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President Obama Calls for Up-or-Down Vote on Judges

The time has come to put the qualified, nonpartisan judges on the bench.

During his State of the Union address, President Obama called on the Senate to cease their unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominees. With 32 judicial emergencies across the country, including 5 here at home, the time has come to put the qualified, nonpartisan judges nominated by Senators Cornyn and Hutchison on the bench.

From President Obama's address:

“Some of what's broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days. A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything - even routine business - passed through the Senate. Neither party has been blameless in these tactics. Now both parties should put an end to it. For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days. “
As you know, Progress Texas has started the Texans for a Fair Judiciary coalition. The coalition includes the following organizations: Progress Texas, Texas Watch, Texans for Public Justice, La Fe, Texans Together, and more. We are working to fill emergency vacancies in Texas' federal district courts. So far, our petition has gathered over 2,900 signatures to the offices of Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Senator Cornyn and Hutchison have nominated U.S. Magistrate Judge David Guaderrama of El Paso for the Western District of Texas, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Costa of Houston for the Southern District of Texas. The nominations were supported by Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat, and are only awaiting confirmation by the full U.S. Senate. Senator Cornyn made no mention of them in his response to the President’s State of the Union speech last night, but Cornyn has previously spoken out on the unnecessary delay of judicial nominees, saying:
“Far too many judicial and executive nominees have been delayed by the majority party of the Senate. An up-or-down vote is a matter of fundamental fairness, and it is the Senate’s constitutional duty to act on each nomination. It is also critically important to our judicial system and the proper functioning of our federal government to fill these positions. Senators have a right to vote for or against any nominee—but blocking votes on nominations is unacceptable.” – Senator Cornyn, 2/7/08.
Below is an issue primer on emergency districts. We promise to keep you up to date on this critical issue as we work on it more and more in the coming weeks and months.

Issue Primer: Judicial Emergencies in Texas
Who Have Senators Cornyn and Hutchison Nominated?
David Guaderrama is a U.S. Magistrate Judge David from El Paso. He was nominated to fill the emergency vacancy for the Western District of Texas. Gregg Costa is an Assistant U.S. Attorney from Houston. He was nominated to fill the emergency vacancy for the Southern District of Texas.
Do the nominations have bipartisan support?
Yes. The nominations were approved by Republican Texas Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison. Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett, a Democrat, also supported the two nominations, and President Obama formally nominated each judge last year.
Why is there a hold-up on their nominations?
Costa and Guaderrama were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last December, and are now waiting an up-or-down vote by the full U.S. Senate. The Republican Minority Leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, has stalled the nominations process intentionally to prevent any judges approved by President Obama, even though these nominees have large bipartisan support.
How many judicial emergencies are there across the country?
Roughly 10% of federal court seats are or will soon be vacant, including 32 seats across the country that have been designated “judicial emergencies.” 5 judicial emergencies are in Texas.
How long a delay has there been under the administrations of President Obama and President Bush?
After approval by the Judiciary Committee, circuit court nominees have waited an average of 136 days and district court nominees an average of 90 days for a vote from the full Senate under President Obama, in contrast to 30 days and 22 days respectively under President Bush.
What is an emergency district, exactly?
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts designates emergency districts. A full list can be found on their website, which provides the following explanation of judicial emergencies:
A judicial emergency is defined as the following:
Circuit Court
any vacancy in a court of appeals where adjusted filings per panel are in excess of 700;

any vacancy in existence more than 18 months where adjusted filings are betwen 500 to 700 per panel.

District Court

any vacancy where weighted filings are in excess of 600 per judgeship;

any vacancy in existence more than 18 months where weighted filings are between 430 to 600 per judgeship;

any court with more than one authorized judgeship and only one active judge.