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.
– Mark Cohen, for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals,
– and Jill Pryor, as a judge for the Northern District of Georgia.
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