State of Judicial Emergency

By Caitlin Hill, NOW PACs Intern

The federal court system of the United States is in serious jeopardy — judicial vacancies abound at an alarming rate. With more than 100 vacancies, 49 of which have been declared “judicial emergencies” by the U.S. Courts Administrative Office, something must be done.

Out of the 874 total federal judgeships, 11.5 percent are vacant. Of these, a handful have been vacant for five or more years. In President Obama’s first two years in office, the 111th Congress confirmed only 58 percent of his judicial nominees. Compare this to the 89 percent confirmed in Bill Clinton’s first two years in office, and 74 percent of George W. Bush’s nominees confirmed.

What is happening now is none other than an attempted right-wing takeover of the federal judiciary, and it must be stopped. By delaying the process, Congress has succeeded in keeping ideologically conservative judges in the federal courts and putting social justice at risk.

Already, a Bush-appointed Republican judge in Virginia has deemed a key part of the federal health care law unconstitutional (Commonwealth of Virginia v. Sebelius). Additionally, appellate court judges appointed by Bush have succeeded in harming the rights of minorities and women. In Jackson v. Flint Ink N. Am. Corp., an African-American worker was denied from pursuing a racial harassment charge against his supervisors. In another instance, a Bush-appointed judge voted to prevent a Wal-Mart employee from presenting evidence that she faced pregnancy-based discrimination in the workplace (Quick v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.).

Thankfully, senators like Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) are working to fill the judicial vacancies and restore justice. On Feb. 3, the Senate Judiciary Committee met and approved 11 judicial nominees, and just four days later the full Senate confirmed three nominees, which is excellent progress. We urge the Senate to move forward on all of the president’s nominations, without delay, to reduce the risk to recent legislative gains and the progress of social justice.

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