Netroots Nation brings together progressive organizations, bloggers, and activists to learn from one another and to discuss the challenges that lie ahead. Alliance for Justice has been a proud supporter of Netroots Nation since 2007, and we think it’s a great way to help activists and bloggers understand how important our courts are as they work for change in their communities. Once again, Alliance for Justice is going to have a major presence at Netroots.
Even if you’re not planning to attend the conference, you can still watch a live stream of our Supreme Court panel on Thursday, June 20 at 9 a.m. PT, 12 noon ET. Just click here and scroll down to “Player for Room 210BF.” We plan to live-tweet the panel, follow us @AFJustice and join the discussion at #rightsinthebalance.
Just as the Court is likely to issue its most controversial decisions, AFJ president Nan Aron will moderate Rights in the Balance: The Supreme Court and Social Justice. The panel will also feature Rick Jacobs, chair and founder of Courage Campagin, Pam Karlan, professor of public interest law and co-director of the Supreme Court litigation clinic at Stanford Law School, and Tom Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
If you’re planning to attend the conference, here’s more of what we have in store for you this week:
–On Thursday, June 20 at 10:30 a.m., AFJ’s Bolder Advocacy attorney Daren Garshelis, along with ColorOfChange.org’s Kim Lehmkuhl and the California Immigrant Policy Center’s Jon Rodney, will train activists on Influencing Public Policy in the Digital Age: Legal Rules and Regulations for Social Media.
Daren will also be available to answer questions about nonprofit advocacy at our exhibit booth.
Finally, on Friday, June 21 at 1:45 p.m., we will screen an excerpt from Unequal Justice: the Relentless Rise of the 1% Court as part of the screening series Fight Club! A Showcase of the Very Latest in Davids vs. Goliaths. AFJ Executive Vice President Marissa Brown will be there to answer questions.
And be sure to stop by our exhibit booth and say hello!
Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron was among the guests discussing the nation’s second most important court, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, with Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC Sunday. Below, some highlights from the discussion:
Republicans seek to obstruct Obama
executive, judicial nominees
By Nan Aron
Alliance for Justice
With battles ahead over President Obama’s choices for Secretary of Labor, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director and the National Labor Relations Board, and fights over the nation’s second most important court likely to follow, democracy itself is on trial in the United States Senate.
If Republicans persist in preventing yes-or-no votes on President Obama’s executive and judicial nominees, the only recourse will be for the majority to revisit Senate rules reform and put an end once and for all to Republican efforts to subvert the Senate’s constitutional obligation to provide advice and consent.
The first test is likely to come this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he will schedule a vote on President Obama’s nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray. The CFPB was created as part of the Wall Street Reform law as an agency solely devoted to protecting consumers of financial products from mortgages to credit cards. In a transparent effort to protect the very special interests that collapsed our economy and brought ruin to so many Americans, Republicans so far have refused to confirm Cordray. In fact, Republicans have said they won’t confirm anyone to run the CFPB.
Republicans have been equally obstinate about the president’s nominees for the National Labor Relations Board, the independent agency charged with protecting the rights of workers – and a hearing on those nominees just last week showed no thaw in that obstinacy. That’s why Cordray and some of the current NLRB members had to be named through recess appointments.
But three Republican-appointed judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, breaking with decades of precedent, decided that the President doesn’t have the power to make such recess appointments. The decision is part of a pattern in which the D.C. Circuit consistently sides with corporate interests over workers and consumers – blocking Wall Street reforms, undermining labor rights, and rolling back environmental protections.
So it’s no wonder that Republicans also are trying to prevent the president from restoring balance to the D.C. Circuit, which is currently dominated by Republican appointees. The latest underhanded tactic from Republican Senators amounts to a ‘pre-emptive filibuster’ – an effort to eliminate three of the four vacant judgeships on the court in order to prevent President Obama from filling those seats.
But even that isn’t the end of the obstruction. We are pleased that two Senate committees were able to overcome Republican stalling tactics and vote last week in favor of President Obama’s highly-qualified nominees to lead the Department of Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency. The next step must be swift yes-or-no votes by the full Senate on the nominations of Tom Perez and Gina McCarthy.
Unfortunately, these two outstanding nominees’ ordeals may be far from over. All of the Republicans on both committees voted no. As AFJ has pointed out before, to Senate Republicans, one of the only things as bad as a Labor Secretary who will protect working people is an Environmental Protection Agency administrator who will protect the environment.
A solid majority of voters twice has made clear that they support the approach to government taken by Barack Obama. In response, the Republican strategy boils down to rule-or-ruin. They have shown themselves prepared to paralyze government, no matter what the cost to the American people. In the days ahead, we will see if the Senate is ready to break free of this paralysis.
The previous post to this blog discusses misleading claims by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). Now, he’s at it again. Here’s AFJ’s response:
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to reduce the number of judges on what is widely viewed as the nation’s second most important federal court is a “court-packing scheme” to keep the court in the hands of staunch conservatives, according to Alliance for Justice.
|Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)|
Claims by Grassley and others that the court’s workload doesn’t justify the current number of judges are “false and hypocritical,” said AFJ President Nan Aron.
“There is more than one way to pack a court to suit one’s ideological preferences,” said Aron. “Now that they are facing increasing pressure to stop blocking President Obama’s nominees, Republicans have come up with a new plan: just get rid of the vacancies.”
At issue is the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The D.C. Circuit most closely oversees actions of federal regulatory agencies.
“The conservative majority on the D.C. Circuit has used its power to issue decisions undermining protections for workers, consumers, and the environment that affect all Americans,” Aron said. “This activism is possible only because there are four vacancies on the court.
“When the caseload on the court was lighter than it is now, Sen. Grassley supported President George W. Bush’s nominees to fill all eleven seats on the court. But now that President Obama has the opportunity to restore balance to the court, Sen. Grassley proposes to get rid of the vacancies by eliminating three of the 11 seats on the court.”
Aron noted that Grassley’s caseload calculations fail to take into account the extraordinary complexity of many cases heard by the D.C. Circuit.
For an explanation of the importance of the D.C. Circuit and examples of its majority’s political agenda, see our briefing paper on the D.C. Circuit.
Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron issued the following statement in response to the vote today by the Senate to confirm Judge Patty Shwartz for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
The response of Alliance for Justice can be boiled down to three words: “It’s about time.”
Patty Schwartz has been an outstanding magistrate judge; she is held in the highest esteem by the New Jersey bar. She never should have had to wait more than 500 days for this vote. More important, those seeking justice from the Third Circuit never should have had to wait more than 500 days for a full complement of judges.
What happened today must become the rule, not the exception. From now on, all highly-qualified nominees need to be given prompt up-or-down votes by the full Senate.
As the Supreme Court heard oral arguments concerning the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron was among the speakers at a rally outside the Supreme Court:
There’s much more, including the text of Nan’s remarks, at www.afj.org
Here’s the video of Nan Aron’s speech at today’s rally in front of the Supreme Court in support of the Voting Rights Act. Nan spoke just as oral arguments were concluding and the lawyers were leaving the Court – so she departed a bit from her prepared text (which can be found in the previous post to this Blog).
Today the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a challenge to a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act. AFJ is ready:
Read more about the Voting Rights Act on our website here.
One week from today, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in a case challenging a crucial provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That provision, known as Section 5, requires certain jurisdictions to obtain advance approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before they change voting rules or procedures.
The Voting Rights Act was, and remains, the keystone in the arch of civil rights protection for people of color. As our overview of the issues makes clear, that provision is needed now as much as ever.
FEB. 26: TWITTER TOWN HALL
On the day before the case is heard, join in a Twitter Town Hall about the Voting Rights Act.
FEB. 27: RALLY AT THE COURT
AFJ is part of a coalition working to protect the Voting Rights Act. Those efforts include a rally in front of the Supreme Court at 9:00 AM. AFJ President Nan Aron is among the scheduled speakers. Get the details here.
FEB. 27: ANALYSIS ON JUSTICE WATCH
Then, in the hours after the argument, check back here at Justice Watch for comprehensive analysis. Legal experts will be posting here about key issues raised by the case, including:
Guest bloggers include Prof. Franita Tolson of Florida State University, Prof. William Yeomans of American University and Prof. Bertrall Ross of the University of California Berkeley School of Law.
If the Supreme Court makes audio of the oral arguments available in time, we’ll include relevant excerpts with the Blog posts.
|Judge David Sentelle|
In many parts of the country, vacant federal judgeships have languished without nominees for more than two years, according to a new resource from Alliance for Justice.
Much attention has been paid to what happens after someone is nominated to fill a vacancy – in particular the obstruction of nominees by Senate Republicans. But before a nomination ever reaches the Senate it goes through a complex, potentially lengthy process involving the White House and, with few exceptions, a state’s two United States Senators. At every step, a nomination can be delayed. In particular, this resource highlights the little-examined role that senators play in the pre-nomination process.
“This new report shines a spotlight on this often-neglected part of the process,” said AFJ President Nan Aron. “It illustrates the need for a renewed sense of urgency that should begin the moment a judgeship becomes vacant.”
Aron cited examples of unconscionable delay:
“Because of a dispute between senators from California and Idaho, a seat on the 9th Circuit has been vacant for more than eight years,” Aron said. “A seat on the 7th Circuit has been vacant for nearly four years. This kind of systemic failure has to end. The American people deserve better.”
When it comes to seats on federal district courts, there have been delays of two years or more in sending a nominee to the Senate in five states:
“These data, including detailed maps, track the status of every federal court vacancy for which there is not yet a nominee, giving Americans the information they need to demand action,” Aron said.
As part of a series on President Obama’s second term, The Huffington Post commissioned a special column from Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron and Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, on ending gridlock. Their solution: real reform of Senate rules:
Next week brings not just a new year but also a new United States Congress. Each new Congress has the right to establish its own rules. And that’s why next week is the best opportunity finally to end the massive Republican obstruction of the work of the United States Senate.
In the historic 111th Congress, Sen. Mitch McConnell and the Republicans decided to create a 60-vote Senate, which meant that 60 votes were needed on absolutely everything. Which means that they filibustered every single bill, every single nomination, every single amendment, even every single motion, or at least all those for which the Senate rules allowed them to force a 60-vote supermajority. It wasn’t 137 filibusters; it was far, far more.
If not, it means you missed AFJ’s Conversation with Jeffrey Toobin this evening. But the video is now online at www.afj.org.
Among the other topics: What the court might do, as early as tomorrow, concerning gay rights cases, (that discussion starts about 1 hour and 9 minutes in) why the left does not care as passionately about judges and the courts as the right – and why that might be about to change – and the paradox of Barack Obama, a former constitutional law professor who put less emphasis on judges than one might expect as president.
As AFJ President Nan Aron pointed out, almost every moment of our lives is shaped by decisions of the Supreme Court.
|From left to right: Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron, Jeffrey Toobin,
Emily Bazelon and Prof. Kenji Yoshino
The current term of the U.S. Supreme Court is just over two months old, and already the Court has heard arguments on affirmative action inhigher education and accepted a case challenging a key provision of the VotingRights Act. Tomorrow the Court may decide which, if any, gay rights cases it will hear.
In the Huffington Post, AFJ President Nan Aron writes about the speech Justice Samuel Alito gave at a fundraising dinner for the Federalist Society. She writes:
Although most of the press coverage of this speech has focused on Justice Alito’s full-throated defense of the Citizens United decision and his rationalization of the broadest possible interpretation of the corporate personhood concept (an argument effectively dismantled by the New York Times editorial page), there was another moment in Alito’s remarks that I think was more important — and scary.
Read about that moment in the full column here – and please let the Huffington Post community know what you think by posting a comment.
Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron issued the following statement on today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court to hear a challenge to a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. At issue is a provision called “preclearance.” Under this provision, places covered by the Act are barred from making changes in voting laws until the U.S. Department of Justice determines that the changes do not have either the purpose or effect of discriminating against people of color.
Today’s decision by the Supreme Court to hear a challenge to a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 means the court will be focusing on the keystone in the arch of protection for people of color in America – the law that guarantees the right to vote.
The case will be argued before a Chief Justice, John Roberts, who has shown profound hostility to the Voting Rights Act during his legal career. While serving in the Reagan Administration, Roberts was a driving force behind Administration efforts to significantly weaken the Act. His push to weaken the law went beyond internal memos and other writings. He actively encouraged the Administration to publicly embrace and widely endorse his call for a weaker law – drafting numerous talking points, question-and-answer documents and op ed columns.
Opponents of the Voting Rights Act say it has outlived its usefulness. After nearly 50 years, they argue, all of the wrongs have been righted. But any claim that the wrongs that led to this Act are things of the past should have been dispelled by the concerted efforts during the campaign that just ended to deny poor people and people of color their right to vote through voter ID laws and other means of voter suppression.
On election night, according to a Hart Research Associates poll conducted for the AFL-CIO, there was racial inequality at the polling station. The proportion of African American and Hispanic voters who had to wait on long lines before they could vote was more than double the proportion of white voters.
When he signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared that “This act flows from a clear and simple wrong. . . . Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American, in his heart, can justify. The right is one which no American, true to our principles, can deny.”
Soon, the Supreme Court will decide if America will remain true to its principles.
And see the previous post to this blog for more on the need for strong voting rights protections.
“Alliance for Justice outperforms most other charities in America,” wrote Ken Berger, President and Chief Executive Officer of Charity Navigator, in a letter announcing the rating. “This ‘exceptional’ designation from Charity Navigator differentiates Alliance for Justice from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.”
“Today, as the Supreme Court begins a new term, the court will be ‘open for business,” said AFJ President Nan Aron. “The term is already packed with cases with the potential to restrict corporate accountability and limit everyday Americans’ civil rights and access to justice The Court’s decisions this term could have harmful consequences for the ability of consumers, victims of discrimination, and others to get a fair day in court.
“But no one should be surprised,” Aron said. “What we are likely to see in the term that begins today was decades in the making.”
Unequal Justice chronicles a 40-year campaign by corporate special interests to put the thumb of big business on the scales of justice. The campaign has its origins in a profoundly-influential memo written in 1971 by corporate lawyer Lewis Powell, just months before he himself was named to the court by President Richard Nixon. The memo urged the business community to fight what was then a burgeoning consumer and environmental movement.
The United States Supreme Court term that starts Monday is packed with cases with the potential to restrict corporate accountability and limit everyday Americans’ civil rights and access to justice. According to a report released today by the Alliance for Justice “the majority on the court is likely to live down to its full potential,” says AFJ President Nan Aron.
We all know how big business has eroded the American dream by getting Congress and the executive branch to change the rules to favor corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us. But it hasn’t stopped with two branches of government. Corporate special interests have spent decades working to put their thumb on the scales of justice. The campaign finance decision in Citizens United is only the most prominent example.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. In a special issue of The Nation, produced in cooperation with the Alliance for Justice, AFJ President Nan Aron writes about what big business has done to the cherished American value of equal justice under law and, most important, what we can do about it:
“Liberals who came of age in the 1960s and ’70s perceived the Supreme Court largely as a constructive force, devoted to protecting civil, environmental and consumer rights and liberties, and interpreting the Constitution as a living document relevant to a rapidly changing twentieth-century world. It was a Court worthy of respect, if not reverence.
That was then. The 1 Percent Court is now in session.”
More from this special issue of The Nation is available here.
This week, along with the spectacle of former President George W. Bush bragging on national television about authorizing torture, federal prosecutor John H. Durham allowed the statute of limitations to expire without pressing charges against C.I.A. agents and attorneys who participated in the destruction of videotapes chronicling the interrogations and mistreatment of Abu Zubaydah and Abd a-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Alliance for Justice is extremely disappointed that once again no one in the United States government is being held accountable for criminal acts undertaken as part of the Bush Administration’s policy of abusing and torturing prisoners. The decision by Mr. Durham not to prosecute C.I.A. officials who destroyed evidence of detainee mistreatment is yet another example of the government officials involved in torture and other illegal conduct being given a free pass for their actions. We believe that Mr. Durham owes the country an explanation and should release a report of his findings and publicly explain the reasoning for his decision to allow C.I.A. officials off the hook.
Mr. Durham’s decision is particularly disturbing in light of the admission this week by George W. Bush that he willingly authorized torture and that his actions were acceptable because a lawyer told him he could do it. Since Nuremburg, the world has understood that lawyers cannot provide immunity for crimes against humanity. We have also come to understand that the lawyers who enable such crimes themselves violate the law and can be prosecuted, whether they work for the Department of Justice or the C.I.A. Each time our government fails to face up to the crimes of its leaders, the United States slips further toward lawlessness and diminishes its hard-won ability to lead the world toward respect for the rule of law and human rights.
In light of President Bush’s admissions and with abundant evidence available of egregious and criminal behavior, John Durham and the Justice Department must accelerate and intensify the investigation into the Bush Administration’s illegal torture practices. It is long past time for the Obama Administration to take seriously its commitment to uphold the law of the land and bring to justice both the senior leaders who authorized torture and the lawyers who served as their enablers. To do otherwise makes a mockery of the men and women of the military, who, since George Washington, have treated prisoners humanely and of our long-professed belief that the rule of law should guide the world.
We’re gearing up to leave for Netroots Nation in Pittsburgh, PA tomorrow, so if you’ll be there we hope to see you at our table. If you stop by, you can watch a special preview of our upcoming film Tortured Law and order a free advance copy.
AFJ President Nan Aron will be featured on two panels at Netroots. She will moderate Setbacks in Environmental Policy and Law: Can the Obama Administration Reverse the Trend? on Friday, August 14th from 1:30 -2:45 p.m. in Room 311. She’s a panelist in the discussion After Sotomayor: How Progressives Reshape the Debate Over Our Constitution and the Supreme Court also on Friday from 3:00-4:15 p.m. in Hall B.
Tune in here at Justice Watch to see the “After Sotomayor” panel live online on Friday.