A Chicago lawyer described by one observer as "a textbook example of what you would want in a federal judge" has been left off the list of judicial nominees to be considered by the U.S. Senate.
Attorney John J. Tharp Jr. is a Mayer, Brown LLP partner who was nominated by President Barack Obama in November to serve on the federal trial bench in Chicago.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., this week used a parliamentary maneuver to end a Republican filibuster and schedule up-or-down votes on 14 judicial nominees.
John Z. Lee, a Freeborn & Peters LLP partner also nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, made that list.
The 14 nominees, as well as Tharp and two others left off the list, received bipartisan support and were expected to be confirmed without controversy.
But Tharp — who, like Lee, received unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee — has not been scheduled for a vote.
Tharp was recommended to Obama by U.S. Sen. Mark Steven Kirk, a Republican from Illinois. Lee was recommended by Kirk's Democratic colleague, U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin.
Tharp, who goes by the nickname Jay, initially was nominated for a federal judgeship in 2008.
Tharp's nomination was among many that the Senate failed to process before it adjourned because of the pending election, Kirk's office said.
Attorney Steven M. Puiszis (pictured) contended that the omission of Tharp from the list of nominees to get a confirmation vote was "another example of how partisan politics is harming our judicial system."
Puiszis is a partner in Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP and chairman of the Judicial Task Force of DRI — The Voice of the Defense Bar. He was the editor of DRI's report on judicial independence, "Without Fear of Favor in 2011."
"On the one hand, I think it's great that 14 of the 17 nominees are moving forward," Puiszis said. "However, there is no reason why Jay Tharp's nomination should also not move forward."
Puiszis said Tharp had a resume that was "unparalleled."
Tharp clerked for Judge Joel M. Flaum of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before joining Kirkland & Ellis LLP.
Tharp next worked as federal prosecutor in Chicago and then joined Mayer, Brown in 1999.
"I can't think of a reason why his nomination shouldn't move forward," Puiszis said of Tharp.
Puiszis is not alone in the belief that partisan politics is the reason there is a backlog of judicial nominees.
On the floor of the Senate last month, Durbin accused Republicans of dragging their feet on confirmation votes in the hope that Obama will not be re-elected.
Paul Gordon, senior legislative counsel for the advocacy group People For the American Way, a group based in Washington, D.C., offered the same take on the matter.
"It's obstruction on the part of the Republicans," Gordon said. "They are slow-walking every judicial nomination."
At this point in President George W. Bush's administration, Gordon said, the average time between the Judiciary Committee's approval of a nominee to a federal trial court and the full Senate's confirmation vote was 22 days.
The average time now is 93 days, Gordon said.
Gordon said delays in the confirmation process have left the courts seriously short-staffed.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts reported 83 of the 874 authorized judgeships on the federal courts were vacant as of today.
Thirty-five of those vacancies have been deemed to be judicial emergencies.
"This is the longest time of historically high vacancy rates in the federal judiciary in the last 35 years," Gordon said.
Gordon said ordinary citizens are suffering.
"Americans count on getting their day in court," he said. "And if you can't get your day in court, then you can't have justice."