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Map showing states that have federal court vacancies.
Over 60 percent of the American populace—195 million people—lives in one of those red-shaded states above. That means they live in a state with a federal court vacancy, where there are backlogs of cases pending and cases are not being heard in a timely manner. It's a worsening crisis, and an unprecedented one, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice.

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. [...]
  • 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).
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.

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.

Help us get those 51 votes and keep the pressure on. Send an email to your Democratic senators telling them to make the Senate function again.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:06 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (20+ / 0-)

    "The NSA’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything. [...] There would be no place to hide."--Frank Church

    by Joan McCarter on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:06:26 AM PDT

  •  Do a mass vote. Up or down. First to get them (5+ / 0-)

    ALL out of committee, and then for Reid to bundle them all together and then to say "We're voting TODAY up or down.  Period."

    Sigh.  But Reid doesn't have the spine to do this.  Neither does anyone else in the Senate.


    "Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." --M. L. King "You can't fix stupid" --Ron White -6.00, -5.18

    by zenbassoon on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:14:28 AM PDT

  •  Thanks Joan nt (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TomP, YucatanMan, sturunner

    nosotros no somos estúpidos

    by a2nite on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:14:46 AM PDT

  •  This is a failure of Obama and Reid. (5+ / 0-)
    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.
    Sure, the GOP is leading the charge to screw up the courts.  But the President has been in office for 5 years and has had a majority in the Senate the entire time.  They could have, and should have, fixed this by now.

    This may be as big a legacy as ACA, DADT and DOMA.

    And it wasn't necessary.

  •  What is the point in searching, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    analyzing, vetting and nominating judges if the confirmations don't happen for years if at all?

    It's also the result of the White House not making nominations a priority.
    It's a two step process. If there is a log jam at step two (confirmation) why make step one (nomination) a priority?

    If Liberals hated America, we'd vote Republican.

    by ord avg guy on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 09:42:37 AM PDT

  •  Tremendously important & one I'll sign. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    YucatanMan, sturunner

    However, there hasn't been a significant judgeship bill since 1990. Since 1960, the number of new permanent and "other" district judgeships added (i.e., temporary, temporary-to-permanent, or roving-to-permanent) bills breaks down this way:

    1961 - 61/7
    1966 - 30/6
    1970 - 58/8
    1978 - 113/5
    1984 - 53/10
    1990 - 61/25
    1999 - 9
    2000 - 10
    2002 - 8/12

    The Judicial Conference says it needs 65/28 more -- and that's just for the district courts. Critical as I am of the president's failure to press on judicial nominations, that need didn't magically develop during his term. We need a judiciary bill, not just a couple of judges thrown in as a sweetener on an immigration bill.

    (BTW, WaPo notwithstanding, the relationship between population and judgeship needs in the federal courts is not straightforward, and that's not the metric they use. They use weighted case filings. Obviously there's a relationship, but nothing like in state courts. Expect to hear Grassley harping on the fact that filings went down between 2011 and 2012. It's a bad argument, but I bet we hear it.)

  •  Let's end the drug war... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HeyMikey, Gentle Giant, xxdr zombiexx

    ...and not need to fill those seats.

    (-5.50,-6.67): Left Libertarian
    Leadership doesn't mean taking a straw poll and then just throwing up your hands. -Jyrinx

    by Sparhawk on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 12:16:01 PM PDT

    •  A fine idea on its merits, but it would not reduce (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      YucatanMan, sturunner

      the need to fill those seats by much. Obviously, it would save a bundle in the budget for prisons and associated costs. But most drug cases take very little article III judge time, because most are never tried and magistrate judges handle much of the other work. Judge time goes up when there's a big change in law, such as a new sentencing guideline system or a Supreme Court decision changing how that's implemented, but that evens out reasonably quickly. "Continuing criminal enterprise" cases get a high weight, and manufacturing cases are above average, but most of the rest are average or below.

      Put another way, in 2012 there were 510 weighted filings per judgeship. Less than a quarter of those were criminal filings. And slightly less than a third of those were drug cases.

    •  While we're at it, (5+ / 0-)

      let's make "prison-for-profit" illegal.

      Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

      by Gentle Giant on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 04:49:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't know (4+ / 0-)

    what President Obama is waiting for, at this rate he'll be termed out with most of his nominees still pending. A full court press with a brutal 90 feet of hell and prejudice is what's required. I don't know if he's got it in him...

  •  But when our current time is written into History, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    YucatanMan, Major Kong, savannah43

    let be known that the Republican Party was hostile to our nation's well-being in the name of selfish partisanship.

    Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. - Martin Luther King, Jr.

    by Gentle Giant on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 04:45:22 PM PDT

    •  They're trying to hold as many seats open as (4+ / 0-)

      possible until they win the presidency.  They always play the long game, while Democrats don't seem to even pay attention to lasting legacies.  

      The District and Appellate judges are just as important as the Supreme Court appointments over time, because they provide many of the feeder nominations to the Supreme Court and produce substantial decisions supporting Supreme Court decisions. (Or provide the ground-work for a reversal if the composition of the Supreme Court changes).

      We need as many Democratic appointed judges as possible.

      "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

      by YucatanMan on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 05:07:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Honest question, I don't know the answer: (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Villanova Rhodes

    Does President Obama have someone nominated for each vacancy?

    Any chance Harry Reid will find the dry powder and break the Republicans' strangle-hold on all nominations of all types?

    (OK, that was two questions. The second one just came to mind.)

    "The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer." -- James Baldwin. July 11, 1966.

    by YucatanMan on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 05:02:28 PM PDT

    •  There are 66 vacancies and 23 nominees, (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      with 2 more nominees pending for upcoming vacancies.

      It's a rolling thing -- some of these are very old, some quite recent -- but most judges announce their plans well in advance, so it's not like the administration couldn't plan ahead.

      However, many of the vacancies are in states with 2 Republican senators who just won't play ball no matter how much it hurts their constituents, primarily Texas. The primary problem for those vacancies is the reluctance of Leahy (and Reid, and others) to buck senatorial traditions and just move forward without Cornyn and his ilk, both at the committee level and in the full Senate.

      •  I live in Kansas (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Villanova Rhodes, YucatanMan

        I called my senators and asked them to find 12 common sense people to serve on the bench that everyone can agree would make good judges.  I told them they need to find people who can preside in a way that's fair to the parties and not driven by ideology or bias.  If I can do it in my red state so can everyone else living in a red state.  

        Shine like the humblest star.

        by ljm on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 05:50:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  How close is that federal government (3+ / 0-)

    to fitting into that bathtub?

    They - republicans, of course - have really choked the federal court system.

    Taken out a big section of voting rights.

    Have several states in early stages of teleportation to the 10th Century.

    A concerted effort to game the system as far as possible.

    If those benches are filled with conservatives we'll be back to the dark ages despite the best president possible, which is exactly the plan, and its working.

    I find this terrifying.

  •  This is what happens (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ranton, pitbullgirl65

    when you let people who hate the government run the government.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 05:32:45 PM PDT

  •  It's not just the open seats (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Elizabeth Warren has it right on who should be selected to be on the Federal District Court bench.  We need diversity.  It shouldn't be mostly all white male former US attornies, or elite corporate law firm partners who specialize in white collar crime to let off those who have done white collar crime.  How about more public defenders?  What about people with a strong background in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties?  More women, non-Christians and people of color.  The bench should look like the demographics of America.  

    Shine like the humblest star.

    by ljm on Wed Jul 03, 2013 at 05:47:47 PM PDT

    •  This administration HAS done better on (0+ / 0-)

      ethnic and gender diversity, particularly with Asian Americans. Only 39% of Obama's 1st term nominees were white men, compared to 70% for GWB and 49% for Clinton.  But your background issue is very well taken. The percentage coming directly from private practice has been declining since Eisenhower, to 32% for Obama's first term. Roughly half of his nominees came directly from either state courts or other federal judgeships, and 19% from a public attorney position -- mostly AUSAs. I wish there were many more nominees from public defender positions, too.

  •  Really? (0+ / 0-)

    "These courts touch the lives of everyone" is a huge overstatement. I practiced law for 25 years and rarely had a dispute that belonged in federal court. The monetary threshold means that most business disputes land in state court instead. Yes, the federal courts are important, and yes, the Senate should get off their duffs and get judges confirmed. But frankly most of us will go our entire lives without ever having reason to go near a federal court -- and that's a good thing.

  •  I pointed this out months ago in diary (0+ / 0-)

    I lay more of the blame on Senate Dems rather than on Senate GOP.  [Let the shrieking on here begin.]

    Senate Dems control the agenda about what comes up for a vote.  The Senate Judiciary Committee controls its agenda and when nominated judges are considered for referral to the full Senate for a vote.  

    Senate Dems are lazy, in my opinion.  

    Maybe they cannot chew gum and walk at the same time.

    Chairman Leahy needs to get off of his butt and schedule more committee meetings to report out to the full Senate for confirmation votes all of the nominated judges, for federal district and federal appellate courts.

    Harry Reid needs to get off his butt ans schedule confirmation votes - and force the GOP to actually filibuster each and every one of them.

    Reid should schedule marathon confirmation votes on all judicial nominees who have been reported out by committee.  One after the other - maybe a list of 50 nominees (however many there are).   Announce that the Senate will remain in session 24/7 until all of them have received a vote.  When the Senate confirms some and filibusters others, put those aside and then start all over with the ones not confirmed.

    Literally, tell the lazy-butt Senators there will be no weekends, vacations, etc. and no votes on other subjects.  

    Reid and the Senate Dems should do THEIR jobs and bring all of these judicial nominees up for a vote, non-stop, for days or weeks if necessary.  

    It is time to stop hiding behind - "Ooooo, the GOP will filibuster, oooo, we're scared."

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