judicial nominees

Memo: The Filibuster of Caitlin Halligan and the Future of the Courts

Senate Republicans defeated a second attempt to end the filibuster of Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the 11-seat DC Circuit Court of Appeals. The filibuster of Halligan is important for a number of reasons.

End the Filibuster of Caitlin Halligan

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was forced to file cloture again yesterday to end the Republican filibuster of Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the 11-member D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. A cloture vote is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

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

“The filibuster of Caitlin Halligan shows just how broken the Senate has become. In 2005, a bipartisan group of senators agreed to filibuster judicial nominees only under ‘extraordinary circumstances.’ Since then, the Senate GOP has radically redefined the meaning of ‘extraordinary,’ stalling and blocking nominees on the flimsiest of threads.

“We hope senators will listen to their consciences on this vote. Opponents are cherry-picking and twisting Halligan’s  record in their attempt to block an exceptionally qualified, mainstream nominee. If they succeed, they will be ensuring a continued vacancy crisis in the second most important court in the country, which thanks to Republican obstruction is now operating with more than one-third of its active judgeships vacant. I hope that fair-minded Senate Republicans will stand up to their party’s leadership and allow this enormously well qualified woman to have the up-or-down vote she deserves.”

Yesterday, People For the American Way sent a letter to members of the U.S. Senate urging them to end the filibuster of Halligan. The full text of the letter can be found here.

###
 

PFAW Urges Senate to Confirm Halligan

People For the American Way today sent letters to members of the U.S. Senate urging them to vote to confirm Caitlin Halligan to sit on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The full text of the letter:

March 4, 2013
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of members of People For the American Way, we write to express our strong support for the confirmation of Caitlin Halligan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the  District of Columbia Circuit. With a fourth seat on this 11-member court becoming vacant, the urgency  of confirming Halligan becomes even more pressing.

Caitlin Halligan is supremely qualified with a broad level of support in the legal, women’s and law  enforcement  communities. Currently the General Counsel for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office,  she also spent six years serving as New York State's Solicitor General. She is a nationally respected  litigator who has earned the ABA's highest possible evaluation of her qualifications.

Her career shows that she recognizes that protecting individuals, their families, and their entire  communities requires not only tough prosecution, but tough prosecution done fairly. So while she shares  management responsibility for the Manhattan DA's Special Victims Bureau (which prosecutes those  involved in child abuse, rape, domestic violence, and elder abuse), she also has been instrumental in the  DA's Conviction Integrity Program, which seeks to prevent and correct wrongful convictions.

Her nomination has the support of numerous law enforcement individuals and organizations, including Robert Morgenthau (former DA of Manhattan), Raymond Flynn (New York City's Police Commissioner), the National District Attorneys Association, the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, and New York Women in Law Enforcement.

The best judges understand keenly how the law affects ordinary people. Halligan has worked to help  economically disadvantaged families throughout her career. Even before law school, she worked at Georgians for Children, a statewide public policy organization that focuses on issues related to impoverished children and families. Over the years, she has engaged in pro bono work and community service projects that focus on families with the greatest needs. For example, she represented victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita who were at risk of losing their housing assistance.

In its 120-year history, the DC Circuit has had a grand total of five women judges. Halligan clerked for  the first of those, trailblazer Patricia Wald, and she would be the sixth if confirmed. The National Conference of Women's Bar Associations, the Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia, the National Center for Women and Policing, and the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce are just some of the women's organizations that are supporting her nomination.

Halligan has received the highest possible rating of her qualifications from a unanimous panel of the ABA’s nonpartisan Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. She has also received the strong support of a bipartisan group of renowned appellate advocates, including Miguel Estrada (Assistant to the Solicitor General under President George W. Bush and former nominee to this same court), Seth Waxman (Solicitor General under President Clinton), Carter Phillips (Assistant to the Solicitor General under President Reagan), and Walter Dellinger (Solicitor General under President Clinton).

A nominee with such sterling credentials and strong support from a broad range of the legal community is exactly the kind of mainstream, talented, and fair jurist we need on the federal bench.

The seat to which Halligan has been nominated has been vacant since 2005. In fact, the 11-member DC Circuit has lost three additional active judges since 2008. None of those judges has been replaced. Not surprisingly, this has had a serious impact on the caseload for the judges who are left. The Senate’s confirmation of George W. Bush nominee Thomas Griffith to the eleventh seat in 2005 resulted in there being approximately 121 pending cases per active judge. When the Senate debated Halligan’s nomination in 2011, that number had climbed to about 146 pending cases per active judge. Last month, with Judge Sentelle taking senior status, that number has now increased to about 188 cases per active judge, according to the most recent data on pending cases made available by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.

Caitlin Halligan has excelled throughout her career. With yet another vacancy opening up on the DC Circuit just last month, the need for someone of her caliber on the bench is greater than ever before. Her nomination deserves a vote on the Senate floor, and she should be confirmed to the DC Circuit.

Sincerely,

Marge Baker
Executive Vice President for Policy and Program
People For the American Way

Paul Gordon
Senior Legislative Counsel
People For the American Way
 

PFAW

Five Reasons the Senate Should Confirm Caitlin Halligan

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will ask the Senate to vote this week on the nomination of Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
PFAW

Why It's Important to Have Diversity on the Federal Courts

The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about President Obama's successful push to bring greater diversity to the federal courts. The story quoted a conservative activist who accused the White House of "lowering their standards" in order to find diverse nominees and a Republican aide who claimed that the White House's focus on diversity would "override the substantive qualifications of the nominees."

Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way, responded with the following letter to the editor:

To the editor:

Regarding the March 3 story, “Obama pushing to diversify federal judiciary amid GOP delays.”

One of President Obama’s most significant, but least noticed, achievements has been his effort to bring more women and people of color to the federal bench. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court showed us just how critical that effort is.

In oral arguments on Shelby County v. Holder, the challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Justice Antonin Scalia declared that the renewal of voting protections for people of color simply amounts to a “racial entitlement.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina on the Supreme Court, promptly contradicted him.

Scalia’s arrogant dismissal is echoed by the conservative activist who tells the Post that the White House may be “lowering their standards” in nominating women and people of color and the  GOP aide who worries that a focus on diversity would “override the substantive qualifications of the nominees.”

President Obama hasn’t had to choose between qualified nominees and diverse ones. Instead, he’s chosen judges and justices like Sotomayor: excellent nominees from diverse backgrounds, all of whom have earned their way to judgeships for which they are eminently qualified. 

LESLIE WATSON MALACHI
DIRECTOR, AFRICAN AMERICAN RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS
PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY

PFAW

Extremist Gun Owners of America Goes to Bat Against D.C. Circuit Nominee

Gun Owners of America, a fringe group that hovers to the right of the National Rifle Association, is wading into the debate over Caitlin Halligan, one of President Obama's nominees to the hugely influential DC Circuit Court of Appeals. GOA's beef with Halligan is that when she was solicitor general of New York, she represented the state in its suit against gun manufacturers – a position she took for a client rather than one she espoused herself.

In an action alert today, GOA asks its members to call on their senators to oppose Halligan, calling her the “most anti-Second Amendment nominee in recent history,” a “zealot” and a “radical leftist.”

Among those who might disagree with GOA’s assessment of Halligan are former Bush judicial nominee Miguel Estrada, Reagan administration attorney Carter Phillips, and numerous law enforcement groups, all of whom have endorsed her nomination.

But the GOA’s extreme language should come as no surprise. After all, this is the same group that speculated that the Aurora movie theater shooting was an inside job, said that armed citizens could have stopped the Holocaust, claimed that the Affordable Care Act would “take away your guns,” and warned President Obama that he should “remember King George III’s experience.” Recently, GOA president Larry Pratt has gone even further, agreeing with theories that President Obama is raising a black army to massacre white Americans and that the president intends to pit “Christian, heterosexual white haves” against “black Muslim and/or atheist…have-nots.”

Orrin Hatch Votes Present: Obstruction By Another Name

Orrin Hatch is exhibit A in the abuse of Senate rules to block President Obama’s nominees.
PFAW

PFAW Commends President for Standing Up For Stalled Judicial Nominees

WASHINGTON – People For the American Way today commended President Obama for re-nominating the 33 federal judicial nominees the Senate failed to confirm in the last Congress, and urged the Senate to act quickly to confirm all 33.

“The president is sending a strong message to the new Senate about the importance of ending the judicial vacancy crisis,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “It is imperative that the Senate work with the  White House to confirm qualified nominees to our federal courts and put an end to the obstruction that has denied too many Americans timely access to justice. These nominees could and should have been confirmed last year. There is no excuse for delaying their confirmations any longer.”

One third of the 33 nominees that the president sent to the Senate were approved by the Judiciary Committee last year but were stalled by Republicans on the Senate floor. Others were awaiting hearings or votes in committee. One, D.C. Circuit nominee Caitlin Halligan, was first nominated by the president to fill a vacancy on this critically important court more than two years ago. 

The nominations sent back to the Senate reflect President Obama’s efforts to bring diversity to the federal bench. 25 of the 33  nominees sent to the Senate today are women or people of color.


###

PFAW Calls for Senate Votes on All Remaining Judicial Nominees, Including Four Long-Pending Circuit Court Nominees

WASHINGTON --  In the wake of yesterday’s Senate confirmation of  two long-pending federal district court nominees, People For the American Way urged lawmakers to commit to holding votes on all remaining district and circuit court nominees before the end of the year. While Senate Democrats have broken through Republican gridlock to hold votes on 10 pending district court nominees in the past few weeks, the future of nine district court and four circuit court nominees remains uncertain.

Yesterday, Fernando M. Olguin was confirmed to the US District Court for the Central District of California and Thomas M. Durkin was confirmed to the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Both were forced to wait over four months for a vote from the full Senate, even though there had been no substantive objections to their nominations. Both will fill officially-designated judicial emergencies. And both would have been confirmed in September if Republicans had not blocked Democratic efforts to schedule a simple yes-or-no vote.

“It’s encouraging to see that Senate Republicans are finally allowing votes on long-pending, uncontroversial district court nominees,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “But the fact that Republicans consider it a concession to Democrats to finally stop blocking votes on such nominees symbolizes how broken the Senate is and shows where responsibility for the problem lies.  Four federal circuit court nominees, all highly qualified and supported by their home-state senators, have been waiting as long as nine months for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. With Election Day behind us and the end of this Congress fast approaching, it is imperative that these nominees be confirmed. There is absolutely no legitimate reason for Senate Republican stalling tactics that are leaving our courts under-staffed and denying justice to countless Americans.”

Circuit court nominees awaiting Senate votes are Patty Shwartz of New Jersey, Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, William Kayatta of Maine and Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto.

###

Still No Explanation From Grassley on Judiciary Committee Delays

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved five nominees to serve on federal district courts in New York, California and Florida and on the US Court of International Trade. A week ago, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley postponed votes on all five nominations without giving a reason, a delaying tactic that he has used on 97 percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees who the committee has voted on.

Sen. Grassley did not explain the reason for the delay last week, when a coalition of Iowa and national groups urged him to stop such routine delays. And the reason remained unclear today, as all five nominees were approved without opposition.

These five nominees now join fifteen other federal judicial nominees awaiting confirmation votes from the full Senate. The Senate has made progress by scheduling confirmation votes on four unopposed district court nominees in the past week, but that small amount of progress isn’t nearly enough to fill the gaps in overworked federal courts. Seven of the nominees still waiting for votes would fill officially-designated “judicial emergencies.”

It would be easy, of course, for the Senate to hold votes on all of the remaining nominees before the end of the year. After all, most were approved by the Judiciary Committee many months ago. But Senate Republicans have continued to stall even nominees with strong bipartisan support. All the circuit court nominees waiting for votes have the support of their home-state senators, Republican and Democratic, and nearly all of the pending district court nominees were approved by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous or nearly unanimous bipartisan support. One circuit court nominee, New Jersey’s Patty Shwartz, has been waiting nine months just for an up-or-down vote from the Senate; Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto has also been waiting since March.

If the Senate fails to vote on these nominees during the lame duck, the confirmation process – from presidential nomination through floor vote – will have to start all over again next year.

Notable about the district court nominees approved by the Judiciary Committee today is that all are women or people of color, representative of President Obama’s efforts to bring diversity to the federal courts. The nominees also include New York’s Pamela Chen, who would become just the fifth openly gay person to be confirmed to a lifetime federal judgeship.

PFAW

16 Iowa and National Groups Call on Grassley to End Routine Delay of Judicial Nominations

Washington, DC – A coalition of 16 national and Iowa organizations today called on Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley to end a practice that has needlessly slowed down the confirmation of almost every single one of President Obama’s judicial nominees, helping to create a record vacancy crisis in the federal courts.

Grassley has used his power as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee to routinely delay committee votes on circuit and district court nominees without even providing a reason. These delays at times stretched into two, three, even six weeks. Ninety-seven percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees have seen their nominations delayed in this way, before experiencing long months of further obstruction on the Senate floor.

In a letter to Grassley, the groups said:

No matter the nominee, no matter their qualifications, no matter their bipartisan support … it has been your practice to delay the vote – generally without explanation. This occurs despite an unprecedented vacancy crisis on the federal bench. This isn’t about learning more about a nominee, and it isn’t about delaying someone you think might not be qualified to sit on our federal courts. This is about obstruction, pure and simple. And it is precisely the kind of senseless gridlock that the American people have made clear they reject.

The letter continues:

The committee obstruction is part of a larger picture, one involving deliberate delay and obstruction at all stages of the nomination and confirmation process. But the routine and needless delaying of Committee votes is the form of obstruction for which you bear direct responsibility. And that gives you the power to change the tone by foregoing the practice.

The full text of the letter is below.

November 28, 2012

The Honorable Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
152 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Grassley:

We are writing to you in your role as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee to request that you abandon the practice of routinely delaying votes on judicial nominees in Committee and permit the judicial nominees currently scheduled to be considered at the Judiciary Committee Executive Business Committee meeting on November 29, 2012 to go forward.

Although permitted under Committee rules, the practice of “holding over” nominees in the past was invoked only when there has been a significant question about a particular nominee that warranted additional attention. Under your tenure and that of your predecessor as Ranking Member of the Committee, President Obama’s judicial nominees have virtually all been routinely delayed, despite the absence of any questions, indeed of any debate, on most of the ones held over.

In fact, of the more than 180 men and women who have been scheduled for a Committee vote, all but five – 97 percent – have seen their votes delayed. Indeed, during your tenure as ranking member, all but one nominee’s initially scheduled vote has been blocked.

No matter the nominee, no matter their qualifications, no matter their bipartisan support … it has been your practice to delay the vote – generally without explanation. This occurs despite an unprecedented vacancy crisis on the federal bench. This isn’t about learning more about a nominee, and it isn’t about delaying someone you think might not be qualified to sit on our federal courts. This is about obstruction, pure and simple. And it is precisely the kind of senseless gridlock that the American people have made clear they reject.

Americans want and need Congress to be able to debate the serious issues before us and work together on crafting solutions. But cooperation on areas of contention seems all but impossible if you cannot even work with the president on areas where you agree, such as the vast majority of judicial nominees.

The committee obstruction is part of a larger picture, one involving deliberate delay and obstruction at all stages of the nomination and confirmation process. But the routine and needless delaying of Committee votes is the form of obstruction for which you bear direct responsibility. And that gives you the power to change the tone by foregoing the practice.

Fortunately, you do not have to wait until the 113th Congress to show the American people your ability and willingness to work cooperatively with the president and your Democratic colleagues. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled votes on five judicial nominations for November 29. That is good news for the people of New York, California, and Florida, the states where judicial vacancies would be filled. Three of those courts are in such dire straits that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has formally designated the vacancies as emergencies. All five nominees – three women and two men – testified to the Judiciary Committee back in September, more than two months ago.

You can set the cooperative tone that the American people expect by allowing the Committee to vote on the five nominations as scheduled. Especially with time running out before the end of this Congress, an unwarranted demand to delay the committee votes for these five nominees would be particularly damaging and – should the Committee approve them – would seriously diminish the chances of their confirmation this year. It would also send a terrible signal to the American people of your intentions.

Sincerely,

Alliance for Justice
American Association for Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America)
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
Communications Workers of America (CWA)
Compassion & Choices
Constitutional Accountability Center
Defenders of Wildlife
Iowa Citizen Action Network
Lambda Legal
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Council of Jewish Women
National Fair Housing Alliance
One Iowa
People For the American Way
Progress Iowa
Working Families Win

 

###

PFAW Commends White House on PA Judicial Nominees, Urges Toomey to Press GOP Leadership for Swift Confirmations

Washington, DC – People For the American Way today commended President Obama for nominating three qualified Pennsylvanians to seats on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The three nominees, Nitza I. Quiñones Alejandro, Luis Felipe Restrepo, and Jeffrey L. Schmehl, continue the gender and ethnic diversity that President Obama has brought to the federal courts. Two of the three are of Hispanic heritage, and one, Quiñones, would become the first openly gay Hispanic federal judge. Notably, the professional diversity of these nominees is also significant. Restrepo’s and Schmehl’s professional careers include time as public defenders and Quiñones’s background includes work with a community legal services program.

“These nominees are emblematic of the president’s commitment to nominating qualified, diverse nominees to the federal bench,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “They are also a sign of the president’s commitment to solving the vacancy crisis in our federal courts without delay. One week after his reelection, the president nominated seven Americans to fill district and circuit court vacancies. Today, he has taken an important step in tackling the longstanding vacancy crisis in Pennsylvania.”

Pennsylvania’s federal courts currently have eight vacancies. Two nominees for seats considered “judicial emergencies” have been waiting over four months for confirmation votes from the Senate, despite the stated support of their home-state senators.

“It took far too long for Quiñones, Restrepo and Schmehl to be nominated for long-vacant seats on Pennsylvania’s courts, through the process set up by Senators Casey and Toomey,” added Baker. “And there are still three vacancies on the Eastern District yet to be filled. It is critical that the senators act expeditiously to send recommendations to the White House for these three remaining seats so that Pennsylvanians have access to fully functioning federal courts. It is also taking far too long for the Senate to confirm the two pending Pennsylvania Middle District nominees, because of obstruction by Senate Republicans. Sen. Toomey must stand up to his Republican leadership and urge them to allow confirmation votes on the 19 nominees who have spent as long as eight months languishing on the Senate floor.”

###

PFAW: 6th Circuit Voting Rights Decision a Reminder to Progressives of Importance of Courts

Washington, DC – People For the American Way today said it was “disappointed” by a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decision allowing Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to move forward with a last-minute elections rule change that could leave thousands of Ohio provisional ballots uncounted. The unanimous three-judge panel, consisting of one George H.W. Bush and two George W. Bush nominees, overturned the ruling of District Court judge Algenon Marbley. Marbley had blasted Husted for making a last-minute rule change for the counting of ballots that could disenfranchise thousands of Ohioans.

“We are deeply disappointed by the Sixth Circuit’s decision,” said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. “One of the most sacred rights in our democracy is the right to cast a vote that counts. Many Ohioans waited in line for hours on November 6 to cast a ballot. That right should never be allowed to be taken away by capricious rulings of elections officials. How many Ohioans will take pride that they voted, never realizing that a partisan election official ordered their ballot to be ignored? Would Husted be able to look citizens in the eye and tell them that their votes weren't counted?"

“Husted and his Republican colleagues across the country have been trying to game the system in every way possible to make it harder for certain Americans to cast ballots,” continued Keegan. “Across the country, they have run up against a strong and independent federal judiciary that has stood up for the rights of citizens. It is disappointing that the Sixth Circuit has broken that trend, ruling against the clear interests of Ohio’s voters. Let this be a reminder to progressives as President Obama begins his second term: the federal judiciary is the most lasting legacy of any president. Let’s work to make sure the next four years sees the confirmation of fair, impartial judges who will stick up for the rights of individual Americans under the Constitution.”

###

Obama Reelection a Mandate for Strong, Fair Supreme Court Picks

With the right wing maintaining a narrow majority on the Court, a Romney victory could have meant an entrenched bias on the Court for decades to come.

Senate GOP Refuses to Allow Votes on 17 Judicial Nominees; Sharp Break from Past Practice

Washington, DC – Senate Republicans today refused to allow a vote on 17 pending federal district court nominees before leaving for recess. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid requested unanimous consent to take up and confirm all 17 district court nominations on the calendar. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused, despite the fact that most of the nominees have strong bipartisan support and some have been waiting as long as five months for a Senate vote. Twelve of the pending nominees would fill seats that the Administrative Office of the US Courts has declared “judicial emergencies.”

There is strong precedent for the Senate confirming district court nominees before the end of a President’s term in office. In September of 2008, the Senate confirmed President Bush’s ten remaining district court nominees by unanimous consent one day after they were approved by the Judiciary Committee.

“Under the leadership of Sen. McConnell, Senate Republicans have taken obstruction to a new level,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Never before have district court nominees been subject to this amount of partisan obstruction. Democrats have been forced to file cloture petitions to break filibusters on 20 of President Obama’s district court nominees, compared to just one each under Presidents Bush and Clinton. President Obama’s district court nominees have had to wait three times as long as President Bush’s just for an up-or-down vote. This has nothing to do with the quality of the nominees -- once they reach a vote, the vast majority have been approved nearly unanimously. Indeed, most of the 17 nominees that the GOP rejected today were approved with bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee. All have had the support of their home-state senators, Republican and Democratic.

“This obstruction has nothing to do with the nominees and everything to do with the GOP’s desire to obstruct Senate business at all costs. These costs can be seen in the twelve judicial emergencies that remain vacant because of this obstructionism. Senators Reid and Leahy are right to prioritize the confirmation of these nominees. Backlogs in the courts are ultimately passed down to Americans seeking justice. Mitch McConnell and the Senate GOP must stop playing political games with our courts.”

###

Not Business as Usual: Senate Confirms One Long-Delayed District Court Nominee, Leaves Another 18 Hanging

Washington, DC – The Senate today confirmed Gershwin Drain, a nominee to fill a long-standing emergency vacancy in the Eastern District of Michigan. The 55 to 41 vote came on the heels of the Senate GOP’s unprecedented refusal to confirm even consensus appeals court nominees until after the presidential election. While Senate Republicans claim to be cooperating on filling district court vacancies, they are doing so grudgingly and inefficiently, allowing no more than one vote a week. As a result, the backlog of pending nominees has gotten larger and larger. Drain, nominated to fill an emergency vacancy that has been open for three and a half years, was forced to wait over four months after committee approval for his long overdue vote on the Senate floor.

There are 74 district judgeships currently or about to become vacant and 18 qualified nominees waiting for votes on the Senate floor. Ten of these would fill judicial emergencies. Most have been waiting for a vote since June or earlier; four of them since April. As the Senate prepares to leave for its August recess, there is no reason not to vote on all these long-pending nominees.

“There is no way that Gershwin Drain should have had to wait four months simply for an up-or-down vote from the Senate,” said Paul Gordon of People For the American Way. “Senate Republicans have already announced they’ll filibuster all remaining appeals court nominees, even those without opposition, even those strongly supported by members of their own party. Now, they’re making the confirmation process for the 18 remaining district court nominees painfully slow. There are more than 60 vacancies in district courts around the country that need to be filled immediately, with another dozen about to open up. The Senate GOP should start doing its job and let the President and Senate fill them in a timely manner.”

###

Senate Republicans Block Appeals Court Nominee They Support, Setting Obstruction Record

Washington, DC – The Senate GOP set an obstruction record today, for the first time in history successfully filibustering a federal appeals court nominee who had come out of the Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support. In a 56 to 34 vote, a partisan minority prevented the Senate majority from ending the filibuster of the nomination of Oklahoma’s Robert Bacharach to become a judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. No senator has actually spoken against Bacharach’s nomination, and he has received the strong support of both his home-state senators, Republicans Tom Coburn and James Inhofe. In an interview in June, Coburn called plans to block Bacharach’s nomination “stupid.” But even Coburn and Inhofe’s support evaporated when McConnell gave the command to filibuster: both Oklahoma senators voted "present," which in the case of a filibuster is the same as a "no" vote.

“If you need any further proof of the Senate GOP’s blind dedication to obstruction, this is it,” said Paul Gordon of People For the American Way. “Robert Bacharach should have been a shoe-in for a federal judgeship. His superior qualifications aren’t in dispute. His home-state senators, both conservative Republicans, fully support his nomination. Republicans aren’t even bothering to pretend he is controversial. For the first time in American history, we see a successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved by committee with bipartisan support – all because Sen. McConnell and his party are more interested in playing politics than in doing their jobs. So Americans in six states remain stuck with a circuit court without enough judges to deliver justice efficiently.

“With nearly 80 current vacancies in the federal courts, the Senate GOP should be doing everything in its power to help clear the nominations backlog, rather than making flimsy excuses for further obstruction. This absurd gamesmanship is not what Americans are paying our Senate to do.”

###

Last week, People For the American Way circulated this fact sheet on Bacharach’s nomination:

There has never been a successful filibuster of a circuit court nominee who was approved in committee with bipartisan support. A failed cloture vote on Tenth Circuit nominee Robert Bacharach would represent a massive escalation in obstruction.

Robert Bacharach should be a shoe-in

  • The ABA panel that evaluates judicial nominees unanimously found Bacharach well qualified, its highest possible evaluation. He has been a magistrate judge in the Western District of Oklahoma for over a decade.
  • He was approved by the Judiciary Committee with near-unanimous bipartisan support (the one “no” vote was from Sen. Mike Lee, who is voting against all President Obama’s judicial nominees to protest an unrelated issue).
  • He has the support of President Obama and both of Oklahoma’s Republican senators.
  • As Sen. Inhofe said, “it is kind of rare that the Obama White House and I agree on anything.”
  • Sen. Coburn said in June that it would be “stupid” for his party to block a vote on Bacharach.

The “Thurmond Rule” is no excuse for blocking Bacharach

  •  In the past 5 presidential election years, Senate Democrats have never denied an up-or-down vote to any circuit court nominee of a Republican president who received bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee.
  • In the past 5 presidential election years, only 4 circuit nominees reported with bipartisan support have been denied an up-or-down vote on the Senate Floor, and all 4 were nominated by President Clinton.

This is part of the GOP’s ongoing campaign of obstruction against consensus nominees

  •  Of the 5 circuit court nominees that have been confirmed this year, the Majority Leader had to file cloture on 3 of those nominees in order to secure an up-or-down vote.
  • All 3 circuit court nominees for whom the Majority Leader had to file cloture were nominated to fill judicial emergency vacancies and were rated unanimously “well qualified” by the nonpartisan ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, the highest possible rating. Two of the circuit court nominees who required cloture – Adalberto Jordan of Florida and Andrew Hurwitz of Arizona both had the support of their Republican home state senators (and the third was from California, which has two Democratic senators).

Vacancies are taking a toll on the Tenth Circuit (Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado)

  • Of the 12 active judgeships on this circuit, 2 are vacant.
  • This seat has been vacant for more than two years, when the previous judge retired (as opposed to taking senior status).
  • The slack is being picked up by several senior judges, including an 89 year-old LBJ nominee and a 96 year-old Nixon nominee.

###

LaBarbera and Lindevaldsen Say No to Gay Judges, Sad Sally Ride ‘Fell into Lesbianism’

Americans for Truth About Homosexuality’s Peter LaBarbera continued his discussion with Liberty University Law School’s Rena Lindevaldsen on Friday. The two revisited the topic of openly gay judges, specifically the Virginia prosecutor who was rejected from a judgeship simply because he was gay. That discrimination was ok, Lindevaldsen said, because “if you’re engaged in a lifestyle of immorality, whether that be a homosexual lifestyle or an adulterous relationship or fornication, that’s not the type of moral character that I believe should be someone who’s being appointed to become a judge”:

Lindevaldsen: I think we can equate this not only with the judiciary, but the same debate is taking place, you know, who we want to serve as our schoolteachers, for example. We want moral, upstanding individuals to serve as judges, and this debate’s taking place with schoolteachers too. So if you’re engaged in a lifestyle of immorality, whether that be a homosexual lifestyle or an adulterous relationship or fornication, that’s not the type of moral character that I believe should be someone who’s being appointed to become a judge.

I think it goes to fit moral character and I think that the necessary qualification of any judicial appointment. And therefore it is relevant, based on your conduct, to judge and decide whether you should be allowed to sit in the judiciary.

Immediately after Lindevaldsen and LaBarbera made the case that gay judicial nominees should be defined by and excluded for their sexual orientation, they changed the rules when it came to another prominent example of an openly gay person in public life. Lindevaldsen and LaBarbera heaped scorn on gay rights activists who have had the nerve to call the late Sally Ride, who lived for 27 years with her same-sex partner, a gay pioneer. Emphasizing Ride’s sexual orientation, LaBarbera said -- expanding on a tweet from shortly after her death --would be like defining her as an alcoholic if she had a drinking problem:

LaBarbera: They’re always using opportunities to promote what their version of reality on homosexuality. And really quickly, Sally Ride, another great example. Sally Ride was the first female astronaut, the first…and she had many amazing accomplishments. Unfortunately she also fell into lesbianism and left her husband, she was married, she ended up living in a lesbian lifestyle. She was not public about it. Now gay activists, like Michelangelo Signorile, are using her homosexual, you know, the fact that she practiced the homosexual lifestyle, to say, ‘Hey, this is another gay hero.”

Kirkwood: She was a female astronaut, now she’s the ‘lesbian astronaut.’

LaBarbera: Now she’s the lesbian astronaut, and you better believe in textbooks like in California where they’re teaching gay history now, there’s going to be Sally Ride. So people are going to learn Sally Ride as a, and we’re going a bit over here, they’re going to learn Sally Ride, Rena, as a gay hero, even though she wasn’t even public about it in her life.

Lindevaldsen: Yeah, because they need to contort our history to show that we’ve accepted this all along and that it’s perfectly normal, and see you too can do this and become great things. And you can, you can accomplish things, but that’s not who she was, that doesn’t define who she was and what she accomplished.

LaBarbera: And Rena, I tweeted, and I knew this was going to get me in trouble, but I tweeted, ‘Did she have a drinking problem too?’ In my tweet, I said that she made great accomplishments. But she should not be, and I didn’t, of course she doesn’t, I don’t know if she had a drinking problem or not, but my point was the fact that she practiced homosexuality would be about as relevant as saying, ‘Sally Ride, hey people who drink can be great.’ I mean it’s still immoral behavior, it’s very sad to me that she was involved in that lifestyle. The fact that she was in that lifestyle doesn’t take away from the great accomplishments that she had. But the point is gay identity politics now wants to seize her as a hero.

 

Virginia Rejects Openly Gay Judicial Nominee After Campaign By Far-Right Activists

Virginia’s House of Delegates yesterday rejected the nomination of a state prosecutor to serve as a judge – just because he is openly gay.

Tracy Thorne-Begland, a Navy veteran who has been a prosecutor in Richmond for 12 years, enjoyed bipartisan support in the House of Delegates until, at the last minute, he came under attack from far-right Delegate Bob Marshall and the right-wing Family Foundation. The Richmond Times Dispatch reports:

A late-hour lobbying offensive by social conservatives prevailed in the House of Delegates early Tuesday to torpedo bipartisan support for the judicial nomination of an openly gay Richmond prosecutor.

After a lengthy discussion, the GOP-controlled House of Delegates defeated the nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland, Richmond's chief deputy commonwealth's attorney. He would have been the first openly gay judge elected in Virginia.

Thorne-Begland received 33 votes, and 31 delegates voted against him. He needed a majority of the 100-member House -- 51 votes -- to secure the judgeship.

….

In an email blast to supporters late last week, the Christian conservative Family Foundation questioned Thorne-Begland's fitness for the bench given his support for gay marriage, which is not legal in Virginia. Thorne-Begland and his partner, Michael, live together and are raising twins.

Marshall, too had charged that Thorne-Begland pursued an "aggressive activist homosexual agenda.

Opponents of gay rights, in their effort to keep LGBT people out of the public square, have in the past few years gone after several openly gay judges and judicial nominees. Supporters of California’s discriminatory Prop 8 tried to get a federal judge’s ruling against them thrown out because the judge is openly gay. Another judge issued an epic takedown of their argument.

A number of Republican delegates in Virginia, as well as the state’s socially conservative governor Bob McDonnell backed Thorne-Begland’s nomination until Del. Marshall began his onslaught.

Del. Marshall is the one who claimed in 2010 that disabled children are God's punishment for abortion. On Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – a policy that Thorne-Begland worked to end after his distinguished career in the Navy – Marshall said openly gay troops would distract their fellow servicemembers: "It's a distraction when I'm on the battlefield and have to concentrate on the enemy 600 yards away and I'm worried about this guy whose got eyes on me." Once Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, Del Marshall tried to get gay Virginians banned from the state’s National Guard.

Marshall later told the Washington Post that he objected to Thorne-Begland’s brave coming out in protest of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

I would guess — law of averages — we’ve probably nominated people who have homosexual inclinations,” Marshall said. Marshall faulted Thorne-Begland for coming out as a gay Naval officer on “Nightline” two decades ago to challenge the military’s now-repealed ban on gays openly serving in the military. He said that amounted not just to insubordination, but to a waste of taxpayer dollars, since it resulted in his dismissal from the Navy. “The Navy spent $1 million training him,” Marshall said. “That’s cheating the country out of the investment in him.”

In the end, it was Del. Marshall’s arguments that won out in the effort to halt the career of a dedicated Virginia public servant.

PFAW

PFAW Memo: Debunking the GOP’s Disinformation Campaign on Judicial Obstruction

To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, People For the American Way
Date: May 9, 2012
Subject: Debunking the GOP’s Disinformation Campaign on Judicial Obstruction

On Monday, 150 Americans from 27 states met in the White House with senior Administration officials and spent the day lobbying their senators to end the obstruction of qualified judicial nominees. For those Republican senators who may have thought the obstruction that is keeping our court system from functioning properly had gone unnoticed, it must have been an unpleasant surprise to learn their constituents are paying attention.

In response, Senate Republicans are throwing out a lot of irrelevant numbers and misleading comparisons in a desperate attempt to fog the issue, but they are plainly unable to rebut the clear fact that their constituents have noticed: that Republicans are needlessly obstructing judicial nominations.

For instance, because President Bush’s confirmed nominees at this point in his term were processed so much more quickly and fairly than have President Obama’s, the Republican Policy Committee concocts an excuse to ignore that inconvenient truth. They say we should be comparing President Obama’s first term to President Bush’s second term, because both saw two Supreme Court nominations that took up a lot of committee and Senate resources.

That lets them point out that President Obama has had more lower court confirmations in his first term than President Bush did in his second. But there is a reason Bush had fewer judges confirmed in his second term: There were fewer vacancies. When Bush entered office, there were 80 vacancies in the federal courts, a number he cut down to 37 by the end of his first term. In contrast, because of Republican obstruction, the number of vacancies began to climb sharply when President Obama became the person making the nominations, and it has remained at crisis levels his entire time in office.

In addition, although Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were confirmed in 2009 and 2010, the slow-walking of lower court nominations continued in ensuing years. In the 112th Congress, which began five months after Kagan’s confirmation, nominees have been held up on the floor more than three months on average, even if they are unopposed.

Republicans also blame President Obama for not making enough nominations. But the political reality is that the president needs the approval of home state senators if a nomination is to even get a committee hearing. And contrary to the practice of President Bush, the current White House actually consults home state senators in an effort to find consensus nominees. If GOP senators won’t work with the president to identify candidates who they can all agree on, the president is not the one to blame.

In any event, finding a nominee for every vacancy would not solve the bottleneck that Republicans have created at the end of the confirmation process. There are currently 19 nominees on the Senate calendar awaiting votes who could be confirmed today if the Republican leadership gave their consent.

But perhaps the most disingenuous talking point comes from Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. In yesterday’s floor debate on the confirmation of Kristine Baker to a district court in Arkansas – whose nomination has been pending on the floor since February – he says a Bush nominee to the same district was treated far worse:

I would note that President Bush’s nominee, J. Leon Holmes, sat on the executive calendar for more than 14 months awaiting confirmation. From nomination, his confirmation took over 17 months. Again, why was President Bush’s nominee treated worse than this President’s nominee?

Sen. Grassley isn’t comparing apples and oranges – he’s comparing apples and skyscrapers. Holmes was so controversial that even the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee did not approve of his nomination. In a rare step reflecting serious concerns about the merits of the nomination, a sharply divided committee voted 10-9 to forward it to the floor without a formal endorsement. After that, it was the Republicans who then controlled the Senate who delayed the confirmation vote for more than a year, fearing the Senate would reject Holmes. When he was finally confirmed in 2004, it was by a 51-46 vote.

So Republicans delayed a vote on Holmes because he was extremely divisive and lacked support in the Senate. In contrast, Kristine Baker – who cleared committee with a 17-1 vote and was confirmed by a bipartisan voice vote – was delayed by Republicans because of the Sotomayor and Kagan confirmations?

Republicans cannot deny that they are making President Obama’s judicial nominations wait more than 4 times longer for votes than was the case at this point in the Bush presidency, even though most of them are consensus nominees with strong bipartisan support. Their efforts to distract the American people from that stark fact resemble the Wizard of Oz trying to get Dorothy to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

Ultimately, though, this isn’t about statistics. It’s about people. It’s about the people who count on having their day in court, only to learn first-hand that justice delayed is justice denied. It’s the victims of predatory lending practices, consumer fraud, environmental destruction, and civil rights violations. It’s the business owners who can’t get relief from anti-competitive activities, can’t complete their mergers, and can’t enforce their contracts. This is about Americans across the nation who deserve a justice system that works.

Press contact: Miranda Blue, media@pfaw.org, (202) 467-4999

###

 

Share this page: Facebook Twitter Digg SU Digg Delicious