May 02, 2008

Leahy Disregards People of VA, MD, NC, SC & WV

A battle over judicial nominees is raging in the Senate, but yesterday the focus was on the House. All 21 GOP House members from Fourth Circuit states sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy decrying his committee’s “inexcusable” obstruction of 4th Circuit nominees, which is “negatively affect[ing] the lives of the people of Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.” The obstruction, the Congressmen explain, “has permitted the vacancy rate in the Fourth Circuit to reach an unacceptable 33 percent,” which
“hurt[s] average people hoping for courts to resolve their disputes, small businesses trying to get by in our uncertain economy, and crime victims seeking justice. … [T]hey see their cases delayed because there are not enough judges to handle the caseload on the Fourth Circuit.”
The Washington Post made a similar point last December when it editorialized that
“the Senate should act in good faith to fill vacancies – not as a favor to the president but out of respect for the residents, businesses, defendants and victims of crime in the region the 4th Circuit covers.”
The Congressmen’s letter notes that three of the five 4th Circuit vacancies have already been declared “judicial emergencies,” and two of the vacancies – North Carolina and Maryland seats that have been unfilled since the beginning of the Bush presidency – are the first and third longest running vacancies in the nation. Yet Sen. Leahy refuses to even hold hearings for the Maryland and North Carolina nominees, Rod Rosenstein and U.S District Court Judge Robert Conrad. Ditto for South Carolina nominee Steve Matthews.

The Congressmen add that the “Senate’s inaction on Fourth Circuit nominations is particularly egregious given the exceptional individuals President Bush has nominated.” They note that one of the nominees, Judge Conrad, was confirmed by a voice vote in the Senate just three years ago.

The 4th Circuit Congressmen conclude:
“At a time when excessive vacancies may be taking a serious toll on the administration of justice in the Fourth Circuit, … [t]he Senate should fulfill its constitutional role and promptly give all four nominees a hearing and a fair up-or-down vote.”
They note that the Washington Post has said the same, repeatedly calling on the Senate to “expeditiously process the nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.”

It’s no secret why Senate Democrats are playing politics with the Fourth Circuit. They want to leave the vacancies unfilled in the hopes that a Democratic president can fill them. But history indicates that, even under the rosiest scenario, the first of the next president’s Fourth Circuit nominees would be confirmed no earlier than the last few months of 2009. In other words, if Senate Democrats continue to put politics above the administration of justice in the 4th Circuit, the residents of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina will go at least another 18 months without an adequately staffed appeals court. As the Congressmen’s letter to Leahy says, “[t]he people served by the Fourth Circuit deserve better.”

A copy of the letter is available on request.

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