Federal courts: Pawn in a political game
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On Oct. 29, 2015, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Edward Stanton III’s nomination to the Senate Floor for a confirmation vote. Five months earlier, President Obama nominated Stanton to be a judge on the federal district court in Tennessee, after which the Committee held a hearing on Stanton’s nomination and determined that he was, in fact, qualified to be a judge: the current U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, he is also a former in-house corporate counsel, private practitioner, and city attorney.

Despite these qualifications and the consent of a thorough and bi-partisan committee, Stanton’s nomination has been languishing on the Senate floor, with no vote scheduled, for over thirteen months. Why? There is no legitimate reason. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellDems ready aggressive response to Trump emergency order, as GOP splinters Green New Deal Resolution invites big picture governing ‘Contingency’ spending in 3B budget deal comes under fire MORE of Kentucky has blocked all judicial confirmation votes for over a year — including those for nominees without any opposition whatsoever —a shameful effort to politicize our entire federal judicial system. 

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Sadly, Stanton does not stand alone. While U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, an esteemed consensus candidate, has drawn vast attention, the wholly unprecedented and unacceptable blockade of his nomination is merely the most visible aspect of a much larger pattern of obstruction. Indeed, our fight for basic fairness and the integrity of our country’s highest court has only just begun, and we simply won’t permit ill-conceived power grabs to become business as usual.

That means we also cannot ignore the 24 other nominees just like Stanton who had Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, were voted out of committee, and are now pending on the Senate floor. Each one of these twenty five nominees has been thoroughly vetted and has the support of his or her home-state senators, as well as — perhaps most notably — the approval of the bi-partisan Senate Judiciary Committee. They are waiting only for a confirmation vote, a simple action that would collectively take mere minutes. At the end of this Congress, all pending nominations will terminate.

For the Senate to waste the resources already expended to identify, consider, and advance these nominees would be reckless and irresponsible. It is worth noting that, following the 2008 election of President Obama, not one of President Bush’s nominees was left to die on the Democrat-controlled Senate floor.

Meanwhile, our federal courts are in a state of crisis. As of this writing, there are 99 federal judicial vacancies, 38 of which have been deemed by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts as “judicial emergencies,” a classification reflecting the urgency and volume of the cases waiting to be heard, as well as the debilitating shortage of judges. In practice, this means that cases go unheard for months, if not years. Important issues go unresolved and individuals and businesses are deprived of the justice to which they are constitutionally entitled, often causing irreparable harm.  Even still, Senate Republican leadership has refused to act, and McConnell remains unapologetic in his blatantly un-American destruction.

It seems rare that our elected officials have the opportunity to affect positive change in the lives of countless Americans in the span of just a few moments. But, they now have that chance. In addition to holding a hearing on Judge Garland, Senate leadership must schedule immediate confirmation votes on the 25 nominees that have proven to be qualified; the hard work has been done, and every senator must be given the opportunity to vote yes or no. A healthy democracy does not allow its elected representatives to shirk their duties, especially at the expense of its citizens. Our court system is far too important to be a pawn in a political game, and all senators must honor the commitment they made to those who elected them.

Nancy K. Kaufman is CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.