Last night I had the pleasure of seeing President Obama speak in person at the San Francisco Masonic Center. During his hour-long speech, the President touched on several points, including the legislative accomplishments of the last two years and the issues he hopes to work on in the next few. The speech was incredibly inspirational, but there was, in my mind, one point of concern, which came when the President discussed the possibility of the Health Care reform legislation never reaching implementation. Since making its way through the Congress, the Health Care bill has been litigated in several states. These legal battles should send a very clear message to the President: If you want all your hard to work to pay off, you’ve got to fill the judiciary.
Currently there are 92 vacancies in the federal judiciary out of a total 875 seats, a problem recently discussed in an HLPR article by Michigan State professor Brian Kalt. With only 46 seats pending nominations, one has to wonder why filling our judiciary is not a higher priority. Whether this problem stems from a lack of judicial nominations from the white house or a refusal to push confirmations on the senate floor, the judicial vacancies have reached a point of crisis with hundreds of Americans being denied proper access to justice.
What makes the issue even more perplexing is that judicial nominations are not exactly a hot button issue. Last night as the President spoke about his plans for progress in the future, people called out the issues they hope he will address; tax cuts for the wealthy, sustainable energy, a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage. Even the plight of the wild horses was raised by an audience member. But not once did anyone mention the vacant judiciary.
Why isn’t the public more concerned? One might blame a general lack of knowledge about the role of Article III courts. Or one might simply argue that there are simply too many other, much sexier, topics stealing the limelight. In any case, the White House and the Senate should come together to address this issue immediately.