Lilly Ledbetter unknowingly lived in injustice for almost 20 years. But when she finally discovered she had been paid far less than her male co-workers as a supervisor at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabama, she had to wait nearly a decade for the justice system to reach a final verdict.
While her case went through a federal district court, appellate court, and finally to the U.S. Supreme Court, she racked up nearly $40,000 in personal debt while her attorneys spent nearly half a million dollars working on the case. Ledbetter shared her story with a full-house crowd of nearly 400 people in Omaha Tuesday night at an event titled “How Federal Courts Affect Our Lives.”
The Supreme Court eventually ruled against Lilly’s claim of pay discrimination, but it wasn’t the decision that upset her. “You have to accept the verdict they give you,” Ledbetter told the crowd Tuesday. Her frustration was that the justice system, which is to give people access to a fair and speedy verdict, took so long and cost so much. She went through considerable expense and missed out on valuable time with her husband, who eventually passed away from cancer in 2008, while fighting her case.
Ledbetter’s story is just one of many affected by a judicial crisis in America. Currently, there are 29 federal districts that have been declared a “judicial emergency,” in which a district court is vacant or soon to become vacant when its judge retires and the caseload per judge exceeds 600 cases. Nearly half of Americans – more than 160 million people – live in these districts.
When a district goes without enough judges, cases pile up and the wheels of justice grind to a halt. Justice then becomes a waiting game, usually won by whichever side has the most money to afford waiting the longest. “A big corporation can wait you out, and they will wear you out,” Ledbetter said. This is not how our justice system is supposed to work.
It is the U.S. Senate’s responsibility to confirm federal judges, but these nominations are being blocked, ignored, and obstructed at unprecedented levels. Many nominations that advanced out of committee with strong bipartisan support cannot get a vote. Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says “these delays are as damaging as they are inexplicable.”
Our federal courts are important. They are the backbone of the justice system. They decide employment cases, Social Security appeals, immigration issues, and are where Americans go to defend their constitutional rights.
Thank you Ms. Ledbetter for bringing your story to Nebraska. We admire your courage, strength, and tenacity to ensure justice and fairness for everyone. We will do our part to make sure our court system serves us all.
As Nebraskans, we have a role to play in putting an end to the judicial crisis. Senators Nelson and Johanns have demonstrated, through the selection and confirmation of Nebraska Federal District Court Judge John Gerrard, how judicial nominations can move forward in a bipartisan way.
Now we need them to lead on this issue and work with their colleagues in the Senate to bring judicial nominees to a vote. Contact their offices today and let them know our federal courts matter, and you want to see the Senate move forward and vote on pending nominees. No one should have to wait years just to have their day in court, especially when there is a simple and responsible solution.
Senator Ben Nelson
Twitter @SenBenNelson #CourtsMatter
Senator Mike Johanns
Twitter @Mike_Johanns #CourtsMatter