PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Happy Tenth Anniversary, Bush Tax Cuts!

Ten years ago today, the Bush Tax Cuts took effect. That was July 7, 2011….shortly before the United States embarked on ten years of war, an economic crisis, soaring debt, and individual financial hardship for a great many Americans. Yet the Bush Tax Cuts, which handed massive tax giveaways to the wealthiest Americans have clung on, leaving middle class Americans with the burden of closing up the deficit created by handouts for the wealthy.

Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones has put together a good rundown of the disasters that Bush’s tax policy wrought, including:

Big debt: Between 2001 and 2010, the Bush tax cuts added $2.6 trillion to the public debt, 50 percent of the total debt accrued during that time. Over the past 10 years, the country has spent more than $400 billion just servicing the debt created by the cuts.

Supply-side failure: Far from paying for themselves with increased economic activity as promised, the tax cuts have depleted the public treasury. Tax collections have plunged to their lowest share of the economy in 60 years.

No jobs: Between 2002 and 2007, employment increased by less than 1 percent when the economy was supposed to be expanding. Employment growth barely kept pace with population growth. Between the end of 2001, when the country was in a recession, and the peak of the real estate bubble, er, economic expansion in 2007, the US economy performed worse than at any time since the end of World War II.

Rich people benefit: The best-known result of the Bush tax cuts is that virtually all the benefits were conferred upon people who didn't need them at all and who didn't use the money to, say, create more jobs or pay their workers better. Median weekly earnings fell more than 2 percent between 2001 and 2007. Meanwhile, people making over $3 million a year, who account for just 0.1 percent of taxpayers, got an average tax cut of $520,000, more than 450 times what the average middle-income family received.

The 2001 tax cuts were supposed to be temporary, but in 2010 were extended for two years at the insistence of Republicans in Congress. Today, PFAW’s Michael Keegan writes in the Huffington Post that maybe it’s time Republicans look to the tax policies of one of their greatest heroes, Ronald Reagan, and rethink their don’t-tax-the-rich orthodoxy. He calls his plan the Ronald Reagan Tax Reform Act of 2011.
 

PFAW

GOP Brings the War on Unions to the Federal Government

We’ve seen Koch-funded politicians across the country introduce bills that dismantle public-sector unions at the state level. Now it seems they’ve got their eye on a bigger prize, attempting to destroy unions at the federal level as well.

On Wednesday, the House Subcommittee on Federal Workforce held a hearing on “Official Time” which the government defines as “authorized, paid time off from assigned Government duties to represent a union or its bargaining unit employees.” Unions use this time to complete tasks such as setting safety requirements, overtime assignments, and dispute-resolution procedures, all of which are necessary for a productive workforce.

Official time was granted by the Civil Reform Act of 1978. This time is strictly regulated, and can only be used on activities that both labor and management deem reasonable, necessary, and in the public interest.

Despite the fact that official time costs only $130 million per year -- significantly less expensive than having outsiders handle arbitration and other issues that would arise without official time -- and has survived and been deemed useful through three Republican administrations, the GOP is now considering cutting it due to “budgetary restraints.”

It’s no surprise that the Koch brothers have invested heavily in those who are now trying to chip away at federal employee unions. The congressman who brought up this issue, Rep. Phil Gingrey, counts Koch Industries as one of his top 20 contributors. Of the “expert witnesses” at the hearing discussing official time, two were from organizations heavily funded by the Koch brothers. Witnesses from both the Heritage Foundation and Competitive Enterprise Institute were present, organizations that received 4,115,571 and $700,499 respectively in 2009.

Federal unions are required, by law, to represent all employees in certain agencies or positions, even if they don’t pay their union dues. In exchange for this, they are allowed “official time” in which to complete some union work. John Gage, the National President for the American Federation of Government Employees, stated the ramifications of ending official time clearly, revealing that ending official time would nearly completely take away the collective bargaining rights of federal employees, making it impossible for unions to effectively function.

PFAW

Heritage Foundation Fellow: “Welfare has served as a substitute for the male breadwinner”

“Protecting the poor should not be a partisan issue,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) of Maryland Wednesday at a congressional hearing on “Duplication, Overlap & Inefficiencies in Federal Welfare Programs.” It shouldn’t, but House Republicans at the hearing seemed more concerned with cutting tiny fractions of federal spending than with the men, women, and children who suffer when the services they rely on lose funding.

The Oversight and Government Reform hearing was supposedly aimed at “duplication” in welfare programs, but witnesses and Republican members of Congress used the occasion to lob many of their favorite attacks on welfare programs as a whole.

Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, criticized welfare programs, claiming that they reward people for not working and not marrying. “What welfare assistance has done is to supplant a male in the household. That may be a little crude, but yes, welfare has served as a substitute for the male breadwinner in the home. These low-income mothers would not be able to raise these kids without those welfare checks."

Crude? Try sexist.

When Patricia Dalton, COO of the Government Accountability Office, lamented that some federally funded programs provided similar services to similar populations, Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Executive Director of the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks, explained that program overlap doesn’t always mean duplication. Because different programs have different criteria for qualification, many families may be struggling, but not count as being “poor enough” to qualify for all the services they need.

Over and over again in this hearing, Republicans discussed “streamlining duplicative programs,” a euphemism for cutting spending on the services that struggling Americans need the most.

PFAW

Issa to Dems: We'll Pick Your Witnesses For You

Last week, Rep. Patrick McHenry, chairman of a House Oversight and Government Affairs subcommittee, reached a new low of legislative immaturity when he accused Obama advisor Elizabeth Warren of lying about the schedule she had set with his staff. Now, it seems, committee chair Darrell Issa is trying to top him.

Issa has demanded that, in a departure from the way House committees traditionally select witnesses for hearings – where the majority and minority party each pick a certain number – Issa would now be picking some of the witnesses allotted to his committee’s Democratic minority. Whenever the committee’s Republicans call a witness from the Obama Administration, Issa declared, that witness would be docked from the total number allowed to the committee’s Democrats….even if Democrats never wanted that witness in the first place.

Given that our democratic government is built on the idea that minority viewpoints still can get a voice, this change of rules was not happily met with by some of the more reasonable members of the committee.

Democratic Rep. Gerald Connolly gave a heated response, saying he would advise the administration not to send any witnesses to the committee until the rules were reversed: “But the minority has rights, and if the majority wishes to actually join on this issue and dare to tell us who our witnesses will be, and to designate administration witnesses as our witnesses against our wishes, then we're going to advise that administration to not cooperate with the members of the majority until our rights are recognized and respected.” Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the committee agreed.

This prompted Issa’s staff to send a note to reporters with Connolly’s remarks asking, “If Committee Democrats are encouraging the Administration to decline all witnesses, how does obstruction advance legitimate government oversight?”

Better questions to ask might be: “If a committee’s chair is busy making politically-motivated rules changes, how much time is he actually spending on legitimate government oversight?” or “Do we really want to be giving government oversight power to a man who doesn’t believe in the basic democratic principle of the rights of political minorities?”

 

PFAW

Mitt Romney the Weathervane: What Our Most Changeable Politician Can Tell Us About the Modern GOP

As Mitt Romney enters the Republican presidential race this week, there will be plenty of attention on his shifting political views. But Romney's changing positions are not just the tragicomic tale of a man so desperate for the presidency he'll say anything to get there: they're also a valuable measure of what it takes to make it in the modern GOP.

Romney's many breathtaking U-turns -- on universal health care, on gay rights, on abortion rights -- have been extensively documented and parsed, and have become a reliable punchline. The former governor's willingness to adopt the position that he thinks will get him the most votes in whatever election he happens to be running in does speak to his own character. But Romney's ease at shifting also makes him a perfect weathervane for measuring the audiences he is trying to appeal to. And the speed with which Romney has been spinning to the right is an alarming sign of the political winds within the Republican Party.

This weekend, Romney will be making an important appearance among a group that has historically mistrusted him: the Religious Right. Speaking at the annual conference of Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition, Romney can be expected to once again disavow his previously convenient reasonable positions on abortion rights and gay equality. But he is also likely to go a step farther.

At a similar event in 2007, as he tried to shake off his image as a socially moderate Massachusetts Republican in preparation for his first presidential run, Romney spoke at the Values Voter Summit hosted by a coalition of right-wing social issues groups. In his speech, he rattled off Religious Right catchphrases, speaking of the United States' "Judeo-Christian heritage," the "breakdown of the family," and making "out-of-wedlock birth out of fashion again" and passing an anti-gay marriage amendment to "protect marriage from liberal, unelected judges." He promised a federal "marriage amendment," funding for vouchers for religious schools and across-the-board anti-choice policies. By earlier that year, he had impressed Ann Coulter enough that she endorsed him in a speech made famous by her use of an anti-gay slur.

At last year's Values Voter Summit, having done full penance to the Religious Right for his previous statements in favor of gay rights and choice, Romney focused his speech on right-wing economic policies, including an odd tribute comparing Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton to the Founding Fathers. But the company he kept revealed the friends he was hoping to make. The event was sponsored in part by the Family Research Council and the American Family Association, two groups who were soon to be named "hate groups" by the SPLC for their long histories of false anti-gay rhetoric. Romney's fellow speakers included Religious Right stalwarts Phyllis Schlafly, Tony Perkins, Planned Parenthood scam artist Lila Rose, and the AFA's Bryan Fischer, who has gained infamy with his vicious rhetoric about gays and lesbians, Muslims, African Americans and progressives. I wrote a letter to Romney warning him about associating himself with Fischer -- he didn't respond.

The Religious Right leaders that Romney is eager to curry favor with aren't just hostile to gays, Muslims and the social safety net -- many have expressed concern or even outright hostility to Romney's own Mormon faith. Fischer recently confronted Romney's faith, declaring that there is "a direct contradiction between Mormon theology and the teaching of Jesus Christ." A writer for a leading Religious Right publication declared, "If Mitt Romney believes what the Mormon Church teaches about the world and how it operates, then he is unfit to serve." As Romney angles himself into an increasingly extreme GOP, he will have to make nice to those who insult not only his past politics but his core religious beliefs.

At the Faith and Freedom Conference this weekend, Romney will have a similar opportunity to reinforce his social conservative bona fides while tying in his newly adamant anti-gay and anti-choice positions with the Tea Party's love of pro-corporate anti-tax talk. Ralph Reed, the resurgent mastermind behind the Christian Coalition, will perhaps be the perfect ally in his effort to paint himself as a true Tea Party candidate who wants small government for corporations and big government for individuals. Reed was, after all, partly responsible for bringing the passion of American evangelicals to the Republican anti-regulation agenda and schmoozes equally comfortably with Pat Robertson and Jack Abramoff. He is the perfect power-broker for an age when GOP politicians are supposed to oppose universal health care while supporting IRS involvement in abortions - the niche that Romney is trying to carefully fit himself into.

Romney will try to take advantage of the GOP base's newfound love of tax breaks for the rich, while continuing to pretend that he never supported choice and gay rights and reasonable environmental and health policies. If he can get away with it, he'll be the perfect candidate for today's ultraconservative GOP. But either way, he's bound to become a powerful symbol of just how far to the Right you have to go to make it in today's Republican Party.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

PFAW

Spoiler Alert: Wisconsin GOP Campaign Getting Desperate

The Wisconsin state GOP leadership is getting really, really desperate. Charged with the unenviable task of defending Republican state senators against recall elections, the GOP head honchos seems to be running out of ideas.

You know you’re in trouble when your party and candidates are so lacking in credibility that your entire campaign depends on a helping hand from the other side. A secret recording of the GOP general membership meeting last week revealed that their strategy might hinge on the sleep deprivation and intra-party battles of Wisconsin Democrats.

Realizing that Sen. Dan Kepanke’s hope that the large number of public workers in his district decide to “sleep in” on election day probably won’t help him survive a recall, state GOP executive director Mark Jefferson and vice-chairman Julian Bradley came up with an interesting idea: Considering that campaigning for Kepanke would be pretty difficult, why not just campaign for someone else?

That’s exactly what Jefferson and Bradley proposed: running an additional Democratic candidate to compete against Jennifer Shilling in the primary, with the hopes of diverting enough attention and resources to keep Kepanke competitive in the general election.

We are actively keeping our ears to the ground and if anybody knows anybody for a candidate that would be interested on the Democratic side in running in the primary against Jennifer Shilling.... So if anybody knows any Democrats who would be interested, please let us know.

 

PFAW

Oversight Committee to Look to Vulnerable Targets for Budget Cuts, Avoid Tough Scrutiny

The House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee is planning two hearings today, providing an interesting one-two punch against favorite Republican debt scapegoats: public workers and the poor.

The first hearing of the day, Official Time: Good Value for the Taxpayer? will likely discuss how we need to shrink the size of the federal workforce. The second, Duplication, Overlap and Inefficiencies in Federal Welfare Programs will likely discuss how our social safety net is somehow unsustainable.

My predictions as to the take-away messages of these hearings are based on Chairman Issa’s predictable witness list. As we’ve noted with great frequency, Issa calls industry and think-tank “experts” to the stand who will tell him what he wants to hear, and today’s lineup is no exception. The Heritage Foundation will be featured prominently this afternoon, as well as the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Interestingly, both of these very conservative think tanks have received large amounts of funding from the Koch brothers – to the tune of $4,115,571 and $700,499 respectively in 2009. Yes, these are the very same Koch brothers who quietly fund the tea party and a plethora of right wing politicians and organizations. Check out the Center for American Progress’ report and PFAW’s Koch Brothers Fact Sheet for many, many more details.

John Mashburn, executive director of the Carleson Center for Public Policy, will be testifying in the welfare hearing. His organization, which might as well be the Ronald Reagan fan club, wants to reduce federal assistance programs to a series of block grants administered by the states:

The first order of business for the CCPP will be to help reverse the damage done to the 1996 welfare reform. Then, it will concentrate on extending the successful design of returning power and responsibility to the states for other welfare programs, specifically Medicaid and Food Stamps. 

Agenda items:

  • Restore the integrity of the 1996 welfare reform. 
  • Develop a plan to emulate the 1996 model to block grant Medicaid to the states.
  • Develop a plan to block grant the Food Stamp program to the states.
  • Develop a plan to consolidate the 180+ additional categorical federal means-tested programs and replace them with finite block grants to the states.

As many Republicans are discovering back home in their districts, applying this goal to Medicare is proving to be rather unpopular. It’s concerning that other important social programs could face the same treatment, especially since the beneficiaries of these programs don’t carry the same political clout as senior citizens.

PFAW

A Supreme Court Win for John Ashcroft, a Grim Reminder for the Rest of Us

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously (with Justice Kagan recused) that former Attorney General John Ashcroft cannot be personally sued for alleged abuse of material-witness arrests in the days after the 9/11 attacks. In the weeks and months after 9/11, innocent people were being rounded up by the federal government with little to no evidence against them through abuse of the Material Witness Statute. However, the Justices agreed that what Ashcroft did was not in violation of "clearly established law" at the time, so he cannot be personally sued for money damages.

But that unanimity hides a deep divide on other issues. Justice Ginsburg's concurrence reminds us of the lawless nature of the Bush Administration. She asks:

what even arguably legitimate basis could there be for the harsh custodial conditions to which al-Kidd was subjected: Ostensibly held only to secure his testimony, al-Kidd was confined in three different detention centers during his 16 days' incarceration, kept in high-security cells lit 24 hours a day, strip searched and subjected to body-cavity inspections on more than one occasion, and handcuffed and shackled about his wrists, legs, and waist.

...

[His] ordeal is a grim reminder of the need to install safeguards against disrespect for human dignity, constraints that will control officialdom even in perilous times.

Americans should never forget the many ways that the Bush Administration violated basic American constitutional principles and the rule of law. After 9/11, People For the American Way Foundation led the nation in exposing and condemning the Ashcroft Justice Department's multifaceted threats to liberty.

Perhaps if the threats had been against Big Business's bottom line, today's corporate-funded Tea Partiers would have joined us in protecting the Constitution. Their silence then makes shameful their current efforts to appropriate the Constitution as uniquely theirs.

PFAW

Representative Darrell Issa Chooses Big Business Over the Lives of his Own Constituents

How many accidents will it take to get Rep. Darrell Issa to choose his constituents over his donors? The San Onofre Nuclear Station, located in Issa’s California congressional district, spilled 70 gallons of sulfuric acid on Saturday, its fifth spill in just over two years. These dangerous spills, combined with claims of a “deficient safety culture” at the plant, recently prompted hundreds of locals express their concern about the plant’s safety record. This, along with the recent nuclear disaster in Japan, would seem to be reason enough to prompt Issa to look into nuclear safety. Yet, he hasn’t given it more than a cursory glance.

Why would Issa ignore nuclear safety when the lives of his own constituents are most immediately at risk? Well, let’s follow the money. Edison International, which owns over 75% of the plant, is Issa’s third largest campaign contributor, donating $46,000 over Issa’s career, not including the $10,000 given to Issa’s two PACs. Is protecting the lives of his constituents just not worth asking questions of one of his biggest donors?

Find out more at Issa Watch, a project of the Courage Campaign

PFAW

Republicans Across the Country Work to Disenfranchise Voters

In the buildup to the 2012 election, Republican legislatures across the nation are implementing a tactic many hoped would die with the signing of the Voting Right Act of 1965 -- silencing the voices of those who disagree with them by simply not allowing them to vote. GOP legislators in at least 20 states are working hard to push through restrictive voter-ID laws that all but disenfranchise large, traditionally Democratic segments of the electorate. These laws would require voters to show a government issued photo ID at the polling place, something 11% of US citizens currently lack.

The facts are firmly against such laws. Voters are more likely to be struck by lightening than to commit fraud, and the Bush Justice Department’s five-year “War on Voter Fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions out of nearly 200 million votes cast (a rate of .0000004%). Furthermore, these laws are expensive to implement, wasting millions of dollars in a time when most states are under severe budgetary restraints. So why would Republicans advocate for such an obviously unnecessary law?

Politics, of course.

While 11% of the general population lack government issued photo ID, the number jumps dramatically when looking at traditionally Democratic segments of the population. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice notes that 15% of low-income citizens, 18% of young eligible voters, and 25% of black voters lack identification that would allow them to vote under these new laws. In addition, such ID is more difficult to obtain for these parties, many of whom can’t drive to the DMV to get an ID or lack the supporting documents, such as a birth certificate, necessary to receive an ID.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker just signed a bill that will require voters to show photo identification at the polls. This bill has provoked outrage amongst Wisconsin Democrats, with Stephanie Findley, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party Black Caucus, declaring:

Our proud tradition of open elections and high voter turnout will suffer. And with a stroke of the pen, thousands of African-American citizens will no longer be able to vote, solely because of their lack of identification. We now return to the days before the Voting Rights Act, where literacy tests and poll taxes were the rule.

This is backed up by the numbers. Fewer than half of African Americans in Milwaukee County hold ID that would be accepted at the polls, as compared to 83% of whites.

Florida already had a photo identification law in place, but Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a bill that goes even further, making it more difficult for third-party voter registration organizations to operate. Some such organizations, such as the non-partisan League of Women Voters, are pulling out of Florida all together, claiming the law will make it impossible to operate within the state.

In addition to making life difficult for voter-registration organizations, the new law also stops voters from making out-of-county address changes at the polls, making it more difficult for college students to vote, and shortens the early voting window from 14 days to eight. Five counties in Florida governed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act are declining to implement the new law, waiting for Justice Department approval before making any changes.

Early voting in also being targeted by Republican officials in North Carolina, who are studying how it helped Barack Obama win that state in 2008.

PFAW

Tennessee: Front and Center on Anti-Gay Legislation

Tennessee really seems to be going down the rabbit hole with their recent anti-gay legislation. Last month, a bill advanced to their state Senate, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would prohibit educators from discussing any sexual orientation other than heterosexuality with students in kindergarten through eighth grade. This not only applies to lessons in classrooms, but to all discussions between educators and students. Any acknowledgement that gay people exist is officially prohibited, a cruel effort to isolate and declare as abnormal any children who are gay or who have gay family members (including parents).

This week, Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill prohibiting local governments from enacting anti-discrimination laws that are stricter than those in state law. This new law overturns the recent Nashville Metro Council ordinance requiring businesses contracting with the city to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Tennessee state law prohibits discrimination based on race, creed, color, religion, sex, age, or national origin, but that leaves out a number of groups who are still facing discrimination with no legal support.

Haslam told a reporter, "We're not in favor of discrimination in any form at all," but actions speak louder than words, and Haslam’s support of this legislation certainly screams out loud and clear.

Nashville attorney Abby Rubenfeld is currently putting together a lawsuit to fight this legislation. She notes that the bill is homophobic and targeted at LGBT workers, but it would also affect veterans, disabled people, and other groups that aren’t protected by the state anti-discrimination law.

PFAW

Judge Rules that Corporations Can Give Directly to Candidates

And the Citizens United slippery slope continues…

A judge has ruled that the campaign-finance law banning corporations from making contributions to federal candidates is unconstitutional, citing the Supreme Court's landmark Citizens United decision last year in his analysis.

In a ruling issued late Thursday, U.S. District Judge James Cacheris tossed out part of an indictment against two men accused of illegally reimbursing donors to Hillary Clinton's Senate and presidential campaigns.

Cacheris says that under the Citizens United decision, corporations enjoy the same rights as individuals to contribute to campaigns.

The ruling from the federal judge in Virginia is the first of its kind. The Citizens United case had applied only to corporate spending on campaigning by independent groups, like ads run by third parties to favor one side, not to direct contributions to the candidates themselves.

...

"(F)or better or worse, Citizens United held that there is no distinction between an individual and a corporation with respect to political speech," Cacheris wrote in his 52-page opinion. "Thus, if an individual can make direct contributions within (the law's) limits, a corporation cannot be banned from doing the same thing."

Judge Cacheris – one of President Reagan’s earliest judicial nominees – acknowledged that another court addressing the issue has ruled that Citizens United does not invalidate a ban on corporate campaign contributions.

If the ban on corporate contributions to federal candidates were to be struck down by the Supreme Court, it would deal the biggest blow yet to federal clean elections laws that have been in place for over a century.

The first election after Citizens United turned into a corporate spending free-for-all. But it was just the beginning of what, without correction, may be a new regressive era of money in politics.
 

PFAW

Harry Jackson Says MLK Would Oppose Marriage Equality

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed the House Armed Services Committee Authorization bill, which included three amendments designed to delay the repeal of the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

With the Senate taking up the bill, Rep. Randy Forbes, along with Bishop Harry Jackson and a group of right-wing pastors, held a press conference to encourage the Senate to pass the pro-DADT amendments.

Attempting to seem semi-reasonable, Jackson began the conference by claiming that amendments intending to make the repeal of DADT more difficult and time-consuming weren’t about DADT itself, but instead about “clarity.”

That line of reasoning lasted all of 15 minutes. By the time Q&A rolled around, Jackson and the Religious Right figures that had joined him used all of the same tired arguments that have been used against DADT in the past. When asked if the repeal of DADT would hurt recruitment, Bishop John Neal claimed that he wasn’t sure, but what he was really worried about was the “close quarters” that soldiers have to share, and what would happen when there was “only one spout” on the shower.

This again?

Multiple speakers claimed that “no one should be marginalized for their religious beliefs,” but they all seem to believe that marginalizing people for their sexual orientation is perfectly acceptable. One of the speakers, John Neil, went so far as to claim that the military discriminates all the time, by not allowing, for example, extraordinarily tall people to pilot cramped fighter jets. Because that’s exactly the same situation.

Despite their claims to be promoting the rights of chaplains, this group showed that their real goal was restricting the rights of the LGBT community, going so far as to assert that Martin Luther King Jr. would disapprove of same-sex marriage:


 

Jackson: There were members of his family who were for gay marriage, others were against. I know this: King basically spoke from two vantage points that he thought were very, very sacred within the American culture - one was the Bible and the other was the Constitution. And I think what we're dealing with here is that from a biblical perspective, King no doubt would have been with us biblically. And I think, again, the lines of what is exactly the right of an American to do, I've got a hard time believing that "the pursuit of happiness" crosses into some of these areas. So I think that King would be with us, as a preacher first.

Question: Just to clarify: you're saying Dr. King would be against gay marriage?

Jackson: Yes. Very specifically, yes. Because it's against what is clearly written in Scripture. And if you listen to any of his messages, that clarion call to scriptural accountability even to the point when his own house was firebombed and folks came up in Montgomery armed and ready to go fight folks, he said "no, no, no, we will turn the other cheek." So there was not just a tacit biblical acceptance or kind of whitewashing, if I can use that phrase, certain kinds of behaviors and say this is Christian, this is not. I think there was an inherent commitment to those issues in our social culture.
PFAW

Roberts Court Upholds Arizona's "Death Penalty" for Companies Hiring Undocumented Immigrants

With Chief Justice Roberts writing an opinion for the conservative majority (or, in parts of the decision, a plurality), the Supreme Court yesterday upheld an Arizona law imposing draconian penalties on employers for hiring undocumented aliens, evading a federal law preempting such state laws.

Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting involves a 2007 Arizona law that punishes employers who knowingly hire undocumented aliens by suspending or revoking most of their state licenses. The Chamber of Commerce argued that the law is preempted by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). IRCA prohibits the hiring of undocumented aliens and sets forth procedures employers must follow before hiring someone and the sanctions they will incur for violating the law.

Most importantly, IRCA expressly preempts local and state laws creating sanctions (other than through licensing and similar laws).

It is the "licensing and similar laws" clause in the federal law that is crucial in this case, because the draconian punishment set forth in the Arizona law is the suspension and revocation of "licenses," a term defined so broadly in the Arizona statute that it even includes a company's articles of incorporation. Some have called this the "business death sentence."

The Court noted that in dictionary definitions and other statutes, the term "license" can have a very wide definition that includes articles of incorporation. The Court concluded that nothing in the federal law prohibits Arizona from broadly defining the term licenses, so it upholds the state law. However, Justices Breyer and Sotomayor's dissents pointed out that the opinion overlooks how context narrows the definition of a word. As Justice Breyer wrote:

But neither dictionary definitions nor the use of the word "license" in an unrelated statute can demonstrate what scope Congress intended the word "licensing" to have as it used that word in this federal statute. Instead, statutory context must ultimately determine the word's coverage.

Justice Breyer pointed out that IRCA is carefully calibrated to balance multiple competing goals. Arizona's "death penalty" for businesses and lax procedural safeguards throw IRCA's carefully calibrated balance into disarray. Justice Sotomayor explained that the uniform federal plan becomes wildly internally inconsistent if interpreted to allow state-by-state decisions as to whether an employer has hired an undocumented worker.

The Court also upheld Arizona's requiring employers to use the federal E-Verify database to confirm that a person is legally authorized to work. Federal law makes its use voluntary, but the Roberts Court held that means only that no federal agency can make its use mandatory. States are free to require it if they so choose. The fact that it is a pilot program and that Congress actually had reasons not to make its use mandatory seems not to matter.

Federal law mandates a unified federal approach to immigration issues, and comprehensive immigration reform is long overdue. But right-wing efforts in Arizona to attack immigrants on a state-by-state basis today got a green light from the Roberts Court. This may signal that the state's infamous "your papers please" anti-immigrant law may get a welcome reception from the conservative Justices.

PFAW

With Liu Gone, GOP Still Twisting his Record

On Wednesday night, Berkeley law professor Goodwin Liu wrote to President Obama asking that the his nomination to sit on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals be withdrawn. Liu’s exit was the culmination of two years of smears, scapegoating and filibustering, in which the nominee never even got an up or down vote from the Senate.

The main gist of Republican opposition to Liu was the claim that he would be an “activist judge” in favor of making up constitutional rights willy-nilly (a claim that Republicans in the Senate have lobbed at any number of highly qualified judicial nominees, including current Supreme Court justice Elena Kagan, but interestingly not at Republican nominees who have shown strong streaks of creative legal interpretation).

In an op-ed earlier this week, the New York Times singled out Sen. John Cornyn for his false claim that Liu holds the “ridiculous view that our Constitution somehow guarantees a European-style welfare state.” Yesterday, in a letter to the editor, Cornyn fought back, providing this quote from a 2006 law review article by Liu to back up his claim:

On my account of the Constitution’s citizenship guarantee, federal responsibility logically extends to areas beyond education. ... Beyond a minimal safety net, the legislative agenda of equal citizenship should extend to systems of support and opportunity that, like education, provide a foundation for political and economic autonomy and participation. The main pillars of the agenda would include basic employment supports such as expanded health insurance, child care, transportation subsidies, job training and a robust earned income tax credit.

What is interesting about this quote is that it doesn’t say what Cornyn says it says. At all. Nowhere in the quote -- which Cornyn points to as decisive evidence that Liu wants the courts to turn us into Denmark -- does Liu say that the courts should enforce a social safety net. In fact, Liu is careful to specify that he is discussing the duty of Congress to create a “legislative agenda” that fulfills the highest ideals of the Constitution, rather than a judicial responsibility to enforce that agenda.

Elsewhere in the article [pdf], Liu makes it perfectly clear that he sees it as the duty of Congress, not the courts, to guarantee basic living standards for citizens. He even explicitly states that he intentionally doesn’t use the term “rights” because that would imply “judicial enforceability” of the values that he’s discussing:

In this Article, I do not address whether the Supreme Court or any court should hold that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees an adequate education. Although that question remains open in the case law, my thesis is chiefly directed at Congress, reflecting the historic character of the social citizenship tradition as “a majoritarian tradition, addressing its arguments to lawmakers and citizens, not to courts.” Whatever the scope of judicial enforcement, the Constitution—in particular, the Fourteenth Amendment—speaks directly to Congress and independently binds Congress to its commands. Thus the approach to constitutional meaning I take here is that of a “conscientious legislator” who seeks in good faith to effectuate the core values of the Fourteenth Amendment, including the guarantee of national citizenship.

From this perspective, the language of rights, with its deep undertone of judicial enforceability, seems inapt to probe the full scope of a legislator’s constitutional obligations. As Professor Sager has observed, “[T]he notion that to be legally obligated means to be vulnerable to external enforcement can have only a superficial appeal.” It is more illuminating to ask what positive duties, apart from corresponding rights, the Fourteenth Amendment entails for legislators charged with enforcing its substantive guarantees. Framed this way, the inquiry proceeds from the standpoint that Congress, unlike a court, is neither tasked with doing legal justice in individual cases nor constrained by institutional concerns about political accountability. Instead, “Congress can draw on its distinctive capacity democratically to elicit and articulate the nation’s evolving constitutional aspirations when it enforces the Fourteenth Amendment.” By mediating conflict and marshaling consensus on national priorities, including the imperatives of distributive justice, Congress can give effect to the Constitution in ways the judicial process cannot.

Thus the legislated Constitution, in contrast to the adjudicated Constitution, is not “narrowly legal” but rather dynamic, aspirational, and infused with “national values and commitments.” …

(emphasis is mine)

Cornyn and his pals in the Senate know what was in the article they attacked. Liu even explained it to them in detail in response to written questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee [pdf]. But it was easier to willfully misinterpret Liu's writing and paint him as irresponsible than to engage in a substantive debate on his qualifications.

 

PFAW