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Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for March 2021

In this month’s federal judicial vacancy count, Ballotpedia tracked nominations, confirmations, and vacancies to all United States Article III federal courts from March 1 to April 1. Ballotpedia publishes the federal judicial vacancy count at the start of each month.

HIGHLIGHTS

Vacancies: There have been five new judicial vacancies since the February 2021 report. There are 69 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions on courts covered in this report. Including the United States Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, 73 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.

Nominations: There were 10 new nominations since the February 2021 report.

Confirmations: There have been no new confirmations since the February 2021 report.

New vacancies

There were 69 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 7.9.

• The nine-member U.S. Supreme Court does not have any vacancies.

• Seven (3.9%) of the 179 U.S. Appeals Court positions are vacant.

• 61 (9.1%) of the 673 U.S. District Court positions are vacant.*

• One (11.1%) of the nine U.S. Court of International Trade positions is vacant.

*District court count does not include territorial courts.

Five judges left active status, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies, since the previous vacancy count. As Article III judicial positions, vacancies must be filled by a nomination from the president. Nominations are subject to confirmation on the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.

• Judge Peter Hall assumed senior status on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.*

• Judge Merrick Garland retired from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

• Judge Mary Briscoe assumed senior status on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

• Judge Darnell Jones assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

• Judge Anthony J. Battaglia assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

*Judge Hall’s service ended upon his death seven days after assuming senior status.

U.S. Court of Appeals vacancies

The following chart tracks the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals from the inauguration of President Joe Biden (D) to the date indicated on the chart.

File:US Court of Appeals vacancies 040121.png

The following maps show the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals at the inauguration of President Joe Biden (D) and as of April 1.

File:UUbHy-court-of-appeals-vacancies-biden-inauguration-.png
File:T7YhD-court-of-appeals-vacancies-april-1-2021-.png

New nominations

President Joe Biden (D) has announced 10 new nominations since the February 2021 report.

New confirmations

As of April 1, there have been no federal judicial confirmations during the Biden administration.

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President Biden has announced 10 nominations for Article III judgeships

President Joe Biden (D) has announced his intent to nominate 10 individuals to Article III courts for lifetime judgeships as of April 1. As of this writing, the official nominations have not yet been submitted to the U.S. Senate. 

For comparison with the previous administration, President Donald Trump (R) made his first Article III judicial nomination by February 1, 2017, when he nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Trump’s first successful appointment–where the nominee was confirmed–occurred by May 1 of his first year, when Gorsuch was confirmed to SCOTUS.

Since 1901, the earliest successful Article III appointment, meaning the nominee was confirmed, was made by President Richard Nixon (R). Nixon appointed a federal district judge by March 1 of his first year in office. Three presidents–Theodore Roosevelt (R), Calvin Coolidge (R), and Gerald Ford (R)–made the fewest with zero judicial appointments during their first year in office.

Article III federal judges are appointed for life terms by the president of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate per Article III of the United States Constitution. Article III judges include judges on the: Supreme Court of the United States, U.S. courts of appeal, U.S. district courts, and the Court of International Trade.

As of this writing, there were 73 current vacancies in the federal judiciary of 870 total Article III judgeships. Including non-Article III judges from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, there were 77 vacancies out of 890 active federal judicial positions.

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Federal judge strikes down 5% petition requirement for minor-party and unaffiliated U.S. House candidates in Georgia

On March 29, 2021, Judge Leigh Martin May, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, struck down a Georgia law requiring minor-party and unaffiliated candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives to submit petitions signed by at least 5 percent of the district’s registered voters in order to appear on the ballot. May ruled this requirement “overburdens [voters’ and candidates’] rights to vote and to associate with their preferred political party, and so it violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

May contrasted the 5-percent signature requirement for U.S. House candidates with the 1-percent requirement for statewide candidates, “The [Georgia] General Assembly has deemed a 1% petition signature requirement adequate to guard against ballot crowding and frivolous candidacies on a statewide basis. It is not immediately clear why candidates for non-statewide office must clear a proportionally higher hurdle, the 5% petition signature requirement. [The state] has not offered any explanation for this disparity.” 

May has not yet ordered a remedy. She directed the plaintiffs (the Libertarian Party of Georgia) to submit a brief within three weeks on proposed remedies. The state will then have an opportunity to respond to this proposal before May issues further guidance. 

Under the 5-percent signature requirement, originally enacted in 1943, no minor-party candidate for the U.S. House has qualified for placement on the general election ballot. In 2020, minor-party or unaffiliated candidates would have needed between 19,777 and 26,539 signatures in order to qualify for the ballot (the number varies by congressional district). 

It is not clear whether the state will appeal the decision.

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Chief Judge Timothy Stanceu to assume senior status in April 2021

Chief Judge Timothy Stanceu of the United States Court of International Trade announced that he will assume senior status on April 5, 2021. Stanceu joined the court in 2003 after being nominated by President George W. Bush (R). He became the chief judge on July 1, 2014. 

Stanceu graduated from Colgate University with his bachelor’s degree in 1973 and received his J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center in 1979. Prior to joining the court, Stanceu served as a private practice attorney and on multiple government councils.

The United States Court of International Trade is an Article III federal court. The Customs Court Act of 1980 replaced the former United States Customs Court with the United States Court of International Trade. The court sits in New York City, although it is authorized to sit elsewhere, including in foreign nations.

As of March 10, 2021, there were 70 vacancies out of 890 active federal judicial positions. Of those, 67 were for Article III life-term judgeships.

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SCOTUS issues 8-1 opinion, Chief Justice Roberts dissents

On March 8, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued an opinion in the case Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which concerned nominal damages claims and whether they provide legal standing in federal cases. Nominal damages claims are when a judge finds in favor of one party in a lawsuit but concludes that no real harm was done and therefore awards a very small, or nominal, amount of monetary relief.

The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and was argued before SCOTUS on January 12, 2021. So far, the court has accepted four cases from the 11th Circuit and has decided one during this term.

In an 8-1 ruling, the court held that awarding nominal damages does provide legal standing in a case, meaning that the plaintiff has the legal right to sue. Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the majority opinion of the court, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas has authored three majority opinions so far during the current term.

Chief Justice John Roberts filed a dissenting opinion, concluding that nominal damages claims are not a sufficient basis for Article III legal standing in a case.

This was Roberts’ first dissenting opinion in a case argued during the 2020-2021 term as well as his first lone dissent since joining the court in 2005. Roberts filed a dissent in the case Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, which was decided without argument.

To date, the court has issued opinions in 19 cases for the current term. Four cases were decided without argument.

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Biden made no federal judicial appointments through March 1, same as previous administrations

President Joe Biden (D) has not yet made any Article III federal judicial appointments through March 1 of his first year in office. This is equal to the number of Article III judicial appointments through this point in all presidencies since President Ronald Reagan (R). 

Both the average and median numbers of federal judges appointed by a president through March 1 of their first year in office are zero.

Since 1981, during a president’s first year in office: 

• The average number of Supreme Court justices appointed is one. Presidents Donald Trump (R), Barack Obama (D), Bill Clinton (D), and Reagan each appointed one Supreme Court justice.

• The average number of United States Court of Appeals judges appointed is six. Trump appointed the most with 12, and Clinton and Obama are tied for appointing the fewest with three.

• The average number of United States District Court judges appointed is 17. Reagan appointed the most, 32, and Trump appointed the fewest with six.

• Reagan had appointed the most Article III federal judges during his first year in office with 41, while Obama had appointed the fewest in that time with 13. 

Article III federal judges are appointed for life terms by the president of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate per Article III of the United States Constitution. Article III judges include judges on the: Supreme Court of the United States, U.S. courts of appeal, U.S. district courts, and the Court of International Trade.

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Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for March 1

Suggested headline: Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for March 1

Type: Monthly update

In this month’s federal judicial vacancy count, Ballotpedia tracked nominations, confirmations, and vacancies to all United States Article III federal courts from February 1, 2021, to March 1, 2021. Ballotpedia publishes the federal judicial vacancy count at the start of each month.

HIGHLIGHTS

Vacancies: There have been seven new judicial vacancies since the January 2021 report. There are 64 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions on courts covered in this report. Including the United States Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, 67 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.

Nominations: There were no new nominations since the January 2021 report.

Confirmations: There have been no new confirmations since the January 2021 report.

New vacancies

There were 64 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 7.4.

• The nine-member U.S. Supreme Court does not have any vacancies.

• Four (2.2%) of the 179 U.S. Appeals Court positions are vacant.

• 59 (8.7%) of the 677 U.S. District Court positions are vacant.*

• One (11.1%) of the nine U.S. Court of International Trade positions is vacant.

*District court count does not include territorial courts.

Seven judges left active status, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies, since the previous vacancy count. As Article III judicial positions, vacancies must be filled by a nomination from the president. Nominations are subject to confirmation on the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.

• Judge Vanessa Bryant assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

• Judge Solomon Oliver assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

• Judge Victoria Roberts assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

• Judge Carmen Cerezo retired from the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico.

• Judge Janet Neff assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

• Judge Tim Savage assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

• Judge Paul Barbadoro assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire.

U.S. Court of Appeals vacancies

The following chart tracks the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals from the inauguration of President Joe Biden (D) to the date indicated on the chart.

The following maps show the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals at the inauguration of President Joe Biden (D) and as of March 1, 2021.

New nominations

As of March 1, 2021, President Joe Biden (D) had not announced any new nominations.

New confirmations

As of March 1, 2021, there have been no federal judicial confirmations during the Biden administration.

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Federal judge blocks Maine’s ban on out-of-state initiative petition circulators 

On Feb. 16, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock blocked Maine from enforcing provisions of its state constitution and a 2015 law requiring petition circulators to be registered voters, and, therefore, state residents. Woodcock ruled that “the First Amendment’s free speech protections trump the state’s regulatory authority.” Secretary of State Shenna Bellows could appeal the ruling to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling also said, “The Court framed its opinion as a prelude to a challenge to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit for a more authoritative ruling.”

The ruling makes it possible for proponents of a 2022 ballot initiative that would amend the state’s voter qualification statute to say that a person must be a citizen to vote to qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot. Rep. William Faulkingham (R-136) initially filed the ballot initiative in 2019 and, after suspending the campaign due to a lack of funds that year, relaunched it targeting the 2022 ballot.

Rep. Faulkingham, his political action committee We the People PAC, the Liberty Initiative Fund—which is providing funding for signature gathering—and Nicholas Kowalski—a petition circulator from Michigan—were plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “ballot access rules which reduce the pool of available circulators of initiative petitions is a severe impairment” and that residency requirements significantly impede their ability to qualify their measure for the ballot. Plaintiffs also argued that the circulator restrictions prevent them from associating with a large portion of the available professional petition circulators and that requiring out-of-state circulators to register with the state is sufficient to safeguard the integrity of the initiative process.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows and Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn were named as defendants. They argued that many other initiatives and veto referendums have successfully qualified for the ballot while adhering to the state’s circulator requirements, proving the requirements are not a severe burden on free speech. The defendants also said that the state’s circulator requirements have been upheld by state courts and that the circulator requirements are necessary for the state’s interests in protecting the integrity of the initiative process and “protecting the initiative’s grassroots nature.”

Proponents used professional out-of-state petition circulators along with volunteers and paid in-state petition circulators starting on Nov. 3 to collect signatures. The plaintiffs also filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Maine’s residency requirement on Dec. 30, 2020.

The plaintiffs said they competed with No CMP Corridor, the campaign behind an initiative concerning approval of certain electric transmission lines, for in-state professional circulators. Plaintiffs said they were able to find no more than six available professional circulators that were Maine residents. The campaign reported gathering 38,000 signatures by Jan. 25, 2021, and said that 90% of the signatures were collected by the 49 out-of-state professional circulators. The remaining 10% were gathered by six in-state professional petition circulators, 24 volunteer circulators, and 42 paid in-state circulators.

As of Feb. 17, Faulkingham said the campaign had gathered 88,000 signatures. A total of 63,067 valid signatures are required by Feb. 26, 2021, to qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot. Woodcock’s ruling, provided it is not appealed or is upheld upon appeal, allows the initiative campaign to use the signatures collected by out-of-state circulators.

Similar measures explicitly requiring citizenship to vote were approved by voters in Alabama, Colorado, and Florida in 2020 and in North Dakota in 2018.

As of February 2021, seven states—out of the 26 with a statewide initiative or veto referendum process—had residency requirements for ballot initiative petition circulators. An additional three states—Colorado, Maine, and Mississippi—had requirements in their laws, but federal courts had invalidated or blocked the enforcement of the laws.

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Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for January 2021

In this month’s federal judicial vacancy count, Ballotpedia tracked nominations, confirmations, and vacancies to all United States Article III federal courts from January 1 to February 1, 2021. Ballotpedia publishes the federal judicial vacancy count at the start of each month.

HIGHLIGHTS

Vacancies: There have been 11 new judicial vacancies since the December 2020 report. There are 57 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions on courts covered in this report. Including the United States Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, 60 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.

Nominations: There were no new nominations since the December 2020 report.

Confirmations: There have been no new confirmations since the December 2020 report.

New vacancies

There were 57 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 6.6.

• The nine-member U.S. Supreme Court does not have any vacancies.

• Four (2.2%) of the 179 U.S. Appeals Court positions are vacant.

• 52 (7.7%) of the 673 U.S. District Court positions are vacant.*

• One (11.1%) of the nine U.S. Court of International Trade positions is vacant.

*District court count does not include territorial courts.

Eleven judges left active status, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies, since the previous vacancy count. As Article III judicial positions, vacancies must be filled by a nomination from the president. Nominations are subject to confirmation on the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.

• Judge William Alsup assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

• Judge Janet Hall assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

• Judge Robert Katzmann assumed senior status on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.

• Judge Larry Burns assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

• Judge Theresa Springmann assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana.

• Judge Dan Polster assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

• Judge James Gwin assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

• Judge Carlos Lucero assumed senior status on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

• Judge Jeffrey White assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

• Judge Phyllis Hamilton assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

• Judge Roslynn Mauskopf retired from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

U.S. Court of Appeals vacancies

The following chart tracks the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals from the inauguration of President Joe Biden (D) to the date indicated on the chart.

The following maps show the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals at the inauguration of President Joe Biden (D) and as of February 1, 2021.

New nominations

As of February 1, 2021, President Joe Biden (D) had not announced any new nominations.

New confirmations

As of February 1, 2021, there have been no federal judicial confirmations during the Biden administration.

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U.S. Senate returns 37 federal judicial nominations to president

On January 3, 2021, the United States Senate returned the nominations of 37 individuals to the president at the sine die adjournment of the 116th Congress. On the same day, President Donald Trump (R) resubmitted 17 judicial nominations to the Senate. 

The list of returned nominations included 22 nominees for the U.S. district courts, three nominees for the Court of Federal Claims, one for the Court of International Trade, one for the United States Tax Court, two for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, one for the District Court of Guam, and seven for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

At the adjournment of the 116th Congress on January 3, seven of the nominees were awaiting a full Senate vote, one was awaiting a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and 29 were awaiting a committee hearing.

Any renominations are referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee may choose not to hold additional hearings for nominees who already received a hearing in the previous Congress. As such, the renominations are expected to continue in the confirmation process where they left off at the end of the 116th Congress.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 234 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—174 district court judges, 54 appeals court judges, three Supreme Court justices, and three international trade judges—since January 2017.