Thursday, May 23, 2013
A vacancy is opening on the federal bench in Maine, but the work to fill it will not begin until after the November election because of the hold-up on judicial nominees in the Senate, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud.
"The election-year politics have all but guaranteed there's going to be no movement," said Ed Gilman, a spokesman for the Maine Democrat.
U.S. District Judge George Singal plans to transition to senior status next year, a move that will create an opening for another judge. As the senior Democrat in Maine's congressional delegation, Michaud is charged with recommending nominees to the Obama administration.
For the last two federal judicial openings for Maine, Michaud, along with fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, formed judicial screening panels to review candidates.
The nomination of U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen, a former assistant U.S. attorney, was confirmed by the Senate in October. However, William Kayatta of Cape Elizabeth, a trial lawyer who has been tapped for Maine's seat on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, is among the circuit court nominees whose confirmation votes remain blocked by Republicans.
Last week, Senate Republicans invoked the so-called Thurmond Rule in order to block circuit court nominations within six months of a presidential election.
It's realistic to believe there would be no action on another Maine nominee before the election, said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond Law School professor and expert on federal judicial nominations.
"There's such a logjam ahead of that nominee right now," he said. "Even if the person were nominated tomorrow, it would still stall."
Tobias said more than 20 nominees are awaiting floor votes. There are about 77 federal judicial vacancies left by judges who have retired or taken senior status and for whom no replacements have been found, he said.
Singal intends to move to senior status on July 31, when he will be eligible under the "Rule of 80." The rule looks at the judge's age and years of service. Singal will be 67 and will have served for 13 years by then.
Singal said the change will allow the court to acquire another judge and let him to spend more time with his grandchildren, who live in New York and Pennsylvania.
He plans to maintain a full caseload, saying he enjoys the job so much; but the addition of another judge and the lightening of administrative duties will give him more flexibility, he said.
"I though it would give me the best of both worlds," he said.
Nominated by President Bill Clinton, Singal received his commission July 17, 2000. He served as chief judge of the District of Maine from 2002 through 2008. He has been a member of the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Resources and its chairman.
Singal was an assistant district attorney in Penobscot County and in private practice in Bangor before he became a judge.
The Obama administration did not nominate Kayatta until nine months after Judge Kermit Lipez announced his decision to retire, said Kevin Kelley, Collins' spokesman. He said Collins thinks it's unfortunate that Kayatta's nomination is caught up in election-year politics and that it would be prudent to wait until after the election to pursue the next nomination for Maine.
If Mitt Romney wins the election, Collins would be responsible for the recommendation process for the nominee.
Snowe has said she is deeply concerned that nominees such as Kayatta, who receive bipartisan support and are highly qualified, have not been able to get an up-or-down vote.
Willy Ritch, a Pingree spokesman, said it's frustrating that the nominations can't go forward.
"These are important jobs. It's important that they're filled, and politics shouldn't get in the way," he said.
Pingree is married to S. Donald Sussman, majority-share owner of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel.