Patrick Leahy

Congress Begins Work on New Voting Rights Act Legislation

The House and Senate held hearings last week to discuss a replacement for the federal preclearance formula of the Voting Rights Act. Without a coverage formula, the Justice Department will no longer be able to enforce the VRA’s Section 5, which requires states and counties with histories of discriminatory voting practices to secure federal approval before changing their voting laws.
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More Truthiness From Sen. Grassley on the Courts

When the Senate unanimously confirmed Sri Srinivasan to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last month, Republicans patted themselves on the back for cooperating in a relatively efficient confirmation process. But, by any objective standard, Srinivasan’s confirmation process wasn’t that efficient at all. In fact, Republican obstruction of Srinivasan started when they delayed a hearing on his nomination for ten months, from June 2012 to April of this year.

But Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now pushing an alternate history of this delay on Srinivasan’s nomination. In a floor speech the day Srinivasan was confirmed, Grassley insisted that Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “made no effort to schedule a hearing on this nominee until late last year.”

In a press release this week, Sen. Leahy explained why this argument is just plain false. In fact, he wrote, it was Senate Republicans who kept insisting that Srinivasan’s hearing be pushed back:

By July 19, 2012, I had determined that the paperwork on the Srinivasan nomination was complete and the nominee could be included in a hearing.  It has been my practice as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee to give the minority notice and allow consultation before scheduling a nomination for a hearing.  At that time, the next July hearing had been discussed as one devoted to the nominee to head the Antitrust Division at the Department of Justice, a nomination that itself had been delayed and to which there was Republican opposition.  During the August recess, my staff asked Senator Grassley’s about holding the hearing on the Srinivasan nomination in September.  They raised objections and concerns about proceeding with the D.C. Circuit nomination at that time but agreed to proceed with four district nominees and a Court of International Trade nominee.

In November, 2012, after the American people reelected President Obama, we raised the need for a hearing on the D.C. Circuit nomination anew.  Republicans objected, again, in spite of the precedent of holding a hearing for one of President Bush’s D.C. Circuit nominees during a similar lame duck session. Instead, they wanted to proceed only with district court nominees during the lame duck.  Republicans insisted that the Srinivasan hearing be put off until the new Congress and the new year.  In deference to the Republican minority, I held off.  They agreed that he would be included at the first nominations hearing of the 113th Congress.

Then, in early January of this year, when called upon to hold up their end of the bargain, Republicans balked.

This isn’t just a matter of settling a complicated Senate score. Instead, Sen. Leahy is pointing out yet another incident of Sen. Grassley’s twisting the truth about judicial nominees and the judicial nominations process in an attempt to cover for slowing down Senate business and ultimately the business of the federal courts. As Leahy says in his statement:

Those erroneous Record statements have me wondering whether I should be so accommodating to Republican scheduling demands given that they forget their demands in their efforts to avoid responsibility and blame others.   
 

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Sen. Leahy Talks About Judges at Georgetown Law

The Judiciary Committee chairman condemns obstruction of qualified judicial nominees.
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Pending Judicial Nominations Pile Up

Republicans resist lame duck confirmations that have been made necessary by their own obstruction.
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Senate GOP Refuses to Allow Votes on 17 Judicial Nominees; Sharp Break from Past Practice

Washington, DC – Senate Republicans today refused to allow a vote on 17 pending federal district court nominees before leaving for recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid requested unanimous consent to take up and confirm all 17 district court nominations on the calendar. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused, despite the fact that most of the nominees have strong bipartisan support and some have been waiting as long as five months for a Senate vote. Twelve of the pending nominees would fill seats that the Administrative Office of the US Courts has declared “judicial emergencies.”

There is strong precedent for the Senate confirming district court nominees before the end of a President’s term in office. In September of 2008, the Senate confirmed President Bush’s ten remaining district court nominees by unanimous consent one day after they were approved by the Judiciary Committee.

“Under the leadership of Sen. McConnell, Senate Republicans have taken obstruction to a new level,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Never before have district court nominees been subject to this amount of partisan obstruction. Democrats have been forced to file cloture petitions to break filibusters on 20 of President Obama’s district court nominees, compared to just one each under Presidents Bush and Clinton. President Obama’s district court nominees have had to wait three times as long as President Bush’s just for an up-or-down vote. This has nothing to do with the quality of the nominees -- once they reach a vote, the vast majority have been approved nearly unanimously. Indeed, most of the 17 nominees that the GOP rejected today were approved with bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee. All have had the support of their home-state senators, Republican and Democratic.

“This obstruction has nothing to do with the nominees and everything to do with the GOP’s desire to obstruct Senate business at all costs. These costs can be seen in the twelve judicial emergencies that remain vacant because of this obstructionism. Senators Reid and Leahy are right to prioritize the confirmation of these nominees. Backlogs in the courts are ultimately passed down to Americans seeking justice. Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP must stop playing political games with our courts.”

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Leahy Urges Confirmation Votes for Judges

Republicans should allow the Senate to vote on all of the 17 pending district court nominations.
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Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearings on Constitutional Amendments to Overturn Citizens United

Washington, DC – The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings to examine pending proposals to amend the constitution to remedy Citizens United, committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced today. The hearings will be led by Constitution Subcommittee Chairman Richard Durbin (D-IL) and take place on July 17. During the 112th Congress, 24 U.S. senators have sponsored or co-sponsored one of 13 proposed constitutional amendments aimed at overturning the Supreme Court’s flawed 2010 decision.

“The American people expect our democratic government to put the people’s interests first,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way. “But, since Citizens United, we’ve seen unprecedented amounts of money flooding into our political system and giving undue influence to corporations and special interests. The only way to address this assault on our democracy is by amending the Constitution. I commend Senator Leahy, Senator Durbin and the Constitution Subcommittee for taking an important step to advance the debate about how to best return the balance of power to the people.”

The vast majority of Americans oppose Citizens United, and a grassroots movement calling on public officials to take action is growing stronger. This year, 51 progressive organizations submitted a letter to congressional leaders calling for these very hearings, and more than 1,000 public officials from 41 states are already on record in support of constitutional remedies to overturn Citizens United. More information on the effort to amend the Constitution can be found at www.united4thepeople.org.

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Senators Hear from Americans Concerned about the Courts

Senators saw the grass roots energy behind Americans’ commitment to our nation’s system of justice.
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Judicial Emergencies Skyrocket

We won't solve the nation's judicial vacancy crisis unless Republicans stop slow-walking qualified nominees.
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GOP Boycotts Judiciary Committee

Are Senate Republicans Finding New Ways to Keep Our Nation's Courtrooms Empty?
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Senate Hearing Examines Indefinite Detention of Americans

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Due Process Guarantee Act: Banning Indefinite Detention of Americans,” which shed light on controversial provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA).

That act, signed into law on December 31, 2011, codified some of the most extreme abuses of civil liberties that have been pursued following the initiation of the ‘War on Terror,’ the actions of which, under the current administration, are now engaged under the title, ‘Overseas Contingency Operations.’ The most striking provision of the NDAA affirmed a broad interpretation of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (2001) and stated that the executive has the power to detain anyone “who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities … without trial, until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF 2001],” which many interpret would permit even the indefinite detention of American citizens.

Although the current executive branch has pledged to not act upon these powers with respect to American citizens – President Obama signed the law with an adjoining statement, declaring, “my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens” – the potential for future administrations to engage in such clearly unconstitutional behavior, or for the Obama Administration to simply change its mind, is a danger that all Americans should be wary of.

Troubled by these possibilities, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the ‘Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011’ just hours after the final version of the NDAA was approved by the Senate. The bill seeks to amend the United States Code affected by the NDAA, effectively barring the executive from utilizing indefinite detention on American citizens without express approval from Congress to do so.

The hearing today regarded this remedial act; and there were fireworks to say the least.

Senator Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and is the author of the bill, repeatedly called into question the effectiveness of the provisions in question. Alluding to her past experiences on the Intelligence Committee, Feinstein echoed the concerns of leaders of intelligence and domestic crime fighting agencies who have expressed their disagreement with the infringement of the Armed Forces into domestic security concerns.

Senator Patrick Leahy, before passing the gavel to Senator Feinstein to chair the session, spoke more broadly about the practice of indefinite detention in his opening statement, stating, “A regime of indefinite detention degrades the credibility of this great Nation around the globe, particularly when we criticize other governments for engaging in such conduct.”

The most heated portion of the hearing arose when Senator Al Franken objected to the testimony of Steven G. Bradbury, a former Bush Administration appointee invited by Senate Republicans to testify in favor of the indefinite detention provisions. Franken alluded to the ‘enhanced interrogation’ memos (more accurately called torture memos) that Bradbury authored – which were the subject of a Justice Department probe that concluded by seriously questioning the legal work of Bradbury and others - and stated, “it’s very difficult for me, frankly, to rely on your legal opinion today.”

To ensure that future generations of Americans are not subject to indefinite detention without charge or trial, which was deemed unconstitutional by the Hamdi Supreme Court decision in 2004, please contact your local Representative and Senators to express your opposition to the NDAA, and encourage them to co-sponsor legislation to make sure the law reflects our Constitution’s most essential values. ( H.R. 36702 in the House; S. 2003 in the Senate).

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