Monday, January 03, 2011

Chief Justice John Roberts: Fill vacant federal judge slots. Are you listening, John Cornyn?

I'd complained the other day, after the US Senate Judiciary Committee rejected two judicial nominees for Texas' Southern federal judicial district, that the region's federal courts were overburdened, the Southern District's case backlog is becoming overwhelmed, and that rejecting two perfectly qualified judges in a district which had been designated with "emergency" status since the Bush administration was irresponsible and short-sighted, short changing Texans - particularly, and ironically, those concerned with maximizing immigration enforcement, which is the main task the still-leaderless US Attorney's office in the Southern District has been engaged in for the last several years.

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.

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.
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.

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.


Prison Doc said...

Let's follow the Chief Justice's recommendation and confirm some [right-of-center] judges.

It's a shame that immigration cases don't just stay in immigration court with no right of appeal. It seems like their rights of appeal are virtually limitless. some sure stay in ICE detention a long time.

Mr. Anxiety said...

You can count on Cornyn to do the wrong thing every time. He's kind of reliable that way...

Anonymous said...

Q: Is Senator Cornyn listening?
A: No.

Charles in Tulia

Zeety said...

Cornyn is more concerned with finding a way to construct granite monuments to the 10 Commandments on the courthouse lawn than doing his job and helping the judiciary function efficiently. He probably thinks Roberts is a crazy liberal.

Anonymous said...

That may be the first coherent thing Roberts has ever said.

Of course, this comes from the same guy who asked how we could prevent enormous windfall verdicts for punitive damages like in the Exxon Valdez case, when that verdict was less than 1% of Exxon's income for the year. He's only decrying the process now because he probably wrongly believes that Democrats are failing to confirm.


Anonymous said...

Roberts is an ass, and so is Cornyn. But even asses are occasionally correct. So well done Roberts, for getting one out of a million correct. You're still both idiots.

Zeety said...


twice a day

Anonymous said...

Judge Justice served as a visiting Judge in the Western District. He sat in Austin, but occasionally traveled to Del Rio. Although the caseload in Del Rio IS diverse (narcotics/immigration/firearms/violent crime), Judge Justice was given low-level guideline immigration cases to sentence because of his fragile health. Judge Alia Moses handles most of the cases filed in Del Rio.