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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has filed a “cloture” motion on the filibuster that’s been blocking the nomination of Cornelia “Nina” Pillard to serve on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. This means that the Senate should vote around 5:30 this afternoon.

Unfortunately, conservatives in the Senate continue to adhere to their trasparently dishonest public argument that “the court doesn’t have enough cases to justify filling vacant seats” — an argument that continues to provoke almost universal disdain from a long list of mainstream experts and analysts.

The following, for instance, is from Richard Painter — a corproate law professor who served in the George W. Bush White House — writing for the American Constitution Society: Read More

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Richard Burr 2Senator Richard Burr’s one-man, secret filibuster of the nomination of federal prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker to serve as a U.S. District Court judge in North Carolina’s Eastern District continues. This is from this morning’s Wilmington Star-News:

“Jennifer May-Parker could make history as the first African-American U.S. District Court judge in the 44-county Eastern District of North Carolina and fill a vacancy that is nearly eight years old.

That is, if she can ever make it there.

President Obama appointed May-Parker to the bench in late June. May-Parker is currently chief of the Appellate Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District.

Both Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., must take a procedural step and return a so-called “blue slip” on the nominee prior to her getting a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The blue slip is a piece of paper essentially asking the home-state senators if they support moving forward with the process. It is not necessarily an endorsement of the nominee, but requiring the blue slips to be returned is a long held practice of the committee, according to a judiciary committee aide.

Hagan has returned hers, but Burr is holding up the process – something called “blue slipping.”

As for why, well, Burr is not saying.”

As the story goes on to make clear, Read More

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Mel WattAt long last, we now know the official conservative litmus test for responding to nominations and other official proposals submitted to congress: “if the President is for something, we’re against it.”

It’s really as simple as that. And heaven help any nominees who happen to be women and/or people of color.

If the true nature of the test wasn’t already long-apparent in the right’s transparently hypocritical opposition to the federal version of Romney/Heritage Care (i.e. the Affordable Care Act), the final, once-and-for-all confirmation came yesterday when Senate Republicans successfully filibustered the nomination of Congressman Mel Watt to serve as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency and then followed it up moments later with an equally absurd filibuster of the President’s nomination of a moderate, corporate lawyer named Patricia Millett to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

There was literally no good reason to oppose these nominations Read More

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Raleigh’s News & Observer was kind enough to publish this morning an essay I wrote on Richard Burr’s ongoing and inexcusable silent filibuster of President Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.

If you haven’t checked it out, I hope you will by clicking here.

One thing I didn’t have space to mention in the N&O piece, however, is that Burr’s absurd obstructionism is part of a broader and pernicious pattern; the GOP has been blocking and delaying Obama’s court nominees simply as a matter of course for years. Even nominees who end up getting confirmed unanimously often find themselves waiting for months (or even years) for a simple hearing and up or down vote that ought to take a matter of weeks.

To see the extent of the ongoing and growing national judicial vacancy crisis, check out the “Why Courts Matter” website maintained by the good folks at the Center for American Progress.

One warning: The information contained therein may provoke you to put your fist through your computer monitor.

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It’s not like this is news we haven’t heard before — that the federal courts were already limping along if not crippled by the sequester when the shutdown began.

But Dahlia Lithwick at Slate does a great job here illustrating just how dire the situation is, pointing out that the courts are just eking by with reduced operating hours, slashes to security, cuts to the federal defender corps and to personnel charged with monitoring released prisoners. And still new business keeps coming through the courthouse doors:

The courts don’t get to pick their cases. Cases come to them. And the list of critically important litigation in which stays have been requested or delays granted range from a trial over the force-feeding of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to a major Federal Trade Commission case to the terror trial of accused former al-Qaida spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, to a major Freedom of Information Act suit. Whether or not the courts are officially shuttered next week, the federal justice system is in deep and worsening trouble unless we correct for the mistakes of the past year. Things have become so dire, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf wrote on his blog last week, that “it is time to tell Congress to go to hell.” Pro tip? Judges don’t usually talk like that.

And to those who depict furloughed court employees as simply dispensable government workers, there’s this to ponder:

The federal court system is not just people—although real people are being hammered in the court system, as they are throughout the federal government. The problem is that these people are the country’s justice delivery system. And when their work is hampered, delayed, or impaired, it’s not just “trials” that grind to a halt. It’s justice. What happens in the courts may not be as compelling as what happens on the Panda Cam or as spiritually uplifting as the national parks, but our federal justice system is the embodiment of the rule of law, particularly at those moments when the wheels have come off the rest of the government.