judicial nominations

Tea Party Group Draws Crowd Of Tens To Protest Supreme Court Confirmation

Today, as thousands of people gathered in front of the Supreme Court to voice their support of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, a somewhat smaller crowd organized by Tea Party Patriots held forth against the DAPA/DACA actions and urged the Senate not to confirm President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

We counted about 20 people at the Tea Party Patriots event at 11 am, shortly before the event’s speeches were scheduled to begin: 

The heavily outnumbered protesters carried signs saying “#NoHearingsNoVotes,” “#TheDecisionIsOurs,” “#LetThePeopleDecide” and “Let The People Have A Voice On The Future Of The Court,” the message that anti-Garland groups have settled on to make their quest to block hearings on a Supreme Court nomination sound like a populist rallying cry. The sign on a podium labeled Garland “Obama’s Rubber Stamp.”

There was a high ratio of Republican and conservative movement speakers to grassroots activists, asRep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas,Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo.,Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and the Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino addressed the small crowd.

Here’s another view of the Tea Party Patriots event:

 

UPDATE: Politico reports:

News concerences sponsored by the Tea Party and FreedomWorks also featured Reps. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), as well as other speakers who unsuccessfully tried to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and "America the Beautiful." An effort to lead a singalong of the national anthem backfired when the singer forgot the lyrics midway through, drawing jeers.

 

If Republicans Get Their Wish On The Supreme Court, What Would Trump Or Cruz Do?

By Miranda Blue, Elliot Mincberg and Brian Tashman

Republicans in the Senate, pushed by outside conservative interest groups, are promising to block President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and arguing that the next president should fill the current vacancy, in the hope that a Republican president will name a conservative ideologue to the bench.

Even if the Senate does confirm Garland, the next president will likely be charged with nominating at least one person to the Supreme Court, and possibly more. Since it looks like either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz will win the Republican presidential nomination, looking at both men’s past statements gives us an idea of the kind of justices that Republicans are hoping for.

Trump and Cruz have both signaled that they would appease their base by nominating justices who would shift the court far to the right. Cruz has lamented that some justices nominated by Republican presidents have strayed from the party line on issues like abortion rights and has vowed that he would appoint “rock-ribbed conservatives” who have a “long paper trail” to demonstrate their “conservative” bona fides.

Trump, dogged by worries among movement conservatives that he would betray them when it comes to Supreme Court nominations, has promised to pick any Supreme Court nominees off a list he develops in partnership with the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.

Both candidates have indicated that they would nominate judges who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark abortion rights and marriage equality decisions. Trump, although he appears not to understand the central legal issue of Roe, has said that the decision “can be changed” through the right judicial nominations since “you know, things are put there and are passed but they can be unpassed with time.” Cruz has warned that unless a true conservative like him picks the next justice, the Supreme Court will soon be “mandating unlimited abortion.” Trump has said that Obergefell was wrongly decided, while Cruz has called the decision “fundamentally illegitimate” and said it can be ignored by the president.

Cruz has made the future of the court a centerpiece of his campaign, while Trump may not actually understand how the Supreme Court works. But both have made clear that as president they would work to shift the court even farther to the right on the issues important to social conservatives and to the corporate Right.

What would a court shaped by a President Trump or a President Cruz look like? Looking at a few of the possible judicial nominees whose names have been dropped by candidates or who have been recommended by the Heritage Foundation, we can get an idea of the kind of ideological conservatives whom Republicans are hoping to put on the bench.

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.

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 now 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.

Mike Lee

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah is Cruz’s closest ally in the Senate and Cruz has said that Lee “would look good” on the Supreme Court. Lee also made the Heritage Foundation’s shortlist of potential Supreme Court justices.

Lee is a fervent “tenther,” someone who believes the 10th Amendment to the Constitution radically restricts the authority of the federal government. As Jeffrey Rosen wrote in the New York Times Magazine in 2010, “Lee offered glimpses of a truly radical vision of the U.S. Constitution, one that sees the document as divinely inspired and views much of what the federal government currently does as unconstitutional.” Among the areas that Lee has suggested it is unconstitutional for the federal government to be engaged in:

  • Social Security,
  • Medicare and Medicaid,
  • child labor laws,
  • food safety,
  • disaster relief,
  • food stamps,
  • the Violence Against Women Act,
  • and, of course, the Affordable Care Act.

Lee has criticized the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion rights and marriage equality, calling Roe v. Wade an “unconscionable decision” that “defied the spirit and the letter” of the Constitution and responding to Obergefell by introducing a measure that would protect anti-LGBT discrimination.

Ted Cruz

While we don’t expect Cruz to name himself to the Supreme Court, as recently as December Trump was receptive to the idea of extending an olive branch to his main Republican presidential rival in the form of a Supreme Court nomination.

A Justice Cruz would certainly align with Trump’s stated priorities of reversing the Obergefell marriage equality decision and making sure Roe v. Wade is “unpassed.” Cruz, who served as the solicitor general of Texas before his election to the U.S. Senate, has gone so far as to call for the U.S. government to defy Obergefell and to claim that Congress could ban abortion without overturning Roe. Before running for the Senate, Cruz proposed an unconstitutional plan to nullify the Affordable Care Act; last year, he said that a Supreme Court ruling rejecting a clearly meritless challenge to the ACA was the “lawless” work of “rogue justices.” Cruz is known for having politicized the Texas solicitor general’s office, filing dozens of Supreme Court amicus briefs defending conservative positions on hot-button issues such as gun rights and abortion. On the campaign trail, he frequently boasts of his work as an attorney fighting church-state separation.

If Cruz were to become a Supreme Court justice, however, we wonder if he would stick with his idea of subjecting justices to retention 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.

Heritage List Gives Glimpse Of Far-Right Justices Sought By Trump And Cruz

One of the conservative establishment’s greatest fears about a Donald Trump presidency has been that he wouldn’t pick movement ideologues to sit on the Supreme Court. Trump attempted to put that concern to rest last week when he announced that he was working with the conservative behemoth the Heritage Foundation to shape a list of 10 possible Supreme Court picks from whom he would choose nominees if he were to become president. (Whether he would actually keep that promise, however, is an open question.)

Meanwhile, Trump’s main GOP presidential rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, has promised to make nominating ultra-conservative justices a “priority” of his presidency. He has even made a point of criticizing past Republican presidents for appointing insufficiently conservative jurists.

Trump hasn’t released his list of candidates, but today the Heritage Foundation published a “non-exclusive” list of eight people that it said “illustrates the kind of highly qualified, principled individuals the new president should consider” for the high court — and who, it’s safe to assume, represent the kind of judges the conservative movement would pressure Trump and Cruz to pick for the federal courts.

Two of Heritage’s picks, federal appeals court judges William Pryor and Diane Sykes, have been mentioned repeatedly by Trump on the campaign trail. The name of another, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, has been brought up by Cruz, who even picked up the Utah senator’s endorsement.

In a profile of Sykes last month, ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser wrote:

… Sykes, who currently sits on the Seventh Circuit, backed a voter ID law . She also wrote a decision expanding religious objectors’ ability to limit their employees’ access to birth control coverage that SCOTUSBlog’s Lyle Denniston described as “ the broadest ruling so far by a federal appeals court barring enforcement of the birth-control mandate in the new federal health care law.”

Millhiser noted that Sykes also ruled “that anti-gay groups have a constitutional right to continue receiving government subsidies even if they engage in discrimination,” another troubling indication that she could support conservative groups’ attempts to justify discrimination.

Pryor, a former Alabama attorney general, also has a history of right-wing activism. Pryor has called Roe v. Wade the “ worst abomination in the history of constitutional law” and said that it created “ a constitutional right to murder an unborn child.” 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 the federal government “should not be in the business of public education nor the control of street crime .” Like Sykes, Pryor has upheld a voter ID law.

Lee, a Tea Party favorite who has been Cruz’s strongest ally in the Senate, has a legal philosophy that might be even more troubling, dismissing large swaths of the federal government’s work as unconstitutional. As Peter summarized recently:

Here are a few things that Sen. Mike Lee believes are unconstitutional for the federal government to be engaged in:

Peter noted that Lee “dismisses Supreme Court rulings upholding a woman’s right to abortion” and has “called the court’s marriage equality ruling a ‘breathtaking presumption of power.’”

Also on Heritage’s list is Brett Kavanaugh, a George W. Bush appointee to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where he is a colleague of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Kavanaugh, who before his career as a judge worked on the notorious “Starr Report” about President Clinton, is just one example of Bush’s effort to put ideologically motivated conservatives on the federal bench.

Kavanaugh’s rulings on the D.C. Circuit include striking down important EPA air pollution rules in an opinion that one columnist called “60 pages of legal sophistry, procedural hair-splitting and scientific conjecture.” PFAW summarized the issue at hand:

Last summer, two Bush-nominated judges on the D.C. Circuit issued a much-criticized ruling in EME Homer City Generation, striking down important new EPA rules on air pollution that crosses state lines. In 2011, the EPA issued new regulations to limit the levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emitted by coal-fired power plants and crossing state lines. Based on the administrative record and its expertise on environmental health, the agency concluded that the new rules would prevent 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks, and 400,000 cases of asthma. As if that weren’t important enough, the rules would also save $280 billion a year in healthcare costs.

In 2011, Kavanaugh dissented from a ruling that found ExxonMobil was not immune from being sued by Indonesians who said they had been “beaten, burned, shocked with cattle prods, kicked, and subjected to other forms of brutality and cruelty" by the company’s security forces. Dissenting from a ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act the same year, Kavanaugh suggested that a president who thinks the ACA is unconstitutional could simply decline to enforce it.

Also on Heritage’s list are Paul Clement, who served as solicitor general in the Bush administration and is just 49 years old, and federal appeals court judges Steven Colloton and Raymond Gruender. Another Heritage suggestion is Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who was nominated by then-Gov. Rick Perry after helping Bush run his faith-based initiatives in Texas and in the White House.

Chuck Grassley On Judicial Confirmations: 'Let's Do Our Jobs.' (But That Was 2005)

While discussing the confirmation of judges, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, had a message for his fellow senators: “Let’s do our jobs.” But that was 2005.

Eleven years ago, with a Republican in the White House, Grassley was emphatic that the Senate act quickly on the president’s judicial nominations, telling colleagues that slowing down the confirmation process was “like being a bully on the schoolyard playground.”

According to Grassley in 2005, for the Senate to do its job, George W. Bush’s nominees would have to receive up-or-down votes. Today, apparently, doing his job as chairman of the Judiciary Committee does not even include holding hearings on President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland.

One wonders what 2005 Chuck Grassley would say to his 2016 self. In April of that year, during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” Grassley told host Chris Matthews that “every nominee should have an opportunity to have an up-or-down vote.”

That same month in a statement on his website titled “Talking Judges to Death,” the Iowa senator wrote, “It’s time to make sure all judges receive a fair vote on the Senate floor.”

Grassley continued to make his case during a May speech on the Senate floor, telling his colleagues, “It’s high time to make sure all judges receive a fair up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.”

In the same speech, he complained that he and his colleagues were being “denied an opportunity to carry out their constitutional responsibility,” telling the Senate, “That is simply not right. The Constitution demands an up-or-down vote. Fairness demands an up-or-down vote.”

Grassley charged that Democrats wanted “to grind the judicial process to a halt for appellate court nominees so they can fill the bench with individuals who have been rubberstamped by leftwing extreme groups.”

In 2005 Democrats opposed a small number of nominees based on their extreme ideologies. In contrast, Grassley and today’s Republicans have made it clear that they will oppose anyone nominated by Obama, no matter their qualifications or ideology, essentially seeking to undo the 2012 presidential election.

Today the only rationale for Grassley’s own intransigence is fear of the far right and their demand that Republicans obstruct the president’s Supreme Court appointment.

Grassley’s advocacy for the Senate doing its job did not stop in the spring of 2005. In September of that year, after President Bush appointed John Roberts to the Supreme Court, Grassley cited Alexander Hamilton in claiming that “the purpose of our activities here of confirming people for the courts” was “to make sure that people who were not qualified did not get on the courts. In other words, only qualified people get appointed to the courts and that political hacks do not get appointed to the courts.”

He noted that “maybe there is some historian around who will say Grassley has it all wrong.”

In that same speech he stated that the president “had a mandate to appoint whom he wanted appointed, as long as they were not political hacks and as long as they were qualified” and that the president had “primacy in the appointments to the Supreme Court.”

In January 2006, with the appointment of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, Grassley put out a press release that once again cited Alexander Hamilton:

The Constitution provides that the President nominates a Supreme Court Justice, and the Senate provides its advice and consent, with an up or down vote.  In Federalist 66, Alexander Hamilton wrote, “it will be the office of the President to nominate, and, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to appoint.  There will, of course, be no exertion of choice on the part of the Senate.  They may defeat one choice of the Executive, and oblige him to make another; but they cannot themselves choose – they can only ratify or reject the choice he may have made.”

Citations of Hamilton, calls for the Senate to do its job, discussions of “constitutional responsibility” are now a faded memory.

If Chuck Grassley did recall his words from that year, perhaps he would remember his statement that “in my town meetings across Iowa, I hear from people all the time, why aren’t the judges being confirmed?” He went on to claim, “I hear from Iowans all the time that they want to see these nominees treated in a fair manner, and they want to see an up-or-down vote.”

Home for the Senate’s Easter recess, he is now facing these questions from constituents like Randy Waagmeester, who told his senator at a town hall, “It’s not fair for this man not to get a hearing.”

Another of Grassley’s constituents, Glenda Schrick, told her senator, “There’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution that says we can’t have a hearing and then vote yea or nay, so that we don’t constantly have it thrown at us as Republicans that all we say is ‘no.’”

However, these interactions will be few for the Iowa senator. According to the Des Moines Register “only three of his 19 planned events are publicly announced town hall meetings — and they’re happening in the three most heavily Republican counties in the state in terms of voter registration.”

Instead of running from these challenges, Grassley should simply follow his own admonition from more than a decade ago, come back to Washington, tell his Republican colleagues “let’s do our jobs” and get to work confirming Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

The Judicial Crisis Network Conveniently Forgets Its Own History

It has been truly remarkable watching the Judicial Crisis Network criss-crossing the country pressuring Republican senators to keep up their blockade of President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination, since during the George W. Bush administration the group was named the Judicial Confirmation Network and promoted the idea that every judicial nominee “deserves an up-or-down vote.”

JCN’s current leaders have been carefully ignoring this history in their effort to prevent the Senate Judiciary Committee from even holding a hearing on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, a situation that reached new heights of absurdity last week when the group’s general counsel, Carrie Severino, let a conservative radio host speculate at length, incorrectly, about why the group might have been named the “Judicial Crisis Network” during the Bush administration.

“Here’s what’s interesting, is you were interestingly named the Judicial Crisis Network” during the Bush administration, radio host Bobby Gunther Walsh mistakenly said during a March 24 interview with Severino.

“It’s interesting you chose that name,” he said, “I don’t know if there was a crisis going on back then, is that when they were threatening Bush about ‘you can’t nominate someone’?”

After repeating misleading claims about Sen. Charles Schumer and then-Sen. Joe Biden’s comments about Supreme Court nominations during the Bush years, Walsh fumed, “You know what I can’t stand is when people can’t even admit that they said stuff and they can’t even admit the truth.”

Severino, rather than correcting Walsh about her organization’s past as the Judicial Confirmation Network, instead complained about people who “repeat the same false facts” until “people take them as true”: “Yeah, you’re entitled to your own opinion but not to your own facts. If you repeat the same false facts over and over again, sometimes people take them as true, so it’s frustrating.”

“It’s the irony that you can just see the Democrats are willing to say and do whatever it takes to get this fifth vote that they just desperately want a solid liberal block on the court,” she added. “And they’re going to want to deny the people a voice in the process in order to do that. That’s a real shame.”

As we all know, the Judicial Crisis Network would never “repeat false facts”!

Rafael Cruz: 'One More Liberal Justice' Could Allow A Dictator To Turn Guns On Americans

Rafael Cruz, the father and top campaign surrogate of Sen. Ted Cruz, warned in a radio interview today that if “one more liberal justice” is confirmed to the Supreme Court, “we will lose our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” which could lead to a dictator turning guns against the American people.

“One more liberal justice with that way of thinking and we will lose our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” Cruz said on Breitbart’s SiriusXM program. “And think back in history: Every dictator that has taken the guns away from the population has used them against the population.”

“It is imperative that we elect as president someone that you can be certain that will only nominate to the Supreme Court justices that are committed to following the Constitution and the rule of law, not to legislate from the bench,” he said. “Otherwise, if we lose the court, it may take a whole generation to recover it and I don’t think we have the time.”

Cruz issued a similar warning in November, before the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, saying that “praise God there are 300 million guns in American in the hands of private citizens.”

Cruz also repeated his claim that the American public education system is being used by communists to indoctrinate children into “an anti-Christian worldview.”

“What has happened in America is that we have believed this lie of separation of church and state, which is not in the Constitution, is not in the Declaration,” Cruz said. “The total opposite is true. One of the very first Bibles printed in America was printed under the auspices of Congress to be the principal textbook in high schools, primary schools and universities.”

Cruz frequently uses the story about Congress printing Bibles to be used as textbooks in his attempts to refute the idea of church-state separation. The story, unsurprisingly, is a myth promoted by Cruz’s friend, the political operative David Barton, who is running a super PAC backing Ted Cruz’s candidacy.

He went on to say that this all changed when the Humanist Manifesto, an “ominous document,” was signed in 1933, leading to “immorality and chaos and secular humanism.” He then repeated his claim that John Dewey, the public education reformer and signer of the Humanist Manifesto “was a member of the American Communist Party.” (Dewey was in fact an “avowed anti-Communist.”)

All of this, he said, has led to the Common Core educational standards “brainwashing” public school students with an “anti-Christian worldview in an attempt to secularize America.”

“So, since 1933, those concepts of secular humanism have been immersed in our public school system,” he said, “and now, with Common Core, they have been elevated to a new level. And Common Core is not really about standards, it’s about brainwashing our kids with secular humanism, with an anti-Christian worldview, with what’s called situational ethics … And so what has happened is that kids are being brainwashed with this worldview that is an anti-Christian worldview in an attempt to secularize America.”

Ron Johnson Is Taking His SCOTUS Talking Points Straight From Right-Wing Groups

Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin is one of the Republican senators who is under considerable pressure in his home state to break from his party leadership and consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

So far, Johnson has toed the party line and says that he supports blocking any nominee to the Supreme Court for the remainder of Obama’s presidency. In defending this position, he has turned to a number of stock talking points cooked up by right-wing groups seeking to keep an Obama nominee off the Supreme Court.

As soon as President Obama announced his nomination of Garland, Johnson turned to the talking point that the conservative Judicial Crisis Network has been promoting since soon after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death left a vacant seat on the Supreme Court.

Johnson’s appeal to let the American people “decide” and give them a “voice” by discounting President Obama’s entire last year in office, comes straight out of the messaging that JCN started hammering in early ads urging obstruction. In JCN’s first ad, a narrator says:

It’s ‘We the People.’ Sometimes the politicians forget that. The Supreme Court has a vacancy and your vote in November is your only voice. Sen. Chuck Grassley agrees: the American people should decide. This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats. It’s about your voice. You choose the next president, the next president chooses the next justice. Call Sen. Chuck Grassley. Thank him for letting the people decide.

Of course, the people already did have a voice in choosing who would pick the next Supreme Court justice when they reelected President Obama for a second four-year term in 2012.

The New York Times reported yesterday on an event in Wisconsin at which Johnson attempted to justify the Senate GOP’s obstructionism by implying that the Constitution’s requirement of “advice and consent” can mean the Senate advising the president not to make any judicial nomination at all:

“Yeah, I am hearing the drumbeat, ‘Do your job! Do your job!’ ” Mr. Johnson said, invoking the Democrats’ battle cry in their quest to get Judge Garland a hearing. “We’re doing our job,” Mr. Johnson declared, to shouts of “yes.”

“Our job as a coequal branch in the nomination process is advise and consent,” he said. “Well, President Obama — surprise — didn’t heed our advice. So now we are doing the second part of that advice and consent: We’re withholding our consent. Completely appropriate.”

This is a talking point that Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice, a longtime right-wing player in judicial fights, pioneered very soon after the death of Justice Scalia, when he told televangelist Pat Robertson, “The Senate has a role in this, the Constitution says ‘advice and consent.’ The advice here is, ‘Don’t put up a nominee when you’re only going to be the president, you’re a lame duck and you’re only going to be the president for 11 months.’”

We don’t think that refusing to even consider a Supreme Court nominee is what the founders had in mind when they gave the Senate the power of “advice and consent," which is why the GOP leadership’s decision to have the Senate do absolutely nothing in response to a Supreme Court nomination is unprecedented.

According to the Times article, Johnson has also taken to saying that Garland is “hostile” to the Second Amendment:

“Judge Merrick is hostile to your Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” Mr. Johnson said in Pewaukee, using the judge’s first name. “So I am doing my job to protect the Second Amendment rights of Wisconsinites.”

Johnson’s use of the word “hostile” is no accident. The phrase “hostile to the Second Amendment” is what right-wing groups have settled on to describe Garland’s utterly benign record on gun rights. That’s the exact phrase that the National Rifle Association has been using in its effort to stir up opposition to Garland’s nomination. The “hostile” term seems to have come from an opposition research package put together by the Judicial Crisis Network, which in turn seems to have borrowed the phrase from a 2007 article in the NRA’s magazine.

We outlined last week why the Second Amendment “hostility” argument is bunk.

Senate Republicans seem to have ceded not only their governing, but the very words that come out of their mouths, to right-wing obstructionist groups.

JCN Laughably Changes Course In Attempt To Paint Merrick Garland As A 'Liberal Extremist'

Back in 2010, as President Obama was considering possible nominees to replace retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court, Judicial Crisis Network attorney Carrie Severino mused, “Of those the president could nominate, we could do a lot worse than Merrick Garland," adding that a Garland nomination could bring down “the tension and the politics” surrounding the brewing Supreme Court battle.

It must have been somewhat awkward for Severino, then, when President Obama did nominate Garland for the Supreme Court this year and she had to pivot to claiming that Garland is actually a liberal extremist who should never be confirmed by the Senate.

Of course, the objection that groups like JCN have to Garland’s nomination has nothing to do with the nominee. Instead, conservative groups, led by JCN, were pressuring Senate Republicans to block any Obama nominee to the Supreme Court even before Garland was named.

So it’s been amusing to watch JCN as it grasps for arguments to oppose Garland, the most recent being a web ad that the group is promoting in the home states of vulnerable Republican senators that derides Democrats for calling Garland a “moderate.” Instead, JCN told USA Today, Garland is a “liberal extremist.” The ad claims that under a Supreme Court with the “liberal extremist” Garland as a member, the Second Amendment would be “gutted” and “partial-birth abortion legalized” and Garland would become the “tie-breaking vote for Obama’s big government liberalism.”

We’ve already debunked JCN and its allies’ weak attempts at portraying Garland as “hostile” to gun rights. This is just reinforced by the fact that the only news source JCN could find to cite in its ad about Garland’s supposedly “strong hostility to gun owner rights” is the NRA’s magazine.

The “partial-birth” abortion claim is even more of a puzzle since, as far as we know, Garland has never ruled on the issue. That claim seems to be based entirely on the fact that Garland was nominated by President Obama.

Some conservative groups are not even bothering to claim that Garland is an unacceptable nominee and are instead focusing on bogus procedural arguments against considering his nomination. But JCN, Severino says, has a duty to be “out there combating the spin” about the nominee. That argument would be so much more convincing if the “spin” didn’t so closely resemble what she herself said just six years ago.

Of course, what can you expect from an organization that was founded as the Judicial Confirmation Network under President George W. Bush, only to completely change its name and core mission once President Obama took office.

Cruz Gun Adviser: Obama Nominated Garland To 'Ruin The Second Amendment And Destroy This Country'

A top gun-rights adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign claimed this weekend that President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court is “his last-ditch effort” to “ruin the Second Amendment and destroy this country.”

Tim Macy, the chairman of the radical gun group Gun Owners of America and co-chair of Cruz’s “Second Amendment Coalition,” discussed the Supreme Court nomination in an interview Sunday with Mark Walters on “Armed America Radio.”

Macy said that Obama has “run up against the wall every time he’s tried” to “destroy the country” with gun restrictions, but that the Supreme Court vacancy is “his last-ditch effort before he leaves office to ruin the Second Amendment and destroy this country with Merrick Garland as his pick.”

Macy falsely claimed that Garland “supported the D.C. gun ban” — in fact, Garland, a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., voted to rehear a case involving Washington’s handgun ban, which does not indicate at all where he stood on the merits of the case. In fact, Garland voted the same way as other judges on the court including Judge A. Raymond Randolph, whom Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times once called “one of the most outspoken and agenda-driven conservatives on the entire federal bench.”

“Clearly, if Garland got back on the court, the whole Heller decision, individual right to bear arms, would be put in severe jeopardy,” Macy claimed, “and you would have to imagine it would be gotten rid of as quick as the court could get another case up before them, they’d be looking for the case to bring up.”

Macy also brought up another case that gun groups have been using to attack Garland, in which Garland joined in a ruling that held that the FBI could temporarily store background check information from gun sales for audit purposes. Macy absurdly claimed that this shows that Garland “supports the ability of a president to illegally use executive power to advance liberal causes like taking guns away from honest citizens.”

These, he said, were all reasons to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell so that he “keeps that nomination on hold until the president’s gone and we have a new president.”

Phyllis Schlafly: No SCOTUS Nominee 'Until We Have A Republican Who Will Appoint Somebody In The Nature of Scalia'

Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-feminist icon and enthusiastic Donald Trump endorser, characteristically abandoned all pretense of nonpartisanship when discussing the Supreme Court vacancy in a recent interview with “Armed America Radio,” saying that Republicans should hold firm in blocking a nominee until a Republican is in the White House.

“We need the Republicans to stand firm and say, ‘We’ve got a big election coming up and that should change the complexion of the Supreme Court and we don’t want any new nominee on the court until we have a Republican who will appoint somebody of the nature of Scalia,’” Schlafly told host Mark Walters on March 20. (She did not specify whether she was simply hoping that the next president will be a Republican or if she was suggesting that the GOP block all Democratic Supreme Court picks in the future.)

This prompted Walters to ask her about the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency, which Schlafly said made her “scared to death.”

The solution, she said, was for Republicans to unite around Trump because “your gun rights and all kinds of other rights” are on the line.

“We have a two-party system in this country and if you want a third party I invite you to move to Europe, where they have lots of useless third parties,” she said.

In an op-ed yesterday, Schlafly invoked the late First Lady Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug campaign in urging the GOP to obstruct Obama’s Supreme Court nominee:

The U.S. Senate should follow the famous advice of the late First Lady Nancy Reagan and “just say no” to Obama’s nominee.

A Baseless Attack Against Garland On ACA Cases

When you have a Supreme Court nominee as well respected across the political and ideological spectrum as Merrick Garland, it’s no wonder that far right groups’ attacks against him make so little sense. Their “he hates the Second Amendment” attack last week was so illogical that it just made them look foolish. A new attack relating to religious liberty and the Affordable Care Act is equally baseless.

As with the Second Amendment example, the new attack is not based at all on any substantive ruling by Judge Merrick – not a written dissent, nor a majority opinion he authored or joined, nor a concurrence he penned. Instead, his critics are reading into his votes on whether certain three-panel decisions should be reconsidered by the entire D.C. Circuit in what is called an en banc review.

The first involved a D.C. Circuit panel decision called Priests For Life v. HHS, which is currently one of the many cases consolidated into Zubik v. Burwell, which will be argued before the Supreme Court later this week. The case concerns the ability of religiously affiliated nonprofits to opt out of the requirement to provide their employees certain contraception health insurance coverage without a co-pay. The law allows an accommodation so the employees can get the coverage without their employers having to contract, arrange, or pay for it. Instead, the employers simply tell the insurer or the federal government of their objection, at which point the insurer must offer the coverage separately to employees who want it. But some religious nonprofits assert that even this accommodation violates their religious liberty. A unanimous three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit (which did not include Garland) upheld the law as not violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Hardly an outlier, the same legal conclusion has been reached by the 2nd Circuit, the 3rd Circuit, the 5th Circuit, the 6th Circuit, the 7th Circuit, the 10th Circuit, and the 11th Circuit. Last fall, the 8th Circuit reached the opposite conclusion, creating a circuit split that will be resolved by the Supreme Court.

In any event, Life Site News slams Judge Garland for voting against having the entire D.C. Circuit rehear the Priests for Life case. A vote for or against en banc review, absent an accompanying opinion, does not necessarily tell you anything about why the judge voted that way. In fact, several of the judges wrote or joined lengthy opinions explaining why they were for or against an en banc review. Chief Judge Garland joined none of them. Neither did George W. Bush nominee Thomas Griffith or Clinton nominee David Tatel, both of whom voted along with Chief Judge Garland not to rehear the case. The majority of the court voted against en banc review, so we don’t know how Garland would have voted on the merits of the case.

There could be any number of reasons not to want to review a panel decision; perhaps you agree with it; perhaps you think the issue is not important enough to merit that unusual step; perhaps you think a different case would be a better vehicle for addressing the legal issues; perhaps you’re concerned about the court’s workload; perhaps you know that numerous other circuits are addressing the exact same question and that  regardless of whether your court reconsiders the panel decision — the issue will be resolved by the Supreme Court, so that an en banc review would be a pointless waste of time and resources.

Indeed, that last scenario is what happened in the second ACA case that Life Site News attacks Judge Garland for. In that case, Halbig v. Burwell, a D.C. Circuit panel struck down the ACA’s subsidies structure in response to a legal attack widely recognized as purely politically motivated and legally weak (to be charitable) effort to destroy the ACA. In September 2014, the full D.C. Circuit voted without noted dissent to rehear the case, with no judge writing separately to explain their reasoning. The parties submitted detailed briefs and replies, in preparation for scheduled oral arguments in December. But then the Supreme Court accepted a case from the 4th Circuit raising the same issue, King v. Burwell, leading the D.C. Circuit to cancel its own planned oral arguments as a waste of time. So we don’t know how Chief Judge Garland would have voted on the merits of the case. (The conservative Roberts Court rejected the challenge in a 6-3 vote.)

Perhaps Chief Judge Garland, seeing how much effort went into an ultimately unnecessary en banc proceeding in the ACA subsidies case, didn’t want to repeat that scenario in the ACA contraception coverage case, knowing that the Supreme Court would likely be the ultimate arbiter of the legal issue.

The point is, we don’t know. We can’t know. Chief Judge Garland’s votes on whether to reconsider panel opinions simply don’t tell us anything about his views on the merits of the case, unless he writes or joins an opinion explaining his reasoning, which he did not do in these cases.

Conservatives Make Pathetic Effort To Claim Garland Is 'Hostile' To Gun Rights

As soon as President Obama announced his nomination of Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court seat left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, the conservative Judicial Crisis Network and the Republican National Committee unveiled embarrassingly thin dossiers to frame Garland — whom conservatives have previously praised — as an unconfirmable liberal activist.

Both organizations decided to focus their criticism on the claim that Garland is “hostile” to gun rights, something that other conservative groups have picked up and run with. The National Rifle Association, in turn, is out with a petition urging the Senate to reject Garland’s nomination, also claiming that he’s “hostile to the Second Amendment.”

The NRA cites three cases that it says show that Garland “supports a handgun ban” and “supports a national gun registry.” Not one shows anything of the sort.

Claim 1: “In 2007, he ruled in favor of reviewing the D.C. Circuit’s decision that invalidated the city’s handgun ban – the very ban Scalia helped overturn at the Supreme Court.”

The facts: A divided panel of three other judges of the D.C. Circuit Court, on which Garland sits, reversed a lower court ruling and found that a Washington, D.C., handgun ban was unconstitutional. The full court then had an opportunity to vote on whether the case should be reheard by all the judges on the entire D.C. Circuit. Garland was one of four members of the court, including a decidedly conservative colleague, Raymond Randolph, who voted to rehear the case. That vote indicates absolutely nothing about what Garland thought about the merits of the case and certainly doesn’t mean that Garland “supports a handgun ban” as the NRA claims. After all, this was before the Supreme Court ruling in Heller and, regardless of ideology, it made perfect sense for a judge to want the full circuit to consider the case.

Claim 2: “In 2004, he ruled against rehearing another pivotal Second Amendment case, thereby casting a vote against the individual right to Keep and Bear Arms.”

The facts: It’s the same story here. The NRA seems to be referring to the 2005 case Seegers v. Gonzales, which had to do with whether the parties suing had standing to challenge D.C.’s handgun law; the substance of the Second Amendment argument was not at issue. This time, Garland voted with the majority of his colleagues to deny a full-court rehearing of the case. Again, that vote gave absolutely no indication of how he felt about the issue of standing (to say nothing of the merits of the Second Amendment case) and definitely was not “a vote against the individual right to Keep and Bear Arms.”

Claim 3: “In 2000, he ruled in favor of the federal government’s plan to keep gun owners’ personal information in an unofficial national registry.”

The facts: In this case, NRA of America v. Reno, the NRA claimed that a regulation requiring information from gun background checks to be temporarily retained violated a law requiring background check records to be destroyed. Garland joined in an opinion finding that the law didn’t prohibit the temporary storage of that data “for audit purposes,” after which it would be destroyed as required by law. From this, the NRA falsely concludes that Garland “supports a national gun registry.”

There is frankly nothing in Garland’s record that indicates his substantive views, if any, on the Second Amendment. Could it possibly be that conservative groups are grasping at straws in an attempt to justify their blanket obstruction of the Supreme Court nomination process?

'Swift Boat' PR Firm Takes Up Supreme Court Fight

The public relations firm that pushed the false “swift boat” smear on John Kerry in 2004 and has since taken up far-right causes from creationism to the Tea Party to recent attacks on Planned Parenthood has now gotten involved in the fight against confirming President Obama’s Supreme Court pick.

A new website, ScotusBrief.org, which appears to be dedicated to pushing the messaging of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), was registered four days after the death of Antonin Scalia by Leif Noren, the founder and chairman of the Virginia-based CRC Public relations. CRC has represented JCN in the past and in 2009 was involved in the effort to stop the confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. It’s on the CRC-created website that JCN published its embarrassingly thin opposition research dump on Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia.

CRC is most infamous for its role representing Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that in the months before the 2004 election pushed dishonest claims that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry had overstated his accomplishments in the Vietnam War. The smear was so nasty that it inspired the creation of the word “swiftboating” to describe false personal smears against a candidate.

Since then, CRC has taken up far-right causes including attacks on health care reform, climate-change denialism, the creationist Discovery Institute and the National Organization for Marriage. CRC is also representing David Daleiden, the activist behind last year’s series of videos smearing Planned Parenthood.

The Judicial Crisis Network — which during the Bush administration was called the Judicial Confirmation Network and was dedicated to pushing through conservative judicial nominees — has been laughably attempting to frame its efforts to stop a Supreme Court confirmation as some sort of high-minded, nonpartisan public service rather than the transparently partisan crusade that it is.

The group’s partnership with CRC, with its long history of vicious partisan smears, exposes that partisan crusade yet again.

Ben Carson Undermines GOP Claims On Supreme Court Nomination

While Republicans have spent the past several weeks declaring that their vow to obstruct any person President Obama nominates to the Supreme Court is a matter of principle and tradition (never mind that it’s a principle and tradition that they made up on the spot), some have begun changing their tune now that Obama has nominated Merrick Garland to the seat, hinting that they would confirm him in a lame duck session if a Democrat is elected president in November.

Former GOP presidential candidate and Donald Trump endorser Ben Carson was the latest to jump on this bandwagon, telling David Webb on his Sirius show last night that Senate Republicans should simply delay proceedings on Garland’s nomination until after the election.

“I would take a very slow, deliberate process that extended beyond the election in November,” he said, “so that in the chance that Hillary won, they’d be ready to confirm him, because otherwise we’re going to get somebody who’s really left-wing who’s going to be much, much worse than anything that he would likely do. By the same token, by taking it very, very slowly, beyond the election, you know, if the Republican wins, then you can say, ‘Okay, we took it that far, now let’s see who the president really wants to appoint.’”

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Conservative Groups Double Down On SCOTUS Obstruction

After President Obama announced his nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court today, conservative groups quickly doubled down on their calls for Senate Republicans to block any person the president nominates to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Although a handful of senators are now hinting that they may be willing to at least meet with Garland — who has won praise from Republicans in the past — conservative groups have reiterated their demands that the GOP block his nomination.

Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice issued a statement repeating his call for “no confirmation proceedings until after the election.” Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver similarly repeated that there should be “no Senate hearing on any Obama nominee.” Concerned Women for America announced that “President Obama’s choice for the Supreme Court does not change the fact that the Senate needs to continue to do the proper thing by fulfilling its role of ‘advice and consent’” — by which CWA means blocking a nominee.

Alliance Defending Freedom’s Casey Mattox offered no criticism of Garland himself but claimed that the Obama administration is untrustworthy and so Garland’s nomination should be blocked: “The Obama administration has demonstrated it cannot be trusted to respect the rule of law, the Constitution, and the limits of its own authority. So it should be no surprise that the American people would be highly skeptical that any nominee this president puts forth would be acceptable.”

Heritage Action, which was calling for an end to most judicial and executive branch confirmations even before Scalia’s death, declared that “nothing has changed” with the nomination of Garland and that we areone liberal Justice away from seeing gun rights restricted and partial birth abortion being considered a constitutional right.”

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council similarly tried to paint Garland as a liberal, saying he is “far from being a consensus nominee,” although he offered no specifics about the “serious questions” he said there were about Garland’s “ability to serve as a constitutionalist.” Kayla Moore, who heads the Foundation for Moral Law, the group founded by her husband Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, also opted for vague and dire warnings, saying that Americans “may very well lose our rights” if Garland is confirmed.

Anti-abortion groups also doubled down on their opposition to any confirmation proceedings, while at the same time struggling to find specific reasons to oppose Garland.

Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life didn’t bother to criticize Garland at all, writing instead that this is “no time for a lame duck President to push through a judge for a lifetime appointment.” (Never mind that Obama, with nearly a year left in his second term in office, is not a lame duck president.)

The Susan B. Anthony List’s Marjorie Dannenfelser wrote:

This changes nothing. We do not know this nominee but we do know Barack Obama. Anyone he nominates will join the voting bloc on the Court that consistently upholds abortion on-demand. The President should not be permitted one last opportunity to stack the Court with pro-abortion Justices.

Meanwhile, Americans United for Life dug up this one unconvincing piece of opposition research:

Consider that Judge Garland spoke at a gathering celebrating Linda Greenhouse’s book on Justice Harry Blackmun, Becoming Justice Blackmun. He described the release of the papers of the late Justice Blackmun—the author of one of the Supreme Court’s worst decisions, Roe v. Wade—as a “great gift to the country.”

Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman said his group would oppose any nominee who does not publicly “renounce Roe v. Wade”:

"Millions of lives hang in the balance of each ruling on abortion put forth by the Supreme Court. I refuse to support any nominee - Republican or Democrat - that will not renounce Roe v. Wade and commit to restoring legal protections to the pre-born," said Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue.



"I strongly urge the members of the Judiciary Committee to hold fast to their promise, for the sake of the future of our country and the future of our posterity," said Newman. "The Senate Republican leadership cannot afford to break this important promise to their conservative, pro-life base, if they expect us to vote for any of them ever again."

Gun groups also came out swinging against Garland, with the National Rifle Association claiming that he “ does not respect our fundamental, individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense” and Gun Owners of America colorfully calling on the Senate to “bury this nomination and write ‘Dead On Arrival’ as its epitaph.” Both groups based their objections on Garland’s vote, as a D.C. Circuit judge, simply to rehear an important gun rights case.

The Judicial Crisis Network’s Carrie Severino — who previously called Garland a “best case scenario” Obama nominee to the Supreme Court — has been relying on thesame flimsy criticism to attack Garland.

We’ll update this post with more reactions as they come in.

This post has been updated.

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