Christine Stone, National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) board director, and chair of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Constitutional Values, joined 150 advocates from 27 states at the White House May 7 to discuss vacancies on the benches of America’s federal courts.
After hearing from Attorney General Eric Holder and White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler, Stone was invited to join a group of 20 grassroots leaders in the West Wing to meet with President Barack Obama about working together to fill the vacancies, including the six empty seats in the federal courts of Pennsylvania.
“It was a summit to work with the administration to see how these vacancies can be filled,” Stone said. “One in 10 [judicial seats] is not filled. We have never seen so many vacancies in our federal courts, and it is because of obstruction in the Senate.”
NCJW is taking a lead in working to get the judicial seats filled because the federal district and circuit courts are, and will be, instrumental in helping to shape laws pertaining to issues important to the organization, such as health care, workplace discrimination and immigration, Stone said.
“These laws can be interpreted and overturned in the courts,” she said. “Our fight for these policies doesn’t stop in the Senate.”
While Stone said that it was a bipartisan group that met with Obama last week, “the fact of the matter is that it has been the Republicans that have been obstructing the president’s nominees. And the president has nominated an unprecedented number of women and minorities. Forty-seven percent of his nominees have been women. The president’s focus on diversity has been his mark on the courts.”
Jodi Hirsh, past executive director of NCJW, also attended the meeting on behalf of People for the American Way. Both she and Stone are working together on the Pennsylvania coalition to fill the judicial vacancies.
“Our coalition got the attention of the White House,” Stone said. “They wanted us to share with the other folks from around the country what we’ve been doing to educate our communities on why the courts are important.”
Stone, Hirsh and their coalition “meet with the staffs of Sens. Robert P. Casey Jr. and Pat Toomey, groups of organizations and individuals that care about these issues,” Stone said.
While three nominees were confirmed to seats in Pennsylvania district courts by large bipartisan majorities this past October, Stone said that concerned Pennsylvanians should continue to urge its U.S. senators to “keep the process moving.”
“The most important action that we as citizen advocates can take is letting Sens. Casey and Toomey know that we can’t let our courts fail under the weight of the vacancy burden,” she said.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)