Judge Dolores Sloviter, former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, is set to take senior status in June, making her the second judge in as many weeks to announce her departure.
She plans to keep up 80 percent of the workload she carried as an active judge, Sloviter said, after she takes senior status June 19. That date will be exactly 34 years since she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter, Sloviter said.
The following month, Judge Anthony Scirica is set to become a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, a move that coincides with his senior status on the court.
The Third Circuit, which has a bench of 14 active judges, currently has one empty seat, left by Judge Maryanne Trump Barry when she took senior status in 2011.
Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz of the District of New Jersey to fill that seat in an 11-7 vote, with Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., crossing party lines to vote in her favor.
The same committee last year approved of Shwartz’s nomination by a vote of 10-6, strictly along party lines, but, in an election year, a vote on her nomination by the full Senate stalled.
The process for filling seats on federal appeals courts is typically slower than the one for filling trial court seats, said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law who tracks federal judicial vacancies.
However, the process for filling district court seats during President Obama’s first administration became notably longer than it was during the two previous presidencies.
Also, senators are typically afforded less deference for their counsel to the president on circuit court nominees than they are for their recommendations on district court nominees, Tobias said. But, he said, the Obama White House has been inclined to solicit recommendations from home-state senators — usually one to five names.
For Obama’s circuit court nominees so far, there has been a 277-day average wait from the time the seat became vacant to the time that he made a nomination, according to a Brookings Institution study by Russell Wheeler released in December.
On Thursday morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved three nominees for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Nitza Quiñones Alejandro, U.S. Magistrate Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo and Berks County Court of Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Schmehl. The trio was part of a slate of five district court nominees who were approved en banc unanimously in an up or down vote before the committee moved briskly on to discuss gun-control legislation.
It’s a good sign that the nominees have moved through the committee so quickly, Tobias said. They had their hearing last month.
At least a dozen judicial nominees are ahead of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania candidates, Tobias said of the likelihood of a floor vote in the near future. "I’m cautiously optimistic that it might be April, May," he said.
Currently, there are six vacancies in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, three that don’t yet have nominees, and a seventh empty seat anticipated when Chief Judge J. Curtis Joyner takes senior status this spring. A committee set up by Pennsylvania’s senators, each of whom appointed a co-chair, is considering candidates to make suggestions to the senators who will then make recommendations to the White House.
That process, which resulted in the three people who the president nominated last November, took roughly a year.