Federal Court Nominees Part 2: Judge William H. Pryor

Friday, April 29, 2005

Here is a look at the nomination of William H. Pryor. Mr. Pryor as Attorney General of Alabama he helped found the Republican Attorney General Association (RAGA), which raises campaign donations from corporations. This does raise an ethics question due to the fact that as Attorney General his responsibilities may require him to investigate, prosecute or sue the very same corporations he took donations from. In particular, he collected $25,000 each from two tobacco companies that documents to the Judicial Committee show he was assigned to.
Pryor was co-chair of the Bush-Cheney 2000 campaign in Alabama. Interestingly enough Pryor was the only Attorney General in the country to file an amicus brief in support of President Bush's posistion in the case Bush v Gore.
In 2001 Pryor received the National Rifle Associations Legislative Achievement Award for fighting frivolous lawsuits against the gun industry. During a 1999 news conference, Pryor was quoted as saying "these types of lawsuits threaten the entire business community. The free market and the cause of human liberty cannot survive much more of this litigation madness, gun suits are a clear and present danger to the rule of the law." Pryor has also recieved campaign contributions from the NRA in 1998 and 2002.
Pryor vigorously opposed the lawsuit filed by states against the tobacco companies. In a Wall Street Journal interview Pryor went on to say "this wave of lawsuits is about politics, not law, and money, not public health."
Pryor has been a vocal proponent of former Judge Roy Moore who is best known for displaying the Ten Commandments in the Alabama Supreme Court, and for having Christian clergymen give prayers when jurors first assembled in his courtroom. In a 1999 speech to the Christian Coalition Pryor warned: "One of the greatest threats to the Judeo Christian perspective is the building of the naked public square, in which religious expression and religiously grounded morality are systematically excluded from our public life." On the subject of religion Pryor has also been quoted as saying "the challenge of the next millennium will be to preserve the American experiment by restoring its Christian perspective." In a 1997 Save the Commandments rally in Montgomery, Pryor stated: "God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time and this place for all Christians to save our country and save our courts."
On the subject of gay rights Pryor filed an amicus brief in support of the state of Colorado in its defense of a voter initiative that prohibited local governments from enacting laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination. In explanation of why he filed the amicus brief, Pryor stated: "The attorney general of Alabama felt strongly that we don't need to be finding new rights in our Constitution because we've done enough of that in recent years." Pryor has also filed an anti-gay brief on behalf of Alabama in the case Lawrence v Texas, urging the Supreme Court to uphold Texas' law banning only same-sex sodomy. Justifing his argument on the issue Pryor said "the States should not be required to accept, as a matter of constitutional doctrine, that homosexual activity is harmless and does not expose both the individual and the public to deleterious spiritual and physical consequences". The Supreme Court rejected Pryor's argument stating that "liberty protects the person from unwarranted intrusions into the dwelling or other private places." Justice Anthony Kennedy went on further to say "it suffices for us to acknowledge that adults may choose to enter upon this relationship in the confines of their homes and their own private lives and still retain their dignity as free persons."
On the subject of rights of the accused, Pryor has said that the Supreme Courts ruling in Miranda v Arizona was "one of the worst examples of judicial activism." In the case Alabama v Shelton he argued that the principles of federalism entitled states not to provide attorneys to poor defendants facing misdemeanor convictions and suspended sentences of imprisonment. The defendant was tried without counsel, convicted of third-degree assault, and sentenced to a jail term of 30 days. The Supreme Court rejected Pryor's ruling 5-4 in spite of Pryor's argument that "requiring states to provide attorneys to poor defendants would divert resources away from more important functions of the criminal justice system." In the case Hope v Pelzer Pryor defended the practice of handcuffing unruly inmates to a hitching post in the prison court yard. Pryor defended the actions of the prison officials by saying "we believe that front-line officers following the rules as they understand them are entitled to be free from liability from these kinds of lawsuits." The Supreme Court however did not agree with Pryor and ruled 6-3 that the Alabama correction officers could be sued for money damages, because they should have known that handcuffing a prisoner to a restraining bar was a clear violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.
On the subject of the death penalty Pryor has filed a brief in the Supreme Court supporting the execution of the mentally retarded. In Atkins v Virginia Pryor filed an amicus brief in support of Virginia's position that executing the mentally retarded did not violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court, by a margin of 5-4, ruled that executing the mentally retarded violated the Constitution's Eighth Amendment. In 2000 Alabama was one of only three states to use the electric chair as its method of execution. When the Supreme Court issued a stay of an Alabama death row inmate's execution to consider whether death by electric chair constituted cruel and unusual punishment, Pryor told the press: "This issue should not be decided by nine octogenarian lawyers who happen to sit on the Supreme Court."
Judge Pryor has long criticized the plaintiffs' bar, and sought to limit individual's access to the civil justice system. In 1997 Pryor told the Wall Street Journal "this taxation through litigation is accomplished in a remarkably inefficient manner as huge sums of money are skimmed off the top by those leftist bounty hunters also known as trial lawyers." In another public speech this time to the American Shooting Sports Council, Pryor stated: "the liberal agenda of denying individual responsibility is taken a step further by those leftist bounty hunters who are slick experts in representing alleged victims of corporate greed."
By his own admission Pryor became a lawyer because he wanted to "fight the ACLU- the Anti-American Civil Liberties Union."

Federal Court Nominees Part 1: Judge Terrence William Boyle

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Here's a look at the nomination of Judge Terrence William Boyle.
Judge Boyle spent a year as an aide to former North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. In 1984 per request of Senator Helms, Boyle was appointed by President Reagan to a North Carolina district court. In 1993, President Clinton declined to nominate Judge Boyle for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, in spite of Senator Helms' request. It is important to note that as a result of this, Senator Helms and Judiciary Committee Chairmen Senator Orrin Hatch refused to hold any hearing for the vacancies of the 4th District Court. Regarding one of President Clinton's nominees, James A. Beatty, Senator Helms said "Judge Beatty is a good man and I have no objection to him. But I think Judge Boyle deserves to be nominated, too." By the end of the Clinton administration 1/3 of the Fourth Circuit was vacant.
Judge Boyle has had his decisions reversed over 150 times; a rate twice that of the average judge. He has been reversed for many reasons.
Some of which are:
1. Ignoring his statutorily-mandated duty to review the decisions of magistrate judges.
2. Violating procedural rules requiring him to give plantiffs a chance to present evidence before dismissing their cases.
3. Failing to advise a defendant of the madatory minimum and maximum sentences before accepting a guilty plea.
4. Failing to advise a defendant of his right to appeal at sentencing.
5. Failing to address a defendant's objections to a pre-sentencing report.
6. Giving a sentencing enhancement when the guidelines explicitly barred such an enhancement.
In the case Ellis v North Carolina, Judge Boyle dismissed a case of an African American who sued a state employer for discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Judge Boyle dismissed the case on the grounds that state employers enjoy sovereign immunity from Title VII-based suits. He was later reversed.
In the case Brown v North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles, disabled individuals who had to purchase parking placards sued, claiming the fee violated Title II of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Judge Boyle dismissed the case finding that the ADA is an unconstitutional intrusion on state sovereignty. Judge Boyle went on to say that rather than properly remedying past discrimination, ADA improperly gave preferential treatment to disabled persons. "The ADA seeks to single out the disabled for special advantageous treatment." The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of Title II of the ADA in Tennessee v Lane.
In the case United States v North Carolina, the U.S. Justice claimed North Carolina Department of Corrections had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by producing an overwhelmingly male workforce. The state had agreed to settle the suit with the Justice Department and, under federal court supervision, implement policies to prevent future workforce imbalance. Judge Boyle rejected this agreement and instead threw the case out, he was later reversed.
Because the Supreme Court only reviews less than 100 of the over 20,000 cases decided by the circuit courts each year the nomination of Judge William Boyle is of great importance due to the fact that almost all of the decisions he would make would be final.

The Elusive Economy

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Are we in a recession or is the economy turning the corner? The answer to that question would differ based on whom you ask. The numbers for 2004 and the first two months of 2005 paint a bleak picture for the average American worker. Consumer price index rose 2.7% while wages rose only 2.5%, add this to the rising costs of energy, housing and other items. Health premiums rose an astonishing 7%, especially tough on the 47% of the workforce whose employers don't provide health insurance; and home prices also rose 9% nationwide. During the same time period worker production rose 2.1% and the economy expanded 4% (which is 1% higher than the historical average). Now let us look at the numbers for the average chief executive officer during the last yr. CEO salaries rose 12% in 2004 compared to 2.5% for the average worker. The average CEO of a major corporation was paid $9.84 million in 2004 compare this to the average worker salary of $33,176. To dive a little further into this discrepency a look at CEO's pay from 1990 to 2003 shows a pay increase of 313%. To put this into context for the same time period the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index rose 242%, corporate profits gained 128%, and the average worker's pay rose 49% while inflation also rose 41%. Clearly the economy as a whole is doing better, with CEO's and corporations raking in the profits while the average worker carries the load.

Constitution Under Attack

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

March 3, 2005 has brought forth yet another attack by the religous right on America and the Constitution, senators Richard Shelby (R) Alabama, Sam Brownback (R) Kansas and Richard Burr (R) North Carolina have introduced the Constitution Restoration Act of 2005. How does the constitution need to be "restored" you may ask, well the purpose of the bill is "to limit the jurisdiction of Federal courts in certain cases and promote federalism." It seems in the wake of the Terry Schiavo circus republicans are not happy with the way some judges are ruling, and bill S.520 is meant to limit the jurisdiction of the courts as well as making it easier for a judge to be impeached. Section 1260 of bill S.520 reads as follows: Matters not reviewable-
Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, the Supreme Court shall not have jurisdiction to review, by appeal, writ of certiorari, or otherwise, any matter to the extent that relief is sought against an entity of Federal, State, or local government, or against an officer or agent of Federal, State, or local government (whether or not acting in official or personal capacity), concerning that entity's, officer's, or agent's acknowledgment of God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government. This section of the bill would bar federal courts from reviewing any issue invloving government or its employees by acknowledgement of god as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government. This acknowledging of god goes directly against the First Amendment of the Constitution which begins with: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Section 1370 of bill S.520 states that district courts shall not have jurisdiction of a matter if the Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction to review that matter by reason of section 1260, thus taking the district courts of the equation. Section 301 of bill S.520 makes all decisions by Federal courts prior to, on, or after the effective date of this act retroactive opening the door for section 302. Bill S.520 section 302 reads as follows: To the extent that a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States or any judge of any Federal court engages in any activity that exceeds the jurisdiction of the court of that justice or judge, as the case may be, by reason of section 1260 or 1370 of title 28, United States Code, as added by this Act, engaging in that activity shall be deemed to constitute the commission of--
(1) an offense for which the judge may be removed upon impeachment and conviction; and
(2) a breach of the standard of good behavior required by article III, section 1 of the Constitution.
If this bill passes section 301 and 302 are the perfect setup for republicans to start impeaching judges that have not ruled in thier favor. Tom DeLay(R) Texas may have said it best a couple weeks ago when he stated "The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior." This was in response to the Federal Courts ruling on Terry Schaivo and it appears that the assault on the Judiciary has begun.

Boiling Down The Bankruptcy Bill

Friday, April 01, 2005

With all the media frenzy covering "other" issues in recent weeks, its no wonder the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention And Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (otherwise known as S.256) has slipped through the cracks. The administration would like to tell you this bill is needed to stop the recent spike in bankruptcy filing because, as they put it, the only people filing are irresponsible shoppers who rack up more debt than they can pay. Obviously the administration does not think highly of Walt Disney or Mark Twain. Disney went bankrupt in 1921 after starting his first animation company in Kansas City. Mr. Mark Twain filed for bankruptcy in 1894 and the experience became the inspiration for his A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.
However most reasonable people would agree that the recent increase in bankruptcy filings may have more to do with an increase in the financial troubles of the average American. More than 1 in every 100 Americans filed for bankruptcy each year, with 50% of those filing because of medical causes and another 40% filing due to death in the family. As the law stands now, chapters 7 & 13 are the most common filing for bankruptcy. Chapter 7 is a liquidation of one's assets which are then used to payoff the debt. Any leftover debt is discharged. Chapter 13 is for individuals who wish to repay the debt they owe over a period of 3-5 years or people filing chapter 7 who are found able to pay their debt.
Now lets look at what changes bill S.256 will make to the existing bankruptcy law. A judge under the current system may find you have enough assests to cover your debt after you file chapter 7 and force you to file chapter 13.
Under the new law, discretion would no longer be the judges. A person would be held to a new "means test", based on the average total state median figures ( the census bureau's latest figures on state median range from $55,912 in Maryland to $30,072 in West Virginia). This would force almost all people into filing chapter 13, completely ignoring what a person earns vs. what a person acctually pays for rent and basic expenses.
Under the new bill a person filing chapter 13 would have to pay off the full amount of any vehicle purchase within 2 1/2 years of filing, unlike the current law. It forces a person filing to pay off the amount the car is worth when they enter court, accounting for depreciation of value.
Under the current law, the debtor and his lawyer work out a payment plan. The new proposal would force debtors to make full payments on "big ticket" items such as houses, furniture, and appliances. Debtors would make those payments directly to the lenders, while at the same time start paying the court-appointee trustee for debts to doctors, credit cards, and other unsecured creditors.
The new law also increases the length of the payment plan from the 3 year minimum now to a new 5 year minimum, effectivly killing the "clean slate" that people strive for. The new bill also requires people who file for bankruptcy to pay for credit counseling. So do the credit card companies need this protection? A quick look would suggest no. Credit card companies made over $30 billion last year alone. The loss they risk by people filing bankruptcy is offest by their interest rates. For example, a person with good credit and a low risk for filing would receive a lower interest rate, say 9%, while a person with bad credit or a high risk for filing would receive a higher interest rate, say 20%. By adjusting the rates, the credit companies have already covered the worst case scenario. Credit card companies also raise a cardholder's interest rate to between 29% or even 34% when they are late with a payment. Along with a higher interest rate for being late, cardholder's are slapped with a $29-$39 late fee. These late fees generated $7.3 billion in profit for the credit card industry in 2002. In addition to these penalties, card companies often charge "other" fees such as balance transfer, over-the-limit, and cash advance fees. These fees generated $24 billion in profit in 2002.
What credit card companies dont want to hear is the lending boom and the spike in bankruptcy filing may be their doing. Between 1993 and 2000, the amount of credit extended to the American public grew from $777 billion to almost $3 trillion. This is mostly due to credit card companies flooding vulnerable consumers such as college students, low income families, minorities, and the elderly. They must know these people are in a higher risk bracket for filing bankruptcy.
It's also worth mentioning that MBNA, America's largest lender, is also the number one overall contributor of money to the republican party.

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