As we like to remind anyone who will listen, the current GOP senate has been shameless in its enthusiasm for obstructing judicial nominees just for the sake of obstruction. For instance, a PFAW memo on August 2 reported that of 24 nominees then waiting for confirmation votes, 21 had been voted through the Senate Judiciary Committee with no recorded opposition. Instead of sending through at least the unopposed nominees in a voice vote and moving on with its business, the Senate decided to keep these potential jurists off the bench for as long as possible – despite the pressing problem of unfilled judicial seats leading to slowed down justice. Ultimately, 4 of those nominees were confirmed by the Senate before it left for its August recess, and 20 remain waiting. (The Washington Post this morning lamented that such “gamesmanship is not only frustrating but also destructive”)
This sort of thing is a clear example of obstruction for obstruction’s sake. But what about the nominees who do face some GOP opposition? Last week, The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen took an in-depth look at some of President Obama’s nominees who were ultimately confirmed by the Senate, but who received more than 25 “no” votes. The reason? Most were opposed because of a record fighting for civil liberties or against big corporations. Here are a few of Cohen’s examples:
7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Hamilton (Votes 59-39). Even though his local Federalist Society endorsed this nephew of former Congressional leader Lee Hamilton, Senate Republicans mostly didn't because, as a trial judge, Hamilton had issued this 2005 ruling which had infuriated the religious right. Citing Supreme Court precedent, Judge Hamilton had ruled that Indiana's legislative prayer before each session could no longer be "sectarian" and regularly invoke the name of Jesus Christ.
Northern District of Ohio Judge Benita Y. Pearson (Votes 56-39). The first black female federal jurist in Ohio almost didn't get the gig. The precise reasons why are unclear. The People for the American Way suggested that she was a member of an animal rights group and thus earned the wrath of those in the cattle industries -- although 39 "no" votes is quite a lot of beef to have against a pioneering jurist.
District of Colorado Judge William J. Martinez (Votes 58-37). By contrast, it is not hard to understand why this Mexico-born nominee roused so much Republican opposition on the floor of the Senate. Before he was nominated, Martinez advised the Americans with Civil Liberties Union and was a lawyer for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (just like Clarence Thomas before him, only Justice Thomas' EEOC experience evidently was a boon for his nomination). Of nominee Martinez, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said: "It seems that if you've got the ACLU DNA you've got a pretty good leg up to being nominated by this president."
District of Rhode Island Judge John J. McConnell (Votes 50-44). It's also fairly clear why Judge McConnell almost didn't make it onto the bench. Senate Republicans didn't like him because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce didn't like him because, as a lawyer, McConnell had successfully sued Big Tobacco and fought for those harmed by lead paint. Evidently that's five Republican votes more serious in the Senate than ticking off Big Beef.
Northern District of California Judge Edward M. Chen (Votes 56-42). Like Judge Martinez, Edward Chen evidently was touched with the "ACLU gene," which rendered him objectionable to Senate Republicans. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), whose state's Asian population is nearly three times lower than the American average, voted against Chen because he thought the well-respected former magistrate judge employed the "empathy standard" of judging.
District of Oregon Judge Michael H. Simon (Votes 64-35). Harvard educated? Check. Prior government experience with the Justice Department? Check. So why 35 "no" votes? Because Simon had worked for the ACLU. The seat he took on the federal bench, reported the Oregonian, had been vacant for 664 days, two months short of two years. How would you like to have been a litigant in Oregon during that time?
All of these nominees were ultimately confirmed – but not after plenty of stalling and debate over the value of “ACLU DNA” or of holding big corporations accountable for their actions. When we talk about the many nominees who are unopposed yet unaccountably stalled, it’s important to remember that the few nominees who do face GOP opposition don’t always face that opposition for the most convincing of reasons.
The writing is on the wall. As any number of commentators have suggested, it’s pretty clear that no matter whom the President nominates for the next Supreme Court vacancy, the Republicans and their allies on the far right are going to fight. Indeed, as Jeff Toobin points out in his excellent article in The New Yorker, even the President’s mainstream nomination of David Hamilton for a seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals – his very first judicial nominee – continues to languish because of unfounded attacks from the Right. As one White House official is quoted by Toobin: ‘If they are going to stop David Hamilton, then who won’t they stop.”
As suggested in Toobin’s article, the Republicans claim it’s payback for the President’s votes against Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. But as history is showing us, then-Senator Obama’s votes were the correct ones. The Roberts court is Exhibit A in far right judicial activism – not the balls and strikes umpiring we were promised by the Chief Justice. In any event as Republican Senator Thune makes clear in yesterday’s Roll Call article, the only way for the President to avoid a fight is for him to nominate a conservative – anything else would meet significant resistance.
So the cards are on the table. If we’re going to have a fight, then let’s think boldly about the kind of Justice we need on the Court. And that means a Justice who understands that the law and the Constitution mandate protections for average Americans against the interests of the more powerful. It means a Justice who understands that the law and the Constitution protect important privacy rights. It means a Justice who appreciates that the law and the Constitution affect the realities of Americans’ everyday lives. It means a Justice who respects the core constitutional values of justice and equal opportunity for all. If we’re going to have a fight, let’s make it one worth having – let’s make it a fight for core constitutional values.
Patrick Leahy is fed up and he should be.
Dawn Johnsen, President Obama's nominee to head the all important Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, has been awaiting action by the full Senate since mid-March.
David Hamilton, President Obama's first judicial nomination, has been waiting since the beginning of June.
Marisa Demeo, nominated to be an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia has been waiting since the end of May.
These are just three of the 15 Justice Department and Judicial nominees that Republicans have been stalling for months! "The Senate has to do better," says
Judiciary Chairman Leahy — and we couldn't agree more.
And take action by signing onto our petition urging the Senate to confirm Dawn Johnsen.
Senator Inhofe announced earlier this week that he would filibuster the nomination of David Hamilton for a seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. And on the Senate floor he elaborated—he said this was because, in a case involving a ban on the Indiana House of Representatives’ use of opening prayers to advance a particular religion, Hamilton placed limits on prayers that used Christ’s name, but, according to Inhofe, said that invoking the name of “Allah” would be permissible.
There are two major problems with Senator Inhofe’s announcement.
First is the senator’s statement, back in 2005, that filibusters of judicial nominees were contrary to the Constitution. Of filibusters of judicial nominations he said: “I don’t think it should be used where it is contrary to the Constitution.” If you watched Rachel Maddow last night you go this point loud and clear. You can’t have it both ways – the Constitution didn’t change between 2005 and 2009; what changed is the President making the nominations.
The second is the Senator’s gross misreading of Hamilton’s opinion. As noted in an earlier post, Hamilton never ruled that prayers to Christ were impermissible, while Muslim prayers were permissible. What he said was that any prayers that advanced a particular religion were impermissible and that on the record before the court, the official prayers being offered in the Indiana House “repeatedly and consistently” advanced the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, but that the single instance of a Muslim imam offering a prayer was not distinctly Muslim in its content.
In a ruling on a post judgment motion, Hamilton did say that prayers to “Allah” would be permissible, but what Senator Inhofe’s statement leaves out is both the context and the full content of the statement. Hamilton was asked in the post judgment motion to rule on whether a prayer can be addressed to “Allah.” Explaining that this is the Arabic word for “God” used in translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures, Hamilton ruled this permissible. He went on to say: “If those offering prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives choose to use the Arabic Allah, the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language’s terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers contemplated in Marsh v. Chambers, the court sees little risk that the choice of language would advance a particular religion or disparage others.”
If Senator Inhofe would carefully review the record, either Judge Hamilton’s or his own, he’d see that his pledge to filibuster this nomination is a very poor idea.
We just got word from the Senate Judiciary Committee that Republicans are going to get another shot at questioning Judge David Hamilton, President Obama’s first judicial nominee who is being put forward for a seat on the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Senator Leahy is indeed bending over backwards to accommodate Republicans, who, as we’ve reported, threatened to filibuster the President’s judicial nominees before a single name was put forward and who boycotted Hamilton’s first hearing, because they claimed they did not have enough time to prepare, prompting Senator Leahy to ask their questions for them.
As Senator Leahy said in making the announcement of this rare second hearing, “It has been four weeks since Judge Hamilton first appeared before the Committee, and I am disappointed that Committee Republicans have yet to ask a single question of this nominee.” Hopefully, this time the Republicans will show up and ask their own questions. Judge Hamilton is eminently qualified for this position – his nomination should not be further delayed.
I’m just back from the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Judge David Hamilton to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which the Republicans on the committee boycotted because they claimed they had not been given sufficient time to prepare for the hearing. In an ironic twist, the hearing was held in a small room off of the Senate floor—the same room that Senator Leahy, the Chair of the Committee, used to continue holding hearings on President Bush’s judicial nominations in the immediate aftermath of September 11th.
As Senator Leahy noted today, the Democrats on the Committee have a better record of pushing through Republican judicial nominees than the Republicans had when they were in charge. Yet today, the Republicans once again were all about trying to delay the process, and we’re now even seeing complaints that the hearing was moved to the Capitol, a move which actually helped accommodate Senators who needed to be on the floor to vote on budget amendments.
In the absence of the Republicans, Senator Leahy ended up asking Judge Hamilton about cases that Senator Specter had identified as potentially problematic – in other words he asked the Republicans questions for them!
David Hamilton is eminently qualified to sit on the Seventh Circuit. We hope the Committee will move his nomination forward when the Senate returns from its upcoming two-week recess.
Late last week several leaders of the Right, including Tony Perkins, Edwin Meese, and Alfred Regnery issued a statement opposing the nomination of David Hamilton (currently the Chief Judge of the Southern District of Indiana) to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Among other things the statement recycles the screed working its way through the right wing blogoshpere that treats Hamilton's one-month job as a canvasser for ACORN thirty years ago when he was twenty two as if it constitutes a major portion of his career. And it repeats the gross mischaracterization of a decision by Hamilton that police shouldn’t be allowed to violate “the privacy and sanctity of family relations” by directing a school social worker to interrogate a nine-year old student to get evidence against her mother.
And, now, for the first time as far as I’m aware, the statement levels charges that Hamilton ruled that prayers to Jesus Christ offered at the beginning of state legislative sessions were impermissible, but that prayers to Allah were not.
Of course, that’s not an accurate reading of Hamilton’s opinion. Rather, he concluded, as the Supreme Court has said, that “any official prayers [must] be inclusive and non-sectarian and not advance one particular religion.” And he found, based on an in-depth analysis of the record, that the official prayers being offered in the Indiana House in fact “repeatedly and consistently” advanced the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, and as such, were impermissible. He also said that Muslim prayers that similarly advanced the Muslim faith were also impermissible, but that the one and only instance of a prayer being offered by a Muslim imam “was inclusive and was not identifiable as distinctly Muslim from its content.”
A debate on the merits of judicial nominees is perfectly appropriate. But let’s at least get the facts straight.
Ed Whelan in yesterday's post about Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals nominee David Hamilton bemoans Hamilton's "inventive invocation of substantive due process to suppress evidence of a criminal defendant's possession of cocaine." Sound ominous? Perhaps - if it were true.
Here's the real story.
There were two defendants in this case. The first, the cocaine dealer, was convicted and received a sentence from Judge Hamilton of 188 months. Although Hamilton concluded that the search warrant pursuant to which drugs were found was not based on probable cause, he nonetheless refused to exclude the evidence obtained from the search because the officers conducted the search based on good faith that the warrant was properly issued. The defendant challenged Judge Hamilton's decision on appeal and lost in the Seventh Circuit. No substantive due process suppression of evidence for this defendant.
The second defendant was a girlfriend of the convicted cocaine dealer. She was charged with possession of marijuana and related offenses--but what concerned Judge Hamilton was how the police collected their evidence against her: by using a school social worker to interrogate her nine-year old daughter for, as Judge Hamilton found, the sole purpose of getting the "goods" on her mother.
This offended Judge Hamilton's sense of fundamental fairness and he concluded as such in an extremely carefully-reasoned opinion. He found that this governmental abuse of power violated a core interest at the "foundation of American liberty long protected by constitutional safeguards: the privacy and sanctity of family relations."
The Seventh Circuit didn’t agree with Judge Hamilton’s analysis of the government’s rationale for questioning the defendant’s daughter and the balancing of government interests v. intrusion into familial relations and it so reversed the decision. But this is not exactly the picture of "extremism" painted by Whelan, is it?
News reports state that David Hamilton, a federal district court judge in Indiana, will be President Obama’s first judicial nominee. He will apparently be nominated to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
I am just learning about Judge Hamilton. In 2005, according to the New York Times, "he made news by ruling that the legislature was prohibited from beginning its sessions with overtly Christian prayers. The decision drew widespread criticism in the legislature and across the state."
I can only imagine.
The overwhelming majority of Indianans are Christian. I’d venture to guess that very few of them have ever lived in a society where theirs was a minority religion, and where the government officially promoted a religion that condemned theirs. The experience of their lives is one where they are comfortably in the majority.
As a Jew who grew up in conservative Texas, my experience is different. I know how it felt in elementary school when public school teachers imposed their Christianity upon the classroom. Officially-sanctioned Christianity regularly made it clear that I was an outsider in my own society: I did not belong.
That is but one of the many excellent reasons that the Founders wisely adopted the First Amendment’s prohibition of the establishment of religion by government. But it’s the one that first occurred to me as I read about the Indiana legislative prayer case.
It is important that judges as a group reflect the diversity of America, so the bench is filled with jurists with a wide variety of life experiences, ranging from the top to the bottom of the social ladder. But that does not excuse the individual judge from being able to step outside their own life experience and recognize that what is not a problem for them can be a severe problem for someone whose life has been different. That is an essential quality for a judge. It’s what made the Brown v. Board of Education decision so different from Plessey v. Ferguson, even though both cases were decided by all-white Courts. Similarly, it’s what made 1976’s Craig v. Boren (establishing a higher level of scrutiny for legal sex-based classifications) so different from 1872’s Bradwell v. Illinois (upholding the state’s prohibition against women attorneys), even though both cases were decided by an all-male Court.
Perhaps Judge Hamilton’s ability to step outside his own experiences helped him decide the legislative prayer case. Either way, he clearly was willing to enforce the First Amendment and clear Supreme Court precedent in a case where he knew that he would be condemned by many people in his state. He put the law over ideology. That’s another quality needed in a judge.
This is an encouraging first judicial nomination from President Obama.