Editorials and Opinion
Texas faces crisis of judicial vacancies (El Paso Times [TX], 04/06/15)
Glenn Sugameli, Letter to the Editor: "Texas is ground zero for the federal judicial vacancy crisis.
Texas is home to more than one-third of the 23 U.S. courts designated judicial emergency vacancies nationwide (six Texas district courts and two Texas Fifth Circuit seats), one-fifth of 55 current vacancies, over 20 percent of vacancies without nominees (eight of 39), and an announced future judicial vacancy. The U.S. courts have testified that Congress needs to create new judgeships. These include nine in Texas. Sens. Cornyn and Cruz are inexcusably guaranteeing lengthy vacancies by allowing floor vote delays, not recommending nominees for lengthy vacancies, and not even beginning the long process to fill the Pecos and other seats."
Juan Williams: What Reid got right (The Hill, 04/06/15)
"Without Reid, there would be no new Senate rule allowing a simple majority to confirm most nominees for the courts and executive branch. … With Reid guiding the Senate, Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan gained confirmation ... In an era of blatant GOP obstruction of any Obama-related legislation, nomination or regulation, it was Reid who redefined Senate rules to make sure Congress got something done.”
EDITORIAL: Fill vacant federal bench without delay (San Antonio Express-News [TX] , 04/02/15)
"If U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are serious about border security, they will act quickly to help find a nominee to fill the federal district court vacancy in West Texas.... The U.S. Senate made progress last year confirming federal judges to long-vacant benches, including one in San Antonio. The San Antonio bench was vacant for nearly six years.
The Midland/Pecos bench opening must not be allowed to linger. The White House and Texas senators should put justice and border security before politics and fill the seat vacated by Junell as soon as possible. A long delay would be irresponsible."
Editorial: Move quickly to fill federal judge vacancy (El Paso Times [TX], 04/01/15)
"The most recent federal court vacancy in the Western District of Texas took more than five years to fill. That can't be allowed to happen again with a current vacancy.
The Western District covers a broad swath of Texas, from Waco to El Paso. It is among the busiest districts in the nation ... We encourage Texas' two senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, to quickly open the selection process for Junell's replacement.... Obama and the senators agreed to the appointment of Pitman, who was an excellent choice.
Surely they can find someone equally qualified to fill the current vacancy in the Western District of Texas."
Community Board: Midland needs a new federal judge (Midland Reporter-Telegram [TX], 03/30/15)
Community Editorial Board: "Midland-Odessa and Pecos Divisions are presided over by a single judge, and this one person presides over an area that covers 16 counties in West Texas, stretching from Midland to the edge of El Paso -- from the New Mexico border to the Rio Grande. Not surprisingly, criminal activity in this area is large and growing ...But, now West Texas sits with no federal judge appointed to serve our citizens -- no one permanently assigned to preside over the tremendous number of federal cases that need prosecution.... West Texas needs a full-time federal judge to be appointed -- and sooner, rather than later.
I ask my fellow citizens to contact our senators from Texas, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and urge them to begin the process of filling this important judicial position as early as possible. West Texas deserves nothing less."
How Harry Reid Changed the Federal Courts (New Yorker, 03/27/15)
JEFFREY TOOBIN: "The Senate had confirmed only five Obama appointees to the federal appeals court in the election year of 2012, but Reid moved to double the pace in 2013. Republicans responded by filibustering almost every judicial appointment to the appeals court and slow-walking appointments to the district court, which had been routine and uncontroversial under earlier Presidents. ... With Reid’s blessing, Senate Democrats changed the rules so that only a majority would be required to move lower-court judgeships to a vote. Freed from the threat of filibusters, Reid pushed through thirteen appeals-court judges in 2013 and 2014, a group of exceptional quality. They included Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard, and Robert Wilkins on the D.C. Circuit. For the first time in decades, that court now has a majority of Democratic appointees. Other confirmations included such luminaries as Pamela Harris (a noted professor and advocate) on the Fourth Circuit, ... and David Barron (a Harvard law professor and Obama Administration lawyer) on the First. ... At the same time, Reid pushed through more than a hundred district-court judges in his last two years as majority leader."
PFAW Edit Memo: Senate Republicans' Failure to Confirm Obama Nominees — By the Numbers (People For blog, 03/27/15)
"A useful basis of comparison is George W. Bush’s final two years in office, when his judicial nominees were considered by a newly-Democratic Senate. ...by end of March 2007, the Senate had confirmed 15 new judges.
The Senate ended up confirming a total of 68 circuit and district court judges during that two-year period....Today, in stark contrast, the number of vacancies is climbing steadily, from 40 at the beginning of the year to 51 today. We see the same thing with judicial emergencies, which have skyrocketed from 12 at the beginning of the year to 23 today."
Reid and the Federal Judiciary (Washington Monthly, 03/27/15)
Ed Kilgore: "That Reid, a big-time Senate traditionalist, let himself be convinced this harvest of judges was worth the trouble and controversy of changing the rules on filibusters was a sign he understood his particular challenge and met it."
EDITORIAL: Uphold EPA’s mercury rule; Supreme Court to hear challenge by industry, states (Register Guard [OR], 03/25/15)
"At the direction of Congress, which felt strongly enough about the problem that it amended the Clean Air Act in 1990, the Environmental Protection Agency has studied the environmental effects of mercury and other toxic metals on public health. ... but the work was compromised during the George W. Bush administration, which disregarded science in ways that showed more concern for the health of the energy industry than for that of children. The Bush administration’s version of the rules was so diluted that environmental groups successfully sued, arguing that the toxic metals regulations failed to satisfy the minimum requirements of the Clean Air Act.... It’s worrisome that the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., rejected the industry’s challenge, and most observers expected the high court to refuse an appeal. ... The Supreme Court should uphold the EPA’s authority to put in place the new mercury rule."
EDITORIAL: Open secret; Texas is not the focus of the state's junior senator. (Houston Chronicle, 03/23/15)
"Trade, NASA, hurricane protection, immigration, education, energy policy, federal judgeships and a host of other issues important to Texans will have, at best, the senator's distracted attention.... we look to his senior colleague, John Cornyn, to address Texas-related needs."
The Christie-Exxon relationship may be toxic for the rest of us | Editorial (Star-Ledger Newark [NJ] , 03/19/15)
"Gov. Christie took a victory lap over his Bayway cleanup deal with Exxon last week ... He won that negotiation, he insists, because $225 million extracted from Exxon over its tar-dumping party ... But here's what he doesn't tell you: Exxon has been obligated to clean the area since a consent order in 1991, but the real goal of the $8.9 billion lawsuit was the full-scale restoration of the 1,500 acres of wetlands contaminated by 4,000 tons of tar - which cannot be restored for decades, if at all.... since 1997, its strategy is spelled out in a single phrase: "The key to lowering costs is to change the rules of the game," it reads.
The best way to achieve this is to have an ally in the state house. In this case, it was a governor who surrendered to the will of campaign contributors, sold out his people, and had the gall to call it victory."
EDITORIAL: The Record: No 'green' in Trenton (Record [NJ] , 03/18/15)
"The state's pending settlement with Exxon would award New Jersey $225 million, a far cry from the $8.9 billion it sought from the company for polluting acres of wetlands near its refineries in Bayonne and Linden. No one gets all that they seek in lawsuits, but to settle for $225 million — less than 3 percent of the initial demand — would be a very bad deal for New Jersey."
Now In Charge, Senate Republicans Slow To Move Forward With Obama's Judicial Nominees (Huffington Post, 03/18/15)
"Republicans haven't confirmed a single one of President Barack Obama's judicial nominees since taking control of the Senate in January. In total, there are 16 judicial nominees waiting in the Senate. Nine of them haven't moved at all since being nominated in early January or early February. Five have made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but have been waiting weeks for a floor vote. The remaining two had hearings last week, but the committee hasn't scheduled any votes yet.
There's a particular urgency to confirming some of these nominees. Eight are slated to fill empty seats on courts that are facing "judicial emergencies,"... By this point in Bush's seventh year in the White House, Democrats had confirmed 13 of his judicial nominees."
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."
EDITORIAL: ExxonMobil deal a cheap budget gimmick (Daily Record [NJ], 03/13/15)
"Outrage over Gov. Chris Christie’s recent lowball settlement with ExxonMobil focused primarily on the disparity between the state’s $8.9 billion damage claim and the final $225 million deal.
What makes the sellout even more egregious, however, is that the governor is pulling this stunt in part just to generate a quick-fix budget filler, taking away money that should be directed toward more environmental cleanup."
EDITORIAL: This is unsettling (Philadelphia Inquirer [PA], 03/12/15)
"Gov. Christie's course change in a lawsuit seeking restitution for the environment and people of the state also has an unpleasant odor. The case was in litigation for 11 years, and following an eight-month trial last year and final briefs in November, a state Superior Court judge was about to set damages. But before he could, the Christie administration fashioned a surprising proposed settlement.
Under the deal, the same government that had asked for $8.9 billion in damages agreed to accept astonishingly little: $225 million.... while several other polluters had agreed to settlements to cover the harm they had done to the environment, Exxon refused. If this deal goes forward, the message to polluters is that they can have their way with the state."
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."
Why Only Two Judges for Hearings This Week? (People For blog, 03/10/15)
"Good news: For the first time since January, the Senate Judiciary Committee is allowing a hearing on judicial nominations. The bad news: Although seven nominees have been waiting since last November, Chairman Chuck Grassley is only allowing a hearing for two of them.
That's right … although the number of circuit and district court vacancies has increased from 39 to 51 since the beginning of the year, and even though the number of judicial emergencies has jumped from 12 to 22 in that time, and even though there are numerous nominees who could have a hearing this week ... . But why only two nominees on the agenda? Dale Drozd would fill a judicial emergency in California's Eastern District. LaShann DeArcy Hall and Ann Donnelly would serve in New York's Eastern District. Travis McDonough has been nominated for a seat in Tennessee's Eastern District. And L. Felipe Restrepo would fill a judicial emergency on the Third Circuit, where a second vacancy will be opening up in July. They all have to wait."
GOP Senate Moving Obama's Judges Slower than Democrats Moved Bush's (People For blog, 03/05/15)
"Two months into the new 114th Congress, it's a good time to take stock of how the Republican-controlled Senate is doing when it comes to processing circuit and district court judicial nominations. So far, the Judiciary Committee has held only one hearing to consider such nominations ... current vacancies has climbed from 39 at the beginning of the year to 47 today, and the number of judicial emergencies has jumped from 12 to 21.... Considering that there are seven circuit and district court nominees who were nominated back in November, they should all have hearings as soon as possible."
Christie must come clean in oily Exxon settlement | Editorial (Star-Ledger Newark [NJ] , 03/05/15)
"He was in charge of $8.9 billion suit against the petrochemical and oil refinery plant that filled our wetlands with 9 million cubic yards of tar, so Christie's reported agreement to settle for $250 million is a travesty for environmental protection and law enforcement.
That alone demands public disclosure, and if there isn't a suitable explanation other than this governor's kleptomaniacal impulse to grab whatever environmental funds are within reach, the judge should reject the settlement."
More Delay on the Restrepo Nomination (People For blog, 03/04/15)
"Qualified jurists nominated for federal judgeships way back in November are still waiting to have a committee hearing scheduled. They include Kara Farnandez Stoll, who would be the first woman of color on the Federal Circuit, and L. Felipe Restrepo of Pennsylvania, who would be the first judge on the Third Circuit with experience as a public defender. The Third Circuit vacancy has been designated a judicial emergency, and with another vacancy on that court opening on July 1, it is even more important not to keep delaying Restrepo's already overdue hearing.
Yet a Grassley spokeswoman told The Legal Intelligencer ... that she "couldn't even estimate" a timeframe for Restrepo's hearing.... when the Democratic Judiciary Committee considered Michael Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general.... the committee was able to hold confirmation hearings on six judicial nominees and advance two to the full Senate. It was also able to advance an additional four judicial nominees the week after voting on Mukasey."
EDITORIAL: Herald News: Settling for less in Exxon pollution case (Herald News [Passaic County, NJ] , 03/03/15)
"Still, when you are seeking almost $9 billion and wind up with $250 million, as the state of New Jersey reportedly will do to end a legal battle with Exxon Mobil, it raises many questions. After all, the judgment the state is about to receive would represent less than 3 percent of what it sought.... The state recently settled litigation involving three firms responsible for contaminating the Passaic River for an estimated $355 million despite an original demand for about $5 billion. The state put the bulk of that $355 million into the budget's general fund, leaving only about $67 million to clean up the river.
That same pattern can happen again"
EDITORIAL: ExxonMobil settlement must be blocked (Asbury Park Press [NJ], 03/02/15)
"The latest outrage is the apparent agreement, first reported last week in The New York Times, of the administration's decision to settle New Jersey's 11-year-old, $8.9 billion environmental damage lawsuit against ExxonMobil for a paltry $250 million.
The lawsuit, which dates back to the Gov. Jim McGreevey administration and has been pursued by three successive governors, including Gov. Christie, has sought compensation for the contamination and loss of use of more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, marshes, meadows and waters surrounding the company's former Bayway and Bayonne refineries.
What makes the news of the settlement even more disturbing is that the liability in the case had already been determined at trial."
EDITORIAL: NC wildlife officials abandon their duties by abandoning the red wolf (News & Observer [NC], 02/28/15)
"The red wolf population is now estimated at about 100, down from 130 in 2003, a decline caused mostly by hunting.
To stop the toll on red wolves, the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of conservation groups sued the Wildlife Resources Commission seeking a ban on coyote hunts in the recovery area. Last May, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle ordered a stop to the hunts until the case could be heard. Meanwhile, the Wildlife Resources Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to work together to manage coyotes and protect the red wolves. The SELC later settled its lawsuit with an agreement that would ban night coyote hunting in the recovery area.
But rather than find a way to cull coyotes and save wolves, the Wildlife Resources Commission now wants to abandon the red wolf recovery effort.... The commission’s proposal contradicts its mission and the settlement agreement. The Southern Environmental Law Center representing groups supporting the red wolf recovery – Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife and Animal Welfare Institute – has sent the commission a letter calling on the commission to rescind its resolutions and abide by its agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to promote the recovery of the red wolf.
Bringing back the red wolf is challenging, and coyotes complicate the mission. But the answer isn’t to give up and start shooting."
Judicial Selection in Congress’ Lame Duck Session (Indiana Law Journal , 02/20/15)
Carl Tobias: This Article first scrutinizes the Obama Administration confirmation and nomination processes. It then critically explores selection and concludes that Republican obstruction instigated the most open positions the longest time. Because this deficiency undermines swift, economical, and fair case resolution, the Article suggests ideas to promptly decrease the remaining unoccupied judgeships after the session commences.
Republican Inaction as Judicial Emergencies Jump (People For blog, 02/20/15)
"Texas now has seven judicial emergencies, more than a third of the national total. Two of them have nominees who should have advanced to the Senate floor last week, but were delayed when Republicans decided to delay the scheduled committee vote on four fully vetted district court nominees by two weeks simply because they could.
Another of the newly designated emergencies is in the Third Circuit. The good news is that district court judge L. Felipe Restrepo was nominated to fill this seat way back in November, and that he has the enthusiastic support of his home state senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey. The bad news is that Chairman Grassley continues not to schedule a hearing for this highly qualified nominee (or any other)."
Republicans Should Move Judicial Nominations Next Week (People For blog, 02/19/15)
"With the Republican-controlled Senate returning to town next week, one of the things they should turn their attention to is moving judicial nominations. Because vacancies are always opening up on the courts, the Senate has to confirm a number of judges just to keep even. So far in the 114th Congress, we are not keeping even.... the Judiciary Committee should vote these four nominees out, and the full Senate should promptly hold a confirmation vote.
It is also past time to hold hearings for people who were nominated more than three months ago, like Third Circuit nominee Luis Restrepo (nominated November 12)."
Benched! The more things change… (Justice Watch, 02/12/15)
"In an interview with Iowa Public Radio, shortly after being named chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said, “I have no reason to believe that the future is any different” for the committee.... He was right. Even with Senator Grassley as chair, Republican obstructionism continues in the Senate Judiciary Committee.... Without explanation, Senator Grassley held over the nominations of four federal judges and Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch.
All four of the judicial nominees are uncontroversial. They would fill district court seats in Utah and Texas, and have the support of their home-state Republican senators on the committee."