NPR Cites Aron on Trump’s Judicial Candidates; Senators Press Bank

gty_supreme_ct_jrl_160520_12x5_1600AFJAC CRITICAL OF EXPANDED JUDGES LIST: When NPR reported on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s expanded list of potential Supreme Court picks (see Gavel Grab), it quoted AFJAC President Nan Aron. The latest list, like Trump’s first one, features “ultraconservatives who espouse a backward view of the law,” NPR quoted Aron as saying.

While a measure of racial diversity was added, Aron said, it “doesn’t change the fact that these individuals’ track records suggest they would endanger the cherished rights and freedoms of Americans.”

Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network, on the other hand, “praised the Trump lists as ‘unprecedented’ steps that should ‘please conservatives’ if Trump is elected and delivers on the type of nominee he is promising.”

FAKE-ACCOUNTS SCANDAL BRINGS PRESSURE ON BANK: Wells Fargo & Co. CEO John Stumpf was pressed on Friday by a group of Senate Democrats to halt enforcing forced arbitration clauses in its agreements with customers.

“If Wells Fargo really does want to look out for the customers, if they really are in fact sorry, as the CEO said, for these unauthorized accounts, they ought to let the court system work if these people who were wronged want to bring suit,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, according to The Los Angeles Times. Brown and five other senators wrote a letter to Stumpf outlining their concerns.

ABC News explained the issue this way: “Arbitration, mandated in some if not all basic agreements that customers sign when they open accounts at the bank, ‘helps hide fraudulent schemes such as the sham accounts at Wells Fargo from the justice system, from the news media, and from the public eye,’ the senators wrote.” Gavel Grab has more about Stumpf’s testimony before a Senate panel this week.

VOTER-PURGING SYSTEM STRUCK DOWN: In another in a series of recent voting law cases around the nation, “The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday that Ohio’s reliance on lack of voting activity as a trigger for purging people from the voting rolls violates federal law,” Cleveland.com reported.

Trump Adding to Judicial Candidates List; Arbitration Clauses Criticized

A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court in WashingtonEXPANDED TRUMP LIST OF POTENTIAL COURT PICKS: Debate about filling a longterm vacancy on the Supreme Court, and additional vacancies that might arise in the next few years, is expected to intensify amid news reports that Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is adding to his list of potential candidates.

NBC reported the list, including Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee (who “swiftly shot down the idea,” according to Politico); Neil Gorsuch, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit; Margaret Ryan, a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Services who clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas; Iowa Supreme Court Justice Edward Mansfield; Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell; Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady; Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young; Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich; Judge Amul Thapar of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky; and Judge Federico Moreno of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Trump had earlier released another list of 11 names of potential high court picks.

Bloomberg said the new names were to be formally released today. A Bloomberg BNA article, meanwhile, about the Supreme Court as an issue in the 2016 election, reported, “For the first time in a long time, the presidential and Senate races are about Supreme Court nominees for many people,” according to Mark C. Miller, of Clark University, Worcester, Mass., a judicial politics professor.

ARBITRATION CLAUSES AND WELLS FARGO: A fake account scandal at Wells Fargo & Co. (see Gavel Grab for background) continues to generate media coverage about forced arbitration clauses shielding banks from class-action lawsuits by customers.

“Customers who had bank or credit card accounts opened in their name without their knowledge face an uphill battle even getting a court to hear their case because of mandatory arbitration contract clauses that protect banks from class-action suits, consumer advocates say,” NBC reported about the Wells Fargo scandal fallout.

At USNews.com, Dean Clancy wrote in a commentary, “It transpires that, to avoid lawsuits, the San Francisco-based megabank has been invoking boilerplate clauses in its customers’ bank account contracts that say the customer cannot sue the company but rather must take their complaints to private, binding arbitration. Arbitrators are notoriously less favorable to customer-plaintiffs than are juries.” And focusing on the arbitration clauses, a Huffington Post article was headlined, “The Infuriating Reason Wells Fargo Got Away With Its Massive Scam For So Long.”

You can learn more about this issue by reading the Justice Watch blog post of our sister organization, Alliance for Justice, titled, “Why the Wells Fargo Scandal Shows the Need to End Forced Arbitration.”

‘REGULAR ORDER’ AND JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS: Senate GOP leaders can start rectifying the [judicial] vacancy crisis and restoring regular order by according all nominees on the floor votes before leaving to campaign” this fall, law professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond urged in a (Louisville) Courier-Journal op-ed. The GOP has made promises to restore “regular order” in its business but has fallen short on confirming judicial nominees, Tobias wrote.

Regarding the judicial vacancy that’s gotten the most national attention — the one on the Supreme Court — The Hill reported, “Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) blocked a bipartisan animal abuse bill on Thursday amid a stalemate over Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.” President Obama’s nominee for the high court has been waiting more than six months for a hearing, in the face of a Senate Republican blockade.

Another Bid to Advance Judicial Nominees is Torpedoed

CapitolflagNO CONSENT FOR JUDICIAL NOMINEES VOTE: Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., urged the Senate on Tuesday to agree unanimously to vote on seven district court nominees who have been waiting the longest. But Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky objected. He proposed a shorter list that included a long-standing African-American nominee from Tennessee and omitted a long-standing African-American nominee from New Jersey. Booker objected, proposed a vote on just those two nominees, who have been awaiting the votes the longest, and McConnell once again disagreed.

“There’s no credible reason why we’re not moving forward besides partisanship,” Booker told senators, according to NorthJersey.com. It was the latest effort to break a partisan logjam and confirm judicial nominees in a region where judicial vacancies and backlogs have drawn a “judicial emergency” designation. President Obama announced one of the nominees pushed by Booker for a vote, attorney Julien Neals of New Jersey, nineteen months ago.

A DULLER DOCKET FOR THE SUPREME COURT? The eight-member Supreme Court, hobbled by Senate Republicans’ refusal to take up the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for a vacant seat, currently doesn’t have major cases on abortion, immigration, or affirmative action on its docket.

“Shorthanded and ideologically divided, the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to take up any cases on politically sensitive social issues in its new term starting in October, instead showing a keen interest in more technical cases of importance to business such as disputes over intellectual property,” Reuters reported. Intellectual property cases often get one-sided votes, either unanimous or a clear majority, on the court.

FORCED ARBITRATION: Not only was Wells Fargo & Co. CEO John Stumpf grilled yesterday about the bank’s stance on forced arbitration (see Gavel Grab), but Senate Banking Committee members raised the issue with federal regulators.

“Do you think forced arbitration clauses make it easier for big banks to cover up patterns of abusive misconduct?” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Ma., asked Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to The Los Angeles Times. 

“I do think so,” Cordray replied.

Cleveland.com reported that Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, warned at the hearing about the Wells Fargo fake account scandal, “Rather than letting fraud victims have their day in court, Wells Fargo forced customers to abide by the mandatory arbitration clauses in their real accounts.” He added,  “The bank invoked the fine print on a real account to block redress on a fake one which Wells Fargo had created.” To read about support by our sister organization, Alliance for Justice, for eliminating forced arbitration and broadening access to justice, click here. 

Breaking News: Brown Questions Wells Fargo CEO on Forced Arbitration

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf Testifies To Senate Banking Committee Over Alleged MisconductSTUMP APPEARS BEFORE SENATE PANEL: Wells Fargo & Co. Chief Executive John Stumpf, under fire before the Senate Banking Committee about a fake account scandal, sidestepped today a question regarding the bank’s stance on forced arbitration. Here is an account from The Los Angeles Times, which said Wells Fargo customers trying to sue over fake accounts have encountered arbitration clauses as a roadblock:

“When customers sign up for accounts at Wells Fargo — and at most other banks — they sign contracts that oblige them to resolve disputes with the bank in private arbitration rather than in court. Wells Fargo has successfully argued that applies even in cases where customers have accused the bank of opening fake accounts in their names.

“The argument goes something like this: Although a customer obviously didn’t sign a contract when a fake account was created for them, agreements they signed when opening genuine accounts nevertheless require them to take all disputes with the bank to arbitration. Judges have generally agreed.

“Today, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) asked Wells Fargo Chief Executive John Stumpf whether the bank will continue to take that stance.

“‘I’d have to talk to my legal team,’ Stumpf said. ‘I’m not an expert in that.’”

Our sister organization, Alliance for Justice, has published at its Justice Watch blog a post titled, “Why the Wells Fargo Scandal Shows the Need to End Forced Arbitration.” The post explained, “If consumers cannot access the courts, scandals will be harder to uncover and victims will find it nearly impossible to achieve justice.”

In The Hill, Robert Weissman of Public Citizen and Lisa Donner of Americans for Financial Reform wrote an op-ed titled, “Why Wells Fargo got away with it for so long.” They wrote, “Wells Fargo contract provisions blocked consumers from suing the bank in court. It’s past time to prohibit the ‘ripoff clauses’ that prevent consumers from enforcing their most basic legal rights.”

Senator Criticizes ‘Most Pro-Business Court Since the Gilded Age’

supreme_court_building_515SUPREME COURT VACANCY: “Will the next Supreme Court justice restore balance to the most pro-business court since the Gilded Age?” That headline succinctly sums up the hopes and concerns of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., in an opinion piece at Medium. Whitehouse concludes:

“The prospect of a new justice opens the opportunity to revisit an array of decisions, Citizens United chief among them, that made the Roberts Court the most ‘pro-business’ court since the Gilded Age, and restore the precedents so many of these 5–4 decisions overturned. Which is why Merrick Garland, an experienced and highly respected judge, faces Republicans’ unprecedented refusal to move on his confirmation. But with as many as four Supreme Court vacancies possible in the next two presidential terms, the Court may soon be shifting in ways that reverberate for a generation. In the struggle against corporate domination of America’s economy and elections, the stakes could not be higher.”

At The Economist, an essay depicts the high court as seeming to be “stuck in standby mode,” and teetering on a divide of ideologies. “It’s a hinge,” said University of Michigan law professor Richard Primus, “on which the direction of constitutional law could turn for decades.” And there are conflicting accounts about whether if elected, Donald Trump might nominate billionaire Peter Thiel to the court, from Huffington Post and Slate.

FORCED ARBITRATION: When The Sacramento Bee editorialized this week about the fallout of a recent scandal involving Wells Fargo & Co., it put the forced arbitration issue front and center. “According to federal regulators,” it said, “bank employees – told they would lose their jobs if they failed to make gargantuan sales quotas – forged signatures and used fake email addresses to sign up bank customers for extra products without informing them. Customers often didn’t find out until a check bounced or an odd fee showed up on a statement. When they tried to sue, mandatory arbitration agreements signed with their original accounts prompted judges to dismiss their cases.” Alliance for Justice, our sister organization, supports eliminating forced arbitration.

POLITICAL MONEY, STATE JUDGES AND SUPREME COURT: Several local prosecutors  have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that shut down an investigation of possible violation of campaign finance laws by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups in 2011 and 2012 recall elections. One of the issues the prosecutors cite is whether two Wisconsin justices should have recused, notes a Madison Capital Times editorial. They had benefitted from spending by two of the groups involved in the investigation. This week, The Guardian brought more attention to the issue with its publication of leaked documents about the “secretive influence of corporate cash on politics” in Wisconsin and the lengths to which “even judges go to solicit money.”