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.
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.
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.
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
Under the U.S. Constitution, the President nominates candidates for all federal judicial nominees and the U.S. Senate provides advice and consent. Home state Senators have a large role in assisting the President with nominations, from conducting screening interviews and committee selections of recommended nominees for the White House, to approving a named nominee through “blue slips” that allow the Senate Judiciary Committee to proceed with a confirmation hearing for a nominee from that Senator’s state.
Colorado’s Judicial Vacancies
In April 2016, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn took senior status, opening a vacancy in the Colorado’s federal trial court. After thorough vetting by two bipartisan selection committees and interviews, both U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner provided lists of 3 shared recommended individuals for this vacancy. On April 28, 2016, Regina Rodriguez, a Denver Attorney originally from Gunnison, was nominated by President Obama.
Both Senators Bennet and Gardner supported the Rodriguez nomination, returned their “blue slips” and jointly asked the Senate to conduct confirmation hearings and votes in 2016. However, the Senate Judiciary did not schedule a hearing. Ms. Rodriguez’ nomination expired upon the end of the 114th Congress in January 2017. No new nominee has yet to be named to the District of Colorado vacancy in 2017.
Colorado also has a vacant seat on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals as of April 2017 when Supreme Court Neil Gorsuch vacated his seat. No nominee has yet to be named for this appellate vacancy.
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.