111th congress

White House: Judicial Nominations are a Priority for Lame Duck

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters yesterday that pushing through stalled judicial nominations would be one of the president’s priorities in the last days of the lame duck session of Congress.

People For released a memo last week detailing why it’s important for the Senate to confirm all 38 stalled nominees immediately:

As the end of the 111th Congress approaches, 38 judicial nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee are waiting for a vote on the Senate floor. Many of the nominees have been waiting for months, while a few have been waiting for almost a year.

Of these nominees:

  • 21 (55%) have been nominated to fill emergency slots.
  • 29(76%) are women or people of color.
  • 29 (76%) came out of committee without opposition and an additional 3 came out of committee with significant bipartisan support.

There’s no question that a majority of senators will vote to confirm every one of these nominees, and it’s unlikely that any of them would fail to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome procedural hurdles that the GOP has deployed on virtually every function the Senate has performed since President Obama took office. (This is doubly true considering that many members of the GOP have publicly asserted that filibusters of judicial nominees aren’t just wrong, but actually unconstitutional.)

Now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to be offering Democrats a devil’s bargain: confirm a number of the nominees that don’t have any opposition at all, but send the rest back to the White House at the end of the Congress. The group being sent back to the White House will almost certainly include four of the eminently qualified – and mainstream -- nominees who have had the misfortune of being tagged as “controversial” by Republicans:

  • Rhode Island nominee John McConnell, who has been opposed by the US Chamber of Commerce for his willingness to represent victims of lead paint poisoning.
  • Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, whose work as a judge irked business interests so much, they spent $1 million to prevent his reelection.
  • U.S. Magistrate Edward Chen, who has been attacked for his work fighting discrimination against Asian Americans for the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • And then, of course, Ninth Circuit Appeals Court nominee Goodwin Liu. As the New York Times editorial page has pointed out, the GOP’s resistance to Liu centers mainly around the fear that he’s so qualified, he might end up on the Supreme Court.

Senator Reid and his colleagues should call Senator McConnell’s bluff and start holding cloture votes on these nominees. The process will take time, but adding time to the calendar is entirely within the Democratic leadership’s purview. By confirming McConnell, Butler, Chen, and Liu, Senators can make clear that they will fight the unprecedented and enormously damaging obstruction of highly qualified judicial nominees. Walking away from these nominees delivers the confirmation process to the GOP: they’ll effectively block confirmable jurists without even having to go on record with their obstruction.

President Bush worked hard to pack the courts with far-right, Federalist Society judges. Confirming Obama’s picks will not only fill vacancies causing judicial emergencies and add much-needed diversity to the federal bench, it will prevent the federal bench from continuing to be dominated by Bush’s far-right appointments.

 

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People For and Progressive Groups Urge Senate to Break Confirmation Gridlock

This week, People For and 46 other progressive groups sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate urging them to end the backlog of judicial nominees before the end of this session of Congress. Republican obstruction has prevented dozens of nominees from even receiving a vote on the Senate floor, leaving the federal court system with over 100 vacancies and the slowing down the process of bringing more diversity to the federal bench. Read the full letter:

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

The undersigned organizations strongly urge you to end the troubling backlog of judicial nominees that exists to date in the 111th Congress. The obstruction of many of President Obama’s nominees through filibuster threats and anonymous “holds” is hindering the important work of our judicial branch, particularly in the many areas of our nation that now face judicial emergencies due to unfilled vacancies on the bench.

Throughout the 111th Congress, President Obama has worked with the Senate on a bipartisan basis to select extraordinarily well-qualified judicial nominees who could easily be confirmed by wide margins and begin serving the public, if brought to a vote before the full Senate. Yet a troubling number of these nominees, many of whom have been cleared by the Committee on the Judiciary with little or no opposition, have been blocked from up-or-down confirmation votes for reasons that defy explanation. Indeed, many of President Obama’s judicial nominees who have been confirmed, to date, have been confirmed by unanimous votes – but only after languishing for many months on the Senate floor, raising significant doubts about the legitimacy of the ongoing delays in confirmation proceedings.

Due to arcane floor procedures that allow a single member to impede the important business of the Senate, our judicial branch has reached a state of crisis. Out of 872 federal judgeships, 106 are currently vacant, with 50 of those vacancies now characterized as “judicial emergencies” in which courts are being overwhelmed by filings that cannot be considered. As a result, a growing number of Americans, from all walks of life and across all economic strata, are finding it increasingly more difficult to assert their legal rights and to have their fair day in court.

In the meantime, the Senate is badly failing in its constitutionally-mandated role of considering the nominees that President Obama has selected. Prior to entering its pro forma session, the Senate failed to confirm any of the 23 nominees who are currently pending on the Senate floor, 17 of whom advanced through the committee process with no opposition whatsoever. Moreover, 11 of the pending nominees would fill seats designated as judicial emergencies – and more than half of the pending nominees are people of color, while 10 of them are women, who would bring badly-needed and long-overdue diversity to our judicial branch.

We write to you at a time when our nation faces numerous challenges that cry out for bipartisan cooperation, including major economic challenges and continued international threats. We strongly believe that the continued obstruction of nominations will poison the political atmosphere, needlessly heighten partisan tensions, and make it far more difficult for the federal government to serve the public interest in any respect. These consequences are all but certain to continue into the 112th Congress and beyond.

For these reasons, in the remaining weeks of the 111th Congress, we strongly urge you to work together in a bipartisan fashion to proceed with confirmation votes on the two dozen judicial nominees who remain pending on the Senate floor. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

AFL-CIO

Alliance for Justice

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

American Association for Affirmative Action

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Association of University Women

American Federation of Government Employees

American Federation of Teachers

Americans for Democratic Action

Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Asian American Justice Center

Common Cause

Constitutional Accountability Center

Equal Justice Society

Families USA Foundation

Feminist Majority

Hispanic National Bar Association

Hispanics for a Fair Judiciary

Human Rights Campaign

Japanese American Citizens League

Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Lambda Legal

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

League of United Latin American Citizens

Legal Momentum

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

NAACP

NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse

National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum

National Association of Consumer Advocates

National Association of Human Rights Workers

National Association of Social Workers

National Black Justice Coalition

National Congress of Black Women, Inc.

National Council of Jewish Women

National Disability Rights Network

National Employment Lawyers Association

National Fair Housing Alliance

National Partnership for Women & Families

National Urban League

National Women’s Law Center

OCA

People For the American Way

Secular Coalition for America

SEIU

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Sikh Coalition

 

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Lieberman, Collins call for expedited DADT report

With the fight to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell approaching a critical turning point, Senators Lieberman and Collins have called on the Pentagon to expedite its DADT report. Leaks from the report, due December 1, suggest that it will corroborate what experts have been saying all along in the DADT debate – that the policy could be repealed “with only minimal and isolated incidents of risk to the current war efforts.”

DADT supporters would have you believe that repeal is all but dead. That is far from the truth. Repeal is still very much within our reach. Contact your Senators and Majority Leader Reid, the Department of Defense, and the White House. Thank our supporters and urge them to stand up and speak out. Urge the opposition to change course.

Most of all, urge that the fate of repeal not be sealed until the Pentagon report is released. We have every reason to believe that good news is coming. We must keep fighting.

An excerpt from the Lieberman-Collins letter appears below.

Some of our colleagues in the Senate share our view about the importance of passing a defense bill, but they are awaiting the release of the working group’s report before agreeing to begin debate on the bill. We are hopeful that release of the report and the opportunity for our colleagues to review its findings and recommendations will help inform their understanding and alleviate some concerns they may have regarding the military’s capacity to implement repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in a manner that is consistent with our armed forces’ standards of readiness and effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention. Given the limited amount of time remaining in the 111th Congress, the soonest possible release of the working group’s report could therefore be instrumental in allowing the defense bill to move forward.
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Rogues to Watch Out For

Whatever the results of today’s elections, there’s little doubt that the incoming Congress will shift drastically to the Right. How far right?

In a new piece in the Huffington Post, People For’s president, Michael Keegan, examines some of the trends among front-running GOP candidates this year, including extreme anti-government views (to the point of abolishing the Department of Education and phasing out Social Security) and a loyal allegiance to Big Business. We’ll be watching how these issues play out in today’s election…but what about when some of these folks are in office?

Ezra Klein writes today about the “end of the do-something Congress.” Despite GOP obstruction, the 111th Congress has pushed through some huge legislative initiatives—from Health Care Reform to the Stimulus to the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

Republican leaders have promised that if they retake majorities in Congress, their main goal will be legislative gridlock. Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell put it like this: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

It’s a dismal goal for people supposedly in the public service business. But what the focus on the coming GOP gridlock hides is what the new far-right GOP would do if they didn’t face any opposition from a strong progressive presence in Congress or the executive branch. As today’s Huffington Post piece and our Rogues Gallery of right-wing candidates explain, it’s not pretty.
 



Pat Toomey

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Menendez introduces LGBT-inclusive immigration reform

Senator Menendez has sent a strong message that same-sex couples and their families deserve equal rights under immigration law. On Wednesday, he joined with Senator Leahy to introduce a comprehensive immigration reform bill that is LGBT-inclusive. Both men support the Uniting American Families Act.

Immigration Equality Action Fund hailed this important step forward.

It is simply unconscionable that our immigration laws tear families apart . . . Senator Menendez’s legislation, which is a truly comprehensive bill, would provide LGBT families with important opportunities to keep their families together. The bill’s introduction is welcome news not just for lesbian and gay Americans, but also their extended families, their communities and our country. The Immigration Equality Action Fund is committed to working for its passage.

PFAW welcomes an immigration debate that provides equality to same-sex couples so that they can keep their families together. They need to be able to begin the immigration process more quickly and efficiently, and with fewer limitations. Gay men and lesbians whose partners are US citizens or legal permanent residents should have the right to apply for family-based visas and green cards.

As the 111th Congress draws to a close, and the 112th begins, we urge both the House and Senate to make inclusive reform a priority.

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Women Are Not WorthLess

With time running short in the 111th Congress, National Women’s Law Center wants the Senate to know that Women Are Not WorthLess.

National Women’s Law Center produced this new video as part of their ongoing efforts to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which People For the American Way supports, along with American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, National Committee on Pay Equity, and hundreds of other organizations and countless advocates nationwide.

Equal pay in America needed to be put back on track after the Supreme Court’s devastating Ledbetter v. Goodyear ruling, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act answered that call – as the first major milestone of the Obama Administration. Still, this new law cannot on its own do the job of eliminating the wage gap. Additional tools are necessary to bring equality to the workplace and prevent further disturbing incidents like the one that befell Lilly Ledbetter. Especially in this unsteady economy, people who are struggling to pay their bills shouldn’t have to worry about whether they are being discriminated against in the workplace. We need the Paycheck Fairness Act.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join National Women’s Law Center and Women Are Not WorthLess in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

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Can the filibuster be fixed?

The threat of filibuster is holding up Senate business more than ever before, and Senators are at odds over whether to do away with or amend the rule that’s causing so much trouble.

People for Executive Vice President Marge Baker joined a panel yesterday at American University’s Washington College of Law to discuss what can be done to loosen up the gridlock in the deliberative body.

Baker, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus and Cato Institute scholar John Samples discussed several proposals that have been put forward to fix the filibuster problem, from limiting lawmakers to a “one bite” rule that would not permit filibusters of both motions to proceed to a bill as well as on the merits of the bill itself to reducing the number of votes needed to invoke cloture to scuttling the rule altogether. But they kept coming back to one point: what’s causing the gridlock isn’t the filibuster rule itself but its increasing use as an obstructionist tactic.

“The problem is not its existence; the problem is its overuse,” Marcus said.

People For the American Way has found that Republicans in the 111th Congress are holding up executive branch nominations at an unprecedented rate, and that they are more than ever invoking the cloture process to delay votes whose outcome they know they can’t change.

“It really is a problem. It really is causing government to break down,” Baker said, “The cloture vote is being used to an unprecedented degree, and the degree to which it’s being used primarily for obstruction, is really a serious problem.”

Here’s a look at the rate of cloture filings in the past 90 years:


And a look at filibuster threats to executive nominees from 1949 through March of 2010:

Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Tom Harkin have introduced a measure to phase out the filibuster in a series of steps, eventually ending in a Senate where votes can pass with a simple majority. Senator Tom Udall has proposed letting the Senate adopt new rules--and make a choice about the filibuster--at the start of every new Congress. But the solution may lie not in taking away the power of the minority to have some leverage in matters that are truly important (nobody likes that idea when they’re in the minority), but in limiting the situations where the filibuster can be used. Marcus suggested taking the option off the table for executive nominations, limiting its use in judicial nominations, and limiting the minority to one filibuster per law. Baker suggested changing the rule that provides for 30 hours of post-cloture debate before a matter can be voted on, which would save enormous time, particularly where the result is a foregone conclusion.

Though, whatever the form that filibuster rules take, I’m pretty sure we can count on the GOP to come up with creative ways to keep on stalling business.


Baker, Samples, Marcus, and moderator William Yeomans at American University's Washington College of Law

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