Kyl's Hypocrisy on the Kagan Nomination

Senator Jon Kyl just finished speaking against Elena Kagan's confirmation to the Supreme Court, but he seemed a bit confused. According to Kyl, he will vote against her because she believes that the role of the court is to solve society's problems. Kyl said that's the role of the legislature, not the courts.

Yet when our elected representatives HAVE acted to solve society's problems - to protect our elections from being bought by corporations, to protect people from defective medical devices, to protect workers from unfair discrimination by powerful corporations, to protect our environment from polluting corporations - the Roberts Court has gone out of its way to dismantle these protections.

How does Senator Kyl square his support for the arch-conservatives on the Court with his claim that the elected branches should be allowed to solve society's problems?


More GOP Hypocrisy

Either Senate Republicans have no idea what their co-conservatives are saying and doing, or they are just comfortable with their party’s hypocrisy.

In explaining why he didn’t plan to vote for Kagan, Senator Jeff Sessions said that she lacked judicial restraint, which he described as a potential judge’s most important quality.

He seems to have forgotten to send that memo to his colleague Senator Coburn, who during the hearing begged Kagan to ignore the Constitution, the law and judicial precedent and instead judge based on her opinion of mankind’s natural rights:


Cardin Supports Kagan - and the American People

In support of Elena Kagan's nomination, Sen. Ben Cardin just did an excellent job of listing a few of the examples of how the Roberts Court has gone out of its way to rule against ordinary Americans and in favor of the powerful corporations who victimize them. In addition to the Citizens United and the Ledbetter cases, he mentioned the Gross case, where a 5-4 majority overruled precedent to limit the ability of victims of age discrimination to have their day in court.

Through their elected representatives in Congress, the American people have frequently acted to protect people from abuses of power - abuses that get people fired from their jobs, that poison the air we breathe and water we drink, and that take our elections away from us. Yet the Roberts Court is dedicated to twisting the law in order to strike down these efforts. Corporations win, people lose.

Take a look at our Foundation's Corporate Court report to read what Sen. Cardin is talking about.

Elena Kagan recognizes the role of the Court is protecting Americans from the abuse of power.


Trading Judges

As the Senate prepares to vote this week on the Supreme Court confirmation of Elena Kagan, there is also reportedly a deal in the works to finally confirm dozens of the executive branch and judicial nominees who have been waiting—many of them for months—for votes on the Senate floor.

CQ reports:

After seeing only two nominees confirmed during July, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are discussing terms for advancing at least some of the 84 nominations awaiting floor votes, aides said Monday. “We have a number of nominations that we’re looking at,” said Reid.

But some of the more controversial nominees are unlikely to be confirmed before the Senate returns in mid-September, if then. That may tempt Obama to use recess appointments to fill those vacancies at least temporarily — unless the White House agrees to pass up the opportunity to make recess appointments in exchange for Senate action on some nominees this week.

It’s about time that the Senate gets around to clearing the nominations backlog. But voting on nominees that were reported months ago without any opposition is no great concession by the Republican minority. It’s time to end the charade and the gamesmanship.

Take for example North Carolina judge Albert Wynn, whose nomination to fill a long-vacant seat on the Fourt Circuit Court of Appeals was approved by the Judiciary Committee in an 18-1 vote six months ago, and has been held up by GOP leadership ever since. David Savage at the Los Angeles Times describes the holdup of Wynn’s nomination as part of a political battle similar to “an old family feud”:

The GOP leader had no objection to Wynn. Instead, he said, he was getting back at Democrats who had blocked President George W. Bush's nominees to the same court. "My perspective on the 4th Circuit covers a little longer period of time," McConnell said.

The Senate's dispute over judicial nominees resembles a family feud that stretches over several generations. Judges are being opposed not because of their records, but because of what happened several years earlier to other nominees. Use of the filibuster rule, which the GOP had insisted was unconstitutional several years ago, has become a routine stalling tactic.

If confirmed, Wynn would fill a North Carolina seat on the 4th Circuit that has been vacant since 1994.

Let’s have a vote on James Wynn. Or let’s have a vote on Jane Stranch of Tennessee, nominated to fill a seat on the Sixth Circuit, who has the support of both of her home state Republican Senators. And let’s have a vote on Goodwin Liu, nominated for a seat on the Ninth Circuit, who has endorsements from across the ideological spectrum, including Clint Bolick and Ken Starr.

The debate over judicial nominations has become not about qualifications or the law, or about the urgent needs of the justice system, but about political game-playing. It’s great that the GOP has finally agreed to confirm some nominees who they never objected to in the first place. Maybe now they can move on to having a substantive debate on those, like Wynn, Stranch, and Liu, against whom they continue to use every passive-aggressive rule of Senate procedure.


Sessions Mistakes Kagan for Roberts

GOP Senator Jeff Sessions has taken to the Senate floor to oppose the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. He's accused Kagan of believing that judges can simply ignore the Constitution and replace it with her personal vision of what the law should be.

I think he's confusing Kagan for the five justices who decided in Citizens United that it was gigantic corporations who the founders had in mind when adopting the First Amendment. That's a vision of society totally at odds with what the founders had in mind, to say nothing of what the American people want. It's a vision shared only by extremist pro-business conservative ideologues.


The Wrong Way to Reform Immigration

As President Obama made clear last month, some proponents of the Arizona law have distorted the truth to spread fear about undocumented immigrants. Governor Jan Brewer, for example, claimed that beheaded bodies had been discovered in the Arizona desert, but could not prove or even comment on her assertion. Such irresponsible claims have helped spread unfounded fears about illegal immigrants, intensifying the tenor of an already fraught debate. According to the Progress Report, some anti-immigrant extremists have organized militias, manned by combat veterans and neo-Nazis, to patrol the US-Mexico border. But potentially violent hostility is not directed only at undocumented immigrants: some opponents of the Arizona law have been targeted as well. Judge Susan Bolton, who recently blocked some of the law’s most odious provisions from taking effect, has received hundreds of threats from anti-immigrant extremists.

Tension in the state over the new law and Judge Bolton’s injunction against some of its provisions did not stop Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Pheonix from taking matters into his own hands

Arpaio has said frequently that he doesn't need the law, which created a misdemeanor offense in Arizona for immigrants who fail to carry registration documents, and his track record backs him up.

Thursday's operation would mark the 17th time Arpaio has deployed hundreds of deputies and volunteer posse members in an area of the Valley to root out illegal immigrants. Deputies typically take a "zero tolerance" approach to traffic offenses and then check the criminal history of the motorists. Some of Arpaio's deputies who were trained to enforce federal immigration law used to be able to conduct roadside immigration screenings, but the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement stripped deputies of that authority last year, forcing sheriff's deputies to wait until they bring suspects to jail to determine immigration status.

This kind of quasi-vigilante policing is not an effective way to deal with our broken immigration system, or to dilute the threat of vicious anti-immigrant extremism. Indeed, Sheriff Arpaio’s methods merely contribute to the toxic atmosphere that makes an honest national conversation about immigration so difficult.


Leahy Calls the Robert Court on its Pro-Business Excess

Sen. Leahy just opened up the Senate debate on Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court with words that we all should pay attention to: "Law matters in people's lives." He referred to the Supreme Court’s attack against victims of discrimination in the Ledbetter case. Of course, he also mentioned Citizens United. Thanks to the activists on the Roberts Court, a corporation like BP can now spend hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat candidates who want to improve regulations on offshore drilling. The Roberts Court is anything but the modest and restrained Court that then-Judge Roberts discussed at his own confirmation hearings.

These cases are just the tip of the iceberg. The Roberts Court has been bending the law regularly to favor powerful corporations. At last, they are being called on it.


Ken Cuccinelli Will Not Be Outdone

Virginia’s crusading attorney general Ken Cuccinelli has a new cause: ensuring that Virginia keeps up with Arizona in the race to become the most anti-immigrant state in the union.

On Friday, prompted by an inquiry from Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, Cuccinelli decreed that Virginia police can grill people about their immigration status when stopped for traffic violations or at police checkpoints:

A 2008 Virginia law requires that law enforcement check the immigration status of anyone taken into custody on suspicion of having committed a separate crime. Cuccinelli's opinion could expand such inquiries to those who have been legally stopped by law enforcement, for instance those pulled over for a traffic violation or at a police checkpoint.

Cuccinelli writes in the July 30 opinion that while local law enforcement have the ability to arrest those they suspect of committing criminal violations of immigration laws but not those they believe have violated civil immigration statutes. But he says inquiring into status is different than arresting for a violation and that law enforcement can inquire. While it is a crime to illegally cross the border, many other immigration violations are civil offense, like overstaying a valid visa.

"Virginia law enforcement officers have the authority to make the same inquiries as those contemplated by the new Arizona law. So long as the officers have the requisite level of suspicion to believe that a violation of the law has occurred, the officers may detain and briefly question a person they suspect has committed a federal crime," he writes.

In Virginia, official opinions of the attorney general are considered law unless a judge disagrees with the legal analysis after an opinion has been challenged in court.

A similar provision in Arizona’s law was blocked by a federal judge last week before it could take effect. Arizona’s law required police to make such checks when they suspect that a person they have stopped is in the country illegally, whereas Cuccinelli’s pronouncement merely allows police to make that check. The effect, however, is similar: state police are given the broad authority to determine whom to quiz about immigration status in situations that are unrelated to immigration. And, however many racial profiling disclaimers are written into a law, a regulation like that is going to unduly burden Virginia’s Latino residents, who now must be prepared to prove their immigration status every time they drive to the grocery store.


Republicans Waiting It Out On Judicial Nominations

In the wake of Citizens United and other rulings that put corporate bank accounts ahead of individual rights, it has become increasingly clear where the priorities of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority lie. Republicans in Congress, unlike most Americans, like what they’re seeing—and are doing everything in their power to make sure the Roberts Court’s philosophy is reflected in lower courts throughout the country.

Apparently not satisfied with the current conservative bent of the nation’s entire judicial system (nearly 40% of federal judges nationwide were appointed by George W. Bush), Republican Senators are trying to stall district and circuit court judicial nominations until they are in a position to appoint federal judges once again, packing the court even more firmly for corporate interests.

A recent study by the Center for American Progress found that the current Republican obstruction of judicial nominations is truly unprecedented. The graph below pretty much says it all:

The current Republican obstructionism is unprecedented. Even George H.W. Bush, whose party never controlled the Senate during his term, enjoyed a confirmation rate nearly double that of President Obama and the current solidly Democratic Senate.

Yesterday, several senators put a much-needed spotlight on the GOP’s obstruction of judicial nominations. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island spoke about the special interests that are preventing public interest lawyer John McConnell, an extremely qualified nominee who enjoys bipartisan support, from serving his home state:

Why is it that nominees of President Obama are being held to a different, new standard than applied to the nominees of President Bush? Why have we departed from the longstanding tradition of respect to the views of home State Senators who know the nominees best and who best understand their home districts? … I ask this because we have a highly qualified nominee in Rhode Island, Jack McConnell, who was reported by the Judiciary Committee on June 17. It was a bipartisan vote, 13 to 6, with the support of Senator Lindsey Graham. Jack McConnell is a pillar of the legal community in Rhode Island…The Providence Chamber of Commerce has praised Jack McConnell as a well-respected member of the local community. Political figures from across our political spectrum have called for his confirmation, one of them being my predecessor as Rhode Island attorney general, Republican Jeffrey Pine.

…Notwithstanding the support of Senator Reed and myself, the two Senators from Rhode Island, notwithstanding that this is a district court nomination, notwithstanding the powerful support across Rhode Island from those who know Jack McConnell best, special interests from outside the State have interfered in his nomination. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, not the Rhode Island chapter, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has attacked Jack for having the temerity to stand up to big business, to the asbestos to representing the rights of the powerless. In doing so, the U.S. Chamber has created a cartoon image of Jack McConnell that bears no relation to the man Senator Reed and I know as a great lawyer, as a great Rhode Islander, and somebody who will be a great judge.

I ask my colleagues…do we want to let powerful out-of-State interests trump the better informed views of home State Senators about district court nominees?

This is not just a political question-- the GOP is so concerned about keeping the courts corporate-friendly in the long-term that they’re ignoring the very urgent short-term needs of the federal court system. While judicial positions around the country remain vacant, many Americans are forced to wait for inexcusably long periods to have their day in court as current judges struggle with an impossible workload. The Judicial Conference has declared 42 of the 99 current judicial vacancies “judicial emergencies.” Carolyn Lamm, President of the non-partisan American Bar Association, calls the current dearth of federal judges “urgent.” But the GOP clearly cares more about protecting their allies in the corporate world than allowing the lower court system to function.


GOP’s Citizens United Hypocrisy

As we witness the growing influx of corporate spending in elections from Kentucky to Minnesota as a result of the Citizens United ruling, campaigns across the country are bracing for a barrage of corporate expenditures. Senate Republicans claim that by refusing to allow the DISCLOSE Act to come up for a vote, they are defending free speech rights established by the Court. But Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute criticizes the Republicans’ dangerously selective view of the Citizens United decision. While the 5-4 decision grants for-profit corporations the same free speech rights as individuals, the Court also ruled 8-1 to affirm the government’s right to enact rigorous campaign disclosure laws:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who holds the undisputed twin titles of No. 1 campaign finance anti-reformer and No. 1 hypocrite, once said he didn't understand why a little disclosure is better than a lot of disclosure. Now the Kentucky Republican is leading his party and outside activists in spurning the clear, 8-1 mandate of the Roberts Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision to encourage robust disclosure, as they call the disclosure they once championed a horrendous burden and even an unconstitutional blockage of free speech.

Even though Senate Republicans defend Citizens United, going so far as to compare it to Brown v. Board of Education, they appear to dismiss the Supreme Court’s approval of disclosure requirements to prevent secretive and misleading campaign practices by corporations. Like candidates running for office, CEOs of corporations should appear in their advertisements and go on record with their political expenditures, and publicly report money used for political purposes. As constitutional law expert Lawrence Tribe writes:

[F]ederal legislation should, at a minimum, build on the disclosure and disclaimer requirements that the Court upheld by an 8-1 vote in Citizens United, requirements specifying that electioneering communications funded by anyone other than the candidate must disclose who is “responsible for the content of this advertising” and must display on screen “in a clearly readable manner” for at least four seconds the name and address or website of whoever funded the communication.




GOP Blocks 20 Judicial Nominees, Rebuffs Goodwin Liu Again

Nine Democratic senators went to the Senate floor today to call for up-or-down votes on the confirmation of 20 federal judicial nominees, many of whom have been waiting months to be confirmed and several of whom passed out of the Judiciary Committee with little or no opposition from members of either party. The Senators who spoke on the floor today included Mark Udall (CO), Michael Bennet (CO), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Herb Kohl (WI), Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Jack Reed (RI), Ben Cardin (MD), Tom Carper (DE), and Ted Kaufman (DE).

The explanation from Senator Sen. Jeff Sessions, one of the architects of the obstruction? "Things do not always go as smoothly as you would like."

Among the nominees Democratic senators sought votes on were several whose nomination sagas we've been following. There were Albert Diaz and James Wynn of North Carolina who would be be, respectively, the first Latino and fourth African American appointed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (and who garnered one no vote between the two of them in committee). There was John McConnell of Rhode Island, who has come under attack from the powerful lobbyists at the Chamber of Commerce because of his record of defending consumers in suits against large manufacturers. There was William Joseph Martinez, the Colorado judge who has come under attack for having sat on an advisory panel for the ACLU.

And then there was Goodwin Liu. Sen. Ben Cardin told a Netroots Nation panel last week that Liu's hearing with the Judiciary Committee was "one of the most impressive confirmation hearings we've ever had." Richard Painter, who served as a lawyer in the Bush White House, called him "a fine choice for the federal bench." Yet, inexplicably, Liu, a law professor at Berkeley who is respected by legal scholars across the political spectrum, has become a flash point for Republican obstruction.

It's time for the Senate GOP to stop stalling votes on these critical nominations and come clean about their true priorities for the courts.

Many thanks to the Senators who took to the floor today to shine a spotlight on this unprecedented and senseless obstruction.



Guess Who’s Against the DISCLOSE Act?

Citizens United empowered corporate and special interest lobbyists to spend unlimited amounts influencing elections. Not surprisingly, lobbyists hired by powerful interests are now the most vocal opponents of campaign finance reform. Roll Call reports that these lobbyists outdid themselves fighting the DISCLOSE Act:

Lobbying records make it difficult to determine exactly how much corporate interests and watchdog groups have spent trying the influence the bill since it was introduced this spring.

Still, the public disclosures clearly show that since April 1, more than 100 lobbying firms, corporations, unions, watchdog groups and trade associations have registered to influence facets of the DISCLOSE Act, which would bulk up disclosure requirements for companies, trade associations and unions that run televised political ads with unregulated money.


The Consequences of Citizens United

Ever since the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Citizens United case in January, we’ve been warning that the decision would empower corporations to funnel unlimited donations through shadow advocacy groups to directly influence elections.

And guess what? It’s begun.

Just as we (and President Obama) predicted, corporations are already forming and funding political action groups with innocuous sounding names to anonymously support candidates they like and attack candidates they don’t.

For example, the coal industry already has a plan to create a shadow organization to directly advocate against “anti-coal” candidates, obscuring the sources of the organization’s money as they go:

The companies hope to create a politically active nonprofit under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, so they won't have to publicly disclose their activities — such as advertising — until they file a tax return next year, long after the Nov. 2 election.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last winter that corporations and labor unions may pour unlimited funds into such efforts to influence elections.

"With the recent Supreme Court ruling, we are in a position to be able to take corporate positions that were not previously available in allowing our voices to be heard," wrote Roger Nicholson, senior vice president and general counsel at International Coal Group of Scott Depot, W.Va., in an undated letter he sent to other coal companies.

Citizens United didn’t just, as some supporters have claimed, allow corporate voices to be heard; it granted corporations unprecedented influence in democratic elections while permitting them to hide their involvement. It’s shadow organizations like this that make one wonder: why are Senate Republicans filibustering the DISCLOSE Act, which would help make corporate involvement in elections more transparent?

Meanwhile, the Minnesota gubernatorial race is providing another textbook example of the problems Citizens United is already causing for our democracy. Taking advantage of their new ability to pour limitless money into elections, several big corporations, including the retail giant Target, donated $100,000 each to a shadow group called Minnesota Forward, which has already produced an ad for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.

Public reaction to Target’s involvement in the race shows just why many politically involved corporations would prefer to remain anonymous:

Emmer is well known as a hardline conservative on social issues. For instance; he opposes gay marriage — a stance that angers some of Target's employees and customers. The company has been known for its gay-friendly employment policies.

Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel tried to address such concerns today with a letter to employees. He wrote, that "inclusiveness remains a core value of our company." That said, he added, "I consider it my responsibility to create conditions in which Target can thrive." And Minnesota Forward has pegged Emmer as the pro-growth candidate.

If the Senate had passed the DISCLOSE Act yesterday, Minnesota Forward would have to be a lot more forthcoming about the sources of its funding. As long as DISCLOSE is filibustered, the group has a lot more leeway for behind-the-scenes political activity. (And, until Congress passes a Shareholder Protection Act, even Target’s shareholders won’t be able to have a say in which political candidates their money is going to support). Voters and consumers have the right to know whether a corporation’s political money is where its mouth is.

Health insurance companies, too, are banding together to take advantage of the newly permissive electioneering rules:

Five of the nation’s largest health insurers are in serious discussions about creating a new nonprofit group and bankrolling it to the tune of about $20 million to influence tight congressional races and boost the image of their industry.

… “The objective is to make the House more accommodating to concerns that have been raised,” says one industry source. “They’re looking at toss-up candidates,” adding that the companies want to “focus resources to influence campaigns.”

Needless to say, like the coal companies, health insurance groups will not have to make their donations to such an advocacy organization public.

A stunning 85% of Americans agree that corporations already have too much influence on our elections; now we have proof that the Citizens United ruling is giving corporations even more power in our democracy. The proliferation of shadow groups doing the dirty work of big corporations makes the task of amending the Constitution to protect our elections from corporate money all the more urgent.


Senate GOP Blocks Election Transparency, Baucus Responds with Constitutional Amendment

Republicans succeeded today in blocking Senate consideration of the DISCLOSE Act, a modest first attempt to start reigning in the money-in-politics free-for-all the Supreme Court set loose in January’s Citizens United decision.

The successful filibuster of DISCLOSE is frustrating, but it makes one thing very clear: the only way for voters to fully take back our democracy is to pass a Constitutional Amendment undoing the damage of Citizens United.

After the Senate’s vote on DISCLOSE, Sen. Max Baucus introduced a resolution calling for just such an amendment:

Baucus said:

The impact of Citizens United goes well beyond merely changing campaign finance law. This decision will impact the ability of Congress, as well as State and local legislatures, to pass laws designed to protect its constituents—individual Americans—when such legislation comes under fierce objection by large corporations. Corporations are now free to spend millions targeting individual lawmakers. Lawmakers’ ability to pass laws such as consumer safety or investor protection now faces even greater challenges when such laws merely threaten the corporate bottom line.

Congress and the American people must respond swiftly and firmly. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United has severely altered Congress’s ability to limit corporate spending in our electoral process.

The amendment simply returns the power of regulating election spending to Congress and the states. Here it is in its entirety:

Section 1. Congress shall have the power to regulate the contribution of funds by corporations and labor organizations to a candidate for election to, or for nomination for election to, a Federal office, and the power to regulate the expenditure of funds by corporations and labor organizations made in support of, or opposition to, such candidates.

Section 2. A State shall have the power to regulate the contribution of funds by corporations and labor organizations to a candidate for election to, or for nomination for election to, public office in the State, and the power to regulate the expenditure of funds by corporations and labor organizations made in support of, or opposition to, such candidates.

Section 3. Nothing contained in this Amendment shall be construed to allow Congress or a State to make any law abridging the freedom of the press.”

We’ve asked all federal elected officials and candidates to sign on to a pledge to support a Constitutional Amendment to reverse Citizens United. Find out more at


Join the call to support family immigration rights

A few weeks ago, I attended a press conference to support LGBT equality and comprehensive immigration reform. Tomorrow you too have the chance to get involved.

Immigration Equality Action Fund is hosting Grassroots Call: ACT NOW for Family Immigration Rights!

Date: TOMORROW, Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Time: 8 pm EDT
Duration: 1 hour

Call-in Number: 1-800-896-0105
Passcode: 6946500#

Register here.

You will have the chance to hear from those leading the fight for family immigration rights.

U.S. Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA), lead sponsor of the Reuniting Families Act and a tireless champion for family unification.

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño, United Methodist Church, who will discuss the moral imperative to move inclusive comprehensive immigration reform forward this year.

Joriene and Jashley Mercado, U.S. citizen children whose gay mom Shirley Tan faces deportation; and another family impacted by our broken immigration system

Karen Narasaki of the Asian American Justice Center and Rachel Tiven of Immigration Equality Action Fund will discuss simple ways for YOU to help pass inclusive immigration reform this year.

You can even submit questions.

Please join Immigration Equality Action Fund for this important discussion.