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.


Carl Sciortino's First TV Ad Is Great, And You Can Help Keep It On the Air

Back in July, PFAW Voters Alliance was proud to endorse state Rep. Carl Sciortino in the Massachusetts Fifth District special election. A true progressive, Carl made waves when he was first elected in 2004 as an openly gay challenger to an anti-marriage equality incumbent. Since then, Carl has fought tirelessly for LGBT rights, as well as workers’ rights and a woman’s right to choose.

Today, Carl went on the air with his first TV ad—and we think you’ll agree it’s pretty great:

We love this ad: it’s sweet, funny, and gets to the heart of why it’s so important to have progressives like Carl in Congress. But he needs the backing of the progressive community to keep it on the air. Luckily, PFAW is teaming up with Blue America, Jared Polis, Alan Grayson and the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison to help you help Carl, and be eligible to win something really special at the same time.

Contribute any amount to Carl's campaign through this page and you will become eligible to win an extraordinary collectible gift from Blue America: an extremely rare diamond status award plaque for Eric Clapton's Unplugged album. Unplugged was one of the first-- and only-- albums to achieve diamond status, indicating 10,000,000 domestic sales. This isn't something you can buy in a store: only a small handful were ever made and they were never sold.

Donate now to be in with a chance!

You can read more about Carl and the issues he’ll fight for in Congress at his website.



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.


Supreme Court Nominations in Campaigns

This year’s election has been heavily dominated by the economy, jobs, and the national debt with less attention given to the judiciary and the consequences of presidential nominations to the Supreme Court. With several of the current justices well into their seventies and increasing speculation on who will retire, the stakes are high for upcoming cases involving women’s rights, LGBT Americans, the environment, voter suppression, racial equality, and corporate power. The next president may name up to three justices, and the Senate will decide whether to confirm those choices. So the results of the presidential and Senate elections will have a huge impact on the Supreme Court and on every American for decades to come.

Recently, the topic of Supreme Court nominations has come up in a number of Senate races throughout the nation – most notably in Massachusetts where during a debate incumbent Republican Scott Brown cited Justice Antonin Scalia as his model justice, resulting in rebuke from the audience and the nation due to Justice Scalia’s extreme conservative values and record. Brown’s opponent, Elizabeth Warren, said she preferred justices like Elena Kagan and has since warned of the dangers of appointing extreme right-wing judges.

Supreme Court nominations also came up in the Senate race in Connecticut, where Representative Chris Murphy criticized Republican challenger Linda McMahon for identifying herself as pro-choice while at the same time being willing to vote to confirm Supreme Court justices who would restrict women’s health rights and ban abortion. In Hawaii, Representative Mazie Hirono expressed interest in ensuring that a more balanced Supreme Court exists so that “ideologically based” decisions would be rejected. She cited such recent rulings like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and Ledbetter v. Goodyear as examples as to why ideologically based rulings need to be rejected within the Court.  Her opponent, former Republican Governor Linda Lingle, stated she would evaluate judicial nominees based on their level of objectivity in interpreting the law and not pose any questions regarding controversial issues like gay rights and abortion.

Vice President Joe Biden also brought up Supreme Court nominations during his debate with Representative Paul Ryan. Biden advised voters to “Keep your eye on the Supreme Court”, shedding light on a critical issue in this election that voters need to be aware of and making it clear that Romney intends to name justices who would actively seek to overturn Roe v. Wade and harm women’s reproductive rights.

Although neither Obama nor Romney spoke directly about the Supreme Court in any of their three debates, in a recent appearance on the “Tonight Show”, Obama highlighted the importance of having a diverse Court especially when it came to Roe v. Wade. 


Elizabeth Warren Ad Warns of Republican Senate Influence On Supreme Court

People For the American Way has been stressing the enormous importance of the Supreme Court in the next election, emphasizing that if Mitt Romney is elected, he has promised to nominate extreme right-wing judges who will limit our civil liberties and rescind equality measures. In a new ad, Massachusetts Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren echoes these concerns, warning that a Senate dominated by Republicans has the potential to approve a justice that would help overturn Roe v. Wade. Warren’s opponent Scott Brown has already voiced his support for Justice Antonin Scalia, naming the ultra-conservative judge as his favorite on the Supreme Court. We cannot afford to elect candidates like Mitt Romney or Scott Brown, who are sure to nominate and confirm justices that will take us back in time and turn back the progress we have made on behalf of women’s rights, worker’s rights, voting rights, and more.


Romney Distorts His Record As Governor

During Tuesday’s presidential debate, Mitt Romney continued to sell himself as a turnaround artist and savior of the economy—a former CEO whose stellar business acumen will create an abundance of jobs (12 million in four years, to be exact), champion small businesses, and improve the middle class.

But what Romney failed to mention is that when he inherited Massachusetts’ damaged economy in 2003, he was unable to spur the economic growth he had promised in his gubernatorial campaign. And it doesn’t stop at an unsuccessful economic policy. Many of the “accomplishments” that Romney touted last night, such as his education policies and his advocacy of women in the workplace, were futile as well. If we delve deeper into Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts and look past the lies he spouts, we can foreshadow what a Romney presidency would look like. And it’s not a very promising vision.

Last night at the debate, Romney promoted his five-point plan, alleging that he “knows why jobs come and go.” He claimed that he knew “what it takes to get this economy going.” But does he? Here is how Romney’s leadership played out in the Massachusetts economy from 2003 to 2007:

  • In Romney’s four years as governor, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 in job growth. Jobs growth over that period was a pitiful 0.9 percent.
  • Massachusetts only gained one percent in payroll jobs under Romney, compared to 5.3% in the nation as a whole.
  • The net number of jobs added during the four years Romney was in office was 24,400 – a fraction of the total of about 200,000 lost during the recession.
  • Manufacturing jobs in Massachusetts declined by more than 14 percent, the third worst record in the country. The loss was double the rate that the nation as a whole lost manufacturing jobs.
  • Massachusetts infrastructure accrued a $20 billion deficit of overdue maintenance by the end of Romney’s term, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayer’s Foundation.
  • Between 2003 and 2005 the median hourly wage for Massachusetts workers fell 5%–the largest decline in the country during that period.
  • Under Romney, Massachusetts had the 3rd highest rate of domestic out-migration.

Though Romney assaults Obama’s economic record, job growth in the U.S. has been swifter under Obama than job growth in Massachusetts under Romney.

Romney also likes to flaunt the education policies he put in place in Massachusetts. Last night at the debate, he boasted about his John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, which he claimed would send the top quarter of each high school class to the Massachusetts college of their choice tuition-free. But this is not the full picture. Here is the reality of Romney’s education policies in Massachusetts, according to a report in the Boston Globe:

  • Romney’s valued John and Abigail Adams Scholarships cover only tuition at state colleges, not fees , which account for more than 80 percent of yearly costs at some schools. Just a quarter of the recipients actually choose to attend state colleges.
  • Massachusetts students regularly score at the top on national and international tests. But that achievement is largely due to the state’s 1993 landmark education reform law.
  • Mitt Romney campaigned for governor in 2002 in favor of eradicating the nation’s first bilingual education law and instead immersing non-English speakers in classrooms where only English would be taught.
  • In 2006, three years after the law Romney campaigned for went into effect, new state tests showed that 83 percent of students learning English as a second language in the third through twelfth grades could not read, write, speak or understand English well enough for regular classes after their first year in Massachusetts schools.

When asked about pay equity, Romney highlighted his efforts as governor of Massachusetts to hire women to work in his administration. However he does not have a history of appointing women to high-level positions in the private sector, nor did he appoint many women to judicial positions:

Romney’s record in Massachusetts related to women’s health is also not very encouraging:

  • Romney vetoed a bill to require hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims.
  • Romney vetoed $35,678 for early breast cancer detection and research.
  • Romney vetoed $2.8 million for cervical and breast cancer treatment.

Romney is right that his record as governor of Massachusetts shows us a lot about how he would act as president. But he’s intentionally misleading voters about what that record is.


Scott Brown Names Scalia as his Favorite Justice

The Supreme Court is not only a critical factor in the presidential election, it's also a key consideration in Senate races. That's because the Senate holds the power to confirm or deny judicial nominations. And when the issue was raised in yesterday's debate between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Brown's comments were about as senseless as could be.

Scott Brown was asked to name his favorite Supreme Court Justice. Not surprisingly for a Republican who voted against confirming the highly qualified and moderate Elena Kagan, Sen. Brown named Antonin Scalia as his favorite Justice. But apparently eager to please both his base and the majority of Massachusetts voters who are Democrats, he then dissembled. According to the Huffington Post:

Brown seemed to recognize his mistake as his answer continued. "Justice Kennedy. Justice Kennedy is obviously very good. And Justice Roberts, they're ah, Justice [Sonia] Sotomayor, there's uh, I think they're very qualified people there who actually do a very good job," Brown said.

Really? Scalia and Sotomayor? They epitomize the overwhelming difference in what our nation's highest court would look like depending on who wins the presidential election. Mitt Romney says he would nominate Justices like Scalia, while President Obama nominated Sotomayor in 2009 and could be expected to nominate similar Justices in a second term.

Scalia has regularly joined highly controversial 5-4 decisions bending the law in order to favor powerful corporate interests, while Sotomayor has taken the opposite position. For instance, Scalia:

  • voted with the majority in Citizens United, as well as in June's decision striking down a Montana clean elections law rather than reconsidering that severely flawed decision.
  • voted to let companies engaged in massive scams of their customers use a federal arbitration law to undermine state consumer protection laws across the country.
  • voted to address an issue not argued by the parties and craft a new constitutional rule that will make it harder for public sector unions to protect workers' rights.
  • voted to deny the women of Wal-Mart the chance to join together and stand up for their rights in court, despite substantial evidence that they were systematically paid less than men and denied promotions given to men.
  • voted to prevent government employees from suing to enforce a key provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

So how could Scott Brown possibly claim both Scalia and Sotomayor as his favorite Supreme Court Justice?


UPDATE: NVRA enforcement crucial for voter participation

UPDATE: On Wednesday two federal judges approved a settlement in a case brought by the Black Political Empowerment Projectand ACTION United against Pennsylvania public assistance agencies that failed to provide voter registration opportunities for their clients. Under the provisions of the settlement, they will now offer voter registration applications on their websites and will post signs with registration information at their offices. They will also implement additional training and oversight for their employees. And when assistance recipients update their claims, voting-related forms will be mailed to them automatically. ACTION United president Lucille Prater-Holliday: "Without full and robust compliance with the NVRA the disenfranchisement and disengagement of these citizens is only perpetuated. We are glad that the Commonwealth has bound itself to a meaningful implementation of the statute." Earlier we reported about a settlement in a suit over NVRA violations in Massachusetts.

With voting rights under attack nationwide, we must remember our democracy is only strongest when all citizens have the opportunity to participate – which is exactly why the enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act has grown increasingly paramount ahead of the November election, especially its provision affording public assistance recipients the opportunity to register to vote at public assistance agencies.

A coalition of voting rights advocates is working to hold states accountable. Litigation citing NVRA violations has been brought against nine states – most recently in Nevada against Secretary of State Ross Miller and Department of Health & Human Services Director Michael Willden. Litigation could soon follow in Alabama where Demos has joined the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Project Vote in filing notice against Secretary of State Beth Chapman.

Sarah Brannon, Project Vote:

When done properly, public agency registration is one of the most effective means of ensuring that all citizens are offered the opportunity to participate in their government. It reaches people who are less likely to register to vote through other means, including low-income residents, minorities, the elderly, and the disabled.

Lonnie Feemster, Reno-Sparks NAACP:

To empower those without a voice is our most important work and we will continue to fight to allow those without great wealth to speak truth to power. Full participation in the electoral process empowers the poor and disadvantaged.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: Massachusetts working toward positive electoral reforms

UPDATE: While H 4139 has not moved since it got to the Senate, there is some good news on another front: a short-term agreement has been reached in a lawsuit alleging that Massachusetts violated the National Voter Registration Act. 478,000 public assistance recipients will now receive voter registration forms. Should the state and plaintiffs fail to reach a long-term solution, litigation will resume on December 31, 2012.

An election modernization bill (H 4139) intended to "strengthen vote-counting and voter registration processes" has passed the Massachusetts House, in stark contrast with attacks on voting rights dominating the news in many other states.

Under H 4139, 16- and 17-year-olds would be permitted to pre-register to vote upon getting a driver’s license, and come their 18th birthday their names would be automatically added to the voter list. Registration regulations would also be amended to permit voters to fill out an electronic registration form that they could then print, sign, and mail in.

If enacted, it would mark the first time in 20 years that lawmakers amended the state’s voting system. Massachusetts would join only a handful of other states in making a meaningful attempt to increase the number of young voters.

Representative Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston), Chair, Joint Committee on Election Laws:

The bill is an example of common sense reforms that will keep our Commonwealth as one of the leaders in demonstrating a forward thinking electoral process.

Representative Ellen Story (D-Amherst):

If you start voting at an early age, you keep voting. If you don't start voting, you realize that you don't have to vote and you may not acquire the habit.

Avi Green, Co-Director of MassVOTE:

Pre-registration will help 20,000 teens get ready to vote every year. The online PDF of the voter registration form will make registering more convenient for everyone. Together, these reforms mark the biggest step forward to modernize elections since the Motor Voter law was implemented in 1994.

H 4139 now goes to the Senate.

PFAW Foundation

New Young Elected Progressives Endorsees

Today we are unveiling three more new endorsees of People For the American Way’s Young Elected Progressives program: Sean Garballey (MA), Carl Sciortino (MA), and Luz Robles (UT). These three, young individuals, under the age of 35, have been great progressive leaders in their respective states.

Sean Garballey (MA)

Sean Garballey is running for reelection to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He has been a member since 2008, representing Arlington, MA. Garballey has established himself as a leader of the Massachusetts progressives and currently serves on four committees, including as Vice Chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws. Prior to serving in the House, Garballey was an Arlington Town Meeting Member for 5 years. He has been a proven progressive champion in the Massachusetts legislature, sponsoring several bills to increase the funding of public education and grants for those seeking public higher education. Garballey also received the Public Service Award in 2011 from affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. Visit his website here.

Carl Sciortino (MA)

Carl Sciortino is running for reelection to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He has been serving the Somerville and Medford areas in the House since 2005. Sciortino serves on the Public Health and Transportation Committees, among others, and has been a leader in the House for the past several terms. He was named "Best of the New" by Boston Globe Magazine and "Legislator of the Year" by the National Association of Social Workers and has been a great progressive leader in fighting for equal, social rights. Visit his website here.

Luz Robles (UT)

Luz Robles is running for reelection to the Utah Senate. She has represented Utah’s 1st district since 2008. Robles serves on the Senate Ethics Committee, the Health and Human Services Committee, and two others. Robles has fought hard for equal rights for all individuals and sponsored a bill which would give illegal immigrants an accountability card allowing them to gain work without changing their legal status. She was named the Fifth Most Influential Person in Utah by Deseret News and is a great progressive representative for the people of Utah. Visit her website here.