Judiciary

The GOP's Judicial Obstruction Stats

Yesterday, Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina tried to convince the Senate to confirm two appeals court nominees from her state. The two nominees, Judges James Wynn and Albert Diaz, have no controversial baggage--each received near-unanimous bipartisan support from the Judiciary Committee.

The confirmation of Wynn and Diaz would also contribute to the Obama Administration’s effort to add diversity to a woefully un-diverse court system. Diaz would be the first Latino appointed to the Fourth Circuit, Wynn the fourth African American.

Wynn and Diaz have both been waiting 169 days—over five months— for a Senate vote.

But none other than Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the floor yesterday to block a vote on the two nominees. He freely admitted that his action had nothing to do with Wynn and Diaz themselves, but was rather a purely political retaliation against the president’s recess appointment of a Medicare and Medicaid administrator. That appointment was not only unrelated to Wynn and Diaz, but came after the two nominees had already been stalled for months on the Senate floor.

Watch the video of Hagan’s and McConnell’s exchange:


Using judicial nominees as political pawns—thereby leaving important vacancies in courts throughout the country and stalling efforts to put judges with diverse background on the bench—is a tactic that the Republican minority has been using with zeal.

We’ve been collecting statistics on Republican efforts to keep qualified judges from starting their jobs. Here’s the latest update:

Nominees waiting for confirmation: 21
Nominees who have been waiting for more than 90 days: 18
Average number of days since nominated: 161 (200 for circuit court nominees)
Average number of days waiting for a Senate floor vote: 90 (111 for circuit court nominees)
 

PFAW

A Lopsided Witness List

There’s an interesting pattern among the members of the military who are weighing into Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination. On one side, we have members of the military who were at Harvard when Kagan was Dean and have showed up to testify or written letters in support her confirmation. And then there are the conservative activists who the GOP has recruited to testify against the Solicitor General and who, as far as I can tell, have never so much as met her.

All of these people should be commended for their military service. But are they equally qualified to speak about Kagan’s record?
 

PFAW

Lilly Ledbetter Recounts Her Fight

Lilly Ledbetter just appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to speak about the damage that can be done by a Supreme Court that’s not grounded in the realities of life for average Americans.

When Ledbetter found out that she’d been discriminated against, it would have been easy for her to just walk away—after all, it’s not in any way easy to pursue a discrimination claim—but Ledbetter was used to tough jobs. She stood up and demanded that Goodyear be held accountable for its actions. She fought hard, she pursued her case for many years, and she won.

But when the case made it to the Supreme Court, it decided that Goodyear couldn’t be held accountable for its actions. Because the company hid the discrimination for long enough, they were free to discriminate for as long as they wanted.

In 2007, when the Court denied her compensation for decades of pay discrimination, Ledbetter sat down with us to talk about her fight for fair pay for herself and others like her:

After the Supreme Court stopped her from collecting the pay she had earned, she led the fight to make sure it wouldn’t happen to anybody else—and she’s still fighting to make sure that the Supreme Court gives a fair hearing to people like her when they go up against big corporations like Goodyear.

She told the Judiciary Committee:

Since my case, I’ve talked to a lot of people around the country. Most can’t believe what happened to me and want to make sure that something like it doesn’t happen again. They don’t care if the Justices are Democrats or Republicans, or which President appointed them, or which Senators voted for them. They want a Supreme Court that makes decisions that make sense.

That’s why the hearings here are so important. We need Justices who understand that law must serve regular people who are just trying to work hard, do right, and make a good life for their families. And when the law isn’t clear, Justices need to use some common sense and keep in mind that the people who write laws are usually trying to make a law that’s fair and sensible. This isn’t a game. Real people’s lives are at stake. We need Supreme Court justices who understand that.
 

PFAW

“A Judicial Philosophy that Keeps Faith with the Constitution”: Our Endorsement of Kagan

Here at PFAW, we were all eager to hear what Elena Kagan had to say in this week’s hearings, and have spent the past two days in the Senate hearing room or glued to CSPAN 3  listening to her testimony. We were all extraordinarily impressed, and PFAW this afternoon endorsed Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court. PFAW president Michael Keegan’s statement:

“The departure of Justice Stevens leaves a hole in the Supreme Court that will be difficult to fill. Throughout his career, Justice Stevens stood up for his belief that all people, no matter their situation, deserve a fair hearing in the courts. Judging by her record of service, her writing, and her testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Elena Kagan is the right person to fill that vacancy.

“Solicitor General Kagan gave the American people a sound and thoughtful lesson about the Constitution as a timeless document, brilliantly conceived by its framers to be interpreted over time in light of new situations and new factual contexts. Her testimony gave voice to a view of the Constitution and the role of judges in sharp contrast to Chief Justice Roberts’ misleading analogy to an umpire calling balls and strikes. And she refused to buy into the cramped and distorted view of the role of the judiciary in interpreting the Constitution that was pushed by some Republican Senators.

“Elena Kagan’s testimony made clear that she has the intellect and the command of the law to stand firm for a judicial philosophy that keeps faith with our Constitution--its amendments, its history, and its core values like justice and equality under the law.

“Instead of engaging in a serious debate however, some Republican Senators chose to lob dishonest attacks at General Kagan's support for our armed forces and, inexplicably, at her mentor Justice Thurgood Marshall. Justice Marshall was a passionate advocate for our Constitution, and it's thanks to him that all Americans have access to its protections. For Senators to repeatedly attack the man who helped our nation move past our shameful history of segregation would be foolish if it weren't just plain offensive.

“After carefully evaluating her record and her statements, People For the American Way is proud to support Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court.”
 

PFAW

Whose Freedom?

After debating 1776, we move on to a conversation about 1980.

In his long complaint about the Commerce Clause, Sen. Coburn declared that Americans had more freedom 30 years ago than we do now.

Sen. Klobuchar then took the floor, and brought up a few interesting points in response.

  • In 1980, there were no women Supreme Court Justices
  • In 1980, there were no women on the Senate Judiciary Committee
  • In 1980, there were was one woman in the United States Senate


“I think about whether people were more free in 1980,” she said, “it's all in the eyes of the beholder.”
 

PFAW

Sessions: Citizens United was just like Brown v. Board!

You do have to feel for the big corporations who were being discriminated against before the Supreme Court decided they could spend unlimited amounts of money in elections, right? Jeff Sessions, for one, is standing up for corporate underdogs who have fallen victim to moral injustice. Talking Points Memo reports:

Last night, elaborating on his criticisms of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Sessions made the unusual comparison of Citizens United v. FEC to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

"[Marshall] was right on Brown v. Board of Education. It's akin in my view to the Citizen's United case. The court sat down and we went back to first principles--What does the Constitution say? Everybody should be equal protection of the laws," Sessions told me after a Senate vote last night.

"Is it treating people equally to say you can go to this school because of the color of your skin and you can't?" Sessions asked rhetorically. "We've now honestly concluded and fairly concluded that it violates the equal protection clause."

Come again?

Let’s break this down into a few points that I guess we shouldn’t assume are obvious:

  1. Brown v. Board of Education ended the systematic segregation of the American school system. Citizens United v. FEC struck down a law that didn’t let corporations spend as much as they wanted to on electioneering communications.
  2. The GOP has spent a large part of the past two days attacking Justice Marshall for what they call his “activist” judicial philosophy. They define that philosophy as an insufficient reverence for the Constitution as originally written and intended.
  3. Brown v. Board of Ed (which Marshall argued) is a classic example of a case in which the Supreme Court interpreted part of the Constitution—the 14th Amendment—in a way at odds with the original intent of its writers, but in line with evolving social mores and values. Elena Kagan made that very point herself this morning, as did former Justice David Souter a few weeks ago.
  4. Sessions says that the same philosophy led to Brown v. Board and Citizens United, but continues to slam Thurgood Marshall, the architect of the Brown argument, while praising the results of Citizens United.

The confusing logic aside, the main point here is that Sessions just compared limits on corporate spending in elections with systematic racial segregation. This is the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. And abstract arguments about judicial philosophy aside, that’s just appalling.
 

PFAW

Who in the World is Thurgood Marshall??

It isn't just Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee who are attacking Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP attorney and American hero whose brilliant long-term litigation strategy led to Brown v. Board of Education, the end of Jim Crow, and eventually to a seat on the Supreme Court. In fact, if they and their compatriots had their way, the next generation might not even know who Thurgood Marshall was. As our affiliate PFAW Foundation has reported, Justice Marshall just barely survived the recent ideological purge of Texas textbooks, despite urgings from Religious Right "advisors" that he be erased from history.

What we're seeing at the Kagan hearings is just part of a larger far right campaign to vilify a man who symbolized the best of America.

PFAW

The Odd Marshall Debate

Solicitor General Kagan started out the day defending her late mentor Justice Thurgood Marshall after yesterday’s GOP attacks. It’s odd that she even had to go there. Dana Milbank’s column in the Post this morning explains it well:

It was, to say the least, a curious strategy to go after Marshall, the iconic civil rights lawyer who successfully argued Brown vs. Board of Education. Did Republicans think it would help their cause to criticize the first African American on the Supreme Court, a revered figure who has been celebrated with an airport, a postage stamp and a Broadway show? The guy is a saint -- literally. Marshall this spring was added to the Episcopal Church's list of "Holy Women and Holy Men," which the Episcopal Diocese of New York says "is akin to being granted sainthood."

With Kagan's confirmation hearings expected to last most of the week, Republicans may still have time to make cases against Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Gandhi.

I had thought Republicans had learned their lesson after their first Marshall-based attacks on Kagan were met with a collective “Huh?
 

UPDATE: Brian Beutler over at Talking Points Memo asked three top Republicans on the Judiciary Committee which Marshall cases they objected to. They couldn't name a single one.

PFAW

Sessions Tries the "Anti-Military" Attack, Comes Up Empty

Senator Sessions, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, seemed pretty exercised in his questioning of Solicitor General Kagan, and the results were. . . pretty unremarkable.

He spent most of his time on the military recruitment issue (which Patrick Leahy already addressed) and didn’t manage to cover much new ground. Elena Kagan is opposed to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. We get it. So is 75% of the American public. He keeps insisting that the military didn’t have access to students at Harvard Law School, but unfortunately for him, that’s totally false.

In general, Senator Sessions seemed a little confused about the details of the dispute around the Solomon Amendment. Conservatives are clearly still looking for an attack that will stick. This ain't it.

Extra points to Elana Kagan for her patience.

PFAW

Kagan: A Fake John Roberts, A Radical Homosexualist, and a Sign of The End Times

As the questioning in Elena Kagan's confirmation hearing finally gets underway, right-wing groups are busy releasing statements and reports claiming she is everything from a "clear and present danger to the Constitution" to a sign of the end times.

The Judicial Crisis Network's first day write-up is particularly confusing, as they seem convinced that Kagan is trying to "disguise herself as the next John Roberts" 

The Senate Judiciary Committee just concluded the first day of Elena Kagan's hearings to replace Justice Stevens on the Supreme Court. Our summary of Day 1: She may not be a Constitutionalist, but she sure plays one on TV.

As we expected, Kagan followed in Justice Sotomayor's footsteps and disguised herself as the next John Roberts, and Democratic Senators did their best to help her hide from her record of extreme activism on abortion, 2nd Amendment rights, and the scope of government power. According to Kagan, "what the Supreme Court does is to safeguard the rule of law, through a commitment to even-handedness, principle, and restraint." In the immortal words of The Who, "Don't get fooled again."

Seeing as it was John Roberts who "disguised" himself as a umpire who would just call balls and strikes and then, once confirmed, revealed himself to be a blatant judicial activist, that is a pretty ironic criticism for JCN to level.

But at least the JCN's complaints are at least coherent, unlike those of Gordon Klingenschmitt:

Chaplain Klingenschmitt has contracted with a team of investigative journalists including Brian Camenker, Amy Contrada and Peter LaBarbera to investigate and report breaking news about Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

While serving as Dean of Harvard Law School, Kagan's administration demanded and forced Blue-Cross, Blue-Shield to cover sex-change operations as an "equal right" paid benefit, harming gender-confused students, as confirmed in 2006 and 2008 by Harvard Crimson newspaper articles.

Kagan also offered sympathetic ear to lesbian group Lambda's Transgender Task Force demand to force all women to share public bathrooms and locker-rooms with cross-dressing men, which is now part of Harvard's dormitory policy, according to the report.

"This is further proof Elena Kagan cannot be trusted to impartially rule on Obamacare or bathroom bills like ENDA, since she believes sin is a Constitutional right," said Chaplain Klingenschmitt, "but rights come from God, who never grants the right to sin."

Because if anything is going to clarify these confirmation hearings, is a report written by a bunch of militantly anti-gay activists like Klingenschmitt, Camenker, and LaBarbera ... and now that is exactly what we have:

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan is committed to the radical campaign pushing acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism as “civil rights." Her unprecedented activism supporting that view as Dean of Harvard Law School (2003-2009) calls into question her ability to judge fairly and impartially on same-sex “marriage” and other homosexuality- or transgender-related issues that may come before the nation’s highest court.

Kagan’s record while Dean of Harvard Law School (HLS) demonstrates her agreement with the goals of the radical GLBT (gay lesbian bisexual transgender) movement and her solidarity with those activists. Working hand in hand with students to expel military recruiters in protest over the Armed Forces’ ban on homosexuals (a “moral injustice of the first order,” she wrote) is only the most obvious example of Kagan’s passionate dedication to this controversial and immoral agenda.

Kagan’s celebration and active promotion of the radical homosexualist and transgender worldview has profound implications. As a Supreme Court Justice, she could be expected to overturn traditional law and understandings of family, marriage, military order, and even our God-given sex (what transgender radicals call “gender identity or expression”). She is a most dangerous nominee who must be opposed by all who care about religious freedom, the preservation of marriage and traditional values.

There should be grave concern over Kagan’s issues advocacy concerning “sexual orientation.” Even before her nomination to the Court, her enthusiastic and committed pro-homosexuality activism at Harvard (including her recruitment to the faculty of radical “gay” activist scholars like former ACLU lawyer William Rubenstein and elevation of radical out lesbian Professor Janet Halley) was highly significant for the nation. Now, it is imperative that Senators and the U.S. public gain an accurate understanding of the radical, pro-homosexual environment that was Kagan’s home at Harvard – and the GLBT legal agenda that Kagan herself helped foster as Dean.

But that is actually quite reasonable compared to this statement from Tim LaHaye and Craig Parshall claiming that Kagan "presents a danger as old as the book of Genesis" and that her confirmation could be a sign of the End Times:

First, if she becomes a Supreme Court justice, she could be the all-important fifth vote in favor of interpreting our Constitution, not according to the vision of our Founding Fathers, but from an international law standpoint, a concept that would have seemed treasonous to our Founders. Three justices on the Court have already relied on foreign law in their opinions: Justices Kennedy, Breyer and Ginsburg. Recently-installed justice Sotomayor has praised Ruth Bader Ginsberg's penchant for international law, so we can assume she will be a legal globalist as well. Five justices create a majority and with Kagan on board they could begin radically steering us away from view of the Constitution that honors our Judeo-Christian heritage and founding.

Second, if this happens, it will usher America into a new age of global law. With Elena Kagan on the Supreme Court, international legal standards could well be imposed on Americans by the High Court's legal globalists, even without the Senate approving a specific international treaty. In our new novel, Edge of Apocalypse, we show how this trend might create a modern-day legal nightmare for conscientious Christians. We need only to turn to Genesis chapter 11 to see how God opposed the ancient attempt at global unification: the Lord declared the tragic result that would follow if a centralized group of fallen men were to consolidate an unlimited, unrestrained power over the planet.

Keep your eyes on the Supreme Court's view of global law. It could be one of the most telling 'signs of the times.'

Cross-posted from RightWingWatch.org

PFAW

A Break from Umpire Analogies?

Well, this is a nice change. In her first few minutes of testimony, responding to questions from Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan spoke about the Constitution as an enduring document that can be amended and interpreted in a changing world.

The founders recognized that “circumstances and the world would change,” Kagan said. They wrote about “unreasonable” search and seizure, but didn’t write a manual on what counts as unreasonable. “They didn’t do that because of this wisdom they had, because they knew the world was going to change,” she said.

Kagan outlines two varieties of change in constitutional interpretation: the formal amendment process and changing mores. She used as an example the passage of the 14th amendment in 1868, which established equal protection under the law, and the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board, which interpreted the amendment in a way never imagined in 1868 in order to desegregate American schools.

It’s nice to hear that Kagan won’t be engaging in the flawed “balls and strikes” analogy—we might end up hearing a conversation about what the Supreme Court actually does.

[Required reading: former Justice David Souter’s recent speech on this very subject].
 

PFAW

Republicans Against Thurgood Marshall?

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee tried to smear Elana Kagan all day by attacking her mentor and hero, Thurgood Marshall, as a “liberal activist judge.” Senator Jon Kyl in particular complained that Marshall’s judicial philosophy was “not what [he] would consider mainstream.” Really? Let’s not forget: this was the man who won the breakthrough victory for civil rights in Brown v Board of Education. Justice Marshall spent his quarter century tenure on the Supreme Court protecting the rights of privacy, equal opportunity, and a fair trial. According to Senate Republicans, that record makes Marshall a radical judicial activist.

Can the Republican Senators really be opposed to the legacy of Thurgood Marshall? If so, what in the world could they be for?

PFAW

Cornyn Defines Activism

Sen. John Cornyn was waxing indignant a few minutes ago about what he calls the “activist vision” of certain judicial nominees.

He helpfully defined his terms:

“This activist vision takes the power from the people to make the law and change the law and gives it to the judiciary.”

Cornyn was no doubt shocked, then, by the Rehnquist Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, in which it called off the counting of votes in a presidential election. Or by the Roberts Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, in which it limited the power of democratically elected bodies to make rules about who spends money in elections.

It must be difficult for Cornyn to see judges appointed by presidents of his own party fall into that kind of activism.
 

PFAW

Sessions Attacks Kagan for Lack of Legal Experience

The Elena Kagan confirmation hearings began at 12:30 p.m. today, and Jeff Sessions, the ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, wasted no time in attacking the nominee for having “barely practiced law.” It seems the senator is once again conveniently overlooking Ms. Kagan’s tenure as Solicitor General, her service as Associate White House Counsel, and her years in private practice - all of which is certainly very real legal experience.

Mr. Sessions also appears to have forgotten that the reason Ms. Kagan is not already a judge is that in 1999, after then-President Clinton nominated her to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the Judiciary Committee’s chairman, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, refused to schedule confirmation hearings for her, effectively killing her nomination. So Republicans are now attacking Kagan for not having the experience that in fact they prevented her from gaining.

Let’s keep in mind some former justices who, like Kagan, had never served as judges prior to being named to the Court: William Rehnquist, Earl Warren, Louis Brandeis, Charles Evans Hughes, Felix Frankfurter, Hugo Black, Lewis Powell, Byron White.
 

PFAW

Leahy Brings Citizens United to the Forefront in Kagan Hearings

In his opening remarks in Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy put the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC at the front and center of the debate.

It is essential that judicial nominees understand that, as judges, they are not members of an administration. The courts are not subsidiaries of any political party or interest group, and our judges should not be partisans. That is why the Supreme Court’s intervention in the 2000 presidential election in Bush v. Gore was so jarring and wrong. That is why the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Citizens United, in which five conservative Justices rejected the Court’s own precedent, the bipartisan law enacted by Congress, and 100 years of legal developments in order to open the door for massive corporate spending on elections, was such a jolt to the system.

We hope to hear a lot more about Citizens United in the next few days—a ruling that a recent PFAW poll showed that 77% of Americans want to amend the Constitution to undo.
 

PFAW

Al Franken Takes On the Corporate Court

I want to flag a speech that Al Franken made on the Senate floor yesterday about the Supreme Court’s decision this week in Rent-A-Center v. Jackson. The legal issues in question were complicated, to say the least, but the impact of the Court’s decision on individual Americans is simple and clear. This excerpt is a little long, but it’s worth going to the Congressional Record and reading the whole thing. Franken explains:

On one side of the courtroom in this case was Rent-A-Center, a corporation that runs over 3,000 furniture and electronics rent-to-own stores across North America, with 21,000 employees and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual profits. On the other side stood Antonio Jackson, an African-American account manager in Nevada who sought to bring a civil rights claim against his employer. Jackson claims that Rent-A-Center repeatedly passed him over for promotions and promoted non-African-American employees with less experience.

Although Jackson signed an employment contract agreeing to arbitrate all employment claims, he also knew the contract was unfair, so he challenged it in court. But yesterday the Supreme Court sided with Rent-A-Center, ruling that an arbitrator, not a court, should decide whether an arbitration clause is valid. Let me say that again. The arbitrator gets to decide whether an arbitration clause is valid. Let me repeat that. The arbitrator gets to decide whether the arbitration clause is valid. That is just one step away from letting the corporation itself decide whether a contract is fair.

In doing so, the Supreme Court made it even harder for ordinary people to protect their rights at work. Justice Stevens, not surprisingly, wrote the dissent. As he did in Gross, Stevens notes that the Supreme Court, yet again, decided this case along lines ``neither briefed by the parties nor relied upon by the Court of Appeals.'' In other words, the Supreme Court went out of its way to close those bronze doors--and keep them closed. Clearly, this is a ruling that Congress needs to fix, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to do so.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that the Supreme Court matters to average people--to our neighbors and our kids. Some have tried to convince us that Supreme Court rulings only matter if you want to burn a flag or sell pornography or commit some horrendous crime. But as Jamie Leigh Jones and Antonio Jackson show us, the Supreme Court is about much more than that. It is about whether you have a right to a workplace where you won't get raped and whether you can defend those rights in court before a jury afterwards. It is about whether corporations will continue to have inordinate power to control your life with their armies of lawyers and their contracts filled with fine print. It is about whether they can force you to sign away your rights in an unfair employment contract so you never see the inside of a courtroom. It is, quite frankly, about the kind of society we want to live in.

Next week, the Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. Those hearings provide a good opportunity for us to examine the legacy of the Roberts Court and talk about what it would mean to have a Court that instead cares about hard-working Americans.

Cases like this one often fly under the radar because the legal issues they deal with are hard to boil down to a soundbite or even a paragraph (I couldn’t make heads or tails of this initial SCOTUSblog summary of the case, much less Scalia’s opinion…which is why it’s great to have a legal staff around). But this is the kind of case that is the bread and butter of the Supreme Court’s work—questions of contracts and business deals and real estate that aren’t as easy to grasp and explosive as abortion and marriage and school prayer, but still make a very real difference in all of our lives. And that’s the kind of case that the Roberts Court has consistently been deciding on the side of powerful interests like Rent-A-Center over people like Antonio Jackson.

We hope Franken’s right that the current Court’s pro-corporate leanings are major topic of discussion at Kagan’s upcoming hearings. We’ve saved up more than a few questions for her on the subject.

 

PFAW

Federal Judge Ends Drilling Moratorium

This afternoon, we have another illustration that when the pull of profits goes up against protecting public safety, the personal leanings of our federal judges really do matter. The Associated Press reports:

A federal judge struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, saying the government rashly concluded that because one rig failed, the others are in immediate danger, too.

The White House promised an immediate appeal. The Interior Department had halted approval of any new permits for deepwater drilling and suspended drilling of 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama believes strongly that drilling at such depths does not make sense and puts the safety of workers "at a danger that the president does not believe we can afford."

Judge Martin Feldman, a Reagan appointee, said, “What seems clear is that the federal government has been pressed by what happened on the Deepwater Horizon into an otherwise sweeping confirmation that all Gulf deepwater drilling activities put us all in a universal threat of irreparable harm."

To be clear, in reaction to the worst oil spill ever in US waters—one that was caused by reckless decisions made by a company that had to answer to very little government regulation—the president is halting similar drilling projects until investigators can ensure that they are safe. That doesn’t exactly seem overly rash.

Yesterday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said that he’d be sure that Elena Kagan is asked a lot about the role of the courts in cases involving the accountability of oil companies in her upcoming Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Today’s decision is a reminder of why that’s so important.
 

PFAW

Leahy: Senators Will Address Oil and the Courts in Kagan Hearings

Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he’s going to make sure the subject of oil and the courts comes up in Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, which begin next week. The Hill reported Saturday:

The chairman, who will guide the confirmation hearing, pointed to controversial cases slashing a damages award in the 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill incident, an environmental disaster that's now been dwarfed by the Gulf spill.

"Turning back the award in the Exxon-Valdez, I wonder if the Supreme Court would do that today as they watch what's happening in the Gulf," Leahy said on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, to air this weekend.

"It wasn't the liberals who said that Exxon shouldn't have to pay the amount that a jury gave the people of Alaska for their oil spill," the Vermont senator added later, critiquing conservative judges' decisions in some cases.

We, too, wonder if the current Supreme Court’s allegiance to corporate interests would lead it to give the same sort of gift to BP as it did to Exxon in 2008, if damage claims from BP’s devastating spill make their way to the high court. In fact, the pro-corporate reflexes that led to the Court to halve a jury’s award to the Exxon spill’s victims are exactly what we’d like Kagan to address in the upcoming hearings.

Take a look at the 20 questions we’ve drafted for Kagan . We’re glad to hear that a few of them may be asked.

 

 

PFAW

Our Questions for Solicitor General Kagan

We’ve said repeatedly that Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, which start in two weeks, open up the perfect opportunity to the country to have a real discussion of the meaning of the Constitution and the role of the Supreme Court in all of our lives.

Today, we’ve tried to start the conversation by coming up with 20 questions that we would love to see senators on the Judiciary committee ask Kagan.

We want to know Kagan’s answers to questions including:

  • Should Justices respect the original intent of the Constitution’s framers, even when that intent is antithetical to our current values and the Constitution as amended?
  • Does the Constitution give corporations the same First Amendment rights as ordinary citizens?
  • Has the Supreme Court, in cases like Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. FEC, practiced proper judicial restraint?
  • What theory would govern your evaluation of civil rights laws passed by Congress?


You can read all 20 questions—including a lot more detail—here.
 

PFAW

Chamber of Commerce Wages “Unprecedented” Campaign Against Lead Paint Lawyer

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the Chamber of Commerce’s campaign to prevent the confirmation of attorney John McConnell to be a Rhode Island district court judge, because of his work as a personal injury lawyer to hold corporations accountable for damage caused by their products.

Well, they haven’t succeeded yet, but it looks like they’ve certainly made their presence known. The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved McConnell’s nomination almost entirely along party lines—all but one of the seven Republicans on the committee voted against it.

Today’s Providence Journal reports that the Chamber sent the Judiciary Committee’s members a letter yesterday that made it very clear where they stood:


The Chamber’s letter escalates what was already an extraordinary campaign against the seating of a nominee to the federal trial bench. It is not common for nominations to these courts — dozens of which can be routinely cleared in a given year — to generate controversy. The Chamber says it is unprecedented for it to mount the kind of organized opposition it has launched against this particular U.S. District Court nominee

The Chamber, which tends to support Republicans through its campaign spending arm, has lobbied actively for changes in the system that permits large numbers of plaintiffs to seek large damage awards from companies.

“The Chamber urges you to oppose this nomination,” Josten told the Judiciary Committee in Tuesday’s letter. “Should the committee report Mr. McConnell’s nomination to the full Senate, the Chamber would consider votes on, or in relation to, this nomination in our annual How They Voted Scorecard.”

The Chamber is the biggest lobbying spender on Capitol Hill and its annual scorecard is no joke for lawmakers running for reelection. We’ll be sure to keep following the organization’s crusade as McConnell’s nomination moves to the Senate floor.
 

PFAW