Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

  • June 2, 2016
    Guest Post

    by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Sen. Whitehouse is a member of the Judiciary Committee as well as the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Budget Committee, Environment and Public Works Committee, and Special Committee on Aging.

    The recent op-ed by two Republican members of the House of Representatives argues that their efforts to impeach the IRS Commissioner are on the level. Maybe.

    But when you look at how the Republican Party is paid for, Republicans have a very good reason for trying to keep their boot firmly on the neck of the IRS. Keeping an already timid bureaucracy even more intimidated has a significant strategic benefit.

    There is a dirty secret to the "dark money" organizations that plague our elections: They're not supposed to be in our elections. And if the IRS were doing its job, they wouldn't be.

    If we were rid of dark money, it would make the American people happier, as we are fully creeped out by the seemingly unlimited influence-buying in politics. But big special interests which make a killing off their political "investments" would not be happy at all. They might have to act out in the daylight where we can watch them; and they much prefer the dark to do their dirty work of killing climate change and campaign finance legislation, preventing Medicare from negotiating drug prices, and unleashing Wall Street from regulation.

    They also prefer the Republican Party, so protecting dark money gets the full attention of Party leaders in Congress. For them, political dark money has become as important as an air hose to a deep sea diver.

  • September 9, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). Sen. Whitehouse is a member of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, as well as the Budget Committee, Environment and Public Works Committee, Judiciary Committee and the Special Committee on Aging.

    James Madison famously observed in Federalist 39 that our American experiment depends on “the capacity of mankind for self-government.”  History has vindicated Madison’s faith in the American people, but we must not grow complacent.  Recent Supreme Court decisions, for example, have undermined Americans’ ability to participate in our system of self-government by opening the floodgates to corporate cash in our elections and eliminating the provision of the Voting Rights Act that has protected millions of Americans from discriminatory voting practices.  Another institution within our system of self-government – the civil jury – is also under attack and is disappearing, with little fanfare.  It is time to sound the alarm.

    As I recently explained in the National Law Journal, the civil jury came to the United States with the earliest colonists.  It provided a means of self-government for Americans who chafed under British rule, and its preservation was vital to the founding generation.  Consequently, the Seventh Amendment  protected access to the civil jury, which serves, in the words of Alexis De Tocqueville, as a “political institution” and “one form of the sovereignty of the people.”

    Unlike other institutions of government which can be dominated by the rich and the well-connected, the civil jury puts all citizens equal before the law.  As Sir William Blackstone observed, the jury “preserves in the hands of the people that share, which they ought to have in the administration of public justice, and prevents the encroachments of the more powerful and wealthy citizens.”  The Founders wished to assure that when the executive is corrupt, when powerful interests have the legislature tied in knots, and when the press has turned against you, the hard square corners of the jury box still stand strong.

  • April 26, 2013

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Plenty of media attention has been justifiably focused on constitutional rights, such as due process and the individual right to bear arms. The Second Amendment has been discussed in the context of debate over compromise gun safety measures in the U.S. Senate and due process concerns were raised by some human rights groups over the federal government’s questioning of the Boston Marathon bombings suspect.

    But one needs to do some digging to find some discussion of the Seventh Amendment, which guarantees the right to jury trials in civil cases. And while it may not appear all that important, and some have even argued that juries needlessly increase the time and cost of taking cases to court, the Seventh Amendment actually ensures some democratic accountability in our courts by ensuring that citizens have a say in administering justice. So, over time, what started as a way to ensure that judges appointed by the King were not overly partial to the Crown, became a way for citizens to hold corporations accountable for wanton wrongdoing.

    So, it was heartening that U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) recently brought some much-needed attention to the Amendment in a speech at the William & Mary Law School, because over the last quarter-century the Supreme Court and Congress have been working together to slowly chip away at our right to a jury trial in civil cases to the point where it’s almost meaningless through a mix of well-intentioned legislation and blatantly pro-business rulings.

  • March 7, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The Department of Justice’s handing of foreclosure abuses, which disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos, came under intense, if not overblown, scrutiny during a Senate hearing today.

    As The Blog of Legal Times reports, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) “led a wave of criticism of the Justice Department’s response to home loan discrimination and foreclosure abuses,” during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

    Grassley groused about the DOJ’s settlement with Countrywide Financial Corporation, which the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Thomas Perez (pictured) described in written testimony before the committee as “the largest lending discrimination case ever brought by the U.S. Department of Justice ….”

    In a prepared statement, Grassley said the Countrywide settlement was inadequate. “Although the complaint asked for the victims to be put in the same position they would have been absent the discrimination, for civil penalties, and for consequential damages, the consent decree provides only $1700 per victim,” he said.

    During the hearing, and his testimony, Grassley claimed that Countrywide and other financial institutions involved in the discriminatory lending practices should have faced investigations for criminal wrongdoing. “We do not know what individuals took the unlawful actions. They face no punishment. And they can keep their jobs. Countrywide admits nothing. The government has proven nothing in court.”

    Democratic Sens. Al Franken (Minn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) joined Grassley in criticizing the DOJ for alledgedly not taking stronger action against the financial institutions. As Todd Ruger reported The Blog of Legal Times, toward the end of the hearing, Perez conceded, albeit not before defending his Division’s work, that more could be done to address the financial industry’s practices.

    Several of the senators and witnesses sharply focused on the fact that banks and other financial institutions discriminated against African Americans and Latinos during the mortgage crisis. (As James H. Carr noted in this ACSblog post, research has revealed “that in 2004 African Americans were more likely to receive subprime loans than white borrowers, even when risk factors such as credit scores were taken into consideration. Not only did that excessive peddling of reckless mortgage products to blacks result in their having experience foreclosures at a disproportionately higher rate than white borrowers, but also, blacks are over-represented in the ranks of the long-term unemployed which has also grown as a result of the financial crisis.”)

  • November 1, 2010
    If you want signs of so-called "judicial activism" look to the conservative bloc of the U.S. Supreme Court, writes Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    In a piece for The National Law Journal, Sen. Whitehouse (pictured) writes that for many years the term "judicial activism" has been lobbed by conservatives "so repeatedly that it is now in the common parlance, but without any clear meaning." He continues, "For some, ‘judicial activism' applies to any decision that fails to meet conservatives political purposes, but never to a decision that meets conservative goals, no matter how many acts of Congress it strikes down, how many prior decisions it overturns or how recklessly it strains to decide broad questions of constitutional law."

    Sen. Whitehouse notes a number of "red flags" to look for when determining if a court is indeed engaging in judicial activism. Those markers include, a court with low respect for state or federal laws, a court that easily strikes precedents, one that issues strings of 5-4 decisions instead of finding common ground, a court where a "discernable pattern of results" emerges, and a court that easily ignores "rules and tenets of appellate decision-making that have long guided courts of final appeal."

    The senator concludes that the Roberts Court's conservative bloc is flying all those red flags.

    The five-member conservative majority easily overturns precedent, fails to find common ground, goes well beyond appellate decision-making standards, easily ignores the legislative process, and a discernable pattern has emerged.

    Sen. Whitehouse writes:

    Corporations have prevailed at striking rates. The cause of social conservatism has made pronounced strides with respect to abortion and gun issues. Simply put, the conservative bloc has established a record that has a distinctive pattern - and, at this stage, it is improbable that it would be coincidence. As Jeff Toobin noted in The New Yorker in May 2009, the leader of this bloc, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., ‘has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.'