Just one month after federal Judge John Roll was brutally murdered while waiting to speak with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), Giffords’ Republican colleague Denny Rehberg used an address to the Montana state legislature to make a thinly-veiled threat against another federal judge:
Environmental obstructionists found a federal judge in Missoula that was willing to ignore the scientific evidence as well as the expert opinions of on-the-ground wildlife managers here in Montana. And he ruled last August that the grey wolf had to remain on the Endangered Species List.
When I first heard his decision, like many of you I wanted to take action immediately. I asked: how can we put some of these judicial activists on the Endangered Species List? I am still working on that!
Rehberg’s choice of words is inexcusable. And his speech is made all the more bizarre because of his claim to oppose “judicial activism.” Immediately after railing against such activism, Rehberg praises a judge’s recent decision declaring the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional — even though that decision is riddled with factual and legal errors, writes an entire provision of the Constitution out of the document, and thumbs its nose at binding Supreme Court precedent. Apparently, a “judicial activist” is any judge who won’t twist the Constitution to do whatever Denny Rehberg wants it to do.
Fortunately, most Republican lawmakers have not emulated Rehberg’s implicit threats against sitting judges. Yet Senate Republicans are certainly doing their part to ensure that the federal judiciary cannot function. Presently, federal judges are retiring at a rate of one per week. Thanks to a right-wing campaign to obstruct President Obama’s judicial nominees, however, new judges are only being confirmed at about half that pace. As a result, DOJ estimates that one-half of the federal bench will be empty within 10 years if confirmation rates do not improve.
In the one court in Illinois, three of four active judgeships are presently vacant, despite the fact that two nominees to this court were unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee. As a result, hundreds of Americans must wait months or years for basic justice. If the GOP’s crusade against the judiciary is allowed to continue, the rest of the nation will soon lose its access to timely and necessary justice as well.