On May 7, College of Law professor Neil Kinkopf attended a briefing at the White House at the invitation of President Obama. Kinkopf was among 150 community and legal leaders called to Washington, D.C., for a briefing and strategy session with administration officials to address the problem of vacancies and stalled confirmations in the federal court system.
"Questions of presidential appointments [are] something I've spent a lot of my career working on, so those are issues I'm familiar with," Kinkopf says. "I know some of the practical side of what happens when we have a crisis."
Kinkopf notes that the Administrative Office of United States Courts has characterized a significant number of vacancies as "emergency," a designation determined by the length of time a given post has been open and the buildup of cases that need to be handled.
For nearly three years, there were more than 80 judicial vacancies on the federal bench, a vacancy rate of nearly 10 percent; there are 74 judicial vacancies today. A number of factors play a role in this crisis, including gridlock within Congress and a backlog of nominees waiting to be confirmed.
"It really does delay justice, and it does so mainly in noncriminal cases," Kinkopf says. "Cases that don't involve felonies are left to languish."
Kinkopf was one of five delegates from Atlanta at the meeting. Traveling with him were Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights; former State Bar president Jeff Bramlett, a partner at Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore; David Dreyer (GSU '01) of Chamberlain Hrdlicka; and Rev. Timothy McDonald, who is the president of Concerned Black Clergy.
At the briefing, officials from the White House offered their view on the vacancy issue and opened the floor for questions and comments. While in many cases opposition within Congress has slowed nominations, Kinkopf says, the White House has contributed to the problem as well by not taking a strong stand for its nominees.
The Atlanta delegation also met with staffers for Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss on Capitol Hill during their trip to talk about their responsibility for the confirmation process as well as the vacancy problem.
"The principal action was trying to hold the White House's feet to the fire to stand up for their nominees, and the subsequent action was trying to convince senators to get the process flowing," Kinkopf says. "It's not like we moved earth and sky and now the process is going to work beautifully, but there have been some nominations approved in the days following that event, so there was some progress made."
Kathleen Poe Ross