June 25, 2007

4th Circuit needs judges now

In an opinion article today in The National Law Journal, Carl Tobias correctly points out that the 4th Circuit needs judges now. Of the fifteen active judgeships in this Court of Appeals, fully one third are or soon will be vacant.

The three existing vacancies (among them the nation's oldest judicial vacancy, dating back to 1994) have been supplemented by Chief Judge William W. Wilkins' announced determination to assume senior status on July 1st. The fifth vacancy is expected based on Judge H. Emory Widener's indication that he will also step down once a suitable nominee is confirmed.

As Tobias points out in his opinion piece, this high number of vacancies is a threat to the practical execution of justice in the 4th Circuit.

"The pressure will intensify on the judges to resolve promptly, economically and fairly 5,300 annual filings. Indeed, the 4th Circuit now grants published opinions at the smallest rate (8%) and oral arguments at the next lowest (12%), which are crucial measures of appellate justice, although it continues to decide cases as fast as the 11 other tribunals, requiring only an average of 9.5 months."

While the 4th Circuit doesn't yet seem to be suffering inordinately, Tobias predicts that "the court will reach a tipping point and find that the quality of justice is declining."

This evidence serves as a sobering reminder that the processes of judicial nomination and confirmation should be expedited in order to ensure the delivery of justice.