Here we go again, another week, another Obama nomination for the judiciary blocked by the overly abused filibuster from the contemptible Republicans. Their insidious behavior actually comes with two excuses they actually expect fools to swallow. First, after admitting that Obama’s nominations to the judiciary are “uncontroversial,” they say that the courts are “not busy enough” to fill the empty seats. Next, they say that Obama is “court-packing,” or in other words, putting too many liberals in open judicial seats. This is laughable as the courts are currently tipped heavily in a conservative direction, and Obama has had no chance to appoint judges in the face of years of filibusters; fully 20 judges have sat in limbo, only to have most withdraw their names in frustration or have their nomination withdrawn by Obama. It is Obama’s job to appoint judges. He has every right to appoint liberal judges, just as Bush stacked the courts with far-right judges, but even then Obama selects centrist judges. Interestingly enough, the pool of judges Obama has picked has been very diverse including 7 African Americans, 1 Asian, and 1 Native American nominee. We have seen how willing these Republicans are to work with a person of a different race this past five years, so one is left to wonder if these judges didn’t fit their desired profile. The Republicans whine when accused of exercising bias against women and minorities, yet they have no other legitimate explanation for blocking Obama’s appointments.
Conservatives have an immeasurable number of faults and deficits, but the ability to effectively organize and strategize is not one of them. Ever since the 1960s, they have been meeting in churches, restaurants, and homes to plot their takeover of the country. It may even date as far back as the 1950s; Kim Messick at Salon.com notes, “William Rusher, Bill Buckley’s colleague at National Review, remarked revealingly that the modern conservative movement formed itself ‘in opposition to the Eisenhower administration.'” The story of this movement is masterfully explained in the book, “Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right,” by Lisa McGirr. While most people think of the 1960s as a time of counterculture, rebellion against the status quo, and a liberalization of the nation, that is not a complete picture of what was going on in the United States. Concurrent with the rise of the hippies was the rise of the grassroots conservative crusade, a crusade to see the country become a Christian nation (or in their eyes return to being a Christian nation) with all the associated conservative mores. Furthermore, the Civil Rights movement and the War on Poverty were cause for a “mini-revolution,” by these suburban warriors who felt threatened by the ascendancy of minorities and the economic initiatives of the government that were built on “their tax dollars” and helped “those people.”
Their planning and scheming brought them long-term success. The rise of Ronald Reagan from California was no accident. One of the strongest centers of conservative activism was in Orange County, California. A consequence of conservatives’ steadfast commitment to organizing has been their ability to identify which seats of power to target for infiltration. At some point, they eyed the judicial system, at the local, state, district, and federal levels, and decided this would be a place they could make a lasting impact. Of course, they were right; just look at Brown vs. Board of Education or Roe vs. Wade or Citizen’s United to see the enormous influence the judiciary has over social policy and American society. Having learned this lesson, they have steadfastly manipulated our courts to put in place far right judges, often with lifetime appointments, that haunt our daily lives with their outrageous decisions (e.g. Crawford v. Marion County Election Board; Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission; Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores; District Attorney’s Office v. Osborne; Shelby County v. Holder).
If you watched the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice John Roberts, you know he is highly intelligent, genuinely knowledgeable about the law, and has the conniving manner of a stereotypical lawyer to practice doublespeak, eloquently evade pointed questions, and manipulate listeners into believing he is a fair-minded justice. This facade hides his real intentions. As Jeffrey Toobin wrote in the New Yorker,
“In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff. Even more than Scalia, who has embodied judicial conservatism during a generation of service on the Supreme Court, Roberts has served the interests, and reflected the values, of the contemporary Republican Party.”
Democrats never tried to filibuster the Bush-nominated John Roberts. They did put in some effort on two of Bush’s nominees that ended up receiving confirmation anyway, only to become radical judges giving a bad name to the word ‘ judgment’. Recently, Rachel Maddow profiled the legacy of George W. Bush in his appointments of Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown. Each has just made rulings eating away at women’s reproductive rights; Owen joining with two other Bush appointees, also women, to reinstate new, draconian Texas abortion laws that had been halted by a lower court, and Brown granting religious rights to corporations in allowing them to force their beliefs on employees with regard to birth control. Rogers is not alone. Judge Timothy Tymkovich, a Bush appointee, made the same ruling as Brown, but also said religious employers can reject laws that require gender equality. This is not surprising given that prior to nomination, Priscilla Owen had made judicial decisions so egregious that Alberto Gonzales once referred to one as “an unconscionable act of judicial activism.” Other judges have been just as destructive to civil rights, such as William Pryor, who ruled that Georgia’s voter ID law was “not discriminatory, but necessary to avoid voter fraud,” when only a thought-challenged fool, deliberately ignoring evidence, could ever reach such a conclusion.
These efforts to thwart President Obama’s nominations for federal and district courts are strategic, calculating, and part of a long-term plan to force conservative social policy on the country. Thus far, Harry Reid has steadfastly allowed the filibuster to remain a powerful tool in the hands of the Republicans. He needs to just shut it down. No doubt, in his mind, he pictures a day in the future when Democrats are in the minority and may need to use the filibuster themselves. He needs to rethink this dynamic. Except in rare instances, Democrats have not been good at drawing a line in the sand and refusing to negotiate. Whenever they do filibuster, they end up compromising, which is how we ended up with Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown. This week, in response to threats to change the filibuster rules, Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) snidely said, “Go ahead. There are a lot more Scalias and Thomases that we’d love to put on the bench.” Guess what, Democrats had the filibuster when those men were put on the bench. It didn’t work to prevent their appointment. It’s in our nature to be reasonable and cooperative. Our adversaries are neither. They will keep beating the Democrats over the head with the filibuster, force the slew of open judicial seats to remain open, and try every cutthroat measure to prevent the country from finally having a balance in the judiciary. It is part of their long term scheme, so it’s time the Democrats had a long-term scheme of their own.
Deborah is a former social work professor who taught social policy, mental health policy, and human diversity. Proud to be called liberal, she happily pays her taxes after being raised in a home that needed long-term welfare. Contrary to the opinion of many, she is living proof that government investment in children leads them out of poverty having received services from Head Start to Pell Grants. Deborah works with low-income, first generation, and disabled college students who are at high-risk for dropping out of college in a program designed to help them graduate. She lives with her husband, stepson, and an aging cat.