DC Circuit

Tony Perkins Claims Obama Judicial Picks Are 'To the Left of Hugo Chavez'

Last month, Senate Democrats were forced to change the rules of the filibuster after Republicans vowed to block all three of President Obama’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals despite the fact that they had no problem with the nominees themselves.

But in the alternate universe of the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins,  when it comes to judicial nominations, “Senate Republicans have rarely displayed political courage stopping only a handful of nominees – nominees that ideologically would have been to the left of Hugo Chavez.”

Perkins said in his radio address today that the president’s nominations have in fact violated God’s “specific guidance on the selection of judges.”

The now majority leader pushed the nuclear option button effectively silencing the Senate minority and all but guaranteeing the president's nominees will be confirmed. Trust me; Senate Republicans have rarely displayed political courage, stopping only a handful of nominees -- nominees that ideologically would have been to the left of Hugo Chavez. The President is now free to pack the courts with ideologues that will both advance and protect his socialist policies. There is a reason that God gave specific guidance in the selection of judges. Few things will ruin a society quicker than unqualified, activist judges.

Looking through a list of Obama judicial nominees delayed or blocked by the GOP, it’s hard to find any who resemble the late Venezuelan president, but the FRC’s perception of these things tends to be skewed. After all, the group attacked both of the women in President Obama’s slate of nominees to the DC Circuit for being too “feminist,” one because she successfully fought for the Family and Medical Leave Act, and one because she supports having more than one woman on the Supreme Court.
 

FRC Attacks Judicial Nominee For Saying There Should Be Women On The Supreme Court

The Family Research Council’s attempts to paint President Obama’s female nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals as “radical feminists” aren’t going so well.

First, the FRC attacked Nina Pillard for quoting something the late Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote about the importance of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Now, the FRC seems to think it’s found a winning argument against Patricia Millett, the other woman in the slate of three D.C. Circuit nominees: She thinks there should be women on the Supreme Court.

In his daily email on Friday, FRC’s Tony Perkins wrote:

As it stands right now, the D.C. Circuit is evenly divided between Democrat and Republican appointed judges -- but that's about to change. Using the nuclear option, the Senate moved forward with reconsidering Patricia Millett, the first of three previously blocked nominees the President will be employing to pack the court in his favor. Millett has shown an activist tendency in how she views the court, believing it's more important it look a certain way than judge a certain way.

When President Bush nominated Samuel Alito to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Millett bemoaned that O'Connor wasn't being replaced by another woman, as if gender impacts who's most qualified to apply the Constitution to the facts in a case or that our highest court should be seen as a representative body. She sees the redefinition of marriage turning on her own definition of fairness and not the law.

FRC seems to have picked up this line of attack from a talking points document put together by the right-wing Judicial Action Group, which claims that Millett's comment in a 2009 interview that “there was a lot of upset over the failure to put a woman on to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor” shows that she would have a poor "judicial temperament.”

Yes, this is actually the argument that FRC is using against an accomplished woman’s judicial nomination in 2013.

Here’s what Millett actually said, in a 2009 interview about whom President Obama might choose to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. At the time, there was just one woman on the court and Millett stressed that there were “many qualified women” who would make President Obama’s short-list, even if gender was not considered:

There was a lot of upset over the failure to put a woman on to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and…it would be extraordinary to have no women on the Supreme Court in this day and age. But even to only have one is, I think, a sorry statement about the appointment process thus far, and where it’s gotten in the last eight years.

So, I think the pressure to have a Supreme Court that looks in many ways – and gender is just one way – that is reflective of the public it serves, would require that a woman gets serious consideration. And there’s no doubt that there are many, many qualified women who – entirely apart from their gender, if nobody even considers about their gender –would be short-listed for the Supreme Court in any event, so it makes that easy.

By the way, in case you were wondering about FRC’s claim that Millett “sees the redefinition of marriage turning on her own definition of fairness and not the law,” that also comes from JAG's talking points. JAG points to an interview Millett gave previewing the Supreme Court’s hearing of the DOMA case, in which she referred to the question before the Court – whether DOMA’s unequal treatment of same-sex and opposite-sex marriage’s violated the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause – as the “fundamental fairness question before the Court.” That is, she was accurately describing the issue the Court was asked to consider; she never implies that the issue is “turning on her own definition of fairness and not the law.”

JCN Cries Crocodile Tears For Senate Bipartisanship

After President Obama was elected, the right-wing Judicial Confirmation Network changed its name to the Judicial Crisis Network and altered its mission from “working to ensure a fair appointment process of highly qualified judges and justices” to blocking anyone Obama appoints to the bench.

The group’s name and mission statement aren’t the only things to have changed under a Democratic president. JCN’s chief counsel Carrie Severino appeared last week on Sandy Rios In The Morning to decry the Senate’s recent move to modify the filibuster to allow a simple majority to end debate on most nominees – a rules change that the JCN once said it supported “regardless of what party’s in power.”

“The 60 vote majority is there because we need to have both parties working together,” Severino said. “You don’t want to do things by a bare majority vote all the time, and it is actually a benefit to get something that has a larger consensus. I don’t know if Thomas Jefferson initiated it but I wouldn’t be surprised because those kinds of consensuses things that our founders thought were important.”

But during the Bush era Severino’s predecessor, Wendy Long, now a Republican politician, said in 2006 that finding a “consensus” over judicial nominees is “not the right thing to do”:

Seeking a 'consensus' candidate is not the right thing to do. It is not what the Constitution contemplates, in our system built on the consent of the governed. Majorities didn't elect George W. Bush and 55 Republican Senators to do that. For the President to choose a Justice on this basis would retroactively disenfranchise the voters in these elections. The people elected the President so that he would exercise his own judgment according to the criteria he stated in two elections. By definition, those will never be 'consensus' nominees. Justices Ginsburg and Breyer were not 'consensus' nominees, nor should any Republican nominees be — particularly when Republicans control the Senate, for heaven's sake.

But the real issue with Severino’s claim is that Senate Republicans didn’t block Obama’s three picks for the DC Circuit Court because they weren’t “consensus” candidates. Rather, GOP leaders explicitly said they would oppose any person President Obama nominated to the court — a position that they took before even knowing who the nominees would be.

Plus, Republicans’ unprecedented obstructionism — cheered on by the JCN — makes it hard to believe that they were merely hoping for “both parties to work together” to find a “consensus” as Severino maintains.

Beyond the D.C. Circuit: The GOP's Ten Most Outrageous Filibusters of Obama's Nominees

What finally brought Senate Democrats to a breaking point today – forcing them to change Senate rules to allow a simple majority to break a filibuster of most federal judicial nominees – was Senate Republicans’ blockade of President Obama’s three nominees to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Republicans admitted that they blocked these nominees not because of objections to the nominees themselves but because they didn’t want to allow President Obama to fill the seats at all .

This was an extreme abuse of the filibuster, especially coming from senators who had previously claimed that blocking judicial nominees for any reason was unconstitutional and un-American.

But the D.C. Circuit showdown was just the latest, most public, example of the Senate GOP’s abuse of the filibuster under President Obama. We look back at some ten of President Obama’s nominees who found themselves caught up in the Senate GOP’s shameless obstruction.

1. Goodwin Liu – Ninth Circuit

Goodwin Liu was a brilliant Berkeley law professor on the fast track to a Supreme Court short-list. So naturally Republicans tried to stop him in his tracks. Liu had plenty of support from conservative legal leaders – Bush administration attorney Richard Painter called him “exceptionally qualified, measured, and mainstream” – but that didn’t stop Republicans from trying to paint him as an extremist. Republicans filibustered Liu's nomination for more than a year before he withdrew his name from consideration in 2011, citing his family and the fact that the seat he had been nominated to was a designated “judicial emergency” and needed to be filled. But there was a happy ending for Liu, and for California: Later that year, he was confirmed to the California Supreme Court.

2. Dawn Johnsen – Office of Legal Counsel

Dawn Johnsen was President Obama’s first nominee to lead the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Johnsen, a professor at Indiana University’s law school, had support from across the ideological spectrum, including from representatives of every presidential administration since Gerald Ford’s.

But Senate Republicans didn’t like that Johnsen had criticized the OLC’s handling of torture cases during the Bush administration and so accused her of being weak on terrorism. Johnsen was forced to withdraw her nomination after she was denied a Senate vote for more than a year.

3. John McConnell – District of Rhode Island

A public interest attorney, McConnell had led lawsuits against tobacco companies and lead paint manufacturers. So, when President Obama nominated him to Rhode Island’s district court, he quickly gained a very powerful enemy: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The behemoth lobbying group had never before campaigned against a trial court nominee, but made an exception for McConnell. The Senate was forced to hold a cloture vote to end a Republican filibuster of McConnell – only the third time in history that a cloture vote had been held on a district court nominee. The filibuster ultimately failed and McConnell was confirmed.

4. Mel Watt – Federal Housing Finance Agency

The Republican filibuster of North Carolina Rep. Mel Watt’s nomination to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency – which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – went hand-in-hand with their blockade of the D.C. Circuit three, but it was special in its very own way. Watt became the first sitting member of Congress to be blocked from an administrative position since before the Civil War – at least, that anyone digging through congressional archives has been able to find.

Republicans said that Watt, who in his 20 years in Congress has served on the House Financial Services committee and been immersed in housing finance issues, was unqualified for the job. But the more likely explanation is that they wanted the agency’s Wall Street-friendly acting director to hold on to the post.

5. Caitlin Halligan – D.C. Circuit

Before there was Pattie Millett, Nina Pillard and Robert Wilkins , there was Caitlin Halligan. Republicans filibustered Halligan, President Obama’s first nominee to the D.C. Circuit, for two years, defeating two attempts to invoke cloture on her nomination. Halligan’s main opposition came from the National Rifle Association, which attacked her for a case she had argued on behalf of the state of New York when she was its solicitor general – in other words, a position she took as an attorney on behalf of a client.

The White House was forced to withdraw Halligan’s nomination, and her filibuster achieved its intended purpose: Obama became the first president since Woodrow Wilson not to have a single nominee confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in his first full term in office.

6. Robert Bacharach – Tenth Circuit

Senate Republicans under President Obama haven’t just thought up flimsy excuses to filibuster nominees for being too liberal; they’ve also filibustered plenty of nominees to whom they’ve had absolutely no objection.

One example of this is Oklahoma’s Robert Bacharach, whom President Obama nominated to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals with the resounding endorsements of both of Oklahoma’s very conservative senators. Making up a “rule” that presidents cannot be allowed to fill circuit court seats even with consensus nominees before an election, Senate Republicans blocked Bacharach's nomination – with the help of “present” votes from Coburn and Inhofe – forcing President Obama to renominate him. Finally, after making him wait nine months for a yes-or-no vote, the Senate confirmed Bacharach unanimously.

7. Richard Cordray – Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Republicans’ filibuster of Richard Corday’s nomination was perhaps the perfect expression of their new method of governing in the age of Obama. As with many of the president’s judicial nominees, Senate Republicans couldn’t point out anything wrong with Cordray himself. But they really didn’t want anyone to fill the position to which he had been nominated, head of the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

President Obama skipped over now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren to nominate Cordray to head the consumer protection agency that was Warren’s brainchild, in what turned out to be a futile effort to ease the confirmation process. Instead, 45 Senate Republicans sent a letter to Obama informing him that although they had no problem with Cordray himself they would not allow a vote on his nomination until the president severely weakened the CFPB’s oversight power. In the meantime, without a permanent director, the CFPB was legally unable to exercise its full authority.

After denying CFPB a director for two years, Republicans finally allowed Cordray’s nomination to go through as part of a larger executive nominations deal this summer, which meant that the agency could finally start doing the full job it was meant to do.

8. Adalberto Jordan – Fourth Circuit

Adalberto Jordan of Florida is another nominee to whom the GOP had no stated objection yet chose to filibuster anyway. President Obama nominated Jordan to the Eleventh Circuit, where he would become the court’s first-ever Cuban-American judge, a big deal for the circuit that includes Florida. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved him without objection. Yet Republicans blocked a vote on his nomination for four months before finally allowing him to be confirmed in a 94-5 vote … but not before Sen. Rand Paul postponed his confirmation vote for an extra two days to make an unrelated point about foreign aid to Egypt .

Then there are the “silent filibusters” – ones where Republicans abuse the rules to stymie nominations but not in ways that necessarily lead to cloture petitions. These silent filibusters have slowed down numerous Obama nominees – leading to enormous wait times for Senate votes. Here are just two examples:

9. Louis Butler – Western District of Wisconsin

Louis Butler, the first African American to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, lost a retention election in 2008 after big business groups poured money into a campaign opposing him.

President Obama nominated Butler four separate times to the Wisconsin District Court. He was approved by the Judiciary Committee. But Republicans kept blocking him, so his nomination was repeatedly returned without a vote. Butler’s nomination isn’t counted in tallies of filibusters because a cloture petition was never filed on his nomination. In 2009 and 2010, Sen. McConnell refused to consent to a floor vote. President Obama renominated Butler in 2011, but by that time Democratic Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold had been replaced by Republican Ron Johnson, who took advantage of the currently generous “blue slip” policy (see below) to prevent the Judiciary Committee from even voting on Butler. We count his nomination here because it is an example of the diverse ways Republicans have used to block votes on a nominees.

10. Edward Chen – Northern District of California

Another day, another science lesson from the GOP: In Edward Chen’s hearing before the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Jeff Sessions accused the ninth circuit nominee of being afflicted with the “ACLU chromosome.” This condition had caused Chen to work for several years at the ACLU, where he specialized in fighting language discrimination cases, before becoming the first Asian American to sit on the federal district court based in San Francisco.

Chen’s work to fight discrimination proved to be just too much for Senate Republicans, who made him wait two full years for a confirmation vote. Finally, a few days after Republicans failed to defeat the cloture vote on Rhode Island’s John McConnell, they agreed to allow a confirmation vote for Chen without forcing a cloture vote.

Blue Slip Bonus

A number of President Obama’s judicial nominees haven’t even gotten the chance to be filibustered. That’s because there’s a way Republicans can hold up nominees before they even get a committee hearing. Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, won’t proceed with a hearing on a nominee until he receives “blue slips” from both of the nominee’s home-state senators signaling their go-ahead for the nomination process. In this way, a senator can hold up a home-state nominee before he or she even gets a public hearing.

Oklahoma’s Sen. Tom Coburn refused to return his blue slip on the nomination of Arvo Mikkanen to an Oklahoma district court,  not because he had anything bad to say about the nominee, but because he was upset that President Obama supposedly hadn’t consulted him before making the nomination. Mikkanen, who would have become the third-ever Native American on the federal bench, never received a hearing.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller blocked the nomination of Elissa Cadish to the Nevada district court under pressure from the NRA because Cadish had once on a questionnaire correctly described the state of Second Amendment law before it was changed by the Supreme Court. Cadish never got a chance to defend herself in a public hearing, and withdrew her nomination after a year of delay.

Georgia’s Jill Pryor was first nominated to the Eleventh Circuit a year and a half ago, but still hasn’t gotten a hearing because her home-state senators would prefer that she be on a different court. Neither has raised questions about her qualificiations.

David Vitter Once Backed Rule He Now Calls 'Dictatorial'

Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) today claimed that changing Senate rules to allow a simple majority of the US Senate to vote on judicial nominees appointed by the President is a shameful act that is “scary and dictatorial for our country.”

As Steve Benen noted, the supposedly dictatorial rule brings things back to “the way the Senate worked for about 200 years, largely without incident.”

In fact, Vitter supported the same rules change back in 2005, saying yes-or-no votes on judicial nominees fulfill “our constitutional duty to give advice and consent when a president nominates individuals to the bench.”

Twelve Republicans Who Broke Their Pledge To Oppose Judicial Filibusters

After waging an unprecedented campaign of obstructionism against President Obama’s nominees, Republicans are now crying crocodile tears over a rules change that would end the filibuster on certain judicial nominees.

NBC News points out that Republicans are not blocking judicial nominees over “concerns about ideology or qualifications, but over the president’s ability to appoint ANYONE to these vacancies.” This unprecedented blockade leaves Democrats with few options, as dozens of nominees are left unable to receive a simple confirmation vote.

It’s even harder to be sympathetic to Senate Republicans when you remember that just a few years ago, many of the very same Republicans who are today filibustering President Obama’s nominees willy-nilly were vowing that they would never, ever filibuster judicial nominees. Some even declared that judicial filibusters were unconstitutional and un-American.

But that was before there was a Democrat in the White House.

We take a look back at some of the Senate’s most strident opponents of filibustering judicial nominees, turned master obstructers.

1. Mitch McConnell (KY)

“Any President’s judicial nominees should receive careful consideration. But after that debate, they deserve a simple up-or-down vote” (5/19/05).

“Let's get back to the way the Senate operated for over 200 years, up or down votes on the president's nominee, no matter who the president is, no matter who's in control of the Senate” (5/22/05).

2. John Cornyn (TX)

“[F]ilibusters of judicial nominations are uniquely offensive to our nation’s constitutional design” (6/4/03).

“[M]embers of this distinguished body have long and consistently obeyed an unwritten rule not to block the confirmation of judicial nominees by filibuster. But, this Senate tradition, this unwritten rule has now been broken and it is crucial that we find a way to ensure the rule won’t be broken in the future” (6/5/03).

3. Lamar Alexander (TN)

“If there is a Democratic President and I am in this body, and if he nominates a judge, I will never vote to deny a vote on that judge” (3/11/03).

“I would never filibuster any President's judicial nominee. Period” (6/9/05).

4. John McCain (AZ)

“I’ve always believed that [judicial nominees deserve yes-or-no votes]. There has to be extraordinary circumstances to vote against them. Elections have consequences” (6/18/13).

5. Chuck Grassley (IA)

It would be a real constitutional crisis if we up the confirmation of judges from 51 to 60” (2/11/03).

“[W]e can’t find anywhere in the Constitution that says a supermajority is needed for confirmation” (5/8/05).

6. Saxby Chambliss (GA)

“I believe [filibustering judicial nominees] is in violation of the Constitution” (4/13/05).

7. Lindsey Graham (SC)

“I think filibustering judges will destroy the judiciary over time. I think it’s unconstitutional” (5/23/05).

8. Johnny Isakson (GA)

I will vote to support a vote, up or down, on every nominee. Understanding that, were I in the minority party and the issues reversed, I would take exactly the same position because this document, our Constitution, does not equivocate” (5/19/05).

9. James Inhofe (OK)

“This outrageous grab for power by the Senate minority is wrong and contrary to our oath to support and defend the Constitution” (3/11/03).

10. Mike Crapo (ID)

“[T]he Constitution requires the Senate to hold up-or-down votes on all nominees” (5/25/05).

11 . Richard Shelby (AL)

“Why not allow the President to do his job of selecting judicial nominees and let us do our job in confirming or denying them? Principles of fairness call for it and the Constitution requires it” (11/12/03).

12. Orrin Hatch (UT)*

Filibustering judicial nominees is “unfair, dangerous, partisan, and unconstitutional” (1/12/05).

*Hatch claims he still opposes filibusters of judicial nominees and often votes “present” instead of “no” on cloture votes. But as Drew noted: “Because ending a filibuster requires 60 ‘yes’ votes, voting ‘present’ is identical to voting ‘no.’ Hatch’s decision to vote ‘present’ is an affirmative decision to continue the filibuster.”

The Senate GOP's Unprecedented Obstruction In Five Charts

Senate Democrats are looking increasingly serious about the possibility of changing the Senate rules to permit a 51-vote majority to end debate on nominees to the executive branch and lower federal courts – the so-called “nuclear option.” The move would come after Senate Republicans abused the filibuster to block votes on all three of President Obama’s nominees to fill vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The D.C. Circuit nominees are among 17 federal judicial nominees currently waiting for Senate floor votes. Thirteen of these have been waiting for three weeks or longer; two have been waiting for over 100 days.

And the blanket filibuster of D.C. Circuit nominees is just the latest in the GOP’s onslaught of unprecedented obstruction under President Obama. Here are four charts showing just how far Republican obstruction has gone in the Obama administration.

Failed to confirm one-quarter of President Obama’s judicial nominees.

At this point in President Bush’s term, the Senate had confirmed 91 percent of his nominees to the lower federal courts. As of today, the Senate has confirmed just 76 percent of President Obama’s nominees. Those left out include the 17 nominees still waiting patiently for yes-or-no confirmation votes, as well as many nominees who have been forced to withdraw their nominations after meeting a wall of GOP obstruction. Unquestionably qualified nominees forced to withdraw their names include D.C. Circuit nominee Caitlin Halligan, Ninth Circuit nominee Goodwin Liu and Nevada District Court nominee Elissa Cadish.

The unconfirmed 26 percent also includes nominees who have met with Republican obstruction before even getting a hearing from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Because committee chairman Patrick Leahy won’t schedule a hearing on a nominee until both of that nominee’s home-state senators return “blue slips” signaling their approval for starting the process, Republicans can hold up the confirmation process before it even starts simply by refusing to return a “blue slip.” One example is Georgia senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson’s year-and-a-half-long (and counting) blockade of Eleventh Circuit nominee Jill Pryor, whom they previously found qualified for a district court judgeship.

Stonewalled the D.C. Circuit.

When President Obama nominated three qualified people to the three vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Senate Republicans put up a coordinated front of righteous indignation, accusing the president of trying to “pack” the court to “rubber-stamp” his agenda. This act was somewhat hard to believe coming from a party that less than a decade ago successfully pushed to confirm George W. Bush’s nominees to the very same seats. The cries of “court-packing” were also a little bit undermined by the fact that Senate Republicans had allowed just one of President Obama’s nominees to be confirmed to the court, in contrast to four of Bush’s nominees and eight of Reagan’s.

It all made one believe that maybe the goal was to keep the influential court dominated by conservative Republican appointees.

Forced Obama's judicial nominees to wait over twice as long for confirmation votes as Bush’s nominees did.

Senate Republicans have forced even the nominees whom they ultimately confirm to wait weeks or even months just for up-or-down confirmation vote. Since the Senate requires unanimous consent from its members to hold a vote, a single senator can block a vote indefinitely until he is forced to give up or he runs up against a cloture vote. Under President Obama, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made extraordinary use of these quiet filibusters, sometimes blocking votes on judicial nominees for months, even when (as is the case the overwhelming majority of the time) no Republicans actually oppose the nominees in question.

One example of this was Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, nominated to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, who was filibustered for nearly nine months despite the fact that both of his conservative home-state senators said they supported him. When Republicans finally allowed Bacharach’s nomination to come to a vote, he was confirmed unanimously.

President Obama’s confirmed nominees to the lower courts have been forced to wait an average of 107 days between approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee and a confirmation vote on the Senate floor. At this point in George W. Bush's presidency, the average wait for his nominees was just 43 days. This escalation has been especially pronounced among district court nominees, who have historically been quickly approved for trial court positions. President Bush’s district court nominees were confirmed in an average of 34 days. Under President Obama, their average wait has nearly tripled to 100 days.

Caused a vacancy crisis on the federal courts.

Senate Republicans often claim the Senate is doing a great job confirming judicial nominees this year. But according to a PFAW fact sheet [pdf], “Since the start of the 113th Congress in January 2013, the confirmation rate has failed to keep up with the number of vacancies,” leading to more than one in ten seats on the federal courts being or soon to become vacant.

Since the start of this Congress, the number of federal judicial seats that are or will soon be vacant has risen from 90 to 110, an increase of more than 20 percent. The number of judicial emergencies – vacancies that have caused courts to face extraordinary backlogs in cases -- has risen from 27 to 38, an increase of 40 percent.

The Brennan Center also documents the huge surge in federal district court vacancies and judicial emergencies since the start of President Obama's term.

…and it’s not just judges.

Republicans have filibustered more of President Obama’s executive branch nominees than were filibustered under all other presidents combined. From 1949 through the end of 2008, the Senate held cloture votes to end filibusters of 20 executive branch nominees. So far in the Obama administration, the Senate has held cloture votes on 27 executive branch nominees. That means the Senate GOP is on pace to filibuster over twice as many of President Obama’s executive branch nominees as the total number filibustered under all previous presidents combined.

Among President Obama’s executive branch nominees who have faced unsuccessful cloture votes is Rep. Mel Watt, nominated to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, who became the first sitting member of Congress to be blocked from an administrative position since before the Civil War.

Ponnuru Uses Discredited Arguments on DC Circuit

For one of the newest entries in the Republican spin war on the D.C. Circuit, check out conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru's column in Bloomberg yesterday. The title alone – Republicans Shouldn't Let Obama Pack the Courts – tells you something important: A column that calls the simple act of nominating people to fill existing judicial vacancies "packing the courts" should be taken with a huge grain of salt.

As just about everyone has pointed out, "court-packing" refers to the FDR scheme to add seats to the Supreme Court in order to achieve desired rulings. Filling existing vacancies is run-of-the-mill constitutional procedure. The closest we've seen to court-packing in a long time isn't President Obama's nominating three qualified nominees to the D.C. Circuit, but the Republican Party's scheme to strip multiple judgeships from that court in order to maintain its current far-right tilt.

Ponnuru also writes that:

Starting in 2003, the Democratic minority embarked on an unprecedented series of filibusters to stop President George W. Bush's appointments to appeals courts. Back then, Republicans said there was a crisis of judicial vacancies needing to be filled. Democrats replied that the courts, especially the D.C. Circuit, were underworked and that the Republicans were trying to pack the courts with like-minded judges. Now the sides are reversed, and so are the talking points

In fact, the situations are hardly similar. Democratic filibusters of a few Bush-43 nominees were all based on their records. Whether it was Janice Rogers Brown, Brett Kavanaugh, or Miguel Estrada, the conversations during committee hearings and floor debates were about their records, not whether President Bush had a right to nominate anyone at all to the court. In contrast, Republicans signaled their intent to block President Obama's three nominees even before knowing who they would be.

Ponnuru writes that the D.C. Circuit has less work than it did when Bush's nominees were confirmed. In fact, Tenth Circuit Judge Timothy Tymkovich – the conservative, Bush-43-nominated jurist who is the chair of the Judicial Conference's Committee on Judicial Resources – testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee just a few weeks ago that this simply is not true. But even if you used the definition of caseload that Ponnuru's statement is based on (raw case filings without regard to the complexity of the cases), it still serves only to highlight GOP hypocrisy on the issue: As we have pointed out before, President Bush and Senate Republicans worked to fill these same seats in 2003 when the number of case filings was less than it is today.

Ponnuru also mischaracterizes an anonymous letter Senator Grassley claims to have received from a D.C. Circuit judge, suggesting that the letter somehow supports the notion that the current judgeships should not be filled.

First, legislators shouldn't be basing their decisions on edited comments from anonymous sources that are not even entered into the formal record or made available for public inspection and questions from senators. Secondly, it's clear from Grassley's rendition of the letter that it was talking about creating new judgeships, not filling existing vacancies. Here's what Sen. Grassley has said the anonymous judge wrote:

I do not believe the current caseload of the D.C. Circuit or, for that matter, the anticipated caseload in the near future, merits additional judgeships at this time. . . . If any more judges were added now, there wouldn't be enough work to go around. [emphasis added]

Since no one is talking about adding new judgeships to the D.C. Circuit, the quote has nothing to do with the situation before us.

Ponnuru also says that the court is actually balanced between Democratic and Republican appointees. While that is true for active judges, five of the court's six senior judges are Republican appointees. These senior judges sit on the three-judge panels that do most of the court's work, and they maintain a strong influence over the court. So when you draw a three-judge panel, there is a high likelihood that it will have a conservative majority, because Republican nominees outnumber Democratic ones 9-5, a nearly 2-1 ratio. Senate Republicans like those numbers and would like to keep them that way.

But there is a bigger picture: Even if everything that Ponnuru said was accurate, Congress has by law has established the D.C. Circuit as a court with eleven active judgeships. Senate Republicans don't like that, so they are using obstruction to make it de facto an eight-judge court. There are proper, constitutionally mandated ways of changing the law: Get Congress to pass a bill and the president to sign it. Nullifying and rewriting the current law through obstruction is not what the Founders had in mind, and it would make a lousy Schoolhouse Rock bit.

Cross-posted from PFAW.

William Rehnquist, Radical Feminist

Right-wing groups determined to paint D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Nina Pillard as a “scary,” “radical” and “militant” feminist have taken to using an unexpected weapon: a landmark women’s rights decision written by the late conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

Ten years ago, the state of Nevada had challenged the Family and Medical Leave Act after a male state employee had tried to take his FMLA-sanctioned leave to care for his ailing wife. Pillard joined with the Bush administration to bring the case, Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, to the Supreme Court and successfully argued that the FMLA should be upheld. 

In his majority opinion in the case, the Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote that Congress had been justified in passing the FMLA to combat what he called the “significant” problem of women facing employment discrimination because employers assumed they would have to take more time off than men to care for their families. He wrote:

Stereotypes about women’s domestic roles are reinforced by parallel stereotypes presuming a lack of domestic responsibilities for men. Because employers continued to regard the family as the woman’s domain, they often denied men similar accommodations or discouraged them from taking leave. These mutually reinforcing stereotypes created a self-fulfilling cycle of discrimination that forced women to continue to assume the role of primary family caregiver, and fostered employers’ stereotypical views about women’s commitment to work and their value as employees. Those perceptions, in turn, Congress reasoned, lead to subtle discrimination that may be difficult to detect on a case-by-case basis.

In 2011, Pillard cited this passage from Justice Rehnquist in a law review article about the need to break long-held stereotypes about women’s and men’s roles in the home and workplace:

Providing men with family leave, the Hibbs court reasoned, would help to change underlying gendered patterns of family care and thereby help to counteract “a self-fulfilling cycle of discrimination” – a cycle that “fostered employers’ stereotypical views about women’s [lack of] commitment to work and their [lesser] value as employees,” as well as “parallel stereotypes” of men’s overriding workplace commitment that routinely obstruct men’s equal access to family benefits that could encourage them to spend more time parenting. The radical implication of Hibbs is that we cannot end sex discrimination outside the home without changing our beliefs about women’s and men’s differential attachments to family care within it, and we cannot change those beliefs without actually shifting the allocation of care work within the family.

Fast forward to today, when Pillard is one of President Obama’s three nominees to fill vacancies on the influential D.C. Circuit. Right-wing groups, upset by Pillard’s success defending women’s rights in the courts -- she also wrote the legal briefs that convinced the Supreme Court to open the Virginia Military Institute to women – are now looking for any reason to keep her off the court, and have seized on Hibbs.

This summer, the Family Research Council sent out an email to its members attacking Pillard for saying that assumptions about women’s roles in the home present “a self-fulfilling cycle of discrimination” – words that were, in fact, written by Chief Justice Rehnquist. The FRC later corrected itself, but the quote was so abhorrent to the far right that it stuck.

On his Crosstalk program yesterday, VCY America host Jim Schneider repeatedly cited the quote in an interview with the National Abstinence Education Association’s Valerie Huber, claiming that Pillard had argued “that in celebrating motherhood, society is creating a ‘self-fulfilling cycle of discrimination.’” Huber, in turn, took that as evidence that Pillard is indeed a “radical feminist.” The quote has also turned up in various conservative outlets.

We have no doubt that the FRC’s original misreading and then VCY’s face-value reading of FRC’s old email were honest mistakes. But this is a revealing game of telephone. The fact that a straight-forward statement about sex discrimination written by one of the most conservative justices in recent history engenders such anger on the Right says much more about those attacking Pillard than it does about their target.

Meet the Group Trying To Stop President Obama From Filling Vacancies on Federal Courts

Later this week, the Senate will vote on ending the Republican filibuster of Patricia Millett, the first of President Obama’s three nominees to fill vacancies on the influential US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. Republican senators have no beef with Millett personally (she’s a renowned appellate attorney, military spouse and black belt), but they’re still threatening to block all three nominees because, they contend, President Obama is attempting to “pack” the 11-member court by going through the constitutionally mandated process to fill its three vacancies.

Backing up this obstruction effort, one familiar outside group has again stepped up to carry Republicans’ water: the Judicial Crisis Network.

In the 2004, as the battle was heating up over confirming some of President Bush’s most far-right nominees, former Bush-Cheney religious right outreach staffer Gary Marx and former Justice Thomas clerk Wendy Long teamed up to found a group called the Judicial Confirmation Network, housed in the offices of the right-wing American Center for Law and Justice and dedicated to “working to ensure a fair appointment process of highly qualified judges and justices.”

Four years later, the Judicial Confirmation Network found itself in a bind when President Obama was elected to be the one nominating federal judges. All of a sudden, JCN lost interest in working to confirm “highly qualified judges and justices” to the bench. So, in 2010 the group changed its name to the Judicial Crisis Network and announced that its mission would heretofore be “to confront the radical legal and legislative threats facing our country” – that is, trying to prevent President Obama from filling seats on the federal courts with highly qualified judges and justices.

Today, the Judicial Crisis Network has emerged as the primary outside group working to prevent the Senate from confirming President Obama’s three nominees to fill the three vacancies on the influential US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. JCN is running radio ads targeting moderate senators urging them to filibuster the three nominees and has launched a snazzy website with infographics purporting to show that President Obama’s nominating qualified people to existing judicial vacancies amounts to “court packing.”

Our colleague Paul Gordon has done a thorough point-by-point takedown of JCN’s “court packing” infographics, but the bottom line is this: Like Senate Republicans who are now trying to permanently cap the DC Circuit at eight judges, JCN sang an entirely different tune when it was a Republican president was doing the nominating.

In the era when JCN was the Judicial Confirmation Network, President Bush had four nominees confirmed to the DC Circuit, bringing its total number of active judges up to 11. Meanwhile, due to Republican obstruction, President Obama has had just one nominee confirmed to the court, bringing the total number of judges on the court to eight.

JCN and Republican senators contend that the DC Circuit’s caseload is significantly lower now than it was then, meriting a reduction of the number of judges on the court. That’s simply not true [pdf]. For instance, in June 2005, when the Senate confirmed far-right Bush nominees Janice Rogers Brown and Thomas Griffith to the tenth and eleventh seats on the DC Circuit, there were 1,313 cases pending before the court. Today, as the GOP is trying to cap the court at eight judges, it is facing 1,479 pending cases.

In 2005, the Judicial Confirmation Network was reminding senators of their “obligation to bring these nominations to the floor for a fair vote.” Today, the Judicial Crisis Network is urging senators to deny floor votes to nominees in the same position.

Later today, JCN’s chief counsel Carrie Severino will be a witness at a House hearing on the DC Circuit titled “Are More Judges Always the Answer?” We can guess that Severino’s public answer to that question will be “no.” But a more forthright answer would be, “It depends who’s nominating them.”
 

C. Boyden Gray Comes Up With Most Ridiculous Argument Yet for Filibustering DC Circuit

The former George W. Bush administration official who founded a group to push for the confirmation of Bush’s judicial nominees has come up with the most ridiculous justification yet for a possible Republican filibuster of President Obama’s three nominees to vacancies on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In a Washington Times column today, C. Boyden Gray argues that Obama’s filling all the seats on the court is in fact a "drive to pack" the court and would “risk politicizing an institution that is – and should be – above politics” and lead to a loss of “collegiality” among the judges on the court.

Gray’s concern for the independence of the judiciary is admirable, but it’s interesting that he seems to have developed this concern only when a Democratic president started nominating judges.

In fact, Gray seems to have held the opposite view of what to do with the D.C. Circuit during the George W. Bush administration, when he founded and led an organization dedicated to getting President Bush’s most conservative nominees confirmed to the federal courts. Among the nominees Gray worked to confirm were current D.C. Circuit judges Thomas Griffith, Brett Kavanaugh and Janice Rogers Brown, who have given the court a serious right-wing ideological bent, and now- Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. In total, thanks in part to Gray, Bush had four nominees confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, filling all eleven of the twelve seats then available.

In contrast, President Obama has had just one nominee confirmed to the D.C. Circuit in his five years in office, bringing the total number of judges on the court up to eight out of eleven designated seats. This puts him far behind all of his recent predecessors in placing judges on the court. In fact, every president since Jimmy Carter, going through the process laid out in the Constitution, has had at least three nominees confirmed to the D.C. Circuit.

So, why does Gray think President Obama’s nominees would so unbalance the careful social order of the court? He cites the effort that Judge Harry Edwards, a Carter nominee, made in the mid-1990s to get judges on the court to work together across ideological lines, and Judge Edwards’ observation that “smaller courts tend to be more collegial.”  Which is a great argument for confirming judges who are skilled at working across ideological lines (for instance, Nina Pillard) but makes no sense as an argument simply not to let a given president fill seats on the court.

In the column, Gray also backs Chuck Grassley’s effort to eliminate the three D.C. Circuit seats to prevent President Obama from filling them and transfer two to other, less influential, circuits – a plan that has no backing in actual caseload data

If these are the logic-jumping lengths that conservatives have to go to justify their all-out obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees, maybe it’s time they just gave up and admitted that they just don’t want to let President Obama do his job.

 

GOP Senators Decide Attacking Women's Equality Is a Winning Message on Judicial Nominee

Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to approve the nomination of Georgetown Law professor Cornelia “Nina” Pillard to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which is often considered to be the nation’s second-highest court. The party-line vote wasn’t exactly a surprise – Republicans have decided they don’t want President Obama to fill any of the D.C. Circuit’s three vacancies, so have voted against both nominees who have come before them so far – but the content of at least some GOP senators' objections to Pillard was notable.

Specifically, both Republican senators who chose to speak on their decision to vote against Pillard went out of their way to object to Pillard’s record on women’s equality.

Yes, the Republican “rebranding” effort is going so well that they are now threatening to hold up a judicial nominee because she believes that men and women should be equal in the eyes of the law and has been very successful in arguing that view in the courts.

Pillard has a long record of working with Republicans and Democrats to defend women’s equality: She worked with the Bush administration to successfully defend the Family and Medical Leave Act in the Supreme Court and crafted the arguments that convinced the Supreme Court to open the Virginia Military Institute to women (which earned her the respect of, among others, the head of the school who was at the time opposed to allowing women in).

She also has worked on women’s equality issues as an academic, including questioning abstinence-only education that presents a double standard to boys and girls…which  is what has sent the far right into a fit.

At yesterday's committee vote on Pillard’s nomination, both Sen. Chuck Grassley (the ranking Republican on the committee) and Sen. Orrin Hatch lifted talking points from right-wing activists like the Family Research Council, Phyllis Schlafly and Ed Whelan of the National Review to attack the nominee’s academic writings on reproductive rights and abstinence education and to even, bizarrely, question whether she appreciates the “benefits of marriage.”

And then every single Republican on the committee voted against allowing her nomination to go to the full Senate for a vote.

To put this in context, Republican senators including Grassley and Hatch were quick to defend demand the confirmation of George W. Bush judicial nominees who made rape jokes and belonged to clubs that excluded women and espoused any number of offensive views, claiming that they could hold these personal views and still be fair judges. As PFAW's Drew Courtney wrote in the Huffington Post yesterday:

Too often we're told that judicial nominations fights are too complicated, too subtle to get major national attention. Not this time. The Republican message is crystal clear: rape-joke making, gay-bashing, abuse-defending, discrimination-supporting, law-skirting, ideology-pushing Republican men are welcome to be judges in our federal courts.

Women who expect to be treated as equals are not.

The Weekly Standard’s Selective History of the DC Circuit

The Weekly Standard has a long piece in its latest print issue defending Senate Republicans’ threat to filibuster President Obama’s three nominees to the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It’s no surprise that the Standard is backing Republican obstruction, but the extent to which they must dance around the facts in order to do so is remarkable.

The piece, written by Adam J. White, a former clerk of ultra-conservative Reagan nominee and now senior D.C. Circuit judge David Sentelle, gives an extensive history of the D.C. Circuit…but leaves out a few major details.

Here are the highlights of the Weekly Standard’s selective history of the D.C. Circuit.  

1. What Caitlin Halligan filibuster?
    
White incorrectly notes that President Reagan had seven D.C. Circuit nominees confirmed during his two terms in office (he actually had eight nominees confirmed) and correctly notes that President George H. W. Bush had three. But he doesn’t quite explain the reason that only one of President Obama’s nominees has so far been confirmed to the court:

Later that year, the president finally made two nominations for the court—former New York solicitor general Caitlin Halligan and respected Supreme Court litigator Sri Srinivasan—but he made no substantial effort to secure their confirmations before the 2012 election. After his second inauguration, the Senate unanimously confirmed Srinivasan; the White House withdrew Halligan’s nomination, at her own request.

White neglects to mention that President Obama’s first nominee to the D.C. Circuit, Caitlin Halligan, didn’t just “withdraw” from consideration – she was nominated five times when Republicans kept refusing to allow the Senate to vote on her nomination and actually forced the Senate to send the nomination back to the White House.  She also faced multiple Republican filibusters based on completely made-up charges in a nomination struggle that lasted two and a half years. The idea that nobody made any effort to get Halligan confirmed is as preposterous as the explanations Republicans seized on to justify prohibiting the Senate from voting on her nomination.

2. What ideological agenda?

White mocks progressives for suggesting that “the D.C. Circuit is reflexively, ideologically antiregulatory”:

Similarly, those who seize on the court’s rejection of a single EPA rule, in EME Homer City, as evidence that the D.C. Circuit “has morphed into a hotbed of activist judges” (as a blogger for the liberal American Constitution Society put it) lack any sense of perspective. The same D.C. Circuit has affirmed the vast majority of the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas regulations, a regulatory program that far exceeds the cross-state air pollution rule at issue in EME Homer City in terms of cost and scope. Again, whether one agrees or disagrees with the decisions, they offer no plausible basis on which to suggest that the D.C. Circuit is reflexively, ideologically antiregulatory.

Perhaps he should read these words by Bush nominee Janice Rogers Brown, who last year took the opportunity of a routine case about the milk market to unleash a broad invective against the government’s power to regulate commerce, in which she accuses courts that uphold government regulation of putting “property at the mercy of the pillagers”:

America’s cowboy capitalism was long ago disarmed by a democratic process increasingly dominated by powerful groups with economic interests antithetical to competitors and consumers. And the courts, from which the victims of burdensome regulation sought protection, have been negotiating the terms of surrender since the 1930s.

Civil society, once it grows addicted to redistribution, changes its character and comes to require the state to feed its habit. The difficulty of assessing net benefits and burdens makes the idea of public choice oxymoronic. Rational basis review means property is at the mercy of the pillagers. The constitutional guarantee of liberty deserves more respect - a lot more. [internal quotations and citations removed]

And it’s not just words. This skewed interpretation of the Constitution has led the D.C. Circuit’s Republican-nominated judges to issue any number of anti-worker, anti-consumer opinions, including the recent one holding that requiring companies to inform employees of their rights under the law violates the free speech rights of employers.

3. What Bush nominees?

White closes with a repeat of the Republican talking point that there is no need for the vacancies on the D.C. Circuit to be filled, no matter who is nominated to fill them. He repeats the claims of right-wing activist Carrie Severino that “several” anonymous current D.C. Circuit judges have said that the court’s vacancies don’t need to be filled. (It would seem that these are the same anonymous judges that Sen. Chuck Grassley claims to have polled after he had already concluded the seats should be eliminated.)

Furthermore, a According to Carrie Severino in National Review Online, several of Judge Garland’s  colleagues anonymously informed the committee that “the Court does not need additional judges” to handle its workload. “If any more judges were added now, there wouldn’t be enough work to go around.”

Although Sen. Grassley trotted out the anonymous quotes during a Senate hearing, he conspicuously refused to include the responses he got to the questionnaire he’d secretly sent to DC Circuit judges in the public record. The thing is, actual, non-anonymous authorities have come out to say that yes, the D.C. Circuit’s seats do need to be filled. Citing the court’s uniquely challenging caseload, former D.C. Circuit judge Patricia Wald wrote an op-ed (under her own name!) calling for the confirmation of both of the then-pending nominees and for the full staffing of the court. “There is cause for extreme concern that Congress is systematically denying the court the human resources it needs to carry out its weighty mandates,” she wrote.

Even Chief Justice John Roberts has explained that because of its unique place in the justice system, the D.C. Circuit’s workload cannot be compared to that of other federal courts.

White goes on to claim that the anonymous claims that no more judges are needed “are confirmed by the federal judiciary system’s official data.” But his numbers aren’t exactly right. He claims that the court now has 17 judges hearing cases – in fact that number is 14: eight active judges and six judges who have taken semi-retired senior status.

The judges’ anecdotes are confirmed by the federal judiciary system’s official data. Since 2001, the court has added four judges (to “replace” four who took senior status). In that same period of time, the court’s workload has remained virtually constant: 1,319 pending cases in March 2001, 1,315 in September 2012. The nation’s courts face many genuine personnel shortages; the federal judiciary formally designates some courts as “judicial emergencies,” a list published on the judiciary website (and linked by the Justice Department’s own website). The D.C. Circuit is nowhere among them; with 17 judges now hearing cases, it has by far the lightest “per capita” appellate caseload in the country.

The points of comparison that White picks in an attempt to illustrate the court’s supposedly consistent caseload are misleading, at best.   The fact that the court had 1,319 pending cases in March 2001 and 1,315 in September 2012 is meaningless for the current debate. 

Instead, let’s look at the caseload in the spring of 2003 when Republicans supported the confirmation of George W. Bush nominees John Roberts and Miguel Estrada to the 9th and 10th seats. Two years later, Republicans successfully pushed to confirm Janet Rogers Brown and Thomas Griffith to the 10th and 11th seats, when there were 1,313 pending cases. Fast forward to today, when the GOP is claiming that no more than eight judges are needed on the D.C. Circuit, and the court has 1,456 pending cases. That is a whole lot more cases for a whole lot fewer judges to process.

4. What obstruction?

White concludes by saying that there is “no reason for the Senate to accelerate its own review or confirmation” of the three D.C. Circuit nominees:

The D.C. Circuit does not “need” President Obama to appoint more judges. President Obama wants to appoint more judges. As a matter of presidential prerogative, that is a perfectly fine reason to nominate judges—but it is no reason for the Senate to accelerate its own review or confirmation of nominees.

The thing is, nobody’s asking the Senate to confirm these nominees in the dark of night. Each is getting a public hearing and answering pages of written questions from senators. What the Senate GOP is threatening to do is deny these nominees up-or-down votes for reasons having nothing to do with the nominees themselves. White provides no justification for filibusters of these nominees who the president has used his “presidential prerogative” to nominate.
 

Attacks on Obama's D.C. Circuit Nominations Get More and More Absurd

The New York Times reported this week that President Obama is planning to nominate three judges to fill long-vacant seats on the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. This is hardly unheard of: every president since Jimmy Carter has placed at least three judges on the D.C. Circuit, and Obama only just had his first nominee confirmed to the court.

But Senate Republicans and conservative activists really, really don’t want President Obama to put any more judges on the D.C. Circuit – perhaps because it is currently dominated by Republican nominees who are intent on rolling back things like clean air regulations, cigarette labeling requirements, and National Labor Relations Board rulings.
      
So the Senate GOP is threatening to filibuster anybody Obama names to the court and even trying to push through a law permanently deleting the vacant judgeships in order to prevent Obama from filling them.

What has resulted is one of the more bizarre manifestations of Obama Derangement Syndrome. The talking point that Senate Republicans and their allies have landed on to defend this planned obstruction is that President Obama, in nominating judges to existing judicial vacancies as is required by his job, is in fact “packing” the D.C. Circuit in the style of FDR. (Or, in the words of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board,  like a “king”).

In a column for Breitbart News yesterday the Family Research Council’s Ken Klukowski goes even further, writing that by merely planning to nominate judges to the court – a constitutional requirement of his job fulfilled by every one of his predecessors – Obama has launched an “attack on the independence of the federal courts,” “declared war on judicial independence,” and is “trying to declare law by executive fiat.”

Now that Obama has declared war on judicial independence, Republicans are planning a counter-strategy. There are 13 federal appeals courts. The D.C. Circuit’s caseload is light, while several other circuits are overloaded. Sen. Charles Grassley and Senate Republicans are proposing moving those three seats to courts that could very much use them. Obama would still appoint those three judges, but not to the D.C. Circuit.

It takes legislation to create or move federal judgeships, so this is shaping up as a major part of the battle over courts that are independent of political manipulation.

There are only 80 slots on the Supreme Court’s docket every year. For 20,000 federal appeals each year, whatever the appellate court says is the final word. Obama is hoping that if he can overhaul the judicial balance of the court, his unprecedented claims of federal power might withstand court challenges. From Obamacare to EPA requirements, labor rules, and IRS rules, all these topics and more are going before the D.C. Circuit.

Obama cannot enact major liberal legislation now that he’s lost the House and might also lose the Senate next year. Instead, he’s trying to declare law by executive fiat. Whether he gets away with it likely turns on whether he can change Senate rules and then pack the D.C. Circuit with sympathetic judges.

This attack on the independence of the federal courts should be of concern to all Americans.