Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid minced no words yesterday discussing the Senate GOP’s seeming indifference to Latino voters:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on Monday that GOP prejudice against Latinos is coloring everything from the immigration stance its presidential contenders are taking on the campaign trail to Senate Republicans filibustering an ambassadorship.
“Let’s talk about some of the things happening to Hispanics in the Senate,” Reid said during a call with reporters, citing past GOP filibusters of immigration-reform bills and the nomination of Mari Carmen Aponte as ambassador to El Salvador.
“What is going on here answers whether there is some prejudice here,” Reid added, referencing a prior question on whether racism played a role in what Reid and other Democrats depict as extreme anti-immigrant positions taken by GOP front-runner Mitt Romney and other GOP presidential hopefuls.
Reid said that Republican candidates are “catering to the tea party” and competing for favor from extremists in their party with their immigration stances.
It’s not just immigration policy and the Aponte nomination. Republicans in the Senate have also been filibustering Hispanic judicial nominees at an alarming rate. This practice gained national attention when Democrats were forced to break a filibuster of the nomination of Judge Adalberto Jordan to sit on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Jordan was to become the first Cuban-American to sit on the circuit that covers Florida, and had the support of Cuban-American GOP senator Marco Rubio, yet was filibustered for four months. The pointlessness of the extended filibuster was made even clearer when the Senate ultimately confirmed Jordan in an overwhelming, bipartisan vote. Writing about the Jordan filibuster, Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank asked, “Does the GOP care about Latino voters?”
Senate Republicans are now stalling votes on two Hispanic nominees to the federal courts. They were both approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee, and no Republican has publicly expressed any reason to question their fitness for the bench.
President Obama has made a concerted effort to bring diversity to the federal bench – 36 percent of his nominees have been people of color and 45 percent have been women. The president, in prioritizing bringing diversity to the federal courts, has made a strong statement. The statement that the Senate GOP is making in obstructing those nominees is equally strong.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that one of the key focuses of the Senate’s next five weeks of work will be “clearing the backlog of judicial nominees that threatens the effectiveness of our justice system.”
Reid’s announcement is important for several reasons. Because of unyielding Republican obstructionism, Senate Democrats have been unable to schedule confirmation votes on all but a few federal judicial nominees in the past several months. This situation had created a backlog of nominees waiting for Senate votes and a vacancy crisis in the federal courts, where about one in ten seats is vacant.
The reason why it’s been so hard for Democrats to schedule votes on President Obama’s judicial nominees is that the Senate GOP has in the past few years taken full advantage of all the tools of obstruction that it has available. The Senate has to have unanimous consent to schedule an up-or-down vote – something that in the past has been routinely granted to judicial nominees with strong bipartisan support. But since President Obama took office, Senate Republicans have been refusing to grant votes on nearly every nominee – even the vast majority who have little to no Republican opposition -- effectively filibustering dozens upon dozens of nominees. Only after months of delay are the votes finally allowed. Last week, Senate Democrats made it clear that they’d had enough and filed cloture to end the filibusters of two of the nominees – each of whom was subsequently confirmed in overwhelming numbers.
That’s right: Senate Republicans haven’t just been obstructing nominees who they find fault with – they’ve been obstructing everybody. President Obama’s nominees have been forced to wait an average of 100 days after committee approval just to get a yes-or-no vote from the Senate. The average wait for George W. Bush’s nominees at this point in his presidency was 24 days.
This afternoon, senators voted on the nomination of Margo K. Brodie, to the U.S. District Court for the District of Eastern New York. Although she was unopposed in the Judiciary Committee, Brodie has waited for more than four months for her nomination to be voted on. She was approved on a vote of 86 to 2.
There are now nineteen judicial nominees still waiting for a Senate vote, most of whom were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with absolutely no opposition. Ten of them have been waiting three months or more from a vote, and ten have been nominated to fill officially-designated judicial emergencies. Fourteen of the twenty are women or people of color and one is an openly gay man.
Sen. Reid is doing the right thing in calling out Republicans on their obstructionism and ensuring that our courts continue to be fair and functioning.
President Obama has announced the nomination of Jill Pryor to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor would fill a vacancy that has been declared an emergency by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Pryor's legal skills are recognized by her peers. The Best Lawyers in America recognized her from 2009-2011, and Georgia Super Lawyers selected her as one of the "Top 100 Super Lawyers" in 2010 and 2011. In addition, she has served as president of the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers, as well as on the Georgia State Bar's Board of Governors.
Her peers are not alone in recognizing Pryor's qualifications. Georgia's Republican senators have both stated that she is qualified for a lifetime judicial appointment. In a January 24 letter to President Obama, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson recommended three attorneys to fill judicial vacancies in Georgia. They recommended Pryor for one of the two vacant seats in the Northern District of Georgia, but President Obama recognized that she has the skills and experience needed to serve on the Eleventh Circuit Court.
This seat has been vacant since August of 2010. We hope that Sens. Chambliss and Isakson, who clearly recognize Pryor's qualifications and judicial temperament, quickly give their approval for the Judiciary Committee to proceed to examine the nomination.
President Obama has gone out of his way to nominate to the federal bench highly qualified people who have earned the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike. That was clear in yesterday's Judiciary Committee hearing for Jeffrey Helmick to serve as a judge in the Northern District of Ohio.
That Helmick was nominated by Obama and recommended by Ohio's Sen. Sherrod Brown makes clear his support from Democrats. He was originally recommended to Brown and then-Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican, by a bipartisan committee. Rob Portman was elected to replace Voinovich in 2010, he has approved of Helmick’s nomination moving forward.
At the hearing, Sen. Brown discussed the strong support that state Republicans have offered the nominee. For instance, Jack Zouhary, a 2006 George W. Bush nominee, wrote in support:
You will find no better candidate than Jeff. He possesses the intelligence, the passion for our justice system, and the necessary temperament and people skills to be an outstanding district court judge.
Similar praise has come from Mark Wagoner, the Republican who chairs the Ohio's Senate's Judiciary Committee. Sen. Brown read an excerpt from Wagoner's letter of support:
[Helmick] is someone who has stood for principles, litigated honestly, and ably defended our constitutional system of government. These types of traits would make Mr. Helmick an outstanding federal judge.
Helmick should be confirmed quickly. But if the growing backlog of nominees languishing on the Senate floor isn't cleared up, Ohioans' access to justice will be at risk.
And the bipartisan cooperation keeps rolling on. This week, the Senate confirmed Judge Adalberto Jose Jordan to a seat on the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. A visitor from another country might not have appreciated the proportions of this achievement, given the fact that Jordan, who was born in Cuba and who once clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor, had no discernible opposition.
But Americans ought to have a better grasp of how the Senate works. The nomination’s progress had long been thwarted by Mike Lee, a freshman Republican from Utah, who has decided to hold up every single White House appointment to anything out of pique over ... well, it doesn’t really matter. When you’re a senator, you get to do that kind of thing.
This forced the majority leader, Harry Reid, to get 60 votes to move Judge Jordan forward, which is never all that easy. Then there was further delay thanks to Rand Paul, a freshman from Kentucky, who stopped action for as long as possible because he was disturbed about foreign aid to Egypt.
All that is forgotten now. The nomination was approved, 94 to 5, only 125 days after it was unanimously O.K.’d by the Judiciary Committee. Whiners in the White House pointed out that when George W. Bush was president, circuit court nominations got to a floor vote in an average of 28 days.
No matter. Good work, Senate! Only 17 more long-pending judicial nominations to go!
The Senate this afternoon finally confirmed Judge Adalberto José Jordán to sit on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Jordán becomes the first Cuban American to join the 11th Circuit – an important victory for Florida’s large Cuban American population.
What wasn’t a victory for Cuban Americans, or for any Americans seeking justice in the desperately overworked 11th Circuit, was the long and frustrating process that led to Judge Jordán’s confirmation. Despite being a highly qualified nominee with broad bipartisan support, the GOP filibustered Jordán’s nomination for four months, only to vote overwhelmingly in his favor when the filibuster came to a vote. And once the filibuster was finally broken, one Republican senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, used a little-used rule to postpone the final vote on Jordán another two days to push a completely unrelated policy priority.
In the Washington Post yesterday, columnist Dana Milbank wrote that the Jordán filibuster reflects the GOP’s puzzling indifference to Latino voters:
Jordan is the very picture of the American dream: Born in Cuba, he fled with his parents to the United States at age six and went on to become a lawyer and clerk for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. With the support of his home-state senator, Republican Marco Rubio (Fla.), a fellow Cuban American, Jordan was nominated to become the first Cuban-born judge to serve on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
There is no serious objection to his confirmation — which makes the hazing he has experienced all the more inexplicable. Republicans slow-walked his nomination (he was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee in July), then filibustered his confirmation vote on the Senate floor. Even when the filibuster was broken Monday night (by a lopsided 89-5), a lone Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, used a procedural hurdle to postpone the confirmation vote by two days, to Wednesday.
Congressional staffers I checked with couldn’t recall a similar instance of blocking a confirmation even after a filibuster had failed. This would seem to be a unique humiliation for a man hailed by the Hispanic National Bar Association because of “the positive message this nomination sends to the Latino community.”
As Mitt Romney rightly pointed out in December, one of the most important issues riding on the upcoming presidential election will be the future of the federal courts.
Yet, if 2012 is like other election years, the courts will be discussed relatively little by the candidates. That would be a big mistake. Romney has already signaled to the Republican base that he will move the federal courts even farther right than they already are. He named Robert Bork, the judge whose legal views were so extreme his Supreme Court nomination was rejected by the Senate, to lead his “Justice Advisory Committee,” and has said he would seek to nominate judges like those who have made the current Supreme Court the most conservative in decades.
In an editorial this weekend, the New York Times explained how politics has reshaped the courts and the law under the past three Republican administrations. Courts picked by Mitt Romney and Robert Bork would be no exception:
Each party has its program and works to turn it into law. The great example of political change through legal change was the long, methodical effort to whittle away at segregation from within the legal mainstream that culminated in the court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The conservatives’ legal-political strategy draws from Brown, but it is also vastly different in nature and design.
The struggle for school desegregation was waged by and on behalf of oppressed minority groups seeking to make good on the Constitution’s promise of equal rights. They faced strong opposition from the most powerful people in our society, in courts that were not necessarily sympathetic or overtly hostile to their cause. And they fought a long, incremental campaign.
When Lewis Powell Jr. energized conservatives by writing in 1971 that “the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change,” he was himself an incrementalist and expected others to be.
But the conservative legal battles of our modern times are being waged by the most powerful, often against the weak and oppressed. They began with a carefully planned and successful effort to reshape the courts to be sympathetic to conservative causes. They are largely aimed at narrowing rights, not expanding them — except where property and guns are concerned. And beginning with the Reagan administration, conservatives became impatient with the pace of change brought about from within the mainstream. They sought to remake law into a weapon of aggressive action.
By the time the Senate went home for its month-long holiday in before Christmas, Republicans had made it clear they would continue to obstruct the nominations process so as to cripple both the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board. Rather than meekly accept this threat to American consumers and workers, President Obama made several recess appointments, most notably of Richard Cordray, to allow those bodies to function.
As partisan political retaliation, Utah Sen. Mike Lee has claimed the mantle of the Constitution and threatened to escalate his party's sabotage of the judicial nominations process, a threat the president himself condemned over the weekend. In a Huffington Post piece today, the Constitutional Accountability Center's Doug Kendall takes Sen. Lee to task.
[I]t is Senator Lee who is most clearly violating the letter and spirit of the Constitution and playing partisan games. Senator Lee made it absolutely clear that he would not comply with his constitutionally-mandated responsibility to give his "advice and consent" on the Cordray nomination. In an official Senate release in December, he stated that he had no objection to Richard Cordray himself, but that he felt it was his "duty to oppose his confirmation as part of [his] opposition to the creation of CFPB itself."
Actually, according to the Constitution, it's Senator Lee's duty to vote "no" on legislation he opposes, such as the law that set up the CFPB, and to provide "advice and consent" on the president's nominees, judicial or otherwise. Senator Lee's statement is an abdication of his constitutional duty, and it is that hard-line position taken by the President's opponents, coupled with the trick of "pro-forma" Senate sessions designed specifically to prevent the President from exercising his constitutional authority to make recess appointments, that led to President Obama's action on the Cordray appointment.
Kendall's piece is worth reading in its entirety, as it points out many of the hypocritical and misleading ways that Mike Lee waves the Constitution as a weapon to achieve his partisan and ideological ends.