Our weekly summary of federal news highlights updates on the infrastructure bill and COVID-19 booster shots. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the Federal Tap.
Congress is in session
Both the House and Senate are in session next week. Click here to see the full calendar for the first session of the 117th Congress.
SCOTUS is out of session
The Supreme Court will not hear oral arguments next week. To learn about the 2021-2022 term, click here.
Where was the president last week?
On Monday, Biden participated in a bilateral meeting with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in New York, New York.
On Tuesday, Biden delivered remarks before the 76th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, New York. He also participated in bilateral meetings with Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison and United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson in New York, New York, and Washington, D.C., respectively.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Biden remained in Washington, D.C.
On Friday, Biden hosted the first in-person Quad Leaders Summit with Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Japan Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide in Washington, D.C.
- 83 federal judicial vacancies
- 23 pending nominations
- 34 future federal judicial vacancies
Upcoming Article III Judicial Vacancies
According to the latest vacancy data from the U.S. Courts, there were 33 total announced upcoming vacancies for Article III judgeships. The earliest vacancy announcement was on Dec. 1, 2020, when U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas Judge Paul K. Holmes announced that he would assume senior status on November 10, 2021. The most recent was on Sept. 20, 2021, when U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Judge Lucy Koh announced her retirement due to her elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Thirteen vacancy-effective dates have not been determined because the judges have not announced the date they will leave the bench. The next upcoming vacancies will occur on Sept. 30, 2021, when U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado Judge R. Brooke Jackson assumes senior status and Judge Beverly Martin retires from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
For historical comparison, the week of September 13-19, 2020, there were 74 federal judicial vacancies and three upcoming vacancies reported by the U.S. Courts.
U.S. Supreme Court releases December argument calendar
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on Sept. 20 released the December argument calendar for the 2021-2022 term, scheduling nine cases for argument. The court will hear nine hours of oral argument between Nov. 29 and Dec. 8.
Click the links below to learn more about the cases:
On Sept. 8, the court announced that it would hear oral arguments in person for the first time since March 4, 2020, for its October, November, and December sittings.
To date, the court has granted review in 34 cases during the upcoming term. Four cases have not yet been scheduled for argument. Two cases were dismissed after they were accepted.
U.S. Senate confirms nominees to federal circuit and district courts
The U.S. Senate confirmed three of President Biden’s (D) federal judicial nominees this week. Veronica Rossman was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit on Sept. 20 by a vote of 50-42. Margaret Strickland was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico on Sept. 21 by a vote of 52-45. Florence Pan was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Sept. 23 by a vote of 68-30.
The 10th Circuit is one of 13 U.S. courts of appeal, the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal courts. The District of New Mexico and the District of Columbia are two of 94 general trial courts of the nation’s courts system.
When the confirmed nominees receive their judicial commission and take their judicial oath, their respective courts will have:
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit
- One vacancy
- Six judges appointed by a Democratic president and five judges appointed by a Republican president.
- U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico
- One vacancy
- Three judges appointed by a Democratic president and three judges appointed by a Republican president.
- U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
- One vacancy
- 10 judges appointed by a Democratic president and four judges appointed by a Republican president.
To date, 14 of Biden’s appointees have been confirmed since January 2021. For historical comparison since 1981, the following list shows the date by which the past six presidents had 13 Article III judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate:
- President Donald Trump (R) – Nov. 16, 2017
- President Barack Obama (D) – Jan. 20, 2010
- President George W. Bush (R) – Nov. 6, 2001
- President Bill Clinton (D) – Nov. 20, 1993
- President George H.W. Bush (R) – Nov. 22, 1989
- President Ronald Reagan (R) – Oct. 21, 1981
U.S. House expected to vote on infrastructure bill on Sept. 27
On Sept. 27, the U.S. House is expected to vote on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The bipartisan Senate bill would allocate $550 billion in new spending on transportation, water and power infrastructure, and pollution cleanup, in addition to regular annual spending on infrastructure projects.
Progressive Democrats have urged party leadership to instead prioritize the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill, which is working through Congress on a dual track with the infrastructure bill. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Sept. 21, 2021, that she and members of her caucus would vote against the infrastructure bill if the budget reconciliation bill was not passed first.
According to The Hill, nine Democrats have said they will vote against the infrastructure bill. Five House Republicans have publicly indicated they will support it: Reps. Don Bacon (Neb.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Tom Reed (N.Y.), and Fred Upton (Mich.).
Democrats hold a 220-212 majority in the U.S. House.
Redistricting Roundup: Redistricting proposals rejected in Nebraska, legal challenges expected to enacted maps in Ohio
Here’s a summary of this week’s noteworthy redistricting news from Nebraska, Oregon, and Wisconsin:
Nebraska: On Sept. 20, the Nebraska Senate voted 27-18 to end debate on its state legislative map proposal, which was short of the 33 votes needed to advance the measure to a full vote. This comes after the state’s unicameral legislature voted 29-17 in support of ending debate on a congressional map on Sept. 17, which was also short of the 33 ‘yes’ votes necessary to advance the proposal.
The Lincoln Journal-Star reported on Sept. 21 that Senate Speaker Mike Hilgers (R) said he may adjourn the legislature’s special redistricting session, which is expected to end by Sept. 30, without enacting new maps. Hilgers said if new maps are not approved this month, the legislature would take up redrawing congressional and legislative district boundaries during the Senate’s regular session in January, which could force the state to delay next year’s primary elections.
Oregon: Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek (D) announced the creation of two special legislative committees to review congressional and state legislative maps during the first day of the legislature’s special redistricting session on Sept. 20. Kotek appointed two Democrats and one Republican to the House Special Committee on Congressional Redistricting, and four Democrats and four Republicans to the House Special Committee on State Legislative Redistricting. Previously a single committee—the House Special Committee on Redistricting—had the responsibility of considering both the legislative and congressional maps.
Also, the Oregon Senate approved the Senate Redistricting Committee’s legislative and congressional redistricting proposals 18-11 on Sept. 20 along party lines. All 18 Democratic legislators voted to approve the maps, and 10 Republicans and one independent legislator voted against.
Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Supreme Court decided 4-3 on Sept. 22 to hear a redistricting case filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty asking the court to establish a timeline for the legislature and Gov. Tony Evers (D) to agree on new maps and to draw the maps themselves should they be unable to. The state supreme court’s majority opinion said that lawsuits concerning the state’s district maps should be heard in state, rather than federal, courts, stating, “This court has long deemed redistricting challenges a proper subject for the court’s exercise of its original jurisdiction.”
On Sept. 21, a three-judge federal district court panel asked all parties to a lawsuit associated with the state’s redistricting process to submit a proposed schedule to complete a trial by the end of January so that district maps can be finalized by March 1, 2022. The lawsuit was filed by a group of plaintiffs on Aug. 13 and asks the court to set a deadline for legislators to redraw district maps. The suit also asks the court to intervene and draw maps if the deadline is not met. The panel’s opinion stated, “If history is any guide, to put it mildly, there’s at least a substantial likelihood that divided government in the state of Wisconsin will have trouble, as it has in the past, drawing its own maps.”
Federal law requires that a three-judge panel hear constitutional challenges to congressional or state legislative redistricting plans. The judges on the panel are appeals court justice Amy St. Eve and district court judges James Peterson and Edmond Chang. St. Eve was nominated to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals by Donald Trump (R) and Chang and Peterson were nominated by Barack Obama (D).
CDC panel splits with FDA on COVID-19 booster shots
On Thursday, Sept. 23, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) outside advisory committee on vaccines voted to recommend booster shots of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to several groups of Americans. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said people 65 and older should receive a booster shot, along with immunocompromised people 50 to 64. The panel also voted to give booster shots to people as young as 18 on a case-by-case basis.
The panel’s vote follows a similar recommendation on Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, in that case, the FDA voted to authorize booster shots for not only older and immunocompromised people but also frontline workers, including healthcare workers and teachers. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted against giving booster shots to frontline workers.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will need to endorse the panel’s recommendation for it to go into effect.
Neither agency has ruled on whether people who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines will need a booster shot.