Supreme Court

Julian Bond: In the Kagan Hearings, Echoes of the Past

Last month, Republican senators turned to a surprising strategy in their questioning of Supreme Court nominee (and now Supreme Court Justice) Elena Kagan. They attempted to smear Kagan by connecting her with a figure who most of us don’t see as a liability—the revered civil rights leader Justice Thurgood Marshall. The attacks Senators Charles Grassley, Jon Kyl, and Jeff Sessions levied at Marshall rang a bell for former NAACP member and People For board member Julian Bond. Bond writes in today’s Des Moines Register:

These attacks didn't surprise me because they're completely consistent with a party locked in the past, echoing the anti-civil rights message of those who opposed Justice Marshall's own confirmation in 1967.

Grassley, Sessions and their fellow Republicans roasted Solicitor General Kagan with the same attacks used against Marshall four decades earlier. Then, the late Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina complained about the likelihood that Marshall would be "a judicial activist," which he defined as someone "unable to exercise the self-restraint which is inherent in the judicial process when it is properly understood and applied, and who is willing to add to the Constitution things that are not in it and to subtract from the Constitution things which are in it."

When Ervin spoke of adding rights to the Constitution, there was no doubt that he was referring to the court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which he had fervently opposed. Ervin went on to join with 10 other southern Senators in voting against Marshall's confirmation.

Faced with the inevitable backlash for their attacks, today’s senators have tried to equivocate by saying they have no problem with Justice Marshall, just with his “judicial philosophy.” As Bond makes clear, that’s not a new—or convincing--argument.

For a refresher, take a look at the compilation of Marshall attacks Talking Points Memo put together after the first day of the Kagan hearings:
 

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Target apologizes, but will stay in politics

Why would two companies that received 100% ratings from the Human Rights Campaign's 2010 Corporate Equality Index give a combined $250,000 to a group backing a candidate with extreme anti-gay views? According to Target's CEO, the company was only trying to advance "policies aligned with our business objectives" when it contributed $150,000 to Minnesota Forward, a group whose sole purpose is to support the candidacy of State Rep. Tom Emmer, the Republican nominee for governor of Minnesota.

MN Forward is a creation of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership, and its top priority is, of course, lowering the corporate tax rate. In fact, MN Forward is led by Brian McClung, who previously served as "government affairs director for the Twin West Chamber of Commerce" and ran the "group's political-action committee." Benefiting from the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the organization already raised $1.1 million, much of it from corporate donors like Hubbard Broadcasting, Red Wing Shoe Co., Federated Insurance and Davisco Foods. Ultimately, MNForward hopes to obtain $2 to $5 million in order to run advertisements across the state promoting Emmer.

It's not a surprise that big business has rallied around Emmer, who repeatedly voted against consumer protection laws, such as "good faith" requirements for insurance companies, and raising the minimum wage. In fact, Emmer was rewarded with a perfect 100% rating from the Chamber of Commerce for his 2010 voting record. But Emmer is not only a consistent defender of corporations in the State House, but is also a leading opponent of gay rights.

He voted against a bill that would permit same-sex domestic partners to have rights over the burial of their deceased partners, and also opposed allowing domestic partners of state employees to collect health insurance. Emmer even voted against legislation that would mandate anti-bullying policies in public schools to protect LGBT youth. When a local Christian rock band's lead singer called the execution of gays "moral," Emmer refused to condemn the band, and instead called them "nice people."

While Emmer declined to denounce the viciously anti-gay rock band he has financially supported, he did take the opportunity to blast critics of corporate influence in elections as enemies of free speech.

In the end, faced with an outcry from shareholders and a boycott from consumers, Target's CEO apologized for the donations. However, the company did not say that it would stop making contributions; instead, it will create a review board to oversee future contributions.

No word yet from BestBuy and other companies who have financially backed MN Forward.

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The Wrong Lesson To Learn From the Kagan Confirmation

Over at The Atlantic, Max Fisher draws some conclusions from the Kagan confirmation, and I think he’s pulled together a pretty good summation of what folks in Washington are thinking—but that doesn’t mean they’re right.

Fisher argues that since 37 votes were cast against Kagan, and since the GOP could pick up Senate seats in November, Obama will be forced to nominate a “moderate.”

Not so fast.

The fact that 37 Senators voted against Elena Kagan is a sign that Senate Republicans will fight anyone who gets nominated to the high court, no matter how unobjectionable (a fact that’s borne out by their disgraceful treatment of lower court nominees.) If Republicans are willing to attack a Supreme Court nominee endorsed by Jack Goldsmith, Miguel Estrada, Ken Starr and Ted Olson, they’re not going to let anyone off without a food fight.

Will more Republicans mean a bigger fight next time? Maybe, but there’s nothing to be done about it. President Obama should consider himself free to nominate whoever he wants: if we’re going to fight, it might as well be a fight worth having.

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Celebrating Elena Kagan's Confirmation

I'm just back from a reception at the White House celebrating the confirmation of Elena Kagan to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The mood was truly upbeat, with everyone thrilled at the reality of three women sitting on the Supreme Court. I got to congratulate soon-to-be Justice Kagan and tell her how truly excellent and inspiring I thought her testimony was.

 

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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:


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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.
 

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Senate Sends Kagan to the Supreme Court

The Senate just confirmed Elena Kagan to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The vote was 63-37, with five Republicans voting to confirm her, and one Democrat (Ben Nelson of Nebraska) opposing her.

People For’s President, Michael Keegan, said:

“Americans should be proud that Elena Kagan was confirmed to the Supreme Court today. She brings to the bench sterling credentials and a formidable intellect. Her commitment to the Constitution and equal justice under law will serve the Court well in the decades ahead.

“During her hearings, Elena Kagan spoke powerfully about the Constitution as a timeless document, constructed by its framers to be interpreted over time in light of new situations and in new contexts. She articulated 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. Solicitor General Kagan made clear that she has the intellectual fortitude and the command of the law to keep faith with our Constitution--its amendments, its history, and its core values like justice and equality under the law.

“Thanks to today’s vote, the Supreme Court will have three female Justices for the first time in our nation’s history. This is an historic step forward for all Americans, and an advancement of which every citizen should be proud.”
 

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Hatch: Defense of Thurgood Marshall is “Offensive”

Watching the Senate debate on Elena Kagan’s nomination yesterday afternoon, I wasn’t sure I heard correctly when Sen. Orrin Hatch called the backlash against the GOP’s anti-Thurgood Marshall campaign “offensive.” I heard correctly. Here’s the transcript:

While Ms. Kagan has not herself been a judge, she has singled out for particular praise judges who share this activist judicial philosophy. In a tribute she wrote for her mentor, Justice Thurgood Marshall, for example, she described his belief that the Supreme Court today has a mission to “safeguard the interests of people who had no other champion.” Ms. Kagan did more than simply describe Justice Marshall’s judicial philosophy but wrote: “And however much some recent Justices have sniped at that vision, it remains a thing of glory.”

Justice Marshall was a pioneering leader in the civil rights movement. He blazed trails, he empowered generations, he led crusades. But he was also an activist Supreme Court Justice. He proudly took the activist side in the judicial philosophy debate. Some on the other side have suggested that honestly identifying Justice Marshall’s judicial philosophy for what it is somehow disparages Justice Marshall himself. I assume that this ridiculous and offensive notion is their way of changing the subject because they cannot defend an activist, politicized role for judges.

Among the members of the GOP who continue to cling to this line of attack, variations of the “I’m not disparaging Justice Marshall, I just don’t like his judicial philosophy” argument are a mainstay. The problem is, Justice Marshall’s work as a Supreme Court Justice—or his “judicial philosophy”—is a key part of his legacy. He’s a hero for his years of work rooting out segregation as a lawyer for the NAACP; he’s also a hero for his adherence, as a Supreme Court justice, to the Constitution’s promise of “protecting individual freedoms and human rights.”

When Hatch attacks Marshall’s work as a justice, he attacks his entire legacy. I won’t call that “offensive”—but I can’t say it’s wise, either.
 

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A true non-partisan

During her confirmation hearing, Elena Kagan promised not to go into any case rooting for one “team” or the other.

But as Senator Dorgan pointed out today, it sometimes seems that the current court is inappropriately divided into “teams” – and the team that is on the side of the nation’s most powerful interests and against everyday Americans is winning.

During his confirmation, Justice Roberts swore that he would be an “impartial umpire” as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court – but instead, he’s presided over the most ideologically conservative court in decades, one that bends the law to favor the powerful. We need a truly impartial, qualified Justice on the Supreme Court to make sure that the branch of our federal government that is supposed to be apolitical doesn’t continue to turn a blind eye to corporate lawbreaking. That is just the kind of nominee Elena Kagan is.

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A Justice Who Listens to Ordinary Americans

Senator Mikulski, herself a groundbreaking pioneer for women’s place in politics, re-affirmed Elena Kagan’s qualifications today. The current Court, noted Senator Mikulski, is increasingly out of touch with the majority of the American people. Elena Kagan, meanwhile, has spent her career demonstrating a concern for fairness and equality and the impact of the law on real people.

When the majority of our Supreme Court Justices are so frequently on the side of big corporations regardless of what the law says, we need someone like Kagan who will actually listen to “the little guy or gal.”

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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':

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Senator Cornyn Still Thinks “Judicial Activism” is a Liberal Phenomenon

Senator Cornyn’s sound bite today: “A judge who presumes to be a lawmaker becomes a lawbreaker.” That is, a Justice who decides based on a desired policy outcome rather than a correct interpretation of the Constitution is a “judicial activist” and has no right to serve on the Supreme Court.

It’s always amazing to hear an ultra conservative like Senator Cornyn complain about judges legislating from the bench. Does he think that the conservative block of the Roberts Court, which overturned a century of settled law in the Citizens United case to achieve their desired pro-corporate policy result, is made up of lawbreakers?

Senator Cornyn also emphasized that, if we disagree with a law or a Supreme Court decision, we have the right to work towards a constitutional amendment. We couldn’t agree with him more. That’s why we’re fighting for a constitutional amendment to correct Citizens United and once again limit corporate money in our elections.

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Kyl's Hypocrisy on the Kagan Nomination

Senator Jon Kyl just finished speaking against Elena Kagan's confirmation to the Supreme Court, but he seemed a bit confused. According to Kyl, he will vote against her because she believes that the role of the court is to solve society's problems. Kyl said that's the role of the legislature, not the courts.

Yet when our elected representatives HAVE acted to solve society's problems - to protect our elections from being bought by corporations, to protect people from defective medical devices, to protect workers from unfair discrimination by powerful corporations, to protect our environment from polluting corporations - the Roberts Court has gone out of its way to dismantle these protections.

How does Senator Kyl square his support for the arch-conservatives on the Court with his claim that the elected branches should be allowed to solve society's problems?

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Cardin Supports Kagan - and the American People

In support of Elena Kagan's nomination, Sen. Ben Cardin just did an excellent job of listing a few of the examples of how the Roberts Court has gone out of its way to rule against ordinary Americans and in favor of the powerful corporations who victimize them. In addition to the Citizens United and the Ledbetter cases, he mentioned the Gross case, where a 5-4 majority overruled precedent to limit the ability of victims of age discrimination to have their day in court.

Through their elected representatives in Congress, the American people have frequently acted to protect people from abuses of power - abuses that get people fired from their jobs, that poison the air we breathe and water we drink, and that take our elections away from us. Yet the Roberts Court is dedicated to twisting the law in order to strike down these efforts. Corporations win, people lose.

Take a look at our Foundation's Corporate Court report to read what Sen. Cardin is talking about.

Elena Kagan recognizes the role of the Court is protecting Americans from the abuse of power.

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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.
 

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Sessions Mistakes Kagan for Roberts

GOP Senator Jeff Sessions has taken to the Senate floor to oppose the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. He's accused Kagan of believing that judges can simply ignore the Constitution and replace it with her personal vision of what the law should be.

I think he's confusing Kagan for the five justices who decided in Citizens United that it was gigantic corporations who the founders had in mind when adopting the First Amendment. That's a vision of society totally at odds with what the founders had in mind, to say nothing of what the American people want. It's a vision shared only by extremist pro-business conservative ideologues.

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Leahy Calls the Robert Court on its Pro-Business Excess

Sen. Leahy just opened up the Senate debate on Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court with words that we all should pay attention to: "Law matters in people's lives." He referred to the Supreme Court’s attack against victims of discrimination in the Ledbetter case. Of course, he also mentioned Citizens United. Thanks to the activists on the Roberts Court, a corporation like BP can now spend hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat candidates who want to improve regulations on offshore drilling. The Roberts Court is anything but the modest and restrained Court that then-Judge Roberts discussed at his own confirmation hearings.

These cases are just the tip of the iceberg. The Roberts Court has been bending the law regularly to favor powerful corporations. At last, they are being called on it.

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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.

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GOP’s Citizens United Hypocrisy

As we witness the growing influx of corporate spending in elections from Kentucky to Minnesota as a result of the Citizens United ruling, campaigns across the country are bracing for a barrage of corporate expenditures. Senate Republicans claim that by refusing to allow the DISCLOSE Act to come up for a vote, they are defending free speech rights established by the Court. But Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute criticizes the Republicans’ dangerously selective view of the Citizens United decision. While the 5-4 decision grants for-profit corporations the same free speech rights as individuals, the Court also ruled 8-1 to affirm the government’s right to enact rigorous campaign disclosure laws:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who holds the undisputed twin titles of No. 1 campaign finance anti-reformer and No. 1 hypocrite, once said he didn't understand why a little disclosure is better than a lot of disclosure. Now the Kentucky Republican is leading his party and outside activists in spurning the clear, 8-1 mandate of the Roberts Supreme Court in the Citizens United decision to encourage robust disclosure, as they call the disclosure they once championed a horrendous burden and even an unconstitutional blockage of free speech.

Even though Senate Republicans defend Citizens United, going so far as to compare it to Brown v. Board of Education, they appear to dismiss the Supreme Court’s approval of disclosure requirements to prevent secretive and misleading campaign practices by corporations. Like candidates running for office, CEOs of corporations should appear in their advertisements and go on record with their political expenditures, and publicly report money used for political purposes. As constitutional law expert Lawrence Tribe writes:

[F]ederal legislation should, at a minimum, build on the disclosure and disclaimer requirements that the Court upheld by an 8-1 vote in Citizens United, requirements specifying that electioneering communications funded by anyone other than the candidate must disclose who is “responsible for the content of this advertising” and must display on screen “in a clearly readable manner” for at least four seconds the name and address or website of whoever funded the communication.


 

 

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The Consequences of Citizens United

Ever since the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Citizens United case in January, we’ve been warning that the decision would empower corporations to funnel unlimited donations through shadow advocacy groups to directly influence elections.

And guess what? It’s begun.

Just as we (and President Obama) predicted, corporations are already forming and funding political action groups with innocuous sounding names to anonymously support candidates they like and attack candidates they don’t.

For example, the coal industry already has a plan to create a shadow organization to directly advocate against “anti-coal” candidates, obscuring the sources of the organization’s money as they go:

The companies hope to create a politically active nonprofit under Section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code, so they won't have to publicly disclose their activities — such as advertising — until they file a tax return next year, long after the Nov. 2 election.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last winter that corporations and labor unions may pour unlimited funds into such efforts to influence elections.

"With the recent Supreme Court ruling, we are in a position to be able to take corporate positions that were not previously available in allowing our voices to be heard," wrote Roger Nicholson, senior vice president and general counsel at International Coal Group of Scott Depot, W.Va., in an undated letter he sent to other coal companies.

Citizens United didn’t just, as some supporters have claimed, allow corporate voices to be heard; it granted corporations unprecedented influence in democratic elections while permitting them to hide their involvement. It’s shadow organizations like this that make one wonder: why are Senate Republicans filibustering the DISCLOSE Act, which would help make corporate involvement in elections more transparent?

Meanwhile, the Minnesota gubernatorial race is providing another textbook example of the problems Citizens United is already causing for our democracy. Taking advantage of their new ability to pour limitless money into elections, several big corporations, including the retail giant Target, donated $100,000 each to a shadow group called Minnesota Forward, which has already produced an ad for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer.

Public reaction to Target’s involvement in the race shows just why many politically involved corporations would prefer to remain anonymous:

Emmer is well known as a hardline conservative on social issues. For instance; he opposes gay marriage — a stance that angers some of Target's employees and customers. The company has been known for its gay-friendly employment policies.

Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel tried to address such concerns today with a letter to employees. He wrote, that "inclusiveness remains a core value of our company." That said, he added, "I consider it my responsibility to create conditions in which Target can thrive." And Minnesota Forward has pegged Emmer as the pro-growth candidate.

If the Senate had passed the DISCLOSE Act yesterday, Minnesota Forward would have to be a lot more forthcoming about the sources of its funding. As long as DISCLOSE is filibustered, the group has a lot more leeway for behind-the-scenes political activity. (And, until Congress passes a Shareholder Protection Act, even Target’s shareholders won’t be able to have a say in which political candidates their money is going to support). Voters and consumers have the right to know whether a corporation’s political money is where its mouth is.

Health insurance companies, too, are banding together to take advantage of the newly permissive electioneering rules:

Five of the nation’s largest health insurers are in serious discussions about creating a new nonprofit group and bankrolling it to the tune of about $20 million to influence tight congressional races and boost the image of their industry.

… “The objective is to make the House more accommodating to concerns that have been raised,” says one industry source. “They’re looking at toss-up candidates,” adding that the companies want to “focus resources to influence campaigns.”

Needless to say, like the coal companies, health insurance groups will not have to make their donations to such an advocacy organization public.

A stunning 85% of Americans agree that corporations already have too much influence on our elections; now we have proof that the Citizens United ruling is giving corporations even more power in our democracy. The proliferation of shadow groups doing the dirty work of big corporations makes the task of amending the Constitution to protect our elections from corporate money all the more urgent.

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