Vacancies Leave Federal Courts in Crisis

Republican holds on judicial nominees taking a toll
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 8, 2011 8:19 AM CST
Vacancies Leave Federal Courts in Crisis
Federal judges are becoming scarce.   (Shutterstock)

Republicans’ refusal to allow votes on President Obama’s judicial nominees has pushed courts to the breaking point, particularly in southwestern courts struggling with drug and illegal immigration trials, the Washington Post reports. In Arizona, for example, some judges are handling about 1200 criminal cases simultaneously. The state recently declared a judicial emergency, extending its deadline to bring defendants to trial. “It’s a dire situation,” says the state’s chief justice.

The increased workload has driven federal judges to retire at a clip of one per week this year, leaving 101 of the nation’s 857 bench posts vacant. Of those, 46 are considered judicial emergencies. “My cardiologist told me recently, ‘You need to reduce your stress,’” Illinois’ chief judge says. “I told him only the US Senate can reduce my stress.” There may be hope of that—Senate Republicans have vowed to work with the White House to get through the backlog. Three nominees were approved yesterday. (Read more federal judges stories.)

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