By Carl Tobias
On March 15, 2016, President Barack Obama nominated Kathleen Sweet, a longtime Western District of New York legal practitioner to an empty seat on that federal court. She is a very qualified, moderate nominee with the powerful support of New York Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Sweet on a voice vote last September with no dissent.
Nonetheless, her nomination expired Jan. 3 because Republican obstruction denied her nomination debate and a vote. Because Sweet is a highly qualified, mainstream nominee and the Western District of New York requires this vacancy to be filled, President Trump must promptly renominate, and the Senate must swiftly confirm, her.
The district has one opening in its four active judgeships. This means that the court operates without twenty-five percent of its active judicial complement, which frustrates prompt, economical and fair dispute resolution. Deciding cases absent one-fourth of the judgeships authorized imposes increased pressure on the district’s jurists.
The U.S. courts have classified the post that Sweet would fill a “judicial emergency” because it has been empty nearly 900 days and Western District judges manage dockets that are 14 percent higher than the national average.
In March 2016, when Obama nominated Sweet, he praised her strong legal career, declaring that she had compiled a “distinguished and impressive” record and had shown “unwavering commitment to justice and integrity.”
However, the Judiciary Committee did not conduct Sweet’s hearing until June 21. The hearing progressed well, and the members who posed questions appeared satisfied with Sweet’s responses. In early September, the panel reported her on a voice vote after little discussion and without controversy.
After September, the nomination languished on the floor waiting on a confirmation debate and vote. Senate Republican leaders asserted that they were returning the upper chamber to “regular order.” However, Sweet and many other qualified, consensus nominees waited for months. Numerous Democratic lawmakers sought unanimous consent to vote on Sweet and nineteen other district nominees who required final votes, but GOP members objected. If Republicans had followed regular order, Sweet would have received a confirmation ballot, yet the GOP never arranged that vote.
Sweet’s renomination and confirmation can be achieved easily. Sens. Schumer and Gillibrand should urge President Trump to promptly nominate Sweet again, just as he recently renominated Judge David Nye and Dean Scott Palk, well-qualified, mainstream Obama nominees who had previously earned committee approval like Sweet.
Kathleen Sweet is a fine, consensus nominee who enjoys the New York senators’ strong support and deserves appointment, while the Western District requires all of its active judges to deliver justice. Thus, the president should promptly renominate Sweet and the Senate must rapidly confirm her.
Carl Tobias is the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond.