Federal Courts and Nominations

Justice Denied: U.S. Appeals Court Seat Vacant More Than 5 Years

Washington, DC – In an attempt to break through obstruction of the federal judicial nominations process, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin on Friday submitted to the White House the names of eight possible candidates for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, a seat that has been vacant for more than five years. At 1,950 days and counting, this this is the oldest vacancy on the Court of Appeals in the entire country, and the second oldest in the entire federal judiciary.


In 2009 – when the judge who previously held this Seventh Circuit seat announced his intention to take a form of semi-retirement available to federal judges known as “senior status” – Wisconsin’s then-Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl activated the Wisconsin Federal Nominating Commission to recommend the names of candidates to fill the impending vacancy. Of the six names recommended by the Commission at that time, Senators Feingold and Kohl forwarded four to President Obama for his consideration. 


From that list the President nominated Victoria Nourse in 2010. The Senate’s consideration of the Nourse nomination languished into 2011, however, after Senators Feingold and Kohl had been replaced by current Senators Baldwin and Ron Johnson. Once he took office, Senator Johnson decided to oppose the Nourse nomination, blocking her from even receiving a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Nourse finally withdrew her name from further consideration in 2012, saying “the system is broken.”  Until Senator Baldwin acted last week, not another name had been submitted to the White House for consideration.


“This vacancy is an utter embarrassment,” said CAC Vice President Judith E. Schaeffer. “Senator Baldwin has bent over backward for years trying to accommodate Senator Johnson on filling this vacancy, but enough is enough. Senator Baldwin is to be applauded for attempting to break this pointless obstruction and help ensure that the people of the Seventh Circuit have a fully functioning Court of Appeals. 


“Perpetuating the vacancy only hurts people and businesses in Wisconsin, and in the entire Seventh Circuit, who are seeking access to justice,” Schaeffer continued. “There is no reason beyond the pettiest kind of politics for this seat not to have been filled by an outstanding federal judge long before now, and we urge Senator Johnson to work with Senator Baldwin and the Obama Administration to move promptly to fill this vacancy.”






“Tammy Baldwin, Ron Johnson spar over judicial candidates,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 8, 2015: http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/tammy-baldwin-ron-johnson-spar-over-judicial-candidates-b99496806z1-303145491.html 


Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Current Vacancies: http://www.uscourts.gov/judges-judgeships/judicial-vacancies/current-judicial-vacancies 


“Nourse asks Obama to withdraw her nomination to federal appeals court,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 19, 2012: http://www.jsonline.com/blogs/news/137702938.html 




Constitutional Accountability Center (www.theusconstitution.org) is a think tank, public interest law firm, and action center dedicated to fulfilling the progressive promise of the Constitution’s text and history.