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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

While District Court Case Filings Rise, Republicans Obstruct District Court Nominees

Only one day after Republican obstruction forced Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to file cloture petitions on 17 long-pending district court nominees, the nonpartisan Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts released a report finding that “total civil and criminal filings in the district courts rose 2 percent to 367,692 in fiscal year 2011.”

The Administrative Office data reflected a surging caseload in types of cases that are critically important to millions of American businesses and individuals.  For instance, filings in consumer credit cases rose 15%, filings in intellectual property cases rose 11%, and filings in civil rights cases rose 5%.  Digging even deeper into the data, you find that civil rights filings related to the Americans with Disabilities Act rose 17% and intellectual property rights filings involving patents jumped 24%.

At the same time that courts have been swamped with this wave of new case filings, the federal judiciary has endured a judicial vacancy crisis.  There are now 85 vacant or soon to be vacant federal district court seats—approximately one out of every 8 judgeships. Twenty-eight of these vacancies are so dire that they have been declared to be “judicial emergencies.”

Despite these facts, Republican senators have blocked confirmation votes for unquestionably qualified, consensus nominees.  Of the 17 district court nominees awaiting final votes, eight were reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously, and another five were reported out with only one vote in opposition.  Eight of these nominees would fill judicial emergency seats.  Twelve of these nominees would fill vacancies in states with at least one Republican senator.

Moreover, as the Administrative Office findings show (.pdf link), caseloads rose in the districts of 11 of the 17 pending nominees.  Two cite just two examples:
  • The caseload rose 9.7% in the Southern District of Texas.  Nominee Gregg Costa was nominated to a vacancy in this district in September 2011, and he was reported out of the judiciary committee unanimously.
  •  The caseload rose 10.9% in the Western District of Missouri.  Nominee Brian Wimes was nominated to a vacancy in this district in September 2011, and he was reported out of the judiciary committee with only one vote in opposition.  
Nonetheless, Republicans are obstructing nominees at a historic pace.  The 17 district court nominees have been pending on the floor for over 80 days on average, which is four times as long as the 22 days on average that President George W. Bush’s district court nominees waited.  Moreover, an amazing 57 of Bush’s first-term district court nominees were confirmed within a week of being reported, while only five of President Obama’s nominees have received the same treatment.

With rising caseloads and dozens of judicial emergencies plaguing our courts, millions of Americans are being denied access to justice, often with dire consequences for their lives and livelihoods.  It’s time for the Republican obstruction to end. 

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