All in It Together for Fair Courts: Building Power at Every Level

Courts Resources 01.24.24

By Cedric Lawson

Every U.S. senator votes for every federal judge. Though it’s a responsibility of each senator, this constitutional duty highlights the awesome responsibility of every voter who has two senators representing their state. And while the U.S. Constitution outlines important roles for each branch of government, it’s important to remember the power of the people and the power of the voters, especially when it comes to holding senators accountable for whom they confirm, or do not confirm, to lifetime seats on our federal courts.

So where exactly do the voters — and all people in every state represented by two senators — come in? At every step of the process.

In addition to being a coalition of more than 240 national civil and human organizations, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — and our sister organization, The Leadership Conference Education Fund — work with state-based organizations across the country, many who are directly educating and engaging people in their state to take action. Whether the issue is justice reform, economic justice, ensuring a fair and accurate census, education equity, or fair courts, our field and membership department collaborates with state partners and advocates across the country.

The Leadership Conference’s fair courts team has had the pleasure of working with local partners in states across the country over the years, and in 2023 we hosted two town halls in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. With our partners at New Pennsylvania Project, POWER Interfaith, and 1Hood Power, we hosted town halls about the importance of the federal courts, how the president nominates and senators confirm federal judges, the escalating ethics crisis at the U.S. Supreme Court, and how we can collectively build an equal justice judiciary.

But why a town hall? The reality is that nothing can take the place of gathering face-to-face, breaking bread together (refreshments are a must), and having the opportunity to build trust and camaraderie in a shared space. After all, trust and camaraderie are the glue to collaboration. Collaboration with local partners is a necessity, and advocates at the state and national levels must collaborate effectively to achieve the change we want to see. We have to educate each other about what we know. And we must develop a common bond in service of promoting, protecting, and preserving civil and human rights.

This past August, we gathered at Philly’s United Lutheran Seminary in the Germantown neighborhood. Our organizations brought together nearly 100 people to learn from a panel of experts as they discussed the ins and outs of the judicial selection process. We knew that we had to illustrate the ways that federal court decisions affect our daily lives. Even more important, we made sure there was space for the Philly community to ask questions, to share their knowledge, and to highlight important calls-to-action about how to engage their community and decision-makers — in this case, their U.S. senators.

In November, we were in the Wilkinsburg neighborhood in Pittsburgh at Hosanna House for a similar activity, sharing important information about federal judicial vacancies in Pennsylvania and more about what people can do to make a difference.

Whether a gathering large or small, the opportunity to engage passionate leaders is one we at The Leadership Conference take seriously. After each event, we follow up with local partners to further develop our working relationships and build long-lasting collaborations with state and local partners. We are in this work for the long haul, and we must work together to hold elected leaders accountable. Through the camaraderie we build in-person and virtually, we develop the trust necessary to cultivate strong campaigns and strategy to collectively advance our civil and human rights. None of this work is easy. It is only through coalition that we make change.

In Pennsylvania, we know the impact of our collaboration is real. When invited to the town halls, members of Congress have affirmed their commitment to a fair judiciary along with fair minded judicial nominees who are committed to civil and human rights. While sharing their remarks at a town hall, one member announced that they will co-sponsor a judicial ethics bill in the U.S. House of Representatives. With an upcoming Senate election, we are sowing seeds of knowledge when it comes to an issue so important to voters but so often overlooked. When we share various tactics to protect our civil and human rights and hold decision-makers accountable, we know that we are changing the game. So while the president nominates every federal judge and every senator votes on every one of these judges, every senator is mindful that they are accountable not just to every voter — but to everyone who is in their state. The power always resides with the people.

Cedric Lawson is field director at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.