For the first time in seven years, the U.S. Senate has confirmed a judge to sit on the important federal appeals court for the District of Columbia. The Senate unanimously confirmed Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan on Thursday for the seat previously held by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
Srinivasan was confirmed because he had huge bipartisan support in the legal community and because he served in both the Bush and Obama administrations, while having no record in partisan politics. But the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia still has three vacancies.
Two previous Obama appointees, Goodwin Liu and Caitlin Halligan, also had stellar legal credentials but were filibustered by Republicans who portrayed them as judicial activists. Halligan was opposed primarily because as New York solicitor general, she represented the state's pro-gun control positions in court. After Liu's nomination was blocked, California Gov. Jerry Brown quickly nominated him to the California Supreme Court, where he now serves.
The partisan war over judicial nominees has accelerated in recent years as Republicans have stalled and, in some cases, filibustered record numbers of appeals court and trial court nominees. It took nearly a year to win confirmation for Srinivasan, who had no formal opposition.
At the same time, the Obama administration has been slow to fill vacancies.
There are three vacancies on the D.C. Circuit, out of 11 seats. The last D.C. Circuit judicial nominee to win confirmation was Brett Kavanaugh in 2006. He had previously served in the Bush White House counsel's office and as a top assistant to then-special prosecutor Kenneth Starr during the investigation of President Clinton and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.
In the current politically polarized atmosphere, nominees to the D.C. Circuit face particular scrutiny because so many of them go on to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Four of the current Supreme Court Justices — Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas — all served on that court first. And a fifth justice, Elena Kagan, was nominated to the circuit court by President Clinton but never got a vote.
Srinivasan, 46, is the first South Asian ever to serve on an appellate court. Born in India and raised in Lawrence, Kan., he likely would be high on the short list for a Supreme Court vacancy should one occur.
The Boy Scouts of America has agreed for the first time to allow openly gay boys as members, but a vote of the organization's National Council left in place a ban on gay Scout leaders.
The Associated Press reports that of the local Scout leaders voting at their annual meeting in Texas, more than 60 percent supported the proposal. The policy change would take effect Jan. 1, 2014, the organization said.
Here's a statement issued by the BSA after the vote:
"For 103 years, the Boy Scouts of America has been a part of the fabric of this nation, with a focus on working together to deliver the nation's foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training," the statement said.
"Based on growing input from within the Scouting family, the BSA leadership chose to conduct an additional review of the organization's long standing membership policy and its impact on Scouting's mission. This review created an outpouring of feedback from the Scouting family and the American public, from both those who agree with the current policy and those who support a change," it said.
"The resolution also reinforces that Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting. A change to the current membership policy for adult leaders was not under consideration; thus, the policy for adults remains in place," the statement read.
As Reuters reports, the National Council's decision came amid intense lobbying by gay-rights activists and members of conservative organizations. The change does not remove the organization's ban on gay adult leaders.
One such organization, GLAAD, praised the Scouts' decision:
"Today's vote is a significant victory for gay youth across the nation and a clear indication that the Boy Scouts' ban on gay adult leaders will also inevitably end," said GLAAD spokesperson, Rich Ferraro. "The Boy Scouts of America heard from religious leaders, corporate sponsors and so many Scouting families who want an end to discrimination against gay people, and GLAAD will continue this work with those committed to equality in Scouting until gay parents and adults are able to participate."
As NPR's Kathy Lohr reported on Wednesday:
"The most recent debate over the [no gays] policy began in January. One idea was to allow local troops to decide whether to allow gay members. Some conservative organizations objected. So the Boy Scouts conducted a survey and came up with the latest proposal, which would allow openly gay youth to participate. For the past couple of months, groups have been lobbying, protesting and threatening to leave the group if the proposal passes."
Lois Lerner, the IRS official who oversees the branch of the agency that allegedly targeted conservative groups, has been placed on administrative leave a day after she refused to answer questions in a congressional probe of the scandal.
Lerner, who invoked the Fifth Amendment in refusing to testify at a House hearing on Wednesday, is effectively suspended from her job as head of the exempt organizations division in Cincinnati, Ohio, according to a congressional aide who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
On Wednesday, Lerner made a statement before House Oversight and Government Reform Committee saying she'd done nothing wrong and had broken no laws, but otherwise declined to answer lawmakers' questions.
The AP reports that the new IRS acting commissioner, Danny Werfel, sent an email to agency employees saying he'd selected a new acting head of the tax exempt division.
He said Ken Corbin would be the acting director of the division that Lerner had overseen.
Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) says he will leave Congress effective in August in order to take a senior position at the University of Alabama.
Bonner, who has represented Alabama's First District for six terms since 2003, will become vice chancellor of government relations and economic development at Alabama. His sister, Judy Bonner, serves as president of the university.
USA Today says:
"Bonner has been best known in Congress for helping his constituent service and his work on the Appropriations Committee, the panel that allocates most federal funds. Through that committee, Bonner worked to get federal aid to states hard hit by Hurricane Katrina.
Beyond Alabama, however, Bonner may best be remembered for service on the Ethics Committee when [New York Democrat Charles] Rangel was censured — the toughest form of punishment short of expulsion. Serving on the ethics committee has long been a thankless task for members of Congress because of its role in policing lawmakers. Bonner took the unusual step of criticizing then-Ethics Committee chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., for not scheduling Rangel's trial ahead of the November elections in 2010."
The Washington Post reports that potential Republican candidates for the vacant seat would "include state Sen. Bill Hightower, state Sen. Trip Pittman and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Bradley Byrne, who lost a runoff to [Gov. Robert] Bentley. The district is strongly Republican, giving Mitt Romney more than 60 percent of the vote in 2012."
Quite a few medical school students have something against obese people, and most of those who have such a bias are unaware of it.
That's the conclusion of study appearing in the July issue of Academic Medicine. It was conducted at the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. The study's author says the subconscious judgments could affect how patients are treated.
Here's how the study was done: Researchers gave third-year medical students Harvard's Implicit Association Test on weight. The test is designed to get at people's subconscious biases by measuring how long it takes for them to associate a positive word, such as "love," "laughter" or "pleasure," with a drawing of a person who is either thin or obese.
Psychologists have shown that people's subconscious biases affect how fast they can associate a positive trait with someone they think poorly of.
More than one-third of the students had a moderate to strong bias against obese people, as measured by the test, whereas only 17 percent had an anti-thin bias. Two-thirds of the students were unaware of their anti-fat bias.
Since this study was only done with students in North Carolina, the researchers can't say for sure these attitudes apply to medical school students elsewhere. But given the fact that previous studies have shown that doctors have a similar subconscious bias against overweight patients, it's likely the Wake Forest students are fairly typical.
The researchers for the North Carolina study say medical education should include strategies for recognizing these subconscious biases and guarding against their affecting medical judgments.
How would bias affect the way doctors take care of obese patients? Several ways, study author David Miller told me in an email.
"If doctors assume obese patients are lazy or lack willpower, they will be less likely to spend time counseling patients about lifestyle changes they could make," he said. "Doctors also may be less likely to recommend formal weight loss programs if they assume their patient is unlikely to follow through. "
Miller said bias might also make doctors less effective. "If a patient senses his or her doctor doesn't like them or doesn't respect them," he said, "that will damage the trust that is key to an effective patient-physician relationship."