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OP-ED: Time to confirm judicial nominees

Austin American Statesman - Matt Glazer
December 13, 2012

Now that he is the second-highest ranking member in the Republican caucus, it’s time to hold U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas to his word.

In June, the Republicans blocked confirmation of President Barack Obama’s pending judicial nominees, holding off until after the presidential election. At the time, Cornyn told the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call that the president shouldn’t be overly concerned with this, since “if he’s elected (again), it means only a few months’ delay anyway.”

Now that Obama has won re-election, Cornyn and other Senate Republicans need to get a move on and work to end the crisis in our courts. They need to stop dragging their feet and quickly hold long-overdue confirmation votes on the 20 people whose judicial nominations have been languishing on the Senate floor all this time. That’s what Cornyn promised the country and his state he would do.

There should be no problem moving forward because these nominees are not controversial. A majority passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support. Yet Senate Republicans didn’t want to confirm them — not because they wouldn’t be fair judges, but because they simply wanted to obstruct Obama’s every move, hoping for a different outcome on Election Day.

What they should have been focusing on is the dire need to fill these vacancies. While the Senate was busy playing political games with our judiciary, millions of Americans were being denied access to justice. Our federal courts hear cases on many issues, including Social Security benefits, immigration, employment issues and civil liberties. Every day a vacancy goes unfilled, people’s lives are affected. The federal bench has 81 vacancies across the country, leaving millions of Americans without a judge to hear their cases.

This is a major problem in Texas. Right now, we have four judicial emergencies in our district courts and two in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Three of our district court spots have been empty for more than two years, with one of these being open for more than four years. Because of this, we are importing judges from out of state just to keep up with the current Texas caseload. Judge David Alan Ezra, Hawaii’s longest-serving district judge, announced last week that he will move to Texas and work at 130 percent capacity to decrease Texas’ caseload. That’s the kind of crisis Texas courts are facing.

Cornyn and Texas GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison play a key role in filling these vacancies, not just because the Senate must confirm all judicial nominees, but because the president relies on the recommendations of Texas senators before selecting a nominee for Texas federal courts. There are no nominees to fill these Texas vacancies, and until Cornyn and Hutchison begin to take this seriously, Texans will continue to be denied access to the courts.

Beginning now, Cornyn should make good on his June promise that it would be only a “few months’ delay” in confirming pending judicial nominees. In previous lame-duck sessions, the Senate has confirmed large numbers of nominees. For example, after the 2002 midterms, it confirmed 18 of President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees in one day. There is no reason that can’t happen now. Why should Hutchison retire and leave the problem for her successor?

We’ve all waited long enough for a fair and functioning court system. Cornyn promised quick action if Obama was elected to a second term. It is time for Cornyn to keep his word and fix the problem caused by gridlock and obstructionism in Washington.


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