Sustained Outrage

Do Sens. Reid and McConnell read their mail?

On Friday, Ashley L. Belleau, president of the Federal Bar Association, wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), urging the leaders to take action, at the very least, on the 17 candidates awaiting confirmation votes from the full Senate who passed out of the Judiciary Committee “by unanimous consent or without controversy.” This includes Albert Diaz, a North Carolina judge who was nominated by President Obama last November for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit that has been vacant for 1240 days and has been declared a “judicial emergency” by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Belleau gets right to it:

I write on behalf of the approximately sixteen thousand members of the Federal Bar Association (FBA) to encourage expedient Senate floor action on the judicial candidates reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaiting a Senate floor vote. As the Senate reconvenes, there is a very real need – in the interest of our federal court system — for the Senate to fulfill its constitutional responsibility to vote on these pending nominees.

The FBA is the foremost national association of private and public attorneys engaged in the practice of law before the federal courts and federal agencies. We seek the fair and swift administration of justice for all litigants in the federal courts. We want to assure that the federal courts are operating at their full, authorized capacity and that justice is timely delivered by the federal courts. The large number of judicial vacancies prevents the prompt and timely administration of justice in the federal courts. This is causing unnecessary hardship and increased costs on individuals and businesses with lawsuits pending in the federal courts.

Our Association’s interest is focused upon prompt, dispositive action by the Senate in filling vacancies as they arise on the federal bench. Prompt, dispositive action by the Senate on judicial candidates will assure that lawsuits filed in our federal courts are heard and decided without delay. The justice system suffers when vacancies are not filled in a timely manner. Vacancies create a burden of added litigation and economic costs that at times overwhelm the system and its ability to hear and decide matters in a timely and effective manner.

Seventeen of the 23 federal judicial candidates who await a Senate floor vote have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by unanimous consent or without controversy. These candidates deserve an up-or-down vote before the 111th Congress reaches an end.

Remember, Belleau’s letter comes on the heels of last week’s letter from members of the 9th Circuit as well as Chief District Judges within the circuit, begging requesting Reid and McConnell to take action on judicial vacancies. Belleau continues:

The Federal Bar Association as a matter of policy takes no position on the credentials or qualifications of specific nominees to the federal bench. The FBA’s foremost interest lies in the assurance of prompt, dispositive action by the President in nominating qualified federal judicial candidates and the Senate in either confirming or not confirming them in a prompt manner. Such action will ultimately reduce the number of vacancies to a more tolerable level.

The Federal Bar Association firmly believes that all judicial candidates, once cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee, deserve a prompt up-or-down vote by the Senate. Swift action is particularly needed on those candidates associated with federal circuit and district courts whose caseloads are in emergency status. We urge the Senate to vote upon these pending nominees before the end of the current legislative session.

Thank you for your support of the nation’s federal court system and your consideration of our views.

The Washington Post weighed in on Saturday with an editorial that echoed Belleau’s letter.

In all, 23 of Mr. Obama’s nominees are awaiting a Senate floor vote; 16 of them received unanimous approval from the Judiciary Committee and the vast majority were deemed “well qualified” by the American Bar Association. Eight – including the three mentioned above – have been tapped for seats designated “judicial emergencies” because of the length of the vacancy and the workload of the court.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the delays, starting with the president, who has been slow and often late in sending up names. The White House has also been timid in fighting for nominees. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has not been assertive in scheduling floor votes, and the push by some interest groups to win confirmation for liberal favorites such as controversial 9th Circuit pick Goodwin Liu may be holding up progress on the broader slate of more moderate nominees. Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have been all too eager to object to votes even on nominees with bipartisan support. The stall tactics are undoubtedly payback for Democratic filibusters of controversial but highly qualified nominees of President George W. Bush. The difference today is that even nominees without a whiff of opposition are being blocked.

Presidents deserve significant deference in judicial nominations, and every nominee deserves an up-or-down vote. But the hold-up of nominees who have garnered unanimous, bipartisan support is particularly offensive. These nominees should confirmed swiftly before Congress recesses next month.

There don’t seem to be any consent agreements on the next Executive Calendar (for Nov. 29), so it doesn’t look like any confirmation votes are imminent. Maybe Sens. Reid and McConnell can use the Thanksgiving break to catch up on some of their unread mail.