Life under Obama doesn’t always compare favorably to his predecessor. For instance, his administration has had the worst record for filling the nation’s federal district courts, with the average number of court vacancies exceeding 60 from the years 2009 to 2013, five years in a row. 2009 was the worst, and we know this is so thanks to a study from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University of Law. What makes it worse is that like so many jobs in our recently addled economy, the fewer people doing a job means the more work they have to do.
“Justice delayed due to overworked judges can too often mean justice denied,” wrote study author Alicia Bannon, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, as quoted by the National Law Journal. “The ongoing vacancy crisis in the district courts is unprecedented, and judges and litigants are paying the price as dockets grow.”
The study in question looked at the years 1992 to present, and found that the situation was by far the worst under Obama. For his part, the White House blames Senate Republicans for vetoing the presidents nominees, while meanwhile, Senate Republicans claim Obama has been slow to nominate. Whatever the case, the problem with vacancies has been “uniquely high” beyond anything else looked at under the study, and parallels the situation so many workers in other sectors are facing, that with fewer people working, and higher layoffs, those that remain must work harder to keep up. The judicial emergencies from 2010 to 2012 have had more vacancies than the previous ten years, and it can only be hoped that the problem is rectified soon.
If the struggle truly is another bipartisan standoff, then one wonders whether something more structurally radical is required to make the process move more smoothly. It is at least a reminder that the bipartisan system is unique in its inefficiency, being a “system of check and balances” not quite stipulated in the original constitution but seemingly inescapable at this point.