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November 01, 2011

ABA Stresses Urgency for Filling Judicial Vacancies

Urges sustained, concerted and cooperative effort toward reducing high vacancy rate

ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III commended Senate leaders last month for confirming 10 judges during the first two weeks of October and urged them to continue to schedule multiple nominees for votes on the same day at regular intervals throughout the remainder of this session to make progress toward reducing the vacancy rate.

Pointing out in Oct. 13 letters to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that the 10 confirmation had a negligible effect on the longstanding 10 percent vacancy rate, Robinson warned that confirming only a few nominees at a time would not give the Senate the opportunity to achieve significant success in reducing the vacancy and providing  the federal judiciary with the judges it needs to evaluate each case on its merits and dispense timely justice to all.

“Nothing less than a sustained, concerted and cooperative effort will be sufficient to make discernible progress in reducing the longstanding and dangerously high vacancies on the federal courts,” Robinson wrote.

He urged the leaders to schedule votes on the 29 nominees pending on the Senate floor who were reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee by bipartisan voice votes – an action he said would drop the vacancy rate to approximately seven percent. Unfortunately, the Senate confirmed only five additional pending nominees by the end of October, which was insufficient to outpace attrition and therefore failed to reduce the 10 percent vacancy rate.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) singled out Robinson’s comments during floor debate on one of the nominations and included the ABA letter in the Oct. 17 Congressional Record. Leahy pointed out that a Congressional Research Service report recently found that the country is in the longest period of historically high vacancy rates in the last 35 years with the number of vacancies at or above 90 for well over two years.

Leahy, emphasizing the ABA’s description of the problems created by excessive vacancies on the federal courts, quoted from the ABA letter: “Across the nation, federal courts with high caseloads and longstanding or multiple vacancies have no choice but to delay or temporarily suspend their civil dockets due to Speedy Trial Act requirements. This deprives our federal courts of the capacity to deliver timely justice in civil matters and has real consequences for the financial well-being of businesses and for individual litigants whose lives are put on hold pending resolution of their disputes.”

In related action, the ABA president also wrote a letter Oct. 24 to Kathryn Ruemmler, counsel to the president, commending the White House’s “ongoing efforts to diversify the federal judiciary by nominating men and women of diverse backgrounds and experience whose professional competence, integrity and judicial temperament qualify them for lifetime appointment to the federal bench.”

Robinson encouraged the White House to build on these efforts by reviewing current vetting procedures to ensure that there are no barriers or unintended bias that would in any way inhibit the nomination of disabled men and women with stellar professional qualifications to lifetime positions on the federal bench,” he wrote.

Robinson extended an invitation to the White House for a representative to attend the Third National ABA Employment Conference of Lawyers with Disabilities scheduled for May 7-8, 2012, in Washington D.C.  The conference is hosted by the ABA Commission on Disability Rights.

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