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'John was prepared'

"'John was prepared'" Continued...

Issue: "Between Hell and Hope," Feb. 12, 2011

Disorder in the courts

The federal judiciary in the United States is stretched and groaning under its workload. Currently the federal courts have 101 judicial vacancies, or about 11 percent of the judgeships. Just before Christmas, the two parties in the Senate finally came to an agreement and confirmed 19 judicial nominees, but the approval process has been slow. In January the president renominated 42 individuals for the federal judiciary, most of whose nominations had expired at the end of the last Congress.

By contrast, at the end of George W. Bush's first two years in office, only seven nominees awaited confirmation-but the process stalled later in his administration. "Each political party has found it easy to turn on a dime from decrying to defending the blocking of judicial nominations, depending on their changing political fortunes," said Chief Justice of the Supreme Court John Roberts in his year-end report on the judiciary in December. "This has created acute difficulties for some judicial districts." For example, Roberts' seat on the D.C. Circuit Court that he left in 2005 to join the Supreme Court is still vacant.

John Roll's district already had two vacancies, and his death created a third, out of 18 positions. The Arizona district court is one of five border districts that bear 73 percent of the nation's immigration-related cases, which went up substantially recently as the federal government has beefed up agents along the border. Still, the vacancies in the district are relatively recent, going back only to August 2010. The Arizona congressional delegation has given its "undivided attention" to filling vacancies, Judge James Teilborg said, but the president has to begin the process by naming nominees. Still, he said, the passing of Roll "creates a vacancy that cannot be filled."

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emzleb.

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