Legal group calls for U.S. Senate to fill vacancies on D.C. Circuit

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- A liberal legal organization is calling on the U.S. Senate to make filling the growing vacancies on a federal appeals court a priority. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit lost another judge Tuesday, making four vacancies on the 11-judge panel. Judge David Sentelle, who was appointed to the D.C. Circuit in October 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and served as chief judge since February 2008, has taken senior status. Concerned about the number of vacancies on the court and others, the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, also known as ACS, has created a website dedicated to tracking judicial vacancies. In particular, ACS contends the D.C. Circuit is the second most important court in the country, after the U.S. Supreme Court. The court, it explains, is responsible for resolving critically important cases involving the separation of powers, the role of government, the rights of federal officials, and the decisions of a vast array of administrative agencies. In fact, the D.C. Circuit ruled last month that President Barack Obama's "intrasession appointment" of three new members to the National Labor Relations Board was an unconstitutional abuse of power because he could not make those appointments without U.S. Senate confirmation because the Senate was not in recess. However, the court currently has more vacancies than any other federal appeals court, and two of the vacancies are among the oldest on the entire federal bench. During the last congressional session, the Senate failed to confirm two of Obama's nominees -- Srikanth Srinivasan, principal deputy solicitor general of the United States; and Caitlin Halligan, general counsel for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office and former New York solicitor general. Obama renominated Srinivasan and Halligan, along with 31 others, last month. "Today, I am re-nominating 33 highly qualified candidates for the federal bench, including many who could have and should have been confirmed before the Senate adjourned," the President said in a Jan. 3 statement. "Several have been awaiting a vote for more than six months, even though they all enjoy bipartisan support. I continue to be grateful for their willingness to serve and remain confident that they will apply the law with the utmost impartiality and integrity." He continued, "I urge the Senate to consider and confirm these nominees without delay, so all Americans can have equal and timely access to justice." Halligan was originally nominated in September to fill the seat left behind in 2005 by John Roberts, now chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Srinivasan was first nominated in June to take over for A. Raymond Randolph, who took senior status in 2008. That still leaves two vacancies with no nominations -- Sentelle's seat and that of Douglas H. Ginsburg, who took senior status in October 2011. "With four out of eleven judgeships open, the D.C. Circuit will be further crippled and divided," ACS President Caroline Fredrickson said Tuesday. "The Senate must make filling these vacancies a priority. Doing so could go a long way to restoring the ability of the federal government to respond to health, safety and other vital concerns that impact every American." ACS is a network of lawyers, law students, scholars, judges and policymakers that promotes the U.S. Constitutional values of "individual rights and liberties, genuine equality, access to justice, democracy and the rule of law." The organization, founded in 2001, was created as a counterweight to the Federalist Society, and is often described as its progressive counterpart. From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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