White House Judicial Vacancy Briefing

May 8, 2012

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More than 250 million Americans--80 percent of the U.S. population--live in a community today with a courtroom vacancy.  And 150 million live in districts awaiting a Senate confirmation vote. Courts matter to all Americans regardless of where they live, what issues they care about, and what their income is. Americans must have equal access to a fair hearing in court, but an obstructionist minority in the Senate is preventing that from happening.  This crisis was the subject of a briefing at the White House on Monday, May 7 which I was invited to attend.

I was invited by Alliance for Justice, a coalition of which Center for Inquiry is a member. Other organizations represented at the briefing included People for the American Way, American Constitution Society, Southern Center for Human Rights, National Conference of Women's Bar Associations, The Leadership Conference, National Association of University Women, National Council of Jewish Women, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Native American Bar Association,  National Bar Association, and Society of American Law Teachers.

The goals of this meeting were (1) Make a collective demonstration of solidarity by community leaders, advocates, the White House, and the Senate in support of prioritizing the confirmation of all of President Obama's nominees to the federal courts, including those in the pipeline. (2) Set the stage for a redoubled and even more focused effort, beginning in 2013, to improve the judicial nominations and confirmations process and to confirm more well-qualified nominees of diverse backgrounds to the federal judiciary. (3) Provide an opportunity for organizational allies, community leaders, advocates and individuals working on critical policy issues within states to network and share best practices with one another and with administration officials to help build more robust in-state coalitions focused on judicial nominations. (4) Engage a broader group of allies to help communicate the message about why courts matter and what's at stake in the courts today. 

Speakers at the briefing were: Jon Carson, Deputy Assistant to the President, Director of the Office of Public Engagement; Eric Holder, United States Attorney General; Kathy Ruemmler, Assistant to the President and White House Counsel; Heather Zichal, Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change; Eric Schultz, Associate Communications Director; Ed Pagano, Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs, Senate Liaison; and Chirs Kang, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Counsel. 

In the afternoon, Kellye McIntosh of Alliance for Justice accompanied me to the offices of Indiana Senators Lugar and Coats. None of Senator Lugar's staff members were available to talk with us but we left materials for the Senator.  In Senator Dan Coats' office we spoke with Legislative Correspondent, Cory Palmer, who was very friendly and easy to talk with and indicated that Senator Coats is also concerned about these vacancies and the time lag in getting them filled.   We asked him to urge Senator Coats to do what he could to make this happen and encourage other Senators to do the same.

I felt very privileged to be a part of this briefing and to put CFI's face at the table in the White House.   I urge all of you to contact your Senators and encourage them to do what they can to end this crisis of judicial vacancies. 

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