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Justice at Stake: Judicial Confirmations Needed Before the August Recess

The nation is enduring a judicial vacancy crisis that prevents our courts from providing justice to all Americans.

Seventy-six federal judgeships—more than eight percent of all seats—are currently vacant. Thirty-one of these vacancies are judicial emergencies.

President Obama inherited 55 vacancies when he was sworn into office. Without swift Senate action on pending nominees, he will become the first president in at least 30 years to finish his first term with more vacancies than he inherited, excluding newly created seats.

Senate Republicans are perpetuating this crisis by blocking votes on unquestionably qualified, consensus nominees, hoping to hold seats open in case a Republican is elected president.

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (left) invoked
the so-called "Thurmond rule."
Though there are 15 nominees pending on the Senate floor who could be confirmed immediately, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) recently invoked the Thurmond rule to delay judicial confirmations before the election, especially for circuit court nominations. Republican senators have essentially been told to prioritize political bickering over access to justice for millions of Americans.

Republican leaders are obstructing unquestionably qualified, consensus nominees such as:
  • William Kayatta, a Maine nominee who is supported by Maine's Republican Senators Snowe and Collins for a seat on the First Circuit Court of Appeals; and
  • Robert Bacharach, an Oklahoma nominee who is supported by Oklahoma's Republican Senators Coburn and Inhofe for a seat on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. 
These nominees would normally be confirmed unanimously.

Republicans are raising obstructionist tactics to a new level, as President Obama already trails President George W. Bush 152 to 197 in total district and circuit court confirmations at this point in their respective presidencies. Confirming all pending nominees before the August recess will only marginally reduce the comparative numbers.

This obstruction is unacceptable, and senators of both parties who care about promoting good government should end it by forcing votes on every nominee currently pending on the Senate floor before the August recess. 

There is a growing consensus for action on nominees. The American Bar Association, Chief Justice John Roberts, and a growing number of federal district and circuit court judges have all urged the Senate to quickly fill existing vacancies. They know that our justice system can’t function effectively without enough judges on the bench, and it shouldn’t be held hostage by political games.

Senators are in Washington for four weeks before again leaving town. It is time for them to confirm nominees and provide their constituents with the functioning courts upon which our democracy depends.
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    For more on the judicial vacancy crisis, visit AFJ's Judicial Selection Project.