Helping to kick off the 2010 ACS National Convention, Sen. Al Franken criticized Republican efforts to scuttle the Obama administration's nominations to the federal courts and numerous administration positions.
"Tonight, we celebrate the rise of a new generation of progressive legal scholars and jurists," Franken said. "Look to your left. Look to your right. Odds are, at least one of the three of you will someday be filibustered by Senate Republicans. Speaking of which, I'd like to give a special shout-out to all the filibustered nominees we have here with us tonight. The Republican obstruction that is standing between you and the work you've agreed to do for your country is unacceptable. And we will continue to fight it."
Franken, the featured speaker at the Convention's opening night Gala dinner at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C, followed Dawn Johnsen, who was nominated by President Obama to lead the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). A transcript of Franken's speech is available here.
Franken said, "In particular, I want to recognize Dawn Johnsen, who should be the head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. What Republicans have done to keep you from doing that important job is reprehensible."
The senator also took a sharp look at the conservative wing of the U.S. Supreme Court and its rulings that have consistently supported corporate interests.
"I don't think you need to be a lawyer to recognize that the Roberts Court has, consistently and intentionally, protected and promoted the interests of the powerful over those of individual Americans," Franken said. "And you certainly don't need to be a lawyer to understand what that means for the working people who are losing their rights, one 5-4 decision at a time.
"Tonight," Franken continued, "I'd like to talk about how we got to this sad moment in American legal history - because it didn't happen by accident. Conservative activists - led by the Federalist Society - have waged a remarkably successful battle to re-shape our legal discourse, and thus our legal system. And they're not done yet. I should acknowledge up front that this story is kind of a downer.
"But there's good news: the ending has not yet been written," he continued. "And I really believe that, if we pay attention to how things got so bad, we'll learn how to make them better."
Specifically, conservative jurists, lawmakers and activists have pushed a cramped understanding of constitutional interpretation, Franken said.
"If you listen to the U.S. Senate talk about judicial nominees, you'd be forgiven for thinking that originalism was a time-honored American value, one of the things we fought the British to protect," Franken said. "But ironically enough, originalism - like the designated hitter - only dates back a few decades.
"Indeed, as Cass Sunstein has pointed out, it was Robert Bork who first popularized the notion that the Constitution should be interpreted according to what we believe was the ‘original understanding' of its authors," he continued. "Just to clarify: That's not Robert Bork the Founding Father. That's Robert Bork the 20th century conservative legal activist.
"Originalism isn't a pillar of our Constitutional history," Franken maintained. "It's a talking point. During his confirmation hearing, John Roberts broke out another conservative talking point. He said: ‘Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them.' And he promised: ‘I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.'"
"How ridiculous. Judges are nothing like umpires."
Instead, Franken cited former Justice David Souter who said, "The first lesson, simple as it is, is that whatever court we're in, whatever we are doing, at the end of our task some human being is going to be affected."
But conservatives, Franken said, "would like us to forget this lesson."
Our constitutional discourse, Franken continued, has been so mangled by conservatives that one could be forgiven for believing that court rulings "don't matter to ordinary people, but only to the undeserving riff-raff at the margins of society."
Watch Franken's entire speech below: