Justice Delayed

Opinion

By Nancy K. Kaufman

Published March 29, 2011, issue of April 08, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Anyone old enough to remember Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade and Bush v. Gore knows how important the U.S. Supreme Court is. Now comes Wal-Mart v. Dukes, in which the Supreme Court will hear arguments March 29 on whether 1.6 million women who work for the giant retailer will be able to sue the company as a group for pervasive gender discrimination throughout its operations. The ability to file a class action has historically been critical to the enforcement of civil rights law, and many eyes will be focused on this important case.

It is vital to remember, however, that many other important federal cases never make it to the Supreme Court. Last year 282,307 civil and 77,287 criminal cases originated in the federal district courts, 56,790 cases were appealed to the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, and about 10,000 were appealed to the Supreme Court, which typically issues opinions in only 80 to 90 cases a year. So while the Supreme Court is undoubtedly the most important court in the land, it is just a part of the extensive federal system that has an enormous impact on the quality of American justice.

And today too many Americans are finding it hard to get their day in federal court due to the slow pace at which vacancies are being filled on the federal bench. According to the Federal Bar Association’s president, Ashley L. Belleau, “The increasing number of federal judicial vacancies in the federal court system is straining the capacity of federal courts to administer justice in an adequate and timely manner.”

The nomination and confirmation of judges to lifetime appointments to handle these cases is one of the most important duties of the president and the Senate. But far from a process of careful, timely deliberation, routine judicial nominations have been tied up in partisan wrangling and delay, apparently in an effort to prevent the president from filling seats on the bench with qualified candidates who reflect his mainstream views of the law.

President Obama has been slow in making appointments — slower than his predecessors. But the primary roadblock is the Senate, where nominees languish for months and even years, stymied by anonymous objections, delayed votes, spurious inquiries and whatever other tactics opponents can muster.

One nominee was filibustered for no apparent reason — when the vote finally came, she was confirmed by a margin of 99 to 0. Another waited 236 days to be confirmed, and yet another waited 275 days for confirmation. When the votes were finally taken, those who had held up their confirmations had not a word of opposition.

The result of such machinations has been that only 40% of the president’s nominees have been confirmed as of February 2011, while in the same time frame, 77% of President George W. Bush’s nominees were confirmed. Of the 45 nominees now pending before the Senate, 29 had to be re-nominated after the last session of Congress failed to act on their nominations. The delays mean that more than a tenth of the nation’s 875 judgeships are unfilled. In many districts, senior judges (who are semi-retired, sometimes in their 80s) have been called back to hear cases, and lengthy vacancies in busy courts have led to a declaration of judicial emergencies in 40 — or more than one-third — of the empty seats.

When Betty Dukes and her fellow plaintiffs first worked up the courage a decade ago to stand up against Wal-Mart’s discriminatory treatment of them, they sought out the only forum where they could hope that their rights and those of their bosses would be given equal weight — our federal courts. The chances for justice for Americans like Betty Dukes and for everyone else depend on the ability to seek timely redress. Justice delayed is justice denied. The president and the Senate must act forthwith to fill our federal courts with judges committed to the defense of our fundamental rights and liberties. The Constitution demands no less.

Nancy K. Kaufman is chief executive officer of the National Council of Jewish Women.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.