Out of order: Vacancies in federal courts can't be further delayed

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It will be no surprise to anyone that nominations to fill the federal bench are highly politicized -- and not just for the U.S. Supreme Court. Both parties play this game, but Republicans, in their general spirit of noncompromise in the last few years and their particular fear of seating liberal activist judges, have played a greater role in gumming up the machinery of justice.

What Americans may not know is the extent of this obstruction. The proof is in the figures.

According to the Alliance of Justice, a left-leaning national association of more than 100 organizations, President Barack Obama will finish his first term with more vacancies in lower federal courts than when he was inaugurated and far fewer confirmations than his two predecessors at the same point.

In a Nov. 19 report titled "The State of the Judiciary: Unfinished Business ... ," the blame for this poor state of affairs is put squarely on "the cumulative effects of Republican senators' ceaseless obstruction of judicial nominees ... ."

The details are shocking. During Mr. Obama's first term, vacancies have risen by 51 percent. Yet in the first term of presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, vacancies declined by 65 percent and 34 percent, respectively. Nearly one out of 11 federal judgeships is now vacant.

The report calls for the Senate during the lame-duck session to confirm all of the 19 nominees pending on the Senate floor. It says that 14 of the nominees faced no substantive opposition in the Judiciary Committee. Ten would fill judicial emergencies, situations where vacancies have caused a severe backlog of cases. According to the report, "Republicans blocked these nominees solely for political reasons -- to keep the seats open for a potential Republican president to fill."

Now that the American people have spoken, that has to change. Filling judicial vacancies is crucial in keeping the legal system running efficiently for the good of the nation.

Add judicial vacancies in the lower federal courts to the long list of subjects where compromise must prevail and the public's business must be done.



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