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 »
Last week, the Senate confirmed two district court judges by overwhelming margins – Shelly Dick was confirmed to the Middle District of Louisiana by voice vote, and Nelson Roman was confirmed to the Southern District of New York by a vote of 97-0. Judge Dick was originally nominated last April, but was blocked by Senator David Vitter until after the 2012 presidential election. After being approved by the Judiciary Committee on February 28, Judge Dick only (!) had to wait two and a half months for a floor vote. Judge Roman, who was originally nominated last September, was voted out of committee the same day. Notably, Judge Dick is the first woman to sit on the bench in the Middle District of Louisiana.
This morning, by a vote of 96-0, Jane Kelly was confirmed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. She becomes the second woman ever to sit on that court, joining Judge Diana Murphy, and the first from Iowa.
Now-Judge Kelly’s confirmation is not only worth celebrating because it adds much-needed diversity to this court, but also because it is exemplary of what the confirmation process should look like: Judge Kelly was nominated on January 31, had her judiciary committee hearing on February 27, was voted out of committee on March 22 – and one month and two days later, she was confirmed. Rather than the 116 days that, on average, President Obama’s nominees wait for a vote on the Senate floor, Judge Kelly was confirmed only 83 days after her nomination. Read more »
Today, federal magistrate Patty Shwartz was confirmed 64 to 34 by the Senate to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Her confirmation is long overdue; she was nominated in October 2011 and was originally voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2012.
Judge Shwartz’s nomination typifies how President Obama’s nominees have languished compared to his predecessor’s. According to a recent New York Times article, the average wait time on the Senate floor (after being voted out of committee) for an Obama circuit court appointee has been 148 days, compared with 35 days for President George W. Bush’s circuit court nominees. For Obama’s district court nominees, the average wait has been 102 days, compared with 35 days for Bush’s district court choices. 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 don’t always get a second chance to make things right. But tomorrow, obstructionists in the U.S. Senate do. In December 2011, every Republican Senator, save one (Senator Lisa Murkowski) filibustered the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to the important Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Tomorrow, the Senate will get a second chance to allow this outstanding nominee to receive an up-or-down vote.
The delays in her confirmation have only caused more problems for this court, and the public at large, during the thirteen months since the first vote to move to consider Caitlin Halligan’s nomination failed. Instead of three open seats on the D.C. Circuit, as there were in 2011, there are now four – making the D.C. Circuit the appellate court with the highest number of vacancies in the country. Now seven judges must do the work meant for a full eleven-judge court. With each vacancy, each judge’s caseload of complex, nationally important cases has grown. What else has changed? Well, since President Obama won a second term, the virtual total shutdown of the confirmation process has ended. So now is clearly the time to move the Halligan nomination forward, to a consideration of her excellent record – and a confirmation vote. Read more »
March is Women's History Month, which affords us the opportunity to reflect on how far we've come in this country, and how far we have yet to go. And in many respects, recent events in the Congress illustrate both themes. For example, the last day of February, the Congress reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, with even stronger protections for Native American, immigrant, and LGBT women. Yet it was a long and hard-fought battle, despite this law's proven effectiveness is combating domestic violence and the overwhelming bipartisan support the law has enjoyed over time.
Another example? Diversity on our federal courts. President Obama’s Administration has nominated more women and people of color for judgeships than any previous Administration in history. President Obama already has appointed more minority women judges than President Bush or President Clinton. As a result, the percentage of active women judges on the federal bench has increased from slightly above 25% to over 30% since 2009. For the first time in history, moreover, three women serve on the Supreme Court at one time. And of course, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama's first nominee to the Supreme Court, became the first Hispanic to sit on the highest court in the land. Read more »
On Wednesday, February 27, 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on President Obama’s nomination of Jane Kelly to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Her credentials are stellar. A graduate summa cum laude from Duke University, she went on to graduate cum laude from Harvard Law School and clerk on the district court in South Dakota for Judge Donald Porter and on the Eighth Circuit for Judge David Hansen. Jane Kelly currently works as an assistant public defender in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and has briefed and argued numerous appellate cases, including before the Eighth Circuit, and tried 14 cases to verdict in federal district court. In 2004, she received the John Adams Award from the Iowa Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, given annually to an Iowa attorney who has devoted his or her career to defending the indigent. Read more »
Yesterday, the Washington Post published an op-ed by former D.C. Circuit Judge Patricia M. Wald. As Judge Wald put it, in short, “The D.C. Circuit has 11 judgeships but only seven active judges. There is cause for extreme concern that Congress is systematically denying the court the human resources it needs to carry out its weighty mandates.” Read more »
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 »