Commentary

Editorial: Senate’s Supreme Court obstructionism is “historic mistake”

Another good one this morning from the editorial page at the Greensboro News & Record slamming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Richard “I lost my blue slip” Burr and Thom “I flip-flopped so fast you probably didn’t even notice” Tillis on their outrageous refusal to consider any Obama Supreme Court nominee:

“This stand defies the constitutional duty to give “advice and consent.” The Constitution assigns this role to the Senate to provide a check on a president’s power. The Senate can withhold its consent when it concludes a nominee isn’t qualified. But McConnell and other Republicans, including Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, fail in their responsibility to advise when they refuse to consider any nominee.

Tillis warned last week that Republicans would “fall into the trap of obstructionism” if they rejected any nominee “sight unseen.” This week, he walked into the trap. The entire GOP caucus has followed its leader along this dangerous path. It won’t lead anywhere good.

The reasons McConnell cites to justify obstructionism don’t wash. He says the American people should resolve the deadlock in the November election. But the voters re-elected Obama in 2012 to serve until Jan. 20, 2017. McConnell ignores that election.”

And, as the conclusion notes, this latest blockade is just one of many such inexcusable exercises:

“McConnell already has slowed the pace on all confirmations, whether for lower federal judgeships or other federal positions.

‘In 2015, the Senate confirmed 173 total civilian nominees, according to the Congressional Research Service, about 100 fewer than were confirmed in 2007 when a Democratic Senate took over during the last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency,’ Burgess Everett wrote for Politico last month.

Republicans point to past offenses by Democrats, which were inexcusable, but they have escalated obstructionism to an unprecedented level. It’s bound to be repeated in the future, unless voters hold the obstructionists accountable in Senate elections. In North Carolina, Burr is on the ballot this year.

It’s easy to see straight through McConnell, an ‘establishment’ Republican who’s been faulted by his party’s extreme right wing for accommodating Obama too often. The critics have wanted McConnell to block every one of Obama’s initiatives instead of only most of them and to confirm none of his nominees.

Now, McConnell is yielding to the worst impulses of partisan politics, even if it means keeping a Supreme Court seat empty for years. History will remember.”

News

Still vacant after all these years

Perhaps you remember this saga.

Near the end of 2005, U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard stepped down from his seat on the federal bench in eastern North Carolina, moving to senior status and creating an opening for a new judge there.

Years passed and the state’s U.S. senators couldn’t seem to reach an agreement on a nominee for that slot to recommend to the President. In the meantime, Howard — along with two other judges on senior status, James C. Fox, now 86 and W. Earl Britt, 83 — shared his workload.

Then in 2009 the senators threw their support behind federal prosecutor Jennifer May-Parker, chief of the Appellate Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District in North Carolina, to fill Howard’s slot — one of over 80 district court seats then vacant in the federal judiciary.

If confirmed, May-Parker would have become the first black female federal judge in the history of the Eastern District.

But once President Obama nominated her in 2013, U.S. Sen. Richard Burr — who for years took his senate colleagues to task for holding up judicial nominations — inexplicably blocked the nomination by refusing to submit the “blue slip” evidencing his support, a critical step to moving a judicial candidate to a senate hearing.

May-Parker’s nomination has since lapsed, and Howard’s seat remains vacant.

Plenty of seats elsewhere have been filled, as have new vacancies that have arisen.

The number of district court openings deemed a “judicial emergency” — determined in part by how long a seat has been vacant — is now 32. All of those seats have been open for only a year or two — except for Howard’s.

The chart below shows just how far an outlier North Carolina has become:

nccourts-judicial-emergencies-2016-01-05 (2)

For more on the ongoing judicial vacancy in the Eastern District, read here, here and here.

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News

North Carolina takes the prize for longest unfilled federal judicial vacancy

The nearly ten-year vacant federal district court slot in eastern North Carolina tops the list of “most ridiculously long judicial vacancies that the Senate hasn’t filled,” as highlighted by the Huffington Post this past weekend.

Here’s a look at the worst Senate offenders when it comes to not filling long-vacant judgeships in their home states.

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.)

There’s a seat on U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina that’s been empty for 3,387 days. That’s more than nine years, and it has no nominee.

Burr avoided questions from The Huffington Post last year about why he was blocking a previous nominee for the slot, Jennifer May-Parker. His obstruction of May-Parker was particularly puzzling, given that he previously recommended her to Obama.

A Burr spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on the hold-up for filling the seat, and on whether Burr plans to recommend a nominee soon. A request for comment also was not returned from Burr’s home-state counterpart, freshman Sen. Thom Tillis (R).

Of course none of that is news to court watchers here, many of whom continue to scratch their heads as to why U.S. Senator Richard Burr refused last year to support President Obama’s nominee, Jennifer May-Parker, after initially offering his approval.

Particularly disconcerting is the senator’s apparent refusal to heed his own words uttered  back in 2005, when he told his colleagues that “denying judicial nominees of both parties, who seek to serve their country, an up-or-down vote, simply is not fair.  It was certainly not the intention of our Founding Fathers when they designed and created this very institution.”

With no new nominee in the hopper, the Eastern District — which is also close to the top of judicial districts having the most residents per judgeship — will continue to trudge along with a caseload being handled by three active sitting judges with the part-time help of three judges on senior status — the youngest of whom is 75.

Uncategorized

Stunning lack of diversity of NC’s federal judges highlighted

The latest news story from NC Policy Watch Courts and Law Reporter Sharon McCloskey — “All white and overwhelmingly male: Latest departure leaves NC federal courts among lest diverse in the nation” — contains a lot of information that will leave caring and thinking people frustrated and even ticked off, but this passage stands out:

James Beaty, the lone African-American judge on the state’s federal district court, stepped down from his position on the state’s Middle District – which covers the areas from Durham to Winston-Salem – moving to senior status at the end of June.

The result?

North Carolina has one of the whitest and least diverse groups of federal district court judges in the country.

That’s a perception problem for the courts at the very least, particularly given that the ugliness of racial politics has resurfaced in North Carolina.

As Andrew Cohen points out in his article in The Atlantic last November, asking why there aren’t more black judges in the South:

“Indeed, at a time when minorities are being disenfranchised by Republican officials in Florida and Alabama and other Southern states, the continuing lack of black representation on our federal benches sends another strong message of a tolerance for unequal justice.”

And if that doesn’t get you fired up, check out this graphic: Read more

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The notorious Senator Burr

The saga of judicial obstructionism continues in Washington, thanks in large part to the stalling tactics of our own U.S. Sen. Richard Burr.

As we’ve reported often (see Rob Schofield’s most recent post here), the senator is inexplicably refusing to support one of his own selections, Jennifer May-Parker, to fill the now 8-year vacant seat on the federal court in the district serving eastern North Carolina.

Time and again, we’ve asked for an explanation as to why he was holding up the nomination of a woman who would be the first African-American to serve in that court — and, once U.S. Judge James Beaty takes senior status in June — the only African American judge to serve on the federal bench in the entire state.

Burr’s abuse of the judicial selection process is now bringing more negative national attention to the state. Yesterday, in a piece about continued intransigence getting judicial nominees confirmed — even in the absence of the filibuster — Newsweek magazine called out Burr as a singular example of what continues to plague Washington:

” . . . the May-Parker debacle stands out as a particularly egregious example of obstruction keeping the Obama administration from filling dozens of vacancies across the country despite a years-long judicial vacancy crisis.”

That’s notoriety North Carolina could do without.