Grassley's Moves Against Democratic Senators' Judicial Nominees

Since Republicans took over the Senate, they’ve used their control of the Judiciary Committee (through Chairman Chuck Grassley) and of the Senate floor (through Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) to make the consideration of judicial nominees as slow as possible.  That only nine have been confirmed this year is ridiculous, and it is why judicial vacancies and emergencies have skyrocketed since the start of the year.

But there’s been hope, in the form of two nominees from Iowa who were recommended to the White House by Chuck Grassley.  One of them (Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger) is President Obama’s most recent nominee, having been nominated on September 15.  Grassley wants both Iowans confirmed quickly.  Since Grassley promised to process nominees in the order he received them last spring, he should have pulled out the stops to process all the other nominees so the committee could quickly get to Ebinger.

But that isn’t what’s happened.  Instead, Grassley leapfrogged her over ten longer-waiting district court nominees for the one and only judicial nominations hearing he held last month.  Some of those nominees are from states with at least one Republican senator, where he can count on them to delay submitting their blue slip for months, a way the GOP can slow down the process as much as possible.  (For an example of how this works, just ask Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey.)  But four of the skipped nominees come from states with two Democratic senators, who – wanting to see their recommended nominees confirmed as soon as possible – had turned in their blue slips early on:

  • Inga Bernstein (Massachusetts), nominated July 30
  • Mary McElroy (Rhode Island), nominated September 8
  • Stephanie Gallagher (Maryland), nominated September 8
  • Clare Connors (Hawaii), nominated September 8

Grassley hasn’t held another judicial nominations hearing since then, so they are still waiting.

In the meantime, the committee last week advanced Ebinger and four other nominees to the full Senate.  In the order they were nominated, they are:

  • Julien Neals (New Jersey), nominated February 26
  • Mark Young (California), nominated July 16
  • Leonard Strand (Iowa), nominated July 21
  • Gary Brown (New York), nominated July 30
  • Rebecca Ebinger (Iowa), nominated September 15 (and the only one of these five that is not a judicial emergency)

But even here, Grassley found a way to leapfrog his nominees.  Since the Senate has been voting (albeit ridiculously slowly) on nominees in the order they’ve come out of the Judiciary Committee, a judicial nominee’s chances of getting a vote from the GOP-controlled Senate by year’s end are likely higher if they are listed ahead of the Iowa nominees.  A press for floor votes for both Iowans should help those ahead of them in line: Not just the nominees already waiting weeks and months since committee approval, but also the ones just approved by the committee but nominated long before Ebinger.

But in sending the list of five approved nominees to the full Senate, Chairman Grassley made sure to list the Iowans first.  That’s not fair to Neals, who was nominated nearly seven months before Ebinger, or to Young and Brown, or to any of the people waiting for justice in their overburdened judicial districts.

It’s also bad news for the Democratic senators who recommended them, who know full well that Grassley’s machinations hurt the chances of timely confirmation for their chosen nominees.

Putting both the hearing and the confirmation list leapfrogging together, that’s a lot of Democratic senators who Grassley has moved against:

  1. Elizabeth Warren (MA)
  2. Ed Markey (MA)
  3. Jack Reed (RI)
  4. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) – one of Grassley’s fellow members of the Judiciary Committee
  5. Barbara Mikulski (MD)
  6. Ben Cardin (MD)
  7. Brian Schatz (HI)
  8. Mazie Hirono (HI)
  9. Robert Menendez (NJ)
  10. Cory Booker (NJ)
  11. Dianne Feinstein (CA) – one of Grassley’s fellow members of the Judiciary Committee
  12. Barbara Boxer (CA)
  13. Chuck Schumer (NY) – one of Grassley’s fellow members of the Judiciary Committee
  14. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)

They are learning the hard way that a chairman’s prerogatives can be abused.


Leapfrog Day at the Judiciary Committee

Progress in moving judicial nominations is always welcome.  But small increments of progress also serve to shine a light on the greater obstruction that is going on.  That happened earlier this week when the Senate held a confirmation vote on one long-waiting nominee, but did nothing on eight additional nominees who were long ago fully vetted and advanced without opposition by the Judiciary Committee.

And it’s happening Wednesday morning, as the Committee holds a hearing for four district court nominees.  It’s good that Chairman Chuck Grassley is holding a hearing for two nominees from Iowa and one apiece from New York and California.  But it begs several questions.  For instance, since there are ten other nominees waiting for their opportunity to appear before the committee, why are there only four nominees at today’s hearing, rather than five or six?  And why has Grassley never held more than one hearing per month?  No wonder there is such a backlog of nominees at the committee stage, most of whom were nominated back in July or earlier.

In fact, all of them were nominated before one of the nominees up today, Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger, who Grassley allowed to leapfrog over all the others since he recommended her to the White House to serve in Iowa’s Southern District.  President Obama nominated Ebinger last month.  So why no hearing for Mary Barzee Flores of Florida, who was nominated way back in February on the recommendation of Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio?  Why no hearing for any of the four nominees for district courts in Pennsylvania, who were nominated in July upon the joint recommendation of Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey?

You shouldn’t have to have been hand-picked by Chuck Grassley to deserve a timely committee hearing.  As chairman, Chuck Grassley should be treating all nominees fairly.  If he wants to be taken seriously in his claims that he is conducting himself responsibly as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he should ensure that each of the remaining ten nominees has a hearing before Thanksgiving.


Grassley's Leapfrogging Hurts Everyone, Especially Pennsylvanians

Yesterday, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced a scheduled hearing next week for four district court nominees, three of whom were nominated in July.  Once again, he is skipping over Florida’s Mary Barzee Flores, who was nominated way back in February. But he’s skipping over nine other nominees, as well.

That’s because the fourth nominee at the hearing is from Iowa.  Upon Grassley’s recommendation, President Obama nominated Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger for the Southern District of Iowa on September 15.  Grassley has allowed her to leapfrog over:

  • Mary Barzee Flores (Southern District of Florida), nominated February 26, 2015
  • Inga Bernstein (Massachusetts), nominated July 30
  • John Younge (Eastern District of Pennsylvania), nominated July 30
  • Robert Colville (Western District of Pennsylvania), nominated July 30
  • Susan Baxter (Western District of Pennsylvania), nominated July 30
  • Marilyn Horan (Western District of Pennsylvania), nominated July 30
  • Dax Lopez (Northern District of Georgia), nominated July 30
  • Mary McElroy (Rhode Island), nominated September 8
  • Stephanie Gallagher (Maryland), nominated September 8
  • Clare Connors (Hawaii), nominated September 8

During a press conference at the National Press Club in April, 2015, Chairman Grassley stated that under his chairmanship, the Judiciary Committee would consider judicial nominees in the order they came:

I want you to know we take them up the way they come up to us.  Particularly, that is true of judges, as an example.  So the priority’s set by what we receive from the White House.

Other things being equal, few would complain when a chairman moves quickly to advance a nominee from their home state, within reasonable limits.  Last year, for instance, then-Chairman Patrick Leahy scheduled a hearing for Vermont nominee Geoffrey Crawford ahead of three nominees who had been nominated less than three weeks before him, one of whom was for a circuit court.  (He also skipped over three other nominees for whom their Republican home state senators were refusing to submit blue slips.)  Leahy was also holding two hearings a month, so little time was lost.

But ten nominees are a lot to leapfrog, especially when nine of them were recommended and publicly endorsed by both home state senators, and when most were nominated long before Ebinger.  Also relevant is that Grassley’s chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee has been marked with such partisanship.  For instance, with the collaboration of his fellow Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania (who refused to turn in his blue slip for a nominee he'd publicly endorsed on the day he was nominated), Grassley was able to delay a hearing for Third Circuit nominee Phil Restrepo for seven months.

And a quick look at the list of skipped nominees shows that Pennsylvania is bearing the brunt of this delay, as well.  Four of the skipped nominees would serve in that state.  All four were recommended by both Republican Senator Pat Toomey and Democratic Senator Bob Casey, and all were nominated way back in July.  Three of them would serve in the Western District, where these seats have been vacant since 2013.  Casey submitted his blue slip long ago, but Toomey is once again delaying, as he did with Restrepo.

Grassley is playing self-serving and partisan games with our nation’s nonpartisan judiciary, which is a problem for everyone.  And since Toomey is collaborating with Grassley’s obstruction, the people of Pennsylvania are getting particularly hurt.


Rebuffed by Republican Legislators, Bobby Jindal Issues Executive Order on 'Religious Liberty'

In a Republican presidential field crowded with far-right candidates, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is trying to distinguish himself as the far-rightest candidate, especially on issues relating to marriage equality and its supposed threat to the religious freedom of conservative Christians.

Jindal’s latest came at the end of the day on Tuesday. Unwilling to accept the legislature’s failure to pass a so-called “religious liberty” bill (it was voted down 10-2 in a House committee), Jindal issued an executive order designed to protect any person who “acts in accordance with a religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.” The order explicitly defines “person” to include for-profit corporations and well as nonprofit organizations.

Jindal has adopted the rhetorical strategy promoted by the National Organization for Marriage and other opponents of LGTB equality: try to turn conversation about anti-gay discrimination “on its head” by declaring that laws protecting gay people are actually a form of discrimination against Christians. His statement about the executive order said it was designed to “prevent the state from discriminating against persons or entities with deeply held religious beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

Jindal’s order invokes the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, making it the latest sign that the decision – which granted corporations a right to claim legal exemptions based on the religious beliefs of company owners -- poses a threat to nondiscrimination measures and potentially a wide range of laws protecting the interests of workers. Jindal declared that his order is “not about discrimination,” even though its clear intent is to give legal cover to companies, government officials, and others who discriminate against same-sex couples.

Louisiana does not currently give legal recognition to same-sex couples, but Jindal is concerned that the state’s ban on marriage equality may soon be struck down by the Supreme Court, a potential ruling which his order seems to be a legally questionable effort to pre-empt. Jindal should be asked to clarify exactly what actions his legislation is designed to “protect”: a courthouse clerk who refuses to process marriage license paperwork? Religious schools getting tax dollars under Jindal’s education policy refusing to accept children of gay parents? Catholic hospitals refusing to recognize the spousal or parental rights of gay couples during medical emergencies?   

Jindal’s “religious liberty” bill had been opposed by business and tourism leaders as well as civil rights groups. The New Orleans Times Picayune reports that the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau CEO Stephen Perry had called the bill “a radioactive, poisonous message.”

But Jindal’s primary audience is no longer his Louisiana constituents; it's right-wing activists nationwide. Jindal boasted about the executive order by stopping by the radio program hosted by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, an anti-gay activist who once suggested that LGBT non-discrimination measures would lead to the Holocaust perpetrated against Christians.

Right-wing pundit and Iowa GOP activist Steve Deace reacted rapturously, proclaiming Jindal his “winner of the week” for standing up to “Republicrats.”

Jindal immediately stepped in and ordered that while he’s governor the state government is not going to be a tool of the Cultural Marxists’ Rainbow Jihad against religion — particularly Christianity….

This action by Jindal is an example of what will be required of the next president if he’s going to truly honor his oath of office to defend our Constitution against all enemies — “both foreign and domestic.”

Let’s face it, the vast majority of alleged conservatives won’t stand up to the Democrats. And almost none of them will stand up to the Republicrats. On perhaps the most important issue of them all — the First Amendment that allows us the freedom to peacefully and publicly stand on principle for everything else — Jindal has done both.

But he didn’t just stand up to them rhetorically, he actually did something about it. There are several potentially exciting presidential candidates this cycle. There’s even a couple that like Jindal have shown they will tell the Republicrats bleeding us dry to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.


Iowa's Controversial Voter Purge Will Not Take Effect

Last Friday the 13th a long-running battle to bring controversial voter purges to Iowa ended after Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate declined to continue an appeal launched by his predecessor, Matt Schultz, and the case was dismissed from the Iowa Supreme Court.

The Des Moines Register:

In a statement, Pate said he voluntarily declined to continue the appeal after consulting with the Attorney General's Office and will focus now on "building the most accurate voter registration list for Iowa."

"I will use my authority to the fullest extent of state and federal law to ensure accurate voter lists," Pate said. "There are other ways to accomplish the same goal without pursuing a course with significant legal hurdles."

ACLU of Iowa:

"This is an important victory for the protection of voters’ rights in Iowa," said Rita Bettis, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa. "It means that Iowans will not have to worry about the voter purges we've seen take effect in other states with a disastrous impact, especially for new U.S. citizens and Latinos."

[ . . . ]

Jeremy Rosen, ACLU of Iowa executive director, said "This case is part of a broader effort nationally to push back on unfair voting restrictions by politicians that make it harder for people to vote, who are more likely to be minorities, poor people, the elderly, students, and people with disabilities."

Indeed we must continue pushing back, as it becomes harder to distinguish between margins of victory and margins of disenfranchisement, and as we honor the legacies of Bloody Sunday and the Voting Rights Act.

PFAW Foundation

It’s a Radical Right Red Meat Feast as 2016 GOP Primary Kicks Off with a Bang

Over the weekend, likely Republican 2016 presidential candidates stepped up to the microphone at two extremist events to throw red meat at their Radical Right base and prove their ultraconservative bona fides in the run up to primary season.

Here’s a taste of what went down at Iowa’s so-called Freedom Summit, hosted by Rep. Steve King – who is most famous for his radical and dehumanizing anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Union-busting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won the day with the most well-received speech, in which his biggest applause came when he bragged about his party’s attempts at voter suppression in his state, saying, “we required in our state, by law, a photo ID to vote.”

Former Arkansas Governor and 2008 Iowa Caucus winner Mike Huckabee said states should ignore Supreme Court rulings favorable to marriage equality.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie played up how staunchly anti-choice he is.

Senator Ted Cruz made the case for caucus voters to weed out anyone but extreme right-wing candidates. “Every candidate is going to come to you and say they are the most conservative person that ever lived,” Cruz said. “Talk is cheap.”

And at a separate Religious Right event, hosted by SPLC-designated hate group the American Family Association, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal discussed the need to enshrine discrimination against same-sex couples in the Constitution, promoted Islamophobic conspiracy theories and closed his speech with the statement “our god wins.” That event, titled The Response, perfectly embodied the dangers of mixing religion with politics in the way that the Right so loves to do.

By making political issues – even incredibly important ones, and even ones that are historically divisive – litmus tests for their followers’ religious conviction, they cast their opponents not only as wrong, but as evil and satanic, allowing for no possibility of compromise and making even civil coexistence difficult.  

It was a lot of what you’d expect – unfortunately – but that doesn’t make it any less terrifying. These are the people who are setting the agenda for one of America’s two major parties – and the one that right now controls both houses of Congress.

Read more and check out video from both events at

UPDATE: Jon Stewart's can't-miss segment on the Freedom Summit from the Daily Show (video courtesy of Comedy Central):


2014 Midterm Elections: PFAW Holds Member Telebriefing with Political Strategist Celinda Lake

People For The American Way hosted a telebriefing Thursday evening to update PFAW members on the electoral landscape for 2014.  The call, which was kicked off by PFAW President Michael Keegan and moderated by Director of Communications Drew Courtney, featured prominent pollster and political strategist and current President of Lake Research Partners Celinda Lake, as well as PFAW’s Political Director Randy Borntrager and Executive Vice President Marge Baker.

Lake discussed the political climate in Congress and the general frustration voters feel toward both political parties. She emphasized multiple times throughout the call that in this election “the key is voter turnout.” In Kentucky, for instance since most undecided voters are leaning towards Alison Lundergan Grimes, turnout will be critical to help unseat Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Political Director Randy Borntrager discussed the work PFAW is doing to make the biggest impact possible in the most pivotal races to help progressives win this election. Lake and Borntrager emphasized that increasing awareness to voters of what is truly at stake – from reproductive rights to potential Supreme Court vacancies – will help make a difference come November.

Questions from callers also focused on other critical races including gubernatorial races in Florida and Wisconsin, the Senate race in North Carolina, and contests in Alaska and Iowa, among others.

In closing, Drew Courtney noted that the telebriefing shows that “we have some challenges ahead, but we are going to fight hard and push forward, and we’re not going to go back to the way things were before.”

Listen to the full audio of the telebriefing for more information.


The Right Wing's Immigration Hysteria: Round-Up

Here’s a round-up of last week’s Right Wing immigration hysteria:


More Evidence that the 'Court Efficiency Act' Isn't So Efficient

Unable to come up with any legitimate reason to filibuster President Obama’s three nominees to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Senate Republicans have landed on a not-so-convincing excuse: They claim that the court has too many judges as it is and that it would be wasteful to fill its remaining vacancies.

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa has even gone so far as to introduce a bill that would permanently reduce the number of seats on the influential court from eleven to eight (the number of active judges currently sitting on the court), thereby preventing President Obama from placing any more nominees on the court. (The president has had one nominee confirmed to the DC Circuit, compared to four nominees under President Bush and eight under President Reagan).

Grassley’s bill would reduce the number of slots on the DC Circuit by three and “reallocate” two of those seats  to circuits that he contends need the judges more.

There are a number of gaping flaws in Grassley’s logic, the first of which is that he and his fellow Republicans were eager to fill the very same DC Circuit seats that they are now trying to eliminate back when President Bush was the one making nominations.

Then, there’s the fact that there seems to be absolutely no basis for reallocating the two D.C. Circuit seats to the Eleventh and Second circuits. The official office that evaluates the needs of federal courts and makes recommendations for adding and removing seats doesn’t include the D.C. Circuit in its recommendations because the court’s caseload is uniquely complex and difficult to compare to that of other courts…and it also hasn’t recommended that the Eleventh or Second circuits get new judges.

This was confirmed by a former Chief Judge of the Eleventh Circuit whose statement  [see p. 34 of this pdf] was submitted into the Senate record last month confirming that his former court indeed does not need new judges:

Since my appointment to the Eleventh Circuit on October 1, 1990, the judges of our court annually have voted whether or not we should ask Congress to authorize more federal judges.  Each time our court considers the topic, an overwhelming majority of our members have voted “no!” 

Even one of the co-sponsors of the court-rigging bill – Sen. Jeff Sessions – has gone on record saying that the Eleventh and Second Circuits actually don’t need new judgeships.

All of which makes one suspect that of all the goals that Sen. Grassley might have in mind with the Court Efficiency Act, the efficiency of the courts is probably not one of them.


Iowa Senate Candidate Bruce Braley Stands Against Citizens United

The Democratic frontrunner in the 2014 Iowa Senate race, US Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA01), is placing the issue of money in politics front and center in his campaign.

On Sunday, Representative Braley sent an email to his supporters requesting they sign a petition to stand with him “to stop more money from flooding our election system.” The letter referred to McCutcheon v. FEC – a campaign finance case that the Court is hearing this term – and the infamous Citizens United decision, which Braley said is “destroying the election process.”

The American public overwhelmingly agrees with Representative Braley’s assessment, but Braley, a longtime supporter of campaign finance reform, has proven he’s not in the “money in politics” fight just because of public opinion.

Prior to Citizens United in the 111th Congress, Braley cosponsored the “Fair Elections Now Act,” a bill that provided for public financing of congressional campaigns. Following Citizens United, in 2010 and 2012 he cosponsored the DISCLOSE Act, which, had it not been blocked by Republican filibusters, would have stopped “dark money” social welfare organizations and trade associations from spending anonymously in federal elections.

Braley has personal experience with these Citizens United-empowered dark money groups. As People For the American Way documented in “Citizens Blindsided,” during the 2010 election, Braley was the target of a large influx of anonymous outside spending from the American Future Fund, a secretive group without an office or even a website.

In May 2012, Braley spoke about the attack ads in an appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show. In the interview, Braley referred to Citizens United as the “worst thing to happen to democracy in [his] lifetime” and spoke about the implications of the decision:

… now, we can see that very powerful moneyed interests are trying to buy the government they want and have no restrictions—literally—on what they can spend. And that’s why Americans have to wake up and realize they need to ask the tough questions when they see these ads on TV and they have innocuous names – paid for by the American Future fund. Most people don’t realize that this is really a highly coordinated effort to get rid of people who speak truth to power and aren’t going to be swayed by some of these powerful special interests [emphasis added].

In 2014 in Iowa, voters have the chance to stand with Representative Braley and against “these powerful special interests.” They want to dominate the political process by buying it; he wants to keep the “for sale” sign off the US Senate.