No more federal judicial confirmations this year

The Hill reports: Feeling heat from the left, Dems reject judges deal.

A Senate Democratic aide said Wednesday that [Chuck] Schumer would not agree to approve the final slate of judicial nominees as the Senate prepares to wrap up its work for the year.

Progressives skewered Schumer for agreeing to two previous deals this year, one in August and the other in October, when he signed off on a group of court picks in exchange for letting vulnerable incumbents head back to their home states to campaign before the November midterm election.

Current number of vacancies in the federal courts: 143.

 

Senate Republicans aim to confirm more than 40 more federal judges by year-end

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley indicated today his party’s desire to confirm 41 additional nominees to the federal bench by the end of the year. That number would include a replacement for Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit.

The bad blood between the Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, and more generally in the Senate, will make this a more difficult project. I can only hope that the Senators look beyond their partisan political aims and recognize the importance to the public of having a fully staffed judiciary. This is especially true for the 39 district court nominees, many of whom have been nominated to fill long-vacant seats on the bench.

Update on legislation affecting the federal courts

Members of Congress have recently introduced several bills that would affect the staffing, administration, or jurisdiction of the federal courts. Among them:

  • The Injunction Authority Clarification Act of 2018 would prevent a court from enforcing an injunction against a non-party to the suit, “unless the party is acting in a representative capacity pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Howard Wasserman has a good analysis of the bill here.
  • The Electronic Court Records Reform Act of 2018 would ensure free public access to public records on the federal courts’ PACER system. Members of the public are currently charged 10 cents per page to access documents online, unless they obtain a fee waiver from the individual court in which the case is pending. I know PACER can be a meaningful source of income for the court system, but I have long supported opening up PACER access without fee restrictions.
  • The ROOM Act would add 52 new federal district judges, and would require the Supreme Court (by audio) and Courts of Appeal (by video) to stream their oral arguments live when possible, and otherwise with an archive delay. None of these proposals is new, and indeed the addition of district judges has long been requested by the courts themselves.

We’ll see if, and how, any of these nascent pieces of legislation develop.

Examining the impact of President Trump’s judicial appointments

It has been widely reported that President Trump is filling federal judicial vacancies at a much faster pace than his predecessors. But the political impact of that pace is blunted by several factors, including the fact that most existing vacancies were created by the retirement of a previous Republican appointee, and the fact that many circuit courts continue to be dominated by Democratic appointees.

Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution provides an outstanding analysis of the impact of the President’s judicial appointments here. It is highly recommended reading, as is everything Russell writes on this and related issues.

John Cooke chosen to lead Federal Judicial Center

I missed the press release from late July, but it’s worth noting that John Cooke, currently the Deputy Director of the Federal Judicial Center, will be promoted to be the Center’s eleventh director next month. He will replace Judge Jeremy Fogel, who is leaving the FJC to lead the new Berkeley Judicial Institute.

From the press release:

John Cooke joined the Federal Judicial Center in 1998 as its director of judicial education programs, and he later headed the Center’s Education Division. The Board selected Mr. Cooke as Deputy Director in 2005. Before his 20-year career at the Center, Mr. Cooke was a commissioned officer in the United States Judge Advocate General’s Corps, achieving the rank of brigadier general. In the course of his military career, he served as the Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, the Judge Advocate for the U.S. Army in Europe, Academic Director of the Judge Advocate General’s School, and as a military trial judge. Mr. Cooke received a B.A. degree from Carleton College, a J.D. from the University of Southern California, and an LL.M degree from the University of Virginia.

Best wishes to the new Director!

Federal judicial nominations are caught up in a political fight (again)

Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), one of the most prominent Republican critics of President Trump, has stated that he “and a few other senators” plan not to vote on any more federal judicial nominations until Congress acts on other issues:

“I do think that unless we can actually do something other than just approving the president’s executive calendar, his nominees, judges, that we have no reason to be there,” Flake said. “So, I think myself and a number of senators, at least a few of us will stand up and say let’s not move any more judges until we get a vote for example on tariffs.”

***

“The Senate ought to bring legislation to the floor that says hey, we’re going to push back here,” Flake said. “The European Union exporting cars to the U.S. does not represent a national security threat.”

Senator Flake is right about the need for Congress to step up and do its job in a rigorous and thoughtful manner. But it’s a damning indictment of that body that it cannot simultaneously govern the country and approve judicial nominees. Meanwhile, the federal court system continues to operate with many fewer judges than it believes necessary to do its work properly.