From the report summary:
District courts are the workhorses of the federal judicial system, resolving legal disputes, conducting civil and criminal trials, and overseeing cases from filing to termination. These courts touch the lives of everyone from the small business owner in a contract dispute, to the family targeted by consumer fraud, to the artist protecting her copyright from infringement. When district courts are not functioning efficiently, it reverberates throughout our entire judicial system. [...]The report points out that, up until about 2002, seats were regularly added to the district courts, to account for population growth. That's ground to a halt. Not only are new seats not being added, existing seats aren't being filled, and the nation's judiciary is in real crisis.
- Breaking with historical patterns, district court vacancies have remained high throughout Barack Obama’s presidency. District courts typically see brief peaks in vacancies after a presidential election, followed by a sharp decline in subsequent years. Yet, during the Obama administration, after district court vacancies spiked in 2009 they never returned to their previous level and, in fact, have grown further. For the first time since 1992, the average number of district court vacancies has been greater than 60 for five straight years, from 2009-2013.
- Together, high vacancy levels and heavy caseloads are leaving sitting judges with unprecedented workloads. Counting both full-time active judges and part-time senior judges, the number of pending cases per sitting judge reached an all-time high in 2009 and was higher in 2012 than at any point from 1992-2007.
- Vacancies are hurting districts with the greatest needs. Judicial emergencies, a measure by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts of vacancies in districts with the most acute need for judges, have been higher in 2010-2012 than at any other point since 2002 (the last year for which comparable data is available).
This is the result of a concerted effort by Republicans in the Senate to obstruct President Obama's nominations, to entirely boycott the process of choosing judges by not working with the White House to identify nominees. It's also the result of the White House not making nominations a priority.
Both of those factors have to change, and there's good indication that at least one will. At the beginning of this year, President Obama began offering nominees at a quicker clip, culminating in the aggressive move of naming three nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court, the second highest court in the country, at the end of May. This is a very welcome move, and a smart fight for Obama to pick with Republicans.
Speaking of picking fights with Republicans, it's time for Senate Democrats to force the issue. It's time they bring an end to Republican obstruction and baseless filibusters. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said numerous times he intends to have that fight this month, as early as next week when the Senate returns from the July 4 recess. He needs 50 of his fellow Democrats to present a united front to end the filibuster.