Editorials and Opinion
PICKING NEXT FEDERAL JUDGE; World-Herald editorial: Court vacancy needs attention (Omaha World-Herald [NE] , 01/29/14)
"The current list of federal court vacancies is long — 79 U.S. district court judges and 16 more on appeals court benches. Only 55 replacements have been nominated to fill those 95 openings.
Another 19 vacancies will occur this year, including one in Nebraska ... Filling these vacancies is important. Crowded federal court dockets increase the caseload for sitting judges and slow citizens’ access to justice. ... Nebraskans can hope this process moves efficiently, so this vacancy doesn’t linger on that list."
Hearing on Arizona Nominees Shows Why Courts Matter (People For blog, 01/29/14)
"Fortunately, Flake and McCain can help ensure quick confirmations. Since Flake is on the Judiciary Committee, perhaps he will persuade his GOP colleagues not to do what they have done with nearly every other Obama judicial nominee: demand a delay in the committee vote once it is scheduled, with no explanation or apology. ... there are 29 judicial nominees waiting for a floor vote, many of them who could and should have been confirmed last year. Their confirmation would reduce the current vacancy rate by nearly a third. Another three nominees will probably join them next week. So the Arizona nominees will be at the back of a very, very, long line. If McCain and Flake want to help Arizona's overworked courts, they need to push Mitch McConnell to allow quick votes on all the nominees who are already being stalled on the floor."
We're About to Find Out if the Senate is Working Again (Mother Jones, 01/16/14)
Kevin Drum: "If Republicans insist on cloture for every nominee, it will tie the Senate in knots since it eats up a few days of time to work through each cloture vote. Democrats will win them eventually now that it only takes 51 votes, but they can't afford to spend two months of floor time in order to confirm 29 nominees. So if Republicans play hardball, they could still block most of Obama's nominees."
The Senate Could Immediately Reduce the Vacancy Rate by a Third (People For blog, 01/16/14)
"Just a few days into the new session of Congress – with Senate Republicans having forced renominations of more than 50 judicial nominees – the Judiciary Committee has now fully vetted and advanced 29 of those nominees to the full Senate. For many of them, it is their second time on the Senate floor, since the committee approved them last year, too – unanimously in almost all cases.,,, If McConnell allowed it, the Senate could vote this week to confirm these 29 nominees. ,,, Among these 29 nominees are eight who would fill vacancies that have been formally designated as judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. Confirming them would resolve 22% of our nation's judicial emergencies."
Filling judicial vacancies to protect the progressive legacy (Reuters, 01/13/14)
Prof. Herman Schwartz: "vacancies have risen to more than 65 percent; at a comparable point in the Bush administration, vacancies had fallen by 39 percent. As of January 7, there were still 16 appellate and 77 trial court vacancies, with 9 pending appellate and 44 district court nominees. In total, roughly 11 percent of all federal judgeships are still vacant, with 36 judicial emergencies. Before the Democrats’ filibuster repeal, the Senate had confirmed only 76 percent of all Obama nominees, compared to 90 percent during a comparable period in the Bush administration. ... In an unparalleled abuse of the blue slip privilege, 90 percent of the federal court vacancies that Obama is now unable to fill are in states with a Republican senator."
Our opinion: Congress should pass legislation now (Great Falls Tribune [MT], 01/12/14)
"Dislodging some of the logjams in the Capitol would do some good. Montana’s two new federal judges, Brian Morris and Susan Watters, were approved by the U.S. Senate and sworn into office last month. A recent controversy over holding up appointments through a filibuster in the U.S. Senate raised some hackles, as Democrats changed rules to make it more difficult for opposition senators to block President Barack Obama’s federal judgeship appointments....Voters have tired of squabbling and bickering, and would appreciate, as we would, efforts to compromise and to work out problems, rather than continuing more months of stalemate.... Congress should pass a farm bill, act on judicial appointments, and make additional progress to help restore some of the luster to what was once a highly respected branch of the federal government."
Morning report: judges (Arkansas Times, 01/09/14)
Max Brantley: "The Senate Judiciary Committee had Obama judicial nominations, including Moody's and another from Arkansas, on its agenda this morning. They've all been pushed back a week ... Looks like more GOP obstructionism. Comments Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who follows the federal judiciary on further delays for Moody and Timothy Brooks of Fayetteville: 'There is no reason for further delay other than obstruction as they are well qualified consensus nominees who deserve final votes. This only hurts the other judges in Ark. And people litigating in federal court there for no reason.'"
Republicans Obstruct Judicial Nominees They Supported Last Year (People For blog, 01/09/14)
"Among the 29 nominees delayed for no reason this morning are nine nominees who were approved by the committee last year but were denied a confirmation vote due to GOP obstructionism. All nine had been approved by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support, eight of them unanimously....Another 15 of the nominees delayed today were scheduled for committee votes last year, but those votes were repeatedly delayed by the GOP."
Republican reversals on judicial nominees stymies White House (Daily Kos, 01/08/14)
Joan McCarter: "Two Republican senators have withdrawn their support of federal judge nominees they had previously recommended to President Obama. Sen. Marco Rubio withdrew his endorsement of William Thomas to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) has pulled his support from Jennifer May-Parker, a nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina that he put forward. The Florida seat has been vacant for 20 months and is categorized as a judicial emergency. Rubio put Thomas forward, back in 2012, then backtracked, refusing to provide a "blue slip" to the Judiciary Committee to advance the nomination. The North Carolina seat have been vacant since January 1, 2006, making it the longest-running vacancy in the federal judiciary."
Editorial: Thumbs down (Fresno Bee [CA] , 01/03/14)
"Thumbs down to the Obama administration for failing to nominate a replacement for U.S. District Judge Anthony W. Ishii, who moved to senior status 14 months ago. Meanwhile, Fresno's federal courthouse labors under one of the highest caseloads in the nation and, as The Bee's John Ellis reported on Dec. 28, judicial employees there anxiously await Ishii's replacement. Don Fischbach, a Fresno attorney who chaired a screening committee of potential nominees set up by U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, told Ellis that the committee long ago finished its work."
Kudos for vote eliminating use of filibuster on judicial nominations (Dallas Morning News, 12/25/13)
Letter to the Editor by Julie Lowenberg, National Council of Jewish Women: "There are currently 93 judicial vacancies around the country, 38 of which have been designated “judicial emergencies.” In Texas, where there are 11 vacancies (including six emergencies), senators Cornyn and Cruz have been missing in action when it comes to sending to President Obama the names of potential judicial nominees. Their foot-dragging in carrying out a major responsibility of their offices is unacceptable."
Editorial: Fill judicial vacancies (Pottsville Republican & Evening Herald [PA], 12/21/13)
"Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey established a process to vet nominees,... Yet vacancies remain in the state's two other federal court districts that diminish the public's ready access to justice."
Arkansas judicial candidates caught by Republican Senate blockade (Arkansas Times, 12/21/13)
Max Brantley: "Nine judicial nominations had cleared the committee and were on the Senate calendar for confirmation. The nine include two Arkansas nominees — Timothy Brooks of Fayetteville for a western district judgeship and Circuit Judge Jay Moody of Little Rock for a vacancy on the eastern district bench in Little Rock. Both Arkansas nominations are endorsed by both Sens. Mark Pryor and Republican John Boozman of Arkansas."
Editorial: Casey, Toomey should keep up good work (Citizens Voice [Wilkes-Barre, PA], 12/19/13)
"Even before Senate Democrats changed the filibuster rule to ease the confirmation of judicial and executive branch nominees, Pennsylvania's two senators had managed to find common ground. Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey established a process to vet nominees ... Yet vacancies remain in the state's two other federal court districts that diminish the public's ready access to justice.... Casey and Toomey agreed in August on two nominees - attorney Gerald McHugh and Judge Edward Smith - but the confirmation process has stalled and there has been no movement toward nominations for the other five seats.... Casey and Toomey agreed in August on two nominees - attorney Gerald McHugh and Judge Edward Smith - but the confirmation process has stalled and there has been no movement toward nominations for the other five seats."
Editorial: Fill judicial vacancies (Scranton Times-Tribune [PA] , 12/19/13)
"Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey established a process to vet nominees ... they have been able to end the "judicial emergency" of vacancies that long had plagued the Scranton-based U.S. Middle District of Pennsylvania. Yet vacancies remain in the state's two other federal court districts that diminish the public's ready access to justice....the Philadelphia-based Eastern District has seven judicial vacancies. Mr. Casey and Mr. Toomey agreed in August on two nominees - attorney Gerald McHugh and Judge Edward Smith - but the confirmation process has stalled and there has been no movement toward nominations for the other five seats. The Western District, Pittsburgh, has three vacancies, for which 40 lawyers and judges had applied before the deadline nearly a year ago, but no names have been forwarded to the White House. The change in the filibuster rule should produce more confirmations to help get the courts up to speed. Nationwide there are 88 vacancies and 20 announced retirements. It's more important that Mr. Casey and Mr. Toomey continue their good work, in public, to get qualified candidates into the process."
Editorial : Keep up the good work (Daily Review [Towanda, PA], 12/19/13)
"According to the Constitutional Accountability Center, the Philadelphia-based Eastern District has seven judicial vacancies. Mr. Casey and Mr. Toomey agreed in August on two nominees - attorney Gerald McHugh and Judge Edward Smith - but the confirmation process has stalled and there has been no movement toward nominations for the other five seats.
The Western District, Pittsburgh, has three vacancies, for which 40 lawyers and judges had applied before the deadline nearly a year ago, but no names have been forwarded to the White House."
A New GOP Stall Tactic in the War Over Judicial Nominees: With the filibuster removed from their toolkit, Republican lawmakers forced the cancellation of confirmation hearings, even for candidates with home-state GOP support. (Atlantic, 12/18/13)
Andrew Cohen: "filibustering confirmation hearings themselves—has no virtue other than political nihilism. It does not help fill the nation's empty benches. It does not help educate the American people about the backgrounds or qualifications of President Obama's judicial nominees. It does not even allow Republican senators to plausibly portray those candidates as "non-mainstream"—either because they demonstrably aren't (see below) or because no one has yet even alleged that they are.... Republican senators delayed the scheduled confirmation hearings for five strong judicial nominees, including two from the red states of Maine and Kansas whose experience and qualifications had earned them bipartisan support.... If the point is just to temporarily delay the hearing of these nominees it makes even less sense than if it it's part of a broader new tactic to stop nominees.... t is terribly rude to the men and women who were invited by their government to participate in a vital function—the confirmation hearing—only to discover instead that they were props in a partisan game. It will be a long, sad, surreal trip back home to Kansas and Maine and California for them."
Leahy: Changes could be coming to Judiciary Committee (Daily Kos, 12/18/13)
Joan McCarter: "Leahy, as the current longest-serving member of the Senate, had been a hold-out on the reform. But the degree of obstruction from Republicans brought him to the breaking point, and beyond. He's ready, apparently, to keep on reforming in his committee.... There's little point in the Senate now being able to approve nominees with a simple up-or-down vote on the floor if they can't get out of committee because Republicans are blocking them. Leahy has great latitude in whether or not he follows the traditions of the committee, like the blue slip. That's the tradition by which home-state Senators signal their approval of a nominee. If the blue slips aren't returned, then by tradition, the nomination doesn't go forward. But it doesn't have to be that way, and shouldn't be if senators are using blue slips just as political tools and not as a means of keeping unqualified nominees off the bench."
More Senate drama (Washington Post, 12/18/13)
Jonathan Bernstein: "Republicans continue to obstruct; Democrats continue to threaten to eliminate obstruction. ... What’s different is that in November the Republicans either miscalculated or chose to deliberately provoke majority-imposed reform.
Once majority-imposed reforms begin, however, it gets easier and easier to continue. So we’ll see, but it’s hard to imagine that the “blue slip” procedure will last long if Republicans continue to use it as a tool for partisan obstruction, not as a way for individual minority-party senators to have influence."
This Is What a Post-Nuclear Senate Looks Like: With 13 nominees confirmed in the past seven days alone, the Senate confirmation logjam is finally breaking. (National Journal, 12/17/13)
Alex Seitz-Wald: "Before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid detonated the so-called "nuclear option" just before Thanksgiving, President Obama's nominees could expect a confirmation process as slow as molasses—if they made it through at all. As of October, there were 42 court nominees who still hadn't been taken up by the Judiciary Committee, let alone the full Senate, and a backlog of 19 nominations for vacancies identified as "judicial emergencies." Nominees for both executive and judicial positions often had to wait for months or even more than a year for confirmation, leading many to choose to withdraw their names from consideration.... it's a win for anyone concerned about the government and courts' ability to function without leadership."
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."
GOP Blocks Judiciary Committee From Even Meeting (People For blog, 12/12/13)
"Senate Republicans have escalated their sabotage of the judicial nominations process this week, most recently by forcing the Senate to wait until 1:00 am this morning to hold a confirmation vote on Nina Pillard to the D.C. Circuit. ... The obstruction isn't just on the Senate floor: This morning, Republicans prevented the Senate Judiciary Committee from even meeting.... The committee has a busy schedule, with votes scheduled for 15 judicial nominees who have testified before the members and answered follow-up written questions. Among those are nominees for vacancies designated as judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. Each one of the nominees has been fully vetted and has the support of their home state senators, including Republicans Mark Kirk (IL), Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran (KS), Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker (TN), Roy Blunt (MO), and Pat Toomey (PA)."
Editorial: 59 percent good enough (Scranton Times-Tribune [PA] , 12/10/13)
"The Senate engaged in representative democracy Tuesday, voting 56-38 to confirm a sound candidate to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. With 59 percent of the vote, attorney Patricia Millett will fill one of three vacancies on the powerful 11-member court ... rampant abuse of the filibuster rule had created a case of minority rule with no respect for majority rights.... Republicans who misused the filibuster to block confirmations claimed that the D.C. court is under-worked, that they acted for economy rather than to keep a conservative majority on the court.
Yet the U.S. Judicial Conference's Standing Committee on Judicial Resources had reported to the Senate that the court's workload has been consistent for 10 years, during which the Senate confirmed three of President George W. Bush's nominees to the court. ... President Obama should use the restoration of democracy in the Senate to re-establish timely access to the U.S. district and appellate courts."
Juan Williams: Sen. Jeff Merkley is the man of the year in Congress (The Hill, 12/09/13)
Juan Williams column: "Merkley, with a big assist from Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), won the biggest vote of the year on Capitol Hill ... The two first-term senators successfully argued to the Democratic caucus that the GOP’s use of more than a quarter of the filibusters in history against President Obama’s nominees was one of the root causes of today’s dysfunctional Congress.... Merkley and Udall also made the case that resentment caused by the GOP’s frequent use of “holds” and filibusters polarized the Senate and led to the failure to deal with major issues ... That vote opens the door to a newly active Senate and a rush of votes on judicial nominations and agency heads.... there are 52 judicial nominations awaiting Senate action, including 17 who simply need to get a vote. The GOP recently blocked all three Obama nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia without any regard to their qualifications. They claimed any nominee from the Obama White House tilted the court and its power to rule on federal agency regulations to the left."
Diplomacy has won over war-mongering (Watertown Daily Times [NY], 12/07/13)
Maire T. Zakrzewski: "the Senate finally changed its rules of the filibuster, the infamous tactic used in outrageous excess during the presidency of Obama. This tactic was not part of the Constitution, and it had been modified in the 1970s and was used sparingly until now. The Republicans had openly declared that they will do everything to prevent President Obama’s success, and one of their tools has been the filibuster. Now the new order of simple majority, instead of the 60 vote super-majority, will allow the essential administrative appointments being confirmed and the enormous backlog of judicial appointments to go through."
Milbank should know that Senate has changed its rules before (St. Louis Post-Dispatch [MO] , 12/06/13)
Richard Orr letter: "What Reid did was in no way unprecedented, and Milbank should have known this....Right now there have been as many Obama judicial nominees held up by the Republicans as have ever been since the founding of the republic. Now that's what I call a power grab!"
Letter: Governor's Council vital to checks, balances (Berkshire Eagle [MA] , 12/04/13)
Michael J. Albano: "One senator of the 100-member body, for any reason, can hold up a nomination simply by not submitting a "blue slip" of paper to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Currently, there are 31 positions in the federal judiciary that have been vacant for six months or more, with one vacancy in North Carolina dating back to 2006. Locally, the U.S. District Court in Springfield illustrates the point. Earlier this year, Superior Court Jeffrey Kinder withdrew as a candidate to the federal District Court. Judge Kinder, nominated by President Obama in 2011 with the bipartisan support of Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown, was denied a confirmation hearing for reasons still unknown to the public. Hampden County District Attorney Mark Mastroianni, elected as an Independent, was nominated to the same position in September, and still has not had his confirmation hearing scheduled before the Senate Judiciary Committee."
Editorial: Gazette opinion: Senate must expedite delayed judicial confirmations (Billings Gazette [MT,WY], 12/01/13)
"The filibuster rule change that created uproar in the Senate before Thanksgiving should provide judicial relief in Montana by Christmas. ... The immediate trigger for the dramatic rule change was Republicans’ blocking of President Barack Obama’s three nominees to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. Those are just three vacancies among 91 nationwide. Fifty-one of Obama's judicial nominees are awaiting Senate confirmation. Thirty-eight of them are needed to fill judicial emergencies, including the two in Montana. Political stalemate is holding up even non-controversial nominations, such as the two Montana judgeships. ... Baucus and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., were reluctant to vote for the filibuster rule change, but supported it to overcome the gridlock that is starving America's justice system of judges. With too few judges, justice is delayed. Justice delayed is justice denied.... Baucus is right. It is time for the Senate to do its job: Allow the president to fulfill his constitutional duty to appoint U.S. judges so the judicial branch can do its job."