Editorials and Opinion
The Judicial Policy Implications of Reckless Driving on Federal Land (Maryland Appellate Blog, 04/15/15)
Steve Klepper: "As of today, the U.S. Judicial Conference has identified 23 Article III vacancies as “judicial emergencies.” That includes five district judgeships within the Fifth Circuit. The Judicial Conference is requesting an additional eight permanent district judgeships for Texas; that proposal is going nowhere. I spent eight years of my career heavily litigating a case in the El Paso Division of the Western District of Texas, which shares a border with Mexico and includes the massive Fort Bliss. Every civil hearing required us to wait through multiple sentencing hearings for cross-border felonies. Imagine if misdemeanants were also entitled to trial or sentencing before an Article III judge.
Despite one longstanding vacancy (that finally has a nominee), the District of Maryland fortunately is devoid of emergency vacancies. ... But the situation would change in a heartbeat if traffic and petty misdemeanors were transferred from our magistrate judges to our district judges."
Loretta Lynch and the Dysfunctional Senate (New Yorker, 04/15/15)
Jeffrey Toobin: "Thanks in significant part to McConnell’s maneuvers, the use of the filibuster has become so pervasive that it’s now assumed that sixty votes are required for any Senate action.
In his most brazen act so far, McConnell has prevented a confirmation vote for Loretta Lynch, the President’s choice for Attorney General, even though a majority of Senators have indicated publicly that they will vote for her. ... Majority Leader of the Democrats, Harry Reid grew so frustrated with Republican obstruction that he changed the Senate rules, doing away with filibusters on lower-court judicial and Administration appointees .... In more than three months, the Senate has approved just a single judicial nominee, a district judge from Texas."
Mitch McConnell: Doing the Least He Can Possibly Do (People For blog, 04/14/15)
"Senator Mitch McConnell’s ongoing campaign to obstruct President Obama’s judicial nominees had resulted in not a single new judge since Republicans took over the US Senate. If there’s been no movement it certainly hasn’t been for lack of need. The number of judicial vacancies has risen from 40 to 51, and the number of judicial emergencies has doubled from 12 to 24....today Senator McConnell allowed a vote on … one judicial nominee!"
Benched! Cornyn passes the buck on rising vacancy numbers (Justice Watch, 04/14/15)
"The delay to confirm Bennett is just one example of Senate Republicans’ do-nothing approach to judicial nominations. There are still three district court nominees pending on the Senate floor, including two more nominated to critical vacancies in Texas’s overburdened Southern District, and one to the District of Utah. All three have the support of their Republican home-state senators. Yet instead of pushing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to schedule votes for Texas judges, Cornyn—who is the Senate’s Majority Whip, not merely a rank-and-file member—dismisses the vacancy problem with a partisan attack on the president.
In the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has held only two confirmation hearings in 2015, passing over five nominees who have been waiting for a hearing since November 2014.
While the Senate sits on its hands, judicial vacancies have jumped from 44 to 54, and “judicial emergencies,” the official designation for courts with the most dire need for judges, have nearly doubled, increasing from 12 to 23. These numbers could be reduced by confirmations, but the Senate hasn’t acted.
Republicans have also failed to recommend nominees for vacancies in their home states."
After a 207-day wait, Senate finally confirms Obama judicial nominee (Daily Kos, 04/14/15)
Joan McCarter: "After months and months of committee and floor delays, the Senate confirmed Alfred Bennett to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. That vote was 95-0. There was no opposition, and yet it took 207 days to happen. He's filling a seat that had been vacant for 769 days, and qualified as a "judicial emergency" because of the heavy caseload judges on that court carry—430 to 600 cases for more than 18 months. ... All of these nominees could have been confirmed last year, during the lame duck session. But Republicans blocked them, claiming that passing them during lame duck would catch them up in "unnecessary, partisan politics." The same unnecessary partisan politics that prevented Bennett from reaching the floor for four months once Republicans took over.”
GOP Senate unanimously confirmed first federal judge (Washington Post, 04/14/15)
Colby Itkowitz: "Senate Republicans have been in charge for three months, but only Monday confirmed its first judicial nominee, Alfred H. Bennett — unanimously.... The slow crawl of Senate confirmations continues .... There are four judicial nominees who still await Senate floor action – not including the five nominees to the Court of Federal Claims – and another 13 need a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), in a floor speech, said by April 2007 the Democrat-controlled Senate had already confirmed 15 of President Bush’s judicial nominees. The pending nominees are holdovers from last year. Three of the four judges waiting for a floor vote were endorsed by their home state Republican senators."
Why Courts Matter (Center for American Progress, 04/13/15)
"As of March 9, 2015, there were 50 current vacancies on U.S. federal courts. These seats have been vacant for a total of 22,222 days, resulting in a backlog of 29,892 cases.
The Administrative Office of the United States Courts has designated 23 of these pending vacancies as judicial emergencies, meaning that filling them is a critical task. ... In an attempt to slow President Barack Obama’s effect on the federal courts, Senate Republicans have obstructed the president’s judicial nominees at unprecedented levels by attempting to prevent or delay a vote through filibustering a record number of nominees and making them await confirmation for long periods of time."
JUST ONE JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION SO FAR IN 2015, SENATOR MCCONNELL? (Constitutional Accountability Center, 04/13/15)
"The first floor vote on a judicial nominee is expected to occur later today – just one floor vote on a judicial nominee in almost three and a half months since McConnell became Majority Leader.... Currently, there are five judicial nominees who are awaiting a vote on the Senate floor, each nominated more than 200 days ago. Another 13 are still stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee – several of whom have been waiting more than 150 days for a hearing – including nominees to fill seats that have been officially declared “judicial emergencies.” None of these nominations is controversial, yet the inability of the Senate to do its job exacerbates the strain on our federal courts to administer justice. As the Wall Street Journal reported just last week: 'More than 330,000 [civil] cases were pending as of last October—a record—up nearly 20% since 2004'"
North Carolina takes the prize for longest unfilled federal judicial vacancy (Progressive Pulse [NC], 04/13/15)
Sharon McCloskey: "The nearly ten-year vacant federal district court slot in eastern North Carolina tops the list of “most ridiculously long judicial vacancies that the Senate hasn’t filled,” as highlighted by the Huffington Post .... With no new nominee in the hopper, the Eastern District — which is also close to the top of judicial districts having the most residents per judgeship — will continue to trudge along with a caseload being handled by three active sitting judges with the part-time help of three judges on senior status — the youngest of whom is 75."
Republicans Finally Let One Of Obama's Judicial Nominees Get A Vote (Huffington Post, 04/13/15)
Jennifer Bendery: "Republicans have been slow-walking action on Obama's judicial nominees ever since they took control of the Senate in January -- even if that has meant jamming their own nominees. Bennett, for example, has had the support of his home-state senators, John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), yet has endured committee delays and floor vote delays for weeks. Two other Texas nominees are ready for votes and could easily have been scheduled for Monday, but were not. All three were first nominated in September.
Another Utah judicial nominee is ready for a vote, and has the support of Utah's GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, but did not get scheduled for a vote."
The GOP Finally Allows a Judicial Confirmation Vote (People For blog, 04/13/15)
"More than three months into the 114th Congress, and we are finally seeing the first judicial confirmation vote.... And today, even though there are four judicial nominees who were approved by the Judiciary Committee without opposition way back in February, McConnell is today allowing a vote on only one of them.
Why no vote for Jill Parrish, who would fill a vacancy in Utah that has been open for more than a year? Why no vote for George Hanks of the Southern District of Texas, who would fill a vacancy that has been open for nearly as long? Why no vote for Jose Rolando Olvera, who would fill a judicial emergency in the same district that has been open since the end of 2012?"
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."
Editorial: Toxic details emerge from N.J. $250M settlement with Exxon Mobil (The Times of Trenton [NJ] , 04/09/15)
"There was little hope that closer examination would make the deal New Jersey tentatively reached with Exxon Mobil over the befouling of the state's environment smell better.... the report confirmed our suspicions that Exxon is getting a sweetheart deal beyond all comprehension.... Environmentalists are mounting a campaign to derail the deal, encouraging state residents to raise their voices during the public comment period.
We second their motion."
Exxon slimes Jersey, and passes the cost on to Uncle Sam | Editorial (Star-Ledger Newark [NJ] , 04/07/15)
"More than one-third of ExxonMobil's $225 million wrist-slap for turning 1,800 acres of our marshes and wetlands into tar pits will be passed along to the federal taxpayer.... if enough lawmakers want to change the federal tax code - perhaps by prohibiting settlements to be classified as compensatory or deductible - that would put bad actors on notice."
Editorial: Details are in — and ExxonMobil deal still stinks (Asbury Park Press [NJ], 04/07/15)
"What matters is how the figure compares to the actual amount of environmental damage involved — and the state was seeking $8.9 billion in claims in a case in which a judge had already found ExxonMobil liable.
So, yes, this was a sellout to a major corporation. It's a great deal — for ExxonMobil. It's a lousy one for New Jersey.... The more we know about this settlement the worse it looks. The arrangement includes a provision to release ExxonMobil from any pollution liability at 16 other industrial sites and hundreds of gas stations.... scuttle this deal."
EDITORIAL: The Record: Exxon deal revisited (Record [NJ] , 04/07/15)
"THE STATE'S proposed settlement of a nearly $9 billion pollution suit with ExxonMobil for a mere $225 million may not be as irresponsible as it looked when it surfaced in late February. That is not praise, but a call for more intense scrutiny of the deal."
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.”
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."