September 2010

  • September 23, 2010

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Against the backdrop of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today of several federal district and circuit judicial nominees who were re-nominated by President Obama, pressure is mounting from a variety of sources on the Senate to stop the harmful delay and take immediate action on languishing judicial nominations.

    The New York Times noted in an editorial called, "An Extreme Judicial Blockade," that the Senate Judiciary Committee was set to consider earlier today "nominees for the federal district and circuit court judgeships who have already been approved by the committee once, or even twice."

    The editorial highlighted the re-nomination of Goodwin Liu, associate dean and professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law. If confirmed Liu "would be the only Asian-American serving as an active judge on the United State Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit." The newspaper notes that Liu (pictured) "went to Stanford, was awarded a Rhodes scholarship and graduated from Yale Law School. He clerked for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before beginning" his teaching career at one of the nation's top law schools. "Indeed," the editorial maintains, "it is largely his stellar background that is fueling Republican opposition. Mr. Liu, who is 39, is seen as a strong possibility to be on President Obama's short list for a future Supreme Court vacancy."

    Marcia D. Greenberger, of the National Women's Law Center, in a column for The Huffington Post, wrote, "Commentators and journalists have been focusing recently on the pace of confirmations to federal judicial positions - and for good reason. Procedural roadblocks have become routine even for nominees with bipartisan support - resulting in a dramatic slowdown in judicial confirmations."

    ACS distributed to Senate leaders a letter from former federal court judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents calling for the delays to end. "At this moment, our courts are overburdened and increasingly certain vacancies are being designated as ‘emergencies' by the Administrative Office of the Courts because of the length of time the court has been without a judge. This situation is untenable for a country that believes in the rule of law," the judges maintain in their letter.

    The Senate committee, largely along party lines, advanced four of the five nominees, including Liu, who had been re-nominated, the Legal Times reports.

    Following the committee's work, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy blasted the ongoing obstruction of the judicial nominations process.

    "A number of recent articles have discussed the judicial vacancy crisis that has been created by the Republican strategy of slow-walking consideration of non-controversial nominations," said Leahy in a press statement. "These include district court nominations, which have traditionally been considered without delays, and have never before been targeted for obstruction by Democrats or Republicans when supported by their home state Senators. There is no good reason to hold up consideration for weeks and months of nominees reported unanimously from the Judiciary Committee."

    To keep track of vacancies on the federal bench and status of judicial nominations visit the ACS project, JudicialNominations.org or receive updates from Facebook.

  • September 23, 2010
    BookTalk
    Because it is Wrong
    Torture, Privacy and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror
    By: 
    Charles Fried and Gregory Fried

    ACSblog recently talked with father and son Charles and Gregory Fried, who, in spite of differing political views on a number of issues, came together on the issue of torture in their new book, "Because it is Wrong: Torture, Privacy and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror." Harvard Law School professor Charles Fried is a Republican who served as solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan. His son, Gregory Fried, is chair of the philosophy department at Suffolk University and a self-described independent.

    ACSblog: How did you two come together on the issue of torture, and how did you decide to write a book together?

    Frieds: Ever since 9/11, we had been discussing policy, ethical, and legal questions facing our nation in the wake of the terrorist attacks. But even before that, dinner conversation would often turn to questions morality and politics. Each of us, in our respective academic work, was also writing, lecturing, and teaching about elements of the response to the threat. The revelations coming from Abu Ghraib focused us on the problem of torture specifically, and at a certain point (in the spring of 2008, in fact), we realized that there was a thread connecting the issues of torture, privacy and presidential power. Instead of going on working on these topics separately, we had the inspiration that it might be something of an adventure to do so together. We offered the idea of this book to our wonderful editor at Norton, Bob Weil, and his enthusiasm and encouragement moved us along from there.

    ACSblog: Can you describe how your position on torture differs from the positions of others who have written about this issue?

  • September 22, 2010

    Republican senators successfully used the filibuster yesterday to block a military funding bill that would have abolished the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, but not before a coalition of policy advocates and experts, including ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson, lambasted the abuse of the Senate procedure, which is "derailing our democratic process and prioritizing corporate special interests over progress."

    Fredrickson said during a press call held by the coalition that filibuster threats, often made in secret, have held up judicial confirmations to fill more than 100 vacancies on the federal bench, USA Today reports. "This is just no way to run a judicial system," Fredrickson said.

    "A review of the Constitution will show that the filibuster was never a part of the Framers' plan," Fredrickson added. "The filibuster is a Senate-created procedure, and has no basis in the Constitution or American history."

    Carl Pope, executive chairman of the Sierra Club, said the filibuster is being improperly used to advance special interest agendas over the public interest.

    "Filibusters aren't about democracy," Pope said. "They're about special interests flexing their power. An overwhelming number of Americans want our country to build a clean energy economy, but they don't hold the same sway as the coal and oil industry when it comes to asking their allies to filibuster a bill."

    Joining Fredrickson and Pope were George Kohl, senior director for policy at Communications Workers of America, and Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, who set the stage for a Senate hearing today on the use of the filibuster.

    This type of cross-issue coalition working to reform Senate rules is a "big deal," Ezra Klein wrote in The Washington Post. "Now, maybe it's just a call," he cautioned. "But the fact that these groups are talking to one another about the need for filibuster reform is fairly important, and a sign of just how serious this conversation has gotten."

    Visit http://www.democracyrules.us/ for more information about the coalition and filibuster reform.

  • September 21, 2010
    Supporters of ending the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," policy are expressing dismay and promising perseverance in the face of the Senate's refusal to vote on ending the policy, which bars lesbians and gay men from serving openly in the military.

    Senate Republicans obstructed an effort to debate the defense authorization bill, which includes a provision to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," The New York Times reports. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the newspaper reports, "switched his vote to no at the last minute, a procedural maneuver that allows him to call for a revote." Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said, "We should not deny the opportunity to take up the bill, which is essential for the men and women in the military because we disagree with some of the provisions in the bill."

    Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a leading organization in the efforts to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," said in a press statement, "Today's Senate vote was a frustrating blow to repeal this horrible law. We lost because of the political maneuvering dictated by the midterm elections. Let's be clear: Opponents to repealing ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' did not have the votes to strike those provisions from the bill. Instead, they had the votes for delay. Time is the enemy here. We now have no choice but to look to the lame duck session where we'll have a slim shot. The Senate absolutely must schedule a vote in December when cooler heads and common sense are more likely to prevail once midterm elections are behind us. Servicemembers Legal Defense Network will continue to take this fight to the American people, the vast majority of whom support repeal of ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'"

    The Palm Center, a research group at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which has published reports on the ineffectiveness of the policy, also lamented the Senate's action. Christopher Neff, deputy executive director of the Palm Center, said, "Discharges and discrimination will continue because of today's vote in the Senate. This was not just a vote on whether to end a filibuster. This was a vote on the Senate floor on whether to end discrimination against gays and lesbians in the U.S. Military."

    Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said in a press statement, that lawmakers are once again "playing politics with people's lives. Filibustering the defense authorization bill to block action on ‘Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal ... is a disappointment and disservice to our country."

    The Family Research Council, a lobbying group for religious conservatives, praised the senate action, specifically lauding "Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator John McCain and Senator Jim Inhofe for their successful efforts to stop this legislation which would not only force open homosexuality on the military but also turn our military hospitals into abortion clinics."

    For more on the efforts to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," watch video of an ACS panel discussion here.

  • September 21, 2010
    Guest Post

    By E. Wycliffe Orr, Sr., an attorney and principal in the Gainesville, Georgia law firm of Orr, Brown & Johnson LLP. Mr. Orr, a trial lawyer for 38 years and former member of the Georgia House of Representatives, has served for the last seven years on the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, since the inception of that entity created by the Georgia Indigent Defense Act of 2003.
    Jamie Ryan Weis has been held in county jails in Georgia for over four years. Weis has not been found guilty of any crime. He has not had a trial. Although he is charged with murder and the prosecution is seeking the death penalty, during all but some six months of the time he has been held, he has not had active legal representation because the State of Georgia has failed to provide funding for his defense.

    I, along with several distinguished members of the Georgia bar, including former Chief Justice Norman Fletcher, the former chair of the Chief Justice's Commission on Indigent Defense, two former chairs of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, and current and former members of the Council, some of whom were state legislators and one of whom is a county attorney, have filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court of the United States to grant review of the Weis case and prohibit prosecutors from taking advantage of Georgia's leaving Weis defenseless for so long.

    The Supreme Court should recognize that Jamie Weis has been denied his most fundamental right to counsel and that it is impossible for him to receive a fair trial after such a prolonged deprivation of counsel.

    Weis was charged with the murder of Catherine King in 2006. When the state decided to seek the death penalty, Georgia's indigent defense program, the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, engaged two private lawyers with experience in defending capital cases to represent him. They diligently began work on his case.

    Six months later, however, they were informed that there were no funds for investigators or expert witnesses. They were soon told there was not even funding to pay them. The case ground to a halt - but not Weis's pre-trial confinement. The one constant since his 2006 arrest has been that he is held in a county jail.

    In response to this impasse, the prosecutor -- who is seeking the death penalty for Weis -- orally moved in open court for the trial judge to remove Weis's lawyers and replace them with local public defenders the prosecutor named. One of the public defenders he named was not even certified to handle capital cases. Neither Weis nor his lawyers were given any warning that such a motion would be made. Nevertheless, the trial judge granted it instanter.