Wednesday, April 02, 2014

The federal judiciary, control of the US Senate, and Florida … by gimleteye

If John McCain had won as president in 2008, only he would have stood between Sarah Palin -- his choice for vice president -- and nominations to the federal judiciary. Today, even Republicans recoil at Palin who lacked any suitable qualifications to the presidency other than her ease at delivering talking points. But then, there was lust by Republicans to put Palin a heartbeat from the power to shape the federal judiciary.

In November, the GOP could take control of the US Senate. Here is what is at stake for the federal judiciary and especially the federal appeals court.

By example, yesterday the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stinging rebuke of Florida Gov. Rick Scott's 11th hour attempt to purge of voter files in Florida in 2012. Daily Kos reports: "In fact, the purge engineered by Gov. Rick Scott's team was undertaken just 55 days before the November 2012 elections. So egregious was this move and so filled was it with mistakes that critics had predicted would occur that the state's 67 county election officials, including 30 Republicans refused to go along with it. And even if they hadn't, lawsuits finally thwarted the move." According to the Tampa Bay Times, "The decision by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta invalidated efforts by the Department of State to identify and remove noncitizens from the voter rolls in advance of an election in which a Florida victory was crucial to President Barack Obama's re-election."

What's the big deal? Here it is.

As one commenter observes: "Judges matter. 3 Judges on this case: Beverly Martin, Adalberto Jordan, and Richard Suhrheinrich, a senior judge from Michigan. Martin and Jordan are Obama appointees and were the 2 majority votes. Richard Suhrheinrich was the dissenting vote and was appointed to the 6th Circuit by George HW Bush. He was filling in because the 11th Circuit has 4 vacancies out of 12 seats -the most in any Circuit. Of course, allowing Obama to fill the 4 vacancies on the Circuit that covers Florida, Georgia, and Alabama would give the court a 9-3 Democratic advantage, and we can't have that. Who knows what other crazy rulings they might make…"

Most voters are oblivious to the importance of the federal judiciary and how it is shaped by ideology in a Congress divided by extremists from the far right. Take just one issue that was heard by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals when it was the majority was represented by GOP vetted appointees: the pollution of Lake Okeechobee.

A federal Clean Water Act lawsuit against pumping into the lake severely polluted water by the sugar industry from canals filled with runoff, approved by the South Florida Water Management District (ie. State of Florida), was levied in the early 2000's by environmental groups (the organization I represent as president of the board, Friends of the Everglades, is a plaintiff.) Years of mismanagement of Lake Okeechobee, to serve industry, subsequently wrecked the quality of life and property values and put public health of citizens at severe risk on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

Although the badly polluted lake is now a potent grass-roots organizing theme, its localized focus mostly fails to incorporate who, how and why voters so often vote against their own interests. After all, wealthy Republicans who can afford to own once-valuable coastal real estate on rivers and estuaries polluted by Lake Okeechobee are drastically paying for the intransigence of their own political party: an intransigence fueled by special interest money from Big Sugar. The payoff? Federal judges who continue to affirm that it is the right of the states to do whatever they want to the environment that affects all of us: a meme that repeats again and again in Florida.

The 11th Circuit Court -- that serves the southeast -- consistently proved hostile to environmental regulations that could protect Lake Okeechobee and harming, by extension, nearby property owners. The Lake Okeechobee back pumping case was recently re-heard on appeal by another federal circuit court that ruled affirmatively in the favor of environmental plaintiffs (who are, by the way, little loved by most Republican property owners who nevertheless in Florida vote time and again against their own interests.)

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta was a road block to environmental justice in the case of Lake Okeechobee. In another case in the early 2000's, the court considered and then refused to intervene in a highly controversial rule change approved by the federal EPA and challenged by environmentalists. At issue: the massive leakage of underground injected fluids through municipal waste disposal wells. Miami-Dade County, at the time, was the largest point source polluter in the entire nation through its South Dade plant. The ruling by the 11th Circuit -- allowing the rule change despite its clear threats to drinking water -- also paved the way for a gargantuan boom in fracking for natural gas, by erasing the prohibition of fluid movement between layers underground. Up to that point, the prohibition had been common sense and one of the bedrock principles of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

In "The Federal Judiciary in a Post-Nuclear World", the Washington Post writes, "… with the strong possibility of the Senate switching to Republican control for Obama’s last two years, the number of judicial confirmations likely will fall to a trickle at best, with perhaps only some district court judges picked by bipartisan commissions getting through."

There are 85 vacancies in the federal judiciary, and according to the Post, at least 21 judges who are preparing to retire.

Elections have consequences especially for the federal courts, but if voters aren't paying attention that means as a nation we have no idea what those consequences are. On the other hand, judging from Florida Gov. Rick Scott's passion to rig elections for the GOP, he and his financial backers understand those consequences perfectly well.


Anonymous said...

Really? the Daily Kos as a your source? Debbie Wassermann Shultz was unavailable for comet?

So sounds like you and the evil Queen Sarah both abhor judicial activism, but are confused on the definition of activist.

Hint; an activist court is one that rules against you.

Anonymous said...

A comet?

Anonymous said...

The republicans should easily take the senate in November. The landscape tilts heavily in their favor not only by partisan split but by geography just as it has for the last two cycles. They found a way to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory the previous two times but it will be very difficult for them to mess this chance up. Or should I say last chance.

The best thing to happen to Hillary will be the Republican take over of the senate. It will energize the Democratic base and in 2016 the Dems will just take it back anyway when the landscape will then favor them in all ways heavily and you have a women at the top of the ticket to drive Obama level turnout.

Anonymous said...

Hillary will not run.

Anonymous said...

Keep depending on the idea that Hillary won't run. It is like depending on ACA to win the mid-term elections. I don't see republicans taking the Senate. Why would Americans want to destroy their country?

The issue about the courts is critical. Appointing judges is one of the main functions of a President. That all these vacancies exist means that the people's business is not being attended. Republicans, are the party of No. It is too bad we contributed to the chaos by putting Rubio in our seat. The President will have to look for moderate candidates and try to get more judges on the bench. Nominating people who automatically draw fire, is useless at this point. With two more years of President Obama, and eight years of President Clinton, we will have all the judges we want.

Anonymous said...

Democrats are going to have to come out and vote in these midterm elections. That means a huge targeted election machine for get-out-the vote street activities. They simply have to use proposed legislation by republicans to generate excitement in the base.

It needs to be done anyway, so we can feed off of it in preparation for the election of our first woman President. It is a precursor to the Presidential election to come. In fact, the two elections, should be joined together in the minds of the voters as Act I and Act II. Act I, the midterm elections, we are preparing the way for our first woman President (like John the Baptist). Act II, the Presidential election, and our first woman President is elected.

Anonymous said...

I see what you mean. It is a fitting prelude to the arrival of the most powerful woman in the history of the world.

Anonymous said...

Hillary won't run.

Who will be the Democratic candidate?

Anonymous said...

I'm beginning to agree that Clinton won't run. Too many skeletons (literally as well as figuratively). It's a shame she didn't get the nomination in 2008. That was her chance, and she lost it. Instead, we bought the "Hope and change" myth and have saddled ourselves and future generations with trillions in debt, a sham of a national health plan, etc.

Anonymous said...

We got a wonderful leader in President Obama. History will show that he was one of the greats of all time. Getting a sustainable healthcare system in place will be one of his greatest accomplishments along with holding this economy together during difficult times.

Clinton has prepared for the Presidency all of her life. It is not in her DNA to walk away from trouble or power. The Anon above was correct. Imagine being the most powerful woman in the history of the world.

Anonymous said...

You are right. A Clinton/ Pelosi ticket looks good to me. Both are dependable, strong, and capable leaders. The interesting thing is women voters alone can make this happen since they represent the majority of the voters in general, and the majority who actually vote. But a whole lot of men will help out too.