People sometimes have confused looks on their faces when we talk to them about the courts and judicial nominations. This means they’re normal. The court system is like voodoo–no offense intended to voodoo. 😃 The courts and judicial nominations are unfamiliar to most people, intimidating, and esoteric in how they operate.

The Only Three Things You Need To Know About Judicial Nominations

  1. Trump is choosing some unqualified and/or partisan nominees for lifetime appointments to the federal courts. If confirmed as judges by the Senate, these very conservative, ideological people could affect our federal laws for decades. They have records against civil rights, consumer protection, environmental protection, a woman’s right to choose, LGBTQ equality, workers’ rights, voting rights, and more.
  1. It’s always about 51 votes. The Democrats are outnumbered in the Senate, so the best we can do is make a nomination controversial. Then Republican senators don’t want to commit to a vote that makes them look bad. This is how it is until the mid-term election in November, 2018.
  1. Local groups fight, and fight hard, to keep a potentially bad judge out of their courthouse. But local groups can’t do it by themselves. They need our help to call our Senators and bring in the votes to stop the nomination. Maybe today Trump’s bad nominee lands in another state. Next month it could be yours. Judicial nominations are a national issue, because it takes enough of us lobbying our Senators to stall or defeat a nomination. So please call your Senators!

Want To Know More? Really?

Confirmation of Federal Judges–How It’s Done

  1. The President notifies the Senate of his nominee for a federal court vacancy.
  2. Blue slips,” or requests for approvals, are sent out to the nominee’s Senators. Until recently, the Senators–sometimes with a state bipartisan committee–vetted and approved the nominee. If they decided against the nominee, the “blue slip” was not returned and that was the end of the nomination. However, Trump and the Republican leadership are ignoring the “blue slip” process. Without the “blue slip,” states are cut out from vetting and approving nominees, and no longer have a role in selecting their federal judges.
  3. The nominee is questioned in a nominations hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  4. The nomination is voted on by the Senate Judiciary Committee in its Executive Business Meeting. If the Committee votes “yes” on the nominee, the nomination goes to the Senate floor for a final vote.
  5. If necessary, the Senate will invoke cloture on debate for the nomination. (We follow the Senate Floor Monitor on Twitter.)
  6. If the Senate votes to approve cloture, there is a final vote to confirm the nominee to a federal judgeship within a few days. (We follow the Senate Floor Monitor on Twitter for this too.)

The Federal Court System

The federal court system has three levels:

  • First level: District Courts that hold trials
  • Second level: Circuit Courts of Appeal
  • Third level: Supreme Court

Most states have one or more federal District Courts by region, e.g., the United States District Court for the Northern District of California has courthouses in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and Eureka. The fifty states and the U.S. territories are assigned into eleven judicial circuits. The District of Columbia is covered by the District of Columbia Circuit. Another appeals court, the Federal Circuit, exists for specific kinds of cases, e.g., patents and claims against the federal government.

California is within the Ninth Circuit court of appeals, along with Washington State, Oregon, Nevada, Idaho, Montana, Arizona, Hawaii, Alaska, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Because the U.S. Supreme Court can take only a limited number of cases per year, the federal courts of appeal are usually the last word in the law. For this reason we scrutinize the qualifications and legal philosophy of nominees to any of the federal appeals courts.

To work with us on federal judiciary issues, please contact us via email.

Return to Federal Judiciary