Appellate vacancies must be filled by Senate

Now that the 113th Senate has entered its third month, the upper chamber must immediately address the looming judicial cliff, which comprises 17 vacancies in 179 appellate judgeships. Until February 13, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had maintained the June 2012 blockade which he imposed on all circuit nominees of President Barack Obama until after the November elections, ignoring pleas for post-election votes from Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and the nominees’ Republican and Democratic home state senators.


Justice Scalia's staggering assertion of judicial activism

Members of Congress from both parties must have been confounded by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s staggering assertion of judicial activism during last month’s arguments in the Shelby County (Alabama) voting rights case.

Speaking to our 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (the VRA), including the preclearance requirement in Section 5, Justice Scalia opined: “This is not the kind of a question you can leave to Congress.”

With all due respect to the Justice, both the record and the Civil War Amendments to our Constitution conclude otherwise.


Senate should move quickly to fill vacancies on D.C. Circuit

Wednesday's cloture vote on D.C. Circuit nominee Caitlin Halligan is a valuable reminder that the D.C. Circuit, the nation’s “second most important court,” now experiences four vacancies in eleven judgeships. Indeed, this chief executive is the first in more than a half century who has appointed no D.C. Circuit judge. It is past time that President Barack Obama - who has recommended two prospects - nominate, and the Senate approve, exceptional candidates for all four vacancies. The Senate can start this week by agreeing to cloture on Halligan and granting the well qualified nominee an up or down floor vote.


The pro-rule of law argument against a 'drone court'

After many years of trying in vain to find the line between lawful and unlawful court-ordered killing, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun threw up his hands. "From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death," he said, dissenting in a 1994 capital punishment case.
What does this have to do with drone attacks? Justice Blackmun was speaking about a man who had been charged, convicted, and sentenced for a crime established by a democratically elected legislature. Killing in war, on the other hand, generally involves no judicial process. And that’s perfectly legal if done in accordance with the laws of war.


Immigration reform: Substance above rhetoric - Doing what is right

There has been much discussion recently about the welcome prospect of pending immigration reform legislation. This is a propitious moment for our Nation to be having this important debate. Unfortunately, many people are narrowly framing this discussion through the lens of political expediency. The truth is that most conservatives - and most progressives for that matter - actually do want to find a solution to our nation's immigration crisis. Unfortunately, the traditional opponents of immigration reform and immigration in general, are doing their best to mitigate against the coming political winds that favor a bipartisan reform of our immigration laws. These anti-immigration advocates, who are in fact paid lobbyists, are encouraging Republicans to blindly follow them as they continue to bury their heads in the sand, and continue to spout their "anti-immigrant agenda" talking points.


Obama and the Bill of Rights: Mandates, guns and drones

For all of the newfound political freedom that President Obama now enjoys as his second term is under way, his administration has spent the last four years shrinking our essential constitutional liberties. Our liberties preserve a place for the individual apart from the government, the local community apart from the state, and the state apart from the federal government.
Despite Obama’s pledge to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution, he continues to limit our freedoms under the Bill of Rights. His second term promises even more encroachment.


Filling the Tenth Circuit vacancies

Tenth Circuit Judge Michael Murphy recently took senior status after 17 years of valuable service, which means the federal judiciary has 18 vacancies in 179 active appeals court judgeships and the Tenth Circuit experiences three in 12. These openings - ten percent systemwide and 25 in the Tenth Circuit - can erode justice. Accordingly, President Barack Obama must expeditiously suggest, and senators promptly consider, nominees to fill the vacancies.

President Obama has aggressively pursued guidance and support of Republicans and Democrats where openings materialized before nominations. He proffered nominees of balanced temperament, who are intelligent, ethical, hard working and independent.  One illustration is Tenth Circuit Judge Scott Matheson.


House can no longer ignore violence against LGBT community

On Tuesday, February 12th, the Senate passed S. 47, a bill that reauthorizes the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by a 78-22 margin. VAWA is our nation’s response to domestic and sexual violence and provides the greatest source of programming and funding for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in the United States. The bill is inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), immigrant and Tribal survivors. These underserved communities were determined to be priorities of the more than 2,000 victim services advocates across the country who worked for the past two years to create a bill that reaches all victims.


Give law enforcement the power to enforce current gun laws

In Chicago, if you ask a school-aged child their number one fear, it’s not braces or a book report. It’s being shot on the way to school. While law enforcement officials around the country face the monumental task of cracking down on the thousands of illegal weapons that flood our streets and take innocent lives each day, it’s children in Chicago who bear the brunt of such violence. Last year in my hometown of Chicago alone, gun violence led to more than 500 homicides and the seizure of more than 7,400 illegal firearms by the Chicago Police Department.


Failure to confirm judges goes far beyond Senate, Court chambers

“The cornerstone of the American judicial system is the trial courts,” the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said, “in which witnesses testify, juries deliberate, and justice is done.” But four years of delays in nominating and confirming district judges threaten the ability of the federal trial courts to carry that weight. To keep witnesses testifying, juries deliberating, and justice being done in the federal courts, we need to rebuild an efficient machinery for putting trial judges on the bench.