filibuster

  • March 7, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Sen. Rand Paul, (R-K.Y.) may be a strident, sometimes over-the-top Tea Party supporter and fervent antigovernment advocate, but his filibuster of President Obama’s pick to head the C.I.A. was principled. He did so by actually taking to the Senate floor to explain, albeit in very long fashion, his opposition to the administration’s nominee C.I.A. John Brennan, who was confirmed today for the position.

    Paul’s action was far different than the Republican obstructionists’ baseless and practically silent filibuster of Caitlin Halligan to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. As Greg Sargent writes in The Plum Line, “Paul’s filibuster was born out of concern about an actual issue – objections to Obama’s approach to drone warfare that are shared on both sides of the aisle.” [See below for more commentary on the Obama administration’s secretive use of drones]

    Halligan, however, was blocked by senators who on the whole probably spoke less than two hours about Halligan. And their objections were incredibly lame. She’s received the ABA’s highest ranking for qualification and exceedingly strong support in the legal community, both conservatives and progressives.

    Republican senators have been obstructing the judicial nominations process ever since Obama first took office. The president was not able to appoint a judge to the D.C. Circuit during his first term because of Republicans’ obstinacy. There is simply a great desire among the Senate Republicans to keep as many vacancies open, especially on the powerful D.C. Circuit, for as long as possible. These obstructionists are beholden to a base that coddles the superrich and riles up a shrinking group, albeit loud and still influential, obsessed with keeping the courts packed with right-wing ideologues. Too many of those right-wing jurists help support state efforts to abolish abortion and make life much more difficult for those in the LGBT community and undocumented persons.

    The sham filibuster, which is the preferred tool of the Senate’s obstructionists, has become the norm. It has been used to halt consideration of policy such as efforts to confront climate change or address immigration reform; but it has most often been used to delay or kill executive branch or judicial branch nominations. Indeed, thanks to the sham filibuster, the Republicans have helped create more than 80 vacancies on the federal bench. In fact vacancies have hovered at 80 or above for much of Obama’s term. The Senate Republicans’ assault on the federal bench, serves their political purposes, but harms the judiciary and Americans who rely on the courts to uphold constitutional rights and seek redress of grievances. A federal bench burdened with fewer judges and larger caseloads is no way for the judiciary to function.

     

  • March 6, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Another highly qualified nominee was the victim of the Senate’s obstructionists’ ongoing assault on the judiciary, which includes burdening the federal bench with high vacancies and larger caseloads.

    Today the Senate filibustered the nomination of Caitlin Halligan for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, largely along a party-line vote, 54-45, with one Republican joining all the Democrats. Halligan was hailed in the legal community, liberal and conservatives, alike as greatly suited to serve in the judiciary.

    But as noted here yesterday, obstructionists continued to claim Halligan to “extreme” on constitutional issues. And they seem bent on keeping vacancies open and giving higher hurdles to confirmation for women and minority nominees in particular.

    ACS President Caroline Fredrickson blasted the action today saying, in part, that the obstructionists are undermining a pillar of democracy.

    “Our courts and citizens are seeing justice delayed because our courts cannot function effectively or efficiently without judges. It’s far past time to end this vacancy crisis and get our justice system back up and running," Fredrickson said. (See her full statement .)

    Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also took on the needless obstruction of judicial nominations, and some of his Republican colleagues, concluding, “They have not been fair to this fine woman.”

    President Obama called the senators' action a "pattern of obstruction," adding that his  "judicial nominees wait more than three times as long on the Senate floor to receive a vote than my predecessor's nominees." Like retired U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Judge Patricia M. Wald noted in a column for The Washington Post, the president also highlighted the harm done to the D.C. circuit court, which was gone years with vacancies.

    "The effects of this obstruction take the heaviest toll on the D.C. Circuit, considered the Nation's second-highest court, which has only seven active judges and four vacancies," the president's March 6 statement reads. "Until last month, for more than forty years, the court has always had at least eight active judges and as many as twelve."

  • March 5, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Despite the so-called “rules reform” the ardent Republican obstructionists that occupy the U.S. Senate are at it again – filibustering Caitlin Halligan for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Speaking of the rules reform, it was convenient that it only applied to nominations to U.S. District Courts, allowing obstinate obstructionists to carry on a war on the courts or more specifically President Obama’s selections for the nation’s appeals courts.

    And in this case, yet another woman nominee is being obstructed. Yes, Republicans and some commentators claim minority and women nominees are not being targeted, but that claim turns wobbly when we look at the lengths of time it has taken for many women and minority nominees to be confirmed as opposed to their white-male counterparts. For example, federal court nominees Mary Murgia, Jill Pryor, Arvo Mikkanen, Natasha Perdw Silas, Linda Walker and Elissa Cadish have all suffered from obstructionism, causing several of them to withdraw their nominations.  

    In the case of Halligan (pictured), the general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, the wait for an up-or-down confirmation vote has been ludicrous – she’s been nominated and renominated four times by the president. And an up-or-down vote on her nomination is not assured now. The obstructionists appear bent on keeping as many seats on what is considered the second most powerful court in the land open. Maybe the obstructionists hope that in four years Republicans will capture the White House and they’ll control the Senate and be able to return to packing the federal bench with right-wing jurists.

    Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy today urged his Republican colleagues to dump the filibuster and give Halligan an up-or-down vote, noting that the D.C. appeals court hears some of the nation’s most pressing constitutional matters, especially on separation of powers and national security concerns and that the court has longstanding vacancies that need to be filled. (A court, regardless of what a right-wing blogger might utter, does need a full bench of active judges to adequately and efficiently function.)

    Press Secretary Jay Carney also weighed in during the March 5 press briefing, noting the D.C. appeals court’s caseload has swelled because of the vacancies. “In fact,” Carney said, “the court has never been this understaffed in its history and the caseload has increased almost 15 percent since 2011. (In a column for The Washington Post, retired U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Judge Patricia M. Wald, explains the constraints the vacancies have placed on the court’s active judges.)

     

  • February 27, 2013

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Two hundred and twenty three days is a long time to wait for a new job. Yet, that’s the average number of days that an Obama judicial nominee must wait from nomination to confirmation.

    While they’re waiting, they have to put their professional lives on hold, lest they inadvertently do anything that might stall their confirmation. And, that’s just the average nominee; many have waited much, much longer. Caitlin Halligan, one of President Obama’s nominees to the influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has been waiting nearly three years for her confirmation to go through a bitterly divided Senate. Some say that Halligan’s nomination is controversial because of her statements on the Second Amendment and detainee rights. But, even completely uncontroversial nominees who are rated as “highly qualified” by the American Bar Association, like Bill Kayatta, who was recently confirmed to sit on the First Circuit, have languished for months in the Senate. Robert Bacharach, who was recently confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, had his confirmation delayed in a filibuster aided by his home-state Senators.

    When judges have to wait to take their posts, ordinary people have to wait increasingly longer for routine legal matters to get resolved. Right now there are 88 vacancies in the federal judiciary, about a third of those are considered judicial emergencies – where the judges on a court have so many cases that they are forced to preform judicial triage. In those courts, resolving a civil case can take years because criminal matters take higher priority on the docket, and even those can be significantly delayed despite the constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial. In some districts, there are so many vacancies that a term like “ghost court” wouldn’t be far off the mark. Six judgeships in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which includes Philadelphia, are vacant, along with five judgeships in the District of Arizona. There are even federal courthouses that have literally been sitting empty for years because no one has even been nominated to fill those judgeships.

  • 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