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.”​

 

Concern Grows Over Gorsuch Nomination

GORSUCH TAKES FIRE OVER “FROZEN TRUCKER” CASE: “The reality is that throughout his career, Judge Gorsuch has shown a pattern of siding in favor of employers, wealthy corporations and Wall Street — against working families in Colorado and around the country,” wrote Ken Grossinger, chairman of the board of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, in an op-ed in The Daily Camera.

“In a disturbing case that has gotten some press, Alphonse Maddin was fired for leaving the cargo-laden trailer of his truck after its brakes froze from subzero temperatures. With no heat in his cab, Maddin had awaited a repair truck for several hours and he got numb, had trouble breathing and lost feeling in his feet,” Grossing continued. “A Tenth Circuit majority in TransAm Trucking v. Administrative Review Board said Maddin deserved reinstatement. An earlier Department of Labor proceeding also favored Maddin. Judge Gorsuch disagreed, saying ‘there’s simply no law anyone has pointed us to giving employees the right to operate their vehicles in ways their employers forbid.’”

Gorsuch’s commitment to textualism – the “belief in the principle that the actual words of a law should be strictly applied by the court” likely goes beyond even that of Justice Scalia, wrote CNN Legal Analyst Paul Callan: “Gorsuch would be wise to remember the oft oft-quoted words of Scalia, ‘I’m an originalist and a textualist, not a nut.’ Even Scalia probably would have let the truck driver thaw out at the gas station.”

NO DEAL ON GORSUCH: Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice, was quoted in The Washington Times saying any deal to undermine a filibuster on Judge Gorsuch “would be a grave disservice to the process and to the Constitution.”

“Neil Gorsuch has shown how oblivious he is to the realities faced by working people and families in this country,” said Aron in The Washington Examiner. “As usual, Gorsuch’s ruling reflected a bias in favor of big corporations at the expense of working Americans, and that is exactly the bias he will bring to the Supreme Court unless senators step up and reject this nomination.”

“I’ve heard a lot in recent days about how nice and charming he is, and how he’s a true Westerner,” said Alliance for Justice Legal Director in a The Philadelphia Sunday Sun article. “I’ve heard about his dogs and all of his personal attributes. But his record is getting lost. His record in the Court of Appeals shows how he would rule. His record shows that he favors the wealthy and powerful at the expense of regular Americans.”

NEWS COVERAGE ZEROES IN ON GORSUCH’S PERSONALITY, RATHER THAN HIS RECORD: In an interview with FAIR’s CounterSpin, Goldberg discussed the media’s focus on persona over his record. “This isn’t about his intellect or whether he’s a good man or not…the question is if he gets to the Supreme Court, whose side is he gonna be on?” Goldberg continued, “He went out of his way to hide his record but I think if you look at the cases he’s decided and what he has said, this is an extreme nominee. It’s hard to overstate the damage he will do to our country and, more importantly, to everyday Americans.”

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.

Trump to Announce SCOTUS Pick February 2nd

TRUMP NARROWS SCOTUS LIST TO FOUR?: Above the Law reported that Judges Neil Gorsuch, Thomas Hardiman, William Pryor, and Raymond Kethledge top Trump’s list for the Supreme Court. The National Law Journal outlined a few key facts on Gorsuch, including his opposition to class actions.

Judge Gorsuch has “challenged the notion that courts should defer to administrative agencies when they interpret the law,” according to CNN. Gorsuch’s position on the issue “is more extreme than Justice Scalia…it would be hard to overstate the damage it would cause this nation and the American people,” Dan Goldberg, legal director of our sister organization Alliance for Justice told CNN.

“We are prepared to oppose every name on Trump’s list,” Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice, said in a New York Times article. “The progressive, civil rights community will be united in opposition to either of those prospects or anyone else on the list.”

President Trump announced via Twitter that he will name his nominee next Thursday, February 2nd.

LAWSUIT SEEKS MORE INFORMATION ON SESSIONS: A suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia asserts that eight federal agencies have failed to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to Sen. Jeff Sessions’ record. According to The Hill, journalist Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro, who filed the suit, feel the record will “shed light on Sessions’ history as a state and federal attorney general and as a lawmaker.”

At the Montgomery Advertiser, Constitutional Accountability Center President Elizabeth Wydra warned that Sessions “misrepresents ‘equal and impartial justice,’” stating that “his extensive record – at times defying fundamental protections written in the text and underscored by the history of the U.S. Constitution – offers little evidence that he can be ‘the People’s lawyer’ and fairly execute the mission of the Department his is nominated to lead.”

CNN: Trump Has “a Good Sense” of His SCOTUS Nominee

“I THINK IN MY MIND I KNOW WHO IT IS”: Trump has “a good sense” of who he plans to nominate to the Supreme Court, according to CNN. CNN reported that Judges William Pryor and Diane Sykes are widely considered to be at the top of his list. 

Bloomberg BNA put out a short profile on Judge Steven Colloton, who is also thought to be near the top of Trump’s list. Bloomberg drew attention to two of Colloton’s opinions in favor of Tyson Foods Inc., which “are a prime example of how a more conservative court could make it harder for workers to bring wage claims against employers,” according to our sister organization Alliance for Justice. 
OBAMA’S JUDICIAL LEGACY: President Obama nominated over 300 federal judges in his presidency – most of whom were “either women, African Americans or persons of color,” reported NBC. The piece quoted the president of our sister organization, Nan Aron, who noted that unfortunately, “Republicans slow-walked or stonewalled dozens of federal judicial nominations.”

Article: His Judges Are the Obama Legacy That Republicans ‘Can’t Undo’

OBAMA ‘TRANSFORMED’ FEDERAL COURTS: “Republicans cannot wait to begin dismantling President Barack Obama’s accomplishments, but there’s one thing they can’t undo, even with full control of Congress and the White House: his judicial legacy,” Huffington Post reports. Obama won confirmation of 329 judges to lifetime seats and “tilted the partisan makeup of circuit courts,” and he made the courts more diverse. Yet Republican obstructionism has contributed to President-elect Trump’s inheriting another 103 vacancies, according to the article, headlined “How Barack Obama Transformed the Nation’s Courts.”

“While the GOP leaders of the Senate are congratulating themselves for putting politics ahead of the Constitution, they should realize that on their watch judicial emergencies multiplied across the U.S. and many more Americans were denied access to justice,” said Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice.

“The pernicious dynamics that pervade the Supreme Court and appellate processes have now even infected the district process, creating a judicial vacancy crisis,” said law professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond, who tracks judicial nominations.

Huffington Post says Obama sharply increased diversity of the federal judiciary.  “For the first time, the majority of appeals court judges are women and minorities,” the publication notes. “Seven states have their first female circuit court judge, and five have their first African-American federal judge. Obama put more Latino, Asian-American and LGBT judges on federal courts than any previous president. The nation got its first Native American female federal judge on his watch.”

“Obama has shattered all records for appointing diverse judges in terms of ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation,” Tobias said. “Forty-two percent of his appointees are women. He also appointed more Asian-Americans in his tenure than all other presidents combined and 10 times as many LGBT judges as any other president.”

SUPREME COURT VACANCY: SCOTUSblog and Bloomberg BNA have articles looking at the record of Raymond Gruender, who is on Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees. CNN, meanwhile, examines the politics of not only Trump’s first selection but also a second selection round, if he gets it, and says that “liberal advocates are hoping that a Democratic show of force on the first nomination serves as a warning to Trump not to put up an uncompromising conservative for a more consequential opening.”

AFJ: Nomination Fight Could Be Biggest in Supreme Court’s History

PREPARING FOR AN UNSPARING NOMINATION FIGHT: As President-elect Trump vowed to name a Supreme Court nominee within about two weeks of his inauguration, our sister organization Alliance for Justice warned of an all-out effort by its allies to defeat some of those he might pick. AFJ President Nan Aron told The New York Times, “This could be the biggest fight in the history of Supreme Court nominations.”

Trump’s nominee likely would return the court, now shorthanded with eight justices, to the same kind of philosophical divisions it saw before Justice Antonin Scalia died last year, and with Justice Anthony Kennedy casting a swing vote in a number of key cases. If Trump is faced with a second high court appointment, however, he “could transform American jurisprudence,” according to The Times.

“An entire century of progress could well crumble,” Aron told the newspaper. Trump has spoken publicly, including at a news conference on Wednesday, of picking justices in the mold of archconservative Scalia. Meanwhile, Justice Kennedy is 80 years old and the court’s senior liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, are 83 and 78, respectively. Other media reporting on Trump’s comments about the court on Tuesday included McClatchy, Reuters, CNN, and Politico. SCOTUSblog, profiling potential nominees, looked at William Pryor here and Steven Colloton here.

CIVIL RIGHTS IS FOCUS ON SESSIONS’ SECOND DAY: Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions’ record “indicates that we cannot count on him to support state and national efforts toward bringing justice to the justice system,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, NPR reported. NPR summed up: “Booker, the first sitting senator to testify against a fellow senator during a confirmation hearing, said Sessions’ record shows he won’t protect people of color, women, LGBT communities, immigrants or voting rights.”

Also testifying against the Alabama Republican’s confirmation were Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., an icon of the civil rights movement, and Rep. Cedric Richmond, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. All three men are African-American, as are three witnesses who testified opposite them in Sessions’ support, including William Smith, the first African-American counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Among other witnesses questioning or decrying Sessions’ civil rights record were leaders of the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Related commentary and coverage included New York Times, “[Sen. Chuck] Schumer Will Oppose Confirmation of Jeff Sessions”; Salon, “Jeff Sessions would be a disaster for the LGBT community: Trump’s attorney general pick has spent his career opposing equality at every level”; Dallas Morning News editorial, “Jeff Sessions is wrong for attorney general; he should be rejected”; Newark Star-Ledger editorial, “Booker’s bad manners? Sessions deserves it”; and Ari Berman in The Nation, “Jeff Sessions Claims to Be a Champion of Voting Rights, But His Record Suggests Otherwise: He would be one of the most dangerous attorneys general in modern US history.”

NY Times on Sessions: ‘Little Hope That He Has Changed’ His Thinking

After Day 1 of a two-day hearing on Sen. Jeff Sessions’ nomination as Attorney General, NPR listed these five top takeaways: “Defending his record on race. …Recuse from Clinton investigations. …Condemning waterboarding. …No to a Muslim ban and registry. …[From protestors,] ‘No Trump. No KKK. No Fascist USA.'”

While a grilling of the Alabama Republican was forecast by some, the Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats’ questioning of their colleague was relatively mild. “Democrats rarely offered more than tepid and predictable criticisms,” said a New York Times editorial about Sessions delivering “smooth talk” before the panel. Our sister organization Alliance for Justice (see Gavel Grab) and others have raised concerns about his unraveling hard-fought civil rights and human rights gains if confirmed, and the editorial concluded:

“Mr. Sessions did nothing on Tuesday to dispel the understandable fears that he would stall if not reverse much of that progress. His defense against charges of racism that caused the Senate to reject him for a federal judgeship in 1986 was largely to say it hurt his feelings to be called racist, but his two decades in the Senate provide little hope that he has changed.”

Editorialized The Newark Star-Ledger, “Given his past comments and dubious record, Sessions faces a high bar to earn the public’s trust. He didn’t hurdle it today, by leaving crucial questions unanswered.”

Liberals had hoped for fireworks on Day 1 but saw instead a domination of “senatorial courtesy,” according to CNN. Its report mentioned AFJ President Nan Aron’s view. She “said the hearing showcased the ‘traditional courtesy Senators extend to one another,’ but she said she expected a ‘radically different approach’ for the upcoming Supreme Court hearing. ‘Senator [Dianne] Feinstein is as tough and as committed as they come, and the fate of the Supreme Court will be an important part of her legacy,’ Aron said.” Feinstein is the committee’s ranking Democrat.

On Wednesday, the witness list for Sessions’ second day of hearings was devoted to supporters and detractors, according to a Washington Post blog. The themes of the hearings so far were captured by these New York Times and Washington Post articles. At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick wrote, “True Lies: There was one moment in Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing that revealed why so many are so terrified of him.”

With a Grilling Looming, Confirmation Hearing for Sessions Under Way

SESSIONS’ CONFIRMATION HEARINGS UNDER WAY: The Senate Judiciary Committee began two days of hearings on Tuesday on the Attorney General nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions, as the Alabama Republican faced a potential barrage of questions about his civil rights record and staunchly conservative views.

“On all the issues and matters covered by the Department of Justice, he’s taken positions hostile to the very mission of the department in its work in civil rights and civil liberties,”  Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, told US News & World Report for its curtain-raising article. “He will, given what we know about him, roll back the progress made in civil and human rights.”

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the latter described by The New York Times as a “hero of the civil rights movement,” were planning to testify in opposition to Sessions’ confirmation. Politico reported that the transition team of President-elect Donald Trump had carefully prepared a strategy for Sessions to combat any allegations of racism. And his hearing began promptly on Tuesday despite a late-hour Washington Post article raising questions about whether Sessions had met his disclosure obligations, titled “Sessions failed to disclose oil interests as required, ethics experts say.”

Other coverage on the eve of the hearings included CNN, “Matthew Shepard’s mother blasts Trump AG pick Sessions’ votes on hate crimes law”; Washington Post, “Sessions to press image of tough lawman and independent voice at attorney general hearings”; Mic, “Read Jeff Sessions’ opening statements before his attorney general hearing”; and Mother Jones, “Jeff Sessions Has a History of Blocking Black Judges: ‘The senator has a problem putting African Americans on the federal bench in Alabama.'”

SUPREME COURT VACANCY: From Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court picks, SCOTUSblog profiled Justice Joan Larsen of the Michigan Supreme Court. BuzzFeed examined potential changes in the direction of the court under Trump.

AFJ: Sessions Not in Same League as Key Former Attorneys General

As U.S. senators prepare to question Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, a Republican colleague, The Nation has published an essay by Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron comparing him unfavorably to trailblazing former occupants of the office.

The commentary by the head of our sister organization is headlined, “Jeff Sessions Is Just Not in the Same League as Former Attorneys General: From Herbert Brownell to Robert F. Kennedy to Loretta Lynch, attorneys general have upheld the law and fought for justice. Would Sessions?” Her essay begins:

“Amid claims and counterclaims about Senator Jeff Sessions’s record on civil rights, it is important to step back from the clamor and take Sessions’s measure against that of leading occupants of the modern attorney general’s office. No matter their political party, trailblazers at the Department of Justice helped presidents and the nation take major steps forward in establishing civil-rights law and protections. Forward-looking attorneys general, along with outstanding career attorneys, have helped to desegregate schools and universities in the face of harsh resistance; to put an end to Jim Crow laws; and to confront discrimination in our of criminal and civil justice systems. They showed moral conviction with their actions.

“It is only right, then, that senators weighing confirmation of Donald Trump’s nominee in upcoming days ask themselves: Is Jeff Sessions of the moral caliber to stand alongside predecessors who made such great strides in advancing civil rights? We believe the answer is a resounding ‘no.’ Sessions’s unequivocal record of racial insensitivity and hostility to protecting civil rights, and his extreme-right ideology, suggest he would willfully work to reverse the decades of civil-rights progress that Robert F. Kennedy and others who occupied the top Justice Department job boldly set in place.”

AFJ’s opposition to Sessions’ confirmation also was cited in a Yahoo!Finance article, and its advocacy for a delay in his hearings was mentioned by blackpressUSA.com. Meanwhile, Ari Berman wrote at The Nation, “Jeff Sessions Could Return Criminal Justice to the Jim Crow Era”;  Slate published an article titled “Bad Law: A look at the terrible things Jeff Sessions did as attorney general of Alabama”; and The New York Times Magazine reported, “A Voter Fraud Case Jeff Sessions Lost and Can’t Escape.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to start two days of hearings on Sessions’ confirmation on Tuesday.