Bush’s Court: How the DC Circuit Threatens the Future of Progressive Reform (Updated)

— by Layne Amerikaner & Miranda Blue, PFAW, media@pfaw.org, (202) 467-4999

WASHINGTON – Four years into President Obama’s presidency, he has yet to  have a single judge confirmed to the hugely influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. This lapse, caused initially by a slow start from the administration but perpetuated by a blockade of obstruction in the Senate, threatens to hinder progressive advances for years to come, argues a newreport from People For the American Way.

The report, AMERICA’S PROGRESS AT RISK: RESTORING BALANCE TO THE DC CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS, can be found here.

“The D.C. Circuit is the most important court most Americans have never heard of,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “The D.C. Circuit’s judges have the final word on scores of federal laws each year, from air pollution controls to financial regulations to workers’ rights. Republicans have long understood this, and have packed the court with far-right ideologues who threaten to hold back American progress for decades to come.  And they have so far blocked confirmation of judges who would bring any balance to this court.”

President Obama is the first president since Woodrow Wilson to fail to have a single nominee confirmed to the D.C. Circuit during his first full term in office, despite the fact that four of the eleven seats on the court are now vacant. His first nominee to the court, the indisputably qualified Caitlin Halligan, was twice blocked by Senate Republicans for reasons widely recognized as spurious.

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As a result, the D.C. Circuit continues to be dominated by judges pushing a right-wing ideology long rejected by the American people. The right-wing majority of the D.C. Circuit has continuously sought to dismantle progressive efforts to defend consumers, protect public health, and ensure the rights of workers. Recent D.C. Circuit decisions highlighted in the report include:

  • Noel Canning v. NLRB:  In January, the D.C. Circuit invalidated three presidential appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, undermining the Board’s ability to protect the rights of workers and giving the green light to Senate Republicans who wish to decimate any federal agency by blocking appointees.
  • EME Homer City Generation v. EPA: In 2012, the D.C. Circuit sided with utility companies to strike down EPA air pollution regulations that would have prevented an estimated 34,000 premature deaths and saved $280 billion a year in healthcare costs.
  • Business Roundtable v. SEC: In 2011, the D.C. Circuit overturned an SEC rule requiring greater accountability from corporations to their shareholders in selecting board members. One observer noted that in doing so the judges – none of them securities experts – had “waded into a political fight under the guise of dispassionate scientific oversight.”
  • RJ Reynolds Tobacco v. FDA: Last year, the D.C. Circuit ruled that FDA regulations requiring cigarette manufacturers to place graphic, factually accurate warnings on their product violated tobacco companies’ First Amendment free speech rights.
  • Hein Hettinga v. USA: George W. Bush nominee Janice Rogers Brown used a case about milk market regulation last year to issue a call to arms against eight decades of progressive reforms. Courts that have allowed the government to implement reasonable regulations of industry have, she said, put “property…at the mercy of pillagers.”
  • “President Obama has a chance in his second term to restore ideological balance to the D.C. Circuit,” added Marge Baker. “It is critically important that he do so.

Otherwise, D.C. Circuit will continue to stand in the way of progressive reforms — reforms chosen by American voters — and threaten to roll back decades of hard-won protections for working people and consumers.”


On a side note, I called Senator Dean Heller’s office and asked for a specific answer as exactly why he voted in favor of filibustering the confirmation of Caitlin Halligan.  Once again, I got a blow-off standard “well as you know” non-specific answer (Click on the graphic at the left to read the response).  I made a second call complaining that I had asked a specific question and expected to receive a specific response.  Ten-to-one, I get another ‘doesn’t say crap’ letter or nothing at all.


March 22, 2013: The White House officially withdrew President Barack Obama’s nomination of Caitlin Halligan to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  In a statement, Obama said he was “deeply disappointed” that a minority of senators had blocked Halligan’s nomination for almost two and a half years, and called the vacancies on what is arguably the country’s second-highest federal court “unacceptable.”

“Today, I accepted Caitlin Halligan’s request to withdraw as a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit,” Obama said in an emailed statement. “This unjustified filibuster obstructed the majority of Senators from expressing their support. I am confident that with Caitlin’s impressive qualifications and reputation, she would have served with distinction.”

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Finally Confirmed: GOP ‘IS’ Out of Touch

GOP Report Shows Party is Out of Touch With Americans on Threats to Democracy: Money in Politics and Voter Suppression

The Republican National Committee released a report today reviewing its losses in the 2012 election cycle and laying out a roadmap for the future of the party.  People For the American Way Vice President Marge Baker released the following statement:

“This report highlights what we already knew: that the Republican party is out of touch with America. Instead of addressing the party’s anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-worker policies that voters resoundingly rejected in 2012, today’s report calls for a complete gutting of campaign finance reform – in essence calling for even more big money to be poured into our elections.  If the Republican party were listening to Americans, they would know that the country supports finding systemic solutions to the problem of unregulated money in our political system.  The answer is certainly not to gut the regulations we already have in place.  Instead, we need to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC and related cases so that we can create more effective regulations to get big money out of our democracy.

“The GOP report’s recommendations on voting rights also underscore a continuing focus on keeping certain voters from the polls.  After an election cycle overflowing with examples of discriminatory voter suppression efforts aimed at historically disenfranchised communities, the report recommends an ongoing focus on so-called  ‘ballot security training initiatives.’  This is simply another phrase for the same voter intimidation tactics used in the name of preventing supposed ‘voter fraud.’  It’s baffling that the GOP thinks it can improve its image with people of color while still working to block their access to the ballot box.

“This report is yet another example that the GOP’s ‘soul-searching’ hasn’t gotten them very far.  It’s time to refocus our efforts on getting the big money out of elections and the voters into the voting booth.”

Ready to go?

Just exactly how much lipstick have they purchased?  Maybeline and Revlon combined couldn’t make enough lipstick to take care of that pachyderm.

Yesterday— the Republican National Committee released its wide-ranging “autopsy” report called the “Growth And Opportunity Project Report.” In it, the party admits to several shortcomings that contributed to the party’s wide losses in the 2012 election. A portion of the report includes market research from voter focus groups around the country. Not surprisingly, when asked to describe Republicans, respondents said that the party was “scary,” “narrow-minded,” “out of touch,” and full of “stuffy old men.”  What’s most interesting is that the report failed to quantify just how out of touch their party has become on a number of issues, from climate change, to marriage equality, to universal background checks, to women’s rights, to the minimum wage, and more.

The GOP thinks they merely have a messaging problem … and just need to change a few words they used to talk about things.  HAH! Now that’s a joke and a half.  Maybe they should look at their 2012 Platform. Better yet, maybe they should look at what is happening in State Legislatures and what members of their party have introduced in the Congress:

  • Restricting access to or insurance reimbursement of costs associated with an abortion;
  • Restricting time frames in which a woman could seek an abortion to 12-weeks and in on case, to 6-weeks from conception;
  • Mandating the use of transvaginal ultrasounds and other medically unnecessary procedures as a means to shame women;
  • Gleefully and gloatingly defunding Planned Parenthood;
  • Attempting to elevate “religious” rights above all others to allow zealots to assert their religious rights to deny all types of service and/or medications should it offend “their” personal religious beliefs, making their beliefs superior to yours;
  • Continually attempting to repeal Obamacare and providing NO replacement;
  • Promoting continued systemic discrimination against the LGBT community, as a whole, via marriage inequality espoused throughout our Nation’s income tax and estate tax structures;
  • Attempting to enact one voter suppression tactic after another to disenfranchise voters as well as restricting early voting opportunities;
  • Continually filibustering one bill after another, even those introduced by Republicans;
  • Blocking Consumer Financial Protection and making multiple attempts to repeal Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform;
  • Promoting racial profiling as a means of harassment to convince Hispanics to “self-deport’ ;
  • Promoting Personhood for embryos and essentially demoting women’s status to nothing more than an incubator;
  • Replacing Democracy with Dictatorships (Overseers);
  • Promoting fatherhood visitation rights for rapists.

I’m sure I’ve missed of few other big issues we’ve had to overcome … but need I go on?  There’s a politically incorrect term we frequently used when I was in the Navy to define that kind of behavior.  The term stars with “cluster.”  The GOPs (Grouchy Old Patriarchs) problem is much more than a “messaging” problem.  It’s a policy problem and we should cheer them on  in pursuit of their messaging delusion.  It will most certainly shorten their path to minor party status.  We may have a few challenges to overcome in the short run, but we’ll all be much better off in the long run.

Don’t believe me?  See for yourself,  take your pick, click a pic or two.  Read/compare a few — then compare the numbers.

2012-GOP-Platform GOP Growth Opportunity Rpt 2009-GOP-Road-to-Recovery 2010-GOP-Better-Solutions
GOP 2012 Platform GOP Growth Opportunites 2009 Path to Recovery 2010-Better Solutions
2010-Pledge-to-America Path to Poverty v1.0 Path to Poverty v2.0 Path to Poverty v3.0
2010-Pledge to America P2P v1.0 P2P v2.0 P2P v3.0