Fair and Just Courts

Exponential Escalation of Judicial Obstruction

For the last three years, Republicans have completely transformed what was once the low-key, bipartisan act of filling district court vacancies.
PFAW

Edit Memo: Debunking the GOP’s Spin on Judicial Obstruction

To: Interested Parties

From: Marge Baker, People For the American Way

Re: Debunking the GOP’s Spin on Judicial Obstruction

Date: March 13, 2012

Senate Democrats are taking action this week to call Republicans on their unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominees, which over the past three years has left far too many of our nation's courtrooms empty. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture petitions in an attempt to end the GOP filibusters of all 17 district court nominees currently waiting for Senate votes, most of whom have been stalled for over three months for absolutely no reason. And already, Senate Republicans have concocted a false spin in an attempt to cover for the mess they have helped to create in the federal courts.

Reid’s action is unprecedented: only two district court nominees were filibustered in the sixteen years of the Bush and Clinton presidencies. As of yesterday, nineteen of President Obama’s district court nominees have been filibustered.

If Republicans don’t back down and allow up-or-down votes on these nominees, the cumbersome cloture process will tie up the senate until early April – and it will become very clear to the American people that Republicans’ top priority is gridlock, not policy.

In response, Senate Republicans have united behind a message that seeks to blame President Obama for the gridlock they created. Their claim is that their unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominees is a direct response to President Obama’s recess appointments of a director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and members of the National Labor Relations Board -- appointments that they neglect to mention were themselves necessary because of Republican obstruction.

This narrative is simply not true. Even a cursory look at the last three years shows that today’s Republican obstruction is not related to their fury at the president’s recess appointments. In fact, these unprecedented levels of obstruction have been going on since President Obama took office. By the end of 2011, before the recess appointments, President Obama's confirmed district court nominees had been stalled more than four times longer on average than President Bush's. That is the case today, as well.

The unjustified delays in 2009-2011 were hardly caused by recess appointments made in 2012.

Make no mistake: the Senate GOP’s obstruction of judicial nominees is part of a deeply cynical effort to create gridlock in Washington and to keep as many courtrooms empty for as long as possible in the hopes of having a Republican president fill them in 2013.

Our federal courts are now facing a historic vacancy crisis, and Americans are facing unjustified delays as they seek their day in court. Senate Republicans should ditch the false excuses for their obstruction, and start doing the job they were elected to do.

Press Contact: Miranda Blue, (202) 467-4999, media@pfaw.org.

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PFAW's Jamie Raskin Takes on Right-Wing Rhetoric on the Courts

As the 2012 presidential campaign gears up, PFAW Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin has collected an extensive glossary of the Right Wing’s favorite rhetoric about the Supreme Court and the Constitution. Sen. Raskin's Daily Kos piece explains the coded phrases and euphemisms, such as “federalism,” “legislating from the bench” and “original intent,” that the Right Wing uses to project their political agenda onto the Founding Fathers’ vision for America.

Here’s an excerpt :

“Follow the Law, Not Make the Law” – Right -Wing Usage: What Republican judges and justices do and what Republican judicial nominees will do, e.g., “It’s only a matter of time before our five justices who follow the law and don’t make the law strike down the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and step up the campaign to invalidate jury verdicts and punitive damages in the states.” Preferred Usage: Essentially meaningless campaign rhetoric used to describe judges who toe the right-wing corporate line, e.g., “I hope they follow the law, instead of making it, and cut our jury verdict down to a price that won’t cost us so much freedom of speech.”

You can read the whole glossary here.

PFAW

GOP Seeks to Distract from their Judicial Obstruction

The GOP tries to link their 3 years of obstruction to a protest against President Obama's January recess appointments.
PFAW

Unbridled Republican Obstruction Forces Extraordinary Action on Judicial Nominees

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced today that he will file petitions to end Republican filibusters of 17 federal district court nominees. The extraordinary move highlights Senate Republicans’ unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominees. During the entire 16 years that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were in office, there were only two filibusters of district court nominations. If Senate Republicans don’t relent on these 17 nominees, the cloture process could tie up the Senate through early April, with each nominee taking 30 hours of floor time under Senate rules.

“It is absolutely stunning that Republicans are willing to tie up Senate business for more than 510 hours just to make things more difficult for President Obama,” said Marge Baker of People For the American Way. “For the past three years, Senate Republicans have been slow-walking judicial nominees at every step of the process, ignoring the duties they were elected to office to perform and contributing to a historic vacancy crisis in our federal courts. Ultimately, it’s the American people, who rely on fair and functioning federal courts, who pay the price for these political games.”

At this point in George W. Bush’s presidency, the average district court nominee waited 22 days between approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee and a vote from the full Senate. Under President Obama, the average wait has been more than four times as long – over three months.

Currently, about one in ten seats on the federal courts is vacant, affecting access to justice for over 160 million Americans.

 

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Three Montana Legislators Support Disgraced Federal Judge

Efforts to reframe Cebull as a victim of oppression show a lack of basic understanding about the American justice system.
PFAW Foundation

The War on Women in the Courts

The War on Women doesn't stop with reproductive rights. In a new post at Ms. Blog, People For's Marge Baker explains how GOP obstruction of judicial nominees is keeping women -- as well as people of color and gays and lesbians -- from reaching positions of power in the federal courts:

President Obama has made no secret of his goal to make the American courts look like America. Along with the effort to bring more women to the bench, roughly 36 percent of his nominees have been people of color, and he has nominated more openly lesbian and gay individuals to the federal courts than all his predecessors combined.

But the president’s effort to bring a diversity of voices to the federal courts is now facing a major roadblock. Senate Republicans have been obstructing President Obama’s judicial nominees to an unprecedented extent–usually not because of objections to the nominees themselves, but just for the sake of creating gridlock. Indeed, most of President Obama’s nominees have been approved by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous or near-unanimous bipartisan support. Nevertheless, after committee approval, Republicans in the Senate have forced the president’s nominees to wait four times longer to get a yes-or-no vote than President Bush’s nominees at the same point in his term.

As a result, about one out of ten courtrooms in the country are vacant and Americans are facing inexcusable delays as they seek their day in court. One of President Obama’s least-noticed but most long-lasting achievements–putting a qualified, diverse group of judges on our federal courts–has been put at risk.

Read the full post at Ms. Blog.

PFAW Foundation

Ohio Coalition for Constitutional Values Calls for Prompt Senate Vote on Helmick Nomination

The Senate Judiciary Committee today approved Toledo, Ohio lawyer Jeffrey Helmick to sit on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Helmick will now join 21 other committee-approved judicial nominees who are waiting for a vote from the full Senate.

Eleven of these nominees have been waiting over three months for a simple vote. In fact, President Obama’s nominees to the federal judiciary have been forced to wait an average of 101 days after committee approval for a vote from the full Senate. At this point in George W. Bush’s presidency, the average was 24 days.

The seat Helmick has been nominated to fill has been vacant for nearly two years.

Shaun Tucker of the Ohio Coalition for Constitutional Values said, “The Senate should quickly schedule an up-or-down vote on Helmick’s nomination so that he can get to work for the people of Ohio.”

“Ohioans rely on our federal courts for fair and swift justice,” said the coalition’s chair Marie Smith. “The Senate should put the needs of Ohioans above partisan gridlock.”

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Another Empty Courtroom

Yet another district court vacancy has opened up in California. The Senate ought to vote today on a long-pending nominee to the same district.
PFAW

Empty Courtrooms, Empty Gestures

With 20 judicial nominees waiting for a vote, Republicans allowing votes on a mere two of them today is inexcusable.
PFAW

Court Official - "I Just Don't See an End to Our Backlog"

Tennessee's case backlog is so bad it is now "borrowing" federal judges from Michigan.
PFAW

Super-PAC Tuesday

Ten states are holding primaries and caucuses today, earning March 6th the title of “Super Tuesday.” Participants will show up, cast their vote, and hopefully feel good for participating in the democratic process and fulfilling their civic duty.

But thanks to Citizens United, and the Super PACs that flawed decision gave rise to, the voters are not the stars of this show. An outpouring of cash from a few extremely wealthy donors has dramatically altered the campaign landscape, altering the balance of influence from individual donors and grassroots donors to rich special interests and corporations.

As illustrated above by Dave Granlund, tonight’s contests should really be called Super-PAC Tuesday. NPR reports that in the ten states up for grabs, Super PACs have spent a whopping $12 million for ads:

Leading the way is Restore Our Future, the superPAC that backs former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. According to Federal Election Commission numbers, Restore Our Future has spent $6.9 million on the Super Tuesday states.

"The groups have clearly taken the lead in advertising for the whole Republican primary. They're very much taking the lead in advertising for Super Tuesday. It's mostly the 'Restore Our Future show,' followed by Winning Our Future, which is the Gingrich group, and Red, White and Blue, which is the Santorum group," says Ken Goldstein, who tracks political ad spending for Kantar Media CMAG.

Red, White and Blue has spent some $1.3 million on Super Tuesday, and has been running an ad in Ohio that goes after Romney for his alleged similarities to the man all Republicans want to defeat in November: President Obama.

These ads supposedly (and unconvincingly) act independently from a candidate’s official campaign, meaning that candidates are unaccountable for their content. But as Katrina vanden Huevel points out in today’s Washington Post, these superPACs reach “barely a legal fiction,” populated as they are with former staff and fundraisers for the candidates they “independently” support.  And this is in addition to the spending by 501 c-4 organizations the sources for which do not even have to be disclosed.

This is not what democracy looks like. We have to end unfettered political spending in our elections system – and solutions like the DISCLOSE Act and a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United are gaining steam. $12 million worth of ads on Super-PAC Tuesday alone should convince everyone that enough is enough.

PFAW

NYT Echoes PFAW's Call for Judge Cebull's Resignation

The New York Times echoes PFAW President Michael Keegan’s call for Federal District Court Judge Richard Cebull’s resignation in an editorial published today.

Cebull, who admitted sending a racist, sexist email about President Obama’s late mother, has apologized and referred himself for disciplinary review. But an apology isn’t enough. Being a federal judge requires exemplary judgment and requires that one maintain an image beyond reproach. As the NYT notes,

Apologizing for atrocious behavior is better than not trying to apologize. Rush Limbaugh’s nonapology to Sandra Fluke for calling her a prostitute was a good example. But sometimes even a seemingly sincere apology is not enough….

His dislike of the president is so strong, apparently, he could not resist the urge to violate his ethical duty to avoid intemperate conduct that suggests racial and political bias and an appearance, at least, of impropriety. Although Judge Cebull did not intend for his e-mail to become public, his use of a government computer and an official e-mail account to spread the hateful message removes any claim that his action was purely private.

Unfortunately for Judge Cebull, mending fences with the President is not enough to restore the public’s trust. He cast irreversible doubt over his ability to be impartial regardless of who the parties are, but most importantly, he has shown that he lacks the temperament necessary for a member of the federal bench.

He should resign.

PFAW Foundation

Senate Obstruction Continues: The Chart

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Politico that he plans to push forward on filling the federal courts, despite unprecedented Republican obstructionism. Here is what Americans who value the courts are up against:

Despite a vacancy crisis in the federal courts that has led to delayed justice for Americans across the country, Senate Republicans have been using every delay tactic in the books to prevent qualified nominees from getting through the system.

The dotted line represents the average time  President Bush’s confirmed judicial nominees at this point in his presidency had to wait for a floor vote after committee approval. The blue lines are President Obama’s nominees – almost all with overwhelming bipartisan support , yet mostly forced to wait for months on end for no reason.

If Senate Republicans keep filibustering these nominees, Sen. Reid will be forced to start a cumbersome and time-consuming cloture process for each and every one of them. Such filibuster abuse is a waste fo the Senate’s time, and it’s bad for America’s courts.
 

PFAW

Fighting For Fair and Just Courts

We may see increased pressure this month to end the obstruction that is keeping so many Americans from having their day in court.
PFAW

PFAW Calls on Federal Judge Who Sent Sexist and Racist Email to Resign

People For the American Way President Michael Keegan issued the following statement in response to reports that Judge Richard Cebull, Chief U.S. District Court judge for Montana used his official court email account to send a sexist and racist “joke” email about President Obama:

“Americans expect our courts to be fair, impartial, and open to all. The trust we have in our courts relies on knowing that our judges will approach all litigants – from billion-dollar corporations to individual citizens – with fair and open minds.

“Judge Cebull, by using his official email account to promote racism, misogyny and disrespect for the office of President of the United States, has shown that he does not have the temperament necessary to fulfill his duties as judge. He should resign immediately.”

 

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The Racist Email that Federal Judge Richard Cebull Sent to His ‘Buddies’ about President Obama’s Mom

By now you’ve probably heard the news that Judge Richard Cebull, Chief U.S. District Judge for Montana, sent a “joke” email from his courthouse chambers, using his official court email account, that compares African Americans to dogs. Here’s the punchline

A little boy said to his mother, “Mommy, how come I'm black and you're white?”
 
His mother replied, “Don't even go there, Barack! From what I can remember about that party, you're lucky you don't bark!”
The text of the email is bad enough, but it’s even worse when you see how the email appeared on Judge Cebull’s screen. Below you can see the email as it appeared on the web last September.
 
Judge Cebull, who was nominated by President Bush and has served since 2001, admits he read the email, knew it was racist and intended to pass it along to his “old buddies.” He has apologized “to anybody who is offended by it,” which isn’t really much of an apology. He should be apologizing for the substance, not the perception, of his act.
 
Judge Cebull gave this explanation to John S. Adams of the Great Falls Tribune, who broke the story:
"The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan," Cebull said. "I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. I sent it out because it's anti-Obama." […]
 
Cebull said he does not consider himself prejudiced against people of other races or ethnic backgrounds, and that his actions in his courtroom have demonstrated that. 
It’s one thing to criticize President Obama’s policies or leadership or even his character. But to insult his mother and equate interracial sex with bestiality? That’s completely beyond the pale.
 
What is the psychology of a federal judge who, while sitting in his chambers checking his official email, reads an email like that and decides to pass it along? It begs the question of whether Judge Cebull can fairly hear cases involving discrimination, race, the President, and so on.
 
Here’s the full email:

Senate GOP - "Ignore What We Said Before"

Senate Republicans used to demand quick confirmation votes for any judicial nominee clearing the Judiciary Committee. Not anymore.
PFAW

Senate Hearing Examines Indefinite Detention of Americans

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Due Process Guarantee Act: Banning Indefinite Detention of Americans,” which shed light on controversial provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA).

That act, signed into law on December 31, 2011, codified some of the most extreme abuses of civil liberties that have been pursued following the initiation of the ‘War on Terror,’ the actions of which, under the current administration, are now engaged under the title, ‘Overseas Contingency Operations.’ The most striking provision of the NDAA affirmed a broad interpretation of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (2001) and stated that the executive has the power to detain anyone “who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities … without trial, until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF 2001],” which many interpret would permit even the indefinite detention of American citizens.

Although the current executive branch has pledged to not act upon these powers with respect to American citizens – President Obama signed the law with an adjoining statement, declaring, “my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens” – the potential for future administrations to engage in such clearly unconstitutional behavior, or for the Obama Administration to simply change its mind, is a danger that all Americans should be wary of.

Troubled by these possibilities, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the ‘Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011’ just hours after the final version of the NDAA was approved by the Senate. The bill seeks to amend the United States Code affected by the NDAA, effectively barring the executive from utilizing indefinite detention on American citizens without express approval from Congress to do so.

The hearing today regarded this remedial act; and there were fireworks to say the least.

Senator Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and is the author of the bill, repeatedly called into question the effectiveness of the provisions in question. Alluding to her past experiences on the Intelligence Committee, Feinstein echoed the concerns of leaders of intelligence and domestic crime fighting agencies who have expressed their disagreement with the infringement of the Armed Forces into domestic security concerns.

Senator Patrick Leahy, before passing the gavel to Senator Feinstein to chair the session, spoke more broadly about the practice of indefinite detention in his opening statement, stating, “A regime of indefinite detention degrades the credibility of this great Nation around the globe, particularly when we criticize other governments for engaging in such conduct.”

The most heated portion of the hearing arose when Senator Al Franken objected to the testimony of Steven G. Bradbury, a former Bush Administration appointee invited by Senate Republicans to testify in favor of the indefinite detention provisions. Franken alluded to the ‘enhanced interrogation’ memos (more accurately called torture memos) that Bradbury authored – which were the subject of a Justice Department probe that concluded by seriously questioning the legal work of Bradbury and others - and stated, “it’s very difficult for me, frankly, to rely on your legal opinion today.”

To ensure that future generations of Americans are not subject to indefinite detention without charge or trial, which was deemed unconstitutional by the Hamdi Supreme Court decision in 2004, please contact your local Representative and Senators to express your opposition to the NDAA, and encourage them to co-sponsor legislation to make sure the law reflects our Constitution’s most essential values. ( H.R. 36702 in the House; S. 2003 in the Senate).

PFAW

Klingenschmitt Raises Money to Block Judicial Nominee who was already Confirmed

Gordon Klingenschmitt is asking activists to pay him big money to stop the Senate from confirming Jesse Furman to the Southern District Court of New York. Klingenschmitt is asking for upwards to $159 to send faxes to Senators to stop Furman and two other nominees from “forcing their anti-Jesus, pro-abortion, pro-homosexual views on the American people.” While Klingenschmitt’s attacks are completely over the top, there’s a more obvious sign that Klingenschmitt’s campaign is completely off base: Furman has already been confirmed. Earlier this month the Senate voted 62-34 to approve Furman’s nomination in the face of intense GOP obstructionism.

Activist Judge Jesse Furman once legislated from the bench to change the First Amendment to allow unprecedented erosion to freedom of religion and speech. Furman tried to ban a Christian organization from using public property. The Supreme Court emphatically shot him down, and not even the liberals on the bench supported him. The high court rebuked Furman's idea that "to extend the school day for elementary school children by offering religious worship, instruction and indoctrination on public school grounds would result in an unprecedented erosion of Establishment Clause values that would reverberate well beyond this particular case." Furman banned Christian kids!

Please select here to sign urgent petition, and we will fax all 100 Senators (saving you time!) to OPPOSE and FILIBUSTER three bad judges to stop forcing their anti-Jesus, pro-abortion, pro-homosexual views on the American people.

But the Supreme Court ruled kids are free to assemble for worship, firmly rebuking Furman's anti-Jesus views. Furman had ruled that First Amendment Rights of free speech do not extend to Christians, "because they do not promote cohesion among heterogeneous democratic people." He wrote in his official brief to the Supreme Court that all forms of traditional Christianity are intolerant because they label children as either unsaved or unsaved.
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