Balance jeopardized by judge approval delay

At the end of 1997, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist reprimanded the Senate for neglecting its Constitutional duty to speedily approve or reject federal judicial nominees. Rehnquist said the major problem facing the judiciary was “too few judges and too much work” and suggested continued inaction could imperil the entire court system. The Senate appears to have ignored Rehnquist’s request, and Senate Republicans’ continued refusal to do their duty of either approving or rejecting judicial nominees is not only an abuse of power, but also a potential harm to justice in this country.
The Constitution balances the power between the executive, judicial and legislative branches. The Senate is not allowed to nominate judges but has the sole power to approve them for office. The president has the sole power to nominate judges but must have the nominations approved by the Senate. However, by refusing to either approve or reject nominees, the Senate grossly inflates its power. The apparent goal of the delay is to wait out Clinton’s presidency with hopes the next president will be a Republican. In this case, though, partisan politics are unjustifiable.
There are now 64 vacancies in the federal courts. The Judicial Conference of the United States identifies 21 of the current vacancies as “judicial emergencies,” determined by a combination of the length of the vacancy and the average workload of judges on that court. Despite the dire situation, the Senate’s rate of confirmations has slowed this year. Only 17 judges have been approved this year, in sharp contrast to 1994, when over 100 judges were approved.
The vacancies mean many cases are delayed for years as overworked judges work their way through gigantic case backlogs. Other cases simply are never heard because judges are forced to select only the most important or urgent cases for review. This delay often means that poorer plaintiffs or defendants must give up their case because they can no longer afford to keep an attorney on retainer.
Some nominees have been waiting for as long as three-and-a-half years, and the nominations that have been held up the longest are disproportionately minority or female. Of the 10 nominees who have been delayed the longest, seven are either female, minority or both. These individuals stand in sharp contrast to Ted Stewart, a friend of Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who jumped to the front of the line when nominated — ahead of those who have already waited for years.
For the country to run properly, the balance of power between the branches of government must be equal. The Senate’s continued refusal to act on judicial nominees is partisan pettiness, plain and simple. By preventing an elected president from using his Constitutional right to select judges, the Senate is usurping power unfairly. The nominees deserve to either be rejected or approved rather than waiting in limbo for years. The Senate must stop the politics and do their job.