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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Too many cases and too few judges leave courts in crisis

Federal Judgeships Act seeks relief for overburdened courts but Republicans keep record of obstruction intact, throwing up roadblocks to reform

At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts on the Federal Judgeship Act of 2013 today, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) made clear that Senate Republicans intend not only to both have their cake and eat it, but to then throw the cake at Democrats who are working to give federal courts the resources necessary to administer justice in a fair and efficient way for all Americans.

The Federal Judgeships Act, introduced by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), would create 91 new federal judgeships to address a burgeoning caseload that’s been growing since the last time Congress passed a comprehensive judges bill in 1990.  The bill is based on the specific requests of the nonpartisan Judicial Conference, which is headed by Chief Justice John Roberts. 

Alliance for Justice supports this bill because, as Senator Coons said today, “Overburdened judges, almost by definition, cannot provide the level of time, and care, and reflection they would like to for each case before them.”

In opposing the legislation, Senator Sessions remarked that the President has not named nominees for 50 of the 92 current vacancies on thefederal bench and suggested that the need for more judges would be solved if the White House simply filled existing seats.  But here’s what Sessions left out: Of the 50 current vacancies without nominees, 25 are in states with two Republican Senators and 16 are in states with one Republican Senator, while states with two Democratic Senators only have 8.  That means that a whopping 82% of current judicial vacancies without a nominee are in states with at least one Republican Senator.

This disparity is no coincidence.  As AFJ has consistently noted, President Obama knows that nominees who lack support from both of their home state senators have no chance of moving through the Senate Judiciary Committee, and therefore any pre- or post-nomination objection or opposition from a home Senator renders a nomination futile.  The Republicans have relied on this sort of backdoor obstructionism—using home state opposition to well-qualified and eminently capable candidates—to block the President’s attempt to fill critical vacancies, and are now cynically turning around and using these vacancies to oppose timely and important legislation.

This painfully obvious attempt to have it both ways cannot go unnoticed, and Republican Senators should be held accountable for unduly limiting access to the federal justice system.

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