In November, the Senate voted on and passed anti-filibuster laws that make it easier for Federal judges to be appointed. The Senate also changed its rule on cloture, which lowered the requirement for confirming a judicial nominee to a simple majority from a 60-vote supermajority.
In fact, these actions allowed the Senate to confirm Patricia Millett and Nina Pillard to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Had they required the supermajority, neither of these women would have been appointed despite their excellent qualifications. The Senate was also able to confirm Robert Wilkins, an African American judge, to the D.C. District Court.
While this is a gain, there are a plethora of other options that senators can use to prevent the president from nominating judges that don’t require a filibuster. In fact, the general consensus is that some of these tactics are much more dangerous than filibusters which often receive national press and attention. The options left for senators are more quiet and don’t gain national attention. According to Women’s eNews:
Some refuse to attend hearings. Others refuse to cooperate with the president in nominating judges from their state. Or senators from the state of residence of a federal judicial nominee refuse to turn in blue slips containing their opinions of the nominee, thereby preventing nominees from receiving a hearing at all. White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler declared the blue-slip rule for judges more problematic than the filibuster, in part because it is a silent, unaccountable veto.
This is a considerable problem. The federal district and appellate courts are facing an unprecedented number of vacancies. 93 positions remain unfilled, and those vacancies considered judicial emergencies has risen 100 percent since 2008. This means that the American people living in jurisdictions where there are judicial emergencies are not able to have their cases ruled on in a timely fashion. To give you an idea of some of the issues that aren’t being heard, federal judges rule on issues impacting health care, immigration, marriage equality and the environment among many others.
Fortunately, President Obama has nominated women to federal judiciary positions more than any other previous president, and at twice the rate of former President George W. Bush. With more women and racial minorities in the judiciary system, the U.S. will start to have a more diverse court system that is reflective of the people living in this country. Unfortunately, however, the Senate is stalling on appointing many of those nominees. Women make up only 30 percent of federal judges, and it is time for that to change.
Here’s what you can do to help the process along. First, sign the petition below telling the Senate to stop stalling and to approve these diverse judges to the courts. Second, tell your senators to return blue slips and give the president names of judges. We must do all we can to stop this judicial emergency!
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