OPP Attends Meeting on Blocked Judicial Nominations

September 22, 2009

National Health Statistics Reports Number 12 (12/2008)

On September 15, 2009, representatives of the Center for Inquiry Office of Public Policy attended a meeting on Capitol Hill. The topic being addressed was the Senate blocking the efforts of President Obama and his staff to place judicial nominees in multiple administrative positions, as well efforts to appoint judges to various circuit and district courts. The most notable nominees being blocked are Dawn Johnsen, to head of Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and Thomas Perez to be named Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division (CRD).

The panel of speakers at this meeting included Christina Tchen and Chris Kang of the Obama Administration’s Office of Pubic Engagement, as well as staff members representing Senator Patrick Joseph Leahy (D-VT), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and staff members representing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). The hosts of the meeting, Marge Baker of People for the American Way (PFAW) and Nancy Zirkin of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights (LCCR) also spoke. In attendance were many progressive organizations that promote civil rights, as well as staff members representing Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Senator Ted Kaufman, (D-DE).

The reasons why these appointments are so important were discussed. Most people outside of Washington, D.C. don’t fully understand the significance of judicial and administrative appointments to the nonprofit sector. What it really comes down to is the fact that both the OLC and the CRD were significantly altered during the Bush Administration. For instance, the OLC during the Bush years ruled that protections within the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allowed faith-based organizations that received federal funding to make hiring decisions based on an applicant’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof). Dawn Johnsen would be in a position to overturn this policy.   As for the CRD, the Bush administration “declared war on the whole idea of civil rights, in a way that no administration of either party had since the passage of the nation’s civil rights laws in the 1960s,” according to an editorial in New York Times on September 2 nd .   In addition to rolling back old policies that are relics from the Bush years, many civil rights groups hope that Dawn Johnsen, who openly challenged the OLC under Bush, and Mark Perez, who is known for his outstanding record of public service inside and outside of the CRD, will be more receptive to our progressive causes.

The speakers addressed the fact that despite the fact that most of these nominees are far from controversial and extremely qualified, and despite them being supported by the Senate Judiciary Committee by large margins (four of the seven Republicans on the Committee voted in favor of Dawn Johnsen’s appointment), these nominations have been blocked by Republicans’ threats to filibuster. Since President Obama took office, cloture has been filed on nine different executive nominations and there have been two successful filibusters. To put this in perspective, in the entire eight years President George W. Bush was in office, cloture was filed on only 16 executive nominations. In addition, there were no filibusters of Bush’s nominees during his first 18 months of office, and only four in his entire first term.  

submitted by Lori Sommerfelt, Policy Intern


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