Yesterday, a judicial watchdog coalition delivered a petition demanding that Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner work together and ensure that the nomination process for a vacant federal judgeship be “speedy and transparent.”
So far, the process has been clunky, sluggish and less than cooperative, according to attorney Peg Perl of Courts Matter Colorado, whose petition has been signed by 790 Coloradans.
In April, as is tradition, U.S. Circuit Court Judge Robert Blackburn announced he would be going on senior status and that there would be a full year to replace him.
Typically, a state’s U.S. senators would jump into action working together to write a list of prospects to send to the White House, which would in turn send nominations to Congress for approval. Because there are a limited number of federal judges in each state – just seven serving Colorado – the process typically moves fast. After all, who wants to be the lawmaker responsible for jamming up courts and backlogging cases?
Months passed without Senior Sen. Bennet, who would traditionally initiate a nomination committee, making an announcement about a search committee.
Bennet’s office approached Gardner’s staff, who declined to join forces and work on the senior senator’s nomination committee.
Before Bennet announced a nomination process, Junior Sen. Gardner shunted Colorado tradition in August citing “urgency” as his reason for forming his own nomination committee led largely by Republicans.
“I take my responsibility to recommend Colorado judicial nominees to the President seriously and there is particular urgency in filling this vacancy,” said Gardner in an August 3 news release. “I am confident that the members of the Committee, who are some of Colorado’s finest legal experts, will thoroughly review all applications and make careful recommendations based on each applicant’s merits and qualifications. I encourage Coloradans interested in serving on the District Court to submit an application, and I look forward to seeing the Committee’s recommendations.”
The “finest legal experts” he recruited to serve on his committee were largely Republicans.
Bennet was left forming a bipartisan committee without Gardner’s support – a process which is still underway, as Bennet’s finalizes its list of Democrat and Republican legal experts to join forces in vetting nominations.
“Our committee will be bipartisan and strike the right balance,” said Bennet’s Communications Director Adam Bozzi.
All of this was a bit surprising to Perl, who had been happily watching the state’s congressional delegation push forward legislation that would bring two more federal judgeships to Colorado.
This kind of bipartisanship is something both Democrats and Republicans like to show off to purple voters who are tired of party politics.
So why, on an issue that is so important to all Coloradans, would Gardner form his own partisan committee and risk looking like he went rogue? Was Gardner breaking with tradition to undermine Bennet? Did Gardner think he could sneak a conservative judge past a liberal White House and somehow get President Barack Obama to back a candidate that did not have Bennet’s support?
Gardner’s staff did not reply to requests for comment from The Independent. We will update this story if they do.
Perl does not necessarily believe Gardner’s all-on-his-own committee was intentionally uncooperative and motivated by political swagger. Perhaps he was just clumsy and ill informed on how things usually work. Maybe there’s another explanation he has yet to share.
Either way, “I hope that he’s still open to working together and does not throw roadblocks up for this nomination process,” Perl said.
As for Bennet, he’s still hoping Gardner and his committee will work with him.
“We would welcome them as part of our process and reached out to them about joining weeks ago,” Bozzi said.
Below is the letter Courts Matter Colorado sent to the senators.
I am writing today because I am concerned that our U.S. District Court will suffer if a nominee is not confirmed before the announced retirement of Judge Blackburn.
Our federal courts are vital because they address the issues that matter and keep our judicial system open and accessible. Coloradans are faced with an overworked and understaffed District Court in Colorado, which has not increased the number of judges since 1984. Increased workload from 30 years of population growth, plus additional cases arising from increased federal agencies with a regional office in Colorado led to the Judicial Conference of the United States’ recommendation to add two permanent district court seats in 2013. However, those additional judgeships have not been authorized by Congress.
If a nominee is not selected and confirmed by the Senate before Judge Blackburn’s seat becomes vacant, the District Court will fall further behind and Colorado individuals and businesses seeking justice will be harmed.
I urge you to conduct a speedy, diverse & bipartisan screening process to present nominee names to the President. Coloradoans expect you to do what you can to ensure that the President’s nominee for our District Court gets prompt consideration, both in committee and on the floor of the Senate.
Thank you for your consideration.
Photo credit: Robin Hutton, Creative Commons, Flickr.