WASHINGTON – Freshman Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said he met with Rosemary Marquez and will review her writing, giving hope to her supporters that the long-delayed judicial nominee will finally get a hearing after 19 months.
“I’m not sitting on her, I’m waiting to receive the material,” Flake said this week. “After I see the material I’ll decide whether it’s something I agree with or not.”
While Flake made no promises, supporters said they were cautiously optimistic. They said there is no judicial reason Marquez should not be approved to the U.S. District Court judgeship that President Barack Obama first nominated her to in June 2011.
They said action is particularly important for a court that faces a crushing caseload, with more vacancies recently announced.
“There’s never been a suggestion that has any support that she’s not qualified for the position,” said Walter Nash, a Tucson attorney who has known Marquez for decades. “Hopefully with Sen. Flake there, she will be able to get a full and fair evaluation of her qualifications.”
That has not happened – Marquez has yet to have a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must approve her appointment.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., last March explained the lack of a hearing by saying that he and then-Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., did not feel Marquez was qualified. Kyl did not run for re-election and was succeeded this year by Flake.
Obama renominated Marquez on Jan. 3, along with 32 other judicial nominees who were not acted on in the last Congress.
“I urge the Senate to consider and confirm these nominees without delay, so all Americans can have equal and timely access to justice,” Obama said in a statement with the renominations.
Marquez has waited at least three months longer for a hearing than any of those who were nominated in the last Congress and not acted on. She was nominated to the Arizona district court at the same time as Jennifer Guerin Zipps, who was confirmed in October 2011.
Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, said he never heard a good reason from Kyl as to why Marquez did not get a confirmation hearing.
“She has been vetted, endorsed by the American Bar Association, passed all the requirements and we never got a clear answer what the opposition was to her,” he said.
Grijalva pointed out that with the retirement of U.S. District Judge Frank Zapata, now a senior member of the court, there are no Hispanic judges on the court. Marquez would put a Hispanic back on the bench.
“I’m not even making that connection,” Grijalva said. “But if this persists, I think that connection is going to get made.”
Besides a lack of Hispanic judges, the district lacks judges of any race: Of the 13 positions on the court, five are vacant.
That is despite one of the heaviest caseloads in the country. According to Federal Court Management Statistics, Arizona had the second-most felony case filings per judge in 2011-2012, with 502 filings each. And that was down 169 cases per judicial slot from the year before.
“The numbers clearly support the desperate need for more judges,” Nash said. “Adding to the number of judges we have is important to the quality of justice for everyone in the system.”
Three vacancies have come in the past two months, meaning the strain on the system could get worse, said Court Clerk Brian Karth.
The court handles the load by bringing back senior judges or bringing in visiting judges from around the country. Last year, Karth said, the court had more than 50 visiting judges.
And Karth said a study published last year showed Arizona could justify up to 10 more judges, if Congress funded the slots.
“That just gives you an idea of the workload our judges are holding,” Karth said. “Any vacancies are even adding greater stress to the existing judges.”
Marquez was admitted to the Arizona bar in 1993 and worked in the Federal Public Defender’s office before going into private practice in 2000, according to a questionnaire she submitted to the committee.
Grijalva thinks Flake, a former colleague in the House, will give Marquez the opportunity to a hearing.
“We might disagree politically, but he’s a fair and open man and I’m optimistic he’ll give her a fair opportunity to go to the confirmation hearing,” Grijalva said.
A heavy load Criminal felony filings per judgeship in Arizona
• 2006-2007: 333 • 2007-2008: 273 • 2008-2009: 394 • 2009-2010: 475 • 2010-2011: 671 • 2011-2012: 502