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Courts Matter Colorado

Lay of the Land

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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.

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.

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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. 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 Senate minority waged an unprecedented level of obstruction against President Obama’s judicial and executive nominees.

Unfortunately, continued obstruction of nominees persists even after rules reform – most commonly in the form of the designated state’s 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.

Colorado’s Judicial Vacancy

Last spring, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn announced that he will assume senior status in April 2016, opening a new vacancy in the state’s federal trial court. As the U.S. Senate started their first full day after summer recess in September 2015, the Courts Matter Colorado coalition delivered petitions to Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) signed by almost 800 Coloradans from Durango to Ft. Collins and Basalt to Elizabeth. These citizens ask Senators Bennet and Gardner to work together in a timely, transparent and cooperative manner to fill the upcoming vacancy created by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Blackburn, who plans to take senior status on April 12, 2016.

In February 2016, Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner each separately forwarded names of potential district court nominees to the President. The President has not yet nominated a successor to Judge Blackburn.

A fully-staffed U.S. District Court keeps the judicial system open and accessible for Colorado citizens and businesses that need timely resolution of disputes. Coloradans currently face an overworked and understaffed trial court- which has not increased the number of judges since 1984, despite increased workload from 30 years of population growth and additional cases arising from increased federal agencies with regional offices in Colorado. In the summer of 2015, the entire Colorado Congressional delegation introduced legislation to add two judgeships to the court, and both Senators are co-sponsors of the Senate version of the bill.

Courts Matter Colorado is a coalition of organizations united to educate the public about the importance of federal courts and to advocate for a fair, diverse, and fully staffed federal judiciary.

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Who We Are

Courts Matter Colorado is a coalition of organizations united to educate the public about the importance of federal courts and to advocate for a fair, diverse, and fully staffed federal judiciary.  The Courts Matter Colorado webpage provides information about how federal judicial nominations work, how federal court decisions affect public policy in Colorado, and how the public can engage our Senators to fill vacant seats and bring needed new judgeships to the district court in Colorado.