As the Supreme Court heard arguments today in McCutcheon v. FEC – a campaign finance case in which the Court will decide whether to strike down overall limits on direct political contributions – a great crowd of PFAW and allies rallied outside the Court in support of getting big money out of politics. From students and small business owners to members of Congress – including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ted Deutch, Jim McGovern, and John Sarbanes – people from all backgrounds came together in support of protecting the integrity of our democracy.
PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker kicked off the speeches by painting a picture of the “people versus money” nature of the case:
Inside the court – right now – one wealthy man is asking for permission to pour even more money directly into political campaigns. But we’re here, too, and we have a different ask. We’re asking the justices to protect the integrity of our democracy. We’re asking them to protect the voices and the votes of ‘We the People’….We’re here today saying loud and clear: our democracy is not for sale.
Also speaking at today’s rally was Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig L. Rice, Maryland State Director of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. Rice spoke about the effect of campaign finance laws on young political candidates:
As a young minority elected official, let me tell you: this [case] is extremely troubling….Young minority candidates throughout this country are routinely outspent and therefore denied the ability to serve in elected roles….Money should not determine who serves in office.
Howard University student Brendien Mitchell, a fellow in affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program, talked about the importance of being able to hear the political voices of young people in the midst of voter suppression efforts and massive spending by the wealthy in our democracy:
What about the freedom of young Americans who cannot donate grandiose sums of money to political candidates?....We gather to say that this is our country. And that in a case of money versus people, the answer should be apparent: the people.
One of the highlights of the day was hearing from Moral Monday demonstration leader Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and a member of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action. Rev. Barber highlighted the millions of dollars Art Pope has poured into conservative projects and campaigns in his home state of North Carolina:
We [in North Carolina] know firsthand that when you undermine laws that guard against voter suppression, and you undo regulations on the ability for corporations and individuals to spend unchecked amounts of money to influence and infiltrate and literally infect the democratic process, it has extreme impacts.
Extreme impacts – and not only on the electoral process itself, but also on a whole host of issues shaping the lives of everyday Americans. Whether you care most about protecting voting rights, preserving our environment, or workers getting paid a livable wage, a political system where the super-rich can make six-digit direct political contributions harms us all.
And that’s why organizations and activists with focuses ranging from civil rights to environmental protection to good government issues came together today with a common message: our democracy is not for sale.
President Obama yesterday nominated three highly qualified candidates to federal district court judgeships in Illinois. The nominations of Colin Stirling Bruce, Sara Lee Ellis and Andrea R. Wood underscore the president’s commitment to bringing qualified, diverse candidates to the federal bench. Two of the three nominees, Ellis and Wood, are African-American women. Wood brings unique professional diversity to the bench: she currently works for the enforcement division of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which helps keep financial companies accountable to voters and consumers.
A resolution supporting a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Trade Commission and related cases was passed by the Maine Senate and House today, making Maine the thirteenth state to call for such an amendment. The vote was bipartisan in both chambers.
“As more and more states call for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United and related cases, it becomes increasingly clear that the American people are serious about taking back our democracy from wealthy special interests,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “In Maine and across the nation, Americans are working to protect our democracy from the flood of corporate and special interest spending ushered in by the Citizens United decision. The passage of this resolution is an exciting step forward for Maine and for the country.”
WASHINGTON – The Republican National Committee released a report today reviewing its losses in the 2012 election cycle and laying out a roadmap for the future of the party. People For the American Way Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:
“This report highlights what we already knew: that the Republican party is out of touch with America. Instead of addressing the party’s anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-worker policies that voters resoundingly rejected in 2012, today’s report calls for a complete gutting of campaign finance reform – in essence calling for even more big money to be poured into our elections. If the Republican party were listening to Americans, they would know that the country supports finding systemic solutions to the problem of unregulated money in our political system. The answer is certainly not to gut the regulations we already have in place. Instead, we need to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC and related cases so that we can create more effective regulations to get big money out of our democracy.
“The GOP report’s recommendations on voting rights also underscore a continuing focus on keeping certain voters from the polls. After an election cycle overflowing with examples of discriminatory voter suppression efforts aimed at historically disenfranchised communities, the report recommends an ongoing focus on so-called ‘ballot security training initiatives.’ This is simply another phrase for the same voter intimidation tactics used in the name of preventing supposed ‘voter fraud.’ It’s baffling that the GOP thinks it can improve its image with people of color while still working to block their access to the ballot box.
“This report is yet another example that the GOP’s ‘soul-searching’ hasn’t gotten them very far. It’s time to refocus our efforts on getting the big money out of elections and the voters into the voting booth.”
In 2011 comedian Stephen Colbert announced his plan to form a political action committee, noting that he believed in "the American dream."
"That dream is simple," he joked. "That anyone, no matter who they are, if they are determined, if they are willing to work hard enough, someday they could grow up to create a legal entity which could then receive unlimited corporate funds, which could be used to influence our elections."
While this may have been Stephen Colbert's satirical "American dream," this weekend we saw communities around the country pursuing a true American ideal -- a democracy of, by and for the people that is not undermined by unlimited corporate and special interest political spending. A democracy that encourages all people to participate. A democracy in which the voices of everyday Americans are not drowned out by massive -- and often secret -- outside spending in our elections, such as the out-of-state money that flooded down ballot federal races in the 2012 election cycle.
It is a fitting coincidence that this year, both Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and the third anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC fell on the third weekend in January. Corporate money in politics and voter suppression are interrelated threats to the foundations of our democracy. That's why, under the banner of Money Out/Voters In, Americans carried out more than 100 "Day of Action" events in 33 states this past weekend, drawing attention to the appropriate juxtaposition of two of the most pressing issues facing our country.
In Wichita, Kansas, organizers held a mock trial to re-decide the damaging Citizens United decision. In cities including New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia and Buffalo, ministers led teach-ins on voter suppression and Citizens United from a faith perspective. In Lancaster, PA, they held Money Out/Voters In street theater. And in Richmond, California, activists marched to the Chevron refinery to demonstrate against the excesses of corporate power in our political system.
These organizers were building on a momentum to restore our democracy that has been gathering even more steam in recent months. On Election Day we saw Americans defying efforts to suppress their vote, standing in lines for hour upon hour to exercise their fundamental right as citizens. Despite the restrictions on early voting and voter ID laws targeting those who have traditionally faced disenfranchisement, the 2012 election saw historically high African American and Latino turnout. Youth voters defied all predictions and turned out in record numbers.
Election Day also saw organizers in cities and states across the country successfully push for legislative remedies to the influx of corporate and special interest money in our democracy. In Colorado, Amendment 65 -- an initiative instructing the state's congressional delegation to support a Constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United -- was approved, with more than seven in ten Colorado voters in favor of the amendment. Voters in Montana approved a similar initiative instructing their congressional delegation to propose a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United. The measure was approved overwhelmingly. All in all, eleven states and over 350 local governments have passed legislative resolutions or ballot initiatives to overturn Citizens United.
Because, in fact, corporations are not human beings, and democracy is a system made for people. Americans are demonstrating in city after city that we understand this and that we demand solutions.
Stephen Colbert's satirical "dream" may be one of corporate political influence, but my dream -- and one that I share with the American people, as has been so clearly demonstrated in recent months -- is one of taking back our democracy from special interests and restoring political power to everyday Americans.
Super PACs and corporate lobbyists, beware.
Earlier this month, organizations from around the country working to fight back against the influence of big money on our democracy gathered to share ideas and make plans for action. The conference, associated with the Money Out/Voters In Coalition – of which People For the American Way is a leading member – provided a forum to discuss Constitutional and legislative solutions to the growing problem of corporate influence in politics. As AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld described it:
“Last Saturday in Los Angeles saw the most detailed, ambitious and encouraging discussion of exactly how to approach campaign finance and lobbying reform that I’ve seen in two decades of reporting on the decline of American democracy.”
Conference-goers grounded their discussions in the notion that corporations should not have the same constitutional rights as people to spend money to influence elections. They noted that constitutional and other remedies are needed to prevent powerful and wealthy special interests from undermining our democracy.
And national polls have consistently found that Americans want solutions. Earlier this year, the Brennan Center for Justice found that three in four Americans “believe limiting how much corporations, unions, and individuals can donate to Super PACs would curb corruption.” Another recent poll found that nine Americans out of ten agree that there is too much corporate money in politics.
As People For the American Way’s Marge Baker put it:
“This is happening because the people want it to happen.”
It is clear that Americans realize we have a problem on our hands. And as movement leaders come together, float plans, and debate proposals, it is also clear that those who care about repairing our democracy will continue to fight back against corporate influence in politics until we as a country have enacted viable solutions.
Washington, DC – People For the American Way today commended the Senate Judiciary Committee for holding an important hearing on the tremendous impact the Supreme Court will have on whether the American people will be allowed to retain control of our own democracy. Today’s hearing will focus on the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC and the role of the courts in preserving individual citizens’ voting rights.
“Citizens United has profoundly reshaped our elections, opening them up to limitless corporate cash, secret money, and risk of corruption,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Citizens United has given corporations and the very wealthy unprecedented control over the public debate preceding our elections. At the same time, new threats are arising to the right to even cast a ballot, as individual citizens are seeing their voting rights taken away by suppressive laws targeted at traditionally disenfranchised communities – especially those who corporate interests fear will vote ‘the wrong way’.
“Our federal courts have an important role in ensuring that the rights of Americans to control our own democracy are preserved. It’s encouraging that the Judiciary Committee is giving these issues the attention they deserve.”
Earlier this year, People For the American Way and allied groups delivered 1.9 million petitions to congressional leaders urging them to move forward on amending the constitution to overturn Citizens United.
The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government -- with the obvious exceptions of denying marriage equality and massive government oversight of women's medical decisions. But there is another kind of big government that the party has overwhelmingly, enthusiastically gotten behind: expensive and intrusive attempts to make it harder for Americans to vote.
A trio of federal court decisions in Florida, Ohio and Texas last week ripped the lid off the increasingly successful right-wing campaign to limit opportunities for low-income people, minorities and students to vote -- especially, and not coincidentally, in swing states. These decisions, from even-handed and moderate federal judges across the country, show just how far the Right has gone to use the power of government to disenfranchise traditionally disenfranchised groups.
In Florida, a federal judge permanently blocked a law that had made it almost impossible for good government groups to conduct voter registration drives -- which had led groups like the venerable League of Women Voters to all but shut down operations in the state. In Ohio, a federal court ordered the state to reopen early voting in the three days before November's election, which Republicans had attempted to shut down. Early voting on the weekend before the election was enormously successful in 2008 -- especially among African Americans -- and the judge found that Republicans had no legitimate reason to want it to stop.
And finally a federal court, which is required to review changes in election policy in states and counties with a history of voting discrimination, ruled that Texas' new voter ID law couldn't go forward because it "imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas."
The effort that Republican governors and legislatures across the country have gone through in the past two years to make it more difficult for citizens to vote is truly remarkable. They have been willing to buck both the law and the spirit of our constitutional democracy to bar groups of people from participating in it. And they have been willing to set up extra layers of government and bureaucracy -- things they claim to despise -- in order to keep people from the polls.
There are plenty of areas of genuine disagreement in our politics, but the right to vote shouldn't be one of them. In an interview with The Atlantic last week, Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement, said "there should be public outcry" and a "sense of righteous indignation" at what is happening to our elections. He's right.
It's astounding that nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act banned racial discrimination at the polls, it's still needed as a shield against such egregious violations of its principles. And it's astounding that the self-proclaimed party of small government wants to use government's power to keep people from exercising their fundamental right to vote.
Today, concerned citizens and organizations delivered 1,959,063 signatures calling for overturning Citizens United and related cases by amending the Constitution. The petitions were delivered in connection with hearings held by the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee to examine the impact of Citizens United, Speech Now and related cases and the need for constitutional remedies to restore the democratic promise of America. The millions of Americans whose names appear on these petitions reflect the deep-seated public concern about the state of our democracy and the growing grassroots movement to restore government, of, by, and for the people.
Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way:
“The interests of the American people should be front and center in our elections, and today, 1.9 million Americans made that point loud and clear. But despite the message we sent Congress today, all over the country, our voices are being drowned out by the powerful corporations and the super wealthy. Short of changing who sits on the Supreme Court, amending the Constitution is the only way to undo the damage done to our democracy by Citizens United. The American people overwhelmingly support that idea, and by holding these hearings, our elected representatives are honoring the millions of Americans who are calling for a Constitution that ensures that “We the People” means all the people, not just the privileged few.”
Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Ministers in Action, a program of People For the American Way:
“This petition drive proves that our collective voice can be the spark of change. Because millions of people have signed their names to proclaim that our democracy is not for sale, this grassroots movement has the power to take back our elections and ensure government by people through fair and transparent elections. We’ve made it clear to our elected representatives that a constitutional amendment is necessary to uphold that ideal. These hearings show how far this movement has come.”
Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen:
“The choice is simple: We can have a working democracy, in which the people rule, or we can have a Citizens United-facilitated plutocracy, in which giant corporations and the super-rich dominate elections. Rescuing our democracy requires that we overturn Citizens United and other decisions that constitutionalize the “right” of corporations and the super-rich to buy elections. With no prospect of the Court revisiting the damaging decisions it has inflicted, we need a constitutional amendment to reestablish the simple principle that Democracy is for People.”
Justin Ruben, Executive Director of MoveOn.org Political Action:
“We've seen this summer how a handful of billionaires are trying to buy the election. That's one of the reasons nearly 700,000 MoveOn members have spoken out in favor of overturning Citizens United, getting big money out of our elections, and preventing our democracy from being sold to the highest bidder.”
Becky Bond, Political Director of CREDO Action:
“How can the American people have an equal voice in our democracy when corporations are flooding the political system with millions in secret campaign donations? We must pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, end corporate personhood and help get shadowy money out of politics for good.”
Bob Edgar, President & CEO of Common Cause:
“Super PACs have transformed our elections into the sport of kings. Billionaires and corporations are pooling unlimited sums of money into joint accounts, pledging astronomical sums in support of or opposition to candidates, and recklessly drowning out the voices of the American people. These corporations and mega donors are motivated by an expectation of influence and access, often at the expense of the public interest. We cannot afford to auction off our vibrant democracy to the highest bidder.”
Lisa Graves, the Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy/ ALECexposed.org:
"While billionaires are openly writing million-dollar checks to Super PACs, millions more is being secretly funneled to front groups whose ads may affect who wins and wields power over people and policy. Deceptively named nonprofit groups are becoming the Swiss bank accounts of elections, receiving secret multi-million dollar gifts that buy ads to influence how Americans vote. We may never know the true identity of those attempting to buy our elections through such shadowy groups -- whether they are corporations or people, domestic or foreign -- but we do know American democracy is increasingly for sale and that's why We the People are demanding that the Constitution be amended to fight this corruption."
Peter Schurman, Campaign Director at Free Speech For People:
“For a campaign we all knew would be difficult, the Senate hearing today is a major milestone: it shows that the growing movement for a constitutional amendment is starting to make a dent in Washington. It's time for Congress and the states to overrule the Supreme Court and make it clear that we the people, not we the corporations, are in charge of American democracy.”
Kaitlin Sopoci-Belknap, National Field Organizing Director, Move to Amend
"In community after community citizens are making clear through ballot initiatives and resolutions that they want their elected representatives to pass an amendment to overrule the Court by abolishing corporate personhood and the doctrine of money as free speech. These hearings are one step toward achieving that amendment, and we won't stop our efforts until the majority of the members of Congress are behind us and show that they understand that their job is to serve the people, not corporations or the privileged few."
David Levine, American Small Business Council CEO and Co-Founder:
“Business leaders would rather invest their money to create jobs than have to compete with big business bank accounts to be heard, and they are fighting back. More than 2,000 business leaders have joined the American Sustainable Business Council's (ASBC) Business for Democracy campaign to fight for a constitutional amendment that overturns the Citizens United decision.”
Eric Byler, President of the Coffee Party Board of Directors:
“Public awareness about money in politics is growing rapidly and crossing all cultural and political divides. Just like the founders of this nation, we are responding to an abuse of power by elite profiteers who feel entitled to govern over people. The task before us is to finish what our founders started — not to start a revolution but to complete one — by amending the Constitution and reestablishing the right to self-governance for people; not profiteers.”
Blair Bowie of U.S. PIRG:
“For nearly forty years, the Supreme Court has been driving us down a road that will inevitably dead end in the demise of American democracy. In equating money with speech the Court rejected the notion that in a democracy the size of your wallet should not determine the volume of your voice. Instead it enshrined the rights of artificial entities and ultra-wealthy individuals to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens in a flood of often secret cash. Ultimately, we can only get out of this judicial rut by amending the U.S. Constitution to clarify to the Supreme Court that the first amendment was never meant to be used as a tool for special interests to co-opt our democratic process. Today’s hearing and the massive citizen mobilization across the country since Citizens United show that the American people are ready to turn this car around.”
Stephanie Taylor, Co-Founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee:
"An unprecedented amount of secret money is already surging through our political system because of the Citizens United ruling. As we’re demonstrating today, there is huge public support for passing a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. Americans want to take our democracy back from big corporations and billionaires. Passing this amendment is a critical first step.”
Bob Fertik, President of Democrats.com:
“The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United was catastrophic for American democracy. The American people now see the results in the form of endless TV attack ads, most of which are aimed at destroying President Obama. The Super PAC Billionaires who bought these ads remain largely anonymous, like hidden puppeteers pulling on strings. One million members of Democrats.com are united in our determination to pass a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United and replace Super PACs and other corrupt election money with clean public funds. Money out, voters in!”
Christopher Campbell, Wolf PAC:
"Our democracy is in serious trouble. It's time to change that. It's time we end the corporate takeover of our government. The only way to do that is to bypass the corporate-owned Congress and Supreme Court – and pass a constitutional amendment. We must pass a 28th Amendment saying that corporations are not people and they do not have the right to buy our elections."
Larry Cohen, President of Communications Workers of America:
“Our electoral process should be about the rights of individuals to participate in our nation's politics. That's what democracy looks like. The Communications Workers of America commends elected officials at every level of government who are fighting to restore fairness to our political process. The role of money in politics must be completely overhauled. Today it dwarfs everything else and is distorting our democracy. Working with other progressive organizations, CWA is committed to stopping the flow of secret cash to political campaigns and making it clear to all dollars are not speech. This effort will require constitutional changes and other measures to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for secret spending and today enables billionaires to buy our nation’s elections. We also will work for the public financing of elections, because without these very real changes, the one percent will continue to control our politics.”
Natalie Foster, CEO of Rebuild the Dream:
"Throughout U.S. history, whenever something in our democracy hasn’t been working, we’ve amended the Constitution. We’ve amended the Constitution to protect and extend the right to vote. Even basic rights we take for granted, like freedom of speech, are from amendments. Now, we must get big money out of our politics. This is another moment to make history and form a more perfect union together. "
The vast majority of Americans oppose Citizens United and related cases, and a grassroots movement calling on public officials to take action is growing stronger. This year, 51 organizations submitted a letter to congressional leaders calling for these very hearings, and more than 1,800 public officials from 41 states are already on record in support of constitutional remedies. More information on the effort to amend the Constitution can be found at www.united4thepeople.org.
To: Editorial boards and journalists
From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
Subject: Gridlock or Bust: How the Senate GOP Has Abandoned Its Own Nominees for the Sake of Obstruction
Date: July 19, 2012
Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell got into a shouting match on the Senate floor, each of them accusing the other of purposefully stalling Senate business.
One of them was right. The other was making flimsy excuses.
Senate Republicans under McConnell’s leadership have routinely stalled the government’s business even on matters on which they agree with Democrats. Nowhere is this clearer than in the obstruction of nominees to the federal courts, particularly those with strong bipartisan support. And nowhere is that clearer than the senseless filibuster of the nomination of Oklahoma’s Robert Bacharach to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Bacharach has the strong support of both of Oklahoma’s Republican senators. He was approved by a strong bipartisan majority in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Yet McConnell, citing a nebulous so-called rule named after South Carolina segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, refuses to hold a vote on Bacharach’s confirmation. (Under Senate rules, the majority cannot schedule a vote without the consent of the minority party. Denying that consent for President Obama’s judicial nominees has been standard operating procedure for McConnell. This quiet filibuster is usually hidden from the public unless the majority calls for a cloture vote to end it.)
Oklahoma’s Robert Bacharach and the 20 other highly qualified judicial nominees awaiting confirmation deserve swift up-or-down votes from the full Senate.
McConnell is misleading Americans on the extent of his own obstruction.
In their exchange yesterday, Sen. McConnell accused Sen. Reid of “basically trying to convince the American people that it’s somebody else's fault, that the Senate is not doing the basic work of government.”
The Senate is not doing the basic work of government. But the blame for that lies squarely on the shoulders of McConnell and his party.
Look at the progress on the confirmation of President Obama’s judicial nominees: the average federal court nominee under President Obama has waited 103 days after committee approval just for an up-or-down vote from the Senate. The average wait for George W. Bush's nominees at this point in his first term was just 34 days. The result is that only 153 Obama nominees have been confirmed so far, compared with 197 Bush nominees at the same point in his term. While Bush cut the judicial vacancy rate by over one third during his first term in office, Obama is set to end his first term with more vacancies than he started with, capping off a historically long period of high vacancy rates.
McConnell, unsurprisingly, has been trying desperately to hide these numbers. In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times yesterday, he and Sen. Charles Grassley claimed that the Senate today “already has confirmed 152 of his lower-court nominees, compared to only 119 of Bush's under similar circumstances.”
What they call “similar circumstances” is what the rest of us would call “apples and oranges.” The senators are comparing the confirmation rate in Obama’s first term to that in Bush’s second term – when, because of a cooperative Senate he had many fewer judicial vacancies to fill.
McConnell is prioritizing obstruction over the wishes of his fellow GOP senators.
Tenth Circuit nominee Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma has the strong support of both of his home-state GOP senators. In fact, Sen. Coburn has publicly spoken out against the needless obstruction of Bacharach’s nomination, calling McConnell’s delays “stupid.” Bacharach’s position is similar to that of First Circuit nominee William Kayatta of Maine, who is being filibustered by the Senate GOP despite support from home-state Republican senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
Both nominees received bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both have earned the American Bar Association’s highest rating.
Yet Kayatta has been waiting for a Senate vote since April and Bacharach since June. And if McConnell continues to have his way, neither nominee will even reach a Senate vote this year. Why? The Minority Leader arbitrarily announced last month that he would block all Circuit Court nominees until after the presidential election.
Sen. McConnell is trying to fool the American people with his creative statistics and denials. Under his leadership, the Senate GOP has become a force of gridlock, stopping even routine government business at every opportunity. If Sen. McConnell wants to prove that current Senate dysfunction is not the fault of his party, he can start by allowing a vote on Robert Bacharach.
Press contact: Miranda Blue, firstname.lastname@example.org, (202) 467-4999
To: Editorial boards and journalists
From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
Subject: In Fight over Maine Judicial Nominee, a Perfect Storm of Senate Dysfunction
Date: July 12, 2012
How far will Senate Republicans go to obstruct government business in the final months before the presidential election? The fight over a noncontroversial Maine judicial nominee, which is coming to a head this week, shows just how far.
The struggle to confirm Maine’s William Kayatta to the First Circuit Court of Appeals is a perfect illustration of the Senate GOP’s commitment to obstruct all progress that might in any way help President Obama – even if it means throwing members of their own caucus under the bus. Maine’s Republican senators both strongly support Kayatta’s nomination. He was approved overwhelmingly by a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (The only no votes were from Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who is voting against all nominees in protest of President Obama’s recess appointments and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who objected to Kayatta’s role on an ABA panel that had the nerve to find Elena Kagan “qualified” for the Supreme Court).Yet his nomination has been waiting on the Senate calendar since April 19. And if Kayatta is not confirmed before the Senate leaves for its summer recess, the seat he’s been nominated to fill could be left open for more than a year.
What should be a fairly straight-forward job for the Senate has turned into an election year struggle of wills – at the cost of Americans who rely on fully functioning courts and a Congress that does its job.
Here’s how it happened.
Last month, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took the extraordinary step of announcing that Republicans would block all votes on all circuit court nominees between now and Election Day. This wasn’t welcome news to some Senate Republicans who have circuit court nominees who they are eager to put on the bench in their states. William Kayatta from Maine has the backing of Senators Snowe and Collins, and Robert Bacharach from Oklahoma has the support of Senators Coburn and Inhofe. Snowe and Collins have said they would support cloture to end the filibuster of Kayatta. Collins said in a statement that “It simply isn’t fair that Bill [Kayatta], who would be a superb judge, now appears to be caught up in election year politics. “ Coburn was more blunt, publicly stating, “I think it’s stupid.”
At the same time, Senate Republicans announced that they would continue to allow votes on district court nominees -- as if that were some great concession on their part instead of a basic part of their job. But it turns out that even that one bare promise was an empty one: For the past two months, the confirmation of judicial nominees has slowed to virtually a standstill, with an average of less than one vote per week.
This week, for example, Senate Republicans have allowed just one judicial confirmation vote: on a district court nominee in Tennessee. In fact, over the past eight weeks there have been only seven confirmations, of five district and two circuit court nominees. Both circuit court confirmations required a cloture vote to overcome Republican filibusters, after which the decidedly noncontroversial nominees were easily confirmed – one even by voice vote.
By contrast, during the same period preceding George W. Bush’s reelection campaign, the Senate confirmed nearly four times as many judges: 25 (20 district and five circuit). Under the “regular order” established during the Bush administration, the Senate should be holding at least three to four confirmation votes each week. Failing to move at that pace will mean that the Senate simply won’t be able to keep pace with the nominees being reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Kayatta is now one of 18 highly qualified pending nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee and who have been waiting for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. These are not controversial picks: 15 were approved by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support, and ten have been waiting for a floor vote since April or earlier.
The filibuster of Kayatta, who has been waiting since April 19 for a Senate vote despite enthusiastic support from his Republican home-state senators, is a perfect illustration of this mindless obstruction.
Kayatta is extraordinarily well qualified to be a circuit court judge
Delaying a vote until after the election will harm people throughout New England
Kayatta has earned strong bipartisan support
On both the circuit and the district court level, Republicans are needlessly blocking votes on eminently qualified, consensus nominees whose only “flaw” seems to be that they were nominated by President Obama. It’s time Senators rolled up their sleeves and did the business of the country they were sent to office to do.
The Senate today confirmed the nomination of Paul J. Watford to sit on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Watford, who has a stellar resume as a Supreme Court clerk, prosecutor and appellate litigator will fill one of three emergency vacancies on the Ninth Circuit, the busiest circuit in the country. He will become just the fourth African American ever to serve on the Ninth Circuit.
Despite Watford’s qualifications and the urgency of filling the vacancy, Senate Republicans stalled his nomination for over three months after he was approved by the judiciary committee. Sen. Reid was forced to file cloture to break the months-long filibuster of Watford’s nomination. Faced with widespread support for the nomination, including from their own constituents, Republicans dropped their planned filibuster this afternoon and at last allowed a straight yes-or-no vote. Watford was confirmed in a 61 to 34 vote.
“Paul Watford is a stellar choice for the Ninth Circuit,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “He promises to be an intellectual leader on the court and a fair and thoughtful jurist. He also makes history as only the fourth African American judge ever elevated to the Ninth Circuit, and one of only two African Americans currently sitting on the 29-member court.
“It is shameful that Senate Republicans filibustered for so long such a highly qualified nominee to fill an emergency vacancy. Sen. Reid is to be commended for forcing a vote. Again and again, the Senate GOP has used political gridlock to interfere with the proper functioning of America’s courts. The result has been an unprecedented vacancy crisis and unacceptable delays for individuals and businesses seeking their day in court. The American courts deserve better than this unprincipled, unrelenting gridlock.”
To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, People For the American Way
Date: May 9, 2012
Subject: Debunking the GOP’s Disinformation Campaign on Judicial Obstruction
On Monday, 150 Americans from 27 states met in the White House with senior Administration officials and spent the day lobbying their senators to end the obstruction of qualified judicial nominees. For those Republican senators who may have thought the obstruction that is keeping our court system from functioning properly had gone unnoticed, it must have been an unpleasant surprise to learn their constituents are paying attention.
In response, Senate Republicans are throwing out a lot of irrelevant numbers and misleading comparisons in a desperate attempt to fog the issue, but they are plainly unable to rebut the clear fact that their constituents have noticed: that Republicans are needlessly obstructing judicial nominations.
For instance, because President Bush’s confirmed nominees at this point in his term were processed so much more quickly and fairly than have President Obama’s, the Republican Policy Committee concocts an excuse to ignore that inconvenient truth. They say we should be comparing President Obama’s first term to President Bush’s second term, because both saw two Supreme Court nominations that took up a lot of committee and Senate resources.
That lets them point out that President Obama has had more lower court confirmations in his first term than President Bush did in his second. But there is a reason Bush had fewer judges confirmed in his second term: There were fewer vacancies. When Bush entered office, there were 80 vacancies in the federal courts, a number he cut down to 37 by the end of his first term. In contrast, because of Republican obstruction, the number of vacancies began to climb sharply when President Obama became the person making the nominations, and it has remained at crisis levels his entire time in office.
In addition, although Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were confirmed in 2009 and 2010, the slow-walking of lower court nominations continued in ensuing years. In the 112th Congress, which began five months after Kagan’s confirmation, nominees have been held up on the floor more than three months on average, even if they are unopposed.
Republicans also blame President Obama for not making enough nominations. But the political reality is that the president needs the approval of home state senators if a nomination is to even get a committee hearing. And contrary to the practice of President Bush, the current White House actually consults home state senators in an effort to find consensus nominees. If GOP senators won’t work with the president to identify candidates who they can all agree on, the president is not the one to blame.
In any event, finding a nominee for every vacancy would not solve the bottleneck that Republicans have created at the end of the confirmation process. There are currently 19 nominees on the Senate calendar awaiting votes who could be confirmed today if the Republican leadership gave their consent.
But perhaps the most disingenuous talking point comes from Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. In yesterday’s floor debate on the confirmation of Kristine Baker to a district court in Arkansas – whose nomination has been pending on the floor since February – he says a Bush nominee to the same district was treated far worse:
I would note that President Bush’s nominee, J. Leon Holmes, sat on the executive calendar for more than 14 months awaiting confirmation. From nomination, his confirmation took over 17 months. Again, why was President Bush’s nominee treated worse than this President’s nominee?
Sen. Grassley isn’t comparing apples and oranges – he’s comparing apples and skyscrapers. Holmes was so controversial that even the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee did not approve of his nomination. In a rare step reflecting serious concerns about the merits of the nomination, a sharply divided committee voted 10-9 to forward it to the floor without a formal endorsement. After that, it was the Republicans who then controlled the Senate who delayed the confirmation vote for more than a year, fearing the Senate would reject Holmes. When he was finally confirmed in 2004, it was by a 51-46 vote.
So Republicans delayed a vote on Holmes because he was extremely divisive and lacked support in the Senate. In contrast, Kristine Baker – who cleared committee with a 17-1 vote and was confirmed by a bipartisan voice vote – was delayed by Republicans because of the Sotomayor and Kagan confirmations?
Republicans cannot deny that they are making President Obama’s judicial nominations wait more than 4 times longer for votes than was the case at this point in the Bush presidency, even though most of them are consensus nominees with strong bipartisan support. Their efforts to distract the American people from that stark fact resemble the Wizard of Oz trying to get Dorothy to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”
Ultimately, though, this isn’t about statistics. It’s about people. It’s about the people who count on having their day in court, only to learn first-hand that justice delayed is justice denied. It’s the victims of predatory lending practices, consumer fraud, environmental destruction, and civil rights violations. It’s the business owners who can’t get relief from anti-competitive activities, can’t complete their mergers, and can’t enforce their contracts. This is about Americans across the nation who deserve a justice system that works.
Press contact: Miranda Blue, email@example.com, (202) 467-4999
Today, representatives from People For the American Way joined with advocacy groups and concerned citizens from across the country to meet with Obama administration officials about ending the vacancy crisis in America’s federal courts.
Groups concerned about the judicial vacancy crisis issued a joint statement, which can be found here.
The White House meeting brings together 150 advocates from 27 states to discuss the vacancy crisis that is plaguing America’s federal courts. One in ten federal court seats is currently or will soon be vacant, yet Republican obstruction has caused unprecedented delays for nominees to fill those seats.
“It’s encouraging that the Obama administration is so clearly placing a priority on ending the vacancy crisis in the federal courts,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “The president and Congress have a duty to work together to ensure that all Americans have access to fair and effective courts. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have too often been shirking that duty as they seek to slow even the most basic business of Congress.
“Gridlock in Washington has resulted in gridlock in the federal courts and inexcusable delays for Americans seeking justice. Today, the voices of people who are hurt by this gridlock will be heard loud and clear in Washington.”
People For the American Way released an infographic today detailing the impact of Republican obstruction of judicial nominees:
(Click image for a larger pdf version of the infographic.)
FOR PLANNING PURPOSES
House and Senate Members to Host Activists and Advocacy Groups for Congressional Summit on Amending the Constitution
Washington, DC – On Wednesday, April 18, a number of United States Senate and House members will host People For the American Way (PFAW) and other advocacy organizations alongside local and state government representatives and citizen activists for a summit to explore the need for constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United. As sponsors of proposed constitutional amendments, the Senators and Representatives are highlighting the growing grassroots movement to restore our democracy and amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United and restore government by the people.
Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Udall (D-NM) will join Representatives Ted Deutch (D-FL), Donna F. Edwards (D-MD), Keith Ellison (D-MN), and Jim McGovern (D-MA) for the discussion. Other speakers include People For the American Way’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin.
WHAT : Congressional Summit to Overturn Citizens United
Senator Bernie Sanders People For the American Way
Senator Charles E. Schumer Public Citizen
Senator Tom Udall Center for Media and Democracy
Representative Ted Deutch Common Cause
Representative Keith Ellison Communication Workers of America
Representative Donna F. Edwards Move to Amend
Representative Jim McGovern American Sustainable Business Council
Free Speech for People
WHEN : Wednesday, April 18, 2012
11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
WHERE : Capitol Visitors Center, HVC 215
RSVP : Please click here to RSVP.
Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in one of the most closely-watched cases in its history: the challenge to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But in the weeks leading up to those arguments, another fight will be taking place in the U.S. Senate on an issue that in many ways parallels the health care debate, and offers an even clearer view of what have become the policy priorities of the Republican Party.
Since Obama became president, Republicans in Congress have made a clear and conscious choice to kill any attempts to cooperate with him to create solutions for the American people. They have chosen instead to devote themselves to be the party of opposing President Obama - on every issue, big and small. In doing so, they have thrown out not only the trust of the people who elected them, but many of their own formerly held principles.
Even ideas that originally came from Republicans, once adopted by the president become grounds for all-out partisan attacks. One such Republican idea was the individual mandate, which is now at the center of the legal and political challenges to the Affordable Care Act.
Ironically, the judicial branch - to which Republicans are turning with hopes that the policy they came up with is declared unconstitutional - is also at the heart of another stunning turnaround. Republicans used to talk about the importance of bipartisan cooperation in ensuring a fair and functioning judiciary. But that changed abruptly in January 2009, when the political party of the president changed.
When it comes to health care reform, Republicans have chosen to ignore their previous positions in an effort to stick it to the president.
When it comes to the functioning of the federal courts, they have so far chosen to do the same.
This week, Republicans in the Senate, after three years of obstructing nominees to the U.S. courts -- contributing to a historic vacancy crisis that affects over 160 million Americans -- will have to make the same choice. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced he will file petitions to end the filibusters of 17 nominees to district courts around the country, most long-stalled and unopposed. These, plus the two Obama nominees who have already been filibustered, represent nearly ten times the number of district court nominees who were filibustered under the last two presidents combined. The cumbersome process to end these filibusters will, if Republicans don't relent, tie up the Senate through early April.
During George W. Bush's presidency, Senate Republicans were near-universal in their condemnation of the filibusters of some of Bush's most extreme judicial nominees. Many went so far as to claim that filibustering judicial nominees was unconstitutional.
Once President Obama moved into the White House, it was remarkable how fast they changed their tune. They went overnight from decrying judicial filibusters, to using them wantonly -- not just to stall nominees to whom they found objections, but to stall all nominees , even those whom they favor. At this point in Bush's presidency, the average district court nominee waited 22 days between approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee and a vote from the full Senate. Under President Obama, the average wait has been more than four times longer - over three months.
This is gridlock for gridlock's sake: once Republicans allow them to come to a vote, the vast majority of the president's nominees have been confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support, demonstrating that the opposition to these nominees was never about their qualifications.
This is more than an inside the beltway partisan game -- it has helped to create a historic vacancy crisis in the federal courts. Approximately one in ten federal courtrooms today sits empty because of Senate inaction. These vacancies create unmanageable workloads for sitting judges, which in turn cause unacceptable delays for Americans seeking their day in court. The Republican Party has been so intent on obstructing President Obama's agenda that they've been willing to sacrifice the smooth functioning of America's courts
. The health care debate highlights the importance of appointing judges who place their duty to the Constitution over a partisan agenda. But it also crystallizes the agenda of opposition that has caused the Republican Party to go off the deep end. When a party's only principle is to be opposed to the other party's agenda, it's the American people who end up paying the price.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that he will file petitions to end Republican filibusters of 17 federal district court nominees. The extraordinary move highlights Senate Republicans’ unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominees. During the entire 16 years that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were in office, there were only two filibusters of district court nominations. If Senate Republicans don’t relent on these 17 nominees, the cloture process could tie up the Senate through early April, with each nominee taking 30 hours of floor time under Senate rules.
“It is absolutely stunning that Republicans are willing to tie up Senate business for more than 510 hours just to make things more difficult for President Obama,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “For the past three years, Senate Republicans have been slow-walking judicial nominees at every step of the process, ignoring the duties they were elected to office to perform and contributing to a historic vacancy crisis in our federal courts. Ultimately, it’s the American people, who rely on fair and functioning federal courts, who pay the price for these political games.”
At this point in George W. Bush’s presidency, the average district court nominee waited 22 days between approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee and a vote from the full Senate. Under President Obama, the average wait has been more than four times as long – over three months.
Currently, about one in ten seats on the federal courts is vacant, affecting access to justice for over 160 million Americans.
The War on Women doesn't stop with reproductive rights. In a new post at Ms. Blog, People For's Marge Baker explains how GOP obstruction of judicial nominees is keeping women -- as well as people of color and gays and lesbians -- from reaching positions of power in the federal courts:
President Obama has made no secret of his goal to make the American courts look like America. Along with the effort to bring more women to the bench, roughly 36 percent of his nominees have been people of color, and he has nominated more openly lesbian and gay individuals to the federal courts than all his predecessors combined.
But the president’s effort to bring a diversity of voices to the federal courts is now facing a major roadblock. Senate Republicans have been obstructing President Obama’s judicial nominees to an unprecedented extent–usually not because of objections to the nominees themselves, but just for the sake of creating gridlock. Indeed, most of President Obama’s nominees have been approved by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous or near-unanimous bipartisan support. Nevertheless, after committee approval, Republicans in the Senate have forced the president’s nominees to wait four times longer to get a yes-or-no vote than President Bush’s nominees at the same point in his term.
As a result, about one out of ten courtrooms in the country are vacant and Americans are facing inexcusable delays as they seek their day in court. One of President Obama’s least-noticed but most long-lasting achievements–putting a qualified, diverse group of judges on our federal courts–has been put at risk.