As Republicans try to block some of President Barack Obama's nominees for the federal judiciary, they're focusing on a familiar target: the American Civil Liberties Union.
They've delayed indefinitely Judge David Hamilton's proposed elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in part because of his work for the ACLU in the 1980s. And today, in voting on four district court nominees, they raised objections to one nominee who served as an ACLU staff lawyer for 16 years and another who was once a member of the group.
“I think we’re seeing a common DNA run through the Obama nominees, and that’s the ACLU chromosome,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) during a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sessions, the committee’s top Republican, criticized the organization’s stands on the death penalty and separation of church and state. He called its argument that capital punishment is unconstitutional an “outrageous position” that’s unworthy of serious consideration.
Democrats came to the ACLU’s defense. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee’s chairman, suggested that involvement with the ACLU was more defensible than involvement with the conservative Federalist Society. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that the former ACLU staff lawyer in question, Edward Chen, has proved his judicial bona fides as a magistrate judge for eight years.
“He has made the transition from advocate to judge, and I do not believe there is a spot, a blemish, a wart on his record as a magistrate judge,” Feinstein said.
The Judiciary Committee sent Chen’s nomination to the full Senate on a party-line vote of 12-7. On voice votes, it forwarded three other nominees for California district court seats. Sessions singled out one of those, Dolly Gee, as a member of the ACLU in the 1990s, while focusing most of his criticism on Chen. Click here for our coverage of the four nominees’ confirmation hearing.
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.