AN EDITORIAL YESTERDAY MISSTATED THE NUMBER OF JUDGES THE SENATE HAS CONFIRMED SO FAR IN 1999. THE CORRECT NUMBER IS NINE. (PUBLISHED 07/17/99)
SO FAR, this year has been a slow one for judicial nominations. That's a shame, because there are still too many vacancies on the federal bench and next year is an election year, in which the pace of confirmations can be expected to slow. The Senate in 1999 has confirmed only seven judges; 40 more await action either on the floor or in the Judiciary Committee. Meanwhile, 23 vacancies are categorized by the Judicial Conference as "judicial emergencies," meaning either that the court in question is facing a burdensome caseload or that the slot has been vacant for 18 months.
There is some reason for optimism. Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), after a lag, has begun holding hearings, including one earlier this week. Over the past month, the committee has reported several nominees to the floor, and a few have been confirmed. The recent activity follows a White House decision to submit for an FBI background check and American Bar Association evaluation a Hatch favorite named Ted Stewart for a district court judgeship in Utah; he is hotly opposed by liberal and environmental groups. While no announcement has been made regarding whether Mr. Stewart will ultimately be appointed, the movement on his case seems to be greasing the wheels generally.
Still, the numbers are disturbing, as are the individual nominations that have been sitting around far too long. Judge Richard Paez, for example, was first nominated to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals more than three years ago. He has had two committee hearings and was reported favorably to the Senate floor last year, but he has never had a vote. Marsha Burzon, another 9th Circuit nominee, has been sitting around since January of last year. The Judiciary Committee reported her to the floor on a 10 to 8 vote earlier this month. The 9th Circuit is a controversial court, one that conservatives regard as a bastion of liberalism. But there seems to be no question about these nominees' qualifications, and they certainly deserve a quick vote. More generally, the momentum that was generated last year in reducing the number of vacancies needs to be maintained, not diminished. It is time to pick up the pace.