Celebrating Banned Books Week

For decades, the Religious Right has used public school students as pawns in the "culture wars," fighting to impose a political agenda on textbooks and curricula in school districts across the country. This has included battles over sex education, school-led prayer, publicly funded vouchers for religious institutions, and shaping what children learn by controlling the content of textbooks and access to books in school libraries and classrooms. People For the American Way Foundation has a long record of resisting censorship and defending the freedom to learn.

People For the American Way Foundation is a sponsor of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration of the freedom to read -- and an opportunity for readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, and First Amendment advocates to call for continued vigilance against efforts to restrict that freedom. This year’s Banned Books Week has a focus on Young Adult books, which are challenged more frequently than any others.

"These are the books that speak most immediately to young people, dealing with many of the difficult issues that arise in their own lives, or in the lives of their friends,” says Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee. These are the books that give young readers the ability to safely explore the sometimes scary real world. As author Sherman Alexie said in response to the censorship of one of his young adult novels, “Everything in the book is what every kid in that school is dealing with on a daily basis, whether it’s masturbation or racism or sexism or the complications of being human. To pretend that kids aren’t dealing with this on an hour-by-hour basis is a form of denial.”

Platt describes the importance of Banned Books Week at the Reading Rainbow blog:

Banned Books Week is celebrated each year because efforts are underway in many parts of this country to remove “offensive” materials from public libraries, school libraries, and classroom reading lists. Arguments can be made for involving parents in the education of their children, and giving them an opportunity to voice objections when some reading material runs counter to their own values, but problems arise when that parent wants to dictate what all children can or cannot read. In the Coda to Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury said: “There’s more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.”

Many libraries and bookstores are sponsoring events honoring Banned Books Week. Kelly Adams, a children's book specialist at Valley Bookseller in Stillwater, Minn., spoke with Minnesota Public Radio:

"Banned Books Week is my favorite week of the whole year. Seriously, it's better than Christmas.... Promoting books that have been banned or challenged shines a light on these attempts at censorship. It is an eye-opening experience for many.... We are basically a country built by rebels. When someone tells us 'you can't read that,' we naturally pick it up and read it."

In response to a recent article dismissing Banned Books Week as unnecessary, Peter Hart at the National Coalition Against Censorship argues that censorship is not just a thing of the past:

Graham thinks several hundred cases a year isn't much to get worked up about. But those numbers are a very conservative estimate of the problem. As Chris Finan of the American Booksellers for Free Expression pointed out recently, the American Library Association believes that as many as 80 percent of challenges go unreported. A Freedom of Information Act research project in two states confirmed this; the vast majority of formal challenges are never revealed publicly.

And what about librarians or school officials who seek to steer clear of controversy by avoiding potentially controversial books altogether? There is no doubt that this kind of chilling effect is real. A survey of over 600 librarians released by the School Library Journal in 2009 revealed that 70 percent reported that the possible reaction from parents affected their decisions not to buy a book. About half of librarians reported that they had gone through a formal challenge, and 20 percent of them revealed that the experience affected their book-buying decisions going forward.

So there's strong evidence that there are far more challenges than are reported, and that those challenges affect institutions over the long run. Self-censorship, as the School Library Journal put it, is "a dirty secret that no one in the profession wants to talk about."

The Banned Books Week website includes case studies on two of the most frequently challenged books, Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Marjan Satrapi’s Persepolis.

You can take the New York Public Library’s banned books quiz at And you may be able to find an event near you.

Here’s more information on the impact of censorship challenges from People For the American Way Foundation’s “Book Wars” report:

While individual challenges don’t always succeed in removing a book from a school curriculum or forcing a textbook publisher to alter its content, they can have far-reaching effects.  Attacks on ethnic studies curricula or challenges to books that deal frankly with the lives and histories of marginalized communities can have divisive results beyond their original goals. For example, organizing a protest of a textbook that supposedly “promotes jihad” may not accomplish its stated goal, but might still succeed in stoking fear and resentment against Muslim Americans in that community.

Attacks on multicultural curricula in schools – like Arizona’s ban on ethnic studies classes – are joined by continuing efforts to ban books that acknowledge gay and lesbian families, teach about world religions, or deal frankly with the history of race in America. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, People For the American Way Foundation tracked challenges to books and curricula that included frank discussions of sexuality, race, and the less palatable truths of American history. In the 2000s, challenges focused also on books accused of promoting the “occult” or “undermining” Christianity, leading the Harry Potter series to top the American Library Association’s list of the most challenged books of the decade.

One common theme among many challenged books is their frank portrayals of the experiences of marginalized people. Toni Morrison’s Beloved and The Bluest Eye are unflinching explorations of being a Black woman in America. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian chronicles a Native American teenager’s experiences living in an impoverished reservation, while going to school in a wealthy nearby town. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man explores African-American identity in the mid-20th century. Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me, Ultima, is a landmark piece of Chicano literature. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale offers a dystopian tale about the oppression of women. Marjane Satrapi’s renowned graphic novel Persepolis, is about a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic revolution.

And here are some things you can do to fight censorship in your community:

1.       Attend school board meetings. School boards and other school decision-makers need to hear from parents, students, and community members who oppose censorship. Attend school board meetings, and stay in touch with board members and principals — even when there are no censorship challenges — to let them know that you care about fair, accurate, and inclusive schools.

2.       Stay informed. If a parent or activist group challenges a book in your community's school or district, read the book and learn about its author and its history. Then share what you've found with fellow community members and the local media. A strong, well-informed argument is always an effective weapon against misinformation and prejudice.

3.       Make some noise. Start a petition among students and parents in your school or district in support of a challenged book or curriculum, and tell the local media about it. You could also consider holding a protest in favor of the challenged material. In most cases, activists challenging books represent a small fraction of a community; it sends a powerful message when the rest of the community speaks up for its values

4.       Look for outside voices. While the most effective arguments against censorship are made by local students and parents, in some cases it can be helpful to bring in outside experts. If the author of a challenged book is living, consider inviting him or her to join a discussion in your community or to send a statement to school leaders. Free speech advocacy groups, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, the American Library Association, and People For the American Way Foundation can also provide resources and advice on how to fight for free speech in schools.

5.       Run for office. If you don't like the way your elected officials handle censorship challenges, consider becoming an elected official yourself! Run for school board or volunteer to serve on a school committee that handles challenges against books.


PFAW Foundation

Senate Democrats Highlight Importance of Functioning Courts

With John Boehner’s decision to abandon his position as Speaker of the House, chances of a Republican-driven government shutdown beginning October 1 dwindled – and was averted today with only hours to spare.  Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have shown that they don’t need to shut down the government in order to sabotage the effective functioning of the part of the federal government that has a vital constitutional role in ensuring justice for all: the United States judicial system.

Without enough judges, our courts cannot function, and the American people cannot count on vindicating their rights in a court of law.  Either despite or because of the harm it causes ordinary Americans, the Republican-controlled Senate has only confirmed six judges all year.  In contrast, at this same point in 2007 (Bush’s seventh year), the newly-Democratic Senate had already confirmed 29 of his judicial nominees.  With Senate Republicans obstructing the confirmation of judicial nominees at every step of the way, the number of vacancies has skyrocketed from 40 at the beginning of the year to 64 as of October 1, an increase of 60 percent.  Judicial emergencies have jumped from 12 to 31 in the same time.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer recently took to the Senate floor, highlighting in particular three vacancies in his home state:

The lack of judges has real legal consequences. In the Western District of New York, Judge Skretny--on senior status--has admitted that he is encouraging all cases to settle in pretrial mediation in order to lower caseloads. Criminal trials are prioritized while civil trials languish in delay. The two retired judges, who are the only ones reading cases at the moment, are spending far less time on each individual case than they would under normal circumstances. And defendants may be inclined to settle, admit guilt, and take plea deals rather than wait out a lengthy trial process.

As many of my colleagues have said so eloquently, the harsh truth is that for these petitioners, companies, and communities, justice is being delayed and thus denied. And the same story line is playing out in courtrooms throughout the country. This is not how our judicial system is supposed to work, and it should be an easy problem to rectify.

Yesterday, Dick Durbin of Illinois stood up on the Senate floor and delivered an eloquent statement about the damage caused by obstructing votes on qualified nominees:

[P]eople are asking: When am I going to get my day in court? Well, you will not get your day in court until the new judge gets his day in the Senate. We don’t know when that might happen. There is no reason to delay these confirmation votes. These nominees would be confirmed with overwhelming support. … This is an important responsibility of the Senate. We should not neglect it. …

We could vote on [the many pending executive and judicial nominees] this afternoon. Are we holding off the vote because we are too busy on the Senate floor? If you are following the Senate, you know that is not the case. It is time for us to do our jobs so these nominees can do theirs.

And tying in to the Senate’s recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, Patrick Leahy of Vermont focused yesterday on several highly qualified Latino nominees being slow-walked by the GOP-controlled Senate:

These dedicated public servants are eager to serve, but they have been blocked by the Republican leadership’s virtual shutdown of the judicial confirmation process since they took over the majority in January. More than 8 months into this new Congress, the Republican leadership has allowed just six votes for judges. At this rate, the Senate this year will confirm the fewest number of judges in more than a half century. Luis Felipe Restrepo, Armando Bonilla, John Michael Vazquez, and Dax Lopez all deserve an up or down vote by this Senate.

Restrepo is President Obama’s nominee to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and would be the first Latino from Pennsylvania to ever serve on that court.  Senator Leahy cited supportive statements for Restrepo made by Pennsylvania’s Republican senator, Pat Toomey.  Yet Toomey, who has far more influence with GOP leadership than Democratic senators, has been noticeably silent in the face of Majority Leader McConnell’s refusal to schedule a confirmation vote for the nominee.

These Democratic senators clearly understand that courts play a vital role in making our legal rights real and enforceable.  Perhaps Senate Republicans simply don’t understand that.

Or, more ominously, perhaps they do.


Who's Behind the Anti-Choice Smear Campaign on Planned Parenthood?

Congressional Republicans continue to push for a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding, but the ongoing smear campaign against the healthcare organization that anti-choice activists are using to justify defunding hasn't held up to honest scrutiny. But who's behind these dishonest and strategically edited videos?

PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery writes in The Hill this morning about the real intentions behind the radical anti-choice attacks on Planned Parenthood:

The Center for Medical Progress was created by anti-abortion activist David Daleiden for the purpose of conducting the kind of "stings" used in previous efforts to “take out” Planned Parenthood. Reps. Elijah Cummings and John Conyers have urged an investigation into potentially illegal actions by Daleiden and CMP. But Daleiden’s lawyers have said he will invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than defend his actions.

Read the full article in The Hill here.

PFAW's latest Right Wing Watch: In Focus report, entitled "Operation Rescue’s Big Break: How an Organization Rooted in the Radical Fringes of the Anti-Choice Movement Is Threatening to Shut Down the Government," offers an in-depth look at David Daleiden's history within the radical anti-choice movement.


Why November 8, 2016 is Judgment Day for the Supreme Court -- and Our Rights

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

What would have happened if a President McCain had appointed conservatives to the Supreme Court, instead of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, before the Court ruled on marriage equality in the Obergefell case? And what if a President Kerry had filled the seats that Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito took before the Court decided theCitizens United campaign finance case? Clearly both those rulings would have come out very differently, with enormous consequences for all Americans. As we approach the tenth anniversary of the Roberts-Alito Court and as the 2016 elections get more and more attention, these examples and many more should alert us that Election Day 2016 is truly judgment day for the Supreme Court and for Americans’ rights and liberties. 

Today, People For the American Way released a comprehensive report, Judgment Day 2016, which looks at pivotal Court decisions since Roberts and Alito joined the Court that were decided by a single vote. Many have seriously harmed the rights of ordinary Americans and promoted the interests of powerful corporations. Examples include Citizens United, the ruling striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act inShelby County v. Holder, the decision allowing corporations to claim religion and  deny contraceptive coverage to women in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, and the holding reinterpreting the Second Amendment and severely limiting efforts to limit gun violence in District of Columbia v. Heller. All these and many other decisions could be overruled or limited if a progressive justice replaces just one conservative on the Court, significantly blunting the right-wing judicial assault on a broad array of our rights and liberties.

But there have also been many critical 5-4 decisions over the past ten years where the Court’s  moderate justices, usually joined by Justice Kennedy, have succeeded in protecting Americans’  rights and liberties. In addition to Obergefell, which found a constitutional right to marriage equality, examples include Massachusetts v. EPA, where the Court upheld EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases; Alabama Democratic Conference v. Alabama, which invalidated a state redistricting scheme that used race to harm minority voters; and Boumediene v. Bush, which narrowly ruled that prisoners detained at Guantanamo can challenge their detention through habeas corpus petitions. All these and many other rulings could be overturned or limited if a right-wing justice replaces just one of the moderates on the Court. A Supreme Court with a far-right supermajority would put more and more of our rights at risk.

Why is this particularly important now? During the first term of whoever is elected President in 2016, four Supreme Court justices - including extreme conservative Antonin Scalia, conservative swing vote Anthony Kennedy, and moderates Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer - will be over 80 years old. Given that the average retirement age for justices since 1971 is 78, the odds are overwhelming that the President elected next year will be able to nominate one or more justices who could produce a critical shift in the Court’s ideological balance.

Leading presidential candidates from both parties have already recognized the importance of future Supreme Court appointments and made clear their intent to nominate justices in accord with their views on crucial constitutional issues. In criticizing the Court’s recent 5-4 decision in Obergefell striking down discriminatory marriage bans, for example, Republican candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio pledged to appoint to the Court “people with a proven record of judicial restraint” and “justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood,” in the hope of undermining or reversing the Court’s decision. On the other hand, in criticizing the Court’s 5-4 decisions striking down federal campaign finance law in Citizens United and part of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County, Hillary Clinton pledged to “do everything I can to appoint Supreme Court justices who protect the right to vote and do not protect the right of billionaires to buy elections.”

PFAW’s report carefully reviews 5-4 decisions in eleven key areas where the next President and Supreme Court justice could make such a crucial difference to all Americans. These include money in politics; civil and voting rights (including immigration); LGBT rights; reproductive freedom and women’s rights; workplace fairness; protecting the environment; religious liberty; gun violence; marketplace and consumer fairness; access to justice; and protection against government abuse. In addition to past 5-4 rulings in these areas that could be limited or overruled, the Court is quite likely to be deciding cases on these and other key subjects in the years to come.

 Conservatives clearly understand the crucial importance of the Court and the next election in all these areas, with one far right activist noting that “we cannot overstate the importance of the Supreme Court in the next election.” In fact, her group - the Judicial Crisis Network - recently launched an ad campaign criticizing Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy as not conservative enough,  and demanding that Republican candidates pledge to appoint even more conservative justices. The group noted that Court decisions affect “every aspect of our lives today” and that “the next President could appoint a new majority to last a generation.” Hopefully, statements like that will help all Americans to pay close attention to the Supreme Court in the 2016 election and to recognize that November 8, 2016 truly is judgment day.


Supreme Court Nominations: An Issue Affecting All Other Issues, in 2016 and Beyond

In the past decade, scores of Supreme Court decisions addressing some of the most fundamental questions in our country have hinged on the vote of a single Supreme Court justice. Who can marry? Can everyone access the ballot box? Can women be denied reproductive health care? Can corporations flood elections with money?

In past 5-4 decisions on questions like these, from Citizens United to Hobby Lobby to Obergefell, the impact of each presidential Supreme Court nomination on our rights and liberties is clear. And for future decisions, Election Day 2016 – when Americans elect a president who will almost certainly be nominating one or more new justices – becomes a “judgment day” for our rights going forward.

A new PFAW report out today, “Judgment Day 2016,” looks at 80 5-4 decisions the Court has issued since Bush-nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito joined the Court ten years ago in key areas like money and politics; civil and voting rights; LGBT rights; women’s rights; workplace fairness; protecting the environment, and more. On a range of issues, the report underscores what’s at stake when Americans vote next November.

As principal report author and PFAW Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg put it:

In the 2016 election, the Supreme Court is on the ballot…Our next president may very well be nominating three or more Supreme Court justices who could tip the balance in critically important cases.

You can read the report here.


Far Right SCOTUS: Not Extreme Enough For GOP Presidential Hopefuls

Last night’s Republican presidential debate made clear just how extreme the party has gotten when it comes to the Supreme Court … which means danger to the entire country should one of them have the power to nominate the next one, two, or three Justices.

For instance, Jeb! Bush praised Chief Justice John Roberts,  but suggested that his own Court nominees would have longer records of far-right jurisprudence than Roberts did when he was first nominated by George W. Bush in 2005:

John Roberts has made some really good decisions, for sure, but he did not have a proven, extensive record that would have made the clarity the important thing, and that’s what we need to do.  ... And, I think he is doing a good job.  But, the simple fact is that going forward, what we need to do is to have someone that has a long standing set of rulings that consistently makes it clear that he is a focused, exclusively on upholding the Constitution of the United States so they won’t try to use the bench as a means to which legislate.

Jeb! revealed quite a lot there.  Roberts provided the fifth vote in 5-4 rulings wrecking Americans’ ability to limit money in politics, gutting the Voting Rights Act, giving for-profit corporations religious liberty rights, elevating religious offense as a significant burden on religious exercise, upholding a late term abortion ban, weakening longstanding laws against job discrimination… the list goes on.  And Jeb! thinks Roberts is “doing a good job,” even if his own Justices would be more conservative.

Ted Cruz, on the other hand, angrily focused on the very few times when Roberts did not collaborate with the Republican Party’s efforts to destroy Obamacare.  Cruz blasted John Roberts as insufficiently conservative:

I’ve known John Roberts for 20 years, he’s amazingly talented lawyer, but, yes, it was a mistake when he was appointed to the Supreme Court. He’s a good enough lawyer that he knows in these Obamacare cases he changed the statute, he changed the law in order to force that failed law on millions of Americans for a political outcome.

And, you know, we’re frustrated as conservatives. We keep winning elections, and then we don’t get the outcome we want.

Mike Huckabee made clear what type of Justice he would nominate when the moderator asked if he would apply a litmus test to potential nominees:

You better believe I will … Number one, I’d ask do you think that the unborn child is a human being or is it just a blob of tissue? I’d want to know the answer to that. I’d want to know do you believe in the First Amendment, do you believe that religious liberty is the fundamental liberty around which all the other freedoms of this country are based? And I’d want to know do you really believe in the Second Amendment, do you believe that we have an individual right to bear arms to protect ourselves and our family and to protect our country? And do you believe in the Fifth and the 14th Amendment? Do you believe that a person, before they’re deprived of life and liberty, should in fact have due process and equal protection under the law? Because if you do, you’re going to do more than defund Planned Parenthood

So Huckabee Justices would help right-wing extremists accomplish their longtime dream of eliminating abortion rights altogether.  They would also change U.S. law in keeping with the current conservative project to make it easier for them to disobey laws that offend them religiously, even when it deprives other people of their rights.

The current Supreme Court has done so much damage to our basic rights and liberties, yet it is not conservative enough for Republicans seeking to be the next president.


Conservatives See 2016 as Key to a More Conservative SCOTUS

Four of the nine Supreme Court Justices will be in their 80s during the first term of whoever is elected president next year, meaning he or she could usher in an enormous shift in the Court’s makeup.  The Court issues enormously consequential rulings on numerous issues affecting everyone across the country – LGBT equality, money in politics, workers’ rights, religious liberty, workplace discrimination, abortion rights, and many others.  With the current Court so often divided 5-4, usually tilting toward far-right conservatives, it’s clear that the Supreme Court is perhaps the most important issue in the 2016 presidential election.

You certainly don’t need to persuade conservatives.  In fact, according to press reports, the far-right Judicial Crisis Network is launching a new website and ad campaign to pressure GOP presidential hopefuls ever rightward on the issue of Supreme Court nominations.  A reported in The Hill, the group blasts the arch-conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and very conservative Anthony Kennedy as insufficiently conservative.

“Demand justices with a proven record of upholding the constitution. We can’t afford more surprises,” a narrator says as the video shows the faces of Roberts, Kennedy and former Justice David Souter, who retired in 2009.

The three justices are “examples of bad GOP appointments,” the Judicial Crisis Network said in a statement announcing the advertisements.

[JCN] says it made the $200,000 television and digital ad buys ahead of the Republican presidential debates to get candidates on the record about their approach to Supreme Court picks. The next Republican debate is Wednesday.

The television and digital ads are set to run in Iowa, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C. starting Monday, the group said.

Roberts and Kennedy … not conservative enough?  Along with Scalia, Thomas, and Alito, they formed the five-person majority that gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County), opened the floodgates to corporate money in politics (Citizens United), twisted religious liberty into a tool to deprive others of their legal rights (Hobby Lobby), and regularly misinterpret and severely undermine our nation’s anti-discrimination laws (Ledbetter, for a start).  True, Justice Kennedy authored the Court’s key opinions recognizing the constitutional rights and basic humanity of LGBT people, but he is no liberal.

If conservative activists succeed in electing a conservative president who wants to drive the currently far-right Supreme Court even farther rightward, the repercussions will be enormous.

But imagine instead if Americans elect a president who wants to restore a high court that recognizes and protects our constitutional and statutory rights to liberty, equality, and democracy … Again, the repercussions for people across the entire country would be enormous.

There is one thing where we agree with the JCN.  As their ad says:

On the most important issues, the Supreme Court decides.  The next president could appoint a new majority to last a generation.

Keep that in mind between now and Election Day.  You can be assured that conservatives will.


What Sen. Toomey Left Out of His Re-Election Speech

Sen. Pat Toomey is running for reelection next year in a state that tends to favor Democrats in presidential election years.  So it is no surprise that the former head of the far right Club For Growth opened his campaign by presenting himself as a moderate.  As station WITF reports, Toomey presented the area of judicial nominations as an example of his ability to work across the aisle:

"One of the areas [Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and I] work together regularly on is filling vacancies on the federal bench," Toomey said. "The fact is in the four and a half or so years I've been in the Senate, we have been able to recruit, vet, nominate, confirm 15 men and women across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

Many judicial appointments are held up by partisan bickering.

Unfortunately, judges are one of the areas where Toomey has regularly put conservative ideology and the interests of party leaders in Washington, DC, ahead of the interests of the people of Pennsylvania.

The current example involves Phil Restrepo, President Obama’s nominee for the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.  The Administrative Office of U.S. Courts has formally classified the vacancy Restrepo would fill as a “judicial emergency” because the caseload per judge is so high.  When judges are overburdened, it is hard for the court to provide justice to litigants in a timely, efficient, and fair manner, forcing too many people to learn the hard way that justice delayed is justice denied.

President Obama nominated L. Felipe Restrepo way back in November, and both Toomey and Casey praised the nomination.  That’s important, because the Judiciary Committee generally won’t even give a judicial nominee a hearing until their home-state senators formally signal their approval on a blue slip of paper.  Casey his submitted his blue slip immediately, but Toomey did not, giving cover to committee chairman Chuck Grassley’s efforts to delay the hearing for as long as possible (part of the GOP’s efforts to obstruct a Democratic president’s efforts to staff the nation’s courts with fair, just, and qualified judges in the hopes of leaving as many vacancies as possible for a Republican successor to Obama to fill).  It took a full seven months before Grassley held the hearing, far longer than was necessary.  The senator faced a torrent of criticism at home for his role in the delay, and Toomey’s efforts to explain Restrepo’s delay raised more questions than they answered.

There was enough time after the June hearing to confirm Restrepo before a second vacancy was scheduled to open in July.  Toomey could have prevented the Third Circuit from having two simultaneous vacancies by using his influence with his Republican colleagues to have Restrepo confirmed in time.  However, he chose not to.

When it became clear that Grassley was planning to delay the scheduled committee vote by two weeks for no reason other than delay’s sake, Toomey could have interceded with his fellow Republican.  That is exactly the kind of thing that home-state senators do for nominees they support.  But Toomey chose not to ask Grassley to hold the vote as scheduled.

When the committee finally approved the nomination in July – unanimously, by the way – there was plenty of time to get him confirmed and fill the emergency vacancy before the Senate’s August recess.  But Toomey failed to press his party leader for a timely vote on Restrepo, the Senate left town, and the vacancy remains open today.

Unfortunately, the Restrepo nomination is not the first time Toomey has put ideology and partisan judicial obstruction ahead of Pennsylvanians’ needs.  In late 2013 and early 2014, he voted in lockstep with Washington Republicans to prevent President Obama from filling any of the three vacant judgeships on the critically important D.C. Circuit Court.  Second in importance only to the Supreme Court, the D.C. Circuit is the exclusive court to consider appeals of a wide variety of federal agency regulations and decisions affecting the entire country.  Dominated by ideological conservatives, the court was becoming increasingly notorious for issuing troubling decisions favoring the powerful and limiting the role government can play to address national problems.  Working to keep the D.C. Circuit both short-staffed and dominated by far-right conservatives certainly didn’t help the people of Pennsylvania.  Yet he voted against all three highly qualified nominees: Patricia Millett, Nina Pillard, and Robert Wilkins.

Toomey apparently didn’t mention any of this in his re-election speech, but it is something Pennsylvanians ought to know when they go to the polls next year.


Coalition Says "NO" to Harmful Policy Riders

On Thursday, a coalition of nearly 200 organizations, including People For the American Way, took a stand against another tactic that special interests have attempted to use to exert outsized influence over the political process – harmful policy riders attached to must-pass appropriations bills in order to advance ideological agendas rather than fund must-needed programs and services for the American people.

Far-right members of Congress take a dislike to something, say . . . the critical reproductive and preventive healthcare services offered by Planned Parenthood, and they write a line or two into an appropriations bill that says that government money cannot be used for that purpose.  All kinds of programs and laws are subject to this kind of indirect assault: Just prohibit any money from being spent on it.

In its letter, the coalition urges President Obama and members of Congress to oppose any funding bill that contains such dangerous proposals.

Appropriations bills are being used to undermine essential safeguards through “policy riders” – provisions that address extraneous policy not funding issues, and are slipped in to appropriations bills to win approval as part of must-pass funding legislation. These are measures that the public opposes, and the President would likely veto as standalone legislation. The American people support policies to restrain Wall Street abuses and ensure safe and healthy food and products, to provide for clean air and water and keep workplaces safe, to prevent consumer rip-offs and corporate wrongdoing, and to ensure continued access to vital health care services.

These inappropriate riders are being inserted to advance the priorities of special interest donors and supporters. They have become the “new earmarks,” but they are actually far worse than the old earmarks, because they have vastly greater reach and consequence for the American people. Some Members of Congress have even gone so far as to say they are willing to shut down the entire government over outrageous policy riders like the defunding of Planned Parenthood which provides health services to millions of low-income Americans.

[ . . . ]

We urge Members of Congress and Senators to oppose flawed funding proposals such as the non-exhaustive list of examples above if they come to the floor. We further urge the administration in the strongest possible terms to oppose any eventual omnibus funding package that includes these or other dangerous legislative proposals. If included in a final package, any ideological policy riders would undo key safeguards and protections for Main Street.

Think the EPA should be able update air quality standards?

How about the SEC's ability to require political disclosures from publicly traded companies?

The FDA and drug safety labeling?

That's what we're talking about here.


Bush Will Back GOP Nominee, Even If It’s Trump

Last week, Jeb Bush said “Of course I would” support Donald Trump if he won the Republican nomination. Bush’s embrace of Donald Trump and, in turn, Trump’s xenophobia, racism, sexism, and homophobia is disturbing but unsurprising. As PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager put it:

“Naturally Jeb Bush has no qualms about supporting Donald Trump. From speaking out against increases to the minimum wage to opposing a woman’s right to choose, Bush and Trump are united in pushing an extreme agenda that would be devastating to working class families. Moreover, the fact that Bush would support Donald Trump and his mass deportation policies shows that Bush’s loyalties lie only with the extreme Republican base, not immigrants or working families.”

Bush, Trump, and the rest of the GOP presidential candidates have shown time and again during the primary campaign that no idea is too extreme if it can win votes from the party’s radical base. 

From ignoring the science of climate change to supporting tax plans that favor the wealthiest in our society while harming  working families, on critical issues, PFAW Coordinator of Political Campaigns Carlos A. Sanchez pointed out, “Trump and his less flamboyant competitors all share virtually identical positions.” At points, Trump has even been the voice of moderation in the GOP field. As PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker wrote last month, Trump has been one of the few Republican presidential candidates to speak out against the undue influence of big money in elections.

In every primary election, candidates cater to their base. But Republicans have outdone themselves this year. Pledging to support Trump if he becomes the party’s nominee, as Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates have done, is just the latest example of how extreme Bush, Trump, and all of the leading GOP candidates are.


House Committee Takes Up PPFA, Women And Voting Rights Suffer

Earlier today the House Judiciary Committee opened its fall session with the first public hearing in its investigation into Planned Parenthood, placing a one-sided, far-right smear campaign as a clear priority over a full and fair examination of the facts. Or as PFAW Senior Researcher Miranda Blue put it, "one piece of the larger far-right effort to not only shutter Planned Parenthood’s critical women’s health services but to end legal abortion entirely."

Take the title of the hearing – Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation's Largest Abortion Provider. Ranking Member John Conyers called it "one-sided." Representative Jerrold Nadler of the Constitution Subcommittee agreed that it was a "farce" for having stated the Committee's conclusion at the outset.

Then there's the witness list – Not one majority witness with direct knowledge of current Planned Parenthood practices, nor any who could speak with authority on the Center for Medical Progress. Representative Nadler pointed out that if the majority had any confidence in CMP's David Daleiden that they "would have bought him here to testify before this committee." In fact, as James Bopp twice testified, he was told by the majority that the videos were not the subject of their investigation. A further line of questioning pressed by Representative David Cicilline made clear just how little consideration the Committee has for CMP and its own practices.  

Finally the discussion itself – An overwhelming amount of energy spent rehashing decades of settled law and Supreme Court precedent at the expense of women who seek not only abortion services from Planned Parenthood, a very small portion of their work, but a wide range of reproductive and preventive healthcare.

Don't forget the discussion that they aren't having – As they take up Planned Parenthood, Congress is more than two years past due in restoring what the Voting Rights Act lost in 2013 through the Supreme Court's damaging Shelby County v. Holder decision. They should instead be holding a hearing on the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Many of you stood up to Tell House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte: Focus on Restoring the Voting Rights Act, Not Attacking Women with Planned Parenthood Witch Hunt.  

Your petition signatures were hand-delivered to the Committee prior to its hearing.

PFAW petition drop for Planned Parenthood and the Voting Rights Act


Watch Sarah Palin Remind Us That She's Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin gave an interview on CNN that was just about as Palin as you could get. She is definitely “keeping it 100,” and then some.

She’d love a position in the administration of a President Donald Trump! Specifically, Energy Secretary – because “Energy is my baby… oil and gas and minerals, those things that God has dumped on this part of the Earth.”  Never one for holding down a job, her tenure would be short as she would then “get rid of” the Department of Energy.

More gems like that in the video. Watch it on CNN's website.



House Committee Investigates PPFA But Refuses VRA Hearing

On Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee announced the first public hearing in its investigation into Planned Parenthood.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Subcommittee Chair Trent Franks set the tone:

Planned Parenthood and its executives must answer for the alleged atrocities brought to light in the videos by the Center for Medical Progress. For the past two months, the House Judiciary Committee has been investigating the alleged acts of Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, and now the American people will have a chance to understand just how horrific these practices are to the unborn.

As PFAW recently explained, the Center for Medical Progress is linked to far-right activists such as Live Action founder Lila Rose, who has launched similar “sting” operations against Planned Parenthood in the past. Operation Rescue head Troy Newman, who runs a website listing personal information and photographs of abortion providers and once publicly celebrated the death of a provider, serves on CMP's Board.

PFAW Senior Researcher Miranda Blue:

It’s important to see the latest attacks for what they are: one piece of the larger far-right effort to not only shutter Planned Parenthood’s critical women’s health services but to end legal abortion entirely.

The Committee is putting its commitment to this far-right smear campaign ahead of its commitment to democracy. As they take up Planned Parenthood, Congress is more than two years past due in restoring what the Voting Rights Act lost in 2013 through the Supreme Court's damaging Shelby County v. Holder decision. They should instead be holding a hearing on the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

PFAW called for the Advancement Act's passage back in June.

Two years after the Shelby County ruling gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act, voters in cities and states that were once protected by federal oversight are facing laws that make it harder to vote – laws that disproportionately affect people of color. This is unacceptable. Voting discrimination is still a very real, pervasive problem, even if some members of Congress choose to ignore it.

Some members – led by Chairman Goodlatte.

PFAW supporters have spoken loud and clear in favor of restoring the VRA and standing with Planned Parenthood.


Bush Judge Exempts Group from Contraception Coverage Law

Yesterday, Washington DC federal district court Judge Richard Leon – one of George W. Bush’s earliest judicial nominees – issued a bizarre ruling exempting a secular anti-abortion group from complying with the ACA’s contraception coverage requirement.  Judge Leon ruled that not giving March For Life the same exemption as religious entities like churches violates the Equal Protection Clause, and that requiring its employees to have insurance that covers contraception violates their religious liberty under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Leon concluded that, even under the lowest level of Equal Protection scrutiny, there is no rational basis for treating an organization opposed to contraception for moral grounds differently from one opposed on religious grounds.  But that goes against a long legal tradition of recognizing the unique position of religion in our society and under our Constitution.  The Supreme Court has made clear that when the government creates an exemption to a regulation that might otherwise interfere with religious organizations’ exercise of religion, the government does not have to offer that same exemption to secular organizations.  Judge Leon even cites a Supreme Court case saying that, but then proceeds to ignore it on the basis of seeming identity between religious and non-religious opponents of certain methods of contraception.

His RFRA analysis of March For Life’s religiously-motivated employees was no less flawed.  Leon rejected the government’s assertion that their religious exercise isn’t substantially burdened because they don’t have to use the contraception they oppose.  He called that a “veiled attack” on their religious beliefs, which he wrote are not just about using the contraception, but also about participating in a health insurance plan that covers such contraception.  This is the fruit of Hobby Lobby, the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in which the far-right Justices distorted RFRA and gave the green light to religious conservatives to seek to equate being religiously offended with having a substantial burden placed on their exercise of religion.

Adding insult to injury, Judge Leon didn’t even follow the appropriate process in granting the exemption.  Early in his opinion, he violated a judicial doctrine known as a “constitutional avoidance,” where a judge is supposed to decide cases on statutory bases if possible in order to avoid making unnecessary constitutional rulings.  In this case, Leon declined to “delv[e] into the thicket” of an inquiry into whether the rules comply with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which might have allowed him to avoid ruling on any constitutional issues, and instead jumped right to two constitutional arguments and one additional statutory one:

The APA permits a reviewing court to set aside an agency action that is “(A) arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law” or, alternatively, that is (B) contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A)-(B). Stated differently, the APA allows courts to right two types of agency wrongs: procedural missteps and substantive transgressions. While procedural correctness is, to be sure, an important facet of any judicial inquiry, compliance with the law is the true touchstone of legality. Thus, in a context such as this, where plaintiffs have alleged serious constitutional and statutory infirmities, the appropriate starting point for the Court’s analysis is not the integrity of the agency’s decision-making process, but rather the lawfulness of the Mandate itself. I will therefore begin by addressing plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment, RFRA, and First Amendment arguments and, because I find the first two challenges meritorious, I will refrain from delving into the thicket of an APA review.

A fair reading of the law shows that both statutes and the Constitution make clear that no exemption should have been granted. But in this case the judge’s reluctance to address the APA issue allowed him to make a much more dramatic ruling, one with potentially wide repercussions if upheld by an appeals court, without even doing the tedious work of properly adjudicating it under the APA.

It is hard to imagine this decision not being reversed by the DC Circuit.  As to what the five Supreme Court Justices who gave us Hobby Lobby would do if they took the case, it might be better not to have to find out.

PFAW Foundation

Millennials Won't Fall for the Koch's 'Generation Opportunity'

This piece by Joy Lawson, Director of YP4, was originally published in the Huffington Post.

Despite attempts to label millennials as unengaged and apathetic, there's no denying the younger generation's vote means a lot in elections. A-list celebrities like Lena Dunham and Lil Jon are the new faces of the Get Out the Vote movement, and reports from 2012 reveal the youth vote was decisive in President Obama's victory.

So it's no surprise that the Koch Brothers, notoriously right-wing billionaires, are using their fortunes to promote radical, conservative priorities to millennials through their organization, Generation Opportunity.

However, reading through American Bridge's report about the group, it's clear that they'll face an uphill battle. That's not just because young people tend to disagree with the priorities the Koch Brothers are putting forth, but especially because young people are actually working against the very issues that GenOpp stands for.

Generation Opportunity opposes government subsidized student loans, federal aid to colleges, lowering loan rates - basically, any realistic measure that could make a college education more accessible to millions of students. With 71% of students graduating from college with debt and low-income students bearing the greatest brunt of tuition increases, making college more - not less - affordable is critical in order for students of all backgrounds to attend college. That's a big reason why every day, I work with students through People For the American Way Foundation's Young People For (YP4) program that are fighting directly against Koch priorities that seek to restrict college access.

Look no further than Torii Uyehora, a student at Southern Oregon University and YP4 fellow. As a college student she knows the struggles of student loans, and she recently organized 75 students to attend a rally to support public funding of higher education. Taynara Costa-Maura, a YP4 Fellow from Santa Monica, CA is encouraging her friends and fellow students to engage in the progressive movement through advocating for college affordability measures, like Prop 30, which prevented massive tuition increases and saved her community college - and many other community colleges across the state - from having to make big cuts to classes offered.

Torii and Taynar are just two of the thousands of students across the country pushing for affordable higher education. It's comical to imagine a headline of "Students Lobby for Higher Debt" or "Rally at University Calls for Raising Student Loan Rates." But that's what the Kochs support. Students agree with - and fight hard - for progressive measures so that more students can access higher education. Unless they're able to deceive millennials about their real motives, I'm not sure the Kochs will get anywhere trying to change that.

It's not just college affordability. While Generation Opportunity speaks out against net neutrality, 77% of 18-29 year olds believe in the principles of net neutrality. And student activists are engaging their fellow students to discuss how critical net neutrality is.

Another YP4 Fellow, Areeba Kamal at Mount Holyoke College, has written pieces for outlets including USA Today about why net neutrality is so essential. She detailed the efforts of young people on this issue: "Students and young adults have organized teach-ins in public locations, where they explain the issue and reiterate their support for net neutrality to the general public."

The fact is, millennials increasingly align themselves with progressive priorities, spanning from gay marriage to immigration. As Chris Cillizza wrote in the Washington Post last year, "More important -- and ultimately more impactful, politically speaking -- is how millennials feel about issues in the national conversation. Time and again, they come down on the more liberal side of those arguments."

Generation Opportunity can give out all the beer koozies and pizza they want (yes, they tried that to stop young people from signing up for health care...), but millennials won't be fooled by the shiny packaging--their peers are already fighting against the failed right-wing policies that the Kochs promote.

PFAW Foundation