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hagan-and-burrWith the midterm elections finally out of the way, lawmakers will return to Washington in the days ahead for what is commonly referred to as a “lame duck” session. Among many important piece of  business, are numerous judicial nominees that must get confirmed to fill vacancies on our nation’s federal courts and keep the wheels of justice moving.

Going into the 2014 lame duck period, there are 64 current judicial vacancies and 34 nominees pending in the Senate. As we’ve detailed at length in this space previously, two of these vacancies are here in North Carolina and one has sat empty for eight years.

In such an environment, it is vital for the Senate to stay in session until every judicial nominee on the floor gets a yes-or-no vote. If these judges are not confirmed, our federal courts will simply not be able adequately handle the numerous critical issues – from marriage equality to voting rights to health care to immigration – that affect all of us.

Happily, there are historical precedents for this kind of swift action: In the 2010 and 2012 lame duck sessions, a total of 32 judicial nominees were confirmed. Senators should apply a similar focus this session. In the 2002 lame duck session, Democrats controlled the Senate. In a spirit of bipartisanship, even though they were the opposition party, they nonetheless confirmed 20 of President Bush’s judicial nominees. Republicans today should put aside politics and get to work to get nominees waiting for a vote confirmed.

Obviously, it is also important to work to confirm judges before the end of the year because the new Republican Senate it is likely to obstruct judicial nominees with the hope that a Republican president will be elected in 2016. Indeed, many expect that the GOP leadership will change the rules to slow judicial confirmations to a crawl and reinstitute obstruction by filibuster.

Instead of judges who side with corporate interests and whittle away at laws that protect our rights, the United States needs judges who support equality, protect access to health care, and are committed to safeguarding the Constitution. That’s why we need the Senate to act on judicial nominees before the end of the year.

The good people at the Center for American Progress have established a website — WhyCourtsmatter.org — that allows you to learn more about (and participate) in the effort to spur Senate action. Click here to learn more.

Commentary
Kay Hagan concession

Photo: WRAL.com

Last night’s election results were a sobering and at times confounding experience for progressives. It’s always traumatic and frustrating to see millions of people vote directly against their own economic interests in so many races.

That said, one thing that clearly isn’t at all confounding in 2014 is this: the pernicious and cancerous spread of big, dark money and the urgent need to combat it at all costs. This isn’t about the Tillis-Hagan result, or even the Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate that had been foreseen for weeks. Hagan and most of the other defeated Democrats had plenty of their own dark, corporate money as well.

Indeed, Kay Hagan’s Senate term was always a byproduct/side effect of other, larger forces rather than who she was or what she “stood” for. Hagan surfed into office in 2008 on the Obama wave (and Elizabeth Dole’s comical blunders) and exited the stage last night on the ebbing tide that almost always comes for the party in power during the last off-year election of a two-term presidency. Hagan probably could have spent another $20 million and still lost.

Moreover, had she won,there is little doubt that she would have continued to do the bidding of the big money forces who plucked her from obscurity originally and funded her campaigns. Read More

News
(Source: whitehouse.gov)

(Source: whitehouse.gov)

According to a Judiciary Committee spokesperson, both North Carolina senators have submitted “blue slips” for Loretta Copeland Biggs, nominated in September by President Obama to serve as a U.S. District Judge in the state’s Middle District.

That signal of support by home state senators allows the nominee to proceed to a Judiciary Committee hearing and move a step closer to confirmation, which follows from a full floor vote.

If confirmed by the Senate, Biggs will take the seat opened up by Judge James Beaty, who nows serves on senior status.

“We have two highly qualified, outstanding African-American women who have been nominated to be federal judges, and I think it’s time we confirm them and get them on the bench,”  Sen. Kay Hagan said shortly after the Biggs nomination — referring also to Jennifer Prescod May-Parker, a pending nominee for the country’s oldest federal District Court vacancy out in eastern North Carolina.

(Source: whitehouse.gov)

(Source: whitehouse.gov)

Sen. Richard Burr inexplicably continues to withhold a “blue slip” for May-Parker, though — despite his strong statements on the Senate floor disapproving of obstructionism in the judicial nomination process.

Click here for more on the tortured history of North Carolina’s federal judicial vacancies and the lack of diversity of those who have served. 

Commentary

As North Carolina endures the absurd, never-ending ad blitz of a U.S. Senate campaign, here are two quick, must reads that explain: 1) just how far out of hand the wholesale sell-off of our democracy to the top 1% has gotten and 2) what we ought to be doing about it.

Number One is a great, interactive post from the the Center for Public Integrity entitled “Who’s buying the Senate?”  If you follow the link, you can check out a partial list if who is paying (sort of anyway) for the remarkable flood of thousands of junk TV ads (there have already been nearly 50,000 of them on TV  in North Carolina (not including local cable and many other media).

Meanwhile, Number Two is this editorial from yesterday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch that tells you what we ought to be doing to rein in this situation and reclaim control of our democracy – namely, pass the “Democracy for All” amendment that would reestablish the constitutionality of limits on campaign finance.  The editorial is entitled “While America sleeps, plutocrats are stealing its government.” To quote:

Thanks to a series of wretched decisions by the Supreme Court, effective political speech now belongs only to those who can afford it. What’s more, donors can easily keep their names secret.

The court has ruled that money is a form of speech that cannot be abridged. But as Justice John Paul Stevens wrote so succinctly in 2000, upholding Missouri’s campaign finance limits, “Money is property; it is not speech….”

Given the sordid record of the Rehnquist and Roberts courts on campaign finance issues, Democratic Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Michael Bennet of Colorado saw the obvious solution as amending the Constitution to make it clear that democracy is not plutocracy. But that requires the cooperation of the party that benefits from the status quo. When Mr. Udall needed a Republican co-author for an op-ed commentary about his amendment, he had to go Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who retired from the Senate in 1997.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other agents of the plutocrats are couching the vote on SJR 19 as a free-speech issue. Mr. McConnell appears to think that the public will be fooled, or that it doesn’t care. He went along with Majority Leader Harry Reid’s, D-Nev., plans to spend this week debating the amendment.

Don’t be fooled. This is not about free speech rights. It is about property rights, specifically whether those with the most property should have the biggest say in the way government is run. Without enough money to hire consultants and staff and to barrage voters with television ads, candidates for federal and statewide offices — and increasingly, local offices — have virtually no chance of being elected.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Commentary
Tillis Hagan

Photo: WRAL.com

There’s been a great deal of discussion in the media and elsewhere in recent days about the issue of sexism in politics and, in particular, whether it was just a friendly and appropriate sign of progress or a sexist and disrespectful bit of backsliding for North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis to repeatedly refer to his opponent, Senator Kay Hagan, as “Kay” during their first debate.

One staffer at the John Locke Foundation attacked reporter Laura Leslie of WRAL last week and accused her of “helping to keep the false narrative alive.” The staffer then went on to say the following:

“What Leslie fails to mention in her story is that Hagan and Tillis were colleagues in the N.C. General Assembly for several years, which makes the first-name basis very understandable, and not a show of disrespect.”

A fact check, however, raises some doubts about the Locke staffer’s claims — at least the part about Hagan and Tillis being old buddies. Speaker Tillis began his service in the House of Representaives in 2007. This means he and Hagan were only in Raleigh at the same time for one term — during which he was  a backbencher in the House GOP minority from Mecklenburg County and she was a powerful Senate Appropriations chair from Guilford County who was running for the U.S. Senate (she was. of course, elected in 2008).

The bottom line: While it’s certainly possible that the two had friendly interactions during that brief window, it would have been quite unusual given normal General Assembly dynamics. Moreover, it’s simply untrue that they were “colleagues in the the N.C. General Assembly for several years.”