To: Interested Parties
From: Marge Baker, People For the American Way
Re: GOP Senators Target Judicial Nominees of Color
Date: December 22, 2010
There are two important facts about Republican senators’ unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominees that should not be lost in the crush of important legislation being passed by the lame duck Congress: President Obama’s District Court nominees have experienced unprecedented obstruction, and every District Court nominee who faced unanimous Republican opposition in the Senate Judiciary Committee is a person of color.
While it’s not uncommon for some nominees for Courts of Appeals vacancies to receive intense partisan scrutiny, nominees to the District Courts, which process the vast majority of cases, have long been granted more deference. Since 1945, only five nominees for seats on District Courts have received party line votes in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In President Bush’s eight years in office, a single District Court nominee (Leon Holmes, a highly controversial nominee who made light of rape victims and slavery) received a party line vote in committee. In just the first two years of President Obama’s term, four nominees have been subjected to unanimous GOP opposition in committee. All four of these nominees are people of color.
These nominees include:
- Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, whose work as a judge irked business interests so much, they spent $1 million to prevent his reelection
- U.S. Magistrate Edward Chen, who has been attacked for his work fighting discrimination against Asian Americans for the American Civil Liberties Union
- Benita Pearson, whose nomination was opposed because she is a member of groups opposed to animal cruelty
- William Martinez, who was opposed for his pro-bono work with the ACLU of Colorado (including providing support for a high school student sent home for wearing an anti-Obama t-shirt)
Two of the nominees, Butler and Chen, never received a vote on the floor of the Senate. All four of these nominees would have been approved easily in any other Congress, but since President Obama took office, Republican senators have been focused on opposing his nominees and initiatives for purely political purposes.
Given the energy Republicans put into blocking these four nominees, it’s also worth noting that the Circuit Court nominee they opposed most energetically is also a person of color: Goodwin Liu, who would be the only Asian American judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
On recent issues ranging from the nuclear security to fairness for immigrant children, Senate Republicans have shown an unprecedented willingness to play politics with important issues. Their treatment of judicial nominees show that the GOP is willing to bring the same cynicism to the federal courts, and the racial composition of the nominees they’re blocking shows just how troubling the impact of those politics can be.