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Judges and democracy, and democracy
Biden and the Senate must prioritize getting judges confirmed. Also: The elections were mostly good for democracy, but there are still daily reminders of ongoing difficulties.
While a few races remain outstanding — including most notably the Georgia US Senate race, which is set for a Dec. 6 runoff — the main contours of political power in DC and across most of the nation next year are clear. In DC, Democrats kept control of the Senate with a razor-thin majority while Republicans have, just barely, wrested control of the House. The coming changes in Congress were made abundantly clear on Thursday when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that, after 20 years as the leader of the House Democrats, she will not be seeking a leadership post in the new Congress.
As Pelosi noted in her floor speech, however, this was a good election for democracy.
Since I wrote on Nov. 11 about the elections, there was even more good news for democracy — with election-denying secretary of state candidates losing in Arizona and Nevada. And, Kari Lake, one of the most concerning gubernatorial candidates who actually had a shot of winning, lost her race in Arizona.
Rick Hasen, a law professor and national expert on the dangers our democracy faces, even wrote that, after these elections, “I’m a bit less terrified” for democracy.
And yet, there is much more ahead. In addition to Twitter’s future, which is a constant question these days, two other topics keep catching my attention this week: The continued opportunity Democrats have to move judicial nominations — another important move to help secure democracy — and the continued threats to democracy at state and local levels.
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JUDGES: Earlier this week, I wrote for MSNBC about how President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin have to set a goal of filling all judicial vacancies in the next Congress:
Democrats need to treat judges and judicial appointments as the bulwark against future efforts to undermine democracy that they can and should be. That means judicial appointments must be a primary goal of the next Senate.
Specifically, I wrote that “if Republicans do end up controlling the House, Schumer should immediately declare judicial appointments to be Senate Democrats’ No. 1 focus.” (My friend Jay Willis at Balls and Strikes heartily agrees.)
Well, the Republicans crossed that threshold in the House on Wednesday evening, so, here we are. In addition to Schumer, I discuss why Sen. Raphael Warnock’s re-election is so important, why blue slips must go (Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin’s area), and what the White House needs to do.
In addition to the officials discussed in my column, Demand Justice brought a further group to the discussion, recommending in a memo put out this week that federal judges also have a role to play — by considering taking senior status if eligible so that the Biden can name a successor.
But that’s not all that’s going on with judges. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights sent a letter from more than 200 organizations to the Senate Democrats just before the midterm elections pressing them to do all they can to confirm as many current judicial nominees in the lame-duck session before the new Congress takes office in January.
Such confirmations would, of course, help to move more Biden nominees onto the courts more quickly — but it also would help give more space for additional nominees in the next Congress.
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DEMOCRACY: Despite the significant good news for democracy, there were many signs this week of the ongoing challenges to democracy and the rule of law.
Pennsylvania’s House on Wednesday impeached the twice-elected district attorney of Philadelphia, Democrat Larry Krasner, because the Republican leaders don’t like his policy positions — policies that Krasner’s constituents are aware of and re-elected him to continue advancing.
This is an extraordinary abuse of the legislature’s authority and an incredible offense to democracy and the voters of Philadelphia — as well as all of Pennsylvania. As the Philadelphia Inquirer noted:
The chamber hasn’t impeached an officeholder in nearly 30 years, and the Pennsylvania legislature has sought to remove someone from office only a handful of times over the last three centuries.
In part of his statement responding to the vote, Krasner said:
History will harshly judge this anti-democratic authoritarian effort to erase Philly’s votes – votes by Black, brown, and broke people in Philadelphia. And voters will have the last word.
Despite the House vote, it still seems unlikely Krasner would actually be removed from office. A Senate trial would have to take place convicting him by a 2/3 majority, which would require support from several Democrats.
But, regardless of the outcome, the action itself here is harmful, in terms of the message it sends about the legislature’s view of the state’s voters and the time and energy (and money) it takes from both Krasner and his office — time and energy (and money) better spent elsewhere.
Just to the west, in Ohio, Republicans are supporting multiple anti-democratic steps.
After Democratic-backed wins in state board of education races, Republic lawmakers responded by announcing that they are looking to consolidate control of education in the state under the governor — a Republican, Mike DeWine, who was just re-elected to that office — and away from the state board of education.
Then, on Thursday, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, another Republican, announced his support for a measure to require that any constitutional amendment put forth by voters receive 60 percent support to pass. The new 60 percent requirement would only apply to voter-backed initiatives, not those put forward by lawmakers themselves.
And, as always, there’s Florida, where five school board members who Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed voted to oust the school’s superintendent — over the objection of the four remaining elected members.
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