Confronted by record judicial vacancies and unprecedented Senate obstruction in filling our courtrooms, the White House Monday is convening a summit meeting of 150 advocates and community leaders from across the country — to demonstrate that the courts are crucial for our nation.
Regardless of where you live, or what issues you care about, all Americans deserve a judiciary that works.
Why Monday? A short-lived Senate deal to speed the pace of some judicial nominees expires that day. Yet right now, roughly 250 million Americans live in a community without enough judges on the bench. Much more needs to be done.
The White House summit reaffirms that progressives at all levels, and from all corners, are deeply committed to filling our nation’s courtrooms with qualified judges quickly — today and in coming months.
A record number of courtrooms are not functioning because there are not enough judges seated to do the work of the American people. This includes 19 empty federal bench seats in 16 states that could be filled today.
Our nation’s courts — where Americans vindicate their most cherished constitutional rights — are under siege by conservatives. As we have seen over the past few months, Senate Republicans have significantly stalled votes on qualified nominees — including ones with broad bipartisan support — just for the sake of obstruction. Many have later been approved by significant margins.
Conservatives have long made the courts a priority. When in power, they have actively worked to fill the bench with judges who share a conservative ideology — one increasingly out of the mainstream. So it should be no surprise that Senate Republicans are so adamant about blocking any progress on filling our nation’s courts today.
The third branch of government has for too long been neglected in politics — particularly by liberals. Yet it plays a defining role in the American story. And progressives have a huge stake in making sure our courtrooms have a full complement of judges familiar with our issues to make the tough calls.
Every issue progressives care about today ends up in court. From education and immigration to the right to work; from clean air, water and food, to the right of the laws of the land to apply equally to all Americans; from protecting the right of our elected representatives to writing laws that protect consumers and providing for our health.
Fortunately, progressives are rising to the challenge. We need judges confirmed now, to be sure. But what we really need — and what we are doing — is building a long-term foundation among the nation’s progressives, on all issues, to care about the courts. Because they matter for all that we stand for.
It’s a foundation motivated by basic values and interests, not just short-term political tactics. We are engaging new groups of progressives to integrate issues involving the courts into their daily work — in their local communities and online — for the long term.
If you care about your issue, you should care about the courts. Or else our hard-fought gains will be undone by an increasingly conservative judiciary.
We know this strategy works. Consider, in just a few days, a groundswell of support forced the Susan G. Komen Foundation to reverse a politically motivated decision to end its funding relationship with Planned Parenthood. Tens of thousands of progressives organized and made their voices heard — online, with small donations and in communities nationwide — and achieved results.
The same thing happened last fall when Bank of America backed down from imposing a monthly $5 debit card fee after an online change.org petition collected 300,000 signatures. This same energy essentially fuels the Occupy movement.
This is a strategy that works especially well for defending the foundational principles of our democracy that progressives care about — like fully functioning courts.
Voters organizing to make their voices heard is the only thing that can counter the power of money-driven advertising in politics. It’s the very essence of a system that works for all Americans — not just the wealthy few.
Andrew Blotky is the director of Legal Progress, the legal policy program at the Center for American Progress and the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
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