Feinstein leads push for hearing on sex trafficking

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., led all 20 of the senate’s women today in urging the Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on sex trafficking in the United States.

“Human trafficking is a $32 billion criminal enterprise, making it the second largest criminal industry in the world behind the drug trade. According to the Department of Justice, 83 percent of sex trafficking victims in the United States are American citizens,” the senators wrote in their letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

“A hearing would provide an opportunity to shine a spotlight on sex trafficking; receive testimony from victims, advocates, and law enforcement; and provide the committee with an informed perspective as it considers legislation in this area,” they wrote.

Read the full letter, after the jump…
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Feinstein won’t give up on assault weapons ban

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein sounded pretty ticked off when she spoke on CNN a few moments ago about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pronouncing dead her effort to reinstate the federal assault-weapons ban.

Feinstein, D-Calif., said Reid, D-Nev., told her she would have an opportunity for a vote and “I take him at his word.”

More specifically, Feinstein said she left her meeting with Reid under the impression that she’d get a vote both on her overall bill and on a broken-out section that would only ban large-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

“This is very important to me and I’m not going to lay down and play dead,” she told CNN, noting polls show public support for an assault-weapons ban and her bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday on a 10-8 vote. “Not to give me a vote on this would be a major betrayal of trust, as I would see it.”

The Judiciary Committee passed the bill on a strict party-line vote, and Reid told reporters Tuesday that the proposed assault weapons ban isn’t holding up against Senate rules requiring at least 60 votes to end debate and move to final passage. It’s been known all along that Reid and several other Democratic senators from relatively conservative states probably wouldn’t support such a bill.

The White House replied that the assault-weapons ban can still be brought up as an amendment, and the votes can be found to pass it.

Polls have shown majority support for an assault weapons ban, though far weaker than that for universal background checks or a large-capacity magazine ban. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll pegged support for an assault-weapons ban at 57 percent; Quinnipiac University put it at 54 percent; and the Pew Research Center/USA Today put it at 56 percent.


Gun controllers push their message, momentum

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 today to pass a bill that would require all gun sales be subject to background checks, and congressional Democrats and their allies are looking to maximize their gun-control momentum and messaging.

Today, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a new advertisement featuring religious leaders demanding that Congress act to pass gun law reforms.

The ad concides with the start of the Papal Conclave in Vatican City, and comes just ahead of this weekend’s Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath Weekend – organized by Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, the National Cathedral and PICO – in which congregations across the nation will gather to reflect and act on preventing gun violence including requiring background checks for all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and making gun trafficking a federal crime.

On Wednesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francsico; U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; and other women in Congress will join Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, for a Capitol Hill news conference “to highlight the urgency for common-sense gun violence prevention legislation to protect our communities, families, and schools.”

On Thursday – the three-month anniversary of the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. – members of MomsRising, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Million Mom March (part of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence), Reston-Herndon Alliance to End Gun Violence, and other concerned citizens will deliver a petition with more than 150,000 signatures on it to National Rifle Association President David Keene at his Fairfax, Va. office. The petition urges the NRA to support common-sense gun safety laws.

On Friday, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, will chair the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force’s hearing on “The Need for Background Checks: Preventing Criminals and the Dangerously Mentally Ill from Getting Guns” at the Capitol. Panelists are expected to include Carol Gaxiola of Arizona, the mother of gun violence victim; Dr. Daniel Webster, director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Joseph Bielevicz, a detective with the Pittsburgh Police Firearms Tracking Unit; Austin, Texas, Police Chief Art Acevedo; Joe Deaser, owner of the Capital Gun Club in Roseville, Calif.; and Jesse Ogas of Colorado, a hunter, sportsman, gun owner and former NRA Member.


Committee OK’s Defense of Marriage Act’s repeal

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 along party lines Thursday to approve Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law defining marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.

“DOMA was wrong when it passed in 1996 and it is wrong now,” Feinstein, D-Calif., said in a statement issued after the vote. “There are 131,000 legally married, same-sex couples in this country who are denied more than 1,100 federal rights and protections because of this discriminatory law. I don’t know how long the battle for full equality will take, but we are on the cusp of change, and today’s historic vote in the committee is an important step forward.”

Among other inequalities, married same-sex couples can’t file joint federal income taxes and claim certain deductions; receive Social Security spousal benefits; take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act; get protection from the estate tax when one spouse tries to leave property or assets to the other.

Feinstein’s S.598 has 30 co-sponsors, all Democrats.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s ranking Republican, said at the hearing that the vote was a waste of time given the bill lacks enough votes to pass the Senate floor. “This Orwellian bill does not restore anything,” he said. “Restoring marriage would mean restoring marriage as it has existed for thousands of years. The rights that the bill would create for same-sex couples are not a restoration of any rights. They are new rights that same-sex couples have never had under federal law.”

Same-sex marriage equality advocates disagreed.

“For the first time in history, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to make gays and lesbians whole people,” Courage Campaign founder and chairman Rick Jacobs said Thursday. “This truly historic vote today should never have been necessary because this absurd law should never have been on the books. Thanks to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, we have a bill that can move to the Senate floor where fair-minded people who believe in a nation united, not divided, can end federal discrimination against gay and lesbian couples legally married in six states and the District of Columbia. Sadly, the Republicans think this is a partisan issue, but then some thought the same about the other great civil rights issues of this nation. Eventually, America is just.”


East Bay judicial nominee has U.S. Senate hearing

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers appeared today before the U.S. Senate Judiciary committee for a confirmation hearing on her nomination to the federal bench.

Yvonne Gonzalez RogersPresident Barack Obama nominated Rogers, 46, of Piedmont in May; if confirmed, she would be the Northern District of California’s first Latina district judge.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., at today’s hearing praised her as an “intelligent, balanced, reasonable” attorney; lauded her “extraordinary record” of community service; and described her as “an outstanding Superior Court judge, handling substantial criminal and civil caseloads” who would “be a fine addition to the federal bench.”

Rogers has served as a state judge since her July 2008 appointment by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. She also served as a pro tem judge from 2007 to 2008 and a member of the civil grand jury from 2005 to 2007, serving as forewoman from 2006 to 2007.

Earlier, she was in private practice at the law firm of Cooley Godward LLP in San Francisco from 1991 to 2003, where she was an equity partner from 1999 to 2001. She earned her bachelor’s degree with honors in 1987 from Princeton University and her law degree in 1991 from the University of Texas School of Law. She is registered to vote as a Democrat.

Her husband, Matt Rogers, served on Obama’s transition team when he was elected and later was a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu where he helped manage more than $36 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus funds. He left the Obama administration in September. The couple has three children.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate to this lifetime appointment, she will earn an annual salary of $174,000 — a pay cut from her superior court judge’s salary of $178,789.

Read Feinstein’s remarks in their entirety, after the jump…
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Another Judiciary hearing for Cal’s Goodwin Liu

Goodwin LiuGoodwin Liu, associate dean and professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall Law School, was back before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday for yet another hearing on his nomination to a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said judicial nominees shouldn’t be litmus-tested to ensure their writings match the leanings of senators from either party.

“Professor Liu’s understanding of constitutional law, from well before his nomination a target of the far right, falls well within the mainstream of American legal thought,” Leahy said. “Nothing I have read or heard from Professor Liu gives me any reason to doubt his conviction about the critical importance of the rule of law as the guiding principle of judicial decision-making. As a professor he has done what great professors do—challenge our view of the law. But he has left no doubt that as a judge he would do what great judges do in applying the law fairly to each case.”

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., again noted Liu’s lack of experience in practicing law, and then went back to a vein he mined in a Washington Post op-ed piece last May in which he claimed Liu believes “that judges should treat the Constitution as an infinitely flexible document to be interpreted through nebulous ‘social understandings’ and the consideration of foreign law. This activist philosophy led Liu to conclude that the Constitution provides a right to government health care and welfare — a remarkable view of a document designed to curb the excess of federal power.”

Sessions pursued this theme by reading from a 2006 article Liu wrote for the Yale Law Journal; Sessions contended Liu had argued that the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of national citizenship gave judges the latitude to start evaluating political and social policies such as equitable public education.

Liu acknowledged his experience mostly is academic, but said a background of scholarly, rigorous inquiry can be an asset to the bench. And Liu said the 2006 article said “absolutely nothing about what a judge should do,” but rather was addressed to lawmakers; in fact, in this article’s introduction, Liu wrote that he was proposing “a federal education policy rooted in legislative enforcement of the 14th Amendment guarantee of national citizenship.”

President Barack Obama nominated Liu in February 2010, and although there was GOP opposition right out of the gate, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing in April and voted 12-7 along party lines in May to send Liu to the full Senate for confirmation. But amid threats of a filibuster, the Senate sent the nomination back to the President in August, refusing to debate and vote before adjourning for its month-long recess. The president resubmitted his nomination in September, and the Judiciary Committee once again voted 12-7 that month to send the nomination to a floor vote.

Senate leaders cut a deal not to seek Liu’s confirmation in the final hours of the last Congress, and the President re-nominated him Jan. 5.

The GOP has never cared for Liu’s liberal credentials – he chairs the progressive American Constitution Society’s board of directors; he’s a former member of the boards of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and Chinese for Affirmative Action; and he served on the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition’s education policy and agency review teams – or for his belief that judges should interpret the Constitution not according to “how its general principles would have been applied in 1789 or 1868, but rather how those principles should be applied today in order to preserve their power and meaning in light of the concerns, conditions, and evolving norms of our society.”

Richard Painter, who was President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer and now is a University of Minnesota law professor supporting Liu’s confirmation, last month said Senate Republicans cast Liu as an arch-liberal activist mainly as a political “tit-for-tat” because he’d spoken out against the confirmations of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito.

Painter this week renewed his defense of Liu’s bona fides with a lengthy Huffington Post article in which he concludes Liu is “eminently qualified” and should be confirmed. “He has support from prominent conservatives. He would fill a judicial emergency vacancy, and he would add important diversity to the bench. He is pragmatic and open-minded, not dogmatic or ideological, as his support for school vouchers shows.”