Yesterday, Srikanth Srinivasan became the first South Asian judge confirmed to a federal court of appeals. In addition, President Obama has recently made some groundbreaking nominations. Last week, after Shelly Dick was the first woman confirmed to the Middle District of Louisiana, President Obama nominated Carolyn McHugh, who would be the first woman from Utah to sit on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Elizabeth Wolford, who would be the first woman to sit on the Western District of New York, Pamela Reeves, who would be the first women to sit on the Eastern District of Tennessee, and Debra Brown, nominated to the Northern District of Mississippi, who would be the first African-American woman to serve as a federal judge in Mississippi. Yesterday as well, President Obama nominated Landya B. McCafferty, who if confirmed would be the first woman judge on the U.S. District Court in New Hampshire, and Susan P. Watters, who if confirmed would be the first woman judge on the U.S. District Court in Montana. Read more »
The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved the nomination of Sri Srinivasan to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals at its executive business meeting last Thursday. Lest anyone become confused and interpret this bipartisan support as a sign that the determined obstruction that has kept all four vacant seats on the D.C. Circuit empty might relent, Senator Grassley proposed in his opening statement that the Committee hold hearings on the D.C. Circuit's workload "before we move on any further D.C. Circuit nominations, beyond that of the current nominee." This follows on the heels of Senator Grassley's introduction of legislation that would, in defiance of reality, recent history, and the reasoned judgment of the United States Judicial Conference, strip the D.C. Circuit of three seats. Instead, the "Court Efficiency Act" would add two seats to other circuits (one to the Eleventh and one to the Second).
First, the facts. There are currently four vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, one of which (and the seat to which the highly qualified Caitlin Halligan was nominated) has been vacant since Chief Justice Roberts was elevated in 2005. In addition to lacking over one-third of its authorized judges, the Circuit's specialized and complex caseload definitely justifies filling the rest of the current vacancies. As Chief Justice Roberts has written, one-third of D.C. Circuit appeals are from agency decisions. Often, these administrative law appeals have enormous documentary records, implicate complex statutes and agency guidance, and may involve numerous parties and amici curiae— making them far more time-consuming than other types of cases. In any event, since the last judge was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit (Thomas Griffith, in 2005), the caseload has increased more than 50% from 119 pending cases per active judge to 188 pending cases per active judge. Read more »
On Friday, the American Constitution Society marked International Women’s Day with a blog on one of our favorite subjects – diversity on the federal bench. In case you weren’t able to enjoy this great post on Friday, read on:
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: President Obama has made significant steps towards increasing the diversity of the federal judiciary in a number of important ways. 41% of Obama’s confirmed judges have been women — raising the number of total female active federal judges to approximately 30% overall. At the end of President Obama’s first term alone, there have been more female, black, Hispanic, and openly gay federal judges than confirmed during President George W. Bush’s two terms.
This brings us to the recent nomination of the Jane Kelly, who, if confirmed, would be the second-ever woman to serve on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. An article this morning that described one case recently decided by the Eighth Circuit is illustrative of how diversity matters to outcomes of actual cases that are decided and women contribute to the quality of justice. The article quotes the Executive Director of the Infinity Project, who describes the case of Shawanna Nelson, an Arkansas prisoner who filed a lawsuit over being shackled to a hospital bed while in labor. Read more »
As we approach the end of President Obama’s first term in office, it’s an appropriate time to look back and take stock of the impact the President has had on the federal bench, to date. Although, thanks to a determined minority in the Senate, there is a record number of judicial seats that remain empty, the most recent additions to the federal bench are remarkable not only for their excellence and qualifications, but also for how they are changing the face of the judiciary.
President Obama’s Administration has nominated more women and people of color for judgeships than any previous Administration in history. Overall, of the President’s confirmations, approximately 43% have been women, more than twice the rate under the previous Administration. In fact, more women have been confirmed to the federal bench in President Obama’s first term than during President George W. Bush’s entire presidency. As a result, even with the vacancies, the percentage of active women judges on the federal bench has increased from slightly above 25% to over 30% since 2009.
The Administration also broke gender barriers by confirming six women as the first woman judges ever to serve on their district court, and five more as the first woman circuit judge in their state. And it must be noted, of course, that for the first time in history, three women serve on the Supreme Court at one time. President Obama’s nomination of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan created that exciting breakthrough.
Tuesday, two more federal district court judges, John Dowdell (Northern District of Oklahoma) and Jesus Bernal (Central District of California) were confirmed by the Senate. This follows on the heels of confirmation votes on four district court judges last week, and, potentially one or more votes this afternoon. Although some commentators have characterized these votes as progress, which I suppose it would be as a relative matter, it's important not to forget the Senate minority's blockade of confirmation votes in the months preceding the election: for example, Senate Minority Leader McConnell announced in mid-June that no more circuit court nominees would receive a vote until after the elections, and backed it up with a filibuster of the nominee to an Oklahoma seat on the 10th circuit in July. Further, Senate Republicans only allowed votes on three district court nominees in September. And it's not as though the votes were coming fast and furious before June. Read more »
A recent article pointed out that the Oakland federal courthouse, in the Northern District of California, is home to six federal judges – three lifetime appointees and three magistrates – all of whom are women. Moreover, five of those six judges are women of color. This appears to be the first time a courthouse of this size has had an all-women bench, and stands in stark contrast to the overall representation of women in the federal district courts, which hovers around 30%.
Jeremy Fogel, the director of the Federal Judicial Center (on leave from the Northern District of California himself) noted that "It's not just the courthouse and the majesty of the building, the dignity of the courtroom, that matters … but are people in various positions in the judiciary someone they can identify with? From the standpoint of appearances, [an all-women court is] a good thing." Read more »
It used to be fairly routine for the Senate to confirm handfuls of judicial nominees – especially district court nominees – at a time. Indeed, Senator Patrick Leahy recently recounted that the Senate confirmed 18 of President George W. Bush's judicial nominees in one day. The Senate could have equaled this impressive feat on Monday, when a total of 18 nominees were ready for a vote, and time was scheduled on the calendar for a confirmation vote. But instead, just as it has for the last two weeks, the Senate confirmed one district court nominee. One!
And it's not as though the nomination required extended debate, or that the outcome was seriously in question – Kevin McNulty, nominated to the district court in New Jersey, was confirmed on Monday by a vote of 91-3. So why wouldn't the Senate just vote on all 18 – or 14 (the total number of district court judges ready for votes), or seven (the total number of nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee through April 19, the day now-Judge McNulty was voted out of committee), or six (the number of judicial emergencies among those nominees), or even two (there is another nominee from New Jersey, voted out of committee the same day as Judge McNulty) nominees?
Well, simply stated: obstruction.
It's no secret that unprecedented obstruction in the Senate has slowed the accomplishment of the people's business to a crawl. And the judicial confirmation process has been no exception. Read more »
Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Mary Geiger Lewis to a seat on the District Court of South Carolina by a vote of 64-27. Upon her confirmation, Judge Lewis becomes the third female judge (of ten judges total) on this court, and the 63rd woman confirmed to a district court seat during the Obama Administration. Her confirmation is good news, coming on the heels of a CRS report that concluded both that the number of district court vacancies has increased rather than decreased since the beginning of President Obama's administration, and that "fewer Obama district court nominees have been confirmed by the Senate than were confirmed during the first terms of the four preceding Presidents." Read more »
This week the Senate confirmed Timothy Hillman to the district court in Massachusetts by a vote of 88-1 (with Senator Lee the only no vote, in continued protest of President Obama's recess appointments to the NLRB and consumer protection bureau back in January). In addition, the Senate will vote this afternoon on the nomination of Jeffrey Helmick to a seat on the Northern District of Ohio. After today's vote, there will be 14 nominees, including one female circuit court nominee and two female district court nominees, waiting for a floor vote. (Incidentally, click on the links for news coverage of the investitures of Stephanie Thacker, the first Fourth Circuit female judge from West Virginia, and Morgan Christen, the first Ninth Circuit female judge from Alaska). Read more »