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Yesterday, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law issued a scorecard — more of a report card, really, since they give letter grades — based on how federal elected officials voted on poverty-related legislation in 2009.
You can check out how West Virginia’s two senators and three representatives voted here.
Overall, West Virginia did pretty well, at least according to the Shriver Center. Two As (Allan Mollohan and Nick Rahall, both at 94 percent), two Bs (Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both at 80 percent), and one C (Shelley Moore Capito, 44 percent). (When I was in school 44 percent was a failing grade, but maybe they’re grading on a curve. Actually, if you check the rankings’ methodology, it turns out 80 percent is a high B, while 44 percent is a low C.)
Interestingly, the Shriver Center puts West Virginia’s poverty rate at 17 percent, while a recent Congressional snapshot put it at 14.6 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau put the three-year average between 2006 and 2008 at 14.9 percent. While that’s a pretty big discrepancy, the underlying reality is still the same: roughly one in six West Virginians lives below the poverty line.
After inserting himself into DuPont Co.’s appeal of the $400 million verdict in the Spelter Smelter case, Gov. Joe Manchin announced tonight that the state Supreme Court is moving to address the issue of whether every ruling by a circuit court gets a full examination by the justices.
In his State of the State address, Manchin put it this way:
The Supreme Court has been studying this issue for the past several months, and I’m pleased to report that they have shared with me a proposal for major reform of the state’s appellate process.
Through their constitutional rule-making authority, the Supreme Court of Appeals will soon issue rules for public comment that are intended to ensure there will be full appellate review by the Court of all final decisions on the merits issued by the circuit courts in West Virginia.
That’s how Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) sees it. Speaking Tuesday in support of Indiana U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton‘s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Specter said:
Speaking candidly, perhaps bluntly, Judge Hamilton is a pawn in partisan political warfare. That is the long and short of it. This is the 90th filibuster in the past several months. This follows a pattern, regrettably, that goes back almost two decades, when both sides, Democrats and Republicans at various times, have engaged in filibusters against judicial nominees where there was no justification to do so. It occurred extensively during the Clinton administration. At that time, on the other side of the aisle, I supported many of President Clinton’s nominees. It occurred during the Bush administration, when I chaired the Judiciary Committee, and there were repeated filibusters by Democrats against President Bush’s nominees.
At that time, this Chamber was almost torn apart with the ferocity and intensity of the partisanship, with serious consideration being given to what was called the nuclear or constitutional option, when there was serious consideration given to altering the traditional requirement of 60 votes to end a filibuster. There was a tactic devised to challenge the ruling of the Chair, which could be overruled by or upheld by only 51 votes, and thereby move the judicial nominees without the traditional 60 votes. Fortunately, sanity and tradition prevailed and we worked out a compromise with the so-called Gang of 14 to confirm some and to reject others. Now we find the pattern continues.
It is my hope that at some point we can declare a truce, an armistice, and stop the partisan political warfare. The nomination of Judge Hamilton would be a good occasion to do that.
Well, there was no truce.
On Tuesday, Republicans tried unsuccessfully to filibuster Hamilton’s nomination, which prompted the Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank to observe: “When you’re in politics, a certain amount of hypocrisy comes with the job. Still, what happened on the Senate floor Tuesday stretched even the senatorial capacity to suspend shame to new levels of elasticity.”
And on Thursday, in a highly partisan vote, the Senate confirmed Hamilton by a 59-39 margin. The only Republican to vote for Hamilton was Sen. Richard Luger of Indiana, who, along with his Democratic colleague Evan Bayh, recommended Hamilton in the first place.
With the U.S. Senate poised to vote today on another of President Obama’s judicial nominees — U.S. District Judge Andre M. Davis of Maryland (left), it’s worth noting that yet again, the senate is proceeding very deliberately, taking up one judge at a time for confirmation by a floor vote.
Writing recently in response to criticism of Obama’s approach to judicial nominations, University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said the real cause of delays in approving Obama’s nominees is a bottleneck at the senate.
The committee has approved 14 federal court nominees, and the real bottleneck has been Senate floor action. Of those 14 nominees, only five have received floor debate and confirmation; nine are pending without GOP consent to consider them. Senator Reid has attempted to cooperate with Senator McConnell and Republicans — but to no avail. For example, McConnell insisted that the Senate consider no lower court nominees until it had confirmed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which delayed the process until September.
The unanimous consent procedure allows one senator to stop the entire body, and anonymous holds have delayed specific nominees’ consideration. Reid has been reluctant to employ cloture, which forces votes, mainly because this practice wastes valuable floor time. However, on Tuesday, Reid took the unusual step of invoking cloture to secure a floor vote on Southern District of West Virginia Judge Irene Berger. She is the third uncontroversial judicial nominee on whom Reid has been forced to seek cloture. Indeed, the GOP has ratcheted up the stakes with the unprecedented action of placing holds on noncontroversial nominees.
At least thus far, it’s hard to blame the political maneuvering and delay tactics on the quality of the candidates, since once Obama’s nominees actually make it to the senate, they have been approved overwhelmingly. Not counting U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s 68-31 vote on Aug. 6, the four candidates approved by the full senate have received a grand total of three votes against them, and all of those were cast during the vote that confirmed U.S. District Judge Gerald Lynch to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals by a 94-3 margin.
It will be interesting to see if any senators vote against Davis. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) recently said, during the discussion that preceded Judge Irene C. Berger’s confirmation, that Davis’ record as a judge was “a cause for some concern.” Soon, voters will see if any of Sessions’ colleagues share his concerns over Davis — at least enough to vote against him.
There’s an old aphorism, repeated to me recently by a learned hand in West Virginia politics, that when you win a presidential election, you should immediately start taking over the government.