Obstruction By Blue Slip: GOP assault on Federal Courts

Heller Blue Slip

Senator Dean Heller’s (R-NV) slip is showing, or rather it isn’t showing up. President Obama nominated Ann Rachel Traum to the Federal District Court (Nevada) on April 28, 2016.  So, where’s the blue form from the Senator’s office indicating the Judiciary Committee should move forward with this nomination?

One theory has it that not only are Senate Republicans blocking a Supreme Court nomination but they’re doing it down the line, right down to the overworked, understaffed federal district courts level.

“There are lots of GOP senators doing this. Sen. Dan Coats (Ind.) hasn’t turned in his blue slip for his judicial nominee, Myra Selby. Sens. Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Jeff Sessions (Ala.) haven’t turned in their blue slips for their nominee, Abdul Kallon. Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Richard Burr (N.C.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) haven’t turned in blue slips for their nominees, either. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hasn’t turned in his blue slip for his nominee, Lisabeth Hughes.”  [HuffPo]

It isn’t like the current nominee isn’t qualified. The resume is remarkable:

“Anne Rachel Traum is a Professor of Law at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law.  She is currently on leave from the law school and serving as Special Counsel in the Office for Access to Justice at the United States Department of Justice.  Professor Traum joined the University of Nevada-Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law faculty in 2008, and she has served as the Director of the Appellate Clinic since 2009.  She also served as the Associate Dean for Experiential Legal Education from 2013 to 2015.  From 2002 to 2008, Professor Traum served as an Assistant Federal Public Defender in the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Las Vegas, Nevada.  She served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Nevada from 2000 to 2002, while on detail from the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the United States Department of Justice, where she worked from 1998 to 2000.  She began her legal career as a law clerk to the Honorable Stanwood R. Duval, Jr. of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.  Professor Traum received her J.D. Order of the Coif and cum laude from the University of California, Hastings College of Law in 1996 and her A.B. with honors from Brown University in 1991.” [WH

This obstructionism is egregious on so many levels.  Politically, it’s the equivalent of a toddler’s temper tantrum – if we can’t have exactly the courts we want then we don’t want any.  This, in turn leads to the next layer of political idiocy.

It doesn’t do to complain about the time and expense required to litigate cases and at the same time keep courts short handed such that they cannot schedule hearings on a timely basis. This affects both plaintiffs and defendants in both civil and criminal cases.  Nor, are we merely speaking of the vacancies at the top of the judicial roster.

“While Senate battles over nominees to the Supreme Court and appeals courts draw more headlines, the less-noticed openings are increasing workloads and delaying trials in federal courts that take in hundreds of thousands of cases a year — compared with the 80 or so cases heard by the nation’s highest court.

Of 673 U.S. district court judgeships, 67 — or 10 percent — are vacant under President Obama, nearly twice as many as at this point of Republican George W. Bush’s presidency and 50 percent higher than at this time under Bill Clinton (D) or George H.W. Bush (R), according to data kept by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

The number of federally designated district court “judicial emergencies” — where seats carry particularly heavy caseloads or have been open for an extended period — is also roughly double what it was in May 2008 and May 2000, according to the administrative office.

Heavy caseloads in some places slow resolution of everything from commercial disputes to workplace discrimination claims to federal regulatory challenges, in which district court rulings are often the last word because most are not appealed.” [JDnom] (emphasis added)

Consider this last paragraph carefully.  “Commercial disputes” is one category worthy of attention – someone, somewhere, who is engaged in interstate commerce may not be getting paid in a timely fashion because there is no judge with docket time available to hear the case?  Someone, somewhere would like to challenge a federal regulation, but hasn’t the “float” required to engage in protracted litigation because of the docket backlog?

We do have a constitutional guarantee of a “speedy and public trial,” under the provisions of the 6th Amendment, but this applies only to criminal prosecutions – not to those commercial disputes, discrimination claims (and defenses), regulatory challenges, and other civil litigation.  We have a backlog, and it’s getting deeper:

“Combined filings for civil cases and criminal defendants in the U.S. district courts decreased by 28,836 (down 7 percent) to 361,689. Terminations once again held steady, declining by 2,634 (down less than 1 percent) to 347,828. Because filings exceeded terminations, the total for pending cases and defendants rose by 12,268 (up 3 percent) to 438,808.” [UScourts.gov] (emphasis added)

Pending civil cases are reported up by 5%, to 340,925 nationwide.  And, still the Senate Republicans will not act.

Senator Heller, Where is your blue slip?

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