DC Circuit Court of Appeals Nominee Nina Pillard: 10 Things You Should Know

On June 4, 2013, President Obama nominated Georgetown Law Professor Nina Pillard to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Over the course of her law career, Professor Pillard has won historic Supreme Court victories, and served two tours as a high-level government lawyer at the Department of Justice. She has spent 15 years teaching at Georgetown Law, where she is co-director of Georgetown’s Supreme Court Institute. As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on her nomination tomorrow, here are 10 things you might not know about Professor Pillard:

1) She helped open VMI to women. Professor Pillard wrote the briefs in United States v. Virginia, a case originally filed by the George H.W. Bush Administration. Professor Pillard’s arguments persuaded the Supreme Court to open the Virginia Military Institute to women, ending one of the last male-only admissions policies at a state college. Read an op-ed about Professor Pillard from a VMI alumna here

2) She protected the Family & Medical Leave Act. Professor Pillard argued Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs before the Supreme Court, alongside Department of Justice  officials from the George W. Bush administration. Their defense of the Family and Medical Leave Act successfully vindicated a state employee’s right to take unpaid leave to care for his ill wife. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the majority opinion.

3) She has bipartisan support—including from top Republican former Justice Department officials. Professor Pillard’s impressive record, integrity, and impartiality have earned her the support across the political spectrum, including from top Department of Justice officials in previous Republican administrations. President George W. Bush’s Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh and former FBI Director William Sessions both wrote personal letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsing Professor Pillard for the DC Circuit.

4) She has argued or briefed dozens of cases before the Supreme Court. Over the course of her career, Professor Pillard has litigated at all levels and throughout the country, from trial court to the Supreme Court.

5) If confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, Nina Pillard would be only the sixth woman to serve on that court in its 120-year history.

6) She is admired for her integrity and fairness. In an op-ed in Politico today, Josiah Bunting III, who was the superintendent of VMI when it opened to female students, writes that he was opposed to the integration at the time but now sees it as “VMI’s finest hour.” Bunting writes that during the case, he was “impressed by Pillard’s fairness and rigor” and  said she “comported herself with integrity and understanding – qualities that distinguish the best judges at all levels.”

7) Professor Pillard has substantial expertise in matters affecting law enforcement. Professor Pillard served two tours at the U.S. Department of Justice and has repeatedly defended and advised law enforcement officials. Her expertise has earned her the endorsement of the International Union of Police Associations and more than two dozen top attorneys in law enforcement and national security.

8) She’s a beloved professor. Over the last 15 years, Nina Pillard has distinguished herself as a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. One of her favorite classes to teach is Civil Procedure, which covers the crucial role that fair process plays in the American legal system.

9) Professor Pillard serves as a Co-Director of Georgetown University’s Supreme Court Institute. Here, she prepares lawyers for argument on a pro bono, first-come basis, without regard to which side they represent. Over the past term, the Institute prepared lawyers on one or both sides of every case heard by the Supreme Court. 

10) Professor Pillard has devoted considerable time and energy to mentoring others throughout her career. During her years at Georgetown, she has mentored countless law students.  As a college student, moreover, she mentored low-income girls through a Big Sister program.  In addition, she served on the Board of Friends of the Double Discovery Center at Columbia College, which works with low-income and first-generation-college youth to ensure academic skills building, high school graduation, college entrance and completion, and responsible adulthood.


A Powerful Call to Support Nina Pillard

D.C. Circuit nominee Nina Pillard – who famously wrote the briefs that convinced the Supreme Court to open the Virginia Military Institute to women – got a powerful statement of support this morning from none other than the man who served as VMI's superintendent at the time.

Josiah Bunting III writes in Politico how he had at the time strongly supported VMI's all-men tradition as essential to the institution. Yet in the years since the barrier against women fell, he has realized that he was wrong, and he now calls the integration of women "VMI's finest hour."

Many people deserve credit for today's successful coeducation at VMI, not the least of whom are the brave women who first sought to walk through its gates. But it was a dedicated attorney named Nina Pillard who wrote the briefs that convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the school's male-only admissions policy in United States v. Virginia.

Superintendent Bunting explains how his experience on the other side of litigation from Pillard showed him her fundamental fairness, integrity, and commitment to the United States Constitution.

During the course of the [VMI] case, I was impressed by Pillard's fairness and rigor. She respected others' strongly held views about male-only education at VMI, and I always felt that while we had opposing positions at the time, she comported herself with integrity and understanding — qualities that distinguish the best judges at all levels.

VMI has now graduated hundreds of women who have gone on to rewarding careers in the armed forces, public service and the private sector. Today, our alumni can look forward to the day when their daughters, too, can attend VMI and carry our tradition forward.

Pillard's work in United States v. Virginia demonstrated her judgment and dedication to upholding the Constitution. Her work has strengthened the fundamental principles of American democracy that VMI was designed to protect. She deserves to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

It is hard to exaggerate just how strong the emotions were among the men of VMI when their all-male status came under challenge. So for the superintendent at the time to call for his opponent on the other side of the issue to be confirmed as a federal appeals court judge might surprise some people. But it comes as no surprise to anyone who is at all familiar with Pillard's record.

Nina Pillard has spent her career advancing equality for women, and doing so in a way that has earned the respect of both allies and opponents. As Superintendent Bunting says, "she deserves to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate."


The Most Important Conservative Funder You’ve Never Heard Of

It was a big week for lifting the veil – at least a little – on the secretive world of conservative groups funding political campaigns. On Wednesday we wrote about new reports on two of the Right’s shadowy front groups which have been able to disguise the transfer of large sums of money to organizations supporting Republican causes and candidates. 

Then Politico brought us a look inside what they call “the Koch brothers’ secret bank,” a previously unknown group called Freedom Partners which gave a quarter billion dollars in 2012 to sway public debate further to the right. Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei report:

The group, Freedom Partners, and its president, Marc Short, serve as an outlet for the ideas and funds of the mysterious Koch brothers, cutting checks as large as $63 million to groups promoting conservative causes, according to an IRS document to be filed shortly…

The group has about 200 donors, each paying at least $100,000 in annual dues. It raised $256 million in the year after its creation in November 2011, the document shows. And it made grants of $236 million — meaning a totally unknown group was the largest sugar daddy for conservative groups in the last election, second in total spending only to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which together spent about $300 million. [emphasis added]

Though you likely have not heard of Freedom Partners before, you’ve heard of the groups it funds – including the NRA, Americans for Prosperity, Heritage Action for America, and Tea Party Patriots. According to their newly-launched website, Freedom Partners is “promoting the principles of a free market and free society” by advocating against scourges like “cronyism in America.” 

This, from one of the biggest spenders in the last election.

Other than the Koch brothers, who are the donors behind this massively influential group?  At this point, it’s hard to know. Despite the group’s president’s insistence that “our members are proud to be part of [the organization],” Freedom Partner’s membership page does not list a single one.  It’s yet another example of the need for legislation like the DISCLOSE Act, which would shed light on the major donors behind the secretive outside groups attempting to shape our elections – and our country.


McConnell's Defense of Money in Politics Is Hurting Him With Voters

Mitch McConnell sure can pick the issues he takes a stand on. Despite being a true master of gridlock and inaction, he’s been very willing to take steps to erode campaign finance regulations: in May, he continued his long-standing opposition to sound campaign finance regulation by filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing for fewer federal limits on campaign donations, and last month the court granted him permission to participate in the upcoming oral argument of the case, McCutcheon v. FEC. Given that 90% of voters think there’s already too much money in politics, one might ask why McConnell’s advocating such an unpopular position so strongly.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that McConnell’s views are catching up with him. A poll released Tuesday by the Public Campaign Action Fund highlights what a terrible strategy this is for a candidate already facing a tough path to reelection: 53% of Kentucky voters had “very serious doubts” about his support for unlimited contributions, with 46% supporting his opponent Alison Lundegran Grimes to McConnell’s 40%. It was already clear that spending by wealthy special interests in politics is extremely unpopular, but it’s very encouraging to see indications that those who support unlimited spending might pay an electoral price for it. McConnell might think it’s worth it to continue taking these unpopular positions if corporations will keep spending on elections like his, but maybe he’s miscalculated here. It’s up to Kentucky voters to prove him wrong. 


Voter suppression and intimidation reported in Colorado recall election

Two Colorado Democrats who supported stricter state gun laws in the aftermath of mass shootings were voted out of office in a special recall election yesterday. State Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and State Senator Angela Giron of Pueblo lost their seats after a vicious recall election backed by the National Rifle Association.

One factor that may have contributed to the narrow victories for the NRA and its allies – Morse lost by just 343 votes – was voter suppression. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz summarized the tactics that helped to suppress turnout:

Colorado voters are used to casting their ballots by mail, but because of lawsuits filed by opponents of common sense gun reform, voters were not mailed their ballots in this election. Those who intended to vote in person did not learn their polling locations until less than two weeks before Election Day. Tuesday’s low turnout was a result of efforts by the NRA, the Koch brothers and other right wing groups who know that when more people vote, Democrats win.

In addition, a canvasser for Giron reported "extreme voter intimidation":

We had to call the police on a van of four huge guys staking out our staging location. Volunteers are being followed, threatened, having their pictures taken and yelled at. We’re now being told that it’s bad enough to call 911 immediately.

The Right’s Big Money Shell Game

In today’s legal landscape, “following the money” is tricky – but a new report released yesterday shows why this work is critical to anyone who cares about progressive change. The latest digging from the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets blog has uncovered new information about a multi-tiered money laundering operation through which tax-exempt groups funnel millions to groups supporting right-wing causes and candidates. 

Operating behind a thick veil of secrecy, groups like TC4 Trust and the Center to Protect Patient Rights – which Open Secrets describes as “‘shadow money mailboxes’ – groups that do virtually nothing but pass grants through to other politically active 501(c)(4) organizations” – are able to hide both their donors and their recipients.  By funneling grants through “sub-units,” which are owned by the larger groups but have different names, groups like TC4 Trust put millions into the pockets of 501(c)4 organizations supporting Republican causes in the 2012 elections, such as the advocacy arm of Focus on the Family.

As Open Secrets reports,

[T]heir financial ties run far deeper than previously known.  The groups, TC4 Trust and the Center to Protect Patient Rights – both of which have connections to the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers – have been playing a high-stakes game of hide-the-ball, disguising transfers of millions of dollars from one to the other behind a veil of Delaware limited liability corporations.

The source of political advocacy matters.  This latest example of dark money donor groups obscuring the links of their money trail underscores the urgent need for legislation like the DISCLOSE Act.  This act would bring some basic transparency to the electoral system and require outside groups spending money in elections to disclose their donors – including the original source of donations.  The measure, which was blocked by Senate Republicans in both 2010 and 2012, is a common-sense solution that would help the American people understand who is trying to influence their political opinions and their votes.


GOP's DC Circuit Obstruction Looks Even More Foolish Now

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee completed its three-part examination of President Obama's nominees to the D.C. Circuit by holding a hearing for Robert Wilkins. The Committee held its hearings for Patricia Millett and Cornelia "Nina" Pillard before the summer recess.

As he did at those hearings, Chuck Grassley, the committee's senior Republican, signaled his party's intent to prevent the president from filling the three vacancies on the 11-member D.C. Circuit, regardless of who the nominees are. Their argument that the court already has enough judges to handle its caseload has been contradicted by their own actions: During the Bush Administration, when the D.C. Circuit's caseload was lower than today, Republicans confirmed judges to the ninth, tenth, and eleventh seats. Now they say that the D.C. Circuit should have only eight seats, and have even introduced a bill to strip the D.C. Circuit of the seats that President Obama's nominees would fill. Every committee Republican has cosponsored the so-called Court Efficiency Act.

In fact, the GOP arguments look even more foolish today than they did a few days ago, in light of yesterday's subcommittee hearing on Sens. Coons and Leahy's Federal Judgeship Act. That bill would create a number of new judgeships, adopting the specific recommendations of the nonpartisan Judicial Conference of the United States, a body of federal judges chaired by the Chief Justice. At the hearing, the chair of the Judicial Conference's Committee on Judicial Resources testified publicly and at length about the exhaustively detailed data it collects and publishes on the caseload and staffing of the nation's federal courts, which forms the basis of the Judicial Conference's recommendations.

And what kind of evidence have Republicans cited to justify their assertion that the D.C. Circuit doesn't need any more judges? Anonymous statements purportedly from a couple of D.C. Circuit judges, apparently written in response to a request to all of the D.C. Circuit judges from Sen. Chuck Grassley, the committee's senior Republican. The full responses from these judges and from any others who might have also responded to Grassley's questions are unknown, since he did not put them into the public record after citing them in July.

Yesterday's hearing also shed light on another aspect of GOP hypocrisy over the D.C. Circuit. The GOP bill to strip seats from the D.C. Circuit has a provision apparently designed to mask its court rigging aspects by adding one seat apiece to the Second and Eleventh Circuits (which the Judicial Conference has not recommended new seats for).

But at yesterday's hearing, Sen. Jeff Sessions - a cosponsor of the court-rigging bill - specifically cited the Second Circuit as one that did not seem to need new judgeships, based on the data presented by the Judicial Conference. And he approvingly noted that the Eleventh Circuit has not requested and does not need any new judgeships.

Yet he is co-sponsoring Grassley's court-rigging bill, which would add judgeships to those very circuits.

So the GOP's effort to obstruct the nominations of Patty Millett, Nina Pillard, and Robert Wilkins looks even more foolish and without merit than it did a few days ago. Once the committee approves all three of these unquestionably qualified nominees, the full Senate should be allowed to vote on whether to confirm them.


Senate Hearing Held on Bill to Add New Judgeships

The Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts, chaired by Senator Christopher Coons of Delaware, held a hearing this morning on the Federal Judgeship Act of 2013, a bill to add needed judgeships to the much-overworked federal courts. The bill, was introduced by Senator Coons and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy, in response to a formal request from the Judicial Conference of the United States, an arm of the federal courts presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts and charged with setting policy on the administration of the federal courts.

Congress last passed a comprehensive judgeship bill in 1990. Since then, the number of criminal cases pending in district courts has more than doubled from 36,170 to 76,014, while Congress has increased the number of district court judgeships by only 4%. Since federal judges are required to give precedence to criminal cases, this means that they are forced to delay civil cases, often for years. This means long delays for Americans seeking justice in cases involving job discrimination, civil rights, predatory lending practices, consumer fraud, immigrant rights, the environment, government benefits, business contracts, mergers, copyright infringement, and a variety of other areas.

Judge Timothy Tymkovich – the chair of the Judicial Conference's Committee on Judicial Resources and a judge on the Tenth Circuit – testified at length about the detailed method used to ascertain the needs of the nation's courts.

At the hearing Republican Jeff Sessions rejected the Judicial Conference request out of hand, relying on a series of conceptually and logically flawed rationales.

First, citing the expense of fully funding our system of justice, Senator Sessions suggested that Congress only create new judgeships where they are particularly needed. But since the Judicial Conference specifically limited its request to circuits and districts where the need is greatest, it seems that such culling has already been done.

Second, Sessions found several types of cases from 2007 where he said the number of filings then was heavier than in 2011 or 2012, to claim that the actual workload of the federal courts does not justify additional judgeships. "I'm not sure, if we were getting by in 2007, why the judiciary can't get by in 2013?" However, overall, the national judicial caseload profile data shows the number of weighted filings per district court judgeship rising from 477 in 2007 to 526 in the most recent report (the year ending March 31, 2013).

And despite that, the fact is that the courts were not "getting by" in 2007, 17 years after the 1990 judgeship bill. In fact, that year, the Judicial Conference asked Congress to create 67 new judgeships, a request that was not met.

Third and amazingly, Senator Sessions claimed that because many of the existing judgeships are vacant and without nominees, no additional judgeships should be created. To begin with this point is irrelevant, since the Judicial Conference makes its recommendations for more judgeships on the assumption that all the current vacancies will be filled. But on top of that, it's clear that the reason many of these vacancies exist is because of Republican obstruction and slow-walking of the entire judicial confirmation process. Indeed, President Obama has made more nominations than his predecessor President Bush had by this time in his second term, yet has fewer confirmations. By this time in his second term 91% of President Bush's nominees had been confirmed, compared to 78% for Obama. Moreover, of the 42 current district court vacancies without nominees, half are in states with two Republican senators, who are expected to make recommendations on prospective district court nominees to the White House for the president's consideration and another 12 are from states with one Republican senator, whose concurrence on recommendations is typically sought. Surely you can't make it harder to fill existing vacancies on one hand then turn around and cite those vacancies as a reason not to create new judgeships.

Finally, religious right activist Jay Sekulow testified that people might suspect the bill is a partisan effort to allow President Obama to "stack" the courts and that, therefore, the bill should not go into effect until after the next presidential election, and even then be staggered over perhaps 12 years. In response, Judge Tymkovich noted that the Judicial Conference makes its periodic requests for judgeships based only on the need of the nation's courts, and not on who is in the White House. It is also worth noting that the 1990 judgeship bill went into effect immediately, while George H.W. Bush was president, as did a major judgeship bill in 1978 when President Carter was in office.


Hawaii Governor Calls Special Session on Marriage Equality

On Monday Governor Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii called for a special legislative session, scheduled to begin October 28, to consider a marriage equality bill. Abercrombie told reporters that the bill is the product of twenty years of discussion:

Every variation on a view with regard to the issue of marriage and equitable treatment for those engaged in marriage has been aired, has been analyzed, has been discussed . . . No one has been left out or has been marginalized in the process to this point.

If the bill passes, Hawaii would become the 14th state to allow same-sex couples to marry. Such a victory would not only give marriage rights to committed couples in Hawaii, it would also move our nation one step closer to full marriage equality.

As PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan has noted:

We won’t rest until couples in every state have an equal right to marry under the law. There’s plenty of work left to do. We can’t wait to do it.

50 Years After I Marched on Washington, We Still Have to Give Our Sons 'The Talk'

By Yolanda "Cookie" Parker

I almost heard one of the most famous speeches in American history from a first aid tent on the National Mall.

On August 28, 1963, when I was 17 years old, my older sister and I snuck out of our house in Maryland at 6:00 am and traveled to the March on Washington, despite our parents’ objections. The day was hot and I hadn’t eaten anything. Standing in the front row, listening to the day’s first speeches, I fainted. The next thing I knew, I was in the first aid tent and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was about to begin his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. My sister and I rushed back out into the huge, alive crowd. It was a sight I will never forget.

Fifty years later, I listened to President Obama speak in the same place as Dr. King. I have come a long way since then – besides being lucky enough to have a chair this time – and, so has our country. Returning to the site of the 1963 March, it was impossible not to be moved by the sight of our first African-American president speaking in the same place that Dr. King had spoken.

My own story speaks to the extraordinary success of all those who fought for Civil Rights when I was growing up. However, it also reminds me that we have not achieved an easy pat ending of racial equality simply because we have our first African-American President as many on the political right would like us to believe.

I grew up in a military family – my stepfather was in the Air Force – which meant that my mother had to bring her own civil rights movement with her as we moved from base to base.

I started high school at a segregated school in Biloxi, Mississippi, where all girls in the 9th grade were not allowed to take science, and instead had to take home economics. After my parents went to the school board and got a special dispensation for me to take science, I was forced to sit in the back of a classroom full of boys. I still won the school’s science contest.

We then moved to Hamilton AFB in Marin County, California and lived on base. A little more than a year later my stepfather was transferred and since we could not go with him we had to move off base. The only area we could move to in those days was pretty dilapidated so my Mother repeatedly petitioned officials in the Kennedy Administration, and refused to move off base for months until my family was allowed to move into decent housing, which was in an all-white neighborhood.  Before we could move in, Air Force officials went door-to-door, checking to see if any of our new neighbors minded if a “colored family” moved in.  They didn’t – and ultimately, some of those neighbors became good friends.

In the last semester of my senior year in high school, we were transferred to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland where I had to attend a newly integrated high school in Suitland, MD. I remember one teacher who was astounded that I had an aptitude for math and science. When I did well on my initial exam, she said in astonishment, “Oh, Yolanda, I didn’t know colored people could do math!”

Eventually, I built a career at IBM, worked for a tech startup and then started my own company with software I developed.

Throughout my career, I’ve known that none of this would have been possible if not for the relentless determination of my mother and the principled impatience of civil rights leaders like Dr. King and Whitney Young, Jr. As President Obama said on the anniversary of the March, “The arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn't bend on its own.” There were a lot of hands bending that arc.

Although I’ve come from being banned from science class to starting a tech company, from fainting in front of the Lincoln Memorial to working as hard as I could to help elect our first African-American President, I know that achieving Dr. King’s dream, and my mother’s dream, is still going to take a lot of work.

When my son got his driver’s license in 1993, my husband and I still had to give him “the talk” about being a young black man in America – the same talk my husband’s father gave him. And today, my friends who have young children of color must explain what happened to Trayvon Martin and why, heartbreakingly, they need to understand it.

Decades after my mother fought to get my family into decent housing and to give me an equal education, the income and wealth gaps between African-Americans and whites are continuing to widen. The unemployment rate for African-Americans is still twice that of whites. Our schools still provide a wildly different quality of education to children of different races. And even the protections for voting rights that were secured by the Civil Rights Movement were just torn apart by the United States Supreme Court.

Coretta Scott King once said, “Freedom is never really won. You earn it and win it in every generation.” When I hear that, I think of my mother and of the young people today who are now picking up the mantle.

The truth is that for all of us, the story of the progress of our nation is the story of our own individual lives. And in all of our stories, we have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go and therefore must keep fighting for economic justice, voter justice and educational justice.

Yolanda “Cookie” Parker is the founder and president of KMS Software Company and a member of the board of People For the American Way. She also served on President Obama’s National Finance Committee.


Texas Voter ID Law Would Have Prevented Just Four Instances of Voter Fraud

We’re already well aware that the voter ID laws that have been passed in many states are designed not to prevent fraud but to deter certain groups of people from voting, as several Republicans have admitted in the past. But even without those accidental moments of honesty, it would be clear that something other than an epidemic of voter fraud was motivating the passage of these laws, because there is nothing close to an epidemic of voter fraud.

Today, we have some new evidence of that. Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News reviewed the 66 voter fraud cases prosecuted by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott since 2004 and found that just four cases would have been prevented by the state’s voter ID law. The law was passed in 2011 and blocked by a unanimous three-judge panel of federal judges until this spring, when the Supreme Court gutted the key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act. Just two hours after the Supreme Court handed down its decision, Abbott declared the voter ID law to be once again…which in turn led to another Justice Department lawsuit

The numbers that are supposedly driving Texas’ voter ID push are so ridiculous that they’re actually quite difficult to illustrate. Consider this: Texas had 13,594,264 registered voters in 2012. Four cases of fraud out of 13,594,264 voters works out to… actually, it’s a percentage so small my calculator won’t even display it. Of course, voter fraud is a serious felony that Texas is right to prosecute on the rare occasions that it happens. But Greg Abbott considers the crime widespread enough to pass a law that will disenfranchise thousands of voters who can’t access the ID they need, or will be confused or otherwise deterred by the restrictions and won’t go to the polls.

Perhaps the most telling part of Slater’s piece is this:

“Abbott acknowledged that voter ID wouldn’t have made a difference in most of the cases he has prosecuted.”

Instead, Abbott’s response to Slater’s data on the ineffectiveness of voter ID was as logical as can be expected: Obamacare!

So Abbott’s solution to prevent potential voter fraud is one that he admits won’t address most of the (very few) actual instances of fraud, yet he’s pushing ahead with instituting a law that will disenfranchise thousands? To me, it looks like he doesn’t even believe his own spin anymore. The only “problem” this law addresses is that some people want to vote for Democrats—and Greg Abbott knows it. 


Warren Warns of ‘Corporate Capture of Federal Courts’

At an AFL-CIO convention this weekend, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called out the increasingly pro-corporate lean of the U.S. Supreme Court. Politico reports:

On the opening day of the AFL-CIO’s convention, Warren — the highest-profile national Democrat to address the gathering here — warned attendees of a “corporate capture of the federal courts.”

In a speech that voiced a range of widely held frustrations on the left, Warren assailed the court as an instrument of the wealthy that regularly sides with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She cited an academic study that called the current Supreme Court’s five conservative-leaning justices among the “top 10 most pro-corporate justices in half a century.”

“You follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business,” Warren said, drawing murmurs from the crowd.

The study that Warren was referring to is a Minnesota Law Review study that found that the five conservative justices currently on the Supreme Court have sided with corporate interests at a greater rate than most justices since World War II. All five were among the ten most corporate-friendly justices in over 50 years. Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts were the top two.

The Supreme Court majority’s consistent twisting of the law to put the interests of corporations over those of individuals is one of the main characteristics of the Roberts Court, but it is not the only extremely influential court with such a pro-corporate bent. In fact, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to which President Obama has nominated three highly qualified candidates, has been following the same trend, also because of the influence of judges named by George W. Bush.  This is the court whose ultra-conservative justices declared that cigarette label warning requirements violate the free speech rights of tobacco companies and that requiring that employers inform employees of their right to unionize violates the free speech rights of the corporations.

While there is not currently a vacancy at the Supreme Court that could affect its balance, there are three at the DC Circuit.  That is why Senate Republicans are working so hard to keep them empty.


Virginia Plans Massive, Faulty Purge of Voter Rolls

Between the Supreme Court’s decision to neuter Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and the passage of one of the nation’s most restrictive voter ID bills in North Carolina, with many other states also passing bills to restrict voting and registration, it’s been a tough year for the right to vote in America. And it just got worse in Virginia, where elections are just around the corner.

According to a report by Think Progress, around “57,000 Virginians have been flagged as being registered in another state, and counties are removing some from the voter rolls without any notice or opportunity to rebut the claim.” This is a crucial point in this case: it’s one thing to make thousands of registered voters jump through hoops to prove they’re eligible to vote in the state, but it’s quite another to remove those voters without any notice, less than two months before an election and less than six weeks before the registration deadline. If the voter was removed in error, the burden is on that voter to fix the state’s mistake in time to vote this November. As Think Progress points out, 57,000 voters is around 3% of the number of voters in 2009—more than enough to make the difference in a close election.

This is disturbing news, particularly following reports that Florida may be looking to take another shot at purging their voter rolls, which they failed to do in time for the 2012 election. Oh, and Iowa, too. Any other swing states feel like joining in?

For more information on voter purges, take a look at  the Brennan Center’s report, as well as our report on voter fraud, The Right To Vote Under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box.


Corbett's Mixed-Up Priorities, Marriage Equality Edition

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett is proving once again that his priorities are out of line with the rest of the state: He just hired lawyer William H. Lamb for $400 an hour to defend a 1996 law banning same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania.

Even though the state’s attorney general declined to fight the case— and even though a majority of Pennsylvanians support marriage equality—Governor Corbett still thinks it’s worth spending $400 per hour of taxpayer money, plus $325 per hour for others in Lamb’s firm working on the case, to stop LGBT Pennsylvanians from being able to marry the person they love. It’s also worth noting that this law firm donated $39,500 to Corbett’s political campaigns between 2004 and 2012. Given the recent revelation that Governor Corbett’s former chief of staff is still being paid despite supposedly resigning, perhaps it shouldn’t be that surprising that Corbett is putting someone else on the government payroll unnecessarily.

Still, why fire your friends or let your discriminatory laws go undefended when you can just cut education funding? Why put your personal and ideological priorities aside, when the state’s children are there to take the hit? I’m sure school kids in Philadelphia won’t mind their ballooning class sizes or their after-school programs being cancelled when they know that money is being put to such good use, fighting a law to prevent people who love each other from being able to marry. Welcome to Tom Corbett’s Pennsylvania. 


Stop the NRA’s Colorado Senate Recall!

"Gun rights" extremists have taken the radical step of trying to recall two state senators simply for casting a vote they did not like.

The NRA is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to unseat Senators John Morse of Colorado Springs and Senator Angela Giron of Pueblo for voting yes on common sense gun reform that will help prevent tragedies like the one in Newtown, Connecticut and instances of mass violence that have affected Colorado like the shootings in Aurora and, a few years back, Columbine.

These recall elections are the first of their kind in Colorado’s history and a solid majority of Coloradans are opposed to them. But that might not be enough to beat them, with all the big spending by national pro-gun special interests pouring into the races.

Americans all across the country can help in the lead up to the elections this Tuesday (September 10).

Here’s what you can do:

Thank you for stepping up to make a difference, and to stop the Far Right from exploiting the issue of gun reform for an audacious power grab.