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Texas Represents 20% of Nation's Federal Court Vacancies

As President Obama ends his sixth year in office, much is being made about his legacy on federal courts. And if Texas Senators weren't so busy deliberately delaying the process, we'd be able to celebrate here in Texas too - instead of being worse off than everyone else, like we so often are.

There is no question that President Obama has done a tremendous job filling seats on the federal courts. Headlines and stories like "The Senate Just Cemented Obama's Judicial Legacy" accurately point out that the 305 nominations President Obama has made to federal courts are more than Presidents Bill Clinton or George W. Bush had at this point in their respective terms.

That's great news...unless you're from Texas.`

While the rest of the country celebrates, deliberate delays by Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have left Texas with nine judicial vacancies. The lack of action by our US Senators perpetuates a situation in which 1-in-5 of all judicial vacancies in the entire country are right here in Texas. If these vacancies are not filled, our federal courts will not be able to handle the issues — from marriage equality, voting rights, abortion access, health care to immigration — that affect us all.

Here's a breakdown of Texas' disproportionate share of judicial vacancies (full list further below):

Type of
Vacancy
# of TX Vacancies # of US Vacancies % of All Vacancies
From Texas
All vacancies 9 44 20%
Emergency vacancies 5 12 42%
Future vacancies 3 25 12%

A couple notes:

  • An emergency vacancy is a designation that comes once the number of cases causing a backlog in a particular court exceed a certain threshhold (you can learn more about the specific nature of emergency districts here).
  • Future vacancies are known dates when a judge will retire or achieve senior status, at which point a newly confirmed judge could take his or her place on the bench.

Texas has seen some progress in recent months. After thousands of Texans joined us in calling on Senators Cornyn and Cruz to stop their delay tactics, three judges filled existing vacancies. And just this week, President Obama nominated another three judges to fill more vacancies, in what the Houston Chronicle is calling a test case for the new Senate:

The three judges were originally nominated Sept. 18, but were not confirmed before the 113th Congress adjourned last month, ending Democratic control of the Senate.

Nevertheless, all three are expected to benefit from rules changes adopted by Democrats easing confirmation of most presidential nominees by requiring only a 51-vote majority in the Senate.

The nominations could be a test of how quickly the Senate GOP leadership confirms presidential appointments over the next two years, although none of the Texas judges are considered controversial, according to GOP aides.

Will Senators Cornyn and Cruz continue their pattern of obstruction? Or will they finally listen to the thousands of Texans demanding they stop their deliberate delay and put qualified, diverse nominees on Texas' vacant courts?

We'll know more in the coming weeks. Until then, here's a complete snapshot at Texas' judicial vacancy crisis:

Judicial Vacancies in Texas - 1/11/15
CIRCUIT/DISTRICT EMERGENCY LENGTH OF VACANCY NOMINEE
5th Circuit Court of Appeals Yes 893 days None
5th Circuit Court of Appeals Yes 376 days None
Southern District Yes 1,320 days None
Southern District Yes 741 days Jose Rolando Olvera Jr.
Southern District Yes 680 days Alfred H. Bennett
Southern District No 246 days None
Southern District No 205 days George C. Hanks Jr.
Northern Disrict No 557 days None
Northern District No 11 days None
Future Vacancies
Western District Future 2/13/15 -
Eastern District Future 3/10/15 -
Eastern District Future 5/15/15 -