Editorials

While gridlock grinds in Washington, justice suffers in Idaho

David Nye received the nomination for the Sixth District judge vacancy left by Randy Smith's mover the federal bench.
David Nye received the nomination for the Sixth District judge vacancy left by Randy Smith's mover the federal bench. Idaho State Journal

To procrastinate is human, but to really lose track of progress and what is right requires a concerted and warped federal government hell-bent on deferring to the politics of gridlock in lieu of justice.

There is an unfortunate example of this right now amid the circumstances swirling around the fate of Pocatello’s David C. Nye, whom President Barack Obama nominated back in April to a federal judgeship in the District of Idaho.

Within days of that nomination our two Republican Senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, chimed in and agreed with their Democratic president that Nye — now serving in the Sixth District Court of Idaho — was an excellent choice and ought to be approved by the Senate.

Crapo and Risch introduced Nye to the Senate Judiciary Committee back in June, and that body approved him on July 14 without dissent. Everybody, including us, is supportive of Nye, but nobody has been able to push him over the finish line and put him to work for Idaho –– who desperately needs him.

Idaho only has two such judgeships (and has a great argument for a third), and the man occupying one of them, Judge Edward Lodge, announced his pending retirement two years ago. He went on senior status in 2015 and he just turned 83. He is doing his best to perform his duty –– and waiting for the U.S. Senate to do its duty.

August came, the campaigns for the federal elections came and went, and so did the start of the so-called lame-duck session of Congress following the Nov. 8 election. Nye, and many other judges awaiting confirmation by the Senate, languish in the kind of limbo that only gridlock can create.

Carl Tobias, an ardent observer of the Senate and federal judges who is also a law professor at the University of Richmond, aptly framed the judicial crisis that Idaho and other states face because the Senate has failed to do its job. In an opinion piece Tobias wrote last month about the situation in Idaho he stated: “The District currently has one vacancy in two active judgeships. This means that the court lacks 50 percent of its active judicial complement, which frustrates efforts to promptly, inexpensively and fairly resolve disputes. Because criminal prosecutions receive precedence under the Speedy Trial Act, litigants participating in civil suits experience difficulty securing trial dates and concluding their litigation. . . ”

Senate leadership has been signaling for days that its lame-duck agenda has only one more item before adjournment until the 115th Congress convenes in January –– the passage of a funding continuing resolution, which, as of this writing, the chamber was considering Friday.

Why not take 10 minutes to confirm Nye and others for the federal bench and allow them to get to work? Among the theories is that Senate Republican leadership and the rest of the world would be reminded of the GOP’s obstinance to not even consider Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Merrick Garland.

We are unconcerned about face-saving –– and only hoping for justice, which will have to wait.

If 2016 ends without Nye’s confirmation, we’ll all have to pray that President-elect Donald Trump will re-nominate him in 2017 and he can come on board with Senate confirmation. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? –– unless, of course, some new distraction allows Nye’s fate to once again slip into the abyss of Senate neglect.

What are the chances of that?

Unsigned Editorial Board opinions express the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, email editorial@idahostatesman.com.

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