Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey

TRUMP FIRES F.B.I. DIRECTOR COMEY: President Trump has fired James B. Comey, the director of the F.B.I. and the top official conducting the criminal investigation into whether or not Trump and Trump’s advisers worked with the Russian government to affect the 2016 presidential election, reported The New York Times.

In a statement on Comey’s firing, Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, called for a special prosecutor to investigate the “corruption crisis engulfing the administration. This crisis has grown to alarming proportions and the future of our republic is literally at stake,” said Aron. “As was abundantly clear from his record, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is completely incapable of acting as an independent check on an out-of-control executive branch, and the Justice Department he leads now seems infected with the same weakness.

AFJ also called for a halt to any further action on Trump’s judicial nominees, stating that Trump “and this administration are far too compromised to be allowed to pack the courts with judges whose willingness to check inappropriate or illegal executive actions would be seriously in question.”

Over 100 members of Congress have also called for an independent commission or special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s involvement with Russia’s meddling in the election, according to Mother Jones. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected all of these bipartisan calls, claiming a new investigation would “impede the current work being done.”​

 

Protesters Face Jail Time for Disrupting SCOTUS, Sessions Hearing

PROTESTERS FACE JAIL TIME FOR DISRUPTING SCOTUS, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE PROCEEDINGSFive people who disrupted Supreme Court proceedings to protest the Citizens United decision pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges. According to Buzzfeed News, the sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 24th, and the protesters could face up to a year in jail.

Earlier this week, Vox reported that the Department of Justice will press charges against Desiree Fairooz, a Code Pink activist who laughed during Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Senate confirmation hearing. Federal prosecutors have argued that Fairooz laughed “very loudly,” and that her laugh “amounted to willful ‘disorderly and disruptive conduct’ intended to ‘impede, disrupt, and disturb the orderly conduct’ of congressional proceedings,” reported Vox.

Fairooz, along with two other Code Pink activists, was found guilty on Wednesday. They face up to a year in jail and the possibility of up to $2,000 in fines, according to The New York Times.

News Roundup

TRUMP WILL USE SAME SCOTUS SHORTLIST FOR NEXT VACANCY: President Trump told The Washington Times he will be using the same list of candidates for any future Supreme Court vacancies that he used to select Justice Neil Gorsuch. The list of 21 potential Supreme Court nominees was significantly influenced by the Federalist Society and The Heritage Foundation.

EXPERTS SAY BREAKING UP THE 9TH CIRCUIT WON’T BENEFIT TRUMP: President Trump has said he’s considering breaking up the 9th Circuit in an attempt to end “judge shopping.” The president has claimed that when people want a ruling against him, “Everybody immediately runs to the 9th Circuit.” However, lawyers of all political ideologies “forum shop” across the country, reported The Washington Examiner.

In comments to the Examiner, Daniel Goldberg, legal director at our sister organization Alliance for Justice, said Trump would have a difficult time accomplishing that task. “I’m not sure the president realizes that he doesn’t have the unilateral authority to break up the 9th Circuit,” Dan noted.

Even if Trump broke up the 9th Circuit, legal experts of diverse political ideologies agree that that would not necessarily achieve Trump’s desire to stop forum shopping. “You can do a lot in terms of forum shopping by going to district courts, and breaking up a circuit makes no difference in that process,” said Caroline Frederickson, president of the American Constitution Society.

Federal Judge Blocks Trump’s Sanctuary Cities Order

FEDERAL JUDGE BLOCKS TRUMP’S ORDER ON RESTRICTING FUNDING FOR “SANCTUARY CITIES”: A federal judge in San Francisco temporarily blocked President Trump’s efforts to withhold federal funding from “sanctuary cities” that choose not to cooperate with immigration enforcement. District Court Judge William H. Orrick called the president’s executive order an abuse of power, and stated that only Congress could make a spending decision that substantial, The New York Times reported. Trump called the ruling “ridiculous” in a tweet, exclaiming, “See you in the Supreme Court!”

“Today’s ruling is one more proof of the vital importance of independent federal courts at all levels, as checks against executive overreach,” said Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, in a statement. “With more than a hundred vacancies on those courts, it’s more critical than ever that senators examine every federal judicial nominee to ensure their loyalties are only to the law and not to any party or politician.”

TRUMP PUSHES TO FILL FIRST LOWER COURT VACANCY WITH JUDGE THAPAR:  Judge Amul Thapar, President Trump’s nominee to the 6th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals and first lower court nominee, appeared for his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, reported The Washington Times.

The White House “also hopes to announce at least 10 judges in the next two weeks, according to people familiar with the deliberations,” reported Politico.

FEDERAL APPEALS COURT WILL RECONSIDER OHIO’S EXECUTION PROTOCOL: A federal appeals court agreed to reconsider its recent decision stopping Ohio from executing three death row inmates. The controversy is over Ohio’s use of a lethal injection drug called midazolam. The court will consider whether or not the drug entails a “substantial risk” of serious pain that violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, reported Reuters.

AG Sessions’ Remarks Betray “Rank Ignorance”

JUDGE ATTACKED BY TRUMP FOR MEXICAN HERITAGE WILL TAKE DACA CASE: Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the federal judge President Donald Trump attacked as “a Mexican” and “a hater” on the campaign trail, will hear the case of Juan Manuel Montes Bojorquez, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient who was deported earlier this year, reported NBC News.​

Bojorquez’s lawyers allege that he had active protection under DACA, and that “the government did not provide any documentation explaining the legality of sending him back to Mexico.” In an interview with ABC News, President Trump had previously stated that DACA recipients “shouldn’t be very worried” about being deported. Yet Attorney General Jeff Sessions has now stated that he “can’t promise people who are here unlawfully that they’re not going to be deported,​” reported Politico.

GERRYMANDERING CASE HEADS TO SCOTUS: The United States Supreme Court will hear a case that claims that “the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature, the State Assembly, was gerrymandered by its Republican majority before the 2012 election — so artfully, in fact, that Democrats won a third fewer Assembly seats than Republicans despite prevailing in the popular vote,” reported The New York Times.

SESSIONS’ REMARKS “BETRAY RANK IGNORANCE”: Attorney General Jeff Sessions criticized a Federal District Court ruling last month that blocked Trump’s travel ban against several majority-Muslim countries, stating that he was “amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”

Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, said in a statement: “These remarks by the Attorney General betray rank ignorance…what makes them even more alarming is that Attorney General Sessions seems so confident that the Supreme Court with Justice Gorsuch on it will uphold the president’s deeply flawed travel ban. Weren’t we just told that Justice Gorsuch would be independent of the Trump Administration?”​​

Sessions’ Impact Strongly Felt at DOJ

SESSIONS MAKES SUBSTANTIAL CHANGES TO DOJ: Attorney General Jeff Sessions has implemented drastic policy changes in the Department of Justice that overhaul the policies and priorities set by the Obama administration, reported The Hill.​ Sessions has “rolled back protections for transgender students that allowed children to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity and rescinded plans to phase out the federal government’s use of private prisons,” called for “a review of reform agreements, known as consent decrees, reached with local police departments to address allegations of misconduct,” and “put ‘sanctuary cities’ on notice, announcing that grant money would be withheld from state and local governments that refuse to cooperate with federal authorities and turn over undocumented immigrants arrested for crimes.”

Sessions appears to be moving back to the “tough-on-crime” policies of the Bush administration, said Alex Whiting, faculty co-director of the Criminal Justice Policy Program at Harvard Law School. “Obama moved away from that approach, and I think in the criminal justice world there seemed to be a consensus between the right and left that those policies, those rigid policies of the war on drugs and trying to get the highest sentence all the time, had failed,” said Whiting. “I don’t know if he is really going to be able to persuade the department to follow his lead on this.”

Republicans Concoct Plan to Weaken CFPB

REPUBLICANS PLAN TO WEAKEN THE CFPB: House Republicans are working on a plan that could weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, reported The Washington Post. “House Republicans would de-fang the consumer protection agency and make it more susceptible to political shifts by granting more control and oversight to the White House and Congress. One key change would convert the CFPB into an executive agency with a director who can be removed by the president at will. Currently, the director of the independent agency can only be fired for cause.”

Trump’s Travel Ban Gets Full-Court Review

TRUMP’S TRAVEL BAN GETS FULL-COURT REVIEW: The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will bypass its normal process of having a three-judge panel consider the Trump administration’s appeal of a ruling that blocked Trump’s travel ban. The ban denied U.S. entry for people from six predominantly-Muslim countries. Most appeals are resolved with three-person panels, but the decision to have the case heard by the full court “has potential advantages for both sides,” reported the Wall Street Journal. “For the Trump administration, the court’s approach could speed up the ultimate resolution of the case. Whichever side loses has only one option remaining: an appeal to the Supreme Court.”

For the travel ban challengers, which include refugee assistance groups and others represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, “full-court consideration eliminates the possibility that they could have drawn a three-judge panel that is more conservative than the full Fourth Circuit, which has begun to lean in a more liberal direction in recent years after President Barack Obama appointed several judges to the court.”

The case will be considered on May 8th.

FEMALE SUPREME COURT JUSTICES INTERRUPTED MORE FREQUENTLY THAN MALE COUNTERPARTS: A new study found that male Supreme Court justices interrupt their female counterparts “approximately three times as often as they interrupt each other during oral arguments. And the conservative justices interrupt the liberal justices more than twice as often as vice versa,” according to Harvard Business Review. The study examined 15 years of Supreme Court oral argument transcripts, “finding that women do not have an equal opportunity to be heard on the highest court in the land.”

“Blue Slip” Process Vital to Protect Lower Courts

CONSERVATIVE PIPELINE TO THE COURTS: “The Federalist Society has for years been singularly focused on building a farm team of judicial nominees who subscribe to a philosophy that is hostile to the advancement of social and economic progress in the country,” said Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, in an article in The New Yorker about the conservative pipeline to the Supreme Courts. “Behind the scenes, during Republican Administrations, they are very engaged in identifying and recruiting for judges candidates who are ultra-conservatives—who are opposed to our rights and liberties across the board, whether it’s women, the environment, consumer protections, worker protections.”

JUSTICE NEIL GORSUCH’S IMPACT ON THE HIGH COURT: BBC News described six upcoming Supreme Court cases in which newly-confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch could be highly influential, involving President Trump’s travel ban, gun rights, religious freedom, a shooting on the border of Mexico, and voting rights.

 

BLUE SLIPS NECESSARY TO PROTECT LOWER COURTS: Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, urged Democrats to “insist the president avoid nominating judges whose philosophies are extreme…immerse themselves in the records of those nominees, and oppose those whose rulings and writings betray radical views.” Aron explained the necessity of protecting the “blue-slip” process that allows home-state senators to decide whether nominees from their states should move forward in a U.S. News & World Report op-ed. The Senate must be very careful in confirming judges because “real harm will be done to millions of people if appeals courts are packed with ideological extremists, who tend to emerge in the absence of bipartisan consultation,” said Aron.

FEDERAL COURT HOLDS THAT TEXAS VOTER ID LAW IS DISCRIMINATORY: A federal judge ruled that a Texas voter ID law was passed with intent to discriminate against minority voters “despite its proponents’ assertions that it was necessary to combat voter fraud,” reported The Hill. ​

“The Base Is Very Fired Up” Over Gorsuch Nomination: Nan Aron

GORSUCH NOMINATION FIGHT CONTINUES: The public outcry over Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination is strong and growing, says Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice. “It’s really the first time in so many years that individuals across the country, the base of the party, has gotten energized around the Supreme Court,” said Aron in The New York Times. “I think the base would be very unforgiving to Democrats who prevented a filibuster from taking place. The base is very fired up.”

Claims that Democrats’ decision to maintain the 60 vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees is “forcing” Republicans to go nuclear are simply false. “If Democrats don’t stand up for their beliefs and their constituents, they lose by forfeit. But if Democrats fight, they hold open the chance that they could win a broadly acceptable nominee — and whether not they get that, they win the moral high ground,” wrote Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn.org, in an op-ed at The Hill.

Democrats are urging Republicans not to go nuclear, but to instead change the nominee to a more moderate judge. With a partisan fight to confirm an ideologically influenced judge, Republican senators are “profoundly politicizing our highest court and deeply damaging its integrity. This assault on our democracy demands the most robust resistance possible,” wrote The Huffington Post.​

60 VOTE THRESHOLD NOT UNPRECEDENTED: According to The New York Times, Republicans have statistically blocked many more Democratic judicial nominees than the other way around – despite the fact that Republican nominees to the courts have been far less centrist than Democratic nominees. “The failure rate of Democratic nominees to federal trial courts since 1981 has been almost twice as high as the Republican failure rate: 14 percent versus 7 percent. There is also a gap among appeals court nominees: 23 percent to 19 percent. The gap between the parties would be even larger if Democrats hadn’t eliminated the filibuster on lower-court nominees in 2013, allowing Barack Obama finally to fill more judgeships. Even so, Trump has inherited a huge number of vacancies.”