Senate Judiciary Committee

  • October 14, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    While federal courts grapple with the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, U.S. Senators are moving forward on consideration of a bill to repeal the law, which discriminates against same-sex couples.

    Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced today that a bill aimed at repealing DOMA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, would be considered by the Committee in November.

    “The march for equality continues, and now is the time to ensure equality for gay and lesbian Americans who are lawfully married,” Leahy said in press statement. “Next month, I will call up the Respect for Marriage Act for debate and a vote in the Judiciary Committee. The Respect for Marriage Act would repeal [DOMA], which prevents thousands of American families from being protected by laws that help secure other American families. This is part of the nation’s continuing fight for civil rights for all Americans.” (Leahy’s statement notes that President Obama has announced support for the measure.)

    Earlier this year the Senate committee conducted a hearing on the repeal bill, of which Leahy (pictured) is a cosponsor. During the hearing, Sen. Al Franken tangled with Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, a Religious Right organization and longtime opponent of marriage equality, over a government study, which Minnery said supported the organization’s argument that children reared by their biological mothers and fathers fare better than children brought up in different families. Franken countered that Minnery had seriously misconstrued the Department of Health and Human Services report, saying it concluded no such thing.

  • August 3, 2011

    by Nicole Flatow

    The Senate left town yesterday, heading into recess several days ahead of schedule. In its final hour, the Senate confirmed by unanimous consent four of the 24 judicial nominees that were ready for a Senate vote, and scheduled a vote on a fifth nominee for September.

    But as ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson pointed out in a statement after the vote, 19 other candidates were left behind “whose nominations have been fully vetted and could have been voted on immediately.”

    “This current pace of confirming judicial nominees is far from adequate to the job,” Fredrickson said in her statement. “While the Senate is on break during the month of August, matters involving Americans’ safety, freedom, and livelihoods will continue to be delayed. And in some of the most overburdened districts, our judges may be forced to rush through burgeoning criminal dockets without taking crucial time to consider the arguments before them.”

    Most of the 19 nominees that were left behind were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee with absolutely no recorded opposition from members of either party. Earlier this week, ABA President Stephen Zach called for the Senate to confirm all 20 unopposed nominees before the recess. And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy pointed out that all 24 nominees could be disposed of in less than an hour.

  • July 22, 2011

    by Nicole Flatow

    The Senate Judiciary Committee approved five more judicial nominees yesterday, all by voice vote without opposition, adding to the list of 26 nominees awaiting approval by the full Senate.

    But the Senate is not keeping pace with the Judiciary Committee; they have held votes on only four nominees in the past two months, while the number of vacancies is once again rising.

    There are now 115 current and future federal court vacancies -- more than the 114 that existed at the beginning of the year, when senators came to a “gentleman’s agreement” to end obstruction of judicial nominations.

    “I’d been fairly optimistic about the compromise that Senators struck at the beginning of the 112th Congress in January, in which Republicans agreed to ease up on obstruction in exchange for Democratic agreement to leave formal rules surrounding filibusters and cloture alone,” Jonathan Bernstein wrote in The Washington Post last week. “It appears, however, that the deal has now broken down.”

    Bernstein points out that getting judges confirmed “doesn’t get any easier when the election gets closer; it’s time for action on judges right now.”

    ACS Executive Director Caroline Fredrickson said earlier this week that senators are now using the deficit reduction negotiations as another excuse not to confirm any nominees.

    “Republicans are playing politics with the nation’s financial obligations, while at the same time kicking other responsibilities down the road,” Fredrickson said. “The rising federal court vacancies are not going to solve themselves. Judges need to be confirmed, and the Republican opposition seems immovable.”  

    While the Senate Judiciary Committee has been consistently moving nominees forward, one nominee, Steve Six, was held over today. Six’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has been opposed by both his home-state senators, but he has received strong support from a bipartisan group of more than two dozen attorneys general, and by former Tenth Circuit Chief Judge Deanell Reece Tacha, who left the court to become dean at Pepperdine University School of Law.

    To learn more about the judicial vacancy crisis and follow developments, visit JudicialNominations.org.

  • July 14, 2011

    The Senate Judiciary Committee approved five judicial nominees today, but postponed a vote on former Kansas Attorney General Steve Six, whose nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit is opposed by both his home-state senators.

    Three nominees were approved without opposition by a voice vote: Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Higginson for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, DOJ antitrust official Katherine Forrest for the Southern District of New York, and state judge Jane Triche-Milazzo for the Eastern District of Louisiana, The Blog of Legal Times reports.

    Former White House Associate Counsel Alison Nathan’s nomination to the Southern District of New York was approved by a vote of 14-4, and state judge Susan Hickey’s nomination to the Western District of Arkansas was approved 15-3. These five nominees now await confirmation by the full Senate.

    Six was one of several nominees on which the committee did not take action today. Six has been opposed by not only his home-state senators, but also by some abortion groups who have expressed concern about his ties to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who appointed Six as attorney general when she was governor of Kansas, the Lawrence Journal-World reports.

    Six has received the support, however, of more than two dozen attorneys general, both Democrats and Republicans, who recently signed a letter supporting Six’s nominations, and former Tenth Circuit Chief Judge Deanell Reece Tacha, who left the court to become dean at Pepperdine University School of Law. University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said Tacha's endorsement letter “comes with the credibility of her long service on the bench and as chief judge.”

    Yesterday, the committee held a hearing on several other nominees. During the hearing, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy lamented that in the past two months, the Senate has taken action on only four nominees, at a time when more than 90 vacancies remain.

    “Regrettably our progress in Committee considering judicial nominations in regular order has not been matched in the Senate, where agreements to debate and vote on judicial nominations have ground to a halt,” Leahy said.

    Visit JudicialNominations.org to learn more about the judicial vacancy crisis and follow developments.

  • July 5, 2011
    Video Interview

    The Supreme Court’s decisions this term in Wal-Mart v. Dukes and AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion have not only “changed the balance of power” between individuals and companies, but are part of a trend of limiting individuals’ access to the courts through procedural rulings, University of Colorado law professor Melissa Hart said during a video interview with ACSblog.

    Hart, who spoke with ACSblog following testimony last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, explained that both Wal-Mart and AT&T imposed procedural blocks on litigation that will make it harder for individuals to hold corporations accountable.

    “I think that this court is showing itself as extremely hostile to various forms of litigation … and is imposing rules on its own as a policy matter that really change the ability of people to get access to the courts,” said Hart. “That will have consequences across many kinds of litigation, not just in these particular contexts.”

    Hart noted that the court’s decision in Wal-Mart “really redefined” the class action rule at issue, imposing a higher standard for overcoming the “threshold inquiry” of whether to certify an employment discrimination class than would have been imposed on these plaintiffs in proving discrimination by Wal-Mart.

    “[The court] made it extremely difficult to imagine what an employment discrimination class might look like,” Hart said.

    She added during her Judiciary Committee testimony that the class action mechanism is “the only way to reach many kinds of systemic misconduct.”

    “[T]he erosion of this tool insulates companies from any serious risk of litigation from many kinds of potentially illegal behavior,” she said.

    Watch the video interview with Hart below, watch the Judiciary Committee hearing here, and learn more about how corporations are faring in the courts at the new ACS Web page, Corporations and the Courts.