The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., is sometimes called the second most important court in the country, regularly delivering the final word on major environmental, labor and national security cases.
But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has a whopping four vacancies, the most in the nation, including one opening that dates all the way back to 2005, when John Roberts moved to the U.S. Supreme Court.
For some insiders, the Washington appeals court represents the legal version of Triple-A baseball, the last destination before a player hits the majors. Nearly half of the members on the current Supreme Court — including Chief Justice Roberts and justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — sat on the D.C. Circuit bench before they reached the big leagues.
“Every president since 1948 has had at least one [or] more judges that were confirmed onto the D.C. Circuit in the first term,” said Patricia Wald, a retired judge on the circuit, who served there for 20 years.
Wald told a recent crowd at the Center for American Progress that by failing to get even one nominee confirmed to the court over the past four years, President Obama broke a record that goes back to the days of President Harry Truman.
The situation has people like Caroline Fredrickson sounding alarm bells — and demanding that the White House make the court a priority. She’s the president of the American Constitution Society, a left-leaning group that tracks judicial openings.
“These vacancies cannot wait any longer, because the impact on the American public and the administration of justice is so significant that it cannot be relegated to a second-priority issue,” Fredrickson says.