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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.

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.

 

Five quick things worth knowing/remembering on the first Tuesday of fall 2013:

#1 – As noted below, seats still remain for Thursday NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation: “Worse than NAFTA: Lori Wallach explains the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”  Click here for more info and to register.

#2 – It’s hurricane/sea level rise season, but don’t think that’s leading the folks running the state of North Carolina to do anything intentional or proactive to address it. Indeed, as journalist Kirk Ross reports over at the N.C. Coastal Federation website, the state Coastal Resources Commission has been gutted and is now “essentially out  of business.”

#3 – On the courts and law front, Senator Richard Burr is still doing his impression of The Invisible Man by blocking Senate consideration of federal District Court nominee Jennifer May-Parker for the long-vacant seat in North Carolina’s Eastern District and then lacking the decency to even admit he’s doing it or explain why. Court watchers at the Center for American Progress are urging folks to call Burr and demand action

#4 – And speaking of “The Invisible Man,” has there been a more delightful story in recent days than the overwhelming response to the book-banners in Randolph County for their knuckleheaded effort to ban the the Ralph Ellison classic? Barry Saunders of Raleigh’s N&O did a great job ridiculing the book banners yesterday and now, today, we learn that the censorship effort has completely backfired.      

#5 - And finally, for those looking to have America’s health care crisis explained in fast-moving 7 minute video, check out this pretty doggone accurate effort by a fellow named John Green at the website Upworthy.

Richard BurrIf you haven’t already, be sure to check out this morning’s breaking news story on the main NC Policy Watch site by Courts and Law reporter Sharon McCloskey: “Another roadblock for the Eastern District?”

As Sharon reports, Senate Judiciary Committee staff have indicated that Senator Richard Burr is blocking consideration of federal judicial nominee Jennifer May-Parker (a highly qualified African-American federal prosecutor) by refusing to return his “blue slip” — a step required by Senate procedures in order for the nomination to proceed to a hearing next week.

As we have explained before, the vacancy in the Eastern District is the longest standing federal district court vacancy in the country (it has stood vacant for 8 years!). To make matters even more absurd, Read More

Close to 100 attorneys, progressive advocates and Triangle-area residents gathered today to discuss the continuing judicial vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, growing numbers of federal judicial vacancies elsewhere, delayed U.S. Senate confirmations of presidential nominees and the ongoing need for increased diversity on the bench.

Speakers at the event, “Why Courts Matter,” included 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge James A. Wynn, Jr., and Andrew Blotky, director of Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

As Blotky pointed out, there are 82 current vacancies on the federal bench, with an additional 20 vacancies that will occur this year—meaning that nearly 65 percent of the population lives in a community with a courtroom vacancy.

And while it took roughly 35 days for the Senate to get George W. Bush’s nominees to a vote, it’s taken 150 days for Barack Obama’s to get to that point.

Both Wynn and Blotky called for the quick confirmation of fair, impartial, clear-thinking and diverse judges to fill those vacancies—which even when filled, Wynn added, would only solve the backlog. The U.S. Judicial Conference has called for the creation of additional judgeships to meet caseload demand.

The judges who sit on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina handle one of the heaviest caseloads in the country, approaching nearly 800 cases per judge in 2012. And they’ve been waiting for help for close to eight years now.

The court, based in Raleigh but with courtrooms elsewhere along the eastern part of the state, now has the dubious distinction of having the oldest federal judicial vacancy in the country. The seat&mdashh;opened up on Dec. 31, 2005, when Judge Malcolm J. Howard took senior status—has been unfilled for more than 2,500 days. Read More