Lawyers and legal experts from 27 states travelled to Washington to meet with White House and Capitol Hill officials today to shake up what they see as a stalled process to fill federal judicial vacancies across the country.
The White House met with the citizen-lobbyists, and the coalition of more than two dozen liberal advocacy groups behind the event, to discuss the process this morning – the last day of an agreement in the Senate that allowed 14 non-controversial nominees to get confirmation votes.
The group of about 150 people then is slated to go to Capitol Hill to meet with senators about moving pending judicial nominees through the confirmation process and into vacant judgeships.
The groups – such as the Alliance For Justice, the National Bar Association and People for the American Way – blame obstructionism in the Senate for the reason why there are so many vacancies. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights organized the effort.
“This vacancy crisis, which has left 250 million Americans living in communities with unstaffed federal courtrooms, must end, and the confirmation process must not be allowed to be slowed even further by election-year politics,” according to a written statement from the coalition. “We believe that every nominee submitted by the President this year deserves a yes-or-no vote confirmation vote.”
The administration officials at the hearing this morning included Attorney General Eric Holder Jr., White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler, and Deputy Assistant for Legislative Affairs Ed Pagano.
Later today, the Senate plans to make confirmation votes on three judges: Jacqueline Nguyen of California to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; Kristine Gerhard Baker to be a district judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas; and John Lee or the Northern District of Illinois.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a floor statement that blame for the judicial vacancies is misplaced, because President Barack Obama has not nominated anyone for many judgeships in districts determined to be “judicial emergencies.”
“Most of those seats have been vacant for more than a year,” Grassley said. “Once again, if the White House is serious about judicial vacancies, it holds the key to nominations for those vacancies. It has failed in too many instances, to use that key.”
Those nominees to be voted on today are the last under a March agreement between Senate leaders to give confirmation votes on 12 federal district court judge picks and two circuit court selections before the summer.
Before that deal, the Senate had been confirming judges, but not at a rate fast enough for Democrats, who argued that GOP senators were intentionally and unfairly delaying votes for 22 judicial nominees by the full Senate.
Some Republicans say they will oppose all of President Barack Obama’s nominees until the president rescinds his recess appointments, which were made during a two-day break in January. Several Republicans and even some Constitutional lawyers have concluded that the time frame Obama used to make the appointments doesn't qualify as an actual recess.