In a move that should outrage even the hardest-hearted cynic, yesterday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to allow votes on 17 district court nominees, even though almost all were reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee without objection, and 12 of them have been nominated to courts that are so overwhelmed that the vacant seats have been designated “judicial emergencies.” Many have been waiting for months for a vote on the Senate floor. And confirming these nominees would have reduced the number of judicial vacancies by over one-fifth. Read more »
It’s the last week of August, and just as millions of kids around the country are zipping up their backpacks for the first time in many months, so too the Senate will be preparing to come back into session after Labor Day. Between the political conventions, religious holidays, and Senators’ desire to campaign in their states before the November elections, there’s not much time to actually conduct the people’s business in September. But there’s a lot to do.
One must-do priority is confirming the backlog of judicial nominees – and if longstanding Senate practices were followed, this could be accomplished quickly and easily. Right now, there are 18 nominees to federal district courts around the county who have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and are simply waiting for a vote to be scheduled. It may come as a surprise if you’ve been watching Congress lately, but the Senate could confirm all of these nominees in a block, in a single scheduled vote. Indeed, as Senator Patrick Leahy, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has reminded us in recent months, the Senate routinely used to vote on groups of nominees, as many as 18 at a time. Read more »
Yesterday evening, the Senate confirmed Cathy Bissoon to the Western District of Pennsylvania by a vote of 82-3. Judge Bissoon will be the first Hispanic woman to sit on this court. She is the ninth woman (and 11th judge) confirmed to the federal bench thus far in October, and the 54th woman confirmed during the Obama Administration. All of which is terrific news, but news like this needs to keep on coming to make a real difference -- unfortunately, although women make up half the population and, for almost twenty years, close to half of law students, only a third of federal judges are women, and many, many fewer are women of color. We can do better.
Likewise, it's encouraging that the Senate has taken action on eleven nominees this month, but with the number of judicial vacancies hovering around 90 (for a vacancy rate of almost 11 percent) there is still a long way to go. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service determined that we are in the longest period of historically high vacancy rates in 35 years. And with 33 of the existing vacancies designated "judicial emergencies," more than 188 million people are living in a jurisdiction that has been declared a judicial emergency. Without enough judges to hear cases, people around the country are waiting for justice. As Senator Patrick Leahy said on the floor yesterday evening, the nominees who are currently pending on the floor would, if confirmed, serve about 170 million people in as many as 25 states. Read more »