09.06.2017 by @Reform_Justice
Here at BTR, we will not look to overtly bang a political drum, nor will we look to make this a politically motivated platform. We feel there are outlets for that sort of thing and people reading here are looking for a different sort of content. We are advocates of justice system reform. We also care a great deal about our environment and societal and other issues surrounding the planet we all share. At times, National US politics will invariably enter the conversation. We have contributors from around the globe and a readership that is multinational in nature. We fully admit the United States lags far behind the rest of the civilized world in many areas (including justice reform) and we readily acknowledge this fact. Our mission is to evoke change and to help correct a very broken US system. Our mission is not political.
United States Circuit Court Judges are Presidentially appointed, lifetime positions. There are 13 branches directly beneath the United States Supreme Court. While I don’t have statistics to cite, as this is a very involved process, USCC decisions establish precedent or settle law as a matter of course. This because the SCOTUS hears very few cases due to time constraints. The SCOTUS decides about 70 cases a year. This then makes the work of the various US Court of Appeals that much more important. A great explanation of the US Court System is here:
The probability of a case being granted certiorari by the SCOTUS is exceedingly slim. The probability a District Court grants en banc even more rare. These issues are at the forefront of the news today for several reasons. We have cases pending here in Wisconsin and around the country. There is a substantial grassroots movement in the US, both on the ground and via social media, concerned with judicial system reform and how we can do a better job protecting individuals’ Constitutional rights.
This then brings us to a look at how Republicans are seemingly looking to “stack the deck” with 124 lifetime judgeships waiting to be filled in 2017 and how we got to this tipping point. Some of these vacancies have been left unfilled for years now due to partisanship and infighting in Congress over the confirmation process. This is where we (and YOU) come in.
Statistically, fewer and fewer judgeships have been filled in recent years and we see this as a ramping up of partisan tactics on both sides of the aisle. The way this administration and conservative interests have dismissed time honored traditions and protocol over individual state judicial representatives has been eye-opening to say the least.
In Wisconsin and other states there is a process known as the “Blue Slip”, where state legislators can block nominees that do not receive bipartisan support. Republican leaders in the Senate are now considering a change “blue slip” procedure, due to “conditions which have changed” and the need for long empty seats to now be filled. In the past, judicial nominations would not proceed unless a nominee’s home-state senators gave consent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The “Blue Slip” being the paperwork received from state nominations committees.
“Republicans say they will make the change if Democrats throw up blanket opposition to President
Democrats and Republicans alike have battled over judiciary nominees in recent years and the fight continues under the new Administration. This stalemate took center stage after the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on February 13, 2016, during the second term of the Obama Administration (and in an election year). Republicans, in control of the Senate, refused to hold confirmation hearings for President Barrack Obama nominees. During this same period, we also saw many Republican state senators invoking Blue Slip privilege, refusing Obama nominees to fill USSC lifetime positions. Some, as in the case of the 7th Circuit having been unfilled since 2010.
There is plenty of blame to go around in this process, as noted by the seven years it has taken to fill a seat on the 7th Circuit Bench. Including ironically Democrats invocation of the simple majority rule (instead of the traditional super-majority 60/100) under the Obama administration. This effort, as claimed at the time, was needed to get over-worked courts the judges they need to handle a growing caseload. This was the party line and tactic, but of course was in response to extreme partisanship thrown up by Republicans feeling adrift in a second term of Liberal control.
Fast forward past an election process that has further polarized the two major parties and we find ourselves looking at the process yet again. For our justice system to work effectively, we need our best and brightest legal minds put in place where they can do the most good. This ideal seems to escape politicians who think the party that seats a judge or justice has somehow imprinted that party’s will for a generation (or for the lifetime of that judgeship). History teaches us this approach at influencing or attempting to politicize the Judiciary is a fool’s exercise. Not only do individual judges and justices evolve over time in their opinions and stances, issues in society demand they look at issues in ways they couldn’t have imagined previously.
It’s been a longstanding assumption that politicians somehow control influence in the realm of Law via their appointments. The fact is the branches of government are separated by design to circumvent just such manipulation. The Judicial Branch operates outside the influence of the Executive or Legislative branches almost entirely (except for the nomination/ confirmation process). The decisions our higher courts invoke are influenced by introspection and a vast knowledge of the law by dedicated law scholars unencumbered (once seated) by political influences or agendas.
As the fight rages on to seat as many “conservative” judges under the current Administration, we would like to take the focus a bit higher and ask that both sides find a way to not only seat deserving legal minds, but to also look at the bigger picture a bit more in dealing with our archaic legal system. There are incredibly deserving individuals waiting to serve. Let’s put politics aside and work on making our judicial system what it was meant to be.
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