Chief justice encourages end to judicial vacancies

January 3, 2011
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It’s a recurring problem and one the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court would like to see end as quickly as possible: numerous judicial vacancies.

In his annual year-end report, Chief Justice John Roberts cites these vacancies as one of the immediate obstacles in preventing the judiciary from achieving the goals spelled out in the “Strategic Plan for the Federal Judiciary.”

The chief justice is quick to point out that the judiciary respects the nomination process, but that there is a “persistent problem” in the process of filling these vacancies.

“Each political party has found it easy to turn on a dime from decrying to defending the blocking of judicial nominations, depending on their changing political fortunes,” he writes. “This has created acute difficulties for some judicial districts.”

While heartened by the recent rash of confirmations by the Senate, he urges a solution between the political parties for this recurring problem.

We saw this political battling first-hand with the nomination and eventual confirmation of Judge David F. Hamilton to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Hamilton, then a U.S. District Judge in the Southern District of Indiana, was nominated by President Barack Obama in February 2009, and was confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in June 2009. But Republican members used rules to hold up a vote before the full Senate for several months before he was finally confirmed Nov. 19, 2009.  

Judge Hamilton was taking over a vacancy on the 7th Circuit left when Judge Kenneth Ripple took senior status in September 2008.

This type of delay is happening in Circuit and District courts across the country. It’s nothing new. But when these political battles or standoffs happen, they affect a lot of people. Not only do they impact the judges and court staff in these courts with the vacancies, who are forced to keep up with caseloads, but it affects those who will appear in those courts.

I don’t see an end to this any time soon, do you?

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