This is a good day for Americans who care about our federal courts. According to press reports, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has said that Georgia federal district court nominee Mike Boggs lacks majority support on the committee and that he should withdraw. The New York Times calls the nomination "dead."
Federal judicial nominees routinely - and appropriately - assure senators that their personal feelings and political positions will play no role in their judicial decisions. But this particular nominee did exactly the opposite when running for election as a state judge in 2004. That's when then-Rep. Boggs told voters at a judicial candidates' forum, "I am proud of my record. You don't have to guess where I stand - I oppose same-sex marriages. I supported and authored the Child Protection Act to protect children from predators. I have a record that tells you exactly what I stand for."
This connection - that Boggs himself made - between how he would approach judging cases to his views as a legislator on the legal issues that would be before him as a judge, compelled the Senate Judiciary Committee to examine Boggs' legislative record.
And what a disturbing record that was: He sought to amend the state constitution to forever lock gays and lesbians out of the promise of equality and to prohibit the Georgia legislature from ever extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians. He supported anti-choice legislation and even voted for a bill amendment that would have put abortion providers' lives at risk. He voted in support of having the Confederate battle symbol incorporated into the state flag. He sought to use the power of government to promote religion, church-state separation notwithstanding.
Given his 2004 assurance that his legislative record showed how he would rule as a judge, senators could certainly presume that Boggs has a severely cramped view of constitutional Equal Protection, reproductive rights, and church-state separation. LGBT people, religious minorities, African Americans, and women could not be assured that their basic rights would be recognized and fully protected in his courtroom.
To make things worse, his efforts to explain away his record to the Judiciary Committee raised questions about his candor.
For instance, at his hearing, he assured both Senators Mazie Hirono and Chris Coons that statements he made in 2004 while expressing his opposition to marriage equality about "the dangers that we face with respect to activist judges" were views he held as a legislator, not as a judge. Yet he sounded quite different as recently as November 2011, having been a judge for nearly seven years. At that time, Boggs was promoting himself to a different audience, the Judicial Nominating Commission of Georgia, which was considering recommending to the governor his appointment as a state appeals court judge. When asked then how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the legal system, Boggs cited as the problem "judges who abrogated their constitutionally created authority" and "judicial decisions that have ignored and violated the basic tenets of the judiciary."
At his Senate confirmation hearings just a few years later, Sen. Coons asked Boggs to name three or four examples of cases that he'd had in mind when he expressed those concerns in 2011. Boggs admitted that as a legislator in 2004, he considered cases recognizing marriage equality as a state constitutional right as fitting this category, but didn't say what cases he'd had in mind in 2011. In her written follow-up questions, Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Boggs if he could name any decisions that he believed abrogated the judiciary's constitutionally created authority (using his words). He responded that he could not recall any cases that he had been thinking of at the time.
Yeah, right. Based on what Boggs told the state Commission, he viewed this as extremely serious, going to the very legitimacy of the courts. Yet just a few years later, even after being given additional time to think about it, he could not recall even one case that he'd had in mind. One could be forgiven for believing instead that he actually had in mind the same cases he'd referred to in 2004, and that he was telling the commissioners - and ultimately, Georgia's governor - what he thought they wanted to hear.
His efforts to explain away his votes endangering abortion providers and supporting the Confederate battle symbol were equally not believable, and apparently they were not believed by a majority of committee members. Good for them.
Boggs' disturbing record showed he was unqualified for the federal bench. Today's news shows that a majority of the Judiciary Committee agrees.
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Due Process Guarantee Act: Banning Indefinite Detention of Americans,” which shed light on controversial provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA).
That act, signed into law on December 31, 2011, codified some of the most extreme abuses of civil liberties that have been pursued following the initiation of the ‘War on Terror,’ the actions of which, under the current administration, are now engaged under the title, ‘Overseas Contingency Operations.’ The most striking provision of the NDAA affirmed a broad interpretation of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (2001) and stated that the executive has the power to detain anyone “who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities … without trial, until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF 2001],” which many interpret would permit even the indefinite detention of American citizens.
Although the current executive branch has pledged to not act upon these powers with respect to American citizens – President Obama signed the law with an adjoining statement, declaring, “my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens” – the potential for future administrations to engage in such clearly unconstitutional behavior, or for the Obama Administration to simply change its mind, is a danger that all Americans should be wary of.
Troubled by these possibilities, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the ‘Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011’ just hours after the final version of the NDAA was approved by the Senate. The bill seeks to amend the United States Code affected by the NDAA, effectively barring the executive from utilizing indefinite detention on American citizens without express approval from Congress to do so.
The hearing today regarded this remedial act; and there were fireworks to say the least.
Senator Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and is the author of the bill, repeatedly called into question the effectiveness of the provisions in question. Alluding to her past experiences on the Intelligence Committee, Feinstein echoed the concerns of leaders of intelligence and domestic crime fighting agencies who have expressed their disagreement with the infringement of the Armed Forces into domestic security concerns.
Senator Patrick Leahy, before passing the gavel to Senator Feinstein to chair the session, spoke more broadly about the practice of indefinite detention in his opening statement, stating, “A regime of indefinite detention degrades the credibility of this great Nation around the globe, particularly when we criticize other governments for engaging in such conduct.”
The most heated portion of the hearing arose when Senator Al Franken objected to the testimony of Steven G. Bradbury, a former Bush Administration appointee invited by Senate Republicans to testify in favor of the indefinite detention provisions. Franken alluded to the ‘enhanced interrogation’ memos (more accurately called torture memos) that Bradbury authored – which were the subject of a Justice Department probe that concluded by seriously questioning the legal work of Bradbury and others - and stated, “it’s very difficult for me, frankly, to rely on your legal opinion today.”
To ensure that future generations of Americans are not subject to indefinite detention without charge or trial, which was deemed unconstitutional by the Hamdi Supreme Court decision in 2004, please contact your local Representative and Senators to express your opposition to the NDAA, and encourage them to co-sponsor legislation to make sure the law reflects our Constitution’s most essential values. ( H.R. 36702 in the House; S. 2003 in the Senate).
Today, Sen. Patrick Leahy convened the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold the body's first ever hearing on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages, was signed into law in 1996, and since then has had a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of married gay and lesbian couples and their families.
In March, Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal the discriminatory policies of DOMA and provide the same federal rights and benefits to same-sex married couples as their opposite-sex counterparts.
The three-panel hearing began with powerful and profound testimony from Rep. John Lewis, a leader of the Civil Rights movement. Calling DOMA a “stain on our democracy,” Lewis reaffirmed his continued commitment to fighting for the civil rights of all people, including gays and lesbians.
Representative Nadler echoed much of Lewis’ testimony, adding that DOMA hurts same-sex couples, especially those with children, because of the financial burdens that it places on them. Many of the witnesses in the second panel told stories of how the discriminatory law has been both a psychological and financial hardships for them and their spouses.
Because only two DOMA-supporting senators, Orin Hatch and Chuck Grassley, were willing to show up at the hearing, the task of arguing against the legislations repeal was left to some of the witnesses.
Edward Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center claimed that the fight for marriage equality and repeal of DOMA is part of the left’s plan to “path the way for polygamy and other polyamorous relationships,” ignoring the fact that no state to legalize marriage equality has seen any organized movement to legalize polygamy.
Thirteen members of the Senate are the latest voices in the It Gets Better Project. In this five-minute long video, senators from across the country speak out to send a message of hope and support for LGBT youth and a call to action for all Americans. Check it out:
Through its efforts and mission the It Gets Better Project sends a positive message to LGBT youth, but I applaud the senators for taking the message one step further by saying: “we’re making it better”. Going beyond the simple, yet powerful, message of “it gets better,” these senators show us that taking action—and not passively waiting—will result in significant advances and great victories for LGBT rights.
Pointing out their support for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, and some even speaking out in support of marriage equality, these senators show their commitment to fighting for the LGBT community.
“It’s going to get better. Believe in it, let’s fight for it.” - Senator Udall (CO)
It is disappointing, however, that we only hear from the voices of Democrats. Speaking out against harassment and discrimination of any form, against any group should transcend partisan politics and be countered with action from both sides of the aisle.
In talking about the importance and necessity of working together, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut put it best:
“Our nation has always done better when all of us, no matter where we’re from, what we look like, or whom we love, work together.”
Making it better to ensure that it gets better requires courage, commitment, and hard work on the part of both our leaders and individuals. I am so pleased to see a handful of senators coming out in support of LGBT rights and fighting to fulfill the promise of equality for all.
Special thanks to the following senators for speaking out in support of LGBT rights and continuing the fight for equality: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH), Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA.), Sen. Dick Durbin (IL.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA), Sen. Al Franken (MN), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Sen. Mark Udall (CO), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Sen. Ron Wyden (OR).
And I would like to extend a very special thank you to Senator Chris Coons (DE), who believes “equality is a question of morality,” for leading this important and inspiring effort.
It is my hope that we will soon hear from more members of Congress—Democrats and Republicans alike—with a similar message of making it better for LGBT youth.
A few weeks ago, former Supreme Court Justice David Souter delivered a call to arms against the misguided theory of “constitutional originalism” that has dominated recent debates on the Supreme Court. “The Constitution is no simple contract,” Souter said, “Not because it uses a certain amount of open-ended language that a contract draftsman would try to avoid, but because its language grants and guarantees many good things, and good things that compete with each other and can never all be realized, all together, all at once.”
Souter’s argument has started a robust and refreshing conversation about keeping faith with the Constitution …. and debunking the notion of justices as constitutional umpires who have to simply stand at the plate and call objective balls and strikes.
Constitutional law professor Alain L. Sanders weighed in today with an interesting take on what a literal adherence to the Constitution as originally written —sure to be invoked in the upcoming hearings on Elena Kagan’s nomination— would mean:
The political oratory will be enticing to many, and sound astute, learned and even well-grounded. But much of it will be misleading, wrong-headed, and unsupported by logic, history, or the principles of the Constitution. A simple examination of the Senate confirmation proceedings themselves illuminates the fallacies of the conservative assault.
Sitting on the Senate Judiciary panel will be California's Dianne Feinstein and Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar. To any and all true-blue strict constructionists, the presence of these two women legislators ought immediately to sound the alarm of unconstitutionality and invalidate the entire confirmation process. The Constitution states clearly, directly and consistently throughout its many provisions that federal officials are to be men.
Sanders’ argument brought to mind some other great riffs on Souter’s speech that we’ve seen over the past couple of weeks. These articles are all worth a read:
The Constitutional Accountability Center’s Doug Kendall and UVA professor Jim Ryan argued that adherence to the full text and history of the Constitution – including all of its amendments - is something that progressives can and should embrace:
We live in an era thick with conservative nostalgia for the "original" Constitution and the ideas of our founding, even when those ideas have been repudiated or modified by subsequent constitutional amendments. Kagan would be doing the entire nation as well as the Constitution itself a service if she would use the confirmation process to express and explain her commitment to follow the Constitution—all of it. If Kagan does talk about the text and history of the Constitution, as well as the role of the court, it could go a long way toward recalibrating the current national debate on the judiciary and the Constitution.
Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick asked why it’s fashionable to see the Constitution as a simple instructional manual:
So, as we look forward toward Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings, the question isn't whether she will use the opportunity of her hearings to defend living constitutionalism or to debunk originalism. That is probably too freighted a discussion, and one that no progressive can possibly win in this day and age. The question I would ask is why it's so fashionable for nominees to suggest that the hard work of judging is simple; that the Constitution is no more complicated than the instructions for assembling an Ikea end table; and that the reason they are perfectly qualified for the job is that, well, they can read. What does it say about the court as an institution that everyone who goes through the interview process must downplay the difficulty of the job?
And Adam Serwer of the American Prospect, responding to Lithwick, calls originalism out as “a great hustle”:
Lithwick notes that the theory of orginalism assumes a "nonexistent universe in which all cases are easy and all the constitutional directives are perfectly clear." But to the originalists, it is always perfectly clear: The answer is whatever they want it to be, all other conclusions are inherently illegitimate. That's what makes originalism such a great hustle -- its arbitraryness is masked by nigh-bulletproof rhetorical argument -- that its adherents are simply "applying the law as written." In order to attack their reasoning, you first have to dismantle the idea that there are no inherent tensions within the Constitution that need to be resolved in order to reach a clear ruling. In a way, originalists are a bit like religious fundamentalists who insist on following their religious texts literally but in practice only select those that fit their prevailing cultural sympathies, dismissing others as heretics and unbelievers.
We’re hoping that the weeks since Souter’s commencement address are just the beginning of a new discussion about the Constitution and the importance of the Supreme Court in all of our lives - a discussion that should be at the center of the debate on Kagan’s confirmation.