Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) announced Tuesday she will introduce legislation to allow local D.C. court nominees to be seated after a 30-day congressional review period unless a resolution of disapproval is enacted during that period.
Norton said she plans to introduce the bill once Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess.
Currently, nominees cannot be seated without affirmative Senate approval. The congressional review process for nominees would be the same one used for legislation passed by the D.C. Council. The Norton bill is prompted by the unique requirement that judges for the local D.C. courts be confirmed by the Senate, where nominees for the federal courts understandably get the primary focus and priority.
During a May 22 Senate confirmation hearing for a nominee to the D.C. Superior Court, Norton raised the urgency facing the District’s criminal and civil justice systems, as the D.C. courts have raised serious concerns due to longstanding vacancies.
“Pending statehood, when D.C. would have full control over the appointment of its local judges, Republicans may not be willing to give up complete control over D.C. judges,” Norton said. “However, the current process is badly broken and doing harm to the administration of justice. The Senate is understandably more focused on nominees for the federal courts and federal agencies than nominees for local D.C. courts.
“Whether under Democratic or Republican control of the Senate, we regularly face vacancy crises, which harm the operations of the civil and criminal justice system in the District,” she said. “Congress created the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission, currently headed by a federal district court judge, to recommend candidates, and Congress should generally defer to its judgment.”
Currently, there are 10 vacancies out of 62 authorized judges on the D.C. Superior Court and two vacancies out of 9 authorized judges on the D.C. Court of Appeals. In the current Congress, only one judge has been confirmed.
Both pre- and post-home rule, the District has never had control over the nomination and approval process of local D.C. judges.
Norton’s bill would not alter the role of the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission or the president in the nomination process. Under the Home Rule Act, the commission recommends to the president a list of three persons for each vacancy on the Superior Court and Court of Appeals.
The president must nominate a candidate recommended by the commission within 60 days to the Senate for advice and consent. If the president fails to nominate such a person within 60 days, the commission must nominate a recommended person directly to the Senate for advice and consent. The Senate has no obligation to provide its advice and consent.
Under Norton’s bill, once a name has been transmitted to Congress, the nomination will be deemed approved unless a resolution of disapproval is enacted into law during a 30-day legislative review period.