The Courts Matter Colorado coalition is dedicated to educating the public about the importance of federal courts and advocating for a fair, diverse, and fully staffed federal judiciary.
The federal courts have a great effect on public policy and a direct impact on people’s lives. Federal judges receive lifetime appointments, yet the system for appointing federal judges, and the vacancy crisis in the federal courts, do not get the attention they deserve in Colorado.
Overview of our Federal Courts
The Circuit Courts are the highest federal courts in the United States other than the U.S. Supreme Court. Because the Supreme Court takes only about 75 cases per year, 98% of all federal appeals are decided at the Circuit Court level.
Denver is the home to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles all appeals from the federal district courts (trial courts) for Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. Decisions of the Tenth Circuit on important issues such as the environment and federal land policy, reproductive freedom, voting rights and money in politics, and civil rights are often final and binding for the states in the Circuit.
The United States District Court for the District of Colorado is the federal trial court for this state, with courthouses in Colorado Springs, Denver, Durango and Grand Junction. In addition to presiding over criminal and civil trials, federal district judges are usually the first to rule on constitutional challenges to federal or state laws.
Federal courts around the country are gripped by a vacancy crisis which has left many important seats open. This crisis affects everyone because the federal courts handle important cases on practically every subject, including voting rights, environmental protection, workplace discrimination, health care, and much more.
The Federal Judicial Nomination Process, Rules Reform, and Continued Obstruction
Under the U.S. Constitution, the President nominates candidate for all federal judicial nominees and the U.S. Senate provides advice and consent. Click here for a summary of the judicial nomination process. Note that because Senators have a role in assisting the President with nominations, a dilatory pair of Senators in one state can create a delay that affects the entire Circuit.
In November 2013, the U.S. Senate voted to reform its internal rules to end the 60-vote filibuster rule and allow simple majority yes or no votes on most executive and judicial nominees made by the President. The rule change came after a Seante minority waged an unprecedented level of obstruction against President Obama's judicial and executive nominees. Both Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet voted in favor of rules reform to put the Senate back to work. Read Sen. Udall's press release on rules reform and Sen. Bennet's press release on ending obstruction of nominees.
Unfortunately, continued obstruction of nominees persists even after rules reform - most commonly in the form of state Senators refusing to return "blue slips" that allow the judiciary committee to proceed with a confirmation hearing for a nominee from that Senator's state. Some Senators also delayed committee hearings and votes at the end of 2013 so that President Obama was required to re-nominate individuals who had been voted out of committee.
Continuing delays in the new 114th Congress meant that the first judicial nomination was not confirmed until April 13, 2015. Many new and re-nominated candidates are waiting for judicial committee confirmation hearings. To see how Colorado's Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner are voting on judicial nominations, see our chart here.