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Editorial: Sinatra on the bench

More than 18 months after his nomination by President Trump, John L. Sinatra Jr. finally earned Senate confirmation to become a federal judge for the Western District of New York.

That is good news for the Buffalo lawyer and for our district’s overtaxed federal courts, which have a backlog of cases that number into the hundreds.

The Senate’s vote was 75-18 to confirm. Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer voted for Sinatra; his fellow New York Democrat, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, did not. Gillibrand’s stated reasoning was that Sinatra’s membership in the conservative judicial group the Federalist Society puts him “far outside the judicial mainstream.” How one defines “mainstream” is subject to debate; five of the nine members of the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court are current or former members of the society. That line on Sinatra’s resumé ensured he would win Trump’s backing.

What’s more important is that Sinatra does not seem inclined to be an ideological warrior. Legal colleagues in Western New York hold him in high regard. His background in politics includes volunteer work for former Republican Rep. Thomas Reynolds and co-hosting a fundraiser for State Sen. Chris Jacobs, both of whom have reputations as moderates. Sinatra also worked as senior counsel for the U.S. Department of Commerce under the George W. Bush administration.

Of the 75 senators who voted to approve Sinatra’s appointment, 24 were Democrats. That’s a contrast to the 49-44 vote on Wednesday to confirm Sarah Pitlyk to the U.S. District Court in St. Louis. Not a single Democrat cast a vote in favor of Pitlyk, whom the American Bar Assocation rated as “not qualified.”

Sinatra, 47, is home-grown. He earned his undergraduate and his law degree from the University at Buffalo. As a partner in the law firm of Hodgson Russ, he specialized in bankruptcy and business litigation.

It has taken five-plus years to fill the full-time slot vacated by U.S. District Court Judge William M. Skretny, who announced his move to senior status in the summer of 2014. Sinatra is expected to assume the post within days.

A story in Friday’s News detailed the glut of cases awaiting resolution in the Western District of New York. Since Skretny’s announcement, the median wait time for civil cases grew from 9.4 months to 14 months, in spite of the fact that judges from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas have been helping with the overflow by reviewing cases remotely. The average wait time here is nearly eight months longer than in Manhattan. Plainly, more needs to be done.

Sinatra’s seating on the bench won’t clear the backlog by itself, but he will make a much-needed contribution.

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