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?”​​

“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.”

Gorsuch Nomination “Is the Real Fight”: Nan Aron

PUBLIC PUSHBACK AGAINST GORSUCH NOMINATION FOR SCOTUS: “The GOP-controlled Senate is setting the stage for a full vote on the Supreme Court nominee before April’s two-week recess,” according to Politico. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said she sees energy among protesters rising as “people are flooding town halls and running for office at unprecedented rates” and asserted that “they want elected officials to do their job, and part of that job is digging really hard at the hearings into his record.”

“This is the real fight. This is the most important fight,” said Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, in an interview with C-SPAN’s Newsmakers. “Neil Gorsuch is not the right judge for this seat, given his record.”

Marge Baker, executive vice president of People for the American Way, wrote in a letter to the editor of The New York Times that Trump’s nomination of Gorsuch “should rank high on any list of ways that Mr. Trump has betrayed his promises to make America better…Far from a mainstream nomination, we must see Judge Gorsuch for what he represents: an extreme, dangerous assault on the well-being of working people.”

Meanwhile, calls have begun for Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing to be postponed. “Because they cannot be checked by the voters, the justices’ sole claim to legitimacy is the constitutionally mandated process that puts each of them on the court. That process, the Constitution explicitly tells us, is that the president nominates while the Senate advises and consents. In this instance, both steps have been deeply compromised…The only acceptable answer at this point is to hold off on the Gorsuch hearings until we can be sure that this president, and this nomination, are on the up and up,” according to Slate.

SCOTUS WON’T HEAR GRIMM CASE: “In a one-sentence order, the Supreme Court vacated an appeals court decision in favor of a Virginia transgender boy, Gavin Grimm, and sent the case back for further consideration in light of the new guidance from the administration,” reported The New York Times.

CNN: Sen. Warren Silenced During Sessions Debate

ELIZABETH WARREN SILENCED BY SENATE GOP: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell charged Senator Elizabeth Warren with violating Senate rules against impugning another senator during a Tuesday night floor speech opposing Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, reported CNN.

Warren was reading from a letter written in 1986 by Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King, Jr., which opposed Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship. The letter stated that “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens in the district he now seeks to serve as a federal judge.”

McConnell claimed that Warren’s reading of the letter violated Rule XIX, which prohibits Senators from ascribing “to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator.”  Senate Republicans upheld the rebuke by a vote of 49 to 43, which removes Warren’s ability to speak during the remaining hours of debate on Sessions’ nomination, according to NBC.

Senator Cory Booker stated that he was “proud tonight of Sen. Warren. She stood and told her truth. To see this body act as it did tonight is disappointing to me,” reported The Hill. Booker tweeted that McConnell didn’t just silence Warren – “he silenced civil rights icon Coretta Scott King.”

TRUMP TO MEET WITH MODERATE DEMOCRATS TO GAIN GORSUCH VOTE: President Trump invited Senate Democrats from multiple red states to lunch “in hopes of wooing their support for his Supreme Court nominee,” reported CNN. The four senators invited are all up for reelection in 2018, and among the 10 senators facing pressure from conservative and liberal groups – including our sister organization Alliance for Justice, reported Time.

“It’s full steam ahead,” Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice, told Time. “We plan to win this fight.”

Alliance for Justice was also listed among SCOTUSblog’s key groups in the Supreme Court confirmation process.

IMMIGRATION BAN LIKELY TO GO TO SCOTUS: “A Justice Department lawyer on Tuesday said courts should not second-guess President Trump’s targeted travel ban, drawing skepticism from a three-judge federal appeals panel weighing the limits of executive authority in cases of national security,” reported The New York Times.

The court is expected to deliver its decision on President Trump’s immigration ban within days. However, “no matter how the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rules — in a decision that is expected within days — an appeal to the United States Supreme Court is likely,” the Times continued.

Judges Halt Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration

TRUMP’S EXECUTIVE ORDER SPARKS PROTESTS, REINFORCES NEED FOR COURTS: On Saturday night, several rulings across the nation temporarily halted certain components of Trump’s executive order targeting Muslims and refugees.U.S. District Judge Ann Donnelly’s ruling “blocked part of the president’s actions, preventing the government from deporting some arrivals who found themselves ensnared by the presidential order. But it stopped short of letting them into the country or issuing a broader ruling on the constitutionality of Mr. Trump’s actions,” The New York Times reported.

In her order, Judge Donnelly stated, “The petitioners have a strong likelihood of success in establishing that the removal of the petitioners and others similarly situated violates the rights to Due Process and Equal Protection guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”

The order had the potential “for irreparable harm to hundreds of immigrants and lawful visitors to this country. Our courts today worked as they should as bulwarks against government abuse or unconstitutional policies and orders. On week one, Donald Trump suffered his first loss in court,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero in a statement.

The ACLU was also successful in Massachusetts, when “two federal judges there decreed that travelers who are legally authorized to be in the United States shouldn’t be detained at or deported from Logan International Airport for a period of seven days,” according to the The Huffington Post.

Senate Democrats responded to the executive order by planning a rally at the Supreme Court, reported The Hill. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi urged House and Senate Democrats to “come to express our solidarity” and “demand the President withdraw his disreputable executive order.”

TRUMP SCOTUS NOMINEE TO BE ANNOUNCED TUESDAY: Trump announced via Twitter that he will announce his nominee to the Supreme Court on television at 8:00PM EST Tuesday, January 31st. This is two days earlier than he had previously planned to announce his nominee.

MCCONNELL BALKS AT TRUMP’S ‘NUCLEAR OPTION’ ENDORSEMENT:  “That’s not a presidential decision. That’s a Senate decision,” Senator Mitch McConnell told Politico in an interview Friday. “What I’ve said to him, and I’ve stated publicly and I’ll say today: We’re going to get this nominee confirmed.” However, McConnell has still not ruled out the use of the nuclear option.

Reuters: “Potentially Nasty” Supreme Court Fight Looms

TRUMP NARROWS LIST AHEAD OF “POTENTIALLY NASTY” SCOTUS FIGHT: A Fortune article today listed the top five contenders for the empty Supreme Court seat as Judges William Pryor Jr., Neil Gorsuch, Diane Sykes, Raymond Kethledge, and David Stras. “Sykes is now the overall favorite for two reasons,” reported Fortune. “First, unlike all the current Supreme Court Justices who all went to Yale or Harvard, she did not attend an elite coastal law school—a good thing for her because many Trump supporters want a Justice who is not from the Ivy League. Second, if Trump indeed wants to get someone on the court quickly, Sykes would face an easier confirmation than Pryor Jr.”

Trump met with Pryor on Saturday, and has hinted “he had two favorites on the list of 21, Pryor and Sykes, although there is no indication that he’s made a final decision,” according to The Washington Times.

Both Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for a tough Supreme Court confirmation fight. Reuters reported that the Judicial Crisis Network “has said it will spend at least $10 million on advertising and grassroots efforts to pressure Senate Democrats to back Trump’s nominee.” Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice Action Campaign and our sister organization Alliance for Justice, said the high level of public interest in the vacancy will counter the “deep pockets” of the other side.

“I don’t think we’ll need $10 million given the outcry expressed already,” said Aron.

CALLS CONTINUE FOR SESSIONS’ RECUSAL, REJECTION: “Democrats are demanding that Sessions, Donald Trump’s pick to serve as attorney general, abstain from confirmation votes as long as he remains in the Senate — arguing that he shouldn’t be voting for Cabinet officials he will have to oversee as the nation’s top law enforcement official,” Politico reported. Sessions has previously indicated that he will recuse himself from voting on his own confirmation as Attorney General, but a “Sessions spokeswoman declined to respond to questions on whether he could vote for other nominees.”

Six state attorneys general have sent a letter urging the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject Sessions’ nomination for attorney general. According to the Associated Press, the “prosecutors said they had ‘grave concern’ that Sessions would ‘diligently and fairly enforce all laws protective of civil rights, public safety, health and welfare.’” Their letter echoes statements made by Democratic senators who have previously stated their intention to reject Sessions.

First-Day SCOTUS Protests Garner Coverage

texas-chairsAs the Supreme Court opened for its first day of oral arguments on October 4,  activists gathered on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to highlight Senate Republicans’ obstruction of Judge Garland’s nomination to the Court. Coverage on TV station New York 1  featured the rally, while top news photos of the day also highlighted the visual display of signs urging Senators to “Do Your Job.”  Photo coverage appeared on the Getty images , The Nation,  and Yahoo  news websites.   Speakers at the D.C. event included Jim Obergefell, whose landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges affirmed marriage equality nationwide.  Organizations rallying at the Court included We Need Nine campaign organizations Alliance for Justice, Center for American Progress, People for the American Way, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Meanwhile, activists also gathered in multiple states for a day of action highlighting Senate Republicans’ blockade of federal judicial nominees. In each state, activists made deliveries of 92 miniature empty chairs to the local offices of GOP Senators. The chairs represent the 92 vacancies on federal courts resulting from Senate Republicans’ obstructionism of the judicial nominations process: one for the Supreme Court and each federal judicial vacancy.  Actions took place in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Texas and Nevada.  The protests were highlighted on the Urban Milwaukee, Iowa Labor News, WHO-TV, Public News Service, and other news sites.

Photo courtesy Progress Texas.


Lynn Marks is Stepping Down at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts


Lynn A. Marks is stepping down as executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a group that has championed merit selection of judges in the state. A Philly.com article about her departure stated:

“For 25 years, Marks has been the most consistently audible voice in the movement to change Pennsylvania’s system of electing judges to an appointment process that proponents say would limit the impact of politics on the judiciary.”

Marks will be succeeded by Maida Malone, an attorney with experience in the pharmaceutical and nonprofit sectors. Marks will continue in a consulting capacity. (more…)