Campaign For Fair Judges

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Case Study:

ADA Watch/CDRJ’s Stop Sutton! campaign included numerous earned media appearances on television, radio and in the press. We also led with paid media, including a center spread in Roll Call, the Captial Hill newspaper. The ad featured more than 500 disability and other organizations opposed to Jeffrey Sutton’s nomination to the federal court.

ADA Watch/CDRJ was published in numerous opinion columns across the country, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Columbus Dispatch, Sutton’s home state newspapers.

ADA Watch/CDRJ educated the disability community, policymakers and the public regarding the extreme positions of Jeffrey Sutton who, after being nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, now sits as Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Since joining the bench, Judge Sutton has been one of the most prolific feeder judges, sending several of his law clerks to the Supreme Court.

Mr. Sutton’s record as a lawyer and advocate revealed him to be an extremely ideological activist with a particularly troubling record in many areas important to the disability community and the greater civil rights and social justice communities. He has argued for the limitation on the reach of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination Act and Employment Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Medicaid Act, to name just a few.

Many analysts believe that our work slowed or even stopped Mr. Sutton’s advancement to a seat on the Supreme Court.

At Sutton’s Senate hearing, Senator Patrick Leahy acknowledged our work, and stated, “I am concerned that more than 500 disability rights groups, civil rights groups, and women's groups are opposed to his confirmation because they feel he will act against their interests and not protect their rights.”

ADA Watch/CDRJ’s opposition to Sutton led to us being the first organization in the progressive community to take a position on his nomination. This was reported in the Washington Post, and attracted the attention of Ralph Neas, then the president of People For the American Way. This would lead to strong partnership with PFAW which included office space and support staff as we launched as an independent organization.

ADA Watch/CDRJ’s leadership, in coalition with ADAPT, NCIL, and many others, included mobilizing hundreds of people with disabilities who filled the halls of Congress at the time of Sutton’s Senate hearing. The size of the crowd forced the Senate to relocate the hearing to a larger hearing room.

As the New York Times reported:

“Jim Ward, president of ADA Watch, a disabilities coalition and a leader of the protest against Mr. Sutton, was furious at the situation at the beginning of the hearing when he spotted former Senator Bob Dole, who has a withered hand from war injuries and is a hero to many in the disability rights movement.”

“Mr. Dole had come to speak on behalf of Mr. Sutton. But Mr. Ward confronted him about the lack of space. Mr. Dole took Mr. Ward to Mr. Hatch, who eventually agreed to move the hearing to a larger room. Mr. Dole, in the end, had to leave and did not speak on behalf of Mr. Sutton.”

“Prior to his nomination, Mr. Sutton had become, a leading activist in the so-called “states’ rights” or “new federalism” movement. In fact, Mr. Sutton personally argued key Supreme Court cases that, by narrow 5-4 majorities, undermined Congress’ ability to protect Americans against discrimination based on race, age, disability, and religion.”

Court decisions influenced by this “new federalism” have reduced the enforceability of federal civil rights guarantees, threatened wide swaths of social welfare legislation, and diminished Congress’s ability to respond to pressing problems.

Following the disability community’s response to his nomination, Sutton would eventually be confirmed in the U.S. Senate by an historically narrow margin.

A theme graphic of Justice scales and text that reads The Campaign for Fair Judges
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