PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Governor McDonnell set to make decision on voter ID in Virginia

Last month, instead of signing the voter ID bill, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell sent it back to the legislature for several amendments, with mixed results:

McDonnell amended the bills to add any college identification, including two-year schools. The House and Senate signed off on that change when it reconvened this week to pass a budget and consider McDonnell’s seven vetoes and amendments he made to more than 100 bills.

But the General Assembly balked at another change McDonnell had proposed for the bills. Under that amendment, a vote cast without ID would get counted if the signature on the provisional ballot matched the one on the voter’s registration record.

Now voter ID is back before Governor McDonnell, and this time he must decide whether to sign or veto a bill that is clearly part of the Right Wing agenda. ALEC Exposed reports that the lead sponsor of the original Senate version, Stephen Martin (R-11), is ALEC’s Virginia Chair, and the lead sponsor of its House companion, Mark Cole (R-88), is also affiliated with ALEC.

A recent article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch further exemplifies how politics have colored the debate. While it relies heavily on reports of widespread voter fraud in Virginia, it minimizes what the Virginian-Pilot pointed out in its editorial – that this fraud would not be addressed by the current voter ID legislation. As Delegate Joe Morrissey makes clear in his letter to the editor:

HB9 was what we in the General Assembly call a solution looking for a problem. Why, when there has not been one single incident of voter identification fraud in the past four years, would we need to spend our precious time in the General Assembly debating and passing a voter identification bill?

Joataka Eaddy, Senior Director of the NAACP Voting Right Initiative, and Rev. Nathaniel Young, President of the NAACP's Virginia State Conference, have also responded with letters to the editor.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

Record-Breaking Effort to SEC: Disclose Corporate Spending on Elections

Until a constitutional amendment can overturn Citizens United, progressives around the country are working on various legislative workarounds to address the flood of corporate money being spent to influence our elections. While only a constitutional amendment can restore to the American people the authority to regulate such spending, there are several ways to compel companies to disclose their political spending to the public and bring much-needed accountability to corporations that use their vast treasuries to sway our elections.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has the rulemaking authority to require corporations to disclose their political spending to their shareholders. This is significant because so many Americans are shareholders in one form or another: if you own a 401(k) or similar retirement account, you’re a type of shareholder; and the companies you invest with could be spending your money to support candidates or fund attack ads – all without your knowledge.

The American people have told the SEC to do its job. Yesterday, we broke the record for total number of comments submitted to the SEC on a particular rule: 178,000 Americans have written to the SEC, telling them to protect Americans from the undue influence of wealthy corporations and special interests. PFAW supporters contributed a sizeable chunk of about 24,000 signatures to the effort.

The Corporate Reform Coalition, a group of progressive organizations including PFAW, Common Cause, Public Citizens, U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending and others has been pushing a consumer-driven campaign to ask corporations to refrain from engaging in political spending. We are also pursuing legislative solutions like the Shareholder Protection Act as well as other means to help shine light on the influence of corporate money in our democracy.

PFAW

Alec Baldwin Talks Bork

Last night, actor and PFAW board member Alec Baldwin appeared on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, where they discussed, as the host put it, “the number one reason to vote for president”: the United States Supreme Court.

Baldwin noted that the Supreme Court affects the daily lives of all Americans, and that the prospect of Mitt Romney making lifetimes appointments to that institution is nothing less than “scary,” especially with Robert Bork as his top judicial advisor.

 

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

 

“To most people, the court is an idea, they don’t realize the impact it has on our daily lives,” Baldwin said. But People For the American Way has been “drilling home the relevance of the court…this is the most abjectly politicized Supreme Court I’ve ever seen in my life,” he continued. Decisions like Bush v. Gore and Citizens United, he said, are “changing the nature of this country.”

Baldwin is helping to spread the word about RomneyCourt.com, where you can read “Borking America,” PFAW’s extensive report on Mitt Romney’s top judicial advisor – whose views are so extreme his own nomination was rejected by a bipartisan coalition more than 20 years ago.

PFAW

Leaked ALEC Documents Show Extent of Influence

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s influence over state legislative bodies is well documented. We’ve seen countless examples of corporate lobbyist-drafted model legislation, developed at exclusive retreats at fancy resorts out of the public’s eye, make its way to the statehouse floor, bringing disastrous results to working families, public education, the environment, voting rights and much more.

Last week, Common Cause released a bounty of ALEC’s internal documents as part of an official complaint to the IRS, claiming that ALEC has abused its tax status as a 501c3 organization. As a result, a new window was been opened into the processes responsible for creating these pro-special interest bills, revealing just how much power ALEC’s corporate members enjoy.

One such document, the minutes from ALEC’s 2011 Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force meeting in New Orleans, reveals how the private sector (ALEC-speak for “corporations”) has equal – and often greater – policy-making power than elected officials through their influence in developing model legislation that can become law. The document describes how the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offered a resolution regarding federal efforts to curtail internet sites that sell counterfeit products, and after discussion amongst the public and private sector members, the resolution was defeated:

The Task Force then proceeded with a vote on the motion to amend by Mr. Castleberry, which was adopted by the private sector 8-1 in favor and by the public sector 19-3 in favor. On final passage of the resolution as amended, the public sector voted 17-1 in favor of the resolution, but the private sector voted 8-8 in favor; thus, the resolution failed on final passage because it failed to achieve a majority of support from the private sector.

In this case, the will of 94% of our elected representatives participating in the discussion was trumped by just half of the task force’s corporate members. To put it simply: unelected corporations are voting as equals with elected officials on model bills that become our laws.

This is how ALEC accomplishes its stated mission to “advance the fundamental principles of free-market enterprise”: by helping free market enterprises literally vote on public policy.

[H/T Republic Report]

PFAW Foundation

President listens, supports anti-bullying legislation

Back in March, PFAW and AAMIA joined 70 national and state organizations in calling on President Obama to publicly support and endorse the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

We view an endorsement of the Student Non-Discrimination Act as the next important step the administration should take in the ongoing federal effort to ensure that all students have access to an education unhindered by discrimination and harassment.

He listened.

On April 20, the President threw his support behind SNDA and another bill, the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett:

All of our students have the same right to go to school in an environment free of discrimination and harassment, and that’s why the President supports these two important pieces of legislation and wants to work with Congress as they move forward in the process.

Every day, we are striving to do our part to make progress. And I believe that day by day, step by step, we will change not just our laws and policies, but behavior, so that every young person is able to thrive in our schools and communities, without worrying about being bullied.

Senator Franken and Representative Polis, SNDA’s sponsors, and Senator Casey and Representative Sánchez, SSIA’s sponsors, celebrated the announcement with similar calls to action.

Speaking on April 28 at the White House LGBT Conference on Families in Minneapolis, Senator Franken continued:

We’re going to pass this thing. It may take a year, it may take a few years, but we’re going to do it, vote-by-vote, we’re going to get there.

[ . . . ]

[W]hat we’re seeing in our schools today isn’t just teasing. It’s not just playground behavior. What we’re seeing is more than just bullying. We’re seeing discrimination.

Click here and here for more from Senator Franken.

In other news, PFAW has just released its latest Right Wing Watch: In Focus report, Big Bullies: The Right Wing’s Anti-Anti-Bullying Strategies, which details the efforts of right-wing activists and organizations to prevent school districts from implementing strong anti-bullying policies that protect LGBT and LGBT-perceived students. This is an update to our April 2011 edition.

PFAW

YP4 Featured Fellow: Johnny Buck

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.”

PFAW Foundation

Romney's Advisor, Robert Bork, Continues War on Women's Rights

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

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 called Oil, 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.

Jamin Raskin is the author of the new PFAW Report, "Borking America: What Robert Bork Will Mean for the Supreme Court and American Justice."

PFAW

Wisconsin Recall Round-Up

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!

PFAW

ALEC in Arizona - On the Run

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

SRP

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.

PFAW Foundation

Dolores Huerta: My Message to the National Organization for Marriage

 

By Dolores Huerta

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.

PFAW

Emergencies Among Pending Nominations Increase By a Third

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.

 

PFAW

PFAW Supports the U.S. Justice Department in Arizona v. United States

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.

End Note: Another controversial aspect of SB 1070 is the role that ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, played in adopting the bill as model legislation and pushing it in states across the country. For an analysis of the ALEC connection and SB 1070, please read our report on ALEC in Arizona released in November 2011, “ALEC IN ARIZONA: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in the Halls of Arizona's Legislature” and the Center for Media and Democracy’s blog post on the issue.

PFAW

ALEC Confirms Shift to Economic Focus Just a PR Move

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.”

 

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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.

PFAW Foundation

Victim of James O’Keefe’s Voter Fraud Isn’t Buying It

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.

For more on the “voter fraud” fraud, see People For the American Way’s report, The Right to Vote Under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box.
 

PFAW

Judicial Emergencies Skyrocket

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.

PFAW