Editorials and Opinion
New Congress, New Round in Senate Fight Over Obama’s Judges (Roll Call, 05/05/15)
David Hawkings column: "The locus of the new fight is L. Felipe Restrepo, chosen by the president six months ago for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He’s the only person Obama has picked for eight current vacancies on the regional appeals courts. The seat has been open for 18 months, and as a result, the caseload recently became so backlogged that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts declared a “judicial emergency” for appeals out of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
But the Senate Judiciary Committee is convening its third hearing of the year Wednesday afternoon to hear from judicial nominees, and Restrepo is not invited. ... The staff for Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley said the Iowa Republican is not embracing this approach. Instead, they say the committee is still reviewing the latest background check — something of a curiosity, given that only two years ago the FBI conducted a thorough review of the 56-year-old Restrepo’s life before he was confirmed (on a voice vote) for his current job as a federal trial court judge in Philadelphia.... Adding to the mystery behind the Restrepo delay is the fact that one of the judge’s most important public supporters, Republican Patrick J. Toomey, has not returned the endorsement form (known as a “blue slip”) the committee requires from each home-state senator before a judicial confirmation process begins. He and Pennsylvania’s other senator, Democrat Bob Casey, jointly recommended Restrepo for the lower court, and last fall Toomey declared “he will also make a superb addition to the Third Circuit.”
Toomey’s office declined to discuss the missing blue slip, but spokeswoman E.R. Anderson said Toomey still supports confirmation “and hopes it gets done this year.” ... Restrepo would be the second Latino ever on the Third Circuit."
Why the holdup on Third Circuit judge nominee? (Philadelphia Daily News [PA], 05/05/15)
Rev. Dr. Robert P. Shine: "Tomorrow, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on pending judicial nominations, the first one in eight weeks. One person the committee should hold a hearing for, but who is not on tomorrow's list, is a nominee for a vacancy on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, based here in Philadelphia - a vacancy that has been designated a judicial emergency.
The nominee for that spot, federal District Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo, was nominated by President Obama back in November. He's exactly the kind of person we want serving on the bench. ... Despite the fact that Restrepo has the support of both of our state's senators and is entirely qualified for the job, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has refused to hold a hearing for him. Why the needless delay?
Of course, this isn't only about Restrepo specifically. It's about our courts being adequately staffed so that they can do the critical work they are meant to do."
Eye on Boise: Bipartisan panel picked Idaho’s last federal district judge (Spokesman-Review [Spokane, WA], 05/03/15)
Betsy Z. Russell column: "“It was the unanimous decision of the commission that Judge B. Lynn Winmill is extremely well qualified for the position,” Craig told the Senate. Winmill’s selection was hailed by all sides, though his background as a Democrat was unquestioned – he was a former county Democratic Party chairman before he became a judge. Craig called him a “long-needed federal judge who is exceptionally well-qualified, honest, hard-working and a community leader,” and told senators, “Although he has an unquestionable Democratic credential, the Republican governor of Idaho also sends his full and unqualified support for this judge.” That was then-Gov. Phil Batt."
Julie DelCour: Here we go again with Senate confirmation delays; Pecked to death by ducks (Tulsa World [OK], 05/03/15)
By JULIE DELCOUR Associate Editor: "For the past 20 years, I’ve periodically lamented the sorry pace of judicial confirmations.... In 2012, Oklahoma’s two senators failed to support a qualified Oklahoma appellate court nominee during a filibuster fight. Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn later voted to confirm the nominee, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Bacharach, to the U.S. [Tenth] Circuit Court .... What was so strange about the filibuster delay was that Coburn had waved Bacharach through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and had described him as “the most qualified nominee I’ve seen in my eight years in the Senate.” ... On April 13, four months into a new Congress, the Senate finally held its first vote on a judicial nominee. Alfred Bennett had waited 297 days, and was confirmed 95-0. That Texas judicial seat had been vacant 769 days, creating a judicial emergency. Other U.S. district judges in the district took up the slack by carrying 430 to 600 cases.
Delays in confirmations do create backlogs in courts all over the country, and hinder the timely administration of justice. It’s one thing if the nominees’ qualifications or judicial philosophy is at issue but in nearly every case that has little to do with delays."
EDITORIAL: Delays in filling two federal court seats shortchange the legal process in WNY (Buffalo News [NY], 05/03/15)
"Buffalo is now without a single active federal district judge. That will worsen what is already one of the nation’s worst backlogs of civil cases. It is up to the president and Senate to act swiftly to fill the two federal judicial vacancies.... This is not just an inconvenience. Not when it comes to a federal legal system in which it takes, on average, more than five years for civil cases to come to trial in Buffalo. The delays are unconscionable, and more so because the solution is obvious.
One legal observer said this region could use another three district judges, but at the very least the two open seats should be filled.... Both O’Donnell and Vilardo are outstanding candidates and deserving of the positions. They need to win the necessary approvals and take their seats to begin dealing with the overwhelming amount of work waiting for them.
The courts here received more new filings last year than all but nine of the 94 court systems across the country. It’s no wonder that the backlog of civil and criminal cases ranks among the worst in the nation."
Senate must act on judicial vacancies (Herald News [Passaic County, NJ] , 05/03/15)
"Regarding "Lynch confirmed" (Editorials, April 27) and "Vote on AG not required" (Your Views, April 25):
Readers should consider even longer and continuing delays in the U.S. Senate regarding action on nominees.
Two district court judges were first nominated Sept. 18, nearly two months before Loretta Lynch, with strong support from their Texas and Utah Republican senators. ... U.S. District Judge Felipe Restrepo was nominated Nov. 12 on the bipartisan recommendation of his Pennsylvania senators.
New Jersey’s senators need to press to move Restrepo and to fill four District of New Jersey vacancies, two of which have pending nominees.
Empty judgeships mean justice delayed is justice denied for people and businesses." Glenn Sugameli, Letter to the Editor
Senate must act on judicial vacancies (Record [NJ] , 05/01/15)
Glenn Sugameli, Letter to the Editor: "Two District Court judges were first nominated Sept. 18, nearly two months before Loretta Lynch, with strong support from their Texas and Utah Republican senators. ... Senate GOP leadership keeps them in limbo, even though one would fill a courts-declared judicial emergency. Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has still not held a hearing on a nominee to fill an emergency on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes New Jersey. U.S. District Judge Felipe Restrepo was nominated Nov. 12 on the bipartisan recommendation of his Pennsylvania senators. New Jersey's senators need to press to move Restrepo and to fill four District of New Jersey vacancies, two of which have pending nominees."
Long Past Time to Let 3rd Circuit Nominee Restrepo Have His Hearing (People For blog, 04/30/15)
"Eastern Pennsylvania federal judge L. Felipe Restrepo is among those nominees being obstructed. Confirmed to his current position by the Senate by unanimous voice vote in June of 2013, he earned strong statements of support from home state senators Bob Casey (a Democrat) and Pat Toomey (a Republican) when he was nominated for elevation to the Third Circuit last November.
But since then ... nothing. Chairman Grassley has conspicuously refused to schedule a hearing for him. Although Third Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell announced in late January that she plans to take senior status this summer, thus opening a second vacancy on the court if Restrepo is not confirmed by then, Grassley did not schedule a hearing. And when the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts formally classified the vacancy Restrepo would fill as a judicial emergency in February, Grassley's response was ... nothing."
Delays on both sides of the aisle (Washington Post, 04/29/15)
Glenn Sugameli, Judging the Environment, Letter to the Editor: "Republican Senate leaders are holding up two federal district court nominees, including one from Texas who was recommended by Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, both Texas Republicans, for a judicial emergency vacancy. They were nominated Sept. 18, nearly two months before Loretta Lynch was nominated to be attorney general, and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved them (and Ms. Lynch) on Feb. 26. There was no disagreement, and both cleared the committee on a unanimous voice vote with support from their home-state Republican senators."
Grassley Threatening to Shut Down His Minimal Actions on Judges in Mid-2016 (People For blog, 04/27/15)
"Eastern Pennsylvania district judge Phil Restrepo was nominated to the Third Circuit back on November 12 with the support of both of his home state senators (Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey), but Grassley has refused to schedule a hearing for him. Other nominees from last November being affirmatively neglected are Dale Drozd (Eastern District of California), LaShann DeArcy Hall and Ann Donnelly (Eastern District of New York), and Travis McDonough (Eastern District of Tennessee)....Also, someone ought to remind the Senator what happened during George W. Bush's last year in office. In 2008, the Democratic-controlled Judiciary Committee held hearings for ten of Bush's judicial nominees in September, and all ten were confirmed by the full Senate that same month. In fact, half of those were confirmed just three days after their committee hearing."
Benched! A premature cutoff for judicial confirmations (Justice Watch, 04/27/15)
"Senator Grassley said of judicial nominations: “Come July of 2016, probably they’ll be cut off and not approving any . . . It’s just kind of tradition.”
But this “tradition” is one of Grassley’s own making. Presidents regularly have district and circuit court nominees confirmed after July 1 of their final year in office. President Clinton had nine in 2000. President George W. Bush had 14 in 2008. And in each case the president faced a Senate controlled by the opposition party."
Senator Grassley’s ‘Glacial’ Pace on Judicial Nominations (American Constitution Society Blog, 04/23/15)
K.O. Myers: "This glacial pace persists despite the fact that the number of judicial vacancies is on the rise. Of 874 seats on the federal bench, 54 are empty. At least 26 more (including the two for which Grassley made his recommendations) are scheduled to open up in the next year. Twenty-three of those vacancies are designated as “judicial emergencies,” .... In an editorial released a few days after the recommendations were announced, The Des Moines Register gets to the heart of the issue. “Grassley may represent Iowa in the Senate,” the paper’s editorial board writes, “but as judiciary chair he has a duty to assure that all nominees for the bench in all 50 states get fair and prompt hearings and up-or-down confirmation votes on the Senate floor.” Here’s hoping that Senator Grassley will work as diligently for a fully staffed, functional judiciary in the other 49 states as he has here in Iowa."
EDITORIAL: Pick up the confirmation pace (Post and Courier [SC], 04/22/15)
"Senators don’t have to approve presidential nominations for Cabinet, court and other positions. But they should at least make those decisions in a timely manner.... You need not be a fan of President Barack Obama — or of his picking Ms. Lynch as the next attorney general — to find the modern Capitol Hill pattern of needlessly protracted confirmation processes troubling.... politicians in both parties should move away from the troubling trend of lengthy postponements of up-or-down votes on presidential appointments."
EDITORIAL: Our View: Dayton can shape judiciary for years to come (Rochester Post-Bulletin [MN], 04/22/15)
"Wilhelmina Wright, appointed by Dayton to the state Supreme Court in 2012, was nominated last week by President Barack Obama to serve on the U.S. District Court in Minnesota.... Wright, 51, has 15 years experience as a judge, serving on the Ramsey County District Court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals before her appointment to the state Supreme Court. Her nomination to the U.S. District Court is expected to be noncontroversial, although the Republican-led U.S. Senate has been slow to confirm Obama's judicial nominations. If confirmed, Wright would succeed Michael J. Davis, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Minnesota, who will step down from active service on Aug. 1. Davis is the only black federal judge in Minnesota history. Wright, the first African-American woman to serve on the state Supreme Court, would be the second black federal judge."
Bipartisan buds won't survive a frost: Column (USA Today, 04/21/15)
Ross K. Baker: "While Lynch will ultimately be confirmed, scores of other nominees are cooling their heels awaiting either committee action or a vote on the Senate floor."
Thanks, Mitch: Confirmed Judges to Skyrocket From One to Two (People For blog, 04/20/15)
"The GOP-controlled Senate's record for slow-walking President Obama's judicial nominees stands in stark contrast to how the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed George W. Bush's judicial nominees in his final two years. Democrats shepherded 68 of Bush's circuit and district court judges through confirmation in his last two years, including 15 by this point in 2007.
Back in February, the Judiciary Committee unanimously approved four district court nominees from Texas and Utah. But it wasn't until last week that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally allowed a vote on one of them, the first and only judicial confirmation vote of the 114th Congress.
Today, McConnell is taking aggressive action by scheduling a Senate vote on ... one of the three remaining district court nominees that have been pending on the floor for nearly two months."
The Register's Editorial: Chairman Grassley: Treat all states alike on judges (Des Moines Register [IA], 04/18/15)
"U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley's announcement last week that he is recommending two Iowans for U.S. District Court vacancies in Des Moines and Sioux City is good news for Iowa. The implication is Grassley is prepared to move quickly on Senate confirmations of White House nominees for the federal courts — at least for judgeships in Iowa.... The question on a lot of minds in Washington is whether Grassley will act with the same urgency to move all other judicial nominees through his committee. The evidence on the record so far is not encouraging. Since the Republicans took control of the Senate in January, only one judge has been confirmed. One. Meanwhile, there are 54 vacancies in the federal courts — including 23 that are considered "judicial emergencies" because of the workload in those courts — and 27 more judgeships will be coming vacant based on announced retirements. Grassley may represent Iowa in the Senate, but as judiciary chair he has a duty to assure that all nominees for the bench in all 50 states get fair and prompt hearings and up-or-down confirmation votes on the Senate floor."
EDITORIAL: More double dealing in ExxonMobil settlement (Asbury Park Press [NJ], 04/17/15)
"Gov. Chris Christie's sellout to ExxonMobil just keeps getting worse. ... This settlement is a boon to ExxonMobil — and a huge loser for the state, both from an environmental and financial standpoint. The practical effect of that $225 million will be minimal given all the provisions and caveats — and the state is almost certainly leaving a whole lot of money on the table."
Benched! Senator Grassley can’t have it both ways on nominations (Justice Watch, 04/17/15)
"Grassley claimed that November and December should not be counted toward Lynch’s overall wait time, because Democrats controlled the Senate back then, and Republicans did not take control until January.... although the Senate has in fact confirmed only one judge this year, Grassley claims that 11 more judges, reported out of committee and confirmed during the lame duck session last congress, should be counted toward Republican totals for this congress.... Grassley is perfectly happy to take credit for confirmations that happened last year, just not the delay. He can’t have it both ways."
EDITORIAL: The Senate’s shabby treatment of Loretta Lynch (Washington Post, 04/16/15)
"BACK FROM its Easter break, the Senate confirmed its first judicial nomination of the year on Tuesday, and it did so unanimously. That’s the sort of action we expected when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) promised a return to regular order after November’s election.
But that small glimmer of responsibility is overshadowed by the unconscionably shabby treatment the Senate has shown to Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s well-qualified nominee for attorney general.... The confirmation battles of the past several years have harmed the country. Some who should have been confirmed have instead become political victims and turned away from government service. We have no doubt that highly qualified potential nominees decided against pursuing or accepting government jobs because they did not want to subject themselves to the broken process. A return to good order in the Senate should mean that presidential nominees, particularly those who aren’t slated to serve lifetime judicial terms, obtain speedy confirmations except in rare and exceptional circumstances. That hasn’t happened, and the Republican majority has no one to blame but itself."
More of the Same, As Grassley Delays More Judicial Nominees (People For blog, 04/16/15)
"Since Obama became president, only 12 of his circuit and district court nominees have had their committee votes held on schedule. Republicans have had committee votes held over without cause for all but 12 of his judicial nominees, which is an unprecedented abuse of the rule. That's less than 5% of all the Obama judicial nominees who the Judiciary Committee has voted on.
It was bad enough when Republicans were in the minority and demanding needless delays of President Obama's nominees over the course of six years. But now they are in the majority. They're demanding delays in the schedule that they themselves set up."
The Fourth Quarter (Huffington Post, 04/16/15)
Nancy K. Kaufman: "President Obama has done remarkably better than his predecessors in appointing a diverse judiciary. 42 percent have been female, compared to 23 percent female for President Bush. 65 percent are white, compared to 82 percent for President Bush. And nearly 19 percent have been African American, compared to 7 percent for President Bush. This progress will be diminished if vacancies are not filled in a timely fashion.
In 2015, it seems we are back to square one. Three months have passed with just one vote on a judicial nominee."
The Judicial Policy Implications of Reckless Driving on Federal Land (Maryland Appellate Blog, 04/15/15)
Steve Klepper: "As of today, the U.S. Judicial Conference has identified 23 Article III vacancies as “judicial emergencies.” That includes five district judgeships within the Fifth Circuit. The Judicial Conference is requesting an additional eight permanent district judgeships for Texas; that proposal is going nowhere. I spent eight years of my career heavily litigating a case in the El Paso Division of the Western District of Texas, which shares a border with Mexico and includes the massive Fort Bliss. Every civil hearing required us to wait through multiple sentencing hearings for cross-border felonies. Imagine if misdemeanants were also entitled to trial or sentencing before an Article III judge.
Despite one longstanding vacancy (that finally has a nominee), the District of Maryland fortunately is devoid of emergency vacancies. ... But the situation would change in a heartbeat if traffic and petty misdemeanors were transferred from our magistrate judges to our district judges."
Loretta Lynch and the Dysfunctional Senate (New Yorker, 04/15/15)
Jeffrey Toobin: "Thanks in significant part to McConnell’s maneuvers, the use of the filibuster has become so pervasive that it’s now assumed that sixty votes are required for any Senate action.
In his most brazen act so far, McConnell has prevented a confirmation vote for Loretta Lynch, the President’s choice for Attorney General, even though a majority of Senators have indicated publicly that they will vote for her. ... Majority Leader of the Democrats, Harry Reid grew so frustrated with Republican obstruction that he changed the Senate rules, doing away with filibusters on lower-court judicial and Administration appointees .... In more than three months, the Senate has approved just a single judicial nominee, a district judge from Texas."
Mitch McConnell: Doing the Least He Can Possibly Do (People For blog, 04/14/15)
"Senator Mitch McConnell’s ongoing campaign to obstruct President Obama’s judicial nominees had resulted in not a single new judge since Republicans took over the US Senate. If there’s been no movement it certainly hasn’t been for lack of need. The number of judicial vacancies has risen from 40 to 51, and the number of judicial emergencies has doubled from 12 to 24....today Senator McConnell allowed a vote on … one judicial nominee!"
GOP Senate unanimously confirmed first federal judge (Washington Post, 04/14/15)
Colby Itkowitz: "Senate Republicans have been in charge for three months, but only Monday confirmed its first judicial nominee, Alfred H. Bennett — unanimously.... The slow crawl of Senate confirmations continues .... There are four judicial nominees who still await Senate floor action – not including the five nominees to the Court of Federal Claims – and another 13 need a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), in a floor speech, said by April 2007 the Democrat-controlled Senate had already confirmed 15 of President Bush’s judicial nominees. The pending nominees are holdovers from last year. Three of the four judges waiting for a floor vote were endorsed by their home state Republican senators."
Benched! Cornyn passes the buck on rising vacancy numbers (Justice Watch, 04/14/15)
"The delay to confirm Bennett is just one example of Senate Republicans’ do-nothing approach to judicial nominations. There are still three district court nominees pending on the Senate floor, including two more nominated to critical vacancies in Texas’s overburdened Southern District, and one to the District of Utah. All three have the support of their Republican home-state senators. Yet instead of pushing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to schedule votes for Texas judges, Cornyn—who is the Senate’s Majority Whip, not merely a rank-and-file member—dismisses the vacancy problem with a partisan attack on the president.
In the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has held only two confirmation hearings in 2015, passing over five nominees who have been waiting for a hearing since November 2014.
While the Senate sits on its hands, judicial vacancies have jumped from 44 to 54, and “judicial emergencies,” the official designation for courts with the most dire need for judges, have nearly doubled, increasing from 12 to 23. These numbers could be reduced by confirmations, but the Senate hasn’t acted.
Republicans have also failed to recommend nominees for vacancies in their home states."
After a 207-day wait, Senate finally confirms Obama judicial nominee (Daily Kos, 04/14/15)
Joan McCarter: "After months and months of committee and floor delays, the Senate confirmed Alfred Bennett to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. That vote was 95-0. There was no opposition, and yet it took 207 days to happen. He's filling a seat that had been vacant for 769 days, and qualified as a "judicial emergency" because of the heavy caseload judges on that court carry—430 to 600 cases for more than 18 months. ... All of these nominees could have been confirmed last year, during the lame duck session. But Republicans blocked them, claiming that passing them during lame duck would catch them up in "unnecessary, partisan politics." The same unnecessary partisan politics that prevented Bennett from reaching the floor for four months once Republicans took over.”
Why Courts Matter (Center for American Progress, 04/13/15)
"As of March 9, 2015, there were 50 current vacancies on U.S. federal courts. These seats have been vacant for a total of 22,222 days, resulting in a backlog of 29,892 cases.
The Administrative Office of the United States Courts has designated 23 of these pending vacancies as judicial emergencies, meaning that filling them is a critical task. ... In an attempt to slow President Barack Obama’s effect on the federal courts, Senate Republicans have obstructed the president’s judicial nominees at unprecedented levels by attempting to prevent or delay a vote through filibustering a record number of nominees and making them await confirmation for long periods of time."
North Carolina takes the prize for longest unfilled federal judicial vacancy (Progressive Pulse [NC], 04/13/15)
Sharon McCloskey: "The nearly ten-year vacant federal district court slot in eastern North Carolina tops the list of “most ridiculously long judicial vacancies that the Senate hasn’t filled,” as highlighted by the Huffington Post .... With no new nominee in the hopper, the Eastern District — which is also close to the top of judicial districts having the most residents per judgeship — will continue to trudge along with a caseload being handled by three active sitting judges with the part-time help of three judges on senior status — the youngest of whom is 75."