In April 2016, then-President Obama nominated Florence Pan, who has served as a D.C. Superior Court Judge since 2009, for an opening on the D.C. District Court. Judge Pan is an experienced, moderate nominee who enjoyed the powerful support of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.). The Judiciary Committee reported Pan in mid-September. However, her nomination languished on the floor until Jan. 3, when the nomination expired because of Republican obstruction in refusing to accord her a confirmation debate and vote. Pan is a highly qualified, mainstream nominee and the D.C. District needs each of its vacancies filled, so President Trump must promptly renominate and the Senate must swiftly approve her.
The District has four vacancies in 15 judgeships. Thus, the court lacks 27 percent of its judicial complement, which frustrates rapid, inexpensive and fair case resolution. Addressing suits without one-fourth of its jurists imposes greater pressure on the court’s members.
When Obama nominated Pan, he praised her superb legal career, declaring that Pan had assembled an exceptional, impressive record and had displayed “unwavering commitment to justice and integrity.” The White House press release observed that Pan had served as a Superior Court associate judge for seven years and an assistant U.S. attorney for a decade.
Nonetheless, the panel did not set Pan’s hearing until July 13, 2016. Norton introduced the nominee, lauded her excellent qualifications and called for expeditious Senate confirmation. That hearing proceeded smoothly, and the senators who asked questions seemed satisfied with Pan’s responses. On Sept. 15, the panel approved her on a voice vote with little debate and no controversy.
After mid-September, Pan’s nomination waited on the floor for a confirmation ballot. Republican leaders claimed that they were restoring “regular order” in the Senate. Nevertheless, Pan and numerous other well-qualified, moderate nominees languished for months awaiting votes. Norton and Democratic members sought rapid final votes, yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) never scheduled them. A few Democratic lawmakers sought unanimous consent to vote on Pan and 19 other district court nominees who required floor ballots, yet GOP members objected. Had the Republicans followed regular order, Pan would have received a confirmation vote, but the GOP never arranged ballots.
Pan’s renomination and confirmation can be achieved easily. Norton should urge Trump to promptly nominate Pan, just as he recently renominated Judge David Nye and Dean Scott Palk — well qualified, mainstream Obama nominees who had previously earned committee approval, as did Pan.
Pan is a fine, consensus nominee who enjoys Norton’s strong support and deserves appointment. The D.C. District Court requires all of its active judges to deliver justice.
Carl Tobias is the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond.