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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Turning Point at the White House

Community leaders met with key
White House staff, including
Attorney General Eric Holder
May 7 marked an important milestone in the fight to confirm President Obama’s nominees to the federal courts. Alliance for Justice and our national partners in the ongoing judicial nominations battle played a central role in organizing a White House briefing attended by 150 community and legal leaders from 27 states around the country. This remarkably diverse group of national, state, and local activists, all of whom have been engaged in the fight to nominate and confirm judges who share our values, went to the White House to share their experiences and concerns with administration officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder and the president’s judicial selection team.

The event energized the participants, and lent renewed vigor to an effort to end the destructive pattern of procedural delays that have left nearly one in ten federal judgeships without a judge.

The deep sense of urgency conveyed by the participants is motivated by the fact that the Senate has confirmed far fewer nominees at this point in President Obama’s first term than it had for his two predecessors, and that current vacancies on the federal bench have actually risen by 43% since he took office. Participants relayed the frustration growing in communities around the nation as understaffed courts face enormous backlogs and justice is frequently delayed for individuals and businesses whose lives and livelihoods often hang in the balance.

Among the topics discussed in frank exchanges with White House staff, were the need to continue to push for diverse nominees, including those significantly underrepresented such as Native Americans and people with disabilities, and to choose men and women who are young and have backgrounds beyond standard career paths like prosecutors and large-firm litigators. In the general discussion with White House officials, and later in extremely energetic breakout sessions, many participants expressed frustration with the relentless tactics of obstruction in the Senate, including the use of filibusters and the manipulation of the “blue-slip system” to allow nominees to be considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Participants were eager for advice on how they can be more effective in pushing back against recalcitrant senators.

After the White House briefing, the group went to Capitol Hill for a total of 47 meetings with a bipartisan list of senators or their staffs, and reiterated their call for swift action on the president’s judicial nominees and for a yes-or-no vote before the election on all those submitted in 2012.

The message to the Senate was clear: our courts matter deeply to the future of our country, and efforts to willfully stymie the confirmation of new judges do an enormous disservice to our democratic institutions.


Click here to watch AFJ President Nan Aron discuss the meeting and the state of judicial nominations with guest host Chris Hayes on the Rachel Maddow Show.

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