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June 22, 2010
1:32 PM

CONTACT: Justice at Stake Campaign

Phone: 202-588-9700

Reform Groups Urge White House, Senate to Reduce Judicial Backlogs

Faster Nominations, End to Holds, Up-or-Down Vote on Kagan Are Sought; Justice at Stake Also Poses Confirmation Questions for High-Court Pick

WASHINGTON - June 22 - Three national legal reform groups have called on the White House and Senate leaders of both parties to work together to reduce a growing backlog of judicial nominations, saying that "the process of nominating and confirming federal judges has been politicized by both parties, damaging the integrity of our justice system."

In a June 22 letter, the Justice at Stake Campaign, the Brennan Center for Justice and the American Judicature Society urged the White House to pick up the pace of judicial nominations, and urged the Senate to end the practice of anonymous holds, by which individual senators covertly block judicial nominations. The groups also urged the Senate to give Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan an up-or-down vote, without threat of a filibuster.

Noting that 103 Article III federal judgeships were vacant as of June 15, and that 40 of those vacancies are deemed "emergencies" by the Federal Courts, the groups said:

"We believe that every administration should make the nomination of judges to the federal bench a top priority, and should make every attempt to fill judicial vacancies expeditiously. We further believe that the Senate has the responsibility to act to confirm judicial nominees expeditiously and without needless delays."

The letter was addressed to President Obama; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.); Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.); Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee. For the full text of the letter, click here.

Justice at Stake also sent a separate letter on its own to the Senate Judiciary Committee, recommending that 10 questions be posed to Kagan during her nomination hearings, which begin June 28. Justice at Stake said the questions "will help Americans to understand Solicitor General Kagan's perspective on the significance of a fair and impartial judiciary. We encourage you to bring these pertinent issues to the public's attention."

Among the questions:

  1. In 1995, you indicated that nominees could and should be expected to answer questions about their views on "privacy rights, free speech, race and gender discrimination, and so forth." Do you still adhere to this view? If not, what has changed your perspective on this issue?
  2. In Caperton v. Massey, the Court held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment may require judges to recuse themselves in cases where they have received a significant amount of campaign support from a party in a pending case. ... What other sorts of circumstances may warrant a Justice's recusal in a particular case?
  3. In a 2007 speech at West Point, you were highly critical of the views on executive power held by lawyers in the Bush administration. Yet as Solicitor General, you argued in favor of dismissing lawsuits on the basis of the state secrets privilege, argued against a ruling that granted habeas corpus rights to detainees in Afghanistan, and took an expansive view of the executive branch's authority to use military authority. Can you elaborate on your views on executive authority, and the role of the courts and congress in serving as a check on executive branch power?

Other topics among the questions include the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, the degree of deference courts should give to elected leaders, the potential impact of having three women on the Supreme Court, and when it is appropriate to impeach a judge.

To see all 10 questions suggested for Kagan's nomination hearings, click here.

We’re a nationwide, nonpartisan partnership of more than forty-five judicial, legal and citizen organizations. We’ve come together because across America, your right to fair and impartial justice is at stake. Judges and citizens are deeply concerned about the growing impact of money and politics on fair and impartial courts. Our mission is to educate the public and work for reforms to keep politics and special interests out of the courtroom—so judges can do their job protecting the Constitution, individual rights and the rule of law.


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