Fill judicial vacancies for a not-so-lame duck congressional session

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Congress has convened after the November elections to finish its business before the swearing in of a new Congress in January. This “lame duck” session is the time for our elected representatives to finish the business of the 113th Congress.

The Senate has a great deal of important business left before the end of the year, but one of the most critical jobs is to give yes-or-no votes to President Obama’s judicial nominees pending on the Senate floor. The Senate has a constitutional duty to advise and consent on the President’s nominees to serve as judges.

With an outrageous 64 vacancies on the federal courts, and nearly three dozen nominees in the Senate pipeline, the Senate has an important responsibility to ensure that our judicial branch is able to function by easing this logjam.

In recent years, Republicans have filibustered at record levels to obstruct Obama’s judicial nominees. Over eight years of the George W. Bush presidency, only 16 judicial nominees were filibustered. As of September, 77 of Obama’s nominees have been obstructed by GOP filibusters.

This crisis is compounded by the fact that as power changes hands in the Senate, it is likely that judicial nominees will continue to be obstructed by GOP leadership. That’s because Republicans hope that a Republican president will be elected in 2016.

Republican leadership may change the rules to slow judicial confirmations to a crawl. We cannot accept this.

Federal courts hear cases that affect the lives of everyday Americans, including cases addressing clean air and water, civil rights, immigration, bankruptcy, access to health care and worker’s rights.

The shortage of judges means our court system is struggling to keep up with the backlog of cases. 
It’s well past time the Senate do its job and get these nominees confirmed.

Voting now on pending nominees is not about politics; it’s about doing the people’s business. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio should take action himself and press his colleagues to ensure equal and timely access to the courts system for all Americans.

The Senate has a duty to stay in session and put aside political differences until every judicial nominee on the floor gets a yes-or-no vote.

The lame duck session is no excuse for inaction. And there’s historical precedent for it. During their lame duck sessions, the last two Senates confirmed 13 judges in 2012, and 19 in 2010. And in 2002, when the Democratic-majority Senate met for its lame duck session under a Republican president, it confirmed 20 judges.

This session may be known as the “lame duck,” but that is no excuse for the Senate to stop doing the people’s business. We are all entitled to a working third branch of government, especially the branch that dispenses justice.

Mark Ferrulo is the executive director of Progress Florida, a statewide progressive advocacy organization.