PEOPLE FOR BLOG

DOJ and DOE Resolve MN Allegations, Plus Bullying Action

In October 2010, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights issued guidance to address bullying in schools, especially as it relates to federal education anti-discrimination laws. One of those laws, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. While the language does not specify sexual orientation and gender identity, DOE has made clear that harassment on these grounds, under certain circumstances, violates Title IX.

Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination. When students are subjected to harassment on the basis of their LGBT status, they may also [. . .] be subjected to forms of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX. The fact that the harassment includes anti-LGBT comments or is partly based on the target’s actual or perceived sexual orientation does not relieve a school of its obligation under Title IX to investigate and remedy overlapping sexual harassment or gender-based harassment. [. . .] Had the school recognized the conduct as a form of sex discrimination, it could have employed the full range of sanctions (including progressive discipline) and remedies designed to eliminate the hostile environment.

This past Monday, DOE and the Department of Justice joined with six students and the Anoka-Hennepin School District to file a proposed consent decree (legal agreement) in the US District Court in Minnesota that would resolve complaints of sex-based harassment of middle and high school students in the school district.

In November 2010, the Department of Justice received a complaint alleging that students in the school district were being harassed by other students because they didn’t dress or act in ways that conform to gender stereotypes. The Departments of Justice and Education conducted an extensive investigation into sex-based harassment in the district’s middle and high schools. Many students reported that the unsafe and unwelcoming school climate inhibited their ability to learn. The parties worked collaboratively to draft a consent decree addressing and resolving the allegations in the complaints.

If approved by the court, the consent decree will ensure that the school district:
  • Retains an expert consultant in the area of sex-based harassment to review the district’s policies and procedures concerning harassment;
  • Develops and implements a comprehensive plan for preventing and addressing student-on-student sex-based harassment at the middle and high schools;
  • Enhances and improves its training of faculty, staff and students on sex-based harassment;
  • Hires or appoints a Title IX coordinator to ensure proper implementation of the district’s sex-based harassment policies and procedures and district compliance with Title IX;
  • Retains an expert consultant in the area of mental health to address the needs of students who are victims of harassment;
  • Provides for other opportunities for student involvement and input into the district’s ongoing anti-harassment efforts;
  • Improves its system for maintaining records of investigations and responding to allegations of harassment;
  • Conducts ongoing monitoring and evaluations of its anti-harassment efforts; and
  • Submits annual compliance reports to the departments.

Tom Perez, DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights:

Education is a great equalizer. Yet, students cannot learn if they are afraid to go to school. Students cannot learn if they are being harassed and threatened. Students cannot learn if they are not free to be themselves. Students cannot learn if they feel that school administrators can’t and don’t protect them.

Bullying cannot be a rite of passage in our nation’s schools. Instead, our schools must be safe and nurturing environments that promote learning and full participation by all students. As a parent of three students in public school, I realize how important it is for children to be free from fear so that they can learn and thrive in school every day.

[ . . . ]

This administration is committed to combating harassment and bullying. Where we see barriers to educational opportunities, we work aggressively to break down those barriers. In Tehachapi, Calif., following the death of Seth Walsh, a gay student who took his own life, we worked with Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights on an agreement with the school district to amend its policies and provide training to address and prevent sex-based harassment. At South Philadelphia High School, we engaged in a comprehensive consent decree to address the severe and pervasive harassment of Asian American students. And in Owatonna, Minn., we entered a settlement agreement to resolve an investigation into the racial and national origin harassment and disproportionate discipline of Somali-American students at Owatonna High School. Last year, the Department of Education produced a comprehensive guidance on bullying. We will use every tool in our law enforcement arsenal to ensure that all students have access to equal educational opportunity.

The consent decree comes on the eve of another important anti-bullying action, and we need your help.

March 8 marks the second national call-in day supporting Senator Franken’s Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) (S. 555).

Check the sponsor list to see if your Senators have signed on since last time. If they have, thank them. If they haven’t, it’s time to make another call. Thank you!

PFAW

Another Empty Courtroom

A few days ago, Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank in the Central District of California took senior status, opening up yet another judicial vacancy in California: its thirteenth. The Central District alone has three current vacancies, with a fourth one set to open possibly within days (as soon as there is a confirmation vote to elevate Judge Jacqueline Nguyen to the Ninth Circuit). Each of the vacancies in this district has been formally recognized as a judicial emergency by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

The Central District serves about 18 million people, including the populations of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Their access to justice is blocked every day their courtrooms are made to sit empty. Clearly, it is urgent to fill this seat as quickly as possible

Fortunately, one of this district's vacancies can be filled today. All the Senate has to do is vote to confirm Michael Fitzgerald, whose nomination to this district has been pending on the floor for more than four months. Unfortunately, that vote is not going to happen today.

No one doubts Fitzgerald's qualifications. A panel of the ABA concluded unanimously that he is well qualified, its highest rating. Judiciary Committee members recognized his qualifications by approving him in an unopposed voice vote. This was way back on November 3, but Senate Republicans have stubbornly refused to allow the full Senate to hold a vote.

If Michael Fitzgerald and all of the other judicial nominees were not being obstructed, our nation would not have so many courtrooms sitting empty while justice passes millions of Americans by.

 

PFAW

Voter ID challenges moving forward in Wisconsin

Last May, Wisconsin Governor and ALEC Alum Scott Walker signed Act 23 (aka AB 7), a voter ID law which also counts ALEC affiliated legislators among its sponsors. Groups challenging this legislation have a long road ahead of them, but this week they scored some important successes.

In the League of Women Voters case, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess ruled on Monday that League President Melanie Ramey has standing as a plaintiff, and Governor Walker is the proper defendant.

The League had countered that whether Ramey herself was affected or not was beside the point because the requirement imposes an additional impediment to voting that is not specified in the state constitution.

"In this, she is surely correct," Niess wrote.

Further, he wrote, the League is in the best position to argue on behalf of voters who are "too physically infirm, mentally ill, impoverished, itinerant, elderly or simply neglectful to comply" but are still qualified voters under the state constitution.

"This is the same cohort of citizens that shows up in the circuit courts in increasing numbers, day in and day out, without lawyers, in foreclosure proceedings, collection actions and family matters," Niess wrote. "Who will advocate for them on these constitutional issues that affect their fundamental, inherent and constitutional right to vote, if not the plaintiffs, or entities like the plaintiffs?"

Walker, Niess wrote, is a proper defendant because under recent state law he has ultimate authority over rule-making by state agencies, including GAB.

In the case brought by the Milwaukee NAACP and Voces de la Frontera, Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan on Tuesday halted AB 7’s enforcement in the upcoming April 3 general election, pending trial.

Flanagan granted a temporary injunction (read the injunction here) ordering Walker and the GAB to "cease immediately any effort to enforce or implement the photo identification requirements" of the law, pending a trial on a permanent injunction scheduled before him on April 16.

"If no injunction is issued, a clearly improper impairment of a most vital element of our society will occur," Flanagan wrote. "The duty of the court is clear. The case has been made. Irreparable harm is likely to occur in the absence of an injunction."

The message from these judges for these and other pending challenges (including Advancement Project and ACLU) is clear: voter suppression is a serious issue, and attempts to implement it merit careful scrutiny from the judicial system.

Indeed, something must be wrong when a veteran appears to vote and his VA card isn’t accepted, or when a 95-year-old cannot get ID because neither she nor the state can locate her birth certificate.

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

Rick Santorum's Latest Target -- Single Moms

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

I am a single parent.

According to the right, I am also a leech on society and pose a danger to my own son.

A new bill proposed by a Republican state legislator in Wisconsin would officially label single parents like me a "contributing factor to child abuse and neglect." When radio host Alan Colmes asked the bill's author, Glenn Grothman, to explain himself, Grossman said that women become single parents in order to live off the government, and then lie about it and say they got pregnant by accident.

As far as I know, Sen. Grothman's the first one to try to write the Single Moms Conspiracy theory into law, but he's far from the first one to think it. Bashing single moms has been a mainstay of right-wing politics for decades. Perhaps this is because it combines two of the right's favorite activities: publicly judging the family lives of others and scapegoating.

One of the most enthusiastic purveyors of the Single Moms Conspiracy theory has been Rick Santorum. Mother Jones today put together a collection of some of his early comments on single parenthood. During his 1994 Senate race, Santorum said, "We are seeing the fabric of this country fall apart, and it's falling apart because of single moms." A month later, he accused single mothers of "simply breeding more criminals."

Santorum hasn't exactly stepped back from his claim that single moms are ruining America. In October, he said that the Democratic Party's support base is single mothers with a "desire for government." At a GOP debate in December, he said that single moms aren't marrying their boyfriends because they want to keep on collecting welfare.

What's remarkable is that the same people pushing the theory that single parents are ruining America are also doing everything in their power to keep women from having access to birth control and to keep gay and lesbian parents from getting married. For them, this isn't about improving women's and children's lives: it's about creating a scapegoat.

Research shows that the key to raising healthy children is stability, not the number or gender of their parents. Kids who have parents that come and go face greater risk than kids who have only one parent throughout their lives that they can rely on to be there. If politicians like Rick Santorum want to promote stable families, they should start by respecting all families.

I can think of a lot of things that are making "the fabric of this country fall apart." Loving single parents are not one of them.

Lara Bergthold chairs People For the American Way's Board of Directors.

PFAW

Who's Sorry Now? The Republican Art of the Non-Apology

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Ralph Reed reached out to Rush Limbaugh via Twitter yesterday and accepted his apology. "Apology accepted. Let's move on," he said -- a magnanimous gesture had Rush Limbaugh actually apologized to Ralph Reed. Too bad that, despite the too quick headlines, Limbaugh not only hadn't apologized to Reed -- he hadn't really apologized to anyone at all.

Instead, Reed and Limbaugh, with the backing of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, started up the ole vast right-wing fake apology machine -- designed to temporarily quell a too hot controversy while at the same time not giving an inch.

Unfortunately for them, after too much use of the fake apology, people are catching on.

Although considered by some in the GOP to be a little too rough around the edges, Rush Limbaugh has always been considered a net asset to Republicans. Like fellow right-wing shock-jocks Glenn Beck and Bryan Fischer, he reaches a wide audience with toxic sludge that is ultimately helpful to the Republican Party, saying all the things that fire up the right-wing base, but that the politicians wouldn't want to be caught saying themselves. But Limbaugh has a peculiar kind of power -- no matter how outrageous his comments, members of the establishment Right tiptoe around him, afraid that his toxic words might one day be directed at them. George Will said it best: "They want to bomb Iran, but they're afraid of Rush Limbaugh."

The latest boot-up of the right-wing apology machine began when Limbaugh called Georgetown University law student and contraception coverage advocate Sandra Fluke a "slut," saying "She wants to be paid to have sex." And, as if contraception was sold by the gallon or the pound, he added, "She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception."

President Obama immediately stepped up, calling Fluke to check in and encourage her after she had been smeared on national radio.

Rick Santorum, in contrast, called Limbaugh's comments "absurd," but then reasoned that "an entertainer can be absurd... He's in a very different business than I am."

Mitt Romney's response was flimsier and even more timid. Asked about it while shaking hands at a rally, he said that it was "not the language I would have used." Apparently, he had no problem with Limbaugh saying that birth control advocates want the government to pay for them to have sex. He would just use different words.

Finally, Limbaugh himself fake-apologized. "I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke," he said -- before blaming the left and going on to repeat his accusation that she was "discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress."

"I wouldn't have use those words" is the new "I apologize if anyone was offended."

Ms. Fluke did not accept Limbaugh's fake-apology. Ralph Reed, however, accepted it on her behalf. Republican leaders can't be responsible for everything that comes out of the mouths of every right-wing blowhard. But if they want to be president they can be expected to provide clear responses when comments like Limbaugh's are this outrageous, instead of hiding their heads in the sand hoping that the public exposure of these outrages will go away. How hard is it to say that women who advocate for insurance coverage for contraceptives should be heard and shouldn't be called prostitutes for stating their position on the topic? Is it really worth compromising basic decency to stay in the good graces of Rush Limbaugh?

The Republican Party is increasingly buoyed by a small base whose values are antithetical to those of most other Americans. If they want to survive politically, they are going to have to stand up and no longer be fake apologists for the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

PFAW

Empty Courtrooms, Empty Gestures

The Senate began its proceedings today with 20 highly qualified judicial nominees waiting for a floor vote, most of them completely unopposed in committee yet languishing on the floor for over three months. Eleven would restore justice to empty courtrooms in areas where judges are so overworked that the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts has officially declared the area a judicial emergency. Because of unprecedented obstruction, there were a mere five confirmation votes during the first two months of the year, two of which the Republicans resisted so much that Sen. Reid had to file cloture petitions.

Faced with this growing crisis that they have caused, the Senate GOP today graciously allowed votes on ... two nominations. Both were confirmed by overwhelming majorities - 95-2 and 93-4 - yet had been forced to wait almost five months for a vote.

A mere two confirmation votes are disgracefully less than what is needed to clear the backlog and restore a functioning court system to the American people. It isn't even enough to make up for the anticipated four nominations that the Judiciary Committee will likely advance to the floor later this week, resulting in a net increase in the backlog.

This chart makes clear the extent of the obstruction. On average, President Obama's judicial nominees have been forced to wait four times as long for a floor vote than President Bush's confirmed nominees were at this point in his presidency.

Courts are the infrastructure of justice, as vital to our legal rights as roads and bridges are to a transportation system. That infrastructure is collapsing.

As numerous Senate Democrats noted last week, Americans deserve better. Our nation's courts are worth saving.

PFAW

Court Official - "I Just Don't See an End to Our Backlog"

The Memphis Commercial Appeal offers a window into how one state is impacted by the courtroom vacancy crisis.

With federal caseloads growing, a vacant seat on the bench and no relief in sight, local court officials are calling in the cavalry from the north.

Under a special Visiting Judges Program, three federal judges from Michigan -- one of the four states in the Sixth Judicial Circuit that includes Tennessee -- have agreed to help ease the local backlog.

So far 30 local criminal and civil cases have been reassigned to the three judges[,] who may be able to handle some of the work by teleconference, but who otherwise will be scheduling court time in Memphis.

...

The elevation last fall of U.S. Dist. Court Judge Bernice Donald to the federal appeals court bench has created a vacancy and thus added to the existing backlog. (Criminal Court Judge John Fowlkes Jr. has been nominated to fill the vacancy, though confirmation can be a lengthy process.)

...

[Clerk of the U.S. District Court for Western Tennessee Thomas] Gould does not believe the visiting judges will be the answer to the local court's backlog, but said reinforcements should bring at least some temporary relief until Donald's vacancy is filled.

Gould said other districts have similar caseload problems. "Many courts have never (used visiting judges) and others permanently have visiting judges on staff. Even with a full complement of judges, we're going to be struggling to come out of the cellar in terms of how long it takes to dispose of cases.

"I'd like to see a program of visiting judges go on indefinitely if there are people willing to help us do that. I just don't see an end to our backlog."

John Fowlkes was nominated to the Western District of Tennessee in December. Unfortunately, unless the backlog of pending nominees is quickly dealt with and floor votes are subsequently scheduled in a timely manner, Fowlkes will be standing at the back of a needlessly long line. If the people of Tennessee want to see a confirmed judge in their area any time soon, they have an interest in what happens with nominees from other parts of the country.

PFAW

Super-PAC Tuesday

Ten states are holding primaries and caucuses today, earning March 6th the title of “Super Tuesday.” Participants will show up, cast their vote, and hopefully feel good for participating in the democratic process and fulfilling their civic duty.

But thanks to Citizens United, and the Super PACs that flawed decision gave rise to, the voters are not the stars of this show. An outpouring of cash from a few extremely wealthy donors has dramatically altered the campaign landscape, altering the balance of influence from individual donors and grassroots donors to rich special interests and corporations.

As illustrated above by Dave Granlund, tonight’s contests should really be called Super-PAC Tuesday. NPR reports that in the ten states up for grabs, Super PACs have spent a whopping $12 million for ads:

Leading the way is Restore Our Future, the superPAC that backs former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. According to Federal Election Commission numbers, Restore Our Future has spent $6.9 million on the Super Tuesday states.

"The groups have clearly taken the lead in advertising for the whole Republican primary. They're very much taking the lead in advertising for Super Tuesday. It's mostly the 'Restore Our Future show,' followed by Winning Our Future, which is the Gingrich group, and Red, White and Blue, which is the Santorum group," says Ken Goldstein, who tracks political ad spending for Kantar Media CMAG.

Red, White and Blue has spent some $1.3 million on Super Tuesday, and has been running an ad in Ohio that goes after Romney for his alleged similarities to the man all Republicans want to defeat in November: President Obama.

These ads supposedly (and unconvincingly) act independently from a candidate’s official campaign, meaning that candidates are unaccountable for their content. But as Katrina vanden Huevel points out in today’s Washington Post, these superPACs reach “barely a legal fiction,” populated as they are with former staff and fundraisers for the candidates they “independently” support.  And this is in addition to the spending by 501 c-4 organizations the sources for which do not even have to be disclosed.

This is not what democracy looks like. We have to end unfettered political spending in our elections system – and solutions like the DISCLOSE Act and a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United are gaining steam. $12 million worth of ads on Super-PAC Tuesday alone should convince everyone that enough is enough.

PFAW

NYT Echoes PFAW's Call for Judge Cebull's Resignation

The New York Times echoes PFAW President Michael Keegan’s call for Federal District Court Judge Richard Cebull’s resignation in an editorial published today.

Cebull, who admitted sending a racist, sexist email about President Obama’s late mother, has apologized and referred himself for disciplinary review. But an apology isn’t enough. Being a federal judge requires exemplary judgment and requires that one maintain an image beyond reproach. As the NYT notes,

Apologizing for atrocious behavior is better than not trying to apologize. Rush Limbaugh’s nonapology to Sandra Fluke for calling her a prostitute was a good example. But sometimes even a seemingly sincere apology is not enough….

His dislike of the president is so strong, apparently, he could not resist the urge to violate his ethical duty to avoid intemperate conduct that suggests racial and political bias and an appearance, at least, of impropriety. Although Judge Cebull did not intend for his e-mail to become public, his use of a government computer and an official e-mail account to spread the hateful message removes any claim that his action was purely private.

Unfortunately for Judge Cebull, mending fences with the President is not enough to restore the public’s trust. He cast irreversible doubt over his ability to be impartial regardless of who the parties are, but most importantly, he has shown that he lacks the temperament necessary for a member of the federal bench.

He should resign.

PFAW Foundation

Senate Obstruction Continues: The Chart

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told Politico that he plans to push forward on filling the federal courts, despite unprecedented Republican obstructionism. Here is what Americans who value the courts are up against:

Despite a vacancy crisis in the federal courts that has led to delayed justice for Americans across the country, Senate Republicans have been using every delay tactic in the books to prevent qualified nominees from getting through the system.

The dotted line represents the average time  President Bush’s confirmed judicial nominees at this point in his presidency had to wait for a floor vote after committee approval. The blue lines are President Obama’s nominees – almost all with overwhelming bipartisan support , yet mostly forced to wait for months on end for no reason.

If Senate Republicans keep filibustering these nominees, Sen. Reid will be forced to start a cumbersome and time-consuming cloture process for each and every one of them. Such filibuster abuse is a waste fo the Senate’s time, and it’s bad for America’s courts.
 

PFAW

Prop 8 Makes Its Stage Debut

Dustin Lance Black, the writer behind J. Edgar and Oscar winner for Milk, is bringing the story of California’s Proposition 8 to the stage.

Black’s 8 had its Broadway premiere on September 19, 2011:

And debuted in Los Angeles this past Saturday:

Thanks to the American Foundation for Equal Rights, the LA event was streamed live on the Internet for all to see.

During the LA curtain call, director Rob Reiner brought David Boies, one of the attorneys in the case, up on stage. (1:59:19) I think Boies sums it up best.

We did put fear and prejudice on trial, and fear and prejudice lost.

PFAW had this to say (and this) following last month’s Ninth Circuit ruling:

Today’s ruling is a major victory for equality and for the thousands of California couples who saw their marriage rights disappear four years ago.

Proposition 8 hurt Californians. It took away the freedom of committed couples to legally marry, to raise children in security, to visit each other in the hospital and to provide for each other in old age. It hurt gay and lesbian Californians, and it hurt their friends and families. Proposition 8 wasn’t just unconstitutional – it was simply wrong.

I congratulate all the Californians who have regained their freedom to marry, and hope that that freedom will soon be extended to every American.

Indeed, we must keep working to ensure that marriage discrimination does not persist at the federal level. Please take a moment to add your name to PFAW's petition urging Congress to Dump DOMA and end this unconstitutional, discriminatory policy once and for all.

PFAW

Romney Adds Ashcroft to List of Extreme Advisers

More mainstays of the Republican establishment announced their endorsement of Mitt Romney over the weekend. However, it’s not just the current faces of the party like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senator Tom Coburn who have tipped their hats; Romney is also registering the support of ghosts of GOP past: Bush Administration attorney general John Ashcroft.

Romney is apparently trying to court as many extremists to his campaign as possible – the addition of Ashcroft dovetails closely with the fringe views of his legal adviser, the rejected Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

As attorney general, Ashcroft oversaw a relentless assault on Americans’ civil liberties. He approved warrantless wiretapping, secret military tribunals, racial profiling, aggressively implemented the PATRIOT Act, and created the “enemy combatant” status in an attempt to justify ignoring the Constitution in order to indefinitely detain terrorism suspects without charges.

Many of Ashcroft’s longstanding views still sit squarely with current GOP priorities:

  • He singlehandedly sabotaged confirmation of judicial nominees he didn’t like and has helped pack the federal courts with extreme Right-Wing judges;
  • He perpetuates the War on Women and has sought to amend the Constitution and pass legislation that would eliminate a women’s right an abortion, even for rape and incest victims, and supported making common birth control methods illegal;
  • He opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, designed to protect vulnerable groups of Americans who have long experienced overt discrimination for reasons having nothing to do with their job qualifications; 
  • He opposed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would have amended federal law to recognize hate crimes based on sexual orientation, gender and disability;
  • He opposed school desegregation in Missouri;
  • He disregards the separation of church and state by helping funnel government funds to religious organizations that discriminate based on religion and led daily prayer and Bible study sessions at the Justice Department;
  • He helped rig the vote by investigating Republican claims of voter fraud while ignoring charges of voter disenfranchisement.

Ashcroft’s own words perfectly sum up his policy positions:

“There are voices in the Republican Party today who preach pragmatism, who champion conciliation, who counsel compromise. I stand here today to reject those deceptions. If ever there was a time to unfurl the banner of unabashed conservatism, it is now.” --April 10, 1998

If Mitt Romney shares Ashcroft’s extremist sentiments, he will be unable to unite the country should he win the nomination. Ashcroft’s open hostility to the Bill of Rights has no place in this campaign.

However, singing lessons are always welcome.

 

 

The full video is here.

PFAW

Blinded by the Hate: The Real Problem With Judge Cebull's Email

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Earlier this week a Great Falls Tribune reporter found something startling in his inbox: a shockingly racist and misogynistic email forwarded from the most powerful federal judge in Montana, which "joked" that the president of the United States was the product of his mother having sex with a dog. The story soon became national news, with groups like ours calling on Judge Richard Cebull to resign. Cebull quickly apologized to the president and submitted himself to a formal ethics review, somewhat quelling the story. But the story is about more than one judge doing something wildly inappropriate and deeply disturbing. It's about a conservative movement in which the bile and animosity directed at the president -- and even his family -- are so poisonous that even someone who should know better easily confuses political criticism and sick personal attack. Come on: going after the president's late mother? Attempting to explain his email forward, Judge Cebull told the reporter, John S. Adams,

The only reason I can explain it to you is I am not a fan of our president, but this goes beyond not being a fan. I didn't send it as racist, although that's what it is. Is sent it out because it's anti-Obama.

Judge Cebull is hardly alone in using the old "I'm not racist, but..." line. In fact, his email was the result of an entire movement built on "I'm not racist, but..." logic that equates disagreement with and dislike of the president with broad-based, racially charged smears. These smears, tacitly embraced by the GOP establishment, are more than personal shots at the president -- they're attacks on the millions of Americans who make up our growing and changing country. Mainstream conservatives have genuine objections to President Obama's priorities and policies. But since he started running for president, a parallel movement has sprung up trying to paint Obama as an outsider and an imposter -- in unmistakably racially charged terms. Too often, the two movements have intersected. The effort to paint Obama as a threatening foreigner sprung up around the right-wing fringe in the run-up to the 2008 election with the typically muddled conspiracy theory that painted him as both a secret Muslim and a member of an America-hating church. They soon coalesced in the birther movement, which even today is championed by a strong coalition of state legislators and a certain bombastic Arizona sheriff. But the birther movement, the "secret Muslim" meme and the idea that the president of the United States somehow hates his own country are no longer confined to the less visible right-wing fringe. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, until recently a frontrunner in the GOP presidential race, continually hammers on the president's otherness, most notably criticizing his "Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior." Rick Santorum flatly claims that Obama does not have the Christian faith that he professes, and eagerly courted the endorsement of birther leader Sheriff Joe Arpaio. And before they dropped out, Rick Perry and Herman Cain couldn't resist flirting with birtherism. But perhaps more than either of these fringe-candidates-turned-frontrunners, Mitt Romney has been catering to the strain of conservatism that deliberately confuses policy disagreements with racially-charged personal animosity. Romney went in front of TV cameras to smilingly accept the endorsement of Donald Trump, whose own failed presidential campaign was based on demanding the president's readily available birth certificate. And Gov. Romney continually attacks Obama -- falsely -- for going around the world "apologizing for America." Judge Cebull needs to take responsibility for his own actions. And if the GOP has any aspirations of providing real leadership to this country, it needs to jettison the deeply personal vitriol being direct against Barack Obama and start talking about real issues. When a federal judge has seen so much racially-charged propaganda against the president of the United States that he can claim not to know the difference between genuine disagreement and offensive personal smears, something in our discourse has gone terribly awry.

PFAW

Minnesotans Soul Search on Marriage Equality

On a hunch that voters are more influenced by their own experience rather than a birrage of big-budget advertising on the issue of marriage equality, Minnesota Public Radio put together an excellent miniseries asking Minnesotans to share their stories about how they came to their decision – or are still struggling to decide – how they will vote on marriage equality in November.

The stories are striking for their sincerity and level of introspection. While each story was unique, there were common themes among those who stand on the side of equality for all: Love. Commitment. Family. Freedom. Equality for All.

Enjoy these videos below, and you can view the full set here.

 

“True love is not about self, it’s about the other person. It’s about mankind, it’s about the world around you. It’s about loving and loving and loving. And I think marriage is the perfect embodiment of expressing that love.”

 

“As long as they’re not harming me…who has a right to challenge their right to their choices?”

 

“[My father’s second marriage, to a man] has been infinitely more fulfilling, more harmonious, more authentic, more of a model to all of us kids of what marriage should really be.”

 

“Now that I am legally married, all the benefits and wonderful things that have happened in my life around marriage, not just the ceremony but all the legal things that I get to participate in. I want that to happen for everybody.”

PFAW Foundation

Minnesota fighting the voting rights battle on multiple fronts

Minnesota is currently fighting voting rights battles on multiple fronts, including voter ID and same-day registration.

The voter ID battle began last session when the state legislature passed SF 509, legislation requiring photo ID. Following Governor Dayton’s veto, supporters vowed to carry on. Now a voter ID constitutional amendment (SF 1577) is making its way through the Senate. Yesterday it passed the Finance Committee and will next go to the Rules Committee.

Minnesota Public Radio:

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee approved the measure today by a [party-line] vote of 9 - 6, sending it next to the Rules Committee. State officials estimate that local governments would have to spend $104,000 to place the question on the statewide ballot this fall. If it passes, they estimate first-year local costs at between $8.3 million and $23.3 million, depending on whether new electronic poll books are purchased. Finance Chair Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said Minnesota Management and Budget couldn't pin down the exact cost because lawmakers would still have to work out the details of the ID requirement during the 2013 session.

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has suggested a possible compromise:

The proposed legislative fix of state election law would incorporate "electronic poll books," technology that Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has advocated as a less-expensive alternative to a state-issued voter ID card.

Ritchie, a Democrat, appeared recently before a Senate subcommittee to discuss the benefits of the system, which would allow election officials to look up existing drivers' license photos or to take new photos of each voter up at the polling place.

"It doesn't disrupt absentee voting, or voting by service personnel overseas," he said. "It doesn't disrupt our voter registration system, our same-day registration system. It doesn't disenfranchise anybody."

Though its traction is yet unclear.

Republicans in the House and Senate passed a voter ID requirement last year, but Dayton vetoed it. State Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, a sponsor of last year's bill, said he has been working with the governor and the secretary of state this session on an updated version. Howe said electronic poll books would help achieve the goal of proper voter identification.

"I can't speak to whether this does anything on the constitutional amendment for photo ID," Howe said. "But I can tell you that I personally, along with many of my colleagues, want to see things done as much as we can legislatively."

[Side note: According to ALEC Exposed, Senator Howe is an ALEC member.]

In other news, the Minnesota Voters Alliance, joined by the Minnesota Freedom Council and Representative Sondra Erickson (another ALEC member), has filed a lawsuit that could greatly impact the state’s same-day registration system. The plaintiffs contend that same-day registrants should face the same eligibility checks faced by advance registrants, and their votes should not be counted until their eligibility is verified.

There is no question that we have a lot of work to do to ensure that eligible Americans can exercise their right to vote. But the goal should be fair and honest enfranchisement, not the politics of distraction. The fact is that same-day registration increases voter turnout and is good for democracy.

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