judicial nominations

GOP Obstruction of the DC Circuit: Infographics

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

Pew Report: With GOP Presidents, We Get Fewer Judges of Color

It's important to have a federal judiciary that looks like America, bringing varied life experiences to the bench.
PFAW

Grassley Is Deliberately Obstructing Judicial Confirmations, Anti-Choice Lobbyist Confirms

A prominent anti-abortion lobbyist acknowledged this weekend that Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is deliberately slow-walking President Obama's federal judicial nominees at all levels in order to keep seats on the courts open for the next president to fill.

Douglas Johnson, the legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, said on Saturday at his group's convention in Virginia that "the left is quite unhappy with the number of nominations that have not come to a vote in the Senate." This, he said approvingly, is because Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have "moved with very deliberate speed on those nominations and it's safe to predict that there will be quite a number of vacant seats on the federal courts, including that Supreme Court vacancy, when the election rolls around."

"There certainly would be a lot more Obama-nominated federal judges if the Senate had remained in Democrat hands," he said.

Grassley has denied that he is slow-walking federal judicial nominations, despite ample evidence to the contrary, telling The Des Moines Register in April that he is simply following the practice of Democrats and Republicans alike.

Johnson particularly praised Grassley and McConnell for blockading the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

After Scalia died, he said, "the Senate majority leader reached out to senators all across the country and the world and indicated that what they had to do is take a hard line that this seat was not going to be filled by Barack Obama in the last year of his presidency, that who fills this seat was going to be determined by the person selected to be president by the American people in November. And they agreed to that."

McConnell, he said, "knew what had to be done."

"This made a difference," he said. "If this had been a Democrat Senate, possibly even been a Republican Senate under different leadership, that seat would have been long since filled."

He added that he was disappointed that the Senate's obstruction of the Garland nomination hadn't stopped a victory for abortion rights in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, but noted that it "has been decisive on some other important matters."

James Bopp: Trump The Only Choice Against '100 Percent Evil' Hillary Clinton

James Bopp, the general counsel of the National Right to Life Committee, who has been the brains behind the dismantling of campaign finance reforms and a driving force in the effort to chip away at abortion rights with incremental legal victories, urged abortion rights opponents to vote for Donald Trump last week, saying that Hillary Clinton as president would be “100 percent evil.”

Speaking to a small group at the National Right to Life Committee’s convention outside of Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Bopp said that the vacancy on the Supreme Court and possible upcoming vacancies give conservatives and abortion rights opponents a “really big stake” in the presidential election.

In politics, he said, “You have two choices. You have to compare the choices. You don’t examine just one and say, ‘Well, I don’t like that so I’m just not going to vote for it.’”

“I think there’s only one conclusion you can come to” in the presidential race, he said, saying that “as flawed as people may think the Republican candidate is,” Clinton “will be 100 percent evil. She will never make a correct decision on anything.”

The four moderate justices on the current Supreme Court, he said, display “unthinking, reflexive voting based on policy results,” which he called “chilling.”

“Five, six, seven of these liberal judges voting in lockstep, mindlessly voting in lockstep to impose every liberal policy agenda that they can think of is what we have at stake” in the election, he said.

Citing an article in The Atlantic by law professor Erwin Chemerinsky, Bopp warned, “These people have crazy, nutty ideas and they’re going to use their bloc to do it.”

On abortion, he warned, a more liberal court could rewrite the Roe v. Wade decision on gender discrimination grounds and “what that would mean is that every limitation, every restriction, every condition on abortions will be illegal. Every one. All of them.”

The anti-abortion movement is regrouping after the Supreme Court struck down unnecessary regulations on Texas abortion clinics in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Bopp acknowledged this, saying that the standard for new anti-abortion laws is “What will [Justice Anthony] Kennedy accept post the Texas abortion case?”

He suggested that anti-abortion legislators and lawyers could turn their attention to 20-week abortion bans, “dismemberment abortion” bans or restrictions such as ultrasound requirements that Kennedy’s previous rulings have indicated that he might accept.

What Kennedy will do, he said, “is really based on the individual circumstances that would be presented in the future,” noting that the circumstances of the Texas case were “somewhat extreme” in the number of clinics that shut down after the law was passed, although he said the clinic shutdowns were merely correlated with, not caused by, the Texas law.

Kelly Shackelford: Trump Would Pick A More Conservative Supreme Court Than Mitt Romney

Kelly Shackelford, president of the Religious Right legal group First Liberty (formerly Liberty Institute), was among the conservative religious leaders who met with Donald Trump in New York last month and, like many others, seems to have resigned himself to supporting Trump’s presidential candidacy on the assumption that Trump would hand over the process of picking Supreme Court justices to movement conservatives.

Shackelford said as much in an interview with Jerry Newcombe last week, explaining that while he wasn’t endorsing Trump, it’s “very conceivable” that, if elected, Trump would pick a more conservative Supreme Court than even Mitt Romney would have because he’s “going to sort of pass this off” to conservative groups like the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

Trump mentioned both groups in response to a question from Shackelford at the New York event, also promising that his judicial nominees would be “100 percent” against abortion rights.

“Look, I haven’t endorsed anybody for president, I’m not telling people who to vote for, but I do think people need to think through some of these things,” Shackelford told Newcombe. “I’m not saying this would happen, but it’s very conceivable that Donald Trump, who is certainly not considered a right-wing conservative, it’s very, very possible that a Donald Trump as president would appoint a more conservative Supreme Court than, for instance, Mitt Romney would ever think about. Because Mitt Romney would appoint people more moderate like himself, you know, moderate conservative. Donald Trump is going to sort of pass this off to like the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, which are very conservative.”

“So it’s one of those things where sometimes you can look at the candidate and go, ‘Well, he’s not as conservative as I am,’” he said, “but really what you’re asking is what are they going to do as president, what their positions are going to be. And it could be that if your issue is the courts, you know, Trump could be very different than you would normally assume because he’s delegating this away from himself and the results might be more appetizing to people who are very conservative.”

Supreme Court Immigration Decision A Win For Anti-Immigrant Group Working Behind The Scenes

Earlier today, a deadlocked Supreme Court left in place a lower court decision blocking an Obama administration effort to grant temporary deportation relief to millions of immigrants. One group cheering on the decision was the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform, which declared, “IRLI will continue to work with patriotic state governments and grassroots activists to beat back the Administration’s drive to dissolve national sovereignty, the rule of law, and economic justice for America’s most vulnerable citizens.”

In fact, IRLI, which is a key player in a network of immigration groups that grew out of the vision of a single white nationalist activist, has done much to shape the legal battle that led to today’s decision. The group noted today that it had “advised the Texas Attorney-General’s office on key facets of the case” that the state had brought against the federal government “and filed a total of six friend-of-the-court briefs.” In fact, documents show that IRLI had an influential role in shaping the direction of Texas’ challenge, as well as the legal movement that it sprang out of.

The Center for New Community wrote in an April report:

Leaders within an organized movement of anti-immigrant activists have not only publicly advocated against President Obama’s executive action to grant Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), they have also been closely involved in crafting and mobilizing a legal challenge to the initiative ever since it was announced. This is not a new strategy for the antiimmigrant movement, which has long used the legal system to fight for its twin goals of dramatically reduced immigration levels and policies that support attrition through enforcement or outright deportation—all in support of the long-term goal of preserving the United States’ white majority.

CNC outlined the work that IRLI did to advise Texas on the case through Kris Kobach, a former IRLI staffer who is now the secretary of state of Kansas but who remains “of counsel” to the organization:

Neither Kobach nor IRLI are formally representing any of the plaintiff states in the case, but evidence, as described below, suggests Kobach has been involved since the case’s beginning.

On November 22, 2014, two days after President Obama’s announcement, The Washington Post reported that Kobach has already begun drafting a lawsuit. The Post’s Eli Saslow reported that Kobach had been speaking at a community forum in Tonganoxie, Kansas, the night of the President’s announcement. Saslow described the situation as “the most pivotal moment of [Kobach’s] career.”

As news of the president’s announcement circulated, Kobach discussed it with the Tonganoxie group. “He tells the group he has already begun drafting a suit as the lead attorney, with plans to file it in early December,” The Post reported. “Texas is interested in being a plaintiff. So are a few other states.” The Post added that Kobach’s lawsuit had “40 or 50 pages already written.”

The morning of December 3, Kobach appeared on Wichita radio host Joseph Ashby’s program. During the interview, Kobach reiterated his involvement in the lawsuit. “I am playing a role,” Kobach said. “I don't know if I'm taking the lead or not, but as many people know, instead of spending my spare time golfing I do litigate.” Kobach added, “litigation is beginning and I am involved in assembling plaintiffs and attorneys around the country to get this done.”

Hours later, The Texas Attorney General’s Office announced the legal action.

We wrote about the record of IRLI and FAIR in a recent report:

FAIR’s legal arm, the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), has helped craft anti-immigrant legislation around the country, including Arizona’s infamous “self-deportation” measure SB 1070 and efforts to end the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of birthright citizenship . In 2010, Think Progress wrote that “IRLI has been behind most, if not every, local legislative immigration crackdown over the past few years.” Much of this work wasdriven by IRLI lawyer Kris Kobach, who joined the group in 2003. Kobach is now secretary of state of Kansas, but remains “of counsel” to IRLI. He served as an advisor to Mitt Romney during his 2012 presidential campaign, when Romney espoused the doctrine of “self-deportation.”

FAIR’s current president is Dan Stein, who has worked for the organization since 1982. Stein has framed the immigration debate in racial terms, calling the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which eliminated a quota system that favored Northern Europeans and shut out Asians and Africans, an attempt to “retaliate against Anglo-Saxon dominance“ in the country. He has warned that President Obama’s immigration policies will cause the U.S. to “ fall apart” like Iraq and once speculated that the U.S. has seen so few terrorist attacks under President Obama because terrorists see him as an “ally” and “don’t want to embarrass” him.

While Stein has hinted at immigration restriction as a tool of white nationalism, FAIR has openly associated with people who explicitly advocate for the U.S. to remain a white-dominated nation.

A short-lived television program produced by FAIR in 1996 featured interviews with well-known white nationalists Sam Francis, Jared Taylor and Peter Brimelow, and a common area of discussion was that the immigrant “invasion” would destroy America. Stein, interviewing one guest, wondered, “How can we preserve America if it becomes 50 percent Latin American?” In a 1991 interview for an article on the higher birth rates among Asian and Latino immigrants than among native-born Americans, Stein said, "It's almost like they're getting into competitive breeding. You have to take into account the various fertility rates in designing limits on immigration.” Six years later, he told the Wall Street Journal, “Certainly we would encourage people in other countries to have small families. Otherwise they'll all be coming here, because there's no room at the Vatican.”

Over a period of 10 years in the 1980s and 1990s, FAIR took in more than $1 million from the Pioneer Fund, which SPLC describes as “a eugenicist organization that was started in 1937 by men close to the Nazi regime who wanted to pursue ‘race betterment’ by promoting the genetic lines of American whites,” and for several years afterward continued to receive support from individual leaders of the fund.

Garland Gets the ABA's Highest Possible Evaluation

You can practically hear the ABA members saying "WOW!" as you read their report on Merrick Garland.
PFAW

Jeff Sessions: Keep 'Secular Mindset' Off The Supreme Court

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, warned in a speech to the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference today that “the courts are at risk” in the upcoming presidential election, lamenting that at least one current Supreme Court justice displays a “secular mindset.”

Sessions said that as the committee’s ranking member during the confirmation hearings of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, “I felt, like so many of you, the court hasn’t been performing in a way we like it to.”

He repeated a criticism of Sotomayor that conservatives had leveled at her during her confirmation hearings, expressing dismay that she had approvingly quoted legal scholar Martha Minow’s observation that in the law "there is no objective stance but only a series of perspectives — no neutrality, no escape from choice in judging," an acknowledgment of the hidden assumptions and biases that all judges bring to the law.

Sessions said the quote “still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.”

“You see, this is a postmodern, relativistic, secular mindset and I believe it’s directly contrary to the founding of our republic,” he said.

“So I really think this whole court system is really important,” he added later in the speech, “and the real value and battle that we’re engaged in here is one to reaffirm that there is objective truth, it’s not all relative. And that means some things are right and some things are wrong, and we’re getting too far away from that in my opinion and it’s not healthy for any country and it’s really not healthy for a democracy like ours that’s built on the rule of law.”

Grassley Revives 'Wise Latina' Canard To Defend Trump's Racism

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has taken the lead in the Senate GOP’s effort to block Judge Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination in the hope that a President Donald Trump will be the one to name the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement.

Grassley’s blockade became even more problematic this week when Trump launched a racist assault against a federal judge who is hearing a fraud case involving his Trump University. Trump claimed that the judge, who was born in Indiana to parents who emigrated from Mexico, had an “inherent conflict of interest” in the case because he is “Mexican” and Trump is “building a wall.” The presumptive GOP presidential nominee later acknowledged that using the same logic, it was “possible” that a Muslim judge should also be disqualified from hearing a case involving him.

Trump’s comments drew widespread condemnation, including from some of his fellow Republicans, but Grassley, apparently, didn’t see the problem. In a conference call with Iowa reporters today, Grassley equated Trump’s comments with Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s famous “wise Latina” remark that became a right-wing flashpoint during her 2009 confirmation hearings:

“I think that you don’t have any more trouble with what Trump said than when Sotomayor said that — when she was found saying in speeches that, quote, ‘A wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male,’” he said. “I don’t hear any criticism of that sort of comment by a justice of the Supreme Court.”

Grassley didn’t pull this comparison out of thin air: The same comparison has been popping up all over the right-wing media.

It’s a flashback to 2009, when conservatives latched on to a speech Sotomayor had given in 2001 in which she disagreed with the idea that a judge isn’t influenced by his or her personal background:

Justice O'Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases. … I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, … there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

What Sotomayor’s critics often chose to ignore was that she went on to say that while a judge’s personal experience can’t help but influence how they see the world, a good judge tries to look beyond the myopia of personal experience to understand the lives of others:

I … believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. … [Nine] white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.

Sotomayor later clarified in the face of right-wing criticism: “I want to state upfront, unequivocally and without doubt: I do not believe that any ethnic, racial or gender group has an advantage in sound judging. I do believe every person has an equal opportunity to be a good and wise judge, regardless of their background or life experience."

It shouldn’t be surprising that Grassley and some of his allies on the Right are reviving the “wise Latina” attack on Sotomayor as they attempt to defend Trump. In fact, Trump’s comments about Judge Gonzalo Curiel are not that different from how the Right attacked Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings, claiming that simply because she had spoken proudly of her Latina heritage and acknowledged that a person’s background can shape how they see the world she would be driven by “identity politics” rather than the law.

Some claimed explicitly, and many others implicitly, that Sotomayor, who had graduated from Princeton and Yale and had served for many years as a federal judge, was not as qualified as a white judge with a similar record. Pat Buchanan, who is now an enthusiastic cheerleader for Trump, was one of those who made the claim explicitly when he wrote that white Americans “pay the price of affirmative action when their sons and daughters are pushed aside to make room for the Sonia Sotomayors.”

We wrote in a report after her confirmation:

Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” remarks were taken out of context to imply that she was some kind of ethnic supremacist, and her ruling in the Ricci affirmative action case was wildly distorted to suggest that she was a judicial activist who lived to use the law as a club against white men. Pundits like Rush Limbaugh and elected officials like Tom Tancredo called her a racist. Pat Buchanan charged her with having a “race-based” approach to justice and having demonstrated “a lifelong resolve to discriminate against white males.”

On the first day of Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings, columnist Eugene Robinson observed:

Republicans' outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor's musings about how her identity as a "wise Latina" might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any "identity" — black, brown, female, gay, whatever —has to be judged against this supposedly "objective" standard.


Thus it is irrelevant if Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. talks about the impact of his background as the son of Italian immigrants on his rulings — as he did at his confirmation hearings — but unforgivable for Sotomayor to mention that her Puerto Rican family history might be relevant to her work.

This seems to be the attitude of the Trump campaign, whose top operative has said that picking a woman or person of color as a vice presidential nominee would amount to “pandering” and whose list of potential Supreme Court picks were all white and mostly men. According to Trump, it seems, only white men can be unbiased and qualified. And Grassley seems to think that’s just fine.

While Trump Makes Racist Attacks On Judge, GOP Holds a Supreme Court Seat for Him to Fill?

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

It was both completely in character and shamefully beyond the pale when Donald Trump accused Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over two lawsuits against Trump University, of having an “inherent conflict of interest” in the cases because of the judge’s Mexican heritage. On Sunday he extended that charge to Muslim judges, who he also suspects would be unable to remain unbiased. If there was a shred of doubt remaining on the question of whether Donald Trump is fit to make judicial nominations before this attack, that debate is now over. Even GOP senators arespeaking out against Trump’s remarks. But in a contortion act that defies logic, those same senators continue to go to extraordinary lengths to hold open the vacant Supreme Court seat for the very person whose approach to judicial matters they are condemning.

GOP leaders rushed to denounce Trump’s remarks about Judge Curiel, with Republican senators including Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake, Rob Portman, and Mitch McConnell speaking out against his comments and House Speaker Paul Ryan calling them “out of left field” even though even a casual observer knows they were coming right from home plate for the past year. Trump has been consistent in his baseless attacks on entire communities since the first day of his campaign, when he smeared Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. And if some in the GOP are (rightly) condemning Trump’s vision of a justice system in which some judges are prohibited from doing their jobs because of their ethnic background, why are they going to extraordinary lengths to put him in the driver’s seat of our nominating process?

GOP senators are still doing everything they can to block President Obama from filling the Supreme Court vacancy. Rather than follow the Constitution and give fair consideration to President Obama’s extraordinarily qualified and respected nominee, GOP senators are running a campaign of unprecedented obstruction in order to allow Trump to make the Supreme Court nomination instead.

Let’s be clear: Trump had already provided countless reasons to call into question his fitness to nominate judges. This is a man who supports killing the family members of terrorists and wants to “open up” libel laws so he can go after journalists. That he’s now implying whole swaths of people are not fit for the federal bench is one of the most disturbing examples yet of Trump’s contempt for the independence of the judiciary and for Americans different from him. It goes against the most fundamental values of our country, and it is Exhibit A of why he should never be the person nominating judges at the Supreme Court or any level.

It’s no wonder Americans are worried about the prospect of Donald Trump making judicial nominations. Even before his attack on Judge Curiel, a recent poll found that the majority of Americans don’t trust Trump to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, and they’re none too pleased with the senators obstructing President Obama’s nominee.Half of voters say they are “less likely to vote for a senator who opposed having confirmation hearings” for Judge Merrick Garland. For Republican senators in tight reelection battles, their unwillingness to do their jobs is increasingly and rightfully becoming a liability with voters.

The fact that GOP senators are flat-out refusing to do their jobs on the Supreme Court was already an outrage. That they are now working to hold the seat open for a man who thinks some judges can’t do their jobs because of their ethnic background or religion is unconscionable and should be, quite frankly, embarrassing to all Republicans. GOP leaders are in a position of both condemning Trump’s approach to judicial issues and working to make sure he’s the one to make lifetime judicial appointments. Make sense? It doesn’t to me, either.

The choice is now crystal clear. It’s time to call the question and give Merrick Garland a vote.  

PFAW

Elizabeth Warren Report Slams GOP Obstruction Of Nominees

Since Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley is making sure that the committee he runs completely ignores Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, one might think that he’s using the extra time to at least process the president’s many circuit and district nominees. Not!

While Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s brazen and unprecedented refusal to consider Garland has drawn a great deal of attention,  PFAW has long reported on how this obstruction, far from being unique to Garland, is an extension of how the Senate GOP has treated President Obama’s lower court nominees for most of his time in office.

Today, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made a tremendous contribution to the national conversation, issuing a new report entitled Going to Extremes: The Supreme Court and Senate Republicans’ Unprecedented Record of Obstruction of President Obama’s Nominees." The senator covers how Republicans have worked hard not to thoughtfully vet both judicial and executive branch nominations, but to slow down their confirmations as much as possible, or block their confirmations altogether.

She uses Senate Republicans’ own statements about the Garland nomination to show the disingenuousness of the rationales for obstruction they present to the public and demonstrates that their obstruction is unprecedented. And with a prosecutor’s efficiency, she makes the powerful case that the GOP has consistently and deliberately slow-walked or blocked altogether the president’s circuit and district court nominees, as well as his executive branch nominees.

Supported with facts and figures from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, Sen. Warren’s new report is a devastating indictment of a political party that has misused the confirmation process to prevent the executive and judicial branches from functioning effectively to protect consumers and workers, hold large corporations accountable, and protect equality.

As she notes in the report’s conclusion:

From the moment the Supreme Court vacancy arose, Senate Republicans linked arms in an attempt to deny President Obama the full authority of his office in the final year of his presidency. They cynically claimed they wish to “let the people decide,” but the people have already decided. Twice. They elected President Obama in 2008 by nine million votes and re-elected him in 2012 by five million votes. Republicans’ statements over many weeks have made clear that their true interest is what it has been for the past eight years: to block and hinder President Obama at every turn, dragging out or blocking outright the confirmation of nominees across the government and the courts.

As the report shows, the GOP has a shameful record of obstruction going back to President Obama’s first days in office.  The unprecedented blockade against Garland is only the apex of a pattern that has gone on for years.

Cross-posted from the PFAW blog.

Harming Justice: Effects of an Eight-Justice Supreme Court

To: Interested Parties
From: People For the American Way Foundation, Constitutional Accountability Center
Date: June 2, 2016
Re: Harming Justice: Effects of an Eight-Justice Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is about to embark on the most consequential portion of its Term: handing down decisions on some of the biggest questions facing the country today, questions ranging from immigration to abortion to affirmative action. It will be tackling those questions without a full complement of justices.  Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, leaving only eight members on the Supreme Court. Since Justice Scalia’s death, President Obama followed his constitutional duty and duly nominated the highly qualified and impeccably credentialed Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Court. However, conservative Senators have refused to do the jobs the people of their state sent them to Washington to do. The previous four Justices named to the Court waited an average of 74 days from nomination to confirmation; Judge Garland passed that mark on May 28 and has yet to be even given a hearing by the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley.

Having only eight Justices on the Supreme Court for a prolonged period of time diminishes the Court, diminishes the country, and diminishes the rule of law. With only eight justices, all too often the Supreme Court cannot do the job the Framers of the Constitution assigned to it.

The diminishing effects of an eight-Justice Court include:

  • A 4-4 divided opinion means that major national questions go unresolved, as an equally divided Court cannot set a binding, uniform, nationwide rule of law. Different federal legal rules can apply to different people and businesses right across state lines. The Court has already handed down a number of 4-4 divided opinions; as of June 1, 2016, there are still 25 cases awaiting decision by the Court.
    • For instance, the Supreme Court has already divided 4-4 in Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore. Now one set of rules about whether spouses are required to guarantee loans applies in some jurisdictions, and another set in others.
    • The Justices themselves have repeatedly made clear that providing a uniform rule of law is one of the most important functions of the Supreme Court. From Chief Justice Roberts to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the members of the Court have consistently affirmed this principle.
    • Some of the biggest, most important questions are frequently the most divisive and have the greatest potential to divide the Justices 4-4, especially at a time when the number of 5-4 splits is at an historic high.
  • In order to avoid a 4-4 split, the Supreme Court has already had to make unusual moves, punting on important legal questions because there is not a fully-staffed bench that can resolve these questions. Thus, even when the Court doesn’t split 4-4, it may still be unable to truly resolve the important questions before it, thus leaving legal uncertainty in place.
    • Rather than issue an opinion on the merits, the Supreme Court issued an unsigned order in Zubik v. Burwell, a case involving the accommodation granted to religious nonprofits that object to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. The order vacated the decisions of the lower courts and remanded the issue  back to the lower courts to try to achieve a compromise,  thus leaving the central question unresolved, thousands of women around the country in limbo, and a strong possibility that the Court will have to revisit the question again once it is fully staffed. Given the time it takes for issues to work their way through the federal courts, it could be years before the issue is resolved.
  • The Supreme Court may also be less inclined to tackle tough questions in the first place if its members think they cannot avoid dividing 4-4 on a question. The Court already has a small docket, only hearing approximately 70-80 cases a Term; the pace of grants of review in cases the Court has decided to hear for next Term is well below the average for this point in the year.

The effects of an eight-Justice Court ripple far outside of Washington, DC. Millions of American lives are impacted by the decisions the Court makes – or doesn’t make. The sooner Senators set aside partisanship in favor of doing their jobs, the better off the Court and the country will be. For more information on the effects of an eight-member Court, please see the report Material Harm to Our Justice System: The Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court.

Resources

Material Harm to Our Justice System: The Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court

Everything You Need to Know About an Eight Justice Supreme Court

The Originalist Case for the Senate to Do Its Job

The Supreme Court’s Role in Our Constitutional Scheme: Why Eight is Not Enough

Justice Waits for a Nine Member Supreme Court

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 8 Is Not a Good Number

Supreme Court Punts in Zubik Case – and Shows Again the Crucial Importance of a Fully-Staffed Supreme Court

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Steve Deace: Conservatives Using Supreme Court As 'Fig Leaf' As They 'Sell Their Souls' To Trump

After Donald Trump released a list of 11 people he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court if he were elected president, some conservatives who had been wary of supporting the presumptive GOP nominee began using it as an excuse to rally behind him. But not all of Trump’s conservative critics are convinced that he would actually pick from the judges on his list, many of whom were hand-picked by the conservative Heritage Society.

Among the skeptics is Steve Deace, the conservative Iowa talk radio host and vocal Trump critic, who said on his radio program yesterday that he did not believe Trump would actually nominate any of those judges when push comes to shove and that conservative activists are just using the Supreme Court list as a “fig leaf” as they “sell their souls” to Trump.

Deace’s guest, Daniel Horowitz of Conservative Review, predicted that Senate Democrats would never allow the confirmation of “a true originalist in the mold of Clarence Thomas” and that Trump would end up compromising on his court picks.

Deace agreed. “Why does anybody believe, anybody, unless they just want to be deceived, why does anybody believe that he would follow through on any of those things?” he asked.

“This is being done to offer a fig leaf to give conservative leaders and conservative voters who supported Ted Cruz permission to cross over and to say ‘We can now vote for Trump,’” he said. “And they have plausible deniability, if he doesn’t nominate any of those guys, then they’re victims later on, ‘Well, we went with his words, we had no other alternative, there’s nothing else we could do, we didn’t want Hillary to win, it’s all on his head.’ That’s what this is. It’s nothing more, nothing less, than a fig leaf to give Ted Cruz’s conservative infrastructure permission to sell their souls and to bow the knee and kneel before Zod.”

Trump Releases Supreme Court List, Including Conservative Dream Justices

Donald Trump, faced with conservative jitters over whom he would name to the Supreme Court if he were elected president, has promised to release a list of names from which he would promise to pick nominees. Today, according to the Associated Press, he released that list.

According to the Daily Beast, all of Trump’s 11 picks are white. Just three are women.

Trump’s list includes two possible picks whom he has frequently mentioned on the campaign trail: federal appeals court judges William Pryor and Diane Sykes. It also includes three additional people whom the Heritage Foundation recommended for Supreme Court posts after Trump said he would consult with the conservative group on his list: Raymond Gruender and Steven Colloton, both federal appeals court judges, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willet.

Also on Trump’s list are Thomas Lee, a Utah Supreme Court justice and brother of Republican Sen. Mike Lee; Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen, a former clerk to the late Justice Antonin Scalia; David Stras, who serves on the Minnesota Supreme Court; and federal appeals court judges Thomas Hardman and Raymond Kethledge.

It looks like Trump has, true to his promise, picked potential justices who would advance the conservative efforts to skew the federal courts far to the right. The libertarian publication Reason, for instance, has gushed over Willett for his willingness to overthrow government regulations.  (Willett, for what it’s worth, does not seem to return Trump’s admiration.)

We profiled Pryor, Sykes and Colloton last month:

William H. Pryor

One possible Supreme Court nominee whom Trump has specifically praised is William H. Pryor, selected by President George W. Bush to be on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Formerly Alabama’s attorney general, Pryor has a history of extreme right-wing activism, severely criticizing not just women’s right to choose under Roe v. Wade but even the constitutionality of the New Deal.

Pryor has called Roe the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.” He has claimed that with the New Deal and other measures, the U.S. has “strayed too far in the expansion of the federal government,” and asserted that it “should not be in the business of public education nor the control of street crime.” As a judge, he has helped uphold a restrictive Georgia voter ID law and joined just one other judge on the 11th Circuit in claiming that “racially disparate effects” should not be enough to prove a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, even though the Supreme Court has ruled precisely the opposite.

Pryor came first on a wish list of Supreme Court picks that the Heritage Foundation published shortly after Trump promised to consult them before naming justices.

Diane Sykes

Trump has also repeatedly named Diane Sykes, a Seventh Circuit federal appeals court judge appointed by President George W. Bush, as a potential Supreme Court nominee. Sykes, who previously served on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and a trial court, has also won high praise from the Heritage Foundation and from right-wing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

In a series of dissents, Sykes has argued in favor of big business and against consumers and discrimination victims, including cases where she tried to limit corporate liability for product defects and overturn a $1 million damages award, to protect a corporation from having to defend against an employee’s claim of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to reverse a $3.5 million bad faith judgment in favor of a Lutheran church against its insurance company.

She showed her anti-reproductive-choice views in providing a lenient sentence to two anti-abortion protesters who had to be forcibly removed from blocking the entrance to a Milwaukee abortion clinic and had previously been arrested 100 times for such offenses; Sykes nevertheless praised them for their “fine character” and expressed “respect” for the “ultimate goals” the blockade “sought to achieve.”

She asserted in dissent that a jury verdict against a criminal defendant should have been upheld even though there was extensive evidence that one of the jurors did not understand English (including a statement from the juror himself), which disqualified him from serving on a jury under Wisconsin law; that a prosecutor should be immune from a claim that he fabricated false evidence that wrongly convicted a man for 17 years; and that a conviction under federal law against someone convicted of domestic violence for possessing firearms should be reversed and that the law itself could well be unconstitutional, in disagreement with all 10 other judges on the court of appeals. She voted in favor of a Wisconsin voter ID law and of a claim by a student group that it should receive state funding and recognition despite its violation of a university rule prohibiting against discrimination based on sexual orientation, an issue on which the Supreme Court reached exactly the opposite conclusion several years later.

She asserted in dissent that a jury verdict against a criminal defendant should have been upheld even though one of the jurors did not understand English, that a prosecutor should be immune from a claim that he fabricated false evidence that wrongly convicted a man for 17 years, and that a conviction under federal law against someone convicted of domestic violence for possessing firearms should be reversed and that the law itself could well be unconstitutional, in disagreement with all 10 other judges on the court of appeals. She voted in favor of a Wisconsin voter ID law and of a claim by a student group that it should receive state funding and recognition despite its violation of a university rule prohibiting against discrimination based on sexual orientation, an issue on which the Supreme Court reached exactly the opposite conclusion several years later.

Steven Colloton

The third name on Heritage’s list of possible Supreme Court nominees is Judge Steven Colloton, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, after previous service for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and as a U.S. attorney.

Colloton has been at the forefront of a number of troubling Eighth Circuit rulings, including writing decisions that reversed an $8.1 million award to whistleblowers who helped bring a defective pricing and kickback claim against a large corporation and a nearly $19 million class action judgment against Tyson Foods for violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. He also joined a ruling making the Eighth Circuit the only appellate court in the country that found that the Obama administration’s efforts to accommodate religious universities and other religious nonprofit objectors to the provision of contraceptive coverage under the ACA was insufficient, an issue n ow being considered by the Supreme Court.

Even more troubling, Colloton has dissented from a number of Eighth Circuit rulings that have upheld the rights of employees, consumers and others against big business and government agencies. He dissented from a decision giving African-American shoppers the opportunity to prove discrimination claims against a large department store, and then saw his view prevail by one vote when the full Eighth Circuit reheard the case. In another case, he dissented from a decision finding that a city had violated the Voting Rights Act by improperly diluting the voting strength of Native Americans.

Colloton dissented from rulings that gave individuals a chance to prove claims of use of excessive force and, in one case, that a city’s policy to use police dogs to bite and hold suspects without any warning was unconstitutional. In three separate cases, he dissented from decisions that employees should at least get the chance to prove in court that their employers retaliated against them for filing sex harassment, age discrimination, or other discrimination claims. In two more decisions, he argued in dissent that public employees should not have the opportunity to prove that they were retaliated against for speaking out in violation of their First Amendment rights. Yet he also claimed in a dissent that the First Amendment rights of a candidate for state supreme court justice were violated by a state judicial code of conduct restricting solicitation and other campaign activity in order to promote judicial impartiality and ethical conduct by judges. Even the conservative Roberts Court that decided the Citizens United case has agreed that these concerns justify solicitation restrictions in state supreme court elections.

This post has been updated to clarify the circumstances of a case in which Sykes asserted in a dissent that a jury verdict should have been upheld despite evidence that one juror was disqualified from serving.

Ted Nugent Fantasizes About Hillary Clinton Being Shot; GOP Still Wants His Org To Vet Supreme Court Nominees

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the Senate won’t confirm any Supreme Court nominee unless that nominee has the support of the National Rifle Association, which has been stretching the truth in its efforts to oppose the nomination of Merrick Garland.

The absurdity of this position was reinforced yesterday when, as Media Matters reported, NRA board member and perpetual loose cannon Ted Nugent posted on his Facebook page a fake video of Hillary Clinton being shot, with the caption “I got your guncontrol right here bitch!”

This is who McConnell wants in charge of vetting Supreme Court justices?

This sort of gleeful violence is nothing new to Nugent, who in a 2007 onstage rant relished the prospect of killing Clinton and then-candidate Obama:

Decked out in full-on camouflage hunting gear, Nugent wielded two machine guns while raging, "Obama, he's a piece of shit. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey Hillary," he continued. "You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch." Nugent summed up his eloquent speech by screaming "freedom!"

Earlier this year, Nugent engaged in a week-long anti-Semitic meltdown, including posting a Facebook meme alleging that Jewish politicians and activists are “behind gun control.”

Stunningly, there seems to be no organized effort within the NRA to fire Nugent, even as some NRA members have been waging a campaign to oust anti-tax activist Grover Norquist from the organization’s board because they claim he is a Muslim Brotherhood agent.

Nugent, not surprisingly, is enthusiastically backing Donald Trump in the presidential race.

So, Senate Republicans are refusing to so much as hold a hearing on Garland’s nomination in the hope that Trump will become president and nominate someone who has been approved by Nugent and his organization? Sounds reasonable.

It’s Official: The Senate GOP Wants Donald Trump To Pick The Next Supreme Court Justice

When Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, the Senate GOP quickly vowed to keep his Supreme Court seat open until the next president takes office. They kept that vow even after President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, somebody whom Republicans had previously praised as a best-case scenario for a nominee from a Democratic president.

Now, after Ted Cruz dropped out of the Republican race last night, it’s all but certain that the next president will be Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump. We can assume that Senate Republicans aren’t hoping that Clinton or Sanders will pick the next Supreme Court justice — which means that they are holding the seat open for Trump.

Trump has attempted to reassure movement conservatives concerned about his potential Supreme Court picks that he will choose somebody from a list drawn up by the conservative Heritage Foundation , with input from the Federalist Society. Those potential nominees are bad enough — but it's possible that Trump, who  isn’t known for keeping his promises, couild pick someone even worse.

However much Trump promises deference to the Heritage Foundation on the Supreme Court, the fact is that Senate Republicans are now hoping to hand over the nomination process to someone who believes the news he reads in the National Enquirer , chain emailsand racist Twitter feeds; is an enthusiastic birther conspiracy theorist; and has said that women should be punished for seeking illegal abortions.

Trump seems to lack even a basic understanding of how the legal system works, saying that judges sign bills, displaying complete ignorance of the central legal issue behind Roe v. Wade and opining that he would like to see the Obergefell marriage equality decision “unpassed.” Further showing his gravitas, he also engaged in right-wing conspiracy theories about Scalia’s death.

Senate Republicans are refusing to even hold a hearing on Garland’s nomination so that they can hold a Supreme Court seat open for months on end with the hope that Donald Trump will fill it. They have some explaining to do.

GOP Taking Supreme Court Orders From Radical Gun Group

Among the groups pressuring Republicans in the Senate to continue their blockade of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee is Gun Owners of America, a gun lobby group that holds considerable sway on Capitol Hill despite its history of promoting wild conspiracy theories, frequent warnings to elected officials that they should fear assassination and deep ties to radical militia groups and white supremacists.

GOA has circulated a petition to its members claiming that Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, “would reverse your ability to own a gun” and “hates the Second Amendment,” basing its claims on exceedingly thin evidenceWhile these attacks on Garland’s record have been widely discreditedseveral Republican senators have pointed to the judge’s supposed disrespect for the Second Amendment as a reason to oppose him.

GOA’s general counsel, Michael Hammond, brought these claims to an op-ed in USA Today on Sunday, which GOA followed up with a video claiming again that Garland “hates the Second Amendment” and that if he gets on the court “good people will go to prison for exercising their constitutional rights.” Obama’s nomination of Garland, the video warns, is “the most significant step in his sordid trail towards transforming our nation.”

This paranoid and exaggerated language is typical of a group that has ties to the violent militia fringes of the Right and stays afloat by promoting conspiracy theories about various federal plots to snatch law-abiding people’s guns.

Tim Macy, the group’s chairman and the head of a “Second Amendment Coalition” on Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, used similar rhetoric in March when he said that the Garland nomination was Obama’s “last-ditch effort” to “ruin the Second Amendment and destroy this country.”

The group’s executive director, Larry Pratt, went even further when he implied that Garland should fear assassination if he displeases gun groups. “Happily, the Second Amendment is all about people like Judge Garland, so there is a limit to how far he can go, I think,” Pratt told radical radio host Rick Wiles.

Pratt frequently makes similar comments. We wrote last year:

In an interview last year, Pratt said that being afraid of assassination was “a healthy fear” for members of Congress to have, because that’s what makes them “behave.” When Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, who had felt threatened by one of GOA’s members, complained about his comments, Pratt doubled down, saying that elected officials should fear “ the cartridge box” and accusing the congresswoman of being “ foolish” and having “a hissy fit .” Later, he boasted that Democratic proponents of stricter gun laws are “afraid of getting shot and they ought to be!”

On his weekly radio program last year, Pratt said that President Obama should learn from the example of Charles I, who was executed for treason in the 17th century:

Pratt’s view of the Second Amendment as a tool for a well-armed minority of insurrectionists to take on a government they disagree with comes straight from the fringe militia movement, which Pratt helped shape in the 1990s.

And that’s not all. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “In 1996, Pratt was forced to resign as co-chairman of Patrick J. Buchanan's presidential campaign when it was publicized that he had been a speaker at the 1992 Gathering of Christian Men in Estes Park, Colo., where he rubbed shoulders with neo-Nazis, Klansmen, adherents of the anti-Semitic Christian Identity theology, and other radicals.”

More recently, Pratt was a cheerleader for the armed militias who staged a standoff with the federal government at Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada, saying that the incident came “very close” to provoking “a civil war between the people and the government.”

In his role at the helm of GOA, Pratt is happy to stir up conspiracy theories and anti-government paranoia in an effort to turn his group’s membership against any attempt at reasonable gun law reform.

He has humored radical radio hosts who have suggested that the Sandy Hook school and Aurora movie theater massacres were inside jobs designed by the government.

And, as we wrote last year, Pratt has plenty of conspiracy theories of his own:

… He has claimed that Obama is building up a private security force within the Department of Homeland Security to use for his own purposes “if he can’t actually commandeer the military”; warned that Obama will enlist undocumented immigrants into a private “ Praetorian guard” and advise police officers to go after people with conservative bumper stickers ; said Obamacare will ultimately “take away your guns”; feared Obama is stockpiling “anti-personnel rounds” because he “ seems to view the American people as the enemy”; claimed that Obama “had to steal” the 2012 presidential election and even buys into the fringe birther theory that holds that the president’s “real father” was labor activist Frank Marshall Davis.

Here is Pratt talking with fringe radio host Stan Solomon about the possibility that President Obama will start a race war:

This is who the GOP wants to listen to on the Supreme Court?

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