Editorials and Opinion
Senator Grassley broke his word on judicial nominees (Gazette [Cedar Rapids, IA], 10/31/15)
Matt Sinovic, guest columnist: "After promising to move judges forward in a timely fashion as Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley has done the opposite. There are 21 nominees pending in his committee, many who have been waiting months or years. Even after the Oct. 21 hearings for two nominees from Iowa, they will still need to be voted out of committee, which will likely be delayed. That means 21 nominees are ready to serve, but needlessly sit by while court cases pile up and Americans are denied justice.... After promising to move judges forward in a timely fashion as Chair of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley has done the opposite. There are 21 nominees pending in his committee, many who have been waiting months or years. Even after the Oct. 21 hearings for two nominees from Iowa, they will still need to be voted out of committee, which will likely be delayed. That means 21 nominees are ready to serve, but needlessly sit by while court cases pile up and Americans are denied justice."
Why Is Rubio Blocking His Own Judicial Nomination? (South Florida Lawyers, 10/29/15)
"Talk about a dereliction of duty: ...This is just unconscionable.... every supporter of Rubio should urge him to do the right thing and at least show up once this year to turn in his stupid blue slip, so we can get a highly qualified jurist on the federal bench.
Leahy urges Toomey to ask for Restrepo vote (CA3blog, 10/29/15)
"Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is keeping the heat on Senator Pat Toomey over the mind-boggling delay of the nomination of Judge L. Felipe Restrepo to the Third Circuit. In this statement earlier this week on federal judicial nominations, Leahy singled out the Restrepo delay — 348 days and counting, and compared it with the 183 days it took Democrats to confirm Bush nominee Judge Thomas Hardiman"
Marco crushes Jeb (Southern District of Florida Blog, 10/29/15)
David Markus: "Would a more effective attack be about judicial nominations? Rubio won't give the blue-slip on his own judicial nominee [Huffington Post link and excerpt]"
EDITORIAL: Vilardo’s confirmation to federal court still leaves a critical vacancy to be filled (Buffalo News [NY], 10/28/15)
"Schumer must act swiftly to recommend another candidate and Obama must act just as quickly in nominating that person. Once properly vetted, Senate confirmation is crucial to filling the gap on the Western New York bench.
The federal caseload here is crushing. News staff writer Phil Fairbanks reported that the backlog of civil and criminal cases here ranks among the worst in the nation.
It takes, on average, more than five years for civil cases to come to trial in Buffalo. Courts here received more new filings last year – 744 new cases per judge – than all but nine of the 94 court systems across the country. That statistic speaks volumes to the ongoing problem, summed up by David P. Miranda, head of the New York State Bar Association: “Justice delayed is justice denied.”...The Senate has dragged its feet on Obama’s judicial nominees. That may be good politics, but it’s bad for the legal system. All parties should move expeditiously to fill the opening."
Marco Rubio Is Blocking His Own Judicial Nominee (Huffington Post, 10/28/15)
Jen Bendery: "Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) [is] still effective at one thing in the upper chamber: blocking his own judicial nominee.... Rubio is withholding his so-called "blue slip" from the Judiciary Committee to prevent Florida district judge nominee Mary Flores from advancing. ... Florida's other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, turned in his blue slip eight months ago. But nothing from Rubio.
The weird part is that Rubio supports Flores. He and Nelson recommended her ... She's now been waiting for a hearing for 242 days, but can't move without Rubio's sign-off. She would fill a seat that's been empty for 532 days, and that court is so overloaded with work that it's considered a judicial emergency.... Rubio has some experience in blocking his nominees. In September 2013, the Florida senator pulled his support for William Thomas, a gay black judge from Miami, after recommending him to the White House for a seat on the same court as Flores. It was a puzzling turn of events, and the president ultimately decided against resubmitting Thomas' nomination to the Senate in 2014."
Shedding light on blue slips and Republican obstruction (Justice Watch, 10/27/15)
"At its best, the blue slip process ensures that senators have a say in who serves as federal judges in their home states. But the process can also be exploited and turned into a means of obstructing nominees—even those they’ve recommended to the president—and prevent them from ever receiving a hearing.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s ongoing obstruction of Mary Barzee Flores is an illustrative example. Rubio and Democratic Senator Bill Nelson jointly recommended Flores to the president for a judicial emergency in the Southern District of Florida. Senator Nelson returned his blue slip immediately after her nomination. Almost eight months later, Senator Rubio still has not returned his, nor has he given any explanation for his refusal to do so.... Senator Pat Toomey, R-pa., and Grassley used the same tactic earlier this year to delay a hearing for L. Felipe Restrepo, a nominee to the Third Circuit.... Both the nation’s oldest district and circuit court vacancies, for example, remain open because of unreturned blue slips. In the Eastern District of North Carolina, Republican Senator Richard Burr recommended prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker to fill a district court seat that has now been empty for nearly 10 years. But after Obama made the nomination, Burr withheld his blue slip without explanation .... Senator Ron Johnson similarly prevented the president from filling the nation’s oldest circuit court vacancy"
Senate GOP Deigns to Allow One Judicial Confirmation Vote (People For blog, 10/26/15)
"[T]he [Judiciary] committee approved Vilardo by unanimous voice vote on June 4, sending his unopposed nomination to the full Senate. In the nearly five months since, the nomination has languished, as Senate Republicans have refused to schedule a vote. Schumer took to the Senate floor to formally request a vote in July, so that this and two other New York vacancies could be filled before the Senate’s extended summer recess. It only takes one senator to scuttle such a request, and Grassley took to the floor to say no. ... The same thing happened in mid-September, this time with Texas Senator John Cornyn instead of Grassley serving as the hatchet man. Cornyn claimed the Senate should delay voting on the New York nominees because Senate Democrats had held confirmation votes for several judges at the end of last year’s lame duck session – as if that were a legitimate justification. Further weakening Cornyn’s credibility, he failed to mention that three of those nominees were from Texas, and that he himself had specifically urged the Democrats to confirm them during the lame duck.
At the end of September, the president of the New York State Bar Association condemned the delays and urged the Senate to swiftly vote on Vilardo and all the other pending nominees.... this is only the ninth judicial confirmation of the year. In contrast, when Democrats took over the Senate during George W. Bush’s last two years in office, they had let the Senate confirm 34 judicial nominees at this same point. So while judicial vacancies and judicial emergencies fell during 2007, both have risen significantly in 2015 due to GOP refusal to process nominations in a timely manner."
Editorial, 10/25: So much for reform... (Lincoln Journal Star [NE], 10/25/15)
"The overused tactic of blocking nominations is one of the reasons that Congress doesn’t function. For most of the nation’s history, the tactic was not used. In recent decades, it’s become common, sometimes leaving judicial posts open for years. Democrats use it when Republicans have power, and vice versa."
Editorial: Senators should confirm Malmen’s their choice for bench (Spokesman-Review [Spokane, WA], 10/23/15)
"If Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are intent on nominating Erika Malmen for a vacant U.S. District Court judgeship, they or their surrogates should be providing some cover for the Boise attorney, who appears to be short on judicial experience and long on political pull by way of husband Jeff Malmen.
But that would engender an explanation for the entirety of a long candidate search extraordinary for its secrecy ... Malmen will not get a smooth ride, nor should she.
The 41-year-old has no judicial experience, and does not deserve any if the assessment of her fellow attorneys carries any weight. She did not make the short list of four finalists for a vacancy on the Idaho Court of Appeals for which 12 attorneys had submitted their names.
The environmental community will be concerned with a client list thats a who’s who of Idaho’s extractive industries.... Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne in 1995 fought off the nomination of John Tait for the District Court judgeship now occupied by B. Lynn Winmill because, they argued, he had little federal court trial experience, or handling criminal cases, and no experience as a judge or prosecutor. Does that profile remind you of anybody?"
How the Current Senate Gridlock is Hurting the Diversity of Our Justice System (Huffington Post, 10/21/15)
Robert T. Maldonado, National President for the Hispanic National Bar Association: "Judge Restrepo's story of immigrant success seems to be on hold for the moment. That's because he's been waiting since November 2014, when President Barack Obama appointed him to serve on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, to be confirmed as an appeals court judge.... Unfortunately, Judge Restrepo's predicament isn't unique. Two other HNBA-endorsed judicial candidates are stuck in the political gridlock ... The backlogs are having a real effect on the people and businesses seeking recourse through the court system. As one California district court judge put it:
"Over the years I've received several letters from people indicating, 'Even if I win this case now, my business has failed because of the delay. How is this justice?' And the simple answer, which I cannot give them, is this: It is not justice. We know it.""
Leapfrog Day at the Judiciary Committee (People For blog, 10/20/15)
"[T]he Senate held a confirmation vote on one long-waiting nominee, but did nothing on eight additional nominees who were long ago fully vetted and advanced without opposition by the Judiciary Committee.... since there are ten other nominees waiting for their opportunity to appear before the committee, why are there only four nominees at today’s hearing, rather than five or six? And why has Grassley never held more than one hearing per month? No wonder there is such a backlog of nominees at the committee stage ... why no hearing for Mary Barzee Flores of Florida, who was nominated way back in February on the recommendation of Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio?"
Today's Vote Highlights Senate's Failures on Confirming Judges (People For blog, 10/20/15)
"Ann Donnelly, set to fill a judicial emergency in the Eastern District of New York, was cleared by a unanimous Judiciary Committee way back on June 4, more than four months ago. On the same day, the committee also unanimously voted to advance two other New York nominees to the full Senate. Yet after months of delay, Majority Leader McConnell is finally allowing a vote on only one of the three. Also being ignored are an additional six judicial nominees from other states who were unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee. ... While the Democratically-controlled Senate had voted on 33 of Bush’s judges at this point in 2007, New York’s Ann Donnelly will be only the eighth judge voted on this year. Vacancies nationwide are up by more than 50% since the beginning of the year, and judicial emergencies have more than doubled....Perhaps most egregious is the Senate GOP’s obstinate refusal to grant timely consideration to L. Felipe Restrepo of Pennsylvania, whose nomination to the Third Circuit is nearly a year old."
Endorsements: No on Initiative 1366, Yes on Initiative 1401 (Yakima Herald-Republic [WA], 10/18/15)
"Initiative 1401, is financed by Microsoft founder Paul Allen and would target the sale of animal parts from endangered species like elephants and rhinoceroses. The Yakima Herald-Republic Editorial Board recommends the following: Initiative 1401: Yes"
Editorial: GOP Senate obstructionists are strangling the justice system (Wisconsin Gazette, 10/18/15)
"Due to partisan gridlock, millions of Americans are not getting their day in court. Political gamesmanship has stalled the nation’s judicial system to such an extent that American citizens can no longer count on their constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial.
The United States currently has the largest backlog of federal criminal and civil cases in American history .... The blame, of course, lies at the doorstep of Republican Senate obstructionists. Senators who belong to the GOP’s extremist tea party faction have predicated their agendas on thwarting President Barack Obama at every turn. Their favored method is refusing to approve his nominees, especially his judicial and ambassadorial nominees. They don’t seem to care that such blatant childishness does serious damage to the nation."
Editorial: I-1401 is flawed but necessary step (The Olympian [WA], 10/17/15)
"On one hand, there is no civilized reason that Washington should allow the sale of parts taken from these threatened and endangered species. Strengthening the state’s prohibitions could fill in gaps in the enforcement of federal laws against the import and sale of endangered animals through our ports.... We support this initiative with misgivings. But its backers’ impulse is the right one. Thousands of species are being slaughtered unnecessarily. It’s time to end the market for these products everywhere."
Editorial: Judged worthy in weighing the seven contenders to be the new state chief judge (New York Daily News, 10/16/15)
"After far too long, a special screening panel for appointments to state’s highest court has put merit back into the merit selection of judges.... to replace retiring Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman the commission has sent Cuomo the names of seven lawyers whose credentials outmatch the collective heft of past batches of nominees. ... Caitlin Halligan, the onetime New York solicitor general and general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney, was also nominated by President Obama for a lifetime appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the country’s second most important Federal Court and a springboard for many U.S. Supreme Court justices. Her appointment was filibustered by Senate Republicans.... The unprecedented quality of the candidates suggests that, perhaps, the panel recognized that it would have lost all credibility by advancing questionable nominees."
Americans Pay a High Price for Judicial Obstruction | Commentary (Roll Call, 10/15/15)
Anisha Singh and Pete Haviland-Eduah: "Today, more than 80 current and future federal judicial seats are vacant and approximately 30 of those seats are considered judicial emergencies, nearly triple the number of emergency vacancies since Republicans took control of the Senate in January. This has led to the largest backlog of federal criminal and civil cases in American history .... The Senate this year is on track to confirm the fewest judicial nominees since 1953.... The record-high pileup of backlogged cases affects everyone in the process—families, crime victims, employees, consumers, and the defendants themselves. We must demand that the Senate put an end to this obstruction."
The judicial hold-up (Nashville Post [TN], 10/15/15)
J.R. Lind: "With the U.S. Judicial Conference declaring a judicial emergency because of a vacancy and with the state's two senators unequivocally expressing support for the president's nominees, why can't we get judges confirmed by the Senate: 'Because Obama is so unpopular with the Republican Party, many Republican senators do not desire handing over the keys to too many courthouses. To observers, the reason for the hold-up is obvious.'"
The Burr blockade continues: NC federal court vacancy now approaching 10 years (Progressive Pulse [NC], 10/15/15)
Rob Schofield: "As has been documented on this website numerous times, North Carolina Senator Richard Burr has been blocking, literally without explanation, President Obama’s attempt to fill a vacancy on the federal court in North Carolina’s Eastern District for years. It’s gotten so absurd (we are now approaching 10 years in which the court and the citizens of eastern North Carolina have been short staffed) that the White House appears to have given up, for now, in even appointing someone.
Fortunately, however, advocates for justice and sanity haven’t given up. As the Winston-Salem Chronicle reports, women of the NAACP spoke out yet again this week ... the across-the-board GOP blockade of Obama judicial nominees has now reached the point of true absurdity."
In Our View: Vote ‘Yes’ on Initiative 1401 (Columbian [WA], 10/15/15)
"The poaching of exotic animals might seem like an issue that is far removed from Washington. Yet that should not prevent voters in this state from taking a step to combat the global scourge.
With Initiative 1401 on the statewide ballot, Washingtonians have an opportunity to weigh in on the trading of exotic animal parts and set a standard for other jurisdictions to follow. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends a vote in favor of I-1401.... There is little that can be done in Washington to alter a global market or prevent the abhorrent practice of killing endangered animals for their tusks, horns or fins. But with Oregon and California also considering measures to reduce trafficking of such parts, this state can help build a wall along the West Coast while sending a message that such practices are unacceptable."
With confirmation hearings running far behind, Tennessee's federal judicial nominees are left to cool their heels: Judicial Logjam (Nashville Scene [TN], 10/15/15)
Alex Hubbard: "If Tennessee, with three nominees yet to be confirmed, is a major part of the crisis, Nashville is near the center. ... the administrative office of the U.S. Judicial Conference declared a judicial emergency in the district.... Of the 30 declared emergencies in the country, this ranks Nashville sixth in the nation.... Corker and Alexander have made their support clear for all three of Tennessee's judicial nominees, unlike in some other states where Republican senators have blocked Democratic nominees from the same state.
But senators from the Volunteer State remain reluctant to raise public outrage toward the leadership of their own party. Neither Corker nor Alexander was available for interview, and although both provided unequivocal statements of support, neither responded to emailed questions from the Scene about whether they had applied any pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to speed a vote on Crenshaw and McDonough."
Grassley's Leapfrogging Hurts Everyone, Especially Pennsylvanians (People For blog, 10/15/15)
"Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced a scheduled hearing next week for four district court nominees, three of whom were nominated in July. Once again, he is skipping over Florida’s Mary Barzee Flores, who was nominated way back in February. But he’s skipping over nine other nominees, as well.
That’s because the fourth nominee at the hearing is from Iowa.... During a press conference at the National Press Club in April, 2015, Chairman Grassley stated that under his chairmanship, the Judiciary Committee would consider judicial nominees in the order they came:
'I want you to know we take them up the way they come up to us. Particularly, that is true of judges, as an example. So the priority’s set by what we receive from the White House.'... Pennsylvania is bearing the brunt of this delay, as well. Four of the skipped nominees would serve in that state."
Sen. Leahy: Justice Denied: Senate Republicans' Obstruction of Judicial Confirmations (Huffington Post, 10/14/15)
"Since Republicans took over the majority in January, the Senate majority has only allowed the confirmation vote of seven federal judges. Because of this refusal to schedule timely confirmation votes, there are more than 50 percent more judicial vacancies since Republicans assumed the majority in the Senate. That means there are not enough judges to handle the overwhelming number of cases in many of our federal courtrooms. ... Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill, gave the Wall Street Journal this devastating assessment: "Over the years I've received several letters from people indicating, 'Even if I win this case now, my business has failed because of the delay. How is this justice?' And the simple answer, which I cannot give them, is this: It is not justice. We know it."... At the same point in the seventh year of President Bush's tenure, Senate Democrats had already confirmed 33 judges. ... There are currently 15 non-controversial judicial nominees pending on the Senate floor who have bipartisan support. They are each highly qualified, and many would fill emergency vacancies"
Justice denied when judges refused a vote (Philadelphia Inquirer [PA], 10/14/15)
Michele L. Jawando: "One of the most important duties of the U.S. Senate is to confirm federal judicial nominees, yet that body has confirmed only seven federal judges since the beginning of this year .... The reason for these confirmation delays in the current Senate is not disagreement about which judges should be brought up for a vote. There are 10 pending judicial nominees who have already cleared one major hurdle: They were voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. The reason, instead, is simple obstruction.
In the meantime, important cases pile up on the dockets of those very courts, and judges currently on the bench are unable to keep up with the load .... There is no better symbol of the current judicial confirmation obstruction than Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Pennsylvania"
‘It’s The Vacancies!’ (American Constitution Society Blog, 10/12/15)
Russell Wheeler, Brookings: "Federal courts are facing a toxic mix of judges creating vacancies at an usually high rate and some Republican senators exploiting Senate traditions to prevent nominations in their states. And the Senate Judiciary Committee and Republican Conference leadership have aggressively slowed down confirmation of those nominations that make it to the Senate.... In the final two years of the Reagan, Clinton and Bush two-term presidencies -- all with divided government -- vacancies decreased. That seems highly unlikely in these final two years of the Obama presidency.
The October 5 confirmation of a district judge reawakened complaints that seven confirmations in 2015 compare poorly to the 33 confirmations at the same point in 2007, George W. Bush’s seventh year in office.... The ultimate purpose of the confirmation process is to fill vacant judgeships, not to create comparative confirmation scorecards.
Since January 1, vacant district judgeships have risen from 33 to 54. At this point in the seventh year of the Reagan, Clinton and Bush presidencies, district vacancies had decreased, most dramatically in 2007 -- from 40 to 33."
Forward Thinking: The courts matter (Daily Item [PA], 10/12/15)
By Chip Facka: "Pennsylvanians are being denied timely access to a judicial system that is often their last resort when dealing with things like citizenship status, access to health care, environmental crisis, employee/employer disputes and basic civil rights. Right now there is a backlog of more than 16,000 civil and criminal cases pending in Pennsylvania District Courts.
Our federal courts make rulings on virtually every issue that is important to Americans....Here’s what’s crazy. Across the country, due in large part to a concerted effort by Senate Republicans to stall nominations of qualified judges, we are in the midst of a crisis in regards to federal court vacancies."
Editorial: I-1401 will help protect endangered species (Spokesman-Review [Spokane, WA], 10/10/15)
"Can Washington stop the slaughter of the elephants in Africa, tigers in Asia, or sharks on the high seas? The obvious answer is no.
But we might save some if the financial inducements for traffickers are removed. ...Respect for nature is almost bred into Washingtonians, and the lions on Africa’s savannahs deserve the same regard we hold for the salmon in our rivers or the elk in our mountains."