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Federal Courts, Empty Benches:The Wednesday Vacancy Count 12/14/2011

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December 14, 2011

By Joshua Meyer-Gutbrod

For a District by District break down, see: Federal Court Vacancy Warning System
FederalVacancy Blue.png

The current vacancy warning level for the U.S. District courts is set at Blue and is unchanged from last week. There were no changes to the federal judiciary this past week. The final tally leaves 76 vacancies or approximately 8.8% of the total Article III posts currently unfilled. This represents the lowest number of vacancies since our study began. The vacancy information for the various court levels is as follows:

(Numbers indicate % of seats vacant.)
More than 40%
Supreme Court 0% or no vacancies
Appeals Courts 8.4% or 15 vacancies
District Courts00ccff 9% or 61 vacancies

There are currently 9 Supreme Court posts, 179 appellate court posts and 680 district court posts for a total of 868 Article III judges. This count includes four temporary posts, one each in the Northern District of Alabama, District of Arizona, Southern District of Florida and the Central District of California. This also includes a shared post between the two Missouri districts and counts it as two posts with separate vacancies.

Over this past week, the Senate and President have been occupied with year end agendas and no new vacancies, confirmations or appointments occurred. The vacancy warning level remains the same at Blue. This will be the seventh week that the vacancy warning level has remained below 10% across the federal courts.

Senate Filibuster

On Tuesday, December 6 Senate Republican's foiled another judicial candidates vote through a filibuster. The nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit with a failed vote of 54-46 to end debate. Haligan's nominations was originally submitted on September 29, 2010 and she has been rated Unanimously Well Qualified by the ABA. Only one Republican Senator, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska voted to end debate and move on with the nomination.

This marks the second time that the Senate has blocked a nomination. In May, Republicans blocked the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the Ninth Circuit resulting in Liu requesting the withdrawal of his nomination from consideration. Four Republican members of the "gang of fourteen", including Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Olympia Snowe (Maine), who originally committed to not filibustering judicial candidates barring "extraordinary circumstances" voted no on ending debate. The Constitutional Accountability Center commented on the filibuster, stating, "The only things extraordinary about Caitlin Halligan are her credentials and fitness for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. With today’s filibuster, the ‘Gang of 14’ deal on judicial nominations is officially dead and the partisan war over the courts has escalated to a dangerous new level, even while the vacancy rate on the federal judiciary has reached a crisis point."[1]

President Barack Obama expressed frustration and worry over the filibuster. His full statement on the matter reads:

'I am deeply disappointed that a minority of the United States Senate has blocked the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Ms. Halligan has the experience, integrity, and judgment to serve with distinction on this court, and she has broad bipartisan support from the legal and law enforcement communities. But today, her nomination fell victim to the Republican pattern of obstructionism that puts party ahead of country. Today’s vote dramatically lowers the bar used to justify a filibuster, which had required “extraordinary circumstances.” The only extraordinary things about Ms. Halligan are her qualifications and her intellect.

Currently, Senate Republicans are blocking 20 other highly qualified judicial nominees, half of whom I have nominated to fill vacancies deemed “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the Courts. These are distinguished nominees who, historically, would be confirmed without delay. All of them have already been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee – most of them unanimously – only to run into partisan roadblocks on the Senate floor. The American people deserve a fair and functioning judiciary. So I urge Senate Republicans to end this pattern of partisan obstructionism and confirm Ms. Halligan and the other judges they have blocked for purely partisan reasons."[2]

See also