Apparently I'm not the only one frustrated with the slow pace of judicial appointments. In his annual state of the judiciary speech (pdf), US Chief Justice John Roberts lamented "the persistent problem of judicial vacancies in critically overworked districts." But he warned the other two branches of government and the public that
The judiciary depends not only on funding, but on its judges, to carry out that mission. The Constitution, as one of its many checks and balances, entrusted the selection of new judges to the political branches. The judiciary relies on the President’s nominations and the Senate’s confirmation process to fill judicial vacancies; we do not comment on the merits of individual nominees. That is as it should be. The judiciary must respect the constitutional prerogatives of the President and Congress in the same way that the judiciary expects respect for its constitutional role.Speaking of retired senior judges, the late Judge William Wayne Justice had been serving in the Southern District as a visiting judge before he recently passed, making the shortage there much more acute now that he's gone. When I last spoke to Judge Justice perhaps a year or so before his death - in an East Austin BBQ joint where I ran into him dining with some former clerks - he lamented that nearly all the cases coming before him in his visiting judgeship were workaday immigration cases, many of them heartwrenching in their details but also dramatically different from his diverse docket in Tyler.
Over many years, however, a persistent problem has developed in the process of filling judicial vacancies. Each political party has found it easy to turn on a dime from decrying to defending the blocking of judicial nominations, depending on their changing political fortunes. This has created acute difficulties for some judicial districts. Sitting judges in those districts have been burdened with extraordinary caseloads. I am heartened that the Senate recently filled a number of district and circuit court vacancies, including one in the Eastern District of California, one of the most severely burdened districts. There remains, however, an urgent need for the political branches to find a long-term solution to this recurring problem.
We should all be grateful to the judges and court staff throughout the country—and especially those in overburdened districts—for their selfless commitment to public service. There is no better example of that than the work of our retired senior judges. Although they are under no obligation to do so, many of them continue to carry substantial caseloads. They do this for no extra compensation. We would be in dire straits without their service, and the country as a whole owes them a special debt of gratitude.
Most partisans aren't aware of the extent to which a massive wave of immigration cases over the last half decade has swamped Texas' Southern and Western Districts, and is also interfering with traditional US Marshal's duties. But for those who are - and Judiciary Committee member and Texas Sen. John Cornyn should be - it's a disgraceful abdication of duty to play politics with these judicial appointments. As I repined, somewhat cynically, in Grits comments last week, "I hear lots of complaints that the feds won't secure the border, but doing so is a criminal justice function that can't be accomplished without prosecutors and judges." John Roberts understands that, why can't John Cornyn?
Via Sentencing Law & Policy.