TFJ: Holding Out for Conservative Judges Hurts Texans
Texas courts are in a state of emergency and our U.S. Senators are playing political games at our expense.
When federal District Judge Sam Sparks in early May set a trial date for Mike and Steve Yassine – the former Downtown club owners popped in March on money laundering and drug charges – there was one big question that needed answering: Could the lawyers get the entire trial over and done with in a week? If so, then Sparks could squeeze the Yassines in for the beginning of June. Otherwise he'd have to put the whole matter off until the beginning of October – and that's how it's turned out.
The issue is that Sparks' schedule is packed solid, booked months in advance – a circumstance shared not only by his colleagues in Austin's federal courthouse, but across Texas and, in fact, the nation. Indeed, with the load of federal court cases rising – 4.4% in just one year, for a total of 397,974 cases filed in 2011 – filling vacancies in the federal judiciary has not proceeded apace. Currently there are 874 federal judgeships, with 77 vacancies across the country, 64 of those on the district bench – frontline judges like Sparks and his colleague District Judge Lee Yeakel, who also was quick to mention the heavy workload when he was trying this spring to schedule a trial on a case Planned Parenthood brought against the state over its plans to cut the provider out of the Women's Health Program. If you want a trial sooner, he told the litigants, "contact your senators and get us some help" on the bench.
The Texas bench is riddled with vacancies with important cases pending. Rather than working in an advice and consent manner, Senator John Cornyn and retiring Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison are playing games and avoiding doing any work in the hopes that President Obama loses in November and that they can appoint more conservative judges in Texas to affirm the radical positions being taken in the legislature.
Right now the court is the singular line of defense in Texas to stop the right wing agenda from completely taking hold. Our courts have recently ruled on forced invasive sonogram for women and they are currently hearing cases on voting rights, LGBT and social justice issues, clean air and water laws, energy disputes and so much more.
Alliance for Justice explains how conservative obstructionism directly harms over 150 million Americans.
Seventy-six federal judgeships—more than eight percent of all seats—are currently vacant. Thirty-one of these vacancies are judicial emergencies.
President Obama inherited 55 vacancies when he was sworn into office. Without swift Senate action on pending nominees, he will become the first president in at least 30 years to finish his first term with more vacancies than he inherited, excluding newly created seats.
Senate Republicans are perpetuating this crisis by blocking votes on unquestionably qualified, consensus nominees, hoping to hold seats open in case a Republican is elected president.
This obstruction is unacceptable, and senators of both parties who care about promoting good government should end it by forcing votes on every nominee currently pending on the Senate floor before the August recess.
There is a growing consensus for action on nominees. The American Bar Association, Chief Justice John Roberts, and a growing number of federal district and circuit court judges have all urged the Senate to quickly fill existing vacancies. They know that our justice system can’t function effectively without enough judges on the bench, and it shouldn’t be held hostage by political games.
Beyond the Chief Justice and non-partisan groups like the American Bar Association, our own Texas judges are calling for help to get through overwhelming dockets.
It's hard to realize how much this hurts people until it is too late. Nobody knows how much they want or need effective and efficient courts until you have to go to court yourself.
So why are conservatives putting politics over people and waiting out the clock for a new president? Because they would rather win a partisan battle in Washington than do their job. Senators Cornyn and Hutchison would rather have Romney appoint judges to uphold Tea Party legislation passed in Austin than to have a strong, functioning judiciary that works for everyone.
The reason they can do this? Their political calucation has always been to do nothing until Texans get mad enough and force them to act. When our members have written letters to the editor, called the press, or contact Senator Cornyn and Hutchison directly - they have responded and acted. In fact, because of your actions we have no more nominees pending in Texas.
However, even with the progress we have made over the last several months, we still have 7 vacancies and 6 emergency districts in Texas we need filled. As long Senators Cornyn and Hutchison play games, Texans will lose. Let's demand they start working for us and stop waiting for a Republican president to put out of touch, Tea Party judges on the bench.
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