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offered the encouragement that we can stop his confirmation, just like we saved the Patient Protection Act from being repealed by Republicans.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