NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

LIVE from New Orleans: Thinking and uniting across issues to protect our federal judiciary

Hel­lo from Net­roots Nation in New Orleans!

This after­noon, I observed a pan­el called Our Rights, Our Fight: Why Pro­gres­sives are Unit­ing Across Issues to Pro­tect Our Courts.

Mod­er­at­ed by Kei­th Thiri­on, Direc­tor of Out­reach at Alliance for Jus­tice, the five pan­elists were from dif­fer­ent pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions that each have a dif­fer­ent focus, but who are all very active in the fight against Don­ald Trump’s ter­ri­ble judi­cial nom­i­nees at all lev­els of the fed­er­al judiciary.

Thiri­on not­ed that they had planned this pan­el dis­cus­sion before the retire­ment of Supreme Court Jus­tice Kennedy and the sub­se­quent nom­i­na­tion of Brett Kavanaugh, but now the top­ic has even greater urgency.

Hilary Shel­ton is the Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Bureau Direc­tor of the NAACP and Senior Vice Pres­i­dent of Pol­i­cy and Advo­ca­cy for the NAACP nation­al­ly. He said that too often we put a lot of empha­sis on pass­ing leg­is­la­tion, but we for­get that once bills pass it is up to the courts to decide what those laws mean.

So we real­ly need to think about who ends up in the Unit­ed States Sen­ate, since they have to con­firm all judi­cial nom­i­nees, and we need to engage our­selves in the judi­cial process like nev­er before.

Amba­li­ka Williams, who serves Patient Advo­ca­cy Pro­gram Man­ag­er with the Planned Par­ent­hood Action Fund, helps enable peo­ple to be able to advo­cate for them­selves, their health­care, and their free­dom to make repro­duc­tive choices.

“We are in the fight of our lives,” she said. “Our bod­ies will be on the line.”

She not­ed that the major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans do not want Roe v. Wade to be over­turned, and that peo­ple are ener­gized and mobi­liz­ing around the issue of block­ing Kavanaugh­’s nomination.

She also offered the encour­age­ment that we can stop his con­fir­ma­tion, just like we saved the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act from being repealed by Republicans.

Eliz­a­beth Beavers, the Asso­ciate Pol­i­cy Direc­tor for Indi­vis­i­ble, empha­sized the need to be strate­gic and to apply pres­sure in the way the sys­tem is designed to receive it. She encour­aged every­one to talk to their sen­a­tors to let them know that Kavanaugh is unac­cept­able. Beyond that, she said, we also have to take pow­er, and elect a Con­gress that is will­ing to pro­tect and save the Supreme Court.

Ian Wil­hite, the Press Sec­re­tary for Lamb­da Legal in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., also brought his valu­able per­spec­tive to the pan­el dis­cus­sion. Lamb­da Legal uses the law and courts to make LGBTQ peo­ple safer and make the coun­try more fair.

Fed­er­al judges have been rul­ing in their favor in a case against the Trump admin­is­tra­tion for the trans­gen­der ban on mil­i­tary ser­vice that Trump announced over Twit­ter last year. The admin­is­tra­tion keeps appeal­ing, so the case will prob­a­bly end up at the Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States. If Kavanaugh were con­firmed, he would sure­ly side with Trump on this case, said Wilhite.

Karol Alzate Lodono, an Out­reach Asso­ciate for Alliance for Jus­tice, told the audi­ence that the ener­gy is there to win this fight.

“Coali­tions work, through coali­tions we will win,” she said.

After every­one made their open­ing state­ments, Thiri­on remind­ed every­one of Trump’s polit­i­cal lit­mus test for judi­cial nom­i­nees: name­ly, that they would repeal Roe v. Wade and the Patient Pro­tec­tion Act.

Con­sid­er­ing that and what we know about Kavanaugh, Thiri­on asked the pan­elists what is at stake for the com­mu­ni­ties they represent.

Shel­ton quick­ly replied with a list of items: equal oppor­tu­ni­ty, affir­ma­tive action (which he not­ed actu­al­ly ben­e­fits white women more than any­one else, despite most peo­ple’s assump­tions), and labor rights, includ­ing the right to organize.

Free­doms that Amer­i­cans cur­rent­ly enjoy would be in dan­ger for decades, he said, since it is almost impos­si­ble to remove some­one from the Supreme Court and it has­n’t hap­pened in more than a century.

Shel­ton also added that in addi­tion to the lit­mus test that Thiri­on men­tioned, Trump’s list of twen­ty-five peo­ple that he was con­sid­er­ing for the Supreme Court appoint­ment was also vet­ted and ful­ly endorsed by such con­ser­v­a­tive orga­ni­za­tions as the Fed­er­al­ist Soci­ety and the Her­itage Institute.

Williams described the risk to all women if Kavanaugh is appoint­ed and Roe v. Wade is over­turned. She said there are many states that would like­ly ban abor­tion if that hap­pened, and explained that there are four states that have trig­ger laws out­law­ing abor­tion that would come into effect the moment Roe is struck down.

Thiri­on then not­ed that advo­cates had been suc­cess­ful in get­ting nom­i­na­tions of judges to the low­er courts blocked, and asked what lessons were learned from that which could be used to fight Kavanaugh. Wil­hite assert­ed that there are votes to stop these nom­i­na­tions, but it is tough because there is pres­sure on Con­gress to give def­er­ence to the regime and its nominees.

He said that the past writ­ings and records of rul­ings of nom­i­nees have be very help­ful, since often when they are brought to light there have been prob­lem­at­ic state­ments or deci­sions and sen­a­tors do not want to be on record sup­port­ing those. “We have the respon­si­bil­i­ty to force them to say no and not stand by these nom­i­nees,” Wil­hite said.

Shel­ton addressed the fact that many of the deci­sions that are going to impact our lives are not going to make their way to the Supreme Court but will be ruled on in low­er courts, so it is crit­i­cal that we look at nom­i­na­tions at every level.

Deci­sions that are made at the low­er lev­els and go through appeals are cre­at­ing case law, so it is cru­cial to think about the low­er courts as well as what hap­pens to the Supreme Court fol­low­ing Antho­ny Kennedy’s retirement.

Lodono empha­sized that the pub­lic mat­ters in these fights, and not­ed that peo­ple can weigh in on judi­cial nom­i­nees even if you are not in the juris­dic­tion for which a nom­i­nee would be serv­ing on the bench. Activists can make a dif­fer­ence; nation­wide advo­ca­cy real­ly helped to get the last few odi­ous nom­i­na­tions denied.

When Thiri­on asked what the pan­elists need­ed from peo­ple to help on this issue, all five pan­elists said call­ing, writ­ing, or vis­it­ing your sen­a­tor in per­son to tell them that you oppose Kavanaugh and oth­er nom­i­nees would be helpful.

Pan­elists not­ed that the Sen­ate is on recess next week and sen­a­tors will be at home in the states they rep­re­sent… a per­fect time to reach out to them.

Orga­ni­za­tions like Alliance for Jus­tice have infor­ma­tion, guides, and toolk­its on their web­sites that you can use to pre­pare for con­nect­ing with your senators.

Some of the pan­elists also rec­om­mend­ed writ­ing a let­ter to the edi­tor of your local news­pa­per. Addi­tion­al­ly, every­one agreed that talk­ing to friends and engag­ing as many oth­er peo­ple as pos­si­ble in these efforts is helpful.

A mem­ber of the audi­ence asked what hap­pens next if we are suc­cess­ful defeat­ing Kavanaugh­’s nom­i­na­tion to the Supreme Court, since pre­sum­ably Trump’s next nom­i­nee will be just as bad.

Beavers answered that we need to flip the Sen­ate. “But also, if we block Kavanaugh, there is no rea­son we can’t block oth­ers as well.”

Shel­ton added that, as sad as it is to say, in real­i­ty we are bet­ter to leave that vacan­cy for a while than to fill it with the likes of Kavanaugh.

The over­all tone of the pan­el was sober and seri­ous, empha­siz­ing the need for every­one to get involved, but also hope­ful in that, if a large num­ber of peo­ple do take action, we absolute­ly can suc­ceed in keep­ing Kavanaugh and oth­er extrem­ist right wing judi­cial nom­i­nees off the bench.

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