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A Small, But Important, Step Towards Common Sense in Judicial Confirmation Process

Last week, in advance of a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on six Arizona district court nominees, senior legislative counsel Paul Gordon asked if Arizona Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain would be able to convince their Republican colleagues to break what has become their practice of routinely delaying nominees’ votes. Since 2009, only five of President Obama’s judicial nominees had been allowed to have their committee votes cast without delay. Gordon urged the Senators to forgo this obstruction, especially given the enormous caseload in Arizona that is impeding the operation of the Arizona district court that has 6 of its 13 seats vacant. 

Yesterday, in a departure from their practice, the Committee actually voted on the nominees. 91. 5 KJAZZ reported:

“The liberal advocacy group People for the American Way called this a step toward fixing the judicial vacancy rate in Arizona, but noted that there are 28 people awaiting confirmation ahead of these nominees.”

Executive vice president Marge Baker also commented on the turn of events in an interview with Cronkite News:

“It wasn’t sustainable to keep delaying this process, and it seems that Arizona senators finally heeded reason. Arizona has had a terrible judicial vacancy rate. This is an important step towards fixing it.”

This was a relief for the state of Arizona, as well as a nice change of pace for Senate Republicans. But as a judicial vacancy crisis continues in Arizona and across the country, the work is far from over.

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Flake and McCain's Next Steps for AZ Nominees

Will Arizona's senators try to convince their GOP colleagues to eliminate the bottleneck of stalled nominees who are ahead of six Arizona nominees?
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Grassley Says Every Senator Has Right to Vote on Nominees He Filibustered

After trying to block the Senate from holding confirmation votes, Grassley says each senator had a right to a recorded vote on those nominees.
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Video: PFAW’s Diallo Brooks Discusses ALEC’s Role in Pushing Stand Your Ground Laws on The Big Picture with Thom Hartmann

On Wednesday, the second anniversary of Trayvon Martin’s death, PFAW’s Director of Outreach and Public Engagement Diallo Brooks joined Thom Hartmann on The Big Picture to discuss how the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has helped promote Stand Your Ground laws in states across the country. 

Brooks highlighted how the secretive organization fueled by wealthy right-wing donors and corporations pushes legislation that hurts real people:
 

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Reid Calls Out Republicans on Obstruction of Judicial Nominees

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) responded to Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) absurd claim that this Congress has done well in confirming judicial nominees. In fact, Republicans have not consented to even one judicial confirmation vote since November. The few votes that have been held since then have been over GOP filibusters. Unfortunately, Senate rules allow them to demand hours of needless “post cloture debate” after every cloture vote, so it could take weeks and weeks of Senate floor time to get through all the nominees waiting for a simple yes-or-no vote.

Reid was quick to voice that the confirmation process has been unnecessarily delayed by GOP obstruction:

Everyone knows that we are in this situation because of Republicans slow-walking every nomination—every nomination. There is no reason, no reason whatsoever that we are having votes on cloture on these judges.

“It is a waste of the taxpayers’ time to go through the process we’ve been going through.

Reid, aware of the prolonged time they will spend clearing the backlog due to these procedural delays, promised that they will get through filing cloture on all of the nominees.

If that’s what the Republicans want us to do, then that’s what we’ll do. The American people will see this colossal waste of time that we’ve been going through.

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Rubio and Sessions Can Prevent Delay of Critical 11th Circuit Vote

Get ready. There’s more Republican obstruction on the way.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on 11th Circuit nominee Robin S. Rosenbaum for this Thursday, which is an important step forward in the fight to address our judicial vacancy crisis. Fully a third of the 11th Circuit’s twelve active judgeships are currently vacant, and all four of its empty slots have been declared judicial emergencies by the Administrative Offices of U.S. Courts.

The vacancy crisis in the 11th Circuit is so bad that the court’s chief judge, Edward Carnes, issued an order in December temporarily suspending the standard rule that at least two judges on a three-judge 11th Circuit panel must be members of that court. That means that going forward, two of three judges on these panels could be visiting from someplace else, potentially outvoting the one 11th Circuit judge. It is vital that Judge Rosenbaum be confirmed in a timely manner. And that starts with a timely committee vote.

But it’s unlikely that’s enough reason for GOP Senators to drop their campaign of endless delays for judicial nominations.

Republicans are expected to delay that committee vote using a procedural tactic that they have deployed against all but five of President Obama’s judicial nominees.

That is, unless Sen. Marco Rubio or Sen. Jeff Sessions steps in.

Rosenbaum is from Florida, which gives Rubio a special responsibility to urge Republican senators on the committee not to delay the vote. It is a chance for him to prioritize his constituents over politics. Similarly, Sessions, who represents a state (Alabama) covered by the 11th Circuit, also has a unique responsibility, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, to avoid such needless delay.

Will either Rubio or Sessions step up and help move the process in a more functional direction? We’ll learn on Thursday, but if past events are a predictor of future behavior, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
 

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Senate to Vote Today on Four Federal District Court Nominees

The Senate is scheduled to vote to end filibusters and then to confirm four federal district court nominees tonight and tomorrow morning, two for the Northern District of California, one for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and one for the District of Connecticut. All four of these nominees were thoroughly vetted and approved by unanimous voice vote by the Judiciary Committee last year. They should have and could have been confirmed months ago. (In contrast, George W. Bush’s confirmed district court noms only waited about a month on average between committee approval and confirmation.) However, because of Republican obstruction, all four nominees have waited months for a simple confirmation vote. And Senate Republicans are indicating that they won’t stop their obstruction anytime soon.  In fact, it looks like they are willing to waste weeks of time in “post-cloture debate” on these and subsequent nominees.

Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer of Connecticut has been waiting for a confirmation since he was first approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 19. Judge James Maxwell Moody, Jr., of Arkansas has been waiting since November 14. The two nominees from Northern California, Judge James Donato and Judge Beth Labson Freeman, have both been waiting since October 31st.

This frustratingly slow process is the result of layers of delaying tactics by GOP senators. Republicans refused to hold votes on these nominees for months, and now that they are being called on their obstructionism through filibuster-ending cloture votes, they’re making the votes take as long as possible by demanding that each take hours of “post-cloture debate.” This is especially ridiculous for nominees whom the Republicans actually support. Not only is this delaying confirmation of judges in these particular states; it’s also delaying nominees in other states waiting in line for their turn, including many for posts that have been deemed “judicial emergencies.” This delaying tactic from Republicans not only slows what should be a simple process, it deprives these states’ constituents the fully functioning justice system they deserve.

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Pressure Mounts for Brewer to Veto Anti-Gay Law

Ever since Arizona’s legislature passed a bill that would allow business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers, pressure has been mounting on Governor Jan Brewer to veto the law.

The bill has drawn sharp criticism from LGBT and human rights groups (in addition to quick witted pizza shop owners and crewmembers of the Starship Enterprise) and now GOP politicians are lining up to call for it to be blocked. Last week, the state’s junior senator, Jeff Flake, tweeted his opposition to the law. This morning he was joined by the state's senior senator, John McCain. As if that weren't enough, TPM reports that state senator Steve Pierce, who voted for the legislation, is reversing himself and calling on Brewer to issue a veto.

It’s clear that the issue isn’t going away soon. Despite the already embarrassing attention that Arizona has received since the law was passed, Governor Brewer still has the opportunity to avoid adding another black mark on her state’s recent history. Millions of Americans are watching closely.

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Will McCain and Flake Let GOP Obstruct AZ Nominees?

Flake and McCain should not let their GOP colleagues needlessly delay a committee vote on nominees to fill six judicial emergencies in Arizona.
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Burr's Blue Slip Abuse Continues

North Carolina's Sen. Richard Burr still won't say why he is blocking Jennifer May-Parker's judicial nomination.
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New Mexicans unite for marriage

Today the state said no to dismantling an earlier court ruling when its legislative session ended without any consideration of a proposed constitutional amendment. With bipartisan support, SJR 6 is dead, and New Mexico still represents the seventeenth state (plus DC) to have legalized marriage for same-sex couples.
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Ending the Disenfranchisement of Formerly Incarcerated Americans

The following is a guest blog from Reverend Michael Couch, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action.

On Tuesday, while speaking at the Georgetown University Law Center, Attorney General Eric Holder called for a repeal of state voting laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people. In a country where nearly six million citizens are unable to vote because of felony convictions, these changes could not come quickly enough.

State laws dictating voting rights for those who have served time in prison vary, from an automatic restoration of rights after sentence completion in some states to outright bans in others. Restrictions on this civil right in states like Kentucky, Florida, Iowa, and Virginia should no longer be subject to criteria such as the type of convictions, arbitrary time frames, petitions to clemency boards and/or the state governor.

I work daily with others around the country to make sure nonpartisan voting education and voter registration of women and men who have completed their sentences takes place. Laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people take away the single most fundamental American right, and they do so disproportionately to people of color. As Attorney General Holder pointed out in his speech, restrictive laws prohibit a shocking one in thirteen African Americans adults from voting.

As an African American faith leader, I find this to be both morally unacceptable and counterproductive to the goal of fostering supportive, engaged communities. I know from experience if someone has committed a crime, served their time in prison, and is released, no good could come of permanently stripping them of their most basic right and responsibility. Moreover, what isn’t often addressed is how restrictive laws keep families of those adults from helping them transition back to being a responsible, contributing citizen of their community. It’s time to change the message sent to the nearly six million Americans who have lost their voice and civic responsibility in our democracy.

Attorney General Holder is right: These laws are “unwise…unjust, and… not in keeping with our democratic values.” It’s time for states to get rid of laws that suppress those who have served their time and prevent them from fully participating in our democratic system.

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GOP Blockade of Unopposed Ark. Judicial Nominees Disrupts Local Election

Chuck Grassley tries and fails to justify his party's obstruction, which is complicating an Arkansas state judicial election.
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PFAW Members Join Largest Civil Rights March in the South Since Selma

People from all walks of life marched together - from students and activists to lawyers, healthcare professionals, and teachers.
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Historic Nomination: Diane Humetewa Would Be First Native American Woman On Federal Bench

A historic nomination by President Obama is being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee: Diane Humetewa is poised to become the first Native American woman on the federal judiciary. Humetewa is a highly qualified nominee with bipartisan support. She was nominated by President Obama with Senator McCain ’s recommendation to serve on the federal judiciary and was previously appointed by President Bush as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had Humetewa’s confirmation hearing on January 29, and her committee vote has been scheduled for this Thursday, February 13. But there is already a growing line of nominees stalled on the Senate floor unable to get a confirmation vote. On January 29, 29 nominees were stalled, and by February 6 the waiting list grew to 32 nominees who are stuck at Senate floor step in the confirmation process. Humetewa and her five fellow Arizona nominees will be added to the end of this already unacceptably long line.

In the meantime, Arizona needs qualified judges like Humetewa to fill its six federal judicial vacancies

If Diane Humetewa is confirmed, she will be the:

First Native American woman to serve as a judge in a federal court;

Third Native American to be a federal judge; and

Only Native American in active service on the federal bench.

Diversity on the federal bench is always important, and Indian legal advocates and tribal leaders have emphasized the need for federal judges who understand Indian Law in particular.

Many Americans know little more about the complexities of Indian tribal laws—and their unique relationship to state and federal laws. Indian sovereign authority, recognized by federal law, extends to the Indian tribal courts that adjudicate Indian affairs-related matters. Some law firms have a specialized practice area in Indian law. Some law schools, such as Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law where Humetewa is a professor, have an Indian legal program “to promote an understanding of the differences between the legal systems of Indian Nations and those of the state and federal governments.”

“Indian legal experts have long said that tribal law gets shortchanged in the federal legal arena because so few judges are well-versed and experienced in it. This is one reason why federal cases are often harmful to tribal and Indian interests, according to many tribal analyses,” reported Indian Country Today after Republican Senators blocked Avro Mikkanen, a Native American previously nominated by President Obama to the federal judiciary.

The National Congress of American Indians applauded the nomination of Diane Humetewa and particularly noted her firsthand experience in federal Indian law. Humetewa’s Indian law background includes her work as an attorney on the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee and an Appellate Judge on the Hopi Appellate Court.

This is an important nomination for which President Obama—and all Americans—should be proud. The Judiciary Committee should act expeditiously on this opportunity to make this federal judicial nomination a historic confirmation. That means that Republicans should not demand a needless delay in the committee vote as they have done in all but five cases since Obama became president.  It also means the full Senate should finally be allowed to hold confirmation votes on the 32 nominees ahead of Humetewa and her fellow Arizonans.

PFAW

Assault On Voting by Ohio GOP Ahead of November 2014 Elections

Ohio Republican legislators are up to their voter suppression tricks again, trying to limit absentee ballot registrations and restricting voting hours ahead of the November 2014 elections. The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday that GOP Rep. Mike Dovilla, Chairman of the Ohio House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, said the committee will vote on Senate Bill 205 and Senate Bill 238 as early as Tuesday.  If passed out of Dovilla’s committee, it could be off to the full House for a floor debate on Wednesday.

SB 205 would ban county clerks from mass mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters, holding that duty only for OH Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has proven in the past that he will restrict voting access almost every chance he gets.

SB 238 would achieve one of Husted’s anti-voter policy agenda items by limiting early voting days, effectively eliminating Ohioans’ ability to register and vote on the same day anywhere in the state.

These legislative moves come just days after the news broke that Hamilton County officials might relocate Cincinnati’s largest early voting location to a new, much less accessible location.  That decision met with considerable push-back from voting rights activists and the media, resulting in a deadlock vote from the Board of Elections. The final decision now also goes to Secretary Husted to decide, effectively putting the power to restrict access to early voting in Cincinnati’s largest city in his hands.

If you are from Ohio, call your Representative now and tell them to protect your early voting rights by voting ‘NO’ on SB 205 and SB 238. You can find your Representative’s contact information here: http://www.ohiohouse.gov/members/member-directory. Once you have talked to your Representative, drop us an email at political@pfaw.org to let us know what they said.  We’ll keep tabs on the situation and update you on voter suppression efforts in Ohio – and across the country – on the PFAW blog.

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The Senate Could Cut Judicial Nominations Backlog in Five Minutes…or Five Weeks

On January 13, the Senate confirmed Judge Robert Wilkins to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. So far, despite a growing backlog of judicial nominees, he is the only judge to have been confirmed this year.

There are currently 96 vacancies in federal courts across the country. Thirty-nine of them have been officially designated “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, indicating that there are too few judges available to handle the court’s workload. This isn’t a built-in feature of the judicial system. In fact, the Senate could cut the judicial vacancy rate by one third today.

There are 32 federal judicial nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee and are waiting for Senate confirmation votes – enough nominees to fill one-third of the country’s judicial vacancies and reduce the number of judicial emergencies by a quarter. All but three nominees cleared the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support, most unanimously. The Senate could confirm all 32 in an afternoon if Republicans would agree to hold simple yes-or-no confirmation votes on their nominations. They could even confirm all 32 in less than five minutes by holding a unanimous consent vote.

But Senate Republicans still seem to be uninterested in confirming nominees to carry out the business of the nation’s courts, even in the many cases where nominees have been recommended and supported by Republican senators.

Since the Senate was forced to change the rules of the filibuster in response to Republican intransigence, the GOP has retaliated by obstructing nominations in other ways. One of these has been demanding that each confirmation vote take the maximum amount of time possible: Senate rules allow for “post-cloture debate” after a filibuster has been broken – 30 hours of floor time for appeals court nominees and two hours for district court nominees. If Republicans forced the Senate to take the  maximum amount of time on all 32 nominees currently waiting for votes, it would take the Senate 204 hours to clear the backlog.

Those 204 hours would add up to five weeks of full-time work: five weeks in which the Senate wouldn’t be able to do anything else – not immigration reform, not a debt ceiling deal, not an update to the Voting Rights Act.

The Senate could use five weeks of its time this year to confirm judicial nominees. Or, Senate Republicans could agree to confirm all 32 nominees in five minutes, cut the number of judicial vacancies by a third, and move on to other business.

PFAW has launched a petition to urge Senators to address the judicial nominations crisis and stop the obstruction of judicial nominees .

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While the GOP Fiddles, Judicial Emergencies Mount

A second emergency has been declared in Michigan, where four qualified nominees should have been confirmed last year.
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GOP-Created Nominees Bottleneck Grows

GOP refusal to allow any confirmation votes may force the Senate to devote weeks in needless "post-cloture debate."
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