Fair and Just Courts

GOP Obstruction of the DC Circuit: Infographics

Share these infographics to help set the record straight on the DC Circuit.

The Critically Important DC Circuit Court

Despite progressive victories in 2012, the Right’s outsized influence on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit gives it the power to undermine progressive laws and thwart the agenda that Americans elected President Obama to pursue.

Video: Chuck Grassley Just Doesn’t Think The Confirmation Process Is That Important  

It is common for members of the Senate to cite the process of confirming Supreme Court justices as one of their most important responsibilities. These judges receive lifetime appointments and their impact on the law lasts for decades. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s continued obstruction of Merrick Garland’s confirmation, though, reveals his lack of respect for his constitutionally mandated responsibility.

Previously, Grassley explicitly spelled out his belief that the confirmation process should not be taken as seriously as other functions of the Senate, such as yearly squabbling over budgets and appropriations.

In 1991, during the confirmation hearings for Justice Clarence Thomas, he explained, “Some have stated that the Senate’s advice and consent role in the elevation of Supreme Court justices, of any Supreme Court justice, for that matter, is the most important power that we in the Senate here exercise.” Grassley continued, “Now, I don't happen to share that view, as important as I take my responsibilities today and through this process, because I happen to feel that confronting the issue of war—as we did only last January, and attempting to bring government spending under control are among the more significant responsibilities that we have.”

“And, of course, I think the Constitution doesn't elevate the confirmation process quite this high. The Constitution shows this because the ‘advise and consent’ role is spelled out in Chapter 2 with executive powers, and not with the legislative powers in Article 1. So I think the Constitution itself indicates it is not a preeminent legislative power,” Grassley concluded.

If the chairman of the Judiciary Committee does not recognize that vetting and voting on the confirmation of Supreme Court justices is one of his greatest responsibilities, perhaps he should relinquish his gavel to someone who does.

Happy Birthday, Phyllis Schlafly!

Today is the 92nd birthday of Phyllis Schlafly, the godmother of the right-wing movement in America. Schlafly broke onto the national scene with “A Choice Not an Echo,” her 1964 book making the case for Barry Goldwater, and she solidified her leadership with her successful campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment. Decades later, she helped rally right-wing opposition to President Obama, hosting a “How To Take Back America” conference during his first year in office. She’s still hard at work, leading Eagle Forum and publishing her Phyllis Schlafly Report newsletter, whose June issue argued for putting Trump’s wall—“and yes, Mexico will pay”—in this year’s Republican platform. Mission accomplished.

It hasn’t been the happiest year for Schlafly, who has been embroiled in a power struggle with a group of Eagle Forum board members, including her own daughter. She also lost a trademark lawsuit against her nephew, who makes Schlafly beer.

On the other hand, Schlafly was an early and ardent backer of Donald Trump, standing up for him in the primaries against many of her Religious Right allies and Eagle Forum colleagues. At this year’s Republican National Convention, Schlafly hosted a “Life of the Party” event celebrating that the GOP has been officially anti-abortion since 1976; she told attendees that she endorsed Trump after he pledged loyalty to a pro-life platform. Party attendees were given copies of the most recent of her more than two dozen books, “How the Republican Party Became Pro-Life.” It’s a short paperback that feels as if it was thrown together after having Schlafly tell war stories about her GOP platform battles over the years.

Schlafly spends most of the book recounting stories of pro-life activists’ efforts to strengthen and protect anti-abortion language at every Republican convention since 1976. It includes the successful resistance led by Schlafly, Ralph Reed, Bay Buchanan and Gary Bauer to Bob Dole’s efforts to soften the anti-abortion language in 1996. (I was in San Diego with a People For the American Way team covering that convention; Reed was gleeful about demonstrating his power to humiliate Dole, which may well have contributed to his November defeat.)

After the quick march through convention history, Schlafly moves into a denunciation of “judicial supremacy,” calling on Republicans to repudiate the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. She also calls for nullification of 2015’s marriage equality ruling:

When supremacist judges presume to rewrite portions of our law, most especially if it is a law that we have had for millennia such as our law defining marriage, it’s time for the American people to speak up and say “No” just as Abe Lincoln did when supremacist judges ruled that blacks could be considered another man’s “property.” … All Americans must use every tool in the political process to reject judicial supremacy and return to government by “we the people.”

The book includes a short afterword by Kristan Hawkins, presidents of Students for Life, who calls Schlafly “a great American hero” and celebrates that, thanks to Schlafly and “her army,” there is today “no national Republican candidate who dares be anything other than pro-life!” The final 70 pages of the book, more than half its total length, is devoted to an appendix of anti-abortion and anti-marriage-equality references in Republican platforms and resolutions and excerpts from the 2012 platform.

Earlier this year, Schlafly urged Republican senators to hold firm in refusing to consider a Supreme Court nominee “until we have a Republican who will appoint somebody of the nature of Scalia,” telling her interviewer that the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency made her “scared to death.” Republican senators have done as she asked, and Schlafly got her wish in Cleveland with a solidly right-wing platform and the nomination of Donald Trump. But given what current polls suggest that November will bring, she may want to do her celebrating now.

 

PFAW Members Catch Up to Kelly Ayotte in Manchester 5K to Ask if She Trusts Donald Trump to Fill Supreme Court Vacancy

kelly ayotte

Yesterday, at the Cigna/Elliot 5K Road race in downtown Manchester, Sen. Kelly Ayotte revealed a level of trust in Donald Trump’s ability to choose a qualified Supreme Court justice when questioned by a Manchester voter.

Watch her response:

Ayotte, who has repeatedly ignored the vast majority of Granite Staters who want her to do her constitutional duty and support moving forward with hearings and a vote for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, seemed unconcerned with the particulars of Trump’s judgement regarding the next Supreme Court justice, but said she’d looked at the list and thinks it’s a “good start.”

PFAW

Sen. Kelly Ayotte Thinks Trump’s Shortlist to Fill the Supreme Court Vacancy Is “a Good Start”

Thursday at the Cigna/Elliot 5K Road race in downtown Manchester, Sen. Kelly Ayotte revealed a level of trust in Donald Trump’s ability to choose a qualified Supreme Court justice when questioned by a Manchester voter.

Ayotte, who has repeatedly ignored the vast majority of Granite Staters who want her to do her constitutional duty and support moving forward with hearings and a vote for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, seemed unconcerned with the particulars of Trump’s judgement regarding the next Supreme Court justice, but said she’d looked at the list and thinks it’s a “good start.”

See her answer here.

Linds Jakows, New Hampshire Campaign Organizer with progressive advocacy group People For the American Way, said:

“Ayotte tries hard to brand herself as independent and bipartisan, but this is just one of many examples of falling in lock step with her party leadership, who would prefer to put the future of the Supreme Court in Donald Trump’s reckless hands rather than confirm the highly respected Merrick Garland, who received the highest possible rating from the American Bar Association and has waited longer for a hearing than any nominee. Ayotte cannot, for example, pretend to champion women’s reproductive health while approving a shortlist that contains justices that would overturn Roe v. Wade, among other troubling views on issues like LGBT discrimination.”

VIDEO

People For the American Way is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.

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PFAW Hosts Telebriefing on the Supreme Court and 2016

Even as GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump hits new lows in his campaign—from attacking Gold Star parents to suggesting gun violence as a way to stop Hillary Clinton—Republican senators continue to hold open the vacant Supreme Court seat for Trump to fill.

Yesterday People For the American Way held a telebriefing for members and supporters about the critical role the Supreme Court plays in 2016 and beyond, and how progressive activists can hold GOP senators accountable for their unconscionable blockade of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. PFAW’s Marge Baker, Drew Courtney, and Elliot Mincberg were joined by Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen to discuss how to make the Supreme Court a winning issue in the election.

You can listen to the full telebriefing here:

PFAW

A Revisionist History Lesson From Marcus Lamb

Back in June, James Robison, a member of Donald Trump's Evangelical Executive Advisory Board, appeared on Daystar's "Marcus & Joni" program, where he and the hosts made the case that conservative Christians must vote for Trump in November because of his promise to appoint hard-line conservatives to the Supreme Court.

In an attempt to demonstrate the importance of the Supreme Court, host Marcus Lamb uncorked an absurd history lesson that would even put a pseudo-historian like David Barton to shame.

"If we get the right person in office and they get to appoint the right judges," he said, "did you know that Roe v. Wade would be reversed? Did you know that same-sex marriage could be reversed? Listen, it used to be the law of the land that you could own slaves. That got reversed in the Supreme Court, so it can change but only it we stand up and do the right thing."

The Supreme Court, of course, never issued any such ruling and, in fact, ruled exactly the opposite, leading eventually to the Civil War and the passage of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

NC Voting Restrictions Struck Down as Intentionally Discriminatory

A three-judge circuit court panel unanimously agrees that North Carolina passed its law with the intent to discriminate against African Americans.
PFAW Foundation

Jim Bakker: If Trump Loses, Supreme Court Will Shut Me Down

Charisma magazine is highlighting an exchange between televangelist and noted survivalist huckster Jim Bakker and Ramiro Peña, senior pastor of Christ the King Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, that took place on Bakker’s show last week.

While asking Peña a question about the future of the Supreme Court, Bakker said that he believes his TV ministry will be shut down unless Donald Trump wins the presidential election:

If Donald Trump isn’t elected, do you envision America to look good, bad or ugly? What will it look like, say, four years from now if we do not change the court? I know what the last eight years — we have seen the greatest deterioration. I’m afraid if we have another four years we will not even be able to function. I believe that they’ll shut me down. I believe they’re gonna shut anybody outside the church, all religious activity down. What will America look like if we don’t get on the right track?

Peña responded:

Let me speak to the church for just a moment. Just hear me, church. If we don’t elect Donald Trump president, we’re going to end up electing someone who we absolutely know will put justices on the Supreme Court that will be pro-abortion, that will be pro-gay-marriage, that will rob us of religious liberty, will continue to take away and wear away at our right to bear arms. That is the kind of jurist who will be on the Supreme Court and on the federal bench…

Peña noted that Trump has released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees that was vetted by the Federalist Society, and said that if he is elected Trump would have the opportunity to name at least three, and maybe as many as five, justices to the high court:

He has said he will appoint pro-life justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. So on that point, if for no other reason, even if you don’t like some of the things that he has said or done, for that point alone, for the sake of the Supreme Court, and the future of our nation that Pastor Jim is talking about, that’s why I am so convinced that he must be elected the next president of the United States.

 

Trump Lawyer Who Trashed Campaign Finance Laws: SCOTUS List Shows How Trump Will Govern

Among the events hosted by right-wing groups during the Republican National Convention was “The Conservative Pit Stop,” sponsored by the American Conservative Union Foundation with an assist from its friends at the National Rifle Association. The ACU hosts the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which attracts thousands of participants and a host of Republican officials.

The RNC event consisted of two panel discussions and a surprise keynote from vice presidential nominee Mike Pence. Among the speakers, on different panels, were U.S. senators from opposite ends of the Trump train: early Trump booster Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Utah’s Mike Lee, who was involved in the raucous, unsuccessful Day 1 effort to force a roll-call vote on the convention rules in an attempt to undermine Trump.

Also speaking: Fox News national security analyst KT McFarland, Heather Higgins of Independent Women’s Voice, GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway, Heritage Foundation VP for Policy Promotion Ed Corrigan, platform committee policy director Andrew Bremberg and former chairman of the Federal Election Commission Don McGahn, a Jones Day attorney who is the lawyer for Trump’s campaign.

The two questions formally on the table were “Will conservatives support Trump?” and “Can we reverse the Obama imperial presidency?” For these panelists, not surprisingly, the answers were “yes” and “yes.” Lee said it is in Trump’s power to win over Cruz supporters like him by adding to the campaign’s message a clear stand on reversing the trend of allowing the federal government and executive branch to accumulate too much power.

The Supreme Court was a major topic at the event, as it was throughout the convention, where the court was cited frequently as the ultimate reason for conservative voters to back Trump despite whatever qualms they might have.

Making that point most extensively was Trump counsel McGahn, who called the list of 11 potential Supreme Court nominees released by the Trump campaign the most important insight into how Trump will govern. “For those conservatives who are on the fence…I would counsel them to take a very hard look at this list and I would also counsel them to take a very hard look at what’s at stake in this election.”

McGahn said the list presents “a defining moment” and “a very, very, very clear choice for Americans.” It contains no moderate or “squishy” judges, he said, “no stealth candidates” and “no David Souters.” A number of them, he noted, clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas or the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

“Everyone on the list is already wearing a black robe,” McGhan said. He explained that there were a number of state Supreme Court justices on the list because many conservative “rising stars” whose age puts them in the “sweet spot” for a Supreme Court nomination are not on the federal bench:

Frankly, anyone in what I consider to be the sweet spot barely had an opportunity to be considered for chance to be considered for a federal court appointment in the last Republican administration so I think the rising stars who are conservative, conservative-libertarian, movement conservative, whatever one wants to label themselves, constitutionalist, textualist, etc., etc., are really going to be found on the state courts, simply because that’s where we are generationally.

McGahn did praise by name a few of the federal judges on the list, including William Pryor and Diane Sykes. And he mentioned state Supreme Court justices Allison Eid of Colorado and Don Willett of Texas, an anti-regulatory judge whose opinion in a Texas licensing case McGahn called “a manifesto on economic liberty we have not seen in our lifetime.”

Sessions also praised Trump’s “great list” of judges, saying it contains “no Souters or Kennedys.”

While everyone on the panel loved Trump’s list, the Heritage Foundation’s Corrigan had one more suggestion: In response to a question about what a President Trump should do on his first day in office, Corrigan suggested that he nominate Sen. Mike Lee to the Supreme Court. (Not long ago we discussed Lee's extreme views about the Constitution.)

Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees was reportedly drawn up with help from right-wing powerhouses the Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation. McGahn also seems to have played a role as Trump’s liaison to the conservative and Washington establishments in putting that list together; in his introduction, the ACU’s Dan Schneider said McGahn “gets a lot of credit for those 11 judges.” McGahn also reportedly helped broker Trump’s March meeting with GOP congressional leaders.

What do we know about McGahn? He is a partner at the Jones Day law firm. His uncle Paddy was an Atlantic City power broker who helped Trump cut real estate deals in that town. As a Republican appointee to the Federal Election Commission, McGahn actively resisted enforcement of campaign finance laws and sought to “chip away at election rules and regulations.” MSNBC’s Zachary Roth has said, “if you don’t like today’s almost-anything-goes campaign funding landscape, you can lay part of the blame on McGahn.” 

McGahn has bragged that others have called his tenure “the most consequential of any commissioner.” Says Democratic FEC Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, “He was consequential like a sledgehammer was consequential. He did his best to undermine the law.”

Ralph Reed Makes The Case For Donald Trump

One theme of this year’s Republican National Convention is the Religious Right getting fully on board the Trump Train. Even before he vanquished Ted Cruz, his final primary opponent, Trump has been aggressively courting the Religious Right, and he has recently sought to shore up support from the movement leaders who backed Cruz and other candidates.

Yes, Trump is a habitual liar whose Bible-waving and political use of religious is transparently cynical, but that isn’t stopping Religious Right leaders from rallying around him. And why not? He allowed the Religious Right to write anti-gay discrimination into the GOP's platform. His promise to fill the Supreme Court with right-wing justices gives them hope that marriage equality in the U.S. will be short-lived. And he is even promising to overturn the federal law that forbids churches, like other tax-exempt nonprofits, from engaging in direct electoral politics, and to sign legislation defunding Planned Parenthood.

In Cleveland this week for the RNC, Religious Right political operative Ralph Reed spoke with Doug Wright, “Utah’s most listened to talk show host.” Polls show that many of Utah’s Mormon voters are resisting the call to unite behind Trump.

When asked why so many evangelicals are supporting Trump in spite of his “interesting” background, his use of “vulgarities,” and other things that might concern a conservative Christian, Reed said, “You’re not electing a pastor-in-chief, you’re electing a commander-in-chief.”

Reed reminded Wright that evangelicals backed Mitt Romney in the 2012 general election even though they had a different approach to faith, and even though Romney had previously held pro-choice and pro-gay views, something for which some conservatives have criticized Trump. “I thought we were members of a faith where we were supposed to welcome converts,” said Reed.

In fact, said Reed, he thinks Trump “has the potential to be the greatest advocate for our values, and do the most to advance that agenda, precisely because he doesn’t necessarily come from where we come from.” In other words, because people don’t view Trump as a Religious Right activist, they might be more receptive to his call for ending the ban on church politicking.

Here’s Reed’s basic case for Trump, starting with the fact that “he is a professing Christian.”

More importantly…he shares our values. He’s pro-life. He’s pro-traditional marriage, which is very important to us…He’s pro-religious freedom. He supported the Hobby Lobby Decision, supports Little Sisters of the Poor, has placed in the platform, at his insistence, at this convention, for the first time in the history of the Republican Party, a call for the repeal of the Johnson Amendment to the internal revenue code, which threatens churches that speak out politically with the loss of their tax-exempt status. That has been used to harass and persecute the Christian community for over half a century. Donald Trump will end it.

Pew Report: With GOP Presidents, We Get Fewer Judges of Color

It's important to have a federal judiciary that looks like America, bringing varied life experiences to the bench.
PFAW

GOP's Record-Breaking SCOTUS Obstruction

GOP senators don't seem to care about the damage their record-breaking obstruction of Merrick Garland does to the country. But perhaps self-interest will move them.
PFAW

Edit Memo: Senate Republicans, Exhausted From Not Doing Their Jobs, Take a 7-Week Vacation, the Longest in 60 Years

To: Interested Parties
From: Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel, People For the American Way
Date: July 19, 2016
Re: Senate Republicans, Exhausted From Not Doing Their Jobs, Take a 7-Week Vacation, the Longest in 60 Years

Last week, the GOP-controlled Senate explained why there supposedly wasn’t enough time before an extensive summer recess, the longest in 60 years, to confirm numerous long-standing consensus judicial nominees. In fact, they spent more time making excuses than it would have taken to actually confirm the nominees.

The exchange revealed new depths to which Senate Republicans will sink in order to avoid doing their jobs and voting on the president’s nominees to our lower federal courts, in addition to their unprecedented refusal to even consider the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

On Wednesday, July 13, Democrats sought votes on many of the nominees waiting for Senate action. First, Sen. Chuck Schumer asked for votes on the 13 longest-stalled district court nominees, all of whom had been approved by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous or near-unanimous support, as well as seven nominees for the Court of International Trade and Federal Claims Court (six of whom had been approved by the Committee in 2014, then again in 2015). On behalf of the GOP leadership, North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis blocked the vote because, among other things, the Senate had confirmed one judge the previous week and one judge the week before that.

Then Sen. Elizabeth Warren sought a vote just on the 13 district court nominees. Tillis again objected, complaining that instead of debating drug abuse:

What we get are things that have nothing to do with doing our jobs. I'm doing my job today and objecting to these measures so that we can actually get back to pressing matters … [emphasis added]

In fact, vetting and confirming judges so that the United States judicial system can function and provide a forum to protect people’s rights is among the most important responsibilities the Constitution gives to the Senate, and to the Senate alone.

There was apparently no number low enough or waiting period long enough that Republicans would accept. Sen. Mazie Hirono sought a vote only on the eight longest-stalled district court nominees, who would fill vacancies in Tennessee, New Jersey, New York, California, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii. All were approved by the Judiciary Committee without opposition. Half had been approved in the fall of 2015, three back in January, and one had been waiting for “only” three months. Yet again, Tillis objected, urging the Senate not to waste time on this issue but to address other issues.

Actually, the waste of time came from Sen. Tillis, who spent far more time blocking votes on qualified consensus nominees than it would have taken to actually confirm them. Mitch McConnell’s Senate is a far different place than it was on September 26, 2008, an election year, when the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed ten of President Bush’s consensus district court nominees in less than a minute, nominees who had been waiting for a vote for only three days.

As Tillis carried out McConnell’s obstruction directives last week, Republican senators who claim to support the nominees from their home states were nowhere to be found. Tennessee’s Edward Stanton III has languished on the Senate floor since October of last year, but Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker were nowhere to be found to offer them support when Tillis blocked a vote on him three separate times. Similarly, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey allowed two nominees he had recommended to the White House to be denied votes three times that day, even though they were approved by the Judiciary Committee six months ago.

Rather than being an aberration, Republican efforts to block confirmation votes for President Obama’s judicial nominees have been the norm. While their refusal to even hold a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland has grabbed the headlines, the GOP’s deliberate sabotage of the rest of the federal judiciary is nothing new. Since Republicans have taken control of the Senate, the pace at which they’ve chosen to process all judicial nominations has fallen far short of what precedent would dictate.

Failing to confirm judges has never been the norm even when the Senate and the White House are held by different parties. A useful basis of comparison is George W. Bush’s final two years in office, when Democrats took over the Senate after the 2006 midterms. In 2007, the first year as the majority, the Democratic Senate confirmed 40 of President Bush’s circuit and district court nominees (with a total of 68 by the end of 2008). In stark contrast, the McConnell Senate has confirmed only 20 circuit and district court judges during this Congress (along with two Court of International Trade nominees). Just as the number of confirmations last year (11) was the lowest since 1960 (also 11), the total for this two-year Congress appears on track to be the lowest since the Eisenhower era, when there were hundreds fewer judgeships than today.

The figure below shows the stark difference in the pace of circuit and district judicial confirmations under today’s Republican-controlled Senate as compared to the Democratic-controlled Senate of Bush’s last two years.

image 1

Another way of contrasting how seriously Senate Democrats took their job in 2007-2008 versus the attitude of Republicans today is to track the number of vacancies. Judicial vacancies open regularly and predictably, since judges usually announce their intent to retire or go into semi-retirement up to a year in advance. Just to keep the number of vacancies at an even level requires that several new judges be confirmed each month.

At the beginning of 2007, there were 56 circuit and district court vacancies. Throughout the next two years, the number of vacancies generally remained at 50 or fewer, getting as low as 34 in the early fall of 2008. Because an unusually high number of vacancies opened up after Election Day, that number climbed back to 55 by Inauguration Day, but even with that increase, the number of vacancies ended up at about what it had been two years earlier.

Today, in stark contrast, the number of circuit and district court vacancies is climbing, more than doubling from 40 at the beginning of the year to 81 today.

image 2

We see the same thing with judicial emergencies, a formal designation assigned by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts for vacancies where the caseload per judge is so high that it endangers access to justice. Judicial emergencies have skyrocketed from 12 at the beginning of the new congress to 29 as of July 15 of this year*. As the chart below shows, Democrats in the Senate during Bush’s last two years did not allow the number of judicial emergencies to increase in a similar fashion, and in fact the number generally remained steady or decreased during most of those two years.

image 3

There is work to be done, but Sen. McConnell is having the Senate take an extended seven-week summer vacation, the longest in at least 60 years. As Democratic leader Harry Reid has accurately noted:

The American people expect their elected officials to try to solve problems. At the very least, the American people demand their senators to at least show up to work on a regular basis. But Senate Republicans have done neither. Instead, they are setting dubious records for the fewest working days and the fewest judges confirmed. Republicans have denigrated this institution with their obstruction. I hope they will consider the consequences of their inaction over this seven-week vacation.

Courts are the infrastructure of justice, just as important to our constitutional rights as roads and bridges are to transportation. Either in spite of this or because of this, Senate Republicans have abused their position in the majority to stymie President Obama’s efforts to put qualified people on our nation’s federal courts. In so doing, they are weakening the entire third branch of the United States government.

 

* - Judicial emergencies are based on caseloads, which are weighted to reflect the wide variations in time and resources generally associated with different types of cases. On April 15, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts list of emergency vacancies began to incorporate a new weighting system adopted a month earlier by the Judicial Conference of the United States. As a result, the number of officially designated judicial emergencies dropped from 34 on April 14 to 28 the next day, a drop that had nothing to do with Senate action.

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At Committee Meeting, PFAW & Allies Urge Senators to #DoYourJob

Thursday, July 14, marked the 120th day since Chief Judge Merrick Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court. July 14 was also the Senate Judiciary Committee’s final markup before the August recess. In order to highlight Republican senators’ irresponsible obstruction on  judicial vacancies, People For the American Way staff members attended and stood in solidarity with activists from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Americans United for Change at the markup.

We wore buttons that read “#DoYourJob” and some advocates silently held signs when the meeting concluded. Our presence put additional pressure on Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley and his Republican colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee to give Garland fair consideration and to fill the growing number of other judicial vacancies.

On the agenda for the markup meeting were four judicial nominees: Jennifer Puhl, Don Coggins, David Nye, and Kathleen Sweet. Puhl, Coggins, and Nye were unanimously approved by the committee on a voice vote, but they join a long list of nearly 20 other nominees who are still waiting for consideration from the full Senate. They are unlikely to receive a vote before the fall.

During the committee proceedings, ranking member Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) gave voice to our frustrations, and the frustrations of so many Americans, by directly addressing the rising number of judicial vacancies across the United States and the failure of Republican senators to fulfill their job requirements by adequately processing judicial nominees:

“The sharply rising number of judicial vacancies across the country is the direct consequence of Republican leadership neglecting the Senate’s duty to ensure the federal judiciary can function. When Senate Republicans took over the majority last year, there were 43 judicial vacancies, 12 of which were emergency vacancies. Because of the Republicans’ refusal to do their jobs, vacancies have nearly doubled to 83, and emergency vacancies have nearly tripled to 30.”

Astoundingly, at the last markup session before the congressional recess, and 120 days since Merrick Garland’s nomination, Sen. Chuck Grassley did not even speak about the most pressing judicial vacancy: the open ninth seat on the Supreme Court. Sen. Leahy, however, did, saying:

"Republicans are failing our justice system and the American people by continuing their unprecedented blockade of Chief Justice Merrick Garland’s nomination for the Supreme Court.”

We agree with Sen. Leahy and so many Americans. The American people deserve a fully-functioning judicial system, including a Supreme Court with nine justices. Republican Senators’ refusal to adequately process judicial nominees is disgraceful. Tell Sen. Grassley to stop playing politics with our justice system, and tell GOP senators to do their jobs. 

PFAW

Faith Leaders Urge Senate Action on Supreme Court Vacancy

With the Senate Judiciary Committee holding its last business meeting until the Senate comes back to work in September with no action on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, faith leaders held a press call today announcing release of a statement calling on senators to end their obstruction.  The statement, which can be read below, is signed by over 40 national and state religious organizations representing a diverse group of faith traditions and beliefs and is being delivered today to Senate leadership. 

Key statements from today’s press call announcing the letter:

Harsh Voruganti, Esq., Executive Council Member, Hindu American Foundation:

“As faith leaders, we expect better from our Senators. We expect our Senators to fulfill their constitutional obligation to give fair consideration to the President’s nominee.  This means that the nominee should receive a prompt hearing, and a timely up or down vote, regardless of the party of the appointing President, or who controls the Senate.”

Nancy K. Kaufman, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women:

“Every aspect of our lives and the character of our democracy is impacted by judicial vacancies, none more so than the current vacancy on the Supreme Court.

“For those of us who increasingly depend on the court to protect our religious freedom and our rights as women, the ongoing vacancy is disastrous. That’s why people of faith, including NCJW, are mobilizing like never before to hold senators accountable to do their job.”

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Religious Affairs, People For the American Way:

“Courts matter. As an African American woman, someone who has been involved in civil rights and civic engagement for over 30 years, the communities I am a part of have relied on the Supreme Court time and time again to protect our voting rights, our reproductive rights, and our fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

“I believe that the 2300 members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, and all voters in this country, sent folks to the Senate to do what’s right, and not necessarily what’s easy. Yet this morning, during the last Senate Judiciary Committee executive committee meeting until September, the Senate again failed to do its job, which is to do what’s right – give fair consideration to Judge Garland – and stop doing what’s easy – being divisive and nonproductive on this critical issue.”

Rabbi Michael Namath, Program Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism:

“Pursuing justice means demanding a system of justice that provides equal protection and equal access for all. In setting up the Jewish people’s first judicial system, Jethro taught, ‘Judge the people at all seasons’ (Exodus 18:22). This text reminds us today that judgement must happen in all seasons, in all presidencies and in all congresses in order for our democracy to function and protect our constitutional rights.

Rev. Aundreia Alexander, Esq., Associate General Secretary, National Council of Churches: 

“The faith community holds views that are as far right as one can go, and equally extreme on the proverbial political left, but at our core are common values that affirm love, grace, mercy and the intrinsic value of all life.  One of our roles in society is to serve as a moral compass within the public square, and to call our leaders to account when they act in ways that are unfair or are self-serving.  Christian leaders have a responsibility to care for the holistic needs of the community as well as to speak truth to power and hold the 3 branches of government accountable. 

“The Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter and interpreter of laws that are of vital importance to people of faith including immigration, voting, health care, etc. The plight of individual lives and society at large is too important for these issues to not be given the comprehensive examination and review that a fully functioning court provides. Therefore, as faith leaders in the United States, we declare that it is a moral imperative that the Supreme Court vacancy be filled.”

Interfaith Moral Message on US Supreme Court Vacancy

On behalf of our groups, representing a diverse group of faith traditions and beliefs, we urge the Senate to fulfill its constitutional responsibility and hold a swift hearing and vote on US Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland.

The constitution clearly assigns the Senate a crucial role in the judicial nominations process when it states that the President, “By and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint…Judges of the Supreme Court.” While many of our groups do not take positions on individual nominees, we stand united in our belief that the Senate’s duties regarding Supreme Court vacancies ought to be carried out in a timely fashion. The Senate’s ongoing delay in fulfilling this responsibility threatens the ability of our government to operate at full capacity and undermines our nation’s commitment to the pursuit of justice and democracy.

The 2015-2016 US Supreme Court term demonstrated the urgency of ensuring a full bench when a new term begins in October. The Court’s decisions have a major impact on core issues of American life, from healthcare to education to immigration and more. Only with a nine member Court can the split decisions that we saw this year be avoided and clear direction be provided.

We urge you to uphold your constitutional responsibility and expeditiously act on Judge Garland’s nomination by supporting confirmation hearings and a Senate floor vote.

Signatories,

National Organizations
African American Ministers Leadership Council
Anti-Defamation League
Bend the Arc Jewish Action
Central Conference of American Rabbis
DignityUSA
Franciscan Action Network
Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement
Hindu American Foundation
Individual Citizen of Gospel Peace
Interfaith Alliance
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Leadership Conference of Women Religious
National Council of Churches
National Council of Jewish Women
The Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College/Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
Sadhana
The Shamayim V'Aretz Institute
Women of Reform Judaism
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Uri L'Tzedek

State/ Local Organizations
Courts Matter (Illinois)
Franciscans Sisters of Mary (Maine)
Hadassah, New Orleans (Louisiana)
The Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (Massachusetts)
Jewish Community Relations Council of New Haven (Connecticut)
Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara (California)
JPIC Committee of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania)
The Imani Group, Inc. (South Carolina)
National Council of Jewish Women, Arizona Section (Arizona)
National Council of Jewish Women, Bergen County Section (New Jersey)
National Council of Jewish Women, California (California)
National Council of Jewish Women, Florida (Florida)
National Council of Jewish Women, Greater New Orleans Section (Louisiana)
National Council of Jewish Women Illinois State Policy Advocacy Network (Illinois)
National Council of Jewish Women, Long Beach (California)
National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles (California)
National Council of Jewish Women, Minnesota (Minnesota)
National Council of Jewish Women, New York (New York)
National Council of Jewish Women, Seattle Section (Washington)
National Council of Jewish Women, St. Louis (Missouri)
Ohio Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (Ohio)
SisterReach (Tennessee)
Temple Sinai (Louisiana)
Total Community Action, Inc. (Louisiana)

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Senate GOP Keeping Court Vacancies Open So Trump Can Transform America’s Judiciary

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The Constitution sets up an independent judiciary as the third branch of government, intended to protect people’s rights and to serve as a check on the power of the other two branches. Our nation’s charter tasks the president and the Senate with the job of selecting and vetting the people who would serve on those courts.  President Obama has been doing his duty by nominating qualified women and men to serve as judges at all levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court.

But the GOP-controlled Senate is not living up to its constitutional responsibilities. While this has always been harmful to America, it is even more so with Donald Trump the presumed presidential nominee of his party.

Mitch McConnell and his party have slow-walked or outright blocked so many nominees that the number of circuit and district court vacancies has risen from 40 when they took over the Senate to 80 today. (There are also several vacancies for the Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.) In that same time, the number of vacancies formally designated as judicial emergencies has skyrocketed from 12 to 29. The Senate has not been allowed to vote on nominees who were thoroughly vetted and approved months ago by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support.

Yesterday, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin went to the floor to draw attention to the problem. She noted that while the Senate GOP’s blockade of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland has been in the headlines, that has not been the case with the obstruction of lower court nominees.

She focused particularly on Seventh Circuit nominee Donald Schott, who not only has Democrat Baldwin’s support, but also that of his other home-state senator, Republican Ron Johnson.  Schott would fill the nation’s longest circuit court vacancy, which has been open for well over six years.  Since the Supreme Court takes so few cases, the Seventh Circuit is usually the last word on the meaning of the Constitution and federal laws for millions of people in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, and every day that goes by with that vacancy open hurts everyone in those states.  Schott earned strong bipartisan support from the Judiciary Committee, which advanced his nomination to the full Senate four weeks ago.  Baldwin noted that Schott also has the support of a bipartisan group of former Wisconsin Bar presidents.  Saying that “the people of Wisconsin and our neighbors in Illinois and Indiana deserve a fully functioning appeals court,” Baldwin urged McConnell to finally allow votes on Schott and on all of the judicial nominees who have cleared the Judiciary Committee.  Many of them have been waiting for more than half a year for a floor vote, with several having been approved by the Judiciary Committee last year.

But Republicans are fighting to keep vacancies open for as long as possible so that they will be filled by a President Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, who wants to make it easier for the government to punish media sources whose reporting he disagrees with.

Donald Trump, who has said that Latinos cannot serve effectively as unbiased judges.

Donald Trump, who would ban certain people from entering the country based on their religion.

Donald Trump, who has demeaned and humiliated women at every opportunity.

Donald Trump, who has used hate groups’ blatantly anti-Semitic imagery in his campaign.

Donald Trump, who has said he is considering firing all Muslim TSA agents.

With serious discussion among scholars, political figures, and Americans across the political spectrum on whether Trump’s extreme views amount to fascism, we need a strong, effective, and independent federal judiciary more than ever. Yet Senate Republicans are pulling out the stops to allow Donald Trump to move quickly to dramatically transform our judiciary from the Supreme Court on down.

The Senate GOP is abdicating their constitutional and moral responsibility to the American people and to our democracy.

PFAW

Richard Land: Trump Can Get Evangelical Votes By Promising To Put Ted Cruz On Supreme Court

Evangelical seminary president Richard Land told the American Family Association’s One News Now today that Donald Trump could help himself “enormously” with social conservatives “if he were to hold a press conference and say that if he is indeed elected president, that he will nominate Ted Cruz to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.”

Land has previously promoted some pretty extreme ideas about the federal courts. Just after the November 2014 elections in which Republicans took control of the Senate, Land called on Republicans not to confirm a single federal judge for the final two years of Obama’s term.

Land, who was president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for 25 years, is serving on a religious advisory panel for Trump even though last October he said he was “dismayed” by Trump’s “mystifying and somewhat depressing” popularity among evangelicals. At the time, he called support for Trump “a failure on our part to adequately disciple our people.”

His earlier lack of enthusiasm for Trump was in spite of sharing some similar personal history. In 2012, Land announced his retirement from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in the midst of a controversy over inflammatory comments he made saying that President Obama was using the Trayvon Martin killing “to try to gin up the black vote” for his re-election. Although Land eventually apologized, his initial response to criticism was defiant, saying that he had been “speaking the truth in love” and would not “bow to the false god of political correctness.”

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