PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Senate to Try New Thing Called 'Work'

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has cancelled the scheduled 4th of July recess, in the hopes that the Republican obstructionists in the upper chamber might finally allow some real work to take place on behalf of the American people. The debt talks certainly deserve attention, but this is also a great opportunity to whittle down the critical mass of still-unconfirmed presidential nominees. The number of vacant positions, particularly in the judiciary, is an embarrassing testament to the unprecedented obstruction that is taking place. According to PFAW’s Marge Baker as reported in the Huffington Post, we can’t even begin to tackle this problem unless the Senate actually shows up for work:

Baker sees a simple means of drilling through the obstruction by embarrassing an opposition that has chosen to enjoy fictional days at the office at a time when most Americans are working extra hard to keep their jobs in a tough economy.

“One way to do that is stay in session and work -- force them to work -- and get something done,” Baker said, referring particularly to the Senate where there is an enormous backlog of unfinished business on the appointment front alone.

Of nearly 300 civilian appointments Obama has made this year, fewer than 100 of them have been confirmed by the Senate -- even when there is no opposition.

It’s particularly stark with judicial appointees. Baker noted that there are 15 judge nominees who have been unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee -- nine of them women or minority appointees -- yet none have made it to the floor of the Senate.

To her, that just looks like obstruction. And even worse, in her mind, is the idea that Republicans simply want to flout the law by refusing to confirm anyone to the CFPB -- unless the law is changed.

PFAW

U.S. Senators to LGBT Youth: “We’re making it better”

Thirteen members of the Senate are the latest voices in the It Gets Better Project. In this five-minute long video, senators from across the country speak out to send a message of hope and support for LGBT youth and a call to action for all Americans. Check it out: 

Through its efforts and mission the It Gets Better Project sends a positive message to LGBT youth, but I applaud the senators for taking the message one step further by saying: “we’re making it better”. Going beyond the simple, yet powerful, message of “it gets better,” these senators show us that taking action—and not passively waiting—will result in significant advances and great victories for LGBT rights.

Pointing out their support for repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, and some even speaking out in support of marriage equality, these senators show their commitment to fighting for the LGBT community.

“It’s going to get better. Believe in it, let’s fight for it.”  - Senator Udall (CO)

It is disappointing, however, that we only hear from the voices of Democrats. Speaking out against harassment and discrimination of any form, against any group should transcend partisan politics and be countered with action from both sides of the aisle.

In talking about the importance and necessity of working together, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut put it best:

“Our nation has always done better when all of us, no matter where we’re from, what we look like, or whom we love, work together.”

Making it better to ensure that it gets better requires courage, commitment, and hard work on the part of both our leaders and individuals. I am so pleased to see a handful of senators coming out in support of LGBT rights and fighting to fulfill the promise of equality for all.

Special thanks to the following senators for speaking out in support of LGBT rights and continuing the fight for equality: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH), Sen. Maria Cantwell (WA.), Sen. Dick Durbin (IL.), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA), Sen. Al Franken (MN), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY), Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Sen. Mark Udall (CO), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), and Sen. Ron Wyden (OR).

And I would like to extend a very special thank you to Senator Chris Coons (DE), who believes “equality is a question of morality,” for leading this important and inspiring effort.

It is my hope that we will soon hear from more members of Congress—Democrats and Republicans alike—with a similar message of making it better for LGBT youth.

PFAW

Chamber's Influence on Corporate Court Examined

In the term that ended Monday, the Roberts Court continued its disturbing trend of removing the legal protections that are often the only way that individuals can avoid becoming victimized by giant corporations that dwarf them in size, wealth, and power. The Chamber of Commerce not only has been working to make this development happen, it has taken credit for it. As reported in Roll Call:

The liberal Constitutional Accountability Center released a report Tuesday pointing out the increasing philosophical alignment between the chamber and the Supreme Court.

The current court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, has sided with the chamber's position on business cases 65 percent of the time, more than it did under any previous chief justice.

"The chamber is having a great deal of success in helping to shape the docket of cases that the Supreme Court hears and then having a lot of success in winning the cases," said Doug Kendall, a lead author of the report.

...

[T]he chamber has encouraged the notion that it is somehow influencing justices.

On the [Chamber's] litigation center's website, the group highlights a quote from Carter G. Phillips, a partner at Sidley Austin who often represents the chamber in the Supreme Court.

"Except for the solicitor general representing the United States, no single entity has more influence on what cases the Supreme Court decides and how it decides them than the National Chamber Litigation Center," he said.

You can read more about the Constitutional Accountability Center's report here.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Exposes the Corporate Court

The Senate Judiciary Committee held an important hearing this morning looking into the disturbing trend of the Roberts Court to shut down people’s access to justice when they go to court to vindicate their rights against large corporations.

The hearing was on Barriers to Justice and Accountability: How the Supreme Court's Recent Rulings Will Affect Corporate Behavior. Chairman Leahy opened the hearing discussing how recent Supreme Court cases are making it harder for working Americans to get their day in court. He expressed particular concern about three cases:

  • Wal-Mart v. Dukes, which will make it harder to hold big companies accountable when they violate civil rights laws;
  • Janus Capital Group v. First Derivative Traders, which shielded from accountability those who knowingly committed securities fraud; and
  • AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, which prevents victims of consumer fraud from the protections of jury trials and class actions.

The committee invited four distinguished people to address the issue: Betty Dukes (plaintiff in the sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart) was the one panelist who was also a party to one of the cases being discussed. She spoke poignantly about her experience at Wal-Mart and the fear that so many women have of going against their employer, especially one as powerful as Wal-Mart. She promised to continue her fight, but knows that without a national class action, many women will be intimidated into not litigating.

Andrew J. Pincus (a Washington lawyer who has argued many cases before the Court) and Robert Alt (from the Heritage Foundation) denied that the Court was tilting unfairly to favor corporations, argued that the cases were decided rightly, and stated that the Court was simply upholding existing law. In contrast, Melissa Hart (law professor at the University of Colorado) and James Cox (law professor at Duke) took the position that the Court is wrongly shielding wrongdoers from accountability.

Professor Hart correctly characterized as a policy decision the Roberts Court's tendency to interpret procedural law so restrictively, despite congressional intent otherwise, so that Americans become unable to present their case to an impartial court.

Senator Whitehouse discussed the critical role juries play in American government. He noted that juries are mentioned three times in the Constitution, and that they remain a government institution that Big Business cannot corrupt. For years, the far right has been denigrating "trial lawyers" and "runaway juries" in an effort to keep Americans from being able to hold the powerful accountable. Whitehouse argued that the Roberts Court is acting consistently with that pattern.

People For the American Way Foundation submitted testimony to the committee on how the Roberts Court has removed substantive and procedural protections that are the only way that individuals can avoid becoming victimized by giant corporations that dwarf them in size, wealth, and power. These decisions often provide road maps to corporate interests in how to avoid accountability for harm that they do. The constitutional design empowering individuals to consolidate their power against corporations is slowly being eroded by a fiercely ideological Court. Today's hearing is part of an effort to expose the harm that is being done.

PFAW

Issa Helps Himself by Helping Goldman Sachs

You may recall that last year the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC) filed a civil suit against Goldman Sachs, and that Rep. Darrell Issa tried to thwart the government[] investigation by sending a letter to Mary Schapiro, chairwoman of SEC. Issa said he was concerned that the lawsuit was timed “to coincide with the Senate’s consideration of financial regulatory legislation.” You may also recall that Issa’s motivations have been called into question in the past, and he’s often been accused of using his political power for his own monetary gain. Well, it appears that there might be more to that than we knew before. Recently, some of Issa’s personal finance disclosures have come to light. ThinkProgress reported:

According to documents filed recently with the House Clerk, Issa went on a buying spree of high yield Goldman Sachs bonds at the same time he was running defense for the investment bank in Congress. From February to December of 2010, Issa bought 12 Goldman Sachs High Yield Fund Class A bonds, each worth up to $50,000 (view page 10 the disclosure here). Many of the bonds were purchased in the months after he filed his letter to the SEC. The $600,000 in new Goldman Sachs investments added to Issa’s already multimillion dollar stake in the company, valued from $5.1 to $15.5 million.

Issa had claimed that his stance was representative of ordinary Americans, but clearly his actions indicate that he may put his own interests first.

PFAW

6th Circuit Court Rules Healthcare Reform Constitutional

In a win for the millions of Americans who are set to receive health insurance through last year's healthcare reform law, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act constitutional. The full ruling can be read here.

The ruling comes in one of several challenges to the healthcare reform law being floated by Tea Party-affiliated groups and Republican attorneys general. (This particular challenge comes from the right-wing Thomas More Law Center.) The groups all challenge the law’s individual mandate, an idea first proposed by conservative groups as an acceptable method of ensuring universal healthcare. The appeals court found that the individual mandate is well within the reach of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which allows Congress to regulate commerce between the states.

The 6th Circuit is the first federal appellate court to rule on the healthcare reform law, and it has been called one of the more conservative benches. Judge Jeffery Sutton, a George W. Bush nominee and former Scalia clerk, wrote a concurring opinion upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. His concurrence offers a detailed and extremely respectful analysis – and rejection – of the claims that the law violates the Constitution because it compels people to purchase a product. He has been called “one of the nation’s leading advocates for conservative states-rights positions” yet, in addition to rejecting the Commerce Clause argument, he also gave short shrift to More’s Tenth Amendment argument.

From the court’s decision:

By regulating the practice of self-insuring for the cost of health care delivery, the minimum coverage provision is facially constitutional under the Commerce Clause for two independent reasons. First, the provision regulates economic activity that Congress had a rational basis to believe has substantial effects on interstate commerce. In addition, Congress had a rational basis to believe that the provision was essential to its larger economic scheme reforming the interstate markets in health care and health insurance

The ACA is clearly constitutional, but the fight is far from over. Despite the fact that this case has one of the nations’ leading conservatives ruling for the constitutionality of the ACA, there are more constitutional challenges still making their way through the courts.

 

PFAW

Wisconsin News Round-up: 6/29/11

Today's news from Wisconsin:

RecallTheRight.org

PFAW

Interesting...

In a bit of coincidence, the Wisconsin union busting law goes into effect on the same day (today) that, in Ohio, the petitions to overturn a similar law are submitted to the Secretary of State.

UPDATE: We Are Ohio blew the 231,000 signature requirement out of the water and today delivered a whopping 1.3 MILLION petition signatures to get repeal of SB 5 on the ballot! I hope Gov. Kasich, the Koch brothers and all the other right-wing ideologues and corporate interests are getting nervous!

PFAW

Enough Signatures Obtained to Put Repeal of Ohio SB 5 on the Ballot, Five Times Over

A petition to repeal Ohio SB 5, which severely curtailed collective bargaining rights for public employee unions, was just certified by Ohio’s secretary of state and attorney general.

# of valid signatures required: 231,147

# of valid signatures obtained: 1,298,301

We Are Ohio

PFAW

Supreme Court's Legitimacy Rests With the Justices

As noted in a NYT editorial by Jeff Shesol, some of the justices of the Supreme Court are spending a lot of their time off the bench engaging in all sorts of extracurricular activities. Of course, they have always participated in the usual speech-giving and book-singing circuit – but as of late, some justices have lent their names to organizations with decidedly partisan agendas, including Koch-sponsored policy retreats, and have become increasingly entangled with ideological benefactors with clearly partisan agendas.

This has prompted calls for a re-examination of our standard of judicial ethics, since many of them surprisingly do not apply to the high court. Sheshol writes:

Yet there are few, if any, precedents for the involvement of Justices Thomas and Scalia with the fund-raising efforts of the Koch brothers. In an invitation to a meeting earlier this year in Palm Springs, Calif., Charles Koch cautioned financial contributors that “our ultimate goal is not ‘fun in the sun.’ This is a gathering of doers.” The meeting’s objective was “to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.” Last summer’s sessions included “Framing the Debate on Spending” and “Mobilizing Citizens for November.” The invitation listed Justices Scalia and Thomas first among the “notable leaders” who had attended past meetings.

In the face of criticism, the court’s conservatives may be doubling down. Justice Thomas, in particular, has lashed back, refusing to disclose activities and relationships that have been called into question. Stone’s admonition, clearly, is as relevant as ever. Over its history, the Supreme Court has faced periodic threats to its legitimacy and has survived with its powers intact, thanks in large part to its public esteem. At some point, another challenge will come. And the court, next time, may find fewer Americans on its side if its members allow themselves to be perceived, in Justice Breyer’s words, as “junior-varsity politicians” who possess, but do not merit, the last word.

 

PFAW

NH and OH Reject Voter-Disenfranchisement Bills

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch vetoed a proposed voter-ID law that would have required voters to show a photo ID before casting a ballot. In rejecting the proposal, Gov. Lynch called out the law for what it was – an expensive, anti-democratic solution for a problem that doesn’t exist:

The right to vote is a fundamental right that is guaranteed to all citizens of this State under the United States and New Hampshire Constitutions. An eligible voter who goes to the polls to vote on Election Day should be able to have his or her vote count on Election Day. SB 129 creates a real risk that New Hampshire voters will be denied their right to vote.

Voter turnout in New Hampshire is among the highest in the nation, election after election. There is no voter fraud problem in New Hampshire. We already have strong elections laws that are effective in regulating our elections.

Just yesterday, the Ohio Senate adjourned without voting on a similar bill, lacking the necessary votes to move it forward. Voter ID laws are being pushed in at least 36 states, according to a report by the Voting Rights Institute, at a potential cost of $828 million – quite a staggering sum for the allegedly budget-conscious Republicans who have proposed all of these bills. These bills highlight a cynical desire to disenfranchise certain groups of people – primarily minorities, students and the elderly – who don’t necessarily tend to vote the “right” way.

PFAW

After Long Delays, Senate Confirms 3 DOJ Nominees

The Senate today confirmed three of President Obama’s nominees to fill long-vacant posts in the Justice Department, including, at long last, a leader for the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The Senate confirmed attorney Virginia Seitz to head the Office of Legal Counsel, which hasn’t had a permanent, Senate-confirmed head since 2004. President Obama’s first nominee to fill the position, the well-respected and highly qualified law professor Dawn Johnsen, came under fire from Republicans for her support of abortion rights and opposition to torture, and withdrew her nomination last year after over a year of obstruction and gridlock

The OLC essentially acts as the White House’s private law firm, advising the president and executive branch agencies on the constitutionality of their actions

Besides Seitz, James Cole was confirmed to serve as Deputy Attorney General, a position that has been vacant since February 2010, and Lisa Monaco was confirmed to lead the DOJ’s National Security Division, which has been vacant since March.

PFAW

Wisconsin News Round-up: 6/28/11

News from Wisconsin:

Rep. John Nygren says he’ll challenge the GAB’s ruling that he fell short of the required adequate signatures. However, the possibility of rehabilitating signatures is over. Don’t worry, John, I believe in you, you got this.

Nygren’s disqualification (assuming no intervention from the Signature Fairy) means Hansen will now face David VanderLeest in a July 19 general election. As for VanderLeest, I can’t describe him any better than We Are Wisconsin, who said VanderLeest’s “rap sheet reads like a directory of the Wisconsin state criminal code.”

The Prosser-Bradley controversy continues, with conservatives screaming "conspiracy!" and "smear campaign!"; just another day reporting on the grand leftist plot to destroy America... Interestingly, though, Gov. Walker isn’t quite as confident, saying “I can't overemphasize how serious I think the situation is there.” Both the Wisconsin Judicial Commission and the Dane County Sheriff are investigating the incident.

Despite supporting Walker’s extreme budget which hits schools, working families and seniors hard, State Sen. Robert Cowles was not present at the budget signing event -- even though it was held in his district. This is especially surprising considering he’s known for showing up to everything in the district. It’s ok, Rob, we don’t expect you to actually stand up and be accountable for your horrible decisions.

It seems running from reality is fashionable among Wisconsin Republicans, as Luther Olsen has been unavailable to meet with constituents several times. To be fair to Olsen, if I was him, I’d be pretty ashamed too. Check out the video, it’s fun.

As always, follow our campaign at RecallTheRight.org.

PFAW

People For’s Drew Courtney Discusses Supreme Court Video Game Decision

Yesterday, the Supreme Court struck down a California law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors, holding in a 7-2 decision that the ban violated the First Amendment. PFAW Foundation Communications Director Drew Courtney visited DC’s Fox 5 News this morning to discuss how the Court’s decision protects the principles of free speech, while strengthening the rights of parents to decide what’s best for their children:

Supreme Court Says Government Can't Ban Violent Video Game Sales to Kids: MyFoxDC.com

PFAW

A Call to Action: Restore Equal Employment Opportunities in America

Saturday was the 70th anniversary of President Roosevelt’s issuance of Executive Order 8802, which prohibited racial discrimination by defense contractors. Last week, Congressman Bobby Scott hosted a press conference and briefing in honor of the anniversary of this event, which marked the first time a U.S. president had acted to combat discrimination by private employers who were using federal taxpayer money. Future presidents expanded on President Roosevelt’s action and added to its protections.

However, this was more than just a celebratory event of an important civil rights milestone: it was a call to action to correct an erosion of equal employment opportunity law that has been in effect since 2002. That’s when President Bush signed an Executive Order that made discrimination on the basis of religion by faith-based organizations using federal taxpayer money legal. In so doing, he reversed our nation’s continuous expansion of the promise of equal protection and opened a gaping hole in our nation’s civil rights protections. Religious entities had always been able to discriminate based on religion using their own money, but never to use taxpayer money to do so.

All the panelists were united in asking President Obama to fulfill his campaign promise of restoring the law. On the panel were: Congressman Bobby Scott (convener of the event); Congressman Jerrold Nadler; Professor Eric Arnesen (professor of history at George Washington University and biographer of civil rights and labor leader A. Philip Randolph, whose activism prompted FDR’s executive order); Rabbi David Saperstein (Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and also a board member of our affiliated People For the American Way Foundation); Barbara Arnwine (Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law); Hilary Shelton (Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau); and Rev. Dr. Paul L. Brown, Sr. (Pastor of Miles Memorial CME Church and member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action).

Among other things, speakers discussed how employment discrimination harms the victims and society as a whole; warned that religion can easily be used as a proxy for race, sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity; condemned discrimination paid for by the tax dollars of its victims; asked why the religion of someone ladling out soup for the hungry should matter; and warned of the dangerous consequences to churches that want to retain federal funding they have become dependent on. As the last speaker, Rev. Dr. Brown opened a window into his daily work helping the hungry and the homeless, the “least and the lost,” and strongly condemned federally funded discrimination.

When he was running for President, then-Senator Obama promised to reverse President Bush’s policy, but he has yet to do so. What better time than the anniversary of the issuance of Executive Order 8802 for President Obama to put our nation back on the right road and restore through executive order the prohibition against federally funded discrimination? Yesterday, People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action joined more than 50 other civil rights and religious organizations asking him to do just that.

PFAW