Liberal Federal Appointees
Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, who announced today that he will not run for reëlection in 2016, leaves an imposing legacy—the transformation of the federal judiciary. When Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he had a long agenda—mending a collapsing economy, transforming health care, and ending two wars, to name just the top items. Nominating judges to the federal judiciary was low on the list. The President filled two quick vacancies on the Supreme Court with Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. As for the dozens of vacancies on the federal circuit and district courts, Obama’s attention was fleeting. He didn’t even submit nominees to fill many judicial vacancies, including on the D.C. Circuit, which is generally regarded as the second most important court in the country.
A federal judge in north Florida ruled on Thursday that county clerks statewide must issue marriage licenses to all same-sex couples who request them starting Jan. 6, the effective date of his decision to overturn Florida's ban on gay matrimony as unconstitutional. The latest opinion by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of Tallahassee addressed questions raised among court clerks about the reach of his previous ruling to legalize same-sex marriage, and whether it applied beyond Washington County and the two men named as plaintiffs in the case.
At 37 years old, Dr. Vivek Hallegere Murthy has made history today as the youngest appointed US Surgeon General and the first of Indian descent. The Senate voted tonight 51-43 to confirm Murthy as America’s top doctor after the position was vacant for over a year. Here are seven facts you should know about the 19th US Surgeon General:
Assuming Democrats and Republicans agree on a bill to fund the government by Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner has told his members that they will recess after that. Despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s annual threats to keep the upper chamber in session through the holidays, the Senate is scheduled to do the same. But it shouldn’t. Instead, Reid should keep the Senate in session until Republicans take over next year in order to confirm as many executive branch and judicial nominees as possible.
In July, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued a ruling that threatened the future of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. By a vote of two to one, the court held, in Halbig v. Burwell, that the insurance subsidies that allow millions of Americans to buy health insurance were contrary to the text of the law and thus were illegal. If such a decision had been made earlier in Obama’s tenure, lawyers for his Administration would have been left with a single, risky option: an appeal to the politically polarized, and usually conservative, Supreme Court. This year, the lawyers had another choice. When President Obama took office, the full D.C. Circuit had six judges appointed by Republican Presidents, three named by Democrats, and two vacancies.
Voting rights advocates in North Carolina caught a lucky break on Thursday, where it was revealed that the panel of three judges who would consider that state’s comprehensive voter suppression law included one Clinton appointee, Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, and two Obama appointees, Judges James Wynn and Henry Floyd. Last month, a George W. Bush appointee to a federal trial bench in North Carolina allowed the law to go into effect during the 2014 election, the panel of three judges from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit are now considering whether to affirm or reverse that decision. They heard oral arguments in the case on Thursday. Several provisions are at issue in this case that all make it more difficult for residents of North Carolina to cast a vote.
Pennsylvania's ban on gay marriage was overturned by a federal judge Tuesday in a decision that legalized the practice throughout the Northeast and sent couples racing to pick up licenses. U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III called the plaintiffs - a widow, 11 couples and one couple's teenage daughters - courageous for challenging the constitutionality of the ban passed by lawmakers in 1996.
A federal judge threw out Oregon’s same-sex marriage ban Monday, marking the 13th legal victory for gay marriage advocates since the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned part of a federal ban.
A federal judge permanently struck down North Dakota’s six-week abortion ban on Wednesday. The so-called “fetal heartbeat” measure, which used to represent the harshest ban in the nation, had already been temporarily blocked from taking effect while the legal challenge against it proceeded. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland ruled that the law is “invalid and unconstitutional” and “cannot withstand a constitutional challenge,” pointing out that Roe v. Wade guarantees the right to abortion up until the point of viability.
Michigan's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, a federal judge said Friday, striking down a law that was widely embraced by voters a decade ago in the latest in a series of similar decisions across the country. But unlike cases in other states, U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman did not suspend his decision while the Michigan attorney general pursues an appeal. That means clerks could start issuing licenses Monday unless a higher court intervenes.
A federal judge on Friday struck down an Arkansas law that would ban most abortions starting at 12 weeks of pregnancy, one of the most restrictive such statutes enacted in the United States, declaring the measure unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled that the law "impermissibly infringes a woman's Fourteenth Amendment right to elect to terminate a pregnancy before viability" of the fetus, as established by the U.S. Supreme Court. Webber had previously barred enforcement of the measure while she reviewed a legal challenge to it brought by two Arkansas abortion providers.
A federal judge declared a same-sex marriage ban in deeply conservative Texas unconstitutional on Wednesday, but will allow the nation's second-most populous state to enforce the law pending an appeal that will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Orlando Garcia issued the preliminary injunction after two gay couples challenged a state constitutional amendment and a longstanding law. His ruling is the latest in a tangled web of lawsuits across the country expected to end up in the Supreme Court next year.
Illinois’ marriage equality law is not set to take effect until June 1, but a federal judge has ruled that same-sex couples can begin marrying immediately, at least in Cook County, where a lawsuit was filed. Friday afternoon, 46 couples rushed to the County Clerk David Orr’s office to be the first to get marriage licenses. In a brief decision, Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman actually ruled that Illinois’ ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and should not prohibit couples from marrying. It follows a similar ruling in November allowing couples in which one or both individuals had a terminal illness to begin marrying without having to wait. Coleman explained that all couples’ rights were clearly violated and no one should have to wait for the new law to take effect:
Gay couples in Cook County won’t have to wait until June to marry, under a ruling today by a federal judge in Chicago that scraps the delayed effective date of Illinois' same sex marriage law. "There is no reason to delay further when no opposition has been presented to this Court and committed gay and lesbian couples have already suffered from the denial of their fundamental right to marry,” U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman stated.
A federal judge in Virginia has struck down the commonwealth's ban on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional, according to court documents. "These laws deny Plaintiffs their rights to due process and equal protection guaranteed under the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution," U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen wrote in her opinion.
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, part of an unprecedented barrage of marriage-equality lawsuits in states where voters have overwhelmingly opposed recognition of gay and lesbian couples. U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II struck down part of the gay-marriage ban that Kentuckians had approved in 2004, saying it treated gays and lesbians "in a way that demeans them."
One of the last legal challenges to attempt to undercut the whole of the Affordable Care Act has been pretty much decimated by Judge Paul L. Friedman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The basis of this challenge was a selective reading of the law that suggested Congress didn't authorize tax credits for people buying insurance on the federal health insurance exchange, only on the state-established exchanges. Thus, these conservative Obamacare-haters argued, the subsidies for people in the three dozen states on the federal exchange were illegal.
The Senate has confirmed one of President Barack Obama's key judicial nominees. The confirmation of Robert Wilkins to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia completes an overhaul of the country's second most powerful court.
You didn't miss much on the privacy beat if you spent the first days of 2014 on an off-the-grid tropical vacation. The Justice Department notified U.S. District Judge Richard Leon that it intends to appeal his December ruling that jeopardizes the nation's metadata bulk surveillance operations. And the ACLU notified U.S. District Judge William Pauley that it intends to appeal his ruling last month that endorsed the legality of that very program. It will be springtime, at least, before all the briefing in these appeals are completed. In the meantime, the program will continue, according to an even newer ruling by the nation's secret spy court.
A federal judge on Tuesday struck down as unconstitutional a Florida law that required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory drug testing, setting the stage for a legal battle that could affect similar efforts nationwide.