by Nicole Flatow
American Constitution Society Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson squared off against the Committee for Justice’s Curt Levey during a “PBS NewsHour” segment on judicial nominations yesterday evening.
Noting the Senate’s record obstruction of judicial nominees, Fredrickson emphasized that a persistently high level of vacancies on our courts has an impact on people that is often missed in political discussions.
“I think we forget sometimes that our attention is so much on the political branches of government,” she told the “NewsHour’s” Judy Woodruff. “We focus on elections; we focus on the presidential race, the straw poll in Iowa. We look at what’s going on in Congress. But we forget that we have an entire other branch that exists for an extremely important purpose to adjudicate these important cases.”
Fredrickson recounted the story of the late Judge Malcolm Muir, who continued working on Social Security appeals up until his death last month at age 96. A month before his death, Muir expressed his commitment to reducing the delay for those who rely on these benefits to get by. Muir is part of a growing trend of judges working into their older years to support courts with unfilled vacancies.
“That is a situation that is affecting real people in their everyday lives,” Fredrickson said.
Levey defended Republican obstruction of judicial nominees before the 2010 election, arguing that the minority party’s job is “to slow things down,” a view that Fredrickson rejected.
“I think it’s unfortunate when Curt can suggest that the Republicans thought that their job as the minority party in the Senate was obstruction,” she said. “That doesn’t reflect well on the Senate as a whole and it doesn’t serve the American people.”
Levey also suggested that the higher number of vacancies under President Obama only makes a “slight difference,” to which Fredrickson responded that 37 of the current vacancies are so debilitating to their districts that they have been deemed judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
“I don’t think we should accept it as status quo that our judicial branch can be neglected and vacancies can go unfilled,” Fredrickson said.
Watch the full discussion below, and visit JudicialNominations.org to learn more about the judicial vacancy crisis and follow developments.