I'm willing to bet that people in West Virginia, like most Americans, have never heard of Mike Lee. He's the junior U.S. Senator from Utah, and has been in office for all of two years. Yet, he has decided all by himself that West Virginia can't have new federal judges.
He's mad at President Obama, so he's throwing a legislative fit and has vowed to block all of the president's appointments to the federal courts, including two from West Virginia. The arcane rules of the Senate allow one senator to throw a wrench into the legislative assembly line and bring it to a halt, and Sen. Lee has vowed to do so.
President Obama, working closely with Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin, has appointed Gina Groh from Charles Town to fill a seat on the U.S. District Court, and Stephanie Dawn Thacker from Charleston to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. These are highly qualified individuals with impeccable records and are fully representative of West Virginia values. They have bipartisan support and were unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
As judges, they would hear cases brought by the people of West Virginia, not Utah. The lives, rights and livelihoods of West Virginians depend on the swift administration of justice that comes from these courts. Without enough judges, justice slows to a crawl and real people and real businesses are damaged in very real ways. Perhaps it won't surprise you to learn that most of the people who get hurt by Lee's toxic tantrum are people he doesn't represent and who can't hold him accountable.
Sen. Lee is angry at President Obama for using his constitutional powers to make a recess appointment of Richard Cordray to run the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, after Republicans refused to allow a vote on his confirmation. In order to get back at the president, Lee has threatened to block every single presidential appointment, including those to the federal courts, regardless of what damage that might do to the administration of justice in places 2,000 miles from his state.
If you are a West Virginia businessperson waiting to get your case heard in federal court, you can just cool your heels while the rookie senator from Utah gets his headlines and campaign contributions. (Yes, the fundraising letters have already gone out.)
No matter what you think about the president's actions regarding the consumer agency, there can be no justification for dragging the federal judiciary into this fight. Right now, one in nine federal judgeships throughout the country is empty, leaving gaping holes in our judicial system and, as a consequence, limiting access to justice for everyday Americans. The two seats in this state are just a part of a bigger problem -- one that Sen. Lee has decided to make even worse in order to score political points.
The people of West Virginia might want to send Sen. Lee a message: If he wants to pick a fight with President Obama, he can do it in Utah.Aron is president of the Alliance for Justice in Washington.