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Susan Collins: Why Congress should reform federal court

Maine Sen. Susan Collins shows a picture of herself and Sen. Angus King the moment they heard of William Kayatta's appointment as Maine's judge on the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. Collins was speaking at Kayatta's investiture at USM in Portland May 24, 2013.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins shows a picture of herself and Sen. Angus King the moment they heard of William Kayatta's appointment as Maine's judge on the U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. Collins was speaking at Kayatta's investiture at USM in Portland May 24, 2013. Buy Photo
Posted June 19, 2013, at 1:22 p.m.

Just last month, William Kayatta of Cape Elizabeth was formally sworn in as a U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals judge. During the investiture ceremony, Bill acknowledged that it was the result of my tireless advocacy, over more than a year, that he was able to overcome political obstacles to become the first circuit court judge confirmed in the new Congress. During his remarks, Bill graciously recognized that I championed his nomination in the Senate despite the fact that he had donated generously to my Democratic opponent in 2008.

My effort on behalf of Bill Kayatta, a well-qualified nominee, is hardly the record of someone who is playing politics with President Barack Obama’s judicial nominations. That is why I was surprised to read the accusation from Megan Hannan on June 16 claiming otherwise. Hannan claims to represent a “non-partisan” advocacy group called Courts Matter to Maine. I don’t know of this group, but it clearly is more interested in political attacks than the truth. Had Hannan contacted my office, I would have explained why I support an effort to reallocate two vacant judgeships on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to circuits that need more judges and to eliminate an unnecessary third seat.

In 2006, when Peter Keisler was nominated to fill a seat on the D.C .Circuit, Senate Democrats argued that the court’s caseload did not justify filling the vacancy. In a letter, they wrote, “the Senate should not consider another nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit until the need to fill this vacancy is clear and while more pressing vacancies on other courts have been filled.” They blocked Keisler’s nomination on this basis.

According to recent statistics from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the D.C. Circuit still has the lightest caseload in the country. In 2012, the D.C. Circuit had 108 total appeals filed per authorized judgeship — the lowest in the nation. By comparison, the national average is more than three times higher, and the caseload on the Second and 11th Circuits is four and five times higher, respectively.

I recognize that the D.C. Circuit often handles complex cases, but the fact remains that total appeals filed in the D.C. Circuit have fallen more than 13 percent since 2006 when Democrats were arguing that judicial seats did not need to be filled.

The bill that I have co-sponsored would help Obama immediately fill two of the vacant judgeships on the Second and 11th courts, and it would eliminate a third seat on the D.C. Circuit. Even by removing three seats, the D.C. Circuit would remain one of the least-busy circuits in the nation. For example, with the current eight judges, the number of cases filed and terminated in the D.C. Circuit would be less than half the national average. This bill could also save money since, according to some estimates, a federal judgeship costs about $1 million a year when staff and other expenses are considered.

While I support the reallocation of seats to other circuits because of the workload, I do recognize the unfortunate reality that this bill is not likely to pass a democratically controlled Senate. I will, therefore, assess each nominee to the D.C. Circuit whom the president sends to the Senate on his or her merits.

My record is clear. I have worked with Republicans and Democrats to help ensure that qualified judicial nominees receive fair consideration in the Senate, despite which political party controls the White House. To be accused of playing politics with the judiciary flies in the face of the facts.

Susan Collins is a Republican senator from Maine.

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