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Two years later, Arizona federal judge nominee’s fate still in limbo

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WASHINGTON – It has been two years since President Barack Obama nominated Rosemary Marquez to a vacant federal judgeship in Arizona, but the Senate has so far refused to give her a nomination hearing.

Arizona’s senators have to give the OK for a hearing under Senate custom, but staff for Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake offered only a “no comment” this week when asked about Marquez.

Supporters, meanwhile, continued to question the delay at a time when the U.S. District Court for Arizona has five vacant judgeships and is struggling under a crushing caseload.

“It’s really an outrage the Republicans have held up her nomination this long,” said Greg Kuykendall, an attorney in Tucson.

It was June 23, 2011, when Obama nominated Marquez and Jennifer Guerin Zipps to the Arizona district court, calling them “highly qualified candidates for the federal bench.”

Zipps had a confirmation hearing in July 2011 and was confirmed by the full Senate in October 2011. Marquez never got a hearing.

She had to be renominated in January, with 32 other stalled judicial nominees, when Obama began his second term.

“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 at the time. The White House did not respond to requests this week for comment.

Of those 33, the Senate has since confirmed 25 and held hearings on another two. Two nominees withdrew, leaving Marquez and three others with no action on their nominations.

Of the four, Marquez has had the longest wait by far. The next-longest wait has been since February 2012.

The average wait for a judicial confirmation hearing in the Obama era is 82 days, said Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.

“By any measure, waiting two years is quite a long time,” he said.

Marquez’s wait passed 700 days last month. Meanwhile, the seat she was nominated to fill has been vacant for more than 1,000 days.

Five of the 13 judgeships are currently vacant on the U.S. District Court for Arizona, which declared a judicial emergency in 2011 after Judge John Roll was killed in the Tucson shooting spree that wounded then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

A judicial emergency is when a “weighted filing” – the number of criminal and civil cases divided by the number of judgeships – exceeds 600. In Arizona, that number is 677.

Federal court management statistics in December reported that Arizona had the second-highest number of criminal felony filings last year – 449 – in the 9th Circuit, trailing only Southern California. Arizona also had the second-longest average for vacant judgeships at 24 months, behind California’s 37 months.

While the number of filings in the district decreased in the last year, “the judges still have to continue to work hard to keep up with the pace of the workload,” said Brian Karth, the clerk for the district court in Phoenix. Visiting judges help the court keep up with the pace of the work, Karth said.

Marquez was admitted to the Arizona bar in 1993 and served as a federal public defender before going into private practice in 2000. She remains in private practice in Tucson.

The American Bar Association – which rates federal judicial nominees as well-qualified, qualified or not qualified – unanimously gave Marquez a qualified rating.

“We remain optimistic that Ms. Marquez will make it through the Senate Judiciary Committee and on to the Senate floor for a vote,” said Peter Reyes Jr., the president of the Hispanic National Bar Association.

Marquez did not return a call seeking comment on her nomination.