Senate Judiciary Committee

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

PFAW Praises Senate for This Week’s Action on Judicial Confirmations

After a two week recess, the Senate has made significant progress in judicial confirmations on its first week back. This is not due to a drop in Republican obstruction, but instead to Majority Leader Harry Reid’s determination to overcome that obstruction. Only one week during President Obama’s administration has seen more judicial confirmations. Since Monday, over GOP filibuster efforts, the Senate has confirmed eight district court nominees and one circuit court nominee, while breaking the filibuster of a second circuit court nominee. Nancy L. Moritz’s nomination to the Tenth Circuit is scheduled for Monday, May 5.

Clearing so many of President Obama’s judicial nominations is a nearly unprecedented occurrence for a Senate that has been bogged down by Republican obstruction every step of the way. People For the American Way’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:

“This was a good week for our justice system, with nine judges confirmed to the bench. Americans saw critical advancement in confirming the circuit court nominees who have been denied a vote for months. A Ninth Circuit judge was confirmed, and the filibuster of a Tenth Circuit judge was broken. We applaud the Senate for moving forward on these confirmations, which are crucial for our justice system to run efficiently and serve everyday Americans. It is heartening to see the Senate taking this important step to strengthen our judiciary.

“Senator Reid’s efforts to prioritize this issue and clear President Obama’s judicial nominations are making an impact. Despite Senate Republicans blocking nominees and delaying votes from the beginning, Senator Reid has pushed to move these nominations forward and this week, we’ve seen that work pay off.

“We hope to continue to see the Senate working for the benefit of American citizens by giving them the fully functioning courts they deserve.”

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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

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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PFAW Applauds Nomination of Caitlin Halligan to DC Circuit

President Obama yesterday named two nominees for the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, Caitlin Halligan and Sri Srinivasan. People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan issued the following statement:

“We applaud President Obama for renominating Catilin Halligan to the D.C. Circuit, the nation's second highest court. Halligan has unimpeachable qualifications and is clearly qualified for a lifetime seat on this court. In the midst of a pervasive vacancy crisis on the federal bench, it is galling that Halligan’s confirmation was blocked by the relentless partisanship of Senate Republicans last year. She would bring an impressive resume to the court, and her nomination should be taken up and approved by the Judiciary Committee, which is already well acquainted with her record, as soon as possible.

“Sri Srinivasan was also nominated by President Obama. While we are glad to have a nominee for this important circuit, we have questions, based on Srinivasan’s record, about the extent of his commitment to civil liberties, legal protections for workers and the rights of individual Americans. An expeditious hearing by the Judiciary Committee is the best way for senators – and the American people – to learn more about the nominee and we urge the prompt scheduling of those hearings to consider his positions.

“There is also a third vacancy on this extremely important court and we urge the president to act expeditiously to nominate an individual for this seat with the credentials, professional background and demonstrated record of commitment to ensuring that the rights and interests of all Americans are adequately protected.”

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PFAW Presents at 'Crisis in the Courts' Forum

Yesterday, PFAW’s Marge Baker joined a distinguished panel of legal scholars, federal judges and officials representing members of congress and the White House at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, OH to discuss possible solutions to the unprecedented vacancy crisis in the federal courts. Republican obstruction in the Senate has severely impaired the important work of the federal judiciary, with serious consequences for the American people. Fortunately, the White House has signaled a renewed focus on ending the stalemate and restoring the court system’s ability to swiftly serve those who seek justice in a court of law.

Panelists included:

• Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy & Program, PFAW

• Hon. James S. Gwin, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Ohio

• Christopher Kang, Senior Counsel to the President, Office of White House Counsel

• Jeremy Paris, Chief Counsel for Nominations and oversight, Chairman Patrick Leahy, Senate Judiciary Committee

• Michael Zubrensky, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Policy, U.S. Department of Justice

• Jonathan Adler, Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and Director, Center for Business Law & Regulation, Case Western Reserve University School of Law

The panel was sponsored by The Cleveland –Marshall College of Law, National Coalition of Jewish Women, Ohio Coalition of Constitutional Values, Alliance for Justice, American Constitution Society for Law and Policy and People For the American Way.

PFAW

PFAW: Senate Should Confirm Judges by Unanimous Consent

With 19 superb candidates for the federal bench who have cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support, there is no reason to keep these well-qualified nominees in an endless holding pattern any longer.

The Senate returns to session today to approve a deal struck by the Obama Administration and congressional leaders to end a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration. The deal will be approved by unanimous consent, a procedure that requires the presence of only a few Senators as long as there are no objections.

PFAW Applauds White House Call for September Action on Judges

Earlier this week, Senate Republicans yet again prevented the Senate from voting on highly qualified judicial nominees who had cleared committee, leaving 20 of them in limbo even though 17 had no recorded opposition.

PFAW Condemns Senate Obstruction of Judicial Nominees

The Senate recessed yesterday without voting to confirm 20 judicial nominees, virtually all of whom received overwhelming support from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Time to Stop GOP Obstruction of Judicial Nominees

As the Senate prepares for a planned recess scheduled through Labor Day, it is incumbent upon Republicans to allow floor votes on the rapidly increasing number of judicial nominees who have been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee but whose nominations are still pending before the whole Senate.

Barriers to Justice and Accountability: How the Supreme Court's Recent Rulings Will Affect Corporate Behavior

PFAWF's commentary to the Senate Judiciary committee reveals that, during its 2010-2011 term, the Supreme Court has severely undermined individuals’ ability to harness the power of law to rein in giant corporations’ excesses.

Judiciary Committee Republicans: Delay for Delay’s Sake

To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
Re: Judiciary Committee Republicans: Delay for Delay’s Sake
Date: June 15, 2011 

This Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the nominations of three of President Obama’s judicial nominees:  Steve Six (for the Tenth Circuit), Marina Garcia Marmolejo (for the Southern District of Texas), and Michael C. Green (for the Western District of New York).

Actually, the committee was originally scheduled to vote on these three nominations a week earlier, on June 9.  However, because Republican obstructionism has become the rule, not one person ever believed for even a second that the committee would actually vote as scheduled.  And no one gasped in surprise that day when Senator Chuck Grassley, the committee’s ranking Republican, announced that his party was exercising its prerogative to hold the vote over by a week.

That’s because since President Obama took office, virtually every one of his judicial nominees has had his or her committee vote delayed by Republicans by at least a week. This is true for Supreme Court Justices, circuit court judges, and even district court judges.  The routine use of this hold, without cause and almost without exception, is unprecedented.

Looked at in isolation, it might not appear all that harmful.  However, it is part of a larger set of procedural roadblocks the Senate GOP uses to obstruct confirmation of qualified nominees whose only “fault” is that they were nominated by a Democratic president.  The cynical abuse of this tactic makes clear that the actions of Senate Republicans toward President Obama’s judicial nominees is based on partisan politics, not principle.

Voting on a federal judicial nomination is an extremely serious responsibility and one that requires diligent research and thought.  So if senators sincerely have questions that have not been answered, or genuine and substantial concerns about a nominee’s fitness for the bench, then no one should begrudge them an extra few days to gather additional information.

But when Republicans exercise this option for every nominee, even those who are strongly supported by their home state Republican senators and have no opposition whatsoever, then their sincerity must be called into question.

The Senate has confirmed more than 70 of President Obama’s nominees without opposition.  In every case but four, committee Republicans exercised their prerogative to delay committee consideration of these consensus nominees by at least one week.  That begs the question:  Why?  What did they need to learn during the delay?  That is a question that should be posed to every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee about every one of these consensus nominees.

Take the nomination of Sue E. Myerscough for a judicial emergency district court seat in Illinois as a typical example.  She was first nominated in July of 2010, was deemed unanimously well qualified by the ABA, had a committee hearing in September, submitted responses to senators’ written questions, had her committee vote scheduled and delayed two weeks, was approved by the committee without opposition on December 1 ... and was one of the 43 qualified nominees needlessly denied a floor vote when the lame duck session of Congress ended.

By the time President Obama renominated her in early January, she was so well known to the committee that they did not require her to testify anew  or to submit new responses to written questions.  She was scheduled for a committee vote February 3, but committee Republicans exercised their option to delay that vote to the 17th, at which point she was again approved without opposition, leading to her unopposed confirmation by the Senate in March.

Senator Grassley and his fellow Republicans on the committee should explain why they demanded that the committee vote be held over a week.  There was no information they lacked, since they did not have her re-testify or submit new written responses to questions.  They had no serious concerns about her nomination, since they had already supported her in 2010 and ended up supporting her again once the vote was allowed.  Can they cite anything they learned during the week’s delay?

Sue Myerscough’s nomination is hardly unique.  No matter who the nominee is, no matter how qualified, no matter if confirmation is needed to address a judicial emergency, all the nominees have something in common: They were nominated by a Democratic president, and that is all the reason Republicans need to obstruct the process and sabotage the judicial branch of the United States government.

In so doing, they are living up to the vow made by right wing leaders in the opening days of the Obama presidency:  to function as a “resistance movement” rather than as responsible participants in an electoral democracy.

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Why is the GOP keeping women and people of color off the bench?

To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker
Re: Why is the GOP keeping women and people of color off the bench?
Date: May 31, 2011

Last week, all Senate Republicans except Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski united to block Goodwin Liu, President Obama’s nominee to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, from getting an up or down confirmation vote.

Senate Confirms Ed Chen: Republicans Forego Obstruction

The Senate today confirmed Ed Chen as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Despite attacks by some GOP leaders, Chen was confirmed by a vote of 56 to 42 and did not face a filibuster.

Marge Baker of People For the American Way issued the following statement:

“Ed Chen is exceedingly well qualified for this seat. Despite the repeated delays he was forced to endure, Americans should be glad that the Senate finally confirmed his nomination.

Organizations Call on Senate Leaders to Keep Confirmations Moving

In a letter sent today, a wide array of organizations called on Senate leaders to ensure that President Obama’s judicial nominees receive timely votes during the 112th Congress.

Senate Confirms Three Judicial Nominees

The Senate today confirmed three of President Obama’s judicial nominees as the result of an agreement between Senate Democrats and Republicans.

Editorial Memorandum: Judicial Nominees and the State of the Union

To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, People For the American Way
Re: Judicial Nominees and the State of the Union
Date: January 25, 2011

While it’s not clear exactly which Supreme Court Justices will attend President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight, it is clear that at least some of the Court’s conservative members agree with the President on one pressing issue: the need to hasten the confirmation of judges to the federal bench.

Changing How We Treat Judicial Nominees

In the last session of Congress, the Senate’s treatment of President Obama’s judicial nominees was deeply disappointing. When the 111th Congress drew to a close, no fewer than 19 nominees were left waiting for votes

GOP Senators Target Judicial Nominees of Color

To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, People For the American Way
Re: GOP Senators Target Judicial Nominees of Color
Date: December 22, 2010

Letter to Senate Leadership from Progressive Organizations Calling for an End to the Backlog of Judicial Nominees

Letter from progressive organizations to Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell calling for an end to the troubling backlog of judicial nominees that exists to date in the 111th Congress
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