Ending the Judicial Vacancy Crisis

January 08, 2013

Chief Justice Roberts recently issued his annual year-end report on the federal judiciary.[1]  After focusing in large part on the “aggressive” cost-containment measures that the Judicial Branch has implemented in response to the country’s fiscal dilemmas—in FY 2012, the Judiciary received only two-tenths of 1% of the entire federal budget—Roberts called on Congress and President Obama to provide the resources necessary for the operation of the Judicial Branch.[2]  “Those vital resource needs include the appointment of an adequate number of judges to keep current on pending cases.”[3]  Accordingly, he encouraged the “Executive and Legislative Branches to act diligently in nominating and confirming highly qualified candidates to fill” judicial vacancies.[4]

Senator Leahy—chairman of the Judiciary Committee—echoed Chief Justice Roberts’ call for action, noting that “[j]udges play a vital role in our democracy, and languishing vacancies on our courts only threatens the efficiency and effectiveness of that cherished system.”  President Obama quickly did his part and re-nominated thirty-three candidates to federal judgeships. Now comes what has become the exceedingly difficult part: getting the nominees confirmed.

The problem is a real one.  According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, there are currently 78 judicial vacancies—more than when President Obama took office in 2009.  Twenty-seven of those positions are designated as “judicial emergencies.”[5]  Every day these vacancies go unfilled is a day that justice is delayed for those who depend upon court action.

Roberts, Leahy, and Obama have said it.  Now you will hear it from us: members of Congress have a responsibility to confirm qualified judicial nominees without delay.


Photo Credit: David Shane


[1] 2012 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary (Dec. 31, 2012), available at http://www.supremecourt.gov/publicinfo/year-end/2012year-endreport.pdf.

[2] Id. at 3-10.

[3] Id. at 9.

[4] Id. at 9-10.

[5] In a circuit court, a “judicial emergency” is any vacancy “where adjusted filings per panel are in excess of 700” or “any vacancy in existence more than 18 months where adjusted filings are between 500 to 700 per panel.”  In a district court, a “judicial emergency” is “any vacancy where weighted filings are in excess of 600 per judgeship,” “any vacancy in existence more than 18 months where weighted filings are between 430 to 600 per judgeship,” or any vacancy in “any court with more than one authorized judgeship and only one active judge.”  Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, http://www.uscourts.gov/JudgesAndJudgeships/JudicialVacancies/JudicialEmergencies.aspx (last visited Jan. 7, 2013).


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