The Senate has one week until it adjourns for its pre-election recess. While several bills are making their way through the upper house, the arena in which it can have the most impact is in confirming President Obama’s judicial nominees. So far this year, the upper house has filled 68 vacancies on the Federal bench, more than in all of 2013. However, even with the increased pace, 60 vacancies remain on Federal district and appellate benches.
Each vacancy in the Federal courts increases the burden on active and senior judges (who work a reduced number of cases in semi-retirement) and delays the administration of justice for individuals, businesses, and non-profit groups seeking resolution of their claims. Nearly two dozen of the vacancies have been classified as “judicial emergencies” because of the length of time they have been unfilled and the number of cases in their jurisdictions.
With the clock ticking on the pre-election session, the Senate faces a numbers game if it wants to ensure that the Federal courts have a sufficient number of judges to ensure the swift administration of justice. For those keeping score at home, the numbers to keep in mind are 7, 9, 3, and 8.
7: Seven district court nominees have cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee and can receive floor votes at any time.
9: A total of 9 nominees will likely be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this Thursday, leaving only a floor vote between them and confirmation. However, given the pace of judicial confirmations, it is not likely that votes by the full Senate will come prior to its adjournment on the Sept. 23.
9 (again): Another 9 nominees remain in the Judiciary Committee. The committee held a hearing on five of the nominees last week, with the remaining four set to appear before the body this Wednesday. Committee and floor votes will likely be held when the Senate returns after the November 4th election.
3: A handful of the president’s nominees are unlikely to move at all before the 113th Congress’s final adjournment in December. The home-state senators of Jennifer May-Parker, a nominee to the longest-lasting vacancy in the Federal court system in North Carolina’s Eastern District, and of Alison Renee Lee, of South Carolina, have yet to file “blue slips” allowing the nominations to proceed to a hearing -- as required by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPhotos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' MORE (D-Vt.). Yet another nominee, Michael Boggs of Georgia’s Northern District, has not yet proceeded to committee approval because of controversy over his votes in the Georgia legislature along with political contributions he made while a judicial candidate in his home state.
8: Finally, while the Senate is filling existing vacancies, another 8 currently active judges have already announced that they will retire or take senior status between Oct. 1 and the end of the year.
If the Senate confirms these 25 nominees by December (a best-case scenario, to be sure), it has an opportunity to significantly reduce the number of Federal courts saddled with an insufficient number of judges to handle heavy caseloads. Should the Senate end 2014 with less than 50 vacancies, it will be the lowest total of the Obama presidency, ensuring that more Americans have access to timely consideration of their cases in Federal courts.
Lodato, Ph.D., is a Lecturer at the University of Chicago.