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.
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.
July 28, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 in favor of Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate is expected to vote on confirmation before Congress leaves Washington, D.C., for the August recess next Friday.
"Judge Sotomayor has distinguished herself in every step of her life and legal career, including work as a prosecutor, a corporate litigator and a federal district and appellate judge. Her testimony before the Committee left no doubt about her qualifications for the Court as she demonstrated a keen intellectual ability, a first-rate professionalism, and a degree of common sense that reflects the trail she has blazed as a Latina and first-generation American. The lessons that Judge Sotomayor has learned in her life will serve her and our country well in the years ahead," said Wade Henderson, LCCR president and CEO.
Judge Sotomayor's nomination has inspired millions of people across the country. Watch this video in which people explain why they support the nomination:
July 17, 2009 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
Georgia State Rep. Pedro Marin, D. Duluth, and Jerry Gonzalez of Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials speak to reporters at a local watch party.
All this week, people all over the nation have been glued to their television sets watching one of the most historic moments our judiciary system and our nation has seen to date—confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
Sotomayor supporters held hearing watch parties throughout the country to support Sotomayor's confirmation and listen to her speak about her personal experiences, professional achievements, and views on the role of judges. From law students and elected officials, to social activists and everyday, average Americans, Sotomayor supporters from all walks of life gathered in restaurants, law firm offices, places of worship, community centers, and homes to watch the hearings.
"It was the opportunity to watch a little bit of history in the making while sharing the moment with members of the local Pittsburgh community. It is important to have pride and seek to highlight those members of the Hispanic community because, by doing so, we are encouraging the accomplishments of future leaders and diversity in leadership," said Ximena Marinero, law student and host of a watch party in Pittsburgh, Pa.
If confirmed, Judge Sotomayor will serve as the first Hispanic and only the third woman on the Supreme Court.
July 16, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
LCCR President Wade Henderson testifying in the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Sotomayor's nomination. Credit: C-SPAN
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, testified in the Senate Judiciary Committee today in support of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to replace retiring Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Judge Sotomayor has lived the American Dream, and she understands all who aspire to it. Her qualifications are unquestioned; and the lessons that she has learned in her life, as well as in libraries, will serve her and our country well in the years ahead," said Henderson.
July 15, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis
In the third day of her confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor continued to successfully answer tough questions from senators on issues that may come before the Court. If you missed today's session, the Los Angeles Times blog, Top of the Ticket, has transcripts from today's session. You can also view video on C-SPAN.
Tomorrow will be the last day of questions from senators. After questioning concludes, senators will hear testimony from a diverse group of witnesses, including Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
The witness testimony will likely start in the afternoon.
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.