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Judicial Nominees

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THE POWER OF FEDERAL COURTS

Judges who become part of the federal judiciary hold immense power over the lives of Americans,  hearing cases that affect religious freedom for generations. The Supreme Court takes about 70-80 cases annually, while federal courts of appeals handle about 35,000 cases per year. So while Supreme Court justice selections are especially important, circuit court and district court judges hear 99% of all federal appeals cases.

President Trump, along with the Republican-controlled Senate, has a prime opportunity to nominate judges who will uphold the Constitution. As with the nomination of Justice Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, First Liberty attorneys—religious liberty experts—have been analyzing the opinions of judicial candidates related to religious freedom.

FEDERAL COURTS BY THE NUMBERS

Currently, there are approximately 140  judicial vacancies in our federal courts. These include both judicial seats that are open at this time and. The federal judiciary includes:

  • Circuit Courts (U.S. Court of Appeals)
    • 12 Circuit Court of Appeals (179 judges)
  • U.S. District Courts
    • 94 District Courts (89 in the 50 states)
    • 677 total judges
  • Specialty Courts
    • Federal Claims Court (16 judges)
    • Court of International Trade (9 judges)

 Circuit Courts

Circuit Courts shown are grouped by color. Orange dots signify circuit court judicial vacancies. Red dots indicate nominees. Gold dots signify nominees that have been confirmed.
Double click on circuits to see nominee list and bios. Note: Click on the DC icon to the right of the map for Washington, DC circuit court details. 

District Courts

Green dots signify district court judicial vacancies. Yellow dots indicate nominees. Blue dots signify nominees that have been confirmed. Double click on states to see names and bios.  Note: Click on the DC icon to the right of the map for Washington, DC district court details. 

HOW NOMINEES ARE CONFIRMED

The fair and timely confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court stands in stark contrast to the gridlock and obstruction imposed on President Trump’s nominees to the lower courts. Today, there are more judicial vacancies than when President Trump first took office— more than 140  and counting.

Constitutional Requirement

The Appointments Clause of the Constitution requires the President:

“Shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint … Judges of the supreme Court, and all other [federal judges] which shall be established by Law.”

In addition to the Supreme Court, the President’s judicial appointments consist of nominees to Courts of Appeal and District Courts. While the Constitution requires all judicial nominees to be confirmed by the Senate, it does not specify the process.

Senate Process

The current confirmation process has developed over time to include numerous traditions, precedents, professional courtesies, and formal rules adopted by the Senate. Recently, however, one Senate practice has slowed the confirmation process: the “30-hour” rule. This practice, which is not mandated by the Constitution, has hindered the Senate from performing its “Advice and Consent” duty, which is mandated by the Constitution.

30-hour Rule

The 30-hour rule is a derivative of the more familiar filibuster process. In 2013, the Senate abolished the 60-vote threshold to cut off debate (to invoke cloture) on all nominations except those to the Supreme Court. However Senate rules still currently allow up to 30 hours of debate for a single nomination. At that pace it would take several years to debate nominees for the current judicial vacancies.

TAKE ACTION TO SPEED THE NOMINATION PROCESS

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) should lead his caucus to implement a version of the reforms to the 30-hour post-cloture debate suggested by Senator James Lankford (R-OK). Under this reform, the Senate would interpret its own Rule XXII to clarify that the 30-hour requirement does not apply to nominations. Instead, the Senate Majority Leader should as a courtesy allow a short period for post-cloture debate, ideally two hours per nominee, but certainly not more than eight hours. With this reform, the Senate should be able to quickly confirm nominees to lifetime judgeships.

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Other Resources:

Circuit Map

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District Map

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Confirmation Process

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The Honorable (Senator’s Name)
1234 Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C.


Dear Senator (Name),
I’m writing to you today on a matter that is important to me as your constituent, and also vital for the nation. As you know, voters elected President Trump to appoint principled judges to the Supreme Court and the federal courts of appeal and district courts.

I am pleased with the fair and timely confirmation of Justice Gorsuch and would like to see more judges confirmed in a similar manner. At the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump faced more vacancies for federal judgeships than Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. Due to more retirements and unnecessary delays in the Senate, there are now more judicial vacancies than the day President Trump was inaugurated. That is unacceptable.

There is one simple way to reform the judicial confirmation process and restore the constitutionally-mandated role of the Senate. The 30-hour debate rule should be repealed or replaced with a more reasonable limit (such as 8 hours) on debate before a vote. I support Senator Lankford’s proposal for revising the 30-hour debate rule. Please call upon Leader McConnell to change that practice immediately.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter. Each day these judicial vacancies aren’t filled, the backlog of cases grows. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Sincerely,


(Your Name)