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A project tracking federal judicial nominations and courts.

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Editorial: A small reminder about working toward orca recovery: The newborn Puget Sound southern resident orca born emphasizes the need for humans to do more to help killer whale recovery. (Seattle Times [WA] , 01/02/15)
"Although much remains to be learned about these distinctive marine mammals, the government’s decision to place them on the U.S. Endangered Species list 10 years ago was an important first step toward orca recovery. Requiring marine vessels to keep greater distances from the whales would be a strong second....chinook are also listed as an endangered species.... Their human neighbors must do more to help them."

Editorial: Texas must stop suing, find ways to improve air quality (Longview News Journal [TX] , 01/01/15)
"Ground-level ozone can cause significant respiratory problems for children, elderly and those with lung problems.... Unfortunately, this is complicated by the fact Texas has been dead set on fighting more stringent federal air standards, with officials arguing the state itself should have jurisdiction and suing to stop tougher standards our area’s older power plants will have a tough time meeting. It’s time to change that approach. Texas needs to stop suing and start looking for ways to support the goal of clean air for Texans and its neighbors."

EDITORIAL: Florida panthers are dying out; For Florida’s state animal — the panther — 2014 was a bad year (Florida Times-Union, 12/31/14)
"This tawny feline is the most endangered of all of the state’s symbols and must be protected. ... The program that funds both overpasses and underpasses for wildlife on major highways should be expanded.... You also can help the effort to save Florida’s remaining panthers by donating to organizations such as Defenders of Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy, two nonprofit organizations with special panther protection programs. We must all work to reduce panther deaths or risk losing an animal that has become synonymous with Florida."

EDITORIAL: Six-year judicial saga finally ends (San Antonio Express-News [TX] , 12/29/14)
"The Senate this month confirmed President Barack Obama’s nomination of Robert Pitman, who has been serving as U.S. attorney for the region, to fill the bench vacated by Senior Judge Royal Furgeson in 2008. Because of the heavy caseload in the Western District of Texas, the vacancy was classified as an emergency. Still, the dysfunctional environment in Washington led to a six-year vacancy.... the appointments process would be a lot better with less partisan gamesmanship. And the truth is that even without any vacancies in the Western District of Texas, the state is growing rapidly and needs additional federal judges. Drug and immigration cases along the border continue to increase, and the justice system needs to keep up with the pace."

The benefits of regulation (Greensboro News & Record [NC], 12/29/14)
Editorial writer Doug Clark: "regulatory agencies have been created and given rulemaking authority for a legitimate reason. It's that, before they existed, business and industry often profited at the expense of the public. They sold unsafe products or polluted the air and waterways with reckless abandon. We all suffered the consequences.There are still concerns today, whether the topic is coal ash storage, or fracking, or motor vehicle safety. Simply saying we've got to make the regulatory environment more friendly to business -- without considering the costs -- is irresponsible."

McCain and Flake's '14 (Arizona Republic, 12/27/14)
Dan Nowicki: "The Senate in 2014 also confirmed six long-awaited U.S. judicial nominations for Arizona that McCain and Flake helped usher through. The group included Diane Humetewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe and the first Native American woman to serve on the federal bench."

EDITORIAL: Black bear roars back (News-Star [LA], 12/27/14)
"Officials enrolled Louisiana black bears in the Endangered Species Act program in 1992. When Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham was appointed in 2008, his goal was to save the teddy bear. To the relief of the children and the satisfaction of conservationists, Barham's goal is close at hand....Any decision to remove the black bear from the list should be accompanied by clear guidelines to further encourage the revitalization of the species. we agree with Barham's contention: Restoration of any threatened species should be a priority for his department. Some will argue it should be the top priority.... The recovery of the Louisiana black bear is a Louisiana success story."

EDITORIAL: Clean water woes: Congress should stop blocking a sensible EPA rule  (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette [PA], 12/27/14)
"A new rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency would give it the authority to regulate small waterways that flow into watersheds and affect water quality. Republicans in Congress oppose the science-based rule, but water safety shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Instead of kowtowing to business interests to block the regulation, Congress should let the EPA do its job. The rule would give the agency authority to regulate streams, wetlands and other “intermittent and ephemeral” waters, based on findings that such waters can have substantial effects on rivers."

EDITORIAL: State should stay course on coal ash (Asheville Citizen-Times [NC] , 12/27/14)
"Essentially, the Environmental Protection Agency will treat coal ash the same as household waste. Environmentalists had insisted, to no avail, that the ash instead by classified as a hazardous material. The argument for their position is strong....The new federal rules would not have prevented the Dan River spill.... Fortunately, N.C. has its own rules. They are not as strong as we would prefer in some areas, but they are better than what the EPA has produced."

EDITORIAL: Clean-water woes: The nation needs better regulation of waterways, and Congress should back away from efforts to block it (Toledo Blade [OH], 12/26/14)
"Toledo’s water crisis last August made clear that the nation needs stronger water-protection laws to prevent another such emergency. A new rule proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would give the EPA the authority to regulate small waterways that flow into watersheds and affect water quality, in Ohio and across the country. Predictably, Republicans in Congress oppose the science-based rule. But water safety shouldn’t be a partisan issue"

EDITORIAL: EPA falls short on coal-ash rule (Lexington Herald-Leader [KY], 12/26/14)
"Regulations issued last week by the Environmental Protection Agency for waste from coal-fired power plants are welcome but fall short of fully protecting the public. Coal ash — the residue left over after coal is burned to produce electricity — contains varying amounts of carcinogenic and toxic metals ....The EPA, which was under a federal court's deadline to issue a regulation by Dec. 19, decided not to classify coal ash as hazardous, categorizing it instead as solid waste, the same as household garbage. That decision, which disappointed environmentalists and will save utilities billions, means there still will be no direct federal scrutiny of coal-ash landfills and impoundments. Instead the new federal rules will be enforced by state environmental agencies and, more likely in Kentucky, which has a high tolerance for coal industry shortcuts, by citizen lawsuits."

EDITORIAL: Chance missed (Greensboro News & Record [NC], 12/26/14)
"Federal regulators considered classifying coal ash a hazardous waste that requires special disposal. Instead, they will consider it no different than the banana peels and candy wrappers you put out in a can at your front curb. EPA passed up a chance to set high standards. The Obama administration took far too long to produce the rules, only publishing them under court order.... The biggest shortfall of the federal rules is that they will not be actively enforced. ...self-compliance seems dubious. More likely, it will be up to citizens to take them to court to enforce the law."

EDITORIAL: Don't backtrack on bobcats, Governor (Chicago Tribune, 12/24/14)
"Six months ago, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill that, when it takes effect next Thursday, will enrich every citizen of Illinois: It adds the black bear, gray wolf and cougar to the state's list of protected species. ... Even though a species has rebounded from near extinction, humans shouldn't take that as license to return to the practices that nearly wiped out the animal in the first place."

EDITORIAL: Same old fight over EPA regs (Virginian-Pilot, 12/23/14)
"Sadly, those affected by ozone pollution don't have lobbyists in Washington. Ozone is proven to cause lung damage and may exacerbate heart disease and emphysema. Evidence shows that elevated ozone shortens life.... Regulations have helped improve the air in Hampton Roads in recent years, but we still regularly have summer days when it's difficult to breathe. Things like that, however, don't matter much to a D.C. awash in another kind of pollution: Political money."

Editorial: EPA's decision on coal ash rule is a disappointment (Knoxville News Sentinel [TN], 12/22/14)
"Under a court-ordered deadline, the EPA announced Friday it would implement the less stringent of two options for regulating coal ash. Essentially, the agency's choices were to treat coal ash as hazardous waste or as little more than municipal garbage. The EPA chose the latter, a keen disappointment.... The adopted rule establishes minimum standards for impoundments but leaves regulation up to the states and citizen-initiated lawsuits. While it is much better than having no restrictions at all, the rule risks uneven enforcement between states and encourages costly and time-consuming court battles. The new federal rule is a welcome alternative to the status quo, but the EPA missed an opportunity to provide the highest level of protection for communities where coal-fired power plants operate."

EDITORIAL: EPA's new ash rule is a Christmas lump of coal (Chattanooga Times [TN], 12/22/14)
"Don't tell residents of East Tennessee that coal ash is just trash.... Because coal ash is and should be treated like the hazardous waste it really is. Yet that's not the new rule made Friday when -- under a court-ordered deadline -- the Obama Administration's EPA took the path of least resistance and caved in to moneyed coal interests.... Giving coal a hazardous classification would have put the federal government in charge of enforcement. Classifying coal ash as trash instead leaves it up to states to ensure standards are met. Tennessee has already seen how state oversight plays out."

Republicans' Filibuster Fixation (Bloomberg News, 12/22/14)
Jonathan Bernstein: "If Strom Thurmond’s famous record-breaking filibuster wouldn’t count as one under your measure, something’s gone horribly wrong in your analysis....Whelan’s measure isn’t even effective in identifying nominations defeated by filibusters. Floor time is valuable. Unless majority leaders want to prove a point, they don’t bother calling for a cloture vote if they don’t have the votes....Democrats did not require 60 votes for all nominations when George W. Bush was president, while Republicans required 60 for all nominations during Barack Obama’s presidency right up until October 2013, when the Democratic Senate majority resorted to its "nuclear option" to change the system....any time Republicans united against an Obama choice (except for a brief period in 2009 when Democrats had 60 senators), the filibuster would defeat the nomination -- most critically in the “nullification” filibusters to block anyone at all from filling some positions."

Opinions: Despite a tough year, an optimistic mood in the White House, (Washington Post, 12/19/14)
Ruth Marcus: "On judges, the most lasting impact of any president’s tenure, Obama won confirmation of 307 federal judges, including 53 on the courts of appeal. I worried about Senate Democrats’ deployment of the “nuclear option” to end the filibuster for almost all nominations, but the move spurred the confirmation of 134 judges in the 113th Congress, the most since 1979-1980. As the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin observed, “When Obama took office, Republican appointees controlled 10 of the 13 circuit courts of appeals; Democratic appointees now constitute a majority in nine circuits.” That alone reflects a quiet, and lasting, revolution.”

This is the First Time Our Judicial Pool Has Been This Diverse (The White House, 12/17/14)
White House Infographic

EDITORIAL: Keep nominations rule in U.S. Senate (San Antonio Express-News [TX] , 12/17/14)
"When U.S. Senate Democrats, after much provocation, changed the rules on most judicial and executive nominations in late 2013, Republicans cried foul. Conveniently ignoring their obstruction for the sake of thwarting all things Obama, the Senate GOP caucus insisted that Democrats were trampeling traditions of comity, deliberation and respect for the minority party’s rights. ... All it should take is a simple majority — not 60 votes — to get to confirmation of most judicial and executive nominations.... Leadership can simply refuse to allow floor votes and schedule hearings, for instance. It’s difficult to envision such a course gaining any public favor — much less sending any message about Republicans’ ability to govern."

Judicial Nominations: Accomplishments and the Work That Lies Ahead (The White House, 12/17/14)
White House Counsel Neil Eggleston: "When President Obama took office, there were 55 vacancies in the federal judiciary. With the Senate’s recent confirmations, we have reached a milestone—fewer vacancies than when we began. Today, there are only 42 judicial vacancies, for a decrease of 25%. But by way of comparison, at this point in their administrations, President George W. Bush had decreased vacancies by almost 40%, and President Clinton had cut them in half. Furthermore, Chief Justice John Roberts and the Judicial Conference of the United States have recommended that Congress create 90 new permanent and temporary judgeships to address increasing caseloads across the country. Finally, President Obama’s judges have waited, on average, almost two-and-a-half times longer to be confirmed after being reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee than President Bush’s judges did at this point his administration—even though the vast majority of our judges are confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support."

A whole new day on filling the federal courts (Maddow Blog {MSNBC], 12/16/14)
Steve Benen: "It wasn’t too long ago that judicial vacancies had reached a crisis level, and the problem seemed intractable with dozens of qualified Obama nominees stuck in Senate quicksand. Slowly but surely, however, there’s been some amazing progress on the issue.... this is the part of a president’s legacy that will matter long after he or she has left office."

EDITORIAL: The last-minute ‘cromnibus’ federal spending bill invites too much abuse  (Kansas City Star, 12/16/14)
"Lawmakers — primarily Republicans — inserted inappropriate pet causes, pork and pandering to special interests....Policy riders in the bill were even worse. ... Among the other conservative priorities slipped into the bill were ... prohibiting regulations on light bulb efficiency; prohibiting bans of lead ammunition used in hunting; making school lunches less healthy; and forbidding naturalists from classifying two sage-grouse species that are dying off as endangered, an anti-environmentalist move that’s music to the ears of Kansas conservatives. All of those might be reasonable topics for discussion. If so, they should go through the normal, deliberative legislative process that allows ample time for analysis and public comment."

Democrats push to get judicial vacancies down to Bush-era levels (Daily Kos, 12/16/14)
Laura Clawson: "It's been two decades since the Senate confirmed as many judges as it is currently on track to do in 2014. If Democrats succeed at confirming the 12 judges Majority Leader Harry Reid is trying to get votes on before the Senate goes home for Christmas, the year's total will be 88, the highest since 1994. That's in large part because by the time Democrats changed filibuster rules to break through Republican obstruction of President Obama's nominees, there was a major backlog ... the fact that now, six years into Obama's presidency, we are just getting back to the vacancy level that existed under George W. Bush right before Obama took office should show how ridiculous those Republican arguments are. And Bush was able to confirm judges for his last two years in office despite Democrats controlling the Senate,"

Our View: Woodpecker recovery project keeps on succeeding (Fayetteville Observer [NC] , 12/15/14)
"It's not easy to spot red-cockaded woodpeckers. ... But they're out there, and that's reassuring - especially to the Department of Defense, which once faced serious training restrictions on Fort Bragg because of the federally endangered birds. But no more. Efforts to restore the woodpeckers' longleaf pine habitat around the post have been a stunning success."

EDITORIAL: Saving red knots  (Record [NJ] , 12/14/14)
"What it boils down to is that in order for the red knot to survive much longer, it is going to need a little help from humans. ... Last week brought another important development, when the red knot was declared "threatened" by the federal government under the Endangered Species Act. The bird had already been declared endangered by New Jersey, but the federal listing could mean more financial resources brought to projects that restore red knot habitat.... The bird and its miraculous flight have inspired long hours of preservation work not just from scientists and environmentalists, but from countless volunteers who recognize the rarity and determination of the species. Let's hope the new federal designation helps spur a greater push toward recovery"

Editorial, 12/13: The otter's happy success (Lincoln Journal Star [NE], 12/12/14)
"That’s a spectacular development, considering that otters had been extinct in the state for decades.... In fact, otters are doing so well in Nebraska that they could become the first mammal removed from Nebraska’s list of threatened and endangered species. That would be a remarkable achievement the whole state “otter” celebrate."

EDITORIAL: Hiding Bad Policy in a Budget Bill (New York Times, 12/12/14)
"The Fish and Wildlife Service would be banned from adding the greater sage grouse to the endangered species list — a victory for the gas and oil industry, which covets even more of America’s threatened Western landscapes than it already has access to."

Editorial | Welcome judicial appointments (Courier-Journal [KY] , 12/12/14)
"Washington gridlock cleared briefly last week to allow Kentucky to fill two important federal judicial vacancies.... Federal judicial candidates, nominated by the president, have become particularly contentious duing the current partisan conflict between President Barack Obama and Congressional Republicans. Kentucky still has three vacancies, two at the district court level and one on the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals. Who knows? Maybe more candidates can slip through the gates of gridlock."

Editorial: New top environmental regulator should work for citizens, not ‘customers’  (Gaston Gazette [NC], 12/11/14)
"And three times the state stepped in to halt environmental groups’ lawsuits aimed at forcing Duke Energy to clean out its ash ponds. Under federal law, a lawsuit headed for the courts may be delayed if the state announces its intent to take action. But in North Carolina’s case, that action was much less than the environmentalists were seeking. Questions about the cozy relationship between DENR staff and the businesses they regulate did not originate with this administration; it has been an ongoing issue. Regulators do not have to be unnecessarily obstructionist."