Dispute leaves Colorado federal court 3 judges down
September 5, 2008
DENVER ” A stalemate between Colorado’s senators could leave a federal court in Denver three judges down until a new president and Congress take office.
Republican Wayne Allard and Democrat Ken Salazar can’t agree on three candidates to fill vacancies on the U.S. District Court in Denver. The judicial tangle could mean the Senate doesn’t confirm the judges before the end of the year, when all pending nominations expire and the process starts all over again.
The White House nominated three attorneys in July. One ” assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Brimmer, a Republican ” was not among the names forwarded to the White House by a bipartisan advisory panel Salazar set up earlier this year.
As a result, Salazar won’t sign a so-called “blue slip” for Brimmer. By Senate tradition, judicial nominations won’t be heard until home-state senators sign those slips for the candidates.
Salazar’s decision on Brimmer has led to a tit-for-tat standoff with Allard. In response, Allard hasn’t signed the “blue slip” for University of Colorado lawyer Christine Arguello, a Democrat who used to work for Salazar. Allard recommended Arguello but has not signed her “blue slip.”
That means there’s only one of the three White House candidates the two senators have signed off on: private attorney Gregory Goldberg. But even Goldberg’s hearing hasn’t been scheduled, and it’s starting to appear likely his appointment will get tied up in the Salazar-Allard dispute, too.
Recommended Stories For You
Pending nominations expire when a presidency ends, so without an intense scramble in Washington, all three judicial openings will sit open until a new president takes office and nominates candidates to a new Congress.
Salazar is holding on out the Brimmer nomination not because he doesn’t like Brimmer, but because he wants the White House to forward names from his bipartisan panel.
“These judicial vacancies end up being processes mired in disagreement,” said Salazar spokesman Michael Amodeo. “I think this goes to the heart of what the senator tried to do with the nominations commission.”
Allard’s staff argues Salazar is simply being stubborn.
“If he continues to be stubborn with this commission he set up, then he’s being an obstructionist,” Allard spokesman Steve Wymer said.
But the senators’ aides say neither is giving up on getting the judgeships filled before Allard retires. The two are in frequent cell phone contact on the matter, as are their aides.
“I don’t think there’s any question this is a Herculean task to get this done,” Amodeo said. “But we’re not giving up.”
The judicial standoff sounds dire, but it’s not unheard of for federal judgeships to sit open for years while such disputes are worked out.
At least 30 judicial nominations nationwide are currently pending, some because of senators’ disagreements and others because senators haven’t had time to review candidates. Erica Chabot, press secretary for Sen. Patrick Leahy, who leads the Senate Judiciary Committee, said “they have to start from scratch” if the Colorado judgeships aren’t filled by the time a new president takes office.
Colorado currently has nine other district judges and eight magistrate judges.