Other courts

  • July 26, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    President Obama seeking to fill vacancies on the federal bench, which hover above 80, has nominated a diverse group, including an ACS leader and member, to U.S. District Court judgeships.

    Matthew F. Leitman, who has served as a leader the ACS Michigan Chapter, was nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Leitman is a principal at Miller Canfield, a Michigan law practice that has offices in Canada, Mexico, Poland and China. Leitman’s work encompasses complex commercial litigation, criminal defense, and litigation before state and federal appellate courts. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

    Vince Girdhari Chhabria, an ACS member and speaker at ACS events, was nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. If confirmed, Chhabria would be the first South Asian judge in California and the fourth South Asian judge in the U.S., The Times of India reports. Chhabria currently serves as Deputy Chief Attorney for Government Litigation and as the Co-Chief of Appellate Litigation in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera is an ACS Board member. (In June, Herrera talked with ACSblog about his office’s significant involvement in advancing marriage equality in California.) Chhabria received his J.D. from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.

    The other nominees are: Judith Ellen Levy, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan; Laurie J. Michelson, U.S. Magistrate Judge, for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan; James “Jay” Maxwell Moody Jr., an Arkansas Circuit Judge, for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas; and Linda Vivienne Parker, a Michigan state judge, for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

    There are 85 vacancies on the federal bench. For more information about those vacancies and nominations see JudicialNominations.org.

  • July 25, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Even after reaching a deal to move along some executive branch nominations, a gaggle of Republican senators is showing how far it is from giving up on obstructing President Obama’s nominations for long-standing vacancies on the federal bench.

    Yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to consider the nomination of Cornelia “Nina” Pillard to one of the three vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has drawn quick attention from reporters, scholars and activists for some of the accusations lobbed at Pillard, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center with a varied and deep legal career. (And Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) kept insisting the D.C. Circuit, which hears some of the most complex and time-consuming legal matters of all the appeals court circuits doesn’t need any more judges. But Patricia M. Wald, who served for 20 years on the D.C. Circuit, five of them as its chief judge, provides reality here.)

    But Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tried mightily to paint Pillard as unfit to serve on the federal bench. Pillard (pictured) has a widely respected legal career, including varied scholarship, and extensive work as an attorney for the federal government, including the Solicitor General and the Office of Legal Counsel; for mainstream boards seeking to provide services to multinational corporations, such as the American Arbitration Association, and for the long-respected civil rights group, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. But in their questions Lee and Cruz seemed to misstate or misrepresent what Pillard had said in writings and briefs she had authored years before. 

    Pillard has not only taught law, she’s practiced law representing the federal government and individuals seeking to enforce Congress's civil rights laws. But Lee and Cruz during the Senate committee hearing labored to create a far different picture. Specifically they focused on a short symposium article she wrote more than a decade ago that sought common ground on the divisive issue of reproductive choice, and an amicus brief she wrote in support of lower court decisions that had held Operation Rescue accountable for physically blocking women's access to family planning facilities. 

    But Lee and Cruz seemed either to misunderstand or misrepresent Pillard's own words. For example, Cruz claimed that Pillard had once written that abstinence-only education was constitutionally suspect. She did not and tried to explain it to the senator. Pillard pointed out that her article merely argued that such programs should not be bound by stereotypes. Instead she explained that abstinence-only education should be taught without promulgating stereotypes. Moreover that article was intended for policymakers offering ways to bridge a gap between anti-abortion activists and women’s rights advocates by identifying initiatives both sides could agree upon that would reduce the incidence of abortion.

    Cruz and Lee continued their misrepresentation of Pillard's legal work, claiming that in an amicus or friend-of-the-court brief that she equated anti-abortion activists to violent white supremacists, like the KKK. Again, the senators either did not read the brief or they shamelessly took parts of it out of context to tar Pillard. In reality Pillard argued that a civil rights law was aimed at private groups that interfered with or ‘hindered’ the police’s ability to protect people’s rights, no matter who the private groups were. In no way could the brief be read to say that a moral equivalency exists between anti-abortion activists and violent groups like the KKK.

    Pillard in fact has a stellar record reflecting moderate views, and has received the support of Republicans, former law enforcement and military officials, conservatives, and many leading members of the Supreme Court bar from both parties.

    Sen. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) noted that Pillard “has had a distinguished career as a practitioner, as an academic … she’s argued nine cases before the Supreme Court … spent her legal career in public service … and for the past 13 years, she’s worked as a professor of my alma mater, Georgetown University Law Center.”

  • July 17, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    On the heels of reaching a limited deal in the Senate to move on seven executive branch nominations, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) urged the Senate to stop slow-walking and blocking nominations of African-Americans to the federal bench. 

    Although President Obama has made significant strides in diversifying the federal bench, too many of his minority nominees have faced delays or have seen their nominations scuttled. And a 2010 study of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts showed the federal bench is still dominated by men.

    Specifically the representatives who participated in a press briefing this morning hosted by the CBC took aim at Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for delaying the nominations of Brian Davis to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District and William L. Thomas for the U.S. District Court for  the District of the Southern District, who is openly gay.

    Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), said, “I am thoroughly frustrated that Marco Rubio is continuing to hold up the nomination of a stellar judge from Jacksonville. Judge Brian J. Davis was first nominated by President Obama last Februaryto serve on the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.”

    The Tampa Bay Times reported that both Davis and Thomas were approved by Florida’s Judicial Nominating Commission. According to the newspaper, Rubio and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley are troubled by comments made by Davis a decade ago about the resignation of Joycelyn Elders, the U.S. surgeon general during the Clinton administration.

    Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) noted that it is not just the Florida nominees that are being held up, saying the picture is large and disconcerting.

    A working group of the CBC chaired by Norton found that “while the president has kept pace and often surpassed prior presidents in black judicial appointments, a disproportionate number of African-American nominees have been held up or slowed. Almost one-third (10 of 33) of the judicial nominees currently pending in the Senate are African Americans.”

    She urged the Senate to stop delaying these nominees, concluding, “As our country has become one of the most diverse in the world, a judiciary that reflects that diversity is virtually mandatory. Respectfor the rule of law requires respect for the fairness of the judiciary. The Senate establishes the threshold of fairness by confirming a judiciary that represents the diversity of the citizenry whose cases federal judges are called upon to decide. The Congressional Black Caucus will not quietly allow highly-qualified African American judges to be sidelined without hearings or to be held up on the Senate floor after being voted out of the committee.”

    For more on the vacancy crisis on the federal bench, see JudicialNominations.org.

  • July 16, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman a slew of groups and individuals called for calm, for a jury had spoken -- a jury bound to adhere to laws that protect the aggressor, one who took the life a young black man in Sanford, Fla.

    Well fine, but we don’t have to or shouldn’t stay silent about Florida laws that provide too much protection, in the name of self-defense, to the aggressor and too often the racist. And Florida is not alone. More than 20 states have self-defense laws that give knee-jerk racial-profilers like George Zimmerman the ability to kill and get by with it. As The New York Times editorial board put it, Stand Your Ground laws combined with weak concealed carry-laws, work "essentially to self-deputize anyone with a Kel-Tec 9 millimeter and a grudge.” Noting the ridiculousness of Florida’s self-defense laws, The Times’ editorial concluded, “If only Florida could give him [Trayvon Martin] back his life as easily as it is giving back George Zimmerman’s gun.”

    Charles Blow, Andrew Cohen, Brittney Cooper, Ekow N. Yankah, The New York Times editorial board and many others have already gone where the attorneys in this case said they would not – race did play in this whole affair and the laws that ultimately allowed Zimmerman to target a young, unarmed black man, confront him and then kill him. These laws and others are part of an entrenched social disapproval of minorities. Zimmerman apologists cry that the matter had nothing whatsoever to do with race -- it was about a so-called neighborhood watchman defending himself.

    In a piece for the Atlantic, Andrew Cohen writes, “What the verdict says, to the astonishment of tens of millions of us, is that you can go looking for trouble in Florida, with a gun and a great deal of racial bias, and you find that trouble, and you can act upon that trouble in a way that leaves a young man dead, and none of it guarantees that you will be convicted of a crime.”

    Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which provides significant legal protection to persons who kill others outside their homes claiming self-defense, may not have been specifically relied upon by the lawyers of Zimmerman who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager in Florida. It did play a role in the instructions given to the jury and affected the mindset of police. As The New York Times reporter Lizette Alvarez, pointed out it helped Zimmerman, along with other outside influences typically not available to the vast majority of criminal defendants. That law, as University of Miami law school professor Tamara Lave said, did keep Zimmerman from being arrested and charged with a crime for some time.

  • July 16, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, author of Why Jury Duty Matters: A Citizen's Guide to Constitutional Action (NYU Press 2013) and an assistant professor of law at the David A. Clarke School of Law at the University of the District of Columbia. 

    The debate over the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman jury verdict continues to reverberate as is typical of most high profile, racially divisive cases in this country.  Even though the criminal case is over, the issues of race, class, gender, and justice remain loudly contested in a way that will not likely quiet soon.      

    Today, the six citizens who made the difficult decision in the Zimmerman case are no doubt reeling from the discordant critique of their verdict.  These were ordinary citizens plucked at random and then selected to sit at the fault-lines of race relations in 21st Century America.  As other citizens receive their jury summons today and in the future, it is worth considering the situation of the Zimmerman jurors.

    First, much has been made about the jurors’ gender.  The early headlines of most major news outlets proclaimed “an all women jury.”  Five white and one Hispanic woman were thus immediately examined for how gender might affect the jury.  Forgotten were the historic and decades-long suffrage struggles to get any women (let alone all women) to sit on a jury.  Instead, modern gender stereotypes and speculations were tossed about as to how gender might affect the verdict.  Well, we now know the verdict, but can anyone say gender had any impact?  Time may tell as the anonymous jurors reveal more about their deliberations, but likely gender did not play any direct role.  Certainly, it was not because the jury was all women that the verdict resulted as it did.  Commentators from both genders have weighed in on how the verdict was defensible under the existing Florida law. 

    Second, forgotten in the media tumult is the sacrifice made by the jurors who were sequestered during trial.  Sequestering juries is no longer the norm in most places, and with the exception of big media cases, largely avoided.  But, for the weeks of jury service, those six citizens were completely serving their community.  This is no small sacrifice.  To be completely at the whim of the court system schedule, away from work, family, and life responsibilities in order to judge a stranger’s problem is a tremendous service.  Further, to deliberate for 16 hours is no small feat.  When is the last time you held a 16 hour meeting to discuss and decide on a problem?  This type of commitment should be validated not vilified, as has unfortunately been the case from some quarters.