President Donald J. Trump’s relationship with Florida has been a hot topic since he decided to spend most of his winter weekends at Mar-a-Lago. These stays have added up to a tab of millions of taxpayer dollars and earned him a lot of bad ink in the state. But now he has an opportunity to get something meaningful done quickly and in a bipartisan fashion for Floridians. He can act on an appeal from our two U.S. senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, to fill vacant seats in our federal courts.
These two senators have jointly asked the president to re-nominate three of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees to Florida’s federal courts who had been vetted and approved by both senators, but left waiting for hearings (along with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland) when their nominations expired in January.
Nelson’s and Rubio’s rare show of bipartisanship couldn’t come at a better time for Florida’s federal courts. There are currently seven federal judicial vacancies in Florida and five of them are formally classified as “judicial emergencies”, meaning there simply are not enough judges to handle the growing caseload. As judicial vacancies remain unfilled, Floridians who rely on our court system are the ones who suffer.
Last year, the watchdog group Integrity Florida issued a report detailing the myriad ways that lengthy judicial vacancies delay and deny justice for Floridians. Prolonged judicial vacancies inevitably result in case delays, higher caseloads, increased administrative stress and judicial burnout. Such judicial vacancies “threaten the timely administration of justice in both criminal and civil cases” according to the report.
In their letter, the senators asked the president to re-nominate Patricia Barksdale and William Jung for vacancies in the Middle District of Florida, and Phillip Lammens in the Northern District, With our courts already stretched razor thin, it only makes sense to move these qualified bipartisan nominees through the process rather than starting over from scratch. To underscore this point, Nelson and Rubio made clear in their letter that “timely action is needed as the two vacancies in the Middle District are considered judicial emergencies.”
The letter also refers to the failure of Senate leaders to take “timely action in the last Congress.” In addition to the highly publicized blocking of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, Senate Republicans in recent years have refused to act on numerous lower court vacancies, causing the number of judicial vacancies to skyrocket. As a result, President Trump now faces the daunting task of filling more than 120 federal court vacancies
Floridians expect and deserve to have a fair and functioning judicial system, and that requires our courts to be working at full capacity. Sens. Nelson and Rubio should be commended for setting aside partisan politics for the sake of our judicial system and the public interest. For his part, President Trump should take notice and heed their advice.
The president says he gets most of his work done on the weekend. Maybe he could invite Sens. Rubio and Nelson to play golf at Trump International Golf Club -West Palm Beach and get some judges seated in the process.
LINDA GELLER-SCHWARTZ, BOCA RATON
Editor’s note: Linda Geller-Schwartz is the Florida State Policy Advocate for National Council of Jewish Women.
There are currently seven federal judicial vacancies in Florida and five of them are formally classified as “judicial emergencies”.