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Celebrating Women's History Month: A Look at Judicial Milestones

March is women’s history month, and, as such, it is a good opportunity take stock of the gains women have made in terms of their representation on the federal judiciary in the past year and under the Obama Administration more generally. One of President Obama’s signature accomplishments was the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, where three women now serve for the first time in history. While the Supreme Court tends to garner more attention, President Obama has had an impact on the gender balance on lower federal courts as well. While the percentage of women still lags in other arenas, for example with women comprising only 4.6% of CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, women have increasingly been appointed to the federal bench: slightly under 43% of the President Obama’s confirmed nominees over the course of his administration have been women. (This percentage is nearly double the percentage of women among President George W. Bush’s confirmed judges.)

Over the last year, President Obama nominated and saw confirmed two outstanding women to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals—widely viewed as the second most important court in the country. The confirmation of these two women, Judges Patricia Millett and Cornelia (“Nina”) Pillard, brings the number of active women judges on the D.C. Circuit to nearly 50%, a historic high. 2013 also marked the confirmation of Jane Kelly to the Eight Circuit, important because she is only the second female to ever have graced that court. And, just this week, Carolyn B. McHugh was confirmed to the Tenth Circuit, bringing the number of active female judges on that court to two (out of eleven). Read more »

Carolyn McHugh Confirmed to Tenth Circuit Today

Today, the Senate confirmed Carolyn McHugh to a Utah-based seat on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 98-0.  Following Judge McHugh’s confirmation, the number of active female judges on this court has doubled (to two), another milestone to celebrate during Women’s History Month.Read more »

A Tale of Four Judges: First Confirmations Since January 13

There has been a troubling dearth of confirmation votes in the Senate since Robert Wilkins was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit on January 13. Since then, the number of vacancies on the federal bench has swelled, and nominees have piled up on the calendar waiting for floor votes. Finally some votes were shaken loose today, but it was a long time coming. Here’s how it started:

On February 12, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture on four district court nominees, who had been originally nominated last June and have been waiting for votes since October.  Before the President’s Day recess, Senator Mark Pryor asked for unanimous consent to proceed to confirmation votes on two nominees to Arkansas district courts, one of whom was in the group of nominees for whom cloture was filed. In particular, Pryor noted that the filing deadline for candidates running for the state court judgeship currently held by one of the nominees opened on February 24, creating a disadvantage for potential candidates if the nominee were not confirmed before that. Senator Charles Grassley objected, and the Senate left for the President’s Day Recess without confirming anyone. Read more »

White House Summit on Judicial Vacancies

Yesterday, a day after President Obama announced the nominations of three exceptional individuals to fill the vacancies on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, I attended a White House summit on the judicial vacancy crisis. Read more »

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals: The Second Most Important Court in the Nation Must Fill Its Vacancies

I was delighted to be present when President Obama announced the nominations of Patricia A. Millet, Cornelia “Nina” Pillard, and Robert L. Wilkins to fill the three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Tuesday morning in the Rose Garden of the White House. It was a moment for celebration, but also to focus on the hard work ahead to urge Senators to give these exceptional nominees a confirmation promptly.

The President spoke forcefully about the critical importance of this court, noting that it is widely considered the second-most important court in the land and that it decides cases on a broad range of issues, from environmental protections to worker’s rights — and, I would add, women’s rights, and critical health and safety regulations that women need to protect themselves and their families. As the President put it, “the court’s decisions impact almost every aspect of our lives.”

But this President’s nominees have routinely had to wait significantly longer than the nominees by the Bush Administration. In fact, President Obama’s first outstanding nominee to the D.C. Circuit, Caitlin Halligan, was filibustered twice and blocked for over two years before she withdrew her nomination. Read more »

Administration Plans to Nominate Individuals to Fill the Three Vacancies on the D.C. Circuit

Last week, the Senate unanimously confirmed Sri Srinivasan to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 97-0, filling one of four vacancies on that important court. But that leaves three current vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, one of which has been open since 2005, when then-Judge John Roberts was elevated to the Supreme Court. Read more »

President Obama Makes Historic Nominations

Yesterday, Srikanth Srinivasan became the first South Asian judge confirmed to a federal court of appeals. In addition, President Obama has recently made some groundbreaking nominations. Last week, after Shelly Dick was the first woman confirmed to the Middle District of Louisiana, President Obama nominated Carolyn McHugh, who would be the first woman from Utah to sit on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Elizabeth Wolford, who would be the first woman to sit on the Western District of New York, Pamela Reeves, who would be the first women to sit on the Eastern District of Tennessee, and Debra Brown, nominated to the Northern District of Mississippi, who would be the first African-American woman to serve as a federal judge in Mississippi. Yesterday as well, President Obama nominated Landya B. McCafferty, who if confirmed would be the first woman judge on the U.S. District Court in New Hampshire, and Susan P. Watters, who if confirmed would be the first woman judge on the U.S. District Court in Montana.  Read more »

Sorry, Senator Grassley, We Need More Judges on the D.C. Circuit

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the nomination of Sri Srinivasan to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals at its executive business meeting last Thursday. Lest anyone become confused and interpret this bipartisan support as a sign that the determined obstruction that has kept all four vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit empty might relent, Senator Grassley proposed in his opening statement that the Committee hold hearings on the D.C. Circuit's workload "before we move on any further D.C. Circuit nominations, beyond that of the current nominee." This follows on the heels of Senator Grassley's introduction of legislation that would, in defiance of reality, recent history, and the reasoned judgment of the United States Judicial Conference, strip the D.C. Circuit of three seats. Instead, the "Court Efficiency Act" would add two seats to other circuits (one to the Eleventh and one to the Second). 

First, the facts. There are currently four vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, one of which (and the seat to which the highly qualified Caitlin Halligan was nominated) has been vacant since Chief Justice Roberts was elevated in 2005. In addition to lacking over one-third of its authorized judges, the Circuit's specialized and complex caseload definitely justifies filling the rest of the current vacancies. As Chief Justice Roberts has written, one-third of D.C. Circuit appeals are from agency decisions. Often, these administrative law appeals have enormous documentary records, implicate complex statutes and agency guidance, and may involve numerous parties and amici curiae — making them far more time-consuming than other types of cases. In any event, since the last judge was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit (Thomas Griffith, in 2005), the caseload has increased more than 50% from 119 pending cases per active judge to 188 pending cases per active judge.  Read more »

In Case You Missed It: ACS Blog on Women on the Federal Bench

On Friday, the American Constitution Society marked International Women’s Day with a blog on one of our favorite subjects – diversity on the federal bench. In case you weren’t able to enjoy this great post on Friday, read on:

Making Progress, Albeit Slowly, on Diversifying the Federal Bench

March 8, 2013 | by Kristine Kippins

In celebration of International Women’s Day, ACS highlights the progress made over the last four years to diversify our federal judiciary. Read more »