CBC: GOP Senators stalling appointment of Black judges
12th August 2013 · 0 Comments
By Askia Muhammad
WASHINGTON (Special to the NNPA from The Final Call) — The critical need for judicial diversity has been willfully stalled and obstructed due to negligence by a handful of Republican members of the U.S. Senate, according to an exhaustive study by the Congressional Black Caucus.
“It is imperative that we have a criminal justice system that is reflective of the society in which we live,” CBC Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) told reporters at the Capitol July 17. “When we do not, we run the risk of an unjust interpretation and an unfair application of our laws in courtrooms where the fate of so many of our young people are decided.
“According to the Brennan Center for Justice, white males are over-represented on state appellate benches by a margin of 2-1. Almost every other demographic group is under-represented, when compared to their share of the nation’s population,” she said.
What’s worse, Rep. Fudge continued: “There is evidence that the number of Black male judges is actually decreasing, with one study finding that there were proportionately fewer Black male state appellate judges in 1999 than there were in 1985.”
Currently, there are 10 highly qualified Black judicial nominees awaiting confirmation in the Senate—30 percent of those pending confirmation—according to the CBC.
“For the CBC, judicial nominations have always been matters of very special, high priority,” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), chair of the CBC Judicial Nominations Working Group said. “It was the federal courts, not Congress, that found racial segregation and discrimination to be unconstitutional, and it is the courts, more than the other branches that have most often guaranteed the rights of African Americans.”
The CBC working group met with the White House counsel as well as with judicial nomination experts and found that President Barack Obama is not the source of the problem, Mrs. Norton said. “Overall, 17 percent of the president’s confirmed judges have been African-American, compared to seven percent for President George W. Bush and 16 percent for President Bill Clinton.
“More African-American federal judges have been confirmed than in President George W. Bush’s entire eight years (33 to 24), including more African American Circuit Court judges (8 to 6). The president has appointed the same number of African-American Circuit Court judges as President Clinton did in eight years (8),” she said.
But at the present pace of Senate confirmations, there is a risk of losing more Black judges than there are to be gained. Black judges now make up 8.3 percent of the federal bench—95 out of 787—and many of them, who were appointed by President Clinton, have taken or are close to being eligible for senior status.
The confirmation process employs a so-called “blue slip” system, which requires each senator where the judicial vacancy occurs to notify the Senate leadership in order for the nomination to move forward. This system has sometimes kept Black nominees who have been found to be qualified by bar associations and by professional experts to be fully qualified, from moving forward to a hearing, committee vote and to confirmation. “This deliberately constructed bottleneck has left as our only recourse, to come forward today to publicly ask senators, particularly Republicans, to submit the necessary blue slips and move African-American judges to confirmation,” Del. Norton said.
CBC members singled out Florida, where two of the 10 stalled Black judicial nominees would serve. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has not submitted the required blue slips for nominees Brian Davis and William Thomas.
“I am thoroughly frustrated that Marco Rubio is continuing to hold up the nomination of a stellar judge from Jacksonville,” Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) told reporters. “Judge Brian J. Davis was first nominated by President Obama last February to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Given the decision made in Florida just last week in the Trayvon Martin case, the desperate need to bring a greater sense of fairness into our courtrooms and to increase the number of high quality, African-American judges is blatantly obvious,” she insisted.
Sanford, Fla., where unarmed, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was slain by community watch, vigilante George Zimmerman, and where Mr. Zimmerman was acquitted of second degree murder and manslaughter charges, is inside Rep. Brown’s Fifth District boundaries.
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), himself a former federal judge, also condemned Sen. Rubio’s failure to release the nominees for confirmation, pointing out that Judge Thomas and his family have served the Florida judicial system since even before Sen. Rubio or his parents even migrated to this country from Cuba.
“Prior to this instance, never before has there been any kind of dissension within the Florida delegation,” Rep. Brown said. “Indeed, this is the very first time that one of the Florida senators has gone out of his way to obstruct the promotion of a judge from his own state.”
The reason for this obstruction is clear, according to a CBC source. “As the president said in June, this is not about principle, it is about political obstruction.”
Indeed, even as conservative Republicans have worked to undermine the entire Obama agenda—House Republicans have voted 37 times to outlaw the Affordable Care Act (so called “Obamacare”) even though it has been upheld by the Supreme Court—they have turned around and mocked the president referring to this administration as “the fourth term of President Bush.”
The CBC did commend some GOP senators who have “been fair in voting to move judges forward on the merits, instead of withholding blue slips for Black judges.”
Republican Senator Tim Scott—who is himself Black—and Senators Lindsey Graham both from South Carolina; Thad Cochran and Frederick Wicker, of Mississippi; and Mark Kirk of Illinois are all deserving of mention, according to Mrs. Norton.
In addition to the Florida nominees, one appointee—Vernon Broderick of New York—has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is awaiting only a floor vote. Three others have had hearings and are awaiting a committee vote; and two others have been nominated and are waiting for a committee hearing.
“As our country has become one of the most diverse in the world, a judiciary that reflects that diversity is virtually mandatory,” said Congresswoman Norton. “The Congressional Black Caucus will not quietly allow highly qualified African-American judges to be sidelined without hearings or to be held up on the Senate floor after being voted out of the committee.”
This article originally published in the August 12, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.