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Approval of judicial candidate will help with the backlog of federal court cases

Kathleen M. Sweet appears to have the necessary qualifications to make her an easy selection for U.S. District Court judge. Without a doubt, according to admirers in the legal profession. But in a fractured Congress, the confirmation process is never easy.

Sweet’s name has been put forth by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., as part of his long struggle to fill judicial vacancies that are contributing to long delays in hearing cases here. But the Republican majority in the Senate, with an eye on next year’s presidential election, has slowed to a crawl the process of filling the federal court vacancies.

The end result is Western New York loses; justice loses.

Republicans may delay action on Sweet and anyone else put forth in hopes that the winner in the next presidential election will be one of their own. Such political games are played by both parties, but that doesn’t make it right. This political season should not delay the administration of justice and adversely affect many lives.

Only recently did the overburdened court here gain a measure of relief with the 88-0 Senate vote confirming Buffalo attorney Lawrence J. Vilardo to the U.S. District Court.

Until then, the court had the dubious distinction of being without a single active federal judge. All three of Buffalo’s judges – William M. Skretny, Richard J. Arcara and John T. Curtin – are senior judges who could have retired. Instead they generously chose to remain on the bench, fortunately for the legal process.

The federal caseload here is enormous. The backlog of civil and criminal cases makes the wait among the worst in the nation. It takes, on average, more than five years for civil cases to come to trial in Buffalo. Even more mind-boggling is the fact that courts here received more new filings last year – 744 new cases per judge – than all but nine of 94 court systems across the country.

Vilardo’s confirmation is expected to ease the burden, but filling another vacancy is imperative.

Former U.S. Attorney Denise O’Donnell withdrew her candidacy only last month, which put the selection process back to the start. Schumer recommended O’Donnell, but President Obama never nominated her. Speculation centered on her age – at 68, she is older than most judicial nominees – and politics – she has a $300,000 campaign fund remaining from her unsuccessful run for state attorney general in 2006.

Sweet is 50. She is a graduate of Boston College, where she was a star basketball player, and went on to Villanova Law School and then to a career that has garnered admirers who tout her judicial temperament and scholarly approach to the law.

The backlog of cases in Western New York is a blemish on the federal courts. Sweet will help pare that down. But first, Obama needs to send the nomination to the Senate, and Schumer will have to call on all his skill to push the nomination in his house. Then let’s hope rational heads prevail over politics in the Senate. For the sake of Western New York.