PEOPLE FOR BLOG

White House Condemns Obstruction of Judicial Nominations

During yesterday's White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney discussed the vacancy crisis that is plaguing America's federal courts – and the unprecedented obstruction in the Senate that is causing it. When he observed that the pace of confirmations has never been slower, a reporter from Fox News interrupted with the inaccurate statement that the pace is about the same as under the previous two presidents. However, Carney stuck to the facts:

Well, I disagree with that. And we continue to work with the Senate to get qualified nominees confirmed by the Senate as appropriate. We had some progress recently where a number of nominees both to the bench and to the administration were moved forward. And what I think is absolutely the case and indisputable, Wendell, is that we've never had a situation where nominees to whom no serious objection is put forward, nominees who clear committee overwhelmingly, nominees who are absolutely qualified for the post that they've been nominated for, are then held up interminably for political reasons. That's not how it should be. And we've obviously made the case against that kind of highly politicized behavior.

He is correct. It is unprecedented for one party in the Senate to prevent confirmation votes for month after month, delaying consensus nominees who were long ago approved by the Judiciary Committee (usually with overwhelming bipartisan support). The obstruction has become so bad that President Obama's nominees now take more than four times as long on average to get a confirmation vote than was the case with President Bush's confirmed nominees at this point in his presidency. Senate Republicans are making a major effort to obscure this inconvenient truth.

That's why there are now 17 pending nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee who are waiting for a simple up-or-down vote from the Senate. A third of these were nominated to fill vacancies classified as judicial emergencies. More than half – nine of the 17 – are women or people of color whose only crime seems to be that they were nominated by a Democratic president.

Most have been waiting since March or earlier for a simple yes-or-no vote. But they aren't the only ones waiting: So are the people in the communities these nominees would serve. They are waiting year after year for justice to be done, because there are not enough judges available to hear the cases in a reasonable amount of time. Meanwhile, their lives are on hold, while Senate Republicans use them as pawns to score political points.

 

PFAW

All of a Sudden, House GOP Doesn’t Like “Issues that Divide Us”

 The National Journal today reports on the rocky progress of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which for the first time this year has become an object of partisan dispute. Why? The Democratic-backed reauthorization includes new protections for LGBT people, Native Americans and undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. That bill passed in the Senate despite 31 no votes – all from Republican men.

In response, the House GOP put together an alternate bill that not only axes the new protections recommended by Democrats but eliminates some protections that are already in the bill. Yesterday, the White House threatened to veto the House bill.

Now, the House GOP is playing the victim, accusing Democrats of trying to make them look bad by including things like help for gays and lesbians and undocumented immigrants in the bill:

The Senate version would expand current protections to gay, bisexual, or transgender victims of domestic abuse, subject non-Native American suspects of domestic abuse occurring on reservations to the jurisdiction of tribal courts, and increase temporary visas for victims who are undocumented immigrants. The House bill was amended on Tuesday to allow illegal immigrant “U visa” recipients to receive permanent residence if the perpetrators of the crimes against them are aliens, are convicted of the crimes, and are deported to the visa holders’ home countries.

But Republican leaders have accused Democrats of adding those hot-button issues to intentionally create a fight for political advantage—and lash out at House Republicans for waging a “war against women.” House GOP leaders—including Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia—say they want to stay away from “issues that divide us.”

That’s right. House Republican leaders – who threatened to shut down the government to stop Planned Parenthood funding, who won’t even consider cutting tax loopholes for giant corporations, who continually go out of their way to express their opposition to equal rights for gays and lesbians – are now worried about “issues that divide us.” Like, apparently, protecting gay people, Native Americans and immigrants from domestic abuse.

One “issue that divides us” apparently didn’t turn off some House Republicans. Rep. Morgan Griffith of Virginia offered an amendment to the bill that, according to the National Journal, would provide “help for convicted domestic abusers who want their gun-ownership rights back.” That one, at least, didn’t make it past the Rules Committee.

PFAW

Virginia Rejects Openly Gay Judicial Nominee After Campaign By Far-Right Activists

Virginia’s House of Delegates yesterday rejected the nomination of a state prosecutor to serve as a judge – just because he is openly gay.

Tracy Thorne-Begland, a Navy veteran who has been a prosecutor in Richmond for 12 years, enjoyed bipartisan support in the House of Delegates until, at the last minute, he came under attack from far-right Delegate Bob Marshall and the right-wing Family Foundation. The Richmond Times Dispatch reports:

A late-hour lobbying offensive by social conservatives prevailed in the House of Delegates early Tuesday to torpedo bipartisan support for the judicial nomination of an openly gay Richmond prosecutor.

After a lengthy discussion, the GOP-controlled House of Delegates defeated the nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland, Richmond's chief deputy commonwealth's attorney. He would have been the first openly gay judge elected in Virginia.

Thorne-Begland received 33 votes, and 31 delegates voted against him. He needed a majority of the 100-member House -- 51 votes -- to secure the judgeship.

….

In an email blast to supporters late last week, the Christian conservative Family Foundation questioned Thorne-Begland's fitness for the bench given his support for gay marriage, which is not legal in Virginia. Thorne-Begland and his partner, Michael, live together and are raising twins.

Marshall, too had charged that Thorne-Begland pursued an "aggressive activist homosexual agenda.

Opponents of gay rights, in their effort to keep LGBT people out of the public square, have in the past few years gone after several openly gay judges and judicial nominees. Supporters of California’s discriminatory Prop 8 tried to get a federal judge’s ruling against them thrown out because the judge is openly gay. Another judge issued an epic takedown of their argument.

A number of Republican delegates in Virginia, as well as the state’s socially conservative governor Bob McDonnell backed Thorne-Begland’s nomination until Del. Marshall began his onslaught.

Del. Marshall is the one who claimed in 2010 that disabled children are God's punishment for abortion. On Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – a policy that Thorne-Begland worked to end after his distinguished career in the Navy – Marshall said openly gay troops would distract their fellow servicemembers: "It's a distraction when I'm on the battlefield and have to concentrate on the enemy 600 yards away and I'm worried about this guy whose got eyes on me." Once Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, Del Marshall tried to get gay Virginians banned from the state’s National Guard.

Marshall later told the Washington Post that he objected to Thorne-Begland’s brave coming out in protest of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

I would guess — law of averages — we’ve probably nominated people who have homosexual inclinations,” Marshall said. Marshall faulted Thorne-Begland for coming out as a gay Naval officer on “Nightline” two decades ago to challenge the military’s now-repealed ban on gays openly serving in the military. He said that amounted not just to insubordination, but to a waste of taxpayer dollars, since it resulted in his dismissal from the Navy. “The Navy spent $1 million training him,” Marshall said. “That’s cheating the country out of the investment in him.”

In the end, it was Del. Marshall’s arguments that won out in the effort to halt the career of a dedicated Virginia public servant.

PFAW

ALEC's Strategy for Tough Questioning: Evade and Reframe

Since ALEC’s agenda has come to light, the organization has found itself playing defense. So far, 14 corporations and numerous member legislators have withdrawn their support in recent weeks as a result of the intense media scrutiny and public campaigns focused on exposing the organization’s extreme policies and shadowy practices. A newly released ALEC internal memo describes how they plan to deal with the endless onslaught of tough questioning from the press and the American people:

Change the subject.

A memo obtained by Common Cause and published by The Huffington Post, instructs ALEC members to essentially ignore tough questions about ALEC’s workings: “The following information is designed to help you navigate away from those tough questions and get back to talking about policy," says the memo, "If you are asked any of these questions, acceptable responses are provided, but please then direct the conversation back to the policy to which you want to discuss."

The memo also provides a few sample questions from the media that ALEC members can expect to face. They are actually pretty good questions:

• Didn't ALEC actually write this legislation in conjunction with private corporations and then convince state legislators to pass it throughout the country?

• Isn't this just a front for big corporations to push their legislative policies on policy makers?

• Isn't this just another way for big corporations to lobby behind closed doors?

• I see the huge cost for private companies and the minimal cost for legislators. Why the difference and doesn't this jus [sic] prove that big corporations run ALEC?

• How much does __________ contribute to ALEC? I've seen figures in the hundreds of thousands. Reports suggest __________ have been contributed to ALEC.

• Isn't it true that Koch (or insert other members' names) provided ALEC over $500,000 in funding over the past few years?

• Your corporate members are the real ones pushing the issues and controlling ALEC, aren't they? They do give the most money.

The suggested answers, on the other hand, are evasive and disingenuous and are designed to help steer the conversation toward a favorable discussion of ALEC policies. But as ALEC has discovered, the much-deserved scrutiny of their operations and agenda won’t be easily shaken.

PFAW

House votes to slam courthouse doors shut to immigration cases

Last month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Arizona v. United States, a case that will examine key provisions of Arizona’s infamous and draconian immigration law, SB 1070. Sponsored by ALEC member and former Senate President Russell Pearce, and several others with ALEC ties, SB 1070 was developed in close consultation with ALEC and now stands as one of its model bills.

The Department of Justice argues that Arizona unconstitutionally usurped the federal government’s role in enforcing immigration law. PFAW and other opponents cite evidence of wrongful arrests, racial profiling, and discrimination, especially against Latinos and other minorities.

Now efforts are being made in to block court challenges to SB 1070 and similar laws in other states. On May 9, the US House passed Amendment 1063 by a 238-173 vote.

An amendment to prohibit the use of funds to be used by the Attorney General to originate or join in any lawsuit that seeks to overturn, enjoin, or invalidate Immigration Enforcement Laws in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona, Utah, Indiana, Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Note the especially selective list of states, through which anti-immigrant forces seem to be trying to muzzle DOJ only where they approve of the legislation that is (or might be) challenged, showing a profound and dangerous contempt for the rule of law.

As the ACLU put it:

The DOJ’s filing of this lawsuit proves [that] the department takes its role in stopping rampant racial profiling seriously. Congress should support the DOJ’s role in protecting the constitutional rights of those subjected [to] racial profiling, not tie the department’s hands as the House has with the Black amendment. It is now up to the Senate to ensure that the Black amendment doesn’t become law.

Thankfully, it’s likely that the Senate will do just that.

For more information on ALEC’s role with SB 1070 and other controversial bills, check out PFAW Foundation’s report on ALEC in Arizona (and its April 2012 update).

PFAW

YP4 Featured Fellow: Ariel Boone

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 Ariel Boone, representing the University of California at Berkeley.

Originally from Davis, CA, Ariel quickly became active in student government and advocacy upon arriving at Cal. She was elected to serve as a senator in the Associated Students of U.C., and also was the Internal Vice President of the largest college political party chapters in California. Her passion for the democratic process began early – she has extensive campaign experience and has been canvassing and phone-banking for various candidates for years. As an advocate, she was a co-chair of the 2011 Western Region LGBTQIA Conference and is active with the CalSERVE (Students for Equal Rights and a Valid Education) coalition, which works to promote civil rights, improve college affordability and other issues facing Cal students.

Seeking to improve fairness and transparency in government, as her Blueprint for Social Justice, Ariel wrote and introduced a bill in the Student Senate that would withdraw the Berkeley Student Government’s $3.5 million treasury out of Bank of America, and encourages the University to do the same. Ariel’s bill passed the Student Senate with unanimous support.

This action was prompted by the growing national effort to get major corporations to refrain from spending their vast treasuries to influence elections. Just last week, the shareholders of Bank of America called on the company to refrain from such spending and strengthen its disclosure practices. People who have a stake in Bank of America and companies like it – from shareholders to 401(k) enrollees and even students at universities like Cal – have a right to know if the corporations they invest in are using those funds to support candidates, causes or attack ads without their knowledge or approval. By withdrawing the Cal Student Government’s funds from Bank of America, students are sending a powerful message: like all Americans, young people are affected by the undue influence that wealthy special interests have in our democratic system, and it is time to do something about it. Ariel’s effort was echoed around the country last week, as students joined demonstrations at various Bank of America branches to add their voices to the call and telling corporations to stop spending money on politics.

You can read Ariel’s article in the Daily Californian about how to enact change by making informed financial decisions here.

PFAW Foundation

In film, Walker talks of 'divide and conquer' union strategy

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (emphasis added):

A filmmaker released a video today that shows Gov. Scott Walker saying he would use "divide and conquer" as a strategy against unions.

Walker made the comments to Beloit billionaire Diane Hendricks, who has since given $510,000 to the governor's campaign -- making her Walker's single-largest donor and the largest known donor to a candidate in state history.

...

In the video shot on Jan. 18, 2011 -- shortly before Walker's controversial budget-repair bill was introduced and spawned mass protests -- Hendricks asked the governor whether he could make Wisconsin a "completely red state, and work on these unions, and become a right-to-work" state. The Republican donor was referring to right-to-work laws, which prohibit private-sector unions from compelling workers to pay union dues if the workers choose not to belong to the union.

Walker replied that his "first step" would be "to divide and conquer" through his budget-adjustment bill, which curtailed most collective bargaining for most public employee unions.

More proof that Walker is working to serve the billionaire ideologues who want to bulldoze every institution set up to protect the public interest against rapacious corporate interests. And this shows, in his own words, how Walker sought to divide Wisconsin workers against each other with his unconscionable smear campaign last year against public employees.

This is why we're going to recall him on June 5!

UPDATE: Here's some video:

PFAW

Students Protest Corporate Political Spending

As part of the Corporate Reform Coalition, People For the American Way has been pressing for solutions to the problem of major corporations using their vast treasuries to influence elections. Our message to corporations is clear: leave democracy to the people and stop spending money on politics.

Corporate money in politics affects Americans not just as citizens, but as investors. If you own stock or contribute to a 401(k), corporations could be using your money to fund candidates, causes or political ads that you may not approve of, all without your knowledge. Even students are at risk – the endowments of many colleges and universities invest those funds with corporations that make secret political contributions.

This week, as activists descended on the annual shareholder meetings of 3M and Bank of America, student groups took the opportunity to stake their claim in the issue and demand that companies refrain from using endowment funding in order to influence our elections.

The branch of Bank of America in Washington DC we visited wasn’t eager to hear from students concerned about where there tuition dollars were going. The bank locked its doors during the protest – barring activists and customers alike from the premises. But the message has been sent: All Americans, from students to seniors, have a right to a electoral process that is free from the corrosive influence of undisclosed, unaccountable corporate and special-interest political spending.

PFAW

Obama Endorses Marriage Equality

video platform

 

Today’s announcement marks a proud day for our country and for the President. For those of us who have been working towards marriage equality for many years, the impact of having the support of the President of the United States is incredibly powerful. As President Obama made clear in his comments today, marriage equality for all people is an idea whose time has come. Despite setbacks like the results from North Carolina last night, it’s more obvious than ever that the momentum is on our side.

In recent years, more and more Americans have come to understand that preventing loving same-sex couples from getting married causes real harm to the people they care about. In families and communities across the country, Americans are coming to the same conclusion as the President: when two people make a public commitment to love and care for each other, that’s a marriage no matter what the gender of the people involved.

Today the President did the right thing. For thousands of supporters who donated, canvassed and phone banked to help elect Barack Obama in 2008, this is a powerful reminder of why we felt so passionately about this President in the first place.

Now, we must redouble our efforts to knock down one of the biggest barriers to full legal equality nationwide: the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

With your continued dedication to core American values like Equality, and your support of our work expand the promise of our country and our Constitution to all families, together, we’ll Dump DOMA and achieve basic fairness for all: the American Way.

PFAW

As President Obama Supports Marriage Equality, a Look Back

Today, President Obama at last acknowledged that he personally supports the right to marry for gay and lesbian Americans. Although the president maintains his position that marriage laws should be decided on a state-by-state basis, his personal statement provides a huge boost to the marriage equality movement. At a time when over half of Americans want full marriage rights for gays and lesbians, the endorsement of a sitting president is a meaningful signal of progress.

Sixteen years ago, in May 1996, People For the American Way became one of the first national groups to endorse marriage equality and vow to work toward it. In a note to members of the organization’s board, which was to vote on the issue, PFAW’s staff wrote that the Right had started to use the “marriage issue” to “polarize Americans” – a strategy that had its first major victory in the passage of DOMA later that year.

Despite all the progress that has been made for LGBT equality in the past sixteen years, the 1996 memo could have been written yesterday:

In recent years, People For the American Way has come to be a very important voice in the ongoing effort to rid America of discrimination and prejudice against gay men and lesbians.

We have done that over the years for the simple reason that it’s the right thing to do. Opposing discrimination and fostering respect and appreciation for diversity are core values for People For the American Way. These are precisely the values under attack in this latest campaign.

Of course, the marriage issue has very real implications for the everyday lives of millions of Americans. In the area of health care for example, existing marriage laws allow a spouse to make critical decisions for an incapacitated spouse; not so for unmarried couples wou haven’t gone through the necessary legal steps. In many hospitals, the right to visit patients in an intensive care unit is limited to immediate family; gay and lesbian partners – lacking the legal status of family – are often excluded, to the great detriment of both partners. In addition, enormous economic consequences flow from the inability of gay men and lesbians to marry, including significant tax and inheritance benefits.

The lack of legal recognition of gay and lesbian families is of particular concern when children are involved, since the children are deprived of the protection of a legal relationship with the non-biological parent and the ability of that parent to make important decisions for them in any number of settings, including schools and hospitals. And if the biological parent dies, the children may well be taken away from their other parent, who has no legal relationship with them.

Sixteen years later, marriage discrimination continues to hurt gay and lesbian American and their families. That a sitting president has publicly acknowledged the impact of that discrimination is very powerful. We hope that soon the injustice we outlined in 1996 will be hopelessly out of date.
 

PFAW

Beverage Giant Diageo Drops Heartland Institute

Joining the scores of corporations that have recently dropped their support of ultra-conservative organizations that represent shady, undemocratic and disingenuous practices, the London-based beverage giant Diageo, which owns brands such as Guinness, Smirnoff, Johnny Walker and others, announced that they will no longer fund the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank. General Motors also discontinued their support for the organization earlier this year.

The decision came after the Heartland Institute ran an unsavory billboard ad showing a picture of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, with a caption that read, “I still believe in global warming. Do you?”

In addition to the Unabomber, the Heartland Institute’s ad campaign also compares climate change scientists and advocates to murderers such as Charles Manson and the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and the organization believes that "The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society," a statement reads. "This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen."

The Institute, which receives funding from the Koch Brothers, has also posted an impassioned defense of the American Legislative Exchange Council on their blog: “The Heartland Institute stands with ALEC in support of free enterprise, limited government, and federalism, and asks that you do so as well.” Apparently, this includes a blatantly disingenuous and hateful ad campaign that calls those who oppose their pro-oil, pro Koch-brothers agenda, even scientists, “murderers” and “tyrants.”

While Diageo should be commended for severing ties with the Heartland Institute, the corporation unfortunately has not joined a number of other corporations, including The Coca-Cola Company, Pepsi and Kraft Foods, who have severed their ties with ALEC.

PFAW Foundation

The state of our electoral system – in cartoon form

POLITICO’s Matt Wuerker, 2012 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, recently provided pointed commentary on the state of our electoral system.


The left side speaks to our ongoing voting rights work. 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, details the worst of the worst of the Right’s fight to suppress the vote. Many states have indeed taken up this fight with voter ID, proof of citizenship, and other suppressive legislation.

The right side seizes on what we have documented since January 21, 2010: the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC threatens to tear apart the fabric of our democracy and grant powerful corporations unfettered influence in our political process. We’ve joined United For the People to call for a constitutional amendment that would overturn the decision.

PFAW

Right Wing Watch Research Exposes Extremism of Capitol Event

Last week, PFAW’s Right Wing Watch reported that a who’s who of Religious Right activists had recently gathered in the Capitol, with the endorsement of Speaker John Boehner, for a George Washington-themed prayer event.

Last night, Rachel Maddow did a segment on the event, drawing heavily from Right Wing Watch research to expose the extremism of its participants:

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

 Right Wing Watch  uncovered video of Lou Engle claiming that marriage equality would “unleash” a “sexual insanity”; Engle praying against health care reform with Sen. DeMint and then-Sen. Brownback; Jim Garlow saying that Satan is attacking the U.S. with marriage equality; David Barton claiming that AIDS can’t be cured because it’s God’s punishment for being gay; and the head of Alveda King’s group saying that supporting abortion rights is akin to supporting terrorism.

Here at People For the American Way, we spend a lot of time monitoring right-wing figures who seem far out of the mainstream. And then the Speaker of the House invites them to the Capitol.
 

PFAW

President Obama Committed to Continued Push on Judicial Nominations

Capping off an extremely important day of discussions with senior White House officials and Capitol Hill offices about ending the unprecedented Republican obstruction that is contributing to our severe federal judicial vacancy crisis, several state and national advocates had the opportunity to meet with President Obama about the urgency of addressing this crisis.

PFAW President Michael Keegan and I joined several representatives from among the 150 advocates from 27 states who participated in the Summit, in a meeting in the West Wing of the White House, where we heard the President reaffirm his commitment to press for the confirmation of judicial nominees who are ready for a vote in the full Senate or being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee – and his commitment to continue vetting and making nominations through the balance of this year in an effort to fill the remainder of the vacancies.

We celebrated the Administration’s extraordinary success so far in diversifying the federal bench, while agreeing that there was even more to be done. Advocates talked about the millions of Americans who are denied meaningful access to the courts because there simply are not enough judges on the bench. And we heard the President affirm the importance of pressing obstructionists in the Senate to end the unprecedented dysfunction that is impeding individual Americans’ access to justice.

For me this was a sobering day as we focused on the urgency of filling our federal bench with quality judges who will keep faith with the Constitution -- and inspiring to see the allies we have in states around the country, on Capitol Hill, and in the White House to get the job done.
 

PFAW

Mitt Romney Caved to the Religious Right and This is the Thanks He Gets

Last week, in response to pressure from the Religous Right -- much of which was documented by PFAW's Right Wing Watch -- the Romney campaign forced out an openly gay spokesman who had been on the job for less than two weeks.

While the Romney campaign attempted to deny that right-wing pressure led to the spokesman's resignation, news reports suggested that that is exactly what happened.

But Romney's effort to appease the anti-gay right didn't even work. Right Wing Watch caught a clip of the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, the leading critic of the candidate's decision to hire an openly gay spokesperson, criticizing Romney for listening to him. "How is he going to stand up to North Korea if he can be pushed around by a yokel like me?" Fischer demanded.

Earlier this week, Lawrence O'Donnell played and discussed the Fischer clip on his show. Watch:

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

PFAW