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A project tracking federal judicial nominations and courts.

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Bill Straub: Shameless McConnell claiming credit for putting Congress back to work a strange notion (Northern Kentucky Tribune, 12/17/15)
"[T]here’s reason to believe that, in one area at least, the first year of his tenure as majority leader has been an unmitigated disaster, and that’s in the nomination process, particularly when it comes to federal judgeships."

Daily Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 12/17/15 (The White House, 12/17/15)
"Well, we have been quite frustrated about the partisan approach that Republicans in the Senate have taken to stalling the confirmation of highly qualified judicial nominees. In some cases, as you point out, these nominees would be serving in courts that are currently are under a state of emergency because of caseloads that are stacking up based on judicial vacancies.... But that process has been blocked by Republicans in the Senate not because they have legitimate questions about the qualifications of the individuals who are nominated, but rather because of their partisan opposition to the President of the United States being able to do almost anything. And they’re certainly entitled to a point of view that is different than the President of the United States, but it certainly doesn’t make sense, and certainly isn't consistent with the expectations of the American people for them to use their authority to somehow punish the President by slowing down the justice system. So we continue to urge Republicans in the Senate to do the right thing for the country when it comes to carefully considering and, in a timely fashion, confirming legitimately qualified and experienced nominees for the job."

Bill Straub: Shameless McConnell claiming credit for putting Congress back to work a strange notion (KyForward [Lexington, KY], 12/17/15)
"[T]here’s reason to believe that, in one area at least, the first year of his tenure as majority leader has been an unmitigated disaster, and that’s in the nomination process, particularly when it comes to federal judgeships. It’s not going too far to say that McConnell is ignoring his constitutional responsibility to provide advice and consent on presidential nominations. The Senate has confirmed only 11 federal judge nominees this year. There are now 19 more judicial emergencies within the system than when Republicans took control of the Senate. There’s no shortage of individuals to vote on – there are 19 nominees pending on the executive calendar and several passed the Senate Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote."

On Judges, the Worst Year Since 1960 (People For blog, 12/16/15)
"Now, as Republicans end their first year in control of the Senate, there are 13 consensus circuit and district court nominees waiting for a floor vote… and they have agreed to confirm exactly zero of them before leaving town. What they have agreed to is the following: (1) unopposed Third Circuit nominee Phil Restrepo, approved by the Judiciary Committee back in July, will finally have his confirmation vote on January 11; (2) Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will schedule votes on four unopposed district court nominees some time in January or February, before the President’s Day recess .... So while President Bush had 40 judges confirmed in 2007 when Democrats retook the Senate, the GOP-controlled Senate will end the year confirming only 11 of President Obama’s judges. This is the lowest number of circuit and district court judges confirmed in a year since 1960, the end of the Eisenhower era, when there were fewer than half the number of judgeships than there are today. All 13 of the above nominees could be confirmed today. They should be confirmed today."

Mitch McConnell Will Finally Let Some Judges Get Confirmed. Next Year.: Five of this year's nominees will get votes by mid-February. (Huffington Post, 12/15/15)
Jennifer Bendery: "After a dismal year of federal judicial confirmations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is ready to let a handful of nominees through. But not until 2016. McConnell said Tuesday night that the Senate will vote on five judicial nominees in the weeks before the President's Day recess in February. They include Pennsylvania circuit court nominee Luis Felipe Restrepo, Minnesota district court nominee Wilhelmina Wright, New Jersey district court nominee John Vazquez and Iowa district court nominees Rebecca Ebinger and Leonard Strand. The vote on Restrepo is a major win for the White House, since he's the only circuit court nominee before the Senate. He's waited more than a year for a vote. Also of note: It pays to be chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is getting two Iowa nominees through, including Ebinger, who skips over two Tennessee nominees who have been waiting longer. None of the nominees is controversial.... Even if all 14 pending judicial nominees were confirmed, they would only fill a fraction of the more than 60 vacancies on federal courts. That's because one way Republicans have prevented Obama from filling out the judiciary is by simply not recommending nominees to the White House for vacancies in their home states."

What took so long? (Philadelphia Inquirer [PA], 12/15/15)
John Neurohr, Letter to the Editor: "Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) last week asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) for a vote on Luis Felipe Restrepo, the highly qualified federal judge and nominee for the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals .... This is welcome, long-overdue news. In the fall of 2014, Toomey and Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D., Pa.) enthusiastically supported the nomination. Yet Restrepo is still awaiting a full vote in the Senate, now scheduled for Jan. 11. Throughout numerous delays, news outlets chided Toomey for not working to move the nomination forward. Only two weeks before the Senate was scheduled to recess for the year did Toomey speak up. Shame on him for being complicit in the GOP game of obstruction."

Editorial: The Senate’s Misplaced Priorities; Their blocking of dozens of nominations undermines the fight against terrorism, among other issues. (La Opinión, 12/14/15)
"We are very concerned about the case of the 19 judge nominations, four of which are Latino, which are also on hold. It is especially troublesome now that there are 30 judicial emergencies in several jurisdiction due to the accumulation of cases because of a lack of judges. At the beginning of the year, there were only 12. The purpose of the obstruction is to prevent Obama from leaving a legacy judges in place who will be there for life. It is apparent that the Senate’s priority is to thwart Obama’s efforts over fighting terrorism or the country’s foreign policy or the lack of judges. This partisan priority causes great harm because it paralyzes parts of the government that are crucial. This is not leadership."

Editorial: Our View: Cheer (Times-News [ID] , 12/12/15)
"Judge Richard Bevan may be in the running to become Idaho’s next federal judge. He’s a good candidate."

Senate finally schedules floor vote on Restrepo nomination (CA3blog, 12/10/15)
Matthew Stiegler: "This past spring, Senator Pat Toomey was getting battered over the delay in scheduling a committee hearing on the Third Circuit nomination of Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo. In May, Toomey’s office responded in part by assuring the public that Toomey was “confident he will be confirmed by year’s end.” Although Toomey did not say it at the time, it now appears that “by year’s end” meant that Toomey had already decided to let the nomination languish until year’s end. Thus in the months that followed, he ignored call after call after call after call to ask the Republican leadership for a confirmation vote. Now, just as critics predicted, when earlier this week Toomey finally did ask for a confirmation vote, it was scheduled right away. ... I’ll never believe that it shouldn’t have all happened half a year sooner."

Senate GOP Floats Plan to Politicize Judges Even More (People For blog, 12/10/15)
"Under the scheme being floated by Senate Republicans, “their” nominees would skip over four district court nominees who come from states with Democratic senators, even though the blue-state nominees have been waiting longer for a vote. Individuals and businesses in Minnesota, New Jersey, and Maryland would be punished by Mitch McConnell for electing the “wrong” senators, yet another escalation by the GOP in their politicization of the judicial confirmation process. Every nominee waiting for a vote has been fully vetted by the Judiciary Committee and advanced without opposition to the full Senate. Each should have a vote before senators go home. It is bad enough that Restrepo has been needlessly put off to January. Gaming the list to disfavor certain nominees based on which party their state’s senators belong to would add insult to injury."

Senate Republicans block vote on key counterterrorism nominee: 'We’re going home for Christmas.' (Daily Kos, 12/10/15)
Joan McCarter: "There are 19 potential judges, "a half-dozen ambassadors […] and two high-ranking State Department nominees are awaiting confirmation." That "has this GOP-led Senate on track for the lowest number of confirmations in 30 years." There was a bit of movement Wednesday on a key appeals judge nomination, Luis Felipe Restrepo's. He's waited nearly 400 days for confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. They've finally scheduled his vote—for a month from now."

Senate and Obama’s Final Round Over Judges (Roll Call, 12/10/15)
David Hawkings column: "To predict how the judicial wars between this Republican Senate and President Barack Obama will end, keep an eye on labor lawyer Waverly Crenshaw Jr. A quarter-century ago, he was the first African-American hired at one of Nashville’s most prominent law firms. Ten months ago, he was chosen for the opening on the local federal trial court. Five months ago, with the blessing of both of Tennessee’s Republican senators, he was endorsed without a dissenting voice in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And since then … nothing, except that as of last week the judgeship had been vacant a full year, and the backlog of cases has grown such that court administrators have declared a “judicial emergency.” Yet there is a decent chance Congress will go home for the year without acting on him or any of the dozen others whose nominations have advanced just as far. That would be a signal the process of confirming judges, already at its slowest pace in more than half a century, is grinding to a halt earlier than ever in the life cycle of a modern two-term president.... Toomey waited five months before turning in the endorsement form (known as a “blue slip”) required from both a judicial nominee’s senators before the confirmation process begins. Restrepo won committee approval by voice vote in July. But only this week, after the GOP leadership agreed to confirm a judge who had been waiting for less time, did Toomey go public with his declaration that a floor vote is warranted “without delay.”... leaders on Wednesday scheduled a vote on Restrepo for Jan. 11. So the slow-walking of Restrepo will continue into early next year"

GOP-led Senate failing at its most basic tasks (Maddow Blog {MSNBC], 12/10/15)
Steve Benen: "The story on judicial nominees is every bit as exasperating. The Huffington Post reported this week on Luis Felipe Restrepo, who, for reasons no one can defend, has “endured nearly every type of Senate delay a judicial nominee could endure.”...The court seat Restrepo is supposed to fill has been vacant for nearly 900 days. No, that’s not a typo, and yes, it’s contributed to a “judicial emergency” on the 3rd Circuit, with a case backlog getting worse. Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein recently explained, “It’s a Senate engaged in pure partisan harassment of Obama, and indifferent to the smooth functioning of government.” When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was promoted to his current post, he promised Americans we’d see a new, different kind of chamber. Nearly a year later, I suppose he was correct – because the Senate is now far worse."

As Congress goes home, 60 judgeships sit empty (Charlotte Observer [NC] , 12/09/15)
Thomas Tobin: "One of Congress’s most pressing concerns should be to fulfill its constitutional role and fill the gaping vacancies on the federal bench.... For nearly 30 judgeships, the burdens facing jurists are so great that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared a judicial emergency. The stress facing federal judges may have real-world consequences. A recent report in the Utah Law Review found that judicial emergencies had a significant effect on the disposition of cases. The study analyzed the decision-making of federal trial judges when their corresponding appeals court had declared a judicial emergency. According to the study, trial judges were as much as seven percent more likely to dismiss a case before trial if the corresponding appeals court was in a judicial emergency. Two judicial emergencies have been declared here in the Carolinas."

Are Republicans deliberately blocking Judge Restrepo's confirmation? (Al Día News, 12/09/15)
Ana Gamboa: "“Inexcusable,” “a shame,” “blatant partisan obstruction” ... Advocates and organizations are running out of adjectives to describe the inexplicable one year delay on Judge Felipe Restrepo’s confirmation, .... The Senate’s missed opportunity follows months of stalling on Sen. Pat Toomey’s side....Toomey waited two weeks before the Senate recesses for the year to send a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Dec. 7 urging Republican leaders to schedule a long overdue vote"

GOP freeze on judgeship includes single-handed Tom Cotton blockade (Arkansas Times, 12/09/15)
Max Brantley: "U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy has again ripped Senate Republicans for its failure to act, promptly or otherwise, on judicial nominations. His news release citing several failures to advance nominees with bipartisan support including from homestate Republicans also again cites U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton's singular roadblock to filling multiple openings on the federal court of claims. This is a little-known but important court. In fact, Auditor Andrea Lea is likely heading there with her attempt to convert unclaimed mature U.S. savings bonds to state of Arkansas ownership....Tell it to extremist Tom Cotton. He's unwilling to get the people's real and pressing business done in the courts.... Glenn Sugameli, who heads the Judging the Environment judicial nominations project, called the Leahy statement to my attention. It has experienced court delay because of a shortage of claims judges. His organization is not alone in protesting Cotton's obstructionism. And Sen. Harry Reid notes the disproportionate impact, including by Cotton's blockade, on Latino judicial nominees. And you can read more here particularly on Cotton's blockade of Armando Bonilla. Note that the nominations being blocked, included Cotton's one-man blockade, are of nominees who won unanimous committee approval from a Republican-controlled Senate."

Mitch McConnell skips over key judicial nominee, who has waited 390 days for a vote, for no reason (Daily Kos, 12/08/15)
Joan McCarter: "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ... upended Senate procedure, and protocol, and basic decency by skipping over a judicial nominee that's already waited almost 400 days for a vote and had already been subject to just about every Republican obstruction trick they can come up with. Luis Felipe Restrepo should have gotten a vote on Monday for confirmation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit."

Juan Williams: The year of the outsider (The Hill, 12/07/15)
"This dysfunctional Congress deserves its dismal 13 percent approval rating from the American people. The Republican majorities in the House and Senate reached a new nadir in broken politics by inviting a foreign leader, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to use the Congress as a setting to disrespect the American president back in March. They acted without first consulting with the White House. And then there was the refusal to hold confirmation hearings on the president’s nominees for judicial posts or to the Foreign Service."

A Year-End Review for Congress: Nice Start (Bloomberg News, 12/07/15)
Jonathan Bernstein: "The continued backlog in the Senate on dealing with Barack Obama’s judicial and executive-branch nominations continues to be a disgrace and a significant failure of competent government."

This Guy Waited 390 Days For His Turn At A Job. The Senate Just Skipped Him. Luis Felipe Restrepo would fill a circuit court seat that desperately needs a judge. (Huffington Post, 12/07/15)
Jennifer Bendery: "For the past year, Luis Felipe Restrepo has endured nearly every type of Senate delay a judicial nominee could endure. And now that he's finally first in line to get a confirmation vote, Republicans are just skipping him. The Senate should be voting Monday to confirm Restrepo to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. ... Instead, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) passed him over and teed up a vote on the next person in line ... Republicans have been blocking Obama's judicial nominees all year, so Restrepo's struggles shouldn't be too surprising. But it's unusual to see GOP leaders take up nominees out of order, and it's in part because Restrepo isn't just any nominee. He's the only circuit court nominee in the Senate, which makes him a top priority for Obama. He would also fill a court seat that's been vacant for nearly 900 days; it's so backed up with work it's been designated a judicial emergency. The Huffington Post reported earlier this year that these kinds of delays in confirming judges are having such a detrimental effect on courts that cases are being pushed back for years and judges are burning out. Congress is planning to adjourn for the year on Friday, so time is running out for Restrepo.... Toomey spokeswoman Melissa Ferdinand said the senator has talked directly to McConnell about "the importance of getting Judge Restrepo confirmed," but couldn't say anything about the timing of his vote. McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said he didn't have any news on when Restrepo might get his vote."

Few working days (Miami Herald, 12/04/15)
MARK FERRULO Letter to the Editor: "Florida is facing a judicial crisis with three federal court vacancies being declared emergencies. As a result, many Floridians are unable to access the overburdened, understaffed courts in a timely manner. Research by the Why Courts Matter Coalition underscores the editorial and details the historic level of obstruction taking place in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. The research shows that the Judiciary Committee is on pace to confirm the fewest number of judges since 1953. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, whose GOP colleagues currently control the Senate, should tell Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley we’ve waited long enough. Rubio should move swiftly to fill these open federal judgeships because justice delayed is justice denied."

A judicial nominee recommended by Rubio waits, and waits: Marco Rubio in the news (Cleveland Plain Dealer [OH], 12/04/15)
By Stephen Koff, Washington Bureau Chief

Benched! Republicans Yet Again Break Promise to Follow Regular Order on Nominees (Justice Watch, 12/04/15)
"Now, 387 days after he was first nominated to a seat that has been vacant nearly two-and-a-half years, Restrepo is being skipped by McConnell for a district court nominee from a Republican state. Back in May, Toomey said that he expected Restrepo to be confirmed by “year’s end,” suggesting that he had no problem if his own nominee needlessly languished for another seven months. Now it turns out it’s even worse than that, as Toomey appears unwilling to demand a vote before Restrepo’s nomination is pushed into next year. Notably, this isn’t the first time this year that Republican leadership has broken its promise to follow regular order. In April, Grassley said that the committee would consider judicial nominations in the order they are received. Just four months later Grassley ignored this promise and skipped over 13 nominees to include a Southern District of Iowa nominee—i.e., his own nominee—for a confirmation hearing. Rebecca Ebinger was nominated to the Iowa seat on September 15th and waited only a month for a hearing. Meanwhile, Grassley still has not given hearings to nominees from Florida, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and Maryland—all nominated at the recommendation of at least one Democratic senator well before Ebinger. Grassley then placed Ebinger first on the Executive Calendar—which under regular order determines the sequence of floor votes— ahead of three nominees recommended by Democratic senators who were reported out of committee on the same day."

Mercury News editorial: Drought relief held hostage to trashing the Delta (San Jose Mercury News [CA], 12/02/15)
"Central Valley Republicans want to strip out essential environmental protections for the Delta to quench Big Ag's thirst for more water for questionable orchard crops such as almonds and pistachios. The Bay Area delegation has to fight this -- but there are signs that Sen. Dianne Feinstein will go over to the dark side with House Republicans to in essence destroy the Endangered Species Act. ... Environmentalists, farmers and federal water regulators battled for 19 years to forge a 2006 settlement aimed at restoring year-around water flows to the river and reintroduce salmon and other habitat. It's crazy to undo that effort,"

Letter: GOP’s efforts to thwart Obama have hurt nation (Buffalo News [NY], 11/30/15)
Paul Tenser: "The refusal to vote in a timely fashion on any of the president’s appointments, both judicial and administrative, even when there is broad support and need for the nominee (as in the case of Sweet), allows the Republicans to take their ball home whenever they are disappointed with the outcome of the game."

Marco Rubio, Do Your Job (Part CDXXVII)! (South Florida Lawyers, 11/30/15)
"[L]et me highlight a surprisingly vigorous position taken by our local paper [quoting Miami Herald editorial] 'only 10 judicial vacancies have been confirmed this year, leaving 66 benches open, the slowest pace for confirmations in more than half a century.' That's just wrong, as wrong as ... failing to return that stupid blue slip. Come on, people, we can do better!"

Let voters decide (Butler Eagle [PA], 11/28/15)
Marion Laffey-Ferry, Letter to the Editor: “do you really want to create the same kind of delay that exists in the federal system? The same edition of the Butler Eagle included an article on how delay may occur in the appointment of what we know to be an extremely well-qualified person. Three vacancies exist that hamper the work of the Western District Court in Pennsylvania, the district that handles such cases as Social Security denials for residents in Western Pennsylvania, which includes Butler County.”

Raw politics impacts justice (Record [NJ] , 11/28/15)
Alliance for Justice's Kyle Barry's Letter to the Editor: "Bloomberg News Columnist Jonathan Bernstein describes a "partial government shutdown" created by the Republican Senate's historically slow pace of confirming President Obama's executive and judicial nominees. As it turns out, this strategy, which Bernstein calls "pure partisan harassment," has harmed New Jersey perhaps more than any other state. First, there are the federal district court vacancies. New Jersey has had four new vacancies in 2015 (only New York, with five, has had more), and all four are "judicial emergencies," according to the non-partisan Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. ... It would help if the Senate confirmed three consensus nominees waiting for a vote but instead the monthslong delay continues with no end in sight. One of the nominees, Julien Neals, has been pending in the Senate since February. Second, there is the case of Judge L. Felipe Restrepo, a trial judge in Pennsylvania who is a nominee to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. ... Restrepo was nominated more than a year ago and has been endorsed by Pennsylvania's Republican Senator Pat Toomey. ... Justice should be above politics and the people of New Jersey should demand the fully-staffed courts to which they are entitled."

EDITORIAL: Congress at work, or hardly working? (Miami Herald, 11/28/15)
"Even routine business was neglected this year, and 2016 won’t be better. The Senate has confirmed 135 Obama executive nominees this year, but many more are languishing in Congress. One of these is for the vacant post of undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial crimes, for which Mr. Obama nominated someone in April. By comparison, in George W. Bush’s seventh year, a Democratic Senate confirmed 234 nominees in 2007. Meanwhile, only 10 judicial vacancies have been confirmed this year, leaving 66 benches open, the slowest pace for confirmations in more than half a century."

Thanksgiving and federal judicial confirmations 11/26/2015 (The Hill, 11/26/15)
Prof. Carl Tobias: "The federal judiciary currently experiences 66 openings, while President Obama has nominated 27 candidates for those vacancies. The bench should be thankful that the administration has nominated, and the Senate has confirmed, two superb Supreme Court Justices, 54 excellent appellate judges, and 261 fine district judges.... However, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), the Majority Leader, has permitted only ten floor votes on judicial nominees all year. ... The federal courts should as well offer thanks that the Senate Democrats exploded the “nuclear option,” two years ago. That measure permitted dozens of nominees to receive cloture and confirmation votes, ... functioning with many vacant judgeships can undercut courts’ efforts to promptly, economically and fairly resolve cases."