Twenty-six years ago this week, back in 1986, Antonin Scalia was confirmed to a lifetime seat on the United States Supreme Court, where he has since done great damage to the rights of ordinary Americans. Since Mitt Romney points to Scalia as the type of Justice he would nominate, a group of PFAW activists in Ohio took this week’s anniversary as an opportunity to reach out to voters and let them know what would be in store for them under a Romney Court.
Seth Bringman of People For’s Romney Court Campaign turned Romney’s dream into a reality; or more accurately, the nightmare that it would be for the American people.
Romney’s commitment to appoint justices like Antonin Scalia would have devastating consequences if Romney were elected president. Every law that the states and Congress pass can end up before Supreme Court; who sits on the bench has lasting importance not only for today, but for generations to come. In the words of President (and later Chief Justice) William Howard Taft, “Presidents come and go, but the Supreme Court goes on forever.”
Here are a few highlights of Scalia’s legacy (and thus also the legacy of the president, Ronald Reagan, who nominated him more than a quarter century ago):
▶ Scalia has said that Roe v. Wade does not make any sense and that a woman’s right to choose is not a liberty protected by the Constitution.
▶ Scalia says the Constitution doesn’t protect the privacy of two consenting adults in their own homes.
▶ Scalia held that corporations can spend unlimited money on elections (Citizens United).
▶ Scalia has always found some excuse to uphold discrimination against gay people, and has argued that states are free to pass laws singling out gay people for mistreatment just because legislators don’t like them.
▶ Scalia voted to allow a company to use the fine print of its consumer contracts, such as for cell phones, to immunize itself from being sued even by customers it purposely and illegally defrauded.
▶ Scalia voted to deny female employees of a large national company who were victims of systemic discrimination the right to join together and go to court to stand up for their rights.
▶ Scalia voted that a woman who was paid less than men at her company for the same work for 20 years could not file a discrimination suit against her employer because she failed to file her suit within 180 days of her first paycheck, even though she had no way of knowing at that time that she was being discriminated against.
While Ronald Reagan may be long gone from the White House, his nominees to the nation’s highest court are still imposing a far right agenda on the nation. Should Mitt Romney have the opportunity to mold the Court in his own image, they may still be there well into the 2040s. To find out more about Mitt Romney’s frightening vision for the Supreme Court, visit http://romneycourt.com/.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights organized a call yesterday with Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware and attorneys from Ohio, South Carolina and Arizona to discuss how judicial nominations gridlock in Washington hurts Americans seeking justice around the country.
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reached a deal with Republicans to allow votes on 14 of 22 stalled judicial nominees. The first two of those were confirmed yesterday with overwhelming bipartisan votes.
The deal, while it represents more progress than Senate Republicans were previously willing to allow, still leaves eight nominees without even a vote from the Senate until May at least. Three of these nominees are from Ohio, Arizona and South Carolina.
This procedural gridlock is often portrayed as an inside-the-beltway issue. However, it has a real impact on American seeking justice from our federal courts.
Greg Kuykendall, a Tucson attorney who joined the call, told of a client who had to wait 14 months in jail before a District Court judge with an unmanageable caseload was finally able to review his claim that he was being detained in violation of his constitutional rights. “It effectively made the prisoner spend an additional 14 months in unconstitutional confinement, as a result of the judicial emergency,” Kuykendall said.
Cleveland attorney Michael Meuti told of a Ohio business that had to wait 14 months for a federal judge to review charges that had been brought against it. In the meantime, the business had to endure the uncertainty and cost of having a lawsuit hanging over it.
“Understaffed courts struggle to provide efficient and effective justice,” Meuti said. “When judicial vacancies increase, so do the workloads of each sitting judge. In turn, both individuals and businesses must wait longer for their cases to be resolved and must endure the uncertainties and costs of litigation for a greater period of time. President Obama’s nominees have waited four times longer than his predecessor’s. It is time for the Senate to abandon its obstructionist agenda, which can serve only to make justice harder to obtain for everyday Americans and American companies.”
Armand Derfner, a Charleston, South Carolina attorney, added, “"These nominees are being obstructed for no good reason. They’re suitable, qualified, and many have bipartisan support. The Senate should stop delaying votes to fill these vacancies.”
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.
Last night, voters sent a message to Scott Walker and his corporate, right-wing allies. They told him that Wisconsinites won’t sit back and let him attack working families to score political points. They told him they’re not going to swallow his misleading claims about wanting to balance the budget when he gives tax breaks to big corporations and the wealthiest individuals- while cutting funds for those that need them most. And most of all, they told him that his actions will have consequences. Four incumbent Republicans may have survived this election, but there’s no way they or Scott Walker slept soundly last night, knowing that when they betray the needs of their constituents, the people notice--even in the Republican-leaning districts we won last night.
To round up the results, four districts saw the Republican incumbent fend off their challengers: Luther Olsen in SD-14 (by only 2000 votes), Robert Cowles in SD-02, Sheila Harsdorf in SD-10 and Alberta Darling in SD-08. Two districts will see new Democratic State Senators: Jessica King in SD-18 and Jennifer Shilling in SD-32. That narrows the Republican majority to 17-16 in the State Senate, in the biggest win in Wisconsin recall history. We Are Wisconsin built an amazing field operation which will be crucial in future elections: with the capability to knock on over 90,000 doors on Election Day alone, the groundwork laid by their campaign is impressive enough even beside our two gains.
Today, I didn’t wake up feeling disappointed or hopeless because we didn’t take back the State Senate. I woke up thinking of the threat to collective bargaining rights in Ohio and extreme anti-choice legislation in Kansas; I woke up thinking of the corporate ALEC agenda being pushed across the country; and I woke up thinking of struggling Americans with no health insurance, couples without equal rights and millions of unemployed workers who need jobs.
Last night, we won two new seats for the Democrats in the Wisconsin State Senate and showed that the people have a voice. Next Tuesday, we’re working in SD 12 and 22 to defend Jim Holperin and Bob Wirch. I don’t know about you, but we’re not done fighting yet.
Earlier this week Omari told us about Stephen Colbert's excellent "It Gets Better" video, in which Colbert dropped his hyper-conservative character and adopted a more serious approach to give teens advice on bullying. Today we have another example of his brilliance in more familiar Colbert style: a blistering take-down of voter ID laws passed by several states this year, which he correctly characterizes as laws designed to "keep the wrong people from voting."
This segment from his show on Wednesday does a great job of pointing out the ridiculousness of saying there is in any way a significant problem with voter fraud in these states. Colbert cites the case of Ohio, where there were four instances of fraud documented last year, amounting to "a jaw-dropping 44 one-millionths of one percent" of all votes cast. As Colbert puts it, these laws seem to be aimed at "an enemy so small it could be hiding anywhere!" Colbert also points out the troubling impact these laws will have on voters: in South Carolina, 178,000 voters do not have the government-issued photo ID now needed to vote.
These laws are an egregious example of the radical right attempting to tip the rules of the game in their favor by violating the rights of citizens, and creating a false narrative of a voter fraud epidemic that simply doesn't exist.
As if Republicans’ stated justification for Voter ID laws – to prevent the non-existent epidemic of voter fraud – wasn’t weak enough, a new proposal in the Ohio House has eliminated any pretense that these types of laws are not about suppressing the vote of those who typically lean Democratic.
Even if a voter is properly registered, she must cast her ballot in the correct precinct in order for it to count. Now, Ohio Republicans have inserted language into their voter ID bill stating that poll workers need not direct a voter to the correct polling place should they show up at the wrong location. According to Think Progress:
Allowing poll workers to refuse to help those who are legitimately confused about where they should vote opens the door for increased voter suppression. As state Sen. Nina Turner (D) pointed out, “Voting in the wrong precinct led to over 14,000 registered voters statewide to lose their vote in 2008.” Rating the statement “true,” Politifact reports:
[T]he second most common reason the ballot was not counted was because while the person was properly registered to vote in Ohio, they cast the ballot in the wrong county or precinct. In all, 14,335 such ballots were not counted for this reason, according to the Brunner report.
As the Cleveland Plain Dealer pointed out, mixing up precincts “most often occurs” in “urban and impoverished areas of the state,” leading Turner to sarcastically suggest of Republicans, “I guess the loss of votes for some doesn’t matter.”
This makes it absolutely clear that the Republicans and Gov. John Kasich have no interest in the “integrity of the vote.” They just want to make sure they get more of them, by any means necessary.
Today's news from Wisconsin:
UPDATE: We Are Ohio blew the 231,000 signature requirement out of the water and today delivered a whopping 1.3 MILLION petition signatures to get repeal of SB 5 on the ballot! I hope Gov. Kasich, the Koch brothers and all the other right-wing ideologues and corporate interests are getting nervous!
A petition to repeal Ohio SB 5, which severely curtailed collective bargaining rights for public employee unions, was just certified by Ohio’s secretary of state and attorney general.
# of valid signatures required: 231,147
# of valid signatures obtained: 1,298,301
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch vetoed a proposed voter-ID law that would have required voters to show a photo ID before casting a ballot. In rejecting the proposal, Gov. Lynch called out the law for what it was – an expensive, anti-democratic solution for a problem that doesn’t exist:
The right to vote is a fundamental right that is guaranteed to all citizens of this State under the United States and New Hampshire Constitutions. An eligible voter who goes to the polls to vote on Election Day should be able to have his or her vote count on Election Day. SB 129 creates a real risk that New Hampshire voters will be denied their right to vote.
Voter turnout in New Hampshire is among the highest in the nation, election after election. There is no voter fraud problem in New Hampshire. We already have strong elections laws that are effective in regulating our elections.
Just yesterday, the Ohio Senate adjourned without voting on a similar bill, lacking the necessary votes to move it forward. Voter ID laws are being pushed in at least 36 states, according to a report by the Voting Rights Institute, at a potential cost of $828 million – quite a staggering sum for the allegedly budget-conscious Republicans who have proposed all of these bills. These bills highlight a cynical desire to disenfranchise certain groups of people – primarily minorities, students and the elderly – who don’t necessarily tend to vote the “right” way.