Political gridlock slows judicial appointments

There’s an old saying that the wheels of justice grind slowly. However, this adage has taken on a deeper significance in recent years due to political infighting and Congressional wrangling in the federal judicial nomination process.

The Constitution grants power to the president to appoint all federal judges, subject to confirmation by the Senate. In addition to the nine seats on the U.S. Supreme Court, the president is responsible for the appointment of about 180 appellate court judges and more than 650 district court judges. These are lifetime appointments, so the selection and approval process is serious business.

Ideally, any candidate considered for a judicial appointment should be fair and unbiased. Inevitably, however, political ideologies influence the selection and screening process. Often, especially with Supreme Court nominations, judicial appointments reflect the ideology of the party in power. A system of checks and balances prevents unlimited appointment powers of the leaders in charge. As a result, the president chooses the nominee, but that choice will not make it to the bench without Congressional approval.

With increasing frequency, such political bickering has resulted in an unusually high number of vacancies, particularly at the district court level. There are currently 148 vacancies on the federal bench. Senate confirmation for 68 appointments is pending. That leaves a lot of criminal cases and civil suits without a presiding judge. In one of the most glaring examples, there are two divisions in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana without a single sitting district judge. Cases that are pending there can languish, with litigants unable to get a trial date

Well-vetted judicial appointees are critical to ensuring an effective and just legal system. Unfortunately, the needs of our judicial system are too often adversely affected by politicians more concerned with advancing their own agendas than doing what is good for the country.

About the author

Daniel J. Hoerner

Daniel J. Hoerner is a maritime attorney with Mouledoux, Bland, Legrand & Brackett LLC.

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