Senate Judiciary Committee

The GOP as the Party of No

I just came back from an executive meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee where once again the Republicans are demonstrating a reflexive and not very wise strategy of just saying NO. Senator Leahy, chair of the Committee was trying to move the nominations of two key Justice Department nominees, Elena Kagan, who will be the first woman to be confirmed as the Solicitor General of the United States, and Tom Perrelli, who will be the third-most senior official at the Justice Department, but Republicans on the committee refused to permit a vote. 

It’s not that they’re not entitled to do this – they have the procedural right under the Committee’s rules to hold the votes over until the next meeting of the Committee. My concern is that the Republicans didn’t appear to have any good reasons for delaying the votes other than “because we can.” That shouldn’t be acceptable, particularly where, as here, the delay denies Attorney General Holder and President Obama the senior leadership team they need to address the enormous task of restoring public confidence in the Department’s commitment to the rule of law.

Senator Leahy has bent over backwards to accommodate the Committee Republicans, in much the same way that President Obama has tried to reach across the aisle on a range of issues. But the response is obstructionism and delay. Saying NO just because you can is not sound policy and is not good for the American people.

PFAW

Solicitor General Nominee Elena Kagan Sails Through Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing

 

Pres. Obama’s Solicitor General nominee and Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan went before the Senate Judiciary Committee today and anyone looking for fireworks was certainly disappointed – committee Republicans held their fire.  That’s probably due in part to the fact that Kagan has received the support of each of the last eight men to hold the post, and even won the respect of the Federalist Society during her years at Harvard.  She looks to be heading toward a speedy confirmation – to the dismay of some conservative groups and activists who have pressured committee Republicans to scrutinize Kagan’s nomination. 
 
Stay tuned.

 

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Mark Gitenstein for Office of Legal Policy

I’ve seen some concerns expressed about the possible nomination of Mark Gitenstein to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, including questions about whether he’s sufficiently committed to protecting the rule of law to serve in the position at Justice involved in selecting and vetting potential federal judicial nominees. I want to weigh in on this conversation because I know Mark well.

I worked very closely with him when he was serving as Senator Biden’s Chief Counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee and I was counsel to Senator Howard Metzenbaum. If you’re looking for someone committed to the rule of law, no need to look further. Mark can claim a lifetime of service to advancing the cause of civil rights and civil liberties in this country. As chief counsel to Senator Biden, Mark fought against the confirmation of federal judicial nominees who were not committed to protecting the civil rights and individual liberties of all Americans. He worked tirelessly in his position with Senator Biden to help protect the Civil Rights Commission and to extend the Voting Rights Act.

As counsel on the Senate Intelligence Committee he played a leadership role in the oversight investigation of the FBI abuses in the illegal surveillance and intimidation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights and anti-war activists. He played a key role in the development of FISA, which grew out of that investigation.

As an advisor to Senator and presidential candidate Biden, Mark helped focus on the plight of the shrinking middle class advancing measures such as reforming health care to permit middle class and disadvantaged families to buy into the same health care insurance program available to members of Congress and expanding the availability of health insurance for children and expanding employer based retirement programs.

Mark has the smarts, integrity and values that we need in someone heading this critical office.

PFAW

Executive privilege for Rove?

This was an exciting week. Our efforts to prevent the Right from building Senate opposition against Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder paid off and his nomination was approved by a 17-2 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And yesterday President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I was at the bill signing ceremony and it was amazing to see the leaders of our government, up to the President of the United States, so invested in enacting a law to protect civil rights.

We are not "the opposition" anymore, but we still have a vital role in passing progressive policy and making the change we need as a country happen. Many progressives have differing opinions on how best to move forward. The Bush administration was a common enemy. Its every move was predictable, motivated by its allegiance to a set of radical ideologies and ideologues. Now we are faced with the challenge of cleaning up the past administration's messes and moving our country forward. A legitimate question to ask is, how much of that effort should include holding Bush administration officials accountable for their trespasses against the Constitution and our nation's values?

Rep. John Conyers, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has subpoenaed Karl Rove to testify before the Committee on Monday about his role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and some other matters like the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Rove along with other Bush administration officials had hidden behind "executive privilege," evading testimony by essentially ignoring congressional subpoenas. And now, even with the Bush administration out of office, it looks like he's at it again!

Through his lawyers, four days before his term was up, former President Bush informed Rove that he was continuing to assert executive privilege over any testimony by Rove -- even after he leaves office -- and instructed him not to cooperate with congressional inquiries.

People For the American Way was a leader in the fight for Bush administration accountability, helping to get Congress to pass contempt citations against other Bush officials who hid behind executive privilege. Even though a new administration has taken over, if the law was broken, if the Constitution was violated, those who are guilty should be held accountable in order to preserve the rule of law and send the message to future generations and presidents that violating the law and people's rights will not go unanswered.

Getting to the bottom of the U.S. Attorney scandal and the politicization of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division is essential to cleaning up the Justice Department and putting it back to work for the American people. And I know we would all rather see Rove squirming in a congressional hot seat than as a talking head on cable news networks.

People For the American Way will not take this affront to justice sitting down. Expect us to be out front with a strong response if Rove chooses to be a no show on Monday. We'll also let you know what you can do to weigh in and make sure Rove and others in the Bush administration are held accountable and justice is served.

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Energized and ready to pave the way

In President Obama's first few days in office, he has already undone some serious damage from the previous administration with the stroke of a pen. He signed orders to close Guantanamo and the CIA's network of secret foreign prisons. And he repealed the global gag rule prohibiting U.S. dollars and contraceptive supplies from going to any international family planning program that provides abortions or counsels women about their reproductive health options. He's nominated stellar candidates to run the government, many of whom have been confirmed and started their work.

Great start!

President Obama's inauguration this week was enthusiastically celebrated by Americans of all political stripes. Even many former Bush supporters have embraced President Obama and agree that the country needs to move beyond partisanship and division. President Obama's high approval ratings are a clear indication that Americans are willing and ready to do what's needed to heal our economy, restore our good standing in the world and meet the enormous challenges we face.

Unfortunately, it seems that not quite everyone is ready to move forward with us. On Wednesday, led by Sens. Arlen Specter and John Cornyn, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee delayed a committee vote on Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder. Blocking confirmation of this historic nominee is exactly what Americans don't need or want. Whatever political assurances they may be seeking from Holder before he takes the reins at the DOJ, as attorney general, Holder's only commitments should be to the Constitution, the law and the American people (commitments he has already demonstrated that he will honor).

Some of these same Senate Republicans even tried to play partisan games with the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, using their ability to offer amendments to slow the legislation. But I am happy to report that last night the Senate passed it! Thank you to all of you who took action over the last few years in support of the bill -- this is a tremendous victory. Next up: the Paycheck Fairness Act! Stay tuned for more on that as we keep up the pressure to get that through the Senate.

Eric Holder's confirmation. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. These are things worth fighting for. We can't count on any party or branch of government to always to do the right thing, but when they do, we need to be there to block for them -- to make sure we're countering the opposition who would deter progress and the restoration of constitutional values to our government.

PFAW

Obama Chooses Barnes for Key White House Position

President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Melody Barnes to be Director of the Domestic Policy Council:

Melody Barnes is co-director of the Agency Review Working Group for the Obama-Biden Transition Team, and served as the Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to Obama for America. Barnes previously served as Executive Vice President for Policy at the Center for American Progress and as chief counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee from December 1995 until March 2003.
Healthcare reform, as part of an economic recovery plan that takes care of the middle class, will be a priority for Barnes.  We appreciate the work she’s done in the past, and we’re sure she’ll do great work in the new administration.
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About That U.S. Attorney Scandal...

Hey, remember the U.S. attorney scandal? Fishy firings of nine U.S. attorneys in 2006 for allegedly partisan reasons? It was a huge deal when the revelations first broke last year, but since then the mainstream media has, in classic MSM-ADD fashion, largely seemed to have lost interest in covering recent developments.

Well, Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, hasn't forgotten about the firings. And he's my hero of the day for promising the White House that he won't let them escape accountability for any potential wrongdoings.

At the Democratic National Convention yesterday, Talking Points Memo's David Kurtz asked Leahy for reaction to the news that a U.S. district court judge has refused to stay an order that former White House aide Harriet Miers is legally required to testify about the firings.

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