March 2012

  • March 2, 2012
    On Monday, the Senate confirmed Margo Brodie to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York by a vote of 86-2, almost a year after her nomination. The Judiciary Committee approved her nomination unanimously in October.
    Senate Democrats took to the floor on Tuesday to express their exasperation over the continuing obstruction of judicial nominees who have broad bipartisan support. “We have a crisis on our third and independent branch of government and it is one that only we in the Senate can solve,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. Others who made floor statements included Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.). American Bar Association President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III also issued a statement this week saying, “Our federal court system -- indispensable to the nation’s economy and the justice and freedoms we cherish -- is being quietly undermined by needless deadlock.”
    The president put forth the names of two nominees to federal judgeships on Wednesday. He nominated Tulsa litigator John E. Dowdell to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma and Judge Brian J. Davis to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Confirming Davis would fill a judicial emergency in the district. The same day, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing for one of President Obama’s circuit court nominees and two of his district court nominees.
    The next day, the Judiciary Committee voted to approve the nomination of Andrew David Hurwitz to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and postponed votes on four other judicial nominees.
    Currently, there are 43 pending nominees, with 20 waiting for floor votes (12 on whom moved from committee unanimously). Politico reports that Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) “is privately warning Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that he may take extraordinary steps to move a laundry list of stalled nominees if the two men can’t reach a deal soon.”
  • 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.

  • March 2, 2012

    by Nicole Flatow

    Lower-court challenges to state anti-immigrant laws are continuing to make their way through the courts, even as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear a challenge to Arizona’s law, SB 1070.

    On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton blocked another portion of the Arizona law that prohibits those seeking or offering day labor services from blocking traffic.

    In granting a preliminary injunction, Bolton said the plaintiffs were likely to prevail in their claim that the provision violates the First Amendment, because the law appears to limit particular speech, rather than regulating traffic generally.

    "The adoption of a content-based ban on speech indicates that the Legislature did not draft these provisions after careful evaluation of the burden on free speech," Bolton wrote.

    On Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit heard oral arguments in challenges to two other anti-immigration laws in Alabama and Georgia, and announced that it would not decide the case until after the Supreme Court issues its decision.

    Discussing the Alabama law, which The New York Times called “the country’s cruelest, most unforgiving immigration law,” Judge Beverly Martin questioned whether the requirement that school officials determine the immigration status of students interferes with students’ constitutional right to a public education.

    The duty of public schools to educate children regardless of legal status was established by the Supreme Court 30 years ago in Plyler v. Doe.

    Considering the Georgia law, Judge Charles Wilson expressed concern over the burden imposed on the federal government by a provision that would authorize local officials to investigate the immigration status of “suspects” and to detain them, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

    “I wonder what the increased burden would be on the Department of Homeland Security to respond to all these data-gathering requests.” he said. “You would have to create an entirely new bureaucracy, wouldn’t you, just to respond to these requests?”

    During a recent American Constitution Society immigration symposium in Atlanta, Judge U.W. Clemon (pictured), the former chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, called the movement to pass these new state laws “just another manifestation of the hatred and disdain on the part of white republican state legislators for people who don’t look or sound like them.” He continued: 

  • March 1, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Inching closer to ending one of the nation’s inequalities, Maryland, as its governor had promised to do, enacted marriage equality legislation earlier this evening, joining seven states and the District of Columbia, though the progress comes with the reality that forces are seeking to scuttle it.

    Andrew Sullivan in a “42 to Go,” blog post notes reader comment and media coverage on the latest victory for equality, while noting that in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie’s punting of civil rights to the whims of the majority in a referendum this fall, may, at the end of the day, provide some sense of success to what otherwise were shrewd, yet likely crass political tactics, though maybe not by Sullivan. “If marriage equality wins,” he wrote, Christie “can say democracy worked, while touting his veto to the fundamentalist base ….”

    Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley (pictured) in signing the Civil Marriage Protection Act of 2012 into law, which he sponsored and actively campaigned for, hit some of the right notes for battling one of the inequalities that confront the LGBT community, including those living with HIV, saying, for instance:

    For a free and diverse people,… for a people of many faiths,… for a people committed to the principle of religious freedom,… the way forward is always to be found through greater respect for the equal rights of all; for the human dignity of all.

    Like the newly enacted marriage equality law in Washington, enacted by Gov. Chris Gregoire (D), Maryland’s same-sex marriage law is facing opposition from religious right groups, primarily. They are working to put the newly gained equalities before the voters.

    And to see a compelling response to Gov. Christie’s punt on civil liberties, see Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s thoughts here.

  • March 1, 2012
    Cheating Justice
    How Bush And Cheney Attacked The Rule Of Law, Plotted To Avoid Prosecution, And What We Can Do About It
    Cynthia L. Cooper and Elizabeth Holtzman

    By Cynthia L. Cooper, an award-winning journalist and lawyer, and Elizabeth Holtzman, a lawyer, former prosecutor and former member of Congress who served on the House committee that investigated Watergate.

    When President George W. Bush and his team left office, mounds of misdeeds were left to fester. Some of their transgressions in office were so shocking – lying to Congress in order to embroil the nation in war and occupation, illegally wiretapping Americans without warrants, authorizing torture that had been outlawed by U.S. and international law – that he and Vice President Cheney probably should have been impeached and removed from office.

    Instead, they completed their terms and sped away. Even though Bush publicly announced in his 2010 memoir that he had personally authorized waterboarding, a recognized form of torture  -- “Damn right,” he is quoted as saying – hardly a peep was heard about seeking accountability. But how can that be? Key to preserving our democracy is the concept that no person is above the law.

    In order to ignite a national conversation on the topic, we set out to show how and why the president and vice president should be held accountable – especially, how they can be prosecuted. That meant looking at the available evidence, investigating precisely what laws are implicated and determining, as best as possible, whether a prima facie case could be made. We found enough to make a courageous prosecutor sit up and take notice, although the statute of limitations is ticking in some areas. We found clear problems under laws related to the conspiracy to deceive Congress, foreign intelligence surveillance and U.S. anti-torture laws – each of which needs prosecutorial attention.

    Along the way, we found something else disturbing, too: a repeated pattern by which Bush and Cheney took extraordinary efforts to protect themselves from the sting of the law. In Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law, Plotted to Avoid Prosecution – And What We Can Do About It, we look at both: how the ex-president and vice-president can be held personally accountable, but, also, how they tried to manipulate the system from inside to keep themselves from being held to account.

    Perhaps the most startling example of their extraordinary actions was the gutting of the War Crimes Act of 1996.