But early stage Republican obstruction still delays justice as scores of judgeships remain vacant

The full report discussed in this release is available here

 WASHINGTON, D.C., June 10 2014: Bold action by Senate Democrats has reduced the number of judicial vacancies to a five-year low, according to a new report from Alliance for Justice.  But even as President Obama has picked up the pace of nominations, and Senate rules reform and a commitment to moving confirmations have significantly reduced the backlog of nominees on the Senate floor, Republican obstruction continues at earlier stages in the process often hidden from public view, the report said.

AFJ’s State of the Judiciary report also found significant improvement in the professional diversity of judicial nominees sent to the Senate by President Obama in the months since AFJ issued a report and hosted a Capitol Hill forum on the topic.

“Senate Democrats, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., have responded boldly to mindless obstruction, making judicial confirmations a top priority on the Senate floor,” according to the report.  “Senate Democrats have made clear that they will protect democratic process in the Senate, and that obstruction and gridlock cannot be the ‘new norm’ for judicial nominees.”

In addition, Republicans have escalated their obstruction tactics early on in the process.  By failing to return a form called a “blue slip,” home-state senators are able to exercise a silent veto over judicial nominees, the president generally will not make a nomination unless both home-state senators support that nominee.  But many Republican senators have refused to cooperate.  Nine out of every ten judicial vacancies without a nominee are in states with at least one Republican senator—and 55 percent are in states where both senators are Republicans.

 “The White House, Senate Judiciary Committee, and the full Senate should reconsider the various senatorial courtesies that have been too often exploited as opportunities for obstruction,” the report says.

There has been progress on other fronts as well.

In the months since AFJ released Broadening the Bench, its report on professional diversity, and hosted a forum on the topic featuring Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., “lawyers with experience working in the public interest have been nominated at a substantially higher rate than during President Obama’s first five years in office. . . . Of the 18 men and women nominated so far this year, 13 (or 72%) have prior experience as public defenders, solo practice criminal defense lawyers, plaintiff attorneys who have represented individuals, or tenured academics.”

In addition, President Obama has appointed the highest percentage of women and people of color in history. He also appointed eight openly gay federal judges.  Only one had been confirmed prior to his administration.

Among the other findings:

● In spite of all the progress, during President Obama’s time in office, the number of judicial vacancies has risen by 13 percent.  During the same period in President Clinton and President Bush’s second terms, vacancies declined by 33 percent and 42 percent respectively.

● Fully half of all vacancies without nominees are from two states, Texas and Pennsylvania.

● Though the recent efforts by Senate Democrats have reduced the number of “judicial emergencies” —vacancies which have left courts too overwhelmed to handle their caseloads—there still are 25 such vacancies, compared with 20 when President Obama first took office.

“Thanks to rules reform and the determination of the Obama administration and the Senate majority, we’ve come a long way,” said AFJ President Nan Aron.  “But as we say in our report,  whether it is filibuster abuse on the Senate floor, permitting vacancies to languish indefinitely without nominees, or withholding blue slips on agreed-upon nominees, Senate Republicans should not be allowed to hamstring the federal courts and limit the ability of their constituents and all Americans to seek justice.”

Read the full report

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Alliance for Justice is a national association of over 100 organizations, representing a broad array of groups committed to progressive values and the creation of an equitable, just, and free society. Through our justice programs, we lead the progressive community in the fight for a fair judiciary, and through our advocacy programs, we help nonprofits and foundations to realize their advocacy potential.