judicial confirmations

PFAW Applauds Confirmation of Pamela Harris

The Senate voted today to approve the nomination of Pamela Harris to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 50 to 43.

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way issued the following statement:

“Pamela Harris is exactly the kind of judge we need in our courts. She is a brilliant litigator and public servant committed to improving the quality of justice for all. There’s no question she’ll make an excellent federal judge.

“We applaud the Senate for moving forward in confirming  quality nominees to the federal bench. For years, Republicans have blocked, delayed, and obstructed the confirmation of judges, doing everything in their power to slow down the process. We applaud Senator Reid and Senator Leahy for pushing through the obstruction so the Senate can hold timely confirmation votes rather than let our nation’s courtrooms sit empty.

“Americans depend on federal judges to apply the Constitution’s guarantees of fairness and equality for all people. It’s critical that the Senate continue to confirm President Obama’s qualified, fair-minded nominees without delay.”

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Judicial Vacancies Wreaking Havoc In U.S. Courts

Judicial vacancies slow down courts’ work, drive up litigation costs, cause evidence to go stale, make it harder to settle civil cases, and even pressure defendants into pleading guilty, according to a report released this week by the Brennan Center. The report cites example after example of how not having enough judges erodes our nation’s system of justice. Everyone counts on having their day in court, a fundamentally American principle that is threatened by persistent vacancies. The report quotes Chief Judge William Skretny of New York’s Western District:

We don’t neglect the Seventh Amendment, the right to a civil trial. But we tell people, if this is what you want to do, it will take time to get there.

Heavier caseloads and backlog created by vacancies also take a toll on judges, reducing the amount of time they have to spend on each case.

Chief Judge [Leonard] Davis in the Eastern District of Texas described the situation in his district as “simple math.” With more cases “you have less time to give to [an individual] case,” he explained. “It affects the quality of justice that’s being dispensed and the quantity of work you can complete,” he added.

[Judge Davis] also highlighted the impact of the Sherman vacancy on the timing of sentencing. “It’s a hardship for the litigants,” he explained. “Due to the backlog and [the] vacancy [in Sherman], we have a very high population of criminal defendants, about 200, sitting in county jails, having pled guilty and waiting for sentences. They can’t get their cases processed.” He noted that inmates are typically housed in a county jail because there are no federal facilities available, which is more costly for the government and leaves inmates with fewer work and educational opportunities. “That’s not fair to [the inmates] and adds a great deal of unnecessary cost by having to house them for so long in county jail holding facilities,” he said.

As the report makes clear, vacancies have real impacts for all citizens. This is why PFAW supports the speedy confirmation of qualified judicial nominees to federal courts. Filling judicial vacancies with quality judges will reduce backlogs and costs while allowing the judicial system to better serve all Americans. Maintaining the third branch is one of the most important constitutional functions that the Senate performs.

PFAW

PFAW Applauds Confirmation of David Barron

The Senate today voted to approve the nomination of David Barron to First Circuit Court of Appeals by a vote of 53 to 45.

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way issued the following statement:

“The Senate should be applauded today not just for confirming a well-qualified nominee, but for taking another important step towards addressing the persistent issue of vacancies on our nation’s circuit courts. For years, Republicans have blocked, delayed, and obstructed the confirmation of judges to our circuit courts at every opportunity. In recent months, Majority Leader Reid and the Democratic Caucus have been making real strides in processing the backlog of nominees.

“We need to continue to push hard to make sure Americans find fair-minded judges waiting for them when they turn to the federal courts to protect their rights.”

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PFAW Opposes Nomination of Michael Boggs to be Federal Judge

Federal district court nominee Michael Boggs of Georgia had his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The hearing was his opportunity to address the many serious concerns we and others have had about his record. When he first ran for office as a state judge, he assured voters that they could know where he stood by looking at his legislative record, including his opposition to marriage equality. But judges aren’t supposed to let their personal political beliefs determine how they rule on cases. In addition, the legislative record he cited is deeply disturbing.

Unfortunately, his testimony in response to senators’ questions only deepened our concerns. So in a letter Wednesday to members of the Senate, People For the American Way expressed strong opposition to this confirmation. PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon delineated the reasoning behind the organization’s opposition to Boggs’ confirmation.

“[Boggs’] record makes clear that senators should not confirm him to a lifetime position as a United States judge,” the letter states. “…we do not believe Michael Boggs has demonstrated that he would be able to bring to his service as a lifetime judge on the federal courts the requisite impartiality necessary for such a position.”

The five page letter discusses the problems around Boggs’ ability to perform in the role of judge and his actions relating to LGBT equality, reproductive rights, and government promotion of religion. It also discusses the controversy around his support for the inclusion of Confederate imagery in the Georgia state flag, as well as his candor before the Judiciary Committee. You can read the full text of the letter here.
 

PFAW

PFAW Praises Senate for This Week’s Action on Judicial Confirmations

After a two week recess, the Senate has made significant progress in judicial confirmations on its first week back. This is not due to a drop in Republican obstruction, but instead to Majority Leader Harry Reid’s determination to overcome that obstruction. Only one week during President Obama’s administration has seen more judicial confirmations. Since Monday, over GOP filibuster efforts, the Senate has confirmed eight district court nominees and one circuit court nominee, while breaking the filibuster of a second circuit court nominee. Nancy L. Moritz’s nomination to the Tenth Circuit is scheduled for Monday, May 5.

Clearing so many of President Obama’s judicial nominations is a nearly unprecedented occurrence for a Senate that has been bogged down by Republican obstruction every step of the way. People For the American Way’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:

“This was a good week for our justice system, with nine judges confirmed to the bench. Americans saw critical advancement in confirming the circuit court nominees who have been denied a vote for months. A Ninth Circuit judge was confirmed, and the filibuster of a Tenth Circuit judge was broken. We applaud the Senate for moving forward on these confirmations, which are crucial for our justice system to run efficiently and serve everyday Americans. It is heartening to see the Senate taking this important step to strengthen our judiciary.

“Senator Reid’s efforts to prioritize this issue and clear President Obama’s judicial nominations are making an impact. Despite Senate Republicans blocking nominees and delaying votes from the beginning, Senator Reid has pushed to move these nominations forward and this week, we’ve seen that work pay off.

“We hope to continue to see the Senate working for the benefit of American citizens by giving them the fully functioning courts they deserve.”

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Senate Confirms Friedland Nomination After Months of Delays

Upon returning from a two week recess, the Senate voted today to confirm Michelle T. Friedland to the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. Notably, Friedland is the 100th female judge confirmed under President Obama.

People For the American Way’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:

“Today’s confirmation is an important step towards addressing the judicial vacancy crisis on the federal bench, particularly in our Courts of Appeals, and it’s an important step towards building a more diverse judiciary. Confirming President Obama’s nominees makes our judicial system work better for Americans who depend on the courts. That’s doubly true in circuit courts which are frequently the courts of last resort for determining issues that affect American families every day.

“Senator Reid should be applauded for moving the confirmation process forward despite the GOP’s unrelenting campaign of obstruction. Since the beginning of President Obama’s administration, Senate Republicans have delayed votes and slowed down the process of filling judicial vacancies with qualified judges. Their campaign of obstruction has increased the backlog of vacancies waiting to be filled and weakened our judiciary.

“Today’s confirmation is a step in the right direction. Filling vacancies in our courts should not be a partisan issue—it should be about the American citizens whom these courts serve.”

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Harry Reid Moving Judicial Nominations Forward, Despite Republican Obstruction

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture yesterday on the nomination of John B. Owens to a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit—one that has been declared a judicial emergency and which has been vacant for almost 10 years. This moves forward the Senate judicial confirmations process that has been relentlessly slowed down by GOP obstruction. In an atmosphere of constant delays, it is commendable that Sen. Reid is taking action to get nominees confirmed, especially circuit court nominees.

Because of obstruction by Senate Republicans, nominations for the circuit court have been made particularly cumbersome. As we explained last month, if Senators refuse to provide “unanimous consent” to schedule a vote, Sen. Reid is forced to file a cloture petition to allow a yes or no vote on the nominee. Once cloture is invoked,  Senate rules allow the minority to insist on “post-cloture debate”— up to 30 hours for circuit court nominees.

With six circuit court nominees now on the Senate calendar, (including the most recent addition, Fifth Circuit nominee Gregg Costa, who was recommended unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning) and more in the pipeline, Republicans can tie the Senate up for 180 hours of needless “post cloture debate” – that is weeks of floor time that could be spent doing something useful. Time is growing short to get them all confirmed by the end of the year. One easy answer is for Senate Republicans to forego their delaying tactics and permit the Senate to both confirm judicial nominees and perform the other important work waiting to be done. Until that happens, Sen. Reid should be applauded for pushing the process forward.

PFAW

Mefferd: Gays 'Overrepresented' On Federal Courts

Conservative talk show host Janet Mefferd is not happy that the Senate, in a unanimous vote, confirmed Todd M. Hughes to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, making him the country’s first openly gay judge to serve on a federal appeals court. “Because he had to be gay?” Mefferd asked. “I mean, that was like a qualification, if you’re going to be on the appeals court you better be gay? That’s how it rolls now.”

“They mention that at least seven gay or lesbian judges now serve or have served on federal district courts; sounds like overrepresentation,” she continued. “I don’t know how many judges are on that system but we’re talking about what, 2-3% of the population? This is overrepresentation but they don’t care.”

Overrepresentation? Let’s see.

There are currently six openly gay judges (and a seventh serving on senior status).

Now, there are 874 federal judgeships. Meaning that openly gay judges occupy a massive… seven tenths of one percent of federal judgeships.

Without counting judicial vacancies, the figure comes to a whopping 0.77 percent.

Such overrepresentation!

Right Still Targeting Judicial Nominee Nina Pillard's Support For Women's Equality

Georgetown law professor Cornelia “Nina” Pillard, one of President Obama’s three nominees to fill vacancies on the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, is one of the country’s most renowned women’s rights attorneys. She crafted the argument that convinced a nearly unanimous Supreme Court to open the Virginia Military Institute to women. She worked alongside Bush administration attorneys to successfully defend the Family and Medical Leave Act in the courts. She has opposed government policies that treat men and women differently based on outmoded stereotypes that harm both sexes.

So, of course, conservative activists and their Republican allies in Congress are calling her a “radical feminist" and threatening to filibuster her nomination.

In an interview with the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins Friday, National Review columnist Ed Whelan called Pillard a “radical feminist law professor” and insisted that she would be “the most left-wing judge in the history of the republic.”

Phyllis Schlafly – who, of course, also opposed the opening of VMI to women and the Family and Medical Leave Act  – calls Pillard a “scary feminist.”

The Family Research Council has also gone after Pillard, skewing the meaning of her words and even citing her use of a phrase that was actually written by the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist as evidence of her “militant feminism.”

And just this weekend, right-wing activist "Dr. Chaps" Gordon Klingenschmitt sent out an email to his backers attacking Pillard's support for women's rights, specifically charging that Pillard “attacked and questioned the Virginia Military Institute” when she argued that VMI should admit women. 

Senate Republicans have picked up this line of attack. In Pillard’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, the committee’s Republicans (all men) latched onto the nominee’s support of reproductive rights. When fellow nominee Robert Wilkins appeared before the committee last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley tried, unsuccessfully, to trick him into dissing Pillard’s writings.

So what exactly is it that makes Pillard such a “radical”/“militant”/“scary” feminist in the eyes of the Right?

In a series of columns last month, Whelan elaborated on what he meant. He takes particular issue with a 2007 law review article in which Pillard argues that many public school abstinence-only sex-ed curricula impose a double standard on girls – hardly a radical observation. She also specifically wrote that she took no position on the abstinence message itself. Nevertheless, Whelan and others have distorted this into the idea that she would strike down all abstinence programs as unconstitutional, which is not at all what she has said.  In Pillard’s own words,

[The article] brings into focus those curricula's  persistent, official promulgation of retrogressive, anti-egalitarian sexual  ideologies-of male pleasure and female shame, male recreation and female responsibility, male agency and female passivity, and male personhood and female parenthood. I argue for a counter-stereotyping sex education that  affirms women's and men's desire, sexual agency, and responsibility.

She explained her thoughts further in her hearing before the judiciary committee:

Let me say first, I'm a mother. I have two teenage children — one boy and one girl. If my children are being taught in sex education, I want both my children to be taught to say 'no,' not just my daughter. I want my son to be taught that, too. The article was very explicit in saying I don't see any constitutional objection … to abstinence-only education that does not rely upon and promulgate sex stereotypes.

This argument – that many government-funded sex-ed curricula promote harmful and regressive stereotypes that cheat girls – is what has made right-wing activists go ballistic.

Pillard has also made it exceedingly clear that she knows the difference between testing out legal theories in law review articles and applying them as a judge. As she said in her hearing, “Academics are paid to test the boundaries and look at the implications of things. As a judge, I would apply established law of the U.S. Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit” – a sentiment that many Republican senators echoed when they were defending Bush nominees who had in the past expressed opinions not consistent with existing law.

To put it simply, what conservatives object to about Pillard is that she believes in women’s equality and that she’s really, really good at making the legal case for it. In 2013 in the Republican Party, that’s what it takes to qualify as a “scary,” “radical” and “militant” feminist.
 

First Lesbian Latina Confirmed as Federal Judge

Judge Nitza Quiñones Alejandro broke an important glass ceiling this week, becoming the first openly lesbian Latina confirmed to a federal judgeship.  The Senate confirmed her by voice vote to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania yesterday. Previously Quiñones served for more than two decades on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. 

The Washington Blade notes that Quiñones is only the seventh openly LGBT person in our country’s history to be confirmed as a federal judge.

PFAW has advocated for more diversity in the judiciary, applauding President Obama’s push to bring qualified judges from many backgrounds to the federal bench.  Issuing decisions that affect all communities, the federal bench – and all benches – must reflect the diversity of our nation. 

Last year President Obama said he was committed to ensuring that “the judiciary resembles the nation it serves.”  This week’s confirmation is an important step toward that goal. 
 

PFAW

Senate Holds First Vote On Circuit Court Nominee in Eight Months

Today the Senate held its first vote on a judicial nominee for a Circuit Court since June 2012.  William J. Kayatta, Jr. of Maine was confirmed as U.S. Circuit Judge for the First Circuit Court of Appeals by an 88-12 vote during today’s session.  Despite broad bipartisan support and the support of his state’s senators in both the 112th and 113th Congresses, Kayatta faced ten months of unnecessary delays.

“We applaud Majority Leader Reid for his leadership in pressing for today’s vote,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “We hope that this will be a turning point signaling a shift toward more timely confirmations for judicial nominees.  This needless stalling – and during a time of unprecedented judicial vacancies – has gone on for far too long.  The bottom line is that Americans need a functioning system of justice. They have grown weary with reckless obstruction.”
 

PFAW Condemns Latest GOP Excuse to Block Judicial Nominations

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell announced Wednesday that he will block the confirmations of federal circuit court nominees from now until after the November elections, citing what he claims is a Senate tradition sometimes called the “Thurmond Rule.” Ten percent of federal judgeships are vacant, creating caseload backlogs so large that 30 of those seats are considered “judicial emergencies.”

“Senate Republicans have once again put politics ahead of the needs of the American people,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “Blocking the president’s well-qualified nominees seriously hampers the ability of the federal courts to serve Americans who seek justice in a court of law.

“Acting on the president’s nominations is the Senate’s responsibility to the American people. Unfortunately, politics is the GOP’s top priority, and it’s clear that Senator McConnell would prefer to keep the judiciary dangerously understaffed in hopes of someday filling those seats with a Republican president’s nominees. Because obstruction has been their strategy since losing the White House, most of the nominees caught in their trap would ordinarily have been confirmed long ago. Thanks to the GOP’s decision to shirk its responsibility by playing games, the backlog of nominees continues to grow and the American people are denied a fully functioning justice system.

“The President’s nominees awaiting confirmation are well qualified and will serve fairly and impartially. Almost all received strong bipartisan support from the Senate Judiciary Committee. There is absolutely no legitimate reason to block these confirmations, and the GOP should be ashamed to cite an indefensible tradition to justify this act.”

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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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Statement of People For the American Way on Ending the Filibuster of Andrew Hurwitz to the Ninth Circuit

The Senate today defeated a filibuster of the nomination of Andrew Hurwitz of Arizona to sit on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a 60-31 cloture vote. Once he is confirmed, Hurwitz, currently a justice on the Arizona Supreme Court, will fill one of 90 vacancies and 31 officially-designated judicial emergencies nationwide. He will serve on the Ninth Circuit, the busiest federal appeals court in the country. Despite the support of both of his Republican home-state senators and bipartisan approval in the Judiciary Committee, Republicans stalled Hurwitz's nomination on the Senate floor for over three months.

“Andrew Hurwitz, whose experience includes nine years on the Arizona Supreme Court, is clearly qualified to sit on the Ninth Circuit,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “President Obama nominated a highly qualified jurist who garnered bipartisan support. Senators McCain and Kyl recognized his qualifications and supported his nomination to the Ninth Circuit, and he was approved by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous Democratic and significant Republican support. Yet for the Republican leadership who have blocked ongoing Democratic efforts to schedule a vote, that wasn't enough to earn Justice Hurwitz a timely vote from the Senate, even for a vacancy that's so urgent it's been labeled a ‘judicial emergency.’ Filibusters used to be reserved for only the most controversial of nominees. Today, Senate Republicans seem eager to block the workings of Congress and the courts at every opportunity.”

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Judiciary Committee Approves Seven Nominees, Including Liu; All Have Been Waiting Months for Senate Votes

After months of delays, the Senate Judiciary Committee today approved the nominations of seven federal court nominees, including Goodwin Liu for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Senate GOP Throws Health Care Fit, Stalls Judges

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today blocked confirmation votes on two nominees to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, Judges James Wynn and Albert Diaz of North Carolina. North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan attempted to move the two nominations, both of which have received strong bipartisan support.

If confirmed, Diaz will be the first Latino to serve on the Fourth Circuit, and Wynn will be the fourth African American. 

Senate Confirms Three Federal Judges; Over 100 Vacancies Remain

The Senate today unanimously confirmed three judges to serve on federal district courts, leaving over one hundred federal judicial vacancies. The Senate has now confirmed only 31 of President Obama’s federal circuit and district court nominees; 17 nominees who were approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee are still awaiting floor votes. At this time in George W.

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