Editorials and Opinion
The Judicial Policy Implications of Reckless Driving on Federal Land (Maryland Appellate Blog, 04/15/15)
Steve Klepper: "As of today, the U.S. Judicial Conference has identified 23 Article III vacancies as “judicial emergencies.” That includes five district judgeships within the Fifth Circuit. The Judicial Conference is requesting an additional eight permanent district judgeships for Texas; that proposal is going nowhere. I spent eight years of my career heavily litigating a case in the El Paso Division of the Western District of Texas, which shares a border with Mexico and includes the massive Fort Bliss. Every civil hearing required us to wait through multiple sentencing hearings for cross-border felonies. Imagine if misdemeanants were also entitled to trial or sentencing before an Article III judge.
Despite one longstanding vacancy (that finally has a nominee), the District of Maryland fortunately is devoid of emergency vacancies. ... But the situation would change in a heartbeat if traffic and petty misdemeanors were transferred from our magistrate judges to our district judges."
GOP Senate unanimously confirmed first federal judge (Washington Post, 04/14/15)
Colby Itkowitz: "Senate Republicans have been in charge for three months, but only Monday confirmed its first judicial nominee, Alfred H. Bennett — unanimously.... The slow crawl of Senate confirmations continues .... There are four judicial nominees who still await Senate floor action – not including the five nominees to the Court of Federal Claims – and another 13 need a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), in a floor speech, said by April 2007 the Democrat-controlled Senate had already confirmed 15 of President Bush’s judicial nominees. The pending nominees are holdovers from last year. Three of the four judges waiting for a floor vote were endorsed by their home state Republican senators."
Mitch McConnell: Doing the Least He Can Possibly Do (People For blog, 04/14/15)
"Senator Mitch McConnell’s ongoing campaign to obstruct President Obama’s judicial nominees had resulted in not a single new judge since Republicans took over the US Senate. If there’s been no movement it certainly hasn’t been for lack of need. The number of judicial vacancies has risen from 40 to 51, and the number of judicial emergencies has doubled from 12 to 24....today Senator McConnell allowed a vote on … one judicial nominee!"
Benched! Cornyn passes the buck on rising vacancy numbers (Justice Watch, 04/14/15)
"The delay to confirm Bennett is just one example of Senate Republicans’ do-nothing approach to judicial nominations. There are still three district court nominees pending on the Senate floor, including two more nominated to critical vacancies in Texas’s overburdened Southern District, and one to the District of Utah. All three have the support of their Republican home-state senators. Yet instead of pushing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to schedule votes for Texas judges, Cornyn—who is the Senate’s Majority Whip, not merely a rank-and-file member—dismisses the vacancy problem with a partisan attack on the president.
In the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has held only two confirmation hearings in 2015, passing over five nominees who have been waiting for a hearing since November 2014.
While the Senate sits on its hands, judicial vacancies have jumped from 44 to 54, and “judicial emergencies,” the official designation for courts with the most dire need for judges, have nearly doubled, increasing from 12 to 23. These numbers could be reduced by confirmations, but the Senate hasn’t acted.
Republicans have also failed to recommend nominees for vacancies in their home states."
After a 207-day wait, Senate finally confirms Obama judicial nominee (Daily Kos, 04/14/15)
Joan McCarter: "After months and months of committee and floor delays, the Senate confirmed Alfred Bennett to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. That vote was 95-0. There was no opposition, and yet it took 207 days to happen. He's filling a seat that had been vacant for 769 days, and qualified as a "judicial emergency" because of the heavy caseload judges on that court carry—430 to 600 cases for more than 18 months. ... All of these nominees could have been confirmed last year, during the lame duck session. But Republicans blocked them, claiming that passing them during lame duck would catch them up in "unnecessary, partisan politics." The same unnecessary partisan politics that prevented Bennett from reaching the floor for four months once Republicans took over.”
Where is Pat Toomey on Phil Restrepo's Nomination? (People For blog, 04/14/15)
"Sunday was the five-month anniversary of when President Obama nominated Pennsylvanian Phil Restrepo to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Yet Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley has still refused to schedule a hearing for him.... Grassley has had only two hearings for such nominees so far this year. At the second one, he only scheduled it for two nominees, although several other long-waiting nominees could easily have been accommodated....the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts officially re-designated the vacancy that Restrepo would fill as a judicial emergency. ... Other than release a statement five months ago, has Toomey spoken with Grassley? If not, why not? And if so, why has he been so ineffectual over these past five months?"
Why Courts Matter (Center for American Progress, 04/13/15)
"As of March 9, 2015, there were 50 current vacancies on U.S. federal courts. These seats have been vacant for a total of 22,222 days, resulting in a backlog of 29,892 cases.
The Administrative Office of the United States Courts has designated 23 of these pending vacancies as judicial emergencies, meaning that filling them is a critical task. ... In an attempt to slow President Barack Obama’s effect on the federal courts, Senate Republicans have obstructed the president’s judicial nominees at unprecedented levels by attempting to prevent or delay a vote through filibustering a record number of nominees and making them await confirmation for long periods of time."
The GOP Finally Allows a Judicial Confirmation Vote (People For blog, 04/13/15)
"More than three months into the 114th Congress, and we are finally seeing the first judicial confirmation vote.... And today, even though there are four judicial nominees who were approved by the Judiciary Committee without opposition way back in February, McConnell is today allowing a vote on only one of them.
Why no vote for Jill Parrish, who would fill a vacancy in Utah that has been open for more than a year? Why no vote for George Hanks of the Southern District of Texas, who would fill a vacancy that has been open for nearly as long? Why no vote for Jose Rolando Olvera, who would fill a judicial emergency in the same district that has been open since the end of 2012?"
JUST ONE JUDICIAL CONFIRMATION SO FAR IN 2015, SENATOR MCCONNELL? (Constitutional Accountability Center, 04/13/15)
"The first floor vote on a judicial nominee is expected to occur later today – just one floor vote on a judicial nominee in almost three and a half months since McConnell became Majority Leader.... Currently, there are five judicial nominees who are awaiting a vote on the Senate floor, each nominated more than 200 days ago. Another 13 are still stuck in the Senate Judiciary Committee – several of whom have been waiting more than 150 days for a hearing – including nominees to fill seats that have been officially declared “judicial emergencies.” None of these nominations is controversial, yet the inability of the Senate to do its job exacerbates the strain on our federal courts to administer justice. As the Wall Street Journal reported just last week: 'More than 330,000 [civil] cases were pending as of last October—a record—up nearly 20% since 2004'"
Republicans Finally Let One Of Obama's Judicial Nominees Get A Vote (Huffington Post, 04/13/15)
Jennifer Bendery: "Republicans have been slow-walking action on Obama's judicial nominees ever since they took control of the Senate in January -- even if that has meant jamming their own nominees. Bennett, for example, has had the support of his home-state senators, John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), yet has endured committee delays and floor vote delays for weeks. Two other Texas nominees are ready for votes and could easily have been scheduled for Monday, but were not. All three were first nominated in September.
Another Utah judicial nominee is ready for a vote, and has the support of Utah's GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, but did not get scheduled for a vote."
North Carolina takes the prize for longest unfilled federal judicial vacancy (Progressive Pulse [NC], 04/13/15)
Sharon McCloskey: "The nearly ten-year vacant federal district court slot in eastern North Carolina tops the list of “most ridiculously long judicial vacancies that the Senate hasn’t filled,” as highlighted by the Huffington Post .... With no new nominee in the hopper, the Eastern District — which is also close to the top of judicial districts having the most residents per judgeship — will continue to trudge along with a caseload being handled by three active sitting judges with the part-time help of three judges on senior status — the youngest of whom is 75."
Here's A Look At The Most Ridiculously Long Judicial Vacancies The Senate Still Hasn't Filled (Huffington Post, 04/12/15)
Jennifer Bendery: "Despite talk when they took charge of the Senate this year that they would move nominees at the same pace Democrats did when they controlled the Senate, Republicans haven't done much of anything to fill vacancies on federal courts. ... But Republicans slow-walking nominees through the Senate confirmation process is just one piece of a broader problem for the federal judiciary. Many district and circuit courts have judicial vacancies that don't even have nominees in the queue, and some spots have been open for an incredibly long time.... Court workloads have expanded so much that the Judicial Conference of the United States, led by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, recently recommended adding 68 judgeships to district courts around the country to keep pace."
Editorial: The Vanishing Pangolin (New York Times, 04/09/15)
"[H]uge numbers of wild creatures that most of the world has never even heard of are threatened with extinction by illegal trade .... Today it is a battle against a rapidly expanding demand for wild animals — dead and alive — that is spawning a global criminal network and threatening innumerable species with annihilation."
Editorial: Toxic details emerge from N.J. $250M settlement with Exxon Mobil (The Times of Trenton [NJ] , 04/09/15)
"There was little hope that closer examination would make the deal New Jersey tentatively reached with Exxon Mobil over the befouling of the state's environment smell better.... the report confirmed our suspicions that Exxon is getting a sweetheart deal beyond all comprehension.... Environmentalists are mounting a campaign to derail the deal, encouraging state residents to raise their voices during the public comment period.
We second their motion."
In North Carolina’s Eastern District, population grows while number of judges stalls (Progressive Pulse [NC], 04/09/15)
Sharon McCloskey: "Wall Street Journal weighed in on Tuesday on the growing backlog of civil cases in federal courts across the country .... But there’s another reason why the state’s U.S. Senators should act with a sense of urgency to get the Eastern District vacancy filled and perhaps also seek another judgeship for that court: The number of judges there hasn’t kept up with population growth in the region.
According to population data analyzed by the Journal and charted in its print edition (subscription required for online), North Carolina’s Eastern District is second only to California’s Eastern District in terms of number of residents per judgeship."
Editorial: The alarming decline of plant life (MetroWest Daily News [MA], 04/07/15)
"This past week, the New England Wildflower Society released a report stating that 22 percent of the plants it examined are either rare, in decline, endangered, or perhaps already extinct.... the consequences of a continued drop off in plant life could have profound implications for us."
Clever climate move in Washington State | Editorial (Star-Ledger Newark [NJ] , 04/07/15)
"The science behind climate change is compelling, but the politics remains a struggle. So we tip our hat to Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington for trying something new.... True, Inslee would not offer big new subsidies for solar, wind and conservation. But increasing the cost of carbon emissions would give all those efforts a boost in the marketplace."
Editorial: Details are in — and ExxonMobil deal still stinks (Asbury Park Press [NJ], 04/07/15)
"What matters is how the figure compares to the actual amount of environmental damage involved — and the state was seeking $8.9 billion in claims in a case in which a judge had already found ExxonMobil liable.
So, yes, this was a sellout to a major corporation. It's a great deal — for ExxonMobil. It's a lousy one for New Jersey.... The more we know about this settlement the worse it looks. The arrangement includes a provision to release ExxonMobil from any pollution liability at 16 other industrial sites and hundreds of gas stations.... scuttle this deal."
Exxon slimes Jersey, and passes the cost on to Uncle Sam | Editorial (Star-Ledger Newark [NJ] , 04/07/15)
"More than one-third of ExxonMobil's $225 million wrist-slap for turning 1,800 acres of our marshes and wetlands into tar pits will be passed along to the federal taxpayer.... if enough lawmakers want to change the federal tax code - perhaps by prohibiting settlements to be classified as compensatory or deductible - that would put bad actors on notice."
EDITORIAL: The Record: Exxon deal revisited (Record [NJ] , 04/07/15)
"THE STATE'S proposed settlement of a nearly $9 billion pollution suit with ExxonMobil for a mere $225 million may not be as irresponsible as it looked when it surfaced in late February. That is not praise, but a call for more intense scrutiny of the deal."
Texas faces crisis of judicial vacancies (El Paso Times [TX], 04/06/15)
Glenn Sugameli, Letter to the Editor: "Texas is ground zero for the federal judicial vacancy crisis.
Texas is home to more than one-third of the 23 U.S. courts designated judicial emergency vacancies nationwide (six Texas district courts and two Texas Fifth Circuit seats), one-fifth of 55 current vacancies, over 20 percent of vacancies without nominees (eight of 39), and an announced future judicial vacancy. The U.S. courts have testified that Congress needs to create new judgeships. These include nine in Texas. Sens. Cornyn and Cruz are inexcusably guaranteeing lengthy vacancies by allowing floor vote delays, not recommending nominees for lengthy vacancies, and not even beginning the long process to fill the Pecos and other seats."
Juan Williams: What Reid got right (The Hill, 04/06/15)
"Without Reid, there would be no new Senate rule allowing a simple majority to confirm most nominees for the courts and executive branch. … With Reid guiding the Senate, Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan gained confirmation ... In an era of blatant GOP obstruction of any Obama-related legislation, nomination or regulation, it was Reid who redefined Senate rules to make sure Congress got something done.”
EDITORIAL: Heed Merkley on filibuster; Democrat seeks to expand 2014 rule changes (Register Guard [OR], 04/04/15)
"Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Mike Lee of Utah recently introduced a resolution to “establish by rule the Senate tradition of approving presidential nominations by a simple majority vote,” including Supreme Court nominations.
The two senators, who along with fellow Republicans vociferously protested the 2013 reforms, now argue with a straight face that a bare majority requirement for all nominees adheres to hundreds of years of Senate tradition. Never mind that they’re now seeking to further restrict the same filibuster tool that they and their fellow Republicans used to unprecedented levels to grind legislative machinery to a halt when Democrats controlled the Senate.... Senators should turn a deaf ear to Alexander and Lee and listen to Merkley, whose proposals to reform the filibuster would do much to end the Senate’s dysfunction."
Opinion: The Supreme Court election of 2016 (Pocono Record [PA] , 04/04/15)
Douglas Cohn & Eleanor Clift: "some presidential elections are more significant than others when Supreme Court nominations are an issue. The election of 2016 will be one of those.... From a strictly actuarial point of view, either President Obama and/or the next president will be making as many as four nominations, and the number could be higher depending upon the health of the justices.... Such a 7-2 Court would be positioned to change the face of the nation.
This scenario is not only possible, it is probable given the current political climate."
EDITORIAL: Fill vacant federal bench without delay (San Antonio Express-News [TX] , 04/02/15)
"If U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are serious about border security, they will act quickly to help find a nominee to fill the federal district court vacancy in West Texas.... The U.S. Senate made progress last year confirming federal judges to long-vacant benches, including one in San Antonio. The San Antonio bench was vacant for nearly six years.
The Midland/Pecos bench opening must not be allowed to linger. The White House and Texas senators should put justice and border security before politics and fill the seat vacated by Junell as soon as possible. A long delay would be irresponsible."
Editorial: Move quickly to fill federal judge vacancy (El Paso Times [TX], 04/01/15)
"The most recent federal court vacancy in the Western District of Texas took more than five years to fill. That can't be allowed to happen again with a current vacancy.
The Western District covers a broad swath of Texas, from Waco to El Paso. It is among the busiest districts in the nation ... We encourage Texas' two senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, to quickly open the selection process for Junell's replacement.... Obama and the senators agreed to the appointment of Pitman, who was an excellent choice.
Surely they can find someone equally qualified to fill the current vacancy in the Western District of Texas."
The Threat to Obama from the Courts (New Yorker, 03/31/15)
Jeffrey Toobin: "Nearly every significant initiative of the Obama Presidency faces mortal, or nearly mortal, threats in the courts. ... There is no single defining piece of climate-change litigation, but industry representatives have brought multiple cases challenging virtually everything the Environmental Protection Agency has done to enforce the Clean Air Act. ... the number and scope of the legal threats to Obama appear unprecedented. This comes in part because, these days, the extreme polarization of political opinion in Congress is reflected in the federal courts as well. On the Supreme Court and on lower courts, the differences between conservative and liberal federal judges can lead to dramatic differences in results. Sometimes, it’s worth it for challengers to roll the dice in front of the right judge.... When Congress doesn’t act, the underlying problems don’t go away—and a President will try to address them on his own. This leads to lawsuits in response."