Town Hall in Philadelphia Discusses Importance of Federal Courts and Need for Ethics Reform

Courts News, Media 08.23,23


Contact: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: Rachel Hooper, [email protected]

New Pennsylvania Project: Eric Leisure, [email protected], 484-639-5110

PHILADELPHIAThe Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the New Pennsylvania Project, and POWER Interfaith hosted a motivating and educational discussion about the importance of our federal courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — to Pennsylvanians and all people in America. Cherri Gregg of WHYY moderated the conversation, which praised the Senate’s recent confirmation of professionally and demographically diverse judges to the federal bench and uplifted the need for ethics reform. Especially in the wake of recent Supreme Court rulings rolling back affirmative action in higher education, LGBTQ rights, student loan debt relief, and reproductive rights, it is increasingly clear how the decisions issued by our highest court — and by all federal courts — profoundly impact millions of people and are antithetical to the kind of country we all deserve.

Pennsylvanians are fortunate to have outstanding, highly qualified, and diverse judges serving in these critical lifetime positions in the commonwealth, including Judges Arianna Freeman and Cindy Chung, who are now serving in Pennsylvania seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and Judges Kelley Hodge, Mia Perez, and Kai Scott, who were confirmed last year to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Organizational representatives and invited officials addressed the following topics:

  • Understanding the “nitty gritty” of the federal courts and why fair courts matter
  • The wide-reaching impact of judicial decisions on individuals and our democracy
  • Progress in Pennsylvania — the confirmation of judges with diverse backgrounds and current federal judicial vacancies in Pennsylvania and the Third Circuit
  • The urgent need for robust judicial ethics reform

A recording of today’s town hall is available here.

 Highlights from the discussion and additional comments:

Lena Zwarensteyn, senior director of the fair courts program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said: “Every U.S. senator plays an incredibly important role in helping to select and confirm nominees to serve as lifetime judges on our federal courts. Over the past few years, Pennsylvania’s senators recommended and voted to confirm highly qualified nominees who are both professionally and demographically diverse and who are committed to civil and human rights, which is critical for building a judiciary that works for everyone. Pennsylvanians know this matters and have been engaged for years, and we look forward to our ongoing work with incredible advocates across the commonwealth. Together, we are demanding that we get closer to the day when our federal courts — and the judges who serve on them for life — truly deliver equal justice for all.”

Kadida Kenner, chief executive officer of the New Pennsylvania Project said: “Like our state courts, the federal courts and the judges and justices who make important decisions about our everyday lives and shape our democracy matter. Now is the time for all of us to advocate for a diverse and ethical justice-centered judiciary and fill the vacancies that exist in Pennsylvania’s federal courthouses.”

Saleem Holbrook, executive director of the Abolitionist Law Center and Straight Ahead said: “Federal judges are appointed for life and exercise wide discretion when it comes to interpreting our rights under the constitution. They can grant or extend rights and protections under the law or deprive and take away rights. In recent times we have learned the hard way that today, very few rights seem “guaranteed” or “enshrined” in the constitution. With so much at stake, the people, especially marginalized populations, have an interest in the selection of judges to ensure rights fought for are protected.”

Bishop Dwayne Royster of POWER Interfaith said: “The President selects candidates to be appointed to then serve on the federal bench who must first be confirmed by the US Senate. The reality is a handful of political leaders can confirm presidential appointments to the bench which can create a judiciary that supports laws that support the few not the many. They can also create laws and create case law that limit the human and civil rights of the citizens of PA. This conversation is a pertinent one for this moment in human history.”

Senator John Fetterman said: “I’m always very honored to nominate and confirm well-qualified, diverse judicial nominees to serve our Commonwealth and the country. Just since I took office in January, Bob Casey and I have supported excellent, experienced judicial nominees for Pennsylvania who will serve us well. As we move forward and new vacancies open up on our courts, I will continue this important work with a focus on bringing nominees of diverse personal and legal backgrounds to the table. Pennsylvanians deserve a judicial system that understands everyday challenges facing our residents, and I am proud of the organizations who are engaging people across Pennsylvania on this important issue.”

“The American people deserve the confidence and trust in our judicial system that they will be treated fairly and equally under the law. That demands a federal bench committed to advancing the cause of justice and one reflective of those it serves,” Senator Bob Casey said. “In our pursuit to become a more perfect Union, each generation of Americans has a fundamental obligation to protect and advance the civil rights of all Americans today and the generations to come. My success in working with President Biden and my Senate colleagues to recommend and confirm such a talented and diverse group of judicial nominees is ultimately rooted in each nominee’s own excellence and unrelenting commitment to the rule of law.”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 240 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals.

The New Pennsylvania Project (NPP) is a voting rights organization with a year-round primary focus on voter registration, civic education and mobilization. NPP centers historically disenfranchised and often neglected Black, Indigenous and other people of color, immigrant communities and the youth in our work. Through civic engagement, we ensure all eligible voters feel compelled to exercise their freedom to vote in the Commonwealth.  

POWER INTERFAITH is Pennsylvania’s largest multiracial, multi-faith community organizing entity working to advance racial and economic justice on a liveable planet.