Filibuster

Sessions revives the empty “judicial activism” argument

Justice Stevens only announced his resignation a few days ago, and already the far right is throwing around the familiar Republican talking point about a potential “activist” Supreme Court nominee:

Several days after Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens announced his decision to retire, Republican leaders are already making it clear they'll put up a fight if President Obama nominates a left-leaning judicial activist.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said if the president wishes to avoid a filibuster, he should choose someone with "mainstream" judicial views as Steven's successor.

"If it's somebody like that, clearly outside of the mainstream, then I think every power should be utilized to protect the Constitution," Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told NBC's Meet the Press.

Sessions elaborated:

It's when an unelected lifetime-appointed judge, or five of them use their power, unaccountable power, to redefine the meaning of the Constitution to effectuate some policy agenda, some empathy, some ideology that they have, that's what threatens the average American.

The “judicial activism” argument, which we’re sure to be hearing repeatedly in the coming weeks, rings hollow in the wake of this conservative-dominated Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC. That decision, which overturned over a century of judicial precedent to hand corporations an outsized amount of influence in the electoral process, is exactly the kind of judicial act that, in Sessions’ words, “threatens the average American.”

And it’s worth noting the multiple studies that have shown that the more conservative justices on the Supreme Court are the ones most likely to vote to strike down laws passed by Congress and decisions by federal regulators.

It’s time for conservatives to either retire the “judicial activism” argument, or start applying it to their own nominees.
 

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GOP Obstructionism Is No Surprise

The good news is that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted this morning to approve - again - Dawn Johnsen's nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel. The bad news is that this was yet another party-line vote where the Republicans opposed an unquestionably qualified candidate solely because she was nominated by President Obama.

People For the American Way has carefully documented the unprecedented behavior of Congressional Republicans, as they have done everything in their power to stymie President Obama's nominations and administration-supported initiatives even if they have overwhelming support within their own caucus. Just this week, for instance, Republicans filibustered the nomination of Judge Barbara Keenan to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, after every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee had voted in support of her nomination. When the filibuster was broken, she was confirmed 99-0. 99-0!

How do you explain a party whose position on more and more issues is determined simply on whether they can hurt President Obama, even when they agree with him?

If you consider today's GOP as a traditional political party in the mold of other political parties throughout American history, their behavior is surprising. But this is the party that impeached President Clinton, shut down the 2000 Florida recount, and launched vast voter disenfranchisement campaigns around the country.

So just what is today's GOP? Just six weeks after President Obama's inauguration, our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation foresaw the next step in the party's devolution in a powerful and prescient Right Wing Watch In Focus report: Dragged along by its most extreme base, today's Republican Party does not see itself as the minority party in a democracy. Instead, they increasingly see themselves as a resistance movement, a mindset appropriate for fighting a dictatorship, but not for working with a democracy's freely elected government.

No one who read that report has been at all surprised by the GOP efforts to sabotage the workings of the federal government. They made it clear over a year ago how they envision themselves in a nation that rejected them at the ballot box. Their behavior since has been consistent.

It's sad that the party of Abraham Lincoln has sunk so low.

And it's outrageous that qualified nominees are being blocked by the GOP's obstructionist tactics. Help put a stop to it here.

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Senator Shelby Should Maybe Review His Website

There are plenty of reasons to be outraged by Senator Shelby's decision to put a blanket hold on all executive branch nominations in an effort to steer more federal dollars to his state.  After all, most people would agree that it's good for the country for the Senate to be able to move forward on key nominations to the Army, Air Force, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense.

Senator Shelby, of course, would rather have more pork for his state, but you'd think that even he would be outraged by the principle of refusing an up or down vote on nominations.  After all, his own senate website rails against filibusters on judicial nominees.

As a U.S. Senator, I believe that the review of judicial nominations is one of the most important responsibilities of the Senate, and I firmly believe that each of the President's nominees should be afforded a straight up-or-down vote. I do not think that any of us want to operate in an environment where federal judicial nominees must receive 60 votes in order to be confirmed. To that end I firmly support changing the Senate rules to require that a simple majority be necessary to confirm all judicial nominees, thus ending the continuous filibuster of them.

And that's how he feels about nominations for lifetime seats on the federal bench.  If he's that committed to guaranteeing up or down votes on nominees who will have their positions for life, then obviously he'd support up or down votes for nominees who serve at the pleasure of the president.

Yet Senator Shelby is still obstructing these nominees to gain political leverage for his own pet projects.

I think there's a word for that.

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What Moderates?

Last night, Patricia Smith, President Obama’s choice to be Solicitor of the Department of Labor, passed an important procedural hurdle: the Senate decided to vote on her nomination.

What’s remarkable is that, unlike past attempts to block votes on executive branch nominees, the vote was entirely along party lines.  Even the so-called moderates in the Republican party, like Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, voted against allowing an up or down vote on a second-tier executive branch nomination.

For a party that railed against the use of the filibuster even in the case of judicial nominees, the hypocrisy is remarkable.

Perhaps, you think, Patricia Smith is far outside the mainstream, and the GOP was using it’s last tactic to stop an extreme nominee. 

Nope.  

But filibustering a nominee like Smith for a position most people have never heard of in a department that is rarely in the news still requires some justification. After all, most of the GOP senators have been around long enough that they served during a time when such a filibuster would be unimaginable.

So they called Smith a liar.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wy.), the ranking Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led the pack, decrying her "lack of candor" and cited "discrepancies in her testimony." The issue -- which was really not, of course, the issue -- centered on a small pilot program in New York called Wage Watch, which aims to educate workers about the minimum wage is and when they are entitled to overtime. Republicans, during committee hearings, insisted that it was a Big Labor plot, but Smith said the idea had been generated within her office. It was later shown that apparently a labor representative had suggested it to an employee, who then suggested it to Smith.

The GOP also lambasted Smith for categorizing the pilot program as "educational" rather than "enforcement." Democrats pointed out that the distinction was an irrelevant one: The purpose of the education was to improve enforcement efforts.

The pilot program cost $6,000. Smith manages some 4,000 employees and oversees an $11 billion annual budget.

The conclusion is obvious.  The GOP, including so-called moderates, are obstructing nominations for the sake of obstruction, throwing sand into the gears of government and attempting to hobble the Obama administration by any means necessary.  That tactic is irresponsible and unacceptable.  Americans deserve better.

 

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Extra! Extra! 59 is more than 41!

In the wake of yesterday's extremely disappointing election in Massachusetts, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Democrats had somehow lost control of the Senate.  In fact, the Democrats still have an 18 vote majority--an enormous power base in a legislative chamber with only 100 seats.

Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger points out that on Supreme Court nominations, President Obama has a majority that most presidents would envy:

President George H. W. Bush had only 43 Republican Senators when he nominated Judge Clarence Thomas – undoubtedly the most conservative nominee of the past half-century – to the Supreme Court. That’s right: 43 Senators of his party. In the end, Justice Thomas was confirmed 52 to 48. The nomination was not remotely close to having enough Senators to prevail on a cloture vote – that would have required all 43 Republicans, joined by 17 Democrats. But he was confirmed because the settled expectation was that the President and the country are entitled to have an up or down vote on a matter such as a Supreme Court nomination. A filibuster that prevented such a vote was politically unthinkable.

And if there aren't 60 votes in favor of a particular issue or nominee?  Let them filibuster.  After a while, voters might start wondering why it is that 41 senators won't allow a vote on legislation with clear majority support.

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Joe Lieberman Speaks Out Against Joe Lieberman

You might have read the recent news about Joe Lieberman’s efforts to block meaningful health care reform. It’s no longer surprising that Senator Lieberman is doing everything he can to slow down or stop reform, but it might be surprising to know that his efforts have been opposed by . . . Joe Lieberman.

Yes, just a few years ago, Senator Joe Lieberman testified in support of legislation offered by Senator Joe Lieberman to stop the kind of maneuvering that Senator Joe Lieberman is doing right now.

In late 1994, I joined Senator Harkin in launching an effort to encourage Senate discussion of reforming the Senate's cloture rule. Like Senator Harkin, I had become increasingly frustrated at the way the Senate's cloture rule repeatedly allowed a minority of Members to prevent the Senate's majority from enacting legislation. I felt--and continue to feel--that the Senate rules should be changed to prevent a small minority of Senators from bringing legislation to a halt simply by saying that they will never end debate. Senator Harkin and I therefore offered a proposal under which an initial cloture vote would require 60 votes, but the requisite number to reach cloture would decline by three with each of the next three cloture attempts on the same matter. As of the fourth cloture vote, 51 votes--a simple majority--would suffice to invoke cloture.

Yes, Senator Lieberman was deeply concerned by abuse of the filibuster. But apparently times have changed. Since Democratic activists booted him from the party, Senator Lieberman has reversed himself on any number of major issues for no discernable reason beyond political expediency. (NB: This is what Senator John McCain calls “principle.”)

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We couldn't have said it better

Republicans are trying to paint OLC nominee Dawn Johnsen as "out of the mainstream." Rachel Maddow turned the tables on them last night in an interview with Salon's Dahlia Lithwick. Lithwick noted that Republicans are creating a storm — threatening to filibuster — because of two things: First, that Johnsen was ahead of her time in pointing out what everyone now knows about how bad the OLC memos were, and second, that she's pro-choice... hardly positions that place her "out of the mainstream" since, unfortunately for Republicans, those views are shared by most Americans.

A bit from the interview:

Lithwick: This is a dry run for future confirmation wars. ... She's been very vocally critical of the work that happened at the OLC in the Bush administration. ...

I think this has nothing really to do with Dawn Johnsen It's sort of a little warm up, a practice run for when they REALLY go after someone in a confirmation hearing for the courts. ...

Maddow: At Johnsen's confirmation hearing there was one comment from Republican Senator Jeff Sessions that stuck with me because he accused her of, and I'm quoting here, "blogging, advocating, and speeching for the opposite sides." Essentially he's saying, "She's got a side, she has known positions on things." Does it make any reasonable sense that would be an objection to an OLC candidate?

Lithwick: Well, it's doubly paradoxical if you think about it, because the thing she was blogging and "speeching" about was torture! It was how bad OLC was and how sloppy their work was. So it puts the Republicans in this awful position of having to say "Because the work they did in the Bush OLC was terrific. How dare they call it into question?" ... This is an issue on which she was very clear — before the rest of us were clear — that the memos were bad, the lawyering was sloppy, and that torture was torture.

And video:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

There was also a segment at the beginning of the show about impeaching Jay Bybee that was good. Watch it here.

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Two Strikes Against Senator Inhofe

Senator Inhofe announced earlier this week that he would filibuster the nomination of David Hamilton for a seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. And on the Senate floor he elaborated—he said this was because, in a case involving a ban on the Indiana House of Representatives’ use of opening prayers to advance a particular religion, Hamilton placed limits on prayers that used Christ’s name, but, according to Inhofe, said that invoking the name of “Allah” would be permissible.

There are two major problems with Senator Inhofe’s announcement.

First is the senator’s statement, back in 2005, that filibusters of judicial nominees were contrary to the Constitution. Of filibusters of judicial nominations he said: “I don’t think it should be used where it is contrary to the Constitution.” If you watched Rachel Maddow last night you go this point loud and clear. You can’t have it both ways – the Constitution didn’t change between 2005 and 2009; what changed is the President making the nominations.

The second is the Senator’s gross misreading of Hamilton’s opinion. As noted in an earlier post, Hamilton never ruled that prayers to Christ were impermissible, while Muslim prayers were permissible. What he said was that any prayers that advanced a particular religion were impermissible and that on the record before the court, the official prayers being offered in the Indiana House “repeatedly and consistently” advanced the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, but that the single instance of a Muslim imam offering a prayer was not distinctly Muslim in its content.

In a ruling on a post judgment motion, Hamilton did say that prayers to “Allah” would be permissible, but what Senator Inhofe’s statement leaves out is both the context and the full content of the statement. Hamilton was asked in the post judgment motion to rule on whether a prayer can be addressed to “Allah.” Explaining that this is the Arabic word for “God” used in translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures, Hamilton ruled this permissible. He went on to say: “If those offering prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives choose to use the Arabic Allah, the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language’s terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers contemplated in Marsh v. Chambers, the court sees little risk that the choice of language would advance a particular religion or disparage others.”

If Senator Inhofe would carefully review the record, either Judge Hamilton’s or his own, he’d see that his pledge to filibuster this nomination is a very poor idea.

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David Hamilton to Appear on the Hill. Again.

We just got word from the Senate Judiciary Committee that Republicans are going to get another shot at questioning Judge David Hamilton, President Obama’s first judicial nominee who is being put forward for a seat on the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Senator Leahy is indeed bending over backwards to accommodate Republicans, who, as we’ve reported, threatened to filibuster the President’s judicial nominees before a single name was put forward and who boycotted Hamilton’s first hearing, because they claimed they did not have enough time to prepare, prompting Senator Leahy to ask their questions for them.

As Senator Leahy said in making the announcement of this rare second hearing, “It has been four weeks since Judge Hamilton first appeared before the Committee, and I am disappointed that Committee Republicans have yet to ask a single question of this nominee.” Hopefully, this time the Republicans will show up and ask their own questions. Judge Hamilton is eminently qualified for this position – his nomination should not be further delayed.
 

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The Audacity of Blackmail

According to the Daily Beast, the GOP is threatening to filibuster President Obama’s legal nominees if he moves to release the infamous “torture memos” that came out of the John Yoo-era Office of Legal Counsel:

A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration’s abrupt pullback last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.

It was bad enough that George W. Bush spent the last eight years politicizing the Department of Justice and degrading the rule of law. Now, instead of working with the new administration to clean up the DOJ, Republican Senators are apparently doubling down and desperately attempting to cover up the Bush Administration’s misdeeds and their own complicity.

As several of the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee said during the Committee’s vote on Dawn Johnsen’s nomination: bring it on. If the GOP wants a public debate about what’s been going in on the Justice Department, that’s the kind of debate the American people will understand.

In the mean time, now would be a good time to remind every member of the U.S. Senate, Democrat and Republican alike, that it’s time to confirm Dawn Johnsen and clean up the DOJ.

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Kathryn Kolbert Talks Judges and GOP Hypocrisy on Air America Radio

People For the American Way president Kathryn Kolbert appeared recently on the David Bender Show on Air America to talk about President Obama’s judicial nominees.

 
Even before Obama nominated a single person, GOP Senators threatened to filibuster his nominees. These are the very same Senators who were pounding their fists over President Bush’s nominees and clamoring for the “nuclear option,” which would have obliterated the filibuster.
 
You can listen to the interview here:

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Playing Politics with America’s Future

As weeks go, I think this has been a fascinating look at the Republican obstruction machine – and how willing they are to play politics with our future.

First, the Republicans fumed and fumed about the omnibus appropriations bill, as President Obama explained, last year’s undone business that had to be taken care of to move on to the urgent problems facing us. They held it up over the weekend, forced votes on a whole bunch of amendments this week that they knew wouldn’t pass just so they could try to play “gotcha” with the Democrats and then passed the bill on a voice vote. So much for principled opposition! 

Then they fumed and fumed about how horrid David Ogden was – this is President Obama’s and Attorney General Holder’s eminently qualified choice to be the second in line at the Justice Department.  They wrung their hands about “hard left radicals” who have endorsed Ogden, such as the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the National District Attorneys Association.  The Republicans slow-walked the nomination through Committee and then threatened a filibuster in the full Senate, but couldn’t muster the votes.  The right-wing Family Research Council said they’d “score” the vote in an effort to hold senators accountable for the dastardly act of voting for Ogden and then today he was voted on by the full Senate and received a resounding 65-28 vote! Clearly the final result was not in doubt.

So what were these histrionics about?  And how long can they justify playing politics with America's future?

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NYT: Who's Filibustering Now?

Great editorial in New York Times this morning recognizing the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans threatening to filibuster President Obama's judicial nominees well before any are named and urging Senator Leahy to let the blue slip process -- under which senators get a way to block judicial nominees from their home state -- die quietly. The editorial very eloquently echoes some of the most important points People For the American Way has been making for weeks, and it is definitely worth reading.

When President George W. Bush was stocking the federal courts with conservative ideologues, Senate Republicans threatened to change the august body's rules if any Democrat dared to try to block his choices, even the least-competent, most-radical ones. Filibustering the president's nominees, they said, would be an outrageous abuse of senatorial privilege.

Now that President Obama is preparing to fill vacancies on federal benches, Republican senators have fired off an intemperate letter threatening -- you got it -- filibusters if Mr. Obama's nominees are not to their liking. Mr. Obama should not let the Republicans' saber-rattling interfere with how he chooses judges.

Read the whole article.

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The Right Re-Tools as 'Resistance Movement'

Another week, another clear example of who is pulling the strings in the Republican Party. On Monday, Republicans in the Senate -- all 41 of them -- sent a letter to President Obama all but demanding that he re-nominate three of President Bush's nominees and threatening filibusters if the president does not do what they want with his future judicial nominations.

It was only a few years ago that the GOP wanted to eliminate the judicial filibuster entirely, telling anyone who would listen that every judicial nominee deserved an up-or-down vote without exception. Apparently, the Senate Republicans have the collective memory of a goldfish.

Of course, these senators' attempt to force "bipartisanship" at gunpoint, to coerce the president with threats, is one giant pander to their extreme right-wing base. The Far Right wants to maintain conservative majorities on the most powerful courts in the country. And they want senators to do everything in their power to block judges that don't meet their strict litmus tests on everything from Roe v. Wade and gay rights to free speech and the separation of church and state -- and much more.

This is one more example in a long list of the GOP marching in lockstep to the Radical Right's orders in just the last few weeks:

  • In the spirit of Rush Limbaugh's clarion call to conservatives to hope for President Obama's failure, 100% of the Republican caucus in the House voted against the majority's stimulus package last month.
  • Some Senate Republicans have been following through on the Radical Right's challenges to the president's Department of Justice nominees, this week moving to delay a floor vote on the confirmation of David Ogden.
  • And earlier this week, RNC Chairman Michael Steele was forced apologize to the real leader of his party after making some comments seen as critical of Rush Limbaugh -- proving that Limbaugh and other extremists are calling the shots within the party.

People For the American Way just released a very timely Right Wing Watch In Focus on the status of the Radical Right's strength and influence (available here). Please read it and share it with your friends and fellow activists.

There has been much talk in the media about the Republican Party and even the Conservative Movement being lost in the wilderness. But the leadership vacuum is being filled with the most fringe elements of that side of the political spectrum. The Far Right is stronger than ever ... and the weakness of one of the major parties has provided a huge opportunity for them to assert that strength.

AND we've released our own take on Limbaugh's recent comments which is a must watch. Please take a moment to watch the video and then send a message to Rush telling him to GROW UP. Then tell your friends to check it out at www.BabyRush.org.

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Report from the Judiciary Committee

I'm sitting in the Senate Juduciary Committee executive meeting where Senator Leahy confirmed what we had been hearing -- despite the fact that David Ogden's nomination to be Deputy Attorney General was reported out on a vote of 14-5, with three Republicans including the ranking member in support -- the Republican caucus is going to filibuster the nomination on the floor.  All this because Ogden had the temerity while in public practice to stand up for the First Amendment and a woman's right to choose.

Senator Leahy also flagged the absurdity -- which People For noted earlier this week -- that the entire Republican caucus is threatening to filibuster President Obama's judicial nominees even before a single nomination is put forward. Senator Leahy noted that Republicans and their allies may want the President to fail, but that the American people surely do not. For the good of all of us, he said, President Obama needs to succeed. And that certainly means moving the President's nominees through expeditiously.

By the way, the final votes on the nominations of Elena Kagan -- who will be the first woman confirmed as Solicitor General -- and Tom Perrelli -- nominated to be Assistant Attorney General -- were both held up by the Republicans at the last executive meeting. The vote today? 13-3 and either 17-1 or 16-2. (There was some confusion about the last vote - will report back when it's clarified.)
 

UPDATE: So, it looks like the planned filibuster of the Ogden nomination may be losing some steam. Thanks to Senator Leahy for exposing the Republican obstructionism to the light of day. Also, the Committee has clarified the vote on Tom Perrelli's nomination: it was 17-1, with Senator Coburn as the only "no" vote.
 

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Republican Senators Make Threats on Judges, Try to Force "Bipartisanship" at Gunpoint

From Poltico:

President Barack Obama should fill vacant spots on the federal bench with former President Bush's judicial nominees to help avoid another huge fight over the judiciary, all 41 Senate Republicans said Monday.

...

"Regretfully, if we are not consulted on, and approve of, a nominee from our states, the Republican Conference will be unable to support moving forward on that nominee," the letter warns. "And we will act to preserve this principle and the rights of our colleagues if it is not."

In other words, Republicans are threatening a filibuster of judges if they're not happy.

The letter talks about "bipartisanship" and, separate from the letter, several Republicans have been warning the president for some time against nominating "far left judges." But for all this talk about "bipartisanship" and throwing terms around like "far-left judges," what do they really mean?

Does bipartisanship mean nominating half right-wing judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade and don't believe in the Constitution's promise of equal rights under the law; half who agree that the Constitution makes certain guarantees in terms of people's rights and liberties and that it gives the government the authority and the responsibility to protect those rights, not undermine them?

Or does it mean that all of the president's judicial nominees must be "moderates," and if so, what is their definition of "moderate?" Is a moderate someone who is respectful of fundamental constitutional rights and principles like privacy, equality, the right to choose and checks and balances… as long as they are pro-corporate? We already have a Supreme Court that is overwhelmingly pro-business, much more so than many precious Courts, including the four supposedly "liberal" Justices.

Of course that's probably not the case (not that the president should feel compelled to nominate judges with a corporate-friendly bent anyway, especially now that we are in the middle of the havoc wreaked by corporate greed and excess, but I digress).

When it comes to this issue, what they really care about is pleasing their base. And when it comes to their base, the ONLY judges who are acceptable are extreme right-wing ideologues. So any actual "moderate," mainstream judges of course will be rejected -- and they will be cast as "far-left."

The Right sees the Judicial Branch in very black and white terms. They have accused the Democrats of having a litmus test on judges when it comes to Roe v. Wade. But that was obviously proven wrong by the fact that both Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito were confirmed even though they both, according to many experts, would vote to overturn Roe. No, it's the Right that has strict litmus tests on everything from Roe v. Wade and gay rights to free speech, the separation of church and state and, yes, how "business-friendly" a judge may be. Their base demands it! And Republican Senators -- even the so-called moderates like Snowe, Collins and Specter -- are unified on this one.

The judicial philosophies of the jurists respected by the Right are defined by extremism -- plain and simple. It's one thing for a judge to find legal exception with the way a certain case was decided (even if that decision protects a fundamental right, like Roe v. Wade), but quite another to subscribe to theories and views that fly in the face of mainstream judicial thought like:

  • "Constitution in Exile," which takes an extreme and limited view of the Commerce Clause and basically states that the regulatory policies of the New Deal were unconstitutional... and a huge number of policies and Supreme Court decisions going back nearly a hundred years, including civil rights protections, are unconstitutional as well. (Opinions expressed by Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia support "restoring the lost constitution.")
     
  • "Unitary Executive Theory," which has been used to justify insanely expansive views of executive power that defy the most commonsense understanding of our founding principles relating to checks and balances and a limited executive (remember, our founders were breaking from a monarchy - they obviously didn't want to create another one). The Bush administration exploited this theory over and over again its now infamous abuses of executive power.; and
     
  • a blatant disregard for the bedrock judicial principle of stare decisis (which Justice Clarence Thomas is said, even by Justice Scalia, to show).  

This is par for the course for right-wing judges. While those of us on the progressive side are not devoid of ideology, and are proud to have our own ideology when it comes to the Constitution and the law, the Right is by far more ideological and Republicans need to be called out for doing the Far Right's bidding once again.
 
President Obama and the Senate Democrats should challenge these Republican Senators to define their terms more specifically -- to tell them and the country EXACTLY what they mean by "bipartisanship" in this case and what they would consider acceptable or "moderate" nominees.  And the president should reject the GOP's attempt to force bipartisanship at gunpoint, by making threats and trying to use coercion to get him to appease their base on judges.

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The Party of NO Targets the Courts

Just last week I wrote about the Republicans as the Party of NO after their reflexive and not very wise decision to prevent two DOJ nominees, Elena Kagan and Tom Perrelli, from being voted on in Committee. This week they were at it again with a threat to filibuster President Obama's judicial nominees before a single nomination has even been submitted. You can read our Right Wing Watch post on their hypocrisy here. And you can read People For president Kathryn Kolbert's statement here. I particularly like her pointing out that Senate Republicans, who argued vigorously against filibusters in their previous incarnation apparently "have the collective memory of a goldfish."

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Beyond the Sigh of Relief...

Earlier this week, People For the American Way Foundation hosted -- and I moderated -- a panel at the National Press Club to discuss what the election of Barack Obama means for the future of the Supreme Court and what kind of justices we should be fighting for. The event's title, "Beyond the Sigh of Relief," says a lot in itself, and it's fantastic that our conversation could focus on the prospects for a return to justice on the High Court rather than strategizing about how to forestall complete disaster.

I hope to have video of the full discussion to share with you in a week or two. The next day, Maryland State Senator and Constitutional Law Professor Jamin Raskin (who was on the panel) and I were on Pacifica Radio in a very substantive joint interview on the same topic. You can listen to that segment here.

Sen. Raskin is also the director of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project and shares my passion for civic education -- I've known and worked with him for years, going back to my time at Justice Talking. The other phenomenal panelists were: Julius Chambers, former director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and founder of Ferguson Stein Chambers Gresham & Sumter PA; John Payton, President, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and one of the finest Court journalists out there, Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor of Slate.

Any conversation about the future of the Court needs to start with acknowledging the voter mandate Obama received on Election Day to appoint judges with a strong commitment to constitutional rights and values. Redefining the conventional wisdom that the Supreme Court is an issue that only the Right Wing cares about, this time it was Obama voters who said that the Court was extremely important to them.

Here were a few quick highlights from the rest of the event:

  • Julius Chambers made some great points about the Court's role in protecting the poor. It's not just disputes over civil rights for minorities, workers rights and environmental protections on which the Court must sometimes weigh in when the government or companies violate constitutional rights. The poor deserve to be protected by the Constitution like we all do, and too often, they certainly do not receive equal justice under the law.

  • There was much discussion about promoting racial and gender diversity on the Court and there was a consensus among us that race, religion, gender and even sexual orientation could be important considerations because they can bring different perspectives to the Court. John Payton in particular stressed just how vital this diversity of perspectives is in having a Court that functions for the best benefit of the people and the law. We also speculated on the pedigrees and career tracks of recent and not so recent nominees -- why should they all come from the corporate world or the major law firms? There are tremendous lawyers working to advance justice at places like nonprofit organizations and unions.

  • Dahlia Lithwick stressed that we need to make sure people know that the judicial philosophies we believe in are based on rigorous interpretation and a sincere love of the Constitution. The public debate over judicial philosophies has too often bought into the Right's claims that so-called "strict constructionism" is the only rigorous approach to the Constitution. But the ideals embodied in both the main articles of the Constitution and the amendments are what John Payton referred to as "aspirational" -- and it's that aspirational view of the law and justice that we subscribe to and that we think President-elect Obama does as well. It's an understanding that the Constitution is a guardian of rights and opportunity for all Americans, including those without much power in our society.

The stimulating conversation left me feeling optimistic about advancing the constitutional principles that have been under attack from right-wing organizations and the Bush administration. After eight years of seeing right-wing ideologues nominated to the federal bench, there is immense opportunity to restore constitutional values. The only thing standing in our way is the Right and the senators who are already gearing up to fight good nominees -- senators like John Kyl (R-AZ), who promised a filibuster of any Court nominee he deemed too liberal... only three days after the election.

People For the American Way will be ready for Sen. Kyl, other right-wing senators and the Right's media echo chamber. Together, we'll make sure President Obama fulfills his mandate to give Americans the Supreme Court justices they deserve.

PFAW

New Senate Can Deliver Some Quick Victories

A Washington Post article today points out that even not counting the two yet-undecided Senate contests in MN and GA, the Democrats could have the filibuster-proof 60 votes to move several key pieces of legislation by picking up a few Republicans. The article highlights several possible bills - two of which are civil rights bills of particular interest to People For the American Way.

First up: DC Voting Rights. The right of voters to be fully represented in Congress is paramount to the health of our democracy. Shamefully, the institutional disenfranchisement of Americans is probably most egregious in our nation’s capital, where 600,000 taxpayers have a congressional representative with no voting power.

Voting rights in Congress for the District of Columbia is another example. Legislation to expand the House of Representatives from 435 to 437 seats by giving the District and Utah an additional vote each were three votes shy of the 60 needed to end a filibuster in September 2007. Eight Republicans voted with the Democratic majority, which is 51 to 49 and includes two independents.

In addition, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - for which People For the American Way was far out front in leading the fight - could have the support it needs to correct a terrible Supreme Court decision (a decision supported by both of President Bush's right-wing Supreme Court nominees, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito).

In April, 50 Democrats and six Republicans supported legislation that would have amended the 1964 Civil Rights Act by allowing more time for workers to file discrimination complaints. Five new Democrats will be replacing Republicans who opposed the legislation named after Lilly Ledbetter, the female employee who lost her suit against Goodyear Tire and Rubber over discrimination claims. The Supreme Court ruled that Ledbetter should have filed her claim within six months of the alleged incidents.

PFAW

Need to Brush Up on Your Wonk Lingo?

Luckily, the good folks at the ACLU have your back. They've just posted the concluding installment of "Congress-ese," a series of blog entries aimed at teaching you stuff about Congress you didn't learn in social studies class.

Find the answers to questions like:

PFAW