If You Care About Equality, You Should Care About the Courts!

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July 13, 2012

While another LGBT Pride Month has drawn to a close, the march for equality continues—right up the courthouse steps.

Recently, federal appellate courts declared both California’s Proposition 8 and the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. This month, the Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to hear two challenges to DOMA, including Lambda Legal’s case Golinski v. OPM.

These high profile cases have made one thing abundantly clear:

If you care about equality, you should care about the courts!

In the past few weeks, the Supreme Court has weighed in on health care, immigration, campaign finance and the mandatory sentencing of juveniles—deciding all by the narrowest of margins. To put the situation in focus, three of the Supreme Court justices—Ginsberg, Scalia and Kennedy—will reach 80 years of age during the next administration. This means that the next president will likely have the opportunity to reshape the court for decades to come.

Equally important and often forgotten however, is the President’s role in nominating judges to serve lifetime appointments on federal district and circuit courts all over the country. A great deal of time and energy is invested in talking about the Supreme Court, but the justices generally only decide about 100 cases each term. In the vast majority of cases, it is the federal appellate courts that render the final decisions that affect nearly every aspect of our lives. Likewise, federal district courts provide the gateway for achieving broader civil rights victories by issuing findings of fact that frame the cases and legal issues going forward.

Simply put: Courts matter.

But our federal courts are under attack and the victims are the American people. The escalating political assaults on the judiciary and unprecedented obstruction in the Senate of qualified judicial nominees have given rise to a judicial vacancy crisis that threatens the very foundation of our government. It has become commonplace for Senators to delay votes on even the most noncontroversial nominees, politicizing the confirmation process and impeding the administration of justice.

In fact, one in 10 federal judgeships currently remains vacant and many seats have been designated “judicial emergencies” by the U.S. Courts. Without the timely confirmation of federal judges, the members of the LGBT community and the more than 160 million Americans currently living in a district with a courtroom vacancy are effectively denied access to justice.

This vacancy crisis must be addressed if we hope to preserve the fair and impartial judiciary that is a hallmark of the American system of government.

Federal judges matter to the LGBT community. We must care about the courts if we care about our rights, our families, our neighbors and our society.

Start now by joining Lambda Legal and the Center for American Progress for a national strategy call for immediate action to protect our federal courts!