Arizona lawyer Rosemary Marquez is poised to get her confirmation hearing next week—more than two years after she was first nominated to be a federal district court judge.
The solo practitioner from Tucson, Ariz., has been waiting longer than any other judicial nominee for her nomination to move forward on Capitol Hill. Until now, her state’s Republican senators have stood in the way.
In the time since Marquez was first nominated, only one judge has been confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona—Judge Jennifer Zipps, nominated to the bench at the same time as Marquez in June 2011. Zipps was confirmed in October 2011.
In the meantime, the judges of the Arizona district court, and lawyers who practice there, say they are overwhelmed by immigration and drug trafficking cases. There are six vacancies on the Arizona district court that the federal judiciary considers “judicial emergencies” because of the increasing caseload.
“There’s just an overall level of sadness for the district,” said Walter Nash, a criminal defense attorney in Tucson who has handled federal cases for decades, said in an interview today. “We need the help, and there’s a sense of sadness we can’t get a judge.”
Earlier this month, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) lifted a hold on Marquez and five other nominees, allowing the Senate Judiciary Committee to schedule a confirmation hearing for Jan. 28. The senators have now returned nominee paperwork called “blue slips”—part of a Senate tradition that gives de facto veto power to senators on the president’s picks.
Initially, McCain and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) held up Marquez. When Kyl retired from the Senate at the end of 2012, Flake won the election for his spot and told reporters that he was reviewing Marquez’s nomination.
Marquez has maintained a “very active law practice” during her the nomination process, said Nash, who has known her for decades. “I don’t think she’s let it get to her personally because I think she understands it’s not about her.”
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said he felt good for Marquez, because the delay caused some second-guessing about her qualifications or speculation about what was wrong. Grijalva guessed that Kyl’s opposition may have been based on the senator’s preference for putting prosecutors on the bench.
“She stuck with it, she didn’t pull out, and I’m very grateful to the Obama administration for not pulling her name when it would have been an expedient to do so,” Grijalva said. “They’re closer now to the realization of that position now than ever. I feel good about it.”
Two Arizona district court judgeships have been vacant for more than three years, since Judge Frank Zapata took senior status in August 2010 and Judge Mary Murguia was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in January 2011.