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Federal Courts, Empty Benches:The Wednesday Vacancy Count 12/21/2011

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December 21, 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 was one new confirmation at the appellate level and two new district vacancies. The final tally leaves 77 vacancies or approximately 8.9% of the total Article III posts currently unfilled. 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 7.8% or 14 vacancies
District Courts00ccff 9.3% or 63 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.

New confirmations

Ninth Circuit

FederalVacancy Blue.png

On December 15, 2011 the United State's Senate confirmed Morgan Christen, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with a vote of 95-3.[1] Originally appointed on May 18, 2011, Christen currently serves as a judge on the Alaska Supreme Court a position she has held since a 2009 appointment. She was unanimously rated "Unanimously Well Qualified" by the ABA. She had a hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee on July 13, 2011 and you can find her Committee Questionnaire Available Here and her Questions for the Record Available Here.[2] Christen's nomination was hotly contested due to her role as a former board member of Planned Parenthood. However, her nomination was supported by both Senators from Alaska. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski told the press, “Over the course of a decade on the bench she has a track record of impartial, intelligent and fair judgments that demonstrate respect for the rule of law and the role of the judiciary in our democratic system. She is a valuable asset to the Alaska legal community and I will support her wholeheartedly through the confirmation process.”[3] The confirmation will fill one of the 4 vacancies on the court of 29, lowering the vacancy warning level from Yellow to Blue.

New vacancies

Southern District of New York

FederalVacancy yellow.png

On December 15, 2011 Denise Cote assumed seniors status for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York after 17 years on the court.[4] At the time of her appointment from Bill Clinton, Cote served as a Special Assistant to Assistant U.S. Attorney General. She is well known for her ruling in the Ringtone case, where she held that the ring-tones that AT&T and Verizon sell are not public performances involving recorded music and the licensing fees required no additional royalties. [5] Her transition to senior status opens up a 5th vacancy on the court of 28. The vacancy warning level pf the court remains at Yellow.

Middle District of Florida

FederalVacancy Blue.png

On December 17, 2011 Richard Lazzara assumed seniors status for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida after 14 years on the court. [4] At the time of his appointment from Bill Clinton Lazarra was serving on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Florida and had been there since 1993. A native of Florida, Lazzara graduated from Loyola University-New Orleans with his Bachelor's Degree in 1967 and later graduated from the University of Florida College of Law with his juris doctorate degree in 1970.[6] His transition to senior status will open up the first vacancy on the court of 15, raising the vacancy warning level from Green to Blue.

New appointments

On December 16, 2011 President Barack Obama submitted two nominations to the United States District Courts. Obama commented on the nominations stating, "I am pleased to nominate these distinguished individuals to serve on the United States District Court bench. I am confident they will serve the American people with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice."[7]

Western District of Tennessee

FederalVacancy yellow.png

John T. Fowlkes was nominated to serve on the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee to fill the seat vacated by Bernice Donald.[8] Fowlkes currently serves as a judge for the Shelby County Criminal Court, Tennessee. He earned his B.A. from Valparaiso University in 1975 and went on to earn a J.D. two years later from University of Denver School of Law.[7] If confirmed, Fowlkes will fill the only vacancy on the court of five. The current vacancy warning level on the court is set at Yellow.

District of New Jersey

Kevin McNulty was nominated to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey to fill the seat vacated by Garrett Brown.[8] McNulty currently serves as the Director at Gibbons P.C. of Newark. He earned his B.A. from Yale in 1976 and moved on to New York University School of Law for his J.D. in 1983.[7] If confirmed, McNulty will fill the only vacancy on the court of seventeen. The current vacancy warning level of the court is set at Blue.

See also