When the Senate adjourned Dec. 18 at the end of the First Session of the 114th Congress, senators had confirmed 11 judicial nominees, leaving 31 pending nominations and the federal judiciary with more than 60 vacancies.
Before adjourning, the Senate did agree to vote on the nomination of L. Felipe Restrepo, of Pennsylvania, for a seat on the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit early next year on Jan. 11. Restrepo has been waiting for a floor vote since July 9, when his nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a voice vote.
The Senate also reached an agreement to consider the following four nominations early next year: Wilhelmina Marie Wright, of Minnesota, to be United States District Judge for the District of Minnesota; John Michael Vazquez, of New Jersey, to be United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey; Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger, of Iowa, to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of Iowa; and Leonard Terry Strand, of South Dakota, to be United States District Judge for the Northern District of Iowa.
ABA President Paulette Brown urged Senate leaders earlier this month to schedule confirmation votes before year’s end on the 15 judicial nominees who had been waiting for action by the full Senate following unanimous voice vote approval by the committee.
“Even though we appreciate the Senate’s full agenda and the short amount of time remaining in this session, we urge you to give every pending nomine a floor vote before you leave for your recess,” Brown wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Dec. 2. Brown emphasized that nine of the pending nominees would fill vacancies that have been declared “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. In courts with judicial emergencies, there are too few judges to handle their workload effectively and deliver timely justice. In some of those courts, litigants have to put their businesses or private lives on hold indefinitely while waiting for their day in court, she explained.
“Regardless of how one views confirmation data comparisons among recent presidents or the fact that the vacancy rate has not reached crisis proportions, our courts are unfortunately worse off today than they were at the start of this Congress,” Brown said, pointing out that there are 22 more vacancies (with three more in the pipeline this month) and more than twice the number of judicial emergencies today than there were in January.
“We know from the daily experience of our more than 400,000 members that vacancies must be filled promptly so that courts have the resources to deliver timely, impartial justice,” she said.