President Obama has nominated three extraordinarily well qualified individuals to serve on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. But the Republican Party's intransigence and opposition have turned this into one of the most important obstruction fights we've seen in the last five years.
On Tuesday, September 24, People For the American Way hosted a telebriefing with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to discuss the matter.
Senator Blumenthal, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, chaired last week’s hearings on the nomination of Nina Pillard to a seat on the D.C. Circuit. He gave a first-hand account of how very qualified she is to serve on this all important court. He explained how important the D.C. Circuit is in the federal judicial system, why it’s important to fill the current vacancies on the court, and how Pillard exemplifies the brilliance and integrity that is so important in filling these vacancies.
Listen to the call for yourself here:
We had a lot of questions from callers about the need to overcome the GOP’s obstruction on these nominees and talked about how important it is for constituents to let their Senators know that it’s time for the obstruction to end.
Thanks to all the PFAW members who the time to join our call. We’ll continue to fight to make sure President Obama's nominees get the simple yes or no votes they deserve.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has for months been single-handedly holding up the nomination of William Thomas, an openly gay African American Miami judge, to a federal district court.
Rubio’s indefinite hold on Thomas’ nomination is one of the most egregious examples yet of Senate Republicans using the obscure “blue slip” procedure to prevent home-state judicial nominees from even having a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Under a Senate custom that has varied over time Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy will not advance a nominees’ consideration -- won’t even hold a hearing, let alone take a vote -- until both of that nominee’s home-state senators return a “blue slip” giving their permission for a nomination to go forward. The blue slip doesn’t indicate a senator’s approval of the nominee – the senator is still free to vote against the nominee and to lobby their fellow senators to do the same. It just means that the nominee can be considered by the Judiciary Committee and then the full Senate. But if just one senator doesn’t return a blue slip, the nomination won’t see the light of day.
Republican senators have been routinely using this tactic of withholding blue slips in order to slow-walk President Obama’s judicial nominees. Currently, five nominees are being held back because one or both senators have refused to return blue slips. And all are women or people of color.
Because the blue slip process is secretive and little-known, senators are often able to get away with holding nominees this way with little public pressure and no public explanation.
Rubio, however, faced pressure from the Florida legal community in recent weeks for his failure to return blue slips for Thomas and another Florida nominee, Brian Davis. The senator finally gave in under pressure and allowed Davis’ nomination to go forward, but is digging in his heels on his blockade of Thomas.
Rubio’s stated reasons for blocking Thomas’ nomination are exceptionally flimsy. He has cited two cases where he claims Thomas gave insufficiently harsh sentences in criminal trials; in one case, even the prosecutor has defended Thomas’ judgment and a local judge has written to Rubio to correct the record. In the other case the senator cites, Judge Thomas sentenced the defendant to death, which Rubio seems to think was insufficiently harsh. It is clear that there is no merit to the senator’s claims. Holding hearings on this nominee would help clarify that, if they were allowed to take place.
The real reason for Rubio’s blockade and his smear of Judge Thomas’ character, writes Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm, is plain and simple “crass Tea Party politics.”
Rubio has stated no compelling reason why Thomas should not have a hearing before the Judiciary Committee, where he can answer any of Rubio’s alleged concerns in the public record.
The Senate today confirmed Justice Department attorney Todd Hughes to a federal appeals court, making him the highest-ranking openly gay federal judge in U.S. history.
President Obama has nominated more openly gay men and women to the federal courts than all his predecessors combined – by a long shot. So far, the Senate has confirmed seven openly gay Obama nominees to federal district courts. Before Obama’s presidency, there had been just one openly gay federal judge, Clinton nominee Deborah Batts.
Two other openly gay district court nominees are still in committee, but one of them –openly gay district court nominee, Florida’s William Thomas – is currently being held up indefinitely by Sen. Marco Rubio.
But today, the Senate’s attention is on Todd Hughes, who will be the newest judge on the Federal Circuit. The Washington Post outlines Hughes’ impressive credentials:
Hughes, who has served as deputy director of the commercial litigation branch of the Justice Department's civil division since 2007, has specialized in the kinds of issues that come up before the bench on which he will soon sit. Unlike the other 12 Circuit Courts of Appeals, the Federal Circuit specializes in a handful of designated issues including international trade, government contracts, patents, trademarks, veterans' benefits, and public safety officers' benefits claims. Hughes could not be reached for a comment.
Geovette Washington, who is the Office of Management and Budget's general counsel and has been friends with Hughes since they attended law school together, described him as "a problem solver" who "can do very complicated constitutional issues," but also brings a degree of pragmatism to cases.
"I have always been amazed by how intelligent he is, but also how practical he is," she said, adding that Hughes is well prepared for the Federal Circuit because he's appeared before it so many times. "He's dug in and done the hard work on those issues."
Georgetown Law professor Nina Pillard, who has had a long and impressive career in law and public service, was approved today by the Senate Judiciary Committee to serve on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Her nomination now goes to the full Senate.
Scores of people and organizations who have worked with Professor Pillard or observed her work have written to the Senate in support of her nomination. Her supporters include:
Alumni of the Virginia Military Institute, which Pillard helped open to women:
VMI gauges its success as an institution by measuring the societal contributions of its alumni. Professor Pillard would rank high for her work to open VMI to female cadets. The case was initiated by the George H.W. Bush Administration and made its way to the Supreme Court during Professor Pillard’s tenure at the office of the Solicitor General of the United States. Professor Pillard drafted the five Supreme Court briefs for the United States and her winning arguments opened VMI’s doors for women who have become leaders in the armed forces, elsewhere in public service, and in the private sector.
Josiah Bunting III, superindent of the Virginia Military Institute when women were first admitted:
During the course of the United States v. Virginia 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.
A bipartisan group of former attorneys of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, where Pillard served for two years:
We believe that Ms. Pillard has the skill, character, and objectivity that would make her a superlative judge on the D.C. Circuit. She was a respected leader and trusted advisor in OLC, valued for her fair-minded and meticulous approach to legal questions of all sorts. She is an exemplary nominee whom we wholeheartedly endorse.
Dozens of retired members of the armed forces:
Our experience advocating for the full participation of women in the armed forces has shown us that women, indeed, are suited for rigorous military training, service, and leadership. Our military and our nation benefit when both women and men are able to fully contribute to the defense of our country. We support Professor Pillard’s nomination because her accomplishments and credentials demonstrate that she has the qualifications to be a federal
appellate judge, and because her dedication to principles of equality demonstrates that she will be a great one. We urge you to give her a swift and fair hearing, and vote to approve her nomination.
In her legal advocacy and scholarship, Professor Pillard shows a clear understanding offundamental distinctions between the roles of courts and the political branches, and between law and culture, morality, politics or other important sources ofnorms that guide and constrain human behavior. Throughout her work, she has shown an appreciation ofnuance and respect for opposing viewpoints, grounded in a profound commitment to fair process and fidelity to the law.
In short, Professor Pillard is a talented advocate, a brilliant legal mind, a sensible and moderate problem solver, and a careful thinker who has devoted her career to public service and work for others. We wholeheartedly urge that you confirm her to the D.C. Circuit.
Prominent prosecutors and law enforcement officials:
We urge her confirmation because she is unquestionably eminently qualified, and is a sensible and fairminded lawyer and scholar who has worked extensively with law enforcement in her career. She brings to the bench sensitivity to the compelling need for effective and legitimate law enforcement in the modern era. She stands for fidelity to the law above all, and has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the important, albeit limited, role of the courts in our federal system
I believe that Ms. Pillard has had invaluable work experience that makes her especially well-suited to the bench. While I do not know Ms. Pillard personally, others in the law enforcement community whom I know and respect are supporting her, and their views, combined with her superb experience and qualifications, convince me that she would make an excellent judge, especially on the DC Circuit, which requires someone with such experience and qualifications.
Based on our long and varied professional experience together, I know that Professor Pillard is exceptionally bright, a patient and unbiased listener, and a lawyer of great judgment and unquestioned integrity. We certainly do not agree on the merits of every issue, but Nina has always been fair, reasonable, and sensible in her judgments. She approaches faculty hiring, teaching and curriculum, and matters of faculty governance on their merits, without any ideological agenda--at times even against the tide of academic popularity to defend and respect different views and different types of people.
As we do not share academic specialties, I have not studied Professor Pillard's writings in full, but I know her to be a straight shooter when it comes to law and legal interpretation. She is a fair-minded thinker with enormous respect for the law and for the limited, and essential, role of the federal appellate judge-- qualities that make her well prepared to taken on the work of a D.C.
Circuit judge. I am confident that she would approach the judicial task of applying law to facts in a fair and meticulous manner.
Ms. Pillard’s record of achievement, and unanimous rating of Well-Qualified, the highest rating available, from the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, reflects her significant talents as an appellate litigator and scholar. Her legal career is remarkable for her accomplishments and the breadth and depth of her experience, and her reputation for fairmindedness, collegiality, and dedication to principles of equal justice is well founded.
If you’re curious why many House Republicans are on board with an unhinged plan to threaten a government shutdown or default over demands to “defund” Obamacare, you should follow the money. That’s what the New York Times editorial board argued in a compelling op-ed Tuesday.
Far-right groups such as the Club for Growth are striking out at Republicans who refuse to take this reckless stance, wielding their considerable funds to “inflict political pain” on those who do not share their extremist position. And they are titillating their Tea Party supporters with political fantasies in order to get them to send in even more money, so they can ramp up their attack on Republicans who don’t toe the line. In “The Money Behind the Shutdown Crisis,” the editorial board wrote:
These groups, all financed with secret and unlimited money, feed on chaos and would like nothing better than to claim credit for pushing Washington into another crisis. Winning an ideological victory is far more important to them than the severe economic effects of a shutdown or, worse, a default, which could shatter the credit markets.
[…] Brian Walsh, a longtime Republican operative, recently noted in U.S. News and World Report that the right is now spending more money attacking Republicans than the Democrats are. “Money begets TV ads, which begets even more money for these groups’ personal coffers,” he wrote. “Pointing fingers and attacking Republicans is apparently a very profitable fund-raising business.”
And as more money pours into these shadowy groups, their influence – and thus their potential for inflicting further damage on our democracy – grows. With fewer effective campaign finance regulations left standing in the post-Citizens United landscape, there is little that can stop these groups from using their money to bully elected officials.
But the functioning of our government is not a game. And though for these fringe groups making an ideological point may seem more important than keeping our government from shutting down or defaulting, Americans are tired of having our basic economic security called into question over political posturing.
As the Times editorial board put it:
It may be good for their bank accounts, but the combination of unlimited money and rigid ideology is proving toxic for the most basic functioning of government.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.