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Fischer: A Generational Change on Our Courts

President George Washington and our founders established the framework of a judiciary system that consisted of three courts – district, circuit, and Supreme. They sought to carry out a uniquely American creed to “establish justice,” which was written into the Constitution only a few years earlier.

Our founders understood the weight of this responsibility. The judges occupying these seats would be the final arbiters of truth and justice. Judges are the guardians of the law and the protectors of democratic rights in our civil society.

The founders knew that those on the bench would play a pivotal role in the lives of American citizens. This is why judicial appointment is one of the most consequential responsibilities of the presidency. In this, the Senate carries a solemn duty to provide advice and consent with regard to the judges that the president puts forward.

Thankfully, President Trump and his administration understand the qualities the American people seek in a judge: a keen intellect, a clear record of applying the laws as written, and an unwavering commitment to upholding the rule of law equitably. The president has nominated many highly accomplished jurists with these characteristics, and the Senate has confirmed them at a record pace. During this Congress, the Senate has confirmed 21 judges to our nation’s circuit courts. Because of the Senate’s hard work and strong, experienced appointments vetted by the White House, one in eight circuit court judges in America today is a Trump appointee.

These well-qualified judges will protect our constitutional rights, preserve our liberty, and safeguard the values we Nebraskans hold so dear. They are victories for our state and for our country.

One of these victories includes Nebraska’s own, Judge Steve Grasz. Steve grew up working on his family farm in the Nebraska Panhandle. His experiences early on in life laid the groundwork for his future. Steve harnessed his work ethic to succeed in the classroom and later developed a prominent legal career in appellate law. Steve gave 12 years of dedicated service to the State of Nebraska, serving as its Chief Deputy Attorney General.

President Donald Trump accepted my recommendation and nominated Steve for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The president recognized, as Nebraskans on both sides of the aisle did, Steve’s valuable attributes as a jurist. Late last year, the Senate approved Steve’s nomination and he is now installed on the bench of the Eighth Circuit.

I have been proud to support a number of female trailblazers that now serve on the appellate bench. Judge Amy Coney Barrett was a former law clerk to the great Justice Scalia, and taught constitutional law at the University of Notre Dame. Through her confirmation process, she faced appalling questions about her impartiality to the law because of her Catholic faith. But she was resilient, and the Senate confirmed her nomination to become the first woman to hold a Seventh Circuit seat in Indiana.

Further, the Senate confirmed Judge Allison Eid. Like Judge Barrett, she made history by becoming the first female judge to serve on the Tenth Circuit in Colorado. I also took pride in voting for Judge Joan Larsen, who was a former Supreme Court Justice in Michigan and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Finally, I voted for Judge Lisa Branch, who served on the Court of Appeals in Georgia and was confirmed by the Senate, to add to this impressive record of judicial nominees.

We still have much work left ahead of us. The Senate will soon consider many more esteemed judicial nominees who seek to join this impressive list. I take great honor in carrying out my constitutional duty as a U.S. Senator to closely examine the record of every nominee.

Ensuring that justice is carried out for all Americans depends largely on the vitality of our judicial system, and those whom we appoint to interpret and uphold our laws. In the coming weeks, I look forward to working with President Trump, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, and my Senate colleagues to confirm more qualified nominees and continue adding to this historic record.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

Milbank: John McCain, you're my hero

At long last, have they left no sense of decency?

White House official Kelly Sadler, during a meeting Thursday, had this to say about Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., for opposing President Trump’s CIA nominee over her failure to condemn torture: “It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.”

Also Thursday, on Fox Business Network, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney had this to say about the torture of McCain, who was shot down over Hanoi with grievous wounds, but refused release to deny his captors a propaganda victory: Torture “worked on John. That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John.’”

And three days earlier, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, a Trump cheerleader, declared the terminally ill McCain “ridiculous” to prefer that Trump, who has belittled McCain and his heroism, not attend his funeral.

Hatch, Sadler and the host of the Fox Business show have all apologized, as they should. But how did we let partisanship take us to this ugly place?

McCain is still with us, and this is no obituary. But as Trump loyalists besmirch this good man, I thought I would put in writing what I have often thought over the years: John McCain is the single greatest political leader of our time. He is, in a way, not of our time, for his creed — country before self — is unfamiliar to many who serve in office and utterly foreign to the man in charge.

Only once during the nearly quarter of a century I’ve been covering politics did I think I could work for a politician, and that politician was McCain.

I first got to know him in early 1999, when there were just a few of us driving around New Hampshire with him in an SUV, before the “Straight Talk Express” rolled. Had he beaten George W. Bush (he surely would have defeated Al Gore), and had he been president on Sept. 11, 2001, I know he would have done great things with the national unity Bush ultimately squandered.

I’ve had a closer relationship with McCain than with other politicians. I remember flying with him and Cindy McCain to Phoenix during the 2000 campaign, talking about sports, music, a war buddy — and the issue that defined him: removing the corrupting influence of money from politics. That’s why so many liked him even if they disagreed on the issues: With McCain, everything was going to be on the level.

I believed, perhaps naively, that in the free marketplace of ideas, uncorrupted by special interests, we would usually arrive at a sensible consensus. A generation after Sen. Eugene McCarthy, D-Minn., inspired his “Clean for Gene “ followers, McCain inspired me.

On my Bush-Gore election ballot, I wrote in McCain. When I saw him later in the Senate, I’d greet him as “Mr. President.”

He’d reply by calling me “Mr. Pulitzer.” I took pride in 2009, when McCain read aloud a column of mine on the Senate floor and called me “one of my favorite columnists.” He regretted that a few months later, when I took him to task for momentarily shedding his “maverick” ways, and he tried to disavow me.

There have been many such moments of disagreement and disappointment: when he put Sarah Palin on his ticket in 2008; when he took a hard-right turn in 2010 to fight off a primary challenge; and when another tough primary in 2016 led him to go easy on Trump.

But the Mac always came back, and never more forcefully than over the past 16 months. In his forthcoming book, he labels “unpatriotic” the “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.” His single bravest moment may have been earlier, though, when he angered supporters in 2008 by taking the microphone from a woman at a campaign rally who had called Barack Obama an “Arab.” Said he: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with.”

McCain has, in achievement, equaled or surpassed his mentors and models, Barry Goldwater and Mo Udall. Formally launching his 2008 campaign in Prescott, Arizona, where both men had roots, McCain invoked the friendship of these ideological opposites, who “taught me to believe that we are Americans first and partisans second.”

I was with McCain when he returned to Prescott for his last stop of that campaign. Again invoking Udall and Goldwater, McCain retold Udall’s joke about Arizona being “the only state where mothers don’t tell their children they can grow up to be president.”

In Phoenix for a wedding last weekend, I made a pilgrimage north, past the turnoff for Prescott and on to McCain’s beloved Sedona. Driving and walking among its red-rock hills, I reflected for hours on the man who had so often spoken of that beautiful place, and who so often had been my antidote to cynicism. As I write this, there are tears on my cheeks.

Godspeed, John McCain. You were not to be president, but you are my hero.

Editorial: Time to resolve the remaining testing problems

Nebraska has made significant progress in resolving problems with its state testing

Standardized testing, like it or not, is firmly embedded in our country as a tool for judging students’ academic performance. For high school students, the test results are key factors affecting one’s acceptance to college.

Testing companies have important obligations. They need to deliver their services efficiently and with a minimum of glitches. The last thing students need at test time are system failures that add to the test takers’ stress and undermine students’ opportunity to take a properly conducted exam.

Statewide testing contracts involve major sums, paid for by taxpayers. So, the elected officials overseeing the contracts need to ensure that they’re soundly written and that vendors display professional competence.

In Nebraska, the State Board of Education is the decision-maker on this matter. It’s encouraging that the delivery of exams this year was generally positive — a welcome change from some previous years.

In 2013-14, for example, Nebraska released no state writing test scores because of technology problems during testing. Similar problems disrupted testing on the writing test in 2016: At 18 schools in six districts, students couldn’t log in. At 207 schools from 143 districts, students couldn’t access spell-check and dictionary testing tools.

In the wake of those problems, the State Board of Education last year changed testing contractors. The board recently voted to continue working with that vendor, NWEA, saying that the contractor had performed well and resolved glitches promptly. The board authorized a $6.1 million contract for NWEA to administer testing in grades three though eight for the 2018-19 school year.

The board approved a $1.2 million cotract with Data Recognition Corporation to provide alternate assessments in grades eight and 11.

The third contract approved by the board was for $1.5 million for ACT to provide its college-prep exam plus writing for all public school juniors, as well as access to online ACT prep and the PreACT.

Overall, Nebraska officials said, ACT met the needed standard. An exception involved online testing at Westside High School. Many students were “booted out” of the system for online ACT testing on April 10, a Westside spokesperson said, and the students retook the exam, the paper version, on April 24.

A spokesperson for ACT said the organization is still trying to determine what caused the problem. ACT absolutely needs to solve the matter before next year’s testing time, for the sake of the students, who depend on the results, as well as Nebraska taxpayers, who are paying for the contract.

Nebraska has made notable progress in improving its statewide testing. Now it’s time to resolve the remaining problems, then remain vigilant in ensuring the testing quality.

— Omaha World Herald. May 10, 2018