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There are 34 nominees to federal judgeships pending in the U.S. Senate as the window to win confirmation before the November election is quickly closing. And the majority, 26 of the nominees, are for trial court judgeships, which have traditionally been outside the political confirmation fights. Not so these days.
Nominees to the courts of appeal regularly face efforts to block or slow their confirmation, prompting what is known as “cloture vote,” which ends debate and give the candidate an up or down vote by the full Senate. But it takes 60 votes for cloture.
President Obama’s administration has seen 21 cloture petitions on district court nominees. By contrast, the Clinton administration had only one such vote affecting a district court judge.
There are currently 62 vacancies in the district courts nationally, with 26 nominees pending, according to the Administrative Office of the Courts.
And the growing caseloads create emergencies in some courts as caseloads mount with too few judges to handle the work promptly.
Among the courts identified as having “judicial emergencies” are eight openings in California’s trial courts. San Francisco’s Northern District has three unfilled vacancies; the Los Angeles-based Central District has three; Sacramento-based Eastern District and San Diego’s Southern District have one each.
Emergencies are declared in district courts when the case filings, adjusted for complexity, exceed 600 per judge or for any seat open more than 18 months with between 430 to 600 cases per judge.
It is worth noting that in the Sacramento court, the weighted caseload is over 1,100 cases per judgeship, many coming as prisoner petitions from state prisons that cluster in the district’s Central Valley.
In San Francisco, where the district includes Silicon Valley and many time-consuming, high tech patent, copyright and technology-driven cases, the caseload is 646 per judgeship, according to AOC figures.
In addition to California’s judge shortage, Arizona has declared an emergency with two vacancies.
The latest nominee to win Judiciary Committee approval and to be forwarded to the full Senate for confirmation was Jesus Bernal, currently the federal public defender in Riverside. He name was passed to the Senate on July 12 for a post in the Central District. He has not yet had a vote in the Senate.
The Judiciary Committee currently has no judicial confirmation hearings scheduled.