Commentary: Judge Shortage Delays Justice

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, November 20, 2009
Nobody disputes the basic facts. Federal judges for the Eastern District of California, headquartered in Sacramento, are the most overworked in the country. Judges in the district average more than a thousand cases per year.

To put that in perspective, the national average for federal judges is 471 per year.

If you can't muster much sympathy for federal judges, then consider defendants, victims, litigants - ordinary citizens who have urgent matters before the court. It takes 42 months on average - 3 1/2 years - to resolve civil disputes in California's Eastern District.

President Obama has nominated 25 people for federal judgeships, but only 11 have been confirmed by the Senate. Partisan politics explains part of the problem, as it did with Presidents Bush and Clinton. But partisanship isn't the only hold up. Obama has nominated fewer judges than his predecessors. Bush nominated 63 people his first 10 months in office, more than twice as many as Obama. Despite the crushing caseload in California's Eastern District, Obama has not yet nominated anyone to fill a vacancy here. That's unacceptable.

Federal courts in Sacramento are in crisis. Obama needs to speed up nominations and the Senate needs to speed up confirmations.

Ginger Rutland writes for The Sacramento Bee opinion pages.