Editorials and Opinion
N.J. shortchanged by Exxon Mobil wetlands deal | Editorial (The Times of Trenton [NJ] , 07/27/15)
"State Sen. Raymond Lesniak, D-Union County, was one of the first state lawmakers to express outrage when news broke in March that New Jersey had agreed to accept $225 million from the Exxon Mobil Corporation to settle a decade-long case.
The state had originally sought $8.9 billion in compensation for environmental damage done to more than 1,500 of wetlands, marshes, meadows and waters in the Meadowlands.... Now a state Superior Court has turned down attempts by Lesniak and several environmental groups to intervene in the settlement. Judge Michael Hogan ruled that the activists' attempts to become parties to the suit would "unduly delay" the proceedings.
Despite the setback, the settlement's opponents have pledged to continue to keep up the good fight.
From Day One, Lesniak and Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel have been wary of the deal – and with good cause.... It's hard not to feel that New Jersey residents are being sold down the river by all this. The Garden State deserves to be compensated for the loss of valuable public resources, not forced into a sweetheart deal of Chris Christie's making."
HOW ONE SENATOR FROM ARKANSAS IS OBSTRUCTING “THE PEOPLE’S COURT” (Text & History, 07/27/15)
By Judith E. Schaeffer: "Senator Tom Cotton (R), the junior Senator from Arkansas, is obstructing the proper functioning of the United States Court of Federal Claims (“CFC”), holding up consideration of President Obama’s nominees to fill five judicial vacancies on a court that is supposed to have 16 active judges. According to Senator Cotton, the CFC does not need those five judges, a claim disputed by the Chief Judge of that very court, who is certainly in a better position to know. ... All of the nominees were approved in February without opposition by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and sent on to the Senate floor for confirmation votes. Nonetheless, and despite the fact that nearly one-third of the judicial seats on the CFC are vacant, not one of these nominees has received a yes or no confirmation vote. ... Like the D.C. Circuit, the Court of Federal Claims is vitally important to those who care about protecting the environment and preserving environmental safeguards. The CFC has exclusive jurisdiction over most “takings” claims against environmental and other protections, .... conservatives have worked hard to put young, ideological nominees on the court, like Victor Wolski, who told the National Journal in 1999 that “every single job I've taken since college has been ideologically oriented, trying to further my principles,” which he described as a “libertarian” belief in “property rights” and “limited government.” It’s no wonder that a conservative Senator is now trying to preserve the status quo on that court."
“A deficit in our courts”: Senator Sessions and the lack of judicial professional diversity (Justice Watch, 07/24/15)
KYLE C. BARRY: "our federal courts are staffed largely with judges who, in their legal careers before taking the bench, represented only the most powerful in American society, either defending massive corporations or wielding the enormous power of the state against criminal defendants. ... D.C. Circuit Judge Nina Pillard noted how “[t]here’s a sense, somehow, in the process of finding judges or candidates, that being in a large corporate law firm is neutral and being an advocate for people who have been subject to discrimination or retaliation or repression of their speech or their religious beliefs is not neutral, and . . . I would question that.”
This skewed sense of what’s “neutral” emerged during Senator Sessions’ questioning of Paula Xinis. ... all judges, regardless of background, are shaped by the perspectives and experiences acquired over many years in the law. Fair and equal courts require a diversity of these perspectives, not any one in particular"
EDITORIAL: Give horseshoe crabs a break -- before they're gone (Newsday [NY], 07/24/15)
"The board has asked the state to ban harvesting the crabs at town beaches and in Setauket Harbor, to address concerns about overfishing. Given insufficient information about their habitat and whether the population is declining or stable, it's a reasonable request. In environmental matters, erring on the side of caution is almost always a good idea.
Beyond the wisdom of preserving species whenever we can, horseshoe crabs are important symbolically and in reality."
Tom Cotton: There he goes again, playing loose with the facts (Arkansas Times, 07/23/15)
Max Brantley: "I've been noting Cotton's obstruction of confirmation to five vacancies on the federal court of claims, obstruction that seems to play into the interests of a former employer and campaign contributor.
Cotton has claimed data shows the court has enough judges. Now comes CQ Roll Call with a lawyer disputing Cotton's information. Lewis Weiner, former leader of the court of claims bar association, says Cotton is using the wrong statistics.... Cotton exercised a single senator's power to block unanimous consent to the nominations, though they have twice been approved by the Judiciary Committee, once when led by Republicans."
ISSUE | FEDERAL COURTS: Judicial picks are democracy's building blocks (Philadelphia Inquirer [PA], 07/23/15)
Eleanor Levie letter to the editor: "As Inquirer reporter Jonathan Tamari noted, shaping the federal courts is "one of the more quiet but significant ways a president can influence public law for years to come" ... Anyone who pays attention recognizes that the judicial nominating process is being regularly and shamelessly used for political maneuvering and all-out obstructionism. This onslaught denies President Obama his rightful appointments to the bench, but it also denies all Americans their rightful day in court."
Harry Reid Teaches GOP Basic Math and Civics (People For blog, 07/22/15)
"He pointed out the stark contrast with how the Democratic-controlled Senate processed judicial nominations in George W. Bush’s last two years ... as much as Republicans try to obscure it, the fact is that 25 ≠ 5 [confirmations] ... Reid also slammed Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton for blocking a confirmation vote last week for five nominees to the Court of Federal Claims. These are nominees who were approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee last year and again this year to a court whose chief judge has urged the Senate to fill its vacancies so the court can handle its caseload. Nevertheless, Cotton blocked the Senate from voting on the nominees, saying that the judges on the court are willing to carry the caseload themselves without new judges. (Reid also mentioned yesterday’s report from CQ on how Cotton’s action seems to line up with the financial interests of a law firm he used to work for whose employees gave generously to his campaign.)"
Sen. Tom Cotton blocking Obama federal court appointees hostile to his old pro-business law firm (Raw Story, 07/21/15)
TOM BOGGIONI: "Despite pleas from the chief judge of the Court of Federal Claims to fill five vacancies on the court that oversees claims against the government, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton (R) is blocking confirmation votes for five Obama nominees, ensuring the court remains solidly pro-business.... spite pleas from the chief judge of the Court of Federal Claims to fill five vacancies on the court that oversees claims against the government, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton (R) is blocking confirmation votes for five Obama nominees, ensuring the court remains solidly pro-business."
Tom Cotton blocks judges that might be hostile to contributors at his old law firm (Daily Kos, 07/21/15)
Joan McCarter: "Freshman Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) has learned quickly how to maximize obstruction, ... to his latest achievement, blocking five federal judges to the Court of Federal Claims. Perhaps not at all coincidentally, that court looms large for Cotton's old law firm—which includes some of his big financial contributors—because of the kinds of cases it hears, "disputes about government contracts and tax refund suits." ... In blocking the five new appointments, who have now been waiting 15 months for a vote, Cotton said that the court's workload just didn't justify having all sixteen seats filled. The chief judge of the court, Patricia E. Campbell-Smith, disagrees. ... because "current judges face unrelenting deadlines for cases unique to that court—some of which involve national defense and national security—and the cases are complex and time-consuming.""
CQ follows the money on Tom Cotton's blockade of federal judges (Arkansas Times, 07/21/15)
Arkansas Blog By Max Brantley: "Todd Ruger of CQ Roll Call follows up on Sen. Tom Cotton's solo blockade of five nominees to vacant seats on the federal court of claims — an obscure court that is nonetheless very important to business for deciding federal contract disputes and tax claims.
Ruger notes that Cotton's action dovetails with interests of a former conservative law firm for which he worked and which contributed to his political campaigns.... Maybe a dip in caseload (judges say cases are more complex) and taxpayers' savings aren't the only reasons Cotton objected to unanimous consent on filling vacancies on the court. Maybe he likes the cooking of the current lineup of chefs. Home cooking....None of Cotton's concerns were raised in four previous Senate votes by the Judiciary Committee to confirm the nominees.... Cotton's roadblock is preventing the confirmation of Armando Omar Bonilla, who'd be the first Hispanic to serve on the court."
JEERS ... (Lewiston Tribune [ID], 07/17/15)
Opinion Editor Marty Trillhaase: "JEERS ... to U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, R-Idaho. Nine months ago, 81-year-old U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge announced he would be taking senior status, effective July 3.
Where's the nominee? Who knows?
When the last federal bench vacancy occurred in the 1990s, their predecessors - Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne - did everything by the book. They used a "vetting committee." They operated in the open. Ultimately, President Bill Clinton appointed B. Lynn Winmill.
But Crapo and Risch have resorted to stealth and vague assurances. By taking this long, Crapo and Risch have left Idaho's federal courts - and the people who rely on them - in the lurch. With only Winmill working full time, you can count on a two-year delay before getting a trial date for your civil claim.
Now it turns out the state is functioning under a "judicial emergency" declared by the Judicial Conference of the U.S. Courts."
EDITORIAL: Our View: Senators Must Act Now on Judge Nomination (Times-News [ID] , 07/17/15)
"Yes, the wheels of justice move slowly, but Idaho’s federal court system has stalled.
U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge announced in September he intended to take senior status, meaning at age 81, the judge felt it time to scale back his caseload.
Ten months later, the first step in finding his replacement hasn’t been finished. A judicial emergency was declared this week in Idaho, a state now left with just one full-time federal district judge.
What’s that mean? There are simply too many cases and not enough judges. Cases are lingering with no resolution. Justice is not being served.
This is not Lodge’s fault; he gave plenty of notice. Sens. Mike Crapo and James Risch are to blame.
Under the law, the Senators are tasked with finding Lodge’s replacement, who also must be approved by the president.
The senators have kept their process secret from the beginning, but news this spring shed some light on their intentions. Several prominent female lawyers interested in replacing Lodge came forward and said they hadn’t been interviewed by the senators. Either the senators weren’t doing their due diligence by interviewing qualified female candidates, or they were simply dragging their heels.
Either scenario is atrocious."
Guest Commentary: Colorado senators should work to swiftly protect our federal trial court (Denver Post [CO] , 07/16/15)
Timothy Garvey: "Two months ago, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn announced he will be taking senior status effective April 2016. This announcement creates a "future vacancy" ... A fully-staffed U.S. District Court is vital because it keeps our judicial system open and accessible for Colorado citizens and businesses that need timely resolution of disputes. Yet, Coloradans already face an overworked and understaffed U.S. District Court, which has not increased the number of judges since 1984 — despite increased workload from 30 years of population growth and additional cases arising from increased federal agencies with regional offices in Colorado. Indeed, these changes caused the Judicial Conference of the United States to recommend two additional permanent judgeships be added to the U.S. District Court for Colorado in 2013. However, Congress has not acted on that recommendation and has not authorized any additional judgeships, and so Colorado's U.S. District Court holds steady with only seven judges.
Chief Judge Marcia Krieger has described the court's caseload as being at a "tipping point" even with all current seven judgeships filled. A failure to fill Judge Blackburn's vacancy by the time he takes senior status in April 2016 will only exacerbate these issues and further delay — and thereby deny — justice to those turning to the court to resolve their disputes. Therefore, in the interest of all Coloradans, I urge Sens. Bennet and Gardner to work together to create a bipartisan selection process to timely forward names to the president and to ensure the president's nominee for our U.S. District Court gets prompt consideration, both in committee and on the floor of the Senate."
Editorial: Playing games with judges’ replacements does public an injustice (Spokesman-Review [Spokane, WA], 07/15/15)
"There’s a judicial emergency in Idaho, just as there are in 28 other U.S. Circuit and District Court jurisdictions around the country....the failure to at least announce nominees to replace U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge shows remarkable indifference to the pace of justice for Idahoans.
Lodge announced in September he would take senior status as of July 3. Idaho’s Republican senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, said in December they were taking applications for the job. Since then, the process has gone underground.
Only questions about the indifference to women applicants – none had been interviewed – flushed out the two, who said they were considering all candidates.... B. Lynn Winmill is the only full-time judge in the U.S. District Court for Idaho ... At the end of the George W. Bush presidency, there were only 15 emergencies."
Tom Cotton continues his obstructionist ways (Arkansas Times, 07/15/15)
Max Brantley: "U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton yesterday blocked efforts to fill five vacancies on the federal Court of Claims .... Cotton wouldn't allow confirmation of a single judge, even after Coons spoke in some detail about their qualifications and the need. Glenn Sugameli who follows the federal judiciary for the Judging the Environment project, said Cotton ignored Judiciary Committee approval of all five nominees in 2014 and 2015 and letters from the chief judge of the court and Claims Bar Association presidents on the caseload. Said Sugameli, “There is no reason for the long delayed Floor votes on the five unopposed nominees and every reason to vote now after the Chief Judge and five past presidents of the Court of Federal Claims Bar Association urged prompt action to help with major caseload problems from lack of five judges on the 16 judge court. Justice delayed from lack of judges is justice denied.” ... Sugameli notes that during the Bush administration, the Senate confirmed nine judges to the Court of Federal Claims, while only three have been confirmed during the Obama administration. During two rounds of Judicial Committee hearings on this group, no Republican expressed the "concerns" Cotton used yesterday to block the vote."
Toomey Apparently Fails to Press McConnell on Timing for Restrepo Vote (People For blog, 07/14/15)
"Consistent with how Democrats in the Senate treated George W. Bush’s Third Circuit nominee from Pennsylvania in 2007, when Thomas Hardiman was confirmed just one week after his committee vote, Toomey ought to be pushing McConnell for a vote this month, before the August recess.
Toomey and McConnell are apparently trying to make Pennsylvanians think Toomey is doing that, but they have not actually stated anything of the sort.... Toomey and McConnell omit any mention of timing."
Benched! Everything’s bigger in Texas (Justice Watch, 07/09/15)
"There is no doubt the state of Texas is at the epicenter of what is a growing judicial vacancy crisis. It has the most judicial vacancies of any state in the country (nine, all without a nominee), a quarter of the nation’s judicial emergencies, and some of the longest-standing vacancies in the judiciary. ...Yet, despite this dire situation, Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, wrote in a recent letter to the editor that he had been “working . . . to fill openings as they arise,” pointing to the confirmation of 12 Texas judges in the past six years ... confirmation totals are meaningless unless considered beside the number of vacancies that need to be filled. ... As we detail in our report on Texas, Senators Cornyn and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have refused to screen candidates for seats they know will soon be vacant, waiting instead until the judge leaves office with no one to take on their workloads. Several judges—to no avail—have given the senators a year’s notice of their intent to retire and urged them to start seeking a replacement immediately."
Fill the U.S. Court of Federal Claims vacancies (The Hill, 07/09/15)
Prof. Carl Tobias: "the court has experienced vacancies in five of its judgeships for more than a year, while the well qualified, consensus nominees whom President Barack Obama first tapped for those openings in 2014 have languished awaiting confirmation. Because the Court of Federal Claims needs its full complement of judges to deliver justice and each nominee is highly qualified and uncontroversial, the Senate must expeditiously provide the nominees floor debates, if warranted, and up or down votes.... Obama first nominated all five of the candidates more than one year ago, and they received Judiciary Committee hearings nearly a year ago. The panel unanimously reported all five out of committee rather soon after the hearings. Unfortunately, the Senate accorded none of the nominees a final vote before the 114th Congress adjourned.
Therefore, the White House renominated the five candidates in early January 2015. The Judiciary Committee in turn unanimously approved the nominees without substantive discussion in February. The five nominees have since languished on the floor over four months awaiting debates and yes or no ballots. In a June 24 Congressional Record statement, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Judiciary Committee Ranking Member, urged swift votes : "We have heard no opposition to any of these nominees, yet they have been in limbo for months and months because the Republican Leader has refused to schedule a vote.""
With Toomey's Help, Senate Could Confirm Restrepo Quickly (People For blog, 07/09/15)
"The person best positioned to help Restrepo is McConnell’s fellow Republican, Senator Toomey. ... He can talk to McConnell, who has every reason to be responsive to members of his caucus. And while Toomey’s talking about the needs of Pennsylvanians, he can also remind McConnell how the Democratic-controlled Senate treated George W. Bush’s Third Circuit nominee from Pennsylvania in his last two years.
Like Restrepo, nominee Thomas Hardiman was a district court judge; he had been nominated to the federal bench by Bush earlier in the president’s term. Like Restrepo, Hardiman was nominated to fill a judicial emergency. And like Restrepo, Hardiman had the unanimous support of the Judiciary Committee.
And in March of 2007, then-Majority Leader Reid scheduled a confirmation vote just one week after the committee vote.
So is a confirmation vote for Restrepo this month too much to ask?"
Benched! Chuck Grassley’s three nonsense excuses for stalling judicial confirmations (Justice Watch, 07/08/15)
"Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley lamely defended the pace of confirmations in written remarks, asserting that “there shouldn’t be any complaining about following the same standard we did in 2007.” Grassley supported his view with three well-worn talking points that do not survive even the most cursory review.... Obama’s higher confirmations are explained by the higher number of judicial vacancies he has had to fill, not by preferential treatment in the Senate. At this point in their respective presidencies, Obama has faced 47 more vacancies than did Bush, which means that, with only 33 more confirmed, Obama’s confirmations are actually falling behind.... only 13 judicial nominees have had hearings so far this year, while at this point in 2007 Democratic Chairman Patrick Leahy had convened hearings for 17 ... what Grassley refers to as “standard Senate practice” was in fact nothing more than the obstruction of a single Republican senator. At the end of 2006, Republican Senator Sam Brownback blocked a vote"
Sen. Toomey should be pushing for Judge Restrepo's confirmation (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [PA], 07/07/15)
Letter to the Editor BY Jodi Hirsh: "It has been more than six months since President Barack Obama nominated Judge Restrepo, but his nomination has been held up in the Senate Judiciary Committee, even though both Pennsylvania senators enthusiastically support his nomination.
The person best positioned to move this nomination forward is Sen. Pat Toomey. When Judge Restrepo’s nomination was put on the agenda for a vote in late June, Sen. Toomey could have done what Republican senators from Arizona did last year when their state was facing judicial emergencies, as Pennsylvania is now.
In that case, Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake were willing to ask their fellow Republicans not to hold up vitally important committee votes.
Unfortunately, Sen. Toomey did not persuade his colleagues to move forward; instead, he sat idly by and watched as the vote was postponed for at least another two weeks.
Either he is unwilling to go to bat for a nominee whom he has repeatedly publicly supported, or he doesn’t have enough clout with his colleagues to move the vote forward.
Either way, it’s bad news for his constituents, and worse news for democracy and justice."
EDITORIAL: Raking in donations, shoveling bad policy (Virginian-Pilot, 07/07/15)
"Nutrient pollution causes algae blooms, which cause the bay's annual dead zones, which kill everything they engulf: fish, oysters, crabs, plants. That was the damage the Chesapeake Bay Agreement was forged to prevent. ... The agreement was eventually given some enforcement powers - the EPA could theoretically take control of clean-up if progress wasn't made - but Washington refused to act. Until the Chesapeake Bay Foundation sued to force the EPA to do so. In 2010, the bay states - which now include New York, Delaware and West Virginia - came under EPA orders to cut pollution in their waterways, although the states still decided how to reach the targets."
On Judicial Confirmations, 4 ≠ 21 (People For blog, 07/06/15)
"So far this year, the Senate has confirmed only four judicial nominees. By this same point in 2007, the Senate had confirmed 21 of Bush’s judicial nominees.... By this time in 2007, the Senate had confirmed 13 judges left over from 2006 who were denied a vote during the lame duck not by Democrats, but by Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas. The Senate had by this point in 2007 also confirmed an additional eight judges who had cleared the Judiciary Committee for the first time that year, a number that by itself is twice the number confirmed by the current Senate.... all but three of the lame duck confirmations [in 2014] had unanimous Republican support.... No matter how you slice it, 4 ≠ 21."
Grassley should take action on judicial nominations (Des Moines Register [IA], 07/06/15)
Letter to the Editor by Tom Palmer: "There is a vacancy on the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals from federal district courts in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. It has been more than six months since Judge Felipe Restrepo was nominated for the vacancy, but he has been held up by the Judiciary Committee. This has occurred even though both Pennsylvania senators support Judge Restrepo's nomination. The vacancy has been declared a "judicial emergency," meaning that hundreds of Americans await their day in circuit court. And they are not alone: Twenty-seven such emergencies have been declared across the country, with justice delayed for thousands of individuals and companies....Senator Grassley has a long list of other judicial nominees waiting. More stalling means that justice will be delayed or denied for thousands of Americans."
GOP blocks Obama’s judicial nominations (Hill Talk, 07/06/15)
Nick Seebruch: "Unable to defeat key pieces of the President’s agenda through the legislative branch, the Republican’s are attacking President Obama’s legacy through the judiciary by confirming the least amount of judges since 1969.... President Obama’s nominees have had the longest median wait-time of any President in recent history at 228 days from nomination to confirmation."
Judicial vacancies slow judicial system (San Antonio Express-News [TX] , 07/05/15)
Op-Ed by Hooman Hedayati: "the 5th Circuit, which has jurisdiction to hear appeals arising out of U.S. District Courts in Texas, has had two vacancies for the past 18 months .... Unfortunately, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas have opposed potential nominations of qualified district judges originally recommended for those positions by Republicans. They have also shown little interest in recommending nominees to the White House in order to fill an additional seven U.S. District Court vacancies.
The two circuit vacancies, and five of the seven District Court vacancies have been marked as a judicial emergency by the Judicial Conference of the United States, headed by Chief Justice John Roberts. The emergency designation implies that these courts’ current caseload is too much for the judges to handle. Even if these seats were to be filled tomorrow, the conference has asked Congress to add eight new judgeships to the District Courts in Texas.... Unfortunately in almost all cases, our senators have waited many months after the vacancy to start their search process."
Editorial: Rep. Goodlatte takes aim at the Bay cleanup, again (Free Lance-Star [VA] , 07/05/15)
"The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is suing the state of Virginia for its failure to require farmers to erect fencing that would keep livestock out of the Bay’s tributaries.
Virginia’s farmers are proving themselves a cooperative bunch. They are taking seriously key best management practices, .... But the improvement gained through those efforts is lost when livestock wades into streams and relieves itself, creating a significant sewage pollution issue.
... The state agencies would do well to revisit the permit language, add the fencing requirement, seek funding to assist the operations in meeting the provision and settle the suit. Money put toward that purpose is much better spent than on litigation defense."
Judicial Vacancies (American Bar Association, 07/02/15)
"Our nation is disadvantaged when our federal judiciary does not have sufficient judges to hear cases and resolve disputes in a thorough and timely fashion. ... Neither the Senate Judiciary Committee nor the Senate has acted expeditiously to confirm pending nominees. In fact, during the first three months of this Congress, the Senate failed to hold any confirmation votes, ... it appears that leadership has decided to slow-walk the process for reasons that have nothing to do with the qualifications of the nominees.... As a result, the number of vacancies and courts with judicial emergencies are increasing and the backlog of civil lawsuits keeps growing.... To further add to the strain on the federal judiciary, dozens of new judgeships are needed, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO), especially in the Delaware and the border courts where caseloads are crippling. On March 19, 2015, the Judicial Conference submitted its request for 73 new judgeships and the conversion of nine temporary ones into permanent judgeships."