In case you missed it in all the hubbub surrounding the General Assembly, Raleigh’s News & Observer ran a fine op-ed by Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell yesterday about the inexcusable obstructionism in which the GOP is engaging with respect to President Obama’s federal court nominees. Here’s Rampell:

“Republicans have apparently grown bored with rendering the legislative branch completely dysfunctional. Now they’re doing their damnedest to destroy the judicial branch, too.

With little fanfare, the United States’ federal judiciary has started coming apart at the seams, particularly in judicial districts represented by at least one Republican senator. That’s no coincidence. Motivated by a desire both to make President Obama look bad and to delay any judicial appointments until there’s (possibly) a Republican in the White House, GOP senators have thrown obstruction after obstruction in front of the judicial appointment process. As a result, the Republican-controlled Senate has confirmed only six federal judges in 2015.

It’s the slowest pace in over six decades, as documented in a new report from the Alliance for Justice. As a result, since the start of the year, the number of open federal judgeships has increased from 43 to 67, with at least 18 more set to open in the next few months.

Also as a result, ‘judicial emergencies’ – basically, courts where caseloads have become unmanageable – have exploded throughout the country. This has had detrimental effects on both criminal defendants awaiting trial and civil litigants forced to wait months or years for their day in court.”

Richard Burr 2Rampell goes on to cite North Carolina as one of the states in which this obstructionism has reached a ridiculous level — a fact familiar to most Progressive Pulse readers who will recall that Richard Burr has been stonewalling Obama’s nominee to the state’s Eastern District vacancy for years.
Of course, none of this should be terribly surprising given the right’s ideologically-driven mission to impair the functioning of government in order to abet the mission of privatizing its core functions. That said, the bald-faced nature of the dishonesty that underlies this particular campaign of obstruction is truly amazing.
You can read Rampalll’s essay by clicking here and get all the sobering stats and facts on the obstructionism generally by visiting the Why Courts Matter website here.

Anisha Singh at the Center for American Progress has produced a remarkable new infographic on the absurd obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees. As the accompanying post notes:

“Since 2015, the U.S. Senate has confirmed just six federal judges to the bench, and the number of judicial emergencies has nearly tripled. As the graphic below shows, this is the worst obstruction of judicial nominations in more than half a century. As a result, millions of Americans are being denied access to justice.”



As the numbers below from the good people at the Alliance For Justice show, the conservative blockade of President Obama’s judicial nominees is reaching absurd and historic levels. Admittedly, Obama has 18 months to go in his term, but if things continue at their current pace, only 20 nominees will be confirmed during his last two years in office. This number would be vastly lower than any other modern president — a fact that is rendered all the more outrageous by the fact that the country and the judiciary are both much larger than they were in the past.

The consequences of this shameless stall job are being felt all over the country (including here in North Carolina) as our court system grows increasingly incapable of doing its job — serving the legal needs of the citizenry.


Gene Nichol

Prof. Gene Nichol

In case you missed it over the weekend, Gene Nichol had a fine editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he shined a light on the utter madness of the narrow U.S. Supreme Court majority that, has, effectively, handed our national presidential elections over to a small group of billionaire plutocrats.

Here’s Nichol, after reminding us of Lincoln’s famous call to “allow the governed an equal voice in the government”:

“Few spectacles could more profoundly debase Lincoln’s sense of the meaning of America than the recent parade of presidential hopefuls seeking audience, in supplication, before a growing list of billionaire funders.

The Koch brothers announced that a billion dollars is up for grabs in 2016 for the candidate who most pleases them. Casino operator Sheldon Adelson, who reportedly coughed up $100 million in 2012, allowed tribute to be paid, and sought, a couple of weeks ago at his Las Vegas hotel. Republican candidates appeared with bells on.

Hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer announced he’ll sponsor Ted Cruz. Rick Santorum, once again, will carry the colors of investment manager Foster Friess. Florida billionaire Norman Braman will provide at least $10 million for Marco Rubio. Jeb Bush’s new Super PAC, Right To Rise, will reportedly secure $100 million of individual and corporate donations before the end of May.

Democrats are no better. Hillary Clinton followed up her announcement that curing the evils of money and politics will be a core component of her campaign by traveling to California to seek massive contributions for the Priorities USA Super PAC. She’s confident we’ve forgotten the Lincoln bedroom leases and the overtly purchased attentions (and pardons) of her husband’s administration….

The Washington Post described the unfolding primary as “a brawl of billionaires.” The elites of the super donor class shield and secure their own, seemingly essential, primary. The Center for Responsive Politics reminds that, in 2012, about a hundred people and their spouses contributed 67 percent of all Super PAC funding. The 1 percent of the 1 percent of the 1 percent.”

After reminding us that this ridiculous situation has all been made possible by a series of Supreme Court rulings that have equated unfettered spending by billionaires with “free speech,” he concludes this way:

“We are not without weapons. Jurisdiction can be curtailed. New seats can be added to the court. Judges can be impeached for attempting to destroy democracy. Enough is enough. Tom Paine wouldn’t put up with this. Neither would old Abe.”

He’s right. let’s get to work.


As Sharon McCloskey reported in this space yesterday, the the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a modest victory for democracy this week when it said that states can ban direct campaign solicitations by judges. Would that North Carolina would join the list of states to do so.

What was perhaps the most amazing thing about the Court’s ruling, however, was Chief Justice John Roberts’ rationale. Ian Millhiser of Think Progress explains:

“Chief Justice John Roberts’s opinion for the Court in Williams-Yulee is certainly better for campaign finance regulation than a decision striking down this limit on judicial candidates — had the case gone the other way, judges could have been given the right to solicit money from the very lawyers who practice before them. Yet Roberts also describes judges as if they are special snowflakes who must behave in a neutral and unbiased way that would simply be inappropriate for legislators, governors and presidents:

‘States may regulate judicial elections differently than they regulate political elections, because the role of judges differs from the role of politicians. Politicians are expected to be appropriately responsive to the preferences of their supporters. Indeed, such ‘responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.’ The same is not true of judges. In deciding cases, a judge is not to follow the preferences of his supporters, or provide any special consideration to his campaign donors. A judge instead must ‘observe the utmost fairness,’ striving to be “perfectly and completely independent, with nothing to influence or controul [sic] him but God and his conscience.” As in White, therefore, our precedents applying the First Amendment to political elections have little bearing on the issues here.’

Most Americans would undoubtedly agree that judges should not ‘follow the preferences’ of their political supporters, as they would agree that judges should not ‘provide any special consideration to his campaign donors.’ But the implication of the passage quoted above is that members of Congress, state lawmakers, governors and presidents should provide such consideration to their supporters and to their donors. The President of the United States is the president of the entire United States. A member of Congress represents their entire constituency. Yet Roberts appears to believe that they should ‘follow the preferences’ of their supporters and give ‘special consideration’ to the disproportionately wealthy individuals who fund their election.”

Sadly, as Millhiser concludes, the view that it’s okay for donors to buy politicians is at the heart of the Court’s unabashed ruling in the infamous Citizens United decision. What’s bizarre about this week’s ruling is the Court majority’s apparent obliviousness to their own hypocrisy when it comes to donors buying judges.