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Friday, January 23, 2015

Abe Lincoln in a skirt; Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a beard

Michelle D. Schwartz
Director of Justice Programs

As I read Mike Sacks’s piece in the National Law Journal yesterday on Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, I was struck with a bout of déjà vu.
It hit me when I saw this gem from Gun Owners of America president Larry Pratt:
“She’s kind of like Eric Holder in a skirt.”
Where have I heard that before?
Ah, yes. In November 2013, Ed Whelan of National Review Online had this to say about then-D.C. Circuit nominee (now D.C. Circuit Judge, thanks to Senate rules reform) Nina Pillard:
“[F]olks who know Pillard well have described her to me as ‘[Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen] Reinhardt in a skirt but less moderate.’”
It’s a safe bet that neither Pratt nor Whelan meant these comparisons as compliments. Pratt’s group calls Holder “a committed anti-gun radical” and Whelan calls Reinhardt an “arch-activist.” Nor can I recall a time when I’ve seen the “in a skirt” construction used with a name the speaker revered. “That talented female debater is like Abe Lincoln in a skirt,” said nobody ever.
But even if you do like Eric Holder and Stephen Reinhardt (and I do), these statements are insulting, not only to Lynch and Pillard, but to all women. They demean women by implying that they do not have thoughts, ideas, or accomplishments of their own, but are merely dressed up versions of men. They focus on women’s appearance and dress rather than their experiences and intellect. In short, they seek to put women in their place.
For those who think I’m being overly sensitive, I challenge you to come up with a single example where a man has similarly been compared to a woman (“Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a beard”?). Until then, please stop skirting the issues and start judging women on their own merits.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Benched! Keeping Credit 
Where Credit is Due

January 13, 2015
A little over a week into the new Congress, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has already begun laying the groundwork to limit the number of President Obama’s judicial nominees the Senate will confirm.

Sen. Charles Grassley has  his own version of "new math."As we detailed earlier this week, presidents have historically continued filling judicial vacancies even with an opposition Senate in their final two years of office. On average, 20 percent of a president’s total judicial confirmations—which would be 76 judges for President Obama—are confirmed in the final two years of office.

The Senate has not yet confirmed any nominees this year. Nonetheless, in a recent article, a Grassley spokeswoman said that the Senator has already started tallying his confirmations for the 114th Congress, presumably to limit the number of additional nominees the Senate will confirm.
Under Grassley’s version of new math,  the current Senate has already confirmed 11 judges.  Grassley counts these judges even though they were reported out of committee and confirmed not in the current Senate, the one in which Republicans are in the majority, but by the last Senate during its “lame duck” session.
Of course,  these confirmations were not the accomplishments of Senator Grassley or Senate Republicans. In fact, Senator Grassley delayed the confirmations for which he now seeks credit and opposed confirming any nominees reported out of committee during the lame duck session. Senate Republicans even blocked their own states’ nominees and forced Democratic leadership to file cloture motions on uncontroversial judges, all while many argued that confirmations should be shut down entirely during the lame duck.
Manipulating confirmation numbers and claiming credit where it isn’t due does nothing to fill the 44 current judicial vacancies and many more (25 already announced) that will open in 2015. It does nothing for people living in Pennsylvania and Texas, where numerous, longstanding vacancies and rising caseloads have left individuals waiting in line for justice.
Iowa’s largest newspaper has called on Senator Grassley to end obstructionist policies and confirm qualified judges to the bench, and Grassley himself has promised to hold hearings soon on pending nominees. We hope he chooses to do so.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Call your senators and tell them: Do your job before leaving Washington!

The Senate is getting ready to leave on a three-week vacation.  But dozens of nominees to judicial and executive branch posts are still waiting to start the jobs for which they’ve been nominated.
It’s not right for senators to leave Washington for the year before their job is done.
With your help, we’ve been keeping the pressure on the Senate to do its job and confirm nominees.  Since the November election, the Senate has confirmed 15 judges.  But there still are at least a dozen more who can and should be confirmed this year.  And many executive branch nominees have been waiting months and even years for yes-or-no votes.
As AFJ President Nan Aron said: “When judgeships sit vacant, all Americans suffer. Judicial vacancies mean small businesses struggle with uncertainty, injured individuals drown under the weight of medical bills, and victims of discrimination must wait for justice.”
Please take a moment to call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.  Ask for your senators’ offices and tell them why it is so important to confirm these nominees.

Nan Aron: It’s time to stop tinkering with the machinery of death

Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron was among the speakers today at the launch of 90 Million Strong, a new campaign to abolish the death penalty.  She spoke at a news conference at the National Press Club.  These are her prepared remarks:

My name is Nan Aron.  I am President of Alliance for Justice. On behalf of the more than 100 groups that make up the Alliance, I would like to thank the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty for organizing this campaign and this event and for inviting us to participate.
AFJ works to promote a fair and independent judiciary.  There can be no clearer reminder of the importance of who sits on our courts than that these jurists are called upon to make life and death decisions.  For decades the Supreme Court has tried to reconcile state-sanctioned killing with the Constitution of the United States.  That cannot be done.
Justice William Brennan wrote that
“moral concepts” require us to hold that the law has progressed to the point where we should declare that the punishment of death, like punishments on the rack, the screw, and the wheel, is no longer morally tolerable in our civilized society.  
Justice Thurgood Marshall, who believed most Americans were uninformed about the death penalty, wrote that
Assuming knowledge of all the facts presently available regarding capital punishment, the average citizen would, in my opinion, find it shocking to his conscience and sense of justice.
But today, instead of a Brennan or a Marshall, the life of an accused might be in the hands of a judge like Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judge Jones has said that capital defendants’ claims of racism, arbitrariness and even claims of innocence are nothing more than – her words – red herrings.
She also has declared that,
a killer is only likely to make peace with God and the victim’s family in that moment when the killer faces imminent execution, recognizing that he or she is about to face imminent judgment.          
I don’t know how one makes peace with upholding the execution of someone who may be innocent.  And I don’t know how one makes peace with using the mechanism of the state to punish people by taking their lives.
Justice Harry Blackmun struggled with the death penalty.  At first, he thought there might be some way to reconcile it with the Constitution.  But in 1994, he wrote:
“I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. …”
Declared Blackmun: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”
Alliance for Justice agrees: It is time to stop tinkering with the machinery of death.
We look forward to the day when we have a Supreme Court that will rule, once and for all, that the death penalty is unconstitutional.
We look forward to being a part of the 90 Million Strong campaign, and mobilizing our more than 100 members to act on this vital issue.

Thank you.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Retailer tries to hold customer’s money hostage to forced arbitration

By Trevor Boeckmann
AFJ Dorot Fellow
As we detail in our short documentary Lost in the Fine Print, forced arbitration clauses have become omnipresent in American society.  They’re used by companies to prevent consumers from having the chance to stand up for their rights in court when they’re harmed.  Yet most of these clauses are buried deep in the fine print of contracts and terms of service.
Now Walmart, already a corporate bad actor in so many ways, has taken this strategy to a whole new level.  They found a way to hold a customer’s money hostage until she agreed to forced arbitration.
KTRK-TV in Houston reports thaWalmart_Store_Signt on Black Friday, local shopper Maria Selva tried to buy a new TV at the big-box retailer. Walmart had sold out of the TV by the time Selva came to purchase it, but employees gave her a coupon, and had her pay in full.
She thought she could just pick up the TV at a later date.  But after she’d already paid, she was given a notice telling her she had to register online.  When she went online, she found that registering the coupon meant agreeing to forced arbitration.  She refused to accept the terms, and contacted Walmart to ask for a refund.
Walmart said no.
Instead, the company told her she would have to agree to forced arbitration, receive the TV, and return the TV.  Only then could she receive a refund.
It wasn’t until KTRK contacted the company that Walmart finally relented and issued a refund.
The consequences of forced arbitration can be great.  In Lost in the Fine Print we document the stories of Nicole Mitchell and Debbie Brenner, victims of discrimination and fraud who were never allowed to defend their rights in court.
Walmart isn’t the only company that has tried to find creative ways to impose forced arbitration.
Take General Mills, for example.  Last spring, we told you about their new arbitration policy, which purported to force consumers into arbitration if they entered a company contest, printed a General Mills coupon, or even “liked” Cheerios on Facebook.
But public pressure forced General Mills to back down.  Now we’re putting the pressure on other companies.  Join our campaign to end forced arbitration and protect everyday Americans.
Watch one consumer’s battle against Walmart and forced arbitration