Commentary

Op-ed: Judicial obstruction not limited to Scalia’s seat

There’s a great op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer this morning about the absurd ongoing blockade of almost all judicial nominations submitted by President Obama — a blockade that has resulted in a federal court seat in North Carolina being vacant for 10 years. Here are Mark Dorosin and Brent Ducharme laying out the problem:

“In the wake of the recent death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, politicians and the public have been debating the timing of a Supreme Court nomination and the potential effects of leaving the seat empty for over a year.

Sadly, there has been no similar public discussion of the 76 vacant judgeships on the 94 federal district courts and 13 federal appellate courts that hear the thousands of cases each year that never reach the Supreme Court. Far too often, the process of filling judicial vacancies is also marked by the same political motivations currently on display.

In recent years, the federal judiciary has faced growing caseloads that significantly outpace the relatively static number of federal judges. Between March 2013 and March 2014, more than 300,000 civil cases were filed in federal district courts. Nearly 87,000 criminal cases were also filed. Because of the heavy workload, delays in filling seats on the federal bench have severe effects on the administration of justice in the United States.

In the Eastern District of North Carolina, capacity challenges are compounded by the longest standing vacancy in the federal judiciary. In 2005, Judge Malcolm Howard, one of four then-active federal judges sitting in the Eastern District, vacated his seat and assumed part-time senior status with the court. More than a decade later, Howard’s former seat remains unfilled, and there are no nominees. This is the longest current vacancy in the federal judiciary by more than four years and the second-longest vacancy on the federal courts in at least the last three and a half decades.”

And here’s the excellent conclusion: Read more

News

Senate confirms Biggs as federal judge in NC

Loretta BiggsJust before midnight, the U.S. Senate confirmed by voice vote a slew of pending Obama judicial candidates, including Loretta Copeland Biggs, who will serve in the state’s Middle District.

Biggs will take the seat opened up by Judge James Beaty, who nows serves on senior status.

Her addition to the court is welcome news and will begin to address the stunning lack of diversity on the state’s federal bench. She will be the first African-American woman to serve as a lifetime appointed federal judge in North Carolina.

But the state’s Eastern District continues to operate with a district court vacancy that has been pending for more than nine years.

The president’s nominee for that slot, Jennifer Prescod May-Parker — who would have been the first African-American to serve as a federal judge in that part of the state — failed to get even a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. That’s because Sen. Richard Burr has inexplicably withheld the “blue slip” indicating his approval, even though he initially supported her nomination and despite his public statements condemning delays and other obstructive tactics interfering with judicial confirmations.

Read more about Biggs here.

 

Commentary

Middle District Judge nominee still awaiting confirmation

Loretta BiggsLoretta Copeland Biggs, President Obama’s nominee for U.S. District Judge in North Carolina’s Middle District, has not yet been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biggs appeared before the Committee on November 13 for her scheduled hearing and is now waiting on approval by the Committee. If she is approved by the Committee, Biggs’s nomination will then be forwarded to the Senate floor where it will be considered and voted on by the full Senate.  This entire process must occur within the next few weeks in order for Biggs to be confirmed before the Senate’s lame-duck session ends. Nominees who aren’t confirmed this month will have to do it all over again next year, starting with being renominated.

Currently, it seems to be taking approximately a month between when hearings are held and when the Committee approves a candidate. Unfortunately, there is no exact timeline for how long this may take because there are many permitted ways to stall and obstruct the process. At the Committee’s last hearing, for instance, Charles Grassley, Republican Senator from Iowa, unnecessarily decided to delay approval of nine judicial nominees for a week. This in turn delayed scheduling a vote on the Senate floor and will delay the eventual vote itself (which generally seems to occur two to three months later).

These delay tactics do seem to be a ploy to avoid confirming President Obama’s nominees. Read more

News

Judiciary Committee hearing today for Middle District nominee Loretta Copeland Biggs

President Obama’s pick for federal judge in the state’s Middle District, Loretta Copeland Biggs, continues to move forward in the confirmation process with her hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled for today at 11 a.m.

If approved by the committee, Biggs will next move to a full confirmation vote on the Senate floor. And if confirmed by the Senate, Biggs will take the seat opened up by Judge James Beaty, who nows serves on senior status.

Her addition to the court would be welcome news and would begin to address the stunning lack of diversity on the state’s federal bench.

But another nominee, Jennifer Prescod May-Parker — chosen by the President to fill the country’s oldest federal District Court vacancy out in eastern North Carolina — continues to languish. 

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr inexplicably continues to withhold the “blue slip” indicating his support for her for, despite his public statements condemning delays and other obstructive tactics interfering with judicial confirmations.

Click here for more on the tortured history of North Carolina’s federal judicial vacancies and the lack of diversity of those who have served.

 

Commentary

Addressing backlog of judicial nominees: A “must” for the upcoming lame duck session

hagan-and-burrWith the midterm elections finally out of the way, lawmakers will return to Washington in the days ahead for what is commonly referred to as a “lame duck” session. Among many important piece of  business, are numerous judicial nominees that must get confirmed to fill vacancies on our nation’s federal courts and keep the wheels of justice moving.

Going into the 2014 lame duck period, there are 64 current judicial vacancies and 34 nominees pending in the Senate. As we’ve detailed at length in this space previously, two of these vacancies are here in North Carolina and one has sat empty for eight years.

In such an environment, it is vital for the Senate to stay in session until every judicial nominee on the floor gets a yes-or-no vote. If these judges are not confirmed, our federal courts will simply not be able adequately handle the numerous critical issues – from marriage equality to voting rights to health care to immigration – that affect all of us.

Happily, there are historical precedents for this kind of swift action: In the 2010 and 2012 lame duck sessions, a total of 32 judicial nominees were confirmed. Senators should apply a similar focus this session. In the 2002 lame duck session, Democrats controlled the Senate. In a spirit of bipartisanship, even though they were the opposition party, they nonetheless confirmed 20 of President Bush’s judicial nominees. Republicans today should put aside politics and get to work to get nominees waiting for a vote confirmed.

Obviously, it is also important to work to confirm judges before the end of the year because the new Republican Senate it is likely to obstruct judicial nominees with the hope that a Republican president will be elected in 2016. Indeed, many expect that the GOP leadership will change the rules to slow judicial confirmations to a crawl and reinstitute obstruction by filibuster.

Instead of judges who side with corporate interests and whittle away at laws that protect our rights, the United States needs judges who support equality, protect access to health care, and are committed to safeguarding the Constitution. That’s why we need the Senate to act on judicial nominees before the end of the year.

The good people at the Center for American Progress have established a website — WhyCourtsmatter.org — that allows you to learn more about (and participate) in the effort to spur Senate action. Click here to learn more.