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Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for December

In this month’s federal judicial vacancy count, Ballotpedia tracked nominations, confirmations, and vacancies to all United States Article III federal courts from December 1, 2020, to December 31, 2020. Ballotpedia publishes the federal judicial vacancy count at the start of each month.

HIGHLIGHTS

Vacancies: There have been no new judicial vacancies since the November 2020 report. There are 46 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, 49 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.

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

Confirmations: There have been seven new confirmations since the November 2020 report.

New vacancies

There were 46 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 5.3.

  • The nine-member U.S. Supreme Court does not have any vacancies.
  • Two (1.1%) of the 179 U.S. Appeals Court positions are vacant.
  • 43 (6.4%) 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.

No judges left active status, which would create 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.

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 Donald Trump (R) to the date indicated on the chart.

The following maps show the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals at Trump’s inauguration and as of December 31, 2020.

New nominations

Trump has not announced any new nominations since the November 2020 report.

New confirmations

Since December 1, 2020, the United States Senate has confirmed seven of Trump’s nominees to Article III seats. 

  • Taylor McNeel, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.
  • J. Philip Calabrese, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
  • Thomas Kirsch, confirmed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
  • Katherine Crytzer, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
  • Joseph Dawson, confirmed to the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina.
  • Charles Atchley, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
  • Fernando Aenlle-Rocha, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Central District of California.

As of January 4, 2021, the Senate has confirmed 234 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—174 district court judges, 54 appeals court judges, three Court of International Trade judges, and three Supreme Court justices—since January 2017.

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Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell retires

On Nov. 18, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell retired, citing family obligations and a desire to return to private practice. Gov. Nathan Deal (R) appointed Blackwell to the court in June 2012 to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of George H. Carley. Before serving on the supreme court, Blackwell served on the Georgia Court of Appeals from 2010 to 2012.

Blackwell first announced his retirement on Feb. 28, 2020. Following the announcement, the Georgia Supreme Court announced that the governor would appoint Blackwell’s replacement.

Former Congressman John Barrow (D) and former state Representative Beth Beskin (R), who both planned to run for Blackwell’s seat, challenged the appointment in court. They argued that the vacancy should instead be filled by a special election. The state supreme court ruled in a 6-2 opinion on May 14 that the secretary of state could not be compelled to hold the election.

On March 27, 2020, the Georgia JNC recommended four candidates to the governor to fill the vacancy. Three of the candidates are superior court justices; one is a justice on the Georgia Court of Appeals. Gov. Brian Kemp will select Blackwell’s replacement from this list. This will be his second appointment to the supreme court.

In 2020, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements.

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New York Court of Appeals Justice Eugene Fahey announces retirement

On November 10, 2020, State of New York Court of Appeals Justice Eugene Fahey announced his retirement from the court, scheduled for December 31, 2021, when he reaches the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70 years old.

Justice Fahey joined the State of New York Court of Appeals in 2015. He was appointed to the court by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Before serving on the state supreme court, Fahey served on the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division from December 22, 2006, until 2015. He served on the court’s Criminal Division in 2005. Fahey was elected to the State Supreme Court in 1996, where he also presided over cases in Erie County and the 8th Judicial District. He served on the court until 2005. Fahey was elected to the Buffalo City Court in 1994 and served until 1996. He served as a law clerk to Judge Edgar C. NeMoyer in the New York Court of Claims before entering private practice in 1985, where he served as house counsel for Kemper Insurance Company until 1993. Fahey served on the Buffalo Common Council from 1978 to 1983 and again from 1988 to 1994.

Fahey earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the State University of New York at Buffalo, cum laude, in 1974. He earned a J.D. in 1984 and a master’s degree in European history in 1998.

The seven justices of the New York Court of Appeals serve 14-year terms. They are appointed by the governor from a list of candidates provided by a judicial nominating commission, pending confirmation from the New York Senate.

The current chief justice of the court is Janet DiFiore, who was appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2015. 

The remaining four active justices of the court are:

• Jenny Rivera – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2013

• Michael Garcia – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2016

• Rowan Wilson – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017

• Paul Feinman – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017

Associate Justice Leslie Stein is also scheduled to retire from the court in 2021, on June 4. At the time of the announcement, no reason was given for Stein’s retirement.

As of November 16, 2020, there are four supreme court vacancies scheduled to occur in 2021 in three of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were triggered by retirements.

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Supreme Court announces it will use teleconferencing to hear oral arguments for November, December sittings

The Supreme Court of the United States announced on October 9, 2020, that it will hear oral arguments via teleconference for its November and December sittings. Currently, eight arguments are set for November, and ten are set for December.

The court previously heard oral arguments via teleconference in May and October of this year after closing to the public indefinitely on March 12, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The live audio from the arguments was made available to the public for the first time in the court’s history; previously, the court released audio and transcripts of oral arguments on Fridays.

The arguments will follow the same format the court used formerly, including rules dictating which Justices will ask questions based on seniority.

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Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for September

In this month’s federal judicial vacancy count, Ballotpedia tracked nominations, confirmations, and vacancies from September 2, 2020, to October 1, 2020. Ballotpedia publishes the federal judicial vacancy count at the start of each month.

HIGHLIGHTS

Vacancies: There have been two new judicial vacancies since the previous report. There are 59 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, 64 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.

Nominations: There have been four new nominations since the previous report.

Confirmations: There have been 15 new confirmations since the previous report.

New vacancies

There were 59 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 6.3, which is 1.5 percentage points lower than the vacancy percentage in August 2020.

• One (11.1%) of the nine U.S. Supreme Court seats is vacant.

• None of the 179 U.S. Appeals Court positions are vacant.

• 56 (8.3%) of the 677 U.S. District Court positions are vacant.

• Two (22.2%) of the nine U.S. Court of International Trade positions are vacant.

A vacancy occurs when a judge resigns, retires, takes senior status, or passes away. Article III judges, who serve on courts authorized by Article III of the Constitution, are appointed for life terms.

Two judges left active status, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies. As Article III judicial positions, these 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.

1. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020, vacating her seat on the Supreme Court of the United States.

2. Judge Pamela Reeves died on September 10, 2020, vacating her seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

*New nominations*

President Trump has announced four new nominations since the August 2020 report.

Amy Coney Barrett, to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Charles Atchley, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

Katherine Crytzer, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

Joseph Dawson, to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

Since taking office in January 2017, President Trump has nominated 271 individuals to Article III positions.

New confirmations

Since September 2, 2020, the U.S. Senate has confirmed 15 of President Trump’s nominees to Article III seats. As of October 1, 2020, the Senate has confirmed 218 of President Trump’s judicial nominees—161 district court judges, 53 appeals court judges, two Court of International Trade judges, and two Supreme Court justices—since January 2017.

Roderick Young, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

John Hinderaker, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

Iain Johnston, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Franklin Valderrama, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

David Dugan, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

Stephen P. McGlynn, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.

Todd Robinson, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

Stanley Blumenfeld, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

John Holcomb, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Mark Scarsi, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Diane Gujarati, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Thomas Cullen, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

Hala Jarbou, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan.

Christy Wiegand, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Brett Ludwig, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

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