Obama’s AG nominee opposes pot legalization

Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to become U.S. Attorney General, told senators at her confirmation hearing Wednesday that she opposes legalization of marijuana.

Questioned by U.S. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Lynch – currently the top federal prosecutor for part of New York City and all of Long Island – said she doesn’t agree with President Obama’s comments comparing marijuana to alcohol.

“I certainly think that the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion, neither of which I’m able to share,” she said. “But I can tell you that not only do I not support legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support the legalization, nor would it be the position should I become confirmed as attorney general.”

The federal Controlled Substances Act deems marijuana to have no valid medical use and a high risk of addiction, and so bans its cultivation, sale, possession and use. Obama in early 2014 told the New Yorker that he believes marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, a comment that brought criticism from anti-drug activists.

Current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in August 2013 told the governors of Washington and Colorado – states which had voted in 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana, in conflict with federal law – that the Justice Department will let them implement their laws. At the same time, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memo to U.S. attorneys across the country outlining priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing marijuana laws – including those in the 20 states including California that have legalized marijuana for medical use. California activists hope to put a recreational legalization measure on the November 2016 ballot.

Legalization opponents hailed Lynch’s testimony Wednesday.

“Loretta Lynch could have skirted the issue of legalization by simply repeating DOJ’s policy of select intervention, but she tackled it head on. We are breathing a sigh of relief,” said Kevin Sabet, who used to work in the White House drug czar’s office and now is president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “Ms. Lynch is a knowledgeable, experienced, justice-minded individual, and for her to come out so adamantly against legalization is extremely encouraging. It will give our efforts a shot in the arm. We look forward to working with her on these important matters if she is confirmed by the Senate.”


Today’s congressional odds and ends

IMMIGRANT FAMILY DETENTION – Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, led 32 House Democrats in writing to President Obama about how the Homeland Security Department is detaining immigrant families, and its plan to significantly expand family detention in the months ahead. “At the current rates, within one year this Administration will have increased capacity to detain immigrant women and children by more than 4,000 percent” Lofgren said. “As the law requires, there needs to be a better assessment in place to appropriately screen and assess these women and children, many of whom are fleeing violence, torture or persecution in Central America.” Among those signing the letter were Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

BIO-DEFENSE FUNDING – Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, joined with Rep. Mike Rogers, R-M ich., in calling for additional funding for the Biomedical Advance Research and Development Authority (BARDA) and related bio-defense programs amid the ongoing Ebola epidemic. “BARDA is now leading the federal government’s efforts to develop vaccines and therapeutics against Ebola,” they wrote. “While ongoing programs at the National Institutes of Health are essential for early-stage Ebola research, only BARDA has the infrastructure to actually get a vaccine or drug prepared for use in this outbreak.” Eshoo and Rogers authored the 2006 law creating BARDA; their letter went to House Appropriations Committee and subcommittee chairs and ranking members; Speaker John Bohener; Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s chair and ranking member; and White House Ebola “czar” Ron Klain.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)SURGEON GENERAL – Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove; and Judy Chu, D-Monterey Park, got 88 of their House colleagues to sign a letter calling for the confirmation of Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy, as the nation worries about Ebola. Obama nominated Murthy almost a year ago, but conservatives have blocked his confirmation mainly because he sees gun control as a public health issue. “As our nation faces public health concerns, the Senate needs to stop playing politics with Presidential nominees and confirm a Surgeon General to assist in disseminating information and to amplify the work being done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Lee said. “Dr. Murthy is an eminently qualified physician and has the support of our nation’s preeminent health and physicians groups. It’s time to confirm him.” Among those signing the letter were Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz.

Mike ThompsonNAPA QUAKE DISASTER FUNDS – The Obama administration has approved individual-assistance Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster funds for areas in Napa and Solano counties hurt by Aug. 24’s 6.0-magnitude earthquake, senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Thompson announced Tuesday. The administration also approved Small Business Administration loans for homeowners, businesses, and nonprofit organizations; until now, only public assistance FEMA disaster funds had been approved. “The approval of this much needed assistance is an important step in our region’s recovery, and it will finally allow us to start helping folks get back on their feet,” said Thompson, D-Napa. “Individuals and families will be able to use these funds to begin the process of rebuilding and repairing homes and other personal property. And, local businesses will be able to apply for low-interest SBA loans to repair or replace disaster-damaged property, inventory and supplies.” Individuals in Napa and Solano Counties can register with FEMA online, via smartphone, or by calling 800-621-3362.


California has a new Solicitor General

An attorney who couldn’t win U.S. Senate confirmation after President Barack Obama nominated him to a federal appeals court seat will be California’s new solicitor general, state Attorney General Kamala Harris announced Monday.

Edward DuMontEdward DuMont, 51, in January will become the state Justice Department’s chief appellate lawyer, overseeing all civil and criminal appeals and litigating the state’s most sensitive, complex cases in state and federal courts. Harris said Californians “will be well served by Ed’s legal acumen and extensive appellate litigation experience.”

DuMont, in Harris’ news release, said he’s honored. “While it will be hard to leave my current clients and colleagues, I look forward to returning to California, joining a new team and working together to build an expanded Solicitor General’s office that we will all be proud of.”

President Obama nominated DuMont in April 2010 and re-nominated him in January 2011 to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. He would have been the first openly gay federal appeals court judge, but his nomination languished for more than 18 months without the Senate Judiciary Committee ever scheduling a confirmation hearing. DuMont asked Obama to withdraw his nomination in November 2011.

An Oakland native, DuMont grew up in the Bay Area; he holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a law degree from Stanford Law School.

DuMont has been with the firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP in Washington, D.C., since 2002 and has been a partner there since 2004; he’s now a vice chair of the firms’a appellate and Supreme Court litigation practice group. Earlier, he served seven years as an assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General and as an associate deputy attorney general at the U.S. Justice Department, focusing on computer crime and privacy issues.

He has argued 18 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court on issues including employment law, the First Amendment, criminal law and administrative procedure. He also has been the lead author of dozens of briefs to the high court, and has filed briefs or argued matters in 10 different federal appeals courts.


Former Oaklander confirmed as Justice Dept.’s #3

The U.S. Senate today confirmed a former Oakland resident, and the brother-in-law of California’s attorney general, as third-in-command at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tony WestThe roll call on Tony West’s confirmation as associate attorney general was 98-1, with U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., the only dissenter; Jerry Moran, R-Kan., didn’t vote.

“As a key member of the department’s senior management team, he has led with integrity, acting always in the best interests of the American people and in accordance with the finest traditions of public service,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a news release. “I applaud his confirmation by the U.S. Senate today, and look forward to continuing to work with him as Associate Attorney General – a role in which he has excelled, in an acting capacity, for more than a year.”

President Obama nominated West to this post last September, but he has served as the acting associate attorney general since March 2012; before that he had been the assistant attorney general in charge of the department’s civil division since April 2009.

Earlier, he’d been a special assistant to the deputy attorney general from 1993 to 1994; a federal prosecutor in San Francisco from 1994 to 1999; a special assistant attorney general at the California Department of Justice from 1999 to 2001; and then a litigation partner at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.

I first met West when he was a delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and he later became a prominent fundraiser for Obama’s first presidential campaign. His wife, Maya Harris, is vice president for democracy, rights and justice at the Ford Foundation, and sister to California Attorney General Kamala Harris.

West, 47, now oversees the department’s civil litigating sections (the Antitrust Division, Civil Division, Civil Rights Division, Environment and Natural Resources Division, and Tax Division); grant-making components (the Office of Justice Programs, Office on Violence Against Women, and Office of Community Oriented Policing Services); and other sections including the Community Relations Service, Executive Office of U.S. Trustees, Office of Information Policy and Foreign Settlement Claims Commission. He’s also co-chair of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico; vice chair of the steering committee of the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force; and the federal government’s chief Freedom of Information Act officer.

He’s a graduate of Harvard College, where he served as publisher of the Harvard Political Review, and of Stanford Law School, where he was president of the Stanford Law Review.


Brown names 1st openly gay appeals court justice

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday announced the appointment of one of his top aides to serve as the first openly gay justice of the California Court of Appeal.

Jim Humes, 53, of San Francisco, if confirmed will be an associate justice of the First District Court of Appeal, Division Four, based in San Francisco.

According to an interesting 2011 profile of Humes by the Los Angeles Times’ Maura Dolan, this appointment has been in the cards for quite some time.

Humes has served as Brown’s executive secretary for legal affairs, administration and policy since 2011; earlier, he was chief deputy attorney general – basically running the attorney general’s office while Brown held that post – from 2007 to 2011.

He worked at the California Department of Justice from 1993 to 2007, including stints as chief assistant of the civil division and senior assistant attorney general of the health, education and welfare section. He served in the Colorado Attorney General’s Office from 1984 to 1986 and again from 1987 to 1993; he was an associate at Banta Hoyt Banta Greene Hannen and Everall PC from 1986 to 1987 and at Jay Stuart Radetsky PC from 1983 to 1984.

Humes holds a law degree from the University of Denver; a Master of Social Science degree from the University of Colorado; and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Illinois State University.

This appointment requires confirmation by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, which consists of Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, Attorney General Kamala Harris and First District Senior Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline.

If confirmed, Humes – a Democrat – will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Patricia Sepulveda. A Court of Appeal associate justice earns an annual salary of $204,599.


Bay Area judicial nominees get Senate hearing

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing today for two Bay Area nominees to the federal bench.

President Obama just one month ago nominated Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jon Tigar and Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General William Orrick III to the U.S. District Court for California’s Northern District.

Per my colleague’s story at the time, Orrick, 59, has been in the Justice Department’s civil division since 2009. He is the son of a prominent San Francisco federal judge, William Orrick II, who died in 2003. The nominee previously worked more than two decades for the San Francisco law firm Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass.

Tigar, 49, has been an Alameda County judge since 2002, when he was put on the bench by former Gov. Gray Davis. He was a civil litigator for another San Francisco law firm, Keker & Van Nest, before taking a judgeship.

You can watch an archived webcast of today’s hearing here; it actually starts at about 16:44, with Sen. Barbara Boxer’s introduction of the California nominees at about 19:48 and Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s at 25:43. Tigar introduces himself at 34:27, and Orrick at 36:23.

If confirmed, these are lifetime appointments. A district court judge currently earns an annual salary of $174,000.

Read Boxer’s introduction of the nominees, after the jump…
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