July 06, 2007

4th Circuit: a very good place to start

Remember the 4th Circuit? This Court of Appeals faces a crisis as fully one third of its fifteen seats already or soon will need to be filled. This high number of empty seats poses a serious threat to the efficient and fair delivery of justice.

Finally it seems that we might have some baby steps in the right direction, as South Carolina's The State reports this week that
"Although Bush has made no formal announcement, he plans to nominate Steve A. Matthews, managing director of Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd — Columbia’s fourth-largest law firm — for Wilkins’ seat, several sources intimately familiar with the selection process told The State."
This is certainly welcome news for the 4th Circuit, but the work here is not done. Once Wilkins assumes senior status - and even assuming that Matthews gets successfully confirmed, in a timely fashion - there will still be four vacant seats in this Court. And as Wilkins himself points out (and he should know), "'Ten or 11 judges cannot do the work as fast as 15...We feel it’s important for litigants to have a decision and get on with their lives.'"

There are 17 listed 'judicial emergencies' and a total of 51 vacancies in the federal judiciary, with only 26 nominees pending as of today. One seat in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has been vacant since July 31st, 1994. The President and the Senate have their work cut out for them - and not only in the 4th Circuit - to prioritize the nomination and confirmation of qualified judges to all of our federal courts.