Senate obstructionism

  • April 30, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) likes to pin blame for the high vacancy rate on the federal bench on President Obama, saying he has not put forth enough nominees. Some befuddled reporters have bought and pushed Grassley’s line, or at least part of it to report that both parties are to blame in this matter.

    Grassley and others, however, should take a look at the work of Jennifer Bendery at The Huffington Post, who notes, like other honest observers of the fight over judicial nominations, that the obstruction is and always has been the product of Republican senators. A careful look at the judicial nominations process reveals, she writes, “the bigger problem is Republican senators quietly refusing to recommend potential judges in the first place.”

    Obama came into office promising to work with the other party and on judicial nominations that is what he’s attempted to do. In their 2012 book, Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein blast Republicans as being largely to blame for the heightened obstruction of nominations and legislation.

    Citing a study by the Alliance for Justice, “Judicial Vacancies Without Nominees,” Bendery reveals it is rather lazy to report that both parties are to blame for the ongoing strife over judicial nominations and the large number of vacancies on the federal bench. Most of the nominees to the federal bench are to the district courts and senators, Bendery notes, jumpstart that process. Senators are supposed to make “recommendations from their home states, and the president works with them to get at least some of the nominees confirmed – the idea being that senators, regardless of party, are motivated to advocate for nominees from their states.”

    The research from AFJ shows that it is largely Republicans who are stalling the process. Michelle Schwartz, director of AFJ”s Justice Programs, told Bendery, “It’s disingenuous at best for Republicans to complain about the number of judicial vacancies without nominees when Republicans themselves are responsible for the majority of those vacancies. Nearly two-thirds of the vacancies without nominees are in states with at least one Republican senator, most of whom have consistently refused to work with the White House in good faith to identify qualified candidates.”

  • April 11, 2013
    Humor

    by John Schachter

    If “fracking” is one of the buzzwords in the energy policy world these days then “court fracking” might become a new legal catchphrase.

    Court fracking: (noun) the insertion of blatant politics into the judicial system to extract seats on the nation’s second most important court (i.e., the D.C. Circuit) eliminating one and dispersing others to dilute the potential impact of progressive jurists.

    Unlike President Franklin Roosevelt’s ill-fated court-packing scheme of 1937, this fracking plan comes from Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). During yesterday’s hearing on the nomination of Sri Srinivasan to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Sen. Grassley announced that he was introducing legislation to reduce the number of seats on the D.C. Circuit – often called the nation’s second most important court – from 11 to eight. Two of the seats would be moved to other circuit courts while one would be eliminated completely.

    Today just seven of the 11 seats are occupied, although President Obama has now nominated two people for seats – the first of whom Republicans successfully filibustered over the course of three years! Caitlin Halligan in 2010, 2011 and again just last month saw her path to the court blocked by Republicans who apparently feared the presence of more progressive brilliant thinkers on a court currently composed of four Republican appointees and three Democratic ones. And, for good measure, Republicans also blocked a vote on Goodwin Liu in 2010 and 2011 for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

    Few objective court watchers could challenge Halligan or Liu on serious substantive grounds. Ideology is another matter. While Republican critics portrayed Liu as a rogue activist, his year and a half on the California Supreme Court since his failed federal nomination reveal him to be a brilliant, well-respected and impartial jurist. Halligan had strong support from some the nations’ leading legal minds – including former officials from the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations – yet Republicans characterized her as a virulent anti-gun activist rather than the esteemed legal thinker she has proven to be.

  • April 11, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Sri Srinivasan, President Obama’s second nominee to a vacant seat the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, sailed through yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing largely because he did a masterful job of detailing his career, which offers few hints of an ideological leaning.

    Yesterday, Adam Serwer, for Mother Jones, noted that very little is known about Srinivasan, other than he could be, if placed on the D.C. Circuit, a potential pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. If Srinivasan is confirmed, he will be the first South Asian American to serve on the D.C. Circuit. Serwer also touched upon aspects of Srinivasan’s legal career that might trouble progressives who believe the federal bench is in need of more progressive judges, instead of ones who cater to corporate interests.

    Srinivasan said very little, if anything, to provide Republicans any cause to further delay his route to the D.C. Circuit. (Srinivasan’s hearing before the Committee came more than 300 days after the president nominated him.) He promised a fealty to precedent. And Republicans, such as U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who helped scuttle Caitlin Halligan’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit, announced he would support the nomination.

    Republicans like Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), however, are bent on rebranding the D.C. Circuit as a court with too many judges and a light caseload. At the start of the hearing Grassley, the Committee’s Ranking Member, announced the introduction of bill to cut the number of active judges on the D.C. Circuit to 8 from 11. Grassley’s bill, co-sponsored by Republican senators Hatch, Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Lee (Utah), Jeff Flake (Ariz.) and Ted Cruz (Texas), claims, “It is no secret that the D.C. Circuit is the least-busy, least-worked appellate court in the nation.”

    It appears Senate Republicans are preparing to give Obama one chance to put a judge on the D.C. Circuit and no more, leaving the D.C. Circuit likely tilting rightward, though at the moment it’s impossible to know exactly what if any ideology Srinivasan carries. Moreover, a confirmation is certainly not assured in this climate.

  • April 9, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Though the Senate finally confirmed Judge Patty Shwartz to a seat on the federal appellate court bench, one should hardly take that as a sign that the Republican-led band of obstructionists is ready to alter its agenda of delaying judicial nominations.

    Shwartz was confirmed to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit by a vote of 64 – 34. She was re-nominated earlier this year by President Obama. As Judging The Environment notes, Shwartz was originally nominated by Obama in fall 2011.

    ACS President Caroline Fredrickson, while applauding the confirmation of Shwartz, a federal magistrate judge in Newark, N.J., said the process was “all too typical for the president’s judicial nominee, and that must change.” She continued, “Filling our benches must become and remain a priority for the Senate so people can have faith in our system to guarantee every American fair and swift justice.”

    Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) also noted the snails’ pace of confirmation for judges. Shwartz “should not have been delayed for more than a year,” he said in a statement. “Sadly, this is not an isolated case but one in a steady pattern of obstruction.”

    White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, before the vote took place, noted that nearly 400 days had passed since Shwartz’s second hearing.

    Carney said, “After her expected confirmation, there will still be 14 other judicial nominees awaiting floor votes. Of these 14, 13 were approved by the Judiciary Committee unanimously, and the five nominees would fill judicial emergencies. They have been waiting on the Senate floor for an average of 67 days for a vote. That’s nearly twice as long as President’s Bush’s judicial nominees.”

  • April 9, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Pushing back against Republican-led efforts in Congress to greatly hobble the National Labor Relations Board, President Obama is urging swift confirmation of three individuals to the five-member board.

    Senate Republicans have strived to keep the president from filling vacancies on the NLRB, which is charged with protecting workers’ rights. The NLRB must have three members to take any action and two of the current members were appointed via the recess appointments process, which a federal appeals court earlier this year said was done in an unconstitutional manner. This week the Republican-led House of Representatives is considering a measure that would shutter the NLRB until it has three members it considers legitimate. Republican senators have sought to keep a pro-corporate tilt to the NLRB or make it inoperative.

    In January 2012, Obama appointed Richard Griffin and Sharon Block to the NLRB during a congressional break. But then the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the president’s recess appointments violated the Appointments Clause of the Constitution. The ruling in Canning v. NLRB has been widely blasted as running counter to federal court precedent upholding recess appointments and more than a century of recess appointments made by other presidents. The NLRB has said it will appeal the D.C. Circuit’s opinion to the Supreme Court. Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe in a column for The New York Times argued that Obama’s recess appointments passed constitutional muster, saying the Constitution clearly reserves “the authority the president needs to carry out his basic duties ….”

    The president, however, is seeking to keep the NLRB alive during the appeals process. Obama re-nominated NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce, a Democrat, and two Republicans, Harry I. Johnson III and Philip A. Miscimarra, The Associated Press reports. Earlier this year, Obama nominated Democrats Block and Griffin to full terms on the NLRB.

    In announcing today’s nominees, Obama noted that the NLRB “plays a vital role in our efforts to grow the economy and strengthen the middle class. With these nominations there will be five nominees to the NLRB, both Republicans and Democrats, awaiting Senate confirmation. I urge the Senate to confirm them swiftly so that this bipartisan board can continue its important work on behalf of the American people.”  

    AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka lauded the president’s action saying, “For America’s workers, business and the promotion of healthy commerce, putting forward a full, bipartisan package of nominees to the NLRB is the right thing to do.”

    Although the nominees include two who do not share the AFL-CIO’s staunch support of workers’ rights, Trumka said the “labor movement understands that when the NLRB is not at full strength and cannot enforce its orders, America’s economy falls out of balance, as it is today with record inequality and a shrinking middle class.”