August 25, 2011

Who’s to Blame for Judicial Vacancies?

On last night’s PBS NewsHour, Committee for Justice executive director Curt Levey discussed the politics of confirming President Obama's judicial nominees with Caroline Fredrickson, executive director of the American Constitution Society. Judy Woodruff hosted the discussion.

A transcript of the interview and streaming video are available on the NewsHour web site, and audio of the interview can be downloaded. Here are some excerpts:

CURT LEVEY: Caroline accurately pointed out that there are 20 pending [nominees] who have gotten out of committee. But that's only 20 out of 91 vacancies. And all but one of those 20 are just a matter of weeks or, at most, a couple of months, which is a very short time historically. I mean, there are many of Bush's nominees who waited literally years after they got out of committee. There were some nominees who were waiting throughout most of the eight years. So the fact that there's only one out of the 20 who's even been waiting three months I think tells you that things are going fast.

CURT LEVEY: I don't think [the judicial vacancy rate] has much to do with anything the Republicans are doing. It has to do with a very slow nomination pace by the Obama administration. Obama is not making confirmations a priority, nor is Sen. Reid, the majority leader. Also, there's just been, let's face it, a general breakdown in courtesy in the Senate. And so all issues get affected, including judges. And there were also two Supreme Court vacancies in Obama's first two years, which, for about six months [bring other confirmations to a halt].

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Thirty-seven of those vacancies represent judicial emergencies. And that is a term that's been defined by the Administrative Office of the Courts to represent an extremely high caseload. And what that means, what that translates into for ordinary Americans is an extremely long wait before their vital case can get heard.

CURT LEVEY: I do agree that judicial emergencies should be given priority. But, again, let's remember that judicial emergency is not just defined by caseload. It's also defined by how long the vacancy has existed. And, again, that vacancy may have existed for a long time because Obama was very slow to appoint a nominee.