Faster Pace Needed for Federal Judicial Confirmations

December 17, 2012

In mid-November, President Obama nominated Raymond P. Moore, a federal public defender, for a vacancy on the United States District Court of Colorado, which will open with the new year. Moore’s name was given to the president by a screening committee developed by Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, designed to provide highly qualified candidates for consideration as possible nominees. Despite the fact that the process by which Moore was nominated mirrors versions used by twenty-one other states, there is concern that he may face a lengthy confirmation period, which has become a trend during Obama’s presidency. Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and an IAALS board member, and I recently penned an op-ed in the Denver Post about this lack of prompt consideration and the dangers it may pose for the federal judiciary.

Obama has been slow to send nominations to the Senate and the Senate has obstructed and delayed the confirmation process, leading to a rise in district court vacancies; sixty district court vacancies exist today, up from 40 when Obama was inaugurated. At this stage of President George W. Bush’s first term, 97 percent of his nominations had been confirmed, compared to only 78 percent of Obama’s nominations. Adding to the problem, Obama’s nominations have waited 85 days longer to reach a floor vote than Bush’s, even though those eventually approved have had less opposition. While nominations have languished in Congress, 9 percent of the federal bench is vacant, with “19 more seats expected to open up soon.” By implementing time deadlines throughout the nomination and confirmation process, many of the current problems may be alleviated.

At the moment, Colorado’s federal district court docket receives high marks for time to disposition, but a delay in Moore’s confirmation to the bench could derail the court’s progress and threaten its ability to fairly and expeditiously resolve the cases before it. In order to forestall a crisis in the federal justice system, fully staffing the courts must become an imperative of President Obama and Congress moving into the new year and beyond.