WASHINGTON – Four years into President Obama’s presidency, he has yet to have a single judge confirmed to the hugely influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. This lapse, caused initially by a slow start from the administration but perpetuated by a blockade of obstruction in the Senate, threatens to hinder progressive advances for years to come, argues a new report from People For the American Way.
The report, AMERICA’S PROGRESS AT RISK: RESTORING BALANCE TO THE DC CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS, can be found here: http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/america-s-progress-risk-restoring-balance-dc-circuit-court-appeals
“The D.C. Circuit is the most important court most Americans have never heard of,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “The D.C. Circuit’s judges have the final word on scores of federal laws each year, from air pollution controls to financial regulations to workers’ rights. Republicans have long understood this, and have packed the court with far-right ideologues who threaten to hold back American progress for decades to come. And they have so far blocked confirmation of judges who would bring any balance to this court."
President Obama is the first president since Woodrow Wilson to fail to have a single nominee confirmed to the D.C. Circuit during his first full term in office, despite the fact that four of the eleven seats on the court are now vacant. His first nominee to the court, the indisputably qualified Caitlin Halligan, was twice blocked by Senate Republicans for reasons widely recognized as spurious.
As a result, the D.C. Circuit continues to be dominated by judges pushing a right-wing ideology long rejected by the American people. The right-wing majority of the D.C. Circuit has continuously sought to dismantle progressive efforts to defend consumers, protect public health, and ensure the rights of workers. Recent D.C. Circuit decisions highlighted in the report include:
“President Obama has a chance in his second term to restore ideological balance to the D.C. Circuit,” added Marge Baker. “It is critically important that he do so. Otherwise, D.C. Circuit will continue to stand in the way of progressive reforms -- reforms chosen by American voters -- and threaten to roll back decades of hard-won protections for working people and consumers."
In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama used his bully pulpit to ensure that the critically important issue of voting rights is securely on the agenda in 2013. Calling it “our most fundamental right as citizens,” the President announced the formation of a non-partisan commission focused on improving our country’s system of voting.
One woman who was undoubtedly pleased to hear this news was 102-year-old Desiline Victor of Miami, seated in the House visitors’ gallery, who had waited in line for hours to cast a ballot in November’s election. President Obama noted that the country should follow her determined example: “As time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say,” he said.
After all, that is the issue at the core of a working democracy: whether folks get to have their say.
Leading up to the election, our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership programs witnessed and stood up to efforts across the country – ranging from unnecessary registration obstacles to early voting restrictions – to suppress the votes of those who have traditionally been disenfranchised: communities of color, low-income communities, and youth. In the past two years alone, more than 65 suppressive voter ID bills were introduced in 34 states.
That’s why it is important that President Obama made it clear last night that he is serious about addressing the problems in our election system. With increased access to early voting and an end to discriminatory voter ID laws, we can ensure that all Americans “get to have their say” at the polls.
“I believe we are finally at a moment where comprehensive immigration reform is within our grasp.”
Last month President Obama shared these words in a speech laying out his vision for fixing our broken immigration system. PFAW applauded the President’s approach to immigration reform, which includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and a focus on keeping families – including LGBT families – together.
As the national discussion around immigration reform continues, this morning PFAW submitted testimony for the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” The testimony noted:
In 2012, Americans voted in great numbers for candidates who promised workable, common-sense solutions to our immigration crisis. Piecemeal legislation will not fix our system in the long term. Now is the time to pursue strong, lasting, comprehensive reform.
People For the American Way, our members and supporters across the country, and members of our advocacy networks urge you to create a viable comprehensive immigration reform plan that will strengthen our economic security and conform to our national values. Such a plan must provide undocumented workers already in the country with a path to citizenship so they can fully contribute to our economy and society. It must reduce the backlog of individuals seeking residency and citizenship by creating a more robust and flexible visa program. It must recognize that immigrants are an integral part of our labor force by addressing employment-based immigration needs. It must ensure strong worker protections and address our enforcement needs in a manner that is just and consistent with our existing due process and civil rights laws. And it must reunite American families by allowing US citizens or permanent residents to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration to the US, a right that is currently denied based solely on their sexual orientation.
The testimony was jointly submitted by People For the American Way and its advocacy networks YP4 Action, YEO Action, and African American Ministers in Action, each of which represents communities that have experienced the strain of our broken immigration system firsthand. The testimony explains:
YP4 Action represents youth organizers on campuses across the country, a number of whom have undocumented family members or are themselves undocumented. All of these organizers are leading efforts to create positive social change in their communities and their country, regardless of immigration status. YEO Action represents young, progressive elected officials, who feel the impact of federal immigration policy with their constituents at the state and local level. Finally, African American Ministers in Action represents a multidenominational network of African American clergy, many of whom serve as faith leaders for immigrant communities, in particular those from Africa, Haiti and the Caribbean.
In President Obama’s speech last month, he asked that we “remember that this is not just a debate about policy. It’s about people.” By the same token, PFAW noted in its testimony that:
Our broken immigration system harms families, communities and our nation as a whole. It creates instability for families, deprives millions of working Americans of civil rights and workplace protections, and prevents many who are providing for their families, paying taxes and contributing to their communities from fully integrating into our country….Together, People For the American Way and its advocacy networks urge you to adopt a comprehensive immigration reform package that creates a healthy, practical, commonsense immigration system worthy of the country it serves.
The White House announced two new federal appeals court nominees today, Jane Kelly of Iowa to serve on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and Gregory Alan Phillips of Wyoming to serve on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kelly’s nomination is notable for a number of reasons. If confirmed, she will become only the second woman ever to serve on the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees seven Midwestern states, and the first from Iowa. She would also help to bring a greater diversity of professional backgrounds to the federal bench, coming to the position after a career as a highly-regarded federal public defender.
Kelly’s nomination underscores the Obama administration’s remarkable success in bringing a diversity of voices to the federal bench. A record 41 percent of President Obama’s confirmed nominees have been women and 36 percent have been people of color. In addition, Obama has nominated more openly gay federal judges than all previous presidents combined. Despite the Senate GOP’s routine stalling of the president’s nominees, he has succeeded in bringing unprecedented gender and racial diversity to the federal bench.
Both Kelly and Phillips have been nominated to vacancies that have not yet opened up (Kelly’s vacancy opens tomorrow and Phillips’ in April). If the Senate confirms them quickly it will avoid adding two more vacancies to an already over-burdened federal court system. Promptly filling the 10th Circuit vacancy is especially critical since the 12-judge Tenth Circuit is on track to have vacancies in one third of its seats. A nominee for one of the three current vacancies on the circuit, Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, has been waiting over seven months for a Senate vote, despite strong support from his two home-state Republican senators.
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way today applauded President Obama’s proposal for comprehensive immigration reform, which includes equal rights for same-sex couples.
“The president has proposed a common-sense and necessary approach to immigration reform, which includes protections for LGBT families,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “Any effective immigration reform must include equal rights for LGBT people. Our immigration policies must place a priority on keeping families together, including LGBT families. Too many bi-national, same-sex couples have seen their families torn apart by a federal government that refuses to recognize their relationships. That policy runs counter to our values and weakens us as a nation.”
“We are glad that President Obama recognizes the need to protect LGBT families,” added Keegan. “We will fight to make sure that all families are recognized in the final law.”
Yesterday, PFAW called a bipartisan immigration proposal from Senate, which includes a path to citizenship, "an important step in the right direction."
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when Republicans started complaining that President Obama's second inaugural address was too "partisan" and lacked "outreach" across the aisle. But who was left out? What did they find "partisan"? The acknowledgement of climate science? The idea that women should receive equal pay for equal work? The nod to civil rights struggles of our past and present? The hope that no American will have to wait in hours-long lines to vote? The defense of the existence of a social safety net? The determination to offer support to the victims of a historic storm and to find real answers to the epidemic of mass shootings? In the not-too-distant past, none of these would have raised eyebrows except on the very, very far right. But I guess that's the point: what was once the radical fringe is now in control of the Grand Old Party.
In many ways, Monday's inauguration ceremony was a Tea Party Republican's nightmare-come-true. The openly gay poet. The Spanish sprinkled into the benediction. The one-two-three punch of "Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall." It was the embodiment of all that the far right has tried to wall itself off from as the country begins to include more and more of the real America in its democracy.
What would have pleased this faction, short of winning the presidential election? I imagine they would have preferred a paean to the America of their imaginations -- where the founders were flawless and prescient about the right to bear assault weapons and the Constitution was delivered, amendments included, directly from God; where there are no gay people or only silent ones, where the world is not getting warmer; where there have been no struggles in the process of forging a more perfect union. This, of course, would have been its very own kind of political statement -- and one that was just rejected by the majority of American voters.
If embracing America as it is rather than as a shimmery vision of what it never was constitutes partisanship, and if it turns off people who cling to that dishonest vision, let's have more of it.
The Center for Security Policy’s Frank Gaffney and National Review columnist Andy McCarthy were unimpressed with President Obama’s second inaugural address, despite all its references to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers. On yesterday’s edition of Secure Freedom Radio, McCarthy told Gaffney that the president is “taking out a contract on the Constitution as we know it.” Gaffney responded that the president “wrapped himself in a sort of nostalgia for the Constitution” while in fact being “rather contemptuous of it.”
McCarthy: I think what Obama’s trying to do -- and a lot of us who followed his career warned about this back in 2007, 2008 -- is really consummate the ambition of FDR to change the very nation of the American system, and certainly to change the nature of our constitutional framework from a charter of negative liberties, which is the protection of the American people against the adhesions and the extreme maneuvers of government, to basically a contract of the have-nots against the haves with government as the intermediary for demanding what government must do for people. With the big problem with that being, number one, what is your license to take from me, which is certainly not what the country was founded on. And number two, enough is never enough with the left. So even if you were to institute such a system it quickly becomes unsustainable.
Gaffney: Yeah, I take it you don’t mean “contract” in the sense of “taking out a contract” on somebody, but it certainly sounds as though that might be the gist.
McCarthy: It’s certainly taking out a contract, it’s taking out a contract on the Constitution as we know it.
Gaffney: Yeah. Even as we talked about with Dr. Paul Kengor earlier, and even as he wrapped himself in sort of nostalgia for the Constitution, he certainly showed himself to be rather contemptuous of it.
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way today praised President Obama for putting forward bold proposals to combat gun violence and urged Congress to quickly take action on the issue.
“Our dire situation requires bold action,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “We’ve seen too many American lives lost to senseless gun violence. The president is correct to recognize that there is no one solution to this national blight, just as there is no one cause. We must take quick and meaningful action to prevent further tragedies by restricting access to weapons of war.”
“Gun violence is a threat to everyone in America, but it particularly plagues young African Americans,” added Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way. “We are morally required to do everything we possibly can to keep our children safe and free from fear, whether they are in the classroom or playing on the streets in their neighborhood, whether they live in Newtown or in Chicago or in the District of Columbia. These proposals are an important step in the right direction.”
Sen. Rand Paul isn’t the only prominent Republican hanging out with birthers these days. Next month, RNC chairman Reince Preibus and Wisconson Sen. Ron Johnson will travel to Alabama to headline a dinner hosted by state GOP chairman Bill Armistead. Armistead raised eyebrows last year when he publicly recommended “Dreams From My Real Father,” a “documentary” that promotes the alternate birther theory that President Obama somehow inherited a Marxist worldview from his “real father” Frank Marshall Davis. Somewhat unbelievably, Armistead stated that he had “verified that it is factual, all of it.”
Interestingly, Priebus and Johnson will be stepping into the middle of a fight over whether Armistead will keep his job. (He faces a challenger backed by his longtime rival, state House Speaker Mike Hubbard.) Charles Dean at the Birmingham News reports that Priebus might be attending as a political favored to Armistead:
Some saw Tuesday's late announcement by Armistead that Priebus had accepted the invitation to attend the dinner as a sign that maybe Armistead had convinced the GOP national party chairman to support him.
Late last week Armistead announced that he was supporting Priebus for a second term as Republican Party Chairman. So far Priebus is unopposed for a second term but rumors have persisted for months that a challenger might step up.
UPDATE: The RNC tells the Birmingham News that Priebus is not taking sides in the party chairmanship race.
WASHINGTON – People For the American Way today commended President Obama for re-nominating the 33 federal judicial nominees the Senate failed to confirm in the last Congress, and urged the Senate to act quickly to confirm all 33.
“The president is sending a strong message to the new Senate about the importance of ending the judicial vacancy crisis,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “It is imperative that the Senate work with the White House to confirm qualified nominees to our federal courts and put an end to the obstruction that has denied too many Americans timely access to justice. These nominees could and should have been confirmed last year. There is no excuse for delaying their confirmations any longer.”
One third of the 33 nominees that the president sent to the Senate were approved by the Judiciary Committee last year but were stalled by Republicans on the Senate floor. Others were awaiting hearings or votes in committee. One, D.C. Circuit nominee Caitlin Halligan, was first nominated by the president to fill a vacancy on this critically important court more than two years ago.
The nominations sent back to the Senate reflect President Obama’s efforts to bring diversity to the federal bench. 25 of the 33 nominees sent to the Senate today are women or people of color.
Karl Rove, whose American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS spent hundreds of millions of dollars attacking President Obama’s economic record without avail, has become something of a punching bag for a defeated and embittered Religious Right. Shortly after the election, Gary Bauer faulted Rove for focusing on the economy rather than on abortion rights and marriage equality and radio host Janet Mefferd expressed concern that “we didn’t even talk much about radical Islam.” A few days later, the American Family Association’s Sandy Rios even accused Rove of moderating the GOP’s previous focus on anti-gay policies.
Today, Joel Gilbert, director of the widely distributed anti-Obama movie “Dreams From My Real Father,” joined the pile-on. In an interview with Renew America’s Cliff Kincaid, Gilbert argued that Rove made a fatal mistake by focusing his attacks on the economy rather than on Gilbert’s theory that the president’s real father was communist organizer Frank Marshall Davis. "If Republicans had made Obama's Marxist agenda and personal background the main issues of the campaign, Americans would have had a much clearer understanding of the choice between American values and Marxism,” Gilbert said.
"I heard complaints from Rove's conservative donors four weeks in advance of the election," filmmaker Joel Gilbert told Accuracy in Media. "They kept asking, 'where is the money being spent?'" The questions intensified after Obama's victory and the Democrats achieved a larger 55-45 majority in the Senate.
Gilbert, who directed the documentary "Dreams from My Real Father," about Obama's Marxist roots, notes that Rove had argued to conservative donors that the winning strategy for Republicans was to place ads focusing on the poor economy.
Gilbert's film, which was distributed to millions of voters and argued that Obama's real biological and ideological father was Communist Party USA propagandist Frank Marshall Davis, attempted to expose Obama's character and background. But Rove, Romney and Republican leaders did not want to raise these issues. In fact, Rove had argued that calling Obama a socialist or left-winger would backfire.
Gilbert argued that Obama was a pop-culture phenomenon with a high "likability" factor and that "Voters perceived Obama as a nice man with an inspiring family story." The right strategy, he says, was to expose Obama's Marxist views, the role of Frank Marshall Davis in molding Obama's political philosophy, and Obama's questionable statements about his own upbringing.
Gilbert says, "If Republicans had made Obama's Marxist agenda and personal background the main issues of the campaign, Americans would have had a much clearer understanding of the choice between American values and Marxism."
The Pew Research Center is out with a new analysis showing that the support of people under 30 was critical to President Obama’s reelection victory. Concerned Women For America’s Janice Crouse has a theory as to why, a theory that she bolsters with a quote from a “popular Amazon discussion.”
Why, then, did young voters overwhelmingly support President Obama? The short answer is: Demographics and Dependency.
Nearly 60% of young voters favor an activist government (compared to 44% of older voters). A sharp generational difference was noted in the racial and ethnic makeup of this year's voters. Seventy-six percent of voters 30 and older were white, with 12% black, 8% Latino and the rest falling under a number of other self-identifiers. Among young voters, 58% identified themselves as white, while 42% were either black, Latino or among another minority group. A popular Amazon discussion declared, "Young voters choose marijuana and government dependency over jobs and prosperity."
For the record, this thread of 15 comments appears to be the “popular Amazon discussion” at issue. (Apparently young voters are also interested in “bicycles and beards.”)
President Barack Obama posed an important question to families across the country yesterday: what does $2,000 mean to you?
In a speech on extending tax cuts for the middle class as the fiscal deadlines approach, President Obama emphasized the importance of this tax measure for everyday Americans:
“If Congress does nothing, every family in America will see their taxes automatically go up at the beginning of next year…A typical middle class family of four would see its income taxes go up by $2,200. $2,200 out of people’s pockets. That means less money for buying groceries, less money for filling prescriptions, less money for buying diapers. It means a tougher choice between paying the rent and paying tuition. And middle class families just can’t afford that right now.”
He made the case that extending tax cuts for the middle class would give families peace of mind and give those in Washington more time to work out a comprehensive fiscal plan “in a balanced way – including asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more so we can still invest in things like education and training in science and research.”
Earlier this month, People For the American Way – as well as PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action and People for the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials and Young People For programs – joined more than 100 other organizations in calling for a budget agreement that prioritizes job creation, saving the safety net, stopping sequestration, and adding new revenue from corporations and the wealthiest earners.
Americans agree with this approach. A Washington Post-ABC poll released yesterday found that the majority (60%) of Americans support increasing taxes on the wealthy and that 67% oppose raising the age for Medicare coverage. As families across the country know, the solution to our fiscal problems cannot come from putting efficient systems like Medicare and Medicaid on the chopping block so that we can extend tax breaks for the richest Americans.
Beyond being bad for families, it’s bad for our national economy. As the Congressional Research Service found this fall, lower tax rates for the wealthy do not spur economic growth. Instead, as President Obama said today, “let’s approach this problem with the middle class in mind” – and make sure Congress isn’t taking money out of our national investments in health and education to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.
Washington, DC – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today ignored the calls of national and home-state groups and delayed Judiciary Committee votes on five federal judicial nominees. Sen. Grassley, the committee’s ranking member, has routinely held back committee votes on judicial nominations for one, two, three, or even six weeks, usually without providing a reason. Ninety-seven percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees who have had committee votes scheduled have met with these delays, before confronting even greater obstruction on the Senate floor.
Yesterday, 16 Iowa and national groups sent Sen. Grassley a letter urging him to end these routine delays of judicial nominees, which have helped create a record vacancy crisis in the federal courts. In response, Grassley flaunted misleading statistics and failed to produce a reason why he has delayed nominees far more frequently than his predecessors.
Ignoring the groups' call, at a hearing today, Grassley postponed committee votes on four federal district court nominees and one nominee for the Court of International Trade. Three of the nominees would fill emergency vacancies. It has been more than two months since the committee heard testimony from the nominees and had the chance to ask follow-up questions.
“Sen. Grassley has chosen to put petty partisan politics over the wellbeing of our federal courts and the wishes of his constituents,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Because they take place in committee, Grassley’s delaying tactics usually go under the radar, but that does not make them any less harmful. Grassley and his party are delaying these nominees just for the sake of delay. At a time when federal courts are struggling to meet the needs of Americans, that is simply irresponsible.”
Washington, DC – People For the American Way today commended President Obama for nominating three qualified Pennsylvanians to seats on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The three nominees, Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro, Luis Felipe Restrepo, and Jeffrey L. Schmehl, continue the gender and ethnic diversity that President Obama has brought to the federal courts. Two of the three are of Hispanic heritage, and one, Quiñones, would become the first openly gay Hispanic federal judge. Notably, the professional diversity of these nominees is also significant. Restrepo’s and Schmehl’s professional careers include time as public defenders and Quiñones’s background includes work with a community legal services program.
“These nominees are emblematic of the president’s commitment to nominating qualified, diverse nominees to the federal bench,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “They are also a sign of the president’s commitment to solving the vacancy crisis in our federal courts without delay. One week after his reelection, the president nominated seven Americans to fill district and circuit court vacancies. Today, he has taken an important step in tackling the longstanding vacancy crisis in Pennsylvania.”
Pennsylvania’s federal courts currently have eight vacancies. Two nominees for seats considered “judicial emergencies” have been waiting over four months for confirmation votes from the Senate, despite the stated support of their home-state senators.
“It took far too long for Quiñones, Restrepo and Schmehl to be nominated for long-vacant seats on Pennsylvania’s courts, through the process set up by Senators Casey and Toomey,” added Baker. “And there are still three vacancies on the Eastern District yet to be filled. It is critical that the senators act expeditiously to send recommendations to the White House for these three remaining seats so that Pennsylvanians have access to fully functioning federal courts. It is also taking far too long for the Senate to confirm the two pending Pennsylvania Middle District nominees, because of obstruction by Senate Republicans. Sen. Toomey must stand up to his Republican leadership and urge them to allow confirmation votes on the 19 nominees who have spent as long as eight months languishing on the Senate floor.”