WASHINGTON (CN) – With the state facing a nation-high number of judicial emergencies on its district courts, two nominees to the federal bench in California received a warm welcome in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning.
California has more active judicial vacancies than any state in the country at 14, all of which the Judicial Conference of the United States has designated judicial emergencies. Only New York approaches California’s number of vacancies, and roughly 23% of authorized federal district court seats in each state are vacant.
Nine of California’s vacancies are on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and President Donald Trump has put forward nominees for six of the seats. Two of those nominees, Judge Stanley Blumenfeld and Mark Scarsi, breezed through their nomination hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning.
If confirmed, Blumenfeld would end the second-longest judicial emergency in the country, which began in August 2014 when Judge Audrey Collins announced her retirement. At 1,930 days, the vacancy is second only to the 5,065-day vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Blumenfeld has served as a judge on the Los Angeles Superior Court in Pasadena since 2006, taking the bench after a lengthy career at the Los Angeles firm O’Melveny & Myers. He also spent time as a federal prosecutor in Los Angeles and clerked for Judge Cynthia Holcomb Hall on the Ninth Circuit after graduating from the UCLA School of Law.
When asked about how he would manage the large caseload he would see on the federal bench, Blumenfeld said he would rely on strict deadlines to move cases along quickly. He pointed to a California rule that requires state court judges to resolve cases within 90 days of the case being submitted for decision as helpful for ensuring cases are resolved quickly.
“Essentially, I would allow deadlines to drive and make sure that we’re all pushing towards that end,” Blumenfeld said Wednesday.
Testifying alongside Blumenfeld was Scarsi, who has worked as a partner at the Los Angeles firm Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy since 2007 and specializes in intellectual property litigation. Before that, he worked at O’Melveny & Myers, overlapping with Blumenfeld’s time at the firm.
The only questions Blumenfeld and Scarsi faced that touched on their judicial philosophies concerned nationwide injunctions, a type of court action that has come under scrutiny in conservative legal circles in recent years. When a court grants a nationwide injunction, it blocks a law or action from taking effect anywhere in the country and is not just limited to the parties in the case.
Conservatives, including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in a concurring opinion in 2018, have called this an example of judicial overreach, as courts are meant to resolve cases that apply to the parties before them, not ones that might arise. Defenders of nationwide injunctions say that without nationwide reach, some injunctions are effectively meaningless.
While he was reluctant to get into specifics about whether nationwide injunctions are appropriate because it is a live legal issue, Blumenfeld said it is “not entirely clear” what the legal basis for them is. He told Senator John Kennedy, R-La., that he would not take issuing such an injunction lightly. Scarsi voiced similar views when asked about the issue.
While filling seats on the federal bench in California has proven difficult for Trump, California’s Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris have both allowed Scarsi’s and Blumenfeld’s nominations to go forward.
Trump has yet to fill a seat on a California district court, as most of his nominees to courts in the Golden State have languished without the Senate Judiciary Committee taking action on them.
Both Blumenfeld and Scarsi experienced this fate on their first trips through the Senate, as they did not receive a hearing after first being nominated a year ago. Under Senate rules, if a nominee is not confirmed before the chamber recesses for longer than 30 days, usually at the end of the year, his or her nomination is returned to the president. The president often chooses to renominate returned picks, which happened with Blumenfeld and Scarsi in February.
The committee also heard Wednesday from Grace Obermann, nominated to a seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and Stephen Vaden, who is up for a seat on the Court of International Trade.