Today, for the first time in the 112th Congress, the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee allowed a judicial nominee to be reported to the floor without being “held over” until the next time the committee convenes. The practice of holding over nominees, especially those for whom there is no Republican opposition, is a way to delay the judicial confirmation process. Republican senators have engaged in this practice systematically for every nominee, even as judicial vacancies have reached crisis proportions, and regardless of whether the nominee would fill one of the dozens of seats the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared “judicial emergencies.”
Jennifer Guerin Zipps, a nominee to the United States District Court for the District of Arizona is the first nominee to receive this treatment by Senate Republicans. Ms. Zipps has been nominated to fill the seat that tragically became vacant when Chief Judge John Roll was among the six people killed in the January shooting that targeted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Certainly the suddenness and urgency of this vacancy is reason enough to move her nomination rapidly through the Senate, but another nomination considered today did not receive such conscientious treatment, even though the nominee would also fill a judicial emergency: James Rodney Gilstrap, nominee to the Eastern District of Texas.
If Republicans in the Senate cared about Americans receiving timely consideration of their cases in the federal courts, they would drop their practice of automatically holding over judicial nominees, and help address the ongoing judicial vacancy crisis.