This post originally appeared at Think Progress. Alabama Supreme Court Justice Tom Parker, a disciple of disgraced former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, released a campaign ad comparing the judge who recently struck down the unconstitutional Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy to Al-Qaeda:
Recently, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ordered a worldwide injunction to overturn the Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy on homosexuals serving in the military.  With a stroke of a pen, this Clinton appointed judge—who got her law degree at Berkeley—unilaterally made the biggest single change in military policy in American history. . . . Most people believe that Al-Qaeda is one of America’s biggest security threats, I think it’s time to add liberal activist judges like Judge Phillips to that list.
Parker’s hyperbolic claim about American history would come as a big surprise to the actual framers of the Constitution, who generally shared the view that the mere existance of a permanent standing army invites tyranny, but this kind of absurd and bigoted rhetoric is nothing new for Justice Parker. The picture above depicts Parker with two local hate group leaders.  One is Leonard Wilson, a segregationist and national board member of a group called the Council of Conservative Citizens that has described African-Americans as “a retrograde species of humanity.”  The other is Mike Whorton, Alabama state leader of the neo-Confederate League of the South. (As the Wonk Room recently explained, Parker is not the only candidate with ties to the League.  Martha Dean, the GOP nominee for Connecticut Attorney General, is apparently taking cues from one of the League’s co-founders, right-wing pseudo-historian Tom Woods.) Nor is Parker’s radicalism limited to hatred towards gay men, lesbians and other minority groups.  In a op-ed published during his tenure as a justice, Parker attacked his colleagues for “passively accommodat[ing] — rather than actively resist[ing] — the unconstitutional opinion of five liberal justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.”  The same op-ed elaborated that he objects to the U.S. Supreme Court because they look down on “pro-family policies” and “Southern heritage.”
This post first appeared on Think Progress. Earlier today, Federal Reserve Board nominee Peter Diamond won the Nobel Prize in Economics along with two of his colleagues. Yet, despite the fact that President Obama nominated this Nobel laureate to the Fed nearly six months ago, his nomination is currently being blocked by just one senator. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) believes that this year’s winner of the highest honor in the economics profession is unqualified to actually set economic policy:
[U]nder an arcane procedural rule, the Senate sent Mr. Diamond’s nomination back to the White House on Thursday night before starting its summer recess. A leading Republican senator, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, said that Mr. Diamond did not have sufficiently broad macroeconomic experience to help run the central bank. [...] As Mr. Shelby noted, Mr. Diamond is not a specialist in monetary economics — the control of the supply of credit and the setting of interest rates — which is the Fed’s traditional purview. But of the five current governors of the Fed, only two, Mr. Bernanke and the vice chairman, Donald L. Kohn, are academic economists who specialize in monetary economics. The other three include a former community banker, a former Wall Street executive and a legal scholar.
Shelby, of course, has a history of this kind of abuse of the Senate Rules to prevent eminently qualified nominees from being confirmed. Earlier this year, Shelby briefly took over 70 nominees hostage in an attempt to strongarm the administration into awarding a $35 billion defense contract to his state — although he later lifted these holds once they became politically embarrassing. But Shelby, of course, is only able to get away with these kinds of shenanigans because the Senate’s rules are shockingly easy to abuse. Indeed, while it is common wisdom that 60 senators are required to get virtually anything done, the reality is much bleaker — most Senate business now requires all 100 senators to consent. The reason for this is because dissenting senators can force the Senate to waste hours or even days effectively doing nothing in order to pass a single bill or confirm a single nominee. Indeed, as a recent Center for American Progress white paper explains, there isn’t enough time in two entire presidential terms to confirm all of a new president’s nominees by the time that president leaves office:


In other words, the entire government can be hollowed out by a tiny group of senators with a vendetta. Today, Sen. Shelby thinks that a Nobel laureate doesn’t know enough about economics, so that nominee must languish without an up or down vote.  Tomorrow, another senator could disapprove of a nominee’s haircut, and that alone may be sufficient to spike the nomination.
This post first appeared on Think Progress. In an interview with the conservative Christian Broadcasting Network, Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell suggested that the almighty has “strengthen[ed] and empower[ed]” her campaign so that she can be around to filibuster during the lame duck session:
God continued to strengthen and empower us when, you know, His strength is perfected in our weakness, and that’s what’s exciting.  Because you see that, if it weren’t for faith—when all logic said it’s time to quit—we pursued; we marched on, because we knew that God was not releasing us to quit. And now, with such an important lame duck session, you realize why we were to endure that stuff. [...] I could be that 41st vote, making sure that they don’t get 60 votes, and that we can continue the filibuster to make sure that this backroom deal wheeling and dealing doesn’t succeed.
Watch it:

Because O’Donnell is running in a special election to fill out the remainder of Vice President Joe Biden’s senate term, the winner of her race will join the Senate in time for the lame duck session.  In its segment on the O’Donnell interview, CBN flags the GOP’s plan to cut taxes on the superrich as a key vote where O’Donnell can make a difference during that session.  Apparently, O’Donnell thinks that God has flip-flopped on His longstanding position on rich people.

This post first appeared on Think Progress. The AP’s Mark Sherman reports that GOP obstruction in the Senate has allowed Republicans to further entrench their control over the federal bench, even though a Democratic president is now naming judges:
A determined Republican stall campaign in the Senate has sidetracked so many of the men and women nominated by President Barack Obama for judgeships that he has put fewer people on the bench than any president since Richard Nixon at a similar point in his first term 40 years ago. The delaying tactics have proved so successful, despite the Democrats’ substantial Senate majority, that fewer than half of Obama’s nominees have been confirmed and 102 out of 854 judgeships are vacant. [...] When Bush left office, Republicans had appointed just under 60 percent of all federal judges. Twenty months later, the number has dipped only slightly to a shade under 59 percent, according to statistics compiled by the liberal Alliance for Justice. Because of retirements, the percentage of Republican-nominated district judges actually has gone up.
The data comparing Obama’s confirmation rates to those of recent past presidents is truly grim. In late July, a Center for American Progress issue brief analyzed the percent of each president’s nominees confirmed since Carter. For Obama to see the same percentage of his nominees confirmed as past presidents have seen, the Senate would need to more or less double its pace of confirmations:

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Yet, since July, the Senate confirmed only four additional judges, bringing Obama’s confirmation rate up to a lackluster 47%. President George W. Bush, by comparison, had twice as many judges confirmed during the second August of his presidency. There is still time, however, to reverse this trend.  In the final months of 2002, the Senate confirmed 29 of Bush’s judges — 20 of whom were confirmed during lame duck. And these judges were confirmed at such a speedy rate despite the fact that the Senate was controlled by Democrats and Bush is a Republican. Now it’s time for Obama’s judges to be confirmed at a similarly rapid rate. Allowing the GOP to increase its stranglehold on many federal courts even when a Democrat is in the White House doesn’t just thwart democracy, it has terrible consequences for the American people. Thanks to a Republican district judge’s decision to kill federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, for example, millions of dollars of potentially lifesaving research could be irretrievably lost, even if that judge’s decision is eventually reversed on appeal. Likewise, if the GOP succeeds in holding judgeships open, only to fill those seats with “tenther” judges the next time a Republican is in the White House, they could stack the courts with judges who think that everything from the Affordable Care Act to Social Security and Medicare is unconstitutional.
This post first appeared on Think Progress. Speaking at a rally sponsored by Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Project, GOP state house candidate in Florida, Marg Baker, endorsed building concentration camps for undocumented immigrants:
We can follow what happened back in the 40s or 50s. I was just a little girl in Miami, and they built camps for the people that snuck into the country, because they were illegal. They put them in the camps, and they shipped them back. We can do that.
Watch it: It’s not clear just what camps Baker is referring to, but in the 1940s, the United States did indeed build a series of concentration camps detaining thousands of Japanese-Americans. Years later, President Ronald Reagan signed an official apology for America’s brief experiment with concentration camps. Baker should pay heed to Reagan’s example.
This post first appeared on Think Progress. In the first full war crimes tribunal of the Obama administration, a military judge held that a detainee who confessed to killing an American soldier after he was threatened with being gang-raped to death if he did not cooperate may nonetheless have that confession used against him at trial:
In May hearings, a man identified as Interrogator 1 said in testimony that he threatened Mr. Khadr with being gang-raped to death if he did not co-operate. That interrogator was later identified as former U.S. Army Sergeant Joshua Claus. He has also been convicted of abusing a different detainee and has left the military. Mr. Khadr’s military-appointed lawyer, Lieutenant-Colonel Jon Jackson, argued this instance, as well as other alleged instances of torture and coercion, are enough to render any future confessions – even those in so-called “clean” interrogations – inadmissible in court. “The well was poisoned: The government can’t cleanse the well by saying, ‘Well, someone else came in and was nice to him,’ ” Col. Jackson said. Not so, the prosecution countered: All the confessions and testimony it plans to bring forward were freely offered by Mr. Khadr to people who treated him well. [...] Military judge Colonel Patrick Parrish sided with the prosecution
Khadr was only 15 years old at the time of his capture and confession, earning his tribunal a strong condemnation from the United Nations.  In the words of the UN, “Juvenile justice standards are clear. Children should not be tried before military tribunals.” The military judge’s decision to admit a coerced confession raises even more troubling questions about whether this particular tribunal will reach accurate results.  As the Supreme Court recognized almost 75 years ago, confessions extracted by “brutality and violence” are akin to “deliberate deception” of the court because they reveal little about a suspect’s guilt or innocence and everything about their very human desire to avoid or end torture. This principle obviously applies to Khadr.  A prisoner who is convinced that they will be raped and murdered if they do not confess has nothing to lose — and what remains of their personal dignity to gain — by doing so. A member of Khadr’s legal team called the judge’s decision a “disgrace,” and that lawyer is right.  Coerced confessions are not simply inhumane — and not simply un-American — they produce wholly unreliable evidence.  Mr. Khadr may actually be guilty, but a confession extracted by a rape threat does nothing to prove this point.
This post first appeared on Think Progress. Since President Obama took office, Republicans have shrouded their agenda of opposition by wrapping it in the flag and the Constitution. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) even went so far as to label her radical anti-government views “constitutional conservatism.” Yet, for all of their constitutional pablum, the GOP’s agenda is nothing less than a direct assault on America’s founding document. Time and time again, Republicans have called for basic constitutional freedoms and fundamental aspects of our constitutional government to be repealed either by amendment or by activist judges:
REPEALING CITIZENSHIP: Numerous GOP lawmakers, including their Senate leader and the most-recent Republican candidate for president, are lining up behind a “review” of the 14th Amendment’s grant of citizenship to virtually all persons born within the United States. Such a proposal literally revives the vision of citizenship articulated by the Supreme Court’s infamous pro-slavery decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford. It has no place in the twenty-first century. REPEALING CONGRESS’ POWER TO REGULATE THE ECONOMY: The Constitution’s “Commerce Clause” gives national leaders broad authority to regulate the national economy, but much of the GOP has embraced “tentherism,” the belief that this power is small enough to be drowned in a bathtub. The most famous example of tentherism is the ubiquitous frivolous lawsuits claiming that health reform is unconstitutional, but these lawsuits are part of a much greater effort.  In his brief challenging health reform, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli claims that Congress is allowed to regulate “commerce on one hand” but not “manufacturing or agriculture.” Cuccinelli’s discredited vision of the Constitution was actually implemented in the late 19th and early 20th century, and it would strike down everything from child labor laws to the federal ban on whites-only lunch counters. REPEALING CONGRESS’ POWER TO SPEND MONEY: The Constitution also gives Congress power to “provide for the common defense and general welfare,” a broad grant of authority to create federal spending programs such as Social Security. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), however, recently called upon the Supreme Court to rewrite the Constitution’s clear language and repeal parts of the budget he doesn’t like. A Texas GOP official even went so far as to claim that the federal highway system is unconstitutional. Should this GOP vision of the Constitution ever be adopted, it could eliminate not just Social Security, but also Medicare, Medicaid, federal education spending and countless other cherished programs. REPEALING CONGRESS’ POWER TO RAISE MONEY: The Constitution also gives Congress broad authority to decide how to distribute the tax burden. Thus, for example, Congress is allowed to create a tax incentive for people to buy houses by giving a tax break to people with mortgages, and it is allowed to create a similar incentive for people to buy health insurance by taxing people who have health insurance slightly less than people who do not.  Nevertheless, the frivolous assaults on health reform would eliminate this Constitutional power. Many Tea Party Republicans go even further, calling for a full repeal of the 16th Amendment, the amendment which enables the income tax. Paying taxes is never popular, but it would be impossible to function as a nation if America lacked the power to raise the money it needs to pay our armed forces, among other things. REPEALING EQUALITY: The Constitution entitles all persons to “equal protection of the laws,” a provision that formed the basis of Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision yesterday that California cannot treat gay couples as if they are somehow inferior. Immediately after this decision was announced, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) called upon Congress to “act immediately” to overturn it — something that it could only do through a constitutional amendment.  Of course, Newt’s proposal does nothing more than revive President Bush’s call for a constitutional amendment repealing the parts of the Constitution that protect marriage equality. REPEALING FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS: As Judge Walker also held, marriage is a fundamental right protected by the Constitution’s Due Process Clause. The GOP’s anti-gay amendment would repeal this constitutional protection as well. REPEALING ELECTION OF SENATORS: Finally, a number of GOP candidates have come out in favor of repealing the 17th Amendment, the provision of the Constitution which requires direct election of senators, although many of these candidates also backed off their “Seventeenther” stand after it proved embarrassing. It is simply baffling how anyone could take one look at the U.S. Senate, and decide that what it really needs is even less democracy.
Cross-posted from Think Progress. Editor's Note: You can watch the hearings live here:

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Confirmation hearings have begun today on the nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the United States Supreme Court. Yesterday, appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-AL) explained how he intends to attack Kagan. During the interview, Sessions repeated a tired concern about liberal “activist” judges, only to slam Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan because she is not an activist. Sessions laid out a simple test that judicial nominees must overcome: They must not use the courts to thwart democracy:
SESSIONS: The question is: does the judge understand that they can’t utilize the power, the lifetime appointment, to redefine the meaning of the constitution — to have it promote an agenda in an activist way that the American people won’t vote for.
Yet, just seconds earlier, Session attacked Kagan because she does not subscribe to a radical “tenther” philosophy that would eliminate elected national leaders’ power to address national challenges:
SESSIONS: I think this nominee does have serious deficiencies, issues that need to be raised. The American people are concerned about their courts. They’re concerned about a growing expansive government that seems to be beyond anything they’ve ever seen before. And they’d like to know what their judges might have to do about it. So I think that’s kind of where we are.
Watch it:

Sessions can’t have it both ways. America can either have judges who honor the will of an electorate that overwhelmingly supported President Obama and which gave Obama’s party enormous majorities in both houses, or it can have judges who will second-guess laws that Sessions doesn’t like. Moreover, Sessions is simply wrong to claim that “the American people” prefer tenther judges who overrule laws passed by Congress. Although Sessions has previously implied that judges should strike down the landmark health reforms that Obama signed earlier this year, the American people clearly oppose such a tactic. In a recent poll, 55 percent of the electorate said that they would rather give the Affordable Care Act a chance to work, compared to only 42 percent who would like to see it repealed. The sad truth is that Jeff Sessions is perfectly happy to endorse an agenda that “the American people won’t vote for.”  He only cares about democracy when the voters happen to agree with him. As Obama noted yesterday, the attacks on Kagan have been “pretty thin gruel.”

Update On CNN’s American Morning, many of Sessions’ arguments were effectively demonstrated to be disingenuous by host John Roberts. Arguing that Kagan has “serious problems,” Sessions complained that Kagan has praised former Israeli Supreme Court President Aharon Barak. But Roberts noted that Justice Antonin Scalia had also praised Barak. Sessions then attacked Kagan for not having a depth of experience, but Roberts noted that Sessions had praised Bush nominee Harriet Miers, who also did not have judicial experience. Roberts said, “Just a second ago, you pointed to Harriet Miers’ White House experience as a qualifying factor, but you point to Elena Kagan’s White House experience as a potential disqualifying factor.” Ironically, the only area on which Sessions could find agreement with Kagan was her previous statement that the confirmation hearings can be a “vapid and hollow” process. Watch it:

This post first appeared on Think Progress. Yesterday, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli announced that he would join a growing list of right-wing attorneys general who are suing to have health reform declared unconstitutional. According to Cuccinelli, the new law’s provisions that require individuals to carry health insurance violate the Constitution because “at no time in our history has the government mandated its citizens buy a good or service.” The truth, however, is that the Second Militia Act of 1792, required a significant percentage of the U.S. civilian population to purchase a long list of military equipment:
[E]very citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball; or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder; and shall appear so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise or into service, except, that when called out on company days to exercise only, he may appear without a knapsack. That the commissioned Officers shall severally be armed with a sword or hanger, and espontoon; and that from and after five years from the passing of this Act, all muskets from arming the militia as is herein required, shall be of bores sufficient for balls of the eighteenth part of a pound; and every citizen so enrolled, and providing himself with the arms, ammunition and accoutrements, required as aforesaid, shall hold the same exempted from all suits, distresses, executions or sales, for debt or for the payment of taxes.
This Act became law only a few years after the Constitution was ratified, in President George Washington’s first term. Many of the Members of Congress who voted for the Act also were members of the Philadelphia Convention that wrote the Constitution. In other words, they probably knew a little bit more about the Constitution than Ken Cuccinelli.