Alaska Supreme Court Justice Morgan Christen won confirmation to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, ending a lengthy congressional standoff to become the second jurist approved for the powerful Western appeals court during the Obama administration.
Christen's 202-day wait between her nomination and the Senate's 95-3 vote was blamed on partisan politics that continue to hold up confirmation of 20 other federal judicial appointments despite their having been cleared by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"After inexcusable, unexplained Republican refusals to allow a vote, the Senate finally confirmed Morgan Christen" months after her unanimous approval by the committee and the bipartisan backing of her home-state senators, said Glenn Sugameli, an attorney and judicial analyst for Defenders of Wildlife.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) has also lamented the glacial pace of judicial confirmations to fill the more than 80 vacancies, or about one of every 10 seats.
Christen, a 50-year-old Washington state native, was named to the Alaska high court in 2009 by then-Gov. Sarah Palin, a choice largely forced on the conservative governor by Alaska's practice of having the state judicial council narrow potential candidates to two. Christen was opposed by some religious and anti-abortion groups because of her previous work as an attorney for Planned Parenthood and in battling Big Oil after the Exxon Valdez spill.
The 9th Circuit is the nation's largest and busiest federal court, with 29 authorized judgeships and an annual caseload exceeding 13,000 filings. It has three more vacancies. Two of President Obama's other nominees for the nine-state appellate bench await Senate approval, and a third seat has been open for seven years because of a dispute between the senators from California and Idaho over which state gets to vet the potential choices.
Former U.S. District Judge Mary H. Murguia of Arizona joined the 9th Circuit last year after a relatively brief wait for confirmation, compared with the grueling and ultimately futile effort by the White House to get UC Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu confirmed to the appellate bench. Liu has since been appointed to the California Supreme Court.