The composition of the federal judiciary is a civil rights issue of profound importance to all Americans. The individuals charged with dispensing justice in our society have a direct impact on civil rights protections for all. As such, the federal judiciary must be perceived by the public as an instrument of justice, and the individuals who are selected for this branch of government must be the embodiment of fairness and impartiality.
May 10, 2010 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
President Obama nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan today to replace the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court. In her current role as solicitor general, Kagan is the primary lawyer representing the U.S. government – and therefore, the interests of the American people – before the Court.
April 9, 2010 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
Justice John Paul Stevens announced today that he will retire in June at the end of the U.S. Supreme Court's current term.
Stevens, who will turn 90 this month, is the currently the court's oldest and longest-serving member. He was nominated by President Gerald Ford to succeed Justice William O. Douglas in 1975, after serving five years as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
February 2, 2010 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
In honor of Black History Month, SCOTUSblog, a blog that covers the U.S. Supreme Court, will run a series of articles throughout February focusing on the impact that the Supreme Court has had on race, in the law and in American society.
December 7, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
John Payton, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that will limit Americans' access to courts.
November 16, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
The U.S. Senate is scheduled to vote tomorrow on the confirmation of President Obama's first nominee to the federal courts, Judge David Hamilton, who was nominated eight months ago for a seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Hamilton's nomination was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 4, but his confirmation vote has been delayed unnecessarily since then.
Despite a distinguished record and bipartisan support, Judge Hamilton may face a Republican filibuster. Senators James Inhofe, R. Okla., and Jeff Sessions, R. Ala., have pledged to vote against taking up Hamilton's confirmation and have urged their colleagues to do the same.
The delaying tactics used against Judge Hamilton's nomination are one example of the obstructionist tactics that have been used to block President Obama's judicial and executive nominees this year. Civil rights groups argue that it is particularly troubling that these tactics are being applied to Judge Hamilton, who has proven to be an uncontroversial jurist earning high praise and a wide range of support throughout his career. Judge Hamilton has served for 15 years as a federal district judge in his home state of Indiana where he has earned the support of both of his state's senators, Democrat Evan Bayh and Republican Richard Lugar.
In a floor statement today in support of Judge Hamilton's nomination, Sen. Lugar said, "I believe our confirmation decisions should not be based on partisan considerations, much less on how we hope or predict a given judicial nominee will rule on particular issues of public moment or controversy. I have instead tried to evaluate judicial candidates on whether they have the requisite intellect, experience, character and temperament that Americans deserve from their judges, and also on whether they indeed appreciate the vital, and yet vitally limited, role of the federal judiciary faithfully to interpret and apply our laws, rather than seeking to impose their own policy views. I support Judge Hamilton's nomination because he is superbly qualified under both sets of criteria."
November 9, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two separate cases to determine whether sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole for non-homicide crimes violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Sullivan v. Florida is the case of Joe Sullivan, who was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole 20 years ago at the age of 13. Graham v. Florida is the case of Terrance Jamar Graham, who violated parole at age 17 and was sentenced, without a trial, to life without parole. Both cases took place in Florida, one of only six states that have imprisoned juveniles for life without parole for non-homicide offenses.
Many civil rights groups, academics, and social scientists have spoken out against these sentencing practices. Charles Ogletree — who joined in a brief submitted by the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., in support of Graham and Sullivan — said that the Court should apply the same logic to these case it used to decide Roper v. Simmons, which struck down capital punishment for minors as unconstitutional.
"The same transient qualities of adolescence that the Court relied upon in Roper make it similarly inappropriate to subject a teenager to a permanent punishment of life in prison without parole. It is cruel and inaccurate, as the Court has recognized, to pass a final and irreversible judgment on a person whose character is still forming and undergoing significant changes," Ogletree said.
September 25, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
In a major victory for equal opportunity, a federal district court ruled in favor of the University of Texas at Austin's current admissions policy, in which race is only part of the consideration process for students' admission to the university.
The court's decision, issued by Judge Sam Sparks, lauds University of Texas' plan to "break down racial stereotypes, enable students to better understand persons of different races, better prepare students to function in a multi-cultural workforce, cultivate the next set of national leaders, and prevent minority students from serving as 'spokespersons' for their race."
The case, Fisher v. Texas, is the first to challenge the Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld the use of race as one of many factors colleges and universities can use in admissions.
In recent years, Texas has been a hotbed for both advocates and opponents of equal opportunity admissions. From 1996-2003, consideration of race in the admissions process was deemed unconstitutional in Texas by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which resulted in a sharp decline of minority enrollment at Texas colleges and universities. University of Texas at Austin's current admissions policy was adopted following Grutter, and works in tandem with a state law guaranteeing admission to the state university school system for high school students ranking in the top 10 percent of their graduating class.
September 22, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
A broad coalition of civil rights groups, including the Alliance for Justice, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and People For the American Way, is urging senators to eliminate the confirmation backlog of judicial and executive branch nominees.
A letter sent today to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R. Ky., states: "The obstruction of many of President Obama's nominees through filibuster threats and anonymous 'holds' is hindering the important work of our judicial and executive branches of government and threatening any prospect of bipartisan cooperation on many pressing national issues important to all Americans." Forty-five groups signed the letter.
Since taking office in January, President Obama has nominated 18 people to serve as judges on the federal courts. Only one has been confirmed by the Senate. In addition, the nominations of Tom Perez to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and Dawn Johnsen to head the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel are still pending. Johnsen's nomination has been pending since the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it in March.
Given that the nation is facing major challenges like an economic recession, the groups argue that blocking these important nominations "will poison the political atmosphere, needlessly heighten partisan tensions, and make it far more difficult for the federal government to serve the public interest in any respect."
August 6, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
Today, the Senate confirmed Judge Sonia Sotomayor 68-31 to replace retired Justice David Souter as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. She is the first Latina – and only the third woman – to sit on the nation's highest court.
"Her place on the Supreme Court as the first Hispanic American Justice is a significant advancement for the principle of equal opportunity and for American democracy. Along with a dedication to the rule of law, Judge Sotomayor understands from her own humble origins and hard work that the Court exists for one purpose – to provide equal justice for all," said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
How the Courts Work
Civil Rights in the Courts
Supreme Court Decisions
What's At Stake
What's At Stake
In The News
Recent news clips on this issue.