President Obama

  • March 14, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    President Obama urged Republican senators to stop holding up his judicial nominations earlier this week, but according to The Huffington Post the president “appears to have gotten a cool reception.”

    This is disheartening, but hardly surprising. As noted here frequently, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) has led an assault on the federal judiciary, by stalling for months or effectively filibustering many of the president’s judicial selections. Senators have employed numerous tactics under McConnell to slow or kill numerous judicial nominations thereby leading to a high vacancy rate on the federal bench. The Constitutional Accountability Center’s Judith E. Schaeffer noted today that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member, again delayed a vote on the nomination of Jane Kelly to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Citing numbers from People For the American Way, she notes that “with only five exceptions” Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have used a procedural tactic that allows them to delay a scheduled vote on a nominee.

    Other judicial nominees have dropped out of the confirmation process because of the delaying tactics. The Senate this week confirmed Richard Taranto to a seat on the federal appeals court bench nearly a year and a half after he was nominated.

    These stalling tactics are used far too often by the Republican obstructionists, including the use of the 60-vote majority -- or the threat of it -- to allow for up-or-down votes on too many of the president’s judicial nominations.

    So it is laughable – or galling – to hear Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) tell The Huffington Post reporter that as he understands it, his party has only blocked “two judges.” (He’s referring to Caitlin Halligan and Goodwin Liu.)

    Senate Republicans regardless of their loopy claims to the contrary are bent on dragging their feet on the president’s judicial nominations, while vacancies on the federal bench grow as do caseloads of individual judges. Moran knows that but he’s apparently not above dissembling on the matter.

  • March 13, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    There was an opening early in the 113th Congress to make life a bit tougher on the Senate’s band of obstructionists – through reform of the filibuster. But the obstructionists’ ringleader, Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.), deftly avoided real reform by saying the Obama administration’s nominations to the lower federal district courts would be moved along more quickly.

    But so-called reform has quickly proven rather lame. The president’s nominations to federal appeals courts as well as important executive branch positions remain in the cross-hairs of obstructionists who require a 60-vote majority before any action can be taken on those nominations or for that matter legislation.

    On March 6 the Senate killed the president’s nomination of Caitlin Halligan for as seat on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. As Matt Vister noted earlier this week in an extensive piece for the Boston Globe the D.C. appeals court “has only seven out of 11 judges, the worst vacancy in its history and higher than any other federal circuit court nationwide. Obama has never been able to get a nominee on the court, symbolizing the Senate’s failure to approve nominations to dozens of courts nationwide.”

    And the Senate’s obstructionists are again taking aim at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created in part to prevent the shady practices employed by the financial industry, which helped usher in the Great Recession. Right-wing senators beholden to the nation’s superwealthy are demanding changes to the law that created the bureau or they will likely again filibuster Obama’s selection to head the bureau, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray. Cordray was appointed to head the bureau during a recess of Congress. But an opinion from the D.C. Circuit – the court Obama has been blocked from appointing any judges – ruled earlier this year that the president’s three recess appoints to a hobbled National Labor Relations Board were unconstitutional. The Obama administration has appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Because Cordray’s appointment was made during a recess, it will expire and he’ll still need to be confirmed. But Republican obstructionists are threatening to block Cordray unless the financial reform law is weakened.

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) during a Senate Banking Committee yesterday blasted the obstructionism, saying, “I think that the delay in getting him confirmed is bad for consumers, it’s bad for small banks, it’s bad for credit unions, it’s bad for anyone trying to offer an honest product in an honest market. The American people deserve a Congress that worries less about helping big banks and more about helping regular people who have been cheated on mortgages, on credit cards, on student loans, on credit reports.” The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Jeff Gelles has more on Warren’s comments and a link to video of the hearing.)

    Today TPM’s Brian Beutler reports that Obama during a meeting with Democrats this week “expressed his frustration with Republican slow-walking and filibustering of key nominees, and urged them to address the issue ….”

     

  • March 8, 2013

    by Kristine Kippins

    In celebration of International Women’s Day, ACS highlights the progress made over the last four years to diversify our federal judiciary.

    According to the White House, President Obama has taken great steps to put more women on the bench. With two vacancies on the Supreme Court, Obama filled both spots with women, including the first Latina Justice, Sonia Sotomayor.  He appointed the second and third openly gay women to the district courts, Alison Nathan and Pamela Chen.  Chen is the first openly gay Asian American on the federal bench.  Six district courts have their first female judge ever – AK, E.D. Cal., S.D. Iowa, ME, VT, and Wyo. Shelly Dick will be number seven once installed in the Middle District of Louisiana.  Five states can now claim their first female circuit court judge – Alaska, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia. And the first Asian American woman to a circuit court, Jacqueline Nguyen, now sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

    Overall, Obama has placed 74 women on the federal bench, 42 percent of all confirmations, and that same statistic carries through to the percentage of female nominees pending in the Senate.  At this point in his presidency, George W. Bush could only boast that 22 percent of his confirmed judges being women.

  • 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 1, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    California State Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez (D-Los Angeles) and 22 legal scholars are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the discriminatory Proposition 8, saying it not only yanks constitutional rights from lesbians and gay men, but also prevents state lawmakers like Pérez from pushing for marriage equality legislation.

    In the friend-of-the-court brief lodged in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the speaker and law professors argue that until Proposition 8 came along the state recognized that gay couples should not be treated differently than opposite-sex couples.

    “Many gay couples in California are raising children. Many gay teenagers in California need a vision of the future in which they are full participants in the life of their families and communities. And many gay men and lesbians have a fundamental longing to know that as they pass through their days, their lives will not go unnoticed. The State recognizes these basic human feelings for heterosexuals, and before the passage of Proposition 8, the California Constitution protected gay people as well, recognizing their fundamental right to marry,” the brief states.

    But after enactment of Proposition 8, the brief continues, “voters eliminated more than the equal right to marry. Under principles of California law and current interpretations by the California Supreme Court, Proposition 8 eliminated the ability of those seeking equal marriage rights to avail themselves of any ability to pursue such rights through the political actions of their accountable elected representatives.”

    Pérez, in a press statement about the brief, said the constricting nature of the antigay law “deprives a historically disadvantaged group – a group of which I am a member – of access to traditional representation in a representative democracy. And the deprivation violates the Constitution.”

    And other California politicians would like to help advance equality. The Pérez brief notes that Edmund Brown and Kamala Harris “ran and won in 2010 on platforms supporting equal marriage rights and voting to oppose the continued effect of Proposition 8, neither of them can take action to end this case as the voters desire them to do.” Brown is the governor and Harris the attorney general.

    The Obama administration, though not a party in the case, filed a brief yesterday with the high court also calling for an end to Proposition 8 and for a broad approach to protecting equality. Some commentators say the Obama brief did not call for an end to all state laws that prevent marriage equality. Yet the brief did call for laws classifying the LGBT community to be subjected to heighted scrutiny. This means that if government, federal or state, bars a group of people from getting married, like lesbians and gay men, but allows their straight counterparts to wed, it should be prepared to overcome a heavy burden as to why equal protection should be flaunted. And As the San Francisco Chronicle’s Bob Egelko notes that “underlying rational – that laws discriminating against gays and lesbians must be struck down unless they serve some important government purpose – could, if adopted by the court, invalidate bans on same-sex marriage in all 41 states that have them.”

    The Pérez brief urges the high court, when addressing the “federal constitutional issues” in Hollingsworth, to “be mindful of the unique aspects of California law and the ways in which Proposition 8 has eliminated not just equal marriage rights formerly guaranteed by the state Constitution, but also the ability of gay men and lesbians in California to achieve marriage equality through the normal political process. If gay people can be denied access to representative government to achieve equal treatment with respect to an important status such as marriage, then in California, any other small, historically disadvantaged minority group can also be denied the right to representation with respect to seeking any other fundamental right.”

    Beyond advancing a profoundly compelling argument for equal protection, the brief reveals how Proposition 8 is fundamentally anti-democratic policy.