Press Release

July 20, 2023
Cardin, Carper, Van Hollen, Kaine, Booker and Norton Introduce the District of Columbia Courts Judicial Vacancy Reduction Act
Legislation would prevent prolonged vacancies in D.C. courts that often delays justice for residents

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) introduced the District of Columbia Courts Judicial Vacancy Reduction Act, common-sense legislation that would apply a 60-day congressional review period to D.C. judicial nominees. This bill would also remove a provision that requires the Senate to hold hearings and vote on these nominations. Under the current system, D.C. residents have experienced prolonged vacancies in their local courts, which has caused delays in trying outstanding casework. This legislation would bring an end to these vacancies and better equip D.C. courts to carry out the rule of law.

“The current process for appointing District of Columbia judges delays justice for nearly 700,000 residents and infringes on D.C. home rule,” said Senator Cardin. “The District of Columbia Courts Judicial Vacancy Reduction Act will help reduce vacancies in D.C. Courts, gives the District more autonomy over its judicial process and enables the Senate to focus on the significant responsibility of confirming judges to the federal courts.”

“The nearly 700,000 individuals who call the District of Columbia home deserve equal access to justice without vacancies and backlogs caused by Congressional inaction,” said Senator Carper. “I am proud to introduce the District of Columbia Courts Judicial Vacancy Reduction Act, which will streamline the nomination process for D.C. judges and equip local courts to better serve the people of the District. This is a common-sense solution to a problem that has been going on for far too long.”

“Congress has no business meddling in D.C.’s self-governance, let alone its courts. But Congress’ heavy-handed role in the District’s local judicial nominations process too often leaves a shortage of judges – and delays in court proceedings as a result. This legislation will help D.C.’s courts run more smoothly for its residents, who deserve a judicial system that can operate without outside interference,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“The U.S. Constitution guarantees all of us—regardless of where we live in America—the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay,” said Senator Kaine. “The prolonged vacancies in D.C. courts have caused significant delays that go against that principle. This common-sense legislation would help fill those judicial vacancies so D.C. courts can sort through their backlogs and deliver timely justice. I urge my colleagues, all of whom swore an oath to the Constitution, to join us in getting this bill signed into law.”

“Unlike states, Washington, D.C. is at the mercy of Congress to confirm nominees to its judiciary, and Congress hasn’t been doing its job. It’s time to change this broken process and expedite the filling of these vacancies to better deliver equal justice under the law for the residents of our nation’s capital,” said Senator Booker.

“The judicial vacancy crisis in the local District of Columbia courts harms public safety and access to justice in D.C.,” said Congresswoman Norton. “The local D.C. courts regularly face a vacancy crisis, regardless of which party controls the Senate or the presidency, because both parties prioritize federal judicial and executive branch nominees over local D.C. court nominees. This important bill would allow, upon nomination, local D.C. judges to be appointed after the end of a 30-day congressional review period, unless a resolution disapproving of the appointment was enacted into law during that period. I thank Senator Carper for his leadership in the Senate on this critical issue.”

Under the D.C. Home Rule Act, D.C. judges are appointed by the president and subject to Senate confirmation. The Senate confirmed seven D.C. judicial nominees at the end of 2022, but these nominees had an average time of 701 days between vacancy and confirmation – almost two years. This bill would work to mitigate the delay in order to better serve the residents of D.C.

The full text of the bill can be found here.