Fair and Just Courts

GOP Obstruction of the DC Circuit: Infographics

Share these infographics to help set the record straight on the DC Circuit.

The Critically Important DC Circuit Court

Despite progressive victories in 2012, the Right’s outsized influence on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit gives it the power to undermine progressive laws and thwart the agenda that Americans elected President Obama to pursue.

Who’s Driving The GOP’s Supreme Court Blockade?

Almost immediately after the news broke of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last month, Republican senators started vowing to block the nomination of whomever President Obama appoints to succeed the conservative jurist. They were egged on in this kneejerk obstructionism by outside conservative groups who quickly circled the wagons in an effort to shut down any Supreme Court confirmation process.

Now, a few key conservative groups are leading the effort to pressure Republican senators to stay in line and to make it politically difficult for vulnerable Democrats to cooperate in a confirmation process. These groups have unified around a message that “the American people should decide” who the next Supreme Court justice is by waiting until the next president can nominate him or her — never mind that Americans did decide who they wanted picking Supreme Court justices when they reelected Obama in 2012.

This “let the people decide” message belies the true goals of the groups pushing it — not some idealistic belief in good governance, but an effort to shape a Supreme Court that favors business interests at the expense of workers and consumers and that helps to turn back the clock on women, LGBT people  and religious minorities.

A new report from People For the American Way looks at four of the conservative groups driving this strategy, outlining their history and their goals for the federal judiciary. It includes:

  • The Judicial Crisis Network was founded during the George W. Bush administration as the Judicial Confirmation Network with the goal of pushing through the nominations and confirmations of far-right judges to the federal bench.
  • The American Center for Law & Justice, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, often acts as a legal arm for the Religious Right’s attempts to deny liberties to LGBT people, Muslim Americans and others.
  • The Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action have become forces for obstructionism as they pressure Republicans to abandon any attempt at bipartisan cooperation or simple governance.
  • The Family Research Council is working to turn back the clock on social advances for women, LGBT people and religious minorities — something that it hopes a friendly Supreme Court will accelerate.

Read the full report here.

PFAW

Enjoy This Catchy Jingle On Judicial Power, Starring Bjork

One of the more bizarre things that we’ve ever come across in our daily monitoring is this video, posted yesterday on Dave Daubenmire’s News with Views YouTube page, featuring a song called “Courts Cannot Make Law” written by Christian Reconstructionist and Maryland Republican politician Michael Peroutka superimposed on a scene from Lars von Trier’s 2000 film “ Dancer in the Dark,” staring Bjork.

Peroutka, who has said that Kentucky clerk Kim Davis gave “the entire country a civics lesson” when she defied federal court orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because “any purported law that is not harmonious with [God’s] word can’t be law and is not law,” includes lyrics such as:

There’s a battle going on, a war for your soul

It’s a devil’s deal, it’s mind control

They want you to believe that you have no hope

They’re counting on the fact that you are a dope

And:

You won’t learn the truth in government schools

It’s up to you to know the rules

Tom DeLay Urges Congress To Fight Gay Marriage By Impeaching Judges And Cutting Court Budgets

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay joined “Wallbuilders Live” today to discuss the Supreme Court’s decision striking down bans on gay marriage, repeating his call for states to “defy” the “illegitimate” ruling.

DeLay was especially incensed at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for calling the Supreme Court’s ruling the “law of the land,” urging fellow Republican members of Congress to “revolt” against McConnell and start punishing the entire federal court system for the gay marriage decision by cutting courts’ budgets, limiting their jurisdictions and impeaching judge.

“The members should revolt against that and go after McConnell for saying that, because there’s a lot that Congress can do,” he said. “Not just limited jurisdiction of the courts, they can pass a constitutional amendment, they can impeach judges, they can cut the budgets of the courts — they can’t cut the Supreme Court, but lower courts — they can express themselves that way, express their abhorrence to the ruling by cutting the budgets. There’s just a lot of things that they can do to invoke the separation of powers.”

PFAW Telebriefing Unpacks Legal Issues and Real-World Implications of Marriage Cases

As the Supreme Court prepares for arguments about the right to marry, PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin says our country may be “on the verge of a historic breakthrough.”

On Thursday, PFAW hosted a telebriefing for members and supporters on this historic moment in anticipation of oral arguments in the Supreme Court marriage cases (Obergefell v. Hodges) next week. PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker moderated a conversation among affiliate PFAW Foundation Senior Fellows Jamie Raskin and Elliot Mincberg as well as People For supporters who called in to join the discussion.

In the telebriefing, Raskin and Mincberg unpacked some of the questions before the court — not only whether states can prohibit same-sex couples from marrying or refuse to recognize marriages from other states — but also the implications of the various types of reasoning the justices may use to reach their decision.

They also reflected on the remarkable social transformation our country has seen on the rights of LGBT people. Raskin remembered that the 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision, which upheld the criminalization of “sodomy,” came out while he was in law school. With the Court’s steady march away from that kind of legal reasoning, he said, “there’s no going back from here.”

Mincberg pointed out that, unfortunately, the backlash has started before the Supreme Court even decides the cases. With “right to discriminate” legislation pending in more than a dozen states and a handful considering “marriage refusal” bills, it’s clear that the far Right is already forging ahead with a nationwide push to undermine the expanding rights of LGBT Americans.

Call participants shared some great questions and opinions, including a retired pediatric doctor who asked why the principles accepted by the medical community to take care of your patients rather than question or judge them have not been accepted by the political community as well.

Listen to the full telebriefing here:

PFAW

Barney Frank: This Year’s Midterm Elections Define Our Courts

In an op-ed printed in the Portland Press Herald this weekend, retired congressman Barney Frank offers a sharp critique of the far right Supreme Court under John Roberts. Explicitly noting the importance of the Court in defining law that affects all citizens, Frank makes clear not only that courts matter, but everyday citizens have a hand in how these courts are shaped.

Reviewing the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions — from overturning “more than 100 years of federal and state efforts to regulate the role of money in campaigns” to declaring that corporations have the right to religious freedom under RFRA—Frank states that “the court has ended this term with a barrage against laws it does not like” (emphasis added).

He continues,

…The Supreme Court is now strongly inclined to impose conservative ideology via Constitutional interpretation on a broad range of public policy. It is true that Kennedy and to some extent Roberts occasionally deviate from this, but Justice Samuel Alito has surpassed even Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in his ideological purity.

The relevance of this to the next two elections is very clear. Four of the sitting justices are in their late 70s or older. This means that there is a strong possibility that President Obama will have a chance to appoint another justice before his term expires, but his ability to do so will be determined not simply by the health of the justices in question, but by the composition of the U.S. Senate. The increasing partisanship in the Senate, the continued virulent influence of the tea party and recent history strongly suggest that even if a vacancy occurs, Obama will be prevented from filling it (emphasis added).

Frank refers to the unceasing Republican obstructionism and argues courts are critical for defining laws that affect Americans on a daily basis, highlighting the importance of this year’s midterm elections. As he concludes in this piece,

This makes it highly likely that among the issues that will be determined in the next senatorial and presidential election will be the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court. Voters should act accordingly.

PFAW

Appeals Court Rules Prop 8 Unconstitutional, Decision Highlights Role of Judiciary

A federal appeals court ruled today that the California ballot initiative that took the right to marry away from same-sex couples violated the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.  The decision, which is stayed temporarily, affirms an August 2010 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker.  According to the appeals court ruling,

Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for “laws of this sort.”

The ruling applies only to the situation in California, which, as advocates noted, includes 1/8 of the population of the U.S.

Ted Olson, one of the lead attorneys on the case, said at a press conference organized by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, “this is a huge day,” and said that the court’s analysis will have an impact far beyond California.  He said the court found that Prop 8 “violates the fundamental human rights of citizens in this country” and struck down Prop 8 as “violating the fundamental charter of the United States Constitution.”

This case is about equality, and freedom, and dignity, and fairness, and decency. It is about whether we are going to eliminate government-sponsored discrimination written into the constitution of the biggest state in the United States. It is about whether we are going to eliminate second-class citizenship…We are bringing a stop to that discrimination.

Added Olson, “Thank God for the judiciary in this country, to respect the Constitution, to stand up from whatever pressures may be put upon the judiciary, and to say what the law is. That’s what the Ninth Circuit did today.”

In response to a question about the impact of today’s ruling on legislative and ballot initiatives around the country, Olson described the 80-page majority decision as carefully and thoroughly written, and predicted that it would have an enormous impact as a legal precedent for other courts.  He also said,

The other point that’s so important is that every legal decision allows the American people to hear more about what these issues are, to ask questions, to think about these issues. In my experience -- we’ve been working on this for three years -- the more you talk to people, the more they listen, the more they realize this is right and this is inevitable.  So this will change court decisions, it will change public opinion, it will change what legislatures do.

Olson colleague Ted Boutros said he believes the way the Ninth Circuit crafted the opinion, and its reliance on the Supreme Court’s Romer decision, could make it harder for Prop 8 supporters to get Supreme Court review.

PFAW
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