Texas’s Judicial Emergencies and the Need for Senate Action

CAP Hosts Event with Reps. Charlie Gonzalez and Lloyd Doggett

On April 3 the Center for American Progress co-hosted an event with Progress Texas, Texans for a Fair Judiciary, and the St. Mary’s University School of Law American Constitution Society chapter. The event, held in San Antonio, featured Texas Congressmen Charlie Gonzalez (D-TX) and Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), who described the Senate federal nomination process and the unprecedented gridlock that has prevented the appointment of many qualified judicial candidates, both nationwide and in Texas. The congressmen emphasized that Texas, among other states, is battling a judicial vacancy crisis.

“For the past three years, Senate Republicans have undertaken an unprecedented effort to block nominees, filibustering judges who are so qualified that, when they do get to the Senate floor, they are confirmed by 90 votes,” said Rep. Charlie Gonzalez. “This is denying millions of Americans equal access to one third of our government. It creates uncertainty that keeps businesses from investing, hurting our economy. Senators have a constitutional duty to give these qualified nominees an up-or-down vote but only pressure from the American people can force them to meet this obligation.”

In his remarks Rep. Lloyd Doggett added, “We have many exceptional judicial candidates ready to begin strengthening justice in Texas. This problem of unnecessary, lengthy delay in the appointment process is having negative consequences far beyond the vacancies involved. Empty robes jeopardize our judicial system and filling them must be a higher priority.”

Six of Texas’s 52 judicial seats are empty, and all six of those vacancies are deemed judicial emergencies; there are not enough judges on the bench to hear the number of cases filed each year in Texas. Yet there are currently two qualified nominees who have the support of both of Texas’s Republican senators who have not gotten a vote on the Senate floor.

All told, there have been 19 filibusters of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees, more than any other president (seen clearly here). There is currently a 9.2 percent vacancy rate on the federal bench throughout the country. The historical average has been around 6 percent.

In response to the situation, Rep. Gonzalez said, “Any objective analysis of the data will show you something is terribly wrong. What’s going on is truly inexcusable. There’s no way those facts and figures can be defended by those causing the impasse.” Rep. Doggett added, “What we need, if not outrage, is at least, concerned involvement.”

Both congressmen urged the attendees to contact their senators and the White House to encourage the Senate to take up floor votes as soon as possible to fill the vacancies on the federal bench. Without the help of advocates across the country and concerted pressure on the Senate and the White House, our courts will continue to be understaffed causing delays in justice for the American people.