District of Columbia

PFAW Edit Memo: Striking Progress on Judicial Nominations

To: Interested Parties
From: Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel
Re: Striking Progress on Judicial Nominations
Date: September 22, 2014

So far, 2014 has been a banner year for effectively pushing back against the Republican obstruction of judicial nominees that we have seen since the moment Barack Obama took office. The past few months have shown just how much progress America can make in ending the deliberate sabotage of the third branch of government so that our nation’s federal court system can do what the Founders intended it to do: Protect every person’s rights and ensure that everyone can have their day in court.

Background

Since the day that George W. Bush left office, Republicans have sought to leave as many judgeships as possible vacant for as long as possible, apparently in the hopes of maximizing the next (Republican) president’s opportunities to nominate his or her own judges and impose a right-wing ideology on America’s federal courts. With that goal they have simply blocked confirmation votes, regardless of the nominee. The result has been long backlogs in courts across the country and serious delay in providing justice for many Americans.

Under Senate rules, unanimous consent is needed to schedule a confirmation vote for a judicial nominee – something that used to be regularly granted to nominees with strong bipartisan support, as most lower court judges have had. But for the first time, Republicans under President Obama have routinely refused to allow timely votes on nearly every nominee – even the vast majority who have little or no Republican opposition – effectively but invisibly filibustering just about every one of them. Only after months of delay would Republicans finally consent to a vote. In all other cases, the only way to break the logjam has been for Democrats to file a cloture motion to end the filibuster, a burdensome and time-consuming practice, and (until recently) one requiring a supermajority of 60 votes. So for the first five years of the Obama presidency, confirmations were regularly delayed for no reason, usually out of public view, for months longer than necessary. For instance, Richard Taranto was confirmed to the Federal Circuit unanimously, but the Senate was not allowed to hold a vote until 347 days after his committee approval; Republicans never publicly explained why they would not allow him a vote earlier.

Overcoming Obstruction in 2014

This year, things have changed. By late 2013, five years of unprecedented obstruction had climaxed in a declaration by GOP senators that they would filibuster any nominee for the critically important and understaffed District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, no matter who the nominee might be, Senate Democrats concluded that the Senate and the nation would be significantly damaged if this were allowed to continue. The chamber responded to the exceptional obstruction by reforming its procedural rules. Going forward, cloture votes to end filibusters of executive and judicial nominees (with the exception of those to the Supreme Court) would require a majority of senators voting, rather than 60 votes.

Now, when Republicans refuse to consent to a vote, Majority Leader Reid files a cloture petition and sets a vote. Taking advantage of the change in Senate rules, Democrats have been able to defeat the GOP filibusters with a simple majority vote. While Republicans have not consented to even one judicial confirmation vote in 2014, they also have not been able to stop the Senate from voting on any of them. And despite the significant time that Republicans force the Senate to spend on each confirmation – drawn-out roll-call cloture votes, post-cloture time for debate of 30 hours for circuit court nominees and two hours for district court nominees (a debate that usually does not occur despite the time set aside for it), then time-consuming roll-call confirmation votes – Reid and the Democrats have persevered. Rather than wait for months longer than needed after committee approval before having a floor vote, the Senate has been able to act in a more timely – and appropriate – manner.

One of the basic and most important responsibilities of the U.S. Senate under the Constitution is to vote whether to confirm judges and keep the federal judiciary functioning. As of 2014, the Senate has no longer been blocked from doing that.

The figure below shows the dramatic drop in how long the average nominee has had to wait for a confirmation vote after approval by the Judiciary Committee as a result of the rules change:

With the Senate freed to do its job, the number of confirmation votes has grown significantly.

This has ameliorated the intentionally generated vacancy crisis that has hobbled our courts since President Obama took office. There were 54 vacancies when Obama was inaugurated in 2009. With the Senate blocked from holding timely confirmation votes, that number went to historic highs, skyrocketing to 100 by the end of the year. When the 111th Congress ended in December of 2010, Republicans blocked confirmation votes for 19 qualified nominees who had been approved by the Judiciary Committee, the overwhelming majority of whom had been approved unanimously or with almost unanimous support. As a result, 2011 opened with 95 vacancies – and with a needless bottleneck of nominations that delayed confirmation votes for all nominees down the line. With Republicans preventing the Senate from confirming even consensus nominees, it counted as a major accomplishment if the number of vacancies dipped into the low 80s, or even the 70s, as it sometimes did.

As a result, at the beginning of this year, our federal court system was suffering from 92 vacancies. And now? As of September 21, we’re down to 57 circuit and district court vacancies, just a few more than when Obama took office. This is a dramatic and long overdue drop.

Supreme Court and Circuit Courts:
Undoing the Damage of the Bush Years

Our Constitution and our laws protect our right to vote, to have a workplace free of discrimination, to get married, to make our own reproductive decisions, to hold corporations accountable when they unlawfully injure or cheat us, and to have a voice in our democracy. But those rights don’t mean anything if we don’t have effective courts – and judges – to vindicate them when they are impinged.

Knowing the important role federal courts play in shaping our laws and guaranteeing – or frustrating – our basic rights, President Bush and his supporters set out to put as many far right ideologues on the federal appellate courts as possible. The most controversial of his court nominees are busy re-making law across the land.

Most notoriously, John Roberts and Samuel Alito have joined with Reagan and Bush-41 nominees Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy to give hard-right ideologues a frequent 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court. They have regularly bent the law and confounded logic in order to rule in favor of the powerful in case after the case, rewriting our Constitution and federal laws. Citizens United, Shelby County, and Hobby Lobby are just a few of the growing number of cases where they have used the federal bench as a platform to transform the country to fit their personal political ideologies, notwithstanding what the Constitution and our laws actually say.

While the Supreme Court is extremely important and well known, it only hears around 75 cases a year. Most Americans in federal courts have their cases decided at the district or circuit level. Circuit court rulings have an enormous impact on the law, and only a tiny portion of them are reconsidered at the Supreme Court. That is why George W. Bush and his partisans spent so much effort to confirm ideologues like Janice Rogers Brown, who now holds a lifetime position on the D.C. Circuit. She wrote a 2012 opinion holding that graphic warnings on cigarette packages violate the tobacco companies’ free speech rights. She joined a 2013 opinion striking down a National Labor Relations Board rule requiring employers to post workers’ legal rights, framing it as “compelled speech” indistinguishable from forcing schoolchildren to say the Pledge of Allegiance or requiring drivers to display a political message (Live Free or Die) on their license plates. She even defended the ideology of the discredited Lochner era in a 2012 concurrence, writing that courts’ deference to everyday economic and business regulations “means property is at the mercy of the pillagers.”

In contrast to ideologues like Brown, President Obama has named judges characterized by their fidelity to the Constitution and our laws, and the impact on ordinary Americans has been enormous. For instance, the full D.C. Circuit, which now has four Obama nominees among its eleven active judges, this month vacated a widely criticized panel ruling by two conservative judges striking down a key subsidies provision of the Affordable Care Act. The legal argument against the subsidies has been widely recognized as weak, with a transparently political motive. On the same day of the DC Circuit’s panel ruling, a unanimous panel of the Fourth Circuit had upheld the law. Obama nominee Andre Davis accurately described what the far right plaintiffs are seeking judicial allies to do:

[They want] our help to deny to millions of Americans desperately-needed health insurance through a tortured, nonsensical construction of a federal statute whose manifest purpose, as revealed by the wholeness and coherence of its text and structure, could not be more clear.

As that one example illustrates, the D.C. Circuit is hardly the only one of our nation’s 13 federal circuit courts that looks very different today from when Bush left office. Where there was then only one circuit with a majority of its active judges nominated by Democratic presidents, today there are nine.

Especially this year, supported by the Senate rules change, progress has been remarkable. The 113th Congress has confirmed 23 circuit court judges. One would have to go back to the 99th Congress in 1985-1986 to see that many circuit court judges confirmed during a single Congress.

The past year has seen the confirmation of nominees like Michelle Friedland (9th Circuit), Pam Harris (4th Circuit), and Nina Pillard (D.C. Circuit), jurists who understand the impact of the law on everyday Americans, who cherish our constitutional principles of equality and liberty, and who don’t see the federal courts as just another part of government that can be used to enhance corporate power.

Conclusion

If the past few months have shown us anything, it is this: Standing up to bullies works. The White House has made judicial nominations that it can be proud of, and Senate Democrats have overcome years of Republican obstruction to get these nominees confirmed. Despite the GOP’s herculean efforts to prevent President Obama from exercising the powers he was elected – and re-elected – to use, he is successfully restoring balance to the nation’s courts. For the first time, the number of courtroom vacancies is close to where it was when Obama took office, and highly qualified jurists are taking their places on our federal circuit and district courts.

And the progress isn’t over. An additional 16 judicial nominees have been fully vetted and approved by the Judiciary Committee and are currently eligible for a floor vote – a floor vote that could have been held before the Senate left town for the elections. Several more have had hearings and should be ready for consideration by the Committee and the full Senate during the lame duck session that is scheduled to begin on November 12. And the White House just sent additional nominees to the Senate that could easily have hearings and a Committee vote during the lame duck session as well. There is absolutely no excuse for not holding confirmation votes on any of these committee-approved nominees by the end of this Congress.

During the last two years of the Obama Administration and the years that follow, we can be sure of certain things: The courts will remain critically important, and progressives will have to fight hard to protect those courts and keep them functioning effectively, with judges who won’t seek to use their positions to short-circuit our most important rights.

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PFAW Memo: Senate Needs to Confirm Pending Judicial Nominees

To: Interested Parties
From: Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel, People For the American Way
Date: September 15, 2014
Subject: Senate Needs to Confirm Pending Judicial Nominees

There is probably little more than a week before the Senate goes out on recess until after the election. One of the most important – and undoubtedly quickest and easiest – things it can do before then is confirm 16 judicial nominees, most of whom have overwhelming bipartisan support.
                                                                                      
One of the most important responsibilities of the United States Senate is to maintain a functioning federal court system. District courts are the backbone of the American judicial system. They are where people turn when they feel their rights have been violated. “Having your day in court” is an essential part of the American ideal. But that ideal cannot be met if we don’t have enough judges to make it happen. Even if every vacancy in the country were filled tomorrow, it wouldn’t be enough: The Judicial Conference of the United States – the entity responsible for assessing the federal courts’ ability to effectively manage their caseloads – has urged Congress to create an additional 85 district court judgeships. So when an existing vacancy can be filled with a qualified nominee, it ought to be done with dispatch.

Right now, nominees for 16 such vacancies can be confirmed within the next few days. Seven of these were fully vetted and approved by the Judiciary Committee and have been waiting for a floor vote since June or July. Of these seven, all but one of them advanced without any opposition. Four alone are from Georgia: nominees who have the unanimous support of the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic and Republican senators. There are no more questions to ask of these nominees, except when they will be allowed to take up their judicial responsibilities and fill empty courtrooms in Georgia, New York, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

The remaining nine were scheduled for a committee vote last week, having had their confirmation hearings back in July. They have been nominated for judgeships in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Missouri, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Four of them – nearly half – would serve in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a state with so many vacancies that it alone accounts for 15% of the nation’s total, but Chairman Leahy was forced by the GOP to delay the vote. Republicans gave no reason for the delay, but they rarely do: Since President Obama took office, Republicans have exercised the right of the minority party to have a committee vote “held over” (delayed) by at least a week without cause for nearly all of his judicial nominees, part of their overall mechanism of obstruction. Fortunately, they are expected to get their overdue committee approval later this week.

There remains plenty of time to confirm all 16 nominees before the Senate goes out for its pre-election recess next week.

The fact that we are heading into an election is no reason not to hold these confirmation votes. In fact, in September of 2008, a presidential election year – and the twilight of George W. Bush’s presidency, no less – Democrats rushed several of his nominees through to make sure they got confirmed before recess (and before his presidency ended). Ten of Bush’s district court nominees were confirmed just one day after being approved by the Judiciary Committee. All ten had had their committee hearings earlier that same month – in some cases, during that same week. The confirmation votes took hardly any time at all, since all ten were considered and confirmed as a bloc by unanimous consent.

Interestingly, three of those 2008 nominees were from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where four of the current 16 nominees could be serving by next week, if given the chance.

Republicans still have a chance to demonstrate that they can prioritize the functioning of the U.S. court system over their own partisan interests. But it seems unlikely. Since last year, the GOP has insisted that no judicial nominee, despite their bipartisan support, advance on the Senate floor without time-consuming cloture votes and roll-call confirmation votes. And it isn’t just the roll-call votes that take time (although each one can take nearly an hour). Without unanimous consent to waive the chamber’s time requirements, cloture votes cannot be held until two days after cloture petitions are filed, and each confirmation vote requires at least an hour of needless “post-cloture debate” even after the filibuster is broken.

If Republicans successfully prevent votes this month, the earliest the courtrooms will see some relief will be in a potential lame duck session.  That means another two month wait until clearly qualified nominees are  able to take their seats in courtrooms around the country.  There is simply no good reason for such delay.
 

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Failing to Defend the Right to Vote Is Simply Not an Option

As we work to ensure not only that President Obama receives legislation without undue delay, but also that whatever language he signs protects as many voters as possible from discrimination, it is important to remember those who died a half century ago fighting for this very cause.
PFAW

Obstruction 2.0: How Republican Senators Continue to Block Judicial Nominations Post-“Filibuster Reform”

Tuesday afternoon, PFAW hosted a special member telebriefing on the continued GOP obstruction of judicial nominees. The briefing featured PFAW’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon. They discussed how Republicans’ obstruction has reached staggering levels, despite changes in Senate filibuster rules.

Marge gave a brief background on the issue of GOP obstruction of judicial nominations, explaining how important federal judgeships are for deciding many issues that affect everyday Americans and defining why Republicans are determined to continue obstruction confirmations of judicial nominees. Their underlying goal is to keep as many seats empty as possible so a President Cruz or Rubio can fill them with right-wing ideologues.

She addressed the current narrative that President Obama has had more confirmations at this time than Bush had, and explained that these numbers need to be put in the context of the fact that Obama has had around 70 more vacancies to fill than his predecessor. That means for Obama’s confirmation results to be seen as equivalent to those of President Bush, he would have had to have many more nominees confirmed at this point in his presidency.

Paul began a discussion of some of the choke methods Republicans are employing to block the confirmation of President Obama's nominees to the bench. Paul delineated how all too often, GOP senators do not cooperate with the White House to suggest candidates for nomination, delaying the process from the very beginning. Once nominees are made and are sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, we have seen GOP Senators delay the hearing by not submitting their blue slips, an unofficial tradition that gives home state Senators an opportunity to express their support for the nominee.

Marge explained ways in which Republicans are delaying the process once nominees are in committee, where the minority is allowed to request one-week delays. To express the magnitude of the obstruction, Marge explained how of the 270 nominees who have had a vote during President Obama's term, only 11 have had their votes held on time.

Once on the Senate floor, the situation doesn't get better as senators are able to filibuster nominees by refusing to give unanimous consent to the simple act of holding a yes-or-no confirmation vote. To offset these delays, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been forced to file for cloture. Since the rules change in November, there have been cloture votes on all the nominees, adding hours of senate time in post-cloture debates (30 hours per circuit court nominee).

Marge highlighted that if all 30 nominees on the floor were voted on today, which is possible, then the number of current vacancies would drop precipitously, down to the level at this point in George W. Bush’s presidency. It is essential that these be voted on now, and that confirmation votes for nominations coming out of committee be voted on expeditiously.

Fielding questions from PFAW members, Marge and Paul discussed particular cases of obstruction like that of William Thomas's nomination in Florida, where Senator Marco Rubio withheld his blue slip in support of the nominee-–one that he himself had recommended in the first place. Members also made the connection between the effect of big money in politics and the motivations for GOP senators to obstruct confirmations, and attempted to find ways in which everyday Americans can make their voices heard to their senators regarding the issues of obstruction in judicial nominations. Paul used the example of the DC Circuit Court fight, where with the activism from people across the country rallying together helped get all the court's vacancies filled.

Marge and Paul, along with PFAW members, emphasized how as activists, we can intervene in the fight to take back our democracy by letting Senators know that average Americans are paying attention, watching how they respond and vote on judicial nominations, and considering who may be pulling their strings. For instance, a caller in Florida wanting to influence Marco Rubio could call his office and ask him to prevent a delay in a committee vote for nominees to fill four emergency vacancies. And everyone, regardless of whether there are vacancies in their state, can call their senators and call for the quick confirmation of the large number of nominees awaiting a floor vote. She also highlighted what is at stake in this mid-term election since the officials we elect today will help confirm the judges that will decide important cases that affect average Americans. For this reason, it is important to have demographic and experiential diversity in the courts so judges making decisions understand the impact of the law on regular Americans.

Click here more information on our Fair and Just Courts campaign.

PFAW

“Rebranded” GOP Votes for 50th Time to Undermine Obamacare

Today House Republicans led by Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) voted to delay the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate. In case you haven’t been keeping track, this is the House GOP’s 50th vote to dismantle Obamacare.

In a speech last week at a DNC event, President Obama joked,

“You know what they say: 50th time is the charm. Maybe when you hit your 50th repeal vote, you will win a prize. Maybe if you buy 50 repeal votes, you get one free.” 

On Monday, in the wake of Governor Jan Brewer’s decision to veto her state’s anti-gay “freedom to discriminate” bill, People For the American Way president Michael Keegan wrote in a Huffington Post op-ed that we are continually asked to believe the “new, no-nonsense Republican Party” has finally taken to heart the “dangers of embracing extremism.” However, he writes:

“…there seems to be a Grand Canyon-like gap between what everyone knows the Republican Party should do and what they actually do. Time after time, we see that they just can't help themselves. We all know the embarrassing, crazy uncle who shows up at the family reunion. It seems like all of those crazy uncles have now banded together to control the Republican Party.”

And with their 50th vote to undermine Obamacare, it seems pretty clear that the Republican Party isn’t going to be able to rein in those crazy uncles anytime soon.

 

PFAW

Live Action Rally: Abortion Providers Just as Bad as the Taliban

Anti-choice activists gathered in front of ABC studios in Washington, D.C. today to draw attention to what they say is the “real” war on women.

The March on the Media rally claimed to be exposing the media’s supposed censorship of the realities of abortion and the lionization of pro-choice advocates like Wendy Davis. The rally was organized by Lila Rose, the president of Live Action, who previously equated the anti-choice movement with the abolitionist movement and the Revolutionary War.

Rose wasn’t alone in her questionable historical comparisons. Jill Stanek, an anti-choice activist who previously accused Obama of supporting infanticide while a member of the Illinois Senate, stole the show today by comparing abortion to the brutality of the Vietnam War, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the atrocities committed by the Taliban.

Student Debt Day 2013 Makes Noise for Struggling Students and Families

On June 5th, hundreds of students made their way to Capitol Hill to express their concerns and tell their personal stories about rising student debt. We wanted to bring attention to the federal student loan interest rate that is set to expire on July 1st.  After meeting with and leaving information for over 120 Senate and House members, student advocates from affiliate Young People For, Campus Progress, and other youth organizations hope to have left an impact on the senators considering various plans to address the impending increase. 

Students roaming the halls of the Senate and House offices were passionate and excited about their movement.  In meetings with offices including Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA), students were encouraged to continue making noise about this issue, as public attention is a key factor in forcing a bipartisan solution.  We were told that the public attention brought to the issue by President Obama’s campaign and 2012 State of the Union address was a key factor in passing the one year freeze that was enacted last summer.  Although the president spoke to a group of students on Friday about the interest rates, the public attention to the matter is smaller than it was last year. 

But student debt remains a pressing issue.  The average college student graduates with roughly $26,000 in student debt, and doubling the interest rate would result in what the president referred to as a $1,000 tax hike each year for students.  Over the course of four years, that’s $4,000 in addition to the initial loan amount.  That is $4,000 that is not going towards stimulating the economy, preventing graduates from buying cars and houses, and forcing them to put off big decisions like moving out of their parents’ houses and starting families and lives of their own.  This is something each student on the Hill echoed regardless of the degree to which they are personally affected by the student loan deficit.  As the roughly 7 million students with student debt contemplate how they will face the reality of their futures, they are turning around and telling future generations something we were never told:  It is not worth it.  If you are incurring debt in your undergrad years, going to graduate school might be even further out of the question.  As one student shared yesterday, “Masters degrees have become the new bachelors.”  When students cannot afford the education needed to be hired for the jobs available, the effects are felt across the nation. We now have less than one month to ensure that students are not incurring even more unnecessary debt that does nothing for our economy but hold us back.

Kelly Mears
Intern for affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For Program

PFAW

Why Senate Republican Claims About the D.C. Circuit Don’t Pass the Pinocchio Test

Earlier this week President Obama nominated three unquestionably qualified candidates – appellate attorney Patricia Millet, former civil rights attorney Cornelia Pillard and D.C. District Court judge Robert Wilkins – to the D.C. Circuit, the second most influential court in the country.  Republicans are already fighting hard against these nominations, claiming that the D.C. Circuit doesn’t have a large enough workload to necessitate filling the vacant seats.  Sen. Chuck Grassley (D-IA) even went as far as to say, “No matter how you slice it, the D.C. Circuit ranks last or almost last in nearly every category that measures workload.”

Not quite.  Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post wrote an article this morning delving deeper into Sen. Grassley’s claims.  Kessler wrote,

“Challenged by Grassley’s claim that the D.C. Circuit is last ‘no matter how you slice it,’ we came up with two other measures that might shed more light on the D.C. Circuit’s workload… One way to measure this is by looking at the data for ‘administrative appeals.’

In 2012, nearly 45 percent of those appeals at the D.C. Circuit involved administrative appeals concerning federal rules and regulations, which many experts say are highly complex and take more time to review.  By contrast, at the other circuits, virtually all of the administrative appeals involve immigration cases. Using the data in Table B-3, we found that in the other circuits, administrative appeals that did not involve immigration matters accounted for less than 3 percent of the appeals. (In some circuits, it was less than 1 percent.)”

In other words, the D.C. Circuit is considering some of the most intricate and far-reaching cases of any court.  The complexity of these types of cases make apples-to-apples comparisons with other circuits difficult. 

Kessler continues:

“Another measure of the complexity of the cases are statistics on written opinions. The raw data suggest that judges on the D.C. Circuit write fewer opinions than judges on other appeals circuits. (This was one stat that Grassley staff sent us.) But Table S-3 shows that the D.C. Circuit produced a greater proportion of written, signed opinions on cases determined on the merits than most other circuits.”

Overall, the Post concludes,

“[T]he certainty in Grassley’s argument is particularly misplaced, given the unusual nature of the D.C. Circuit… you can’t just assert that one appeals filing is equal to another — or that one set of statistics is better than another. Depending on the metrics, the D.C. Circuit could very well be in first place.”

In 2005, Sen. Grassley did not seem to have these workload concerns when he voted to confirm Bush nominees Janice Rogers Brown and Thomas B. Griffith to the tenth and eleventh seats on the D.C. Circuit.  Yet when he and other Republicans cast those votes, the court was handling the same number of cases as it is now.  As President Obama pointed out in his speech announcing the three nominees, this is an overtly political move on the part of Senate Republicans:

“When a Republican was president, 11 judges on the D.C. Circuit Court made complete sense. Now that a Democrat is president, it apparently doesn't – eight is suddenly enough.”

PFAW

PFAW Applauds Nomination of Three to DC Circuit Court

People For the American Way today applauded President Obama’s announcement that he would nominate Cornelia (Nina) Pillard, Patricia Ann Millett and Robert Leon Wilkins to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Today’s announcement is an important step toward filling the remaining vacancies on one of our nation’s highest courts,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way. “These nominees all have accomplished records. They should receive prompt hearings and votes in the full Senate without delay.

“These nominations are a clear statement by the President that he won’t be held hostage by the relentless obstruction by Senate Republicans,” continued Baker. “Nearly five years after he was elected, President Obama has had only one nominee confirmed to the DC Circuit, but Republicans are insisting that fulfilling his constitutional obligation to nominate individuals to fill open seats on this Court is somehow ‘court packing.’ That’s ridiculous. Republican Senators should stop playing political games with the courts and end their mindless obstruction of President Obama’s nominees.”

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Anti-Choice Groups Exploit Gosnell Verdict to Push for Bogus DC Abortion Bill

A jury today found Philadelphia doctor Kermit Gosnell guilty in the deaths a woman and three infants in a squalid, nightmarish abortion clinic. Anti-choice groups have been closely following the trial, attempting to link Gosnell’s crimes to the very existence of legal abortion. They have exploited the Gosnell trial to push for state-level “TRAP” laws meant to close abortion clinics with unnecessary regulations. Now, anti-choice groups are targeting legal abortion in Washington, DC.

Reacting to the Gosnell verdict, the Family Research Council and the Susan B. Anthony List both singled out a bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Trent Franks of Arizona, that would ban abortions in the District of Columbia after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah also plugged the bill in an interview with Janet Mefferd about Gosnell. The bill, similar to several that have been considered in state legislatures, is based on the disputed claim that 20 weeks is the point at which a fetus can feel pain. Such procedures are rare, accounting for just 1.5 percent of abortions.

DC has long been a convenient target for Republican lawmakers looking to expand school vouchers, eliminate needle exchange programs, stop gun control measures…and, of course, infringe on abortion rights. Thanks to a 2011 budget deal, for instance, the District is currently barred from using its own local tax dollars to help low-income women access abortions – a policy that has been in effect off and on for 25 years.

Of course, Franks’ DC bill is completely unrelated to the Gosnell trial. In reality, abortion performed in proper conditions are one of the safest medical procedures provided in the United States. Gosnell’s clinic, which was the last refuge for many low-income women, illustrated the horrors of the unsafe, back-alley abortions that are all too common in parts of the world where abortion is illegal.

Last year, when Franks introduced a similar bill, he refused to let D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton testify against it in committee.

Grassley’s Court Packing Plan Plays Politics with Justice System

Senator Charles Grassley proposed a scheme to reduce the number of judges on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in order to preserve the Court’s current conservative makeup.

Pastor Takes Credit for 2011 DC Earthquake

In 2011, Texas Gov. Rick Perry partnered with pastor John Benefiel, a self-proclaimed Apostle who leads the Heartland Apostolic Reformation Network, for his The Response prayer rally. Like many of the other pastors promoting The Response, Benefiel has some rather curious views. For example, he claims the Statue of Liberty is a “demonic idol” and that the District of Columbia is under the control of demonic powers. While appearing on Sid Roth’s show It’s Supernatural!, Benefiel argued that the Statue of Freedom on top of the Capitol and the Washington Monument are demonic symbols.

He told Roth that his group went to Washington in 2011 to issue a Baal divorce decree [PDF], which he maintains frees places from control of the demonic god Baal, and that God responded with the August 23rd earthquake which was felt along the east coast. He said the earthquake’s damage to the Washington Monument, the Scottish Rite Temple and the National Cathedral is no coincidence but divine punishment for masonry. “God continues to amaze us all the time,” Benefiel said, “We just did what God says to do and he follows up with this great act.”

Benefiel, who earlier maintained that homosexuality was an Illuminati plot to depopulate the earth, told Roth—after asserting that watching pornography is an act of “Baal worship”—that homosexuality is a result of paganism and Baal’s attempt to “infiltrate our Christianity.”

PFAW joins the “Stop the Greed Bus Tour” in Colorado

 

 

The "Stop the Greed" bus tour rolled into Denver, Colorado today and helped boost support for an important state ballot question on corporate political donations. PFAW’s Colorado Coordinator Ellen Dumm joined Elena Nunez of Colorado Common Cause (pictured above) and Luis Toro of Ethics Watch in support of the bus tour and a ballot initiative to overturn Citizens United.

On Election Day, Colorado voters will have a chance to say “no” to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited corporate campaign donations, by voting for Amendment 65. The ballot measure calls for the Colorado congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

The Stop the Greed Bus Tour is traveling to states to get the word out about how the billionaire oilmen Koch brothers are pouring millions of dollars into the 2012 elections in an effort to bolster their extreme right-wing agenda.

The Koch brothers have also bankrolled the controversial conservative group True the Vote, which has been accused of challenging eligible voters at the polls and disrupting elections.

 

PFAW

GOP Platform Committee Disses DC

The Republican Party’s platform committee spent the day addressing amendments to sections of the platform draft that came up through subcommittees.  It seems that the DC delegation had managed to get into the draft platform some vague language supporting improved representation. It didn’t last. 

The language said that while the Party is opposed to statehood, there could be constructive alternative means of representation that should be considered.  Even that was too much.  James Bopp, delegate from Indiana, dripping contempt for DC, called for that to be hacked out, which it was. He said the District already has representation through its delegate and through the "Democrat Party," which is “of, by, and for the federal government.”

Watch Bopp's comments and his little victory celebration:

PFAW Applauds Nomination of Caitlin Halligan to DC Circuit

President Obama yesterday named two nominees for the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, Caitlin Halligan and Sri Srinivasan. People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan issued the following statement:

“We applaud President Obama for renominating Catilin Halligan to the D.C. Circuit, the nation's second highest court. Halligan has unimpeachable qualifications and is clearly qualified for a lifetime seat on this court. In the midst of a pervasive vacancy crisis on the federal bench, it is galling that Halligan’s confirmation was blocked by the relentless partisanship of Senate Republicans last year. She would bring an impressive resume to the court, and her nomination should be taken up and approved by the Judiciary Committee, which is already well acquainted with her record, as soon as possible.

“Sri Srinivasan was also nominated by President Obama. While we are glad to have a nominee for this important circuit, we have questions, based on Srinivasan’s record, about the extent of his commitment to civil liberties, legal protections for workers and the rights of individual Americans. An expeditious hearing by the Judiciary Committee is the best way for senators – and the American people – to learn more about the nominee and we urge the prompt scheduling of those hearings to consider his positions.

“There is also a third vacancy on this extremely important court and we urge the president to act expeditiously to nominate an individual for this seat with the credentials, professional background and demonstrated record of commitment to ensuring that the rights and interests of all Americans are adequately protected.”

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Victim of James O’Keefe’s Voter Fraud Isn’t Buying It

In early April, after she went to cast her ballot in Washington, DC, NBC Latino contributor Alicia Menendez found out that someone else had also tried to cast a ballot in her name. The perpetrator was an ally of right-wing activist James O’Keefe, who has been traveling the country trying to trick Americans into thinking widespread voter identity fraud exists by committing it himself.
Menendez writes that the attempted fraud felt like a personal “violation.” But she’s not buying O’Keefe’s scare tactics:

So why are O’Keefe & company pushing a solution in search of a problem? In 2008, a wave of inspired first-time voters flocked to the polls. That level of participation and infusion of enthusiasm is good for our democracy, regardless of how those Americans vote. But some people couldn’t abide the candidates the voters chose, and so they are trying desperately to keep a similar surge of new voters from voting this year.

O’Keefe and the people who fund groups like his want to stop people who traditionally vote against their candidates, almost all Republicans, from voting at all. To do that, they are trying to re-raise the barriers to voting that we tore down in the civil rights era. They are trying to scare us into believing that there is a massive wave of “voter fraud” sweeping the country. I will not be scared into believing their myths and neither should you.

There is something honest here though: they honestly do not understand why more people don’t try to commit voter fraud. That’s because voter suppression fraud — the kind where you keep people who don’t vote your way from voting at all — has been a standard part of their playbook for years.

For more on the “voter fraud” fraud, see People For the American Way’s report, The Right to Vote Under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box.
 

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