Groh

Thacker

Tobias

WASHINGTON - A University of Richmond law school professor says it is unlikely that Berkeley Circuit Judge Gina Groh or Charleston attorney Stephanie Thacker's nominations will receive a vote by the U.S. Senate before the end of January.

Groh was nominated by President Barack Obama to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia in May to fill the vacancy left by the 2006 death of Judge Craig Broadwater.

Thacker was nominated by Obama in September to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Thacker would replace Judge M. Blane Michael, who died earlier this year. Michael had held the position since 1993.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted in October to approve Groh to the federal court and in November approved Thacker's nomination to the federal appeals court.

Both must now be confirmed by the full Senate.

Carl Tobias, the Williams Professor of Law at University of Richmond's law school, pointed to a copy of the U.S. Senate's upcoming floor schedule in making his predictions.

According to the schedule, the Senate will convene for pro forma sessions only, until Jan. 23.

A pro forma session is a brief meeting -- sometimes only several seconds -- in which no business is conducted. It is held usually to satisfy the constitutional obligation that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other.

"It probably means that neither will receive a Senate vote before the week of Jan. 30 as the Senate only returns on Jan. 23 and will consider one nominee that day," Tobias said of the floor schedule.

Tobias said the "major question" is how many nominees the Senate will accord floor debates each week.

Groh, he said, is near the top of the district nominees in terms of the time she has been waiting. The Senate, generally, has been considering nominees in order, he explained.

Tobias said she is likely to receive a vote in February.

Thacker is "less clear," he said.

The Senate, he explained, has been much slower to consider appellate nominees, often considering as few as one per month.

"However, there is only one appellate nominee ahead of her and the Senate has generally moved in order, so I would expect a February or March vote," Tobias said.

Still, some argue the waiting is unnecessary and a vote could have been taken prior to lawmakers leaving town.

Glenn Sugameli, who has headed the Judging the Environment project on judicial nominations since 2001, called it a "decades-old tradition" by Senate Republicans.

"Outrageous, blanket holds (filibuster threats) by Senate Republicans continue to deny floor votes to every one of 21 pending judicial nominees, nearly all of whom the Judiciary Committee approved unanimously or with token opposition," he said in a statement last week.

"Senate Republican roadblocks have prevented votes on every nominee to the federal bench for more than another month, regardless of need, strong home-state Republican Senator support and qualifications."

Judicial vacancies have soared to 100, including 29 that the U.S. courts have declared to be "judicial emergencies," Sugameli said.

"Urgent health, safety, environmental and other cases require filling judicial vacancies now, as recognized by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, the American Bar Association, Federal Bar Association, and countless editorials boards and commentators from across the nation," he said.

Even U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who serves as chairman of the judiciary committee, expressed his disappointment over the Senate's inaction. He, too, blamed Republicans.

"With the conclusion of the first session of the 112th Congress, the Senate Republican leadership has cost us the opportunity to take long overdue steps to address the serious vacancies crisis on Federal courts throughout the country," he said in a statement last week.

"With one out of every 10 federal judgeships vacant we can and should be doing all that we can to consider and confirm judicial nominations without unnecessary delays. Regrettably, Senate Republicans have chosen instead to continue their tactics of unexplained delay and obstruction and to repeat their damaging decision at the end of last year to refuse to consent to votes on even consensus judicial nominations.

"Such delaying tactics are a disservice to the American people. The Senate should fulfill its constitutional duty and ensure the ability of our federal courts to provide justice to Americans around the country."

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