President Clinton highlights the importance of ensuring equal access to Justice (9/21/00)
In remarks to the State Bar of Michigan's 65th annual reception, President Clinton will underscore the importance of ensuring equal access to justice for all Americans. The President will emphasize the critical role in this effort played by the Legal Services Corporation and call on Congress to provide full funding for this vital organization. The President also will note the importance of private lawyers offering pro bono services and will challenge the legal community to do its part to ensure equal access to justice. The President will call on Congress to fully fund his civil rights enforcement budget to help build a "One America" by meeting the nation's commitment to civil rights. In addition, President Clinton will highlight the importance of ensuring that our judiciary reflects America's diversity, noting that his judicial nominees have been the most diverse in history. He also will call on the Senate to end the vacancy crisis confronting the Sixth Circuit and other federal courts across the country by taking action on pending judicial nominations.
IMPROVING ACCESS TO QUALITY LEGAL SERVICES FOR THOSE IN NEED
PRESIDENT CLINTON CALLS FOR FULL FUNDING FOR THE LEGAL SERVICES CORPORATION. The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) funds legal services for low-income Americans throughout the Nation, ensuring access to justice for millions of Americans. Every budget that the President has submitted has requested more funding for legal services. Instead of funding those increases, Congress has allowed funding for the Legal Services Corporation to decline by 25% since 1996. This year, the President has recommended that the LSC budget be increased by $36 million, yet Congress has proposed to flatline or cut it. The President will call upon Congress to put politics aside and give the Legal Services Corporation the financial support that it needs and deserves.
PRESIDENT CLINTON HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR INCREASED PARTICIPATION IN PRO BONO PROGRAMS. The private sector plays a critical role in ensuring access to justice through its pro bono efforts. However, recent reports indicate that lawyers at the highest-grossing firms are now spending an average of 36 hours a year on pro bono work - a decrease from the 56 hours averaged in 1992. In July 1999, at the White House ‘Call to Action' event, the nation's leading law firms responded to the President's challenge to fight for equal justice by committing to meet the 50 hours of pro bono work recommended by the American Bar Association. The President again will call upon members of the legal community to help provide the less fortunate equal access to justice by performing 50 hours of pro bono services each year.
BUILDING A ONE AMERICA THROUGH CIVIL RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT
PRESIDENT CLINTON CALLS FOR EXPANDING CIVIL RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT. Because discrimination continues to be a fact of life in America, the Clinton-Gore Administration has worked to vigorously enforce the nation's civil rights laws and to make sure that civil rights enforcement budgets keep pace with the increasing responsibility. This year, the President proposed a 13 percent increase in civil rights enforcement, bringing the federal commitment to more than $1 billion per year. These funds will help the Justice Department expand investigations and prosecutions of criminal civil rights cases, including hate crimes, police misconduct cases and housing and lending cases. In addition, the EEOC will be able to continue reducing its backlog of fair employment cases, HUD will be able to reduce housing discrimination and the Departments of Education, Agriculture and Labor will be able to improve and expand civil rights compliance and enforcement programs. The House has under-funded the President's request by $133 million, and the Senate by $105 million. At these funding levels, the EEOC would be unable to pursue 3500 discrimination cases, and fewer federal civil rights cases would be pursued. The President will call on Congress to meet the nation's commitment to civil rights enforcement and fund these important programs.
CREATING A JUDICIARY THAT REFLECTS AMERICA'S DIVERSITY
PRESIDENT CLINTON NOTES THAT HIS JUDICIAL APPOINTEES ARE THE MOST DIVERSE IN HISTORY. The President has been deeply committed to appointing a federal judiciary filled with qualified, thoughtful jurists who reflect this nation's diversity. The President's record of appointing women and minority judges is unmatched by any President in history. Almost half of President Clinton's judicial appointees have been women or minorities. For example, President Clinton has appointed more African Americans to the federal bench than any other President in history – in fact, the President has appointed more than three times the number of African Americans to federal judgeships (63 total) than were appointed by Presidents Bush and Reagan combined (19 total). Likewise, the President has appointed as many Hispanic Americans to the federal judiciary as Presidents Bush and Reagan combined (23 judges), and has appointed more Hispanic Americans to the federal appeals courts (7 total) than Presidents Bush, Reagan, and Carter combined (15 total).
PRESIDENT CLINTON UNDERSCORES THAT HIS JUDICIAL APPOINTEES ARE THE MOST QUALIFIED IN MORE THAN FORTY YEARS. In addition to being the most diverse set of judges in history, the President's judicial appointments have also garnered the highest percentages of top American Bar Association ratings in 40 years. The President's judicial appointments have shattered the pernicious myth that diversity and quality do not go hand in hand. As the President has said, "Justice may be blind, but we all know that diversity in the courts, as in all aspects of society, sharpens our vision and makes us a stronger nation."
THE PRESIDENT EMPHASIZES THAT THE QUALITY OF JUSTICE SUFFERS WHEN QUALIFIED WOMEN AND MINORITY JUDGES ARE STALLED BY THE SENATE. The quality of justice suffers when highly qualified women and minority candidates are denied an opportunity to serve in the judiciary. During the 105th Congress, a non-partisan blue ribbon study (issued by the Citizens for Independent Courts' Task Force on Federal Judicial Selection) found that women and minority nominees took significantly longer to be considered by the Senate than did white male nominees. (According to the study, it took an average of 60 days longer for non-whites than whites and 65 days longer for women than men to be considered by the Senate during the 105th Congress). The independent study also concluded that minority nominations failed at a higher rate (35%) than the nominations of whites (14%).
THE PRESIDENT CALLS FOR THE INTEGRATION OF THE FOURTH CIRCUIT. The Fourth Circuit, which hears appeals from trial courts in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, has the largest African American population of any circuit in this country, yet it has never had an African American appellate judge. It has never had a judge of color. It is long past time to right that wrong. The President has twice nominated highly qualified African Americans to the Fourth Circuit in North Carolina and has also nominated an African American from Virginia to serve on the Fourth Circuit. None of these outstanding candidates has been confirmed by the Senate. There are currently two exceptional nominees for the Fourth Circuit awaiting Senate action: Judge James Wynn of North Carolina and Roger Gregory of Virginia.
- Judge James Andrew Wynn, a highly respected African American judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, was nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on August 5, 1999. The Raleigh News and Observer described Judge Wynn as a "first-rate jurist," and the Greensboro News & Record stated that Wynn has "distinguished himself as a legal thinker and writer." Nevertheless, Senator Jesse Helms has refused to allow Wynn even a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. There are now no North Carolinians sitting on the Fourth Circuit, even though, by statute, North Carolina is entitled to be represented by at least one circuit court judge. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared Judge Wynn's Fourth Circuit seat a judicial emergency.
- Roger Gregory is a highly-respected Richmond litigator who has tried hundreds of cases in the Virginia courts. His seat has been declared a judicial emergency by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. A founding member and managing partner of the law firm of Wilder & Gregory, Gregory's nomination has garnered substantial bi-partisan support. After interviewing Roger Gregory, Senator Warner of Virginia wrote to Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stating that he found Gregory "a well-qualified nominee who would serve as an excellent jurist on this circuit which is vital to our state." Gregory has not received a Judiciary Committee hearing.
THE PRESIDENT URGES CONFIRMATION OF JUDGE HELENE WHITE AND KATHLEEN MCCREE LEWIS TO THE SIXTH CIRCUIT. There is a vacancy crisis in the Sixth Circuit, which hears appeals from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Fully one quarter of the Sixth Circuit is now vacant (4 out of 16 seats). There are three pending judicial nominees for the Sixth Circuit: Judge Helene White, Kathleen McCree Lewis, and Kent Markus. Judge White and McCree Lewis are Sixth Circuit candidates from Michigan.
- Helene White, a highly-qualified Michigan appellate judge, has been waiting for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing since January 7, 1997 longer than any other appellate court nominee in history. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared Judge White's Sixth Circuit seat a judicial emergency.
- Kathleen McCree-Lewis, nominated to the Sixth Circuit on September 16, 1999, is a distinguished appellate practitioner at the Detroit law firm of Dykema Gossett. Well-known for her public service contributions to the bench and bar, McCree-Lewis is the daughter of the late Wade McCree, the first African American to serve on a federal district court in Michigan, the first African American to serve on the Sixth Circuit, and a former Solicitor General of the United States. Rated unanimously well qualified by the American Bar Association, McCree-Lewis would become the first African American woman ever to serve on the Sixth Circuit. More than a year later, she has still not received a Judiciary Committee hearing. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared McCree Lewis's Sixth Circuit seat a judicial emergency.
- Kent Markus, Director of the Dave Thomas Center for Adoption Law at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, has the overwhelming support of the Ohio Bar (fourteen current and past presidents of the Ohio Bar Association have endorsed him) and strong bi-partisan support. Nominated on February 9, 2000, Markus still has not received a Judiciary Committee hearing.
ENDING THE VACANCY CRISIS
PRESIDENT CLINTON UNDERSCORES THAT THE CURRENT CONFIRMATION SLOWDOWN IS UNCONSCIONABLE. Although the Senate's actions in 1996 (when only 17 judges were confirmed) suggests that the Senate may try to stop proceeding with judicial confirmations in an election year, history demonstrates that election year politics should not stall the confirmation process. In 1992, in President Bush's final year, a Senate controlled by the Democrats confirmed 66 judges. In 1988, a Senate controlled by Democrats confirmed 42 judges; and in 1984, 44 judges were confirmed. So far this year, only 35 judges have been confirmed. In addition, although some have claimed that judges do not get confirmed in September and October, this is untrue. A Democratic Senate confirmed 12 of President Bush's nominees during the final two months of the 1992 session, and in 1988, a Democratic Senate confirmed 11 of President Reagan's nominees during September and October. In fact, between 1972 and 1999, the Senate confirmed an average of 12 nominees during the final two months of each session. We cannot afford to allow political considerations to empty our courts and put justice on hold. When the Senate returns from recess, it should move to confirm the President's pending judicial nominees. There are currently 42 pending judicial nominees. These candidates should be given an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor.