To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, People For the American Way
Date: May 4, 2012
Subject: Behind the Scenes, Silent Obstruction of Judicial Nominees
Senate Republicans’ systematic obstruction of President Obama’s nominees to the federal courts is by now well known. The President’s confirmed nominees have on average waited four times as long between committee approval and a vote from the full Senate than did George W. Bush’s nominees at this point in his term. The vast majority of these, once the GOP’s obstruction options are exhausted, are confirmed overwhelmingly.
What is less well known – and largely hidden in behind-the-scenes Senate procedure – is that this systematic obstruction often begins long before a nominee has been sent from the Judiciary Committee to the Senate floor. In fact, Senate Republicans are routinely using procedural tactics to delay the consideration and approval of the President’s judicial nominees by the Judiciary Committee.
This silent obstruction adds another layer of gridlock to an already gridlocked process – and it does so away from the spotlight of the media and the scrutiny of constituents.
Pre-Committee: Withholding Blue Slips
Under procedures adopted by Chairman Leahy as a bipartisan courtesy to his fellow senators, the Judiciary Committee does not consider a judicial nominee until both of that nominee’s home-state senators have submitted a “blue slip” allowing the nominee to move forward. The submission of a blue slip does not imply support of the nominee – merely that the nomination should be considered by the Judiciary Committee.
Despite the serious implications of withholding a blue slip, senators can do so without giving a reason and even without a public announcement – making it impossible to know how often the practice occurs. But several recent incidents that have been publicized show just how willing some GOP senators are to prevent unquestionably qualified and mainstream nominees from even reaching a Senate hearing.
In Arizona, a two-year-old emergency vacancy remains unfilled despite the existence of a well-qualified nominee who has been waiting since June 2011 for a Senate hearing. Rosemary Márquez, President Obama’s nominee to the District Court based out of Tucson, was rated unanimously qualified by the American Bar Association and has the support of a large cross-section of Arizona’s legal community. But Sens. McCain and Kyl have held up Márquez’s nomination for ten months by refusing to submit blue slips to the Judiciary Committee.
Márquez is not alone. In February, the President nominated Elissa Cadish, a state district court judge in Nevada, to fill an empty seat on the U.S. District Court. Cadish is widely recognized as being qualified for the federal bench, including by a unanimous panel of the American Bar Association. But Sen. Dean Heller is withholding his blue slip anyway and thus blocking the Judiciary Committee from even considering her nomination.
Heller’s objection to Cadish is this: one month before the Supreme Court overturned decades of case law to hold that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms, Cadish stated – accurately – that then-current case law did not recognize such a right. For a nominee for a lower federal court, who is expected to rely on Supreme Court precedent rather than create her own, it was a statement of fact, one that four members of the United States Supreme Court agreed with just a few weeks later. For Heller, it disqualifies her from even being considered for a federal judgeship.
Similarly, Eleventh Circuit nominee Jill Pryor is being kept from a Senate hearing by home-state Republican senators who have already acknowledged that she is qualified for a federal judgeship but want her in a different seat – one on the U.S. District Court. Georgia senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson have said that they’re fine with Pryor being a federal judge. Pryor’s skills and experience aren’t in doubt: she’s received a host of awards for her work in the courtroom and has been a leader in Georgia’s legal community. The senators’ beef is simply that they have someone else in mind for the Circuit Court seat the president nominated her to, and they seem willing to keep an emergency vacancy unfilled until they get their way.
All of these nominations are being held hostage by Republican senators who are silently filibustering them by refusing to consent to the Judiciary Committee’s even holding hearings on their merits.
In Committee: No-Shows and Routine Delays
Twice this year, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have prevented nominees from moving forward by simply not showing up at committee hearings and preventing a quorum. These “boycotts” kept the committee from holding votes on nominees who had already had hearings before the committee, further delaying already delayed nominations.
The walk-outs provided a more public accent to what was already routine obstruction by Judiciary Republicans. Committee rules allow the minority party to delay votes on nominees by requesting a one-week holdover, a provision designed to permit members who have questions about a particular nominee to get those questions answered. Under President Bush, such holdover requests were occasionally made to consider particular questions about particular nominees. Under President Obama, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have used this tactic routinely, holding over all but five of more than 150 nominees.
Senate Republicans have been using nearly every procedural tactic at their disposal to stall President Obama’s judicial nominees at every step in the nominations process. Very few of these maneuvers come with explanations, and those that do are often blown far out of proportion.
The result has been a record vacancy crisis in the federal courts, inexcusable delays for Americans seeking justice, and eroded trust in gridlocked Congress.
Media contact: Miranda Blue, (202) 467-4999, firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, in a 63-33 vote, the Senate broke a filibuster of the nomination of John McConnell to serve as a district court judge in Rhode Island. The attempted obstruction of a district court nominee was a top priority for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which spent enormous lobbying resources on sinking McConnell’s nomination. The Chamber objected to McConnell’s work as a public interest lawyer in Rhode Island, where he took on lead paint manufacturers and tobacco companies on behalf of consumers.
Barack Obama claimed the state of North Carolina today, which hasn’t gone to a Democrat since Jimmy Carter. But before we could reflect on this historic triumph, we were reminded of something we read last week, which made us think of this:
Don’t worry. We can explain.
Senator Lindsey Graham, warming up a North Carolina audience for McCain, assured them that McCain would win: "He fits North Carolina like a glove…I’ll beat Michael Phelps in swimming before Barack Obama wins North Carolina." Whoops! Graham continued, "Don't let me down, because I can’t swim."
But rather than eating his words, we hope Graham will take the opportunity to learn to swim. Swimming is an important skill, especially for a man who could himself get washed away by a blue wave.
We’ve done him the favor of inquiring about beginner lessons in South Carolina. The Columbia YMCA has two very promising offerings:
Graham was right about one thing: McCain does fit North Carolina like a glove. We tried it ourselves, and the glove kept getting hung up on Asheville:
In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s historic election, the McCain campaign and RNC led a coordinated campaign to cast the integrity of the vote into doubt. They claimed ACORN was engaging in massive voter fraud. They claimed that Obama was receiving illegal foreign contributions. They claimed that the “liberal media” was skewing the polls in favor of Democrats.
In other words, they were writing themselves an insurance policy in the event of a contested election or narrow loss. But it wasn’t even close.
As a result, the anticipated barrage of conspiracy theories and false charges never materialized. Yet not everyone could just let it go.
Here’s the current poll on Hannity.com:
(h/t: Bob Geiger)
There's a long history in American politics of exploiting divisions and fanning bigotry to win elections. In recent decades those strategies were honed by Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. Now the torch has passed to Steve Schmidt, and he’s done just about everything possible to fan the flames.
Schmidt’s tactics and the right-wing echo chamber have convinced millions of Americans that the nation is about to elect someone who hates America and “pals around with terrorists.” Just take a look at this video of supporters outside a Palin rally:
In recent weeks, the right wing has grown even more frenzied as McCain and his allies pushed the ACORN voter fraud hoax. Not only is Obama a Manchurian candidate, the thinking goes, but his evildoer comrades at ACORN are trying to steal the election. It’s little wonder that some people are going berserk.
McCain, Palin, Schmidt, Limbaugh, Hannity and the rest of them have created something very powerful, but very ugly, and it’s grown too big for them to control. Here is just some of what happens when you train your pit bulls to fear and hate and attack, and then they get loose:
People For the American Way is tracking such incidents around the nation. If something happens in your community that people should know about, please get in touch.
It’s bad enough that the employees of ACORN have had to endure days of baseless and outlandish attacks by John McCain and the RNC. But after McCain outrageously claimed before a national audience on Wednesday night that ACORN was “maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy,” the group came under attack, literally. In the following days, ACORN’s Boston and Seattle offices were vandalized and at least one employee received a death threat.
And for nearly two weeks, ACORN offices across the nation have been subjected to an onslaught of racist and threatening voicemails and emails. We have secured copies of some of the most disturbing and offensive messages and have reproduced them below in order to show the very real consequences of the Right Wing’s overheated and misplaced “voter fraud” rhetoric.
Warning: the emails and voicemails below are highly explicit and have only been edited to remove personally identifying information. Please also note that, where relevant, the proper authorities have been notified.
“Hi, I was just calling to let you all know that Barack Obama needs to get hung. He's a fucking nigger, and he's a piece of shit. You guys are fraudulent, and you need to go to hell. All the niggers on oak trees. They're gonna get all hung honeys, they're gonna get assassinated, they're gonna get killed.”
Email #1: This email was received by the Cleveland office. The subject line was the name of a senior staffer who had recently appeared on TV to defend the group.
According to McClatchy, the email was traced back to a Facebook account featuring a McCain-Palin sign.
"You liberal idiots. Dumb shits. Welfare bums. You guys just fucking come to our country, consume every natural resource there is, and make a lot of babies. That's all you guys do. And then suck up the welfare and expect everyone else to pay for your hospital bills for your kids. I just say let your kids die. That's the best move. Just let your children die. Forget about paying for hospital bills for them. I'm not gonna do it. You guys are lowlifes. And I hope you all die."
People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert released the following statement:
"On Wednesday night, John McCain outrageously claimed before a national television audience that ACORN was 'maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.' In the two days since, the community organizing group has suffered vandalism at its Boston and Seattle offices and has faced an onslaught of threats and hostile emails.
People for the American Way (PFAW) will take out a full-page ad (PDF link) in The New York Times charging the right wing with misleading the public in the ACORN voter registration controversy. The ad also challenges the press for failing to examine the fabrications made against the voter registration group and turning a blind-eye toward the right wing's ongoing effort to disenfranchise voters.
Senator John McCain has been making a lot of baseless accusations lately, but he is the one with the troubling past. McCain and Marylin Shannon — a 2008 McCain delegate and former vice chair of the Oregon Republican Party — both appeared at an August, 1993 fundraiser for the far right Oregon Citizens Alliance. McCain appeared against the advice of Mark Hatfield, a GOP senator from Oregon, who feared that the group's extremist views would taint McCain.
In response to Sarah Palin's remarks concerning the Supreme Court on Wednesday's episode of the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert issued the following statement:
PFAW's Kolbert: We need a conversation about the Court and the Constitution, not more sleaze from the smearmongers of the Right
The Judicial Confirmation Network, a group of right-wing activists that mobilized support for the Bush administration's efforts to impose its political agenda on the federal judiciary, has launched a mud-slinging ad campaign that is ostensibly about the Supreme Court but does nothing to address the issues at stake for all Americans in the future of the judiciary.
In 2000, John McCain solidified his "maverick" reputation by lambasting the Religious Right. He labeled Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance" and decried the Right's role within the Republican Party:
"They are corrupting influences on religion and politics, and those who practice them in the name of religion or in the name of the Republican Party or in the name of America shame our faith, our party and our country."
"John McCain has been working hard to get back in the good graces of the Right," said People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert. "By choosing Sarah Palin, he's given them exactly what they want — a book banning, anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-science extremist who's short on experience but long on ideology. Americans don't want a candidate who believes that victims of rape and incest should be denied a right to choose abortion. But the far right does. They said jump, and McCain just asked how high."
In return, the right-wing's response has been over the top:
James Dobson, Focus on the Family: "A lot of people were praying, and I believe Sarah Palin is God's answer."
Tony Perkins, Family Research Council: "Senator McCain made an outstanding pick."
Connie Mackey, FRCAction: "I am elated with Senator McCain's choice."
Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel: "Absolutely brilliant choice."
Richard Land: "Governor Palin will delight the Republican base."
Rick Scarborough, Vision
, "I'm elated. I think it's a superb choice." America
Ralph Reed: "They're beyond ecstatic. This is a home run."
Gary Bauer, American Values: "[A] grand slam home run."
Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum: "She is the best possible choice."
Wendy Wright, Concerned Women for America: "Governor Palin will change the dynamics of the entire presidential race."
Janice Shaw Crouse, CWA's Beverly LaHaye Institute: "She is an outstanding woman who will be an excellent role model for the nation's young people."
David Barton, Wallbuilders: "The talk won't be about, 'look at Sarah Palin' as much as 'look at what McCain's choice of Palin says about McCain's core beliefs."
Jonathan Falwell: "John McCain made it very clear that his administration was going to be a pro-life administration, and he proved that's his belief and his passion today with the choice of Sarah Palin."
Jerry Falwell, Jr.: "I think it's a brilliant choice."
Charmaine Yoest, Americans United for Life: "And then when [Palin] was announced — it was like you couldn't breathe. [We] were grabbing each other and jumping up and down."
Gary Marx, Judicial Confirmation Network: "I can tell you that this pick tells millions in the base of the party that they can trust McCain. More specifically that they can trust him with Supreme Court picks and other key appointments."
David Keene, American Conservative Union: "The selection of Governor Palin is great news for conservatives, for the party and for the country. I predict any conservatives who have been lukewarm thus far in their support of the McCain candidacy will work their hearts out between now and November for the McCain-Palin ticket."
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