Ask Candidates About Courts, Harkin And Advocacy Group Urges

As Democratic candidates campaign across Iowa, make sure to ask them about their plans to win the judiciary back from conservative court-packing, one national advocacy group is urging Iowa caucus-goers.

Demand Justice, a progressive advocacy organization seeking to restore balance to the ideological leanings of the federal courts, organized a meeting with connected Iowans and former Sen. Tom Harkin on Friday.

The Issue Of Vacancies And Confirmations

Brian Fallon, the founder of Demand Justice, said the biggest problem facing Democrats is that Republicans have spent the last three years filling judicial vacancies — 146 so far — mostly with right-wing judges. Because of that, a Democratic president will have fewer opportunities to nominate judges, though some will retire or take senior-status in the future.

“We’re trying to raise the salience of this all-important issue because we’re dealing with the consequences of the 2016 election,” Fallon said. “You see it in terms of what the Senate is doing — they’re not legislating very much, they’re not passing very many bills. They’re doing one thing and that’s confirming judges.”

In the last two days before the start of their August recess, the Senate confirmed 12 new judges to district courts across the country, many of whom had questionable experience or right-wing interpretations of the law.

Because the judges have lifetime tenure and the ability to change or set precedents, their influence will last beyond Trump’s presidency.

Groups like Fallon’s are trying to raise the profile of this issue for those running for the White House and the Senate, because senators not only vote on nominees, they also have an influence over who gets nominated.

As an example, Fallon pointed to Harkin, who was well-known for recommending judges as a senator.

Harkin, who served in the Senate from 1985 to 2015,  stressed the importance of this conversation.

“Now we’ve got to come back and impress upon our candidates that this shouldn’t be a throwaway issue, not just some ‘oh well, I’ll get to it later,’” Harkin said. “It oughta be front and center.”

The Types Of Appointees To Consider

Harkin said the candidates should talk about the types of lawyers or judges they would appoint to the federal bench while they’re still on the trail.

“We want people who have had experience as people’s lawyer,” Harkin said. “Not just corporate lawyers, not someone who’s in the Washington, D.C. circle.”

Demand Justice recently made that point, too. In a piece in the Atlantic, Fallon and Demand Justice co-founder Christopher Kang called for appointing more lawyers who have experience in areas like civil rights or labor or who served as public defenders.

One of these people is Jane Kelly, an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals judge from Cedar Rapids. Harkin supported her nomination to the Eighth Circuit and advocated for her to be chosen as President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court in 2016.

Kelly has also been mentioned by Demand Justice as a potential Supreme Court pick.

“We have to let young people who are in law school and just getting out of law school know that they don’t have to become a corporate lawyer if they want to be a judge,” Harkin said. “They can be an environmental lawyer, they can be a labor lawyer, they can be a public defender, they can be a legal services lawyer, and that is a pathway to being a judge.”

Fallon said Demand Justice has seen movement in people caring about the courts and how political they’ve gotten, particularly after the explosive hearing for Brett Kavanaugh, who now serves on the Supreme Court.

Because of that, and because of how important the issue is, Fallon said he wants the presidential candidates to talk more about the judges they would look to appoint.

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Republicans have long paid attention to the judiciary system, and while Democrats are late to the party, Fallon said now is the time to change that, and to do it with judges who will champion everyday Americans.

“What we’re seeing today is a federal bench that is stock-full of people that represented corporate interests throughout their career,” Fallon said. “We need to prioritize people that come to the law with a different vantage point.”

 

by Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 8/26/19

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