Confirm Scott Palk for the Western District of Oklahoma
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On Dec. 16, 2015, President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaReport: FCC chair to push for complete repeal of net neutrality Right way and wrong way Keystone XL pipeline clears major hurdle despite recent leak MORE nominated Scott Palk, who served for nine years as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Oklahoma, for a vacancy on that district court. Palk is a very qualified, mainstream nominee, who enjoys the strong support of Oklahoma Republican Sens. Jim InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenators tear into controversial Trump environment nominee McCain backs Pentagon nominee despite concerns over defense industry ties GOP senators ask Trump for meeting on biofuels mandate MORE and James Lankford. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Palk on May 19 with no dissent. Nevertheless, he has languished on the floor since then, primarily because GOP leaders refused to grant him a final debate and vote. Because Palk is an experienced, moderate nominee and the Western District of Oklahoma requires all of its vacancies filled, the Senate must swiftly conduct his confirmation debate and vote.

The court currently has three vacancies in six active judgeships. Thus, the District lacks fifty percent of its active judicial complement, which frustrates prompt, economical and fair case disposition. Because the Speedy Trial Act grants criminal prosecutions precedence, parties in civil cases have difficulty securing trial dates and finishing litigation. Deciding cases without half of the judgeships authorized can impose enhanced pressure on the court’s judges.

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Obama nominated Palk eleven months ago. Obama praised his excellent legal career, declaring that he was a distinguished attorney who would serve “with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice.” The White House press release remarked that Palk had served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney from 2002 until 2009 and Deputy Criminal Chief beginning in 2004 and has served as the Assistant Dean for Students and Assistant General Counsel at the University of Oklahoma College of Law since 2011.

Nonetheless, the Judiciary Committee only conducted Palk’s hearing on April 20, 2016. The Oklahoma senators introduced the nominee, lauded his qualifications, and urged rapid Senate approval. That hearing proceeded smoothly and the members who asked questions appeared satisfied with Palk’s responses. On May 19, the panel approved him on a voice vote with little discussion and no controversy.

Since May, Palk has been on the floor awaiting a final vote. The GOP leadership has argued that Republicans are restoring the Senate to “regular order.” However, Palk and many other fine, moderate nominees have waited months for ballots. Senators Inhofe and Lankford have asked for a quick floor vote, yet Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAlabama election has GOP racing against the clock McConnell PAC demands Moore return its money Klobuchar taking over Franken's sexual assault bill MORE (R-Ky.), the majority leader, has failed to arrange it. Some Democratic senators have sought unanimous consent to vote on Palk and nineteen other district nominees who require final votes, but certain members have objected. If the GOP follows regular order, Palk will seemingly have a floor ballot soon. However, in late September, the Senate recessed to campaign until the elections.

It is past time for senators to vote on Scott Palk. He is a competent, mainstream nominee whom both Oklahoma senators support. The District must possess each of its active judges to swiftly, inexpensively and fairly decide cases. The District’s judiciary as well as persons and companies litigating in federal court merit a full bench, while Palk deserves a final vote. Thus, the Senate must hold his debate and ballot before it adjourns. 

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


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