Welcome to the April 10 edition of Robe & Gavel, Ballotpedia’s newsletter about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and other judicial happenings around the U.S.
We’ve got your federal vacancy count ready to go! So let’s roll up our sleeves and gavel on in.
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SCOTUS has accepted one new case to its merits docket since our March 27 issue. To date, the court has agreed to hear four cases for the 2023-2024 term.
Click the links below to learn more about these cases:
- Acheson Hotels, LLC v. Laufer originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and concerns the Americans with Disabilities Act. SCOTUS will examine whether someone has a right to sue a place of public accommodation for failure to provide disability accessibility information even if they do not intend to visit the establishment.
The Supreme Court will not hear any arguments this week. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ current term.
In its October 2022 term, SCOTUS has agreed to hear 60 cases. One case was dismissed. The court scheduled 59 of the cases for argument. One case was removed from the argument calendar.
SCOTUS has ruled on one case since our March 27 edition. The court has issued rulings in nine cases so far this term. Fifty-one cases are still under deliberation.
Click the links below to read more about the specific case SCOTUS ruled on since March 27:
March 28, 2023
Wilkins v. United States was argued before the court on Nov. 30, 2022.
The case: Larry Steven Wilkins and Jane Stanton own property in Ravalli County, Montana, that is subject to a U.S. Forest Service-managed easement. In 2017, Wilkins, Stanton, and their neighbors requested that the Forest Service address problems related to alleged sporadic maintenance and increased use of the easement. In response, the Forest Service said all management decisions were at its sole discretion and not beholden to the landowners. The petitioners sued in the U.S. District Court under the Quiet Title Act. The government moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing the Quiet Title Act’s statute of limitations had passed. The District Court and the 9th Circuit both ruled the petitioners did not have a case because the act’s statute of limitations was jurisdictional.
The outcome: The Supreme Court had to determine if the 12-year statute of limitations was a jurisdictional bar or a claims-processing rule. If it was determined to be a jurisdictional bar, then Wilkins and Stanton could not sue the government because the statute of limitations had expired. A claims-processing rule helps progress legal disputes by requiring that parties take certain steps at specific times. It is possible for petitioners to convince a court to forgive a claims-processing rule. A jurisdictional bar prevents trial courts from hearing cases after a specific time.
In a 6-3 vote, the court overruled the lower court decisions, holding that the 12-year statute of limitations in section 2409a(g) of the Quiet Title Act is a claims-processing rule. This means that Stanton and Wilkins have the opportunity to convince their trial court to excuse the late filing. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the majority opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito.
Upcoming SCOTUS dates
Here are the court’s upcoming dates of interest:
- April 14, 2023: SCOTUS will conference. A conference is a private meeting of the justices.
The Federal Vacancy Count
The Federal Vacancy Count tracks vacancies, nominations, and confirmations to all United States Article III federal courts in a one-month period. This month’s edition includes nominations, confirmations, and vacancies from March 2, 2023, to April 1, 2023.
- Vacancies: There have been two new judicial vacancies since the March 1, 2023 report. There are 74 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions in courts covered in this report. Including the United States Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, 76 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.
- Nominations: There were four new nominations since the March 1, 2023 report.
- Confirmations: There were 10 new confirmations since the March 1, 2023 report.
Vacancy count for April 1, 2023
A breakdown of the vacancies at each level can be found in the table below. For a more detailed look at the vacancies in the federal courts, click here.
*Though the United States territorial courts are named as district courts, they are not Article III courts. They are created in accordance with the power granted under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution. Click here for more information.
Two judges left active status since the previous vacancy count, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies. The president nominates individuals to fill Article III judicial position vacancies. Nominations are subject to U.S. Senate confirmation.
- Judge Frank P. Geraci, Jr. assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.
- Judge Jose Cabranes assumed senior status on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
The following chart tracks the number of vacancies in the United States Courts of Appeals from President Joe Biden’s (D) inauguration to the date indicated on the chart.
U.S. District Court vacancies
The following map shows the number of vacancies in the United States District Courts as of April 1.
President Biden announced four new nominations since the March 1, 2023 report:
- Jeremy Daniel, to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
- Brendan Abell Hurson, to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland
- Matthew Maddox, to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland
- Darrel James Papillion, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana
Since taking office in January 2021, President Biden has nominated 158 individuals to Article III positions. For more information on the president’s judicial nominees, click here.
As of April 1, 2023, the Senate had confirmed 119 of President Biden’s Article III judicial nominees—87 district court judges, 31 appeals court judges, and one Supreme Court justice—since his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021.
There were 10 new confirmations since the March 1 report:
- Gordon Gallagher, to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado
- Andrew Schopler, to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California
- Robert Ballou, to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia
- Arun Subramanian, to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York
- James Simmons, to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California
- Maria Araujo Kahn, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
- Matthew Brookman, to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana
- Jessica Clarke, to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York
- Jonathan Grey, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
- Colleen Lawless, to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois
Comparison of Article III judicial appointments over time by president (1981-Present)
- Presidents have made an average of 101 judicial appointments through April 1 of their third year in office.
- President Bill Clinton (D) made the most appointments through April 1 of his third year with 137. President George H.W. Bush (D) made the fewest with 74.
- President Donald Trump (R) made the most appointments in four years with 234. President Ronald Reagan (R) made the fewest through four years with 166.
- President Ronald Reagan (R) made the most appointments through one year in office with 41. President Barack Obama (D) made the fewest with 13.
- President Bill Clinton (D) made the most appointments in two years with 128. President Barack Obama (D) made the fewest with 62.
Need a daily fix of judicial nomination, confirmation, and vacancy information? Click here for continuing updates on the status of all federal judicial nominees.
Or, keep an eye on this list for updates on federal judicial nominations.
We’ll be back on April 17 with a new edition of Robe & Gavel. Until then, gaveling out!
Myj Saintyl compiled and edited this newsletter, with contributions from Sam Post.