Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Politico that he plans to push forward on filling the federal courts, despite unprecedented Republican obstructionism. Here is what Americans who value the courts are up against:
Despite a vacancy crisis in the federal courts that has led to delayed justice for Americans across the country, Senate Republicans have been using every delay tactic in the books to prevent qualified nominees from getting through the system.
The dotted line represents the average time President Bush’s confirmed judicial nominees at this point in his presidency had to wait for a floor vote after committee approval. The blue lines are President Obama’s nominees – almost all with overwhelming bipartisan support , yet mostly forced to wait for months on end for no reason.
If Senate Republicans keep filibustering these nominees, Sen. Reid will be forced to start a cumbersome and time-consuming cloture process for each and every one of them. Such filibuster abuse is a waste fo the Senate’s time, and it’s bad for America’s courts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid minced no words yesterday discussing the Senate GOP’s seeming indifference to Latino voters:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on Monday that GOP prejudice against Latinos is coloring everything from the immigration stance its presidential contenders are taking on the campaign trail to Senate Republicans filibustering an ambassadorship.
“Let’s talk about some of the things happening to Hispanics in the Senate,” Reid said during a call with reporters, citing past GOP filibusters of immigration-reform bills and the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador.
“What is going on here answers whether there is some prejudice here,” Reid added, referencing a prior question on whether racism played a role in what Reid and other Democrats depict as extreme anti-immigrant positions taken by GOP front-runner Mitt Romney and other GOP presidential hopefuls.
Reid said that Republican candidates are “catering to the tea party” and competing for favor from extremists in their party with their immigration stances.
It’s not just immigration policy and the Aponte nomination. Republicans in the Senate have also been filibustering Hispanic judicial nominees at an alarming rate. This practice gained national attention when Democrats were forced to break a filibuster of the nomination of Judge Adalberto Jordan to sit on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Jordan was to become the first Cuban-American to sit on the circuit that covers Florida, and had the support of Cuban-American GOP senator Marco Rubio, yet was filibustered for four months. The pointlessness of the extended filibuster was made even clearer when the Senate ultimately confirmed Jordan in an overwhelming, bipartisan vote. Writing about the Jordan filibuster, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank asked, “Does the GOP care about Latino voters?”
Senate Republicans are now stalling votes on two Hispanic nominees to the federal courts. They were both approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee, and no Republican has publicly expressed any reason to question their fitness for the bench.
President Obama has made a concerted effort to bring diversity to the federal bench – 36 percent of his nominees have been people of color and 45 percent have been women. The president, in prioritizing bringing diversity to the federal courts, has made a strong statement. The statement that the Senate GOP is making in obstructing those nominees is equally strong.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that one of the key focuses of the Senate’s next five weeks of work will be “clearing the backlog of judicial nominees that threatens the effectiveness of our justice system.”
Reid’s announcement is important for several reasons. Because of unyielding Republican obstructionism, Senate Democrats have been unable to schedule confirmation votes on all but a few federal judicial nominees in the past several months. This situation had created a backlog of nominees waiting for Senate votes and a vacancy crisis in the federal courts, where about one in ten seats is vacant.
The reason why it’s been so hard for Democrats to schedule votes on President Obama’s judicial nominees is that the Senate GOP has in the past few years taken full advantage of all the tools of obstruction that it has available. The Senate has to have unanimous consent to schedule an up-or-down vote – something that in the past has been routinely granted to judicial nominees with strong bipartisan support. But since President Obama took office, Senate Republicans have been refusing to grant votes on nearly every nominee – even the vast majority who have little to no Republican opposition -- effectively filibustering dozens upon dozens of nominees. Only after months of delay are the votes finally allowed. Last week, Senate Democrats made it clear that they’d had enough and filed cloture to end the filibusters of two of the nominees – each of whom was subsequently confirmed in overwhelming numbers.
That’s right: Senate Republicans haven’t just been obstructing nominees who they find fault with – they’ve been obstructing everybody. President Obama’s nominees have been forced to wait an average of 100 days after committee approval just to get a yes-or-no vote from the Senate. The average wait for George W. Bush’s nominees at this point in his presidency was 24 days.
This afternoon, senators voted on the nomination of Margo K. Brodie, to the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern New York. Although she was unopposed in the Judiciary Committee, Brodie has waited for more than four months for her nomination to be voted on. She was approved on a vote of 86 to 2.
There are now nineteen judicial nominees still waiting for a Senate vote, most of whom were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with absolutely no opposition. Ten of them have been waiting three months or more from a vote, and ten have been nominated to fill officially-designated judicial emergencies. Fourteen of the twenty are women or people of color and one is an openly gay man.
Sen. Reid is doing the right thing in calling out Republicans on their obstructionism and ensuring that our courts continue to be fair and functioning.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has cancelled the scheduled 4th of July recess, in the hopes that the Republican obstructionists in the upper chamber might finally allow some real work to take place on behalf of the American people. The debt talks certainly deserve attention, but this is also a great opportunity to whittle down the critical mass of still-unconfirmed presidential nominees. The number of vacant positions, particularly in the judiciary, is an embarrassing testament to the unprecedented obstruction that is taking place. According to PFAW’s Marge Baker as reported in the Huffington Post, we can’t even begin to tackle this problem unless the Senate actually shows up for work:
Baker sees a simple means of drilling through the obstruction by embarrassing an opposition that has chosen to enjoy fictional days at the office at a time when most Americans are working extra hard to keep their jobs in a tough economy.
“One way to do that is stay in session and work -- force them to work -- and get something done,” Baker said, referring particularly to the Senate where there is an enormous backlog of unfinished business on the appointment front alone.
Of nearly 300 civilian appointments Obama has made this year, fewer than 100 of them have been confirmed by the Senate -- even when there is no opposition.
It’s particularly stark with judicial appointees. Baker noted that there are 15 judge nominees who have been unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee -- nine of them women or minority appointees -- yet none have made it to the floor of the Senate.
To her, that just looks like obstruction. And even worse, in her mind, is the idea that Republicans simply want to flout the law by refusing to confirm anyone to the CFPB -- unless the law is changed.
Senator Robert Menendez, along with Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senators Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Charles Schumer, and John Kerry, today introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011. The bill creates a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who must meet strict requirements before waiting in line to become legal residents. The bill also addresses the continuing need for effective border security. Most notably, this bill includes the provisions for LGBT families outlined in the Uniting American Families Act, as well as the DREAM Act and AgJOBS. Here at PFAW, we’re very pleased to see such inclusive legislation being introduced.
America is a nation of immigrants, and our country’s history would be unfathomable without the men and women who have come here from all around the world. Comprehensive immigration reform will help the economy and create greater fairness and equality in our deeply flawed immigration system. We applaud these senators for their leadership in seeking to create a comprehensive and fair immigration policy. When addressing undocumented immigrants, the best thing our nation can do is to implement a stable path to legal citizenship, with equal opportunity for all, and that’s precisely what this bill does.
Because, thanks to the ongoing GOP obstruction in the Senate, virtually nothing can get done without a time consuming cloture vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture late yesterday on the motion to begin debate on the DREAM Act. If passed, the legislation would allow undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to gain legal status and a path to citizenship if they attend college or join the armed forces.
The Brookings Institution gives a rundown of what the legislation includes:
The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act would offer conditional citizenship to a specific group of young individuals. To gain conditional status under the DREAM Act one must have entered the United States before the age of 16, been in the country continuously for five years, earned a high school diploma (or GED) and not committed any crimes that would otherwise restrict someone from entering the country. During a six-year period of conditional status, this group will have been required to complete two years in uniformed service or two years enrolled at an institution of higher learning, and must pass a second criminal background check before being considered for full citizenship. It should also be noted that the DREAM Act only applies to young people currently in the country so that it will not encourage additional families to bring children to the U.S. looking for benefits.
The bill seems to have plenty of support. Orrin Hatch, Sam Brownback, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have all supported it in the past. But when it comes to Republican obstruction, good policy takes a backseat to good politics.
By filing the cloture petition, Reid will be able to hold the vote on cutting off debate and then proceeding to consideration of the bill on Wednesday. We’ll keep you posted as the issue moves forward.
The Senate Armed Services Committee closed its two days of hearings on the Pentagon’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell report with the testimony of the chiefs of the various armed services. While there is some disagreement as to when and how, the general consensus was that repeal can and should be implemented. Even General James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, who has expressed his opposition publicly on numerous occasions, “think[s] it will be repealed eventually. I just ask for the -- the opportunity to be able to do it with my forces when they're not singularly focused on combat.”
If the effective date really is the sticking point, that has already been addressed in the proposed legislation, which requires President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen to certify that repeal is consistent with military readiness, effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting. Secretary Gates has made “absolutely” clear that he “will not certify until [he] feel[s] that the process can move forward without any damage to the safety and security of our men and women that are serving, number one, and that our battle effectiveness will not be jeopardized, number two.” Moreover, “before the certification is signed, everything has to be done to get ready. It's not something that I would start, that I would certify while it was still in process as it were.”
Senator Levin, Chairman of the Committee, was quick to point out that “you have to repeal before the implementation stage comes.” Implementation will take considerable thought and time, but there will be nothing to implement if Congress doesn’t first act on repeal.
Senator McCain is still insisting that he needs more time. He needs to talk to more people. And don’t forget his warning that “the problem with the defense authorization bill isn't confined to the "don't ask/don't tell" issue.” This is another case of putting the cart before the horse. You can’t implement repeal if there is no repeal. And you can’t fix the “problems” with the Defense bill, you can’t even discuss them, if the bill is not allowed to come to the floor. Senator Levin: “The place to address the kind of issues which Senator McCain raises is on the floor of the Senate. There are issues, of course, in any defense authorization bill that come[s] out of committee. And the only way those issues can be addressed is to debate them, resolve them in the Senate.”
Now the final push begins to bring up that Defense bill and ensure that repeal becomes law in 2010. Senator Scott Brown, a target of repeal supporters and opponents alike, removed one stumbling block today with the announcement of his position. Or did he?
I have been in the military for 31 years and counting, and have served as a subordinate and as an officer. As a legislator, I have spent a significant amount of time on military issues. During my time of service, I have visited our injured troops at Walter Reed and have attended funerals of our fallen heroes. When a soldier answers the call to serve, and risks life or limb, it has never mattered to me whether they are gay or straight. My only concern has been whether their service and sacrifice is with pride and honor.
I pledged to keep an open mind about the present policy on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Having reviewed the Pentagon report, having spoken to active and retired military service members, and having discussed the matter privately with Defense Secretary Gates and others, I accept the findings of the report and support repeal based on the Secretary’s recommendations that repeal will be implemented only when the battle effectiveness of the forces is assured and proper preparations have been completed.
Senator Brown’s support is welcome news. But important questions remain, as reported by Greg Sargent for the Washington Post (The Plum Line).
One important question: How does this square with Mitch McConnell's letter vowing that the entire GOP caucus would stand in unison against DADT repeal and everything else Dems want until the standoff over the Bush tax cuts and funding the government are resolved? If Brown confirms he will vote for cloture on the Defense Authorization Bill containing DADT repeal, irrespective of whether a deal is reached on the tax cuts, it makes McConnell's threat look pretty empty.
Keep an eye on the remaining moderates. More when I learn it.
UPDATE, 1:32 p.m.: One other quick point. It's one thing for Senator Brown to say he supports repeal in general. What needs to be established is whether Brown's vote for repealing DADT is contingent on Harry Reid jumping through a whole bunch of procedural hoops that some GOPers have demanded. More on that when I get it, but for now, this is clearly a positive step.
The Blog of the Legal Times is reporting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is planning to call Senate Republicans on their obstruction of judicial nominees and break the gridlock that has kept four of these nominees pending, in some cases for over a year. Reid will attempt to stop the Republican filibuster of Ninth Circuit nominees Goodwin Liu and Edward Chen, Rhode Island District Court nominee John McConnell, and Wisconsin District nominee Louis Butler.
This is a critical moment for these nominees, who despite support from their home-state senators and endorsements across the ideological spectrum, have for various reasons been branded as “too extreme” by obstructionist Republicans in the Senate. McConnell has been up against an expensive lobbying campaign from the Chamber of Commerce, which objects to his work as a public interest lawyer representing victims of lead paint poisoning. Butler has been up against business interests who don’t think he was friendly enough to them when he was on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Chen was accused by Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee of having an apparently disqualifying “ACLU chromosome.”
Liu’s nomination has been the subject of the most partisan squabbling. Liu’s main obstacle, it seems, has been his own brilliance: some on the Right worry that if he makes it on to the bench, he could eventually become a Supreme Court nominee. But Liu’s nomination is backed by legal luminaries from across the ideological spectrum, including former Bush White House lawyer Richard Painter, who today wrote another plea for the Senate GOP to break the judicial gridlock and at least take a vote on Liu’s nomination:
In any event, nominees who should not be controversial, including Goodwin Liu (I have made previous posts here on his nomination), are described as radical activists, the same tactic that advocacy groups deployed to mischaracterize many of President Bush’s nominees.
Public opinion of Members of Congress (both parties) these days is lower, far lower, than it was in the days when Senator Henry Cabot Lodge used just the right term to describe what he saw going on when Senators filibustered legislation. Those of us who care about the future of the judiciary should make it clear that the delay must stop.
This does not mean the Senators should vote "yes". They can vote "no". But they should vote.
Specific nominations aside, the federal judicial system in general has taken a drubbing under the Senate GOP’s refusal to confirm nominees. A new report from the Alliance for Justice has found that the number of vacancies in the federal judiciary has nearly doubled since President Obama took office, and that the number of open seats designated as “judicial emergencies” has risen from 20 to 50, affecting 30 states.
Confirmation votes will become much more difficult next year, with Democrats hanging on to a much slimmer majority in the Senate. Now’s the time to push through the nominees whom the GOP has been the most eager to obstruct.
While American Crossroads as a 527 group is mandated by law to disclose its donors, its sister 501c4 “social welfare” group, Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies (GPS), is allowed to keep its sources of funding a secret to the public. In October Politico reported that “most of the GOP corporate money is believed to be moving through the Crossroad Grassroots group, so that it isn’t disclosed publicly,” even as American Crossroads was publicly listing the millions of dollars it received from corporations. Now, NBC News has uncovered how Wall Street played a major role in funding the shadowy Crossroads GPS organization:
A tightly coordinated effort by outside Republican groups, spearheaded by Karl Rove and fueled by tens of millions of dollars in contributions from Wall Street hedge fund moguls and other wealthy donors, helped secure big GOP midterm victories Tuesday, according to campaign spending figures and Republican fundraising insiders.
A substantial portion of Crossroads GPS’ money came from a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls, according to GOP fundraising sources who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity. These donors have been bitterly opposed to a proposal by congressional Democrats — and endorsed by the Obama administration — to increase the tax rates on compensation that hedge funds pay their partners, the sources said.
Clearly, “extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls” wanted to keep their influence a secret as Crossroads GPS engineered a massive television and direct mail ad campaign.
Some of the ads by the Crossroads groups, however, bashed the government bailouts of Wall Street which many-believed saved the financial industry. Even though the bailouts were signed by President Bush and had support from members of both parties, including the Republican leadership, Crossroads attempted to link the Wall Street bailouts into its anti-government ads criticizing Obama and Democrats. Here are just a few examples:
In Nevada, Crossroads GPS’ ad says that “instead of fixing these problems Harry Reid’s made it worse,” and includes in the “Wall Street bailout” in the list of Reid’s supposed wrongdoings.
When criticizing Pennsylvania’s Joe Sestak, this Crossroad GPS ad says that Sestak is a “reckless” spender by supporting “bailouts for banks” as part of the “$700 Billion Wall Street Bailout,” saying that it was part of “trillions of dollars wasted.”
In this ad against Indiana Democrat Joe Donnelly, who barely edged out his Republican opponent, American Crossroads slams the “Joe Donnelly Wall St. Bailout” and slams “their bailouts, raising our debt.”
As my colleague Paul recently pointed out, the trouble with voter fraud is not that voters are committing fraud – it’s that we’re constantly being told that voter fraud is a pervasive national problem when it simply isn’t. Paul notes that analysis after analysis has shown this to be true. The Right Wing uses this myth to downplay Democratic gains or keep Democrats away from the polls in the first place.
Here’s some more of what the Right Wing has been up to.
Minnesota. Last year, a group called Minnesota Majority alleged that 1,250 individuals in Hennepin County had committed voter fraud in the 2008 election. This past Tuesday, prosecutor Mike Freeman announced that only a small fraction – 47 – would be charged. And he added that there was no evidence of a coordinated campaign to commit fraud. It’s important to note that Minnesota Majority has admitted membership – but disputes claims of intimidation – in a coalition that Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison condemned for hanging in plain view of students “posters showing a person in handcuffs, with the warning that ‘voter fraud is a felony.’”
Nevada. If you were to believe a recent fundraising letter from Cleta Mitchell, Counsel to Friends of Sharron Angle, you’d not only think that Harry Reid was committing voter fraud, but you’d think that he had lawlessly hijacked his entire campaign in order to outright steal the election from Angle. In response, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller cautions that such serious allegations must “contain specific information, not conjecture and rumor used in support of a plea for financial contributions, as the foundation of the violation.”
North Carolina. When poll watching is done right, it serves a very important purpose: root out wrongdoing and help well-intentioned voters make their voices heard. When it’s done wrong, it simply adds another layer of intimidation to the process. Wake County has been plagued by complaints from voters that Republican observers are doing just that. Alarmingly, “the offending observers have reportedly stood behind the registration table (where they're not allowed) and taken pictures of the license plates of voters using curbside voting (also illegal).”
The Right Wing has also taken their campaign online.
Fox News. Megyn Kelly recently disputed good faith efforts by the Department of Justice “to ensure that all qualified voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots and have their votes counted, without incidence of discrimination, intimidation or fraud.” DOJ isn’t doing its job, so Fox will. They’ve set up their very own email account – email@example.com – to field complaints.
American Majority Action. Not to be outdone, American Majority Action has released a voter fraud app that enables iPhone, BlackBerry, and Droid users to “defend our democracy and uphold credibility directly from your phone.”
Karl Rove’s Super PAC American Crossroads has received millions of dollars in funding from TRT Holdings and its owner, Robert Rowling. TRT Holdings under Rowling’s leadership owns the companies Omni Hotels and Gold’s Gym. TRT Holdings donated $2,341,000 to American Crossroads, and Rowling himself gave the pro-GOP group $2.5 million. As reported in After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics, American Crossroads and its sister group Crossroads GPS plan to spend well-over $50 million to elect Republican majorities in the House and Senate. Now, activist Michael Jones, through the online community Change.org, is calling on consumers to hold Gold’s Gym accountable for the company’s substantial donations to the pro-corporate, right-wing political organization.
After criticizing Target and Best Buy for contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars to a Minnesota political organization that supports a staunchly anti-gay candidate for Governor, supporters of LGBT equality are now attacking Gold’s Gym and its parent company, TRT Holdings. Most of the candidates American Crossroads supports also have astoundingly anti-gay and anti-equality opinions and records.
Jones has launched a petition that calls out Gold’s Gym, which “markets and caters to LGBT customers,” for using money from their corporate accounts to effectively support candidates “who want to take away civil rights for LGBT Americans.” Jones writes:
Who would have thought that giving money to Gold's Gym could have such ugly consequences for the LGBT community?
Among the candidates that the owner of Gold's Gym is working to elect include Nevada GOP senate candidate Sharron Angle, who is challenging Sen. Harry Reid. Angle, you might recall, has previously said that women who are raped should turn their lemons into lemonade, and that LGBT people should be barred from adopting children. And that's only the tip of iceberg. In years past, Sharron Angle put her blessing behind an insert that went out to voters that said homosexuality would lead to the destruction of the United States, and called gay people "sodomites" and "perverts." She even endorsed a statement that said there was no evidence to suggest homosexuality was biological, and that scientists who argue otherwise are flawed.
Thanks, Gold's Gym!
But Sharron Angle isn't the only candidate that American Crossroads is supporting. There's also Rep. Roy Blunt in Missouri, who is currently running for an open U.S. Senate seat in the state. Blunt has a whopping 0% rating from the Human Rights Campaign when it comes to legislation focused on the LGBT community, and has voted against the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA), in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and in favor of banning gay adoptions in Washington, D.C. And in his current campaign for U.S. Senate, he's made the preservation of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) a hot issue, suggesting that if he loses his race, DOMA will die and gay people will be allowed to get married all over the country. Ah, the horror!
Once again, thank you, Gold's Gym.
American Crossroads also supports Colorado’s Ken Buck, who said that homosexuality was a “choice…like alcoholism,” and New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, who believes that gay and lesbian couples should not have the right to adopt children, among other anti-equality Republicans.
Now, four Gold’s Gyms in the San Francisco Bay Area just released a statement saying that they will leave the Gold’s Gym brand as a response to TRT Holding’s political donations.
In the end, corporations should not just face petitions from consumers to stop financing political groups, but should be restricted from spending money in elections in general. Nine in ten Americans want “clear limits on how much money corporations can spend to influence the outcome of an election,” and Gold’s Gym and other companies should know that the public does not want them using their money from their general treasuries to influence elections.