Talk about obstruction of justice. It's been more than 300 days since Rosemary Márquez, a local defense attorney, was nominated to be a federal judge and still there is nothing. No hearings. No debate. Nothing but crickets.
The American Bar Association rated her qualified for the job. The Hispanic National Bar Association and the state's Democratic congressional delegation have endorsed her. Former Republican national Committeeman Mike Hellon backs her. So does the president of the Beacon Group, a nonprofit that provides job training to people with disabilities. Márquez has served on the Beacon Group's board.
What she doesn't have is the endorsement of U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl, and that's what really matters. Kyl, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has refused to move her nomination along. Phone and email messages left with Kyl's office about his concerns were not returned. U.S. Sen. John McCain has said he and Kyl do not think Márquez is qualified. But why?
Beyond the endorsements, Márquez has a legal career fairly similar to that of Judge Frank Zapata's, whom she was nominated to replace in June 2011. After attending the University of Arizona for undergrad and law school, she worked as a county legal defender and then as a federal public defender. In 2000, she entered into private practice.
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva said when news broke that Zapata was becoming a senior judge, taking a much lighter caseload, the state's Democratic delegation looked at about 16 or 17 candidates to take his place. In the end, Márquez came out on top. The runner-up? Jennifer Guerin Zipps, who was also nominated in June to replace assassinated Chief Judge John Roll.
Guerin Zipps was confirmed in October. Márquez still waits and waits and waits.
"What is the reason?" Grijalva said. "That's the frustration. If there is some professional issue, if there is some concern in her background that we don't know about, that should be forthcoming."
Grijalva said he's wondered if her background as a defense attorney or connections to him have created roadblocks to her nomination, or if Kyl is simply banking on Republicans taking over the U.S. Senate after the election.
"If this is a backlash to me on a political level, that's really unfortunate and terribly unfair to her and her professional career," he said.
Burdened with immigration cases, the Arizona district is one of the busiest in the nation.
In November 2010, Roll requested the district be declared a judicial emergency to allow more time to bring defendants to trial.
In a letter to the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, he argued the number of judges in the district had not kept up with the increasing number of prosecutors and federal law enforcement agents.
"The addition of what sometimes seems to be an inexhaustible number of law enforcement agents and federal prosecutors in Tucson division has now produced a tsunami of federal felony cases far beyond the management of the four active district judges," he wrote.
He also said the district was desperately in need of a replacement for Zapata. For 2011, the district had scheduled 10 visiting judges to fill in, his letter says.
Still Márquez's nomination has gone nowhere fast.
Hellon, the former Republican national committeeman, served on a law enforcement merit commission with Márquez and said she is a "thoughtful, fair and judicious person."
"What struck me as we worked together was, we come from different backgrounds, and different political persuasions and experiences," he said. "And the entire time that we served together, I don't think we ever voted opposite each other on an important matter."
Tom Tollison, a regional president with the Hispanic National Bar Association, said he was "concerned that a game of politics is being played, which is not something that is advantageous for the citizenry of Arizona."
In a September letter to President Obama, Márquez said she met with Kyl, "who also was very encouraging and seemingly enthusiastic about my potential nomination." Clearly he wasn't.
If Kyl has concerns about Márquez, he should make them public. Otherwise his silence is a ringing endorsement for cynical partisan games at the public's expense.
Contact Josh Brodesky at 573-4242 or email@example.com