More Opposition to Sen. Sessions as his Confirmation Hearings Loom

SESSIONS ‘HOSTILE TO EVERY COMMUNITY’ THAT DOJ PROTECTS:  Congressional Black Caucus members. Common Cause. And a national coalition of groups fighting to end domestic violence and sexual assault. These are the latest opponents of Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation as Attorney General to get news media coverage in advance of his confirmation hearings next week (from CNN, Huffington Post, and another Huffington Post article, respectively).

“He has been hostile to every community that DOJ is supposed to protect from discrimination,” Indiana Democratic Rep. Andre Carson, a Black Caucus member, told reporters. Karen Hobert Flynn, the Common Cause president, said, “His past statements and actions indicate that if confirmed as attorney general he would fail to fully uphold the Voting Rights Act as it stands today.” Warned the coalition of women’s advocates, “Senator Sessions’ history leads us to question whether he will vigorously seek to ensure that all victims and survivors of gender-based violence, particularly vulnerable populations and those at the margins of society, have access to vitally needed services and legal protections.”

Our sister organization the Alliance for Justice has actively documented decades of gaps in Sessions’ replies to a Senate questionnaire (see Gavel Grab), gaining AFJ mention in recent Daily Beast and Salon accounts. In other coverage, The Washington Examiner blogged about an ad blitz in support of Sessions from the Judicial Crisis Network, and Mark Oppenheimer wrote in a Los Angeles Times commentary about Sessions’ “belief that prosecutors are at a disadvantage, indeed are something of an endangered species, overrun by the vicious defense bar.”

DEMOCRATS DISCUSS COURT NOMINATION APPROACH: A blog of The Washington Post reported, “Democrats stumble toward a Supreme Court strategy,” and a Politico headline said, “Biden: Democrats should give Trump’s SCOTUS nominee a hearing and a vote.” (See an earlier Gavel Grab post about Democratic Leader Charles Schumer’s hard-line remarks.) Meanwhile, Robert Schlesinger wrote at US News & World Report, “The New Supreme Precedent: Republicans rewrote Supreme Court confirmation rules last year – now they have to live with them.”

In The New York Times, Linda Greenhouse said she wished Chief Justice John Roberts had spoken out in his year-end report to say that Senate Republicans’ refusal to fill a Supreme Court vacancy for almost a year “was an unfortunate development that should not be permitted to become the norm.” And at Bloomberg View, Noah Feldman discussed “The Incredible Shrinking Supreme Court.”

NAACP Faults Sessions on Voting Rights, Prosecutions, Past Remarks

‘MASSIVE RESISTANCE’ TO SESSIONS’ CONFIRMATION: A drumbeat of criticism leveled against Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, a Republican senator from Alabama, over past racially hostile statements and conduct continues to mount.

A sit-in by civil rights activists at his office in Mobile resulted in six arrests, including that of the national NAACP president and CEO, Cornell William Brooks. Here are excerpts from a NPR report:

“The NAACP highlighted Sessions’ history with voting rights as a major factor in the protest. Brooks told The Associated Press that Sessions ‘does not acknowledge the reality of voter suppression while mouthing faith in the myth of voter fraud.’ He also noted that Sessions once prosecuted civil rights activists on charges of voter fraud. As NPR’s Nina Totenberg has reported, those charges were dismissed by a jury, and civil rights groups described the prosecution as attempted intimidation of black voters.”

“The NAACP cited Sessions’ ‘record of racially offensive remarks and behavior’ as another reason the group objects to his nomination.”

Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who once participated in the defense team representing the activists acquitted of voter fraud, issued a “scathing indictment” of Sessions, according to Mother Jones USA Today reported, “Alabama family divided on Jeff Sessions’ AG nomination,” while Rich Lowry wrote in Politico, “The Sessions smear.” An Esquire headline declared, “Jeff Sessions’ Attorney General Bid Is Encountering Massive Resistance.”

McCONNELL DISMISSES SCHUMER WARNING: NBC News reported, “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dismissed a pledge from his Democratic counterpart to block President-elect Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, insisting ‘the American people simply will not tolerate’ such a move” (see Gavel Grab for background about Democratic Leader Sen. Charles Schumer’s statements, responding in part to a year-long GOP blockade of President Obama’s nominee for the court).

Politico had an article about “the Supreme Court war” between the two Senate leaders that’s beginning. A New York Times op-ed by Richard A. Arenberg, meanwhile, asserted that Republicans ought not weaken the filibuster, and Amber Phillips wrote in The Fix blog of The Washington Post, “Politically, Senate Democrats don’t have nearly as much cover as Republicans did last year to block a president’s Supreme Court nominee, which means their attempts to do so could backfire and potentially even do more harm to their already grim hopes in 2018 of trying to take back control of the Senate.”

AFJ IN THE NEWS: Our sister organization Alliance for Justice was cited as the source for NorthJersey.com’s saying in an editorial that federal judge nominee Julien Neals’ “wait is longer than any other current nominee.” The editorial said Neals should be a federal judge.

On Supreme Court Nominations, Democratic Leader Takes a Hard Line

Schumer

SEN. SCHUMER INTERVIEWED ON MSNBC: Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer staked out on Tuesday a hard line over whomever President-elect Trump may pick for a Supreme Court vacancy.  “We are not going to settle on a Supreme Court nominee,” he said on MSNBC, according to Politico. “If they don’t appoint someone who’s really good, we’re gonna oppose him tooth and nail.”

“When asked by host Rachel Maddow whether he would do his best to keep the [Justice Antonin] Scalia vacancy open, Schumer responded without hesitation: ‘Absolutely,’” Politico added. The New York senator said there would be “consequences” ahead for Senate Republicans’ blockade of President Obama’s nominee to the high court, Judge Merrick Garland; that nomination expired this week when members of the 115th Congress took their oaths of office, NBC News said.

In related coverage, Jeffrey Toobin wrote in The New Yorker that “speed matters” when it comes to stopping a Supreme Court nominee, and he explored the Senate’s stonewalling of Garland’s nomination last year and the defeat of nominee Robert Bork in 1987. Robert Barnes of The Washington Post asserted that “it won’t be Mr. Trump’s first Supreme Court pick who will seal the court’s ideological direction for a generation. It will be, if and when it happens, his second.” A Los Angeles Times editorial condemned Republicans’ inaction on both the Garland appointment and those of lower-court nominees as “extreme and inexcusable.”

SESSIONS CONFIRMATION BATTLE A ‘PREVIEW’? CNN, meanwhile, reported, “Liberal groups are holding standing-room-only meetings to prepare for the confirmation hearings of Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general, but many in the room believe the battle will be a dry run for a much bigger fight: the confirmation of Donald Trump’s eventual Supreme Court nominee.”

Regarding coalition efforts to drive home to supporters the importance of the Supreme Court, President Nan Aron of our sister organization Alliance for Justice told CNN, “In the background lurks this very fixed idea that we are looking at a stolen seat, a seat that should have been filled by an Obama nominee who was forward looking not backward in his view of the Constitution.”

AFJ’s tracking of Sessions’ incomplete replies to a Senate questionnaire (see Gavel Grab) was mentioned in an opinion by Joan Walsh in The Nation, titled “Congressional Resistance to Trump Begins Now.” Other coverage and commentary included a Washington Post op-ed by J. Gerald Hebert, Joseph D. Rich and William Yeomans, “Jeff Sessions says he handled these civil rights cases. He barely touched them”; Washington Post, “More than 1100 law school professors nationwide oppose Sessions’s nomination as attorney general”; NBC News, “NAACP Stages Sit-In to Protest Jeff Sessions’ Attorney General Nomination”; Michael Tanner of The Cato Institute in National Review, “Conservatives Should Think Twice before Supporting Jeff Sessions”; and Marge Baker of People for the American Way in Huffington Post, “Jeff Sessions’ Relationship With Breitbart, ‘The Platform’ For The White Nationalist Alt-Right, Should Be Disqualifying.”

Sessions Withholds Years of Records, AFJ Accuses Him of Hypocrisy

MEDIA SPOTLIGHT ON GAPS IN SESSIONS’ RECORDS: After progressive groups including Alliance for Justice, our sister organization, spotlighted decades of records that Sen. Jeff Sessions has withheld from his replies to a Senate questionnaire, national news media jumped on the story over the long holiday weekend.

Huffington Post said Sessions, the Attorney General nominee, “left out major details from his years as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama, from 1981 to 1993; as attorney general of Alabama, from 1995 to 1997; and as a first-term U.S. senator, from 1997 to 2002. The gaps encompass the time, for example, when Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge in 1986 ― and then rejected after being deemed too racist.”

It also said Sessions in the past “has chided previous nominees for failing to provide the committee with a full account of their backgrounds,” and quoted AFJ President Nan Aron as saying, “Sen. Sessions’ nomination package is still nowhere near ready for prime time, and it’s hypocritical that he so frequently slammed past nominees for submitting incomplete documents only to do the same thing himself.” Aron added, “So why not just slow down, give everyone the time they need to find everything and review everything, and not rush this really critical nomination through without allowing for due diligence.” Also reporting on the groups’ concerns and requests for a delay in his confirmation hearings were CNN and The Hill.

Meanwhile the Rev. Jesse Jackson wrote a Chicago Sun-Times commentary, titled “Civil rights at risk under Sessions,” and WTVM.com reported, “NAACP National President to appear in Mobile to protest Sessions.”

TRUMP NARROWING LIST FOR SUPREME COURT? President-elect Trump’s eight frontrunners for a Supreme Court vacancy, according to Politico, are Judges William Pryor, Diane Sykes, Raymond Kethledge, Joan Larsen, Neil Gorsuch, Steven Colloton, Raymond Gruender, and Thomas Hardiman.

A separate Politico article suggested that Trump’s transition team is engaged in a dual-track selection process. “The thinking inside the transition, according to multiple people involved in the internal deliberations, is that [Justice Antonin] Scalia’s replacement offers Trump and the conservative movement the best chance for an unabashedly rock-ribbed replacement because it would not fundamentally shift the court’s balance of power,” according to Politico. Its article continued:

“But in the current search process, Trump’s team is also hoping to identify a conservative candidate — possibly a woman — who could be more politically palatable, or at least harder for Senate Democrats to oppose, if [Justices] Kennedy or Ginsburg leave the court.”

In related coverage, The Guardian reported, “Where the supreme court battle goes from here: ‘There will be a huge fight.'”

AFJ Leaders Question Attorney General Pick’s Ties to a ‘Hate Group’

SESSIONS’ TIES SPARK REACTION: Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Attorney General nominee, delivered speeches to a hate group in recent years, leaders of our sister organization the Alliance for Justice said in statements quoted by EURweb.com. They voiced concern about his ties to the hate group, based on Sessions’ mention of the speeches in a supplement he submitted for a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.

The AFJ leaders referred to speeches to The David Horowitz Freedom Center. It is on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups. “Sen. Sessions’ deep ties to a hate group are deeply troubling and should be of concern to all Americans,” said Farhana Khera, President and Executive Director of Muslim Advocates and an AFJ Board of Directors member. “Sen. Sessions needs to explain not only why he initially omitted his speeches to the David Horowitz Freedom Center from his [initial] SJQ, but why he chose to associate with this hate group in the first place,” said AFJ President Nan Aron.

EURweb.com describes itself as the Electronic Urban Report. The senator’s nomination is getting lots of other scrutiny, including from The Anniston (Al.) Star in a recent editorial; from The New York Times in an editorial about secret arrests of individuals in Louisiana; and from The Desert Sun in a news article about deporting immigrants.

OPPORTUNITY FOR TRUMP TO SHAPE THE COURTS: BuzzFeed News reported, “Court Vacancies Offer Trump An Early Opportunity To Leave A Lasting Legacy; More than 100 federal judgeships will be vacant when Donald Trump becomes president — a higher number than the past two presidents had when they took office.” Noah Feldman wrote at Bloomberg View, “Scalia’s Legacy on the Court Looks Surprisingly Secure,” and Evan Bernick and Clark Neily had a USA Today opinion titled, “Peril and promise on Trump’s Supreme Court list.”

In a year-end article about the long-stalled judicial nomination of Julien Neals, Bergen County (New Jersey) counsel and acting county administrator, NorthJersey.com reported that the 674 days he will have been waiting at year’s end  “is longer than any other current nominee,” according to the Alliance for Justice.

NY Times Editorial: Real Damage Inflicted by ‘Stolen’ Court Seat

THE ‘STOLEN’ SUPREME COURT SEAT: The long-vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court was “stolen by top Senate Republicans” who blockaded President Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, and the “damage … inflicted on the confirmation process, and on the court as an institution, may be irreversible,” a New York Times editorial declared.

“If Republicans could justify an election-year blockade, what’s to stop Democrats in the future from doing the same? For that matter, why should the party controlling the Senate ever allow a president of the opposing party to choose a justice?” the editorial asked. Looking ahead to Trump’s presidency and beyond, it concluded:

“The shameful, infuriating actions of the Senate Republicans won’t be ignored in the history books. In a desperate effort to keep a conservative majority on the court, they rejected their own professed values of preserving American institutions. There’s little hope that they will come to their senses now, but they and Mr. Trump have the power, and the obligation, to fix the mess they created.”

At a Washington Post blog, Aaron Blake wrote, “If there are one or two more vacancies on the court during Trump’s tenure, that could be the biggest, most enduring result of his victory”; and NPR reported, “From Delay To Action: The Supreme Court To Take A Conservative Turn In 2017.” A front-page Washington Post  article looked beyond the Supreme Court bench to report, “Trump to inherit more than 100 court vacancies, plans to reshape judiciary.”

SESSIONS NOMINATION AS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Nan Aron, president of our sister organization Alliance for Justice, was quoted by LBGT Weekly as saying about Trump cabinet nominees: “Senate Democrats are right on target about this pattern of ‘slow-walking’ required submissions by Trump’s Cabinet nominees.” She added, “One of the most egregious examples is Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions, who has left out entire decades of his career in responding to his Senate Judiciary Questionnaire. For example, he reported no radio or print interviews before 2002 or television interviews before 1998, no records of any speeches after June 2016, and no record of half of his published op-eds, although the SJQ asks for a complete history of speeches and media hits. We fully support Senators who are insisting not only that Sessions and fellow nominees complete their applications, but that Senators then get adequate time to review the material submitted.”

Meanwhile, The Washington Post examined one of the most controversial aspects of Sessions’ record in an article titled, “Trump’s pick for attorney general is shadowed by race and history.”

In the News: AFJ, Other Groups Worry About Courts Under Next President

TIME RUNS OUT ON JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS: Remember attorney Abid Qureshi of Washington, D.C.? “[N]ominated to the federal bench by President Obama in the fall, [he] would have been the nation’s first Muslim federal judge had the Senate confirmed him. But nominated late in a presidential election year, when traditionally few nominees get a vote, time — and politics — were always against him,” BuzzFeed News reports in a piece on judicial nominations that quotes our sister organization, the Alliance for Justice.

“With the US Senate gone for the rest of the year, Qureshi is one of 52 nominees for federal district and appeals courts and the US Supreme Court who won’t make it onto the bench, at least for now. That group includes more than a dozen nominees who, like Qureshi, would have broken racial, gender, and religious barriers.” The nominations will be sent back by the Senate early next month, according to the article.

BuzzFeed adds, “Civil rights and liberal advocacy groups, heartened by President Obama’s focus on diversity in the courts, are frustrated with the Senate’s pace on his judicial nominees— and are worried about what the bench will look like under President-elect Donald Trump.” It notes, “Nan Aron, president of the liberal group Alliance for Justice, said diverse picks in southern federal courts were especially important because of the racial imbalance among judges in the region.”

The article also quotes Christopher Kang, national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, as saying, “The question moving forward is, as you look at President-elect Trump’s picks for his cabinet, the 21 picks for the Supreme Court, they are overwhelmingly white and male, and what does that mean for courts across the country with respect to diversity and really reflecting the nation and the communities that they serve.”

One of Trump’s 21 potential candidates for the high court, Utah Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Thomas Rex Lee, is the subject of a Bloomberg BNA mini-profile. And at Bloomberg View, Noah Feldman writes that after the successful Senate Republican blockade of nominee Judge Merrick Garland, “Supreme Court Nominations Will Never Be the Same.”

SESSIONS’ NOMINATION FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Associated Press reports, “A failed voting-fraud prosecution from more than 30 years ago could re-emerge as a contentious issue during Sen. Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing for attorney general.” AFJ’s  Aron discussed the prosecution in a recent op-ed for The Hill. Other coverage and commentary includes Carole Joffe writing at The Hill, “Will Jeff Sessions protect abortion providers?”; Fox News, “Lobbying push in full swing to confirm Sessions as AG”; and Earl Ofari Hutchinson at Huffington Post, “Jeff Sessions Is The Final Step In The GOP Plan For Permanent National Political Control.”

On Sessions: An Immigration Crackdown Would be Very Costly

WILL A ‘DEFICIT HAWK’ SPEND BIG ON IMMIGRATION? That’s the question a USA Today article poses about Sen. Jeff Sessions, tapped as the next attorney general; if the Alabama Republican is confirmed at the helm of the Justice Department, the article says, “he’ll be among those in charge of taking a more aggressive approach to immigration enforcement, which means more law enforcement, more judges and and more jail space, all of which cost money.”

In addition to highlighting the spending issue, the article says Sessions gets heat from some critics for his record blocking immigration reforms. “He has made very clear he would work to increase the use of local law enforcement officers [to crack down on immigration] … and that’s not a good thing for our community,” said Karen Tumlin, legal director at the National Immigration Law Center.

Tumlin also said the use of federal dollars to coerce local communities into action raises 10th Amendment issues. “There is certainly a contradiction from folks like Sessions who are strong proponents of states’ rights,” she said. “They made 10th Amendment arguments about all kinds of Obama initiatives. You want localities to do their own thing when it suits you, but you also coerce them into action when it suits you, as well.”

TRUMP IMPACT ON COURTS EXAMINED: “President-elect Donald Trump has a chance to stack the courts with conservative judges, thrilling Republicans who suddenly have the opportunity to remake the judicial system,” The Hill reports. “Conservatives watched with dismay as Congress confirmed 327 of President Obama’s judicial nominees, fearing it would further entrench liberal control of the courts. Now the tables have turned.” The article notes that according to our sister organization the Alliance for Justice, there are  99 judicial vacancies, 13 of them on courts of appeals and 85 on district courts.

And there is one quite prominent vacancy, of course, on the Supreme Court. Daily Kos has a headline saying, “With Biden in the chair on Jan. 3, the Senate can confirm a renominated Merrick Garland. Here’s how.” A National Review Online opinion condemns the “lunatic” idea and says it could lead to Congress expanding the court’s size — and filling the seats with Trump appointees.

WELLS FARGO AND FORCED ARBITRATION: A New York Times article about Wells Fargo, fake accounts and resulting litigation reports that the bank “has sought to kill lawsuits that its customers have filed over the creation of as many as two million sham accounts by moving the cases into private arbitration — a secretive legal process that often favors corporations.” To learn more about the issue, check out AFJ’s Justice Watch blog post titled, “Why the Wells Fargo Scandal Shows the Need to End Forced Arbitration.”

CNN Cites Aron: Trump Court List Shows ‘Radical-Right’ Ideology

Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for formal group photo in the East Conference Room in WashingtonAFJ CRITICAL OF TRUMP 21: President-elect Donald Trump’s list of 21 potential Supreme Court nominees reflects a search for a kind of diversity the court lacks, CNN reported, including “a nod to judges from ‘flyover’ states, an appreciation for non-Ivy League schools and even a dash of political experience.” The report quoted our sister organization, the Alliance for Justice, as raising fundamental questions about the list:

“Nan Aron, of the liberal Alliance for Justice, has lashed out at the list saying [it] reflects a ‘radical-right’ ideology. Unlike Trump who could stress diversity on the list she points to potential nominees who ‘threaten fundamental rights’ and favor ‘the powerful and privileged'” over every day Americans.

CNN also wrote mini-profiles of each individual on the list. At The Washington Post’s PostEverything blog, Ben Adler recommended that “Democrats should filibuster anyone Trump nominates to the Supreme Court seat that was, by any reasonable read, [President] Obama’s to fill.” Taking a different view was Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., who “warned the Democratic Party not to engage in payback when it comes to President-elect Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court or they will continue to lose a significant portion of the electorate in rural states like his who helped hand Trump the presidency,” according to The Washington Examiner.

SHARPTON PLANNING D.C. RALLY: The Rev. Al Sharpton plans a Washington rally on Jan. 14 to “put the Democrats on notice that we expect them to use the nomination hearings to really go after” Trump’s choices for top jobs including Attorney General, according to The Hill. It will be held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial two days before the public holiday that honors the slain civil rights leader.

“Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) has emerged as the biggest target for Sharpton and other civil rights figures, after Trump picked him to lead the Justice Department,” The Hill noted. Meanwhile Mother Jones had an article headlined, “John Roberts Gutted the Voting Rights Act. Jeff Sessions is Poised to Finish It Off,” while a Washington Examiner headline said, “Five former attorneys general urge swift confirmation of Sessions.”

SUPREME COURT AND REDISTRICTING CASES: The Supreme Court heard oral argument in two cases on Monday “involving challenges from African-American voters to electoral districts in North Carolina and Virginia,” according to The Associated Press, and the AP said “Justice Anthony Kennedy appears to hold the decisive vote” on the eight-member court.

On Trump’s Flag-Burning View, USA Today Quotes Critique by AFJ’s Aron

1-first-amendment‘FLIRTING WITH A VISION OF A DARK AND TOTALITARIAN AMERICA’: President-elect Donald Trump’s tweeted desire to make flag-burning a criminal offense set off a firestorm of controversy, and USA Today quoted our sister organization, the Alliance for Justice, denouncing it.

“Trump is flirting here with a vision of a dark and totalitarian America, which should be a terrifying prospect for all Americans,” AFJ President Nan Aron said. AFJ and numerous other organizations and constitutional law experts emphasized that the Supreme Court has upheld the right to burn a flag, and even the late Justice Antonin Scalia agreed about its constitutionality.

A New York Times editorial took Trump to task and noted, “[T]he Supreme Court said in a 1990 decision finding a federal law against flag-burning unconstitutional, ‘Punishing desecration of the flag dilutes the very freedom that makes this emblem so revered, and worth revering.’” Observed a Washington Post editorial, “It would be President Trump’s prerogative to urge Congress, and the states, to rewrite the First Amendment along more repressive lines. Like Scalia, we prefer the original.”

EXPEDITED HEARING FOR SESSIONS’ NOMINATION? Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, spoke of wanting to hold a hearing on the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general before the January 20th inauguration, according to The Washington Times, TPM DC, and Politico, among other others. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said, “I don’t know that we can” do it so quickly. “For example, I don’t become ranking member until next year … we need the staff to do some of this work. I’m a little bit surprised.”

South Florida Gay News mentioned AFJ’s recently finding Sessions “unfit in every way” for the Attorney General post and added that AFJ “contends Sessions ‘has demonstrated throughout his career that he is incapable of and unqualified for this important role.’” Meanwhile, CNBC reported, “Trump may have just set up his attorney general pick for more Democratic attacks: The president-elect’s baseless claims about widespread illegal voting could lead to more Democratic attacks on Sen. Jeff Sessions.” An AL.com headline declared, “Democrats concerned about Jeff Sessions as attorney general, but have little recourse.”

COURTS IN A TRUMP ERA: At Huffington Post, Brianne J. Gorod of the Constitutional Accountability Center wrote, “Can Courts Hold Trump Accountable For Violating The Emoluments Clause?” A Los Angeles Times article was headlined, “Supreme Court dispute over jailing immigrants takes on new importance in Trump era,” while WNYC.org examined what it called “The Supreme Court Case that Could Seriously Impact a Trump Presidency.”