PEOPLE FOR BLOG

No to ALEC: California Fights Back

This post was written by Johnson Pham, a Young People For fellow.

Last Wednesday, I joined thousands of folks as we gathered together to rally against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during their annual meeting in San Diego. This was a massive protest to resist this right-wing organization, and they were met with many faces including workers, community organizers, faith-based leaders, and an assortment of other progressives.

ALEC is a national, corporate-funded organization that marries the interests of conservative legislators and corporate lobbyists. ALEC has been instrumental in drafting harmful legislation in many states, ranging from the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida, to legislation  weakening environmental sustainability measures, to bills challenging women’s access reproductive health services. Notorious allies of ALEC include figures like Scott Walker and the Koch brothers.

ALEC pays for legislators to go on extravagant trips, where they collaboratively write legislation to be introduced word-for-word in their home states. ALEC’s event at the Hilton in San Diego was one of these opulent vacations afforded to legislators, and their presence in California was naturally met by resistance from progressive groups, who have clear stakes in resisting flagrant conservatism.

I went to this rally with the United Domestic Workers (UDW) Local 3930, a worker union that represents home-care providers in California. Homecare providers are one of the targets of ALEC, which has written bills targeting worker unions and pushing lower wages and benefits. We arrived at the Embarcadero Marina Park in San Diego close to noon and were met by hundreds of other progressives who greeted everyone with an embrace. It was truly a staggering experience to see such unconditional love and community expressed across the board.

The speak-out portion of the rally was studded with champions from the labor movement, including the legendary Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers (UFW) movement and now sits on the board of PFAW. Dolores has been one of my heroes since I learned who she was, and I had the opportunity to meet her in living flesh at the rally. She spoke with conviction and presence and talked about our individual ability to bring others into the movement. She implored us to never give up this good fight, and communicated her love for this community and for the movement.

pham and dolores

The rally was a short walk from the park to the hotel, where folks continued to give their testimonies about why they are in this fight, and the challenges we face. This continued until 5PM, until hotel security brought in a squadron of police officers in response to rumors of a civil disobedience action occurring soon in the hotel lobby. I left the rally on my bus with the union, and we were unified in our sweat, laughter, and fulfillment from the day.

As a new YP4 fellow, I shared a lot about my love for the labor movement during our regional retreat, and this experience has only further cemented this deep-set appreciation. As someone who comes from a working-class background, there I’m deeply committed to making sure that families do not have to struggle to feed themselves or their children. Seeing for myself how resilient working families are in the face of billionaires and their lobbyists gives me incredible hope for this movement.

alec rally

Corporate-backed institutions like ALEC are antithetical to the values my parents passed to me when I grew up, like having respect and compassion for everyone, and supporting the people who need it the most. I learned from this action that this collective movement is larger than what I could have ever believed. That this movement consistsed of leaders who came before me, my elders, and will continue on past what I will be able to do in this line of work. It is indisputable that ALEC got the point that they are not welcome or liked in California, and even now, organizers behind the protest are getting ready for a follow-up action in the coming weeks.

The fight continues.

PFAW Foundation

Jeb Bush, Of All People, Says He Wants Lobbying Reform

On Monday, July 20th Jeb Bush announced that he wants to curb the influence of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. by setting a six-year moratorium on former members of Congress registering as lobbyists.  Bush said, ““We need to help politicians rediscover life outside of Washington… which — who knows? — might even be a pleasant surprise for them.” His comedic interjection is an indication of the stance he has decided to take on this issue, posing as a Beltway outsider who can see, and wants to reform, Washington’s corruption.

But Bush is anything but a political outsider. His father and brother spent a combined 20 years in the White House and he was Florida’s governor for eight years, after which he became a political consultant. Neither is he rejecting the money that lobbyists are currently collecting on his behalf: he has eight lobbyists working together to raise more than $228,000 for his campaign. That’s on top of his efforts to skirt campaign finance rules by spending months raising millions of dollars for a superPAC that purports not to coordinate with his own presidential campaign. Bush is the ultimate establishment candidate, regardless of whether or not he has spent time on the Hill.

And while this specific proposal is well and good, it’s also glaringly insufficient. The reforms Bush supports would not stop much of the lobbying that does occur in Washington. The six-year ban would only apply to registered lobbyists, a designation easily avoided by not engaging in specific activities or spending less than 20 percent of one’s time actually lobbying. There are simply too many loopholes Bush’s plan would not cover for real reform to occur.

Jeb Bush made this announcement in an effort to capture some of the grassroots anger at the role of money in politics. But, hopefully it will also ignite some real debate and raise public awareness of the reforms we would need to make a meaningful difference.

PFAW

Yet Another Poll Shows Americans' Frustration With Big Campaign Spending

 As the primaries for the 2016 elections get closer, we can expect to see the effects of big money in politics – the new normal after the 2010 Citizens United decision – in full force. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has raised $114 million through both his campaign and Right to Rise, a super PAC backing him. With the Koch brothers alone already pledging to raise $889 million through their network of wealthy donors, it’s likely that this election’s expenditures will well exceed the over $1 billion spent in the 2012 federal elections. As a result, many Americans are fed up with this new campaign finance system.

 A Monmouth University survey released yesterday revealed that only 10 percent of Americans say that the influx of campaign spending post Citizens United has made the presidential nominating process better. Further, 42 percent expressed concern that the new campaign finance landscape makes it more likely that an unqualified or unserious candidate would be able to stay in the race longer.

 These statistics are hardly surprising. A New York Times poll showed that 85 percent of Americans think that the campaign finance system needs either “fundamental changes” or to be “completely rebuil[t].” In addition, three out of four Americans support a constitutional amendment that would limit campaign spending, and 5 million have signed a petition in favor of such an amendment. All around the country, Americans are organizing to let their legislators know that they’re tired of big money’s undue influence in their elections.

 “The public is starting to worry that the Wild West nature of campaign finance is damaging the way we choose presidential candidates,” said Patrick Murray, the polling institute’s director. 

 

 With the public standing strong against letting the wealthy few buy their elections, a national conversation about the harmful effects of Citizens United is taking place, blazing a trail for real reform.

PFAW

Organizations Unite in Fight Against Big Money

Today PFAW and 11 other organizations released “Fighting Big Money, Empowering People: A 21st Century Democracy Agenda,” a money in politics reform agenda directed at 2016 presidential candidates. The memo details a specific set of policies and encourages candidates to commit to supporting them.

Goals of the agenda include amplifying the voices of everyday Americans through meaningful contribution limits, real-time disclosure of political contributions, overturning cases like Citizens United through the Democracy For All constitutional amendment, and enforcing existing campaign finance laws to help ensure that money is not allowed to overshadow the priorities of the people.

According to the agenda:

The size of your wallet should not determine the strength of your political voice. But, in a long series of decisions beginning with Buckley v. Valeo and escalating with Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, the Supreme Court has cemented a flawed reading of our Constitution that strips the ability of We the People to impose common sense limits on election spending.

"Fighting Big Money, Empowering People” has been distributed to every announced 2016 candidate, many of whom have already voiced their support for fighting big money in elections. It’s time to move from rhetoric toward a commitment to specific, comprehensive solutions.

You can share the graphic below to show your solidarity with getting big money out of politics and returning power to everyday Americans. Together we can make a democracy where everyone participates, everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone plays by fair, common-sense rules.


PFAW

Dolores Huerta and Activists Protest ALEC and Scott Walker

The call and response chant, “Tell me what democracy looks like,” “This is what democracy looks like!” rang true as activists rallied against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during its annual meeting in San Diego this week.

ALEC is a far-right organization that connects corporate executives to policy makers in order to craft and enact state-by-state legislation that raises corporate profits while stomping on the rights and economic prospects of working families. For instance, ALEC is behind Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 law and the “Stand Your Ground” law in Florida that helped George Zimmerman to walk free.

At the protest, more than a thousand participants from faith communities, labor unions, environmental groups, immigration groups, and more proclaimed that ALEC corrupts democracy by allowing corporations to – literally – buy a seat at the table with state legislators.  Common Cause President Miles Rapoport described the ALEC meeting as “a festival of closed-door deal-making by politicians, corporate executives and lobbyists. They gather to do the public’s business in private, fashioning legislation that undercuts the public interest.”

Civil rights leader and People For the American Way board member Dolores Huerta revved up the crowd, telling activists, “The only way we can stop [ALEC] is to go back to our communities, we’ve got to organize. People do not know how perilous this organization is. Let’s say ‘abajo (that means down) con ALEC!’”

After Huerta’s speech, activists – including a Young Elected Official (YEO) with the YEO Network, a project of People For the American Way Foundation – sought out Huerta to introduce themselves and share the work they're doing in their communities.

Activists then walked to the hotel where the ALEC meetings are being held to continue the protest. Huerta and others highlighted the message that Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker – who spoke this morning at the conference – and ALEC are unified in their support for corporations at the expense of working families.

In addition to participating in the rally, PFAW released Spanish- and English-language digital ads criticizing Walker for his alliance with ALEC. The Huffington Post also published an opinion piece yesterday by Huerta that details the anti-immigrant, anti-worker efforts of ALEC and how Walker has a long history of partnering with ALEC.
 

PFAW

Harry Reid Teaches GOP Basic Math and Civics

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid stood up on the Senate floor this morning to remind Republicans of one of their basic constitutional duties as senators: to consider the president’s nominees for federal judgeships.

He pointed out the stark contrast with how the Democratic-controlled Senate processed judicial nominations in George W. Bush’s last two years:

So far this Congress, Republicans have confirmed only 5 judges. By this same point in the last Congress of George W. Bush’s presidency, under my leadership, the Senate had confirmed 25 judges. Republicans are being outpaced 5-to-1. And there are real repercussions when Republicans refuse to act. If there aren’t enough judges to hear the cases that are piling up, a vacant judgeship is declared a judicial emergency. At the beginning of the year, there were only 12 judicial emergencies that deserved priority attention.  Yet in the mere 7 months of this Republican-controlled Senate, that number has doubled, and is on its way to tripling. As of today, there are 28 judicial emergencies – including four judges currently pending on the floor.

Of course, as much as Republicans try to obscure it, the fact is that 25 ≠ 5.

Reid also explained how the GOP’s abdication of responsible governing is hurting the American people:

By neglecting to live up to their constitutional duty to provide “advice and consent” for the President’s judicial nominees, the Republican Leader and his party are denying justice for the American people. Federal courts depend on the Senate to do its job so justice can be dispensed in courtrooms across the country. But Republicans clearly have no interest in seeing courtrooms and judicial chambers adequately staffed.

Reid also slammed Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton for blocking a confirmation vote last week for five nominees to the Court of Federal Claims.  These are nominees who were approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee last year and again this year to a court whose chief judge has urged the Senate to fill its vacancies so the court can handle its caseload.  Nevertheless, Cotton blocked the Senate from voting on the nominees, saying that the judges on the court are willing to carry the caseload themselves without new judges.  (Reid also mentioned yesterday’s report from CQ on how Cotton’s action seems to line up with the financial interests of a law firm he used to work for whose employees gave generously to his campaign.)

Courts matter.  So do the judges who are selected to serve on those courts.  Republicans are weakening our federal court system, even though our most important rights depend on being able to have our day in court front of a fair and unbiased judge.  Senator Reid is right to call on the GOP to do better by the American people.

PFAW

The Planned Parenthood Smear And The Right's 'Abortion Industry' Lie

This post originally appeared on PFAW's Right Wing Watch.

By now, it has been proven and proven again that Planned Parenthood is not “selling aborted baby parts” for profit, as a pair of deceptively edited videos from a conservative group with close ties to a number of extreme anti-choice groups purport to show.

Yet this new line — the women’s health organization as a horror-movie butcher looking to enrich itself off helpless pregnant women — has quickly become an established “fact” not only within the anti-choice movement, but in the larger conservative movement and among Republican politicians.

This is not because they have been given any new information. Again, the central premise of the new videos is easily disproved — Planned Parenthood follows standard medical guidelines in donating fetal tissue for medical research with the patient’s consent. It is because the videos (or what they claim is in the videos) illustrate an attack that the anti-choice movement has been attempting to level at legal abortion providers for years.

As the anti-choice movement has rebranded itself to be about “protecting” women from legal abortion, it has taken to calling abortion providers the “Abortion Industry,” alleging that they are more interested in turning a profit than in providing health care. This charge is most frequently leveled at Planned Parenthood, despite the fact that both the health care provider and its advocacy affiliate are nonprofit organizations.

Back in January, the anti-choice legal group Americans United for Life released a report titled “ Abortion, Inc.,” which attempted to show that Planned Parenthood is on a “Big Abortion, Big Profits trajectory.” The report concludes by alleging that the health group’s advocacy arm fights anti-choice laws that chip away at abortion access in order to “protect its abortion business’ financial success.”

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins made a similarly outlandish claim last week when he tied the false claims about Planned Parenthood selling fetal tissue and its advocacy affiliate’s opposition to laws banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregancy. “This suggests why they may have been opposed to bans such as this, these five-month bans, because the longer the pregnancy goes, the more valuable the parts,” he claimed.

In recent years, the Religious Right has attempted to portray itself as the victim of LGBT rights, a David-and-Goliath scenario in which conservative Christians are the brave warriors outspent and outnumbered by “Big Gay” — no matter that the very same activists previously spent decades trying to drive LGBT people out of public life.

A similar rhetorical trick is going on here. Anti-choice groups want to stamp out legal abortion and drive women seeking abortion to dangerous, underground alternatives. They also want to destroy Planned Parenthood, which provides a wide range of medical services to more than five million people a year, only a small percentage of which include abortion. But in order to do so, they are painting abortion providers as a big, bad industry out to get the very women who seek their services.

It’s clear that these videos were made with the “Abortion Industry” talking point in mind. There is a legitimate debate to be had over the legal use of fetal tissue for medical research, which has led to a number of medical advances, including vaccine development. But that isn’t the point of this smear. Instead, it is a dishonest attempt to undermine abortion rights by portraying abortion providers and pro-choice groups as profit-hungry predators. This smear is nothing new — this is just its most lurid and best-publicized iteration.

PFAW

PFAW's New Spanish Language Ad Highlight's Scott Walker's Allegiance to Corporate Interests

With Scott Walker set to address the annual meeting of the far-right, corporate-led American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), PFAW released Spanish-language and English-language digital ads highlighting Walker's choice to headline the corporate bill factory's national conference in San Diego. Civil rights icon and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta released the following statement:

Voters need to know that this week, Scott Walker is choosing to headline the annual convention of ALEC, the corporate-run organization that brought us Arizona's anti-immigrant law SB 1070 and has long championed anti-worker, anti-environment legislation.

"Given Walker's decades-long alliance with ALEC, it's no surprise that he's standing with them now as he begins his presidential campaign. While Walker has turned his back on working families, he gladly stands up for corporate interests that hurt our community through his work with ALEC."

Read more about PFAW's Scott Walker ads.

PFAW

The Vice President Calls for Action to Fight Big Money in Politics

Last week the fight against big money in politics received renewed, and passionate, support from Vice President Joe Biden. During a speech to young activists at the Make Progress summit on July 16th, Biden issued a call to action:

"We can do something about the corrosive impact of massive amounts of money. We can demand that the people we support don't yield to millionaires and billionaires. [Instead, they can] take their money in limited amounts, but what are we doing?"

The Obama administration has already declared its support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United (2010), but the Vice President called for a more immediate form of action: holding candidates accountable. "Folks, we ought to start in our own party. You ought to be demanding of all of us, all of us, because at least in our own party fights among ourselves, in primaries, that we adhere to a policy that doesn't rest on millionaires and billionaires."

This was a speech tailored to mobilize activists who have been part of a slow fight since 2010. Although progress has been made, with over 650 cities, 16 states, and 73% of Americans in support of a constitutional amendment, we have yet to see any real change in the way campaigns are funded. The 2016 presidential race is already seeing the effects of Super PAC funding and that influence will only continue to grow.

Biden clearly intended to inspire a new generation of activists by focusing on what the attendees themselves could do to help fix the system, saying, “If you're ever going to be involved in public service this is the time to do it, because things are changing.”

Hopefully the Vice President’s passion and optimism is an indication of the change that is coming in our campaign finance system. As Vice President Biden put it, the current system of auctioning our elections to the highest bidder is “a hell of a way to run a democracy."

 

PFAW

PFAW Convenes Panel on Globalizing Homophobia at Netroots Nation 2015

From anti-adoption rules in Russia to laws banning same-sex intimacy in the Caribbean, the right-wing global movement against LGBT rights – especially its U.S. leaders working transnationally – was under the microscope this weekend during a panel at Netroots Nation.



On Friday, People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery moderated a powerful session on the globalization of anti-LGBT activism featuring Urooj Ashad of Advocates for Youth, Gillian Kane of Ipas, Miranda Blue of PFAW’s Right Wing Watch, and Maurice Tomlinson of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

Gillian Kane kicked off the presentations by highlighting that those attacking the rights of LGBT people across the world are also often leading attacks on other rights, including reproductive freedoms. She noted that U.S.-based anti-LGBT activists working transnationally, like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), strategically frame themselves as victims of religious persecution rather than those working to undermine the rights of others. Kane recently published an article on ADF's expansion in Latin America.

Maurice Tomlinson gave a snapshot of the current status of anti-LGBT laws in Jamaica and across the Western hemisphere. He pointed out that Belize and Trinidad & Tobago both ban the entrance of gay people into the country, and that a total of 11 countries in the Western hemisphere still criminalize same-gender intimacy.  In Jamaica, Tomlinson noted, “our culture has been perverted” by the exportation of homophobia from the global North for many decades. He also highlighted some of the work happening in Jamaica to fight anti-gay laws, including everything from lawsuits to flashmobs.

Miranda Blue, who authored People For the American Way’s report on Globalizing Homophobia, highlighted the case study of the push for anti-LGBT legislation in Russia, a campaign which she pointed out "hasn’t come out of a vacuum.” She said that Putin is both trying to silence dissent and frame Russia as a bastion of traditional values. Many on the Right in the U.S., she said, have bought into this framing, cheering on the laws and saying that the U.S. should have similar ones. Blue noted that Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage even traveled to Moscow to testify in front of the parliament in support of an anti-gay adoption law.

Urooj Arshad focused on how to do solidarity work with LGBT activists based in the global South and warned against the conflation of the West with LGBT rights.  She urged U.S.-based LGBT rights activists to always be in communication with those working and living locally. Arshad, who grew up in Pakistan, noted that in many formerly colonized countries, the criminalization of homosexuality came with colonization, with many of the anti-sodomy laws from that era still on the books.

Peter Montgomery pulled all of the speakers' presentations together by framing the anti-LGBT attacks happening around the world as a unified right-wing movement rather than isolated campaigns. He pointed out the number of laws globally that have been directly supported by right-wing organizations in the U.S., and said that activists here can help support LGBT activists abroad by chipping away at the credibility of U.S. groups that are helping fuel this work internationally.

For more about the exporting of anti-gay activism transnationally, you can read PFAW’s 2014 report on Globalizing Homophobia here.
 

PFAW

EEOC Says Anti-Gay Discrimination Is Illegal Sex Discrimination

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency tasked with enforcing federal laws prohibiting job discrimination, issued an order yesterday with substantial impact on millions of people throughout the country.  In a case involving allegations of discrimination at the Federal Aviation Administration, the EEOC has concluded that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In other words, the agency that enforces Title VII says that it’s illegal to discriminate against someone because they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual.  (It had already made a similar finding about gender identity.)

This makes perfect sense.  Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have long held that employers may not rely upon sex-based considerations or take gender into account when making job-related decisions.  As the EEOC now notes:

Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is premised on sex-based preferences, assumptions, expectations, stereotypes, or norms. “Sexual orientation” as a concept cannot be defined or understood without reference to sex. …

Sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee's sex. For example,  assume that an employer suspends a lesbian employee for displaying a photo of her female spouse on her desk, but does not suspend a male employee for displaying a photo of his female spouse on his desk.  The lesbian employee in that example can allege that her employer took an adverse action against her that the employer would not have taken had she been male.

The agency also notes that just as the law prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because of the race of that person’s spouse, the same applies to the spouse’s sex.

This is not the first time that the EEOC has expanded the frontiers of justice and equality through an obvious but overdue interpretation of Title VII, which was passed in 1964.  For instance, today it’s common knowledge that sexual harassment in the workplace violates Title VII.  Yet, as anyone who lived through the 1960s (or watched Mad Men) can tell you, sexual harassment was quite common, Title VII notwithstanding.  It was not until 1980 that the EEOC issued guidelines prohibiting sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination.  And it took until 1986 before the Supreme Court made that interpretation the law of the land in a case called Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson.

Some courts have already addressed this issue and reached the opposite conclusion of the EEOC.  Dale Carpenter notes in the Volokh Conspiracy:

The EEOC’s view on sexual orientation, however, runs counter to the rulings of several circuit courts. These courts have reasoned that “sexual orientation” is not among the list of prohibited bases for employment action, that Congress did not intend to eliminate anti-gay discrimination when it enacted Title VII, and that Congress has repeatedly refused to add “sexual orientation” to employment protections.

The EEOC calls these earlier circuit court decisions “dated,” and some of them have been undermined by subsequent precedents in the same circuits recognizing that gender stereotyping, including gender stereotypes evidenced by anti-gay comments, is sex discrimination.

This week’s action from the EEOC certainly isn’t the end of the story.  Usually, if an agency interprets the law it’s charged with implementing, courts are required to give substantial deference to its interpretation, as long as it’s a reasonable way of reading the law.  But courts are not required to give that same level of deference to the EEOC’s interpretation of Title VII.  So while its recognition that sexual orientation discrimination is a manifestation of sex discrimination is a step forward, it could be undone by the courts (as well as by EEOC commissioners nominated by a future administration hostile to LGBT equality).  Indeed, we may see this issue ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.

PFAW Foundation

Donald Trump: King of Facebook (…and What That Means)

At the time I am writing this, Donald Trump’s last post on Facebook has 145,257 likes and 6,434 shares. His most popular post of the week has a shocking 186,007 likes and 32,405 shares.

That’s way higher social media engagement than any other Republican presidential candidate.

For some more perspective, President Barack Obama’s most popular post of the week has 55,742 likes and 3,448 shares.

Hillary Clinton’s most popular post has 62,925 likes (and whopping 48,611 shares), but that’s an anomaly and is about six-to-seven times higher than her average post. The subject of that post? Donald Trump.

No other notable politician is even in the same universe. And Hillary’s viral post was a video, which often inherently gain more traction on a platform like Facebook. Meanwhile, it seems like every time Trump updates his status he goes viral.  

Generally speaking, the reach of Donald Trump’s Facebook posts is more on pace with that of Justin Bieber than with any other politician.

And yes, he is also a celebrity… a very famous name with a large media presence. But the popularity of his self-aggrandizing and bombastic social media posts only buttress the validity of his soaring poll numbers in the Republican primary – he’s now at the very top of the field in several polls.

What’s behind The Donald’s freakish popularity? It’s that, like Fox News, he displays a savant-like expertise in being able to push the buttons that tap into the simmering bigotries, frustrations, and insecurities of the right-wing base.

Donald Trump, perhaps more than any other candidate, represents the Frankenstein’s monster created by Republicans’ nurturing of the radical Tea Party movement. Right-wing politicians, pundits, and activist leaders are constantly giving the base some “other” to fear … a target for all their frustrations who doesn’t deserve the same rights as them, who is tearing America down from within -- whether it’s the poor, racial minorities, LGBT people, women who demand equality, or, in the case of Trump’s most infamous rhetorical attacks, immigrants.

There’s always someone to hate and someone’s “ass to kick.”

Trump, perhaps as a byproduct of his time spent in the world of reality television, also seems uniquely willing among Republicans to make a caricature of himself – in some cases, literally, like when he posted his face superimposed onto a poster of Uncle Sam.

Uncle Donald

Or when he posted:

“Can you envision Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton negotiating with 'El Chapo', the Mexican drug lord who escaped from prison? Trump, however, on the other hand would kick his ass!”

Or tweeted:

“This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps,and our GW scientists are stuck in ice”

Or, taking the “Birther” conspiracy theory to new heights, tweeted:

“How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s “birth certificate” died in plane crash today. All others lived”

But this is not some silly carnival act, to be ridiculed and brushed aside. We’ve seen the Far Right’s eagerness to embrace cartoonish and outlandish extremism before, with Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, and others.

As PFAW president Michael Keegan recently wrote:

“Even if, as many in the media insist, Trump’s popularity as a candidate is just a flash in the pan, what it represents is something very real that is not going away. And whoever the GOP candidate ends up being will be tasked with the unenviable job of trying to keep a lid on all of the Right’s unbridled hate.”

Not only does Trump’s moment in the sun tell a story that can’t be ignored about the right-wing movement and the Republican Party, but the kind of extremism that creates fertile ground for vapid demagogues of his ilk is a significant barrier to progress that we need to face head on.

PFAW

Wisconsinites: Don’t Let Walker Do to America What He Did to Wisconsin

A crowd of roughly 300 rallied against Scott Walker Monday evening at his presidential announcement in Waukesha, Wisconsin. People from across the state shared their stories of his extreme agenda as governor, touching on the environment, labor, immigration and a host of other issues.

People For the American Way, Voces de la Frontera Action, Americans United for Change, We Are Wisconsin, and a coalition of more than 20 local and national grassroots activist groups led the gathering. Wisconsinites spoke out about Walker’s far-right policies, as well as his close relationship with the Koch brothers who have vocally expressed their support of his candidacy.

PFAW and Voces de la Frontera Action also emphasized how terrible a Scott Walker presidency would be for the Latino community. Yesterday, the groups launched a Spanish-language radio ad criticizing Walker for supporting mass deportation policies, eliminating in-state tuition for DREAMers, and drastically cutting education funding. PFAW board member and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta also spoke out against Walker, warning that a Walker presidency would be “devastating.” She reminded voters that “as governor, [Walker] gutted education funding, lied to voters about his anti-choice stances, and attacked workers’ rights.”

Walker is currently positioned as a favorite among the growing list of GOP candidates; however, his campaign began on a rocky note after Walker called the minimum wage a “lame” idea. Previously, he’s drawn criticism for calling mandatory ultrasounds “a cool thing,” as well as backing an extremely conservative abortion ban in the Wisconsin legislature. He has also called himself a “lifelong supporter of the pro-life movement,” compared teachers protesting in Wisconsin to ISIS and claimed that equal pay is used to “'pit one group of Americans versus another.”

Walker, who called his presidential bid “God’s will,” is the 14th GOP candidate to join the race.

PFAW

10th Circuit Upholds ACA Accommodation for Religious Nonprofits

The Tenth Circuit today released its opinion in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, becoming the latest federal appellate court to reject the claim that the Obama Administration’s contraception coverage accommodation for religious nonprofits violates their religious liberty.

This is the latest effort by the far right to redefine “religious liberty” and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to use as a sword to deprive third parties of their legal rights.  Under RFRA, no federal law imposing a substantial burden on religious exercise can be sustained unless it is the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government purpose.

The Tenth Circuit now joins the DC Circuit, the Third Circuit, the Fifth Circuit, and the Seventh Circuit in rejecting this attack on the accommodation for religious nonprofits.  Notably, all these decisions came after the Supreme Court rewrote the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in the Hobby Lobby case, giving certain for-profit corporations and their owners greater latitude to exempt themselves from laws they find personally offensive.  (The Sixth Circuit also reached the same conclusion, but it is still in the process of reconsidering it to make sure it is consistent with Hobby Lobby.)

The Obama Administration created a process whereby religious nonprofits can exempt themselves from the federal requirement that its employees have certain contraception healthcare coverage: Fill out a form (or now, just send a letter) and let the Department of Health and Human Services know that you won’t be providing it and say who your insurance carrier is, so that officials can inform them of their legal requirements to provide the coverage.  The religious right has called even this accommodation a violation of the religious liberty rights of nonprofits, saying it makes them complicit in the provision of contraception that violates their religious beliefs.

The Tenth Circuit concluded that the accommodation does not substantially burden Plaintiffs’ religious exercise and therefore does not violate RFRA.  The court stated:

The accommodation relieves Plaintiffs from complying with the Mandate and guarantees they will not have to provide, pay for, or facilitate contraceptive coverage.  Plaintiffs do not “trigger” or otherwise cause contraceptive coverage because federal law, not the act of opting out, entitles plan participants and beneficiaries to coverage.  Although Plaintiffs allege the administrative tasks required to opt out of the Mandate make them complicit in the overall delivery scheme, opting out instead relieves them from complicity.

The court does not question the sincerity of the plaintiffs’ assertion that filling out the form violates their religious beliefs.  But it also pointed out that under RFRA, whether a burden is substantial is a legal question that is up to the court, not the plaintiff, to answer:

If plaintiffs could assert and establish that a burden is “substantial” without any possibility of judicial scrutiny, the word “substantial” would become wholly devoid of independent meaning.  Furthermore, accepting any burden alleged by Plaintiffs as “substantial” would improperly conflate the determination that a religious belief is sincerely held with the determination that a law or policy substantially burdens religious exercise.  (internal citation removed)

Whether it’s women’s ability to access their legal right to healthcare or same-sex couples’ ability to exercise their constitutional right to marry, imagine the chaos if people could simply exempt themselves from – and severely weaken – laws they disapprove of by citing their personal religious beliefs.

But that is a recipe for a Balkanized society, not a healthy pluralistic democracy.  Citing a previous case, the Tenth Circuit states: “Law accommodates religion; it cannot wholly exempt religion from the reach of the law.”

PFAW Foundation

Toomey Apparently Fails to Press McConnell on Timing for Restrepo

Third Circuit nominee L. Felipe Restrepo was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee last week, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell is expected to delay a confirmation vote unless Senator Pat Toomey intervenes on behalf of a nominee he says he supports.  Consistent with how Democrats in the Senate treated George W. Bush’s Third Circuit nominee from Pennsylvania in 2007, when Thomas Hardiman was confirmed just one week after his committee vote, Toomey ought to be pushing McConnell for a vote this month, before the August recess.

Toomey and McConnell are apparently trying to make Pennsylvanians think Toomey is doing that, but they have not actually stated anything of the sort.  Keep in mind that the key item Toomey is being asked to address is timing, with a vote this month.  Pennsylvania newspaper The Legal Intelligencer reports:

Toomey's spokeswoman, E.R. Anderson, said the senator has already approached McConnell.

“Sen. Toomey supports the nomination of Judge Restrepo for the Third Circuit,” Anderson said in an email to The Legal. “As part of his efforts on this issue, the senator has spoken directly with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to emphasize the importance of getting Judge Restrepo confirmed.”

Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said that while a date for the vote has not yet been scheduled, “Sen. Toomey has been calling us, so it's on the leader's radar.”

Note that Toomey and McConnell omit any mention of timing.  Did Toomey ask for a prompt confirmation vote?  Did he urge McConnell to let the Senate vote this month?  Did he mention the precedent of confirming Judge Hardiman in 2007 just one week after he was approved by the Judiciary Committee?

Considering that timing is the crux of the issue, it is interesting that Toomey and McConnell’s characterizations of their communication both omit any mention of timing.

So will McConnell allow a vote this month?  If Toomey chooses not to press for a July vote, he’ll certainly be making deliberate delay by McConnell much easier.

PFAW