Before Congressional Republicans opposed health care reform and financial services reform they were hard at work making sure that the federal court system ground to a near complete halt. By using filibusters, anonymous holds and other obstructionist tactics less than 43 percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees have been confirmed. President George W. Bush had twice his nominees confirmed while both Presidents Reagan and Carter enjoyed confirmation rates of about ninety percent.
We’re not talking Supreme Court nominees here. We are talking low-ranking judges who get voted out of the judicial committee unanimously only to sit and never receive full Senate vote for no substantive reason whatsoever.
The effect on our justice system is nothing short of crippling. District court judges serve on the front line of our federal courts. They are the ones who hear cases ranging from everything to federal criminal charges to immigration challenges. District judges rarely hand down controversial opinions (those are more likely to occur at the appellate level), and instead deal with court management and sentencing.
Add this chokehold to the systematic narrowing of access to the federal courts under the Rhenquist and Roberts Courts and the American public is faced with a smaller and more laborious venue to hear claims against the federal government. Don’t like the new health care reform bill? Well, that’s a case that will have to be brought in a federal court. Got arrested for selling cocaine in multiple states? Lucky for you the federal courts are so backlogged that you can sit in a local jail while you wait for your sentence to the pen.
If a Senator has a substantial concern about a nominee’s record or belief system that Senator should have an opportunity to have that concern addressed by the candidate. But refusing to give a candidate a vote at all (like, for example, Sen. Orrin Hatch did with then-judicial candidate Elena Kagan under the Clinton administration) is childish and does nothing to further the good of the American public. It eventually puts public safety at risk and does very little to score political points as most Americans pay very little attention to the goings on at the district court level of the judiciary branch. The only people who suffer are, predictably, Americans who need access to justice. This has got to end. Contact your Senators and tell them to give our judicial candidates the vote they are entitled to. The good candidates will pass and the bad ones will fail. Let’s get justice moving again.
photo courtesy of steakpinball via Flickr