On April 19, the Senate Judiciary Committee “reported” to the Senate the nomination of William J. Kayatta Jr. to be a U.S. Circuit Court judge for the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Mr. Kayatta’s nomination now awaits a vote by the full Senate. This is good news. Mr. Kayatta, of Cape Elizabeth, is an eminently well-qualified nominee to fill the Maine seat on the federal appeals court, which is due to be vacated when Judge Kermit Lipez retires.

By confirming Mr. Kayatta and the other 18 judicial nominees awaiting a vote, the Senate will improve access to the courts for citizens nationwide. Unfortunately, even Mr. Kayatta, a consensus nominee with broad bipartisan support, has been subject to the kinds of unwarranted political attacks that have stalled countless judicial nominees and perpetuated a vacancy crisis on our federal courts.

According to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, there are currently 79 federal judicial vacancies, 37 of which are classified as “emergencies” due to the amount of time the seats have sat empty and the number of cases a judge sitting in that seat would hear. Another 17 seats are expected to become vacant this year.

When these seats go unfilled, the workload of current judges increases and the wheels of justice slow down. In many cases, whether civil or criminal, commercial or personal, justice delayed becomes justice denied.

President Obama must nominate qualified individuals to fill these seats as quickly as the search and vetting process allows. Once the president makes a nomination, the Senate should ensure that political wrangling does not prevent the nomination from being put to a vote. In most cases, when the full Senate votes on a nominee, the nominee is confirmed by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority.

In the past, Maine’s senators have played a crucial and courageous role in bringing nominations to a vote in the face of political infighting. In 2005 and 2006, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins were members of the bipartisan “Gang of 14” — senators who worked to prevent the legislative filibuster of judicial nominees. Snowe and Collins took political fire for reaching across the aisle to achieve compromise, but it was the right thing to do. Since President Obama took office, our Maine senators have also voted across-the-aisle to confirm the administration’s nominees more often than nearly all of their Republican colleagues.

Unfortunately, the Gang of 14 is no longer protecting the judicial nominations process from partisan infighting. Last December, Senate Republicans (including Snowe and Collins) used a filibuster to defeat the nomination of Caitlin J. Halligan for a seat on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, even though Halligan was deemed “unanimously well-qualified” for the seat. Another filibuster forced the withdrawal of the nomination of Professor Goodwin Liu to serve on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Even Mr. Kayatta took criticism from political quarters for his service on an American Bar Association committee that found Elena Kagan “unanimously well-qualified” to serve as a Supreme Court justice. Kagan was confirmed to that post in August 2010 by a 63-37 vote, with only Republicans voting against confirmation.

Democrats, of course, previously used similar blocking tactics that might have had greater effect had it not been for the bipartisan efforts of the Gang of 14. But since President Obama took office, obstruction of judicial nominees has escalated to an unprecedented level. At this point in George W. Bush’s presidency, only 28 judicial vacancies remained, compared with today’s 79. And Obama nominees have waited for an up-or-down vote, on average, four times longer than Bush nominees.

Enough already! It is time for Maine’s senators to once again lead the way to doing the right thing on judicial nominations. When there is an empty judicial seat, and a nominee ready to fill it, our senators should work within their own party and across the aisle to press for a full Senate vote on confirmation as soon as possible.

And let us work to ensure that whoever replaces the soon-retiring Snowe will carry on the Maine tradition of prioritizing the proper functioning of government over petty politics. Our country and our courts will be the healthier for it.

George Royle lives in Portland.