Sen. Patrick Leahy

  • March 13, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). Sen. Harkin is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

    When Jack Gross, at age 55, was brazenly demoted and his job was given to a much younger, less qualified person, he never imagined he would become a central national figure in the fight against age discrimination. But that is exactly what happened to Jack, who worked for nearly a quarter century as a claims adjuster for FBL Financial in West Des Moines. He was a model employee, with performance reviews in the top three percent of the company for 13 consecutive years.

    Over four decades ago, expressly to prevent this kind of discrimination, Congress passed the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Very simply, that act made it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of age.

    When Jack sought enforcement of his rights, a jury of fellow Iowans readily found in his favor. But, in 2009, the Supreme Court ruled against Jack and other older workers. A narrow majority on the Court didn't just rewrite the rules, it arbitrarily rewrote the law.

    The Court overturned established precedent that had applied standards of proof the Supreme Court first set out in interpreting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The Court held that because Congress did not amend the ADEA to include this standard when it codified the standard for race, sex, national origin, and religion claims as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, the standard did not apply to age claims. As a result of this discrepancy, the opinion has also had reverberations in a wide range of civil cases in addition to age discrimination, including discrimination based on disability.   

    The good news is that the Court's arbitrary ruling is not the final say. Congress has the power to step in with a legislative remedy. That is what it did when the Court weakened the rights of women in the workplace. Congress passed and the President signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

  • March 13, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) can’t stop obsessing over President Obama’s recess appointments of a leader for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three members of the National Labor Relations Board.

    Despite the fact that Republicans had obstructed the president’s nominations to those agencies – they have long opposed the CFPB, and tar the NLRB as a tool of unions – Lee, a Tea Party favorite, has used the recess appointments as a primary excuse for trying to scuttle the president’s judicial nominees.

    But it’s not like Lee (pictured) needed an excuse. His Party has been obstructing the judicial nominations process for years now. Indeed that’s why Majority Leader harry Reid took to the Senate floor yesterday to force action on 17 of the president’s district court nominees. (Typically district court nominees have little trouble being confirmed; not so for Obama, who has seen 19 of his district court nominees filibustered by Senate Republicans.)

    Yesterday before moving to force Senate action on the district court nominees, Reid (D-Nev.) said, “Republicans have refused to allow us to vote – won’t even allow us to vote – on these qualified nominees. What else can we do?”

    Reid also noted the consistently high federal court vacancy rate, saying that 160 million people live in places where judicial emergencies have been created. There are more than 80 vacancies on the federal bench, and a new report from the United States Courts shows that the workload for districts courts is on the rise. As noted on ACSblog, Caroline Fredrickson, ACS president, lambasted the obstruction of judicial selections, saying litigants “whose safety, security and livelihoods are on the line wait years for a resolution in court.”

    Sen. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), in a press statement applauding Reid’s move, also noted that “millions of Americans seeking justice in their courts should no longer be stalled by judicial vacancies that would otherwise be filled if only the Senate would fulfill its constitutional role.”

  • March 2, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Does one really need another example of Washington gridlock? Likely not, especially if you read this blog from time to time, where obstruction of judicial nominations is noted often. But we’ll note one anyway, not for the process, but more as an example of just how ridiculous it’s all becoming.

    As noted, possibly wryly by an editorial from The New York Times even in the “ultrapolarized atmosphere of Capitol Hill,” one would think that reauthorization of a once wildly bipartisan effort to combat violence against women could remain an exception to the out-of-control congressional obstructionism.

    Last month, however, the Senate Judiciary Committee could not muster one Republican vote in favor of “a well-crafted reauthorization,” of the Violence Against Women Act, which has been reauthorized twice with bipartisan support since its inception in 1994. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Michael Crapo (R-Idaho), not a member of the Judiciary Committee, are sponsoring the reauthorization measure.

    Reporting for The Huffington Post, Amanda Terkel, notes that several of the measure’s enhanced features have irked conservatives. Not surprisingly increased protections for minorities, specifically for the LGBT community, Native American women and immigrants, have spurred conservative lawmakers’ opposition.

    The reauthorization measure for instance includes more funding for tribal groups to prosecute domestic violence, and provides some limited jurisdiction to tribal courts to prosecute violence committed on tribal lands by those who are not living on the land or not members of the community.

    As Terkel notes, Sen. Charles Grassley the Judiciary Committee Ranking Member has also complained about the reauthorization bill’s enhanced support of services for undocumented women.

    Committee Chairman Leahy (pictured) blasted the opposition for thwarting a noble proposition to provide protections to a larger number of women who are daily victims of domestic violence.

    Norma Gattsek, director of government relations for the Feminist Majority, also knocked Republican opposition of the reauthorization. She called it an “outrage” that Republican’s on the Senate Judiciary Committee refused to support it.

    The Times’ Feb. 9 editorial said the Republican opposition appeared “driven largely by an antigay, anti-immigrant agenda.”

    A group of academics, as noted by the Gender & Sexuality Law Blog, is urging reauthorization of the VAWA, albeit with a call that more actually needs to be done to confront ongoing and pervasive violence against a wide array of women.

    Violence against varying groups of women, the professors explain, is having profound effects on the ability of those women to succeed in this country, and is adding to the nation’s festering economic inequality, the professors write.

  • February 17, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    With the election year underway and 103 current and future vacancies plaguing the federal courts, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is making headway in an aggressive push to force votes on long-pending judicial nominees.

    On Wednesday, he successfully pushed through the nomination of Adalberto Jose Jordán to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, even as Sen. Rand Paul forced the 30 hours of debate to elapse before the final vote to confirm Jordán 94-5.

    And on Thursday night, Reid was successful in securing confirmation of another nominee, Jesse Furman, to the Southern District of New York. Reid filed a motion to invoke cloture on his nomination Wednesday, but the Senate opted not to vote on the cloture motion, and to simply hold an up-or-down vote.

    Both Jordán and Furman are consensus nominees -- both were approved by the Judiciary Committee with absolutely no opposition, and both have been ripe for an immediate vote since before the Senate left for the winter recess.

    They are just two examples of the many highly qualified consensus nominees who have been pending for months on the Senate calendar.

  • February 16, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    This morning, The New York Times’ Gail Collins adds to the commentary on Adalberto Jose Jordán’s long and obstruction-filled road to confirmation in a facetious column describing her “shock” at Congress’ deep unpopularity. And she means deep unpopularity. As in, “Unpopular like the Ebola virus, or zombies. Held in near-universal contempt, like TV shows about hoarders with dead cats in their kitchens.”

    Jordan’s nomination, she writes, is the latest example of Congress’ so-called “bipartisan cooperation.” She explains:

    This week, the Senate confirmed Judge Adalberto Jose Jordan to a seat on the federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. A visitor from another country might not have appreciated the proportions of this achievement, given the fact that Jordan, who was born in Cuba and who once clerked for Sandra Day O’Connor, had no discernible opposition.

    But Americans ought to have a better grasp of how the Senate works. The nomination’s progress had long been thwarted by Mike Lee, a freshman Republican from Utah, who has decided to hold up every single White House appointment to anything out of pique over ... well, it doesn’t really matter. When you’re a senator, you get to do that kind of thing.

    This forced the majority leader, Harry Reid, to get 60 votes to move Judge Jordan forward, which is never all that easy. Then there was further delay thanks to Rand Paul, a freshman from Kentucky, who stopped action for as long as possible because he was disturbed about foreign aid to Egypt.

    All that is forgotten now. The nomination was approved, 94 to 5, only 125 days after it was unanimously O.K.’d by the Judiciary Committee. Whiners in the White House pointed out that when George W. Bush was president, circuit court nominations got to a floor vote in an average of 28 days.

    No matter. Good work, Senate! Only 17 more long-pending judicial nominations to go!

    In an effort to move another one of those long-pending nominations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed a motion yesterday to force a vote on federal prosecutor Jesse Furman, nominated to a trial court seat in the Southern District of New York.

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy had this to say about a week spent overcoming filibusters of judicial nominees: