ACSBlog

  • February 14, 2014

    by Rebekah DeHaven

    On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing for three judicial nominees. They were:

    • Robin Rosenbaum, Eleventh Circuit,
    • Bruce Hendricks, District of South Carolina, and
    • Mark Mastroianni, to be United States District Judge for the District of Massachusetts.

    On Wednesday, Sen. Pryor (D-Ark.) requested that Majority Leader Reid  (D-Nev.) ask unanimous consent to consider the nomination of James Moody to the Eastern District of Arkansas. Sen. Pryor stressed the importance of moving Moody’s nomination because of uncertainty regarding Judge Moody’s current Pulaski County Circuit judgeship election.

    Sen. Reid asked the Senate for unanimous consent to consider Moody’s nomination, along with the nomination of Jeffrey Meyer to the District of Connecticut, James Donato to the Northern District of California and Beth Freeman to the Northern District of California. Sen. Cornyn (R-Tex.) objected, and Sen. Reid filed cloture on all four nominees. The first cloture vote will occur at 5:30pm on Monday, Feb. 24 when the Senate returns from recess.

  • February 13, 2014

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In reality most likely did not expect landmark reform of the filibuster to usher in halcyon days of bipartisanship over executive branch nominations in the Senate. Though that reform did help U.S. Senators overcome partisan-led obstruction of some of President Obama’s judicial nominations, such as those to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, it was hardly going to radically change the way the current Senate functions.

    There remain some executive branch positions that conservatives in the Senate see no urgency in filling, such as a leader for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. And so President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile, a highly regarded attorney especially in the civil rights field, was almost inevitable to draw some kind of opposition. Primarily some Senate Republicans and conservative pundits have sought to scuttle Adegbile’s nomination by disparaging some of his work at the venerable civil rights organization, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund (LDF). Specifically some opponents of Adegbile’s nomination argue he is unfit to serve because of LDF’s representation of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted killer facing a death sentence.

    But Adegbile’s nomination is advancing – the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote earlier this month moved his nomination to the Senate floor – and doing so because of widespread and bipartisan pushback from legal professionals and advocates.

    For example a letter from Supreme Court Bar attorneys of differing political persuasions exposed as wobbly the opponents’ arguments against Adegbile’s nomination. The group’s letter also highlighted the importance of ensuring constitutional due process in capital punishment cases. (Some Missouri state attorneys prosecuting death penalty cases would do well to read the letter for that reason alone.)

    The Supreme Court Bar’s lawyers noted that all the “federal courts reviewing Mr. Abu-Jamal’s case ruled, repeatedly and unanimously, that he was entitled to a new death sentencing hearing free of constitutional error.” Subsequently Abu-Jamal was resentenced to life in prison without chance for parole.

    But Adegbile’s leadership at LDF, where he also defended before the Supreme Court the Voting Rights Act, should not disqualify him from serving an important leadership role in the DOJ, the Supreme Court lawyers noted. “It is well-established that even the most unpopular defendant requires such representation, particularly when he or she is facing capital punishment.”

  • February 12, 2014
     
    Writing for Bloomberg, distinguished Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein objects to the “originalist” approach to constitutional interpretation. Sunstein reveals originalism’s “alluring siren’s call” and why “our constitutional tradition has been right to resist it.”
     
    Today, members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding their report on the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records. Jennifer Granick of Just Security offers eight important questions Congress should be asking the PCLOB about the controversial surveillance tactics under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.
     
    Last year, the Internal Revenue Service proposed new rules regulating political speech for select nonprofit organizations. Reporting for the ACLU’s Blog of Rights, Gabe Rottman and Sandra Fulton explain why these rules “create the worst of all worlds.”
     
    At the NAACP, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and NAACP Senior Director of Health Programs Shavon Arline-Bradley celebrate Black History Month with a discussion about the Affordable Care Act.
     
    NPR’s Carrie Johnson notes Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr.’s call for 11 states to repeal laws prohibiting current or formerly convicted felons from voting
  • February 11, 2014
     
    According due process of the law to death row inmates in Missouri is apparently a difficult constitutional mandate to embrace, at least for some state attorneys charged with carrying out death penalty sentences.
     
    In a piece for The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen detailed the execution of Herbert Smulls earlier this year, where state officials ignored repeated requests by defense attorneys to wait for the appeals process to expire before executing Smulls. The defense attorneys’ efforts were futile. As Cohen reports the state initiated the “lethal injection protocols” before the U.S. Supreme Court took action on Smulls’ final appeal for a stay of execution. “Smulls was pronounced dead four minutes before the Supreme Court finally authorized Missouri to kill him,” Cohen reported.
     
    Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, told ACSblog, “I am deeply concerned that the State of Missouri executed Herbert Smulls before the Supreme Court could rule on his claims. It gives the impression that justice plays second fiddle to getting it over.”
     
    Rust-Tierney’s concern is well grounded. As Cohen notes, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Judge Kermit Bye, as well as other federal court judges, have previously raised concerns about Missouri’s history of carrying out the death penalty.
     
    In late December, Judge Bye lodged a stinging dissent to an amended order in a case involving Missouri’s execution of Allen L. Nicklasson. A petition for the entire Eight Circuit to consider a stay of Nicklasson’s execution was declared moot, since the litigant, Nicklasson, had already been executed.
     
  • February 11, 2014
     
    The American Bar Association Standards Review Committee is considering a recommendation that the ABA no longer prohibit law students from receiving money for internships and externships. Karen Sloan of The National Law Journal has the story.
     
    In their debut article for The Intercept, Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald examine the National Security Agency’s controversial role in targeting terror suspects for lethal drone strikes and the effectiveness of geolocating technology.
     
    Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins created the nation's first Conviction Integrity Unit. In an interview with NPR’s Melissa Block, Watkins discusses the 87 overturned convictions in the U.S. in 2013 and what is being done in Dallas County to prevent miscarriages of justice.
     
    With the U.S. Supreme Court returning to session on February 24, the justices could soon rule on whether legislative prayer violates the Establishment Clause. Michael Kirkland at UPI breaks down Town of Greece v. Galloway.