Fair and Just Courts

Stay in Hope: Remarks by Minister Leslie Watson Malachi on Marriage Equality

Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way, delivered the following remarks to those supporting marriage equality in front of the Supreme Court today.

I greet you as one who is humbled to stand before you on this day that will be like none other and say celebrate, be glad in it, and keep standing for and with Hope!

Why Hope? As the Director of African American Religious Affairs of People For the American Way, Hope tells us DOMA will not stand but like Goliath, will fall.

Hope says same gender couples, in committed relationships will be recognized and receive those 1100 plus benefits now denied by the federal government. Hope defends what is right, Hope unites people and families, Hope stands with us and for us, and Hope is the American Way!

Why Hope? As an organizer and ally since 1996, Hope kept us waiting for this historic day. Hope gave us a process and a lesson to never take lightly judicial nominations, to make sure voter registration and mobilization is a core value, to rejoice in victories in 2012 from the proclamation from the highest officer holder in this country – President Obama - to 4 states making it 9 states total passing pro-Marriage Equality laws, and that our work in the states is not done.  Hope hasn’t just strengthened those who have always believed in marriage equality. It’s brought others to reconsider their opposition and join us on the side of justice for all. Hope is why we have so many other new and welcomed allies for equality.

Why Hope? As a Christian, during this Holy Week, from our sacred text “hope that is seen is not hope”, so you have had and must hold on with unwavering confidence that help has arrived, is sitting in between the walls of the highest court of this nation, and speaking into existence freedom that will no longer be denied.

And finally, why Hope? As an African American woman, on behalf of the Equal Justice Task Force of African American Ministers In Action, Hope says the enemy is a liar when they say African Americans and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are two separate - even hostile – communities, for “no weapon shall be forged against us” and no wedge can be driven between those who know oppression, discrimination, denial of basic civil and human rights.  Hope connects the civil rights movement to the gay rights movement, the yesterday to today, the hopeful to the hopeless.

So Beloved, stay in Hope! Stay in Hope I say for if the Justices are about the business of justice, then they will speak against hate, division, intolerance, and barriers to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

Stay in Hope for my sacred text tells us what “man meant for harm, God intends for good”.

In this pivotal moment in our country's history, we must stand on the side of compassion and equality rather than on the side of oppression and discrimination. And that’s why we’re all out here on the steps of the Supreme Court today.

I leave you with these words, stay in Hope because it was the late Senator Ted Kennedy who said, and prayerfully he won’t mind me playing with it a little bit, “ For all those whose dreams have been our concern (to defeat all forms of discrimination), the work goes on (we are not going to stop trying until gay and lesbian Americans across the country have full legal equality), the cause endures (freedom to be, freedom to love, just freedom), the hope still lives ( I say again hope still lives), and the dream (for all persons to marry the person they love) shall never die.”

Be encouraged! Have faith. Expand love. Know peace. And may Hope, which is never silent, always be with you!

 

 

PFAW

NOM's 'Historic' Fail

For weeks, the National Organization for Marriage’s Brian Brown has been touting the “historic” March for Marriage, telling supporters “this is our time” to "change history." A month ago he wrote excitedly about a “game-changer,” a $500,000 matching gift from one of the major donors that keep NOM afloat. Brown had been inspired by a massive turnout for an anti-marriage-equality protest  in France, and hoped for something similar in Washington. But even with big donors and heavy-weight Religious Right co-sponsors, Brown and his allies couldn’t pull it off. Not even close.

In reality, NOM’s rally had a few, perhaps several, thousand attendees.  (NOM’s Thomas Peters claims 15,000, which seems, um, generous.) And every time one of the speakers tried to make the crowd feel like part of a larger movement by talking about the 200,000 people they said marched recently for one-man/one-woman marriage in Puerto Rico, or the hundreds of thousands or millions in France and Spain, or even the 585,000 who have signed the Manhattan Declaration or the half million who marched against legal abortion, it only served to highlight how few bothered to show up in Washington. According to various speakers, the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia sent five busloads; anti-gay state senator Ruben Diaz claimed 32 buses from New York. Brian Brown gave a shout out to some Chinese Christians from Chicago.

The ethnically diverse speakers’ list was a mix of old and new, including some familiar faces on the anti-gay circuit, such as Harry Jackson, Gary Bauer, and Iowa’s Bob Vander Plaats. Harry Jackson led the crowd in a chant that he said was a prayer for the Supreme Court: “Let God arise and his enemies be scattered.” Bauer delivered a blustery message to the Republican Party that if they “bail” on marriage, he’ll lead as many people as he can out of the GOP (which may not be that much of a threat). Vander Plaats urged Supreme Court justices to look to the Founding Fathers, Billy Graham, and Pope Francis. Also speaking were Doug Mainwaring, now making the circuit as the anti-equality gay man the Religious Right loves to love; Frank Schubert, the mastermind of the dishonest Prop 8 campaign and every anti-equality campaign since then; and Jim Garlow, who made a name for himself among the Religious Right with his pro-Prop 8 organizing. Garlow insisted you cannot call yourself a Christian and support the Court’s “obliterating” what he called a “core aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (Garlow should have seen the packed crowd at the morning’s pro-equality interfaith service at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation.) Garlow warned Supreme Court justices that they will one day stand before “the Chief Justice of the Universe” and will be held accountable if they defy His ways.

A couple of groups sent under-30 speakers to say how wrong the media is to suggest that Millennials are a lost cause on this issue.  But facts are facts, and polls show that support for marriage equality is overwhelming among under-30 Americans: 72 percent of Millennials believe same-sex couples should be able to get legally married, including 58 percent of under-30 Republicans.

Many of the speakers were on-message to the point of being boringly redundant, repeating the message on marchers’ pre-printed signs: “Kids do best with a mom and a dad” and “Every child deserves a mom and a dad.” Sometimes this came with a strong shot of gender stereotypes: mothers provide tenderness and fathers provide protection.  Brian Brown even showed a video of the Religious Right’s newest heroine, the 11-year old who testified against marriage equality in Minnesota and asked which of her parents she did not need, her mother or father. Perhaps someone could explain that no same-sex couples seeking to get married have any desire to force her to get rid of either parent.

NOM’s backers for the marriage march included the far-far-right-wing Catholic group Tradition, Family & Property, with its scarlet banners, capes, and marching band (see Adele Stan’s reminder who TFP is), Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, a couple of Catholic dioceses, the Knights of Columbus and the Institute on Religion and Democracy.  Brown gave special thanks to the Mormon-run GFC Foundation for providing grants for buses.

 

Starnes and Rios: Gay Rights Opponents 'Second-Class Citizens,' Face 'Punishment' and 'Persecution'

Fox News commentator Todd Starnes joined Sandy Rios on American Family Radio yesterday to discuss the marriage equality cases being argued at the Supreme Court this week. The two took a grim view of the proceedings: Starnes lamented that opponents of gay rights have become “second-class” citizens and Rios warned that a Supreme Court marriage equality victory would lead to “tremendous punishment” for anti-gay activists.

“We are in for persecution like we have never seen,” she said, to which Starnes replied, “Well, it’s already started.”

Starnes: People are, people are very concerned about, about culture and about values and where things are going in this country. What concerns me, though, Sandy, is the vitriol coming from those who support gay marriage. You know, I’m the kind of person that is more than happy to sit down and talk and debate and listen to what people have to say. I may not agree with it, but at least, you know, it’s their right to have their opinion under our Constitution.

And yet, there seems to be this opinion on the other side that says, you know what, you and I don’t deserve the same rights. You know, it’s as if we’re second-class citizens now because we support the traditional, Biblical definition of marriage, or perhaps we are pro-life, and that means we’re somehow second-class citizens who don’t deserve to be in the public marketplace of ideas.

Rios: Absolutely. In fact, it’ll be worse than that. You know there’s going to be punishment. There will be tremendous punishment. If gay marriage is embraced by the country, if the Supreme Court goes south this week in its hearings, we are in for – of course, we’re not going to hear about it until June – but we are in for persecution like we have never seen it.

Starnes: Well, it’s already started.
 

Equal Protection or "Social Tradition": The Supreme Court's Test in the Marriage Cases

The Supreme Court hears two cases this week that could determine the future of marriage equality in America.

PFAW: Withdrawal of Halligan Nomination Shines Spotlight on GOP Obstruction

In response to the reported withdrawal of DC Circuit Court of Appeals Nominee Caitlin Halligan, People For the American Way issued the following statement.

“Caitlin Halligan’s decision to withdraw her nomination is an indictment of the continued intransigence of Senate Republicans,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way. “There’s no question that Halligan was totally qualified for the position. Anyone who wants to understand how Washington is broken can look at the filibuster led by Senators Chuck Grassley and Mitch McConnell. Not a single Senator raised concerns about Halligan’s qualifications or her character, yet Republicans wouldn’t even allow her an up-or-down vote. This is partisanship run amok.”

Halligan, who was first nominated to the DC Circuit in May of 2010, was repeatedly blocked by Republicans—including Senators Collins, McCain and Graham, members of the so-called Gang of 14 who previously spoke out against filibustering in anything but “extraordinary circumstances.”

“There’s an obvious reason why Republicans have been so committed to blocking President Obama’s nominees to this court,” said Baker. “Republican Presidents have been hugely successful in packing the DC Circuit with extraordinarily conservative judges, and they don’t want any more jurists on the bench to dilute that ideological power. The DC Circuit has dealt significant blows to working people, environmentalists, public health activists and ordinary investors. Republicans pushing a reactionary ideology are working overtime to protect the power of the DC circuit to advance their political agenda. Senators should put the best interests of the country above partisanship and bring this obstruction to a halt.”

People For the American Way recently released a report, America’s Progress At Risk: Restoring the Balance to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, laying out the impact of the right-wing majority on the nation’s second highest court.

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New Hampshire Moves Forward With First Steps to Overturn Citizens United in Bipartisan Vote

In a bipartisan vote yesterday, the New Hampshire House passed a bill calling for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of our elections and overturn Citizens United.
PFAW

Bush’s Court: How the D.C. Circuit Threatens the Future of Progressive Reform

WASHINGTON – Four years into President Obama’s presidency, he has yet to  have a single judge confirmed to the hugely influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. This lapse, caused initially by a slow start from the administration but perpetuated by a blockade of obstruction in the Senate, threatens to hinder progressive advances for years to come, argues a new report from People For the American Way.

The report, AMERICA’S PROGRESS AT RISK: RESTORING BALANCE TO THE DC CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS, can be found here: http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/america-s-progress-risk-restoring-balance-dc-circuit-court-appeals

“The D.C. Circuit is the most important court most Americans have never heard of,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “The D.C. Circuit’s judges have the final word on scores of federal laws each year, from air pollution controls to financial regulations to workers’ rights. Republicans have long understood this, and have packed the court with far-right ideologues who threaten to hold back American progress for decades to come.  And they have so far blocked confirmation of judges who would bring any balance to this court." 

President Obama is the first president since Woodrow Wilson to fail to have a single nominee confirmed to the D.C. Circuit during his first full term in office, despite the fact that four of the eleven seats on the court are now vacant. His first nominee to the court, the indisputably qualified Caitlin Halligan, was twice blocked by Senate Republicans for reasons widely recognized as spurious.

As a result, the D.C. Circuit continues to be dominated by judges pushing a right-wing ideology long rejected by the American people. The right-wing majority of the D.C. Circuit has continuously sought to dismantle progressive efforts to defend consumers, protect public health, and ensure the rights of workers. Recent D.C. Circuit decisions highlighted in the report include:

  • Noel Canning v. NLRB:  In January, the D.C. Circuit invalidated three presidential appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, undermining the Board’s ability to protect the rights of workers and giving the green light to Senate Republicans who wish to decimate any federal agency by blocking appointees.
  • EME Homer City Generation v. EPA: In 2012, the D.C. Circuit sided with utility companies to strike down EPA air pollution regulations that would have prevented an estimated 34,000 premature deaths and saved $280 billion a year in healthcare costs.
  • Business Roundtable v. SEC: In 2011, the D.C. Circuit overturned an SEC rule requiring greater accountability from corporations to their shareholders in selecting board members. One observer noted that in doing so the judges – none of them securities experts – had “waded into a political fight under the guise of dispassionate scientific oversight.”
  • RJ Reynolds Tobacco v. FDA: Last year, the D.C. Circuit ruled that FDA regulations requiring cigarette manufacturers to place graphic, factually accurate warnings on their product violated tobacco companies’ First Amendment free speech rights.
  • Hein Hettinga v. USA: George W. Bush nominee Janice Rogers Brown used a case about milk market regulation last year to issue a call to arms against eight decades of progressive reforms. Courts that have allowed the government to implement reasonable regulations of industry have, she said, put “property…at the mercy of pillagers.”

“President Obama has a chance in his second term to restore ideological balance to the D.C. Circuit,” added Marge Baker. “It is critically important that he do so. Otherwise, D.C. Circuit will continue to stand in the way of progressive reforms -- reforms chosen by American voters -- and threaten to roll back decades of hard-won protections for working people and consumers."
 

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America's Progress at Risk: Restoring Balance to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals

Even in electoral defeat, the far right retains the power to undermine progressive laws and thwart the agenda that Americans elected President Obama to pursue. One measure of that power is the outsized influence far-right ideologues have on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Obama Talks to Senators About Broken Judicial Confirmation Process

Republicans ended their year-long blockade of an unopposed circuit court nominee after unjustly torpedoing another with a filibuster.
PFAW

White House Urges Senate to ‘Return to the Prompt Consideration of Judicial Nominees’

Chris Kang, Senior Counsel to the President, notes on the White House blog that today markes the one-year anniversary of the day Third Circuit nominee Patty Shwartz was first approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. That means that Shwartz, an experienced and respected attorney, has been waiting a full year simply for an up-or-down vote from the Senate. The ABA panel that evaluates the qualifications of judicial nominees unanimous gave her its highest possible rating. Not surprisingly for someone of her caliber, she has the strong support of Democrats and Republicans alike, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Kang writes that Shwartz’s experience is sadly not unusual in a Senate that’s been hamstrung by an obstructionist Republican minority:

Unfortunately, the delay for Judge Shwartz is not unique. Last week, my colleague wrote about Judge Robert Bacharach, who was recommended to the White House by one of his Republican home state Senators, but waited 263 days for a floor vote before being confirmed 93-0. And on Monday – after 347 days of delay -- the Senate will consider the nomination of Richard Taranto to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Overall, President Obama’s judicial nominees wait an average of 117 days on the Senate floor for a vote -- more than three times longer than President Bush’s judicial nominees, who waited an average of only 34 days. The Senate must promote the administration of justice by returning to the prompt consideration of judicial nominations. It should consider Judge Shwartz’s nomination without further delay, as well as the fifteen district court nominees awaiting votes. Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved five district court nominees. There is no reason they – and the others approved before them – should not be confirmed within 34 days.

PFAW

Rios: Female Justices 'Rudely' Interrupting Scalia, 'Speaking Inappropriately'

The topic of discussion on Sandy Rios’ American Family Radio program Wednesday was diversity among federal judicial nominees. The Washington Post published a story over the weekend detailing President Obama’s largely successful effort to appoint more women, people of color and openly LGBT people to federal judgeships. The voice of dissent in the article was that of the Committee for Justice’s Curt Levey, who told the Post that the White House was “lowering their standards” in nominating nonwhite judges. So naturally, Rios invited Levey on as a guest and explained to him why she disapproves of President Obama’s diverse judicial nominations.

In particular, Rios disapproves of Obama’s Supreme Court nominees, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, respectively the third and fourth women ever to sit on the high court. Sotomayor and Kagan, Rios says, have been forgetting their place and behaving “rudely,” “interrupting” and “speaking inappropriately” to, of all people, Justice Antonin Scalia.

While Levey correctly notes that “Scalia can give it out as well as take it,” he agrees with Rios that Sotomayor, the Supreme Court’s first Latina justice, “has occasionally, at least, stepped over the line.” In particular, he says Sotomayor – who he once accused of supporting “violent Puerto Rican terrorists” --  “sort of lost it” during arguments on the Voting Rights Act, when she contradicted Scalia’s stunning assertion that the law represents a “perpetuation of racial entitlement.”

In fact, while Scalia’s bombast provoked audible gasps in the hearing room, Sotomayor waited several minutes before calmly asking the attorney challenging the Voting Rights Act, “Do you think that the right to vote is a racial entitlement in Section 5?"

Later, Rios, with an impressive lack of self-awareness, marvels that progressive groups criticized Scalia for his remarks. “Groups on the left,” Levey responds, “shall we say, like to personalize things.”

Rios: I read an article that Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, at least this article was intimating that they are behaving in a – these are my words – sort of rudely on the bench, to Scalia and to others, interrupting, speaking inappropriately. Have you observed that? Do you know what I’m talking about and is that true?

Levey: Um, yeah. I mean, you know, Scalia can give it out as well as take it, but yeah, Sotomayor has gone over the line a number of times. Most recently in the Voting Rights Act case, which was just last week, where, you know, Scalia had the nerve to speak the truth and refer to the Voting Rights Act as “racial preferences,” which of course is what it’s become by guaranteeing that there be minority districts formed, minority congressional districts. And, you know, Sotomayor sort of lost it when Obama [sic] said that, interrupted and you know, basically made fun of Scalia’s comment. So yeah, I think they have the right to be aggressive up there, but Sotomayor has occasionally, at least, stepped over the line.

Rios: And on the Voting Rights Act and Scalia’s comments, you know, there were demonstrators at the Court last week, hundreds of them, demonstrating against Antonin Scalia. I don’t remember that happening. I don’t remember a Supreme Court justice – doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened – but I don’t remember it being a subject of public demonstrations.

Levey: No. Typically they will, you know, they’ll, protestors at the Supreme Court will focus on issues, not justices. But you know, that changed of late. There’s been in the last two years a lot of, you know, progressive groups have gone personally after Scalia and especially Thomas and his wife. But you know, we see that in so much of politics, that groups on the left like to, shall we say, personalize things.

Rios: Yeah, as like in Alinsky, yes, personalize and target, yeah, so we are seeing some very new things and actually pretty dangerous I think.

Earlier in the program, Rios and Levey lamented the fact that President Obama has had more openly LGBT people confirmed to the federal bench than all of his predecessors combined. Echoing right-wing arguments made against Romney advisor Richard Grennell, who was forced to resign last year after less than a month on the job, Rios claimed she didn’t mind that the president was appointing gay people to federal judgeships, but that they are “activists who are trying to change the law.”

Levey: You know, I don’t have any problem with him nominating gay and lesbian nominees. The problem is that they should be gay and lesbian nominees who respect the Constitution. You know, there are…

Rios: I don’t disagree, Curt, just for the record, I don’t disagree with that. It’s the activists, activists who are trying to change the law that I will have trouble sitting on the bench.

Levey: Exactly. He’s not appointing, you know, conservative or even moderate, you know, gay Americans, he’s appointing very radical gay Americans. And, you know, again, it’s not so much any individual nominee as it is the pattern here. Of the 35 or so nominees who are pending now, only six are straight white males, even though about half the legal profession is straight white males. So, do straight white males have some, you know, right to a certain number of seats? Of course not. But if you were doing it in a balanced way without any preference for minorities of various types, then you’d probably wind up with about 17 or 18 of those 35 being straight white males. The fact that there’s only six tells us that there’s a system of preferences going on.

The NRA vs. Judicial Nominees

Back in December, The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse wrote a great article explaining how the National Rifle Association has worked in concert with Republican senators to oppose many of President Obama’s federal judicial nominees – usually without anything close to a legitimate reason. The NRA’s “symbiotic relationship with the Republican Party,” Greenhouse wrote, led the group to oppose judicial nominees like Sonia Sotomayor, who had next to no record on the Second Amendment, and the party to chip in when the NRA didn’t like a nominee.

It is that symbiotic relationship that succeeded in sinking the nominations of two highly qualified women to federal courts this week. Both were unquestionably qualified and well-respected in legal circles. The NRA and the Senate GOP went after both for completely unfounded reasons.

Caitlin Halligan was President Obama’s nominee to fill one of four vacancies on the hugely influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Never mind that she had broad bipartisan support and sterling credentials. She had once represented a client, the state of New York, in a lawsuit against gun manufacturers. Back when John Roberts was being considered for the Supreme Court, Senate Republicans said that judicial nominees shouldn’t be held responsible for positions they took as lawyers on behalf of clients. But no matter. Senate Republicans twice voted to filibuster her nomination – most recently on Wednesday – never even allowing her an up-or-down vote.

Then today, Nevada District Court nominee Elissa Cadish withdrew her nomination over one year after she had been selected by President Obama. Her story was similar. Filling out a questionnaire in 2008, Cadish stated that under then-current law, the constitutional right to bear arms didn’t apply to individual citizens. She was correct. Two months later in a 5-4 opinion, the Supreme Court established for the first time that the Second Amendment does contain that right. Cadish made clear that she understood, and would follow, the new Supreme Court precedent.

But no matter. The NRA targeted Cadish and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller used a little-known Senate practice to keep her from ever even getting the chance to explain her views in front of the Judiciary Committee. Under committee procedures used by Chairman Patrick Leahy as a courtesy to his colleagues, a nominee is not granted a hearing unless both of her home-state senators give permission in the form of a “blue slip.” Heller simply refused to sign the blue slip for Cadish, thus single-handedly sinking her nomination.

The flimsiness of the arguments against Cadish and Halligan, and the fact that much of the opposition took place behind the scenes (in the case of Cadish without even a public hearing), betrays the real reason the NRA and the GOP were working to keep these women off the federal bench. They just don’t want President Obama to be nominating federal judges.

 

PFAW

PFAW: GOP and NRA Leadership Keep Two Qualified Women off the Bench

WASHINGTON – Today, Nevada judge Elissa Cadish withdrew her nomination to sit on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, more than one year after President Obama first nominated her to the position. Despite her sterling qualifications, Cadish was never even granted a hearing before the Judiciary Committee because Nevada Sen. Dean Heller refused to give permission for her nomination to move forward.

Earlier this week, the nomination of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Caitlin Halligan was blocked by Senate Republicans under similar circumstances. Halligan and Cadish both faced unfounded attacks from the gun lobby’s leadership, Halligan for a position she took on behalf of a client and Cadish for correctly describing the state of Second Amendment law before the Supreme Court’s District of Columbia v. Heller decision. Both have clearly stated that they understand and would follow Supreme Court precedent on gun rights.

“Senate Republicans and the gun lobby have worked hand in hand to keep these two exceptionally qualified women off the federal bench,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Neither Cadish nor Halligan has displayed character or ethics problems let alone any sort of extreme ideology like that they were accused of. Yet Halligan was never allowed an up-or-down vote from the Senate, and Cadish never even had the opportunity to answer senators’ questions on her record before the Judiciary Committee.”

“The sinking of these two nominees shows just how far the Senate GOP and the gun lobby are willing to go, and how badly they are willing to stretch the facts, in order to keep President Obama’s nominees off the federal bench,” Baker added.

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Obama Condemns Filibuster of His DC Circuit Court Nominee

President Obama specifically cites the obstruction of the three remaining Republican members of the "Gang of 14."
PFAW

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

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

PFAW: Filibuster of Caitlin Halligan 'Destructive' and 'Politically-Motivated'

WASHINGTON – An effort to end the Republican filibuster of DC Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Caitlin Halligan fell short in a 51-41 vote in the Senate today.

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

“Senate Republicans have once again decided to put their own partisan interests above the will of American voters and the health of our system of justice. Caitlin Halligan is an exceptionally qualified, widely respected and unquestionably mainstream nominee. But a minority of U.S. senators, egged on by conservative activists and a party leadership with their own narrow agendas, have cherry-picked and misrepresented her record in order to keep her off the federal bench.

“Let’s call the filibuster of Halligan what it is: a politically-motivated attempt to keep President Obama’s nominee off the second highest court in the country. Four years into Obama’s presidency, more than one-third of the DC Circuit’s seats are vacant and the president has yet to have a single nominee confirmed to the court. In the meantime, the court continues to be dominated by far-right Republican-appointed judges who have pushed an extreme right-wing agenda on issues including environmental protection, workers’ rights and public health. This is not a coincidence.

“The American people have twice elected President Obama, yet a minority of U.S. senators continues to place a stranglehold on his judicial nominees. This has not only damaged our federal courts, which are facing an ongoing vacancy crisis, but has hurt the credibility of the U.S. Senate. Americans deserve better than this destructive, politically-motivated gridlock.”

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End the Filibuster of Caitlin Halligan

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

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

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

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

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

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PFAW Urges Senate to Confirm Halligan

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

March 4, 2013
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

Paul Gordon
Senior Legislative Counsel
People For the American Way
 

PFAW
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