There’s good news and bad news regarding Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and the longtime effort to fill that state’s vacancy on the Seventh Circuit, which has been empty for more than six years.
The good news is that, almost two months after Donald Schott’s nomination, Johnson has at last said he has signed his “blue slip” of approval to the Judiciary Committee. Under current committee practice, both home state senators must give their approval for the committee to process a circuit or district court nomination. Since Sen. Tammy Baldwin had already submitted hers, there should be no more obstacles to finally letting Schott have a hearing.
The bad news is that Johnson’s statement announcing this is also a needless attack against any number of Democrats, including Baldwin. He also offers a surprising explanation for why it took so long for their nominations commission to get around to seeking qualified individuals for this seat:
“The bipartisan compact worked beautifully, filling the Western District vacancy as well as a vacancy that opened on Wisconsin's Eastern Federal District Court.
“Our commissioners then began working on the appeals court vacancy. We worked on this last because it was not a judicial emergency and we knew there would be a smaller pool of applicants” [emphasis added]
Sen. Johnson may not have wanted the commission to work on the circuit vacancy, but he is apparently not being accurate when he says what his reasons were. That’s because the Seventh Circuit seat was a judicial emergency when the commission began its work and all through the time that it was considering potential district court nominees. Here is the chronology:
- January 7, 2010: The Seventh Circuit seat becomes vacant when Judge Terence Evans takes senior status, taking a lesser caseload.
- Summer, 2011: The Seventh Circuit vacancy is classified as a judicial emergency.
- August 10, 2011: Senior Judge Evans passes away.
- April 17, 2013: With the Seventh Circuit seat still a judicial emergency, the senators announce the formation of a bipartisan commission to identify potential nominees for Wisconsin’s circuit and district court vacancies. District vacancies will come first, one at a time, and the commission begins accepting applications for the Western District on April 29.
- August 1, 2013: The senators make recommendations for the Western District based on their commission’s recommendations to them.
- February 14, 2014: With the Seventh Circuit vacancy still a judicial emergency, the senators make recommendations for the Eastern District based on their commission’s recommendations to them.
- February 26, 2014: The Seventh Circuit seat is reclassified so as to no longer be a judicial emergency.
- July 25, 2014: The senators’ nominations commission announces that it will begin seeking applicants for the Seventh Circuit vacancy.
Johnson’s proffered reason for putting off work on filling the circuit seat for as long as possible certainly does not appear to be completely accurate. Perhaps he should tell his constituents the real reason.
In the meantime, he could do Wisconsinites a great favor by pressing his fellow Republican, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, to hold Schott’s confirmation hearing as soon as possible. This seat has been vacant for far too long.