While Congress focuses on the qualifications of Edwin Meese to be U.S. attorney general, judges in the D.C. LCourt of Appeals are trying to cope with a mounting backlog caused in part by a vacancy that the White House has left unfilled since June.
Marking time while the Senate grills Meese is Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Andrew L. Frey, President Reagan's pick to fill the local appellate seat. Frey's name was taken off the confirmation schedule in September after some GOP senators vowed to force a debate over his nomination, and it has not been resubmitted.
Frey's candidacy to replace retired judge John W. Kern III created an uproar among conservatives when it was revealed the government's chief advocate on criminal matters belongs to groups advocating abortion rights and gun control.
Gun enthusiasts and antiabortionists launched a lobbying blitz in Congress to stop Frey's confirmation.
With a reduced judicial work force, the appeals court has a two-month backlog of cases awaiting oral argument. Case filings rose 15 percent last year, and at least one lower court ruling was upheld because the eight sitting judges deadlocked.
"Obviously we can't schedule as many cases for oral argument, and each judge just has to pull that much more," said one court official. "It's a shame, because the guy [Frey] is really capable."
Statute requires that the president select a nominee within 30 days after candidates are submitted by the D.C. Judicial Nominations Commission, but it is unclear how long the White House can take to resubmit a nomination that is held over from one congressional session to another, as Frey's was.