Filling the Northern District of Georgia vacancies

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Obama has assiduously consulted Republicans and Democrats where vacancies materialize before nominations. The White House proposed nominees of balanced temperament, who are intelligent, ethical, hard working, independent, and diverse vis-á-vis ethnicity, gender and ideology. For example, Obama pursued the guidance of Georgia Republican Senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, who supported Steven Jones and Amy Totenberg, and the nominees easily won Northern District confirmation in March 2011. The president has cooperated with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the Judiciary Committee chairman, who sets hearings and votes and Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), who schedules floor votes, and their GOP analogues to facilitate confirmation while Obama should continue doing so.


Leahy has expeditiously arranged hearings and votes, sending nominees to the floor where numbers languished. The GOP must cooperate better. The essential bottleneck is the floor. Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has rarely agreed to votes. Most problematic has been GOP unwillingness to consider excellent consensus nominees, inaction that violates Senate customs. When senators have eventually voted, they overwhelmingly confirmed many nominees like Judge Jones and Judge Totenberg.

The 677 district court judgeships, 72 of which are empty, are critical because district judges resolve the vast majority of cases. Obama has nominated 26 superb individuals and must speedily nominate prospects for the other 46 vacancies. Three openings are Northern District vacancies for two of which Obama nominated Magistrate Judge Linda Walker and federal public defender Natasha Perdew Silas on January 26, 2011. From that date until December 17, Chambliss and Isakson exercised their prerogatives as home state senators to block the nominees’ Senate consideration and on December 17, Republicans returned both nominees to the President.

In January 2012, Senators Chambliss and Isakson informed White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler that they would “return the ‘blue ships’ on” Magistrate Judge Walker and Jill Pryor, a highly respected Bondurant, Mixon and Elmore partner, for the Northern District opening, and well regarded Troutman Sanders partner Mark Cohen for an Eleventh Circuit vacancy. The senators knew “time is of the essence and look[ed] forward to working with” Ruemmler on the nominations. On February 15, Obama nominated Pryor for the Eleventh Circuit, but the administration has yet to propose anyone for the district openings.

Thus, the White House should promptly seek recommendations for the three district vacancies from the Georgia senators and rapidly nominate excellent candidates. The Senate must concomitantly accord the nominees fast review.

Because the 72 district vacancies undercut justice, President Obama must swiftly nominate, and senators promptly consider, many strong judges. 

Tobias is the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond.