judicial nominations

Diversifying the Federal Bench

GOP obstruction means having a federal judiciary that looks less like America.
PFAW

Whatever It Is, They're Against It: Health Care, the Courts and the Anti-Obama Agenda

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Later this month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in one of the most closely-watched cases in its history: the challenge to the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But in the weeks leading up to those arguments, another fight will be taking place in the U.S. Senate on an issue that in many ways parallels the health care debate, and offers an even clearer view of what have become the policy priorities of the Republican Party.

Since Obama became president, Republicans in Congress have made a clear and conscious choice to kill any attempts to cooperate with him to create solutions for the American people. They have chosen instead to devote themselves to be the party of opposing President Obama - on every issue, big and small. In doing so, they have thrown out not only the trust of the people who elected them, but many of their own formerly held principles.

Even ideas that originally came from Republicans, once adopted by the president become grounds for all-out partisan attacks. One such Republican idea was the individual mandate, which is now at the center of the legal and political challenges to the Affordable Care Act.

Ironically, the judicial branch - to which Republicans are turning with hopes that the policy they came up with is declared unconstitutional - is also at the heart of another stunning turnaround. Republicans used to talk about the importance of bipartisan cooperation in ensuring a fair and functioning judiciary. But that changed abruptly in January 2009, when the political party of the president changed.

When it comes to health care reform, Republicans have chosen to ignore their previous positions in an effort to stick it to the president.

When it comes to the functioning of the federal courts, they have so far chosen to do the same.

This week, Republicans in the Senate, after three years of obstructing nominees to the U.S. courts -- contributing to a historic vacancy crisis that affects over 160 million Americans -- will have to make the same choice. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced he will file petitions to end the filibusters of 17 nominees to district courts around the country, most long-stalled and unopposed. These, plus the two Obama nominees who have already been filibustered, represent nearly ten times the number of district court nominees who were filibustered under the last two presidents combined. The cumbersome process to end these filibusters will, if Republicans don't relent, tie up the Senate through early April.

During George W. Bush's presidency, Senate Republicans were near-universal in their condemnation of the filibusters of some of Bush's most extreme judicial nominees. Many went so far as to claim that filibustering judicial nominees was unconstitutional.

Once President Obama moved into the White House, it was remarkable how fast they changed their tune. They went overnight from decrying judicial filibusters, to using them wantonly -- not just to stall nominees to whom they found objections, but to stall all nominees , even those whom they favor. At this point in Bush's presidency, the average district court nominee waited 22 days between approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee and a vote from the full Senate. Under President Obama, the average wait has been more than four times longer - over three months.

This is gridlock for gridlock's sake: once Republicans allow them to come to a vote, the vast majority of the president's nominees have been confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support, demonstrating that the opposition to these nominees was never about their qualifications.

This is more than an inside the beltway partisan game -- it has helped to create a historic vacancy crisis in the federal courts. Approximately one in ten federal courtrooms today sits empty because of Senate inaction. These vacancies create unmanageable workloads for sitting judges, which in turn cause unacceptable delays for Americans seeking their day in court. The Republican Party has been so intent on obstructing President Obama's agenda that they've been willing to sacrifice the smooth functioning of America's courts

. The health care debate highlights the importance of appointing judges who place their duty to the Constitution over a partisan agenda. But it also crystallizes the agenda of opposition that has caused the Republican Party to go off the deep end. When a party's only principle is to be opposed to the other party's agenda, it's the American people who end up paying the price.

PFAW

Judicial Obstruction: GOP Talking Points vs. The Facts

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture petitions to end GOP filibusters of 17 district court nominees, an extraordinary move brought on by unprecedented Republican obstruction. The Senate GOP started immediately to try to spin the story to try to cover for the gridlock they had created. Here are the five main Republican talking points on the judicial obstruction showdown and the facts that rebut them:

GOP Talking Point #1: Senate Democrats have invented this conflict to make Republicans look bad. This is a little skirmish about timing that’s been blown out of proportion.

Sen. McConnell: “Rather than try to manufacture gridlock and create the illusion of conflict where none exists, why don’t we demonstrate we can kind of get something done together?”

Sen. Alexander: "This is a little disagreement that we have here between the Majority leader and the Republican leader on the scheduling of votes on district judges. It's not a high constitutional matter. It's not even a high principle. It's not even a big disagreement.”

The Facts:

  • Senate Democrats aren’t “manufacturing gridlock” – they’re bringing it into the daylight. Senate Republicans have created unprecedented gridlock over the last three years. Democrats are now calling them out on it.
  • President Obama’s judicial nominees have been met with such consistent obstruction that they now wait an average of four times longer than President Bush’s nominees just to reach a Senate vote. This unrelenting gridlock has helped create a historic vacancy crisis in the federal courts.
  • This is no minor matter: this is about whether 10% of our federal courtrooms remain empty. This is about Americans having access to fair and functioning courts.
  • If Senate Republicans wanted to move on from this issue, they could easily agree to schedule a vote today and confirm all 17 nominees. The Senate did just that in 2002, when it confirmed 17 of Bush’s district court nominees -- plus a Circuit Court nomination – all by  a voice vote in just a few minutes.
  • What’s really going on here is that Republicans don’t want these nominees to be put to a vote. No district court nominee has ever been successfully blocked by a filibuster – if they deny cloture on these nominees, the GOP will be setting a new and very dangerous standard.

GOP Talking Point #2: The GOP’s obstruction is a direct response to President Obama’s recess appointments.

Sen. Lee: "After the president made four unconstitutional appointments, we could no longer sustain the same level of cooperation.”

The Facts:

  • Senate Republicans have been obstructing President Obama’s judicial nominees from day one of his presidency. Even before the recess appointments, Obama nominees were stalled an average of four times as long as  Bush’s.
  • At the end of last year, even Sen. Lee was upset that Obama’s nominees weren’t getting votes. In December, he said he was “frustrated” that Utah District Court nominee David Nuffer had been stalled for two months on the Senate floor. “There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t have confirmed him before we got out.”
  • In August 2010, American Bar Association warned that the judicial vacancy crisis was leading to “justice denied.” In December 2010, Chief Justice John Roberts urged the Senate to solve “the persistent problem of judicial vacancies.” In April 2011, the Federal Bar Association warned that the vacancy crisis was harming business and costing taxpayers. For three years, Editorials Boards and commentators from across the nation have called for an end to obstruction. This is a persistent problem, not a new creation.

GOP Talking Point #3: Some of the filibustered nominees haven’t been on the calendar all that long, what’s the hurry?

Sen. Alexander: “We have 17 district court judgeships that have been recommended by the Judiciary committee. They could be brought up by the majority leader. He has the right to do that but of those 17, six of them - six of them - have been here for less than 30 days. They just got here.”

The Facts:

  • Moving district court nominees in under a month used to be the norm, not the exception. At this point in Bush’s presidency, the average district court nominee waited just 22 days after committee approval for a vote from the full Senate. Under President Obama, the average wait has been 93 days.
  • During Bush’s first term, 57 district court nominees were confirmed within a week of being approved by the Judiciary Committee. During Obama’s first term, only 5 have been.
  • On September 26, 2008, the Senate confirmed 10 district court judges by voice vote. All 10 had been reported just one day earlier.  In fact, 5 of these had just had their hearings three days earlier. Now, less than four years later and with a Democratic president in office, Republicans are saying this sort of quick processing of nominees is impossible.

GOP Talking Point #4: Senate Republicans are floating plans to vote “present” on the 17 cloture petitions, thus continuing to stall the nominees while not being tagged with a “no” vote.

Sen. Cornyn:Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told POLITICO he thinks Republicans will vote ‘no’ or ‘present’ on the cloture votes on judges and won't allow Democrats to ‘jam’ them.”

The Facts:

  • Voting “present” on cloture is exactly the same thing as voting “no.” Anyone who is at all familiar with Senate rules, where it takes 60 “yes” votes to end a filibuster understands this basic point.
  • If Republicans want to continue to obstruct these nominees, they should be willing to be clear about what they are doing, not opt for some ruse. The American people are smart enough to understand that a “present vote” indicates that Republicans are playing games rather than playing their Constitutionally mandated role to advise and consent.
  • No district court nominee has ever been blocked by a filibuster. Whether Republicans vote “no” or “present,” if they succeed in denying cloture to any of these 17 nominees, they will be creating a dangerous precedent.

GOP Talking Point #5: The Senate has more important issues to focus on.

Sen. McConnell: “It could be that is precisely what my friend the Majority leader has in mind, to try to make the Senate look like it's embroiled in controversy where no controversy exists. So my suggestion is, why don't we do first things first.”

The Facts:

  • Americans rely on having access to a fair and functioning judiciary to assert their rights in cases of civil rights violations, employment discrimination, dangerously defective consumer goods, predatory lending practices, immigrant rights, consumer fraud, environmental destruction, and other areas. Because of Republican obstruction, the courts we rely on are in jeopardy – and the American people are paying the price.
  • During the Obama presidency “judicial emergencies” declared by the U.S. Courts have soared from 20 to 35 and the vacancy rate has been kept at an all-time high. 160 million Americans live in districts or circuits with at least one judicial vacancy.
  • Senate Republicans could easily move on to other priorities – by simply agreeing to hold up-or-down votes on the 17 nominees who they are currently filibustering.

Press Contact: Miranda Blue, (202) 497-4999, media@pfaw.org

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Judicial Obstruction - Not Just a "Little Disagreement" Over Scheduling

Sen. Lamar Alexander has gravely mischaracterized his party's three-year massive resistance to processing judicial nominations.
PFAW

Exponential Escalation of Judicial Obstruction

For the last three years, Republicans have completely transformed what was once the low-key, bipartisan act of filling district court vacancies.
PFAW

GOP Seeks to Distract from their Judicial Obstruction

The GOP tries to link their 3 years of obstruction to a protest against President Obama's January recess appointments.
PFAW

Unbridled Republican Obstruction Forces Extraordinary Action on Judicial Nominees

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that he will file petitions to end Republican filibusters of 17 federal district court nominees. The extraordinary move highlights Senate Republicans’ unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominees. During the entire 16 years that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were in office, there were only two filibusters of district court nominations. If Senate Republicans don’t relent on these 17 nominees, the cloture process could tie up the Senate through early April, with each nominee taking 30 hours of floor time under Senate rules.

“It is absolutely stunning that Republicans are willing to tie up Senate business for more than 510 hours just to make things more difficult for President Obama,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “For the past three years, Senate Republicans have been slow-walking judicial nominees at every step of the process, ignoring the duties they were elected to office to perform and contributing to a historic vacancy crisis in our federal courts. Ultimately, it’s the American people, who rely on fair and functioning federal courts, who pay the price for these political games.”

At this point in George W. Bush’s presidency, the average district court nominee waited 22 days between approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee and a vote from the full Senate. Under President Obama, the average wait has been more than four times as long – over three months.

Currently, about one in ten seats on the federal courts is vacant, affecting access to justice for over 160 million Americans.

 

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The War on Women in the Courts

The War on Women doesn't stop with reproductive rights. In a new post at Ms. Blog, People For's Marge Baker explains how GOP obstruction of judicial nominees is keeping women -- as well as people of color and gays and lesbians -- from reaching positions of power in the federal courts:

President Obama has made no secret of his goal to make the American courts look like America. Along with the effort to bring more women to the bench, roughly 36 percent of his nominees have been people of color, and he has nominated more openly lesbian and gay individuals to the federal courts than all his predecessors combined.

But the president’s effort to bring a diversity of voices to the federal courts is now facing a major roadblock. Senate Republicans have been obstructing President Obama’s judicial nominees to an unprecedented extent–usually not because of objections to the nominees themselves, but just for the sake of creating gridlock. Indeed, most of President Obama’s nominees have been approved by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous or near-unanimous bipartisan support. Nevertheless, after committee approval, Republicans in the Senate have forced the president’s nominees to wait four times longer to get a yes-or-no vote than President Bush’s nominees at the same point in his term.

As a result, about one out of ten courtrooms in the country are vacant and Americans are facing inexcusable delays as they seek their day in court. One of President Obama’s least-noticed but most long-lasting achievements–putting a qualified, diverse group of judges on our federal courts–has been put at risk.

Read the full post at Ms. Blog.

PFAW Foundation

Ohio Coalition for Constitutional Values Calls for Prompt Senate Vote on Helmick Nomination

The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved Toledo, Ohio lawyer Jeffrey Helmick to sit on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Helmick will now join 21 other committee-approved judicial nominees who are waiting for a vote from the full Senate.

Eleven of these nominees have been waiting over three months for a simple vote. In fact, President Obama’s nominees to the federal judiciary have been forced to wait an average of 101 days after committee approval for a vote from the full Senate. At this point in George W. Bush’s presidency, the average was 24 days.

The seat Helmick has been nominated to fill has been vacant for nearly two years.

Shaun Tucker of the Ohio Coalition for Constitutional Values said, “The Senate should quickly schedule an up-or-down vote on Helmick’s nomination so that he can get to work for the people of Ohio.”

“Ohioans rely on our federal courts for fair and swift justice,” said the coalition’s chair Marie Smith. “The Senate should put the needs of Ohioans above partisan gridlock.”

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Another Empty Courtroom

Yet another district court vacancy has opened up in California. The Senate ought to vote today on a long-pending nominee to the same district.
PFAW

Empty Courtrooms, Empty Gestures

With 20 judicial nominees waiting for a vote, Republicans allowing votes on a mere two of them today is inexcusable.
PFAW

Court Official - "I Just Don't See an End to Our Backlog"

Tennessee's case backlog is so bad it is now "borrowing" federal judges from Michigan.
PFAW

Fighting For Fair and Just Courts

We may see increased pressure this month to end the obstruction that is keeping so many Americans from having their day in court.
PFAW

PFAW Calls on Federal Judge Who Sent Sexist and Racist Email to Resign

People For the American Way President Michael Keegan issued the following statement in response to reports that Judge Richard Cebull, Chief U.S. District Court judge for Montana used his official court email account to send a sexist and racist “joke” email about President Obama:

“Americans expect our courts to be fair, impartial, and open to all. The trust we have in our courts relies on knowing that our judges will approach all litigants – from billion-dollar corporations to individual citizens – with fair and open minds.

“Judge Cebull, by using his official email account to promote racism, misogyny and disrespect for the office of President of the United States, has shown that he does not have the temperament necessary to fulfill his duties as judge. He should resign immediately.”

 

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Senate GOP - "Ignore What We Said Before"

Senate Republicans used to demand quick confirmation votes for any judicial nominee clearing the Judiciary Committee. Not anymore.
PFAW

Sen. Coons to Senate GOP: Rethink Your Strategy of Obstruction

The Delaware Senator notes that it should not take so long to confirm consensus lower court nominees.
PFAW

Ben Cardin Urges a Vote on a Maryland Judicial Nominee

Among the 19 judicial nominees who Republicans are blocking from a floor vote is an experienced Maryland state judge with bipartisan support.
PFAW

The Judicial Vacancy Crisis in Illinois

Sen. Durbin discusses how the chief judge of the Northern District of Illinois has asked the Senate to fill two vacancies as quickly as possible.
PFAW
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