Hollow judiciary


Once again, Congress is not doing its job. In refusing to confirm judges, the Senate’s Republican minority is denying Americans the effective functioning of their government and jamming up the federal courts system.

The most recent victim of GOP obstructionism was Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals’ District of Columbia circuit. The seat, which has been empty since 2005, was previously occupied by Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr.

Through the undemocratic filibuster — which can be ended under Senate rules only by 60 votes or more, not a simple 51-vote majority — Republicans this month blocked Ms. Halligan’s nomination from coming to a vote.

Today, there are 17 vacancies on the 13 federal appeals courts. Four of the openings are on the 11-seat D.C. circuit, which has exclusive jurisdiction over many national security matters and which hears most appeals from federal regulatory agencies. This court is known for producing Supreme Court nominees, in part because it handles more constitutional questions that involve separation of powers and executive authority than any bench other than the high court.

The Obama Administration sometimes has not been quick to make judicial nominations, knowing GOP senators are waiting to sabotage them. It should do better, to underscore the confirmation problem and to try to force a solution.

Meanwhile, the legislative branch is disabling the judiciary’s ability to function by blocking the confirmation of judges to fill vacancies. The Senate-imposed shortage of judges means that America’s courts cannot provide the speedy trials guaranteed in criminal cases by the Sixth Amendment, or the efficiency individuals and corporations need to resolve contractual disputes.

Senators, whose salaries are paid by taxpayers, need to stop playing political games and start doing their jobs.