August 01, 2011

ABA Urges Greater Effort to Fill Judicial Vacancies

ABA President Stephen N. Zack urged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-Ky.) last month to redouble their efforts to fill existing judicial vacancies quickly.

In a June 28 letter to the Senate leaders, Zack emphasized that, despite good intentions and modest progress this Congress in filling vacancies, there has been no significant reduction in the vacancy rate. 

Since the 112th Congress began in January, President Obama has made 90 nominations, the Senate has regularly scheduled up-or-down votes, and 31 nominations have been confirmed. The vacancy rate, however, remains at 10 percent, with 38 of the current 90 vacancies declared judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts because they have existed so long and have created untenable workloads for the remaining judges on the courts where the vacancies exist.

“As lawyers who practice in federal courts across this nation, ABA members know firsthand that long-standing vacancies on courts with staggering caseloads impede access to the courts and create strains that will inevitably reduce the quality of our justice system and erode public confidence in the ability of the courts to vindicate constitutional rights or render fair and timely decisions,” Zack wrote. 

He acknowledged that the aging of the federal judiciary is contributing to the growing vacancy crisis. According to Department of Justice estimates, 60 new vacancies will be created through attrition each year for the next decade.

An obvious starting point to expediting the confirmation process and a step that would reduce the vacancy rate to 8 percent, Zack said, is for Senate leaders to schedule immediate up-or-down votes before the August recess for the 20 nominees awaiting floor action who were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with no recorded opposition.

He emphasized that long-term permanent progress will require more than this one-time fix and urged the president and the Senate “to act with common purpose” through this Congress to fill judicial vacancies promptly.

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