Fair and Just Courts

Senators Speak Out for Judicial Confirmations

Sens. Whitehouse, Cardin, and (Tom) Udall discuss how Republican obstruction of judicial nominations is damaging the nation's system of justice.
PFAW

Empty Courtrooms in Obama’s First Term: A Slow Start on Judicial Nominations Magnified Many Times Over By Republican Obstruction

TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Marge Baker, Executive Vice President, People For the American Way
DATE: January 2, 2013

SUBJECT: Empty Courtrooms in Obama’s First Term: A Slow Start on Judicial Nominations Magnified Many Times Over By Republican Obstruction

As the U.S. Senate departs for the year, it leaves behind unfinished business: four long-pending circuit court nominations and 70 unfilled vacancies in the federal courts, with another 20 upcoming vacancies already announced.

President Obama ends his first term with more federal judicial vacancies than when he began. There are a number of reasons for this failure to efficiently fill seats in the federal courts, including the president’s slow start in making nominations in the early years of his first term. But that slow start was magnified many times over by Senate Republicans’ extreme intransigence, leading to a historic vacancy crisis in our federal courts that has persisted long after the White House picked up its pace on nominations. In an effort to keep the courts dominated by George W. Bush-nominated conservatives and to stall the president’s agenda wherever possible, Senate Republicans have stymied the nomination and confirmation of federal judicial nominees at every step in the process and at an unprecedented scale.

The result was that almost every one of President Obama’s first-term judicial nominees was delayed in the Judiciary Committee, and once approved by the Committee, waited an average of three times as long for a confirmation vote from the full Senate as did President Bush’s first-term nominees.

That persistent obstruction led to record vacancy levels in the federal courts. The 55 vacancies at the start of Obama’s presidency jumped to 90 over the course of his first year in office, and they have rarely gone below that number since. Notably, the president also ends his first term without confirming a single judge to the enormously influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, four of whose 11 seats are now vacant.

There were, of course, bright spots in the past four years of judicial nominations. Two extraordinarily qualified women earned seats on the Supreme Court. Sonia Sotomayor became the nation’s first Latina Supreme Court justice, and Elena Kagan brought the total number of women on the Court to three for the first time in history.

President Obama also brought unprecedented diversity to the lower federal courts. 41 percent of President Obama’s confirmed judicial nominees have been women – the highest percentage in history – and he has now put  more women on the federal bench in four years than President Bush did in eight. President Obama has also nominated a higher percentage of African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans than any previous president, ensuring that our federal courts are beginning to reflect the country they serve. In addition, President Obama has put more openly LGBT people on the federal bench than all of his predecessors combined.

But this effort to bring talented, fair-minded Americans with a diversity of backgrounds to the federal bench has been hampered by a consistent and needless slow-walking of nominees in the U.S. Senate. This memo outlines the obstruction tactics that have resulted in a persistently high vacancy rate in the federal courts and needless delays for Americans seeking justice.

Abuse of the Filibuster and Filibuster Equivalents

The most well-known tool of Senate obstruction – the filibuster – has been abused to a new level by the Senate GOP in the last two Congresses. In 2005, many Senate Republicans loudly proclaimed that it was unconstitutional – not just a bad idea, but actually a violation of the United States Constitution – for Democratic senators to filibuster a small number of George W. Bush’s circuit court nominees on the well-documented grounds that they were dangerously out of the mainstream. A few others joined the bipartisan “Gang of 14,” agreeing that filibusters of judicial nominations were only appropriate under undefined “extraordinary circumstances.”  After January 20, 2009, they threw their claimed principles to the wind and made clear just what constitutes “extraordinary circumstances” in their book: being nominated by a Democratic president.

The Senate GOP  expanded  the use of filibusters to stall the confirmation of consensus circuit court nominees. Of the ten circuit court nominations on which Democrats have had to file cloture in order to break GOP obstruction, half had cleared the Judiciary Committee with overwhelming bipartisan support, and half went on to be confirmed with similarly overwhelming bipartisan support. In one typical example, Republicans filibustered the nomination of Adalberto Jordan of Florida to sit on the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, blocking a vote for four months after he was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee. (In contrast, the average confirmed circuit court nominee during President Bush's first term waited only a month for a floor vote.) Jordan, who had the strong support of Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, would become the first Cuban American to sit on the Eleventh Circuit. Once the filibuster was broken 89-5, he was confirmed in a 94-5 vote. No apologies or explanations for the filibuster were ever given.

Notably, the Senate GOP has been willing to filibuster even noncontroversial district court nominees, who historically have faced little partisan resistance on their way to trial court positions. The majority party had to move to end a filibuster of one district court nominee during the Clinton administration and one during the George W. Bush administration. In contrast, in just four years of President Obama’s administration, the majority has been forced to file twenty cloture petitions to end filibusters of district court nominees, almost all of whom were eventually confirmed unanimously or near-unanimously.

And this is just obstruction that ended in cloture votes. Because scheduling a vote in the Senate requires unanimous consent, Senate Republicans have been able to quietly delay votes on judicial nominees for months without stating a reason. These quiet delays – which effectively amount to filibusters but are not formally recorded as such – have led to a tremendous and damaging slowing of the confirmation process. President Obama’s circuit court nominees have, on average, been forced to wait 135 days between committee approval and a vote from the full Senate. In contrast, President Bush’s first-term circuit court nominees waited an average of just 37 days for a Senate vote. Similarly, President Obama’s district court nominees have waited an average of 103 days for a Senate vote, in contrast to just 35 days for Bush’s first-term nominees.

Three of the four currently pending circuit court nominees have been held up by this type of silent filibuster: the GOP has simply refused to allow confirmation votes for Patty Shwartz (Third Circuit, waiting for a vote since March), Richard Taranto (Federal Circuit, also waiting since March), and William Kayatta (First Circuit, waiting since April).  The fourth – Robert Bacharach – has been waiting “only” since June. Republicans defeated a cloture petition to end the filibuster of Bacharach’s nomination, even after his home-state Republican senator Tom Coburn said that such a move would be “stupid.” Not one of these nominees is opposed by their home state senators.  In fact, two – Maine’s Kayatta and Oklahoma’s Bacharach – come from states where those supportive senators are both Republicans.  All four nominees have received the highest possible evaluation of their qualifications by the ABA.  They simply are not controversial.  Their “problem” is that they are mainstream jurists nominated by President Obama.

Creative Obstruction

Filibusters and obstruction tactics on the Senate floor are the most visible types of Senate gridlock, but the GOP’s obstruction of President Obama’s first term judicial nominees went much deeper.

It started with the very process of finding potential nominees. President Obama has consulted extensively with home state senators to find qualified federal judicial nominees. But despite these efforts, a number of nominees are stuck in the Judiciary Committee awaiting hearings because the nominee’s home-state senators have refused to give their permission for the nomination to go forward. In committee jargon, these senators have not signed the “blue slip” signaling a formal go-ahead. 

For instance, the people of Georgia can thank their own senators for two long-open district court vacancies. In January 2011, President Obama nominated Linda T. Walker and V. Natasha Perdew Silas to fill two officially-designated emergency vacancies in Georgia’s Northern District. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss opposed Silas but never said why. Nevertheless, that was enough to keep her from even getting a hearing before the Judiciary Committee. And since Silas’s nomination was linked to Walker’s, the Georgia senators’ machinations wrecked both nominations. Similarly, without giving a reason, Isakson and Chambliss have not submitted their blue slips for the undoubtedly qualified Jill Pryor for a Georgia-designated Eleventh Circuit seat, leaving her nomination in limbo for 10 months and counting.


In 2011, freshman Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson  refused to submit his blue slips when President Obama renominated a circuit and district court nominee who had not gotten votes in 2010. These were nominees who had been recommended  by a bipartisan commission, and no other newly elected senator that year blocked similar renominations in their state. As with Georgia’s district court nominations, these were returned to the White House, and the seats remain vacant and without nominees.

This summer Louisiana Sen. David Vitter blocked the committee from considering the nomination of Shelly Dick to a district court seat she’d been nominated to back in April, unilaterally deciding that the Judiciary Committee should not consider her nomination because it was too close to the presidential election. After Obama’s victory, Vitter relented, presenting her to the committee with his full support last month (but too late to be confirmed in 2012, as she should have been). In Nevada, Sen. Dean Heller has blocked a committee hearing on Elissa Cadish for reasons widely condemned as ludicrous: before the Supreme Court’s 2008 gun control decision in Heller, she correctly described to a newspaper what was then the state of Second Amendment law.

Unfortunately, even once nominees had a chance to testify before the Judiciary Committee, they were not free from stalling tactics. Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, like Ranking Member Jeff Sessions before him, took advantage of a rule allowing the minority party to postpone committee votes on nominees to stall all but five of the nominees the committee considered – a full 97% of the nominees that have come before the committee for a vote. These nominations were delayed anywhere between one and six weeks before heading to further delays on the Senate floor.

Empty Excuses

In attempting to defend the indefensible, Senate Republicans have been flaunting faulty statistics and nonsensical comparisons. Criticized last month for his consistent use of stalling tactics, Sen. Grassley claimed that the Senate had confirmed more nominees in President Obama's first term than in a “similar period” in Bush’s presidency. The “similar period” he referred to was in fact a “dissimilar period” – he cherry-picked numbers in order to compare President Obama’s first term with George W. Bush’s second term, in which the Senate confirmed fewer nominees simply because there were fewer vacancies to fill. And in any event, Bush’s second-term confirmed nominees, just like his first, got a floor vote on average far more quickly than Obama’s.

A Second-Term Focus on the Courts

One of the Senate’s key duties is to ensure the health of the nation’s judicial branch. But the Republican minority has increasingly ignored its duty to “advise and consent,” instead using judicial nominees as pawns in politically-motivated gridlock. This has resulted in a vacancy crisis that has left federal courts across the country understaffed and unable to provide swift access to individuals and businesses seeking their day in court. It has also meant that the right-wing ideology that President Bush required in his judicial nominees continues to dominate the federal courts.

Elections have consequences. The American people once again decisively chose President Obama as the person we want to be choosing our federal judges. He has made an effort to name fair jurists with broad bases of support and diverse backgrounds. Senate Republicans have a responsibility to take their “advise and consent” duties seriously, considering nominees on their merits and moving the confirmation process as efficiently as possible in order to ensure a court system that works for the Americans who depend on it.

President Obama has signaled that he will make judicial nominations a priority in his second term. The Senate must do better in the next four years to ensure that Americans have a federal court system that works.
 

How the NRA is Working with Senate Republicans to Block Judicial Nominees

The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse has a great blog post up on the National Rifle Association’s little-known role in influencing Senate votes on federal judicial nominees. Greenhouse focuses on the NRA’s effort to scare Republican Senators away from voting for the Supreme Court nominations of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan – neither of whom had any actual Second Amendment record – and its successful effort to frustrate the DC Circuit nomination of Caitlin Halligan, who had once represented the state of New York in a gun control case.

These are the most prominent examples of the NRA’s efforts to keep qualified judicial nominees off the federal bench without reason. But there are plenty more examples out there. One of the most appalling is that of Elissa Cadish, who President Obama nominated to fill a district court seat in Nevada back in February. The NRA immediately got to work to stop Cadish’s nomination. Why? One month before the Supreme Court’s Heller decision – in which it overturned decades of case law to state that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own firearms – Cadish correctly answered a questionnaire about the current state of Second Amendment law. At the time, Cadish correctly stated that the law that she would follow as a district court judge did not include the individual right to bear firearms. After Heller, she clarified that she would of course follow current law, which now did include this right.

This was a sign of proper judicial restraint – district court judges are in the business of applying the law as interpreted by higher courts – but to the NRA it was an excuse to bring down a judicial nominee. The gun group strong-armed Nevada Sen. Dean Heller into opposing the nomination and that was that. Heller refused to give his permission for the Senate Judiciary Committee to even hold a hearing on Cadish (permission is traditionally required from both home-state senators), and her nomination foundered.

The NRA didn’t get involved with these judicial nominations because it had substantive reasons to oppose the nominees. It got involved because it is, in effect, a codependent wing of the Republican party. Greenhouse points out that it was Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell who reached out to the NRA about opposing Sotomayor, rather than the other way around. Senate Republicans want to stop President Obama from filling seats on the federal courts. They then used the NRA as a useful bludgeon to keep in line senators who might consider being reasonable. The NRA and the Republican leadership get what they want from this relationship. The rest of us get a gridlocked Senate, a vacancy crisis in the federal courts and nation awash in firearms.

PFAW

Thank You from PFAW Founder Norman Lear

Please take a moment to watch this end-of-the-year thank you message for you and all of PFAW's wonderful supporters around the world from PFAW founder Norman Lear:

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PFAW

PFAW: Time Running Out for Senate Confirmation of Four Circuit Court Nominees

WASHINGTON – The Senate is leaving town for the Christmas holiday without holding confirmation votes on four federal appeals court nominees who have been waiting six to nine months for approval from the full Senate. These nominees – Third Circuit nominee Patty Shwartz of New Jersey, First Circuit nominee William Kayatta of Maine, Tenth Circuit nominee Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma and Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto – all have the backing of their home-state senators, Democratic and Republican. Senate Republicans have blocked Shwartz’s nomination for over nine months, Kayatta’s and Taranto’s for eight, and Bacharach’s for six.

Senate Republicans are, however, finally allowing votes on three long-delayed district court nominees, Matthew Brann and Malachy Mannion for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and Jon Tigar for the Northern District of California. All three will fill officially designated emergency vacancies. Brann will take over at a courthouse in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, which has not had a serving federal judge since July 2011. Yet all three have been delayed on the Senate floor for over four months.

“It’s bad enough that entirely uncontroversial trial court nominees like Brann, Mannion and Tigar are forced to wait months before the Senate will allow them to fill emergency vacancies,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Yet Senate Republicans have the audacity as they leave town to claim credit for finally doing something they should have done back in September. Meanwhile, key circuit court vacancies have been left unfilled, some for nearly three-quarters of a year, despite the absence of any substantive concerns about the nominees’ qualifications. The Senate’s role is to advise and consent, not to obstruct and delay. Senate Republicans should take this duty seriously and allow votes on all pending nominees before the end of the year.”

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PFAW Calls for Senate Votes on All Remaining Judicial Nominees, Including Four Long-Pending Circuit Court Nominees

WASHINGTON --  In the wake of yesterday’s Senate confirmation of  two long-pending federal district court nominees, People For the American Way urged lawmakers to commit to holding votes on all remaining district and circuit court nominees before the end of the year. While Senate Democrats have broken through Republican gridlock to hold votes on 10 pending district court nominees in the past few weeks, the future of nine district court and four circuit court nominees remains uncertain.

Yesterday, Fernando M. Olguin was confirmed to the US District Court for the Central District of California and Thomas M. Durkin was confirmed to the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Both were forced to wait over four months for a vote from the full Senate, even though there had been no substantive objections to their nominations. Both will fill officially-designated judicial emergencies. And both would have been confirmed in September if Republicans had not blocked Democratic efforts to schedule a simple yes-or-no vote.

“It’s encouraging to see that Senate Republicans are finally allowing votes on long-pending, uncontroversial district court nominees,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “But the fact that Republicans consider it a concession to Democrats to finally stop blocking votes on such nominees symbolizes how broken the Senate is and shows where responsibility for the problem lies.  Four federal circuit court nominees, all highly qualified and supported by their home-state senators, have been waiting as long as nine months for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. With Election Day behind us and the end of this Congress fast approaching, it is imperative that these nominees be confirmed. There is absolutely no legitimate reason for Senate Republican stalling tactics that are leaving our courts under-staffed and denying justice to countless Americans.”

Circuit court nominees awaiting Senate votes are Patty Shwartz of New Jersey, Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma, William Kayatta of Maine and Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto.

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Six Months Since Last Circuit Court Confirmation, PFAW Urges Senate Action on All Nominees

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, six months after the last Senate confirmation vote on a federal circuit court nominee, People For the American Way urged Senate Republicans to agree to votes on all remaining federal judicial nominees.

“It is highly unusual to go six months without a vote on a single federal circuit court nominee, outside of a presidential transition,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “And it’s even more unusual for these kinds of delays to be thrown at unquestionably qualified and uncontroversial nominees.”

There are currently 13 district court nominees and four circuit court nominees waiting for Senate votes. Circuit courts have a uniquely important role in our system of justice, and the four circuit court nominees have been blocked longer than any of the others. Tenth Circuit nominee Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma has been waiting six months for a confirmation vote; First Circuit nominee William Kayatta of Maine has been waiting roughly eight months, as has Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto. Third Circuit nominee Patty Shwartz of New Jersey has been waiting a full nine months for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. All have extraordinary qualifications and the support of their home-state senators, Democratic and Republican. In fact, if they are ever allowed a floor vote, most of the circuit court nominees can count on a unanimous or near-unanimous confirmation. Their only “flaw” is that Republicans oppose the president who nominated them.

“Under pressure, Senate Republicans have finally allowed some progress in recent days in the confirmation of a handful of consensus district court nominees who should have been confirmed months before the election,” continued Baker. “But there is no reason why every one of the nominees currently on the Senate calendar shouldn’t have an up-or-down vote before the end of the term. More than ten percent of all circuit court judgeships are vacant or soon to become vacant. Given this vacancy crisis, and with nominees like these four, it is inexcusable for Senate Republicans to allow half a year to go by without lifting their blanket blockade on all circuit court judges.”
 

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Justice Scalia’s 7 Worst Anti-Gay Statements

On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two landmark cases on marriage equality. Yesterday, Justice Antonin Scalia reminded us again why gay rights advocates, to put it mildly, aren’t counting on his vote.

Scalia is the Supreme Court’s most outspoken opponent of gay rights. He led the dissent to the two major gay rights decisions of his tenure on the Court, the decisions to strike down Texas’ criminal sodomy law and to overturn Colorado’s ban on local anti-discrimination measures. And in his spare time, he minces no words about his uncompromising opposition to gay rights. Here are seven of his most egregious anti-gay statements:

  • Compares bans on homosexuality to bans on murder: Yesterday, Scalia asked a gay law student, “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?”
  •  …and to bans on polygamy and animal cruelty: In his dissent to the Colorado case, Romer v. Evans, Scalia wrote, “But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible--murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals--and could exhibit even 'animus' toward such conduct. Surely that is the only sort of ‘animus’ at issue here: moral disapproval of homosexual conduct, the same sort of moral disapproval that produced the centuries old criminal laws that we held constitutional in Bowers.”
  • Defends employment and housing discrimination: In his dissent to Lawrence, the decision that overturned Texas’ criminal sodomy law, Scalia went even further, justifying all kinds of discrimination against gays and lesbians: “Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. The Court views it as ‘discrimination’ which it is the function of our judgments to deter.”
  • Says decision on “homosexual sodomy” was “easy” because it's justified by long history of anti-gay discrimination: In a talk at the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year, Scalia dismissed decisions on abortion, the death penalty and “homosexual sodomy” as “easy”: “The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion,” he said. “Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.”
  • Says domestic partners have no more rights than “long time roommates”:  In his dissent in Romer, Scalia dismissed the idea that a law banning benefits for same-sex domestic partners would be discriminatory, saying the law “would prevent the State or any municipality from making death benefit payments to the ‘life partner’ of a homosexual when it does not make such payments to the long time roommate of a nonhomosexual employee.”
  • Says gay rights are a concern of “the elite”: In his Romer dissent, Scalia lashes out at the majority that has upheld gay rights: “This Court has no business imposing upon all Americans the resolution favored by the elite class from which the Members of this institution are selected, pronouncing that 'animosity' toward homosexuality is evil. “
  • Accuses those who disagree with him of supporting the “homosexual agenda”: Lifting a talking point straight from the far right, Scalia accused the majority in Lawrence of being in the thrall of the “homosexual agenda”: “Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.”

Cross-posted from PFAW Blog

Justice Scalia’s 7 Worst Anti-Gay Statements

On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two landmark cases on marriage equality. Yesterday, Justice Antonin Scalia reminded us again why gay rights advocates, to put it mildly, aren’t counting on his vote.

Scalia is the Supreme Court’s most outspoken opponent of gay rights. He led the dissent to the two major gay rights decisions of his tenure on the Court, the decisions to strike down Texas’ criminal sodomy law and to overturn Colorado’s ban on local anti-discrimination measures. And in his spare time, he minces no words about his uncompromising opposition to gay rights. Here are seven of his most egregious anti-gay statements:

  • Compares bans on homosexuality to bans on murder: Yesterday, Scalia asked a gay law student, “If we cannot have moral feelings against homosexuality, can we have it against murder? Can we have it against other things?”
     
  •  …and to bans on polygamy and animal cruelty: In his dissent to the Colorado case, Romer v. Evans, Scalia wrote, “But I had thought that one could consider certain conduct reprehensible--murder, for example, or polygamy, or cruelty to animals--and could exhibit even 'animus' toward such conduct. Surely that is the only sort of ‘animus’ at issue here: moral disapproval of homosexual conduct, the same sort of moral disapproval that produced the centuries old criminal laws that we held constitutional in Bowers.”
     
  • Defends employment and housing discrimination: In his dissent to Lawrence, the decision that overturned Texas’ criminal sodomy law, Scalia went even further, justifying all kinds of discrimination against gays and lesbians: “Many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children’s schools, or as boarders in their home. They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive. The Court views it as ‘discrimination’ which it is the function of our judgments to deter.”
     
  • Says decision on “homosexual sodomy” was “easy” because it's justified by long history of anti-gay discrimination: In a talk at the American Enterprise Institute earlier this year, Scalia dismissed decisions on abortion, the death penalty and “homosexual sodomy” as “easy”: “The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion,” he said. “Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.”
     
  • Says domestic partners have no more rights than “long time roommates”:  In his dissent in Romer, Scalia dismissed the idea that a law banning benefits for same-sex domestic partners would be discriminatory, saying the law “would prevent the State or any municipality from making death benefit payments to the ‘life partner’ of a homosexual when it does not make such payments to the long time roommate of a nonhomosexual employee.”
     
  • Says gay rights are a concern of “the elite”: In his Romer dissent, Scalia lashes out at the majority that has upheld gay rights: “This Court has no business imposing upon all Americans the resolution favored by the elite class from which the Members of this institution are selected, pronouncing that "animosity" toward homosexuality is evil.“
     
  • Accuses those who disagree with him of supporting the “homosexual agenda”: Lifting a talking point straight from the far right, Scalia accused the majority in Lawrence of being in the thrall of the “homosexual agenda”: “Today’s opinion is the product of a Court, which is the product of a law-profession culture, that has largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.”
PFAW

Tell Senate Republicans: End the Obstruction!

Tell Senate Republicans: End the obstruction and procedural foot-dragging and confirm the president's judicial nominees!

Pending Judicial Nominations Pile Up

Republicans resist lame duck confirmations that have been made necessary by their own obstruction.
PFAW

Still No Explanation From Grassley on Judiciary Committee Delays

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved five nominees to serve on federal district courts in New York, California and Florida and on the US Court of International Trade. A week ago, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley postponed votes on all five nominations without giving a reason, a delaying tactic that he has used on 97 percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees who the committee has voted on.

Sen. Grassley did not explain the reason for the delay last week, when a coalition of Iowa and national groups urged him to stop such routine delays. And the reason remained unclear today, as all five nominees were approved without opposition.

These five nominees now join fifteen other federal judicial nominees awaiting confirmation votes from the full Senate. The Senate has made progress by scheduling confirmation votes on four unopposed district court nominees in the past week, but that small amount of progress isn’t nearly enough to fill the gaps in overworked federal courts. Seven of the nominees still waiting for votes would fill officially-designated “judicial emergencies.”

It would be easy, of course, for the Senate to hold votes on all of the remaining nominees before the end of the year. After all, most were approved by the Judiciary Committee many months ago. But Senate Republicans have continued to stall even nominees with strong bipartisan support. All the circuit court nominees waiting for votes have the support of their home-state senators, Republican and Democratic, and nearly all of the pending district court nominees were approved by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous or nearly unanimous bipartisan support. One circuit court nominee, New Jersey’s Patty Shwartz, has been waiting nine months just for an up-or-down vote from the Senate; Federal Circuit nominee Richard Taranto has also been waiting since March.

If the Senate fails to vote on these nominees during the lame duck, the confirmation process – from presidential nomination through floor vote – will have to start all over again next year.

Notable about the district court nominees approved by the Judiciary Committee today is that all are women or people of color, representative of President Obama’s efforts to bring diversity to the federal courts. The nominees also include New York’s Pamela Chen, who would become just the fifth openly gay person to be confirmed to a lifetime federal judgeship.

PFAW

More Dissembling from Chuck Grassley

Sen. Grassley again offers a blizzard of misleading statistics to hide his party's obstruction of President Obama's judicial nominees.
PFAW

After Long Delay, Senate GOP Finally Agrees to Confirmation Votes on Connecticut and Maryland Judicial Nominees

Washington, DC – This afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid overcame Republican roadblocks to schedule confirmation votes on two highly qualified district court nominees from Connecticut and Maryland. Michael P. Shea of Connecticut has been a partner of a law firm with extensive experience in a range of civil and criminal cases, and Paul William Grimm of Maryland has served as the Chief United States Magistrate Judge for Maryland for six years. Both nominees have outstanding credentials, were approved by the Judiciary Committee with overwhelming bipartisan support, and both have the support of their home state senators. Nevertheless, for no reason other than a desire to obstruct Senate business, Republicans have blocked efforts to allow confirmation votes. Shea has been waiting seven months for a vote from the full Senate and Grimm has been waiting for five months. These will be the first votes on judicial nominees since September.

“We are pleased that these two exceedingly qualified nominees will finally receive their confirmation votes,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “It’s shameful that the Republican minority has forced them to wait this long for simple up-or-down votes. These delays directly impact Americans seeking their day in court. In Connecticut, the judicial vacancy crisis is so severe that the Chief District Judge had to bring in out-of-state judges to help relieve the caseload. Senate Republicans must now allow votes on the remaining 17 nominees who were long ago approved by the Judiciary Committee and have needlessly been forced into limbo month after month after month.”

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Grassley's Non-Response on Judicial Nominations

Chuck Grassley issues a misleading response to complaints about his obstruction of resident Obama's judicial nominees.
PFAW

Grassley, Ignoring Iowa Groups, Delays Five Judicial Nominations Without Explanation

Washington, DC – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today ignored the calls of national and home-state groups and delayed Judiciary Committee votes on five federal judicial nominees. Sen. Grassley, the committee’s ranking member, has routinely held back committee votes on judicial nominations for one, two, three, or even six weeks, usually without providing a reason. Ninety-seven percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees who have had committee votes scheduled have met with these delays, before confronting even greater obstruction on the Senate floor.

Yesterday, 16 Iowa and national groups sent Sen. Grassley a letter urging him to end these routine delays of judicial nominees, which have helped create a record vacancy crisis in the federal courts. In response, Grassley flaunted misleading statistics and failed to produce a reason why he has delayed nominees far more frequently than his predecessors.

Ignoring the groups' call, at a hearing today, Grassley postponed committee votes on four federal district court nominees and one nominee for the Court of International Trade. Three of the nominees would fill emergency vacancies. It has been more than two months since the committee heard testimony from the nominees and had the chance to ask follow-up questions.  

“Sen. Grassley has chosen to put petty partisan politics over the wellbeing of our federal courts and the wishes of his constituents,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “Because they take place in committee, Grassley’s delaying tactics usually go under the radar, but that does not make them any less harmful. Grassley and his party are delaying these nominees just for the sake of delay. At a time when federal courts are struggling to meet the needs of Americans, that is simply irresponsible.”

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16 Iowa and National Groups Call on Grassley to End Routine Delay of Judicial Nominations

Washington, DC – A coalition of 16 national and Iowa organizations today called on Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley to end a practice that has needlessly slowed down the confirmation of almost every single one of President Obama’s judicial nominees, helping to create a record vacancy crisis in the federal courts.

Grassley has used his power as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee to routinely delay committee votes on circuit and district court nominees without even providing a reason. These delays at times stretched into two, three, even six weeks. Ninety-seven percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees have seen their nominations delayed in this way, before experiencing long months of further obstruction on the Senate floor.

In a letter to Grassley, the groups said:

No matter the nominee, no matter their qualifications, no matter their bipartisan support … it has been your practice to delay the vote – generally without explanation. This occurs despite an unprecedented vacancy crisis on the federal bench. This isn’t about learning more about a nominee, and it isn’t about delaying someone you think might not be qualified to sit on our federal courts. This is about obstruction, pure and simple. And it is precisely the kind of senseless gridlock that the American people have made clear they reject.

The letter continues:

The committee obstruction is part of a larger picture, one involving deliberate delay and obstruction at all stages of the nomination and confirmation process. But the routine and needless delaying of Committee votes is the form of obstruction for which you bear direct responsibility. And that gives you the power to change the tone by foregoing the practice.

The full text of the letter is below.

November 28, 2012

The Honorable Chuck Grassley, Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
152 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Grassley:

We are writing to you in your role as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee to request that you abandon the practice of routinely delaying votes on judicial nominees in Committee and permit the judicial nominees currently scheduled to be considered at the Judiciary Committee Executive Business Committee meeting on November 29, 2012 to go forward.

Although permitted under Committee rules, the practice of “holding over” nominees in the past was invoked only when there has been a significant question about a particular nominee that warranted additional attention. Under your tenure and that of your predecessor as Ranking Member of the Committee, President Obama’s judicial nominees have virtually all been routinely delayed, despite the absence of any questions, indeed of any debate, on most of the ones held over.

In fact, of the more than 180 men and women who have been scheduled for a Committee vote, all but five – 97 percent – have seen their votes delayed. Indeed, during your tenure as ranking member, all but one nominee’s initially scheduled vote has been blocked.

No matter the nominee, no matter their qualifications, no matter their bipartisan support … it has been your practice to delay the vote – generally without explanation. This occurs despite an unprecedented vacancy crisis on the federal bench. This isn’t about learning more about a nominee, and it isn’t about delaying someone you think might not be qualified to sit on our federal courts. This is about obstruction, pure and simple. And it is precisely the kind of senseless gridlock that the American people have made clear they reject.

Americans want and need Congress to be able to debate the serious issues before us and work together on crafting solutions. But cooperation on areas of contention seems all but impossible if you cannot even work with the president on areas where you agree, such as the vast majority of judicial nominees.

The committee obstruction is part of a larger picture, one involving deliberate delay and obstruction at all stages of the nomination and confirmation process. But the routine and needless delaying of Committee votes is the form of obstruction for which you bear direct responsibility. And that gives you the power to change the tone by foregoing the practice.

Fortunately, you do not have to wait until the 113th Congress to show the American people your ability and willingness to work cooperatively with the president and your Democratic colleagues. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled votes on five judicial nominations for November 29. That is good news for the people of New York, California, and Florida, the states where judicial vacancies would be filled. Three of those courts are in such dire straits that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has formally designated the vacancies as emergencies. All five nominees – three women and two men – testified to the Judiciary Committee back in September, more than two months ago.

You can set the cooperative tone that the American people expect by allowing the Committee to vote on the five nominations as scheduled. Especially with time running out before the end of this Congress, an unwarranted demand to delay the committee votes for these five nominees would be particularly damaging and – should the Committee approve them – would seriously diminish the chances of their confirmation this year. It would also send a terrible signal to the American people of your intentions.

Sincerely,

Alliance for Justice
American Association for Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America)
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
Communications Workers of America (CWA)
Compassion & Choices
Constitutional Accountability Center
Defenders of Wildlife
Iowa Citizen Action Network
Lambda Legal
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Council of Jewish Women
National Fair Housing Alliance
One Iowa
People For the American Way
Progress Iowa
Working Families Win

 

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