Justice John Paul Stevens’ recent announcement that he will resign has received enormous attention from the media and the American public. That is appropriate, as Stevens compiled a distinguished, lengthy record of service, the U.S. Supreme Court declares the law of the land and each vacancy has substantial practical and symbolic importance. Because replacing Stevens will necessarily consume so much energy during the next several months, it becomes even more critical to remember the many lower court openings.
When the 111th Senate recently returned from its spring recess, the federal bench experienced 103 vacancies out of the 858 appeals and district court judgeships. The empty positions first exceeded 90 last August and have remained above that number ever since. These unfilled seats, which are 11% of the total, erode swift, inexpensive and fair case disposition. Thus, now that the Senate has returned, President Barack Obama should expeditiously nominate, and the Senate must promptly confirm, lower court judges, so that the bench will have all of its members.
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