Nomination delays hurting courts, federal judge says

U.S. District Judge James J. Brady spoke out Monday aga inst the increasingly glacial pace of judicial nominations, calling on U.S. Senate leaders to “come to their senses” and recognize the toll a vacant bench has on the court system.

“It’s just crazy, and we need to do something about that,” said Brady, who sits in the Middle District of Louisiana in Baton Rouge. “What’s happening, in my mind, is we’re driving away a lot of really good folks that would make excellent judges because they’re saying, ‘I don’t need to go through that process and be in limbo for 18, 20, 24 months.’ That’s something I’m very, very concerned about.”

Brady’s remarks, made to more than two dozen people attending a Catholic Community Radio luncheon, came less than a month after Baton Rouge attorney Shelly Dick was confirmed as the Middle District’s first female federal judge more than a year after being nominated by President Barack Obama.

Dick’s nomination was initially blocked by U.S. Sen. David Vitter, who had been holding out hope that Obama would lose to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Vitter, R-La., who said at the time he wanted to “let the people speak,” later withdrew his block and backed Dick’s confirmation after Obama won re-election months later.

Brady did not refer specifically to the delays in Dick’s confirmation, but he alluded to the strain the empty judgeship had on a district overburdened with cases. Dick already has been assigned nearly a third of the district’s 877 pending civil cases, Brady said.

The federal Middle District of Louisiana includes the parishes of East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, West Feliciana, Pointe Coupee, Iberville, Ascension, Livingston and St. Helena.

“Getting a third judge has been a real relief for us,” Brady said. “It helps people get their cases decided much more promptly and, I think, in a much better fashion.”

Delays in judicial nominations due to political differences have become increasingly common in recent years. During Obama’s first term, the average wait time from nomination to confirmation was more than six months for nominees to circuit and district court judgeships, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service.

“It’s gotten to be now that it’s almost like you’re going to paint a big bullseye on anyone who’s nominated as a federal judge,” said Brady, whose own confirmation in 2000 took a little less than a year.

Then-President Bill Clinton nominated Brady for the judgeship.

Brady suggested that concerns over district court nominees are often overblown, noting he and his colleagues adhere to parameters set forth by the higher circuit courts and U.S. Supreme Court.

“I don’t care if you’re a Democratic appointee or a Republican appointee, you’re going to follow those laws, the precedents that those courts have set,” Brady said. “I don’t know of anyone that deliberately goes out and tries to rule against those precedents.”

Brady’s remarks were unusual for a federal judge but were prompted by the “unusual times” gripping the federal courts, said Carl W. Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who is an expert on judicial nominations.

“An increasing number of judges and other people are very concerned about the (nomination) process and how long it takes to move people through it,” Tobias said. “You have Exhibit A with Shelly Dick right there in Baton Rouge.”

Tobias said he was glad to hear of Brady speaking publicly about the issue.

“I think it’s important for people to understand what’s going on, and nobody knows better than the judges,” he said. “They have to live with it.”