judicial nominees

PFAW Opposes Nomination of Michael Boggs to be Federal Judge

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Obstruction 2.0: How Republican Senators Continue to Block Judicial Nominations Post-“Filibuster Reform”

Tuesday afternoon, PFAW hosted a special member telebriefing on the continued GOP obstruction of judicial nominees. The briefing featured PFAW’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon. They discussed how Republicans’ obstruction has reached staggering levels, despite changes in Senate filibuster rules.

Marge gave a brief background on the issue of GOP obstruction of judicial nominations, explaining how important federal judgeships are for deciding many issues that affect everyday Americans and defining why Republicans are determined to continue obstruction confirmations of judicial nominees. Their underlying goal is to keep as many seats empty as possible so a President Cruz or Rubio can fill them with right-wing ideologues.

She addressed the current narrative that President Obama has had more confirmations at this time than Bush had, and explained that these numbers need to be put in the context of the fact that Obama has had around 70 more vacancies to fill than his predecessor. That means for Obama’s confirmation results to be seen as equivalent to those of President Bush, he would have had to have many more nominees confirmed at this point in his presidency.

Paul began a discussion of some of the choke methods Republicans are employing to block the confirmation of President Obama's nominees to the bench. Paul delineated how all too often, GOP senators do not cooperate with the White House to suggest candidates for nomination, delaying the process from the very beginning. Once nominees are made and are sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, we have seen GOP Senators delay the hearing by not submitting their blue slips, an unofficial tradition that gives home state Senators an opportunity to express their support for the nominee.

Marge explained ways in which Republicans are delaying the process once nominees are in committee, where the minority is allowed to request one-week delays. To express the magnitude of the obstruction, Marge explained how of the 270 nominees who have had a vote during President Obama's term, only 11 have had their votes held on time.

Once on the Senate floor, the situation doesn't get better as senators are able to filibuster nominees by refusing to give unanimous consent to the simple act of holding a yes-or-no confirmation vote. To offset these delays, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been forced to file for cloture. Since the rules change in November, there have been cloture votes on all the nominees, adding hours of senate time in post-cloture debates (30 hours per circuit court nominee).

Marge highlighted that if all 30 nominees on the floor were voted on today, which is possible, then the number of current vacancies would drop precipitously, down to the level at this point in George W. Bush’s presidency. It is essential that these be voted on now, and that confirmation votes for nominations coming out of committee be voted on expeditiously.

Fielding questions from PFAW members, Marge and Paul discussed particular cases of obstruction like that of William Thomas's nomination in Florida, where Senator Marco Rubio withheld his blue slip in support of the nominee-–one that he himself had recommended in the first place. Members also made the connection between the effect of big money in politics and the motivations for GOP senators to obstruct confirmations, and attempted to find ways in which everyday Americans can make their voices heard to their senators regarding the issues of obstruction in judicial nominations. Paul used the example of the DC Circuit Court fight, where with the activism from people across the country rallying together helped get all the court's vacancies filled.

Marge and Paul, along with PFAW members, emphasized how as activists, we can intervene in the fight to take back our democracy by letting Senators know that average Americans are paying attention, watching how they respond and vote on judicial nominations, and considering who may be pulling their strings. For instance, a caller in Florida wanting to influence Marco Rubio could call his office and ask him to prevent a delay in a committee vote for nominees to fill four emergency vacancies. And everyone, regardless of whether there are vacancies in their state, can call their senators and call for the quick confirmation of the large number of nominees awaiting a floor vote. She also highlighted what is at stake in this mid-term election since the officials we elect today will help confirm the judges that will decide important cases that affect average Americans. For this reason, it is important to have demographic and experiential diversity in the courts so judges making decisions understand the impact of the law on regular Americans.

Click here more information on our Fair and Just Courts campaign.

PFAW

Over 1,000 Law Professors Condemn Senate Vote on Debo Adegbile’s Nomination

Last month, the US Senate failed to invoke cloture on the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department after a right-wing smear campaign that attacked Adegbile for helping provide legal representation at the appellate level to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted murderer, while working at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Every Senate Republican and seven Democrats voted to filibuster Adegbile’s nomination, effectively blocking the nomination and throwing out the window the constitutional ideal that all criminal defendants should have access to quality legal representation.

People For the American Way’s vice president Marge Baker called the filibuster a “triumph of demagoguery.”

Last week, over one thousand law professors came together to publicly condemn the vote by writing a letter to the Senate where they explain the ramifications of the vote for law students, lawyers, and the legal profession as a whole. The letter – dated April 25, 2014 – states:

[W]e are deeply concerned that the vote and the rationale publicly articulated by a majority of Senators rejecting Mr. Adegbile sends a message that goes to several core values of the legal profession. These include the right to counsel, the importance of pro bono representation, and the importance of ensuring that constitutional protections are afforded to every criminal defendant regardless of the crimes for which they are accused.

As law teachers we are particularly concerned about the disquieting message conveyed to law students and graduates entering the profession who may fear that their engagement with pro bono representation of unpopular clients may imperil their future eligibility for federal government service.

…We believe that the criticism of Mr. Adegbile, based on his representation of a death row inmate, is unjust and inconsistent with the fundamental tenets of our profession. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the assistance of counsel to persons charged with crimes, and all accused defendants are entitled to zealous representation by competent counsel.

The highest calling of any lawyer is to ensure that the Constitution is applied fairly and in accordance with the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court to every defendant.

…The debate surrounding Mr. Adegbile’s confirmation also threatens to undermine the widely-recognized importance of lawyers providing pro bono representation to meet unmet legal needs. Providing representation to defendants on death row is among the most challenging, resource-intensive and critically important pro bono counsel a lawyer can provide. Lawyers engaged in this work should be commended rather than denounced for their hard-work and commitment to ensuring that the protections of the Constitution are extended even to those accused of heinous crimes.

…Finally, as every lawyer knows – including the 57 in the U.S. Senate – we are not our clients. The constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel would be turned on its head if the contrary view were advanced. Indeed, had past candidates for public office been held to the Senate’s unjust standard, our nation would have been deprived of the likes of President John Adams (who defended British soldiers charged with killing Americans in the Boston Massacre), Justice Thurgood Marshall (who defended countless black men on death row in the Jim Crow South), and Chief Justice John Roberts (who represented convicted serial killer John Errol Ferguson).

Simply put, the rule of law cannot succeed if attorneys are judged guilty by association with their clients. In rejecting a qualified nominee for public service based on conduct which reflects the best of our profession, the Senate has done a grave disservice to the legal profession and those who seek to enter it.

PFAW

Senate Confirms Friedland Nomination After Months of Delays

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

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

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

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

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

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In the Senate, Michelle Friedland's Nomination to 9th Circuit Advances Despite Continued GOP Obstruction

Today, the Senate voted to advance the nomination of Michelle Friedland to the 9th Circuit.

Friedland was one of many superb, highly qualified judges caught up in Republicans' blanket obstruction of judicial nominees, and President Obama was forced to re-nominate her for the court this year. After today’s vote, she still faces 30 hours of potential "post-cloture debate," unless Republicans allow the Senate to move forward on the nomination more expeditiously.

Even though the Senate changed its filibuster rule for judicial and executive branch nominations, lowering the threshold from 60 votes to a simple majority in order to invoke cloture and advance nominees toward confirmation votes, Republicans continue to force cloture votes as a procedural hurdle. The delay created by these votes and the subsequent 30-hour wait before a confirmation can occur amounts to a stubborn form of obstruction in itself.

And this is just one way that Senate Republicans are continuing to hold up the judicial nomination process. Judicial nominees from states with Republican senators also face unreasonable, meritless obstruction due the GOP's abuse of the Senate's "blue slip" policy, by which a senator can unilaterally put a permanent hold on a nominee from his or her state before they even get a hearing.

There are currently 31 judicial nominees on the Senate's calendar, many for long-unfilled vacancies and nearly half for ones that have been declared "judicial emergencies." As vacancies languish, courts can't do their job and in turn, Americans are denied access to justice. If Republican senators ended their obstruction and allowed the 31 pending nominees to go through, that alone would fill a third of the nation's current vacancies.

But based on how Republicans on Capitol Hill are behaving, we shouldn't hold our breath.

Today alone, in addition to wasting the Senate's time and taxpayers' money by forcing the Leadership to hold a cloture vote on Michelle Friedland, instead of just bringing her confirmation straight to an up-or-down vote:

  • Republican senators successfully filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act, for the third time, despite persistent inequity in pay for women and men doing the same work.
  • And on the House side, Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee blocked Democrats' attempt to bring the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) up for consideration.

We’re going to keep fighting to get as many more nominees confirmed as we can this year, before time runs out. But the message we send to Republicans in November is tremendously important as well.

Winning or losing at the ballot box could be the difference between a continued vacancy crisis on federal courts dominated by pro-corporate, conservative ideologue judges or the restoration of balance and justice to our courts with the confirmation of highly qualified judges who understand the promises of the Constitution and how the law impacts the lives of real people.

PFAW

PFAW Praises Senate's Confirmation of 'Remarkable Nominee' Nina Pillard to DC Circuit

Bringing with her an outstanding record of public service, Pillard is one of three nominees to the court whom Republicans had been blocking from yes-or-no votes, leading the Senate to change the rules of the filibuster.

PFAW Statement on Republican Filibuster of Robert Wilkins

WASHINGTON – The Senate today failed to overcome a Republican filibuster of the nomination of Judge Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Only two Republican senators – Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – voted for cloture on Wilkins’ nomination.

Republicans are also filibustering President Obama’s two other nominees to the court, Nina Pillard and Patricia Millett.

The Senate unanimously confirmed Wilkins to his current post on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2010.

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, said:

“Just three years ago, Senate Republicans found Robert Wilkins perfectly qualified to be a federal judge. Now, they’re filibustering his nomination to the D.C. Circuit simply because they don’t want President Obama to be able to fill that court’s vacancies.

“This is the latest example of Republicans in Congress attempting to circumvent laws they don’t like simply by obstructing the workings of government. They shut down the government in an attempt to nullify the health care law. They routinely filibuster nominees to executive agencies and departments that they don’t want to function. And now they’re going after judicial nominees simply because they don’t like the result of last year’s presidential election.

“This is unacceptable. These nominees are not going away. I hope that when they have a chance to vote again on these three nominations, reasonable Republican senators will follow the lead of Sens. Collins and Murkowski and allow yes-or-no votes.”

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DC Circuit Court of Appeals Nominee Nina Pillard: 10 Things You Should Know

As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to vote on her nomination, here are 10 things you might not know about Professor Pillard.
PFAW

Flashback: When Republicans Thought It Was Okay For Judicial Nominees to Have Opinions

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee spent yesterday’s confirmation hearing on D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Nina Pillard harping on two points: first, that they think the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need its three vacancies filled, and second, that they think Pillard’s arguments as an academic mean she would disregard the law as a judge.

As it happens, when George W. Bush was the one nominating federal judges, the very same senators held the exact opposite view on both of these issues.

As People For the American Way has extensively shown, the argument that the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need judges holds no water – in fact, Bush nominees Thomas Griffith and John Roberts (now Chief Justice) were confirmed to the D.C. Circuit when each active judge’s caseload was significantly lower than it is today. 

And Republican attacks on Pillard’s academic writings also directly contradict their previous statements on Bush nominees with academic records. As Pillard noted in her hearing, "Academics are paid to test the boundaries and look at the implications of things. As a judge, I would apply established law of the U.S. Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit."

Just a few years ago, Republican senators agreed. On the nomination of Tenth Circuit judge Michael McConnell, who took a number of far-right stands as an academic, including disagreeing with a Supreme Court decision declaring that a university ban on interracial dating constituted racial discrimination, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said, “The diversity of backgrounds and points of view are often the stitches holding together the fabric of our freedoms.”

“Surely, we can’t vote for or against a nominee on whether they agree with us on any number of a host of moral and religious issues, ” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said of Eleventh Circuit nominee William Pryor, a far-right culture warrior who was outspoken in opposition to gay rights, women’s rights and the separation of church and state.

Then-Sen. Jim Demint defended D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown, one of the most outspoken conservative ideologues on the federal bench today, by saying, “A person with strong beliefs and personal convictions should not be barred from being a judge. In fact, I would rather have an honest liberal serve as a judge than one who has been neutered by fear of public opinion.”

And before the Senate confirmed Arkansas District Court Judge J. Leon Holmes, who used Todd Akin’s line about pregnancy from rape before Todd Akin did, Hatch told concerned colleagues,  “This man is a very religious man who has made it more than clear that he will abide by the law even when he differs with it.”

These Bush nominees held positions that were clearly far out of the mainstream, yet Senate Republicans demanded and got yes-or-no confirmation votes on them, helping Bush to shift the federal judiciary far to the right.

What some Judiciary Committee Republicans objected to at yesterday’s hearings is what they apparently see as Pillard’s excessive support for women’s equality, both as an attorney and an academic. Pillard won the Supreme Court case opening the Virginia Military Institute to women and worked with Bush administration officials to successfully defend the Family and Medical Leave Act.  She has strongly defended reproductive rights and criticized abstinence-only education that sends different messages to boys and girls. It’s this record that  her Republican opponents have distorted beyond recognition.

By any measure, Pillard is well within the mainstream, and has made it very clear that she understands that the role of a judge is to apply existing law regardless of one’s personal views. But while Senate Republicans made plenty of excuses for Bush nominees who were far outside the mainstream, they are accusing Pillard of being just too much of a women's rights supporter to fairly apply the law.

PFAW

Flashback: When Republicans Thought It Was Okay For Judicial Nominees to Have Opinions

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee spent yesterday’s confirmation hearing on D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Nina Pillard harping on two points: first, that they think the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need its three vacancies filled, and second, that they think Pillard’s arguments as an academic mean she would disregard the law as a judge.

As it happens, when George W. Bush was the one nominating federal judges, the very same senators held the exact opposite view on both of these issues.

As People For the American Way has extensively shown, the argument that the D.C. Circuit doesn’t need judges holds no water – in fact, Bush nominees Thomas Griffith and John Roberts (now Chief Justice) were confirmed to the D.C. Circuit when each active judge’s caseload was significantly lower than it is today. 

And Republican attacks on Pillard’s academic writings also directly contradict their previous statements on Bush nominees with academic records. As Pillard noted in her hearing, "Academics are paid to test the boundaries and look at the implications of things. As a judge, I would apply established law of the U.S. Supreme Court and the D.C. Circuit."

Just a few years ago, Republican senators agreed. On the nomination of Tenth Circuit judge Michael McConnell, who took a number of far-right stands as an academic, including disagreeing with a Supreme Court decision declaring that a university ban on interracial dating constituted racial discrimination, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said, “The diversity of backgrounds and points of view are often the stitches holding together the fabric of our freedoms.”

“Surely, we can’t vote for or against a nominee on whether they agree with us on any number of a host of moral and religious issues, ” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions said of Eleventh Circuit nominee William Pryor, a far-right culture warrior who was outspoken in opposition to gay rights, women’s rights and the separation of church and state.

Then-Sen. Jim Demint defended D.C. Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown, one of the most outspoken conservative ideologues on the federal bench today, by saying, “A person with strong beliefs and personal convictions should not be barred from being a judge. In fact, I would rather have an honest liberal serve as a judge than one who has been neutered by fear of public opinion.”

And before the Senate confirmed Arkansas District Court Judge J. Leon Holmes, who used Todd Akin’s line about pregnancy from rape before Todd Akin did, Hatch told concerned colleagues,  “This man is a very religious man who has made it more than clear that he will abide by the law even when he differs with it.”

These Bush nominees held positions that were clearly far out of the mainstream, yet Senate Republicans demanded and got yes-or-no confirmation votes on them, helping Bush to shift the federal judiciary far to the right.

What some Judiciary Committee Republicans objected to at yesterday’s hearings is what they apparently see as Pillard’s excessive support for women’s equality, both as an attorney and an academic. Pillard won the Supreme Court case opening the Virginia Military Institute to women and worked with Bush administration officials to successfully defend the Family and Medical Leave Act.  She has strongly defended reproductive rights and criticized abstinence-only education that sends different messages to boys and girls. It’s this record that  her Republican opponents have distorted beyond recognition.

By any measure, Pillard is well within the mainstream, and has made it very clear that she understands that the role of a judge is to apply existing law regardless of one’s personal views. But while Senate Republicans made plenty of excuses for Bush nominees who were far outside the mainstream, they are accusing Pillard of being just too much of a women's rights supporter to fairly apply the law.

Sen. Hatch Misleads 'This Week' About His Role in Judicial Filibusters

On ABC News’ “This Week” yesterday, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah claimed that he takes the “principled position” of voting against filibusters of judicial nominees:

And matter of fact, I continue to vote against filibusters with regard to judicial nominations because I think it's a principled position. I actually think the president, whoever the president may be ought to have the full choice of who they put on the bench.

And unless there's just some overwhelming reason why somebody should never be on the bench.

But on many pivotal votes to break GOP filibusters of President Obama’s federal judicial nominees, Sen. Hatch hasn’t voted “against” the filibuster. Instead, he’s made a habit of voting “present” or not voting at all. Because a motion to break a filibuster requires 60 affirmative “yes” votes to succeed, not voting or voting “present” in effect supports the continuation of the filibuster.

Hatch voted “present” on efforts to break Republican filibusters of Obama judicial nominees Caitlin Halligan, Goodwin Liu, Jack McConnell and Robert Bacharach. He did not vote at all in cloture votes on nominee Andrew Hurwitz and in the second cloture vote on Halligan.

These votes allow Hatch to say he didn’t support a filibuster, while in fact voting to do just that. And he certainly didn’t take a “principled position” to vote “against” his Republican colleagues’ obstruction.

PFAW

Unprecedented GOP Obstruction Leading to Senate Showdown

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today moved to end Republican filibusters of seven of President Obama’s nominees to fill executive branch positions, including nominees for some of the agencies most despised by the GOP:  Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Tom Perez for Secretary of Labor, Gina McCarthy to head the EPA and three nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.

The move presents an ultimatum for Senate Republicans: end their senseless obstruction or force Reid to change Senate rules to eliminate nominations filibusters.

In a memo this week, we laid out the statistics behind the GOP’s unprecedented obstruction of President Obama’s executive branch nominees. We found that if Republicans keep on obstructing Obama’s nominees at the current rate, they will have filibustered more executive branch nominees under Obama than under all previous presidents combined.

The Senate has had filibuster showdowns before – most notably in 2005, when a bipartisan group of senators agreed to let several extreme George W. Bush judicial nominees go through, including a number of the judges who now make up the influential D.C. Circuit's extraordinarily right-wing majority.

It was a compromise that left progressives cringing, but let Senate business move forward. But now Senate Republicans are acting like they’ve never heard the word “compromise.” According to Politico, Reid had some strong words on the situation:

In a closed-door caucus meeting Thursday, Reid began by apologizing to his colleagues for cutting bipartisan deals to avert the nuclear option, including at the beginning of this year. And the Nevada Democrat complained that he allowed votes on scores of conservative nominees under former President George W. Bush after a bipartisan coalition headed off the nuclear option in 2005. But Reid said it had been the right thing to do because Bush had won a second term in the White House.

Now, Reid argued, times have changed.

“I ate sh— on some of those nominees,” Reid told his colleagues, according to sources who were present.
 

PFAW

Judicial Nominees Move Forward as GOP Obstruction Talking Points Fall Apart

The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved the nomination of Sri Srinivasan to sit on the powerful Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. There are currently four vacancies on the D.C. Circuit – and Senate Republicans have prevented President Obama from filling a single one.

The Senate GOP has been unusually cooperative with Srinivasan’s nomination, but have signaled that they will not be so friendly to future nominees to the court. Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley is actually trying to permanently lower the number of judgeships on the court to prevent President Obama from reversing its far-right, anti-consumer, anti-worker tilt.

The Senate yesterday also confirmed William Orrick to serve on the District Court for the Northern District of California, a seat that had been officially designated a “judicial emergency” because of its overworked courts. The confirmation vote came a full eight months after Orrick was first approved with bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a Senate floor speech Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts discussed the Senate GOP’s extraordinary obstruction of federal judicial nominees, noting the high level of officially-designated “judicial emergencies,” which has risen by 30  percent since the beginning of the year.

The Founders of our Republic gave to the President the task of nominating individuals to serve and gave us the responsibility to advise on and consent to these appointments. For more than 200 years this process has worked. 

Presidents over the years have nominated thousands of qualified men and women who were willing to serve in key executive branch positions.

The Senate has considered nominations in a timely fashion and taken up-or-down votes. Of course, there have been bumps along the way, but we have never seen anything like this. Time and again, Members of this body have resorted to procedural technicalities and flatout obstructionism to block qualified nominees.

At the moment, there are 85 judicial vacancies in the U.S. courts, some of which are classified as ``judicial emergencies.'' That is more than double the number of judicial vacancies at the comparable point during President George W. Bush's second term. Yet right now there are 10 nominees awaiting a vote in the Senate, and they have not gotten one.

Senate Republicans like to blame the judicial vacancy crisis on President Obama, whom they say has not been quick enough to nominate judges. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas ran into the fallacy of this talking point last week, when he was called out for blaming the president for Texas vacancies that Cornyn himself was responsible for. 

The president continued his steady pace of federal judicial nominations last night,  nominating four women to federal judgeships in Utah, Tennessee, New York and Mississippi. 

UPDATE: The White House points out in a blog post today that President Obama has now nominated more district court judges than had President Bush at this point in his presidency.

PFAW

PFAW Statement on Bipartisan Committee Approval of Sri Srinivasan

WASHINGTON – Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s unanimous approval today of Sri Srinivasan to sit on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit:

“The Senate Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan approval of Sri Srinivasan is an important step toward ending the extraordinary vacancy crisis on the nation’s second most influential court.

“The seat on the D.C. Circuit that Srinivasan would fill has been open for nearly five years and is one of an astonishing four vacancies on the 11-member court. Senate Republicans have prevented President Obama from filling even one of those vacancies in an effort to preserve the court’s anti-worker and anti-consumer tilt. Republicans twice filibustered the nomination of the eminently qualified Caitlin Halligan and even delayed a committee hearing on Srinivasan for nearly ten months.

“Senate Republicans cannot hide behind their friendly treatment of Srinivasan as they obstruct future nominees to the D.C. Circuit.  Republicans are pressing the claim that there’s no need to fill any more vacancies on this critically important court. This argument is false, hypocritical, and clearly politically motivated. We fully expect Srinivasan to be promptly confirmed by the full Senate and will continue to push for the nomination and swift confirmation of strong jurists to the remaining seats on the D.C. Circuit.”

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Senate Republicans Treating President Obama’s Judicial Nominees Exceptionally Poorly, CRS Study Finds

A new study from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service [pdf] quantifies the extent to which Senate Republicans have been stalling President Obama’s judicial nominees. Through this persistent obstruction, Senate Republicans have kept the chamber mired in gridlock, thrown the federal courts into an historic vacancy crisis, and prevented President Obama from restoring ideological balance to a system still dominated by George W. Bush nominees.

The study finds that President Obama’s judicial nominees – including those with no partisan opposition – face extraordinary wait times for simple yes-or-no votes from the Senate.

CRS notes that “President Obama is the only one of the five most recent Presidents for whom, during his first term, both the average and median waiting time from nomination to confirmation for circuit and district court nominees was greater than half a calendar year.” In particular, the study notes, the wait times for district court nominees – whose decisions do not bind other courts and who have historically been approved quickly and without controversy – have shot up in the past four years:

Where President Obama’s judicial nominees face the greatest delays is between approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee and a vote from the full Senate. Because the Senate must have unanimous consent or invoke cloture to hold an up-or-down vote, senators in the minority can quietly filibuster judicial nominees for months without giving a reason for delaying the votes. For instance, Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, who was nominated to a seat on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, was forced to wait nine months for a vote from the full Senate, despite the fact that he was supported by both of his home state’s conservative Republican senators. In the end, he was confirmed unanimously.

Perhaps the starkest example of Republican obstruction under  President Obama is the gridlock that completely unopposed judicial nominees have faced. CRS finds that President Obama’s unopposed district court nominees have waited nearly three times as long for a Senate vote as did President Bush’s and nearly six times as long as President Clinton’s. His unopposed circuit court nominees have waited over four times as long as President Bush’s and seven times as long as President Bush’s.

It’s important to note also that many more of President Obama’s nominees would count as unopposed – making these numbers even more dramatic -- if Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah hadn’t spent a year opposing every one of President Obama’s judicial nominees in protest of a completely unrelated issue.

 

PFAW

The Filibuster ‘False Equivalence’

Journalist Andrew Cohen, writing for the Brennan Center for Justice, explains how attempts to portray today’s Republican filibusters as routine “tit-for-tat” maneuvers are misleading:

By trying not to be partisan, at least in this area of political coverage, we journalists are in many ways becoming more partisan than we fear. James Fallows, the author and longtime correspondent at The Atlantic, has been preaching for years now about “false equivalence” in reporting about the Senate’s current gridlock. He has called out reporters and editors, producers and television hosts, headline writers and analysts, for their continuing failure to call it like it really is when it comes to these Senate votes. For example, on Wednesday, in the wake of the background check vote, which “passed” the Senate by a vote of 54-46 but effectively “failed” because of the threat of a filibuster, Fallows again explained the concept. He wrote:

Since the Democrats regained majority control of the Senate six years ago, the Republicans under Mitch McConnell have applied filibuster threats (under a variety of names) at a frequency not seen before in American history. Filibusters used to be exceptional. Now they are used as blocking tactics for nearly any significant legislation or nomination. The goal of this strategy, which maximizes minority blocking power in a way not foreseen in the Constitution, has been to make the 60-vote requirement seem routine. As part of the "making it routine" strategy, the minority keeps repeating that it takes 60 votes to "pass" a bill — and this Orwellian language-redefinition comes one step closer to fulfillment each time the press presents 60 votes as the norm for passing a law.

News consumers, in other words, are led to believe that what is happening is just “politics as usual,” tit-for-tat, part of the murky vote-counting calculus that has always been a part of the Senate’s rules. But there is now ample evidence to suggest that this tactic has fundamentally changed the way Congress works. In 2009 alone, the Brennan Center’s Diana Kasdan told me last week, “there was double the number of filibusters that occurred in the entire 20-year period from 1950-1969, when they were used repeatedly and notoriously to block civil rights legislation.”  In other words, today’s abuse of the filibuster is extraordinary. Yet Fallows gives many examples — actual headlines, probably hundreds of them over the years — in which journalists have refused or failed to properly communicate this to their audience. Without adequate context and perspective about what is happening in the Senate, the American people are hampered in how quickly they can force their elected officials to change (or, more accurately, to change their elected officials).

In fact, as we have reported here, today’s GOP has taken Senate obstruction to an extraordinary new level.

PFAW

Fact Sheet: GOP Obstruction and the D.C. Circuit

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the nomination of Sri Srinivasan to sit on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Srinivasan, who was first nominated ten months ago yet is just now receiving a hearing, is the latest Obama judicial nominee caught in the web of Senate obstruction.  Last month, Republicans blocked the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to a seat on the same court,  despite her impeccable qualifications and strong bipartisan backing. Some important facts to keep in mind during and after today’s hearing:

  • President Obama is the first president since Woodrow Wilson to serve a full first term without putting a single judge on the D.C. Circuit. There are currently four vacancies on the 11-member D.C. Circuit, and three of the remaining judges are eligible for retirement or senior status, meaning we could soon see as many as seven vacancies on this 11-member court. Senate Republicans have prevented President Obama from filling a single one, although he first nominated Srinivasan ten months ago and Halligan in 2010.

  • The D.C. Circuit, which has the final word on reams of executive actions, congressional enactments, and federal regulations each year, is currently dominated by far-right George W. Bush nominees. President Bush succeeded in shifting the courts – and especially the D.C. Circuit -- far to the right during his presidency. His D.C. Circuit nominees have systematically rolled back protections for workers and consumers. A mainstream Obama nominee would provide some much-needed balance to this influential court.
  • Our federal courts are suffering because of entrenched Republican obstruction. Because of both public and silent Republican filibusters, President Obama’s appeals court nominees have been forced to wait an average of 153 days between Judiciary Committee approval and a yes-or-no vote from the Senate. At this point in Bush’s presidency, the average wait for confirmed appeals court nominees was just 37 days. The foot-dragging is unrelated to who the nominee is – even consensus nominees with the strong support of their Republican home-state senators have been forced to wait for months through active or silent filibusters before the Senate is finally allowed to hold a confirmation vote. This pointless obstruction, which is echoed at the district court level, has led to persistently high vacancy rates and longer waits for Americans seeking their day in court.


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Senate Confirms New Jersey’s Patty Shwartz After Year-Long Delay

WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Judge Patty Shwartz of New Jersey to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in a 64 to 34 vote today, over one year after her nomination was sent to the Senate floor for a vote. Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, released the following statement:

“The absurd delay of Patty Shwartz’s confirmation is emblematic of a Republican Party determined to obstruct the American people’s business at all costs. Judge Shwartz is indisputably qualified and supported by New Jersey’s legal leaders and elected officials from both parties, including Gov. Christie and both of the state’s U.S. senators. The only thing stopping the Senate from voting on her nomination was a 13-month Republican silent filibuster supported by flimsy excuses.

“The delay in confirming Judge Shwartz is sadly not unusual. President Obama’s confirmed circuit court nominees have been forced to wait an average of 153 days from Judiciary Committee approval to floor vote. By contrast, George W. Bush’s circuit court nominees at this point in his presidency waited an average of just 37 days. This deliberate slow-walking of nominees is obstructing Senate business, exacerbating a vacancy crisis in our federal courts, and deterring highly qualified individuals from putting themselves forward to serve on the federal bench. 

“This summer, two more Third Circuit judgeships will become vacant. We hope that Senate Republicans will allow these vacancies to be filled in a timely manner.”

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The NRA vs. Judicial Nominees

Back in December, The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse wrote a great article explaining how the National Rifle Association has worked in concert with Republican senators to oppose many of President Obama’s federal judicial nominees – usually without anything close to a legitimate reason. The NRA’s “symbiotic relationship with the Republican Party,” Greenhouse wrote, led the group to oppose judicial nominees like Sonia Sotomayor, who had next to no record on the Second Amendment, and the party to chip in when the NRA didn’t like a nominee.

It is that symbiotic relationship that succeeded in sinking the nominations of two highly qualified women to federal courts this week. Both were unquestionably qualified and well-respected in legal circles. The NRA and the Senate GOP went after both for completely unfounded reasons.

Caitlin Halligan was President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the hugely influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Never mind that she had broad bipartisan support and sterling credentials. She had once represented a client, the state of New York, in a lawsuit against gun manufacturers. Back when John Roberts was being considered for the Supreme Court, Senate Republicans said that judicial nominees shouldn’t be held responsible for positions they took as lawyers on behalf of clients. But no matter. Senate Republicans twice voted to filibuster her nomination – most recently on Wednesday – never even allowing her an up-or-down vote.

Then today, Nevada District Court nominee Elissa Cadish withdrew her nomination over one year after she had been selected by President Obama. Her story was similar. Filling out a questionnaire in 2008, Cadish stated that under then-current law, the constitutional right to bear arms didn’t apply to individual citizens. She was correct. Two months later in a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court established for the first time that the Second Amendment does contain that right. Cadish made clear that she understood, and would follow, the new Supreme Court precedent.

But no matter. The NRA targeted Cadish and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller used a little-known Senate practice to keep her from ever even getting the chance to explain her views in front of the Judiciary Committee. Under committee procedures used by Chairman Patrick Leahy as a courtesy to his colleagues, a nominee is not granted a hearing unless both of her home-state senators give permission in the form of a “blue slip.” Heller simply refused to sign the blue slip for Cadish, thus single-handedly sinking her nomination.

The flimsiness of the arguments against Cadish and Halligan, and the fact that much of the opposition took place behind the scenes (in the case of Cadish without even a public hearing), betrays the real reason the NRA and the GOP were working to keep these women off the federal bench. They just don’t want President Obama to be nominating federal judges.

 

PFAW

PFAW: GOP and NRA Leadership Keep Two Qualified Women off the Bench

WASHINGTON – Today, Nevada judge Elissa Cadish withdrew her nomination to sit on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, more than one year after President Obama first nominated her to the position. Despite her sterling qualifications, Cadish was never even granted a hearing before the Judiciary Committee because Nevada Sen. Dean Heller refused to give permission for her nomination to move forward.

Earlier this week, the nomination of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Caitlin Halligan was blocked by Senate Republicans under similar circumstances. Halligan and Cadish both faced unfounded attacks from the gun lobby’s leadership, Halligan for a position she took on behalf of a client and Cadish for correctly describing the state of Second Amendment law before the Supreme Court’s District of Columbia v. Heller decision. Both have clearly stated that they understand and would follow Supreme Court precedent on gun rights.

“Senate Republicans and the gun lobby have worked hand in hand to keep these two exceptionally qualified women off the federal bench,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Neither Cadish nor Halligan has displayed character or ethics problems let alone any sort of extreme ideology like that they were accused of. Yet Halligan was never allowed an up-or-down vote from the Senate, and Cadish never even had the opportunity to answer senators’ questions on her record before the Judiciary Committee.”

“The sinking of these two nominees shows just how far the Senate GOP and the gun lobby are willing to go, and how badly they are willing to stretch the facts, in order to keep President Obama’s nominees off the federal bench,” Baker added.

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