Editorials and Opinion
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 : 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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
Julie DelCour: Rule change could make government more efficient Will pettiness, partisanship go by wayside? (Tulsa World [OK] , 12/01/13)
Associate Editor column: "President Obama has one of the worst records if not the worst record of any president for getting his nominations through the process in a timely fashion.... Perhaps most damaging is the unprecedented backlog of judicial appointments.
In Tulsa, a U.S. District Court judgeship, vacated by Terrence Kern who took senior status in 2009, took three years to fill finally with the confirmation of Judge John Dowdell A vacancy on the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, following the departure of Robert Henry in 2010, was not filled until early this year, with the confirmation of Judge Robert Bacharach.... The recent Senate rule-change came to a head because Senate Republicans had blocked three Obama nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ... Every community is hurt because the people's business doesn't get done courts are without judges, federal agencies are without leadership and the president is playing without a full team. The gridlock cripples one of the country's most important recruitment offices."
Your Views: Filibuster change brings democracy to the Senate (Janesville Gazette [WI], 12/01/13)
Robert Oblak: "What were the GOP senators thinking to force this change to the filibuster rule? Currently the federal judiciary is evenly balanced with 390 GOP-appointed judges and 391 Democratic-appointed judges. However, 93 vacancies will soon be filled by Obama, and he still has three years and whatever vacancies that will arise to fill. This is not a “packing of the court”; it is simply an exercise of the president’s responsibility to fill judicial vacancies."
Editorial: U.S. Senate’s limits on filibuster were overdue (Herald [Rock Hill, SC], 11/30/13)
"Since 1967, 67 cloture motions have been filed on judicial nominees. Of the total, 31 occurred during Obama’s time in office.
In most cases, the blocking of Obama’s nominees had little or nothing to do with questions about the nominees’ qualifications, as even many Republicans will concede. The tactic was merely used to obstruct the president from filling seats on the court, as he is constitutionally mandated to do, and from filling openings in a variety of commissions and government agencies. A good example is the blocking of Obama’s nominees to the three open seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the most important appeals court short of the Supreme Court. The court has 11 seats, but with the three vacancies, only eight are filled. Four of those judges are Democratic appointees and four are Republican appointees. Rather than disturb that political balance, Republicans in the Senate have simply blocked Obama’s nominees, saying, in effect, they would allow the president no more appointments to that court."
Filibuster abuse will lead to its end (Journal Tribune [York County, ME], 11/30/13)
Gordon L. Weil column: "The Republican Senate minority has resorted to using the filibuster threat hundreds of times to block legislation and to prevent President Obama from naming people to executive office or to the courts. Endless debate had become a tool not to promote full and thoughtful discussion, but with the open intent to introduce minority rule.... By last week, Republican senators had made it clear they would not approve any appointees to the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., although it is authorized by law to have 11 judges, and there are only eight now on the bench. The GOP had no serious objections to the three Obama appointees. But it feared that the ideological balance on the court could shift away from conservative domination by justices appointed by Republican presidents. It wanted the court reduced to the current eight judges. The GOP was unwilling to wait until there was a Republican president and Senate to change the number of judges, assuming it would do so if it had control. While the Constitution provides that the president appoints federal judges subject to the “advice and consent” of the Senate, it does not suggest that a Senate minority should legislate by blocking presidential appointments."
Dems should not hesitate to further streamline the Senate rulebook (Washington Post, 11/29/13)
Ryan Cooper: "the blue slip rule is almost certainly already being abused–why else would the vast majority of empty appellate and district court seats be in states with at least one Republican senator? (Texas alone has seven vacancies.) I see no remotely justifiable policy reason to give senators a veto over all judgeships in their state. ... In fact, at this point there is no reason not to bust out the big red pencil on the Senate rulebook and dramatically reduce the potential for obstruction."
Senate must end tyranny by supermajority (San Francisco Chronicle [CA] , 11/29/13)
Lawrence Axil Comras: "Republicans will no longer be able to insist on a supermajority to approve certain judicial candidates. The immediate goal is to make it more possible to get judges approved. There are currently 93 vacancies in the federal judiciary alone. More than 10 percent of the entire federal judicial system is vacant."
Next stop in GOP judicial nominations obstruction: Blue slips (Daily Kos, 11/27/13)
Joan McCarter: "The blue slip is just a tradition, a tradition that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) ignored when he chaired the Judiciary Committee. When Democrats regained the majority and Sen. Patrick Leahy took over, he restored it, but he seems open to change, just as he was on the nuclear option.... This is a fight President Obama should take on, because it's both one he could win and because judicial vacancies really are a crisis. He can start with those seven vacancies in Texas."
Editorial: Filibuster vote just attempt to avoid real work (Pantagraph [Bloomington, IL], 11/27/13)
"Senate Republicans have been holding up several nominations by President Obama, not because they felt the nominees were unfit, but because they didn’t want Obama’s Democrat-leaning appointments to go through.... Republicans have been doing it to Obama, mostly because they can.... Of course, presidents select judges that reflect their political values, although it’s been proved many times that predicting the future decisions of the judiciary is chancy at best. For most of our country’s history, judicial nominations were approved by the Senate as long as the candidate met the qualifications and appears up to the task. The appointments need to be approved in order to keep the judiciary process, already plagued by delays, running smoothly. The need for operating an efficient government has given over to partisanship in the last decade. Judicial nominations are no longer routine; instead the nominations are regularly held up by the minority party for purely partisan reasons. It’s an ugly practice, which everyone living outside the Washington metro area easily recognizes."
Filibuster is Gone, But Will Blue Slips Halt 11th Circuit Nominations? (Findlaw, 11/27/13)
William Peacock, Esq.: "Will the removal of the filibuster allow thirteen Eleventh Circuit vacancies (four of which are on the circuit court of appeals itself) to be filled in a timely manner, or will the oft-forgotten Blue Slips tactic rise up in its place? ... even before the gutted filibuster announcement, blue slips were used locally, to block Jill Pryor from the appeals court bench, and Florida state court Judge William Thomas, who was in line for a district court seat. ... if blue slips are used (or abused) along party lines, the Eleventh Circuit's nomination logjam, for the four Circuit Court spots, as well as the nine district court vacancies, could continue."