Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and an al Qaeda spokesperson, appeared in a New York courtroom this morning, and pleaded not guilty to plotting to kill Americans. It was his first court appearance after having been captured on Feb. 28 and flown to New York last week.
Of course, there apparently has to be a political angle to the proceedings, and as Adam Serwer noted, several congressional Republicans are “furious” at the Obama administration for “prosecuting an alleged terrorist.” And why might that be? Because the GOP officials disapprove of the use of the federal court system.
Several Senate Republicans are slamming the administration’s to move its latest terror suspect through the federal court system, bypassing the military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [...]
“Military detention for enemy combatants has been the rule, not the exception. By processing terrorists like [Ghaith] through civilian courts, the administration risks missing important opportunities to gather intelligence to prevent future attacks and save lives,” according to a joint statement by Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Lindsey Graham (R.S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).
Do we really have to explain this to Congress again?
Look, we have a very capable system of federal courts, which have tried and convicted plenty of terrorists. We have also have a terrific system of federal penitentiaries, which have a record of never, ever allowing a convicted terrorist to escape.
On the other hand, we also have a system of military commissions, which tend to be an ineffective setting for trying suspected terrorists. It’s why every modern presidential administration has relied on civilian courts for these kinds of trials. It’s why the Pentagon, Justice Department, and intelligence agencies are unanimous in their support for trying accused terrorists in civilian courts. It’s why folks like David Petraeus and Colin Powell — retired generals McCain, Graham, and Ayotte tend to take seriously — agree with the Obama administration and endorse Article III trials.
So why must Republicans rely on stale, misleading talking points?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 8, 2013
The National Rifle Association has enjoyed high-profile success over the years in shaping gun-rights legislation in Congress and statehouses, in part by campaigning to defeat lawmakers who defied the group.
Now, the NRA has added a lesser-known strategy to protect its interests: opposing President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees whom it sees as likely to enforce gun-control laws. In some cases, the group’s opposition has kept jobs on federal benches unfilled.
Still in its early stages, the effort is a safety net to ensure that federal courthouses are stocked with judges who are friendly to gun rights, should gun restrictions somehow get through the group’s first line of defense on Capitol Hill. The NRA also weighs in on state judicial elections and appointments, another fail-safe if the massacre of young children at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school leads to tighter gun-control measures.
A case study in the group’s approach across the country can be found in its opposition to the nominations of the two most recent Supreme Court justices.
The NRA opposed both Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan and warned its allies in Congress that their votes to confirm each would be held against them.
In a letter to lawmakers, the NRA wrote: “In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, (Kagan) refused to declare support for the Second Amendment, saying only that the matter was ‘settled law.’ This was eerily similar to the scripted testimony of Justice Sonia Sotomayor last year, prior to her confirmation to the court. It has become obvious that ‘settled law’ is the scripted code of an anti-gun nominee’s confirmation effort.”
It added, “The NRA is not fooled.”
The group had limited evidence to back up its claims that the two were opposed to gun rights. It pointed to a one-paragraph memo Kagan wrote in 1987 to Justice Thurgood Marshall that suggested she was not sympathetic to gun owners, and to her time as a lawyer in the Clinton administration as it sought to put tighter gun controls in place. For Sotomayor, critics cited a ruling that upheld New York’s ban on nunchucks, a martial arts weapon that has nothing to do with firearms.
Even some pro-gun-rights lawmakers bristled at the NRA inserting itself into judicial confirmation battles.
“I am a bit concerned that the NRA weighed in and said they were going to score this. I don’t think that was appropriate,” Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said at the time. “A vote on a Supreme Court justice, in my mind, should be free from those political interest groups that are going to pressure you.”
But, like most Republicans, she still voted against confirming both nominees, likely for reasons beyond the gun issue.
Only seven GOP senators voted for Sotomayor in 2009 and, a year later, only five Republicans voted for Kagan.
Among those who supported both was Sen. Richard Lugar, a six-term Indiana Republican who lost his seat last year in a primary.
The NRA exacted its revenge in that race, spending $200,000 against him in order to help GOP challenger Richard Mourdock.
“Dick Lugar has changed. He’s become the only Republican candidate in Indiana with an F rating from the NRA,” the group said in one TV ad. The group also warned allies that Lugar voted to confirm “both of Barack Obama’s anti-gun nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Last spring, the group opposed the nomination of Elissa Cadish to the federal bench in Nevada and worked with Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada to block it.
In 2008, while running for a district court position in Nevada, Cadish replied on an election-year survey that “I do not believe that there is this constitutional right” to guns. She added, however, “Of course, I will enforce the laws as they exist as a judge.”
Cadish completed the Citizens for Responsible Government questionnaire before the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment protected a citizen’s right to have firearms in the District of Columbia and before a 2010 case that gave the same rights to citizens who live in the states.
Four years later, when Obama nominated her to a federal bench, she faced questions about those views and sought to clarify her position in a letter to her state’s other senator, Harry Reid.
“I want to assure you that I was not giving my personal opinion on this question,” Cadish said. “Rather, this response was based on my understanding of the state of federal law at the time.”
The NRA questioned the sincerity of Cadish’s statement.
“While she has more recently tried to backtrack from that statement, her ‘new’ position is of little comfort to gun owners,” NRA executive director Chris Cox wrote to Heller in April.
In the months that followed, the NRA and its affiliated groups spent $98,467 to help Heller win election, including a television ad promising Heller would “oppose any anti-gun nominee to the Supreme Court.”
“This election’s not about the next four years. It’s about the next 40 years. So vote like your freedom depends on it. Because it does,” Cox told audiences in that ad.
Similarly, the NRA has helped block Caitlin Halligan’s rise from the Manhattan district attorney’s office to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a launching pad for several Supreme Court justices. The group pointed to her work on New York’s 2001 lawsuit against gun makers and opposition to a 2005 federal law that shielded firearm companies from liability for crimes committed with their wares.
“Given Ms. Halligan’s clear opposition to a major federal law that was essential to protecting law-abiding Americans’ right to keep and bear arms, as well as an important industry that equips our military and law enforcement personnel, we must respectfully oppose her confirmation,” Cox wrote the lawmakers in 2011.
That appeals court seat has remained vacant since 2005, when President George W. Bush nominated and the Senate confirmed John Roberts as chief justice on the Supreme Court.
Last Thursday, Obama renominated both Cadish and Halligan and urged the Senate to vote.
“I am renominating 33 highly qualified candidates for the federal bench, including many who could have and should have been confirmed before the Senate adjourned,” Obama said.
Yet there was no signal the NRA would drop its opposition.
The group’s deep pockets help bolster allies and punish lawmakers who buck them, on judges or legislation. The group spent at least $24 million in the 2012 elections — $16.8 million through its political action committee and nearly $7.5 million through its affiliated Institute for Legislative Action. Separately, the NRA spent some $4.4 million through July 1 to lobby Congress.
In one case, the group spent about $100,000 — a tremendous sum for a state legislative race — to mount a primary challenge against a Republican Tennessee lawmaker, Debra Maggart, because she wouldn’t toe the NRA’s line in Nashville.
As the NRA works to put its stamp on another branch of government, its influence could be even more lasting — federal judges are appointed for life and aren’t subject to voters in election years.
By: Philip Elliott, The Associated Press, January 9, 2012
Confronted by record judicial vacancies and unprecedented Senate obstruction in filling our courtrooms, the White House Monday is convening a summit meeting of 150 advocates and community leaders from across the country — to demonstrate that the courts are crucial for our nation.
Regardless of where you live, or what issues you care about, all Americans deserve a judiciary that works.
Why Monday? A short-lived Senate deal to speed the pace of some judicial nominees expires that day. Yet right now, roughly 250 million Americans live in a community without enough judges on the bench. Much more needs to be done.
The White House summit reaffirms that progressives at all levels, and from all corners, are deeply committed to filling our nation’s courtrooms with qualified judges quickly — today and in coming months.
A record number of courtrooms are not functioning because there are not enough judges seated to do the work of the American people. This includes 19 empty federal bench seats in 16 states that could be filled today.
Our nation’s courts — where Americans vindicate their most cherished constitutional rights — are under siege by conservatives. As we have seen over the past few months, Senate Republicans have significantly stalled votes on qualified nominees — including ones with broad bipartisan support — just for the sake of obstruction. Many have later been approved by significant margins.
Conservatives have long made the courts a priority. When in power, they have actively worked to fill the bench with judges who share a conservative ideology — one increasingly out of the mainstream. So it should be no surprise that Senate Republicans are so adamant about blocking any progress on filling our nation’s courts today.
The third branch of government has for too long been neglected in politics — particularly by liberals. Yet it plays a defining role in the American story. And progressives have a huge stake in making sure our courtrooms have a full complement of judges familiar with our issues to make the tough calls.
Every issue progressives care about today ends up in court. From education and immigration to the right to work; from clean air, water and food, to the right of the laws of the land to apply equally to all Americans; from protecting the right of our elected representatives to writing laws that protect consumers and providing for our health.
Fortunately, progressives are rising to the challenge. We need judges confirmed now, to be sure. But what we really need — and what we are doing — is building a long-term foundation among the nation’s progressives, on all issues, to care about the courts. Because they matter for all that we stand for.
It’s a foundation motivated by basic values and interests, not just short-term political tactics. We are engaging new groups of progressives to integrate issues involving the courts into their daily work — in their local communities and online — for the long term.
If you care about your issue, you should care about the courts. Or else our hard-fought gains will be undone by an increasingly conservative judiciary.
We know this strategy works. Consider, in just a few days, a groundswell of support forced the Susan G. Komen Foundation to reverse a politically motivated decision to end its funding relationship with Planned Parenthood. Tens of thousands of progressives organized and made their voices heard — online, with small donations and in communities nationwide — and achieved results.
The same thing happened last fall when Bank of America backed down from imposing a monthly $5 debit card fee after an online change.org petition collected 300,000 signatures. This same energy essentially fuels the Occupy movement.
This is a strategy that works especially well for defending the foundational principles of our democracy that progressives care about — like fully functioning courts.
Voters organizing to make their voices heard is the only thing that can counter the power of money-driven advertising in politics. It’s the very essence of a system that works for all Americans — not just the wealthy few.
By: Andrew Blotky, Opinion Contributor, Politico, May 6, 2012
This week the U.S. Supreme Court opened a new term, for the first time in Barack Obama’s presidency without a new Justice joining the high court. Also this week, two of the Justices testified before Congress in an historic hearing on the role of judges under the U.S. Constitution. A new national conversation about the third branch and the Constitution is gaining the attention of more Americans every day, and it’s one all of us should join.
History shows that nearly every major political issue ends up in the courts. Our nation’s federal courts are where social security appeals are heard, employment cases decided, immigration issues settled, and where Americans vindicate their most cherished Constitutional rights. This year is no different.
This Supreme Court term, lasting through June 2012, promises to be a significant one, with decisions affecting every American. The cases the court will decide this term alone highlight what’s really at stake for all Americans, far beyond any single election or individual term in office.
Consider these important questions the Court is poised to decide: the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s landmark health care reform legislation; the constitutionality of warrantless surveillance of Americans using GPS tracking devices; the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial racial profiling immigration law; questions relating to the Family and Medical Leave Act; the constitutionality of religious organizations discriminating in hiring decisions; constitutional questions about the reliability of eyewitness testimony in criminal cases (a key issue in the recent Georgia execution of Troy Davis).
This is a veritable hit parade of issues progressives, independents—indeed all Americans—care deeply about.
Until recently, the courts were generally friendly to progressive public policies. Indeed the federal courts helped to enable the social and economic progress that has made our country stronger and more inclusive over time. Courts were able to do so by adhering to the text and history of the U.S. Constitution and its amendments, and applying the Constitution’s core principles and values to questions of the day.
Conservatives, unhappy with idea that the Constitution guarantees more opportunity all our citizens instead of just for the already privileged few, have in recent years mounted a concerted political effort to remake the federal judiciary in their image: to be more activist and more closely aligned with their political views. Americans used to be able to sleep at night knowing the federal courts were good guardians of our most cherished constitutional principles. Now, the rights many Americans take for granted, like equal access at the voting booth and the ability to challenge discrimination at work, increasingly find a hostile and activist audience in the nation’s courts.
But progressives have a chance to turn the tide. Today, there are a record number of vacancies in our federal courtrooms, as a new Center for American Progress study released this week shows. Unprecedented obstruction by conservative U.S. Senators has led to an abysmal rate of judicial confirmations. This has left a level of empty judgeships not seen at any time under any president in U.S. history. Fully two thirds of the country is living in a jurisdiction without enough judges for the cases that are piling up. It means less access to justice and longer delays in court for the American worker and small business owner.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Progressives need to work together to support making our judiciary more progressive—and to support the confirmation of President Obama’s nominees. It’s time for the judiciary to be a priority for progressives.
The judges progressives want on the bench are judges for all Americans—judges who follow the text and history of the Constitution and apply it faithfully to the questions before them. At a time when the Tea Party is cherry-picking select provisions of the Constitution and discarding others to win short-term political arguments, we need the federal judiciary to be a strong guardian of all of our Constitution’s provisions and amendments for the long-term. With increasingly conservative state legislatures rolling back gains progressives have championed for decades, we need our courts to protect our Constitutional values from the political winds of the moment. These values—liberty, freedom, equality—have driven America’s progress since its founding, and are what make America exceptional around the world today.
Our courts matter for all Americans. And who is on the courts should matter to anyone who cares about the Constitution and the opportunities and protections it promises. It’s time for progressives to unite and support getting more progressive judges on the federal bench. Nothing less than the long term health of our democracy depends on it.
By: Andrew Blotky, Center for American Progress, Originally Published in Huffington Post, October 20, 2011
The spree of big-money political campaigning — and the corruption that comes with it — seemed guaranteed to worsen Thursday when a federal judge in Virginia ruled that corporations are now free to make direct donations to federal candidates.
District Court Judge James Cacheris claimed his decision was consistent with the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case. But his interpretation of corporate free speech rights goes much further — and strains all credibility. The Supreme Court specifically said that the Citizens United ruling was about allowing corporate expenditures through independent campaign groups.
A separate Supreme Court decision from 2003, Federal Election Commission v. Beaumont, still stands and leaves no doubt that the ban on corporate donations to candidates remains the law. Judge Cacheris would seem to twice overrule Supreme Court decisions — a hierarchical impossibility as any law student should know. (A federal judge in Minnesota previously ruled that the ban on corporate donations to candidates still stands.)
Of course, in politics there is the law of the land and there is the tireless frenzy for money. Whether Judge Cacheris — who issued his opinion, as he said, “for better or worse” — meant to blur the two remains to be seen. His decision deserves to be struck down on appeal for “equating apples and oranges,” as Mark Lytle, the prosecutor in the case, said of the judge’s overreach.
Judge Cacheris’s ruling struck down part of an indictment accusing two businessmen of illegally reimbursing employees for their donations to Hillary Clinton’s campaigns for president and the Senate. They are charged with paying more than $180,000 to 43 fake donors in an effort to evade donation limits. Most of the indictment still stands, with a trial scheduled in July.
Campaign money bundlers will keep pushing the limits wherever and however they can — and the integrity of our electoral system will pay the price. The courts need to do a far better job of pushing back.
By: Editorial, The New York Times Opinion Pages, May 28, 2011