Se­nate, stop drag­ging feet, con­firm ju­di­cial nom­i­nees

Austin American-Statesman - - VIEWPOINTS - Glazer is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Progress Texas. Matt@pro­gress­texas.org.

Now

that he is the sec­ond­high­est rank­ing mem­ber in the Repub­li­can cau­cus, it’s time to hold U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to his word.

In June, the Repub­li­cans blocked con­fir­ma­tion of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s pend­ing ju­di­cial nom­i­nees, hold­ing off un­til af­ter the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. At the time, Cornyn told the Capi­tol Hill news­pa­per Roll Call that the pres­i­dent shouldn’t be overly con­cerned with this, since “if he’s elected (again), it means only a few months’ de­lay any­way.”

Now that Obama has won re-elec­tion, Cornyn and other Se­nate Repub­li­cans need to get a move on and work to end the cri­sis in our courts. They need to stop drag­ging their feet and quickly hold lon­gover­due con­fir­ma­tion votes on the 20 peo­ple whose ju­di­cial nominations have been lan­guish­ing on the Se­nate floor all this time. That’s what Cornyn promised the coun­try and his state he would do.

There should be no prob­lem mov­ing for­ward be­cause th­ese nom­i­nees are not con­tro­ver­sial. A ma­jor­ity passed through the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee with strong bi­par­ti­san sup­port. Yet Se­nate Repub­li­cans didn’t want to con­firm them — not be­cause they wouldn’t be fair judges, but be­cause they sim­ply wanted to ob­struct Obama’s ev­ery move, hop­ing for a dif­fer­ent out­come on Elec­tion Day.

What they should have been fo­cus­ing on is the dire need to fill th­ese va­can­cies. While the Se­nate was busy play­ing po­lit­i­cal games with our ju­di­ciary, mil­lions of Amer­i­cans were be­ing de­nied ac­cess to jus­tice. Our fed­eral courts hear cases on many is­sues, in­clud­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity ben­e­fits, im­mi­gra­tion, em­ploy­ment is­sues and civil lib­er­ties. Ev­ery day a va­cancy goes un­filled, peo­ple’s lives are af­fected. The fed­eral bench has 81 va­can­cies across the coun­try, leav­ing mil­lions of Amer­i­cans with­out a judge to hear their cases.

This is a ma­jor prob­lem in Texas. Right now, we have four ju­di­cial emer­gen­cies in our district courts and two in the 5th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals. Three of our district court spots have been empty for more than two years, with one of th­ese be­ing open for more than four years. Be­cause of this, we are im­port­ing judges from out of state just to keep up with the cur­rent Texas caseload. Judge David Alan Ezra, Hawaii’s long­est-serv­ing district judge, an­nounced last week that he will move to Texas and work at 130 per­cent ca­pac­ity to de­crease Texas’ caseload. That’s the kind of cri­sis Texas courts are fac­ing.

Cornyn and Texas GOP Sen. Kay Bai­ley Hutchi­son play a key role in fill­ing th­ese va­can­cies, not just be­cause the Se­nate must con­firm all ju­di­cial nom­i­nees, but be­cause the pres­i­dent re­lies on the rec­om­men­da­tions of Texas sen­a­tors be­fore se­lect­ing a nom­i­nee for Texas fed­eral courts. There are no nom­i­nees to fill th­ese Texas va­can­cies, and un­til Cornyn and Hutchi­son be­gin to take this se­ri­ously, Tex­ans will con­tinue to be de­nied ac­cess to the courts.

Be­gin­ning now, Cornyn should make good on his June prom­ise that it would be only a “few months’ de­lay” in con­firm­ing pend­ing ju­di­cial nom­i­nees. In pre­vi­ous lame­duck ses­sions, the Se­nate has con­firmed large num­bers of nom­i­nees. For ex­am­ple, af­ter the 2002 midterms, it con­firmed 18 of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ju­di­cial nom­i­nees in one day. There is no rea­son that can’t hap­pen now. Why should Hutchi­son re­tire and leave the prob­lem for her suc­ces­sor?

We’ve all waited long enough for a fair and func­tion­ing court sys­tem. Cornyn promised quick ac­tion if Obama was elected to a sec­ond term. It is time for Cornyn to keep his word and fix the prob­lem caused by grid­lock and ob­struc­tion­ism in Washington.

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