Filibuster Vote May Ease Threat to Judicial Branch

Yesterday’s action by the Senate to end filibusters of presidential nominees might be just the latest chapter in Congress’ ongoing theater of dysfunction, but it may be good news for the judicial branch. 

We’re all aware that Congress is operating at an unprecedented level of dysfunction, and most of us do not approve. What many don’t know, however, is that the events leading up to that vote are a dire matter for those who worry about how well the judicial branch is functioning. Congressional members now have successfully filibustered three of President Obama’s appointments to the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since Oct. 31. So far this year, four nominees to the court have been denied. The D.C. court is considered one of the nation’s key appellate courts since it often decides policy matters involving the White House and individual federal agencies. Though the recent filibusters are widely known to be for political reasons and not based on the nominees’ qualifications, the reason given by those who are blocking the President’s appointments is that the Federal Courts simply are not busy enough and don’t need more judges.

The American Bar Association doesn’t agree. In a letter by Thomas Susman, the ABA’s Director of Governmental Affairs, he succinctly and simply explains how federal cases have “steeply increased” since 1990 as a result of Congress expanding federal jurisdiction while encouraging more criminal prosecutions for immigration violators and those who traffic in illegal drugs. Susman notes that only 34 new federal district judgeships have been authorized by Congress during the same time frame, concluding:

“Consequently, over the past 23 years, district courts have experienced a 39 percent increase in filings, but only a 4 percent increase in judgeships. Even more sobering, the number of appellate court judges has not changed, despite a 34 percent increase in filings since 1991.”

The ABA recognizes that opinions may differ, so it encourages “collaboration between Congress, the Judicial Conference, and the Government Accounting Office, which has expressed concerns about the methodology concerning case weighting, to resolve the impasse.” While that certainly sounds reasonable, we all know from recent experience what happened the last time Congress tried to collaborate on funding the government. 

It’s one thing to shut down the government. For everyone’s sake, let’s not effectively shut down the judicial branch as well. 

Posted: 11/22/2013 6:21:22 AM by Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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