Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a statement today in connection with the denial of a cert petition for a case from Texas. She agreed with the decision not to hear the appeal, but she recognized the need to also release a statement condemning the offensive, racially charged remarks of a federal prosecutor during a drug-focused trial. During the cross-examination of a man who testified that he was not part of and did not know about friends’ plan to buy illegal drugs, the prosecutor asked:
“You've got African-Americans, you've got Hispanics, you've got a bag full of money. Does that tell you – a light bulb doesn't go off in your head and say, This is a drug deal?”
Sotomayor called the prosecutor’s comment “pernicious in its attempt to substitute racial stereotype for evidence, and racial prejudice for reason.” She went on:
“It is deeply disappointing to see a representative of the United States resort to this base tactic more than a decade into the 21st century. Such conduct diminishes the dignity of our criminal justice system and undermines respect for the rule of law. We expect the Government to seek justice, not to fan the flames of fear and prejudice.”
Sotomayor’s powerful response highlights the critical importance of diversity in our court system. As Justice Sotomayor noted in 2001, “our experiences as women and people of color affect our decisions.” During her confirmation, People For the American Way Foundation documented the far right’s vitriolic reactions to Sotomayor’s insightful discussion of the ways in which her life experiences as a Latina woman inform her view of the law.
But today’s statement is one example of what that looks like in practice. It highlights what it looks like when a woman of color on our nation’s highest court has the power to call out blatant racism in the judicial system.
As the 2012 presidential campaign gears up, PFAW Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin has collected an extensive glossary of the Right Wing’s favorite rhetoric about the Supreme Court and the Constitution. Sen. Raskin's Daily Kos piece explains the coded phrases and euphemisms, such as “federalism,” “legislating from the bench” and “original intent,” that the Right Wing uses to project their political agenda onto the Founding Fathers’ vision for America.
Here’s an excerpt :
“Follow the Law, Not Make the Law” – Right -Wing Usage: What Republican judges and justices do and what Republican judicial nominees will do, e.g., “It’s only a matter of time before our five justices who follow the law and don’t make the law strike down the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and step up the campaign to invalidate jury verdicts and punitive damages in the states.” Preferred Usage: Essentially meaningless campaign rhetoric used to describe judges who toe the right-wing corporate line, e.g., “I hope they follow the law, instead of making it, and cut our jury verdict down to a price that won’t cost us so much freedom of speech.”
You can read the whole glossary here.
Last week federal judge Jeffrey White ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause, representing a stinging rebuke to the House Republicans’ efforts to defend the law through the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG). The Religious Right once hailed BLAG as a savior of the anti-gay law, arguing that the only reason judges were chipping away at DOMA was because of the poor arguments of the Justice Department. But White found that DOMA doesn’t pass constitutional muster under either a heightened scrutiny measure or the less stringent rational basis test.
Notably, former President George W. Bush nominated Judge White and the Senate confirmed him in a voice vote.
But even though he was nominated by a Republican and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate without Republican opposition, Religious Right activists are now accusing him of being an activist judge.
Gordon Klingenschmitt urged people to pray that God will “defeat and overturn the bad ruling by activist U.S. Federal Judge Jeffrey S. White” and that Congress will impeach him:
Let us pray. Almighty God, we pray You defeat and overturn the bad ruling by activist U.S. Federal Judge Jeffrey S. White in San Francisco, who ruled America’s founding fathers embraced sodomy and protected homosexual ‘marriage’ somehow in the U.S. Constitution, and therefore he struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 federal law signed by President Clinton, that defined marriage as only valid between one man and one woman. We pray Congress impeaches Judge White, from Proverbs 19:25, “Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver blamed the Obama administration for the ruling as part of their plan to “sabotage” marriage, and called the judge’s ruling “absolutely ridiculous”:
"This is another outrageous example of the Obama administration abandoning the defense of the Defense of Marriage Act, simply trying to sabotage marriage as the union of one man and one woman and pushing a radical homosexual agenda," Staver contends.
"I think that it's absolutely ridiculous to say that there's no rational or even debatable or logical reason for the Defense of Marriage Act, to say that you cannot have same-sex unions," Staver offers. "And in this particular case, the court did the wrong thing by ultimately finding that the Defense of Marriage Act as applied in this case was unconstitutional."
Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition said Obama is leading a “direct war on marriage”:
Given the Obama administration's direct war on marriage, whether through attacking military chaplains' rights of conscience or refusing to defend DOMA, it's pretty clear which side he is on. Obama can't afford to come out of the proverbial closet though... for fear of losing an election.
America's moral virtue runs pretty deep. Despite the best efforts of this liberal government to affect that, the heavy hand of the Obama administration is no match for the Judeo-Christian values that inform the consciences of millions.
...which is why Obama is attempting to impose upon our rights.
Earlier this week, Senate Republicans were harshly criticized for filibustering a highly qualified Cuban American with no committee opposition nominated for a seat on the Eleventh Circuit. Yesterday, they doubled down and set their sights on an unopposed district court nominee, Jesse Furman of New York. As we noted yesterday, the absurdity of the move cannot be overstated. The Senate GOP wasn’t just moving the goalposts, they were moving the entire football field.
It appears that the barrage of deserved criticism they received for this outrageous escalation in their war against the American judiciary has had an effect: It was just announced that the cloture petition will be vitiated (i.e., withdrawn). More than five months after Furman was approved without opposition by the Senate Judiciary Committee, he will finally get his day on the Senate floor. In turn, assuming he is confirmed, more New Yorkers will get their day in court.
This is a victory for every American who wants to protect our nation’s judicial system.
President Obama has announced the nomination of Jill Pryor to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor would fill a vacancy that has been declared an emergency by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Pryor's legal skills are recognized by her peers. The Best Lawyers in America recognized her from 2009-2011, and Georgia Super Lawyers selected her as one of the "Top 100 Super Lawyers" in 2010 and 2011. In addition, she has served as president of the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers, as well as on the Georgia State Bar's Board of Governors.
Her peers are not alone in recognizing Pryor's qualifications. Georgia's Republican senators have both stated that she is qualified for a lifetime judicial appointment. In a January 24 letter to President Obama, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson recommended three attorneys to fill judicial vacancies in Georgia. They recommended Pryor for one of the two vacant seats in the Northern District of Georgia, but President Obama recognized that she has the skills and experience needed to serve on the Eleventh Circuit Court.
This seat has been vacant since August of 2010. We hope that Sens. Chambliss and Isakson, who clearly recognize Pryor's qualifications and judicial temperament, quickly give their approval for the Judiciary Committee to proceed to examine the nomination.
President Obama has gone out of his way to nominate to the federal bench highly qualified people who have earned the respect of Democrats and Republicans alike. That was clear in yesterday's Judiciary Committee hearing for Jeffrey Helmick to serve as a judge in the Northern District of Ohio.
That Helmick was nominated by Obama and recommended by Ohio's Sen. Sherrod Brown makes clear his support from Democrats. He was originally recommended to Brown and then-Sen. George Voinovich, a Republican, by a bipartisan committee. Rob Portman was elected to replace Voinovich in 2010, he has approved of Helmick’s nomination moving forward.
At the hearing, Sen. Brown discussed the strong support that state Republicans have offered the nominee. For instance, Jack Zouhary, a 2006 George W. Bush nominee, wrote in support:
You will find no better candidate than Jeff. He possesses the intelligence, the passion for our justice system, and the necessary temperament and people skills to be an outstanding district court judge.
Similar praise has come from Mark Wagoner, the Republican who chairs the Ohio's Senate's Judiciary Committee. Sen. Brown read an excerpt from Wagoner's letter of support:
[Helmick] is someone who has stood for principles, litigated honestly, and ably defended our constitutional system of government. These types of traits would make Mr. Helmick an outstanding federal judge.
Helmick should be confirmed quickly. But if the growing backlog of nominees languishing on the Senate floor isn't cleared up, Ohioans' access to justice will be at risk.
With Republican obstruction of qualified consensus judicial nominees showing no sign of abating, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has filed cloture on the nomination of Adalberto José Jordán to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The vote to break the Republican filibuster is scheduled for Monday at 5:30.
Jordán is one of the 18 nominees stuck pending on the Senate floor because Republicans refuse to allow a yes-or-no vote to be scheduled. He received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association, with a unanimous panel finding him well qualified. Judiciary Committee members who looked over his record agreed, voting unanimously to advance his nomination.
Senator Marco Rubio – Jordán's home state senator and a fellow Cuban American – strongly supports the nomination. As he told the committee, "I think his experience and his resume will speak for itself. ... As a community, we're very proud of Judge Jordán's nomination and we look forward to his appointment."
Jordán immigrated from Cuba when he was six and is the quintessential American success story. Since 1999, he has served ably as a federal district court judge in Miami, where he has presided over nearly 200 trials on a wide range of civil and criminal matters.
The Circuit that he would join desperately needs this vacancy filled, so much so that the Administrative Office of the United States Court has formally declared it a judicial emergency. In other words, there are so many cases and so few judges that Americans are not able to get their day in court.
This nomination has been languishing on the Senate floor since October 13. That was four months ago. Republicans have absolutely no excuse for this latest obstruction. Hats off to Sen. Reid for "calling the question" on this critical nomination. Next we need to turn our attention to the other 17 nominees on the Senate's calendar and the other nominees who will be reported by the Senate Judiciary Committee despite the Republicans' efforts to slow walk nominations in Committee as well.
Before Senate Republicans graciously allowed a vote this afternoon on one of the 19 long-pending judicial nominations – just one, mind you – they did something this morning, that, unfortunately has become all too routine in their relentless efforts to slow-walk judicial nominations: They needlessly delayed committee votes on four additional highly qualified nominees. Republicans won't even let them advance to the floor to languish there, but are delaying them in committee for no reason.
As they have done for all but five of President Obama's judicial nominees, committee Republicans this morning exercised their option to "hold over" (i.e., delay) votes on judicial nominees. The routine use of this hold, without explanation, without regard to actual questions about the nominee, and almost without exception, is unprecedented. And while the delay, likely to be one week, is not by itself enormous, it has become a predictable component of the overall mechanism of obstruction that Senate Republicans have created to keep our nation's courtrooms from functioning effectively for the American people.
Three of the four vacant seats are judicial emergencies, and the three nominees from states with Republican senators have those senators' strong support.
As PFAW has written before:
No matter who the nominee is, no matter how qualified, no matter if confirmation is needed to address a judicial emergency, all the nominees [who are held over in committee] have something in common: They were nominated by a Democratic president, and that is all the reason Republicans need to obstruct the process and sabotage the judicial branch of the United States government.
So the fact that the bottleneck at the Senate floor didn't get worse today is hardly cause to celebrate.
Newt Gingrich appeared on Monday’s program of WallBuilders Live with David Barton and Rick Green, where Gingrich once again praised Barton’s right-wing pseudo-history and activism. In fact, Gingrich gave Barton credit for helping him develop his plan to assault the “judicial dictatorship” if elected president. He told Barton and Green that his plan is sending shockwaves through the “the secular left, which has been using the courts to replace the America we grew up in” by legalizing abortion, “driving God out of public life” and making same-sex marriages become “legitimized as if they were the same between traditional marriage between a man and a woman.”
Gingrich added that he would appoint judges in the mold of Robert George, the chairman of the National Organization for Marriage and a drafter of the Manhattan Declaration who has called people to defy Supreme Court decisions on issues like marriage that they disagree with, and graduates of Regent University and Liberty University, the schools founded by the far-right televangelists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, respectively. Regent University absorbed the Oral Roberts University law program and teaches conservative Christian interpretations of the law, and the Liberty University School of Law even pressured students to disobey U.S. law if it conflicts with what they believe is “God’s law” in situations such as the Lisa Miller kidnapping case. Gingrich also pointed to the right-wing Federalist Society as a source for judicial appointments
Gingrich: What you have is, the secular left, which has been using the courts to replace the America we grew up in, the secular left which is desperately committed to Roe v. Wade and abortion, desperately committed to marriage between same-sex couples becoming legitimized as if they were the same between traditional marriage between a man and a woman, desperately committed to driving God out of public life, and they are suddenly faced with the possibility that we the people are going to take back our authority, that we are going to take back our rights, that we are going to redress the balance. The level of hysteria, I predict, will grow as they come to realize at the American Bar Association and elsewhere that this really is an effort to limit the power of lawyers to redesign America.
Green: Should you become president, is there a crop of attorneys and judges out there that understand history and understand originalism that you would have to choose from, in other words it’s got to be more than just you and Congress, what about good judges?
Gingrich: You start looking at people of the caliber of Robbie George of Princeton, you look at Regent University, you look at Liberty University, you start looking around and realizing there is a whole crop - Vince Haley of University of Virginia graduate who is a deeply, deeply committed Christian who clearly understands these kinds of issues - I think people would be surprised that the Federalist Society has many members who agree that we need a balance of power between the three, not a judicial dictatorship.