Donald Trump has been mired in controversy his first few months in office, and by his own admission, the job of being President is harder than he thought. But Trump has an opportunity to get something meaningful done quickly and in a bipartisan fashion for Floridians. He can act on an appeal from our two Senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio to fill vacant seats in our federal courts.
These two senators have jointly asked the president to renominate three of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees to Florida’s federal courts who had been vetted and approved by both Senators, but left waiting for hearings (along with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland) when their nominations expired in January.
Sens. Nelson and Rubio’s rare show of bipartisanship couldn’t come at a better time for Florida’s federal courts. There are currently seven federal judicial vacancies in Florida and five of them are formally classified as “judicial emergencies,” meaning there simply are not enough judges to handle the growing caseload. As judicial vacancies remain unfilled, Floridians who rely on our court system are the ones who suffer.
Last year, the watchdog group Integrity Florida issued a report detailing the myriad ways that lengthy judicial vacancies delay and deny justice for Floridians. Prolonged judicial vacancies inevitably result in case delays, higher caseloads, increased administrative stress and judicial burnout. Such judicial vacancies “threaten the timely administration of justice in both criminal and civil cases” according to the report.
In their letter, the senators asked the president to renominate Patricia Barksdale and William Jung for vacancies in the Middle District of Florida, and Phillip Lammens in the Northern District. With our courts already stretched razor thin, it only makes sense to move these qualified bipartisan nominees through the process rather than starting over from scratch. To underscore this point, Nelson and Rubio make clear in their letter that “timely action is needed as the two vacancies in the Middle District are considered judicial emergencies.”
The letter also refers to the failure of Senate leaders to take “timely action in the last Congress.” In addition to the highly publicized blocking of Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, Senate Republicans in recent years have refused to act on numerous lower court vacancies, causing the number of judicial vacancies to skyrocket.
As a result, President Trump now faces the daunting task of filling more than 120 federal court vacancies. Where there are qualified, bipartisan candidates available to be renominated, it makes sense for the president to act quickly. Failing to address these vacancies threatens the stability and fairness of our justice system and delays justice for Americans seeking their day in court.
Floridians expect and deserve to have a fair and functioning judicial system, and that requires our courts to be working at full capacity. Sens. Nelson and Rubio should be commended for setting aside partisan politics for the sake of our judicial system and the public interest. For his part, President Trump should take notice and heed their advice.
Linda Geller-Schwartz is Florida State Policy Advocate for the National Council of Jewish Women.