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Monday, May 2, 2011

Federal Bar Association Criticizes Obama and Congress for Failing to Fill Vacant Judgeships

The President of the Federal Bar Association, Ashley L. Belleau, has authored an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution calling on the President and Congress to fill vacant judgeships. Ms. Belleau wrote that:

The fact that we don’t have enough judges to decide promptly the federal civil and criminal lawsuits in our country owes itself to the Congress and the president. . . . Both have failed to keep the process moving by timely providing capable, qualified individuals to fill judgeships as they open up due to retirement, death or resignations.

Nearly 12% of federal judgeships—93 seats—are currently vacant, and 37 of those seats are considered to be “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Ms. Belleau writes that:

[O]ur federal court system is bursting at the seams. The phrase “justice delayed is justice denied” describes the dire situation in many federal courthouses. Judicial vacancies plainly undermine the capacity of our courts to render justice within a reasonable period of time.

Ms. Belleau also writes about the financial costs of delayed litigation to parties and to taxpayers.

Sadly, few Americans understand the impact these judicial vacancies have on their lives. Those of us who try federal cases know its impact in the continuance of cases for months, even years, without decision. Vacancies and delay add greater costs to already high litigation expenses. For business clients, these costs get passed on to customers. And when the United States is a party to the case, it means that the public is paying that higher tab.

For criminal defendants awaiting trial, it can mean more detention time, adding even more costs to the taxpayer. Just last year, the federal cost of pretrial detention alone was $1.4 billion, according to the Department of Justice.

Ms. Belleau concludes with an emphatic plea to fill vacant judgeships:

Vacancies desperately need to be filled; new judges desperately need to be added. We owe that to our citizens. We owe that to our Constitution. We owe that to the rule of law. And we owe it to the cause of justice.

Prompt and thoughtful justice, not endless delay, is what the American people expect from their legal system. It is what we deserve. It is what due process requires. And it is the most cost-efficient approach to the resolution of lawsuits in our nation’s courts.

For the full text of her op-ed, click here.

For the most up-to-date and comprehensive information on judicial nominations, visit the Alliance for Justice’s Judicial Selection Project webpage.

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