On February 21, 2012, The Leadership Conference and the American Constitution Society hosted an event at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Boyd School of Law to highlight the growing judicial vacancy crisis that has deeply impacted Nevada and the nation but has largely escaped the public eye.
With more than 100 vacancies in American courts, cases are becoming backlogged and sitting judges are being overworked. In fact, a third of those vacancies are causing such a shortage of judges to handle caseload that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts considers them “judicial emergencies.” That means Americans’ right to a speedy trial is in jeopardy.
The panel was composed of Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, American Constitution Society board member Robert Raben, criminal defense attorney Jonathan MacArthur, and Professor Sylvia Lazos of the Boyd School of Law. Panlists discussed the political causes and implications of the vacancy crisis, and the hardships caused by long delayed justice.
“Our courts are crucial to bringing criminals to justice and allowing people and businesses to settle disputes. With the high number of vacancies on our courts, including seven vacancies on federal courts that serve Nevada, the process slows to a crawl. And we know that justice delayed is justice denied,” said Attorney General of Nevada Catherine Cortez Masto, the chief lawyer in the state.
Justice is certainly being denied to those seeking access to the courts but also to the nominated judges themselves, as qualified nominees wait for more than 100 days on average between often unanimous approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee and confirmation on the Senate floor. In past administrations justices waited less than a month on average for approval, but unprecedented levels of obstruction are blocking judges from doing their jobs. Under the Obama administration, even non-controversial, well-qualified nominees appointed to fill “judicial emergency” vacancies have faced long filibusters and other political delay tactics.
It is clear from recent cases that no matter the issue—health care, immigration, environment, marriage equality, consumer protections, ethics—the judiciary will continue to play an increasingly important role in the lives of hardworking Americans. If you’re a progressive and you care about any progressive issue, who is on the courts should matter to you.
To learn more about this issue and how you can get involved in the fight for justice in America, check out the video below.