Saying that Texas has more vacant federal judgeships than any other state, leaders from state and national liberal advocacy organizations on Monday called on U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn to do more to fill the openings.
“The Republican senators go out of their way to prevent certain seats from being filled, hoping that a future Republican president will step in and fill them," Janet Neuenschwander, coordinator of the National Council of Jewish Women, said Monday at a news conference addressing the vacancies. “You have got a circuit court of appeals heavily weighted in favor of Republicans. I can only assume that the two senators do not want to put any additional judges on that circuit to maintain the substantial advantage that they have on that circuit.”
There are seven Texas federal district court judgeships vacant and two Texas seats on the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Seven of the vacant spots have been declared “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the United States Courts because of the length of the vacancies.
Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for Cruz, said they have been working with Cornyn's office and the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee to get the best candidates for the vacancies.
"Our offices have been in regular contact with the White House and are working in good faith to ensure Texas has nothing but the most qualified, capable judges defending and representing them in the courts, Frazier said.
In April, Cruz and Cornyn established a Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee to collect nominations for the seats. “It is crucial that we ensure Texans have the best, most qualified judges and prosecutors defending their rights in court,” Cruz said in a news release on the commission.
The panel accepted applications throughout the summer but has yet to make any nominations. Some of the seats have been open for as long as five years.
According to a statement from Progress Texas, the vacant seats can have serious consequences for Texans trying to have their cases heard.
“When there are not enough judges, Texans can’t stand up for their rights in court,” the group’s statement said. “Delays can stretch from months into years. Memories can fade, witnesses can die, and families can be bankrupted.”
Phillip Martin, deputy director of Progress Texas, said that current federal judges are very conservative and that his organization would like to see more diverse candidates appointed to fill vacancies.
“Put forward candidates for federal judicial positions who are well-qualified, who have a diverse and broad experience that lends well to the debates that go behind deciding these important cases,” David Hinojosa, southwest regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said Monday, adding that more Latinos should be appointed.
Nan Aaron, president of Alliance for Justice, said the issue has been particularly important for immigrants along the border who have “been caught in the web of immigration laws,” as it lengthens the amount of time that their citizenship status can remain in limbo.
*Editor's note: The original version of this story misattributed a quote from David Hinojosa, southwest regional counsel for MALDEF. The story has been corrected.