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President Barack Obama Nominates Three Judges to Texas Judiciary, Judicial Emergency Remains

by: Joseph Vogas

Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 11:00 AM CDT

Robert Pitman, who is openly gay, has been nominated to the Western District Judiciary in Texas
Last week, President Obama nominated three Texans to join the federal judiciary. He has selected U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman of San Antonio to join the judiciary of the Western District of Texas and Texarkana lawyer Robert Schroeder III and Sherman Magistrate Judge Amos Mazzant III to join the judiciary of the Eastern District of Texas. If all three are confirmed, this would fill the Eastern and Western Districts of Texas until three more vacancies occur, as planned, between February and May of next year.

Robert Pitman is a groundbreaking nomination. If confirmed, Pitman would be the first openly gay federal judge in the history of Texas.

All three nominees have been preliminarily cleared by Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, meaning they have currently have their "blue slips" to receive floor votes should they be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While this should fill three holes in the Texas judiciary, Texas is still in the worst shape of all states when it comes to vacancies on our federal bench. Learn more about our nominees and about the state of the Texas judiciary after the jump.

The biographies of the three nominee from the official White House statement reads:

Robert Pitman

Robert Lee Pitman has served as the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas since 2011.  He previously served as a United States Magistrate Judge in the Western District of Texas from 2003 to 2011.  Prior to his appointment to the bench, Pitman served as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Western District of Texas from 1990 to 2003, serving as interim United States Attorney in 2001 and as Deputy United States Attorney from 2001 to 2003.  He worked as an associate at the law firm Fulbright & Jaworski from 1989 to 1990 and served as a law clerk to Judge David O. Belew Jr. of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas from 1988 to 1989.  He received his J.D. in 1988 from the University of Texas at Austin and his B.S. from Abilene Christian University in 1985.  Pitman also received a Master of Studies in Legal Research degree from the University of Oxford in 2011. 

Robert Schroder III

Robert William Schroeder III has been a partner at the law firm Patton, Tidwell, Schroeder & Culbertson, LLP and its predecessor firm since 2003, where he handles complex civil litigation in both federal and state court.  Prior to joining the firm in 1999, Schroeder served as a law clerk for Judge Richard S. Arnold of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit from 1997 to 1999.  He worked in the Office of the White House Counsel as Associate Counsel to the President in 1997 and as Assistant Counsel to the President from 1995 to 1996.  Schroeder received his J.D. from American University Washington College of Law in 1994 and his B.A. from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1989. 

Amos Mazzant III

Judge Amos L. Mazzant, III has served as a United States Magistrate Judge in the Eastern District of Texas since 2009.  Previously, he was a Justice on the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas from 2004 to 2009.  From 2003 to 2004, he was Of Counsel at Wolfe, Tidwell & McCoy, LLP.  Judge Mazzant served as a law clerk for Magistrate Judge Don D. Bush of the Eastern District of Texas in 2003 and for Magistrate Judge Robert Faulkner of the Eastern District of Texas from 1993 to 2003.  From 1992 to 1993, he worked at the law firm Henderson Bryant & Wolfe.  Judge Mazzant began his legal career as a law clerk for Judge Paul Brown in the Eastern District of Texas from 1990 to 1992.  He received his J.D. from Baylor University School of Law in 1990 and his B.A. magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh in 1987.

On Judge Amos Mazzant, the Fifth Court of Appeals in Texas is an elected position. Judge Mazzant ran for the position as a Republican. While I am unfamiliar with his record, his support from the President should earn him pause from progressives. The Alliance for Justice would be the source to pay attention to should concerns arise in Mazzant's history.

Today, Texas remains a state in judicial emergency. There are eleven vacancies still on our federal judiciary, eight of which have no nominees pending. Three more vacancies are expected to emerge in under a year, returning Texas to eleven vacancies. This means even if the current three nominees are confirmed, if Sens. Cruz and Cornyn continue to block consideration of future nominees, Texas will likely be in the same position it is in today by this time next year.

And it is worse than it appears. The Alliance for Justice writes:

"All this would be bad enough in any state, but it's worse in Texas, which wouldn't have enough judges even if every bench were filled.  According to the Judicial Conference of the United States-headed by Chief Justice John Roberts-Texas needs at least eight new judgeships to meet its growing federal caseload, in particular criminal cases, which have skyrocketed in recent years."

Partly because of Texas' vacancies there is a backlog of 12,000 cases in Texas that would take 19 years to get through. There are still five vacancies on the Southern District Court of Texas, one on the Northern District of Texas, and two on the Fifth Court of Appeals. Over the last six years, Republicans have stalled nominations and confirmations on the Texas Courts. To date, Barack Obama has confirmed seven judges the Texas judiciary. At this point in his presidency, former President George W. Bush had confirmed nineteen judges to the Texas judiciary.

You can follow me on Twitter at @trowaman.

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