Norton Introduces Bill to Reduce Vacancies in D.C. Courts

Jul 28, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today reintroduced the District of Columbia Courts Vacancy Reduction Act, which would allow nominees to the local District of Columbia courts to be seated after a 30-day congressional review period, unless a resolution of disapproval is enacted into law during that period. Currently, nominees to the local D.C. courts cannot be seated without affirmative Senate approval. The bill would make the congressional review process for nominees the same as the one currently used for legislation passed by the D.C. Council.

“My bill will allow local D.C. court nominees to be seated at the end of the 30-day congressional review period,” Norton said. “This is the same process currently used for D.C. legislation. It is therefore a reliable process, long recognized by Congress. My bill is prompted by the unique requirement that judges for the local D.C. courts be confirmed by the Senate, where nominees for the federal courts and the executive branch, understandably, get the primary focus and priority. There has been a longstanding vacancy crisis facing the District’s criminal and civil courts, regardless of which party controls the Senate, and the D.C. courts have raised serious concerns about the longstanding vacancies.”

Norton’s introductory statement follows.

 

Statement of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on

the Introduction of the District of Columbia Courts Vacancy Reduction Act

July 28, 2021
 

Today, I introduce the District of Columbia Courts Vacancy Reduction Act.  This bill would allow local District of Columbia court nominees to be seated after a 30-day congressional review period unless a resolution of disapproval is enacted into law during that period.  Currently, nominees cannot be seated without affirmative Senate approval.  The congressional review process for nominees would be the same as used for legislation passed by the D.C. Council.  It is therefore a reliable process, long recognized by Congress.  My bill is prompted by the unique requirement that judges for the local D.C. courts be confirmed by the Senate, where nominees for the federal courts and executive branch, understandably, get the primary focus and priority.  There has been a longstanding vacancy crisis facing the District’s local criminal and civil courts, and the local D.C. courts have raised serious concerns about these longstanding vacancies.

Whether Democrats or Republicans control the Senate, the local D.C. courts regularly face vacancy crises, which harm the operations of the local judicial system in the District.  Congress created the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission (JNC) to recommend candidates to the President, and Congress should generally defer to its judgment.  This bill is a compromise, useful to all concerned, that retains a congressional role while saving the Senate time by removing the need for committee and floor action on local judges and increasing the odds that D.C. will have a full complement of local judges.

Currently, there are 12 vacancies out of 62 authorized judges on the D.C. Superior Court and three vacancies out of nine authorized judges on the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Both pre-and post-home rule, the District has never had control over the nomination and approval of local D.C. judges.  My bill would not alter the role of the JNC or the President in the nomination process.  Under the Home Rule Act, the JNC recommends to the President a list of three candidates for each vacancy on the Superior Court and the Court of Appeals.  The President must nominate a candidate recommended by the JNC within 60 days to the Senate for advice and consent.  If the President fails to nominate such a person within 60 days, the JNC must nominate a recommended person directly to the Senate for advice and consent.  The Senate has no obligation to provide its advice and consent.  Under this bill, once a nomination has been transmitted to Congress, the nomination would be deemed approved unless a resolution of disapproval is enacted into law during a 30- day review period.          

I urge my colleagues to support this important legislation.

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