Posts Tagged ‘Tom Coburn’
Monday, June 28th, 2010

Tom Coburn (Getty Images)

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) complained about “schizophrenia” among recent Supreme Court nominees at the nomination hearing Monday for would-be justice Elena Kagan, urging her to speak honestly about how she would rule on the nation’s highest court.

“My hope is that you’ll really do something great for the Senate and great for the country and set a new standard,” Coburn said.

We will add his full opening statement when we get it.

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Thursday, February 4th, 2010

The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed today two top Justice Department nominees whose nominations had languished on the Senate Executive Calendar for much of last year.

However, the panel lost its quorum — and its ability to conduct business — before it could consider the most high-profile nomination, that of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

At the end of 2009, the Senate returned all three nominations to the White House. President Obama promptly renominated them in January.

Mary L. Smith (Schoeman, Updike & Kaufman)

The panel today voted to report out of committee Tax Division nominee Mary L. Smith by a 12-7 vote. The committee endorsed Office of Legal Policy nominee Christopher Schroeder by a 16-3 vote.

As they did in her first committee vote last June, Republicans unanimously voted against sending Smith’s nomination to be Assistant Attorney General to the Senate floor. Republican senators have complained that Smith has virtually no tax law experience. The committee initially approved her last June 11 on a party line vote of 12-7.

“The Assistant Attorney General is not the kind of position that you probably would want someone learning on the job,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said at the committee meeting today.

Democrats defended Smith, noting her past work as an in-house counsel at Tyco International and as a DOJ trial attorney.

“She has more litigation, management and Justice Department experience than previous Tax Division nominees,” said Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin. He added that litigation is the “bread and butter” of the Tax Division.

Christopher Schroeder (Duke University)

On Schroeder’s nomination to be Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Office of Legal Policy, the Republican vote was split, with only Jon Kyl (Ariz.), John Cornyn (Texas), and Tom Coburn (Okla.) voting against Schroeder, who would be vetting judicial nominations if he is confirmed.

Schroeder, a Duke University law professor, has been a critic of President George W. Bush’s national security policies, which is a source of concern for some Republicans. The panel first reported him out of committee by voice vote on July 28, 2009.

“I find it very troubling that someone with those views would be vetting the judges nominated by the president,” Kyl said.

Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the panel’s ranking Republican, said Schroeder, a former chief counsel on the committee to then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), said the professor is a “strong partisan.” But the Republican senator said Schroeder’s views shouldn’t disqualify him from leading the Office of Legal Policy, because the office “has some political component to it.”

“The nominee is smart and capable,” Sessions said.

The panel also held over several judicial nominations and DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics nominee James P. Lynch. The committee will consider Lynch and Johnsen at its meeting next Thursday.

“I must admit I am troubled by the number of nominations that get held,” panel Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) complained. “Vote them up, or vote them down.”

This report was updated at 2:02 p.m.

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, told his colleagues today that he will formally ask the Justice Department to identify who decided that the alleged Christmas Day airplane bomber should be treated as a civilian and not as an enemy combatant.

Jeff Sessions (Getty Images

The FBI — not the military — took Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab into custody on Dec. 25 on U.S. soil after he allegedly attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner. Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair testified yesterday on Capitol Hill that his office was not consulted about the use of FBI agents and that special terrorism investigators should have handled Abdulmutallab, according to The Washington Post.

It is unclear who made the decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a civilian. FBI Director Robert Mueller testified yesterday before the committee that the events were “fast-moving” and authorities had “no time” to get other investigators in place. But Mueller said decisions were made “appropriately,” including the decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights.

Sessions said yesterday that it seemed the decision was made “on the fly.” He added that the FBI’s handling of Abdulmutallab could have precluded the U.S. government from obtaining valuable intelligence.

“I think this is a matter of serious import,” Sessions said yesterday. “I don’t think we have clarity of rules. We need to get it straight.”

Democrats voiced support for the decisions made in the aftermath of the alleged attempted bombing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said yesterday that the FBI’s actions were “totally appropriate.” Senators were unable to point to an example of authorities putting an alleged terrorist apprehended on American soil immediately into military custody.

Here’s the letter Sessions and Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) sent today to Attorney General Eric Holder about the matter:

We are writing to ask who within the Department of Justice made the decision on Christmas day to treat Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a criminal suspect, entitled to Miranda warnings and the right to counsel, rather than as a unprivileged enemy belligerent subject to military detention and a full opportunity to gain intelligence. We would also like to know the basis for this decision, including whether the administration has a protocol or policy in place for handling al Qaeda terrorists captured in the United States.

At yesterday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Robert Mueller described how Joint Terrorism Task Force agents initially interrogated Mr. Abdulmutallab without Miranda warnings for the purpose of obtaining intelligence information.  He stated that this short initial interrogation occurred before the terror suspect was taken into surgery and that the decision to provide Miranda warnings and pursue criminal charges was made shortly thereafter “in consultation with the Department of Justice and others in the administration prior to the agents going back in later that evening to interview him.” Director Mueller declined to name the person within the Department who made the decision, stating that he would first have to get approval from the Department. Nonetheless, he made clear the decision was not made “at the local level.”

The Department of Justice’s decision to afford this terrorist Miranda warnings and a civilian prosecution appears to have been made without soliciting input from the Department’s administration partners in the war on terrorism. According to testimony before both the Judiciary Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Department officials who made this decision failed to consult key officials who also have a major role in counterterrorism and intelligence gathering. Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, testified that he was not consulted.  Similar testimony was provided by Director Mueller, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter. Furthermore, Director Mueller testified he did not know whether Defense Secretary Robert Gates was consulted on this decision, which is remarkable given that Mr. Abdulmutallab appears to fit cleanly within the Military Commissions Act definition of an “unprivileged enemy belligerent.”

We believe the Department’s hasty decision to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Abdulmutallab deprived our intelligence agencies of a critical opportunity to interrogate an al Qaeda-trained terrorist who was fresh from training in Yemen. Had Mr. Abdulmutallab been transferred to military custody as an unlawful enemy belligerent, our government would have had more time to gain an understanding of the terrorist training and recruiting network on the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the activities of al Qaeda in Nigeria. More importantly, a thorough and unrushed interrogation might have revealed information to detect and disrupt the next terrorist attack. However, because Mr. Abdulmutallab was given Miranda rights and ceased cooperating, that information is now lost.

It is important that Congress fully understand the basis for the decision in this case and the process by which it was reached so that we can be assured that an appropriate process is in place to address the next terrorist who is captured and detained. To that end, please let us know who within the Department made the decision on Christmas day, as well as the basis and rationale behind the decision. Additionally, please let us know whether a protocol or policy is in place to guide the administration’s action in the next terrorism case.

This post has been updated from an earlier version.

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

Dawn Johnsen's nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel hit implacable Republican opposition. (Image via CAP Action Fund)

The Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to hold new hearings on Dawn Johnsen to become the new assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.

The GOP senators argue that the failed Christmas Day bombing as well as other events require the panel to hold fresh hearings on her nomination, which the Senate returned to the White House without action on Dec. 24, Roll Call first reported yesterday. President Barack Obama intends to re-nominate her, despite Republican concerns about her criticism of the George W. Bush administration’s national security policies.

The letter obtained by Main Justice and signed by Republican Sens. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), John Cornyn (Texas) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) says:

In recent weeks, there have been several incident threatening our national security and underscoring the need for more aggressive counterterrorism efforts, information sharing, and military and intelligence initiatives to uproot and eliminate al Qaeda and its affiliates from footholds around the globe.  At a time like this, it is essential that the Department of Justice provide sound legal guidance to the various intelligence and counterterrorism agencies within our government.

We believe many unanswered questions remain about Dawn Johnsen’s suitability to guide our Nation’s legal response to the war on terror through the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Mrs. Johnsen’s record calls into question her dedication to aggressive Executive action in national security matters. She has supported backward-looking investigations and written that the last administration’s detainee policies “failed miserably.” She has consistently advocated placing unnecessary constraints on the President and our intelligence professionals, constraints not required by our laws or Constitution.  Based on her statements, it is unclear whether Ms. Johnsen would be able to set aside her personal biases and provide the type of objective, yet aggressive, constitutional legal advice the President will need to effectively combat the continued terror threat. Accordingly, we ask that you hold a new hearing on her nomination before scheduling her nomination for a Committee vote.

We do not make this request lightly, but feel compelled to do so based on the nominee’s record and the position to which she has been nominated. In recent years, the OLC has been critical in authorizing appropriate government action to combat al Qaeda. For example, the Clinton administration OLC reportedly determined as a matter of law that the Executive Order banning assassinations did not apply to the targeting of top al Qaeda leadership, a ruling that appears to have been vital to CIA efforts in the 1990s and even America’s aerial drone program today. It is critical that OLC be led by a lawyer who is willing to support and authorize all necessary and appropriate action in our Nation’s continued war against al Qaeda.

For the Committee to properly discharge its advice and content duty, we believe a second hearing is necessary to evaluate Ms. Johnsen’s nomination and approach to the serious national security questions currently facing the administration.

A spokesperson for Leahy was unable to comment immediately. A spokesperson for Sessions, the ranking Republican, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter and whether Republicans would call for hearings for former DOJ Tax Division nominee Mary L. Smith and ex-Office of Legal Policy nominee Christopher Schroeder. Obama intends to re-nominate the two former nominees, who were returned to the White House with Johnsen on Dec. 24.

Marge Baker, executive vice president of the liberal advocacy group, People For the American Way, released this statement:

“This latest maneuver by Senate Republicans is anything but a good faith effort to protect national security. We absolutely face serious threats, and the Obama administration needs all hands on deck. Yet Senate Republicans are holding up crucial nominees like Johnsen and Erroll Southers, the president’s nominee to head TSA.

“Dawn Johnsen was nominated over 11 months ago, and Senators have had months following her hearing to seek additional information and to consult with her. That never happened. But now that the media is reporting that Johnsen has 60 votes for confirmation, Senate Republicans are suddenly interested in engaging her.

“The request for a second hearing is a transparent and brazen effort at obstruction, and too much is at stake to waste time on it. The seven Republicans on the Judiciary Committee have had their say - they voted in lockstep against Johnsen. But 60 Senators - including senior Senate Republican Richard Lugar - support her.

“Dawn Johnsen is widely considered to have the integrity, experience, and acumen to lead the Office of Legal Counsel. She also has an abiding commitment to our national security and rule of law. We strongly urge the Judiciary Committee to quickly move the resubmitted nomination to the floor for an up-down vote.”

Andrew Ramonas contributed to this report.

This post has been updated from an earlier version.

Friday, November 6th, 2009

The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed legislation Thursday that would create a new section within the Justice Department Criminal Division to handle human rights crimes.

The Human Rights Enforcement Act of 2009, which was approved by voice vote, would lay the groundwork to fold the Office of Special Investigations and Domestic Security Section into the new section. The Office of Special Investigations — which was created to probe Nazi criminals living in the United States — focuses on U.S. citizens who committed human rights crimes. The Domestic Security Section prosecutes non-U.S. citizens who violated human rights laws and are in the United States.

The new section would prosecute torture, genocide, child soldiers and war crimes that are committed by any person who is in the United States. The bill is sponsored by Senate Judiciary human rights and the law chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.)

Criminal Division chief Lanny Breuer said last month that he supports the establishment of a human rights section. Here are his remarks from a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on human rights enforcement:

“While no structural reform can take place without the approval of the Office of Management and Budget and notification to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, based on my review, I have recommended to the Attorney General that our already outstanding efforts in this area would be enhanced by a merger of the Domestic Security Section and the Office of Special Investigation into a new section with responsibility for human rights enforcement, MEJA/SMTJ cases, and alien-smuggling and related matters.  That new section would be called the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section. The Attorney General has indicated his support for this change and the Department’s strong commitment to enforcing human rights, and we expect to move forward with this.”

This post has been updated and corrected from an earlier version.

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Old political grudges and feuds appear to have slowed the White House selection process for Oklahoma’s Northern District U.S. Attorney.

While Sanford “Sandy” Coats has been nominated to for Oklahoma’s Western District, no one seems to know who will get the Tulsa-Based Northern post. Assistant U. S. Attorney Rob Wallace is believed to be in line for the  Eastern District job now held by Sheldon Sperling ” (UPDATE: And now it appears as if the Eastern District’s future is cloudy as well. The Tulsa World reported Tuesday that Assistant U. S. Attorney Rob Wallace was out of the running for the Eastern District in what a source called called “a total shock.)

Susan Brandon, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District, is the only name floating around Oklahoma’s legal community for the Northern District. But she appears to have run aground. Brandon declined to comment.

There appear to be at least two political cross-currents whipping Brandon. Oklahoma’s conservative Republican senators don’t like her ties to the Edmondson family, a Democratic political dynasty in Oklahoma, people with knowledge of the situation say. The other potential factor is lingering bad blood between the family of Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and people — including Brandon — who were close to the late Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.)

Let’s start with the Edmondson problem first. ”Her aunt married my uncle,” the state’s long-time attorney general, Drew Edmondson, told us about Brandon.

And that tie doesn’t sit well with Sens. James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, according to Brandon’s longtime friend, Tulsa attorney Frank Frasier. “Her name was submitted, but neither of them approved,” Frasier told us. Coburn sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, putting him in a position to throw up hurdles to U.S. Attorney and judicial nominations — one reason the White House is likely to be deferential to his views.

Drew Edmondson is the son of former U.S. Rep. Ed Edmondson and the nephew of former Gov. J. Howard Edmondson. Drew’s brother is James Edmondson, who sits on the state Supreme Court. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe (R) has made a career running against the Edmondsons, criticizing their long family service in politics and liberal-leaning ideas. (Here we’ll just note that Inhofe himself is one of those “career politicians” he likes to criticize. He’s  been in Congress since 1987 and before that served as mayor of Tulsa).

Moreover, the Edmondson home base is Muskogee - putting them in direct conflict with another Okie from Muskogee, Tom Coburn. ”It’s like small-town politics over there all the time,” one person close to the process told us.

Frasier praised Brandon. “She is an outstanding lawyer. She would serve the people of Oklahoma well.” A spokesperson for Coburn declined to comment. Jared Young, a spokesman for Inhofe, said the Republican senators were taking a back seat in the process. “Given that it’s a Democrat in the White House, and the state’s governor is a Democrat, they’re kind of the lead on this,” Young said.

Now, the second apparent problem for Brandon: The old Boren-Synar feud.

The late Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.) was a liberal who often pushed then-Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.) to lean left. Boren, a conservative Democrat, didn’t appreciate Synar’s ideas, and the two often clashed. Boren later retired from the Senate to be president of the University of Oklahoma. His son, Dan Boren, is the Democratic House member from Muskogee. The younger Boren is said by people who keep up with Oklahoma’s Faulknerian politics to be opposed to Brandon because she — or her family, we’ve heard it both ways — was close to Synar.

Because both of Oklahoma’s senators are Republicans, Boren has been forwarding names to the White House for judicial and other posts. A spokesperson for Boren declined to comment.

But another person with knowledge of the process said Brandon’s name was put in play by Gov. Brad Henry (D), even though governors don’t typically get directly involved in U.S. Attorney recommendations. But in a break from tradition, Henry weighed in with his own list of recommended nominees, the Tulsa World reported on May 3.

The Tulsa World quoted Dan Boren saying the process was “something I had never experienced before.”

Northern District of Oklahoma U.S. Attorney David E. O’Meilia and John C. Richter, his counterpart in Oklahoma’s Eastern Western District, resigned earlier this summer.

Richter took a position at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law, where his wife Liesa Richter serves as associate dean of admissions. O’Meilia entered private practice at Richards & Connor PLLP.

Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

The Senate today confirmed Justice Department Civil Rights Division nominee Tom Perez by a 72-22 vote.

Tom Perez (

Tom Perez (

Sixteen Republicans voted in favor of his confirmation. Twenty-two Republicans opposed him, including Senate Judiciary Committee members Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.).

Coburn had put a hold on the nominee, who as a former director of the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services had supported providing translators for undocumented immigrants receiving medical care.

One of Perez’s sponsors, Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), stepped in to try to assuage the conservatives’ concerns. Cardin arranged a private meeting between the nominee, Coburn, Sessions and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), after the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed Perez on June 4. Coburn and Sessions were the only senators to vote against Perez in committee.

But after the meetings, the Oklahoma Republican said he was still “concerned with the direction of his leadership.”

“I think Mr. Perez is a fine man,” Coburn said today on the Senate floor. “But I think his view point is a disaster for the future of the country in terms of what is a civil right and what isn’t.”

Sessions, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on the Senate floor he was concerned that Perez would not be able to put aside his “partisan beliefs” in his DOJ post. In June, the Alabama senator questioned Perez’s prior work on the board of CASA de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group.

“The president has chosen this nominee, someone who has a record of and a reputation for very strong political activity,” Sessions said today on the floor. “That’s not disqualifying. But it’s a matter that I am concerned about.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member also said the Justice Department’s handling of the New Black Panther Party case has drawn into question whether the Civil Rights Division is driven by politics.

The dispute stems from a May decision by the Justice Department to dismiss most of a government voter intimidation case filed at the end of the Bush administration against members of the militant black-power group, two of whom were videotaped outside a Philadelphia polling place last November in quasi-military garb. We reported yesterday that Democratic members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights accused the agency’s conservative majority of acting in an “improperly partisan” manner in challenging the Obama Justice Department’s handling of the New Black Panther Party case.

“It is critical that the division be free of partisanship and not be used as a tool to further the agenda of one group or another, one ideology or another,” Sessions said on the Senate floor.

Cardin disagreed with Sessions and Coburn, noting in a floor speech that the nominee has support from several former Civil Rights Division leaders and Louis Sullivan, Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush.

“We have a quality person who will return the … the Civil Rights Division to its historic role, increasing the morale and professionalism in that department,” Cardin said on the Senate floor. “I’m proud to support him.”

Leahy said in a statement that he was disappointed about the amount of time it took to get Perez confirmed. President Obama nominated Perez March 31.

The Senate Judiciary Committee chair said it took a much shorter time to get Ralph Boyd, President Bush’s first Civil Rights Division nominee, confirmed. Leahy said Boyd received the unanimous support of the Senate Judiciary Committee and was confirmed the next day by voice vote.

“No shenanigans. No partisanship. No posturing for narrow special interests,” Leahy said in a statement.

The full Senate still must vote on four more assistant attorneys general. OLC nominee Dawn Johnsen has waited the longest for a vote in the full Senate. Obama nominated her for the post Feb. 11.

Here are the Republicans who voted in favor of his confirmation:

Alexander (R-TN)
Bond (R-MO)
Collins (R-ME)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)*
Graham (R-SC)*
Grassley (R-IA)*
Gregg (R-NH)
Hatch (R-UT)*
Hutchison (R-TX)
Johanns (R-NE)
Kyl (R-AZ)*
Lugar (R-IN)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Snowe (R-ME)
Voinovich (R-OH)

*-Denotes members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Here’s the complete roll call vote:

YEAs —72
Akaka (D-HI)
Alexander (R-TN)
Baucus (D-MT)
Bayh (D-IN)
Begich (D-AK)
Bennet (D-CO)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Bond (R-MO)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Burris (D-IL)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Collins (R-ME)
Conrad (D-ND)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feingold (D-WI)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hagan (D-NC)
Harkin (D-IA)
Hatch (R-UT)
Hutchison (R-TX)
Inouye (D-HI)
Johanns (R-NE)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kaufman (D-DE)
Kerry (D-MA)
Kirk (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Kohl (D-WI)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
LeMieux (R-FL)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Lugar (R-IN)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Schumer (D-NY)
Shaheen (D-NH)
Snowe (R-ME)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Udall (D-NM)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Warner (D-VA)
Webb (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wyden (D-OR)
NAYs —22
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bennett (R-UT)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Chambliss (R-GA)
Coburn (R-OK)
Cochran (R-MS)
Crapo (R-ID)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Isakson (R-GA)
McCain (R-AZ)
McConnell (R-KY)
Risch (R-ID)
Roberts (R-KS)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Thune (R-SD)
Vitter (R-LA)
Wicker (R-MS)
Not Voting - 6
Burr (R-NC)
Byrd (D-WV)
Lieberman (ID-CT)
Sanders (I-VT)
Specter (D-PA)
Udall (D-CO)
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

The Governor of Maryland nominated a successor to a state official whose appointment to the Justice Department Civil Rights Division remains stalled in the Senate, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Tom Perez (

Tom Perez (

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) tapped Alex Sanchez, a senior vice president at United Way of America, to replace DOJ nominee Thomas Perez as the secretary of labor, licensing and regulation. President Obama nominated Perez on March 31 to lead the Civil Rights Division.

Senate leaders have yet to schedule a vote on the Perez nomination. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) told Main Justice last week that he has put a hold on the nominee. The Senate Judiciary Committee member said he has questions for the Justice Department that have not been answered yet.

Coburn said in June that Perez, former director of the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has supported providing translators to illegal immigrants who are receiving medical care. The Oklahoma senator, a medical doctor who operated on people without U.S. citizenship, said providing illegal immigrants with interpreters would “wreck health care.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) in June questioned Perez’s prior work on the board of CASA de Maryland, an influential immigrant advocacy group that has come under fire by anti-immigration groups.

Perez was reported out of committee June 4 by a 17-2 vote. Coburn and Sessions were the only senators to oppose the Civil Rights Division nominee in committee.

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has also asked Senate Republicans to hold up Perez until DOJ gives the House member more information about the dismissal of voter-intimidation charges against members of the militant New Black Panthers.

Friday, August 7th, 2009

House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) cannot vote on presidential nominations. But Smith is trying to hold up Justice Department Civil Rights Division nominee Thomas Perez until DOJ gives the House member more information about the dismissal of voter-intimidation charges against members of the militant New Black Panthers.

Tom Perez (

Tom Perez (

Smith urged the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee today to put a hold on Perez. The House Judiciary ranking member said the Justice Department responses to letters he sent on May 28, July 9 and July 17 about the dismissal have been “overly vague, raising concerns about possible political interference in this case.” Read all of the letters from Smith and DOJ here.

Lamar Smith (Gov)

Lamar Smith (Gov)

Smith and other House Republicans have alleged for months that politics played a role in the case dismissal. The Washington Times reported last month that Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli, a political appointee, approved a recommendation by Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King to drop voter intimidation charges against members of the militant New Black Panthers.

But King, who’s been acting head of the division since January, told Perrelli she had “concerns” about the case during a regular review meeting, The Times reported. King recommended some of the charges be dismissed, and Perrelli agreed. Read our previous report about The Times article here.

The Justice Department has denied the accusations made by Smith. DOJ spokesperson Tracy Schmaler told Main Justice today “top career attorneys in the Civil Rights Division” made the decision that some of the charges be dismissed.

In a four-page letter sent July 13, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said DOJ officials will meet with Smith to further discuss the matter and he explained how DOJ handled each of the New Black Panthers members listed in the initial DOJ complaint.

King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson (Getty Images)

King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson (Getty Images)

The complaint said Malik Zulu Shabazz, Minister King Samir Shabazz and Jerry Jackson brandished weapons and used “coercion, threats and intimidation” to harass voters, both black and white, at a Philadelphia polling place last Nov. 4. The defendants wore “military-style uniforms” including black berets and combat boots, the complaint said.

The Justice Department essentially won the case when the defendants failed to contest it. But DOJ decided to file for dismissal of the case instead of getting a default judgment. The dismissal did not extend to one defendant, King Samir Shabazz. Read the DOJ’s filing here. Read our original report on the “controversy” here.

“We assure you that the Department is committed to comprehensive and vigorous enforcement of both the civil and criminal provisions of federal law that prohibit voter intimidation,” Weich said in the letter. “We continue to work with voters, communities, and local law enforcement to ensure that every American can vote free from intimidation, coercion or threats.”

Smith also requested in the July 9 letter that the DOJ Office of Inspector General investigate the matter. Inspector General Glenn Fine wrote in a July 21 letter that he forwarded Smith’s request to the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility. Fine said OPR — not OIG — was the appropriate office to handle Smith’s request.

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have not jumped on the dismissal like Smith has, but they have not been too keen on Perez.

Perez was reported out of committee June 4 by a 17-2 vote. Sens. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) were the only senators to oppose the Civil Rights Division nominee in committee.

Jeff Sessions (Getty Images)

Jeff Sessions (Getty Images)

Sessions, the ranking member of the committee, called into question last month Perez’s prior work on the board of CASA de Maryland, an influential immigrant advocacy group that has come under fire by anti-immigration groups.

Coburn said last month that Perez, former director of the Office of Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has supported providing translators to illegal immigrants who are receiving medical care. The Oklahoma senator, a medical doctor who operated on people without U.S. citizenship, said providing illegal immigrants with interpreters would “wreck health care.”

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said Coburn and Sessions got a “much clearer view” of the Civil Rights Division nominee from a meeting they had with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Perez. Sessions said it was “a good meeting.”

A Republican spokesperson for the Senate Judiciary Committee did not respond to a request for comment.

Joe Palazzolo contributed to this report.

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

The Washington Post opinions page expressed dismay at the Senate over the body’s failure to move on Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen, calling the delay “unconscionable.” Read the staff editorial from today here.

Dawn Johnsen (Indiana University)

Dawn Johnsen (Indiana University)

The newspaper said the Senate should confirm all the DOJ nominees reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee before it starts its month-long recess Friday.

These nominees include:

-Dawn Johnsen, Office of Legal Counsel (Reported out of committee: March 19)

-Thomas Perez, Civil Rights Division (Reported out of committee: June 4)

-Mary L. Smith, Tax Division (Reported out of committee: June 11)

-Tristram Coffin, Vermont U.S. Attorney (Reported out of committee: June 18)

-Joyce Vance, Northern District of Alabama U.S. Attorney (Reported out of committee: June 18)

-Preet Bharara, Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney (Reported out of committee: June 18)

-B. Todd Jones, Minnesota U.S. Attorney (Reported out of committee: June 25)

-John Kacavas, New Hampshire U.S. Attorney (Reported out of committee: June 25)

-Christopher Schroeder, Office of Legal Policy (Reported out of committee: July 28)

We’ve been reporting for weeks on the delays that are preventing votes on Johnsen, Smith, Perez and the five U.S. Attorneys.

A Senate leadership aide told Main Justice today that Senate leaders are still trying to reach a deal that would bring DOJ nominees up for votes before the recess.

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) have agreed that there are U.S. Attorney nominees who should be voted on before the recess. Read our report here. The Vermont senator said yesterday it “wouldn’t be responsible” of the Senate if it didn’t vote on U.S. Attorney nominees before senators leave town this week.

The Senate Judiciary chair pointed his finger at the Republicans last month for delaying votes on the appointees.

Johnsen has received the most flack from the GOP because of her position on abortion rights and her strong disapproval of the Bush administration legal memos used to justify torture against suspected terrorists. The Post said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has been “less than assertive” in trying to bring her nomination up for a vote.

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have criticized

Mary L. Smith (Schoeman, Updike & Kaufman)

Mary L. Smith (Schoeman, Updike & Kaufman)

Smith for her lack of tax experience. She is a former in-house counsel at Tyco International but has no prosecuting experience. The Justice Department acknowledged she is not a “traditional tax lawyer,” but argued that her extensive securities law and litigation experience qualifies her for the job.

Tom Perez (

Tom Perez (

Republican senators have called into question Perez’s prior work on the board of CASA de Maryland, an influential immigrant advocacy group that has come under fire by anti-immigration groups. Republican Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Sessions — who both voted against the Civil Rights Division nominee in committee — met with Perez, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) to clear up any concerns about the appointee. Sessions said it was “a good meeting,” and Cardin said last week a vote on Perez before the August recess could be possible.

Read our previous post on the delays here.