Immigration and Citizenship

Recap: Progressive Leaders Discuss “Why Courts Matter”

This morning, Constitutional Accountability Center President Doug Kendall joined former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and a panel of other progressive leaders for a discussion of the future of the federal courts during President Obama’s  second term.  The discussion was sponsored by the Center for American Progress, American Constitution Society and Constitutional Accountability Center.  Kendall joined Ian Millhiser of CAP Action’s ThinkProgress Justice, Caroline Frederickson, President of ACS, and moderator Andrew Blotky of CAP’s Legal Progress.

Perhaps most significantly, John Podesta, CAP’s Chair, kicked off the event with a thoughtful and candid assessment of the President’s first-term record on judicial nominations, saying, “On the whole, President Obama’s federal judicial nominees have been well-qualified, moderate in views, diverse in gender, background, and professional experience, and true to the text and history of the Constitution.” Podesta was also pointed in calling on the Obama Administration to put more political capital behind the nominations process in the future, while acknowledging recent improvements. “Frankly, the White House bears some of the blame. The Administration was slow to get started and simply did not nominate enough people early enough in the first term to fill existing federal court vacancies.” Podesta’s comments carried considerable weight, given his experience overseeing the nominations and confirmation process in the Clinton White House.

Doug Kendall also outlined the need for action throughout the progressive community, saying, “We progressives don’t spend nearly enough time and energy on getting a judiciary that respects important laws put into place by our elected representatives.” As examples, Kendall pointed to important environmental regulations and voter protections, all hard-fought legislative victories left vulnerable to undoing by conservative judges with radical readings of the Constitution.

In the wake of the election, the panelists also discussed the future of Citizens United and voter protection laws. Ian Millihiser pointed to two ballot access cases that made the difference between voting and not-voting for thousands of residents of the critical state of Ohio. Deciding “who we have on the bench isn’t simply deciding what cases are going to come before them,” Millhiser argued. “They literally decide who sits in the other two branches of government.” Caroline Fredrickson noted, “The courts played a critical role in ensuring the election disruptions were minimized…but, progressives cannot sit on our laurels. If we don’t address this, we’re going to be back in this same situation in the next cycle.”

Kendall concurred, citing the continuing importance of the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act. “What we need is a Supreme Court that will uphold these incredibly important laws. It can all go away with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.”

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