Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida News

Vacant Judgeships = Long Wait for Florida Scales of Justice

MIAMI, FL - Florida justice is not swift these days, in part because of empty judicial benches in federal courtrooms in the state. Right now four are vacant - one has been for more than 600 days - with three more vacancies on Florida's federal courts expected by next year.

According to Mark Ferrulo, the executive director of Progress Florida, the problem is a heavy burden for those waiting for their turn in court.

"To have this many vacancies, the court system just doesn't work the way it's supposed to," he declared. "Every Floridian has a guarantee to their day in court. When our judicial system doesn't have enough judges and resources, that right is threatened."

President Obama has nominated Judge William Thomas to the Southern District of Florida, but he must be approved by both of Florida's U.S. Senators before the Senate can confirm the nomination. Currently Senator Marco Rubio will not give approval, saying he "takes his Constitutional responsibility to review lifetime judicial appointments" very seriously and cites concerns about Judge Thomas' record in state court.

Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida, said she shares Ferrulo's concerns about the empty Federal bench seats in Florida and pointed out that it was Rubio who suggested Judge Thomas to the President initially. They both believe the senator changed his position about the moderate judge - who is African-American and openly gay - after pressure from his Tea Party supporters.

"This is an unprecedented time where the courts matter a great deal in shaping the breadth and depth of the quality issues in our country, and we can't have judges missing in action because politicians are playing games," Smith said.

Mark Ferrulo pointed out that federal courts in Florida often take up issues regarding immigration and voting rights, which are hot topics in the legal system now.

"The biggest thing Floridians can do is to contact by phone, by email, Senator Rubio's office and let him know to stop obstructing the president's judicial nominees."

Nationwide, one out of every ten federal judgeships is vacant. As of September, President Obama has nominated 271 judges for federal courts, and 76 percent have been approved by the Senate, which is the lowest confirmation rate when compared to his five Presidential predecessors.  

Photos/graphics and links added by the Observer

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