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The First Monday Series: A Chat With Nan Aron of AFJ

[This is the first in a series on the legal issues that impact our lives, and the fact that elections have very real consequences for our courts. Please stay on topic and polite in the thread, any off-topic discussions should be taken to the prior thread. Thanks and welcome to Nan and the AFJ crew. — CHS]

I’m Nan Aron, president of Alliance for Justice, a national association of more than 75 advocacy organizations. For more than two decades AfJ has fought to advance to advance the cause of justice for all Americans.

I remember when I was a young lawyer arguing a civil rights case in a federal court in Michigan. Like all young lawyers, I assumed that if I prepared and rehearsed my arguments I had a fighting chance of winning, even in front of a Republican appointed judge. I knew that when I walked into that courtroom, the judge would give my case a fair hearing, regardless of the president who nominated him.

Things have changed. Ultraconservatives have waged a take-no-prisoners campaign to pack the federal bench with men and women who will advance their ideological agenda. I’d like to be able to say they havent been successful with their courtpacking plan, but our courts are at a critical juncture. 11 out of 13 circuits are majority Republican-appointed, and Bush’s two Supreme Court appointees, Roberts and Alito, have fulfilled the president’s wildest dreams. From the Supreme Court on down, federal judges are handing down decisions that harm consumers, workers, not to mention basic American liberties and constitutional protections. We’re still holding the line, but in order to reclaim the courts, we need to match their ardor and commitment. The courts are a priority for conservatives every single day and they are well aware that judges have always been a reliable tool to galvanize their base, knowing that it always rises to the occasion.

One thing I hear a lot is "We just need to start winning elections, then we can worry about judges." Elections are vitally important, but winning at the ballot box isn’t enough. The people in office need to hear that we care and are paying attention, so that they make the issue a priority. We need to make sure that judges are no longer political chips to be traded, that the conversation is no longer dominated by the shrill voices of James Dobson and Mitch McConnell, and that the federal bench isn’t packed with judges "in the mold of Antonin Scalia."

That’s why I am here today. Alliance for Justice is committed to reaching as many people as we can about the importance of the judiciary and its impact on our daily lives. I am honored to be able to speak with all of you today. This community understands the relevance of this issue and the need to prod our senators to step up to the plate. We know that by amplifying our voices, we can push back on a Senate that’s more apt to be complacent than to put up a fight.

We are going to be partnering with Firedoglake to bring you monthly conversations about the courts. There will be films, web chats like this one, as well as other resources. I’d love to hear what you, the readers, would find interesting and helpful.

Above and through successive links below, you’ll find a jumping off point — a short documentary we produced in 2006 called Quiet Revolution. Narrated by Bradley Whitford, and featuring appearances with some of the senators we need to reach — Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Barack Obama, and Charles Schumer. It traces the growth of the ultra conservative movement, shines a light on its strategies, and breaks through the rhetoric to expose what the right wing really wants to accomplish: gutting landmark laws protecting workers, consumers and the environment; eroding our privacy rights; and destroying the checks and balances that safeguard our liberty. It provides a starting point for a conversation about what we can do to ensure the federal courts remain fair, independent and committed to the idea of equal justice under law.

Finally, I’d like to say a quick thanks to Christy, Jane and the whole FDL community for giving us this opportunity. I’m excited to have a frank conversation today, but I do want to note that Alliance for Justice is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not support or oppose candidates for office.

The film Quiet Revolution: Part I (embedded above), Part II, and Part III. (All YouTubes. It is also available here for Windows Media.)

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Nan Aron

Nan Aron