President Obama will end his second term with more vacancies on the federal courts than there were when he started. Today there are 99 vacancies on the federal circuit and district courts, 33 of which are for courts that are so busy that they’ve been officially designated “judicial emergencies.” This glut of vacancies is in large part due to Senate Republicans’ persistent obstruction of the president’s nominees – even the ones from their own states who they purportedly support. During President Obama’s first term, judicial nominees have had to wait on average three times as long after committee approval for a vote from the full Senate as did nominees in President George W. Bush’s first term.
But some vacancies are due to a less well-known but all too common delay at the very start of the nominations process.
Before he makes a nomination to the federal judiciary, 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. The problem is, senators from both parties have too often dragged their feet in recommending acceptable nominees, leading to often years-long vacancies in the federal courts.
These vacancies exist despite the fact that most federal judges give months, sometimes even a full year of notice before retiring or taking senior status (semi-retirement) so that a replacement can be found.
This week, senators from Colorado and New Mexico showed how the process is meant to work – and how it would work, if all senators followed their lead.
In Colorado, district court judge Wiley Daniel announced last winter that he would be leaving his seat in January 2013. Colorado senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet set up a bipartisan commission to find qualified nominees for the seat in a timely manner. They then recommended a set of finalists to the White House, which in turn nominated Raymond P. Moore on Tuesday, before the seat he would fill becomes vacant. Of the 18 future vacancies currently listed by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, Colorado is one of only two states with a nominee.
In New Mexico, Judge Bruce Black announced in June that he would be leaving the court in October, just a few short months. So New Mexico’s senators, Tom Udall and Jeff Bingaman, announced their bipartisan commission that very day, leading to the president’s nomination yesterday of Kenneth John Gonzales to fill the vacancy.
There is no excuse for seats on the federal courts to be left open for years, as caseloads multiply and litigants face delays. The senators from Colorado and New Mexico showed how the front end of the judicial nominations process can be efficient and fair.
What do you do to win over abortion rights supporters if you've spent your whole presidential campaign telling right-wing activists you're anti-choice? For Mitt Romney, the answer is simple: lie!
First there was the TV ad assuring women that under a Romney administration, they would have nothing to worry about. Then Romney told the Des Moines Register that no anti-choice legislation "would become part of my agenda." Then the right-wing Concerned Women for America -- one of the staunchest opponents of abortion rights out there -- backed him up with an ad saying that Romney could do nothing to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The main problem being, of course, that Romney's official position, which is on his website and which he has stated on video, is that he intends to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, in effect criminalizing abortion in as much as half the country. The next president will likely get the opportunity to nominate at least one Supreme Court justice. If that president is Romney, the movement to overturn Roe will likely gain a majority on the Court.
But apparently the Romney camp thinks that just lying about Roe v. Wade is still the right way to go. Former Sen. Norm Coleman, who is campaigning for Romney in Ohio, told a group of voters yesterday that Romney would have no power to eliminate abortion rights through the Supreme Court:
“President Bush was president eight years, Roe v. Wade wasn’t reversed. He had two Supreme Court picks, Roe v. Wade wasn’t reversed,” former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) told a Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Beechwood, Ohio. “It’s not going to be reversed.”
If Coleman were to do some simple counting, he would realize that Bush did not have the opportunity to put an anti-Roe majority on the Court. His appointments of Samuel Alito and John Roberts only got the Right very, very close to that long-held goal. Mitt Romney would unquestionably and deliberately put them over the edge.
But of course, Coleman knows that. And so does Romney. They're just hoping that they can tell anti-choice activists one thing and abortion rights supporters another, and somehow get away with it.