DALLAS (AP) — Nine vacancies exist on federal courts that hear Texas cases amid concerns about growing dockets going into 2014.
Those vacancies account for more than 20 percent of empty benches nationwide, The Dallas Morning News (http://dallasne.ws/1c3FKDq ) reported Tuesday.
Four openings in Texas are deemed emergencies by the Judicial Conference of the United States due to heavy caseloads and long vacancies. Nationwide, 39 vacancies have that label, including two on the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
One spot is closer to being filled. President Barack Obama last week named ex-prosecutor Gregg Costa, who's a federal judge in Galveston, to the 5th Circuit.
Across the U.S. there are 42 empty judgeships for which Obama hasn't picked a nominee. The majority are in states without a Democratic senator.
Senate Democrats last month invoked the so-called "nuclear option," changing the rules and making it harder for the Republican minority to block Obama's nominations.
"The nuclear option will not change the logjam. The White House is not going to nominate anyone from Texas until it's clear the senators will approve them," said Royal Furgeson, dean of the University of North Texas Law School in Dallas, planned to open next year.
Furgeson, who calls the persistent judicial vacancies "a giant problem," stepped down in November 2008 from a San Antonio trial court. His slot remains vacant.
Senators including Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas retain enormous leverage when it comes to home state nominees. They effectively have unchecked veto power, via the "blue slip," a method by which senators can sign off on a home-state nomination or let it languish, the newspaper reported.
"That's a long Senate tradition, and that remains intact," Cornyn said. "I'm not going to arbitrarily do anything that would hurt the judiciary or hurt the administration's ability to fill these positions. But I am looking at them very carefully and I'll be judging them on a case-by-case basis."
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com