It is a travesty that the nomination of Kathleen M. Sweet as U.S. District Court judge has been left to languish.
Justice is not being served. Instead, the court is limping along with one of its four judgeships unfilled. Were it not for the civic-mindedness of senior judges who could have retired, the situation would be much more critical.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has refused for months to allow Sweet’s nomination and 19 others to move forward, has chosen self-service over public service. It’s not right. What’s needed is a bipartisan agreement among senators to allow debate and a vote on Sweet’s nomination.
McConnell believes that by stalling this and other nominations that they will get better candidates, particularly as Donald Trump prepares to take his place in the Oval Office.
Sweet is not alone in waiting. Nearly 10 percent of federal court judgeships are vacant.
The federal caseload here is overwhelming, and the vacancy contributes to a lengthy backlog of civil and criminal cases that makes this area among the worst in the nation. Because criminal cases receive priority, civil cases keep getting pushed back. It takes, on average, more than five years for civil cases to come to trial in Buffalo.
President Obama recommended Sweet back in March. Sweet made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee in early September without opposition.
If allowed to come to a vote, she would likely be confirmed. While she would be the first female federal judge based in Buffalo, her qualifications are stellar.
Sweet is a well-known civil attorney, a partner in Gibson, McAskill & Crosby, where she specializes in medical malpractice cases. She is a former president of the Erie County Bar Association and has received strong support from her colleagues in the legal system. “She’s a terrific nominee and would be a tremendous asset to the court,” said Chief U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr.
Vacancies have hampered the U.S. District Court here for years. Judges William M. Skretny and Richard J. Arcara have senior status and could have retired. Fortunately they have chosen to continue hearing cases. Some help arrived last year when Buffalo attorney Lawrence J. Vilardo was confirmed to the court to replace Arcara.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has been pushing for years to fill the vacancies. As the state’s senior senator it has been his job to make recommendations to the White House, and has worked diligently to do so.
Still, Republican roadblocks have hampered those efforts. Starting the process over with a new nomination after Trump is inaugurated means the seat will be vacant for many, many more months. As Schumer said, that would be “unfair to all those seeking speedy justice in Buffalo and Western New York.”
There is no reason, other than politics, to delay Sweet’s nomination. Her abilities and the demands of justice argue for her confirmation.