One major campaign issue last year was the need to improve our federal courts. I wrote about this subject several times on this blog. Approaching the first quarter of the Obama presidency, his scorecard is tepid and disappointing.On Jan. 20, 2009, the new president inherited 55 vacancies on the federal courts, which would be understaffed if all the seats were filled. As of Nov. 30, 2009, there were 98 vacancies, 20 on the circuit (appellate) courts and 78 on the district (trial) courts.
The Obama administration just doesn’t get it. Questioned from day one how it planned to handle prior administrations’ state-secrets policies in light of its proclaimed commitment to openness and transparency, it repeatedly missed opportunities to assure meaningful reform. The latest so-called reform measure reportedly sets up a review process in the Justice Department to scrutinize claims of state secrecy in litigation.
The idea makes sense. How could any government body operate without the power to control its own proceedings? The problem is that every so often someone is adamant and ends up summarily incarcerated in prison for egregiously long, sometimes indefinite periods. The case of Susan McDougal in the Clinton era drew attention to this phenomenon. She refused to testify before the Whitewater grand jury and languished in jail over a year. In her notorious custody battle, Dr. Elizabeth Morgan was imprisoned for 25 months for refusing to tell where her daughter was secreted.
That aside, why did Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — after admitting she would be confirmed barring a meltdown, and that he himself could possibly support her — have to treat her so badly?
There are few responsibilities a senator has that are of more long-term reach than deciding on a Supreme Court nominee. One seat on the Supreme Court can change the court's nature for a generation or more.
So, you ask, why do I feel compelled to comment on the latest Ricci case? I am not going to discuss Title VII or the lower-court rulings or the effect on Judge Sotomayor’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Rather, I have another angle.
By now, most people have heard — negatively — about the 2006 case Ricci v. DeStefano, in which 18 New Haven firefighters (17 white and one Hispanic) were not promoted after passing the required tests because there were no blacks whose test scores were high enough to qualify them for promotion.
District of Columbia Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered a pharmaceutical executive convicted of making a false statement to government investigators about his company’s actions in a patent dispute to write a book in lieu of being sentenced to prison.
No sooner had Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) set July 13 as the date for her first hearing than Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) started sobbing about needing more time. “We’d have to read 76 cases a day to review her entire judicial record by that date,” they complained.
This comes as no surprise to me, and as faithful readers of this blog will attest, last week I plotted a strategy to make the most of this real GOP advantage.
Of course, that strategy was overwhelmed by the idiotic discussion, led by that brilliant Republican strategist Rush Limbaugh, who called the Hispanic Supreme Court nominee a “racist.”