Tracking the latest developments in the fight for a fair America
We’ve all seen the movie: someone is hurt, sick, fired, discriminated against—but she discovers she’s not alone. She slowly unravels a dark truth: hundreds of others have suffered or are suffering just like she is. The villain is a powerful corporation who will stop at nothing to cover up its illegal activities and protect its bottom line. Though her odds look bleak, the heroine doesn’t give up. She rallies her peers and together they fight back. It ends how we always want it to end: our heroes get their day in court, justice is served, and the powerful corporation is forced to pay up and change its ways.
This is the basic story in several great movies about class actions like Erin Brockovich, North Country, Class Action, and A Civil Action, just to name a few. Whether the suit is about water pollution, sex discrimination in the workplace, or a dangerous car design, we love to watch as ordinary people band together to get their day in court and hold malevolent companies accountable.
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As more and more Americans speak out about the dismal pace of the Senate’s judicial confirmations this year and the growing list of judicial vacancies, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has responded to the criticism by constantly looking in the rearview mirror.
His latest came on Wednesday in an “update to my colleagues and the American people regarding the progress of judicial nominations.” The senator touts the fact that the Senate has already confirmed 317 of President Obama’s nominees, compared to 294 of President George W. Bush’s nominees confirmed at this same point in his presidency. Grassley also claims that the Senate Judiciary Committee is moving at the same pace this year as it did during the last part of Bush’s presidency. All in all, according to Senator Grassley, Senate Republicans are making “good progress” on President Obama’s nominees.
But Grassley’s rearview mirror has some blind spots. For starters, comparing total confirmed is only useful if each president faced the same number of vacancies. But as of today, President Obama has been tasked with appointing judges to 381 judicial vacancies, while President Bush had 377 judicial vacancies to deal with—during his entire presidency. That’s right, Obama already has had more judicial vacancies to fill than Bush ever faced, and Obama still has over a year left in office. Read more
Currently, the only pending court of appeals nominee on the Senate calendar is Judge L. Felipe Restrepo, a nominee to the Third Circuit who just two years ago was unanimously confirmed as a trial court judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Both Restrepo’s fitness to serve and the pressing need for swift confirmation are plain. In addition to his judicial experience and prior Senate approval, Restrepo had an esteemed career as a practicing lawyer that included time as a public defender—a qualification so rare among circuit court judges that he would be the first ever former public defender on the Third Circuit. Restrepo also has bipartisan support, as his appointment was jointly recommended by both Pennsylvania senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey. The vacancy itself is considered a “judicial emergency” and has been left empty for over two years. In other words, there is no rational reason not to confirm Judge Restrepo immediately.
Yet, as of today, Restrepo’s nomination has been pending for an entire calendar year, and there’s no indication from Senate GOP leadership that a confirmation vote is imminent. Read more
One way in which the Roberts Court has consistently earned its reputation as big-business friendly is its zeal to chip away at Americans’ ability to hold corporations accountable by banding together in class-action lawsuits.
As Justice Elena Kagan wrote two years ago in her blistering dissent in American Express v. Italian Colors: “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And to a Court bent on diminishing the usefulness of [the class-action rules], everything looks like a class action, ready to be dismantled.”
Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo—a case set for oral argument before the justices on Tuesday, November 10—has the potential to be yet another nail in the class-action coffin. In two distinct ways, the case threatens to make it harder for a class to become “certified”—the initial step in which a court finds that class members have enough in common to move forward with a lawsuit in unison. Read more
Republicans have engineered another politically motivated delay in New Jersey. But this time it doesn’t involve how long it takes to get across the George Washington Bridge. This time, it’s all about how long it takes for judges to get onto the federal bench.
Take the case of Julien Neals. His seemingly endless wait for a committee vote has finally ended. The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved his nomination this morning, along with that of four others— Rebecca Ebinger for the Southern District of Iowa, Leonard Strand for the Northern District of Iowa, Gary Brown for the Eastern District of New York, and Mark Young for the Central District of California. Read more