Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A District Without Judges

Our system of formal dispute resolution and criminal justice essentially relies on all the actors being in place.  When you go to court, you need your lawyer.  Your opponent needs his.  The court reporter keeps a record of what goes on.  The bailiff ensures public safety and enforces decorum.  The judge presides.  The judge can be the arbiter of the dispute, or the referee of procedure.  The judge can make an enforceable ruling, or refrain from acting.  The judge is an indispensable component of our system.

How does the judge get to the bench?  Under Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution of the United States of America, federal judges are nominated by the President and confirmed with advice and consent of the Senate.  Thus, like any initiative that passes through Congress, the appointment of judges can be bogged down by the democratic process and party politicking.  This partisanship can be intense in judicial appointments, as those appointments are often more enduring then legislative positions since a federal judge keeps his or her seat for life (i.e. “during good behavior”).  

The judicial appointment process becomes increasingly politicized in the midst of a highly contested election season.   Presently, 17 appointments are being held up in the Senate due to partisan blocking, including that of Attorney Michael Shea for the District of Connecticut.   The delay of judicial appointments, such as that of Mr. Shea, are sorely felt in the District of Connecticut, where district court judge Peter C. Dorsey passed away earlier this year, another judge is ill and judge Christopher Droney was raised up to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

The result:  A backlog of civil cases without a judge to preside over them.  The further result: the importation of judges from other districts to preside in Connecticut.  Chief U.S. District Judge Alvin Thompson has asked judges from other districts around the country to come to Connecticut in order to relieve a backlog of civil cases.  So far, judges from district courts in New York, Ohio, Kentucky, Montana and South Dakota are en route or have arrived in Connecticut to attempt to help the District of Connecticut judges out of this litigation backlog.