PEOPLE FOR BLOG

More Delay on the Restrepo Nomination

Qualified jurists nominated for federal judgeships way back in November are still waiting to have a committee hearing scheduled. They include Kara Farnandez Stoll, who would be the first woman of color on the Federal Circuit, and L. Felipe Restrepo of Pennsylvania, who would be the first judge on the Third Circuit with experience as a public defender. The Third Circuit vacancy has been designated a judicial emergency, and with another vacancy on that court opening on July 1, it is even more important not to keep delaying Restrepo's already overdue hearing.

Yet a Grassley spokeswoman told The Legal Intelligencer (subscription required) that she "couldn't even estimate" a timeframe for Restrepo's hearing. Apparently, that's because the committee is also working on other nominations. She said that processing the Loretta Lynch attorney general nomination had required "all hands on deck," and that the committee was also preparing for the deputy attorney general nomination of Sally Yates.

Surely the committee is capable of handling both executive and judicial nominations.

A comparison to the Bush era is instructive, when the Democratic Judiciary Committee considered Michael Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general. The committee received Mukasey's nomination on September 21, 2007, held hearings, and advanced him to the full Senate on November 6. During that time, the committee was able to hold confirmation hearings on six judicial nominees and advance two to the full Senate. It was also able to advance an additional four judicial nominees the week after voting on Mukasey.

Fast-forward to now, a week after Lynch was advanced to the full Senate. The Judiciary Committee hasn't held a hearing for circuit or district court nominees since January 21, a week before the Lynch hearing. In the meantime, the number of current vacancies has climbed from 39 at the beginning of the year to 47 today, and the number of judicial emergencies has jumped from 12 to 21.

Hearings for Judge Restrepo and other judicial nominees are long overdue.

PFAW

Jeb Bush's version of #GetMoneyOut more like #SaveItForLater

According to The Washington Post, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has yet to officially announce a presidential run, is trying to keep the biggest of the big money from too quickly overwhelming his anticipated bid.

The move reflects concerns among Bush advisers that accepting massive sums from a handful of uber-rich supporters could fuel a perception that the former governor is in their debt. The effort is also driven by a desire to build as broad a pool of donors as possible among wealthier contributors.

So even as Bush is headlining a series of high-dollar events for a super PAC backing his bid, fundraisers have been instructed not to ask donors to give more than $1 million per person this quarter.

Apparently receiving just $1 million from a donor wouldn’t lead anyone to assume that Bush is indebted to them.

The money spigot, of course, will eventually flow far past this limit. And to call it a limit at all shows just how outsized an influence money holds over our democracy, and what a tiny, unrepresentative sliver of society Bush is catering to.

A minimum wage worker earning $7.25 per hour would have to work full-time for more than 66 years to make $1 million. That's before taxes. And food. And lodging. Raising kids? No room for that, either. That's an entire gross income for what could be an entire working life just for a single political contribution.

Say you're lucky and you make four times that amount, $29 per hour. Making a Bush-style contribution would still consume your entire income for more than 16.5 years.

As Public Campaign's Adam Smith puts it:

#GetMoneyOut is about a lot more than telling the super-rich to #SaveItForLater.

Grassroots activists have been pushing for money in politics reform to make clear that we want a democracy that’s run by the people, not millionaires and billionaires. In just five years since the Supreme Court ruling, 16 states and more than 600 cities and towns have officially called for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, and five million Americans have signed their name to a petition calling for such an amendment. There's also a "Defending Democracy" legislative package that can take critical steps forward while the amendment movement grows even stronger.

There are many solutions working together toward the same end goal: a democracy in which everyone participates, everyone’s voice is heard, everyone knows who is trying to buy influence, and everyone plays by commonsense rules and is held accountable to those rules.

PFAW

YP4 Leads Trainings at “Take Root” Reproductive Justice Conference in Oklahoma

Last week, Young People For (YP4) Director Joy Lawson, YP4 Fellowship Associate Vidushani Jayalal, and current YP4 Fellow Alyssah Roth of El Paso, TX, served as trainers during the pre-conference of the fifth annual “Take Root” reproductive justice conference in Norman, OK.

“Take Root” focuses on sharing the unique perspectives, experiences, and lessons learned from organizing around reproductive justice in conservative states. This year, YP4 developed and led the pre-conference to engage “Take Root” participants on guiding principles for social justice organizing. Participants took part in workshops and conversations on values-centered organizing, navigating ideologies in the reproductive justice movement, and more.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additionally, several YP4 Fellows and alumni participated in the conference and led workshops and panels related to building access to the reproductive justice movement in under-resourced areas.  After the workshops, many of the participants reflected that the trainings gave them “a vision of what they wanted to accomplish and what the process might look like.”

YP4 is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of young leaders turn their ideals into actions and create lasting change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 develops Fellows’ leadership capacity and strategic thinking through a capstone project — the Blueprint for Social Justice — and offers opportunities to connect with others creating change across the country.

 

PFAW Foundation

Dolores Huerta Discusses the Kochs' Libre Initiative on Univision

This Sunday on Univision America Network’s “Newsmaker Sunday with Fernando Espuelas,” Dolores Huerta, civil rights leader and board member of People For the American Way, discussed the dangers of the Kochs’ Libre Initiative to the Latino community. During the interview, Huerta emphasized that despite the image the Libre Initiative is trying to project to Latino voters, the organization is actually working to get anti-immigrant and anti-worker candidates elected.

“We’ve got to let our community know that Libre, which is funded by the Koch brothers, are not our friends,” Huerta said.

Dolores Huerta: The one thing that’s really concerning just now is that the Koch brothers have started a new initiative, called Libre, which targets Latino voters. They’re really deceiving the voters and trying to make them think that they’re supporting immigration reform, but at the same time, they are supporting all of the Republican candidates that are right now trying to keep Obama’s executive actions from taking effect. They’re putting unlimited amounts of money into getting politicians elected that are anti-immigrant, anti-workers, anti-clean environment, and they’re going to try to confuse Latino voters into thinking that they’re their friends. We’ve got to let our community know that Libre, which is funded by the Koch brothers, are not our friends.

Fernando Espuelas: In particular in the 2014 cycle, Libre spent millions of dollars to bring down certain Latino candidates in Florida and elsewhere, with what objectively would seem to be lies in their commercials. Do you think this is a real menace going forward, including in 2016?

Dolores Huerta: Oh I think so! Basically they’ll just be telling a lot of lies and making people think that the candidates they’re supporting are pro-immigrant, at the same time that they’re voting against everything that we’re trying to get for immigration reform. So it’s a very deceptive, but very well-funded operation….We [have to] spread the message that when people hear the word libre, it doesn’t mean libre [free], it means cadenas, it means chains, just the opposite of libre. This is a ruse that is going to try to entrap people, try to confuse them. We want to do a better job to inform and to educate the Latino voting public who your friends are and who your enemies are. And one of those big enemies is going to be Libre, the group that wants to put us in chains. There’s a good saying in Spanish, dar gato por liebre, so this is dar gato por Libre.

You can listen to the entire interview here:

For more information about the Libre Iniative, see People For the American Way’s report, “The Libre Initiative: The Koch Brothers’ Focus on Latino Voters.” The report is also available in Spanish here
 

PFAW

PFAW and 50+ Allies Ask Obama to Require Government Contractors to Disclose Political Spending

Yesterday People For the American way joined more than fifty other organizations in sending a letter to President Obama asking him to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose all of their political spending.

Right now, corporations with government contracts are able to funnel unlimited sums of dark money to influence the elections of those who can put pressure on the officials deciding who is awarded future contracts. Contracts should be awarded to those best for the job, not those who can shell out the most political cash.

But with the stroke of a pen, President Obama could require that government contractors disclose their political spending. This would increase transparency and accountability in our democracy and bring us closer to the “better politics” the president called for in his State of the Union address – a politics in which we “spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter.”

And we are indeed drowning in dark money. In 2014's ten most competitive Senate contests, more than 70 percent of outside money spent in support of the winner was from dark money groups.

As the letter notes,

Six years into your presidency, and five years after the Supreme Court issued its tragically misguided ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, we’re now living in a Wild West campaign spending world… Against this backdrop, it is imperative that you act.

You can add your name to the chorus of voices calling on the president to issue an executive order and read the full text of the letter here.
 

PFAW

Chicagoans Overwhelmingly Approve Resolution for Cleaner, Fairer Elections

On Tuesday night, Chicago residents approved a ballot initiative in support of limiting  the influence of big money in politics by an overwhelming margin of 79 percent to 21 percent. The measure, titled the Fair Elections Illinois ballot initiative, calls on the Chicago City Council and the Illinois state legislature to establish small donor matching fund systems for local and state campaigns. Activists worked with local organizations to coordinate phone banks, robocalls, and distribution of campaign literature in an attempt to reach thousands of voters. The measure was also endorsed by over a dozen organizations, several city alderman, all mayoral candidates, and the Chicago Sun-Times.

People For the American Way is proud to have fought alongside the activists who worked hard to get this measure passed in Chicago, in addition to the thousands of other leaders all across the country pushing to get big money out of our political system.

PFAW

PFAW to GOP Presidential Candidates: Distance Yourselves From CPAC's White Nationalist Ties

Today, People For the American Way, America’s Voice, and ColorOfChange.org released an open letter to Republican presidential candidates urging them to make clear that they don’t support CPAC’s ongoing relationship with ProEnglish, a group led by white nationalist Bob Vandervoot. Despite CPAC’s troubling history of welcoming white nationalists as participants and sponsors, Republican leaders continue to headline the conference. CPAC has included ProEnglish as a sponsor in the past, and in 2012, CPAC hosted a panel on race featuring Vandervoot and infamous racist writer Peter Brimelow. This year, ProEnglish is again participating as a sponsor of the conference.

Read the letter here:

Dear Gov. Jeb Bush, Dr. Ben Carson, Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Rand Paul, Gov. Rick Perry, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Santorum, and Gov. Scott Walker:

We understand that you are scheduled to speak at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, an event which is being partially sponsored by ProEnglish, a group led by white nationalist Bob Vandervoort. We urge you to decline to speak at CPAC unless it cuts ties with ProEnglish and Vandervoort.

ProEnglish has sponsored CPAC for the past several years, despite Vandervoort’s well documented ties to the white nationalist movement. As the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights has reported, Vandervoort is the former leader of Chicagoland Friends of American Renaissance, a group dedicated to supporting the ideals of the infamous white nationalist publication American Renaissance.  One member of the group described its mission as encouraging “white survival and maintaining white majorities.”

Vandervoort’s own writings reflect these views. He has expressed concern about the need to “halt the cultural and racial dispossession of the West's historic people” and expounded on “racial differences” in “intelligence and temperament.” He has wondered how “race realists and pro-Western Civ nationalists” like himself can counter historical comparisons to the Holocaust and slavery.

CPAC has a troubling history of welcoming white nationalists. In 2012, the conference hosted a panel on race featuring Vandervoort and fellow white nationalist writer Peter Brimelow. And ProEnglish has continued to be allowed to sponsor the event even after civil rights groups have raised concerns.

Clearly, Robert Vandervoort and his group should have no place as a financial sponsor of the nation’s largest convention of conservatives. We urge you to distance yourself from Vandervoort’s views and refuse to speak at CPAC unless ProEnglish’s sponsorship is withdrawn.

Sincerely,

Michael Keegan, President
People For the American Way

Frank Sharry, Founder and Executive Director
America’s Voice

Rashad Robinson, Executive Director
ColorOfChange.org

PFAW

YP4 Alums Discuss Millennial Activism With MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry

On Sunday two alumni of PFAW Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program, Jamira Burley and Poy Winichakul, joined Melissa Harris-Perry on her MSNBC show to discuss activism among millennials. Both guests underscored the critical role young people have to play in today’s social and political movements.

“Right now there are not a lot of people who look like us in elected official positions, but we have so much potential,” said Winichakul. “I think we can take that leadership role. We can have a place to lead the country and share our perspective – to create policy.”

Later in the segment, Burley pointed out the extent to which young people are already engaged: “2012 actually marked the third election in a row where millennials came out more than 50 percent,” she said. “So people always say that we don’t vote, but we do. Numbers show it.”

What’s more, Burley said, young people are not only voting, they are staying engaged with leaders after they take office. “Not only are we electing people, we’re now putting precautions in place to hold them accountable,” she said. “And that means starting our own grassroots organizations, or calling them out on Twitter.”

Watch the full video here:

PFAW Foundation

Republican Inaction as Judicial Emergencies Jump

Yesterday we blogged about how the Senate Judiciary Committee and Chairman Chuck Grassley ought to move judicial nominations next week when they return from recess. We noted that the number of vacancies has increased from 39 at the end of last year's lame duck session to 46 today, with fourteen of those officially designated as judicial emergencies.

Well, we've had developments since yesterday's post. First, next week's committee schedule is up, and no hearings have been announced for judicial nominees.

And secondly, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts this morning designated an additional five vacancies as judicial emergencies, so the total has jumped from 14 to 19.

These new emergencies include one in the Northern District of Texas, which has been vacant since July of 2013 and which had been announced in advance in April of that year. Yet it was not until last July that Sens. Cornyn and Cruz announced a process to identify Northern District recommendations to the White House. Perhaps if they had not waited more than a year after being notified of this vacancy, it would be filled today. Instead, there is no nominee yet, and a vacancy that should not still exist is instead a judicial emergency.

Texas now has seven judicial emergencies, more than a third of the national total. Two of them have nominees who should have advanced to the Senate floor last week, but were delayed when Republicans decided to delay the scheduled committee vote on four fully vetted district court nominees by two weeks simply because they could.

Another of the newly designated emergencies is in the Third Circuit. The good news is that district court judge L. Felipe Restrepo was nominated to fill this seat way back in November, and that he has the enthusiastic support of his home state senators, Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey. The bad news is that Chairman Grassley continues not to schedule a hearing for this highly qualified nominee (or any other). With this vacancy now a judicial emergency and a second vacancy on the circuit opening in July, the decision to slow-walk this nomination is even more harmful.

So as of today, the number of judicial emergencies has jumped from 12 at the beginning of the year to 19 today. Senate Republicans can and should do much more to get that number moving back down.

PFAW

Republicans Should Move Judicial Nominations Next Week

With the Republican-controlled Senate returning to town next week, one of the things they should turn their attention to is moving judicial nominations. Because vacancies are always opening up on the courts, the Senate has to confirm a number of judges just to keep even. So far in the 114th Congress, we are not keeping even.

When the lame duck session of Congress ended in mid-December, there were 39 vacancies on our nation's federal circuit and district courts. Today there are 46 vacancies, 14 of them officially designated as judicial emergencies. Another five district court judges will be stepping down in just the next three weeks.

Even taking into account that the committee has also been handling the Attorney General nomination, we could and should have seen more progress on judges by now. There has been only one judicial nominations hearing, back in January, and the four Utah and Texas district court nominees who have now been fully vetted were scheduled for a committee vote last week. This was actually a critical test for the GOP, since it was their first chance to show that they would not continue to engage in the practice of needlessly delaying committee votes on judicial nominees just because they can. Unfortunately, they failed, holding the nominees over for two weeks on the basis that it was their first time on the agenda (in other words, they delayed the vote because they could).

When senators come back to town next week, the Judiciary Committee should vote these four nominees out, and the full Senate should promptly hold a confirmation vote.

It is also past time to hold hearings for people who were nominated more than three months ago, like Third Circuit nominee L. Felipe Restrepo (nominated November 12). Already a judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Restrepo has the bipartisan support of home state senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey. He would be the first judge on the Third Circuit with experience as a public defender, as well as the first Latino judge from Pennsylvania on the Third Circuit. There is no reason to delay a hearing for him or other long-waiting nominees.

To judge how the Republican Senate is doing, a convenient basis of comparison is the Democratic Senate during George W. Bush's last two years. As we noted when discussing the remarkable success in confirming judges in 2014:

The Bush example is particularly instructive. At the beginning of 2007, 56 judgeships were vacant. Rather than taking advantage of their new majority as a result of the 2006 elections to allow vacancies to build up, Senate Democrats made sure to process Bush's nominees in a fair and timely manner. ... Throughout the 110th Congress of 2007-2008, the number of vacancies generally remained at 50 or fewer. The Senate confirmed 68 judges during those two years, getting the number of vacancies down to as low as 34 in the early fall of 2008.

So keep an eye on how many judicial vacancies there are and whether that number goes up or down. That will be a good indication of whether Republicans are working in good faith to keep America's judicial system effectively staffed, or whether they are instead deliberately allowing vacancies to build up.

 

PFAW

The Libre Initiative: The Koch Brothers’ New Focus on Winning Latino Voters

Today, People For the American Way released a new Right Wing Watch: In Focus report on the Libre Initiative, a right-wing organization attempting to win over Latino voters for the Republican Party. The report explores the Koch brothers’ control over Libre, the values the group espouses, and the deceptive tactics it uses.

With plans to spend nearly $1 billion to support conservatives in 2016, it should come as no surprise that the Koch brothers are behind a group like Libre, providing at least half of its funding in 2011 and 2012.

The group uses those funds to attempt to push for a range of conservative policy priorities, such as fighting increases in the minimum wage. As the report explains, Libre tries to send a “kinder and gentler Republican message to Latino voters while continuing to push the GOP’s economic policies — many of which disproportionately hurt Latinos.”

In 2014, Libre invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in attack ads — technically “nonpartisan” —  to attack Democratic incumbents in heavily Latino states and districts. Although the group nominally supports comprehensive immigration reform, in several cases its ads aided Republican candidates who were hostile to reform.

In the next election cycle, conservatives will use gobs of outside money to try to win over Latino voters. In the meantime, PFAW will remain committed to engage all communities in our political system, fight to reduce the harmful influence of corporate money (including the Kochs’) in politics, and expose the deceitful tactics of the Right. 

PFAW

YP4 Alumni Lead Session on Building Connections Across Movements at Creating Change 2015

Last week, Young People For (YP4) staff attended the National LGBTQ Task Force’s National Conference of LGBT Equality, Creating Change

Four alumni of YP4 programs — Michigan State Representative Jon Hoadley, National Director of Black Youth Project 100 Charlene Carruthers, Deputy Managing Director of United We Dream Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, and Klagsbrun Outreach Fellow at Alliance for Justice Erik Lampmann —​ led a workshop entitled "Movement Family Across Struggles" for a group of college students.  In their session, YP4 alumni shared experiences effecting social change and discussed best practices towards building movements that cut across communities, campuses, regions, and issues. 

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Realizing that working to create change on college campuses and within communities can often be an isolating experience, the participants identified tactics to build alliances with other community members to help win victories on their issues and campaigns.

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Young People For (YP4) is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of young leaders to turn their ideals into actions and create lasting change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 develops Fellows’ leadership capacity and strategic thinking through a capstone project — the Blueprint for Social Justice — and offers opportunities to connect with other young people and partner organizations creating change across the country.

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PFAW Foundation

#DemandDemocracy Video Blog: Every Voice Wants to #GetMoneyOut

The issue of big money in politics is one so pervasive and complex that it requires a range of solutions to fully address it. In the sixth edition of our #DemandDemocracy video blog, Rahna Epting, chief of staff at Every Voice, discusses the importance of small donor driven elections, as well as a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court cases like Citizens United.

 

Recently, a number of money in politics reforms known as the “Defend Democracy” legislative package, which included both a proposed constitutional amendment to get big money out of elections and small donor empowerment measures, were reintroduced together in the 114th Congress. According to recent polling by Every Voice, the public broadly supports a constitutional amendment, and using the amendment to set the context for small donor engagement boosts support for such reforms.

Thursday is Test Day for Senate Judiciary Republicans

Tomorrow morning, we will learn more about how Chairman Chuck Grassley will run the Senate Judiciary Committee ... and whether Republicans will continue one of the indefensible forms of obstruction that they engaged in for six years while in the minority.

Grassley has scheduled a meeting for tomorrow with key votes on the agenda. They include four district court nominees from Texas and Utah, the first ones fully processed by the committee under its new Republican leadership.

The question is whether the committee will be allowed to vote on any of these nominees. Committee rules let senators "hold over" (i.e., delay) committee votes without explanation. This was done during previous presidencies when a nominee was controversial or when senators needed more time to evaluate the nominee. But during the first six years of the Obama presidency, Republicans exercised this right for all but 12 of his judicial nominees, which was an unprecedented abuse of the rules. As we said when we first wrote about this particular tool of obstruction in 2011:

Voting on a federal judicial nomination is an extremely serious responsibility and one that requires diligent research and thought. So if senators sincerely have questions that have not been answered, or genuine and substantial concerns about a nominee's fitness for the bench, then no one should begrudge them an extra few days to gather additional information.

But when Republicans exercise this option for every nominee, even those who are strongly supported by their home state Republican senators and have no opposition whatsoever, then their sincerity must be called into question.

But that was when Republicans were in the minority. It's one thing to always demand a delay when you're never the one to have scheduled the votes. It would be another thing altogether for Republicans to routinely ask for delay when they're the ones putting people on the schedule in the first place. Tomorrow's action may tell us what to expect for the next two years.

Two of the Texas nominees would fill vacancies that have been officially designated as judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts. One has been vacant just short of two years, and the other has been vacant since the end of 2012. (The other Texas seat has been vacant for "only" eight months, while the Utah one has been vacant for over a year.)

As for the nominees themselves, all four have the strong support of their home state senators, which is not unusual. But in this case, each of those home state senators is a Republican who is on the Judiciary Committee.

So will Sens. Cornyn, Cruz, Hatch, and Lee sit there and say nothing tomorrow if a vote on their nominees is delayed for no reason? Will Sen. Grassley start his chairmanship by insisting that committee votes be delayed even when he's the one to have scheduled them in the first place?

Tune in tomorrow.

UPDATE:  Thursday morning, Grassley held the nominees over, on the basis that it was their first time on the agenda.  In other words, "because we can."

PFAW

PFAW Releases Report on Using Religious Liberty as a Sword Rather than a Shield

Last June, the Supreme Court gave certain for-profit corporations the right to deny women vitally important (and statutorily required) healthcare coverage that offends their employers' religious beliefs, claiming it was simply protecting the employers' religious liberty. Across the country, right wing extremists are seeking to empower individuals and business owners whose religious beliefs are offended by LGBT equality to exempt themselves from anti-discrimination laws – again, supposedly in the name of religious liberty. Conservative Christians aggressively seeking to deprive others of their legal rights regularly portray themselves as the victims of religious persecution.

People For the American Way has released a new report examining the many ways that religious liberty issues are increasingly coming up in public policy debates in communities across the nation. But this isn't religious liberty as it has been understood throughout our nation's history.

Authored by Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery, Religious Liberty: Shield or Sword? examines how the Far Right is working to transform this core American value from a shield protecting individuals' religious freedom into a sword that harms other people and undermines measures to promote the common good.

The report provides vital factual background and analysis to help readers better understand how religious freedom principles have traditionally been regarded, as well as how they are being twisted by a far right movement in an effort to reverse its fortunes as their substantive arguments are increasingly rejected by the American public. These distorting efforts come from conservative advocacy organizations, state and federal legislators, and even a narrow majority of the United States Supreme Court.

This report is an important tool to help understand and confront the Right in public policy debates across the country, as they increasingly seek to use religious liberty as a sword to deny rights to others, and as they continue to portray themselves as victims of religious persecution.

PFAW