On December 19, 2013, President Barack Obama nominated Magistrate Judge Hannah Lauck to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The next day, as the Senate raced to recess, one Republican senator objected to holding Lauck and 54 other well-qualified judicial nominees over until Congress' second session, which began on January 6. Because Judge Lauck is a highly qualified, consensus nominee, the president renominated her that day, while the Senate must expeditiously process her nomination. The first critical step is Tuesday's confirmation hearing.
The Eastern District opening will arise next month when Judge James Spencer assumes senior status after 27 years of dedicated service on the court, whose reputation for promptly resolving cases has earned it the moniker "Rocket Docket." Judge Spencer announced his intention to assume senior status last April, granting the chief executive ample time for nominating his successor.
Judge Lauck is smart, industrious, ethical and independent and has balanced temperament, while she earned the highest American Bar Association rating : well qualified. Judge Lauck is a very experienced Magistrate Judge whom the Eastern District Judges first appointed to an eight year term in 2005 and reappointed last year. Before ascending to the bench, Lauck served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for a decade. She also clerked for Judge Spencer as her first employment after graduating from Yale Law School. If confirmed, Lauck would be the first female Article III Judge in the Richmond Division.
There are several reasons why the Senate must promptly consider Lauck. First, Judge Spencer will assume senior status in late March and it would be preferable to have his seat filled before then. The opening on the Eastern District, one of America's busiest courts, will concomitantly require that Judge Spencer carry a substantial caseload, even though most judges who assume senior status are responsible for considerably fewer cases. Judge Spencer will graciously pitch in to help his Eastern District colleagues guarantee that the court continues to deliver justice. However, the partisan squabbling that has left many vacancies open is not fair to a dedicated public servant who has earned the right to assume senior status.
Warner and Kaine urged Sen. Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.), the Judiciary Committee Chair, to speedily conduct a hearing. After the hearing, they should ask Leahy to quickly set a committee vote and Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Majority Leader, to rapidly schedule a floor debate and vote. If Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Minority Leader, does not swiftly agree to vote, Reid should seek cloture.
Lauck's excellent record means that she warrants prompt approval, while her abilities will help the court maintain its well deserved reputation as the Rocket Docket.
Tobias is the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond.