Environmental protection

  • May 8, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While the Obama administration has done much to diversify the federal bench, Senate Republicans have so far successfully kept one of the nation’s most important appellate courts free of any diversity. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rules on significant and often complex matters, including national security concerns; but it also rules on matters that are of great concern to corporate America.

    Since the Republican Party is the primary coddler of the super wealthy, it’s hardly surprising that its leaders in the Senate are working feverishly to ensure that President Obama has little if any opportunity to change the ideological makeup of the D.C. Circuit. The graphic (right) produced by People For The American Way is a compelling and accessible picture of the matter. (Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley is also pushing legislation that would cut the number of judges on the bench; he claims the D.C. Circuit has enough judges and a light caseload. For the truth, read retired D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Patricia Wald’s piece for The Washington Post.)  

    For many years now, the D.C. Circuit has been controlled by conservative judges. There are four vacancies on the bench and Senate Republicans have successfully blocked the president from filling them. As Miranda notes in a PFAW blog post, because of Senate obstructionism Obama is the “first president since Woodrow Wilson to serve a full first term without placing a judge on the D.C. Circuit.”

    An opinion yesterday by a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit provides yet another example of the Court’s pro-business tilt. It knocked down a rule by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) requiring employers to post notices about the rights of workers, such as joining a union or advocating for safer working conditions. In a post for AFL-CIO NOW, Mike Hall calls the NLRB rule “commonsense and evenhanded,” noting that such notices also inform workers that they do not have to join a union. But the D.C. Circuit found a way to side with corporations that aren’t especially eager to inform workers of their rights pursuant to the National Labor Relations Act.

    That opinion follows one from earlier in the year, Canning v. NLRB, where the D.C. Circuit invalidated the president’s appointments to the five-member NLRB. That opinion has been appealed by the Obama administration. In short, the three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit essentially redefined what a recess appointment is, one that differs greatly from practice and federal court precedent. (See Sec. 2 of Article II of the U.S. Constitution.)

    The D.C. Circuit has also proven hostile to environmental regulations that are often challenged by corporations. In a post for grist, the Constitutional Accountability Center’s Simon Lazarus and Doug Kendall say the D.C. Circuit, on “any given day … has the power to throw the environmental movement into complete disarray.” (They could have added to the great delight of many corporations or the Koch brothers.)

  • April 22, 2013

    by Ben Geman, writer of the E² Wire, the Environment and Energy blog, at The Hill. This piece is cross-posted on The Hill.

    Conservative groups and a dozen House Republicans are petitioning the Supreme Court to review an appellate decision that upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

    They’re taking aim at a June 2012 federal court ruling that protected several EPA decisions, including the “endangerment finding” that greenhouse gases threaten humans, that underpin the agency's existing and planned carbon regulations.

    “Although seemingly disjointed in their promulgation, taken together these rules create a comprehensive, integrated program that gives EPA regulatory jurisdiction over a breadth of human activity unparalleled in the history of American governance,” states the petition Friday from the conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation.

    Twelve GOP lawmakers, including Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), who is a Tea Party favorite, and Reps. Joe Barton (Texas), Tom Price (Ga.) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) joined the petition.

    Other backers of the petition include FreedomWorks, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Georgia Motor Trucking Association.

  • February 20, 2013

    The Atlantic reports that it’s now been nearly three years since a major piece of legislation made its way through the Senate. While the Senate had done things like passing a highway bill, and reapproving the import-export bank, most of the Senate’s legislative agenda for the last two years has been lurching from crisis to crisis – like the deals the ended the fiscal cliff crisis of 2012 and the debt ceiling crisis of 2011. Even matters completely within the prevue of the Senate, and once considered routine business, are becoming mired in partisan bickering. The Washington Post commented that the filibuster of Chuck Hagel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense, the first ever, marked the beginning of a 60-vote Senate. The president’s judicial nominations have fared even worse, with one nominee, Caitlin Halligan, waiting nearly two years for confirmation to the D.C. Circuit. Major action, such as comprehensive legislation on immigration reform and bold measures on climate change, is needed as are judges to fill vacancies on the federal bench (and there are a lot of them), but progress looks bleak in this atmosphere thanks largely to one of the nation’s two major political parties. The American people deserve far better than a Congress full of preening politicians constantly consumed with holding onto or expanding power.  

    -- ESA   

  • January 28, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Nearly a week after providing a staunchly liberal vision for a second term –– leading law professors, attorneys and other advocates are providing via an ACS project ideas and proposals for the administration’s second term. (Regarding the tone and vision of the president’s second Inaugural Address, some apparently believe the president was merely defending New Deal programs and policy the Clinton administration had supposedly advanced.)

    The ACS project, “Toward a More Perfect Union: A Progressive Blueprint for the Second Term,” was recently launched with three Issue Briefs:

    Former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Colgate Love looks at why the presidential pardon power “has lost its vigor, its integrity, and its sense of purpose,” and argues why it should be reinvigorated, as well as offering examples, many from the states, for reforming the process.

    Brookings Visiting Fellow Russell Wheeler examines the Obama administration’s record of filling federal judgeships during his first term and puts forth ideas for fixing a judicial nominations process that has become increasingly rancorous and ineffective. In a Brookings’ Up Frontblog post, Wheeler, a leading expert on the federal bench, explains, in part, why the process needs reforming. “First, judicial vacancies, which declined in Clinton’s and Bush’s first terms, increased during Obama’s. Empty judgeships hamper the federal courts’ ability to do their jobs – to sort out contractual disputes and other matters that, left unresolved, contribute to economic uncertainty, as well dispose of criminal complaints and adjudicate claims of discrimination and civil liberties violations.”

    University of Michigan Law School Professor David M. Uhlmann urges the Obama administration to exert great presidential leadership on climate change. Uhlmann, director of the law school’s Environmental Law and Policy Program, noted the small steps the Obama administration took during its first term. But, citing the work of climate scientists, Uhlmann warns that if our country fails “to limit greenhouse gas emissions, searing heat, widespread drought, destructive storms, and massive flooding will become commonplace.” Moreover, Uhlmann argues that climate change will be a “legacy issue” for the president – “either because he helped chart a course toward a sustainable future or because America failed to act while it was still possible to prevent catastrophic climate change. Uhlmann’s Issue Brief goes on to provide ways for the president to act, even without the help of Congress, to put the nation on a path toward sustainable resources.

    During his second inaugural, the president reminded us that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action” and unlike too many of his predecessors lauded the noble goal of advancing equality. Obama also took a shot at right-wing economic policy that is all about coddling the superwealthy at the expense of everyone else.

    The president also called for collective action on climate change.

  • January 7, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    It can be difficult to follow with great interest the machinations in the nation’s capital, especially with divisive, often ridiculous debates that unfold and then are taken to a whole new level by loud pundits dominating airwaves. But when cynicism sets in, as it has within parts of my family, there’s almost no room for serious, calm conversation about policy that is actually being advanced in the confines of the beltway.

    Over the winter break I had the great fortune of seeing three of my brothers, two of whom I rarely get to see anymore. One brother, who has veered from libertarianism to socialism, has written off the entire political process. President Obama is a tool of Wall Street, it would not have mattered had Mitt Romney won the White House, they both represent the same interests, he would say. He scoffed at the Affordable Care Act – no public option, no expansion of health care to the needy – and at the extension of unemployment benefits that has occurred under the Obama administration’s watch. In my brother’s mind the entire system was bought by big corporations a long time ago and they pull all the strings of both major political parties. But I wasn’t all that surprised – he’s been regurgitating the late comedian George Carlin’s stinging, though simplistic, lines about a broken American government for many years now.

    The reality is that the American political process is messy, incredibly divisive and often terribly exhaustive and inadequate. But the constant carping about how bad politicians are is also tiring and irrelevant. When hasn’t our democracy been a messy, maddening affair? Sure there have been respites, but they often don’t last long. It’s a fairly large country, and regardless of Carlin’s jabs, we do and have had some remarkable politicians and heroic leaders for equality and civil rights.

    And regarding the Obama administration’s first term, a little research would reveal that it is wildly over-the-top to blast it as a tool of big business. As The American Prospect’s Jamelle Bouie notes, Obama’s first two years in office “are a good case study of what happens when Democrats have control of the federal government – they try to expand it. In those two years, Democrats greatly expanded the welfare state with a new, quasi-universal health-care program, funneled hundreds of billions of dollars to infrastructure and clean energy research, and implemented a host of new financial regulations. There’s a reason Time correspondent Michael Grunwald called his book on the stimulus The New New Deal – in both size and scope, the activity of Obama and the 111th Congress resembled that of FDR’s first term.”