Young People For (YP4), a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of student leaders turn their idealism into actions that advance social change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 Fellows design and implement a capstone project called the Blueprint for Social Justice and work on social justice projects of their choosing.
We’ll be highlighting the work of some of our outstanding Fellows here. This week, we’re pleased to introduce Johnny Buck, representing Northwest Indian College.
Johnny Buck grew up near Priest River Dam on the Columbia River in central Washington state, and is a student at Northwest Indian College, where he focuses on environmental studies. Buck is also a George Washington University Native Political Leadership program Fellow at the Department of Education, a program designed to give young Native Americans the skills they need to be successful political leaders.
His goal is to apply what he’s learned to revitalize his tribe’s language and culture in the Wanapum Village and ultimately to benefit all Tribal Nations.
Young People For has been actively engaging the Native American community for several years. In 2009, Buck was a member of YP4’s Tribal College Leadership Program (TCLP), which brings together 23 tribal college students showing great leadership potential and seeks to empower young Native Americans to change their communities by connecting them to the larger progressive movement.
“My community is deeply rooted in culture, language, traditions and ceremony,” said Buck. “By helping to revitalize our horse culture and language, I have committed myself to the younger generations in my community.”
Mitt Romney is eager these days to change the subject from what the public sees as his party's "war on women." He seeks to close the huge gender gap that has opened up as women flee the party of Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh in search of something a little less patriarchal and misogynistic.
But Romney's problems with America's women may be just beginning. He can distance himself from the theocratic musings of other Republicans and the macho bullying of Fox News talking heads, but he cannot run away from his own selection of former Judge Robert Bork, in August of last year, to become his principal advisor on the Supreme Court and the Constitution.
Bork hopes to wipe out not only the constitutional right to privacy, especially the right to contraception and to abortion, but decades of Equal Protection decisions handed down by what he calls a feminized Supreme Court deploying "sterile feminist logic" to guarantee equal treatment and inclusion of women. Bork is no casual chauvinist but rather a sworn enemy of feminism, a political force that he considers "totalitarian" and in which, he has concluded, "the extremists are the movement."
Romney may never have to elaborate his bizarrely muted reaction to Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" ("it's not the language I would have used"), but he will definitely have to answer whether he agrees with his hand-picked constitutional advisor that feminism is "totalitarian"; that the Supreme Court, with two women Justices, had become "feminized" at the time of U.S. v. Virginia (1996) and produced a "feminization of the military"; and that gender-based discrimination by government should no longer trigger heightened scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.
Romney has already said that, "The key thing the president is going to do... it's going to be appointing Supreme Court and Justices throughout the judicial system." He has also said that he wishes Robert Bork "were already on the Court."
So look what Robert Bork thinks Romney's Supreme Court Justices should do about the rights of women.
Wiping Out Contraceptive, Abortion and Privacy Rights
Romney certainly hoped to leave behind the surprising controversy in the Republican primaries over access to contraception, but Robert Bork's extremist views on the subject guarantee that it stays hot. Bork rejects the line of decisions, beginning with Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), affirming the right of Americans to privacy in their procreative and reproductive choices. He denounces the Supreme Court's protection of both married couples' and individuals' right to contraception in Griswold and Eisenstaedt v. Baird (1972), declaring that such a right to privacy in matters of procreation was created "out of thin air." He calls the Ninth Amendment -- which states that the "enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people" -- an "inkblot" without meaning. For him, the right of people to decide about birth control has nothing to do with Due Process liberty or other rights "retained by the people" -- it is the illegitimate expression of "radical individualism" on the Supreme Court.
Bork detests Roe v. Wade (1973), a decision he says has "no constitutional foundation" and is based on "no constitutional reasoning." He would overturn it and empower states to prosecute women and doctors who violate criminal abortion laws. Bork promises:
Attempts to overturn Roe will continue as long as the Court adheres to it. And, just so long as the decision remains, the Court will be perceived, correctly, as political and will continue to be the target of demonstrations, marches, television advertisements, mass mailings, and the like. Roe, as the greatest example and symbol of the judicial usurpation of democratic prerogatives in this century, should be overturned. The Court's integrity requires that.
In other words, the Court's "integrity" would require a President Romney to impose an anti-Roe v. Wade litmus test on all nominations to the Court.
Ending Heightened Scrutiny of Government Sex Discrimination under Equal Protection
Bork is the leading voice in America assailing the Supreme Court for using "heightened" Equal Protection scrutiny to examine government sex discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment. While women and men all over America cheered the Supreme Court's 7-1 decision in United States v. Virginia (1996), the decision that forced the Virginia Military Institute to stop discriminating and to admit its first women cadets, Bork attacked it for producing the "feminization of the military," which for him is a standard and cutting insult --"feminization" is always akin to degradation and dilution of standards. He writes: "Radical feminism, an increasingly powerful force across the full range of American institutions, overrode the Constitution in United States v. Virginia." Of course, in his view, this decision was no aberration: "VMI is only one example of a feminized Court transforming the Constitution," he wrote. Naturally, a "feminized Court" creates a "feminized military."
Bork argues that, outside of standard "rational basis" review, "the equal protection clause should be restricted to race and ethnicity because to go further would plunge the courts into making law without guidance from anything the ratifiers understood themselves to be doing." This rejection of gender as a protected form of classification ignores the fact that that the Fourteenth Amendment gives "equal protection" to all "persons." But, if Bork and his acolytes have their way, decades of Supreme Court decisions striking down gender-discriminatory laws under the Equal Protection Clause will be thrown into doubt as the Court comes to examine sex discrimination under the "rational basis" test, the most relaxed kind of scrutiny. Instead of asking whether government sex discrimination "substantially" advances an "important" government interest, the Court will ask simply whether it is "conceivably related" to some "rational purpose." Remarkably, Mitt Romney's key constitutional advisor wants to turn back the clock on Equal Protection jurisprudence by watering down the standards for reviewing sex-discriminatory laws.
Judge Bork Means Business: the Case of the Sterilized Women Employees
If you don't think Bork means all this, go back and look at his bleak record as a Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Take just one Bork opinion that became a crucial point of discussion in the hearings over his failed 1987 Supreme Court nomination. In a 1984 case calledOil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union v. American Cyanamid Co., Bork found that the Occupational Safety and Health Act did not protect women at work in a manufacturing plant from a company policy that forced them to be sterilized -- or else lose their jobs -- because of high levels of lead in the air. The Secretary of Labor had decided that the Act's requirement that employers must provide workers "employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards" meant that American Cynamid had to "fix the workplace" through industrial clean-up rather than "fix the employees" by sterilizing or removing all women workers of child-bearing age. But Bork strongly disagreed. He wrote an opinion for his colleagues apparently endorsing the view that other clean-up measures were not necessary or possible and that the sterilization policy was, in any event, a "realistic and clearly lawful" way to prevent harm to the women's fetuses. Because the company's "fetus protection policy" took place by virtue of sterilization in a hospital -- outside of the physical workplace -- the plain terms of the Act simply did not apply, according to Bork. Thus, as Public Citizen put it, "an employer may require its female workers to be sterilized in order to reduce employer liability for harm to the potential children."
Decisions like this are part of Bork's dark Social Darwinist view of America in which big corporations are always right and the law should rarely ever be interpreted to protect the rights of employees, especially women, in the workplace.
No matter how vigorously Mitt Romney shakes his Etch-a-Sketch, Americans already have an indelible picture of what a Romney-run presidency and Bork-run judiciary would look like and what it would mean for women. With Robert Bork calling the shots on the courts, a vote for Mitt Romney is plainly a vote against women's rights, women's equality and women's freedom.
The Wisconsin recall campaigns have heated up with the Spring weather, and both sides in the fight are pushing their big arguments and unleashing their cash reserves in an all-out battle for the hearts and minds of Wisconsin voters. With the Primaries for Governor, Lt. Governor, and recall Senate candidates rapidly approaching on May 8th, a measure of tit-for-tat claims and debunking is happening on radio and TV, with most of the Republican advertising money coming from interest groups.
Embattled Governor Scott Walker, in multiple TV, radio, and print interviews, made outrageous success claims over the last week, saying just about anything to save his hide. Just in the last 10 days alone, Walker compared himself to Abe Lincoln , denied gutting the Wisconsin Equal Pay Act and claimed his budget saved Wisconsin taxpayers $1 Billion since he's been in office.
As they tend to do, though, facts soon took the Governor's claims apart, using hard numbers to debunk his nonsensical overstatements. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers released earlier this week nailed Walker on his jobs creation claim, with reporters across Wisconsin and the United States highlighting that Wisconsin was actually dead last in job creation in all categories. Walker's week didn't get any better when Illinois Governor Pat Quinn shot back at Walker for his derisive comments before the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Policy Institute about job creation, when he lambasted Walker with the facts about Illinois' incredible rebound from economic decline. Finally, Democratic women in Wisconsin took Governor Walker to task for his assertion that he didn't repeal Equal Pay in Wisconsin, filling in the blanks on the Governor's claims, and demanding he explain himself.
Wisconsin State Senators under threat of recall, along with Tea Party darling, Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch who is also in danger of losing her seat, came under more scrutiny for their memberships in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), with some Senators claiming they are no longer members of the group. This comes in the wake of the announcement that ALEC is dissolving the key committee responsible for drafting legislation currently under the microscope as part of the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida. Wisconsin ALEC members, including Governor Walker, have pushed through concealed carry laws and castle defense laws similar to those enacted in Florida, Arizona, and many other states. People For The American Way is continuing to follow this story as part of its Wisconsin Fight The Right Campaign.
Looking forward to next week, financial filings for political candidates and officials in Wisconsin are due on April 30. People For The American Way will be paying special attention to whether these “former” ALEC members actually received money from the organization's donors recently. Our "Fight The Right" effort in Wisconsin will continue to roll-out, with new information posted daily on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. On Wisconsin!
ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, and ALEC members are on the run in Arizona. As more Arizonans learn about the tactics and operating procedures of the obscure network, the organization and its corporate funders are scrambling to come up with ways to justify their unjustifiable agenda.
ALEC had operated in relative obscurity for decades since its inception in 1973. However in the past year, with the launching of the ALEC-Exposed project, and some diligent investigative reporting from journalists and good government organizations alike, the veil has been removed, and ALEC has been on the run since – in recent months, thirteen companies have withdrawn financial support from the organization and 28 state legislators have renounced their membership.
In response to these developments, the Arizona ALEC network has revealed just how entrenched it is with its corporate funders. A leaked email provided to PFAW Foundation shows that ALEC legislators held an event yesterday morning to discuss ALEC PR strategy – and that the event was being actively promoted by none other than Russel Smolden, head lobbyist of the Salt River Project, a public utility corporation that sits on ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board:
Debbie Lesko and other ALEC legislative members both present and past would like to invite you to a meeting thisThurs. (April 26th), 11:00am at AGC to get the latest update on the fight that ALEC is waging in the media against its detractors. We would really appreciate your attendance
Russell D. Smoldon
Senior Director Government Relations
The ALEC agenda is out of the shadows, and its affiliates have been scrambling to come up with talking points to sugarcoat their policies. Unfortunately, no amount of obfuscation can conceal the truth. The ALEC agenda is harmful to everyday citizens because it rewards the corporations who fund the network – nearly 98 percent of it. When ALEC legislators and ALEC corporate lobbyists like Russell Smoldon agree to meet behind closed-doors like they did yesterday morning, their attempts to assuage their image crisis only tarnish their reputations further, for what could they could they possibly be discussing that requires confidentiality?
The following photos are of lobbyists arriving at and leaving from the closed-door ALEC-PR strategy meeting:
[Russel Smoldon (on the right) – author of leaked email, head lobbyist for the Salt River Project.]
[Tom Dorn (left) lobbyist for Peabody Energy, among others.Ken Quartermian (right) lobbyist for Cox Communications Arizona, among others.]
[Joe Abate – lobbyist representing PHRMA, among other clients.]
[Spencer Kamps – lobbyist for Home Builders Associations of Central AZ.]
[Marty Schulz – former registered lobbyist for Pinnacle West, now works at the Denver, CO-based firm, Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.]
Click here to view PFAW Foundation’s press release on this development.
Endnote: In November of 2011 and April of 2012, PFAW Foundation released two reports, in conjunction with Common Cause, Progress Now and the Center for Media and Democracy, documenting the enormous influence that ALEC has in Arizona. The reports evidence how ALEC legislators have introduced and passed ALEC model legislation that has damaged communities and harmed the state – from attacks on public education to privatizing prisons to reducing consumer protections, the corporate-backed ALEC agenda has transformed Arizona into an ALEC model state, one that Arizonans, as evidenced by the recall of ALEC member and former Senate President Russell Pearce, are rejecting in force.
Following the release of the second report, Arizona Public Service Company (APS), Arizona’s largest utility in the state, announced it was severing ties with ALEC.
And for more information on State Representative Debbie Lesko - who was one of the hosts of the ALEC PR strategy meeting - and her ties with ALEC-sponsor SRP, please check out CMD's post on the connection.
I am a proud Latina and a proud supporter of LGBT rights.
The National Organization for Marriage seems to think I can’t be both.
In a 2009 strategy document that was made public last month, NOM outlines a “wedge” strategy to drive black and Latino Americans away from supporting gay rights. About Latinos, NOM writes, “Will the process of assimilation to the dominant Anglo culture lead Hispanics to abandon traditional family values? We can interrupt this process of assimilation by making support for marriage a key badge of Latino identity.”
There are many great values that can be put forward as “key badges of Latino identity.” Opposition to gay rights should not be one of them. In fact, if NOM wants to keep Latinos from embracing LGBT equality, they’re already falling behind. A poll late last year found that a majority of Latinos – like a majority of all Americans – support legal recognition of same-sex unions. Opposition to LGBT rights is no more a hallmark of Latino culture than it is of American culture as a whole.
This is the deep cynicism of NOM and other groups that devote themselves to stopping equality for gay and lesbian Americans. They will attempt to exploit and inflame existing prejudices and fears in order to reach the ends they desire. They forget that the people they attempt to exploit have our own thoughts, opinions and experiences. We have our own relationships with God. We have gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender friends and family members. And we know when we’re being used. Nom should learn what Latinos live by, the words of the great Mexican President Benito Juarez, “Respecting the rights of others is Peace.”
NOM’s attempt to stir up mutual resentment between African Americans, Latinos and the gay community echoes some of the most destructive politics of our past. That they are resorting to this kind of dangerous and divisive tactic shows just how desperate the anti-gay movement has become.
NOM’s mistake is to think that our cultural identity is a definition of who we are not and whom we are against. But of course, our identities are definitions of who we are and what we love. Latinos across America are embracing equal rights for our gay and lesbian friends and family. Those of us who support LGBT equality haven’t abandoned our Latino identity. We’re embracing the values that define who we are as individuals, as Latinos and as Americans. Dolores Huerta is a member of the board of People For the American Way.
As noted yesterday, the number of judicial emergencies is skyrocketing. This week, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts formally re-classified seven current vacancies as judicial emergencies, meaning that there are so many cases and so few judges, that the courts are no longer able to get their work done in an acceptable amount of time. With 39 such emergencies, this is putting an unacceptable strain on an already stressed court system.
That means that of the 21 nominees being held up on the floor because Republicans will not allow a timely vote, twelve are for judicial emergencies, an increase from nine at the start of the week.
This should be a wake-up call to Senate Republicans.
In Ohio, Jeffrey Helmick has been waiting since March 8 for a confirmation vote. When the two parties reached an agreement on a schedule of confirmation votes last month, Republicans would not allow Helmick to have a vote before May 7, the end of the agreement period. With his seat newly recognized as an emergency, the time to hold a vote is now, not next month or two months from now.
In Arkansas, Kristine Baker has been waiting even longer, since February 16. Her nomination was part of the agreement, but she is unlikely to be allowed a vote until the final day, May 7. Perhaps their fellow Republican, Sen. John Boozman, will impress upon his party leaders the importance of resolving the emergency in his state. At Baker's confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, he testified that "her extensive experience and her impressive background unanimously qualify her for the position of district [court] judge."
Michigan's Gershwin Drain is the third pending nominee for a seat reclassified as an emergency. He was approved by the Judiciary Committee on March 29. If Republicans allowed prompt votes on district court nominations soon after committee approval as they did under President Bush, Drain would have been confirmed by now.
Because of Republicans' partisan obstruction of highly qualified judicial nominees, more and more Americans are learning first hand that justice delayed is justice denied.
This morning, the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments of Arizona v. United States, a case that will examine key provisions of Arizona’s infamous and draconian immigration law, SB 1070. If implemented, the law, colloquially known as the ‘show me your papers bill,’ would lead to the unjust targeting of Arizonans through racial profiling and increased jail sentencing.
Because of SB 1070’s blatant assault on civil liberties, much of the nation was shocked by its passage. The United States challenged it in court, arguing that the state was unconstitutionally encroaching on the federal government’s responsibility for immigration law. Four sections of the bill were blocked by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton of Phoenix on July 28, 2010. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld Bolton’s ruling, and after Arizona appealed that decision, the case arrived at the Supreme Court, which has chosen to address yet another politically polarizing issue in this critical election year. Although the threat to the basic rights of people – both citizens and immigrants – is the subject of significant concern, the legal issue before the Supreme Court today addresses whether Arizona’s effort to make life so miserable for immigrants that they leave the state is preempted by federal law.
Below is an analysis of the legislation that People For the American Way published when participating in a statewide boycott of Arizona following the passage of the legislation nearly two years ago.
Question: How does the Arizona law, S.B. 1070, expand racial profiling? Isn't it focused only on migrant workers?
Answer: Under current law, state-local police are authorized to enforce federal immigration laws only in limited circumstances. Even so, law enforcement in Arizona and across the country already is challenged by substantial evidence of wrongful arrests, racial profiling, and discrimination. The new law would dramatically expand the problem. Specifically, the new law:
• Increases the scope of those enforcing immigration laws from a few police departments, or units within departments, to every single law enforcement officer in the entire state.
• Expands the population at risk of being stopped, arrested, and detained from a limited number – those targeted by bona fide immigration enforcement operations, or those already in police custody – to everyone who comes into contact with a law enforcement officer who has a "reasonable suspicion" someone may be undocumented.
• Virtually guarantees that Latinos and other minorities will be asked to provide proof of legal residency, and be subject to arrest and detention if they cannot do so, at far higher rates than non-minorities. Research on racial profiling shows that, not only do minority drivers experience more traffic stops than non-minority drivers, once stopped, minorities are subject to higher rates of searches, arrests, and formal charges than similarly-situated non-minority drivers.
• Provides powerful incentives for wrongful arrests, racial profiling, and other abuse by creating a private right of action against any agency that fails to uphold the new law's provisions, while at the same time indemnifying police officers from litigation brought by those who are wrongfully detained or racially profiled.
Demonstrations in support of the U.S. Justice Department took place this morning, and PFAW staff were able to attend in solidarity.
Responding to pressure from consumers who don’t want the companies they do business with to support an extreme agenda, 13 major corporations have withdrawn their membership from ALEC. The organization has been under pressure from activists outraged at ALEC’s support for draconian immigration policies, vote-suppressing legislation and gun laws like “Stand Your Ground."
Last week, ALEC released a statement saying that it was disbanding the Public Safety and Elections Task Force responsible for turning these extreme policies into law, instead claiming that the organization would be shifting its focus back to economic issues:
“We are refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles, and have made changes internally to reflect this renewed focus.
“We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy. The remaining budgetary and economic issues will be reassigned.”
We were skeptical that the decision was anything more than a savvy PR move – and now an ALEC member has confirmed it. This move was just a stunt; the Public Safety and Elections Task Force’s whole portfolio will be reassigned to another committee, according Republican State Rep. Jerry Madden of Texas, the Task Force’s former chair:
Republican State Rep. Jerry Madden of Texas chairs the Public Safety Task Force and although he is disappointed the committee is disbanding, he said many of the issues will be transferred to other committees.
"ALEC's decision won't impact the important issues we've worked on," Madden told The Christian Post"But I will say this, these groups are targeting ALEC because when conservatives get together, we influence state and federal policy in a major way and these groups are scared of us – and should be."
Considering the ever-growing list of corporations and legislators who have deserted the organization in recent weeks, maybe it’s ALEC that should be worried.
One such defector, State Representative Ted Vick of South Carolina told Ed Schultz his reasons for resigning:
“It started moving to the right and getting very extreme…right now if they continue to do the Right-Wing thing they are doing and pushing agendas that have nothing to do with more efficient government, then it doesn’t have a place in politics in my opinion, and that’s why I’m resigning.”
PR stunt aside, the fact remains that ALEC’s core agenda is just as extreme and dangerous. Somehow, ALEC’s “jobs agenda” still manages to include attacks on working families, the environment, women, public education – the list goes on. As PFAW president Michael Keegan stated,
The true economic consequences of the ALEC agenda – which includes privatizing public resources such as schools and prisons, dismantling unions and stacking the deck against average people who try to seek justice in a court of law – is that wealthy special interests get even richer while the rest of us are left in the dust. ALEC believes in job creation – unless job elimination is better for the bottom line of a few corporations.
In early April, after she went to cast her ballot in Washington, DC, NBC Latino contributor Alicia Menendez found out that someone else had also tried to cast a ballot in her name. The perpetrator was an ally of right-wing activist James O’Keefe, who has been traveling the country trying to trick Americans into thinking widespread voter identity fraud exists by committing it himself.
Menendez writes that the attempted fraud felt like a personal “violation.” But she’s not buying O’Keefe’s scare tactics:
So why are O’Keefe & company pushing a solution in search of a problem? In 2008, a wave of inspired first-time voters flocked to the polls. That level of participation and infusion of enthusiasm is good for our democracy, regardless of how those Americans vote. But some people couldn’t abide the candidates the voters chose, and so they are trying desperately to keep a similar surge of new voters from voting this year.
O’Keefe and the people who fund groups like his want to stop people who traditionally vote against their candidates, almost all Republicans, from voting at all. To do that, they are trying to re-raise the barriers to voting that we tore down in the civil rights era. They are trying to scare us into believing that there is a massive wave of “voter fraud” sweeping the country. I will not be scared into believing their myths and neither should you.
There is something honest here though: they honestly do not understand why more people don’t try to commit voter fraud. That’s because voter suppression fraud — the kind where you keep people who don’t vote your way from voting at all — has been a standard part of their playbook for years.
Yesterday, as part of the agreement on 14 judicial nominations reached between the parties last month, Republicans allowed the Senate to hold a confirmation vote for Brian Wimes, nominee for a district court judgeship in Missouri. Wimes was forced to wait four months for a vote on his nomination, which was finally approved by an overwhelming 92-1 vote. At this pace we are losing ground. This morning, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts announced that the number of judicial emergencies has skyrocketed to 39. With this reminder that our federal court system is in a state of crisis, there is no reason to keep putting off long-stalled votes that could be held today.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy spoke on the Senate floor yesterday about the situation:
The Senate is still so far this year only considering judicial nominations that could and should have been confirmed last year. We will conclude the first four months of this year having only considered judicial nominees who should have been confirmed before recessing last December. We have yet to get to any of the nominees we should be considering this year because of Republican objections to proceeding more promptly.
With nearly one in 10 judgeships across the Nation vacant, the judicial vacancy rate remains nearly twice what it was at this point in the first term of President George W. Bush ...
That is because of the needless delays in holding confirmation votes. At this point in Bush's term, the Senate voted on his confirmed district court nominees an average of 22 days after they cleared committee. But due to GOP obstruction, that period leaps more than fourfold to 96 days for President Obama's district court nominees. As noted above, Brian Wimes was forced to wait 130 days before his nearly unanimous confirmation vote yesterday.
When the two parties reached their agreement last month, 35 vacant seats had been declared judicial emergencies by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. As noted above, that number has gone up to 39 today. The number of vacant seats has remained near 100. The number of pending nominees being denied a timely floor vote was 22 then and 21 today.
This is not progress. Instead, these are more clear signs that the pace set by last month's agreement is too slow. For the good of the American people and our system of justice, the Senate must significantly speed up votes on President Obama's judicial nominees.
It’s been a rough start to the week over at the American Legislative Exchange Council.
Common Cause has submitted a formal whistleblower complaint against ALEC to the IRS this morning, alleging that the organization has flouted federal tax laws by portraying themselves as a tax-exempt charity and misusing their 501c3 status by acting primarily as a lobbying organization, according to a press release.
501c3 organizations have very strict limitations on lobbying, and ALEC consistently states on its tax returns that it does not engage in lobbying. But it’s hard to see how an organization that helps facilitate meetings between corporate representatives and state legislators, produces model legislation and coaches state legislators on how to advocate for and defend such legislation can be considered anything BUT lobbying.
Corporations provide the vast majority of ALEC’s funding. But since their membership dues are written up as donations to a “charitable” organization, they can deduct the dues from their taxes – leaving the American taxpayers to make up the difference, says Common Cause president Bob Edgar. “Corporations that have been funding this organization have, in fact, been lobbying and getting a tax break. The taxpayers of the United States have been paying for a lobbying operation because these corporations can take this off on their taxes.”
The 4,000 pages of internal ALEC documents submitted to the IRS make the case that ALEC is an active lobbying organization, and by law, the IRS is required to launch an investigation.
As if that isn’t headache enough, a thirteenth company, Procter & Gamble, has ended its membership in ALEC. As a P&G spokesperson told Color of Change, the company “made the determination that ALEC does not help P&G compete for consumers’ loyalty and support.”
The pressure is now on Johnson & Johnson, one of the companies still connected to ALEC and a target of a petition drive to get ALEC-member corporations to leave the organization, to explain how ALEC’s extreme agenda benefits their consumers when their major competitor P&G concluded it did not.
Young People For (YP4), a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of student leaders turn their idealism into actions that advance social change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 Fellows design and implement a capstone project called the Blueprint for Social Justice.
We’ll be highlighting the work of some of our outstanding Fellows here. This month, we’re pleased to introduce Crystal Obiukwu, representing Ohio State University.
“My Blueprint is a program that will teach young women, specifically teens, about reproductive justice and how to advocate for reproductive justice in their communities… I want to live in a world that truly embodies progressive values. I want a country where everyone has the ability to reach their full potential. I really want a world that is democratic and people oriented.
“I’ve mainly been involved in the feminist community and the reproductive rights community on my campus. I am starting to get involved in anti-racist work and I’ve been involved with my schools Occupy movement. I feel like my life experience and my identity as a Nigerian American woman brings a new perspective. Right now my university is dealing with a lot of hate crimes and racism on campus. We had a person come to a Trayvon Martin and Shaima Alawadi vigil with a gun holster to intimidate activists, “Long Live Zimmerman” was spray painted on the Black cultural center on campus, and swastikas and the n-word were spray painted on an Obama mural in an area near students and a predominantly black neighborhood. This all happened within 48 hours. Previously an Islamaphobic ad that was funded by an extreme right-wing group was placed in our newspaper.
“Activist, students, and faculty immediately held an impromptu meeting after the 2nd hate crime had occurred. Two actions and a list of 3 demands were created. The next day we had over 200 students and activist go to the board of trustees meeting to read our demands and make them address racism on campus. Our demands were 1) have hate crime alerts go out to students so they can be informed about racism on campus, 2) have diversity be a priority at Ohio State with a diverse body of students and faculty that is representative of the country’s population, and 3) inclusion not tolerance; we want a campus that is genuinely inclusive of all kinds of students. We also had a sit-in in our student union until our first demand was met.
“All of the great student activists around me who do amazing work inspire me. The fact that they can be both students and accomplish incredible things inspires me to do my best as an activist.”
Linda Greenhouse has an interesting column this week on last month's 5-4 decision in which the Roberts Court poked a hole in the Family and Medical Leave Act. Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland involved an FMLA provision requiring employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to employees who can't work because of a health condition. The five arch-conservatives took a statutory provision that was written to address sex discrimination and found a way to rule that it wasn't written to address sex discrimination. As a result, government employers that violate that section of the law have sovereign immunity and cannot be sued for damages.
Greenhouse notes that all three of the Court's women, along with the "the highly evolved" Justice Breyer, recognized that this was clearly a case about sex discrimination. However:
the remarkable thing is that the justices in the majority didn't see it that way. ... Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and his allies denied that this case had anything to do with sex discrimination. It was simply a case about state immunity from suit. The division on the court was thus not primarily one of ideology but of something even more fundamental: perception. ...
Congress debated the Family and Medical Leave Act for eight years before finally enacting it in 1993. ... Some argued that the law should explicitly require pregnancy leave, recognizing women's special need. Others warned that this would enshrine a stereotype, labeling women as more expensive, less desirable employees while in fact men and women take medical leave at almost identical rates.
The ultimate decision was to make the "self-care" medical leave portion of the law gender-neutral, and the legislative history makes the reason clear. "A law providing special protection to women," the House report explained, "in addition to being inequitable, runs the risk of causing discriminatory treatment." In other words, the self-care provision was rooted in Congress's desire to protect women against pregnancy discrimination while at the same time not wanting to inflict a new vulnerability.
Although Justice Ginsburg's dissent gave this essential background in detail, Greenhouse writes that the men in the majority simply ignore it.
The self-care provision "makes no reference to any distinction on the basis of sex," Justice Kennedy said, ignoring Justice Ginsburg's proof of why this was precisely the point. He continued, "There is nothing in particular about self-care leave, as opposed to leave for any personal reason, that connects it to gender discrimination." ...
[Justice Ginsburg's] fact- and history-laden dissent in the latest case was, it seems to me, about as persuasive as they come. Justice Ginsburg's typical writing style is spare, but here she spoke with a passion that she usually keeps in check. [I see this] as a declaration that sisterhood on the Supreme Court is, if not powerful, at least keeping score.
This case serves as a reminder that the GOP's war on women is not confined to the political and legislative arenas.
Recent polling indicates the vast majority of Americans believe that corporations and special interests have too much sway in our elections – a whopping 85 % of voters said that corporations have too much influence over the political system, and 93% said that average citizens have too little. Across all parties, a full 62% specifically oppose Citizens United, the deeply flawed 2010 Supreme Court Decision that opened the floodgates to massive corporate and special interest spending in our elections.
This deep disapproval is manifest in the growing grassroots movement taking hold across the country fighting for a constitutional amendment to overturn that decision. While there’s a long way to go, the people represented in these polls are making their voice heard, and our elected officials are taking action.
The 89 members of Congress who have endorsed one of the 13 federal resolutions to overturn Citizens United introduced thus far during the 112th Congress are acting on this sentiment. These proposed amendments are diverse, and are reflective of the robust and serious debate Americans are having across the country on what constitutional approach would best solve the problem. In addition, as significant is the groundswell of support at the local and state level that far transcends this total. To name just a few, the City Councils of New York City, NY, Oakland, CA, Los Angeles, CA, Albany, NY, Missoula, MT, and Boulder, CO have all adopted their own resolutions, as have the legislatures of states like Hawaii, New Mexico and Vermont (and in Maryland, where the state Constitution does not permit the passage of non-binding resolutions, a majority of legislators in both houses have signed a letter calling for a constitutional amendment). When given the chance to vote directly, the citizens of 64 towns across the state of Vermont have passed ballot measures supporting a constitutional amendment.
So far, 91 million Americans are represented by public officials who have declared their support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United. 24 Senators, representing 75 million constituents, have sponsored or cosponsored a version of an amendment. Across the Capitol, 65 members of the House of Representatives, representing an additional 16 million people.
Progress is being made, but there’s still more work to do to fill these maps with dark shades of yellow and green. But this is a “movement moment” – and with the ever-increasing support of public officials, advocacy organizations and citizen activists, it can be done.
The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday approved the nomination of Maine attorney William Kayatta Jr. to sit on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. Only two committee members voted against allowing Kayatta a vote from the full Senate: Utah’s Mike Lee, who is still protesting all Obama nominees, and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, who gave the following reason, according to the Portland Press Herald:
In a statement on his opposition to Kayatta's nomination, Sessions cited Kayatta's role as lead evaluator for the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary during the nomination of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.
Sessions said Kayatta saw fit to give Kagen the highest rating despite her lack of substantial courtroom and trial experience, as a lawyer or trial judge. Sessions said the rating was "not only unsupported by the record, but, in my opinion, the product of political bias."
Yes, that’s right. Kayatta was involved in the American Bar Association’s nonpartisan rating process, which dared to call the solicitor general and former Harvard Law School dean “well qualified” for the job of Supreme Court Justice.
Sessions, one of the most outspoken opponents of Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination frequently slammed her lack of judicial experience in her confirmation hearings two years ago. He seemed to conveniently forget that the late conservative icon Chief Justice William Rehnquist also came to the High Court without having previously served as a judge – as have over one third of all Justices in U.S. history. The American Bar Association similarly found Rehnquist qualified for the job and called him “one of the best persons available for appointment to the Supreme Court [pdf].
It would be funny if it weren’t so appalling: Sessions’ grudge against Kagan runs so deep that he not only objected to her nomination, he’s objecting to anyone who who’s dared to call her qualified for her job.