With a shocking 96 current vacancies in the American judiciary and another 20 new ones already scheduled to open in the coming weeks and months, some senators clearly recognize the need to move quickly to make recommendations to the White House. In just the past couple of weeks, we've seen senators from Vermont and Virginia show leadership in this regard.
Before making district court nominations, President Obama asks senators from the state where the vacancy has occurred to present him with recommendations. It's a way to identify nominees from any given state and to ensure home-state, often bipartisan, support for nominees. Unfortunately, too many senators – Republicans and Democrats alike – have often dragged their feet in recommending acceptable nominees. What results is vacancies that can remain open for years without a nominee. Frustratingly, many of these vacancies exist even though federal judges usually give months or even a year's notice before retiring or taking senior status (semi-retirement) so that a replacement can be found.
Hopefully, that won't happen in Vermont or Virginia.
In Vermont, Judge William Sessions III announced on January 15 that he plans to go into semi-retirement in June. Just nine days later, Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders announced the formation of a nine-member commission to recommend potential nominees. (Leahy chairs the Judiciary Committee.) The commission has three members appointed by each senator and three by the Vermont Bar Association. The commission has announced that applications are due February 21 and interviews will be held on March 10-11.
In Virginia, Judge Samuel Wilson announced plans on January 26 to retire this summer. A week later, on February 3, Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine asked the Virginia State Bar to evaluate potential candidates, announcing that applications would be due March 3 and interviews held on March 26. In fact, current Virginia nominee Hannah Lauck was identified and recommended quickly by Sens. Warner and Kaine, which is why she is one of the too few nominees for a vacancy that has yet to open.
In an era of unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominees, the identification and recommendation of qualified candidates is a factor that is completely within the control of senators who want to see America's courts function effectively for all of us.