Roadblock on federal judges Clinton's tardiness: Senate Republicans seem determined to make matters worse.

October 01, 1997

NO ISSUE FACING this nation is important enough to remove it from partisan politics. That's the message Senate Republicans send by blocking almost every nomination to fill a federal court vacancy made by President Clinton. They stall whether the nominee is liberal, conservative or moderate. The result is an overwhelmed court system with too few judges to handle the huge docket that stems from drug cases and civil suits.

Mr. Clinton decried the partisan politics in his radio address Saturday, but he must share the blame for the judicial appointments morass. National Public Radio pointed out in a recent five-part series that until this summer the president had submitted nominations for only a third of the 100 vacancies on the federal bench. He has since increased to 70 the number of names submitted to the Senate, but fewer than 20 nominees have been confirmed.

The Republican Senate confirmed only 17 Clinton nominees last year, compared with the 66 Bush nominees approved by the Democratic Senate in 1992. It might be easier to understand Republican resistance to Clinton nominees were they darlings of the left wing. But judicial experts say most Clinton nominees are moderates who have more in common with those named by Republican Gerald R. Ford than Democrat Jimmy Carter.

Until Saturday's speech, Mr. Clinton put very little public pressure on the Senate. Consequently, the problem has become acute, with some judicial nominations languishing for more than two years. It is estimated that one out of every eight federal judgeships is vacant; 30 federal courts have been designated judicial emergencies by the Justice Department. Disaster has been averted only because retired judges have been brought in to help.

But this cannot continue. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco has canceled arguments in 600 cases this year because there are not enough judges to hear the cases. Justice has been denied, as well as delayed, in too many instances because the courts can't keep up with the volume.

Reagan/Bush nominees to the federal bench already outnumber Clinton appointees by a 2-1 margin. Now that Mr. Clinton has accelerated his judicial nominations, Republicans in the Senate need to stop playing politics.

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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