In mid-July, the U.S. Senate confirmed perhaps its final judicial nomination from President Obama, unless he wins re-election. Now, the Senate Republican leadership says it won’t act on any more judicial nominees until after the Nov. 6 election.
That announcement affects scores of vacant judgeships, including one in Northern Mississippi since the death of District Judge W. Allen Pepper Jr. of Cleveland, last January. Last week, the Daily Journal reported that U.S. Attorney Felicia Adams of Oxford is under consideration to fill that judgeship based in Greenville.
Dr. John Winkle III, a political science professor at the University of Mississippi, talked with the Daily Journal’s Patsy Brumfield about the impact of the GOP decision.
Q: Is this GOP nomination lockdown an unusual action during the final year in a president’s term?
A: No and yes. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) invoked the so-called “Thurmond Rule” to defend the GOP filibuster. While it is not a “rule” as such, it is a political tactic used by the minority party in the U.S. Senate that dates back to the 1960s. On the other hand, never have there been so many federal judicial vacancies or nominees who are awaiting floor action in the Senate as this year. It is also unusual in that the action on the case that prompted the lockdown on Tuesday is unprecedented. It marked the first time that the Senate has blocked an appeals court nominee, Robert Bacharach (Okla.), who had overwhelming bipartisan support from the Senate Judiciary Committee and from the two home-state Republican senators.
Q: What is the impact of this freeze on the judicial system, generally?
A: The impact is unnecessary delay. There are now more than 70 vacant federal trial and appeals court judgeships across the country, and that number will only increase over the next six months when the new Senate convenes. More than 30 of these vacancies are classified as “emergencies” because of the pressing backlog of cases in these courts. The president of the American Bar Association wrote a letter to Senate leaders in June expressing “grave concern” over the unfilled positions and the adverse impact on people and businesses whose lawsuits are now pending in courts that are operating without a full staff of judges.
Q: What happens after the presidential election Nov. 6?
A: Nothing will happen until the new Senate convenes in January. Regardless of who wins the presidential election, the pressure in 2013 will be even greater on both Democratic and Republican senators alike to act responsibly to fill these vacancies.
by Patsy Brumfield of the Daily Journal (djournal.com, Northeast MS News)