Judicial Crisis Network

Conservative Groups Urge Maximum Obstruction Of Hillary Clinton's Judicial Nominees

At a Values Voter Summit panel this weekend, top conservative legal groups promised that if Hillary Clinton becomes president, they will pressure GOP senators to obstruct her judicial nominees to the greatest extent possible, including attempting to prevent her from replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network, Phillip Jauregui of the Judicial Action Group, and David Christensen and Mandi Ancalle of the Family Research Council discussed what they would urge the president and the Senate to do in the first 100 days of the next presidency. In the case of a Clinton presidency and a Republican-controlled Senate, they promised maximum obstruction of judicial nominees.

Severino, who once called Judge Merrick Garland “the best scenario we could hope for” in an Obama Supreme Court nominee and said that “of those the president could nominate, we could do a lot worse” than Garland, predictably changed her tune once Obama actually did nominate Garland to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court. At the Values Voter Summit, Severino insisted that senators would “effectively nullify their oath to uphold the Constitution” by voting to confirm Garland.

“Say you’re in a state where there’s no chance on who’s going to win on the president’s side, it’s so important to remember how significant these senatorial races are, because the senators also had an oath to the Constitution,” she said. “They have to uphold and defend the Constitution. That means, when it comes to a vote for a nominee, so even if it is someone who is absolutely not going to uphold the Constitution as it is written, like Merrick Garland even, even if he does come to a vote—and I suspect that if he remains the nominee into the next presidency, he probably would come up for hearings and a vote at some point—our senators simply cannot be voting for someone that would effectively nullify their oath to uphold the Constitution. So I think we have to remember to remind our senators of that.”

Severino dismissed the idea of the Republican Senate confirming Garland in a lame duck session if Clinton wins the election, saying that if Clinton becomes president and renominates Garland or picks someone “more radical” for the court, GOP senators could stall proceedings and “maybe we'll have eight justices for awhile.” When asked how long she thought it would be realistic for a GOP senate to block a Clinton nominee to the court, she said, “I think the court could really function as long as it needed to with eight justices.”

She said that the “best case scenario” under a Clinton presidency would be if Clinton worked with Republicans in the Senate to pick a nominee who “did actually have a record of upholding the Constitution”; it’s unclear who she thinks such a nominee could be, since she previously called Garland the “best scenario” for a Democratic Supreme Court nominee.

Severino’s message that the Senate should obstruct just about any Hillary Clinton nominee contradicts the claims made by her group and others that they are merely blocking President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee because the decision on who to appoint to the Supreme Court should be left to the next president. (In the words of a Judicial Crisis Network ad: “This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats. It’s about your voice. You choose the next president, the next president chooses the next justice.”)

The Judicial Action Group’s Jauregui impressed upon the activists in the room that they would also have to be prepared to “fight vigorously” on nominations to the lower federal courts under the next president, including closely monitoring a President Trump’s nominations. He praised the effort of Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz to prevent President Obama’s filling of judicial vacancies in their home state by refusing to turn in “blue slips” giving the go-ahead for hearings on nominees, hinting at an obstruction strategy conservative groups might urge GOP senators to use under a Clinton presidency.

Jauregui urged the current Republican Senate to vow now to keep the current rules barring filibusters of lower-court judicial nominees if they stay in power, no matter who becomes president, saying it would be “foolish to say the best” to do otherwise.

Severino agreed that it would be “just as well” to see the judicial filibuster abolished for good after Senate Democrats invoked the so-called “nuclear option” in the face of entrenched GOP obstruction in 2013. She said that eliminating the filibuster on judicial nominees would probably help conservatives in the long run.

“If you’re not using a weapon, you might as well not have it anyway,” she said. “So now I say, move on, I think we’re living in a world, unfortunately, a post-nuclear world where 51 votes is all you need for a nominee, and that in the long term may actually help in terms of getting some of these constitutionally sound judges on the court.”

Conservative Legal Leader: Thank McConnell And Grassley's Obstruction For DAPA Ruling

The Supreme Court issued a 4-4 tied ruling yesterday that by default upheld a lower court decision that had halted President Obama’s effort to provide temporary deportation relief to about five million undocumented immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens or greencard holders.

“Seldom have the hopes of so many been crushed by so few words,” attorney Walter Dellinger told The New York Times, referring to the nine-word decision upholding the lower court’s ruling.

The tie — which, while devastating for millions, does not set a national precedent, but does leave in place a nationwide injunction against the executive actions — was the result of a court that has been operating with only eight justices since the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. This is thanks to an unprecedented campaign of obstruction by Senate Republicans, who have refused to so much as hold a hearing on Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to fill the seat.

Yesterday’s ruling was exactly what those pushing for Republicans to hold a Supreme Court seat open for the next president — who they hope will be the fiercely anti-immigrant Donald Trump — were hoping for. In a blog post for the National Review today, Carrie Severino, whose Judicial Crisis Network has been the primary outside group pressuring Republicans to block Garland’s nomination, writes that it is thanks to Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and their allies in obstruction that millions of immigrants are now faced with more legal uncertainty:

Leader McConnell, Senator Grassley, and all the GOP Senators who have stood firm on this nomination should get much of the credit for today’s decision. They have upheld their own oaths to support and defend the Constitution, and deserve our thanks.​

Keep in mind that just a few months ago Severino’s group was arguing that their effort to keep the Supreme Court seat open had nothing to do with politics but was instead a high-minded effort to let “the people decide” who the next justice would be in the next presidential election. (Never mind that the people had already decided to reelect President Obama.)

Trump hit on a similar message in his response to the ruling, saying, “The election, and the Supreme Court appointments that come with it will decide whether or not we have a border and, hence, a country.”

GOP NY Senate Candidate Speaks To Militant Oath Keepers Group

Wendy Long, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in New York, spoke on Saturday to the state chapter of Oath Keepers, a radical anti-government group whose founder has called for the execution of Republican Sen. John McCain.

At the New York Oath Keepers event, Long thanked Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes “for founding this whole organization” and appealed to her audience by declaring that Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democrat whom she is hoping to unseat, is “one of the greatest enemies of the Constitution.”

“I am running against one of the greatest enemies of the Constitution, Chuck Schumer, in the United States Senate,” she said. “He’s an enemy not only of the Second Amendment — which, you know, everyone knows he’s the face of the anti-Second Amendment movement, which, by the way, is in great peril.”

Mentioning the recent Ninth Circuit ruling on concealed firearms, Long said, “The Second Amendment’s in great danger, as is the rest of the Constitution, as you all know.”

As it happens, Schumer was named at the event as one of the group’s “dirty dozen” of “great Marxist traitors in America.”

Long is the former leader of the Judicial Confirmation Network, a right-wing advocacy group that pushed for the confirmation of conservative judicial nominees during the Bush administration. The group is now called the Judicial Crisis Network and is leading the effort to obstruct President Obama's Supreme Court nominee.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center has explained, the “core idea” of the Oath Keepers “is that its members vow to forever support the oaths they took on joining law enforcement or the military to defend the Constitution.” But the reality of the organization is a constant stream of conspiracy theories feeding the idea that the federal government is out to get ordinary citizens and can only be stopped by armed Oath Keepers who answer directly the Constitution (or their interpretation of it).

As we wrote last month, “Rhodes, the group’s founder, regularly turns to the far-right media to promote conspiracy theories about a coming civil war in which the federal government will use some combination of race war, Jade Helm 15, gun laws, Ebola ,death campsBlack Lives Matter and radical Islamists to subdue an unarmed and unprepared population.”

The Oath Keepers were a major player in the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014, which Rhodes said afterward nearly “kicked off a civil war” between armed militias and the federal government. Last year, Rhodes said at an event in Arizona that McCain should be tried for treason and “hung by the neck until dead” for going “along with the program of the destruction of this country.”

Also speaking at the New York event was Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, a rising star in the conservative media, who accepted a Leadership Award from the group. Clarke, seemingly taking a page from Donald Trump, began his speech with several minutes of haranguing the media in attendance, to the delight of his audience, before saying that he would do “everything I can” to get Trump elected. He slammed Black Lives Matter as a “hate group” while comparing groups like the Oath Keepers to the Founding Fathers: “The Founding Fathers of this great nation were also once dubbed as a dangerous ‘Patriot group’ by the crown after they declared their independence.”

Rhodes also spoke, repeating his frequent warning that America is being “divided and conquered on racial lines” in a deliberate liberal attempt to undermine the country. John Faso, a former state assembly minority leader who is now running for a U.S. House seat, also spoke to the group.

GOP Senator Disputes 'People Ought To Decide' Message On Supreme Court Blockade

About an hour after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia was confirmed in February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shaped the tone of his party’s refusal to consider any person President Obama would nominate for the open seat on the court.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” McConnell said in a statement. “Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

The message that not allowing a popularly elected president to fulfill his official duties by nominating a Supreme Court justice was somehow letting the American people “have a voice” in the process became the rallying cry of Senate Republicans and the advocacy groups supporting them.

Occasionally, however, conservatives would slip from such messaging and revealthereal reason Republicans are trying to block any consideration of a Supreme Court nominee: partisan politics.

Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, who supports the party’s blockade but has never quite got on board with the party’s messaging, said soon after Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland — who in any other time would be a decidedly consensus choice — that the Senate should confirm Garland in the lame duck session if a Democrat wins the presidency in November, thus averting the risk of having the next president pick a justice who is less appealing to Republicans.

Flake made a similar argument in an interview on Meet the Press on Sunday, saying that at least for him the “principle” in question was never “that the people ought to decide before the next election” but that “the principle is to have the most conservative, qualified jurist that we can have on the Supreme Court.”

“If we come to a point, I’ve said all along, where we’re going to lose the election or we lose the election in November,” he said, “then we ought to approve [Garland] quickly because I’m certain that he’ll be more conservative than a Hillary Clinton nomination come January.”

Of course, as Flake honestly points out, the point of the Senate GOP’s blockade of Garland’s nomination has never been a high-and-mighty matter of principle, but has instead been a high-stakes gamble that a Republican will win the White House and be able to fill Scalia’s seat on the court. (Something that has become even more of a gamble now that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee for president.)

Even the Judicial Crisis Network, the primary outside group working to support the GOP’s Supreme Court blockade, has quietly moved away from its original message that Republicans were stalling proceedings because “the American people should decide” who the next Supreme Court justice should be.

JCN’s chief spokesperson, Carrie Severino, told the Washington Post yesterday that her group still opposes a last-ditch confirmation of Garland. She didn’t mention her group’s previous “people should decide” message, instead framing it as a strategic political choice, predicting that if Hillary Clinton were to become president, she would simply renominate Garland because she would not realistically be able to get confirmation of a nominee who is “more loud and proud and out there.”

"If the idea is that Hillary Clinton would pick a new nominee, I question whether that’s something whether even her fellow Democrats want to see," she said. "I’m already seeing Democrats in red states who are nervous about Garland; they're not going to be calmer if a new nominee is chosen who pushes more demographic buttons, or is more loud and proud and out there."

Severino, whom Democrats are growing more familiar with as her group bombs their states with TV ads, insisted that the party would regret it if it responded to a Clinton victory by rejecting the overtures about Garland and pushing for a new "dream" nominee.

"Unless they win 60 votes in the Senate, they'd be hard-pressed to get an Eric Holder confirmed," she said. "I don’t think, at the end of day, they can confirm someone better from their perspective. And his tone and calm temperament means he’d be better as a swing vote."

Leader Of Anti-Garland Group Once Demanded Judges Have A 'Biblical View Of Justice'

As we and others have noted, the Judicial Crisis Network, the primary outside group backing the Senate GOP’s blockade of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, is funded almost entirely by a dark-money group connected to a single family of conservative donors.

On Friday, Open Secrets uncovered that the same dark-money network funding JCN is behind another group that is working to oppose Merrick Garland’s nomination: the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT).

Open Secrets reports that FACT, which styles itself as a right-wing alternative to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), receives all of its funding through Donor’s Trust, a donor-advised fund that acts as a “pass-through vessel” for conservative funders, making the source of contributions all but impossible to trace. But Open Secrets found evidence linking FACT to the Corkery family, who are behind a number of conservative groups including JCN. JCN and FACT share a treasurer, Neil Corkery, and FACT has the same front address as a number of Corkery-linked groups.

The executive director of FACT and the sole paid employee listed on its most recent tax filing is Matt Whitaker, a former U.S. Attorney from Iowa who we here at Right Wing Watch remember from his unsuccessful run for his home state’s Republican Senate nomination in 2014 (it ultimately went to now-Sen. Joni Ernst). When asked at a debate what criteria he would use to determine whether to support or attempt to block President Obama’s federal judicial nominees, Whitaker said that he would ask if nominees are “people of faith” and “have a biblical view of justice.”

“As long as they have that worldview, then they’ll be a good judge,” he said. “And if they have a secular worldview, where this is all we have here on earth, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge.”

From the Open Secrets report on FACT:

One right-leaning group has weighed in more quietly: The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) has demanded Harvard University release records having to do with Garland’s role in the debate in the early 1970s over whether to allow ROTC recruiters on that campus. In late March, FACT’s executive director, Matthew Whitaker, was quoted saying that “Americans have a right to know about Garland’s views of the military.”

Turns out JCN and FACT have something in common, beyond a penchant for keeping the names of their donors secret: Neil Corkery, who is treasurer of the judicial group and also the treasurer and a member of the board of directors at FACT, a 501(c)(3) organization.

Its funding — $600,000 in 2014, according to the only tax return it has filed to date — comes entirely from a conservative donor-advised fund called DonorsTrust, which means it could come from anywhere. DonorsTrust is a pass-through vessel that manages the charitable contributions of wealthy individuals and foundations to organizations that are “dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise,” according to its website, while allowing the donors to remain anonymous. Charles Koch is among the many conservatives who have filtered money through DonorsTrust.

In other words, an organization “dedicated to promoting accountability, ethics, and transparency” gets 100 percent of its funds from a group that exists mainly as a vehicle for donors to elude transparency.

Meanwhile, Corkery adds FACT to a long list of nondisclosing nonprofits at which he holds, or has held, a key position, often treasurer, and which often have overlapping slates of directors or officers. For instance, at two other groups where Corkery is treasurer, the Judicial Education Project and Catholic Voices, a close family ally by the name of Dan Casey is president and director, respectively. Casey is also the secretary of JCN. At the Sudan Relief Fund, Corkery is president, Casey is treasurer, and Ann Corkery, Neil’s wife, is a director.

Ann Corkery is also president of the Wellspring Committee, from which JCN receives substantial funding, including more than $6.6 million in 2014; Kathleen Corkery, the couple’s daughter, is on Wellspring’s board of directors, and its secretary-treasurer is Casey’s son. Neil Corkery draws salaries from several of the groups where he’s an office; Ann is paid by Wellspring. (Venn diagram in the works.)

Many of the groups list the same Georgetown address as their office, with different suite numbers. In reality, the address is that of a UPS store, and the suite numbers are post boxes. FACT’s listed address, in downtown Washington, D.C., has no markings; it appears to be an address that is cited by more than one organization without actually being physically used by any of them, with a receptionist who answers the phone with the names of various groups depending on which line is called.

Tea Party Group Draws Crowd Of Tens To Protest Supreme Court Confirmation

Today, as thousands of people gathered in front of the Supreme Court to voice their support of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, a somewhat smaller crowd organized by Tea Party Patriots held forth against the DAPA/DACA actions and urged the Senate not to confirm President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

We counted about 20 people at the Tea Party Patriots event at 11 am, shortly before the event’s speeches were scheduled to begin: 

The heavily outnumbered protesters carried signs saying “#NoHearingsNoVotes,” “#TheDecisionIsOurs,” “#LetThePeopleDecide” and “Let The People Have A Voice On The Future Of The Court,” the message that anti-Garland groups have settled on to make their quest to block hearings on a Supreme Court nomination sound like a populist rallying cry. The sign on a podium labeled Garland “Obama’s Rubber Stamp.”

There was a high ratio of Republican and conservative movement speakers to grassroots activists, asRep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas,Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo.,Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and the Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino addressed the small crowd.

Here’s another view of the Tea Party Patriots event:


UPDATE: Politico reports:

News concerences sponsored by the Tea Party and FreedomWorks also featured Reps. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), as well as other speakers who unsuccessfully tried to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and "America the Beautiful." An effort to lead a singalong of the national anthem backfired when the singer forgot the lyrics midway through, drawing jeers.


Courting Extremism: Chuck Grassley Gives Away The Game And Donald Trump Outlines His Judicial Strategy

Courting Extremism is a weekly feature on conservative responses to the Supreme Court vacancy.

Despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of voters want the Senate to hold hearings on Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Senate Republicans continue to refuse to even let Garland answer questions.

In doing so, they are taking orders from — and sometimes directly repeating the talking points of — the conservative interest groups that are desperately trying to keep the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat open in the hopes that a Republican president will nominate a conservative ideologue to fill it. The Republican Party’s presidential frontrunner has even gone so far as to say that he would outsource the selection of the next justice to these groups.

Here are five ways the GOP has tried to support its Supreme Court blockade this week:

5) The Heller Lie Lives On

Republicans seem to have given up trying to find anything in Garland’s record that might disqualify him serving on the Supreme Court and seem content instead to just repeat blatant falsehoods about his judicial career.

For example, conservative activists have repeatedly claimed that Garland voted to uphold a Washington, D.C., handgun ban when the appeals court he serves on heard an early version of the Heller case. (The Supreme Court eventually used the case to dramatically expand gun rights.)

However, Garland never voted on the case. In fact, he never even heard the case.

Garland only voted to have the case, then known as Parker vs. District of Columbia, reargued in front of the entire Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit after a three-judge panel on the court held that the handgun ban was unconstitutional. It is not uncommon for the court to have major cases reargued in front of all of its judges; in fact, one of the court’s most conservative members also voted to have the full court hear the case. However, the vote to rehear the case wasn’t successful, so Garland never ended up ruling on the matter.

But this didn’t stop Virginia Republican Party Chairman John Whitbeck from falsely claiming that Garland did in fact vote in favor of upholding the handgun ban:

"When Justice Antonin Scalia wrote his watershed opinion in D.C. v. Heller, it marked the first time that an individual right to keep and bear arms was recognized by the Supreme Court by a razor thin 5-4 vote," Whitbeck wrote.

"Now President (Barack) Obama is attempting to replace Justice Scalia with Judge Merrick Garland, an avowed opponent of our Second Amendment rights. While Justice Scalia voted to overturn D.C.’s draconian gun laws, Judge Garland voted to uphold them," the chairman added, emphasizing the second sentence with bold type.

“It’s simply inaccurate to say Garland’s vote to reconsider the case is tantamount to a vote to uphold D.C.’s gun restriction or to extrapolate from it the nominee’s position on the case,” Warren Fiske of PolitiFact wrote in response to Whitbeck’s anti-Garland appeal. “So we rate Whitbeck’s claim False.”

This falsehood, which is being pushed by the National Rifle Association, the Judicial Crisis Network and other outside groups, is also being repeated by Republican senators attempting to justify their blockade of Garland’s nomination.

Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, for instance, cited Garland’s supposed “disregard for Second Amendment rights” when he backed away from his previous support for holding a hearing on the nomination.

4) Family Ties

One of the groups pushing this dishonest smear of Garland has been the Judicial Crisis Network, the organization that was “founded in 2005 as the Judicial Confirmation Network, a pressure group with the goal of confirming President Bush’s federal judicial nominees in his second term in office.”

This group has been at the forefront of the conservative opposition to Garland’s nomination, shaping the movement’s messaging and spending at least $4 million on ads pressuring GOP senators to keep up their blockade.

JCN’s outsized role in the Supreme Court blockade, however, belies the fact that it is a tiny organization funded by an insular dark-money network centered around a single family of conservative operatives.

JCN has relied heavily on funding from a dark-money group called the Wellspring Committee, which is led by Ann Corkery. Coincidentally enough, Corkery’s husband, Neil, serves as the treasurer of JCN. Ann Corkery has also steered more than $1 million from Wellspring to a group called the Catholic Association, another group run by her husband.

Media Matters points out that the Corkery family isn’t the only one benefiting from the connection between JCN and Wellspring: “Michael Casey, who is listed on Wellspring’s 990 financial disclosure forms as its secretary and treasurer, is the son of Republican operative Dan Casey, who is a member of JCN’s board and is reportedly ‘the political and PR brains’ of the organization. Dan Casey is also listed on the Catholic Association Inc.’s 990 financial disclosure forms as its secretary and one of its directors.”

“[I]n 2011, the ties between these two dark money machines grew even closer when Ann Corkery sacked her two fellow board members at Wellspring and replaced them with her daughter and the son of JCN board member Casey, according to IRS filings and former board members,” The Daily Beast notes.

While JCN is the product of a small, well-financed group of right-wing interests, it has, in its effort to shut down the judicial confirmation process, attempted to pose as a group of everyday Americans who just really, really want the Senate to be more obstructionist.

3) Grassley’s Bizarre Speech

One of the most vocal supporters of the GOP’s Supreme Court blockade has been Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, who also just so happens to be the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a remarkable speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Grassley attempted to justify his refusal to hold hearings on Garland’s nomination by claiming that it is in fact Chief Justice who has politicized the high court … by sometimes ruling in ways that do not advance the GOP’s agenda.

The extremely conservative Roberts, Grassley said, has made the court a political institution because he does not always “vote in a way that advances conservative policy.” As a Republican appointee, Grassley said, the chief justice should have upheld the GOP’s point of view in cases regarding the Affordable Care Act and, by not doing so, has helped politicize the court.

Dahlia Lithwick unpacks the senator’s “ insane logic ”:

Grassley now says that the only way to depoliticize the court would be to appoint nominees who conform their political views to those of the Republican Party. “Justices appointed by Republicans are generally committed to following the law,” he said. And then he argued that the court is too political because Republican nominees don’t act sufficiently politically. “There are justices who frequently vote in a conservative way,” he said. “But some of the justices appointed even by Republicans often don’t vote in a way that advances conservative policy.”

Wait, what? So the problem for Grassley isn’t “political” justices—it’s justices appointed by Republicans who don’t advance “conservative policy” 100 percent of the time. And with that, he revealed his real issue. His Senate floor attack isn’t about depoliticizing the court at all. It’s about calling out Roberts for being insufficiently loyal to the Tea Party agenda when he voted not to strike down Obamacare.

What is really being said here is that there is only one way to interpret the Constitution and that is in the way that “advances conservative policy.” According to Grassley’s thinking, a justice who fails to do that in every single case before him or her is “political” and damaging the court.

Now that Grassley believes that the duty of a Supreme Court justice is to advance the goals of the conservative movement, it shouldn’t come as any surprising that he is refusing to hold hearings on President Obama’s nominee.

This is in clear contrast to what Grassley said before Obama took office, when he insisted that senators should focus solely on a nominee’s qualifications in order to prevent the confirmation of “political hacks” from either side:

… I probably had the same concerns about President Clinton and Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg when I voted for them. Regarding the political positions that Justice Ginsburg stood for in her life before coming to be a judge, I wouldn't agree with many of them. But she was totally qualified to be on the Supreme Court, and I voted for her based upon the proposition that Alexander Hamilton said that the purpose of our activities here of confirming people for the courts is basically two. Maybe there is some historian around who will say Grassley has it all wrong, but I think it was, No. 1, to make sure that people who were not qualified did not get on the courts. In other words, only qualified people get appointed to the courts and that political hacks do not get appointed to the courts.

2) The Grassley Rule, Updated

Given that Grassley is now openly admitting that he only wants to confirm conservative policymakers on the Supreme Court, it should come as no surprise that the he also made it clear this week that the GOP’s blockade of Garland’s nomination is motivated by conservative interest groups with a partisan agenda:

“Conservative groups are very much behind what we’re trying to do,” Grassley said following a town hall event at Northwestern College in Orange City. “They figure that if this president appoints somebody, you’re going to have a lot of negative freedom-of-religion decisions, a lot of negative gun decisions, a lot of negative political-speech decisions. So we want to make sure the court doesn’t veer to the left.”

Once again, the best person to counter Grassley’s argument is Grassley 11 years ago.

Back in 2005, the Iowa senator criticized his Democratic colleagues for supposedly being beholden “to far left pressure groups” in their opposition to a handful of extreme Bush nominees and showing more “loyalty to what is probably their base” than to Americans at large.

1) The Trump Court

The Senate GOP’s effort to prevent President Obama from filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court has always been about its desire to have a Republican president shape the court, even if that means leaving the court short-staffed for a year or longer.

Indeed, these Republicans believe that the next Supreme Court justice should be selected by either Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, a man who doesn’t seem to know how the Supreme Court works.

Both leading Republican presidential candidates have already expressed a desire to see the court overturn — or, in Trump’s words, “unpass” — the landmark Roe v. Wade and Obergefell rulings on abortion rights and marriage equality, respectively. “I’d like to have the person tailored to be just like Justice Scalia,” Trump said.

In a sign of just how powerful conservative pressure groups have become within the GOP, Trump has even said he would effectively let the right-wing Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation pick the next justice.

Among the potential justices that the Heritage Foundation has recommended are Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who believes that major programs like Social Security and Medicare are unconstitutional, and Bill Pryor, a federal judge who has similarly lambasted New Deal programs and called Roe v. Wade the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.”

Such justices would shift the court even farther to the right that it is now, putting the social safety net, environmental regulations and reproductive rights in jeopardy.

Right Wing Round-Up - 4/5/16

  • PFAW: Backgrounder: The Judicial Crisis Network: Behind The Group Spreading Misinformation About Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland.
  • Tasneem Nashrulla @ BuzzFeed: Impeachment Process Begins Against Alabama Governor Over Sex Scandal.
  • Michael Fitzgerald @ Towleroad: Linda Harvey Blames ‘Spiteful Lesbian Lawyers’ for Ruining Pro Sports.
  • Eric Hanaoki @ Media Matters: Trump Ally Roger Stone's Scrubbed Tweets: "Stupid Negro," "Fat Negro," "Muff-Diver," "Elitist C*nt," "DIE BITCH".
  • Rachel Ford @ Friendly Atheist: Samantha Bee Examines the Other Scary Religious Fanatics on Ted Cruz’s Campaign Team.

Backgrounder: The Judicial Crisis Network: Behind The Group Spreading Misinformation About Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland

The Washington, D.C., based Judicial Crisis Network is the most visible outside conservative group pressuring Republican senators to continue their refusal to hold hearings or a vote on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. The group, which says it has spent about $4 million already on its anti-Garland campaign, has taken the lead in generating misinformation about Garland and about the Court in an attempt to keep the Supreme Court seat open for the next president to fill.

This backgrounder provides a brief history of JCN and exposes the truth behind some of its most misleading claims about Garland’s nomination.

The Judicial Crisis Network Was Called the ‘Judicial Confirmation Network’ during the Bush Administration

  • In 2005, at the start of George W. Bush’s second term in office, a group of conservative activists and funders founded the Judicial Confirmation Network with the goal of pushing through the confirmations of federal judges. [The Wall Street Journal, 5/17/2005; People For the American Way, 3/3/2016]
  • The Judicial Confirmation Network’s original mission, as declared on its website, was to “support the confirmation of highly qualified individuals to the Supreme Court of the United States [and] ensure that the confirmation process for all judicial nominees is fair and that every nominee sent to the full Senate receives an up or down vote." [People For the American Way, 11/14/2008]
  • In 2010, early in the presidency of Barack Obama, the Judicial Confirmation Network changed its name to the Judicial Crisis Network and removed the call for up-or-down votes for judicial nominees from its mission statement. [People For the American Way, 2/11/2010]
  • The Judicial Crisis Network receives most of its funding from the Wellspring Committee, an organization founded by the billionaire Koch brothers that does not have to reveal the identity of its donors. [The Daily Beast, 3/29/2016]
  • JCN consists of just two staff members, according to its website, and is part of a conservative funding network centered around a single family of conservative donors. [Judicial Crisis Network; Media Matters, 4/4/2016]

The Judicial Crisis Network Previously Welcomed A Potential Merrick Garland Nomination

  • While JCN is now trying to paint Merrick Garland as a “liberal extremist,” just a few years ago the group viewed him as the “best scenario” for an Obama Supreme Court nominee who could bring down the “tension and the politics” surrounding the upcoming Supreme Court vacancy. The Washington Post reported in 2010:

"But of those the president could nominate, we could do a lot worse than Merrick Garland," [JCN general counsel Carrie] Severino said. "He's the best scenario we could hope for to bring the tension and the politics in the city down a notch for the summer." [The Washington Post, 4/23/2010]

JCN’s Second-Amendment Attack On Garland Based On ‘Thin To Nonexistent’ Evidence

  • Miguel Estrada, a conservative lawyer and George W. Bush appeals court nominee, told NPR: "The evidence that is being cited for the accusation that Judge Garland has some bias against Second Amendment rights is from thin to nonexistent.” [NPR, 3/27/2016]
  • Even one of the National Rifle Association’s top outside attorneys, Charles J. Cooper, has praised Garland, saying he “fairly and honestly assesses the merits of all sides of an issue.” Cooper wrote in a 1995 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee that Garland “possesses the qualities of a fine judge” and “would comport himself on the bench with dignity and fairness.” Asked about the letter last month, Cooper said his “high opinion of Judge Garland has not changed — indeed, it has only strengthened — over the course of the 19 years since I wrote these words.” [The Washington Post, 3/28/2016]

President Obama Has A Right To Nominate A Qualified Judge To The Supreme Court

  • Contrary to JCN’s claims, there is no tradition of the president failing to nominate or the Senate failing to consider Supreme Court nominees during election years. According to the nonpartisan SCOTUSblog:

The historical record does not reveal any instances since at least 1900 of the president failing to nominate and/or the Senate failing to confirm a nominee in a presidential election year because of the impending election. In that period, there were several nominations and confirmations of Justices during presidential election years. [SCOTUSblog, 2/13/2016]

  • The nonpartisan Politifact rated as “false” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s claim that Republicans are “following a longstanding tradition of not filling vacancies on the Supreme Court in the middle of a presidential election year”:   

It is more than a stretch for McConnell to say it’s a "tradition" for the Senate not to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year.

In the past century, there have been 25 presidential elections. Just four Supreme Court seats opened up in those election years. In three of those instances, the Senate confirmed the president’s nominee, and just once — the only election-year court opening in the past 80 years — did the Senate refuse a nominee.

So the scenario McConnell described has happened exactly once in the past century, in 1968, and that decision did not actually leave a vacancy on the court for any period of time.

"This is entirely a matter of circumstance," Sarah Binder, a political scientist at George Washington University, previously told PolitiFact. It’s "certainly not a norm or tradition by presidents refraining from nominating in a presidential election year, or by senators refusing to consider such nominations." [Politifact, 3/22/2016]


Courting Extremism: Donald Trump's Supreme Court And Chuck Grassley's Revisionist History

Courting Extremism is a weekly feature on conservative responses to the Supreme Court vacancy.

Donald Trump, currently the frontrunner in the Republican presidential primary, believes that Barack Obama is an illegitimate president who isn’t a natural born citizen. So it’s only natural that Senate Republicans, having apparently decided that Obama’s second term in office only lasted for three years, seem intent on letting a future President Trump pick the next Supreme Court justice.

Not only would delaying a Supreme Court confirmation until the next president takes office leave the court short one justice for about a year, it could let Trump set the direction of the court for decades to come.

Conservative activists have pressured Republican leaders into taking an extreme stance that is opposed by a majority of voters, a stance so ridiculous that it even requires some Republicans to ignore their past statements on the judiciary.

Here are the five worst pro-obstruction arguments, blatant changes of heart and accidental admissions of truth that conservatives have made about the Supreme Court this week:

5) ‘Let’s Do Our Jobs’

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has been feeling the heat over his support for the GOP’s Supreme Court blockade. In fact, his staff even went so far as to keep details of his public meetings with constituents a secret in order to avoid protests over the matter.

Perhaps Grassley would rather not talk to his constituents about why he thinks the Senate shouldn’t even hold a hearing on Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination because back in 2005 he was making exactly the opposite argument, telling his colleagues in a Senate floor speech about judicial nominees: “Let’s do our jobs.”

4) The Judicial C̶o̶n̶f̶i̶r̶m̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ Crisis Network

It’s hard not to roll your eyes when the Judicial Crisis Network demands that Senate Republicans ratchet up their unprecedented obstruction of Garland and other judicial nominees when one remembers that prior to President Obama’s swearing-in, the group was called the Judicial Confirmation Network. Indeed, JCN was created for the sole purpose of encouraging the Senate to confirm President Bush’s nominees, especially his most extreme and controversial ones.

Now JCN is targeting Garland, a man JCN’s own leader implied in 2010 would make a suitable replacement for Justice John Paul Stevens.

“But of those the president could nominate, we could do a lot worse than Merrick Garland,” JCN chief counsel and policy director Carrie Severino said at the time. “He’s the best scenario we could hope for to bring the tension and the politics in the city down a notch for the summer.”

Not only is Severino trying to reverse herself on Garland, but she is even trying to alter the history of her own group.

In a March interview, Pennsylvania radio host Bobby Gunther Walsh spoke with Severino about the JCN and hailed her organization for its work confirming judicial nominees during the Bush administration.

When Walsh incorrectly claimed that the group was called the Judicial Crisis Network at the time — suggesting that it was formed to fight Senate Democrats who were supposedly bent on creating a “crisis” in the courts — Severino chose to let Walsh’s false claim stand and went on to attack Democrats for trying to “repeat false facts over and over again.”

3) NRA’s Lawyer Problem

The NRA has been one of the most vocal opponents of Garland’s nomination, and has even pushed outright falsehoods in hopes of blocking his nomination. The group has insisted that Garland ruled against gun activists in the landmark Heller case and supported a national gun registry. Both claims are completely false, but that hasn’t stopped conservatives like Bill O’Reilly and Larry Pratt from running with the bogus talking points.

But at least one NRA leader didn’t get the memo.

Timothy Johnson of Media Matters points out that one of the organization’s top lawyers lavished praise on Garland, although he toed the Senate GOP’s line that no nominee for the high court should be considered until after a new president takes office.

The NRA's dishonest and fiery rhetoric on Garland is at odds with the views of one of the organization's top constitutional litigators, conservative lawyer Charles J. Cooper.

Cooper, "a longtime stalwart of the Federalist Society" who often represents the NRA and other conservative interests in his private appellate litigation practice, praised Garland in a March 28 interview, saying his respect for Garland has only grown since he supported Garland's nomination to the D.C. Circuit in 1997.

In a 1997 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cooper noted that his legal philosophy differed from Garland's, but also wrote, "Not only is Merrick enormously gifted intellectually, but he is thoughtful as well, for he respects other points of view and fairly and honestly assesses the merits of all sides of an issue," and that should he be confirmed, "He would comport himself on the bench with dignity and fairness."

Asked about the letter by The Washington Post, Cooper said his "high opinion of Judge Garland has not changed -- indeed, it has only strengthened -- over the course of the 19 years since I wrote these words." (Cooper, however, does support Senate Republicans in obstructing Garland's nomination for political reasons.)

Among the cases Cooper was involved in? The Heller case, the very one that the NRA is citing in its false attacks against Garland.

2) Looming Dictatorship

Rafael Cruz, the father of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and one of his top campaign surrogates, raised the issue of gun rights in an interview on Monday, warning that with “one more liberal justice” will lead Americans to “lose our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”

Not only would Americans be stripped of their gun rights if a “liberal justice” were to be appointed to the court, Cruz warned, but America could transform into an authoritarian state: “[T]hink back in history: Every dictator that has taken the guns away from the population has used them against the population.”

1) The Trump Court

While Donald Trump may have struggled with knowing exactly what the Supreme Court does or what the right to privacy has to do with abortion rights, he has been clear that he has wanted to outlaw abortion ever since a friend who had contemplated terminating a pregnancy ended up raising a “super star” kid.

On Wednesday, Trump went on to take three different positions on abortion rights in three hours, and it remains unclear exactly what he believes.

But what Trump has made clear is that he plans to appoint to the Supreme Court only ultraconservative jurists in the mold of Antonin Scalia, ones who would likely support overturning Roe v. Wade and uphold state efforts to curtail abortion rights. He even said he would pick a justice from list of potential nominees issued by the Heritage Foundation, an anti-choice group led by Jim DeMint, who was “one of the most die-hard anti-choice lawmakers” during his time in the Senate. (The organization has since released a list of their conservative dream justices).

While Trump has reversed his position on whether women who have abortions should be punished, a Supreme Court shaped by Trump could make such a prospect a reality.

The Judicial Crisis Network Conveniently Forgets Its Own History

It has been truly remarkable watching the Judicial Crisis Network criss-crossing the country pressuring Republican senators to keep up their blockade of President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination, since during the George W. Bush administration the group was named the Judicial Confirmation Network and promoted the idea that every judicial nominee “deserves an up-or-down vote.”

JCN’s current leaders have been carefully ignoring this history in their effort to prevent the Senate Judiciary Committee from even holding a hearing on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, a situation that reached new heights of absurdity last week when the group’s general counsel, Carrie Severino, let a conservative radio host speculate at length, incorrectly, about why the group might have been named the “Judicial Crisis Network” during the Bush administration.

“Here’s what’s interesting, is you were interestingly named the Judicial Crisis Network” during the Bush administration, radio host Bobby Gunther Walsh mistakenly said during a March 24 interview with Severino.

“It’s interesting you chose that name,” he said, “I don’t know if there was a crisis going on back then, is that when they were threatening Bush about ‘you can’t nominate someone’?”

After repeating misleading claims about Sen. Charles Schumer and then-Sen. Joe Biden’s comments about Supreme Court nominations during the Bush years, Walsh fumed, “You know what I can’t stand is when people can’t even admit that they said stuff and they can’t even admit the truth.”

Severino, rather than correcting Walsh about her organization’s past as the Judicial Confirmation Network, instead complained about people who “repeat the same false facts” until “people take them as true”: “Yeah, you’re entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts. If you repeat the same false facts over and over again, sometimes people take them as true, so it’s frustrating.”

“It’s the irony that you can just see the Democrats are willing to say and do whatever it takes to get this fifth vote that they just desperately want a solid liberal block on the court,” she added. “And they’re going to want to deny the people a voice in the process in order to do that. That’s a real shame.”

As we all know, the Judicial Crisis Network would never “repeat false facts”!

Ron Johnson Is Taking His SCOTUS Talking Points Straight From Right-Wing Groups

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is one of the Republican senators who is under considerable pressure in his home state to break from his party leadership and consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

So far, Johnson has toed the party line and says that he supports blocking any nominee to the Supreme Court for the remainder of Obama’s presidency. In defending this position, he has turned to a number of stock talking points cooked up by right-wing groups seeking to keep an Obama nominee off the Supreme Court.

As soon as President Obama announced his nomination of Garland, Johnson turned to the talking point that the conservative Judicial Crisis Network has been promoting since soon after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death left a vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

Johnson’s appeal to let the American people “decide” and give them a “voice” by discounting President Obama’s entire last year in office, comes straight out of the messaging that JCN started hammering in early ads urging obstruction. In JCN’s first ad, a narrator says:

It’s ‘We the People.’ Sometimes the politicians forget that. The Supreme Court has a vacancy and your vote in November is your only voice. Sen. Chuck Grassley agrees: the American people should decide. This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats. It’s about your voice. You choose the next president, the next president chooses the next justice. Call Sen. Chuck Grassley. Thank him for letting the people decide.

Of course, the people already did have a voice in choosing who would pick the next Supreme Court justice when they reelected President Obama for a second four-year term in 2012.

The New York Times reported yesterday on an event in Wisconsin at which Johnson attempted to justify the Senate GOP’s obstructionism by implying that the Constitution’s requirement of “advice and consent” can mean the Senate advising the president not to make any judicial nomination at all:

“Yeah, I am hearing the drumbeat, ‘Do your job! Do your job!’ ” Mr. Johnson said, invoking the Democrats’ battle cry in their quest to get Judge Garland a hearing. “We’re doing our job,” Mr. Johnson declared, to shouts of “yes.”

“Our job as a coequal branch in the nomination process is advise and consent,” he said. “Well, President Obama — surprise — didn’t heed our advice. So now we are doing the second part of that advice and consent: We’re withholding our consent. Completely appropriate.”

This is a talking point that Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, a longtime right-wing player in judicial fights, pioneered very soon after the death of Justice Scalia, when he told televangelist Pat Robertson, “The Senate has a role in this, the Constitution says ‘advice and consent.’ The advice here is, ‘Don’t put up a nominee when you’re only going to be the president, you’re a lame duck and you’re only going to be the president for 11 months.’”

We don’t think that refusing to even consider a Supreme Court nominee is what the founders had in mind when they gave the Senate the power of “advice and consent," which is why the GOP leadership’s decision to have the Senate do absolutely nothing in response to a Supreme Court nomination is unprecedented.

According to the Times article, Johnson has also taken to saying that Garland is “hostile” to the Second Amendment:

“Judge Merrick is hostile to your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” Mr. Johnson said in Pewaukee, using the judge’s first name. “So I am doing my job to protect the Second Amendment rights of Wisconsinites.”

Johnson’s use of the word “hostile” is no accident. The phrase “hostile to the Second Amendment” is what right-wing groups have settled on to describe Garland’s utterly benign record on gun rights. That’s the exact phrase that the National Rifle Association has been using in its effort to stir up opposition to Garland’s nomination. The “hostile” term seems to have come from an opposition research package put together by the Judicial Crisis Network, which in turn seems to have borrowed the phrase from a 2007 article in the NRA’s magazine.

We outlined last week why the Second Amendment “hostility” argument is bunk.

Senate Republicans seem to have ceded not only their governing, but the very words that come out of their mouths, to right-wing obstructionist groups.

Courting Extremism: Gun Activist Warns Garland While Other Conservatives Reach For New Bogus Attacks

Courting Extremism is a weekly feature on conservative responses to the Supreme Court vacancy.

Unable to come up with any honest attacks against Judge Merrick Garland’s record, conservatives continue to try to find new ways to justify the Republican leadership’s refusal to even hold hearings on Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. At least one activist, Gun Owners of America’s Larry Pratt, even suggested that the Second Amendment was designed in part to stop people like Garland.

Here are the five most ridiculous conservative pro-obstruction arguments of the week:

5) The NRA Rule

Mitch McConnell continues to move the goalposts on his party’s Supreme Court blockade. First, the Republican leader flatly declared that the Senate would not consider any nominee to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court until a new president is in office.

Then, in an interview on Sunday with Fox News, McConnell added a new caveat, declaring that as long as Republicans hold a majority, the Senate would not confirm Garland because he is facing opposition from conservative groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Rifle Association.

McConnell’s comments are particularly revealing, as he and other Republicans have insisted that their Supreme Court blockade isn’t about politics but is about a (nonexistent) Senate tradition to refuse to hold confirmation votes for Supreme Court nominees during election years.

If McConnell was taking this stance truly out of principle rather than partisanship, there would be no need to cite pressure from the NFIB and NRA. His statement also seems to imply that Republicans may obstruct any nominee if a Democrat succeeds Obama, seeing that the two right-wing groups are unlikely to support anyone nominated by a Democratic president.

4) Perpetual Obstructionism

Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly appears to be on the side of those who think that only a Republican president should be allowed to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

She told Armed America Radio this week that Senate Republicans need to clearly state that “we don’t want any new nominee on the court until we have a Republican who will appoint somebody of the nature of Scalia.”

“The Court can continue to function indefinitely with fewer than nine Justices, as it has many times in our history,” Schlafly wrote in an op-ed. She then suggested that if a Republican becomes president, a Republican Senate could use the opportunity to pack the court with more than nine justices:

If Republicans elect the next president and retain control of Congress, there will be plenty of time to add new Justices to the Supreme Court. One scholar proposed expanding the size of the Court to 11 or more Justices, since a larger Court reduces the likelihood that any single appointee would fundamentally change the Court’s direction.

In addition to controlling the size of the Supreme Court, Congress could also authorize the President to nominate new Justices on a regular timetable — say, one during each two-year term of Congress. Under that system, a new Justice would join the Supreme Court every two years, regardless of whether an existing Justice dies or retires during that period.

3) If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Anti-choice activists are desperately trying to find reasons to oppose Garland’s nomination.

First, abortion rights opponents expressed outrage that Garland attended a book party celebrating the release of journalist Linda Greenhouse’s biography of Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Now the outlet has LifeSiteNews run an article alleging that Garland “ruled against Priests for Life in a case involving the HHS mandate.”

Garland, however, wasn’t one of the three judges on the D.C. Circuit to hear Priests for Life’s challenge to the contraception mandate. LifeSiteNews was angry that Garland voted against rehearing the case — the three judge panel ruled unanimously against Priests for Life — before the full court of appeals, or an en banc review.

As Paul wrote, such a vote does not constitute a ruling against the group, despite LifeSiteNews’ claim:

A vote for or against en banc review, absent an accompanying opinion, does not necessarily tell you anything about why the judge voted that way. In fact, several of the judges wrote or joined lengthy opinions explaining why they were for or against an en banc review. Chief Judge Garland joined none of them. Neither did George W. Bush nominee Thomas Griffith or Clinton nominee David Tatel, both of whom voted along with Chief Judge Garland not to rehear the case. The majority of the court voted against en banc review, so we don’t know how Garland would have voted on the merits of the case.

The challenge to the contraception mandate was inevitably headed to the Supreme Court as several other circuit courts heard similar challenges. Indeed, the high court heard arguments on the Zubik case earlier this week.

2) He’s An Extremist!

After President Obama took office, the Judicial Confirmation Network changed its name to the Judicial Crisis Network and changed its mission from encouraging the speedy confirmation of judicial nominees to advocating for obstructionism and no-votes.

Unsurprisingly, the group, like some of its allies in the conservative movement, is also changing its tune on Garland.

Just six years ago, JCN spokesperson Carrie Severino hinted that her group wouldn’t put up much of a fight if Obama nominated Garland to the Supreme Court. “[O]f those the president could nominate, we could do a lot worse than Merrick Garland,” Severino told the Washington Post at the time. “He’s the best scenario we could hope for to bring the tension and the politics in the city down a notch for the summer.”

Fast forward six years, and all of a sudden JCN is attacking Garland as a left-wing extremist in this new web ad:

1) ‘The Second Amendment Is All About People Like Judge Garland’

Conservative groups have repeatedly claimed that Garland opposed a challenge to a Washington, D.C., handgun ban and supported a national gun registry.

“He voted against Dick Heller,” Gun Owners of America head Larry Pratt said on “Trunews” this week. “He voted against the idea that any citizen of the District of Columbia has an individual right to keep and bear arms.” “He also voted to uphold Bill Clinton’s registration scheme,” he added, claiming that the judge’s track record demonstrates “opposition to the Second Amendment.”

However, Garland did not rule on the merits of the Heller case and he never came anywhere close to approving a national gun registry, as Pratt alleged.

“This is the guy that has been told to us by many folks, including the president, that ‘this is a moderate,’” Pratt said. “Well, I guess in the Kremlin there are moderates but that’s not the kind of moderate we need on the Supreme Court.”

Then, Pratt issued a veiled warning to Garland similar to those he has given Democratic officials whom he considers anti-Second Amendment. When the program’s host, Rick Wiles, asked if Garland would shift “the balance of power” on the court against the Second Amendment, Pratt responded: “Judicially, it’s in a heap of trouble. Happily, the Second Amendment is all about people like Judge Garland so there is a limit to how far he can go, I think.”

JCN Laughably Changes Course In Attempt To Paint Merrick Garland As A 'Liberal Extremist'

Back in 2010, as President Obama was considering possible nominees to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court, Judicial Crisis Network attorney Carrie Severino mused, “Of those the president could nominate, we could do a lot worse than Merrick Garland," adding that a Garland nomination could bring down “the tension and the politics” surrounding the brewing Supreme Court battle.

It must have been somewhat awkward for Severino, then, when President Obama did nominate Garland for the Supreme Court this year and she had to pivot to claiming that Garland is actually a liberal extremist who should never be confirmed by the Senate.

Of course, the objection that groups like JCN have to Garland’s nomination has nothing to do with the nominee. Instead, conservative groups, led by JCN, were pressuring Senate Republicans to block any Obama nominee to the Supreme Court even before Garland was named.

So it’s been amusing to watch JCN as it grasps for arguments to oppose Garland, the most recent being a web ad that the group is promoting in the home states of vulnerable Republican senators that derides Democrats for calling Garland a “moderate.” Instead, JCN told USA Today, Garland is a “liberal extremist.” The ad claims that under a Supreme Court with the “liberal extremist” Garland as a member, the Second Amendment would be “gutted” and “partial-birth abortion legalized” and Garland would become the “tie-breaking vote for Obama’s big government liberalism.”

We’ve already debunked JCN and its allies’ weak attempts at portraying Garland as “hostile” to gun rights. This is just reinforced by the fact that the only news source JCN could find to cite in its ad about Garland’s supposedly “strong hostility to gun owner rights” is the NRA’s magazine.

The “partial-birth” abortion claim is even more of a puzzle since, as far as we know, Garland has never ruled on the issue. That claim seems to be based entirely on the fact that Garland was nominated by President Obama.

Some conservative groups are not even bothering to claim that Garland is an unacceptable nominee and are instead focusing on bogus procedural arguments against considering his nomination. But JCN, Severino says, has a duty to be “out there combating the spin” about the nominee. That argument would be so much more convincing if the “spin” didn’t so closely resemble what she herself said just six years ago.

Of course, what can you expect from an organization that was founded as the Judicial Confirmation Network under President George W. Bush, only to completely change its name and core mission once President Obama took office.

Conservatives Make Pathetic Effort To Claim Garland Is 'Hostile' To Gun Rights

As soon as President Obama announced his nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court seat left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the conservative Judicial Crisis Network and the Republican National Committee unveiled embarrassingly thin dossiers to frame Garland — whom conservatives have previously praised — as an unconfirmable liberal activist.

Both organizations decided to focus their criticism on the claim that Garland is “hostile” to gun rights, something that other conservative groups have picked up and run with. The National Rifle Association, in turn, is out with a petition urging the Senate to reject Garland’s nomination, also claiming that he’s “hostile to the Second Amendment.”

The NRA cites three cases that it says show that Garland “supports a handgun ban” and “supports a national gun registry.” Not one shows anything of the sort.

Claim 1: “In 2007, he ruled in favor of reviewing the D.C. Circuit’s decision that invalidated the city’s handgun ban – the very ban Scalia helped overturn at the Supreme Court.”

The facts: A divided panel of three other judges of the D.C. Circuit Court, on which Garland sits, reversed a lower court ruling and found that a Washington, D.C., handgun ban was unconstitutional. The full court then had an opportunity to vote on whether the case should be reheard by all the judges on the entire D.C. Circuit. Garland was one of four members of the court, including a decidedly conservative colleague, Raymond Randolph, who voted to rehear the case. That vote indicates absolutely nothing about what Garland thought about the merits of the case and certainly doesn’t mean that Garland “supports a handgun ban” as the NRA claims. After all, this was before the Supreme Court ruling in Heller and, regardless of ideology, it made perfect sense for a judge to want the full circuit to consider the case.

Claim 2: “In 2004, he ruled against rehearing another pivotal Second Amendment case, thereby casting a vote against the individual right to Keep and Bear Arms.”

The facts: It’s the same story here. The NRA seems to be referring to the 2005 case Seegers v. Gonzales, which had to do with whether the parties suing had standing to challenge D.C.’s handgun law; the substance of the Second Amendment argument was not at issue. This time, Garland voted with the majority of his colleagues to deny a full-court rehearing of the case. Again, that vote gave absolutely no indication of how he felt about the issue of standing (to say nothing of the merits of the Second Amendment case) and definitely was not “a vote against the individual right to Keep and Bear Arms.”

Claim 3: “In 2000, he ruled in favor of the federal government’s plan to keep gun owners’ personal information in an unofficial national registry.”

The facts: In this case, NRA of America v. Reno, the NRA claimed that a regulation requiring information from gun background checks to be temporarily retained violated a law requiring background check records to be destroyed. Garland joined in an opinion finding that the law didn’t prohibit the temporary storage of that data “for audit purposes,” after which it would be destroyed as required by law. From this, the NRA falsely concludes that Garland “supports a national gun registry.”

There is frankly nothing in Garland’s record that indicates his substantive views, if any, on the Second Amendment. Could it possibly be that conservative groups are grasping at straws in an attempt to justify their blanket obstruction of the Supreme Court nomination process?

'Swift Boat' PR Firm Takes Up Supreme Court Fight

The public relations firm that pushed the false “swift boat” smear on John Kerry in 2004 and has since taken up far-right causes from creationism to the Tea Party to recent attacks on Planned Parenthood has now gotten involved in the fight against confirming President Obama’s Supreme Court pick.

A new website, ScotusBrief.org, which appears to be dedicated to pushing the messaging of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), was registered four days after the death of Antonin Scalia by Leif Noren, the founder and chairman of the Virginia-based CRC Public relations. CRC has represented JCN in the past and in 2009 was involved in the effort to stop the confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. It’s on the CRC-created website that JCN published its embarrassingly thin opposition research dump on Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia.

CRC is most infamous for its role representing Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that in the months before the 2004 election pushed dishonest claims that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry had overstated his accomplishments in the Vietnam War. The smear was so nasty that it inspired the creation of the word “swiftboating” to describe false personal smears against a candidate.

Since then, CRC has taken up far-right causes including attacks on health care reform, climate-change denialism, the creationist Discovery Institute and the National Organization for Marriage. CRC is also representing David Daleiden, the activist behind last year’s series of videos smearing Planned Parenthood.

The Judicial Crisis Network — which during the Bush administration was called the Judicial Confirmation Network and was dedicated to pushing through conservative judicial nominees — has been laughably attempting to frame its efforts to stop a Supreme Court confirmation as some sort of high-minded, nonpartisan public service rather than the transparently partisan crusade that it is.

The group’s partnership with CRC, with its long history of vicious partisan smears, exposes that partisan crusade yet again.

Right Wing Round-Up - 3/15/16

Courting Extremism: The Week The GOP Admitted Its Supreme Court Blockade Is Based On A Lie

Courting Extremism is a weekly feature on conservative responses to the Supreme Court vacancy.

We are introducing a new series here on Right Wing Watch as the GOP’s obstructionism reaches a new low, with many Republican leaders now claiming that whomever President Obama nominates to the Supreme Court should receive absolutely no consideration from senators, despite their duties as outlined in the Constitution.

In response to the Supreme Court blockade, we will be putting together a weekly update on the Right’s response to the current Supreme Court vacancy.

5) Federalist Society Fine With A Perpetual Vacancy

Originally, Republicans insisted that they were simply upholding a recently-discovered tradition where the Senate refuses to consider Supreme Court nominees in election years.

However, since this tradition doesn’t actually exist, conservatives have become more honest about what’s really going on: they just don’t like the fact that Obama is president.

At the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Dean Reuter of the Federalist Society, a major right-wing legal group, commended the Senate GOP leadership for refusing to consider whomever Obama nominates to fill the vacancy. When asked if Republicans should continue to block hearings if the next president is a Democrat, Reuter said he is fine leaving the seat open indefinitely:

There’s no time limit in the Constitution. And there’s nothing magical about there being nine justices. The country started out with six justices, we’ve had as many as ten at some point in time. And as recently as 2010, when Justice Elena Kagan came on the Court, she had been solicitor general so she recused herself in over a third of the cases…I don’t see a sense of urgency.

Unless, of course, a Republican is elected president.

4) Ron Johnson Gives Away The Game

Apparently, the fictitious no-appointments-in-an-election-year tradition only applies to Democratic presidents, at least according to Sen. Ron Johnson.

The Wisconsin Republican said in a radio interview yesterday that “it’d be a different situation” if a GOP president was appointing a justice to the bench, saying that the Senate Republicans would show “more accommodation” to a Republican president.

Johnson might be interested in hearing from his voters: A recent poll found that 62 percent of Wisconsinites say the open Supreme Court seat should be filled this year, and 76 percent “think the Senate should at least see who gets put forward before making a decision on whether they should be confirmed.”

3) ‘We Are Setting A Precedent Here Today’

At least one Republican senator is honest enough to admit that the Republicans don’t have Senate history on their side.

Sen. Lindsey Graham told a Judiciary Committee meeting that the GOP is about to create a new precedent by refusing to even consider a nominee from President Obama, as the Huffington Post reports:

One of the Republican Party's most candid senators, Lindsey Graham (S.C.), admitted Thursday a stark fact that the rest of his colleagues have tried their best to avoid: that their blockade of any Supreme Court nominee by President Barack Obama is unprecedented.

And he insisted that he was going to go along with it, even though he predicted it would worsen relations between the parties and the functioning of the Senate.

"We are setting a precedent here today, Republicans are, that in the last year at least of a lame duck eight-year term -- I would say it’s going to be a four-year term -- that you’re not going to fill a vacancy of the Supreme Court based on what we’re doing here today," Graham said in an unusual session of the Judiciary Committee, where members debated not bills or judicial nominees, but Obama's right to carry out his constitutional powers in an election year.

"We're headed to changing the rules, probably in a permanent fashion," he said.

Nonetheless, Graham said that “he still supports Grassley's decision not to hold hearings for Obama's nominee.”

2) ‘It’s A Political Argument’

While Senate Republicans insist that they aren’t inserting partisanship into the Supreme Court fight and are simply following tradition, Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said at CPAC that the fight is all about winning “a political clash.”

In video provided by Democracy Partners and Americans United for Change, King said that he supports the actions of Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley “as long as he’s blocking an Obama appointment.”

1) Who Cares About The Sixth Amendment?

It seems that the GOP is not only ignoring the Constitution’s “advice and consent” requirement but also the heart of the Sixth Amendment.

In a taste of things to come, Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network took to the National Review to attack a possible Supreme Court nominee, Judge Jane Kelly, for having once worked as a defense attorney.

That’s right, Severino seemed to suggest that it is disqualifying that Kelly worked as a defense attorney because her past clients include people accused of vicious crimes.

Of course, everyone accused of a crime isn’t necessarily guilty, and according to the Sixth Amendment, “the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial” and “to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

Severino’s outrageous article is also an opportunity to point out that her group, the Judicial Crisis Network, was originally named the Judicial Confirmation Network when it was founded during the Bush administration for the purpose of advocating for the smooth confirmation of judges.

Do Conservatives Even Believe In The Bill Of Rights?

The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) has somehow managed to stoop even lower in its dishonest and deceitful campaign to block the Senate from even considering whomever President Obama nominates to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Carrie Severino of JCN, which was founded as the Judicial Confirmation Network but rebranded as a group opposed to judicial confirmations coincidentally after Obama took office, took to National Review last week to attack Jane Kelly, a U.S. circuit court judge whom Obama is reportedly considering nominating to the high court, for once defending a child predator while working as a public defender.

As Zachary Pleat of Media Matters pointed out, Severino not only twisted Kelly’s actions in the case, but attacked Kelly simply for doing her job as a defense attorney.

Severino, a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, must know that even people accused of heinous crimes have a right to an attorney who would vigorously defend their client. It would completely undermine the judicial process to say that the accused should have no legal representation or should have a lawyer who will simply throw the case rather than fulfill their obligation to defend them.

After all, the right to a fair trial lies at the heart of the Sixth Amendment, and JCN actively promoted the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts, who once worked on the defense of convicted murderer John Ferguson.

This attack, Pleat writes, “echoes past right-wing media attacks on Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and former Department of Justice civil rights division nominee Debo Adegbile.”

Several conservative pundits accused Clinton of leading a “war on women” after she was asked by a judge, in 1975, to defend a sexual assault suspect while she was working in legal aid, while Senate Republicans successfully blocked Adegbile’s nomination to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division because they were upset he once worked on a legal team representing Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killed a police officer, on an appeals case regarding whether sentencing instructions given to a jury were constitutional. As Miranda said:

It was an ugly episode, in which politicians like [Ted] Cruz essentially declared that not all criminal defendants deserve the Constitution’s guarantee of legal counsel. And it’s telling that Cruz, the self-proclaimed lover of the Constitution, brought it up in his latest ugly screed.

Clinton and Adegbile aren’t the only people targeted by Republicans simply for acting as defense attorneys.

In 2014, the Republican Governors Association (RGA) ran attack ads against South Carolina state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Democratic candidate for governor, for his work as a criminal defense attorney, using the tagline: “Vincent Sheheen: he represents criminals, not us.”

South Carolina Bar Association President Alice Paylor said the RGA ad campaign amounted to an attack on “the whole basis for the U.S. and the U.S. Constitution. According to them, I guess everyone accused of something is automatically guilty.”

The American Bar Association sent a letter to Gov. Chris Christie, a former prosecutor who chaired the RGA at the time, noting, “Lawyers have an ethical obligation to uphold that principle and provide zealous representation to people who otherwise would stand alone against the power and resources of the government – even to those accused or convicted of terrible crimes.”

The rule of law that governs our society delivers justice specifically because everyone has a right to competent representation. This right is especially important for those who arouse our fear and anger, to ensure that the process by which they are judged is fair and just. This process is what distinguishes us from our darker history, when mobs decided guilt or innocence and punished those they deemed guilty.

And in 2010, a group formed by Bill Kristol and Liz Cheney, the daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney, launched attack ads “against the Obama Justice Department for hiring lawyers who, at one time or another, did legal work on behalf of terror suspects.” The group branded the lawyers the "Al Qaeda 7," questioned their loyalty to the country and demanded that the Justice Department release their names.

We can only imagine how Republicans would have gone after John Adams for representing soldiers charged with murder during the Boston Massacre.

Who’s Driving The GOP’s Supreme Court Blockade?

Almost immediately after the news broke of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month, Republican senators started vowing to block the nomination of whomever President Obama appoints to succeed the conservative jurist. They were egged on in this kneejerk obstructionism by outside conservative groups who quickly circled the wagons in an effort to shut down any Supreme Court confirmation process.

Now, a few key conservative groups are leading the effort to pressure Republican senators to stay in line and to make it politically difficult for vulnerable Democrats to cooperate in a confirmation process. These groups have unified around a message that “the American people should decide” who the next Supreme Court justice is by waiting until the next president can nominate him or her — never mind that Americans did decide who they wanted picking Supreme Court justices when they reelected Obama in 2012.

This “let the people decide” message belies the true goals of the groups pushing it — not some idealistic belief in good governance, but an effort to shape a Supreme Court that favors business interests at the expense of workers and consumers and that helps to turn back the clock on women, LGBT people  and religious minorities.

A new report from People For the American Way looks at four of the conservative groups driving this strategy, outlining their history and their goals for the federal judiciary. It includes:

  • The Judicial Crisis Network was founded during the George W. Bush administration as the Judicial Confirmation Network with the goal of pushing through the nominations and confirmations of far-right judges to the federal bench.
  • The American Center for Law & Justice, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, often acts as a legal arm for the Religious Right’s attempts to deny liberties to LGBT people, Muslim Americans and others.
  • The Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action have become forces for obstructionism as they pressure Republicans to abandon any attempt at bipartisan cooperation or simple governance.
  • The Family Research Council is working to turn back the clock on social advances for women, LGBT people and religious minorities — something that it hopes a friendly Supreme Court will accelerate.

Read the full report here.

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