nominations

Chief Justice Roberts Urges Senate to Confirm Judicial Nominees

Chief Justice John Roberts called on Friday for Senate Republicans to stop playing politics with judicial nominees. Referring to “the persistent problem of judicial vacancies,” Roberts urged the president and the Senate to find a way to fill the growing number of vacancies in the federal courts:

“We do not comment on the merits of individual nominees,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote on Friday. “That is as it should be. The judiciary must respect the constitutional prerogatives of the president and Congress in the same way that the judiciary expects respect for its constitutional role.”

But he identified what he called a systemic problem.

“Each political party has found it easy to turn on a dime from decrying to defending the blocking of judicial nominations, depending on their changing political fortunes,” he said.

The upshot, he said, was “acute difficulties for some judicial districts.”

The chief justice noted that the Senate recently filled a number of vacancies. Including 19 recently confirmed judges, the Senate has confirmed 62 of Mr. Obama’s nominees. There are 96 federal court vacancies, according to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.

“There remains,” the chief justice wrote, “an urgent need for the political branches to find a long-term solution to this recurring problem.”

Before the Senate left town for Christmas, it confirmed only 19 of the 38 judicial nominations that had been pending on its calendar. Many of the nominees, easily confirmed once their nominations reached a vote, had been waiting as long as a year just to get a vote from the Senate. Of the 19 nominees left on the calendar, the vast majority had little or no opposition from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee...but they all will start the confirmation process over again in the new year.
 

PFAW

Sessions Puts His Lab Coat Back On

Back in September, we wrote about Sen. Jeff Sessions’ discovery of what he called the “ACLU chromosome”—according to the senator, a common genetic defect that disqualifies bearers from the federal judiciary.

Well, Dr. Sessions is back at it. TPM has this video of Sessions ranting yesterday about the supposed prevalence of the “ACLU chromosome” in President Obama’s judicial nominees:

As Sen. Mark Udall later pointed out on the Senate floor, it’s unlikely that Sen. Sessions would have a similar reaction to a “Federalist Society chromosome”. While a few of President Obama’s nominees have had a history working with the ACLU—for instance, Edward Chen of California who worked to prevent discrimination against Asian Americans—President Bush made a point of packing the courts with judges who belonged to the far-right Federalist Society.

It’s absurd arguments like Sessions’ that are keeping qualified, well-respected nominees like Chen from even receiving an up or down vote in the Senate. While reports say that the Senate GOP has finally agreed to vote on 19 judicial nominees who they have been stalling despite little or no opposition to their confirmations, four nominees, including Chen, will be left out to dry without even a vote.

And, for the record, the ACLU had this to say about Sessions’ rant:

"Senator Sessions' reference to 'ACLU DNA' in President Obama's judicial nominees should be greeted as a welcome discovery by all Americans, regardless of party. For 90 years, the ACLU has defended the rights enshrined in the Constitution for everyone, regardless of their political beliefs. While not everyone agrees with us on every issue, Americans have come to rely on the ACLU for its unyielding dedication to principle."

"There is a long record of highly respected ACLU-affiliated lawyers who have been appointed to the federal bench, including luminaries such as Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. All have demonstrated their dedication to the Bill of Rights in important decisions supporting freedom of speech, the right to due process and gender and racial equality. There are also dozens of highly regarded district court and appellate court judges who have served or serve now on federal benches throughout the nation. Their ACLU background has helped them bring to the judicial system a steadfast commitment to constitutional values and an understanding of the critical role that the judiciary plays in safeguarding them."

"If you ask us, ACLU chromosomes make for a pretty remarkable gene pool," she added.


 

PFAW

White House: Judicial Nominations are a Priority for Lame Duck

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

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

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

Of these nominees:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PFAW

Republican Judges Against Republican Obstruction

Add another set of voices to the growing chorus of Americans fed up with Republican leaders' unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominations: Federal judges nominated by Republican presidents. According to ThinkProgress:

[Last] week, seven Republican-appointed federal judges co-signed a letter warning of the consequences of the GOP's systematic obstruction of President Obama's judges. The letter [is] from the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit, which includes Republican appointees Alex Kozinski, Ralph Beistline, Vaughn Walker, Irma Gonzales, Frances Marie Tydingco-Gatewood, Richard Frank Cebull, [and] Lonny Ray Suko[.]

The letter states:

In order to do our work, and serve the public as Congress expects us to serve it, we need the resources to carry out our mission. While there are many areas of serious need, we write today to emphasize our desperate need for judges. Our need in that regard has been amply documented ... Courts cannot do their work if authorized judicial positions remain vacant.

While we could certainly use more judges, and hope that Congress will soon approve the additional judgeships requested by the Judicial Conference, we would be greatly assisted if our judicial vacancies - some of which have been open for several years and declared "judicial emergencies" - were to be filled promptly. We respectfully request that the Senate act on judicial nominees without delay.

Americans want a government that works. Why don't Senate Republican leaders agree?

PFAW

People For and Progressive Groups Urge Senate to Break Confirmation Gridlock

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

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

AFL-CIO

Alliance for Justice

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

American Association for Affirmative Action

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Association of University Women

American Federation of Government Employees

American Federation of Teachers

Americans for Democratic Action

Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Asian American Justice Center

Common Cause

Constitutional Accountability Center

Equal Justice Society

Families USA Foundation

Feminist Majority

Hispanic National Bar Association

Hispanics for a Fair Judiciary

Human Rights Campaign

Japanese American Citizens League

Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Lambda Legal

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

League of United Latin American Citizens

Legal Momentum

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

NAACP

NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse

National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum

National Association of Consumer Advocates

National Association of Human Rights Workers

National Association of Social Workers

National Black Justice Coalition

National Congress of Black Women, Inc.

National Council of Jewish Women

National Disability Rights Network

National Employment Lawyers Association

National Fair Housing Alliance

National Partnership for Women & Families

National Urban League

National Women’s Law Center

OCA

People For the American Way

Secular Coalition for America

SEIU

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Sikh Coalition

 

PFAW

Former Bush Lawyer: Stop Partisan Bickering and Confirm Liu

The Blog of the Legal Times is reporting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is planning to call Senate Republicans on their obstruction of judicial nominees and break the gridlock that has kept four of these nominees pending, in some cases for over a year. Reid will attempt to stop the Republican filibuster of Ninth Circuit nominees Goodwin Liu and Edward Chen, Rhode Island District Court nominee John McConnell, and Wisconsin District nominee Louis Butler. 

This is a critical moment for these nominees, who despite support from their home-state senators and endorsements across the ideological spectrum, have for various reasons been branded as “too extreme” by obstructionist Republicans in the Senate. McConnell has been up against an expensive lobbying campaign from the Chamber of Commerce, which objects to his work as a public interest lawyer representing victims of lead paint poisoning. Butler has been up against business interests who don’t think he was friendly enough to them when he was on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Chen was accused by Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee of having an apparently disqualifying “ACLU chromosome.”

Liu’s nomination has been the subject of the most partisan squabbling. Liu’s main obstacle, it seems, has been his own brilliance: some on the Right worry that if he makes it on to the bench, he could eventually become a Supreme Court nominee. But Liu’s nomination is backed by legal luminaries from across the ideological spectrum, including former Bush White House lawyer Richard Painter, who today wrote another plea for the Senate GOP to break the judicial gridlock and at least take a vote on Liu’s nomination:

In any event, nominees who should not be controversial, including Goodwin Liu (I have made previous posts here on his nomination), are described as radical activists, the same tactic that advocacy groups deployed to mischaracterize many of President Bush’s nominees.

Public opinion of Members of Congress (both parties) these days is lower, far lower, than it was in the days when Senator Henry Cabot Lodge used just the right term to describe what he saw going on when Senators filibustered legislation. Those of us who care about the future of the judiciary should make it clear that the delay must stop.

This does not mean the Senators should vote "yes". They can vote "no". But they should vote.

Specific nominations aside, the federal judicial system in general has taken a drubbing under the Senate GOP’s refusal to confirm nominees. A new report from the Alliance for Justice has found that the number of vacancies in the federal judiciary has nearly doubled since President Obama took office, and that the number of open seats designated as “judicial emergencies” has risen from 20 to 50, affecting 30 states.

Confirmation votes will become much more difficult next year, with Democrats hanging on to a much slimmer majority in the Senate. Now’s the time to push through the nominees whom the GOP has been the most eager to obstruct.
 

PFAW

Tracking the Obstruction: Obama v. Bush

Last month I helped you decipher what progress does and doesn’t mean for executive branch nominations being considered in the Senate. I can now add that President Obama’s executive branch nominations are generally lagging behind President Bush’s when it comes to the Executive Calendar (list of all treaties and nominations that are ready to be taken up on the Senate floor).

On 11/12, the average age of Cabinet nominations ever placed on the Calendar was 34 days, and the average time spent on the Calendar was 10 days. That sounds pretty low, right? Well, it’s not when compared to President Bush’s rates at that same time – an average age of 12 days and an average time of 3 days. Even at the end of his Administration, President Bush was still way ahead of President Obama – an average age of 25 days and an average time of 7 days.

The same holds true for lower level nominations and when you count both Cabinet and lower level together – with one caveat.

On 11/12, the average age of lower level nominations ever placed on the Calendar was 103 days, and the average time spent on the Calendar was 36 days. For President Bush at that same time it was an average age of 68 days and an average time of 16 days. When you count both Cabinet and lower level together, President Obama’s average age was 102 days and the average time was 36 days, with President Bush at 66 days and 16 days at that same time.

The caveat: the numbers draw much closer or even level out by the time you get to the end of the Bush Administration. Where President Obama was at 103 days and 36 days for lower level nominations, President Bush finished out at 103 days and 30 days. Where President Obama was at 102 days and 36 days when you count both Cabinet and lower level together, President Bush finished out at 102 days and 29 days.

It might help to look at the charts from which these statistics were drawn. Please click here to go to our latest report on executive branch nominations. See the “Executive Calendar” section starting on page 3.

So why is there any holdup at all? Simple. Senate Republicans have thus far made the decision to do whatever they can to trip up President Obama, even if that means denying the country a fully-staffed government doing the best possible work. After all, who has time to actually govern when the next presidential election is just two years away?

PFAW

Tracking the Obstruction: Lifting the Veil of Progress

In the last week of its fall session, the Senate confirmed 54 executive branch nominations. But we haven’t necessarily made progress just because 54 positions are now full.

I took a look at the Executive Calendar (list of all treaties and nominations that are ready to be taken up on the Senate floor) as it stood on 9/24. Then I compared it to 10/4, after the Senate left town.

I will admit that the Senate did take some steps forward.

35 of the 54 executive branch confirmations came straight off the Calendar. There were fewer executive branch nominations on the Calendar who were 90 days old or more (22 down from 40). There were also fewer executive branch nominations that had spent 90 days or more on the Calendar (17 down from 19).

But who’s left?

On 9/24, the average age of executive branch nominations on the Calendar was 189 days, and the average time spent on the Calendar was 95 days.

By 10/4, the average age had increased to 287 days, and the average time spent on the Calendar had increased to 195 days.

What does this mean?

The Senate may be doing its job, but it’s not fighting the toughest battles when it comes to executive branch nominations. The nominations left behind are those that have been waiting the longest. Less controversial people are moving through quickly while political obstruction continues to stall others.

Let’s not forget the recess appointees.

Only 5 of 22 recess appointees have gone on to confirmation. 17 are still pending before the Senate. 13 of those are stuck on the Calendar.

Please click here for our latest report on executive branch nominations.

PFAW

Obama to Senate: Stop Playing Games with the Courts

On Wednesday night, the Senate left for recess without confirming a single one of the 23 judicial nominees who had been waiting for a vote, most of them for several months. The GOP blocked the majority of these nominees not because of ideology—19 were approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee—but just for the sake of obstruction. President Obama responded yesterday with this letter to Senate leaders:

Dear Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, Senator Leahy, and Senator Sessions:

I write to express my concern with the pace of judicial confirmations in the United States Senate. Yesterday, the Senate recessed without confirming a single one of the 23 Federal judicial nominations pending on the Executive Calendar. The Federal judiciary and the American people it serves suffer the most from this unprecedented obstruction. One in eight seats on the Federal bench sits empty, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared that many of those vacancies constitute judicial emergencies. Despite the urgent and pressing need to fill these important posts, a minority of Senators has systematically and irresponsibly used procedural maneuvers to block or delay confirmation votes on judicial nominees – including nominees that have strong bipartisan support and the most distinguished records. The minority has even been blocking non-controversial nominees – a dramatic shift from past practice that could cause a crisis in the judiciary.

The Judiciary Committee has promptly considered my judicial nominees. Nonetheless, judicial confirmation rates in this Congress have reached an all-time low. At this point in the prior Administration (107th Congress), the Senate had confirmed 61% of the President’s judicial nominations. By contrast, the Senate has confirmed less than half of the judicial nominees it has received in my Administration. Nominees in the 107th Congress waited less than a month on the floor of the Senate before a vote on their confirmation. The men and women whom I have nominated who have been confirmed to the Courts of Appeals waited five times longer and those confirmed to the District Courts waited three times longer for final votes.

Right now, 23 judicial nominees await simple up-or-down votes. All of these nominees have the strongest backing from their home-state Senators – a fact that usually counsels in favor of swift confirmation, rather than delay. Sixteen of those men and women received unanimous support in the Judiciary Committee. Nearly half of the nominees on the floor were selected for seats that have gone without judges for anywhere between 200 and 1,600 days. But despite these compelling circumstances, and the distinguished careers led by these candidates, these nominations have been blocked.

Judge Albert Diaz, the well-respected state court judge I nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, has waited 245 days for an up-or-down vote – more than 8 months. Before becoming a judge, Diaz served for over 10 years in the United States Marine Corps as an attorney and military judge. If confirmed, he would be the first Hispanic to sit on the Fourth Circuit. The seat to which he was nominated has been declared a judicial emergency. Judge Diaz has the strong support of both of North Carolina’s Senators. Senator Burr has publicly advocated for Judge Diaz to get a final vote by the Senate. And just before the August recess, Senator Hagan went to the floor of the Senate to ask for an up-or-down vote for Judge Diaz. Her request was denied.

We are seeing in this case what we have seen in all too many others: resistance to highly qualified candidates who, if put to a vote, would be unanimously confirmed, or confirmed with virtually no opposition. For example, Judge Beverly Martin waited 132 days for a floor vote – despite being strongly backed by both of Georgia’s Republican Senators. When the Senate finally held a vote, she was confirmed to the Eleventh Circuit unanimously. Jane Stranch was recently confirmed by an overwhelming majority of the Senate, after waiting almost 300 days for a final vote. Even District Court nominees have waited 3 or more months for confirmation votes – only to be confirmed unanimously.

Proceeding this way will put our judiciary on a dangerous course, as the Department of Justice projects that fully half of the Federal judiciary will be vacant by 2020 if we continue on the current pace of judicial confirmations. The real harm of this political game-playing falls on the American people, who turn to the courts for justice. By denying these nominees a simple up-or- down vote, the Republican leadership is undermining the ability of our courts to deliver justice to those in need. All Americans depend on having well-qualified men and women on the bench to resolve important legal matters – from working mothers seeking timely compensation for their employment discrimination claims to communities hoping for swift punishment for perpetrators of crimes to small business owners seeking protection from unfair and anticompetitive practices.

As a former Senator, I have the greatest respect for the Senate’s role in providing advice and consent on judicial nominations. If there is a genuine concern about the qualifications of judicial nominees, that is a debate I welcome. But the consistent refusal to move promptly to have that debate, or to confirm even those nominees with broad, bipartisan support, does a disservice to the greatest traditions of this body and the American people it serves. In the 107th Congress, the Judiciary Committee reported 100 judicial nominees, and all of them were confirmed by the Senate before the end of that Congress. I urge the Senate to similarly consider and confirm my judicial nominees.

Back in June, President Obama made a similar plea in a meeting with Senate GOP leaders, but apparently bipartisan cooperation on something as straight-forward as filling seats in the judiciary wasn’t on their list of priorities.

(I also want to point out that while the GOP is holding up most of the 23 stalled nominees for absolutely no reason, there are a handful of nominees who certain GOP senators actively oppose. We’ve explored some of the reasons for this opposition here and here and here.)
 

PFAW

“The ACLU Chromosome” and other judicial disqualifiers

Politico today outlines an emerging trend in judicial obstruction. While partisan battles over judicial nominees have in past years focused on the occasional appellate court judge or Supreme Court justice, these days even nominees to lower-profile district courts are fair game for partisan obstructionism. Among other problems, this doesn’t make it easy to keep a well-functioning, fully staffed federal court system:

According to data collected by Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution and analyzed by POLITICO, Obama’s lower-court nominees have experienced an unusually low rate of confirmation and long periods of delay, especially after the Senate Judiciary Committee has referred the nomination for a confirmation vote by the full Senate. Sixty-four percent of the district court nominees Obama submitted to the Senate before May 2010 have been confirmed — a number dwarfed by the 91 percent confirmation rate for Bush’s district court nominees for the same period.

But analysts say the grindingly slow pace in the Senate, especially on district court nominations, will have serious consequences.

Apart from the burden of a heavier case load for current judges and big delays across the federal judicial system, Wheeler, a judicial selection scholar at Brookings, says that potential nominees for district courts may think twice before offering themselves up for a federal nomination if the process of confirmation continues to be both unpredictable and long.

"I think it means first that vacancies are going to persist for longer than they should. There’s just not the judge power that there should be," Wheeler said. And private lawyers who are not already judges may hesitate to put their practices on hold during the confirmation process, he added, because "you can’t be certain that you’ll get confirmed" for even a district judgeship, an entry-level position to the federal bench.

Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has been at the lead of the GOP’s obstruction of every judicial nominee who can possibly be obstructed. He told Politico that he simply wants to make sure every new federal judges passes his litmus test: "If they’re not committed to the law, they shouldn’t be a judge, in my opinion."

Sounds fair. But the problem is, of course, that Sessions’ definition of “committed to the law” is something more like “committed to the way Jeff Sessions sees the law.”

In a meeting yesterday to vote on eight judicial nominees-- five of whom were going through the Judiciary Committee for the second or third time after Senate Republicans refused to vote on their nominations--Sessions rallied his troops against Edward Chen, nominated to serve as a district court judge in California. Chen is a widely respected magistrate judge who spent years fighting discrimination against Asian Americans for the American Civil Liberties Union. But Sessions smelled a rat: Chen, he said, has “the ACLU chromosome.”

The phrase really illuminates what Sessions and his cohort mean when they talk about finding judges “committed to the law” or who won’t stray from “the plain words of statutes or the Constitution.” It isn’t about an “objective” reading of the Constitution. It’s about appointing judges who will find ways to protect powerful interests like Exxon, BP, and the Chamber of Commerce, while denying legal protections to working people, women, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, and gays and lesbians.

(Sessions himself was nominated for a judgeship in 1986, but was rejected by a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee for his history of not-so-ACLU-like activity).

Sessions’ warns that “Democrats hold federal judiciary as the great engine of the left,” but the reality is far from that. Besides having the most conservative Supreme Court in decades, nearly 40% of all current federal judges were appointed by George W. Bush, who made a point of recruiting judges with stellar right-wing credentials.

No matter how much disarray it causes in the federal courts, it’s in the interest of Sessions and the Right Wing to keep the number of judicial seats President Obama fills to a minimum. If they succeed, they keep their conservative, pro-corporate courts, tainted as little as possible by the sinister “ACLU chromosome.”
 

PFAW

Hung out to dry

Republicans have given us a sneak peek of what they have in store for America if they succeed in taking over Congress on Election Day ... and it's not pretty.

On Tuesday, Republican senators voted in lockstep to block the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell and the DREAM Act... just yesterday, they voted in unity to block the DISCLOSE Act for the second time. Corporate special interests are drowning out the voices of regular voters by dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into this year's elections, and every single Republican voted to block a bill that would add some basic fairness by simply requiring disclosure of who is behind political ads. Every. Single. Republican.

The unprecedented obstruction just does not stop. President Obama's judicial nominees have been held up endlessly. In some cases, they've needed to be re-nominated and have multiple Judiciary Committee votes despite being approved by the Committee the first time. Some of these nominees even passed in Committee unanimously, with no Republican opposition, but the "Party of No" has been intent on blocking even the most uncontroversial nominees from the Senate floor. Meanwhile, there are vacancies on the federal courts -- 11 seats of the 23 pending on the nominations calendar -- that have been declared "judicial emergencies" by the Administrative Office of the Courts. Our judicial system is hurting and so is Americans' access to justice.

It's not just the Senate. Yesterday, the House passed legislation to help small businesses, but only because of the Democratic majority -- just like with the DISCLOSE Act in the Senate, every single Republican voted "no." This vote came on the very same day that the GOP House Leadership released its "Pledge to America" -- in the rollout, Minority Leader Boehner and his cohorts mentioned "small businesses" no fewer than 18 times. The hypocrisy is simply staggering.

In both the Senate and the House, Republicans have consistently opposed tax relief for small businesses and the middle class, justifying their obstruction with phony, hypocritical arguments about spending. Republicans have tried to block extensions of unemployment benefits and aid for homeowners to prevent foreclosures, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is even blocking a food safety bill that passed in the House with bipartisan support last summer and has overwhelming support from consumer groups. Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing to add billions, if not trillions, to the deficit by extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2%.

The Republicans have a clear agenda: to serve corporate special interests. They want to take back Congress but it's their policies that sunk our economy in the first place -- policies that encourage the outsourcing of jobs, allow Wall Street greed to go unchecked and punish middle and working-class families. They pretend to be on the side of small businesses because it's politically expedient, but even as they complain that letting the Bush income tax cuts expire for the top 2% hurts small business, the facts tell a different story as more than 98% of tax filers with small business income are not in that top 2% of the income tax. The Republican definition of "small business" is a mega corporation like Bechtel or PricewaterhouseCoopers. The only part of America to which they will ever make good on any "pledge" is Corporate America... and they'll do that at any cost. Perhaps that's why the GOP staffer who headed up the development of the "Pledge to America" was, up until April, a lobbyist for some of the most powerful oil, insurance and pharmaceutical and other corporate interests in the country -- including Exxon, AIG, Pfizer and the Chamber of Commerce.

So let's recap. Just this week, Republicans have proven their disdain for soldiers, students, the hurting middle class and even food consumers... Is there anyone they haven't left hung out to dry? Oh yeah... corporate special interests.

We can not put these people in charge again.

UPDATE: Add women to the groups of people Republican senators have hung out to dry just during the last weeks of September.

PFAW

Unprecedented Obstruction: Exhibit "A"

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse just made a forceful presentation at the Senate Judiciary Committee business meeting about the unprecedented obstruction currently being waged by Republicans against judicial nominees. The statistics are powerful: from 1949, when Senate rules were changed to provide for cloture votes on nominees, until 2009, only three cloture motions were filed on District Court nominees, and one of those was withdrawn.

By contrast, three District Court nominees were voted out of Committee for a second (John McConnell) or third (Edward Chen, Louis Butler) time today after Republicans refused to permit votes on their nominations and forced their re-nomination by the President--Exhibit "A" of this unprecedented obstruction.

PFAW

Important votes next week on DADT, DREAM, and secret holds

It could be a big week next week for the Senate. When Majority Leader Reid brings the FY 2011 Defense authorization bill to the floor, we are likely to see consideration of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the DREAM Act, and secret holds.

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. According to PFAW’s Michael B. Keegan and Marge Baker, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell runs counter to the honesty and integrity we associate with the armed forces, not to mention the values of equality and freedom of expression espoused by our Constitution.” AAMIA’s Reverend Timothy McDonald, III and Reverend Dr. Robert P. Shine agree that LGBT individuals “share in the sacrifices made by their family, friends, and neighbors. They deserve to serve honestly and openly with dignity.” Conditional repeal passed as an amendment to the FY 2011 Defense authorization bill on the House floor and in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Now that the bill is coming to the Senate floor, repeal opponents may get a chance to modify that language or remove it entirely. We want to make sure that the current language remains intact as the bill goes into conference and eventually heads to the President’s desk.

The DREAM Act. Earlier this year, PFAW urged the Senate to take action on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). And we urged both chambers to recognize LGBT families in their work. We have also been longtime supporters of the DREAM Act, a bill that would grant children of undocumented immigrants the opportunity to earn legal permanent resident status in the US. It may now see light of day as an amendment to the FY 2011 Defense authorization bill. Senators should take this opportunity to send a clear message that expanding access to higher education for these children – and for anyone – benefits them, benefits our economy, and benefits our country.

Secret holds. PFAW has been a staunch defender of Senate rules and procedure against unprecedented obstruction. Senator Wyden has also taken up this cause. He joined with Senators Grassley, McCaskill, Murray, and Sherrod Brown to introduce the Secret Holds Elimination Act, a bill that would require public disclosure of all objections. Attempts were made this summer to push such disclosure, and another is expected within the FY 2011 Defense authorization bill. No single Senator should be able to stop legislation or nominations without at least some measure of transparency and accountability.

These are not the only issues we’ll be monitoring next week, but they are three on which we expect votes. Please contact your Senators now.

PFAW

The Long-Term Consequences of Hateful Politics

Suhail A. Khan, who served as a liaison to faith communities in George W. Bush’s White House, writes this week in Foreign Policy that he finds himself increasingly alone as a Muslim Republican. Many American Muslims have conservative values, Khan writes, but the GOP won’t win their support “until the party finds leadership willing to stop playing to the worst instincts of its minority of bigoted supporters”:

In recent weeks, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and other prominent Republicans have loudly voiced their opposition to the proposed Cordoba House project near ground zero in lower Manhattan, fanning the flames of a protest that has since spread into a more generalized criticism of Muslim institutions in the United States. But even before this month's controversy, the exodus of Muslim Americans from the Republican Party was nearly complete. In 2008, this country's more than 7 million Muslims voted in record numbers, and nearly 90 percent of their votes went to Obama.

It wasn't always this way. Muslim Americans are, by and large, both socially and economically conservative. Sixty-one percent of them would ban abortion except to save the life of the mother; 84 percent support school choice. Muslims overwhelmingly support traditional marriage. More than a quarter -- over twice the national average -- are self-employed small-business owners, and most support reducing taxes and the abolition of the estate tax. By all rights they should be Republicans -- and not long ago they were. American Muslims voted two to one for George H.W. Bush in 1992. While they went for Bill Clinton by the same margin in 1996, they were brought back into the Republican fold in 2000 by George W. Bush.

Kahn compares the GOP’s current alienation of Muslim Americans to the party’s history with Hispanics. George W. Bush won 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004; in 2008, with the GOP ramping up its anti-immigrant rhetoric, only 31% of Hispanics voted for John McCain.

In the Washington Post today, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson writes of what are likely to be the far-reaching unintended consequences of the GOP’s embrace of the Tea Party’s more nativist and xenophobic strands:

[A] question of Tea Party candidates: Do you believe that American identity is undermined by immigration? An internal debate has broken out on this issue among Tea Party favorites. Tom Tancredo, running for Colorado governor, raises the prospect of bombing Mecca, urges the president to return to his Kenyan "homeland" and calls Miami a "Third World country" -- managing to offend people on four continents. Dick Armey of FreedomWorks appropriately criticizes Tancredo's "harsh and uncharitable and mean-spirited attitude on the immigration issue." But the extremes of the movement, during recent debates on birthright citizenship and the Manhattan mosque, seem intent on depicting Hispanics and Muslims as a fifth column.

There is no method more likely to create ethnic resentment and separatism than unfair suspicion. The nativist impulse is the enemy of assimilation. In a nation where minorities now comprise two-fifths of children under 18, Republicans should also understand that tolerating nativism would bring slow political asphyxiation.

The Tea Party is undoubtedly on a bit of a roll. Last night, Sarah Palin-endorsed Tea Party candidates won (or look likely to win) Republican primaries in Alaska, Arizona, and Florida as did John McCain, who compromised many of his famed “maverick” positions to compete with a far right-wing challenger. And extreme right-wingers Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and Rand Paul have already grasped their party’s nominations after campaigns tinged with racially divisive rhetoric.

The Tea Party movement is not all about the politics of fear and exclusion—but to the extent that it is, it may face a limited, if dangerous, shelf life. For many on the far Right, short-term political expedience trumps doing what is right; but doing what is wrong may have long-term political consequences.

 

PFAW

The Party of No Lives Up to Its Name

Last night, in the latest episode of their passive-aggressive crusade to keep President Obama’s judicial nominees off the bench, the Senate GOP put on a mind-boggling display of obstruction.

As the Senate confirmed Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination, 21 other judicial nominees were waiting for Senate votes. More than half of these nominees had been approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee, and all had been waiting more than 100 days for confirmation.

After the Kagan vote, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell agreed to hold voice votes on four of the stalled nominees, and promised to agree to a vote on another—Jane Stranch, a Tennessee attorney who has been waiting more than a year for confirmation, despite having the support of both of her home state’s Republican senators-- in September.

The GOP sent five nominees back to the White House—meaning that the President will have to renominate them and start the process again.

That left eleven nominees in Senate limbo. Nine of them had received absolutely no opposition from either party in their Judiciary Committee hearings.

In an interview Monday, the National Journal asked McConnell about his party’s obstructionism. “Is the Senate broken?” the interviewer asked. McConnell answered:

No. Members frequently on both sides hold up a nominee because of some concern they have. It is more likely to be done if you are in the minority because the administration is not of your party and less likely to address your concern. This kind of give-and-take I have seen go on before. It is not any more dramatic now than it has been in the past, and this president has not been treated worse than the last one was. But it is always maddening to the majority and maddening to every president.

I must say the president even made it worse by recessing a guy like [Craig] Becker [to the National Labor Relations Board], who was defeated in the Senate. We had a vote. He was defeated on a bipartisan basis. And recessing a guy like [Donald] Berwick [to oversee Medicare and Medicaid] without any hearings at all and with the chairman of the Finance Committee [Max Baucus, D-Mont.] saying he didn't think he should have been recessed. That is not the kind of action that is designed to, shall I say, engender a cooperative reaction on the part of the minority. I think we can statistically show you that it is not worse for President Obama. He hasn't been singled out more for shoddy treatment than it has been in the past.

It’s unclear what “concern” McConnell is referring to in the case of the nine blocked nominees who have received absolutely no Republican opposition. The concern seems to have nothing to do with the nominees at all—but rather with unrelated executive branch nominations that the GOP is seeking revenge for.

And as for McConnell’s claim that “we can statistically show you that it is not worse for President Obama,” the Center for American Progress has a chart for that:


PFAW

Fiorina’s Supreme Court Extremism in Disguise

Is this the best impression of a political moderate that Carly Fiorina can do?

The California senatorial candidate announced yesterday that if she were currently a member of the Senate she would not vote to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Her reasoning?

The confirmation process revealed that she has many admirable qualities – an ability to solve problems, an energetic mind and an enthusiasm for her colleagues and her work – all of which qualify her to serve as Solicitor General, the Dean of a Law School or even as a legislator. However, the process also underscored her lack of experience as a jurist, which in my mind is a key element in determining whether or not a nominee is qualified to serve as a member of the Supreme Court.

Yes, Fiorina claims that her one and only qualm with Kagan is that the Solicitor General has never been a judge before.

I don’t think we need to remind Fiorina that the lack of judicial experience is hardly unusual for Supreme Court nominees. 41 of the 109 Supreme Court justices in American history came to the high court with no previous judicial experience--including former chief justice and stalwart conservative William Rehnquist.

In fact, since Kagan’s nomination, current and former Supreme Court justices have come out saying you don’t need judicial experience to do the job well. Former justice Sandra Day O’Connor said that Kagan’s professional background was “just fine.” Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative justices in the past 50 years, was actually enthusiastic about Kagan’s background: “I am happy to see that this latest nominee is not a federal judge - and not a judge at all,” he said.

Which leads to the obvious question: Does Fiorina really think that judicial experience is the only qualification for a Supreme Court justice? If that’s the case, she would she have had to oppose the nominations of some of the most influential justices in Supreme Court history, including Rehnquist, John Marshall, Louis Brandeis, Earl Warren, William O. Douglas, Harlan Fiske Stone, Robert Jackson, Felix Frankfurter, and Joseph Story, among others.

Or is the “inexperienced” argument just a flimsy front for Fiorina’s real right-wing views on judicial appointments?

Fiorina clearly cannot oppose Kagan, a decidedly mainstream nominee with bipartisan support, on ideological grounds without blowing her newly-constructed cover as a political moderate. Instead, she has latched onto a flimsy excuse to oppose Kagan in order to pander to her ultra-conservative base--without setting off the alarms of moderate and progressive voters.

This statement isn’t about Elena Kagan’s resume. It’s about Carly Fiorina’s attempt to appease Sarah Palin conservatives while pretending to be a middle-of-the-road politician. And that should be very scary to moderate California voters.
 

PFAW

Senate Republicans: Just Say No to Participating in the Legislative Process

A well-researched, provocative piece in The New Yorker this week explores the increasingly dysfunctional nature of the US Senate. In particular, the article draws attention to the unprecedented obstructionism of the current Republican minority:

Under [Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell, Republicans have consistently consumed as much of the Senate’s calendar as possible with legislative maneuvering. The strategy is not to extend deliberation of the Senate’s agenda but to prevent it. Tom Harkin [D-IA], who first proposed reform of the filibuster in 1995, called his Republican colleagues “nihilists,” who want to create chaos because it serves their ideology. “If there’s chaos, things will tend toward simple solutions,” Harkin said. “In chaos people don’t listen to reason.” McConnell did not respond to requests for an interview, but he has often argued that the Republican strategy reflects the views of a majority of Americans. In March, he told the Times, “To the extent that they”—the Democrats—“want to do things that we think are in the political center and would be helpful to the country, we’ll be helpful. To the extent they are trying to turn us into a Western European country, we are not going to be helpful.”

…The deepest source of [the Senate’s] problems is not rules and precedents but, rather, its human beings, who have created a culture where Tocqueville’s “lofty thoughts” and “generous impulses” have no place.

If Republican Senators were true statesmen, they would know that it is always “helpful” for the minority party to make an honest attempt to work through their differences with their opponents. Instead, Republicans have adopted a “just say no” legislative philosophy, making it impossible for the Senate to be the dignified and idea-oriented institution envisioned by the Founders.

PFAW

Cornyn Twists Kagan Remark, Comes Out Against “Judgment”

Sen. John Cornyn, in his boilerplate remarks about the “judicial activism” conservatives like to associate with Elena Kagan, attempted to throw the Solicitor General’s own words back at her. Kagan, Cornyn insisted, would not rely on the “Constitution ratified by the American people and the laws passed by Congress,” but rather that she would solve tensions “between her Constitutional values” using “her prudence and judgment.” (He demonstrated his contempt for “prudence” and “judgment” by spitting the words out in disgust).

This is what Kagan actually said, in a written response to questions from Cornyn:

Question: In Confirmation Messes, Old and New, 62 U. Chi. L. Rev. 919, 932 (1995), you wrote that “many of the votes a Supreme Court Justice casts have little to do with technical legal ability and much to do with conceptions of value.”

a. Please explain in greater detail what you meant in this statement.

Response: I was referring to constitutional values, by which I mean the fundamental principles articulated and embodied in our Constitution. In some cases, constitutional values point in different directions, and judges must exercise prudence and judgment in resolving the tension between them. In doing so, judges must always look to legal sources—the text, structure, and history of the Constitution, as well as the Supreme Court’s precedents—not to their own personal values, political beliefs, or policy views.

Kagan wasn’t talking about tension in her own values—she was talking about the tension inherent in the values of the Constitution. For more on that point, Cornyn might want to read former Justice David Souter’s excellent explanation of this principle, or even just sit down and read a few recent Supreme Court cases, which typically get to the Court precisely because they embody hard-to-resolve tensions between constitutional values.

He might also want to re-watch Kagan’s debunking of the John Roberts doctrine of the judge-as-umpire, in which she patiently explains that “judging requires judgment':

PFAW

Trading Judges

As the Senate prepares to vote this week on the Supreme Court confirmation of Elena Kagan, there is also reportedly a deal in the works to finally confirm dozens of the executive branch and judicial nominees who have been waiting—many of them for months—for votes on the Senate floor.

CQ reports:

After seeing only two nominees confirmed during July, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are discussing terms for advancing at least some of the 84 nominations awaiting floor votes, aides said Monday. “We have a number of nominations that we’re looking at,” said Reid.

But some of the more controversial nominees are unlikely to be confirmed before the Senate returns in mid-September, if then. That may tempt Obama to use recess appointments to fill those vacancies at least temporarily — unless the White House agrees to pass up the opportunity to make recess appointments in exchange for Senate action on some nominees this week.

It’s about time that the Senate gets around to clearing the nominations backlog. But voting on nominees that were reported months ago without any opposition is no great concession by the Republican minority. It’s time to end the charade and the gamesmanship.

Take for example North Carolina judge Albert Wynn, whose nomination to fill a long-vacant seat on the Fourt Circuit Court of Appeals was approved by the Judiciary Committee in an 18-1 vote six months ago, and has been held up by GOP leadership ever since. David Savage at the Los Angeles Times describes the holdup of Wynn’s nomination as part of a political battle similar to “an old family feud”:

The GOP leader had no objection to Wynn. Instead, he said, he was getting back at Democrats who had blocked President George W. Bush's nominees to the same court. "My perspective on the 4th Circuit covers a little longer period of time," McConnell said.

The Senate's dispute over judicial nominees resembles a family feud that stretches over several generations. Judges are being opposed not because of their records, but because of what happened several years earlier to other nominees. Use of the filibuster rule, which the GOP had insisted was unconstitutional several years ago, has become a routine stalling tactic.

If confirmed, Wynn would fill a North Carolina seat on the 4th Circuit that has been vacant since 1994.

Let’s have a vote on James Wynn. Or let’s have a vote on Jane Stranch of Tennessee, nominated to fill a seat on the Sixth Circuit, who has the support of both of her home state Republican Senators. And let’s have a vote on Goodwin Liu, nominated for a seat on the Ninth Circuit, who has endorsements from across the ideological spectrum, including Clint Bolick and Ken Starr.


The debate over judicial nominations has become not about qualifications or the law, or about the urgent needs of the justice system, but about political game-playing. It’s great that the GOP has finally agreed to confirm some nominees who they never objected to in the first place. Maybe now they can move on to having a substantive debate on those, like Wynn, Stranch, and Liu, against whom they continue to use every passive-aggressive rule of Senate procedure.
 

PFAW

Republicans Waiting It Out On Judicial Nominations

In the wake of Citizens United and other rulings that put corporate bank accounts ahead of individual rights, it has become increasingly clear where the priorities of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority lie. Republicans in Congress, unlike most Americans, like what they’re seeing—and are doing everything in their power to make sure the Roberts Court’s philosophy is reflected in lower courts throughout the country.

Apparently not satisfied with the current conservative bent of the nation’s entire judicial system (nearly 40% of federal judges nationwide were appointed by George W. Bush), Republican Senators are trying to stall district and circuit court judicial nominations until they are in a position to appoint federal judges once again, packing the court even more firmly for corporate interests.

A recent study by the Center for American Progress found that the current Republican obstruction of judicial nominations is truly unprecedented. The graph below pretty much says it all:

The current Republican obstructionism is unprecedented. Even George H.W. Bush, whose party never controlled the Senate during his term, enjoyed a confirmation rate nearly double that of President Obama and the current solidly Democratic Senate.

Yesterday, several senators put a much-needed spotlight on the GOP’s obstruction of judicial nominations. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island spoke about the special interests that are preventing public interest lawyer John McConnell, an extremely qualified nominee who enjoys bipartisan support, from serving his home state:

Why is it that nominees of President Obama are being held to a different, new standard than applied to the nominees of President Bush? Why have we departed from the longstanding tradition of respect to the views of home State Senators who know the nominees best and who best understand their home districts? … I ask this because we have a highly qualified nominee in Rhode Island, Jack McConnell, who was reported by the Judiciary Committee on June 17. It was a bipartisan vote, 13 to 6, with the support of Senator Lindsey Graham. Jack McConnell is a pillar of the legal community in Rhode Island…The Providence Chamber of Commerce has praised Jack McConnell as a well-respected member of the local community. Political figures from across our political spectrum have called for his confirmation, one of them being my predecessor as Rhode Island attorney general, Republican Jeffrey Pine.

…Notwithstanding the support of Senator Reed and myself, the two Senators from Rhode Island, notwithstanding that this is a district court nomination, notwithstanding the powerful support across Rhode Island from those who know Jack McConnell best, special interests from outside the State have interfered in his nomination. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, not the Rhode Island chapter, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has attacked Jack for having the temerity to stand up to big business, to the asbestos to representing the rights of the powerless. In doing so, the U.S. Chamber has created a cartoon image of Jack McConnell that bears no relation to the man Senator Reed and I know as a great lawyer, as a great Rhode Islander, and somebody who will be a great judge.

I ask my colleagues…do we want to let powerful out-of-State interests trump the better informed views of home State Senators about district court nominees?

This is not just a political question-- the GOP is so concerned about keeping the courts corporate-friendly in the long-term that they’re ignoring the very urgent short-term needs of the federal court system. While judicial positions around the country remain vacant, many Americans are forced to wait for inexcusably long periods to have their day in court as current judges struggle with an impossible workload. The Judicial Conference has declared 42 of the 99 current judicial vacancies “judicial emergencies.” Carolyn Lamm, President of the non-partisan American Bar Association, calls the current dearth of federal judges “urgent.” But the GOP clearly cares more about protecting their allies in the corporate world than allowing the lower court system to function.

PFAW