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PFAW Urges Senate to Confirm Halligan

People For the American Way today sent letters to members of the U.S. Senate urging them to vote to confirm Caitlin Halligan to sit on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The full text of the letter:

March 4, 2013
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of members of People For the American Way, we write to express our strong support for the confirmation of Caitlin Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the  District of Columbia Circuit. With a fourth seat on this 11-member court becoming vacant, the urgency  of confirming Halligan becomes even more pressing.

Caitlin Halligan is supremely qualified with a broad level of support in the legal, women’s and law  enforcement  communities. Currently the General Counsel for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office,  she also spent six years serving as New York State's Solicitor General. She is a nationally respected  litigator who has earned the ABA's highest possible evaluation of her qualifications.

Her career shows that she recognizes that protecting individuals, their families, and their entire  communities requires not only tough prosecution, but tough prosecution done fairly. So while she shares  management responsibility for the Manhattan DA's Special Victims Bureau (which prosecutes those  involved in child abuse, rape, domestic violence, and elder abuse), she also has been instrumental in the  DA's Conviction Integrity Program, which seeks to prevent and correct wrongful convictions.

Her nomination has the support of numerous law enforcement individuals and organizations, including Robert Morgenthau (former DA of Manhattan), Raymond Flynn (New York City's Police Commissioner), the National District Attorneys Association, the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, and New York Women in Law Enforcement.

The best judges understand keenly how the law affects ordinary people. Halligan has worked to help  economically disadvantaged families throughout her career. Even before law school, she worked at Georgians for Children, a statewide public policy organization that focuses on issues related to impoverished children and families. Over the years, she has engaged in pro bono work and community service projects that focus on families with the greatest needs. For example, she represented victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who were at risk of losing their housing assistance.

In its 120-year history, the DC Circuit has had a grand total of five women judges. Halligan clerked for  the first of those, trailblazer Patricia Wald, and she would be the sixth if confirmed. The National Conference of Women's Bar Associations, the Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia, the National Center for Women and Policing, and the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce are just some of the women's organizations that are supporting her nomination.

Halligan has received the highest possible rating of her qualifications from a unanimous panel of the ABA’s nonpartisan Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. She has also received the strong support of a bipartisan group of renowned appellate advocates, including Miguel Estrada (Assistant to the Solicitor General under President George W. Bush and former nominee to this same court), Seth Waxman (Solicitor General under President Clinton), Carter Phillips (Assistant to the Solicitor General under President Reagan), and Walter Dellinger (Solicitor General under President Clinton).

A nominee with such sterling credentials and strong support from a broad range of the legal community is exactly the kind of mainstream, talented, and fair jurist we need on the federal bench.

The seat to which Halligan has been nominated has been vacant since 2005. In fact, the 11-member DC Circuit has lost three additional active judges since 2008. None of those judges has been replaced. Not surprisingly, this has had a serious impact on the caseload for the judges who are left. The Senate’s confirmation of George W. Bush nominee Thomas Griffith to the eleventh seat in 2005 resulted in there being approximately 121 pending cases per active judge. When the Senate debated Halligan’s nomination in 2011, that number had climbed to about 146 pending cases per active judge. Last month, with Judge Sentelle taking senior status, that number has now increased to about 188 cases per active judge, according to the most recent data on pending cases made available by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.

Caitlin Halligan has excelled throughout her career. With yet another vacancy opening up on the DC Circuit just last month, the need for someone of her caliber on the bench is greater than ever before. Her nomination deserves a vote on the Senate floor, and she should be confirmed to the DC Circuit.

Sincerely,

Marge Baker
Executive Vice President for Policy and Program
People For the American Way

Paul Gordon
Senior Legislative Counsel
People For the American Way
 

PFAW

Five Reasons the Senate Should Confirm Caitlin Halligan

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will ask the Senate to vote this week on the nomination of Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
PFAW

Why It's Important to Have Diversity on the Federal Courts

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about President Obama's successful push to bring greater diversity to the federal courts. The story quoted a conservative activist who accused the White House of "lowering their standards" in order to find diverse nominees and a Republican aide who claimed that the White House's focus on diversity would "override the substantive qualifications of the nominees."

Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way, responded with the following letter to the editor:

To the editor:

Regarding the March 3 story, “Obama pushing to diversify federal judiciary amid GOP delays.”

One of President Obama’s most significant, but least noticed, achievements has been his effort to bring more women and people of color to the federal bench. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court showed us just how critical that effort is.

In oral arguments on Shelby County v. Holder, the challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Antonin Scalia declared that the renewal of voting protections for people of color simply amounts to a “racial entitlement.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the Supreme Court, promptly contradicted him.

Scalia’s arrogant dismissal is echoed by the conservative activist who tells the Post that the White House may be “lowering their standards” in nominating women and people of color and the  GOP aide who worries that a focus on diversity would “override the substantive qualifications of the nominees.”

President Obama hasn’t had to choose between qualified nominees and diverse ones. Instead, he’s chosen judges and justices like Sotomayor: excellent nominees from diverse backgrounds, all of whom have earned their way to judgeships for which they are eminently qualified. 

LESLIE WATSON MALACHI
DIRECTOR, AFRICAN AMERICAN RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS
PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY

PFAW

Fox News' Top Five Islamophobic Smears

Sean Hannity last night was clearly upset that Rep. Keith Ellison exposed him for what he is — a partisan hack — and he is now launching attacks on the congressman by recycling statements Ellison made in the 1990s about the Nation of Islam, a group that the congressman later vociferously denounced. He even wondered if “we have somebody then in Congress that is the equivalent of one side of what the Klan is?”

Hannity has attacked Ellison over his faith in the past, arguing that Ellison’s use of Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Quran during his symbolic swearing-in ceremony “will embolden Islamic extremists” and is no different from a congressman using “Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which is the Nazi bible.”

While the use of inflammatory language and false claims is nothing new for Sean Hannity, we decided to use the segment as an opportunity to highlight the five Islamophobic smears regularly found on Fox News.

1. Obama is a Secret Muslim:

Fox News host Eric Bolling claimed that Obama “answers to the Quran first and to the Constitution second” and Hannity himself alleged that Obama “went to a Muslim school.” Regular contributors like Charles Krauthammer and Donald Trump have also floated the claim that Obama was raised as a Muslim and back in 2007, Fox News ran with the discredited story that Obama was a student an Islamic “madrassa” in Indonesia.

2. Park 51 Will be used for Terrorism:

Dick Morris, who just recently was booted from the network following his hilariously bad election predictions, said that the Park 51 Islamic Community Center near Ground Zero is planning to “train the same kind of terrorists” that attacked the U.S. on 9/11, warning the building will be a “command center for terrorism.” Bolling alleged that Park 51 is being built to represent “the people who flew planes” into the Twin Towers and Bill O’Reilly warned the project is housing “condos for Al Qaeda.”

3. Al Jazeera Conspiracies:

Fox News contributor Lisa Daftari warned that Al Jazeera’s acquisition of Current TV will activate terrorist “sleeper cells” in Detroit and regular Fox guest Michelle Malkin called the channel “a cheerleader for terror” and “a Trojan Horse for terror TV.”

4. Sharia law a-comin’:

Regular Fox News viewers may be under the impression that President Obama, public schools and NASA seek to impose Sharia law. The network also recently hired Herman Cain as a contributor, who insisted that Muslims should be prohibited from serving in high levels of government and that localities have a right to ban mosques because Muslims seek to introduce Sharia law, warnings Hannity readily endorsed.

5. ‘All Terrorists are Muslims’:

Brian Kilmeade of Fox & Friends claimed that “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims” and Bill O’Reilly has implied that all Muslims were responsible for 9/11. Fox News regularly hosts anti-Muslim guests such as Brigitte Gabriel, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. In fact, Fox News host Laura Ingraham and contributor John Bolton prematurely blamed the far-right terrorist attack in Norway on government offices and a left-wing party youth summit on Muslims.

Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA: Reverend Charles Williams II

This piece is the fifth in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.

Is it wrong for committed couples to share retirement and medical benefits? Is it wrong for Americans to expect to receive equal justice under the law?

No, but it is wrong for our government to dictate who we can love and who we cannot. It is wrong for our government to recognize some married couples and not others. But that is exactly what the Defense Of Marriage Act does.

Marriage equality doesn’t hurt anybody or take away anybody’s freedoms. But DOMA does both of those things. Supporters of DOMA sound dangerously like those who said we should outlaw interracial marriages in the previous century. It’s time for this country to say we are done with DOMA and dump it.

Reverend Charles Williams II
Member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action

PFAW

South Dakota Legislature Approves 'Women Can't Think on Weekends' Bill

South Dakota’s state senate today passed a bill that would extend the mandatory 72 hour waiting period women face when seeking an abortion in the state to specifically exclude weekend days and holidays from counting towards the 72 hour period. Apparently, South Dakota’s Republican lawmakers think women aren’t able to think as well on weekends.

The AP reports:

The South Dakota Senate has given final legislative approval to an extension of what is already the nation's longest waiting period for a woman to receive an abortion.

Senators voted 24-9 Thursday to approve the bill, which has already been passed by the House. The measure will become law if signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Women seeking abortions in South Dakota currently must wait three days after seeing an abortion clinic doctor before they can have the procedure. The bill would make it so that weekends and holidays do not count in calculating the three-day waiting period.

The state House of Representatives approved the anti-choice legislation earlier this month, and it now heads to the governor’s desk.

Happy Anniversary, Judge Cebull

Judge Cebull remains on the bench a year after his now-notorious racist e-mail was exposed.
PFAW

Sequestering Justice

Two senior judges spell out the damage sequestration would do to our nation's courts.
PFAW

Missouri Brings Voter ID Back from the Dead

Despite a veto and court rulings against the voter ID bill, Missouri’s state legislature continues this effort to disenfranchise thousands of voters.
PFAW

Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA: Erik Lampmann

This piece is the fourth in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.

Attending weddings is always an interesting phenomenon for queer Americans. We might celebrate in the festivities, box out our cousins for the bouquet or present a toast. Yet, for most queer people, myself included, there remains the thought in the back of our minds that -- try as we might -- a federally-recognized marriage is largely beyond our grasp. While I’m not sure when or if I’ll ever try to marry, I am committed to ensuring that American society treats all partnerships as equally valid under the law. Under the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA), the federal government denies married same-sex couples every one of the 1,000+ federal legal protections that marriage affords and institutionalizes a negative stigma of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) people.  For these reasons alone,  DOMA is antithetical to a “free” America where all citizens are seen as equal under the law.

DOMA’s effects extend even further, however. For instance, the repeal of DOMA is also an issue of economic justice. Because DOMA prevents queer couples from filing their taxes together and sharing health benefits, these couples often pay more than heterosexual couples for the same services and opportunities. DOMA not only prevents same-sex couples from taking on the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage, it penalizes them financially.

The question of whether to “Dump DOMA” is clear for me. As more and more Americans favor marriage equality and as courts reject its reasoning, it’s only a matter of time before all Americans are afforded equal marriage rights under the law. I believe the “arc of history bends towards justice,” and I believe this is a time for all Americans to stand with their queer family, friends, and community members against injustice. DUMP DOMA TODAY!

Erik Lampmann, University of Richmond
Member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For Program

PFAW

When the Judicial Nominations Process Works

The filling of an 8th Circuit vacancy is proceeding apace due to commitment and cooperation among the White House and both of Iowa's senators.
PFAW

Federal education vouchers funding creationism curricula

Federally funded private school voucher and tax credit programs are more numerous than ever. Moreover, studies show that the curricula in many of these programs have included the teaching of creationism.
PFAW

Common Sense Gun Solutions Struggle Against Mindless NRA and GOP Opposition

The big gun lobby and its yes men in Congress, it seems, are much more interested in protecting the loose regulations of the gun industry than they are with taking practical steps towards public safety.
PFAW

Washington State Moving Forward With First Steps to Overturn Citizens United

Earlier this month, a group of state legislators, led by Sen. Adam Kline and Rep. Jamie Pedersen introduced companion bills requesting that Congress pass a constitutional amendment to return the authority to regulate election spending to Congress and state legislatures.
PFAW

Caitlin Halligan Belongs on the DC Circuit

Caitlin Halligan has excelled throughout her career and clearly understands how the law affects everyday people.
PFAW

Orrin Hatch Votes Present: Obstruction By Another Name

Orrin Hatch is exhibit A in the abuse of Senate rules to block President Obama’s nominees.
PFAW

White House Speaks Out for Judicial Nominees

After committee approval of several judicial nominees, including for the DC Circuit, the Obama Administration urges Senate action on judges.
PFAW

Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA: Caitlin Copple

DOMA’s Days Are Over
 

This piece is the third in a series of guest blog posts on “Why It’s Time to Dump DOMA.” In the weeks leading up to the Supreme Court arguments on the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act, we’re asking friends of PFAW to share why dumping DOMA matters to them. Be sure to check back soon for the latest post in the series.

All Americans deserve equal treatment under the law. The President has acknowledged that, as have the nine states (plus the District of Columbia) that allow gays and lesbians to marry. A number of other states offer some form of relationship recognition status. But thanks to DOMA, the federal government doesn’t recognize all legally married couples, and states can refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.  And in Montana, same-sex couples can’t get married to begin with. That's why I care about dumping DOMA.

I'm queer and would like the chance to marry the person I love someday. Heck, I've got a master's degree and was elected to the City Council at age 28, but I'm not to be trusted with a lifelong commitment? All loving couples should have access to the legal protections they need to take care of each other, and I don't feel like I should have to move to a city to be myself and have the kind of life I want.

I'm a fourth generation Idahoan and now a proud Montanan, and I want to raise my kid in a place where they can hike, climb, backpack, fish, and hunt just a few minutes from home. Most Montanans value fairness and dignity. They judge you more by how you treat your neighbor than what you do in the privacy of your own bedroom. They believe in following the law. I think my fellow Montanans will come around when they see the sky doesn't fall when committed same-sex couples tie the knot.

So let's do it. Let's dump DOMA, and allow all Americans to pursue happiness by marrying the person they love.

Caitlin Copple, Missoula, MT City Councilmember
Member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network

PFAW

More Vacancies Mean More Work for DC Circuit Judges

The number of pending cases per active DC Circuit judge is far higher now than when Bush's nominees were confirmed.
PFAW