of our independent judiciary and thus the American people."
The glaring omission in the New York Times’ gun debate coverage; The Grey Lady downplays Congress' chances of passing reform with nary a mention of the GOP's radical obstructionism (Salon.com, 06/21/16)
Eric Boehlert: "Today’s Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP’s gun law obstruction, the Violence Against Women Act obstruction, the sequester obstruction, Supreme Court obstruction, minimum wage obstruction, 9/11 first responder obstruction, government shutdown obstruction, immigration reform obstruction, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation obstruction, Susan Rice secretary of state obstruction, paid leave obstruction, Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstruction, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act obstruction, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees." [Link to each]
Statement of ABA President Paulette Brown Re: Evaluation of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland (American Bar Association, 06/21/16)
"The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which is independent of the ABA’s policy-making and governing entities, has finished its intensive peer review of the qualifications of Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, and has rated him “Well Qualified.”
It is now imperative that the Senate fulfills its constitutional responsibilities to consider and act promptly on the Supreme Court nominee.... While the Court continues to function, its 4-4 decisions do not establish precedent and leave open questions on issues that are vital to the lives of everyday people. The prospect of a deadlock also will result in more cases being returned unresolved to lower courts. Cases with controversial issues that need a decision will more likely be avoided by the court. The confirmation process must therefore continue to proceed with all deliberate speed.
In addition to the Supreme Court seat, there are 83 current vacancies on the Courts of Appeals, District Courts and the Court of International Trade. Our nation is disadvantaged when the federal judiciary does not have enough judges to hear cases and resolve disputes in a thorough and timely fashion."
Commentary: Action needed on federal judges (Greenville [SC] News, 06/20/16)
Tommy Tobin, Guest Columnist: "Is the chief justice elect of the South Carolina Supreme Court qualified to be a judge? The answer should be an obvious yes, however it has lingered unanswered for more than three months in the U.S. Senate. South Carolina’s Sens. Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham have yet to weigh in on Chief Justice-elect Donald W. Beatty’s fitness as a federal judicial nominee.... The American Bar Association (ABA) rated Beatty as unanimously well qualified to fill the post that has been vacant for nearly three years. Chief Justice Beatty is not the only South Carolina judicial nominee currently awaiting our Senators’ assessment. Spartanburg’s Donald C. Coggins Jr. was also nominated in February. ... Currently, federal judges in the District of South Carolina have weighted case loads of over 500 cases per judge. The dockets are so jammed that the District, which encompasses the entire state, has been declared a judicial emergency.... The U.S. Supreme Court is missing a ninth Justice. The current nominee, Merrick Garland, is facing a blockade in the Senate.... our federal judiciary is facing 90 vacancies, which represents approximately 10 percent of all judicial posts. South Carolina’s senators can and should take action to remedy the situation here in our state’s federal court system. As reported elsewhere, Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor and expert on judicial appointments, noted that the two open seats in our states could be filled later this year if Senators Graham and Scott agree to support their nominations.... the Senate has made it harder for the judiciary to do its job and skillfully administer justice. The Senate and especially Sens. Graham and Scott should evaluate judicial nominees on whether they are well qualified for their positions rather than the politics of the moment."
Tom Cotton’s Despicable Admission: The Cassandra Butts Vote (Peacock Panache, 06/20/16)
Sheila Kennedy: "Cotton has been one of the Republican Senators refusing to act on judicial vacancies–from the Supreme Court down to the District Court level–simply because Obama is President.
It’s bad enough that the federal courts are so understaffed that Americans are being denied access to justice. But according to several news reports, Cotton isn’t just participating in the GOP’s willingness to indulge partisan spite at the expense of the common good. He’s twisting the knife.
Consider, for example, the New York Times’ Frank Bruni’s report on Cassandra Butts’ nomination to serve as the United States ambassador to the Bahamas."
Commentary: Judicial branch has been under GOP assault for years (Northern Virginia Daily, 06/17/16)
Steve Foreman: "We have Senate Republicans who are currently denying the president’s constitutional right to nominate Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy under the fallacy that Obama is too far along in his term to nominate a replacement.... There is a backlog of federal, district and circuit courts judgeships left unfilled because Republicans refuse to approve them. ... If fulfilling their constitutional duty by doing their jobs was a priority for the Senate Republicans, we would not have the polarization and politicization of the judiciary that we now have and less of a logjam in the federal courts."
Carl Tobias: Senate should confirm Robert Rossiter for federal judgeship (Omaha World-Herald [NE] , 06/16/16)
Prof. Tobias Op-Ed: "Rossiter is a well-qualified, mainstream nominee who enjoys the strong support of Republican U.S. Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse of Nebraska. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Rossiter Oct. 29 without dissent.... The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has designated Judge Bataillon’s vacancy an emergency ... Chief Judge Laurie Smith Camp has been urging that the Senate move quickly to fill the opening ... she explained: “Nebraska is among eight states having a single federal district and only three authorized judgeships (and recently) ranked first among these districts in its per-judgeship weighted filings, felony caseload, and supervised release hearings (so) the prompt confirmation of Nebraska’s newest federal district judge will be essential to ensure that federal litigation in Nebraska is adjudicated promptly and efficiently.”... Republican leaders have maintained they are returning the Senate to “regular order;” however, Rossiter and many other extremely competent, mainstream nominees have waited interminably for floor debates and votes. Several Democratic senators have requested unanimous consent to vote on Rossiter and 14 remaining district court nominees who need floor votes, but Republicans have objected. It is past time to schedule a debate and vote on Robert Rossiter."
Commentary: A dysfunctional Supreme Court. Get used to it (Reuters, 06/15/16)
BY HERMAN SCHWARTZ AND WILLIAM YEOMANS: "Senate Republicans have become experts in dysfunction. They seem intent on spreading the contagion to the U.S. Supreme Court.... its inability to decide other important issues bring into stark focus the damage that Senate Republicans have inflicted on the court by refusing to consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat. ... Though the GOP had virtually declared a halt to confirmation of Obama-nominated judges, the heightened politicization of the Supreme Court still seems stunning."
The Problem With Congress Might Not Be Fixable (Bloomberg News, 06/15/16)
Cass R. Sunstein: "Congress is in the midst of a breakdown in longstanding institutional norms. The latest example is the Senate's refusal to hold confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court -- a refusal that is probably without precedent.... With the Republicans’ refusal to allow a vote on Garland, we’ve entered uncharted territory. The GOP would like to say that the norm for which they are speaking is quite narrow: No Supreme Court confirmations in an election year.
But their behavior is fully consistent with a much broader one: If a party can get away with refusing to confirm a Supreme Court nominee chosen by a president of the opposing party, that’s exactly what it will do. If so, appointments to the high court will become mired in the crassest form of partisan politics.... if a president’s judicial nominees are not confirmed, because the opposing party disagrees with their likely votes, federal courts will lack sufficient personnel to proceed expeditiously."
Why today’s political climate scares judges (Denver Post [CO] , 06/12/16)
John Ingold: "Imagine, at this moment in American politics, that you are a judge.... To your east, in Washington, you see a U.S. Supreme Court hobbling along with only eight justices because of a standoff over who should appoint the ninth. You see political gridlock that has left unfilled 80 other vacancies on the federal bench across the country, according to legal scholar Carl Tobias."
Senate obstructionism is snarling the federal trial courts (Washington Post, 06/10/16)
Kyle Barry, Letter to the Editor: "along with vacancies and “judicial emergencies,” the number of pending judicial nominees has spiked as a result of a stagnant confirmation process. There are 54 judicial nominees waiting for confirmation, including 46 to the trial courts, and hardly any are the least bit controversial. By contrast, in June 2008, President George W. Bush had only 22 trial court nominees awaiting action in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Second, the Republican leadership is blocking even nominees who have bipartisan support, including those selected and recommended by their home-state Republican senators. All 17 of the pending judicial nominees who have passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee did so by voice vote with support from the committee’s Republican members. Moreover, there are at least 25 trial court nominees who are both from states with at least one GOP senator and have home-state GOP support."
Conner Eldridge is trucking (Arkansas Times, 06/10/16)
Max Brantley: "Sen. John ... Boozman has some explaining to do. He is derelict along with colleague Republican Sen. Tom Cotton in adequately responding to the party's abuse of the rule of law in politicking of judicial nominations"
Rubio's flip-flop (Miami Herald, 06/10/16)
Ronald Newman, Letter to the Editor: "It is an understatement to attach the phrase “small-minded” to Rubio’s recent opposition to a federal judicial candidate whom he had supported, Mary Barzee Flores (Rubio blocks confirmation of judge he recommended, June 5).
Extreme political partisanship is almost always small-minded, and Rubio’s degeneration into opposing Flores just because she is not decidedly right-wingish will stand as a shameful keynote of his legacy"
Editorial: Marco Rubio playing partisan game on judicial appointment (Tampa Bay Times [FL], 06/09/16)
"By single-handedly blocking the confirmation of a qualified nominee for a federal judgeship, Rubio is complicit in creating a larger problem that does real damage to the functioning of the judicial branch. His new excuses for being an obstructionist do not justify blocking a confirmation hearing.
More than a year ago, President Barack Obama nominated former state judge Mary Barzee Flores to fill a vacancy on the federal bench in South Florida. Rubio has stalled her Senate confirmation by refusing to issue a so-called blue slip, which would clear the way for confirmation hearings. ... These are not reasons to block a confirmation hearing, and they only inject more partisanship into a vetting process that is designed to be bipartisan.... She has supporters across the political spectrum who praise her qualifications, and she deserves a confirmation hearing.
Rubio's tactics reflect a broader obstructionist strategy by Senate Republicans who have been stalling Obama's judicial nominations, leading to vacancies nationwide. The seat for which Barzee Flores is nominated has been vacant since May 2014 and is considered a judicial emergency, meaning cases are backlogged. The Washington Post reported that of 673 U.S. district court judgeships, 67 are vacant under Obama. That 10 percent vacancy rate is higher than George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush saw at this point in their presidencies — and each of them also faced a Senate controlled by the other party. ... The Senate's role is to offer "advice and consent" on the president's judicial nominations. Today's Senate Republicans are openly flouting that constitutional duty, and it is leaving the federal courts crippled."
Supreme Court vacancy watch Day 117: No judges for Elizabeth Warren (Daily Kos, 06/09/16)
Joan McCarter: "What's the Senate doing today instead of considering the Supreme Court nominee? Nothing to do with judges. ... But back to the judges they're not confirming. It's not for a lack of effort on Sen. Elizabeth Warren's part. On Wednesday, she attempted to bring up the votes of 15 uncontroversial and long-stalled nominees, all of whom were approved by committee months ago.... Not deterred, Warren went on to try to get votes for nine of the 15 judges in her original request. McConnell objected again. Then she reduced it to just four of them.
By that time, McConnell had left the floor and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch was left to object, proving Warren's point. "There is no asterisk that says only when the majority leader has an embarrassing political problem or except when the president is named Barack Obama," in the constitution, said Warren. "It is not what the founders had in mind because it is small, it is petty and it is absurd.""
EDITORIAL: The Senate’s Confirmation Shutdown (New York Times, 06/09/16)
"The Republicans’ blockade of Judge Garland is shameful, but it is only the most glaring example of what has been a historic slowdown in filling federal court vacancies across the country. This has been enormously damaging to the district courts, which deal with hundreds of thousands of cases annually, and where backlogs drag out lawsuits and delay justice. It also harms the appeals courts, ... By June 2008, the Senate had approved 46 of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees; they confirmed a total of 68 by September. In contrast, Mr. McConnell’s Senate has confirmed only 20 of Mr. Obama’s judges since Republicans took control in January 2015, the slowest pace since the early 1950s. Appellate judges accounted for just two of those confirmations, fewer than at any time since the 19th century.
As a result of the impasse, there are now 83 vacant federal judgeships nationwide — 30 of which have such overwhelming case backlogs that the court system has classified them as judicial emergencies. By comparison, there were only about half as many when the Democrats controlled the Senate in 2008.
It would be easy to fill most of these vacancies if the Senate did its job. Currently, 37 of Mr. Obama’s nominees remain bottled up in the Senate Judiciary Committee, 30 of whom are still waiting for their hearing; 17 more have been approved by the committee but have not been scheduled for a full Senate vote."
So He Went There. (South Florida Lawyers, 06/09/16)
"That scoundrel, Marco Rubio discredited himself even further yesterday: "For about a year, Rubio has said little publicly about why he won’t allow a vote on Mary Barzee Flores." But Rubio and his office say there has been so much misinformation spread that he now feels compelled to go public with unflattering specifics about Barzee Flores that, out of respect to her, he tried to keep quiet. 2OH SURE!!!! Nothing like using the power of political office to smear a decent, talented public servant who would make a wise and fair federal jurist."
COMMENTARY: WUNC story highlights Burr’s “pathetic” blockade of African-American judicial nominees (Progressive Pulse [NC], 06/09/16)
Rob Schofield: "While the blockade of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland continues to draw well-deserved national headlines, the ongoing blockade of nominees to serve on the federal bench in North Carolina’s Eastern District (the longest such blockade in the country by four years) remains in the spotlight as well.... As has been the case for years, Senator Richard Burr — the man personally responsible for the blockade — gave an incomprehensible explanation for his action. After stating that the matter is not an emergency (despite the fact that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts officially labeled it a “judicial emergency” years ago) Burr dismissed President Obama’s latest effort to nominate a judge (former North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson) out of hand ... Obama has been trying to fill the position for almost his entire presidency and Burr has blocked those efforts (as arcane Senate rules give him the right to do) the entire time. What’s perhaps most striking and troubling about all of this are the racial overtones. Both of Obama’s nominees have been African-American and the Eastern District (which has a higher percentage of African-American residents than any other section of the state) has never had a black judge in its entire history."