[JURIST] Members of the US Senate Republican Conference [official website] Monday called [C-Span video, RM] for an end to delays in considering federal district and circuit court judges nominated by President George W. Bush. Members of the Conference said the delays have lead to chronic under-staffing of federal courts and that some courts have only three quarters of their positions filled, leading to case backlogs and the extensive use of visiting judges. Speaking before the Conference, Northwestern University law professor John McGinnis [faculty profile] said the delays make the confirmation process less transparent and ultimately decreases confidence in the federal court system. McGinnis said the problem was structural rather than partisan, and called for new rules setting concrete timelines to govern the nomination process. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] accused Senate Judiciary Committee [official website; JURIST news archive] Democrats of trying to stall until after the presidential election. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] has said that such delays are common practice in election years and that federal court vacancies have actually decreased during president Bush's term [press releases].
Steve Rutkus of the Congressional Research Service [official website] told the Conference that since 1980, under both Republican and Democratic control, the average time for the Senate to take final action on a successful district court nominee has almost tripled [nomination chart]. In November 2007, President Bush criticized the Senate [JURIST report] for taking too long to confirm his nominees to the bench, saying the body had overstepped its mandate to "advise and consent" on nominees and was instead setting out to "search and destroy."