Fair and Just Courts

Breaking: Judge Strikes Down Ban on Same-Sex Marriage in Utah

Adding to this week’s great news on marriage equality, today U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban, which was put into the state constitution by referendum in 2004.

One of the far right’s standard attacks on the increasing number of judicial opinions striking down discriminatory marriage laws is that judges are “redefining marriage” and “usurping the legislature.”  No doubt they will do so again in this case.  Fortunately, Judge Shelby opens his opinion with a brief but important explanation of how the American constitutional system works:

The issue the court must address in this case is therefore not who should define marriage, but the narrow question of whether Utah’s current definition of marriage is permissible under the Constitution.…

[T]he legal issues presented in this lawsuit do not depend on whether Utah’s laws were the result of its legislature or a referendum, or whether the laws passed by the widest or smallest of margins. The question presented here depends instead on the Constitution itself…

In his opinion, Judge Shelby also takes apart the harmful, bogus argument that preventing same-sex couples from marrying somehow “elevate[s] the status of opposite-sex marriage”:

Rather than protecting or supporting the families of opposite-sex couples, Amendment 3 perpetuates inequality by holding that the families and relationships of same-sex couples are not now, nor ever will be, worthy of recognition. Amendment 3 does not thereby elevate the status of opposite-sex marriage; it merely demeans the dignity of same-sex couples. And while the State cites an interest in protecting traditional marriage, it protects that interest by denying one of the most traditional aspects of marriage to thousands of its citizens: the right to form a family that is strengthened by a partnership based on love, intimacy, and shared responsibilities. The Plaintiffs’ desire to publicly declare their vows of commitment and support to each other is a testament to the strength of marriage in society, not a sign that, by opening its doors to all individuals, it is in danger of collapse.  (Emphasis added.)

Congratulations, Utah!

PFAW

Six Ways Senate Republicans Are Still Obstructing Judicial Nominations

In recent weeks, Senate Republicans have found diverse ways to escalate their obstruction of judicial nominations.
PFAW

Escalated GOP Obstruction Provokes Talk of Committee Changes

Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy may reform his "blue slip" policy, which Republicans have abused to torpedo qualified judicial nominees.
PFAW

Senate GOP Living Up to Right Wing Vow to be a "Resistance Movement"

With this week's escalated obstruction of judicial nominees, the Senate GOP is acting more like a "resistance movement" than a responsible political party.
PFAW

GOP Blocks Judiciary Committee From Even Meeting

The Senate GOP has escalated their campaign of obstruction to prevent the Judiciary Committee from even meeting.
PFAW

Roberts Court Leaves Workers and Employers Hanging

A case dismissal leaves intact a damaging lower court opinion whose questionable validity prompted the dismissal.
PFAW Foundation

McConnell to Participate in Recess Appointments Case

The Roberts Court will let the GOP leader participate in oral arguments in a constitutional case that his party's obstruction engendered.
PFAW

Senators Use PFAW Chart to Show Unprecedented Nature of GOP Obstruction

In their press conference following yesterday’s vote to change the Senate rules on filibusters, Democratic senators used a chart provided by PFAW to outline the extremity and unprecedented nature of the GOP’s obstruction of President Obama’s nominees.

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Photos by J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press via The Washington Post

PFAW

They Tried to Break the Federal Government. Now They're Going After the Courts.

The astounding show of Republican recklessness that led to last month's government shutdown made one thing very clear. The new Republican Party -- the one ruled by the Tea Party -- isn't interested in making our government work. They want to break it.

Now, as if shutting down the government of the United States, furloughing hundreds of thousands of government employees, wasting billions of dollars and threatening to wreck America's economy wasn't enough, Republicans in Congress have set their sights on a new target: our justice system.

Yesterday, Senate Republicans took their campaign against our government to a whole new level when they blocked the nomination of Nina Pillard to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is widely considered to be the nation's second-highest court behind the Supreme Court.

Pillard is one of President Obama's three nominees to fill vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, which is currently operating with nearly one-third of its active judgeships vacant. All three nominees have extraordinary professional qualifications. All three have support from across the ideological spectrum. Yet Senate Republicans are vowing to filibuster all three simply because they were nominated by President Obama.

One of the most basic functions of the U.S. Senate is to provide "advice and consent" to the president on his nominations to executive agencies and to the federal courts. For most of our country's history, the Senate has generally taken this constitutional order responsibly, using its power to block only nominees whom senators found unqualified or dangerously far out of the mainstream. That is, until now.

The same party that shut down the government in an attempt to nullify a duly-enacted law that it does not like is now trying to prevent a twice-elected president from filling vacancies on an important court -- a duty entrusted to him by the Constitution.

There's a reason Republican obstructionists have targeted the D.C. Circuit. The court has the last word on important federal laws and administrative rules on issues ranging from clean air regulations to workers' rights to cigarette labeling requirements to presidential recess appointments. Basically, just about any area that we regulate through our federal government is going to be affected by the D.C. Circuit. And it is currently dominated by conservative ideologues: nine of the 14 judges on the court (including "active" judges and senior judges who participate in panel decisions) were nominated by Republican presidents seeking to remake the courts in their ideological image.

Republicans want to keep it this way. President Obama has nominated five people to the court, yet Senate Republicans have allowed only one of these nominees to so much as receive a confirmation vote. By comparison, the Senate confirmed four of George W. Bush's nominees to the court and eight of Ronald Reagan's. In fact, the ninth, tenth, and eleventh seats that Republicans today demand remain vacant are ones that they ensured were filled when George W. Bush was president.

To give you an idea of just how conservative this court is as a result, just this month a George W. Bush nominee and a George H.W. Bush nominee ruled that employers who oppose birth control should be able to deny their employees access to affordable contraception through their insurance plans -- an absurd twisting of the true meaning of religious liberty. A few months ago, the court ruled that a law requiring employers to display a poster listing employees' legal rights violates the free speech rights of the employers. No, really!

Unable to win national elections, Republicans are trying to hold on to what power they still have -- and that includes control of the powerful D.C. Circuit. Just like they couldn't accept that the Affordable Care Act was the law of the land, the Tea Party won't admit that Americans chose President Obama to be the one making picks to the federal courts.

The Tea Party thinks that it has some sort of intellectual property claim on the U.S. Constitution. But sometimes I wonder if its leaders have even read it.

Cross-posted from Huffington Post.

PFAW

Ponnuru Uses Discredited Arguments on DC Circuit

The simple act of making nominations to existing judicial vacancies isn't court-packing, no matter how many times you say it is.
PFAW

Our Country Deserves Better than ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws

The following is a guest post from Elder Jabari Paul, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action, following last week’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on Stand Your Ground laws.

My perspective on Stand Your Ground laws (SYG) is shaped by my experience and calling as a young African American clergyman and as a native of Florida, the first state to pass this type of legislation. I believe that these laws raise important questions about the moral values of our country.

The debate around SYG comes during challenging times in America – times when the political landscape is starkly divided and mass slayings in public settings are much too frequent.  These laws have been divisive policies since the first one passed in October 2005 in Florida. Public contentiousness surrounding SYG can be traced back to the choices of many politicians to ignore the will of the majority on SYG laws and to push the agendas of powerful and moneyed interest groups, like the National Rifle Association. SYG has been a wedge issue because politicians, particularly conservatives, have supported such laws to placate their base in spite of a lack of need for these laws.

Stand Your Ground has been championed by its supporters as a type of law that is necessary to prevent crime in urban areas and to protect citizens from the violence of “thugs.” These arguments have clear racial undertones. Words like “urban” and “thug” have been used since America’s post-Reconstruction days to speak in coded language about African Americans and other minorities. SYG tramples upon the civil rights of those perceived to be a threat. The tragedy of these laws is compounded when the person attacked is killed and only their attacker has an opportunity to tell what happened.

As a Christian, minister and an African American male under 35, my views on SYG are shaped by my culture and my religious beliefs. I believe that SYG perpetuates violence in a society that already knows violence too well. Jesus Christ taught the opposite of violence – love. In His renowned “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” In these verses, Jesus is stressing that violence should be the last form of recourse in any situation. SYG, on the other hand, justifies and can even facilitate violence.

Our country deserves better than this. The United States of America is called, and no doubt is, the greatest nation in world. It’s time for our elected officials to drastically amend or repeal Stand Your Ground laws.

PFAW

Scalia's Nightmare: Evil Foreigners Impose Marriage Equality on U.S.

In coming up with a scary hypothetical regarding the limits of congressional authority, Scalia turns to marriage equality.
PFAW Foundation

Judges Delayed, Justice Denied: PFAW's Drew Courtney Discusses the DC Circuit on MSNBC

People For the American Way Director of Communications Drew Courtney appeared on Disrupt with Karen Finney this weekend to discuss Senate Republicans’ reckless obstruction of President Obama’s nominees to the important Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Watch the segment here:

PFAW