Religious leaders gather to address ways engage on judicial nominations
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WASHINGTON, D.C., Dec. 9, 2009 - What is the connection between the pew and the bench? Yesterdays unprecedented conference by the same name, "The Pew and the Bench: A Faith Summit on the Federal Judiciary," brought together more than 40 religious leaders in a discussion that revealed the extent to which decisions handed down by the federal judiciary can affect the social issues that matter most to communities of faith - including civil rights, civil liberties and education.
The conference, hosted by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, was attended by leaders from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities. The event featured remarks from Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Arlen Specter (D-PA), both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who discussed the recent spate of 5-4 Supreme Court decisions and the potential for further decisions threatening civil rights, civil liberties and other hard-fought victories. Focusing on the low number of judges that President Obama has confirmed so far (just 10), Sen. Cardin urged attendees, "We need [religious communities] to weigh in. We need you to put the spotlight on this so we can get these judges confirmed."
Conference moderator Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center, said, "There has never been a more important time to discuss the judiciary, which is why we are here today - to discuss the impact of the federal bench on the issues of importance to our respective faith communities and to recognize the myriad of ways we can become more engaged with the judicial branch, through education and through advocacy."
Panelists explored how the religious community can shape the debates that swirl around judicial nominations:
- In "The Federal Judiciary and the Faith Community: Past, Present and Future," panelist Dahlia Lithwick (Senior Editor, Slate Magazine) told attendees, "The single most important takeaway from today: There is a role for the judicial branch to play in helping and protecting minority communities ... You all can make an enormous difference in the conversation we have at the next confirmation hearing, and communities of faith have a real responsibility to reclaim this conversation."
- In "The Golden Rules: 501(c)3 Status and Advocacy on Judicial Nominations," panelist Abby Levine (Deputy Director of Advocacy Programs, Alliance for Justice) encouraged faith groups to move past current lobbying efforts to facilitate community conversations about the changing judiciary and to discuss potential judicial nominees.
- In "A Menu of Options: A Taste of Faith Groups Judiciary Activism & Education," a six-person panel explored the various education and resources available to help religious organizations augment their educational and advocacy efforts related to nominations and to apply their current policy work to the judicial branch.
Other speakers included: Tom Goldstein (Founder, SCOTUSblog.com); Wade Henderson (President and CEO, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights); Jim Winkler (General Secretary, United Methodist Church, General Board of Church & Society); Holly Hollman (General Counsel, Baptist Joint Committee); Sammie Moshenberg (Director of DC Operations, National Council of Jewish Women); Rich Foltin (Legislative Director and Counsel, American Jewish Committee); and Joi Orr (Program Associate for African American Religious Affairs, People For the American Way).
Information about the Reform Jewish Movement and other religious organizations involvement on issues concerning judicial nominations is available at http://rac.org/judnoms.