(Dis)Order in the CourtNovember 16, 2010
Although the country has been occupied with the midterm elections and their effects on President Barack Obama’s administration, we have to remember that there’s another branch of government. We tend to only pay attention to the judicial branch when it the U.S. Supreme Court issues a polarizing ruling such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Bush v. Gore, or Roe v. Wade. But the courts deserve more notice. So many of our fundamental rights and liberties have been established and protected by the judiciary. We need to know who sits on the courts, but we also need to know who is not serving.
Right now, more than 100 court benches are empty, and 20 more courts will soon have vacancies. The administrative office of the U.S. Courts has identified 50 “judicial emergencies” in courts that have such a heavy workload or have been so long without a judge that the court essentially cannot hear cases. Two courts have been without a judge to preside over trials for over four years.
The blame for this unacceptable problem is shared between the other two branches of government. The Obama administration has only submitted 48 nominations for the 124 current vacancies, demonstrating that staffing the courts is not a priority. Of the nominations that have been submitted, only 23 have made it to the Senate floor, where they are awaiting a vote. Twenty-five nominations still linger in the Senate Judiciary Committee, waiting for hearings and votes.
This is a problem that has real consequences for Americans. Defendants appealing their sentences will have to wait longer for their cases to be heard, and civil suits seeking redress for injustices will also be delayed. The Obama administration and the Senate need to recognize the impact a vacant judiciary has on Americans and make submitting and processing nominations a priority.
Judicial vacancies affect the cases supported by the AAUW Legal Advocacy Fund, which provides support to lawsuits that combat sex discrimination in higher education and the workplace. To find more information, including legal resources on sex discrimination topics, visit the LAF website.