For a century, the U.S. Senate has followed an unwritten “blue-slip” practice, in which Senators are permitted to block federal district and circuit court nominees from their home states from advancing to a confirmation vote, simply by declining to endorse the nominees. Viewed in the most positive light, the practice allows Senators to exercise informed discretion over the nominee’s fit with a local court and local constituency. Viewed more cynically, the blue-slip procedure provides Senators with essentially unchecked power to block nominees for any reason, no matter how ideological, arbitrary, or mean-spirited.
Senate Republicans are now openly talking about modifying the practice, to extend blue-slip privileges only over district court nominees. This means that a single Senator could not hold up confirmation hearings over individuals nominated to serve on the U.S. Courts of Appeal. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) explained: “I think there’s a difference between the blue-slip application at the district court level where the courts is contained wholly within a state as opposed to a circuit court which covers multiple states…. The idea that an individual senator could veto in effect a nominee at the circuit court level is really unprecedented and I think it needs to be carefully looked at.”
Want to keep track of the status of all pending federal judicial nominations? Here is the Senate Judiciary’s Committee’s website.
The Philippine Judges Association (PJA) has nominated court administrator Jose Midas Marquez to an open seat on that country’s Supreme Court. Marquez has also served as a law clerk and a public information officer. In announcing the nomination, the PJA noted that Marquez “brought significant innovations and reforms in the dispensation of justice in the first and second level courts.”
There have been instances of American judges going straight from administrative positions to judgeships, but rarely is familiarity with the court’s internal procedures a selling point to Congress and state nominating commissions. Perhaps it should be.
Pennsylvania voters will go to the polls this coming Tuesday to choose their state judges in their traditional odd-year, contested, partisan elections. Here are some of the late-breaking stories from across the state:
- The Philadelphia Democratic City Committee has had a rough few days. First, it endorsed ten candidates for what it thought was ten open positions on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (the state trial court). But the state Supreme Court subsequently cut the number of open seats to nine, leaving the Committee with one too many endorsements. Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Bar Association announced its intent to hand out flyers with its own endorsements — based on neutral evaluations, not party affiliation — at the same times and locations as the Democratic City Committee.
- The Philadelphia Inquirer has the lowdown on every judicial candidate in the city (Democrat and Republican) here.
- 24 candidates are vying for six judgeships in Northampton County. The job pays $90,000 per year, requires the judge to perform weddings and handle traffic tickets. A law degree is not required.
- Candidates in a single trial court race in Westmoreland County have collectively spent more than $268,000 — nearly twice what the job pays.
- As we reported earlier this week, Martin Sheen continues to stump for one judge seeking reelection. Nothing particularly wrong with that, although Sheen has seen fit to blur the endorsement lines between his real identity and that of the president he once played on TV.
- An Erie newspaper has editorialized against the current election system, noting that it is “no way to staff a competent bench.”
- And the Reading Eagle offers an editorial endorsement of the Pennsylvania Bar’s candidate evaluations.
Finally, in a very positive development, the proposed legislation to shift Pennsylvania from partisan judicial elections to a merit selection system gained some traction when the House Judiciary Committee approved a measure to place the issue before the voters. There is still a long road ahead, but it can be done. And voters in other states have proven more than capable of understanding the benefits of merit selection.
Tuesday should be interesting.
On Monday, the President nominated ten individuals for federal judgeships — five on the circuit courts of appeal, four on the district courts, and one on the U.S. Court of Claims. Three of the ten (Joan Larsen of Michigan, David Stras of Minnesota, and David Nye of Idaho) currently sit on state courts — Larsen and Stras on their state supreme courts, and Nye on his state’s trial bench.
The value of state court experience for federal judges has not been discussed much, but it should be. An intimate knowledge of state law and state court operations is surprisingly useful for the federal bench. And appointing federal judges from the state courts has valuable ripple effects for the states as well. More after the jump.
Continue reading “Several new federal judicial nominees have state court experience, and that’s great news”
In advance of this month’s statewide judicial elections, actor Martin Sheen has appeared on YouTube and television, advocating for the reelection of Pennsylvania judge Joseph Cosgrove. That Sheen would support Cosgrove is not surprising: they are apparently old friends and political allies, and Cosgrove evidently represented Sheen for time when he was in private practice.
But the ads are not just an endorsement from Martin Sheen, the actor. Sheen deliberately blurs the line between his real-life persona and that of Josiah Bartlet, the fictional president from “The West Wing.” Here is the YouTube endorsement, featuring a “decree” signed by Bartlet.
Continue reading “Imaginary president stumps for real judicial candidate”
A few more details here.
Among the rumored names are several state supreme court justices. If that pans out, we’ll have more to say in the coming days on the impact of state-level experience on the federal bench.