Feminist Majority "Supreme Court in Peril" Chat Series of 2003
Alliance for Justice
Marcia Kuntz: directs the work of the Judicial Selection Project at the Alliance for Justice, monitoring and researching the nomination process for judicial appointees to the federal courts. Before coming to the Alliance, Marcia was Minority Counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Banking and Financial Services from 1999 through 2001, working on legislation dealing with housing issues including low-income housing and homeless issues, community development and working with Massachusetts bankers on regional and national banking issues. She was also a member of U.S. Representative Barney Franks staff from 1995 through 2001, working on housing issues, First Amendment rights, and gay and lesbian civil rights issues. Marcia was an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University from 1993 - 1996, teaching a course in Sexual Orientation and the Law. From 1989 through 1995, she was an attorney in private practice in New York. (J.D., University of Chicago Law School; M.A., University of Chicago; B.A., Princeton University)
Moderator: Thanks for joining us today!
Marcia Kuntz:: Thank you. I look forward to answering questions about the judicial selection process.
posted:6/16/2003 2:01:00 PM CST
Tonya Brown: Our constitutional rights are obviously in constant turmoil
with the current presidency.
This presidency has seemed more like a dictatorship and I am wondering if, with the seriously right justices he is trying to appoint, how apolitical the courts will remain. Will we be able to sustain this apolitical Court?
Marcia Kuntz:: I have to disagree that our federal courts have been apolitical up to now. Federal judges, from the Supreme Court on down, interpret the law through the lens of their judicial philosophy. I believe that the critical issue is whether a judge abides by the principle of equal justice for all and interprets the law in a manner that guarantees equal access to justice for all. We at the Alliance for Justice believe strongly that many of this administrations nominees have failed to demonstrate that they can interpret the law in this manner, and indeed, their records suggest the opposite.
posted:6/16/2003 2:02:00 PM CST
Jaime: How do AFJ and other progressive orgs decide which judges to
oppose? Is it more about their judicial histories, or whether their appointment
is likely to have a big impact on the makeup of that circuit court, or
is it the importance of that particular circuit court?
Marcia Kuntz:: We consider a variety of factors, but from our perspective, the bottom line is that federal judges, who serve for life, must possess great intellect, unimpeachable integrity, and an unwavering commitment to equal justice for all.
posted:6/16/2003 2:06:00 PM CST
Yannis: There has been a lot of attention on the Circuit Courts of late.
Are some circuits more important than others?
Marcia Kuntz:: The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has a broader jurisdiction than other circuit courts, and is regarded as second only to the Supreme Court in power and prestige. That being said, all circuit courts exert great influence over the people who reside within their jurisdiction and over the country generally. The circuit courts issue more than 20,000 decisions ever year, compared with only about 80 by the Supreme Court, so they are the courts of last resort for the vast majority of litigants.
posted:6/16/2003 2:08:00 PM CST
Ian: Since I had never thought filibusters to be fair when Conservatives
backed them, I wonder if its fair that Im almost ready to support them
now. How can Senatorial filibuster to block judicial appointees be fair
if it means that the party in power can always deny (without cloture)
a judge to enter the position?
Marcia Kuntz:: This administration has demonstrated that it has undertaken a concerted effort to pack the courts with right wing extremists prepared to carry out its domestic agenda. The Senate has a responsibility and must do everything in its power to protect the courts and the American people from judges who dont respect Congressional authority and will roll back critical rights and protections. I think the comparison to prior efforts to block judicial nominees is not quite fair. President Clinton nominated - to a person - moderate, highly capable, consensus nominees, and single senators (as opposed to the 41 required to sustain a filibuster) were permitted to block them for specious reasons, or for no reason at all. President Bush has a very different agenda for the courts, and it is critical that fairminded senators do everything possible to stop it.
posted:6/16/2003 2:11:00 PM CST
Lisa Ragsdale: 1) Did you know that right now, meaning with the current
Supreme Court, that transsexuals have no legal rights? Earlier this year,
the current Supreme court refused to hear a case that involved legal
rights for Male to Female trans-women. Which meant that we (me included)
have no legal rights. What, if anything, can we do about this?
Marcia Kuntz:: Work to ensure that only those candidates committed to equal justice for all are confirmed to the federal bench.
posted:6/16/2003 2:16:00 PM CST
Joy: How would you convince young people that who is appointed to the
courts is relevant to their lives?
Marcia Kuntz:: I think one way is to give them dramatic examples of court rulings that have broad impact - for example, a court that rules that parts of the Clean Water Act are unconstitutional could be directly affecting safety and enjoyment of the environment for everyone. A ruling, such as that reached by the 5 member majority on the Supreme Court, that a breast cancer victim who got fired because her boss didnt like sick people could not sue her state employer under the Americans with Disabilities Act has far-reaching effects.
posted:6/16/2003 2:24:00 PM CST
Alice: What happens if the Republicans implement the nuclear option
- effectively getting rid of filibusters of judicial nominees? Will there
be any way to stop a far right (or anti-choice) Supreme Court nominee?
Marcia Kuntz:: I believe that enough senators recognize that the filibuster offers important protection for the minority party and that someday they could find themselves in the minority again to prevent the nuclear option from being invoked.
posted:6/16/2003 2:29:00 PM CST
Randi: If only Rhenquist retires this summer, will that have any impact
on repro rights -- since hes anti-choice anyway?
Marcia Kuntz:: Maybe not in the immediate future, but the next Supreme Court justice to be appointed could serve for decades, so the impact he or she has on the law in this country could be huge.
posted:6/16/2003 2:33:00 PM CST
Sheri: Does Alliance for Justice do any work on the grassroots level
reaching students and communities and helping them to organize? If so,
how can I get involved in that?
Marcia Kuntz:: Yes. Check out our web page - www.afj.org or www.independentjudiciary.com
posted:6/16/2003 2:34:00 PM CST
Helen: I have heard that despite the hoopla around the Democrats filibusters
of judicial nominees, that most of Bushs nominees have actually been
approved. What is the point of filibustering a few justices when 98%
of Bushs appointments are getting through anyway? Doesnt it just make
the Dems look more beligerent than they are?
Marcia Kuntz:: The Constitution assigns the Senate a coequal role to that of the President in selecting federal judges. If the Senate were to act as a rubber stamp and confirm all nominees, it would be shirking its constitutional duty. We have strongly supported the two filibusters that senators have so far sustained, and we will continue to urge senators to block other extremist nominees. By the way, we opposed several of the 128 that have been confirmed.
posted:6/16/2003 2:37:00 PM CST
Janice: I have heard speculation that Bush is likely to nominate a hispanic
man to fill the next Supreme Court opening. Why do people think that
is likely to be the case? Does that speculation have anything to do with
the Dems filibustering Miguel Estrada?
Marcia Kuntz:: It is widely believed that President Bush would like to be the first president to appoint a Latino to the Supreme Court. While we strongly support diversity and the appointment of more Latinos to the federal judiciary, we would not support the appointment of anyone with a record suggesting a hostility to fundamental rights and liberties and a lack of commitment to the principle of equal justice for all.
posted:6/16/2003 2:43:00 PM CST
Jordan: Isnt it a good thing to confirm some conservative judges to
balance out all the left wing judges that were appointed during eight
years of Clinton?
Marcia Kuntz:: President Clinton did not nominate any candidates who could reasonably be considered left wing. Indeed, he did not nominate anyone to any federal court without the consent of Judiciary Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R Utah), who told the administration from the beginning that only moderates would be considered. Even though the administration went to great lengths to work with the Senate in coming up with consensus nominees, the Republican majority nonetheless blocked nearly 60 of Clintons nominees, denying many even hearings. Therefore, while the administrations of Reagan and Bush I did undertake to pack the courts with conservatives, and in some cases right wing extremists, the Clinton administration made no attempt to balance those judges with liberals.
posted:6/16/2003 2:49:00 PM CST
Aviva: Ive heard a lot of rumors about a Supreme Court retirement. If
this were to happen, when would it most likely be?
Marcia Kuntz:: Traditionally at the end of the Supreme Courts term - late June or maybe early July.
posted:6/16/2003 2:54:00 PM CST
Moderator: Thank you for joining us today. Chat participants: For more
information about judicial nominations and getting involved visit either
the AFJ website at http://www.afj.org or the Feminist Majoritys Million4Roe
campaign site at http://www.million4roe.com. We hope you will join us
again for our continuing June chat series, Supreme Court in Peril.
Marcia Kuntz:: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about these very important issues.
posted:6/16/2003 3:03:00 PM CST