Fair and Just Courts

Rep. Steve King Introduces Court-Stripping Bill Written By Radical Anti-Gay Activists

Yesterday, Rep. Steve King announced the introduction of his "Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act of 2015," which would strip federal courts of the ability to hear any case involving the issue of marriage equality:

A Republican lawmaker is trying to keep federal courts from hearing same-sex marriage cases.

Less than a week before the Supreme Court plans to hear arguments in potentially one of the nation’s most influential cases on gay marriage, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced the Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act of 2015 to preserve state bans.

“For too long, federal courts have overstepped their constitutionally limited duty to interpret the Constitution.” King said in a news release. “Rather, federal courts have perverted the Constitution to make law and create constitutional rights to things such as privacy, birth control, and abortion. These Unenumerated, so-called constitutionally-protected rights were not envisioned by our Founding Fathers.”

King’s bill strips way Article III of the Constitution, which gives federal courts the jurisdiction to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, any type of marriage. The bill also prohibits federal funds from being used for any litigation in, or enforcement of any order or judgment by, any federal court.

King said his bill would stop the courts from “destroying traditional marriage.”

What is going unreported is fact that this bill is the result of a campaign backed by some of the most radical anti-gay activists operating today, including Peter LaBarbera, BarbWire, Vision America, Dr. Steve Hotze, and others.

The idea itself was the brainchild of Faith 2 Action's Janet Porter, a longtime anti-gay activist who, just yesterday, warned that gay marriage was responsible for Noah's flood.

Porter was also the driving force behind the recent anti-gay documentary "Light Wins," which featured a handful of GOP elected officials and presidential candidates along with dozens of hardline anti-gay activists warning that gay activists seek to criminalize Christianity:

Not too long ago, we produced an overview of just some of the insane things that Porter has said and done in recent years:

  • Claimed that pastors who won’t perform same-sex marriages will be “carried off into jail” in states with marriage equality laws.
  • Blamed gay rights for Noah’s Flood in a column entitled: “How Same-Sex Marriage Points To End Of The World.”
  • Claimed Jason Collins’ decision to come out of the closet will endanger freedom. 
  • Warned that President Obama will use the Swine flu to “round up American citizens” and throw them in “FEMA concentration camps.”
  • Wondered if former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson is the Antichrist.

Clinton Recognizes the Key Role of Supreme Court Nominations in Protecting Our Democracy

The Clinton campaign talks about how her Supreme Court nominees would affect the right to vote and money in politics.
PFAW

Roy Moore Compares Anti-Gay Fight To Resisting Slavery & Segregation

Last week, the Coalition of African American Pastors (CAAP), a small group associated with the National Organization for Marriage, presented Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore with its first “Letter from the Birmingham Jail Courage Award,” comparing Moore’s defiance of federal courts on marriage equality to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s civil disobedience during the civil rights movement.

Moore accepted the award by comparing federal court decisions in favor of marriage equality to the infamous Supreme Court decisions in Plessy v. Ferguson and Dred Scott. Reading a passage from the dissent in Plessy, Moore said it “seemed to ring very true in the issue before this country today about same-sex marriage and taking away the institution of marriage as between one man and one woman.”

The blog Left in Alabama captured the video:

After the presentation of the award, a reporter in the audience repeatedly asked Moore and CAAP President William Owens how they thought legalizing marriage for gay and lesbian couples would undermine marriage for straight people.

“It takes away the very definition ordained of God,” Moore responded. “A different definition destroys the definition of marriage. It’s not about the right to marry. There is a right to marry in our Constitution and the constitutions of the majority of the states, but it’s between a man and a woman.”

Owens took a different tack: “First of all, it’s not natural law and it’s immoral. It’s not natural for man to be married to a man. That is not natural. And that’s what this award is about. Dr. King emphasized it must line up with natural law. And if you believe that so much that a man should marry a man or a woman should marry a woman, go try it with electricity.”

Thanks, Mitch: Confirmed Judges to Skyrocket From One to Two

McConnell schedules a vote on one - and only one - judicial nominee.
PFAW

More of the Same, As Grassley Delays More Judicial Nominees

Grassley needlessly delays a committee vote on judicial nominees, just as Republicans have done for almost every one of Obama's judicial nominees.
PFAW

Conservative Columnist Warns God Will Destroy America If Supreme Court Rules For Marriage Equality

In a column for Matt Barber’s outlet BarbWire today, Michael Bresciani expounds on an amicus brief submitted by a number of Religious Right groups warning the Supreme Court that a ruling in favor of marriage equality could bring God’s judgment down on America. Bresiciani approvingly cites the amicus brief, agreeing that the Bible “clearly warns that the practice and promulgation of homosexuality and other perversions will draw God’s disfavor and in time his severe judgment on this and any nation.”

Should LGBT rights activist succeed with their “demonic plan” at the Supreme Court, he warns, “there will be absolutely nothing left to block an impending and imminent judgment against the United States from a very patient God who after all, will not be mocked.”

Bresciani concludes by assuring readers that he does not hate gay people because “the only thing real Christians hate about the gays is the fact that more creatures created in the image of God will be cast into an eternal hell.”

The Bible clearly warns that the practice and promulgation of homosexuality and other perversions will draw God’s disfavor and in time his severe judgment on this and any nation. Those who take their bibles seriously cannot wait until others take them seriously – it will be too late by then.

There is little left for the LGBT to disrupt in America and the gay agenda’s public relations activists have clobbered the nation through the media, the state legislatures and it is now looming at the door of the Supreme Court to bring marriage in line with its demonic plan.

Should they succeed there will be absolutely nothing left to block an impending and imminent judgment against the United States from a very patient God who after all, will not be mocked

Having spent the last ten years intensely focusing on America’s waltz into the deepest levels of moral depravity and reprobation, I have often wondered why God drives us to warn a people who turn a deaf ear to its best voices for good, like those listed above. It seems that the voices are called into play only so in the end no one will call for the excuse that they were not warned. It seems that they will be granted what they want while ignoring the approach to losing all that they already have. Such futility is not new to nations throughout history, but now it’s coming to a neighborhood near you.

America has ignored every warning and message of those sent to her and is about to slam headlong into what I describe as the “40 Year Factor.”

I can’t say what that means in every detail, but I can say what I have seen and heard and that starts with an economic collapse that will parallel and go beyond the dust bowl days and the stock market crash of 1929. It will be a time of “extreme poverty and scarcity” such as never seen in our history.

The mighty push against all things Biblical, constitutional, rational, moral and decent is about to cross a line marked “no return allowed.”

The use of the word “homophobia’ is subterfuge being used as the last day’s PC war cry for anyone who does not want to face the serious nature and consequences of their own worst behaviors.

Not wanting to bake cakes for gays is nothing when considering that Christians are called upon to refrain from even mentioning what gays do in secret – why would they consent to promote or celebrate such behaviors. To wit:

“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.” (Eph 5: 11-12)

Regardless of which way these legal battles turn out one thing is clear the only thing real Christians hate about the gays is the fact that more creatures created in the image of God will be cast into an eternal hell.

Concern and sadness about the loss of their lives and futures is something that compassionate believers all share because it is not the will of God that anyone should perish. If it is not God’s will then it is not our will.

Where is Pat Toomey on Phil Restrepo's Nomination?

Five months into Pennsylvanian Phil Restrepo's nomination, Chuck Grassley has not scheduled a hearing. What is Pat Toomey doing to help?
PFAW

Mitch McConnell: Doing the Least He Can Possibly Do

Lest anyone think that Mitch McConnell hasn’t been paying attention to the judicial vacancy crisis or the Americans who pay the price when their cases are delayed or relocated, today everything changed: today Senator McConnell allowed a vote on … one judicial nominee!
PFAW

The GOP Finally Allows a Judicial Confirmation Vote

Later today, the Senate is scheduled to vote to confirm Alfred Bennett to the Southern District of Texas. But if McConnell is expecting congratulations, he should expect to wait a long time … just as he forces judicial nominees to wait for a confirmation vote.
PFAW

The 5 Worst Arguments Against Marriage Equality At The Supreme Court

In the weeks leading up to oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, a collection of marriage equality cases being heard at the Supreme Court this month, groups on both sides of the issue have been flooding the Court with amicus briefs.

These have inevitably included some very bad arguments from lawyers arguing on behalf of anti-LGBT groups. Here are five of the worst:

5. Gays Need ‘Tough Love,’ Like Smokers Or Drug Abusers

Mike Huckabee Policy Solutions (which identifies itself as a group “backed by private citizens and organizations who support the national policy aims of Mike Huckabee”) and anti-gay “statistician” Paul Cameron’s Family Research Institute tell the Justices that “[h]omosexuality and same-sex marriage are tied to early death” and thus gay people, much like drug abusers, need “tough love” instead of marriage rights.

As with smoking or drug abuse, it would be neither compassionate nor kind to normalize and encourage a known and significant public health risk such as homosexuality. Heightened early mortality risk suggests that homosexual practice (whether in casual or long-term unions) is self-injurious and therefore would put undue financial, emotional, and health burdens on survivors, especially children, as well as society, pursuant to any normalization of same-sex marriage by decree of this Court.

Just as in the cases of drug abusers or suicidal individuals, it would not be compassionate nor kind of this Court to attempt to further normalize and encourage known and significant public health risks represented by LGBT lifestyles and unions. Thus, the expansion of LGBT activity by decree of this Court is likely to proliferate undue financial, emotional, and health burdens upon survivors, especially children, and upon wider society as well. Far from “hateful,” the amici curiae herein hold that deference to the States in the regulation of lawful marriage, as well as federalist restraint and humility by this Court, would represent an act of love. “Tough love,” perhaps, but love nonetheless.

4. Marriage Equality Will Lead To Civil War

While the Texas chapter of Eagle Forum, in a brief written by Phyllis Schlafly’s son Andrew, never exactly says in its Supreme Court brief that a broad ruling in favor of marriage equality would lead to civil war, it does draw an awful lot of parallels between the effects of Obergefell and those of the infamous pre-Civil War Dred Scott case.

The Texas Eagle Forum brief warns of “a badly fractious effect” if the Court declares that “the Bible is wrong about marriage,” drawing out “regional differences” similar to the regional divide over slavery before the Civil War. The group warns that, like Dred Scott, “any ruling by the Court that imposes homosexual marriage on Texas and every corner of the United States would cause vastly more conflict, along regional lines.”

In 1857, as now, there were sharp regional differences over a fundamental social issue. But rather than allow Congress to sort the disputes out, the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds and attempted to dictate one solution nationwide about slavery. That poured fuel on the fire, as history teaches. Likewise, any ruling by the Court here that attempts to establish homosexual marriage for every region of our country, thereby declaring that the local voters are wrong, their political leaders are wrong, and the Bible is wrong about marriage, will have a badly fractious effect.

The disunity will greatly worsen if the Court rules that Texas and other southern states must begin performing homosexual marriage. Far from unifying the Nation, as some argue, such a Court ruling would have a divisive effect similar to that of the Dred Scott decision. The Dred Scott Court felt that by imposing its view of slavery on the entire Nation, the Court was resolving the conflict. In fact, of course, the decision made the conflict far worse. Likewise, any ruling by the Court that imposes homosexual marriage on Texas and every corner of the United States would cause vastly more conflict, along regional lines.

Texas Eagle Forum specifically argues that the supposedly unbiblical nature of same-sex marriage would “be disastrous for the unity of our Nation” because the Bible is “the strongest link that holds our society together.”

The Bible is perhaps the most unifying force of our Nation.

A Supreme Court ruling that endorses homosexual marriage would directly conflict with clear teachings in both the Old and New Testaments. See, e.g., Genesis 2:24 (“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”) and Mark 10:6-8 (“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’”) (ESV). In essence, the Court would be rejecting the Bible as false, and by implication perhaps even disparaging the Bible as hate speech. Whether the large percentage of Americans who respect the Bible would be persuaded by such a ruling remains to be seen. But if they are persuaded, then the results would be disastrous for the unity of our Nation, because it would weaken the strongest link that holds our society together.

3. Marriage Equality Is Bad For Gay People’s Kids Because Right Wing Watch Criticized Robert Oscar Lopez

There was a big splash in the right-wing media when four adults who were raised for at least part of their lives by same-sex couples, most prominently activist Robert Oscar Lopez, submitted an amicus brief against marriage equality.

Lopez cites one flawed study about same-sex parenting and uses it as a jumping-off point for discussing what he speculates is a trend toward things getting “harder, not easier” for children raised by same-sex couples as “gay marriage has become a broader and more accepted phenomenon."

It has gotten harder, not easier, for COGs [Children of Gays], to the extent that gay marriage has become a broader and more accepted phenomenon. The younger generation of COGs has lived with an enormous amount of surveillance and speech policing by people interested in ensuring that they say nothing to undermine the social prestige of their gay guardians. The younger generation of COGs seems to feel more uprooted from the missing half of their ancestry and more fearful of defying the authority of gay stepparent figures whom they still tend to view as stepparents even if they are fond of them.

COGs are now treated with less dignity, more suspicion, fewer protections and heightened discrimination/harassment/retaliation than they saw before same-sex marriage achieved a level of national success. All of this is emanating from within the gay community, enabled by complacent groups such as COLAGE and emboldened by the gay-marriage equality movement. Put simply, the situation for COGs has worsened as their numbers have multiplied.

Lopez’s main piece of evidence for the “heightened discrimination/harrassment/retaliation” being directed at the children of gay parents since those parents began to gain marriage rights seems to be his own experience being criticized by blogs, including Right Wing Watch, which he details at great length in a separate section of the brief.

2. It’s Okay To Discriminate Against Women, So Why Not Gays?

Mark Joseph Stern at Slate flagged a brief submitted by the state of South Carolina which illustrates at length the concern that the drafters of the 14th Amendment had about it granting rights to women. Since the state at the time sought to discriminate against women, the brief argues, then it is absurd to apply the amendment’s protections to gay and lesbian people who want to get married.

Here’s a representative paragraph:

Nor did the framers and their contemporaries conceive that the definition of marriage consisted of anything other than the union between man and woman. Indeed, the framers insisted upon leaving untouched those state laws depriving women of basic rights upon marriage to a man. Surely then, those state laws exclusively defining marriage as between a man and woman were hands off under the Amendment’s original meaning.

Representatives from the South Carolina solicitor general’s and attorney general’s offices followed up with Stern to clarify that “that their state does not wish to implement the sexist laws outlined in its brief—though it could if it wanted to.”

1. Marriage Equality Will Cause God To Destroy America

Really any constitutional argument you can come up with becomes irrelevant if we are threatened with God’s judgement on America. A coalition of right-wing groups (two of which have close ties with Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore), pulled out that trump card in a brief in which they warn the Justices that should they “require the States and the People to ‘ritualize’ sodomite behavior by government issuance of a state marriage license, it could bring God’s judgment on the Nation.”

The groups, including Public Advocate of the United States and the Institute on the Constitution (run by longtime Moore funder and Maryland GOP official Michael Peroutka) and assisted by former Moore collaborator Herb Titus, assure the Justices that the warnings of Leviticus are still very much in effect:

Should the Court require the States and the People to “ritualize” sodomite behavior by government issuance of a state marriage license, it could bring God’s judgment on the Nation. Holy Scripture attests that homosexual behavior and other sexual perversions violate the law of the land, and when the land is “defiled,” the people have been cast out of their homes. See Leviticus 18:22, 24-30. Although some would assert that these rules apply only to the theocracy of ancient Israel, the Apostle Peter rejects that view: “For if God ... turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly.” 2 Peter 2:4-6. The continuing application of this Levitical prohibition is confirmed by the Book of Jude: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering 1 Kings 14:24. 41 the vengeance of eternal fire.”

The Courts Have to Matter to LGBTQ Americans

The following is a guest post by Erik Lampmann, a 2011 Young People For (YP4) Fellow. It is cross-posted on the Alliance for Justice blog and the YP4 blog.

Federal courts routinely hand down judgments that affect everyday Americans at an immediate, painful, and personal level – for good or ill.

Consider the case of Seamus Johnston, a transgender student expelled by the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ) for his use of male restrooms and gym facilities on campus. When he sought redress for his experiences at the hands of UPJ, U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled he had no room to claim discrimination since he was being treated in accordance with his sex as assigned at birth and had not had sex reassignment surgery.

In some ways, Johnson was warranted in thinking he was free to live openly as a transgender man since UPJ offers gender identity and expression protections under its student nondiscrimination statement. Indeed, Johnson had lived openly and without significant difficulty as a man since 2009 — even having taken advantage of men-only exercise courses. Only in 2011 was Johnson first confronted for using a men’s locker room. After issuing Johnson citations, barring him from certain facilities, and eventually arresting him, the university expelled him for his attempt to use the bathroom in which he felt most at peace and which he believed he was permitted to use by university policy. In his appeal for justice, Johnson didn’t ask for much — simply that a university that purports to protect students based on “gender identity and expression” allow him a modicum of relief as a transgender person rather than criminalizing his attempts to live authentically.

Essentially, Judge Gibson acknowledged Johnson’s self-identification as a transgender man, but she didn’t think it really mattered in the context of the Equal Protection Clause or Title IX.  Flatly ignoring guidance from the Department of Education encouraging institutions of higher education to recognize transgender and gender non-conforming students’ right to protections under Title IX, Judge Gibson left Johnston, and other transgender students, without protection from sex discrimination. She wrote:

While Plaintiff might identify his gender as male, his birth sex is female … It is this fact … that is fatal to Plaintiff’s sex discrimination claim. Regardless of how gender and gender identity are defined, the law recognizes certain distinctions between male and female on the basis of birth sex. Thus, even though Plaintiff is a transgender male, his sex is female.

In sum, this decision reflects a sobering reality for LGBTQ people, particularly transgender and gender non-conforming individuals: The government — more specifically, a judge — holds the power to determine if the law protects how you define yourself.

This example dramatizes just one way that our courts fail to live up to the promise of the motto “equal justice under law” by protecting the vulnerable among us from exclusion and discrimination. I’ll admit that several years ago the result in this case might have led me to give up on the courts as an avenue for change.

Recent decisions from the Supreme Court and other federal courts have prompted some progressives to view the courts as a once-relevant institution home only to disconnected jurists. When we as progressives write off the courts and treat them as spaces where our communities were never meant to triumph, we concede the power to speak from our lived experience as those affected by the law and to shift the balance of power within the judiciary.

In reality, the legal knowledge of our communities paired with our deeply personal understanding of how the courts’ decisions impact real people gives us a tremendous power to affect the composition of the courts and to create legal precedents that respect rather than ignore our communities’ needs.

Seamus Johnston’s experiences with the justice system are then instructive for progressives building long-term judicial strategies. His loss in the Western District of Pennsylvania is but one battle in a much longer struggle for social justice.

The courts have to matter for LGBTQ Americans and so many others who find themselves on the losing end of cases like Johnston’s. They have to matter because we cannot afford to write off institutions, elected officials, or organizations as permanent friends or enemies. Rather, if we truly believe another world is possible, we have to build it brick by brick, precedent by precedent, judge by judge.

PFAW Foundation

New Report Examines Supreme Court’s “Citizens United Era”

A new report released today by People For the American Way Foundation explores the extreme pro-corporate jurisprudence of the Supreme Court in recent years, identifying parallels to the Court’s infamous Lochner era a century ago. “The Supreme Court in the Citizens United Era” by PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin explores how the Roberts Court’s right-wing majority has established a precedent for privileging corporations over individuals, allowing corporations to enjoy the rights of the people while reducing the rights that people have against corporations.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United was a disastrous turning point for our democracy,” said People For the American Way Foundation Executive Vice President Marge Baker. “But it also signifies a broader shift in the way the Supreme Court interprets our laws. Most dangerously, the Supreme Court has transformed the First Amendment from a critical protection against government censorship and oppression into a Get Out of Jail Free card for corporations looking to protect their bottom line.”

As Raskin writes in the report:

“Corporations increasingly enjoy all the rights of the people, but the people increasingly have no rights against corporations. Indeed, as we shall see, the conservative majority on the Roberts Court not only interprets federal law in dubious ways to defeat corporate liability but often works its special wonders to preempt state laws that would hold corporations accountable for civil injuries they cause against patients and consumers.”

The report covers cases ranging from Hobby Lobby, which granted corporations religious rights to opt-out of requirements on women’s health, to Sorrell v. IMS Health, which struck down Vermont’s prescription confidentiality law, to Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders, which allowed interlocking corporations to hide assets from individuals defrauded by investment advisors.

Jamie Raskin, who serves as a constitutional law professor at American University Washington College of Law and a Maryland State Senator, in addition to his role as PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow, is available to discuss the report and the Supreme Court’s recent decisions. Please contact media@pfaw.org to schedule an interview.

You can find the full text of the report at: http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/supreme-court-citizens-united-era-century-after-lochner-era-roberts-court-

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The Supreme Court in the Citizens United Era: A Century After the Lochner Era, the Roberts Court Imposes a Startling New Corporatism on America

People For the American Way Foundation's latest report explores the extreme pro-corporate jurisprudence of the Supreme Court in recent years, identifying parallels to the Court’s infamous Lochner era a century ago.

With Court-Stripping Scheme, Ted Cruz Embraces Roy Moore School Of Constitutional Law

Ted Cruz raised more than a few eyebrows last week when, barely a week into his presidential run, he proposed a radical plan to strip federal courts of the ability to decide cases involving marriage equality.

As Esquire’s Charles Pierce notes, Cruz is echoing a time-honored rallying cry of people who are losing a battle in the federal courts: “Previous attempts include trying to remove the Supreme Court's jurisdiction over cases in a number of instances, including those involving school prayer, school busing, abortion, and pornography.”

The strategy has also been used in recent memory by another prominent player in t​oday’s marriage equality debate: Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Back in 2004, shortly after Moore was removed from his first stint in the court after he defied a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building, he worked with attorney Herb Titus to draft a bill that would have stripped jurisdiction over all such cases from the federal courts.

The bill, which would have barred federal courts from ruling on cases challenging officials who recognized "God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government," never made it out of committee, but it managed to garner 37 cosponsors in the House and five in the Senate; when it was reintroduced the next year, it was up to 50 House cosponsors and nine Senate cosponsors.

Despite the bill’s failure to make it off the ground in Congress, it was a publicity boon for Moore. One of Moore’s top financial supporters, the Christian nationalist and southern secessionist Michael Peroutka, spent $12,000 on a campaign to drum up support for the measure and accompanied Moore to at least one event touting it along with Peroutka’s 2004 campaign for president as the nominee of the Constitution Party.

As far as we know, Moore hasn’t spoken publicly about Cruz’s idea to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over marriage issues. But it seems that on this issue, they are two peas in a pod.

PFAW Edit Memo: Senate Republicans' Failure to Confirm Obama Nominees — By the Numbers

To: Interested Parties
From: Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel, People For the American Way
Date: March 27, 2015
Re: Senate Republicans' Failure to Confirm Obama Nominees—By the Numbers

Three months into the 114th Congress, it's a good time to take stock of how the newly-Republican Senate is doing when it comes to processing circuit and district court judicial nominations. While they are rightly being criticized for the interminable delay in voting to confirm Loretta Lynch as Attorney General, they have also abdicated responsibility for confirming judges, having confirmed a grand total of zero so far. As they head home for a two-week break, Senate Republicans have made it clear that they have no interest in governing responsibly.

A useful basis of comparison is George W. Bush’s final two years in office, when his judicial nominees were considered by a newly-Democratic Senate.  In 2007, the Judiciary Committee under Chairman Patrick Leahy hit the ground running.  There were numerous nominees from the previous Congress approved by the GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee but left unconfirmed at the end of 2006.  Rather than force them into new hearings for the benefit of the new committee members, Chairman Leahy arranged for quick votes instead.  The Committee also processed several first-time nominees.  As a result, by end of March 2007, the Senate had confirmed 15 new judges.

The Senate ended up confirming a total of 68 circuit and district court judges during that two-year period.  The chart below shows how today’s Republican-controlled Senate compares to the Democratic-controlled Senate of Bush’s last two years, and the pace of confirmations they will be compared to this year and next.

Another way of contrasting how seriously the Democrats took their job in 2007-2008 vs. 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 even 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 had 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 vacancies is climbing steadily, from 40 at the beginning of the year to 51 today.

We see the same thing with judicial emergencies, which have skyrocketed from 12 at the beginning of the year to 23 today.  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 like that, and in fact the number generally remained steady or decreased during most of the two-year time.

Majority Leader McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley have their work cut out for them if they want to reduce the number of judicial vacancies and emergencies.  It should not be difficult to do, if they take governance seriously.

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Supreme Court Sends Alabama Racial Gerrymandering Case Back to Lower Court

The Supreme Court rules in favor of those challenging Alabama's redistricting as racially gerrymandered and harmful to African Americans.
PFAW Foundation

PFAW Member Telebriefing: Preview of Upcoming PFAW Foundation Report, The Supreme Court in the Citizens United Era

Yesterday, PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin previewed his upcoming report, The Supreme Court in the Citizens United Era, during a member telebriefing. Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon also joined the call to answer questions from members and discuss PFAW efforts to promote fair and just courts. Drew Courtney, Director of Communications for PFAW, moderated.

To kick off the call, Raskin reviewed another period during which the Court granted unprecedented constitutional rights to corporations. Lochner v. NY, Raskin explained, began an era in which government at every level was prevented from interfering with corporate contracts—and thereby prevented from passing sensible health and safety regulations.

Today, said Raskin, we’re in an analogous period, with the Supreme Court now using the First Amendment as an excuse for expanding or inventing the political and religious rights of corporations. This time, it’s beyond what we’ve ever seen before; the Citizens United and the Hobby Lobby cases both demonstrate how the Court is putting the interests of corporations over the rights of people and making it more difficult to hold corporations accountable for their actions. Other cases allow corporations to insulate themselves through a host of legal immunities while at the same time, they’re able to spend unlimited amounts of money  influencing who gets elected to office.

In responding to a question from a PFAW member, Baker outlined the two key ways to fight the Court’s trend of empowering corporations over people: Elect Presidents who will nominate, and Senators who will confirm, Justices who share the ideology that corporations shouldn’t be favored in their legal rights over people; and amend the Constitution, which PFAW and other groups are working on now. She also directed PFAW members to www.united4thepeople.org and www.getmoneyoutaction.org to get more involved in these issues.

You can listen to the full telebriefing here:

PFAW Foundation

Peggy Young Will Get Her Day in Court

The Supreme Court rejects a company's narrow interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
PFAW Foundation

People For the American Way & Allies: Vote “No” on Question 1 to Keep WI Supreme Court Non-Partisan

MADISON - Today, People For the American Way joined with Democracy 2020 coalition organizations to call for a defeat of Question 1, a constitutional amendment from right-wing extremists in the Wisconsin Legislature to make the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court a partisan position.

“Question 1 is a naked power grab by one branch of our state government trying to politicize another,” said Scott Foval, PFAW Regional Political Coordinator. “Defending fair and non-partisan courts is a line that must be held in the Badger state. We cannot allow politicians who think no one is paying attention to rewrite the rulebook.”

Foval was one of many activists at today’s press conference calling for a “No” vote on Question 1 in the upcoming Spring Elections on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. The conference was held at noon at the Wisconsin State Capitol, and other speakers included Mike Wilder from the Democracy 2020 Coalition / Wisconsin Voices, Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice At Stake, former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, and Legislative Policy Director Analiese Eicher from One Wisconsin Institute.

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