Tag Archives: Senate Judiciary Committee

Mr. AG, Hawaii isn’t just an ‘island in the Pacific’

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this on a radio talk show: “I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the president of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and constitutional power.”

Hmm. An island in the Pacific? Was it, oh, Fiji? Palau? Tahiti?

Oh, no. The “island in the Pacific” is Hawaii, one of the 50 United States of America. Hawaii is governed by the very same federal government as all the rest of the states.

The object of the attorney general’s criticism, though, is a federal judge — a Hawaii native — who ruled against Donald J. Trump’s second travel ban that bars Muslims from several countries from entering the United States. The ruling came from U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson, who happens to live in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.

Sessions blows that dog whistle

Hawaii’s two U.S. senators have reacted strongly to Sessions’ statement, made on talk show host Mark Levin’s program. The Huffington Post reported: “Sen. Mazie Hirono likened his remarks about Watson to ‘dog whistle politics.’” That identifies the kind of coded remarks meant to appeal mainly to certain segments of the population. Republicans and Democrats both have their “bases” that respond instinctively to certain political “dog whistles.”

The Huffington Post also reported: “In a statement later Thursday, Hirono, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee that vets and confirms federal judges, called Sessions’ suggestion that Watson is somehow unable to carry out his duties impartially ‘dangerous, ignorant, and prejudiced.’

“’I am frankly dumbfounded that our nation’s top lawyer would attack our independent judiciary,’ she said. ‘But we shouldn’t be surprised. This is just the latest in the Trump Administration’s attacks against the very tenets of our Constitution and democracy.’”

I feel the need to stipulate once again: Hawaii isn’t some remote outpost. Judge Watson adheres to the same oath that the attorney general himself took when he joined the Justice Department.

These attacks on the “independent judiciary” have to stop.

Immediately!

Democrats sharpening their long knives

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats are making it plain: They don’t want Judge Neil Gorsuch to take a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Oh, my.

What these folks do not seem to understand — or choose to ignore — is this simple point: Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation to the nation’s highest court will not tilt the court’s ideological balance one tiny bit from where it was when the late Antonin Scalia served on it.

Not one bit. Not one iota.

Scalia, who died a year ago, was a conservative jurist, and an iconic one at that. Gorsuch is a conservative jurist. Yet we hear Democrats, such as Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, declare his intention to all he can to block Gorsuch’s confirmation; that includes a “filibuster,” Blumenthal said.

Give me a break, man!

This fight is unwinnable. Gorsuch will need 60 votes in the Senate to be confirmed; if it appears he’ll fall short of the magic number, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, will change the rules to allow a simple majority to confirm Judge Gorsuch.

So, what’s the big deal? Gorsuch at worst will mirror Justice Scalia’s view of the U.S. Constitution.

Democrats need to sharpen their long knives — and then put them back in their scabbards and save them for when it really matters.

Such as when a liberal justice leaves the court. That’s when the court’s ideological balance becomes the defining issue.

Not this time.

Big week awaits the president

Donald “Smart Person” Trump is going to have a big week.

Part of it might bode well for the president. The rest of it, well, possibly not so well.

* Neil Gorsuch takes the stand this coming week as the Senate Judiciary Committee grills him on why he should take a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gorsuch is Trump’s choice to fill the seat vacated by the sudden death of conservative icon Justice Antonin Scalia — more than a year ago! The seat should have been filled by President Obama, who picked Merrick Garland, but the Republicans who control the Senate stonewalled the president and blocked Garland’s confirmation.

Now we have Gorsuch. He’s a solid jurist. He’s a bit too conservative for my taste, but hey, Trump’s the president, not me. He gets to pick someone for the high court. The American Bar Association has declared Gorsuch to be “well qualified.”

* Then we get to hear from FBI Director James Comey, who’s going to have a thing or three to say about wiretapping and whether Trump has the goods on whether President Obama ordered the bugging of Trump’s offices in New York.

Comey has hinted broadly that Trump has fabricated the assertion that Obama committed a felony, which to my way of thinking is a defamatory accusation. Senators will get to grill Comey heavily on all of that.

It’s ironic in the extreme that Comey would turn on Trump, given the manner in which he torpedoed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign 11 days prior to Election Day with that letter to Congress announcing he was taking a fresh look at those “damn e-mails” that dogged Hillary’s campaign from its outset. Trump was ecstatic about the disclosure of the letter and just couldn’t say enough positive things about the FBI director.

I wonder what he’s going to say if and/or when Comey debunks this ridiculous notion that President Obama bugged Trump Tower.

Let’s all stay tuned. Get the popcorn ready.

Get ready for hot seat, Mr. Deputy AG-designate

Rod Rosenstein.

That name, right there, well might become the most-watched in Washington, D.C., behind — quite naturally — the name of the president of the United States.

Rosenstein has been picked by Donald J. Trump to become the deputy U.S. attorney general.

Why is this fellow so important right now? Because his boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has recused himself from anything to do with an investigation into whether Trump was too cozy with Russian government officials. That means Rosenstein, by all accounts a hard-nosed prosecutor, will get to decide whether to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the Trump-Russia matter.

Rosenstein’s confirmation hearing focused almost exclusively on Sessions, Trump and the Russians. Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats sought to pin him down, trying to get him to commit to picking a special prosecutor. Rosenstein didn’t give that one up — to no one’s surprise.

Unlike Senate and House Republicans who say it’s “too early” to determine whether there’s a need for a special counsel, I happen to believe one should get the call. There needs to be a thorough investigation of what the president knew about the Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election, when he knew it, whether he colluded with the Russians. We also need to know whether Trump or someone from his campaign staff sought to renegotiate sanctions leveled against Russia by the Obama administration over the Russians’ meddling in our electoral process.

Rosenstein isn’t your ordinary, run-of-the-mill deputy AG. Folks in that job usually blend into the woodwork, never to be seen or heard from again once they take office.

Not this guy.

Assuming the Senate confirms him — and it should — Rosenstein is about to settle into one of the hottest seats in Washington.

Do the right thing, sir. Pick that special counsel.

Sessions needs to talk once more to Senate Judiciary panel

That’s it? The U.S. attorney general won’t have to testify any more to the Senate Judiciary Committee?

That’s the decision of Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who said he has no plans to call AG Jeff Sessions back to Capitol Hill to explain himself.

It seems to me that the attorney general has some serious ‘splainin to do.

He told Judiciary Committee members during his confirmation hearing that he didn’t have any meetings with Russian government officials. Then, later, he thought differently about it said, yep, he did talk to the Russian ambassador to the United States.

This ought to be fleshed out a little bit.

What did he discuss? Did he talk to him about big things, such as, oh, whether the Russians were trying to influence the presidential election? Or how about whether the incoming Donald J. Trump administration would take back the sanctions that the Obama administration had leveled against the Russians for — that’s right — trying to influence the election.

Or … maybe it was just a casual conversation. “How’s the weather in Moscow in these days, Mr. Ambassador?”

Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat and one of the Judiciary panel members, wants Sessions to come back to The Hill to testify.

I think he should, too. Chairman Grassley surely cannot believe he’s heard all there is to hear from the attorney general.

Imagine this breakfast chit-chat

grassley

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is going to have breakfast next Tuesday with Merrick Garland.

Yep, he’s going to break bread with the Supreme Court nominee whose nomination he intends to block.

I’m trying to imagine how this conversation will proceed. Here’s what I have come up with:

Grassley: Welcome, Judge. I’m glad you could find time to meet me for breakfast.

Garland: Thank you, Mr. Chair …

Grassley: Oh, call me Chuck.

Garland: Sure thing … Chuck. (laughter)

Grassley: Let’s get down to brass tacks. I don’t think the committee I chair should consider your nomination. In fact, I’m on board as saying that the next president should make the nomination. The current president is a lame duck, you know. This election could change everything.

Garland: I get that. But why are we meeting? I’ve read the papers. I know what you’ve said.

Grassley: I just wanted to get together so I could explain in detail …

Garland: Detail? What detail? You don’t support President Obama. You’ve never supported him. Look, he sought to pick someone who wouldn’t rock the court. He looked for a moderate judge. He found one. Me. My time on the D.C. Circuit Court has been the model of moderation.

Grassley: But the Supreme Court balance is, well, in the balance. Antonin Scalia was a stalwart conservative justice. We need to maintain that balance on the court.

Garland: Why the need? Didn’t a majority of voters re-elect Obama three years ago? Didn’t they do so knowing full well what kind of judge he’d appoint if given the chance. I mourn Scalia’s death, too. He was a brilliant jurist. He had a seriously rigid point of view. But I’m no slouch, either. I just don’t lean nearly as far to the left as Scalia did to the right. He could have picked a flaming lefty activist. I’m neither a lefty or an activist.

Grassley: I get that, Judge. You do understand that we on the committee are politicians, correct? We’ve got political interests. I happen to like my job as a senator from Iowa. I’ve been doing it for some time. I’d like to keep doing it. We’ve got this faction within our party that won’t tolerate compromise. It won’t tolerate me or any other of my Republican ilk from compromising with those Democrats.

Garland: So, you’re not going to allow the president, who has another nine months in office, to fulfill his duty because you’re getting pressure from constituent groups and political action organizations?

Grassley: I wouldn’t put it quite that way.

Garland: But that’s what it sounds like to me. You know what? I just lost my appetite. Thanks for the invitation, Chuck.

Grassley: Uh, judge? On second thought, you now may call me “Mr. Chairman.”

 

 

If only the VP hadn’t said what he said …

Supreme-Court-blue-sky

Vice President Joe Biden delivered a stern message today to some university students and faculty members

about the obstruction occurring in the U.S. Senate.

It’s threatening the core of our republic, he said. Senate Republicans must not obstruct President Obama’s effort to fill a Supreme Court vacancy; they must allow nominee Merrick Garland to have a hearing, then they must debate the merits of his nomination and they must then vote on it.

True enough, Mr. Vice President.

But what about those remarks you made in 1992 about whether President George H.W. Bush should be able to nominate someone to the high court in an election year? Today’s Republicans are seeking to block Obama’s pick because this, too, is an election year and they want the next president to make the selection.

The GOP has beaten the vice president over his remarks then.

What they don’t say is that Biden also declared that he would support a “consensus candidate” in an election if one were to be presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Biden chaired at the time.

Biden told the Georgetown law students and faculty members: “Dysfunction and partisanship are bad enough on Capitol Hill. But we can’t let the Senate spread that dysfunction to another branch of government, to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

It’s fascinating to me that then-Sen. Biden’s remarks now have become known as the “Biden Rule,” which has never existed.

I won’t defend Biden for making his remarks in 1992. He was wrong to suggest that a sitting president shouldn’t be allowed to perform his job if he had been given the chance to do so. President Bush did select a Supreme Court justice in 1991, when he nominated Clarence Thomas to take the seat vacated by the death of Thurgood Marshall.

However, I won’t condemn Biden for holding that view. He did, after all, add the caveat that he would support a consensus candidate for the Supreme Court.

The here and now stands on its own.

The vice president is correct to insist that today’s Senate should stop its obstruction and allow the president to fulfill his constitutional duty — and do its own duty to give an eminently qualified nominee the fair hearing he deserves.

 

Garland the perfect choice for SCOTUS … normally

Caplan-Merrick-Garland2-1200

Under normal circumstances — without such historic potential consequences on the line — President Obama’s choice for the U.S. Supreme Court would be considered damn near perfect.

Merrick Garland fits the bill — to the letter.

Brilliant legal scholar; strict adherent to the Constitution; moderate judicial philosophy; meticulous writer; tremendous personal story; varied legal career in private practice and as a federal prosecutor; many years of experience on the federal bench; virtually unanimous admiration among his peers.

Then again, he’s got this particular problem that is not of his making.

He’s been chosen to the highest court in the land during an election year. That, by itself, isn’t a deal breaker. Except that Republicans who control the U.S. Senate, which must confirm the appointment, have made it one.

They’ve declared that Obama shouldn’t get to pick someone to replace the late conservative ideologue Antonin Scalia during the heat of a presidential election campaign. They want to hand that duty over to the next president who, they hope, will be a Republican.

They’ve declared that the current president doesn’t get to his job, which the U.S. Constitution says includes making appointments to the federal bench. He’s made a big choice. Garland is been named to fill some huge shoes on the Supreme Court.

His only drawback, if you want to call it that, is that he isn’t the rock-ribbed, ironclad conservative in the mold of Scalia. Oh, no. Garland is a moderate. He’s a mainstream, thoughtful jurist with a gleaming reputation for careful legal scholarship.

What, do you suppose, will be the American Bar Association’s rating of this guy, when the ABA decides to make that declaration? I’ll predict he’ll get the highest recommendation possible from the bar.

So what in the world is holding up his confirmation? It’s the obstruction of the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who vows to block any attempt even to conduct a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

And to think that McConnell had the brass to say that the president is “politicizing” this pick by criticizing Republicans’ effort to block it.

The stunning lack of self-awareness here is beyond belief. It’s McConnell and his Senate lieutenants who have politicized this process by stating that the 44th president of the United States shall not have his judicial appointment even considered for confirmation.

Why? Because they hope to get one of their fellow Republicans elected president this November.

Something tells me McConnell and his gang of Senate GOP obstructionists are flirting with political disaster if they insist on continuing to play this foolish game.

 

Americans have already decided who gets to choose

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., center, is joined by, from right to left, Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., as he speaks with reporters following a closed-door policy meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. The Senate will take no action on anyone President Barack Obama nominates to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, Senator McConnell said as nearly all Republicans rallied behind his calls to leave the seat vacant for the next president to fill. His announcement came after Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee ruled out any hearing for an Obama pick. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

What part of the American electoral process don’t U.S. Senate Republican leaders understand?

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said “the American people should decide” who gets to make the next appointment to the Supreme Court.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has echoed that sentiment.

McConnell said the Judiciary Committee will not conduct any hearings to decide whether to confirm whomever the president nominates. It’s malarkey, man.

OK, this isn’t an original thought, but it’s the best one I can come up with.

Americans already have decided who gets to fill the vacancy created by the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia. They decided it in two presidential elections.

Barack H. Obama won them both. He won the 2008 election by nearly 10 million votes; he was re-elected in 2012 by nearly 5 million votes.

Both times the young man gave every indication he would find someone to sit on the court with whom he — as a progressive Democrat — was ideologically comfortable. Two of his picks, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — already have taken their seats on the court.

He gets to nominate a third individual to succeed Justice Scalia.

Yeah, he’s a “lame duck.” What difference does it make? None. He’s still the president. The Senate is still functioning.

So … let the president propose and let the Senate dispose.

Senators can stop hiding behind the cheap canard that the “American people” deserve a voice.

The people’s voice has been heard. Twice!

It’s all about the court balance

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President Obama picked up the phone today and made a couple of important calls.

One of them went to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell; the other went to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley. Both men are Republicans. The president is a Democrat.

The president informed the senators he intends to make a pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. And, according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest, Sens. McConnell and Grassley both voted in favor of President Reagan’s “lame duck” selection of Anthony Kennedy to join the court in 1988, which was just as much of an election year as 2016.

McConnell, though, says the current president should pick the next justice. That task belongs to the next president, he said.

What has changed?

It’s the balance of the court. It means everything. Every single thing.

You see, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, the man Obama wants to replace, was a conservative stalwart on the court. The president is not a conservative; therefore, his appointee won’t echo the judicial philosophy of Justice Scalia.

The next justice — if he or she is approved by the current Senate before the end of this year — is likely to change the fundamental balance of the court, which has comprised a thin conservative majority.

Senate Republicans don’t want the court balance to change. They’ll do whatever they can to prevent the president from making the pick.

There’s just this one little issue that, by my way of thinking, should matter more than anything else. The Constitution grants the president the authority to make the appointment, which this president said he’s going to do. It also grants the Senate the authority to vote whether to approve or deny the appointment. It doesn’t require the Senate to act.

If the Republican-controlled Senate is going to stymie the president, then it faces a serious charge of obstruction. Senate Republicans keep denying the obstructionist label.

A failure, though, to act in a timely fashion on this appointment gives even the casual observer ample cause to suggest that, by golly, we have just witnessed a case of political obstruction.

If the president selects someone who is eminently qualified and who has a proven record of judicial moderation — which conservatives still will see a serious break with the conservative judicial record built by the late Justice Scalia — then shouldn’t the Senate give that nominee a fair hearing and a timely vote?

I would say “yes.” Without equivocation.