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Drug Cases Piling Up While Federal Judgeship in Texas Remains Vacant for Two Years


July 1997

A U.S. District Court judge on the Mexican border is overwhelmed with immigration and drug cases because the President Clinton and the Senate have failed to fill the other federal judgeship position in his district for two years. Chief U.S. District Judge George Kazen handles twenty-five cases a month (Sue Anne Pressley, "Cases Pile Up As Judgeships Remain Vacant," Washington Post, May 15, 1997, p. A1).

"It's like a tidal wave," said Kazen. "There is no stop, no break at all, year in and year out, here they come." Kazen's hardship is in part a result of the failure of the President to appoint and the Senate to confirm judges for 99 federal judgeship vacancies across the country. The Los Angeles Times agreed in a recent editorial, saying that Clinton "has been far too slow in making appointments to the courts, given the pace of judicial retirements in recent years." The empty judgeship in Kazen's district qualifies as a judicial emergency because of the length of time it has been vacant. President Clinton has nominated 26 persons whose nominations are pending in the Senate Judiciary committee (Editorial, "Open Season on 'Activist' Judges," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), July 14, 1997, p. A10).

Kazen's docket has increased over 20% during the last year, the result of increased policing on the border. The number of Border Patrol agents in his area, Laredo, Texas, has grown from 347 in 1993 to 411 in 1996. Kazen said, "We have a docket that can be tripled probably at the drop of a hat." He said that the border patrol tells him "they don't catch a tenth of who is going through. The more checkpoints you man, the more troops you have at the bridges, will necessarily mean more stops and more busts."

An average day sees Kazen sentencing six drug importation cases, more often marijuana than cocaine. U.S. District Judge John Rainey, who has been assisting Kazen from his post in Victoria, Texas, said, "There still seems to be such a demand for drugs in this country, and that's what causes people to bring them in. Until society changes, we won't see any changes down here."

Attorney General Janet Reno pleaded with the Judiciary Committee on April 30 to act on the nominations, telling its members that they "must act now to send this desperately needed help."