Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) railed against President Barack Obama’s nominees to the federal bench on Tuesday afternoon, complaining that Obama was only nominating individuals with “ACLU DNA” and rattling off a list of potential judges who are now or have ever been a member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“I’m sure that less than one percent of the lawyers in America are members of the ACLU,” Sessions said. “It seems if you have the ACLU DNA, you get a pretty good leg up to being nominated by this president.”
The ACLU — which has over 500,000 members and supporters — did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sessions also called for Obama’s judicial nominees to account for the views of the ACLU on issues like religious liberty and the death penalty. “You can be members of organizations, even though some of us might not like it or agree with the organization, but any nominee from a conservative organization who takes extreme positions would certainly have to answer those positions and justify why they might take them,” Sessions explained.
“It’s clear that the president, our president, an activist — a community activist, a liberal progressive as his friends have described him, and former law professor, is attempting to pack the courts who share his views and who will promote his vision of what, as he has said about judges, what America should be,” Sessions said.
“I do believe the administration needs to understand that this is going to be a more contentious matter if we keep seeing the ACLU chromosome as part of this process,” Sessions said.
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Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) later took the floor to say that the Senate should be careful about setting standards about affiliations with organizations, pointing out that the Bush administration nominated many candidates who belonged to the Federalist Society.
Republicans have obstructed Obama’s judicial nominees at a historic rate. According to Democrats, just 53 circuit and district court nominations have been confirmed by the Senate in the 111th Congress as of early this afternoon. In comparison, the Democratic-controlled Senate confirmed 100 judicial nominations during the first term of the Bush administration. (Democrats filibustered several of Bush’s conservative nominees in later years of the administration).
Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were able to work out a deal that allowed some of the nominees to come up for a vote, the Associated Press reported Monday. Senate Republicans agreed to allow at least 19 of the 38 judicial nominations pending at the beginning of the lame duck session in exchange for a commitment from Senate Democrats not to hold votes on four other nominees: Goodwin Liu, Edward Chen, Louis B. Butler Jr. and John J. McConnell, Jr.
“It’s deeply disappointing that so many qualified nominees will be refused a vote,” Marge Baker of People For the American Way said in a statement Tuesday. “Of the nominees confirmed, the vast majority were approved by the Judiciary Committee without a single vote of opposition. Winning approval for these 19 nominees in the full Senate is a consolation prize at best, especially given the absence of any significant opposition to most of those confirmed. These nominees should have been confirmed months ago.”
Late Update: The ACLU passed on this response from Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office:
“Senator Sessions’ reference to ‘ACLU DNA’ in President Obama’s judicial nominees should be greeted as a welcome discovery by all Americans, regardless of party. For 90 years, the ACLU has defended the rights enshrined in the Constitution for everyone, regardless of their political beliefs. While not everyone agrees with us on every issue, Americans have come to rely on the ACLU for its unyielding dedication to principle.”
“There is a long record of highly respected ACLU-affiliated lawyers who have been appointed to the federal bench, including luminaries such as Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. All have demonstrated their dedication to the Bill of Rights in important decisions supporting freedom of speech, the right to due process and gender and racial equality. There are also dozens of highly regarded district court and appellate court judges who have served or serve now on federal benches throughout the nation. Their ACLU background has helped them bring to the judicial system a steadfast commitment to constitutional values and an understanding of the critical role that the judiciary plays in safeguarding them.”
“If you ask us, ACLU chromosomes make for a pretty remarkable gene pool,” she added.
As David Ingram of Legal Times points out, work for the ACLU “was a hurdle for several of President Bill Clinton’s nominees. U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway of Hawaii waited two years for confirmation because she had been director of a local chapter of the ACLU that supported same-sex marriages. A Clinton nominee for U.S. district court in New Jersey, David Harris, withdrew after Republican criticism that he had been a trustee of a local ACLU chapter.”