Yesterday, in a letter to the two Senate Leaders and the Chair and Ranking Member of the Judicary Committee, President Obama slammed the widespread obstructionism that has slowed judicial confirmations to a trickle:
I write to express my concern with the pace of judicial confirmations in the United States Senate. Yesterday, the Senate recessed without confirming a single one of the 23 Federal judicial nominations pending on the Executive Calendar. The Federal judiciary and the American people it serves suffer the most from this unprecedented obstruction. One in eight seats on the Federal bench sits empty, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared that many of those vacancies constitute judicial emergencies. Despite the urgent and pressing need to fill these important posts, a minority of Senators has systematically and irresponsibly used procedural maneuvers to block or delay confirmation votes on judicial nominees – including nominees that have strong bipartisan support and the most distinguished records. The minority has even been blocking non-controversial nominees – a dramatic shift from past practice that could cause a crisis in the judiciary. . . .
Proceeding this way will put our judiciary on a dangerous course, as the Department of Justice projects that fully half of the Federal judiciary will be vacant by 2020 if we continue on the current pace of judicial confirmations. The real harm of this political game-playing falls on the American people, who turn to the courts for justice. By denying these nominees a simple up-or- down vote, the Republican leadership is undermining the ability of our courts to deliver justice to those in need. All Americans depend on having well-qualified men and women on the bench to resolve important legal matters – from working mothers seeking timely compensation for their employment discrimination claims to communities hoping for swift punishment for perpetrators of crimes to small business owners seeking protection from unfair and anticompetitive practices.
The President’s letter largely repeats the strong case against obstructionism that has been made by numerous commentators, including myself. But its significance is not the content of the letter, it is the person who is now making it. President Obama’s letter — along with a recent op-ed on the same topic by Attorney General Eric Holder — is a hopeful sign that the White House will ramp up its efforts to fill the more than one hundred vacant judgeships.
There is no question that the nation has suffered dearly because of the right’s current stranglehold on the judiciary. This stranglehold enabled conservatives to give corporate America sweeping immunity from the law. Indeed, in just the last few years, right-wing judges and justices have immunized powerful corporate interest groups from campaign finance law, from laws intended to protect the environment, and from laws intended to protect women and older Americans in the workplace.
And as the President points out, the right’s crusade has now created a whole new problem for the American people — obstructionism has reached such a level that the courts are being hollowed out. Presently, the average litigant waits more than nine months for a decision in federal court, and they can wait years for justice if the case is appealed or requires a full trial.
These numbers will only get worse if conservatives continue to block Obama’s nominees, but they sadly show no desire to let up now. Simply put, the right has decided that if it can’t have corporate justice, there will be no justice at all.