Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has for months been single-handedly holding up the nomination of William Thomas, an openly gay African American Miami judge, to a federal district court.
Rubio’s indefinite hold on Thomas’ nomination is one of the most egregious examples yet of Senate Republicans using the obscure “blue slip” procedure to prevent home-state judicial nominees from even having a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Under a Senate custom that has varied over time Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy will not advance a nominees’ consideration -- won’t even hold a hearing, let alone take a vote -- until both of that nominee’s home-state senators return a “blue slip” giving their permission for a nomination to go forward. The blue slip doesn’t indicate a senator’s approval of the nominee – the senator is still free to vote against the nominee and to lobby their fellow senators to do the same. It just means that the nominee can be considered by the Judiciary Committee and then the full Senate. But if just one senator doesn’t return a blue slip, the nomination won’t see the light of day.
Republican senators have been routinely using this tactic of withholding blue slips in order to slow-walk President Obama’s judicial nominees. Currently, five nominees are being held back because one or both senators have refused to return blue slips. And all are women or people of color.
Because the blue slip process is secretive and little-known, senators are often able to get away with holding nominees this way with little public pressure and no public explanation.
Rubio, however, faced pressure from the Florida legal community in recent weeks for his failure to return blue slips for Thomas and another Florida nominee, Brian Davis. The senator finally gave in under pressure and allowed Davis’ nomination to go forward, but is digging in his heels on his blockade of Thomas.
Rubio’s stated reasons for blocking Thomas’ nomination are exceptionally flimsy. He has cited two cases where he claims Thomas gave insufficiently harsh sentences in criminal trials; in one case, even the prosecutor has defended Thomas’ judgment and a local judge has written to Rubio to correct the record. In the other case the senator cites, Judge Thomas sentenced the defendant to death, which Rubio seems to think was insufficiently harsh. It is clear that there is no merit to the senator’s claims. Holding hearings on this nominee would help clarify that, if they were allowed to take place.
The real reason for Rubio’s blockade and his smear of Judge Thomas’ character, writes Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm, is plain and simple “crass Tea Party politics.”
Rubio has stated no compelling reason why Thomas should not have a hearing before the Judiciary Committee, where he can answer any of Rubio’s alleged concerns in the public record.
The Senate today confirmed Justice Department attorney Todd Hughes to a federal appeals court, making him the highest-ranking openly gay federal judge in U.S. history.
President Obama has nominated more openly gay men and women to the federal courts than all his predecessors combined – by a long shot. So far, the Senate has confirmed seven openly gay Obama nominees to federal district courts. Before Obama’s presidency, there had been just one openly gay federal judge, Clinton nominee Deborah Batts.
Two other openly gay district court nominees are still in committee, but one of them –openly gay district court nominee, Florida’s William Thomas – is currently being held up indefinitely by Sen. Marco Rubio.
But today, the Senate’s attention is on Todd Hughes, who will be the newest judge on the Federal Circuit. The Washington Post outlines Hughes’ impressive credentials:
Hughes, who has served as deputy director of the commercial litigation branch of the Justice Department's civil division since 2007, has specialized in the kinds of issues that come up before the bench on which he will soon sit. Unlike the other 12 Circuit Courts of Appeals, the Federal Circuit specializes in a handful of designated issues including international trade, government contracts, patents, trademarks, veterans' benefits, and public safety officers' benefits claims. Hughes could not be reached for a comment.
Geovette Washington, who is the Office of Management and Budget's general counsel and has been friends with Hughes since they attended law school together, described him as "a problem solver" who "can do very complicated constitutional issues," but also brings a degree of pragmatism to cases.
"I have always been amazed by how intelligent he is, but also how practical he is," she said, adding that Hughes is well prepared for the Federal Circuit because he's appeared before it so many times. "He's dug in and done the hard work on those issues."
Yesterday, we brought you the story of the Corbett administration comparing gay marriage to marriage between 12-year-olds. Now, Governor Corbett is attempting to tamp down criticism without making any substantive changes to policy. A brief filed by his administration argued that gay marriage licenses had no “value or legitimacy” and that issuing those licenses would be like issuing marriage licenses to 12-year-olds:
“Had the clerk issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each 12-year-old . . . is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his ‘license’?”
On Thursday, Corbett admitted that “[t]he analogy chosen in the legal brief filed on August 28th is inappropriate." Whoa, settle down, Governor— “inappropriate?” Strong word there, that’s some real no-holds barred talk.
Generous as it is of Corbett to acknowledge this comparison was inappropriate—let alone offensive, dumb and condescending—this admission doesn’t change much. The brief still stands; the lawsuit to stop marriage licenses being issued in Montgomery County will continue; and the officials who wrote the brief still work for the governor. The official who wrote this, who thinks that gay people are as incapable of legitimate consent as children, is still a part of the state government, charged with serving the people of Pennsylvania and representing their interests. Sadly, though, with Corbett as governor, a weak apology like this might be the best we can hope for.
This weekend People For the American Way Foundation turned out en masse for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington.
Some could remember the original march well. Some had driven across the country to be there on Saturday.
Our reasons for being there were as diverse as the range of topics covered by the speakers. Some wanted to see an end to Stand Your Ground laws; others spoke in support of immigration reform, LGBT equality, or voting rights.
But everyone stood in solidarity with those who marched half a century ago, while calling attention to the ongoing need to fight for social, economic, and racial justice. Everyone raised their voices in support of justice for all.
We saw Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) – just 23 years old when he spoke at the original March on Washington – take the podium again, speaking passionately about the need to protect the right to vote. He called it “precious…almost sacred.” Lewis recalled:
I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote.…I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us.
Members of the PFAW Foundation family also took the podium. Young People For (YP4) alum Sophia Campos spoke in personal terms about the need for change in immigration policies, saying:
I grew up in this country undocumented. My family is immigrant… A million people have been deported in the last five years….It’s our black and brown bodies in these cells that are being detained.
Another YP4 alum, Dream Defenders leader Phil Agnew, also spoke at the rally, calling on young people to take the lead in the progressive movement. Young people, he said, are “here today to join in a conversation that will shake the very foundations of this capital.”
And Rev. Charles Williams, an active member of PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, was named by the event organizers as being part of the next generation of leaders.
We came to honor those who marched 50 years ago, but also to call attention to the critical justice issues facing our country today. As PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan wrote last week:
That’s what this week is about: making sure that we, as a country, continue to strive to fulfill the promise of justice for all -- the American Way.
Events commemorating the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom are already under way in Washington, D.C. If you live in the capital area or nearby, you may want to attend events at the Lincoln Memorial this Saturday, August 24th or next Wednesday, August 28th , or one of dozens of other events. The A. Philip Randolph Institute, for example is holding its 44th annual education conference and youth conference in honor of Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the organizers of the March who appeared on the cover of Life Magazine’s September 6, 1963 issue. You can find information about events here and here.
Whether or not you can get to Washington, you can catch major events on television. And you might want to get started tonight – Friday, August 23 – with the PBS re-broadcast of an award-winning documentary about author and advocate James Baldwin. James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket will be shown on PBS stations as part of the American Masters program. Broadcast times vary so check your local station’s listings. PBS will also host on interactive online screening at 5:00 pm eastern on August 28th.
For a reminder of why it’s important to know our history, and prevent it from being co-opted, see People For the American Way President Michael Keegan’s new Huffington Post op-ed, Don’t Let the Right Wing Co-opt King.
Recently The New York Times reminded us that Representative John Lewis is still marching on Washington, 50 years later.
On August 28, 1963, as the 23-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis took the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Tomorrow, as the 73-year-old representative from Georgia's 5th congressional district, he will commemorate the 50th anniversary of those remarks.
Representative Lewis returns to the podium as the sole surviving speaker from the March on Washington.
Here at YP4 we know that “justice for all” is an expansive idea that includes pushing for and protecting civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT equality and more. It means rededicating ourselves to the promise of vibrant, safe, democratic communities. It means fighting for a country where our voices are not drowned out by massive corporate spending to influence our elections. It means standing up to groups like ALEC which push extreme laws threatening the wellbeing of our communities, such as the “Stand Your Ground” laws that YP4 alumni like [Phillip] Agnew – leader of the Dream Defenders in Florida – have been fighting to change.
In other words, we know that “justice for all” is a promise that has yet to be realized.
Join us tomorrow as Representative Lewis and others once again bring the struggle for jobs, justice, and freedom back to the nation's capital. Check out MLKDREAM50 for information on the full week of events.
Guest post from Reverend Dr. Geraldine Pemberton, Assistant Pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Philadelphia and member of PFAW Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council.
As a 74 year old retired nurse, I can remember the original March on Washington well. I wasn’t able to be there in person that day, but many of my family members were. After marching with Dr. King and more than 200,000 other Americans, they were inspired to come home and fight for justice.
I myself am of the Jim Crow era. The injustices that Dr. King described that day as the “chains of discrimination” were injustices I faced first-hand. My father, who was born in North Carolina, would take my family down from Philadelphia for visits to his home state. He would try to prepare us as much as he could, but it was always overwhelming. I remember that once we passed the Mason-Dixon line, we couldn’t use most bathrooms. We would have to use outhouses behind gas stations instead.
Today I can see how far we’ve come, but also how much further we still have to go. I have spent much of my life fighting the injustices that drove the first March on Washington, especially health disparities facing women of color. Justice, I have learned, is a very big umbrella that must include equality for women. A just society has to be one that values women’s voices and fights back against health disparities that threaten black women’s lives.
Twenty years after that march, I went to another major event that inspired people from all over to drop what they were doing and travel across the country – the 1983 Spelman College conference on women’s health, which birthed what is now the Black Women’s Health Imperative. My friend and I saw a flyer for it but didn’t think we could afford to go. We maxed out our credit cards and drove down to Atlanta. Thousands of women showed up for the conference – young women, older women, women with children, women who had hitchhiked there. We just showed up - we had to be there.
That conference unfolded into a lifetime of work in pursuit of improving the health outcomes of African American women. As a former Director of Nursing and a current Health Committee Director for an alliance of Black clergy in Philadelphia, I know that women of color need improved access to care and greater provider sensitivity. Women need more information on the diseases that affect us most. And as a 74 year old Philadelphian, I’m still fighting for women’s health and justice. This year I am organizing health forums at churches throughout the city to give women more information about diseases, healthy living, and greater access to health services though the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act commonly known as “Obamacare.”
The first health forum is this weekend – fifty years after the March on Washington. In so many ways, we are still marching.
It's been a week of mixed emotions for those of us who care about civil rights. There was the elation today when the Supreme Court overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act -- the discriminatory law that has hurt so many Americans in its nearly 17 years of existence -- and let marriage equality return to California. There was the anger when the Court twisted the law to make it harder for workers and consumers to take on big corporations. And there was the disbelief and outrage when the Court declared that a key part of the Voting Rights Act that was so important and had worked so well was now somehow no longer constitutional.
But throughout the week, I have been reminded of one thing: how grateful I am that Mitt Romney will not be picking the next Supreme Court justice.
It remains true that this Supreme Court is one of the most right-leaning in American history. The majority's head-in-the-sand decision on the Voting Rights Act -- declaring that the VRA isn't needed anymore because it's working so well -- was a stark reminder of why we need to elect presidents who will nominate Supreme Court justices who understand both the text and history of the Constitution and the way it affects real people's lives.
We were reminded of this again today when all the conservative justices except for Anthony Kennedy stood behind the clearly unconstitutional DOMA. Justice Antonin Scalia -- no stranger to anti-gay rhetoric -- wrote an apoplectic rant of a dissent denying the Court's clear role in preserving equal protection. If there had been one more far-right justice on the court, Scalia's dissent could have been the majority opinion.
Just think of how different this week would have been if Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were not on the court and if John McCain had picked two justices instead. We almost certainly wouldn't have a strong affirmation of LGBT equality. Efforts to strip people of color of their voting rights would likely have stood with fewer justices in dissent. And the rights of workers and consumers could be in even greater peril.
As the Republican party moves further and further to the right, it is trying to take the courts with it. This week, we saw what that means in practice. As we move forward to urge Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act and reinforce protections for workers and consumers, and work to make sure that marriage equality is recognized in all states, we must always remember the courts. Elections have real consequences. These Supreme Court decisions had less to do with evolving legal theory than with who appointed the justices. Whether historically good or disastrous, all these decisions were decided by just one vote. In 2016, let's not forget what happened this week.
The Supreme Court today ruled that the core section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. DOMA’s Section 3, which the Court vacated, prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, thereby hitting legally married gay and lesbian couples with extra taxes and depriving them of a slew of federal protections.
People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan said of the Supreme Court’s ruling: “Today’s DOMA ruling is a profound step forward for loving, committed same-sex couples across the country. The decision is premised on the plain fact that there is no good reason for the government to recognize some legally married couples while discriminating against others.”
PFAW launched a campaign to “Dump DOMA” in 2008. Since then, our petition calling on Congress to repeal the discriminatory law has gathered 230,000 signatures.
But the effort to overturn DOMA is not over. While Section 3 was the law’s most damaging provision, DOMA’s Section 2, which says that states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, still stands. We will continue to work to overturn the remainder of DOMA and ensure that all gay and lesbian Americans have the right to marriage, no matter which state they make their home.
While our work continues, today’s decision represents a historic turning point for equality. DOMA will no longer tear apart binational couples. It will no longer impose a “gay tax” on legally married same-sex couples. It will no longer deny benefits to same-sex spouses of federal employees. It will no longer deny gay and lesbian veterans benefits for their spouses.
The story of Edith Windsor, the plaintiff who brought DOMA to the Supreme Court, and Thea Spyer, her late wife and partner of 40 years, illustrates what this decision will mean to so many Americans:
Last Tuesday Delaware Governor Jack Markell wrote that in his state, it is high time “our laws reflect our values.” The bill in question was the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act of 2013, which adds gender identity to the state’s hate crime prevention and non-discrimination laws. As Gov. Markell pointed out,
“Under our State's laws, it is currently legal to fire someone, deny them housing, or throw them out of a restaurant simply because they are transgender. This is simply not the Delaware way…”
And it’s not the American way. With bipartisan support in the state House and Senate, the bill passed the Delaware legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Markell Wednesday evening, making Delaware the 17th state with an employment non-discrimination law covering gender identity in addition to sexual orientation.
This is a profound victory for transgender Delawareans like Jay Campbell, who has so far felt unable to come out in his workplace. Campbell told the News Journal of Wilmington earlier this month,
“Without basic protection from discrimination, I can’t afford to tell my employer. I can’t obtain health coverage for the fear I’ll be outed and fired.”
Campbell shares this concern with other transgender – as well as lesbian, gay, and bisexual – people across the country. In the majority of U.S. states, it remains legal to fire someone for being LGBT. This means that far too many people find themselves forced to choose between risking their livelihoods and undertaking the painful work of hiding who they are, day after day.
Today’s victory in Delaware underscores the need for employment protections for LGBT workers in every state through the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. This common-sense solution would help ensure that employees like Campbell are judged by how well they do their job, not by who they are or who they love.
Yesterday afternoon the Delaware Senate passed a historic civil rights bill adding gender identity to the state’s hate crime prevention and non-discrimination laws. Despite damaging lies about transgender Americans pushed by organizations like Focus on the Family and the Delaware Family Policy Council, the state Senate approved the bill in an 11-7 vote.
Sarah McBride of Equality Delaware said,
“The Senate vote today inspired a lot of hope in me and I’m sure that’s true for many other transgender people across Delaware. It was inspiring to see a majority of the Senators stand up for a group that has seen disproportionate levels of discrimination and violence.”
If enacted, Delaware will become the 17th state with an employment non-discrimination law that covers gender identity in addition to sexual orientation.