AUSTIN, Texas, Nov. 4, 2013: Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron spoke at a news conference at the State Capitol today on the judicial vacancy crisis in Texas. Watch the video here:
Read the text of her remarks below:
On behalf of Alliance for Justice, I am very pleased to be here today to add our voice to the growing chorus of concerned Americans demanding an end to the crisis in our courts. In this state we are witnessing a slow-motion shutdown of the federal judicial system, a situation that is endangering the rule of law and Texans’ faith in justice itself.
The sad fact is that these same tactics of obstruction, delay, and destruction that characterized the budget and debt battles, have also been applied to the judicial system.
The shortage of judges is a problem all over America. But AFJ is in Texas today because this state, above all others, is the epicenter of the judicial vacancy crisis. I’ve been told that everything’s bigger in Texas and it turns out that’s true for the mess in our federal courts, too.
As of today, nationwide, there are 94 total judicial vacancies—76 in district courts and 18 in circuit courts. Two of those circuit court vacancies and seven in district courts are right here. But it gets worse. Not only are there empty chairs in federal courtrooms in Texas, there are no names being put forward of people to fill them. It would be like a football coach taking players out of the game and not bothering to send anyone in to replace them. I’m guessing that if a coach did that here, he wouldn’t last very long.
Although presidents nominate judges, a state’s senators generally send recommendations to him first. When senators choose not to play their role in the process, the whole works gets gummed up. And that’s where we are now. Not a single name has been put forward by Senators Cruz, Cornyn, or their predecessor for any of the open seats. Not a one.
This failure to carry out their constitutional duty is combined with a lethal dose of obstruction once nominees do get to the Senate. The latest example happened just last week, when Republicans filibustered a widely admired nominee named Patricia Millett for a seat on the crucial D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. But she isn’t the only victim in this blockade mentality.
Virtually every single woman or man put forward by President Obama for a federal judgeship—even the ones supported by Republicans and those without a hint of controversy—has faced some level of obstruction and delay. It’s hard to know what to say about people who deliberately create barriers for people they like!
Now you see why there are more empty judgeships now than when President Obama took office, almost five years ago. It will shock no one to learn that when President Bush was in office, vacancies had dropped by 39 percent at this point in his administration.
It’s important to understand that the lack of enough judges is not an abstract problem that only matters to lawyers and policy wonks and politicians. It has real-world consequences for real people.
When everyday Texans go to federal court, they face a judicial system that is overburdened, overworked, understaffed, and underfunded.
Cases are delayed interminably. Small businesses can’t get resolution to suits that tie their enterprises in knots. Contract disputes go unresolved. Individuals seeking justice for discrimination, or fraud, or disputes with banks or businesses or the government, are left hanging, often for years. Because of burgeoning criminal case loads, which must take priority, civil actions are shoved aside. And in this state, the situation is so bad that the ripple effect has often brought even criminal and immigration cases to a crawl.
My message is simple: Enough is enough. We simply cannot afford to undermine our most important democratic intuitions, particularly the courts. This pattern of endless obstruction on the one hand, and willful neglect on the other, is doing enormous damage to Texas and the whole country. It’s got to end — and end now.
Senators Cruz and Cornyn have an oath-bound obligation to ensure that our courts and our system of laws are fully functional at all times. We’re calling on the people of Texas to remind them of their duty.
- Read the letter to Senators Cruz and Cornyn from more than 35 Texas organizations
- Read Nan Aron’s op-ed column in the Dallas Morning News
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. www.afj.org