President Obama

  • 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.  

  • 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 21, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The U.S. Supreme Court will soon wade into the debate over the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, when it hears oral argument next month in two cases with potentially significant implications for marriage equality. (Hollingsworth v. Perry focuses on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which yanked marriage rights from lesbians and gay men, and in Windsor v. U.S. the justices will review an appellate court ruling that invalidated a major provision of DOMA as a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause.)  

    But some congressional lawmakers are not waiting around to hear from the high court. Two senators are advancing equality on another front – for military same-sex spouses, by ensuring LGBT military families receive some of the same benefits that their straight counterparts enjoy. (Yes, as noted here, efforts to advance significant legislation in Congress are almost futile. Conversely liberal lawmakers in Congress cannot or should not cower from a radical anti-government agenda pushed by an increasingly right-wing Republican Party.)

    The Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act of 2013 would “require the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to honor any marriage that has been recognized by a state and provide a number of key benefits to the spouses of all servicemembers." The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), and is named after National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan who died of breast cancer earlier this month. Morgan’s wife, Karen, is not eligible for survivor benefits because the military does not recognize same-sex marriages.

    In a press statement about the measure, Sen. Gillibrand said it would be “an important step forward in achieving full equality for all of our men and women serving and fighting for our nation. Same-sex partners of military servicemembers should not be denied essential benefits because of who they are.”

    Sen. Shaheen said, “Charlie served on the front lines for our country, but because of her sexual orientation her family is wrongfully being denied many of the same benefits given to those who stood beside her. That is an unacceptable reality and I’m committed to doing all I can to make sure that no spouses, children and families are denied benefits they have earned and rightly deserve.”

     

  • February 13, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    For far too long the gun lobby has loudly proclaimed that the Constitution bars almost any kind of law aimed at curbing gun violence. But since a string of mass shootings last year culminating in the Newtown mass shooting that took the lives of 20 children, there’s been a growing chorus of voices pushing back against the gun lobby’s platitudes and simplistic, often misleading, interpretation of the Second Amendment.

    More than 50 constitutional law scholars signed a letter explaining why the Second Amendment is not absolute or unlimited. Very few of rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution are absolute. One of the scholars who signed that letter is among the nation’s greatest constitutional law scholars -- Laurence H. Tribe, a distinguished Harvard Law School professor.

    Hours before President Obama, a former student of Tribe’s, gave his State of the Union Address, Tribe testified before a Senate Judiciary committee examining ways to curb gun violence without trampling the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

    In his oral and written testimony Tribe made it clear that efforts to reduce – not eliminate – gun violence through government action are not beyond reach because of the Second Amendment. In current Supreme Court rulings, such as D.C. v. Heller, Tribe explained the justices took certain policy choices off the table for consideration and “thereby cleared the path to reasonable regulations to be enacted without fear that those policy choices would ever open the door to unlimited government control or be imperiled by exaggerated interpretations of the Second Amendment.” (Click picture of Tribe for video of his opening remarks, or see here.)

    Tribe noted that Justice Antonin Scalia author of the majority opinion in Heller noted that the court’s interpretation of the “Constitution leaves open a variety of regulatory tools to combating the problem of gun violence in this country.”

    In his written testimony, Tribe put it this way: “Proposals to disarm the American people, to leave firearms solely in the hands of the military and the police, have been decisively taken off the table – if they were ever truly on the table – by the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decisions in 2008 and 2010 [Heller and McDonald v. Chicago respectively].”