Editorials and Opinion
Will Colorado Continue to Be a Model in Filling Judicial Vacancies? (Huffington Post, 08/27/15)
Peg Perl: "Three years ago, Colorado was hailed as a "model for senators across the country"because of the cooperative, timely and successful screening process our then-Senators used to inform the President's nomination for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court of Colorado. It is unclear whether we are still deserving of such praise.... True, the senators are now from different parties, but similar mixed delegations in Florida and Pennsylvania (use joint bipartisan committees to screen potential nominees. However, four months after the future vacancy announcement Colorado's Senators appear to be working on separate tracks. Senator Gardner has created his own selection committee - one that is not bipartisan, but full of Republican supporters - and Senator Bennet appears to be still working on getting his own committee (bipartisan) together.
A fully-staffed federal district court is vital because it keeps our judicial system open and accessible for Colorado citizens and businesses that need timely resolution of disputes. The District Court in Colorado, which has not increased the number of judges since 1984, is already overworked and understaffed. Increased workload from 30 years of population growth, plus additional cases arising from increased federal agencies with a regional office in Colorado has lead the full bipartisan delegation to Congress to introduce legislation to increase the number of federal judges from 7 to 9."
Texas judicial vacancy flood means Cornyn, Cruz must act (Fort Worth Star-Telegram [TX], 08/26/15)
Natalie Knight: "By providing more than four-months’ notice, Schneider gave the Texas senators charged with finding his replacement an opportunity to do what they have never done before: fill a judicial vacancy before the judge actually steps down and further weakens an already strained justice system.
Avoiding the disruption of a vacancy is, after all, the whole point of giving advance notice. In other states, senators often begin working on a vacancy as soon as it’s announced.
But not Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. Instead, they have watched vacancies pile up — ignoring, in some cases, more than a year of notice. ... That slow-motion process is contrary not just to common practice nationwide, but to the precedent Cornyn himself established when fellow-Republican George W. Bush was president.... Texas has become the epicenter of a growing judicial vacancy crisis.
Including two seats on the Fifth Circuit, Texas has nine current judicial vacancies (the most of any state in the country), three of which have been vacant for more than two years.
Seven of the vacancies are officially designated “judicial emergencies” because of crushing caseloads and desperately needed judges.... The Eastern District of Texas is the second busiest court in the country. It’s so overburdened that the Judicial Conference of the United States called for adding two new judgeships, in addition to filling existing vacancies."
U.S. Senate drags its feet on federal judicial nominations (Fresno Bee [CA] , 08/07/15)
POLITICAL NOTEBOOK By John Ellis: "It’s well known that Fresno’s federal judges are overworked and struggling under the weight of one of the nation’s largest caseloads.
The U.S. Senate, however, appears in no hurry to help.
Federal legislation that would approve more judges for California’s Eastern District, which includes courthouses in Fresno and Sacramento, is going nowhere. And there appears to be no hurry to approve U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii’s replacement.... So far this year, the Senate has confirmed just five judges, which puts it on track for its worst confirmation year since 1969 .... U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill is the lone Fresno district judge. Ishii has taken “senior status,” which allows him to work in retirement, but he’s reduced his caseload by half.
“In light of the incredible need for judicial resources in the Eastern District of California, I must admit that I am at a total loss to understand the delay at the Senate level for confirmation,” O’Neill said. “While it affects negatively federal judges, it ultimately affects the rights and legitimate expectations of the members of the public that we serve.”
To get an idea how bad it is in Fresno and Sacramento, the non-partisan Judicial Conference of the United States has recommended that Congress double the number of judges in the Eastern District from the current six to 12."
Guest Commentary: Colorado senators should work to swiftly protect our federal trial court (Denver Post [CO] , 07/16/15)
Timothy Garvey: "Two months ago, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn announced he will be taking senior status effective April 2016. This announcement creates a "future vacancy" ... A fully-staffed U.S. District Court is vital because it keeps our judicial system open and accessible for Colorado citizens and businesses that need timely resolution of disputes. Yet, Coloradans already face an overworked and understaffed U.S. District Court, which has not increased the number of judges since 1984 — despite increased workload from 30 years of population growth and additional cases arising from increased federal agencies with regional offices in Colorado. Indeed, these changes caused the Judicial Conference of the United States to recommend two additional permanent judgeships be added to the U.S. District Court for Colorado in 2013. However, Congress has not acted on that recommendation and has not authorized any additional judgeships, and so Colorado's U.S. District Court holds steady with only seven judges.
Chief Judge Marcia Krieger has described the court's caseload as being at a "tipping point" even with all current seven judgeships filled. A failure to fill Judge Blackburn's vacancy by the time he takes senior status in April 2016 will only exacerbate these issues and further delay — and thereby deny — justice to those turning to the court to resolve their disputes. Therefore, in the interest of all Coloradans, I urge Sens. Bennet and Gardner to work together to create a bipartisan selection process to timely forward names to the president and to ensure the president's nominee for our U.S. District Court gets prompt consideration, both in committee and on the floor of the Senate."
Judicial Vacancies (American Bar Association, 07/02/15)
"Our nation is disadvantaged when our federal judiciary does not have sufficient judges to hear cases and resolve disputes in a thorough and timely fashion. ... Neither the Senate Judiciary Committee nor the Senate has acted expeditiously to confirm pending nominees. In fact, during the first three months of this Congress, the Senate failed to hold any confirmation votes, ... it appears that leadership has decided to slow-walk the process for reasons that have nothing to do with the qualifications of the nominees.... As a result, the number of vacancies and courts with judicial emergencies are increasing and the backlog of civil lawsuits keeps growing.... To further add to the strain on the federal judiciary, dozens of new judgeships are needed, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), especially in the Delaware and the border courts where caseloads are crippling. On March 19, 2015, the Judicial Conference submitted its request for 73 new judgeships and the conversion of nine temporary ones into permanent judgeships."
Cornyn and Cruz Are Devastating Texas Courts (People For blog, 05/29/15)
"Even with judicial nominees they themselves recommended, Cornyn and Cruz don't lift a finger to help to prevent delays in committee or on the floor. Just ask Jose Rolando Olvera, who was denied a floor vote until nearly three months after his approval by a unanimous Judiciary Committee in February. That's particularly ironic, since at Olvera's hearing, Cornyn had said that he and Cruz would push for his "swift confirmation."
But even worse than this snail's pace post-nomination is the senators' foot-dragging pre-nomination, as they delay making recommendations to fill vacancies in the state's federal courts.
Even if there were no vacancies in Texas, the state would need more judges: The Judicial Conference of the United States has asked Congress to add eight new judgeships in the Lone Star State.
But Texas, in fact, does have judicial vacancies – nine of them, seven of which have been designated as judicial emergencies (meaning the current caseload is too much for the judges to handle). Not one has a nominee, because Cornyn and Cruz have shown little interest in recommending nominees to the White House in anything approaching a timely manner."
Justice denied because of so many vacant judgeships (Arizona Daily Star, 05/26/15)
Celinas Ruth Op-Ed column: Our federal court system is crumbling. It is being crushed by the weight of a case overload and a shortage of federal judges.... We, as a nation and in Arizona, are experiencing firsthand: “justice delayed is justice denied.”... uring most of President Obama’s term, a seriously high number of vacancies caused by the failure of the Senate to process Obama’s nominations has slowed the progress of civil cases ... On April 5, the Judicial Conference of the United States recommended Congress add six permanent and four temporary district judges to the district of Arizona to help handle our state’s burgeoning caseload.
A civil case familiar to me in Tucson’s Federal District Court has been stalled for three years,"
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."
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."
Here's A Look At The Most Ridiculously Long Judicial Vacancies The Senate Still Hasn't Filled (Huffington Post, 04/12/15)
Jennifer Bendery: "Despite talk when they took charge of the Senate this year that they would move nominees at the same pace Democrats did when they controlled the Senate, Republicans haven't done much of anything to fill vacancies on federal courts. ... But Republicans slow-walking nominees through the Senate confirmation process is just one piece of a broader problem for the federal judiciary. Many district and circuit courts have judicial vacancies that don't even have nominees in the queue, and some spots have been open for an incredibly long time.... Court workloads have expanded so much that the Judicial Conference of the United States, led by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, recently recommended adding 68 judgeships to district courts around the country to keep pace."
In North Carolina’s Eastern District, population grows while number of judges stalls (Progressive Pulse [NC], 04/09/15)
Sharon McCloskey: "Wall Street Journal weighed in on Tuesday on the growing backlog of civil cases in federal courts across the country .... But there’s another reason why the state’s U.S. Senators should act with a sense of urgency to get the Eastern District vacancy filled and perhaps also seek another judgeship for that court: The number of judges there hasn’t kept up with population growth in the region.
According to population data analyzed by the Journal and charted in its print edition (subscription required for online), North Carolina’s Eastern District is second only to California’s Eastern District in terms of number of residents per judgeship."
Down one judge and deserving another (NC Policy Watch, 03/18/15)
"The federal courts in eastern North Carolina have been operating under a state of judicial emergency for years now, though you wouldn’t know it given the lack of a sense of urgency exhibited by the state’s United States senators.
Down a judge since December 2005, the courts in this largely rural part of the state have managed one of the heavier district caseloads in the country ... The Eastern District has a good case for an additional judgeship, given caseload numbers already on the higher end, even if the vacancy is filled."
McConnell Should Let Senate Confirm Judges (People For blog, 03/10/15)
"Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to schedule a confirmation vote on the four district court nominees who cleared the Judiciary Committee without opposition nearly two weeks ago:... Texas in particular is in desperate need of more federal judges. The Lone Star State has a shocking 11 judicial seats currently vacant (with a twelfth one opening this spring). ... Of those eleven vacancies, seven have been designated judicial emergencies. That's nearly one third of all the judicial emergencies nationwide. Confirming the three Texas nominees who have been waiting for Senator McConnell to schedule a floor vote would help alleviate this problem.... The Judicial Conference of the United States has asked Congress to create an additional two judgeships in the Southern District of Texas. In other words, even if all three pending nominees were confirmed today, and the other two vacancies were magically filled tomorrow (even though they don't have nominees), the crushing caseload burden on the Southern District is so bad that at least another two judges would be needed to ensure that the people of Texas have access to a fair and efficient federal court system."
Judicial resources (Houston Chronicle, 01/12/15)
Prof. Carl Tobias, Letter to the Editor: "Filling the protracted vacancy with highly qualified Robert Pitman will help Texas. However, Texas desperately needs to fill six more current district vacancies and two 5th Circuit present vacancies and more new judgeships. By cooperating with Democrats in 2015, Sens. Cornyn and Cruz could help fill those vacancies and pass a judgeships bill that would authorize greater judicial resources for Texas."
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."
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."
A New Idaho Judge (Johnson Post, 09/29/14)
"Idaho’s Senators could elect to approach the White House about forming a bi-partisan, merit-based panel to make a recommendation (as happened when Idaho Judge Lynn Winmill was nominated in 1995),... I’d guess that the White House would like to nominate a woman, and that should be a major consideration since Idaho has never had a woman U.S. District Judge."
Stapilus: The Judge in the Middle (Times-News [ID] , 09/29/14)
Randy Stapilus: "Lodge's move to senior status is something a number of people in the Idaho legal system have wanted for some years, not as a criticism of Lodge but because it would open a slot for a new federal judge. The need has been great for some time; this column addressed the subject late last year. Idaho has fewer federal judges per capita than a number of other states (Wyoming, for one example, is flush with federal judges by comparison). The docket is almost overwhelming at times.
But here we will see before long a political battle royale, because federal judgeships are filled by the president, usually in some consultation with the state's local congressional delegation, especially if it is of the same party as the president. Since Idaho's delegation is all-Republican and the president is a Democrat, and the job will need a sign-off from the Senate as a whole, the negotiations will be difficult.
There will be some Republican temptation to hold off on the appointment until after the next presidential election. That would be a purely partisan consideration; Idaho has a job that needs filling, and the legal work of the state will be jammed until it is filled.
So there is a need to choose soon."
Editorial: Overdue progress on U.S. judges (San Antonio Express-News [TX] , 09/25/14)
"Three nominations to the U.S. District Court in Texas' Southern District last week could further signal a welcome end to the state's judicial logjam. Judicial advocates have labeled Texas as the epicenter of a crisis in filling federal judicial vacancies — with the state containing too many of what were labeled judicial emergencies.... Pitman and two other nominees for Texas judgeships had their hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee this month. At that hearing, the state's two U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, supported the nominees.
That same kind of support came after the presidential nominations last week.
This is a good sign that both GOP senators are taking their roles seriously.... Even when all vacancies are filled, however, another task remains. That would be acting on the certainty that one of the fastest-growing states lacks enough federal judges in the first place."
With Judicial Nominations Held Up, Justice Comes Slowly (Newsweek, 07/21/14)
Pema Levy: "The dire situation in Sherman is one example of how federal judicial vacancies at the trial court level are affecting communities around the country, delaying the constitutional right to a day in court. A new study, “The Impact of Judicial Vacancies on Federal Trial Courts,” released Monday from the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit law and policy institute based at New York University School of Law, highlights the effects of the approximately 50 empty district court judgeships. The record level of vacancies is due largely to Republican opposition to President Obama and his judicial nominees. Whereas partisan battles over appellate court appointments is not a new phenomenon, the politicization of judicial appointments has trickled down to the district courts ... The vacancies exacerbate what is already a nationwide issue: the need for more judgeships."
Editorial: Justice denied by partisan gridlock (San Antonio Express-News [TX] , 06/19/14)
"U.S. District Judge Royal Ferguson took senior status on Nov. 30, 2008, vacating his San Antonio-based bench. Today, more than five-and-a-half years later, the bench remains vacant. The situation illustrates the damaging results of partisan gridlock.
Work piles up in the Western District of Texas — a hot spot for drug cases and immigration matters — and the open San Antonio bench remains vacant, despite its official status as a judicial emergency. In 2011, Sen. John Cornyn co-sponsored legislation to add three judgeships in Texas. ...Texas still has eight district court vacancies and two 5th Circuit vacancies....Texans should hold their senators accountable for their part in the logjam."
EDITORIAL: More judges seated, but need still great (Austin American-Statesman [TX] , 06/17/14)
"Judicial vacancies burden a federal court system already dealing with a record caseload, and they delay justice for millions of Americans whose lives and businesses are put on hold when there are not enough judges to decide their cases....But there still are too many judicial vacancies, and the need to fill them remains urgent. The sense of urgency is especially acute in Texas.... We call on both senators to work with the White House on filling judicial vacancies in Texas. Beyond judicial vacancies, there also is a need for more federal judges. ... The Judicial Conference of the United States, chaired by John Roberts, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, has recommended increasing the number of federal judgeships in Texas by eight new permanent positions. The state's congressional delegation would do Texas well by supporting legislation to enact the conference's recommendations."
Marco Rubio Fails Florida, Doesn't Help Florida Judicial Nominees (People For blog, 05/01/14)
"Last week, we asked if Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would step in to prevent his party from needlessly delaying committee approval of four highly qualified district court nominees, all of whom he recommended to the White House. All four vacancies are judicial emergencies, with a caseload so high that even if every vacancy were filled today, the districts would still need several additional judges to ensure timely access to justice for those in Florida to protect their rights."
West Texas Judges Talk About the Need for More Judges (People For blog, 03/18/14)
"Judge Ferguson discussed the importance of creating new judgeships and filling vacancies in existing ones ... He also described how the enormous caseload harms the deliberative process we expect from judges ... Chief Judge Fred Biery of the Western District discussed what it was like not having enough judges to handle the caseload:"
Severe Conditions in Texas Courts (People For blog, 03/17/14)
"The Judicial Conference asked Congress to create two new judgeships and make permanent a temporary judgeship in the Eastern District, create two new judgeships in the Southern District, and create four new judgeships in the Western District. They also asked that a fifth, temporary judgeship be created for the Western District. Districts listed in the Conference's request are among those most in need. But even within that group, Texas districts stand out for the severity of the crisis. In its cover letter to Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Conference urged immediate action on the five worst districts, two of which were in Texas"
Editorial: Burden of the filibuster (Akron Beacon Journal [OH], 12/15/13)
Judicial "nominations also deserve to move forward at a reasonable pace, again the will of voters in play, the courts reflecting the presidency changing between the parties.... federal courts have a job to perform, and that becomes more difficult when vacancies run at higher levels and the workload increases on judges.... the Brennan Center points tellingly at “the vacancy gap.” Obama began his presidency with fewer vacancies than George W. Bush faced at the same point. Soon the district court vacancies climbed higher, and there they have remained, while Bush settled into a vacancy rate about half the size. The vacancy rate has translated into higher caseloads for current judges. ... the Judicial Conference, the policymaking body for the federal courts, has recommended the addition of 85 judgeships, the first large-scale increase in two decades. It further explains that if all the vacancies were filled, and the new judgeships added, the pending cases per district judge would be similar to the rate in the late 1990s....Thus, from the perspective of the federal district courts, and those they serve, it is good to see the confirmation process beginning to pick up pace, the consequences of an abused filibuster having rippled far beyond the Senate chamber."
Idaho gets new chief federal judge — in Rhode Island (Idaho Statesman, 12/04/13)
Idaho Politics blog by Dan Popkey: "Idaho’s struggle to address booming caseloads got a boost last month when Idaho Republican Rep. Mike Simpson introduced a bill to add a third U.S. district judge.... Judge Smith leads a Rhode Island bench with four U.S. District judges: ... By contrast, Idaho has just two U.S. district judges, ... Rhode Island’s population is 1.1 million; Idaho has 1.6 million souls. Rhode Island, the nation’s smallest state, covers 1,545 square miles; Idaho, the 14th largest, has 83,570 square miles. Idaho’s proportion of federal lands — which generate a considerable number of cases with federal jurisdiction — is also a bit larger than Rhode Island. About 62 percent of Idaho is in U.S. ownership; in Rhode Island the figure is 0.4 percent."