Johnny Isakson, Saxby Chambliss send judicial signals to White House

Concerned about your local federal judiciary? The White House has received this letter from U.S. Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, giving President Barack Obama’s lawyer the names of judicial nominees they promise not to block.

One of them, Linda Walker, is a magistrate in the Northern District. And an African-American. She’s in line for a full judgeship, and would be the first black woman on the bench. Walker has been nominated before, but found herself trapped in the maze between Congress and the White House.

The others:

– Mark Cohen, for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals,

– and Jill Pryor, as a judge for the Northern District of Georgia.

See the letter for yourself here.

Here’s an October piece — necessary background — by my AJC colleague Daniel Malloy:

WASHINGTON — Three long-awaited federal judge vacancies in Atlanta that have been declared “emergencies” are nowhere close to being filled, as they remain bogged down in murky disputes between the White House and Georgia’s Republican U.S. senators.

The standoff comes amid wider partisan bickering over the pace of judicial nominations, with Democrats accusing Republicans of unnecessarily stonewalling Obama administration nominees, charges that were reversed under George W. Bush.

One of the vacancies on the U.S. District Court bench in Atlanta has been open since February 2009 — for 31 months — and the other since January 2010. A Georgia-based seat on the 11th Circuit federal Court of Appeals has been vacant since August 2010. All three have been designated “judicial emergencies” by the U.S. Courts, based on the time it has taken to fill them and the number of cases that would have been assigned each judge.

“This has directly affected the nine active judges we have, ” said James Hatten, clerk of the District Court. ” …There is a cumulative effect as well as an immediate effect on their case loads.”

U.S. District Court judges preside over federal criminal prosecutions and consider a variety of civil cases, such as those involving civil rights, patents, securities and copyright litigation.

The Northern District of Georgia is assigned 11 active, or essentially full-time, judges. It now has nine active judges and eight senior judges, who take limited case loads.

On Jan. 26, Obama nominated Atlanta federal public defender Natasha Perdew Silas and U.S. Magistrate Linda Walker, a former county attorney for Fulton County. If confirmed, they would become the first African-American women to sit on a U.S. District Court bench in Georgia.

Walker was recommended to the White House by Georgia’s two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson. They have both given blue slips — signifying their approval — to the Democratic-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee for Walker, but have not done so for Silas.

The senators have declined to explain their objections to Silas. Chambliss cut off a question outside the Senate floor this week, saying “I don’t discuss judges.” Isakson said, “I’m not going to get into details.”

The White House submitted both nominees on the same day and considers Silas and Walker as “a package of nominees, ” meaning both must go through the confirmation process together, said committee spokeswoman Erica Chabot. It is a practice the committee has employed several times with multiple nominees from the same state.

Chabot noted the committee has received a number of letters of support for Silas.

Larry Thompson, the former deputy U.S. Attorney General under President George W. Bush, called her “smart, diligent and fair.” State House Majority Whip Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta; Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard; and former U.S. Attorneys Richard Deane and Kent Alexander also wrote letters of support for Silas’ nomination.

By not giving a blue slip for Silas, Georgia’s two senators are effectively blocking the Senate from being able to vote on her nomination. If the committee continues to view Silas and Walker as a “package, ” it could also block a vote on Walker as well.

Chambliss and Isakson wrote a joint op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in May 2005 in which they argued for swift consideration for Bush’s nominees. Republicans were then in the midst of a push to change Senate rules that ended when Democrats agreed to limit their filibusters of nominees.

“Not only does the Constitution require an up-or-down vote, denial of an up-or-down vote goes against basic principles of fairness, ” they wrote. “… the Senate must give each nominee a fair, up-or-down vote to fulfill its constitutional duty.”

Glenn Sugameli, who closely tracks judicial nominations for the environmental group Defenders of Wildlife, cited the op-ed in charging the senators with hypocrisy.

“They’ve said that [nominees deserve a vote] over and over again, ” Sugameli said of Georgia’s two senators. “Well, to my knowledge, the Constitution hasn’t changed. It seems what’s happening is a change of their position that’s all about partisan politics and a Democratic president.”

In the case of the 11th circuit, which has jurisdiction over cases in Alabama, Florida and Georgia, the delays have come at the White House. Stanley Birch, who was appointed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, retired from the court in August 2010.

Because Birch is from Atlanta, the appointment of his successor will go to a lawyer or judge from Georgia.

Earlier this year, the White House had begun vetting Daisy Floyd, who served as dean of Mercer University’s law school in Macon, but the administration never nominated her — and Birch’s seat continues to be vacant.

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment on the reason for the delay.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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21 comments Add your comment


January 24th, 2012
11:07 pm

Give a reason or get out of the way. What has happened to Johnny?


January 24th, 2012
11:54 pm

What goes ’round comes ’round — and will continue as party in power changes until there is an actual law that says an up or down vote on each individual nominee must be held w/i —#?— days.

For now, GOP seems to believe they need only to block the votes for another year to have a GOP president nominate Republican judges.

Look before I leap...

January 25th, 2012
1:23 am

Seems to be a on-going tactic inside the Beltway these last several years. Both Democrats and Republican have signaled a willingness to stop governing, stop doing the jobs they were elected to, stopped looking out for the welfare of the nation in order to play dangerous partisan games. Nothing that is broken is ever fixed and any decent legislation is compromised into an ineffective mash.

Regarding federal judges, perhaps the real issue is the “appointment for life clause”. While I understand it is not probably not in the best interest of the electorate to have an ever changing judiciary subject to the political whims of the day, could not an argument be made for a 15 year tenure for federal circuit and appeals judges and perhaps 20 years for SCOTUS judges? This removes the impetus for blocking a life time legacy appointment by POTUS.

The habit of waiting until legislative and executive control of the government is held by one or the other party in order to appoint judges is inefficient and unnecessarily burdens an already over-stressed judicial system.

Buckhead Boy

January 25th, 2012
5:32 am

Very thoughtful post, Look … , although I suspect that most politicians today view their “job” as re-election and not governing. Moreover, half of them continuously express disdain for government.

Possibly a solution would be to require re-confirmation every nine years, with a date certain of thirty days succeeding the anniversary of initial confirmation. That might cause the politicians to resort to some degree of compromise as they fumble to preserve judges of their individual likings, whether that be partisan, geographically or ideologically-based.

Keep the corporations happy

January 25th, 2012
6:17 am

Isakson, Chambliss and Obama have basically one overriding goal, keep the corporations that fund their re-elections happy. Everything else is just theater.


January 25th, 2012
7:22 am

Isakson and Chambliss are two of the most obstructionist senators in the senate. Wouldn’t it be nice for a change to have people representing all of us instead of only the fat cats who make the big contributions to keep them in office?

Ronnie Raygun

January 25th, 2012
7:25 am

So Democrats voting down Bush’s judicial nominees in an up-or-down vote is the same as Republicans blocking up-or-down votes on Obama’s judicial nominees? Holy false equivalency Batman!


January 25th, 2012
8:05 am

Ms. Silas must have done something that real estate brokers didn’t like (johnny) or farmers didn’t like (saxby).

That she has done her job in an honorable fashion attending the needs of the Citizens she serves makes no difference to them.


January 25th, 2012
8:29 am

Mark Cohen would be a fabulous addition to the federal bench!!


January 25th, 2012
9:28 am

I wonder if they included a list of additional police state legislation they will not block. Johnny and Saxby are a totalitarian’s best friends. One can assume that if these two like these particular judges it is because these judges will consistently side in favor of the police state and the power of the all knowing government apparatus. These two clowns need to go.


January 25th, 2012
9:40 am

Isaackson and Chambliss have always been as dishonest as their Democratic counterparts in doing what’s right for the country. Nothing new here.


January 25th, 2012
9:55 am

Hilarious! Isakson and Chambliss think they are the ones that get to pick the judges!


January 25th, 2012
10:10 am

@ Look

You raise a very interesting idea of having terms for Federal Judges. If implemented, maybe it could ease some of the tension. It may, however, increase the number of nominations that a President would have to make. The terms would have to be one time only though, because re-appointment would amount to re-election and I don’t know about you, but in my opinion the election of Judges is not a good idea.


January 25th, 2012
10:29 am

Our system requires the advice and consent of the senate. That safe guard is to prevent the president, from either party lurching too far left or right for appointments for life. Just becasue Obama is a leftie does not mean he can pack the judicary with leftist judges. Same thing is true for a rightward leaning republican. The rub comes when the senate or senators, Republican or Democrat decide to fight every choice. Fixing some of the polarization between the parties is an essential step to making our sytem work.


January 25th, 2012
11:08 am

maybe one day georgia will have true conservative senators. Saxby is a joke.

Ol' Timer

January 25th, 2012
11:13 am

@James — And, I guess the SCOTUS isn’t packed with conservatives.

Looks like in the absence of an intelligent strategy: OBSTRUCT!


January 25th, 2012
11:15 am


January 25th, 2012
9:55 am
Hilarious! Isakson and Chambliss think they are the ones that get to pick the judges!

This is nothing new. Senators (both Democrat and Republican) have been doing this for years.

UGA 1999

January 25th, 2012
11:17 am

Everyone is quiet today.


January 25th, 2012
11:37 am

UGA 1999

January 25th, 2012
11:17 am

A topic no one cares about.


January 25th, 2012
11:59 am

It continues to amaze me that some people think that blocking judicial nominees for partisan reasons is a democrat or republican problem.

Members of the Senate from both parties do, and will continue to do this. If republicans regain the White House, the 46-48 democrats remaining in the Senate after this Fall’s election will have more than enough votes to block the republican president’s nominees just as republicans continue to block President Obama’s nominees.

Same goes for legislation. Listen very carefully to the republicans running for President. They say that will repeal the President’s health care legislation but they don’t “promise” this will happen because they know that there will be 46-48 democrats in the Senate that will never allow a vote on this repeal. Remember, the democrat senators who are going to lose this Fall are the ones who are most closely identified with the center of democrat thought. The remaining 46-48 will be much more partisan and much more obstructionist. In other words, Congress will govern next year exactly as it has governed the last three years! The democrats who whine about partisan politics today will be the republicans who whine about partisan politics once the republican President takes over next year. The “pay back” by democrats for the last three years is going to be something to see!

And the band plays on…..


January 25th, 2012
4:32 pm

While they’re at it they ought to consider a mandatory retirement age for federal judges. A piece in today’s paper talks about a 104 (one hundred and four) year old sitting federal judge who just passed away. It’s possible but highly unlikely someone that age can be an effective jurist.