PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Lindsey Graham and Extraordinary Circumstances

In his opening comments, Lindsey Graham raises the agreement reached by the Gang of 14 and the standard they set: that filibusters of judicial nominees could be allowed only in extraordinary circumstances.

Senator Susan Collins has already said that she doesn’t think that the “extraordinary circumstances” threshold has been met by Senator Kagan’s nomination, which should be obvious to any impartial observer.

But we shouldn’t forget that most Republicans didn’t embrace the standard set by the Gang of 14. They argued that a filibuster of a judicial nominee was unconstitutional in all cases. It wasn’t about politics, they claimed. It was a principled commitment to the Constitution. Senator Sessions, for his part, was unambiguous about his stance.

“One of the many reasons why we shouldn't have a filibuster, an important one, is Article I of the Constitution. It says the Senate shall advise and consent on treaties by a two-thirds vote and simply 'advise and consent' on nominations,” he said in a 2003 floor statement. "Historically, we have understood that provision to mean -- and I think there is no doubt the Founders understood that to mean -- that a treaty confirmation requires a two-thirds vote, but confirmation of a judicial nomination requires only a simple majority vote."

So none of the Republicans would ever try to filibuster a judicial nominee. Right?

PFAW

Sessions Attacks Kagan for Lack of Legal Experience

The Elena Kagan confirmation hearings began at 12:30 p.m. today, and Jeff Sessions, the ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wasted no time in attacking the nominee for having “barely practiced law.” It seems the senator is once again conveniently overlooking Ms. Kagan’s tenure as Solicitor General, her service as Associate White House Counsel, and her years in private practice - all of which is certainly very real legal experience.

Mr. Sessions also appears to have forgotten that the reason Ms. Kagan is not already a judge is that in 1999, after then-President Clinton nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, refused to schedule confirmation hearings for her, effectively killing her nomination. So Republicans are now attacking Kagan for not having the experience that in fact they prevented her from gaining.

Let’s keep in mind some former justices who, like Kagan, had never served as judges prior to being named to the Court: William Rehnquist, Earl Warren, Louis Brandeis, Charles Evans Hughes, Felix Frankfurter, Hugo Black, Lewis Powell, Byron White.
 

PFAW

Better Luck Next Time, Anti-Kagan Activists

Earlier today, Traditional Values Coalition, Concerned Women for America, the Judicial Crisis Network, and Students for Life of America held a joint press conference to announce their opposition to Elena Kagan's confirmation to the Supreme Court.

The only problem was, as the CQ-Roll Call blog Congress.org explained, that the groups held their conference outside the Supreme Court, where reporters were awaiting today's rulings, rather than where the reporters covering it were actually stationed:

Activists against Elena Kagan gathered on Capitol Hill Monday but outside the wrong building.

An hour before the Supreme Court nominee faced questions from senators, the leaders of four conservative groups stood outside the high court in protest.

"We're calling on the senate today," Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition began. "They are going to be accountable for the questions they ask or don't ask."

One problem: The backdrop Lafferty and the others chose was the court, not the Capitol. The court reporters who were around focused on a competing press conference about the morning's court rulings .

Most of the cameras focused on Lafferty's group were those of tourists -- not the press.

"Why are they protesting here?" one passerby asked a friend. "She's not on the court yet. She doesn't work here."

Had the reps from the Judicial Crisis Network, Students for Life, and Concerned Women for America stood outside the Hart Building, they would have had better luck getting attention from reporters actually covering Kagan.

I guess I should also point out that TVC is considered an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, so you have to question the judgment of CWA and JCN for partnering with them for this event.

Cross-posted from RightWingWatch.org.

PFAW

GOP Can’t Make Up Its Mind About “Results Oriented Judging”

The GOP Senators are echoing its same tired themes, characterizing Kagan as a political lawyer and suggesting that she would engage in “results-oriented judging.”

Though predictable, the hypocrisy is nonetheless astounding. These are the same senators who accepted Roberts’ “balls and strikes” song and dance with a wink wink and have done nothing to address – let alone denounce – the Roberts Court’s decision in Citizens United: the most results-oriented decision in decades.  As Senator Feingold correctly stated in his statement, in that decision, the Roberts Court reached out to change the landscape of election law in the most unnecessary and extreme way and elevated the rights of corporations over that of ordinary citizens. 

Republican Senators need to prove their real opposition to results-oriented judging and do something to fix Citizens United.

PFAW

Sessions' Dubious Sources

In Sen. Session’s opening remarks at the Kagan hearings, he lambasted her for association with so-called “activist” judges—including revered civil rights defender Thurgood Marshall, the widely respected Abner Mikva, and the Republicans' new, desperate talking point, Israeli judge Arahon Barak.

Sessions’ choice of words was interesting:

She clerked for Judge Mikva and Justice Marshall, each a well-known liberal activist judge. And she has called Israeli Judge Aharon Barak-who has been described as the most activist judge in the world-her hero.

Let’s take a look at who has been describing Judge Barak as the “most activist judge in the world”:

On Wednesday, Judge Robert Bork, whose own Supreme Court nomination in 1987 resulted in a Senate vote against confirmation, said Judge Barak “may be the worst judge on the planet, the most activist,” and argued that Ms. Kagan’s admiration for him is “disqualifying in and of itself.”

Yes, that’s Judge Robert Bork, the ultra-conservative whose Supreme Court nomination was sunk 23 years ago, and has been going to bat against Democratic Supreme Court nominees ever since.

In fact, Barak has done his so-called “activist judging” in a country with no written Constitution, and has received praise from conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

This isn’t about Barak or about a real threat of “judicial activism”—it’s about Senate Republicans desperately reaching for something to distort.
 

UPDATE: Sen. Jon Kyl is singing the same tune on Barak. Is this really all they have?

PFAW

A Victory For Religious Liberty

In today's 5-4 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court correctly ruled that a publicly funded law school need not provide funding and recognition to a campus group with policies that discriminate based on religion and sexual orientation.

The University of California, Hastings College of Law, is a public institution with a viewpoint-neutral policy of recognizing and providing some funding to official student organizations, as long as the groups open their membership to all comers regardless of their status or beliefs. The campus Christian Legal Society (CLS) denies voting membership to those who do not subscribe to its religious beliefs, including those which condemn sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Because the CLS's discrimination on the basis of religion and sexual orientation violates the school's "all comers" policy, Hastings denied them official recognition.

All student groups, the CLS included, are subject to the same rules. But the CLS demanded – and the four arch-conservative Justices would have given them – a special favored status denied to other groups: the right to the funds and benefits of recognition from a public institution, along with an exemption from the rules that apply to any other group seeking those funds and benefits.

People For the American Way Foundation filed an amicus brief with other civil rights organizations in support of Hastings College of Law in the case. The brief emphasized that the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the right of the states to withhold public funding that would support discrimination. This is particularly relevant in the context of government-funded "faith-based initiatives," where conservative Christian groups are demanding the right to receive public funds and then use them to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Had the four-Justice dissent carried the day, grave damage would have been done to the power of government to prohibit public funds from being used to forward invidious discrimination. Today is a victory for religious liberty.

PFAW

Leahy Brings Citizens United to the Forefront in Kagan Hearings

In his opening remarks in Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy put the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC at the front and center of the debate.

It is essential that judicial nominees understand that, as judges, they are not members of an administration. The courts are not subsidiaries of any political party or interest group, and our judges should not be partisans. That is why the Supreme Court’s intervention in the 2000 presidential election in Bush v. Gore was so jarring and wrong. That is why the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Citizens United, in which five conservative Justices rejected the Court’s own precedent, the bipartisan law enacted by Congress, and 100 years of legal developments in order to open the door for massive corporate spending on elections, was such a jolt to the system.

We hope to hear a lot more about Citizens United in the next few days—a ruling that a recent PFAW poll showed that 77% of Americans want to amend the Constitution to undo.
 

PFAW

Senator Sessions pledged that Republicans would hold a respectful confirmation.

In the next breath he slammed Kagan’s legal experience, then moved on to attacking her college thesis, complaining about her support of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, misrepresenting her opposition to DADT (and claiming she was anti-military), and distorting her argument in Citizens United. Just for good measure, he smeared Justice Thurgood Marshall for being too activist, and then demanded that the Supreme Court engage in activism to limit “unprecedented government power” (by which he seems to mean stimulus and health care reform.)

You stay classy, GOP.

PFAW

Off To a Good Start: Liberty Counsel Calls Kagan a Liar Before Hearing Even Began

The confirmation hearing for Elena Kagan is just getting under way and so I am going to start collecting statements and reactions and posting them both on the RightWingWatch and PFAW blogs ... and we are already off to a good start, as Liberty Counsel is liveblogging the event and, before it even began, accused Kagan of being unfit for the Supreme Court because she is a liar: 

There have been many comments in the media that this appointment will not change the dynamic of the court because Justice Souter's opinions were very much on the left side of the political spectrum. Kagan's confirmation would do more than keep a politically left justice on the bench. As apparent in her time at Harvard Law School, Kagan's ability to change the curriculum shows her ability to influence. A person with Kagan's radical ideology and means of influence could be dangerous on the Supreme Court. In addition, ethically Kagan has shown that she is not afraid to lie in a confirmation hearing, which brings into serious question her ability and fitness in the practice of law.

Cross-posted from RightWingWatch.org

PFAW

The Confirmation Hearings Are Coming!

At last, the wait is over: it's time for the Senate Confirmation Hearings for Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan.

Here at People For the American Way Headquarters, we're hoping for (and expecting to get) a conversation that addresses the clear pro-corporate tilt of the Roberts Court and its willingness to bend the law to favor powerful interests. We're also hoping that we'll hear some of our 20 Questions for Solicitor General Kagan asked and answered.

While we'd like to believe that the hearings will be all about the law and Solicitor General Kagan's judicial philosophy, we also expect to see a fair amount of preening from conservative Senators trying to score points with their far-right base.

We'll be blogging throughout the hearings, and we hope that you'll stop by from time to time and have a read.  To help beef-up our commentary on the right-wing craziness that's sure to go on around the hearings, Kyle from RightWingWatch.org will be cross posting relevant posts here on the People For Blog.

Finally, you can follow our Twitter feed, @PeopleFor.

Opening statements start today at 12:30, so pull up a chair, turn on C-Span 3, and watch with us for a while.

PFAW

Some More Good Supreme Court Reads

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post highlighting some really excellent articles that have come out in response to former Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s recent takedown of the highly flawed (to put it mildly) analogy of the Justice as a sort of robotic constitutional umpire. Since then, the debate as continued, and I wanted to point out a few more that make for great reading going into Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings next week.

Donald Ayer, who was a deputy solicitor general in the Reagan Administration wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining why the Supreme Court’s work can’t be done by a constitutional calculator:


Here's the rub: In nearly all the high court's cases, doubt exists not because the half or so of judges who decided the issue are stupid, don't get it or otherwise made some identifiable mistake. Rather, doubts exist because there are substantial persuasive arguments on both sides that cannot be dismissed as invalid or wrong. These cases must be resolved by deciding which collection of arguments is the more compelling; the justices make decisions by choosing to give priority to one set of contentions or another.
This is true of many constitutional cases, both because the Constitution is often unspecific and, as retired Justice David Souter recently observed, because its splendid generalities, such as equality and liberty, are sometimes in tension with one another. It is also true in the much greater number of more routine cases, such as where the words of a statute leave doubt about its coverage or effect.


Sonja West in Slate, says Kagan “needs to throw away the script”:

The absence of any dialogue on substantive law at these hearings is regrettable, but the political theater of discussing judging as mere law-to-fact application is truly alarming in that it goes to the heart of the public's understanding of what it is Supreme Court justices actually do. That's why Kagan needs to talk to the American people honestly next week about the job for which she is applying and why she is so qualified to get it.

And, in the New York Times Magazine, Noah Feldman calls for a new progressive vision of the Constitution that deals with macroeconomics just as much as civil rights:

Why does the absence of this vision constitute a crisis for liberals? The answer is that new and pressing constitutional issues and problems loom on the horizon — and they cannot be easily solved or resolved using the now-familiar frameworks of liberty and equality. These problems cluster around the current economic situation, which has revealed the extraordinary power of capital markets and business corporations in shaping the structure and actions of our government. The great economic and political challenges of our present decade — salvaging and fixing financial institutions, delivering health care, protecting the environment — have major constitutional dimensions. They require us to determine the limits of government power and the extent to which the state can impinge on collective and individual freedoms. Progressive constitutional thinkers, so skilled in arguing about social and civil rights, are out of practice in addressing such structural economic questions.

Finally, if you don't feel like reading, watch Al Franken's great speech to the American Constitution Society. "Originalism isn't a pillar of our Constitutional history," he says, "It's a talking point."


 

 

PFAW

Palin takes her cartoonish extremism to the next level, endorses comparison of Obama to Hitler

Late last night, Sarah Palin followed in the footsteps of Glenn Beck and started echoing hysterical right-wing cries of  “Obama=Hitler!” She tweeted an endorsement of a recent article by Thomas Sowell, which has been making the rounds in right-wing circles, that compares the Obama administration to Hitler’s Nazis via the $20 billion fund provided by BP to compensate victims of the Gulf oil spill. Apparently Palin agrees with Sowell that Obama’s decision to accept money offered by BP is exactly the same as Hitler forcibly seizing private assets from German companies.

Sowell’s piece also compares Obama voters in 2008 to the people whose support helped put Hitler in power – so-called “useful idiots,” who had not been involved in the political process before and were easily manipulated.

Palin routinely takes some of the most extreme positions out there, and proves both her ignorance and her detachment from reality, in her tweets and Facebook posts. These make up the bulk of her communications operation and are picked up and echoed widely in both the right-wing and, what she calls, “lamestream” media. On both her Twitter feed and Facebook page, she recently blamed environmentalists for the BP disaster, ridiculously implying that it was THEIR idea to conduct deep sea offshore drilling. And her most recent tweet laughably refers to Alaska as the “USA’s Fort Knox,” as if the actual Fort Knox is somewhere other than the U.S.

Despite Sarah Palin’s best efforts to marginalize herself, she still plays kingmaker in the Republican Party, actively endorsing and stumping for candidates. And she enjoys a platform on FOX News, on which she’s a regular contributor. This latest statement of hers comparing the president to Hitler, however, should be a cause of concern for anyone with close ties to the former Alaska governor.

In endorsing Sowell’s views, Palin has done three things that really cast her at odds with most Americans and seem to take extremism to a new level.

  1. She essentially called Obama voters in 2008 (53% of the electorate) “idiots,” doubling down on how she mocked Americans’ economic pain when she asked in her Tea Party Convention speech earlier this year, “how’s that hopey changey stuff workin’ out for ya?”
     
  2. She equated holding BP accountable with Nazism and Adolph Hitler – this is more egregious than Rep. Joe Barton’s apology to BP for its having to bear some responsibility for the Gulf disaster and is squarely at odds with Americans’ desire for more corporate accountability, not less.
     
  3. She clearly put herself out there with the most extreme fringes of the Tea Party and Radical Right by absurdly, and offensively, equating Barack Obama with Adolph Hitler.

Sarah Palin really should be made to answer for this. And the candidates she is on the campaign trail with and supporting – like Rand Paul in Kentucky, Sharron Angle in Nevada and a long list of other Republicans – need to, despite having their own extreme views, consider whether Palin’s over-the-top views are really something they want to be associated with.

PFAW

Dawn Johnsen Heads Back to Indiana

“The one thing you don’t want people saying at your funeral is, ‘She went to her grave with her options open.’” That’s Dawn Johnsen, in a recent speech at the American Constitution Society, proudly declaring that she has no regrets for standing on her principles throughout her legal career, even those principles were used by the GOP to attack and eventually defeat her nomination to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

Today, NPR’s Morning Edition produced a great segment on Johnsen (including some commentary from People For’s Marge Baker).

You can listen to the whole thing on NPR’s website.

Johnsen withdrew her nomination in April after spending well over a year in nomination limbo, attacked from the right over her history of supporting a woman’s right to choose and opposing Bush Administration torture policies. She was, to say the least, highly qualified. It’s a testament to her integrity that she has refused to back down from any of her statements or principles—even those that didn’t prove to be politically expedient.
 

PFAW

Today in Obstruction

Tuesday’s batch confirmation of 60 patient Obama administration nominees was an encouraging break from Senate Republicans’ current unprecedented obstruction efforts, but it seems it might not yet represent the turning over of a new leaf.

NPR yesterday counted 69 Senate holds on executive branch and judicial nominees—most of them anonymous.

Included in this holding pen, our friends at Alliance For Justice have noticed, is every judicial nominee who’s been cleared for a floor vote, including 13 who received no opposition in committee.

Sen. Claire McCaskill now has gotten 68 Senators to sign a pledge to not participate in anonymous holds and to call for the abolishment of the practice. Only 10 Republicans have signed on.
 

PFAW

Supreme Court Rules for Campaign Disclosure, But Divided Over How Far it Should Go

In a ruling that may bode well for the longevity of the campaign finance disclosure law currently being considered by Congress, the Supreme Court today ruled that the First Amendment does not give people a blanket right to keep their political activity under wraps. But the Justices disagreed on the extent to which the First Amendment allows privacy for controversial political activity.

The case, Doe v. Reed, was brought by a group of people who had signed a petition to put a measure on the ballot in Washington that would have voided the state’s domestic partnership laws. Washington’s law says that the names on such petitions have to be publicly available. The group of plaintiffs argued that the exposure of their names would expose them to harassment, therefore violating their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, disagreed that the disclosure law was unconstitutional on its face, but left the door open for the anti-marriage equality petitioners to claim the law was an unfair burden in their specific case.

The spread of the justices’ opinions on the specific case of Protect Marriage Washington shows their ideological differences on the subject—and could shed light on what will happen if the Court considers something like the DISCLOSE Act.

Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog explains:

There were several separate opinions. Justice Alito wrote a separate concurrence that is quite sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ as-applied challenge on remand. Justice Sotomayor wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justices Stevens and Ginsburg, that is very doubtful about that challenge. Justice Stevens also wrote his own concurring opinion, joined by Justice Breyer, to make the same point, albeit perhaps not as strongly, while Justice Breyer wrote a separate concurring opinion indicating that he doesn’t think that Justice Stevens’ opinion is inconsistent with the Chief Justice’s opinion. Justice Scalia wrote a concurring opinion which takes the position that such a First Amendment claim could never prevail. Justice Thomas was the only dissenter; he would have held that the plaintiffs prevailed on their broad facial challenge to the disclosure provision.

The plaintiffs, having lost their broad facial claim, thus also face significant difficulty in prevailing in their remaining challenge to the disclosure of their identities with respect to this specific referendum. Justices Thomas and Alito are obviously sympathetic to that claim. But five Justices – a majority of the Court – take the opposite view; Justice Scalia rejects it outright and the four more liberal members of the Court express significant doubts about the claim’s viability.

Rachel wrote earlier today about Justice Scalia’s vocal support for transparency laws, and his opinion in Doe v. Reed confirms that he walks his talk. As Goldstein calculates, if a campaign finance disclosure law comes before the Supreme Court, Scalia’s vote could break up the Citizens United majority and shift the Court’s majority toward disclosure and transparency.
 

PFAW