Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee spent yesterday’s confirmation hearing on D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Nina Pillard harping on two points: first, that they think the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need its three vacancies filled, and second, that they think Pillard’s arguments as an academic mean she would disregard the law as a judge.
As it happens, when George W. Bush was the one nominating federal judges, the very same senators held the exact opposite view on both of these issues.
As People For the American Way has extensively shown, the argument that the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need judges holds no water – in fact, Bush nominees Thomas Griffith and John Roberts (now Chief Justice) were confirmed to the D.C. Circuit when each active judge’s caseload was significantly lower than it is today.
And Republican attacks on Pillard’s academic writings also directly contradict their previous statements on Bush nominees with academic records. As Pillard noted in her hearing, "Academics are paid to test the boundaries and look at the implications of things. As a judge, I would apply established law of the U.S. Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit."
Just a few years ago, Republican senators agreed. On the nomination of Tenth Circuit judge Michael McConnell, who took a number of far-right stands as an academic, including disagreeing with a Supreme Court decision declaring that a university ban on interracial dating constituted racial discrimination, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said, “The diversity of backgrounds and points of view are often the stitches holding together the fabric of our freedoms.”
“Surely, we can’t vote for or against a nominee on whether they agree with us on any number of a host of moral and religious issues, ” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said of Eleventh Circuit nominee William Pryor, a far-right culture warrior who was outspoken in opposition to gay rights, women’s rights and the separation of church and state.
Then-Sen. Jim Demint defended D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown, one of the most outspoken conservative ideologues on the federal bench today, by saying, “A person with strong beliefs and personal convictions should not be barred from being a judge. In fact, I would rather have an honest liberal serve as a judge than one who has been neutered by fear of public opinion.”
And before the Senate confirmed Arkansas District Court Judge J. Leon Holmes, who used Todd Akin’s line about pregnancy from rape before Todd Akin did, Hatch told concerned colleagues, “This man is a very religious man who has made it more than clear that he will abide by the law even when he differs with it.”
These Bush nominees held positions that were clearly far out of the mainstream, yet Senate Republicans demanded and got yes-or-no confirmation votes on them, helping Bush to shift the federal judiciary far to the right.
What some Judiciary Committee Republicans objected to at yesterday’s hearings is what they apparently see as Pillard’s excessive support for women’s equality, both as an attorney and an academic. Pillard won the Supreme Court case opening the Virginia Military Institute to women and worked with Bush administration officials to successfully defend the Family and Medical Leave Act. She has strongly defended reproductive rights and criticized abstinence-only education that sends different messages to boys and girls. It’s this record that her Republican opponents have distorted beyond recognition.
By any measure, Pillard is well within the mainstream, and has made it very clear that she understands that the role of a judge is to apply existing law regardless of one’s personal views. But while Senate Republicans made plenty of excuses for Bush nominees who were far outside the mainstream, they are accusing Pillard of being just too much of a women's rights supporter to fairly apply the law.
In a presentation last week at the offices of New Democrat Network, a Washington, D.C. think tank, political analyst Simon Rosenberg challenged the Republican resistance to comprehensive immigration reform. According to Rosenberg, the GOP’s arguments against legalization of undocumented immigrants are based on faulty numbers and false proselytizing. The GOP argues that the border is violent and therefore requires greater security and more border patrol officers. They criticize the track record of the Obama administration and argue that the president can’t be trusted to secure the border. They argue that once we reward those who have entered the country illegally with citizenship, the floodgates will open, and immigrants will flock from countries all across Latin America.
According to Rosenberg, the reality is just the opposite.
“The border is safer, the immigration system is better, and Mexico is modernizing and growing,” Rosenberg said. From 2004 to 2012, the number of border patrol agents on the ground has doubled. The yearly apprehension rate fell to only 19 apprehensions per agent in 2012, a dramatic decrease from the average rate of 306 per agent back in 1992. Rosenberg argued that the increasing number of patrol officers and the steadily declining apprehensions rate indicate that the current border patrol is more than capable of handling the border situation. While the Republicans are arguing for thousands more officers, the workload per officer is already reasonable.
Rosenberg also argued that the Obama administration has made great gains in improving the immigration system. The use of more targeted I-9 audits and the use of prosecutorial discretion to prioritize criminals for deportation are both notable gains that the White House and the Department of Homeland Security should take credit for.
Lastly, Rosenberg argued that Mexico’s own success in terms of GDP growth and increased trade with the U.S. bodes well for the future of the country. Increased cooperation with Mexico is yet another avenue for improving the immigration system.
Rosenberg’s closing message was clear. We have made great progress, but we need a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a reasonable path to citizenship. And if we have any hope of reaching a bipartisan agreement, the GOP’s lies need to be repudiated.
On ABC News’ “This Week” yesterday, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah claimed that he takes the “principled position” of voting against filibusters of judicial nominees:
And matter of fact, I continue to vote against filibusters with regard to judicial nominations because I think it's a principled position. I actually think the president, whoever the president may be ought to have the full choice of who they put on the bench.
And unless there's just some overwhelming reason why somebody should never be on the bench.
But on many pivotal votes to break GOP filibusters of President Obama’s federal judicial nominees, Sen. Hatch hasn’t voted “against” the filibuster. Instead, he’s made a habit of voting “present” or not voting at all. Because a motion to break a filibuster requires 60 affirmative “yes” votes to succeed, not voting or voting “present” in effect supports the continuation of the filibuster.
Hatch voted “present” on efforts to break Republican filibusters of Obama judicial nominees Caitlin Halligan, Goodwin Liu, Jack McConnell and Robert Bacharach. He did not vote at all in cloture votes on nominee Andrew Hurwitz and in the second cloture vote on Halligan.
These votes allow Hatch to say he didn’t support a filibuster, while in fact voting to do just that. And he certainly didn’t take a “principled position” to vote “against” his Republican colleagues’ obstruction.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today moved to end Republican filibusters of seven of President Obama’s nominees to fill executive branch positions, including nominees for some of the agencies most despised by the GOP: Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Tom Perez for Secretary of Labor, Gina McCarthy to head the EPA and three nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.
The move presents an ultimatum for Senate Republicans: end their senseless obstruction or force Reid to change Senate rules to eliminate nominations filibusters.
In a memo this week, we laid out the statistics behind the GOP’s unprecedented obstruction of President Obama’s executive branch nominees. We found that if Republicans keep on obstructing Obama’s nominees at the current rate, they will have filibustered more executive branch nominees under Obama than under all previous presidents combined.
The Senate has had filibuster showdowns before – most notably in 2005, when a bipartisan group of senators agreed to let several extreme George W. Bush judicial nominees go through, including a number of the judges who now make up the influential D.C. Circuit's extraordinarily right-wing majority.
It was a compromise that left progressives cringing, but let Senate business move forward. But now Senate Republicans are acting like they’ve never heard the word “compromise.” According to Politico, Reid had some strong words on the situation:
In a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday, Reid began by apologizing to his colleagues for cutting bipartisan deals to avert the nuclear option, including at the beginning of this year. And the Nevada Democrat complained that he allowed votes on scores of conservative nominees under former President George W. Bush after a bipartisan coalition headed off the nuclear option in 2005. But Reid said it had been the right thing to do because Bush had won a second term in the White House.
Now, Reid argued, times have changed.
“I ate sh— on some of those nominees,” Reid told his colleagues, according to sources who were present.
The Senate Judiciary Committee today held a hearing for the first of President Obama’s three recent nominees to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, attorney Patricia Ann Millett. Republican committee members, having no actual objections to Millett’s qualifications, used the opportunity to grandstand about what they see as the enormous injustice of a Democratic president nominating people to open seats on the federal judiciary.
Chief among the grandstanders, of course, was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who spent most of his time telling Millett that Republican opposition to her nomination has nothing to do with her and has everything to do with President Obama’s supposed effort to “pack” the DC Circuit.
Very little of what he said had any basis in reality. He started out by claiming that the DC Circuit is currently “evenly divided” between Democratic and Republican nominees and that President Obama and Democrats are now trying to “pack the court” with Obama’s nominees:
Right now, the DC Circuit is evenly divided among active judges, with four Republicans and four Democrats. And you find yourself one of three nominees from the president. The president and senior Democrats on this committee have made clear that they want to pick a fight on the DC Circuit. They want to pick a fight on the DC Circuit, and unfortunately I believe part of this pressure, part of the effort of stopping qualified Republican nominees and then deciding to pick a fight now, is a desire to pack the court.
While it’s true that there are currently four Democratic nominees and four Republican nominees in active service on the court, Cruz obscures the fact that the court has an active backbench of six senior judges – five of whom are Republican nominees:
This imbalance exists because Republican presidents have nominated the bulk of DC Circuit judges in the past three decades -- 15 of the last 19 confirmed to the DC Circuit were nominated by Republicans. Far from “packing” the court, President Obama has had fewer judges confirmed to the DC Circuit than any of his four most recent predecessors.
Cruz continued, insisting that President Obama is trying to “pack” the court because it is “holding this administration accountable, and in particular, holding rule-making accountable that has been contrary to federal law”:
The DC Circuit has been a court that has been holding this administration accountable, and in particular, holding rule-making accountable that has been contrary to federal law. And I believe that there is an activist base that is pressuring the president, that has been pressuring senior Senate Democrats to get judicial nominees on the DC Circuit to protect the regulations coming from this administration. And I think any effort to pack the court because the administration doesn’t like the outcomes of judges applying the law fairly should be decried.
What Cruz is referring to is the fact that the D.C. Circuit is currently dominated by right-wing Republican nominees, who have delved into far-right legal theory to strike down common-sense protections for workers, consumers and voters – you can read about some of their most appalling decisions here. President Obama is not trying to “pack” the court to get the decisions that he wants, as Cruz alleges. Instead, he is using his mandate from American voters to pick judges who will restore some ideological balance to one of the farthest-right courts in the country.
Finally, Cruz declares that his objections to Millett have nothing to do with her “very fine professional qualifications” and instead have to do with too much “partisan politics” in judicial confirmations – partisan politics which he seems to have very little interest in putting aside.
Because I think partisan politics has driven this committee’s approach to the DC Circuit for over a decade. And I think that’s unfortunate, I would rather see a situation where able judges are confirmed irrespective of that. But it is not consistent with our responsibility to let one party prevent qualified judges from going to the court, and at the same time to enable packing the court to reach preferred outcomes. So I thank you for being here, and I think it’s regrettable, the overall context of this dispute, which as I said is irrespective of your very fine professional qualifications.
So, Cruz is refusing to support Millett, who he thinks is unquestionably qualified for the job, for purely political reasons… because he thinks the judicial nominations process has become too politicized.
In the wake of last week’s Supreme Court rulings on critical civil rights issues, a new poll finds increasing support for marriage equality and falling support for the high court itself.
A national Princeton Survey Research Associates poll found that 55 percent of Americans think that marriages of same-sex couples should be legally recognized – the highest level of support ever. A similar percentage (53 percent) believe that affirmative action programs are needed, and more Americans oppose the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a key part of the Voting Rights Act (49 percent) than support it (40 percent). In other words, the American people are not on board with the Supreme Court turning back the clock on our civil rights.
So it is not surprising that Supreme Court approval ratings are falling. The Princeton poll found the lowest level of approval (43 percent) in eight years, with slightly more Americans disapproving of the way the court is doing its job (44 percent). Similarly, a Rasmussen poll released yesterday found that the percentage of likely voters who think the Supreme Court is doing a poor job is rising.
What is more surprising is that both polls show that a greater percentage of Americans still believe that the high court is “too liberal” than believe it is “too conservative.” As PFAW President Michael Keegan pointed out in May, this is no accident:
“In recent decades, right-wing leaders have worked in popular culture to attack the courts as a liberal peril while successfully organizing to dominate and control legal institutions to create courts that no longer look out for the rights of all Americans. They have set up law schools and legal societies to promote corporate and right-wing commitments, have promoted the appointment of reactionary judges and Justices, blocked the appointment of even moderate jurists, and defined a legal agenda that subordinates individual rights to government power and public regulation to corporate power. Right-wing success in remaking the judiciary in the image of the Republican Party has not led conservatives to curb their bitter attack on ‘liberal judicial activism,’ a fantasy that is several decades out of date but indispensable to this smoke-and-mirrors operation.”
While conservatives continue to crow about “liberal judicial activism,” the American people are realizing that the Supreme Court’s conservative rulings on issues like voting rights and the rights of workers and consumers do not reflect their beliefs or the nation’s core constitutional values.
Following the approval of House Joint Memorial 6 by a 17-13 vote in the Oregon Senate today, Oregon became the 16th state to call for an amendment to the Constitution overturning the 2010 Citizens United decision and related cases.
The passage of HJM6, first introduced in January by Representative Brian Clem, is the result of a grassroots mobilization effort by the people of Oregon. In 2012 alone, 12 Oregon cities and counties passed local resolutions urging state and federal legislators to call for a constitutional amendment taking back our democracy from corporations and special interests. The mobilization at the state level was led by Oregonians for Restoring Constitutional Democracy, a coalition that gathered signatures and endorsements in support of HJM6.
The joint memorial urges Congress to propose a constitutional amendment “clarifying the distinction between the rights of natural persons and the rights of corporations” and recognizing “that Congress and state legislatures may regulate all moneys raised and spent for political purposes.”
Rep. Jules Bailey, speaking to the Oregon House last week, urged his fellow representatives to support the measure, saying, “When we confuse the monolith with the individual, then a piece of our humanity dies. Let us ask Congress to undo this mistake.” The measure passed the House by a vote of 48-11 on June 21st before being sent to the Senate.
With each additional state joining the movement to overturn Citizens United and related decisions, the will of the American people becomes clearer. We will not let our elections be bought and sold. We will not let corporate power subvert the will of the people.
Guest post from Robin Lane, alumni board member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.
Tuesday afternoon in Austin, I arrived at the Capitol and was swallowed in a sea of orange, ready to support Senator Wendy Davis and her filibuster of Senate Bill 5. Sen. Davis began by reading the testimonies of women who would be affected by SB5, limiting abortion rights in Texas, getting so emotional reading one woman’s story that she struggled to continue speaking through her tears. Senators Watson, Van de Putte, and West helped her buy time. We cheered every time we heard someone say, “Parliamentary inquiry, Mr. President.” The filibuster continued late into the evening.
At 11:30, Sen. Watson had the floor. Sen. West requested that the motion to close the previous question be put into writing, “in as large a font as possible.” I couldn’t breathe. And then, Sen. Van de Putte made the comment that erupted the entire Capitol: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
Sen. Duncan announced over the noise, “We will have to suspend the vote until the gallery is in order.” The clock ran out. At midnight, the auditorium erupted in cheers. But when all of the Senators remained in front of the podium, the cheers faded. Several news outlets reported that SB5 passed. Conflicting outcomes were coming in droves.
A large crowd from the auditorium raced upstairs into the rotunda and the sight took my breath away – every inch was packed with people chanting. At around 2:15 AM, we heard a text message sent from Sen. Davis to an ally in the rotunda: Senate Bill 5 was officially dead. There was a request to sing, “The Eyes of Texas,” and the Capitol sang together. Someone raised a Texas flag on the rotunda floor. People were crying.
I have never been so proud to call myself a Texan.
Although I didn’t grow up in the Lone Star state, my mother did – and so did my grandmother, and my great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandfather. Texas is in my blood. I came to Texas after leaving the University of Pittsburgh, where I had been organizing for reproductive justice since 2007. I came because I saw so clearly how my issue intersected with the struggles of communities of color, low-income communities, immigrant communities, education justice, LGBTQ rights, environmental justice, and food justice – and I saw Texas as ground-zero for many of these battles. We won the battle, for now, on SB5 – but with Section 4 of the Voting Rights struck down, Texas immediately began advancing a discriminatory redistricting plan. A woman in San Antonio is in deportation proceedings after she took her sick child to the hospital. Senators Cornyn and Cruz continue to fight us on truly inclusive immigration reform. And on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry called another special session of the Texas legislature, set for July 1, to act on the sweeping anti-choice proposals. Yes, we won this battle – but the war continues.
Still, the victory at the Capitol this week inspired me to keep up the difficult work of organizing in the state of Texas – from now until the next election, and beyond.
It’s been a chaotic week for the Texas legislature, but the drama isn’t over. Following state Senator Wendy Davis’ epic filibuster of a bill that would limit Texas women’s access to abortion, Governor Rick Perry has called yet another special session to push the legislation through.
The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy – with no exceptions – and would place burdensome requirements on abortion providers, effectively shutting down all but five clinics in the state.
Sen. Davis filibustered the legislation for more than twelve hours and, with the aid of hundreds of protesters, effectively blocked Senate Bill 5 from passing the Senate and reaching the governor’s desk before midnight. Davis was championed around the country as a political celebrity standing, quite literally, for women’s rights. People For the American Way recognized Davis’ efforts, encouraging members to sign a note of appreciation and support.
However, her victory may be short lived.
Perry called the first special session to give the legislature more time to consider anti-choice legislation that failed to advance during the regular legislative period. A special session follows different rules than the normal session, as the governor has sole discretion over what the legislature can work on. Perry said that the legislature also failed to pass bills on infrastructure funding and mandatory life sentences for 17 year-olds committing capital felonies, providing convenient additional justifications for the necessity of a second session. Perry said,
"Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn. Texans want a transportation system that keeps them moving. Texans want a court system that is fair and just. We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do."
Davis refused to let Perry’s affront go unanswered, firing back that it was Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst who had “led the charge” in the breakdown of decorum and “made a mockery of all of the rules we run by in this state.”
As the New York Times reported yesterday, it is unlikely that the Democrats will manage to block the bill for another 30-day session. It will probably pass. But as the governor can call as many special sessions as he likes, even a successful second filibuster may not be enough to stop the Republicans’ anti-choice agenda.
The second session begins July 1st. The war on women rages on.
It's been a week of mixed emotions for those of us who care about civil rights. There was the elation today when the Supreme Court overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act -- the discriminatory law that has hurt so many Americans in its nearly 17 years of existence -- and let marriage equality return to California. There was the anger when the Court twisted the law to make it harder for workers and consumers to take on big corporations. And there was the disbelief and outrage when the Court declared that a key part of the Voting Rights Act that was so important and had worked so well was now somehow no longer constitutional.
But throughout the week, I have been reminded of one thing: how grateful I am that Mitt Romney will not be picking the next Supreme Court justice.
It remains true that this Supreme Court is one of the most right-leaning in American history. The majority's head-in-the-sand decision on the Voting Rights Act -- declaring that the VRA isn't needed anymore because it's working so well -- was a stark reminder of why we need to elect presidents who will nominate Supreme Court justices who understand both the text and history of the Constitution and the way it affects real people's lives.
We were reminded of this again today when all the conservative justices except for Anthony Kennedy stood behind the clearly unconstitutional DOMA. Justice Antonin Scalia -- no stranger to anti-gay rhetoric -- wrote an apoplectic rant of a dissent denying the Court's clear role in preserving equal protection. If there had been one more far-right justice on the court, Scalia's dissent could have been the majority opinion.
Just think of how different this week would have been if Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were not on the court and if John McCain had picked two justices instead. We almost certainly wouldn't have a strong affirmation of LGBT equality. Efforts to strip people of color of their voting rights would likely have stood with fewer justices in dissent. And the rights of workers and consumers could be in even greater peril.
As the Republican party moves further and further to the right, it is trying to take the courts with it. This week, we saw what that means in practice. As we move forward to urge Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act and reinforce protections for workers and consumers, and work to make sure that marriage equality is recognized in all states, we must always remember the courts. Elections have real consequences. These Supreme Court decisions had less to do with evolving legal theory than with who appointed the justices. Whether historically good or disastrous, all these decisions were decided by just one vote. In 2016, let's not forget what happened this week.
The Supreme Court today ruled that the core section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. DOMA’s Section 3, which the Court vacated, prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, thereby hitting legally married gay and lesbian couples with extra taxes and depriving them of a slew of federal protections.
People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan said of the Supreme Court’s ruling: “Today’s DOMA ruling is a profound step forward for loving, committed same-sex couples across the country. The decision is premised on the plain fact that there is no good reason for the government to recognize some legally married couples while discriminating against others.”
PFAW launched a campaign to “Dump DOMA” in 2008. Since then, our petition calling on Congress to repeal the discriminatory law has gathered 230,000 signatures.
But the effort to overturn DOMA is not over. While Section 3 was the law’s most damaging provision, DOMA’s Section 2, which says that states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, still stands. We will continue to work to overturn the remainder of DOMA and ensure that all gay and lesbian Americans have the right to marriage, no matter which state they make their home.
While our work continues, today’s decision represents a historic turning point for equality. DOMA will no longer tear apart binational couples. It will no longer impose a “gay tax” on legally married same-sex couples. It will no longer deny benefits to same-sex spouses of federal employees. It will no longer deny gay and lesbian veterans benefits for their spouses.
The story of Edith Windsor, the plaintiff who brought DOMA to the Supreme Court, and Thea Spyer, her late wife and partner of 40 years, illustrates what this decision will mean to so many Americans:
Now that the smoke has cleared, it appears that the IRS scandal that has consumed right-wing media for weeks is not much of a scandal at all. The original story that the IRS was unfairly targeting conservative groups has dramatically shifted thanks to new documents revealed by the Associated Press showing that the tax agency also targeted groups with liberal keywords in their name, such as “progressive” and “occupy.”
While the IRS may have exhibited some poor judgment, the agency was not waging partisan warfare. Nor was it carrying out any of the false right-wing conspiracy theories outlined yesterday by Right Wing Watch.
PFAW president Michael Keegan argued last month that the lesson being pulled from the blunders of the IRS was the wrong one. While conservatives across the nation cried scandal and used IRS activity to condemn big government, Keegan wrote,
“The danger of this frame is that it will discourage the IRS from fully investigating all nonprofit groups spending money to influence elections. And it will distract from the core problem behind the IRS's mess: the post-Citizens United explosion of undisclosed electoral spending.”
The recent revelation that the IRS was targeting liberal groups as well as conservative ones confirms this message. Unharnessed and unaccountable spending is the real problem – not oversight.