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.

Ted Cruz Vows to Damage Texas Courts in Response to Obama's Immigration Action

In response to President Obama's upcoming action on immigration, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has vowed to retaliate by sabotaging the federal court system in his own state.

No, that's not how he phrased it, but that would be the impact of his vow. Yesterday in Politico, Cruz wrote how he thinks the Senate should respond to the president's policy decisions on immigration enforcement:

If the president announces executive amnesty, the new Senate majority leader who takes over in January should announce that the 114th Congress will not confirm a single nominee—executive or judicial—outside of vital national security positions, so long as the illegal amnesty persists.

While such a refusal to perform one of the basic functions of the Senate would harm the entire nation, the damage in Texas would be particularly severe. No state has more judicial vacancies than the Lone Star State. No state even comes close.

As of today, Texas is suffering from eleven current federal court vacancies, with another four known to be opening in the next few months. The White House has worked closely with Sens. Cruz and Cornyn to identify potential nominees, but progress has been slow: Only six of the vacancies even have nominees; three of these have not yet had their committee hearings.

But the other three – for the Eastern and Western Districts – advanced through the Judiciary Committee this morning and are now ready for a confirmation vote by the full Senate. All three would fill vacancies formally designated as judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. Confirming them would be a good start at addressing the vacancy crisis in Texas.

And that's what is it: a crisis. As we wrote earlier this month in a Huffington Post piece entitled Lame Duck Opportunity and Obligation: Confirm Judges:

The situation is even more dire in Texas, where the Senate has a chance to fill three vacancies in the Eastern and Western Districts. The Western District judgeship has been vacant since 2008, and the Judicial Conference has asked for five new judgeships there to carry the load on top of filling all the existing vacancies. Chief Judge Fred Biery discussed the need for new judges last year, saying, "It would be nice to get some help. We are pedaling as fast as we can on an increasingly rickety bicycle." Judge David Ezra, formerly of Hawaii, explained why he was moving to Texas to hear cases in the Western District: "This is corollary to having a big wild fire in the Southwest Border states, and fire fighters from Hawaii going there to help put out the fire."

The Eastern District of Texas is in similar need of getting its vacancies filled during the lame duck: Of the nation's 94 federal districts, only two have had more weighted filings per judgeship than the Eastern District, according to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts' most recent statistics. Small wonder, then, that the Judicial Conference has asked for two new judgeships there: Even if every judgeship were filled, that just isn't enough. To make matters worse, two more judges in the Eastern District have announced their intention to retire or take senior status next year, making it all the more important to fill the current vacancies now.

Even if the three nominees are confirmed during the lame duck, as they should be, more vacancies in both of those districts will open up early next year. Texas would still have eight vacancies, a number that would rise to twelve in the next few months.

To express his fury at President Obama and rally his right-wing base, Cruz would work to make sure that all these vacancies remain unfilled, which would hurt a lot of innocent Texans.

Cross-posted from the PFAW blog.

Ted Cruz Vows to Damage Texas Courts in Response to Obama's Immigration Action

Ted Cruz urges a retaliatory freeze on all confirmations next year, which would cause particular damage to courts in his own state.
PFAW

Reid: We Cannot Leave Without Confirming Nominees

The Senate needs to vote on numerous judicial and executive nominations before the end of the lame duck session.
PFAW

Supreme Court Review of ACA Case Muzzles the DC Circuit

Since the Roberts Court took the ACA subsidies case, other courts likely won't have a chance to join the 4th Circuit in exposing how weak and political the case is.
PFAW Foundation

Lame Duck Session Confirmations: PFAW Member Telebriefing

As Congress returns for the lame duck session after the midterm elections, People For the American Way hosted a member telebriefing on Monday on the critical work that needs to be completed this session to fill court vacancies. The call was kicked off by PFAW Director of Communications Drew Courtney who underscored the significant number of judicial and executive nominations the Senate faces, including President Obama’s new Attorney General nominee, Loretta Lynch.

PFAW members were joined on the call by Josh Hsu, Senior Counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who shared Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy’s commitment to moving forward on nominees through the lame duck session. He pointed out that much of the GOP obstruction of judicial nominees occurs under the public radar, but it has an enormous impact.  If the judicial nominees who can be confirmed by year’s end are stalled instead, that will create a substantial and needless backlog in the next Congress that will delay judicial nominees down the line. 

Hsu also gave his thoughts on how Republican control of the Senate may impact judicial nominations. Hsu pointed out that the three most recent two-term presidents all faced opposition Congresses in the final two years of their presidencies, but all continued to move forward on many nominations.

PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon emphasized the importance of local activists keeping up the momentum around judicial nominations, both during the lame duck and over the next two years. Gordon called on PFAW activists to continue contacting their senators and writing to their local papers. When senators hear from constituents on an issue or see articles written in their local newspaper, Gordon said, they pay attention. Grassroots activism is critical to making sure senators get the message on the importance of the courts, and of confirming nominees before the end of the year.

You can listen to the full audio of the telebriefing here:

PFAW

Welcome Back, Senate, It's Time to Get to Work

There is more than enough time during the lame duck to confirm President Obama's nominees.
PFAW

PFAW Statement on Nomination of Loretta Lynch for U.S. Attorney General

WASHINGTON – In response to President Obama’s announcement that he will nominate Loretta Lynch to serve as the next U.S. Attorney General, People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:

“In a political environment full of attacks on our most essential constitutional rights, the importance of the Attorney General cannot be overstated, and President Obama has made an excellent choice in Loretta Lynch. As the first African American woman ever nominated to this position, Lynch is an historic choice. Just as importantly, her experience shows that she’s ready to continue and expand on Attorney General Holder’s critical work on behalf of civil rights and voting rights. She brings to the job both extraordinary legal qualifications and an inspiring personal story.

“We look forward to her formal nomination and urge the Senate to act quickly to confirm Ms. Lynch as our next Attorney General.”

Schlafly: GOP Senate's First Priority Should Be Blocking All Judicial Nominees

In a post-election interview with WorldNetDaily — “It’s a terribly important election, and I’m thrilled with it because it’s almost as big as our Republican victory in 1946” — conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly insisted that the first priority of the new GOP-controlled Senate should be to block every single one of President Obama’s judicial nominees:

Now Schlafly said it’s time for the new Republican majority to get to work by stopping President Obama from packing the judicial system with his preferred judges.

“I think the most important job of the Republican Senate is to defeat or reject, or not even take up, any of Obama’s court nominees,” she said. “He’s already put too many liberals on the court, and we don’t want any more.”

Last year, the Senate lowered the vote threshold for ending most judicial filibusters after Republicans had abused the process to routinely block even noncontroversial, bipartisan nominees.

John Oliver and Friends Stress the Importance of the Supreme Court

Oliver's comedy bit is premised on a truth: The Court is too important not to pay attention to.
PFAW

John Roberts, Calling Strikes and Strikes

Allowing Texas to enforce a voter ID law found to be intentionally discriminatory suggests the "umpire" takes sides.
PFAW Foundation

Koch Group Jumps Into Montana Supreme Court Race

The American Constitution Society has just released a big report on the effects of post-Citizens United spending on judicial elections, specifically finding that judges who survive expensive, ad-heavy elections are “less likely to vote in favor of criminal defendants.”

As it happens, an example of what happens when big outside spending groups take an interest in state judicial elections is unfolding right now in Montana.

We’ve been following how Religious Right and pro-corporate groups have been getting involved in a Montana state supreme court race, in which a former solicitor general with a right-wing record is trying to topple a sitting justice and flip the ideological balance of the court.

Last month, the anti-gay, anti-choice  Family Research Council raised money for challenger Lawrence VanDyke at a Values Voter Summit fundraiser. A couple of weeks later, a Montana offshoot of the Republican State Leadership Committee — an outside spending group bankrolled by corporations including the Reynolds tobacco company and Koch Industries dropped $110,000 on TV ads attacking VanDyke’s opponent, Justice Mike Wheat.

And now, according to the Missoulan, not only has the RSLC now spent $330,000 supporting VanDyke’s candidacy, but it has been joined in the fight by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded group that has since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision spent millions of dollars to influence elections.

AFP is spending $85,000 running ads that accuse Wheat of being an “extreme” partisan…citing his votes on bipartisan bills as a state legislator. In an interview with the Missoulan, Wheat called the ads “garbage”:

The ads say Wheat, a justice on Montana’s high court since 2010, “has a history of supporting extreme, partisan measures,” citing his votes as a state senator for a 2003 sales tax package and for an increase in hunting and fishing license fees in 2005, and his 2012 dissent in a Supreme Court ruling upholding natural gas well permits.

“Our (intent) is to educate voters on the positions that Mike Wheat has taken in the past and hold him accountable for those positions,” Lahn said.

Wheat, in an interview, called the ad “garbage” and said it has little or nothing to do with the type of a justice he’s been or will be.

The ad sponsor “is just one of the Super-PACs funded by the Koch Brothers, who want you to believe it’s only for `educational’ purposes,” Wheat said. “It’s not education at all; it’s pure politics.”

In addition to $275,000 combined that Wheat and VanDyke have reported raising for their campaigns, the race has seen spending now by four outside groups, including AFP-Montana.

Two other groups are supporting VanDyke, including the Republican State Leadership Committee, which reported Thursday it’s spent $330,000 on TV ads and mailers, and one group is supporting Wheat.

Lahn said AFP-Montana initially is spending $85,000 for its ads criticizing Wheat.

...

The AFP ad says Montanans “deserve a fair and impartial Supreme Court” and urge voters to call Wheat “and tell him to keep his extreme politics out of the Montana Supreme Court.”

Among other things, the ad refers to Wheat’s 2003 vote as a senator for a sales tax package that also reduced property and income taxes, and his 2005 vote for a bill increasing hunting and fishing license fees.

The sales tax measure passed the Senate with bipartisan support but died in the House; the hunting and fishing license bill passed with bipartisan support.

Mark Creech 'Heartbroken' By 'Terrible Tragedy' And 'Atrocity' Of Marriage Equality In North Carolina

Mark Creech, director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, wrote in the Christian Post yesterday that he was “heart-broken” (sic) by the federal court decision striking down North Carolina’s marriage equality ban, calling the decision “a terrible tragedy — an evil  — an injustice in our day.”

Creech took some comfort, however, from this month’s lunar eclipse, during which God told him that things will get better. “God makes all things beautiful in its appropriate time,” he writes, including “even death, war, killing, the escalation of wickedness, and yes, even the atrocity of legalizing same-sex marriage.”

October 10th marks the infamous day for the Tar Heel state. Judge Max O. Cogburn in Asheville declared in accord with a 4th Circuit Court ruling that North Carolina's marriage amendment was unconstitutional. The decision was not only egregious, but an act of judicial supremacy. I readily admit I was heart-broken, but it wasn't as though I was altogether unprepared.

The Lord had spoken to my heart two days before Cogburn ever slammed down his gavel. With the Supreme Court's inaction and what it would mean heavily on my mind, I awakened about 4:00 a.m. on Wednesday, October 8th, and couldn't go back to sleep. Restless, I got up and piddled about the house and made myself an early breakfast. I noticed the local television news was reporting a lunar eclipse was taking place. I thought to myself, "I want to see that." So, in my pajamas and housecoat, I made my way outside to see this glorious display in the heavens. I must say the sight of it was other-worldly, awesome, and even breathtaking.

Then, while watching the earth's shadow fall across the moon's surface, I heard the sweetness of God's voice. "See Mark," the Lord said, "the light may be eclipsed for a time, but be assured the light of God always returns to shine."

To all of my friends and colleagues in North Carolina and other states negatively impacted by the US Supreme Court's indecision – a choice that opened the door for gay marriage in 11 more states. Let me say that if you've been like me, confused, depressed, and sometimes even angry at the recent turning of events, then take a lesson from the lunar eclipse: "The light may be eclipsed for a time, but be assured the light of God always returns to shine."

What has happened is a terrible tragedy – an evil – an injustice in our day. But God makes all things beautiful in its appropriate time, meaning even death, war, killing, the escalation of wickedness, and yes, even the atrocity of legalizing same-sex marriage. God turns it. He makes it all work beautifully to accomplish His purposes in the end. We may not understand it. Nevertheless, He remains lovingly sovereign over it. We can trust Him in all things.

The light may indeed be eclipsed for a while, but the brightness of God's light will always return to shine.

Family Research Council, Anti-Gay and Anti-Choice Activists, Pitch In For Montana Supreme Court Race

Last week, we reported on the quiet effort of national right-wing groups to, in the words of the Family Research Council, “flip” the Supreme Court of Montana by electing former state solicitor general Lawrence VanDyke, who has indicated that he will be friendly to business interests and social conservative causes.

We first heard of VanDyke’s campaign for the officially nonpartisan office at last month’s Values Voter Summit, where the Family Research Council’s political action committee had decided to highlight the race at a $100-a-head fundraiser featuring Rick Santorum, Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and a number of Republican members of Congress.

Yesterday, VanDyke’s campaign issued its fundraising report for the period that included the FRC fundraiser. In the period, the campaign brought in $48,000, nearly doubling its supply of cash. It’s impossible to tell how much of that came from the FRC’s fundraiser — much of it came from Montana residents and out-of-state attorneys  but  FRC’s impact is shown in a few notable contributions.

The FRC Action PAC itself contributed $320 to VanDyke’s campaign, the maximum contribution allowed so far. William Saunders, the top lawyer at the anti-choice group Americans United for Life, also contributed $320, while Gary McCaleb, an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom contributed $200. An organizer for the Koch group Americans for Prosperity also kicked in $200.

Although we can’t know the impact of the FRC’s fundraiser — and we can't know for sure that these contributions stemmed from the event   these numbers illustrate the fact that in VanDyke, Corporate Right and Religious Right activists throughout the country have found common cause in a little-noticed but pivotal state court race.

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