PEOPLE FOR BLOG

PFAWF to Lowe's: Catering to Hate Is Bad for Business, Bad for America -- This Holiday Season, Boycott Hate

Lowe's Home Improvement made a recent decision to pull advertising from TLC's "All-American Muslim" in the wake of an email campaign by a Florida-based right-wing hate group, setting a dangerous precedent and emboldening bigots.

In response, People For the American Way Foundation president Michael B. Keegan released the following statement:

"Lowe's is setting a dangerous precedent by meeting the demands of a fringe group, the Florida Family Association. Let's be very clear about what happened.

"TLC launched a popular reality show called 'All-American Muslim' about everyday Americans, who happen to be Muslim, going about their lives. They play sports, they go school, they go to work and pay their taxes. This was too much for the anti-Muslim fear mongers at the Florida Family Association, who were outraged that the show was depicting 'Muslims as ordinary folks just like you and me.' An article on the organization's website suggests that the show instead depict 'one of its secular, attractive nominal Muslims as he decided to get more serious about his faith, and ended up participating in jihad activity or Islamic supremacist efforts.'

"The controversy should have ended there. Lowe's should have ignored the canned emails and gone about its business. Instead it caved to a group of fanatics who want to make everyone live in accordance with their narrow and rigid religious beliefs.

"Lowe's should not base its advertising decisions on religion or the complaints of groups preaching intolerance. The company claims it is committed to diversity -- it's time to prove it.

"There are millions of Americans who happen to be Muslim, and there are tens of millions more who won't stand for religious bigotry. This holiday season, Americans should boycott hate. Lowe's has taken the side of the bigots. I'm encouraging our members, and all liberty-loving Americans, to take their business elsewhere until Lowe's rejects extremism and reinstates its advertising on 'All-American Muslim.'"

PFAW

Coalition Urges Federal Agencies to Shed Light on Faith Discrimination Policies

A coalition of religious, civil rights, labor, secular, and women’s advocacy groups, including People For the American Way, sent a letter to thirteen federal agencies last week asking them to explain the process by which they review the legality of religious discrimination by grant recipients in federally funded programs.


President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative opened a gaping hole in our nation’s civil rights protections. Through a wholesale reinterpretation of federal law, the Bush administration declared that employment discrimination on the basis of religion by faith-based organizations using federal taxpayer money was legal. As a candidate, President Obama promised to prohibit this federally funded discrimination. However, his administration has instead stated it would take a “case-by-case” approach to the issue. Three years into his term, we still have no indication of what that “case-by-case” approach looks like.


The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, an alliance of dozens of groups dedicated to supporting religious liberty, asked agencies distributing faith-based funds to make public their process for evaluating discrimination in federally funded jobs by faith-based programs. The letter asks the agencies to explain:


(1) What is the process for how your agency begins the “case-by-case” review of an organization that seeks to discriminate on the basis of religion with federal funds? Is there a process for a person who suspects federally funded religious discrimination is taking place to report a potential violation? To whom would they report? How are individuals informed of this process? Is there an appeal process? How are grants or contracts to these organizations handled during the review process?


(2) What offices and components of your agency are involved in the “case-by-case” analysis and what are their roles in the review?


(3) Utilizing a “case-by-case” analysis requires that the Administration have a set standard that applies to each case. What principles and criteria does your agency apply when developing a case for the White House Counsel, Department of Justice, and the President to review?


(4) If there have, in fact, been cases forwarded from your agency for review under this mechanism, (a) how many have there been; (b) what were the facts of those cases; and (c) what was the decision reached in each case? Have there been any cases reported to or reviewed by your agency that were not forwarded under this mechanism?


Letters were sent to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration and the United States Agency for International Development.

 

PFAW

With Nominations, the Senate GOP Legislates by Gridlock

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

The Senate GOP under President Obama has mastered the art of proactive apathy. Not content with neglecting their own jobs, Senate Republicans have expertly used their own dysfunction to prevent other parts of government from doing theirs. These efforts have consequences far beyond bureaucratic procedure: whether it's by crippling the courts or attacking agencies that hold corporations accountable, Republicans are making it harder for individual Americans to access the rights that a functioning government protects.

This week, Senate Republicans added two new public disservices to their resume. On Tuesday, they shattered the 2005 "Gang of 14" deal that prevented filibusters of judicial nominees in all but extraordinary circumstances, setting a standard that no nominee for the D.C. Circuit will be able to meet. As President Obama said about the filibuster of Halligan's nomination, "The only extraordinary things about Ms. Halligan are her qualifications and her intellect." And then on Thursday, they blocked President Obama's nominee to head a new federal agency simply because they do not want that agency to exist -- a move that will have untold consequences on future attempts to staff the executive branch.

These political power plays by a minority of senators are far more than "inside the Beltway" procedural dust ups. They signal the emergence of a party that is so intent on tilting the playing field in favor of the powerful that they will sacrifice basic public service in order to serve the interests of a powerful few.

On Tuesday, all but one Senate Republican refused to allow an up-or-down confirmation vote on Caitlin Halligan, a D.C. Circuit Court nominee who in any other year would have been easily approved by the Senate. The GOP struggled to find a reason to oppose Halligan on her merits, ultimately settling on a handful of trumped-up charges and the ridiculous argument that the D.C. Circuit, with one third of its seats vacant, didn't need another judge. When George W. Bush was president, many of these same Republicans loudly proclaimed that filibustering judicial nominees violates the United States Constitution, ultimately agreeing to the "Gang of 14" deal that judicial nominees would only be filibustered under "extraordinary circumstances." The vote on Halligan shattered that deal, opening the door for further political abuse of the judicial confirmation process.

On Thursday, the story repeated itself when the GOP succeeded in blocking a vote to confirm Richard Cordray to lead the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray, the former attorney general of Ohio, is as non-controversial as they come. He has a history of working with banks and with consumer advocates. He's backed by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general, including the Republican who beat him in last year's election. Republicans in the Senate don't have any problems with Cordray. But they've made it very clear that they'll do everything in their power to keep the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from performing the functions that it is required by law to carry out. They don't want anyone to lead the agency, because without a Senate-confirmed head, it cannot perform all of its legally assigned duties. This is not conjecture on the part of progressives; Republicans have brazenly admitted it.

Unfortunately, these votes are not aberrations. They are part of a clear pattern of the Senate GOP since President Obama's election. Unable to accept the results of an election they lost, and unable to get their own way on everything, they have resorted to obstruction and dysfunction. They have abused the extraordinary power the Senate minority is granted , blocking everything they get their hands on, sometimes, it seem, simply because they can. In the process, they are damaging America's system of justice and accountability and betraying the voters they were elected to serve.

Perhaps they are doing this to serve the powerful corporate special interests that do not want courts and agencies to hold them accountable, or perhaps they are doing it to score political points against a Democratic president, or some combination of those reasons. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. Either way, they are abusing their positions and throwing sand in the gears of the Senate to make it harder for ordinary Americans to get our day in court and to defend ourselves against the powerful. It's a deeply cynical strategy, and ultimately a deeply harmful one.

PFAW

Empty Talking Points, Job Creators Edition

Republicans in Congress, who are currently in the process of stalling a tax cut for the middle class because it would be paid for by a miniscule surtax on the wealthiest, are adamant that the president’s plan for a payroll tax break will hurt small businesses and the wealthy people they like to call “job creators.”

Today, an NPR reporter went looking for some of those job creators who would stop hiring once they’re hit by a 3.25 surcharge on their income taxes. The reporter did her due diligence and asked for names from Republican congressional leaders and business lobbyists. None of them were able to present her with a small business owner who would talk about being hurt by the millionaire’s surtax. Then she tried something new:


So next we put a query on Facebook. And several business owners who said they would be affected by the "millionaires surtax" responded.


"It's not in the top 20 things that we think about when we're making a business hire," said Ian Yankwitt, who owns Tortoise Investment Management.
Tortoise is a boutique investment firm in White Plains, N.Y. Yankwitt has 10 employees and in recent years has done a lot of hiring.


As a result, Yankwitt says he's had many conversations about hiring, "both with respect to specific people, with respect to whether we should hire one junior person or two, whether we should hire a senior person."


He says his ultimate marginal tax rate "didn't even make it on the agenda."
Yankwitt says deciding to bring on another employee is all about return on investment. Will adding another person to the payroll make his company more successful?


For Jason Burger, the motivation is similar.


"If my taxes go up, I have slightly less disposable income, yes," said Burger, co-owner of CSS International Holdings, a global infrastructure contractor. "But that has nothing to do with what my business does. What my business does is based on the contracts that it wins and the demand for its services."


Burger says his Michigan-based company is hiring like crazy, and he'd be perfectly willing to pay the surtax.


"It's only fair that I put back into the system that is the entire reason for my success," said Burger.


For the record, both Burger and Yankwitt have made campaign contributions to Democrats in the past, but they say their views on the surtax are about the economics of their businesses and not their politics.


And they're not alone.


"I, like any other American, especially a business owner, I want to make as much money as I can and I want to keep as much money in my pocket as I can, but I also believe in the greater good," says Deborah Schwarz, who owns LAC Group, an information management firm with offices nationwide and in London.
Surtax or no, Schwarz says she hopes to keep hiring.


"We're going to keep on writing proposals, going after contracts, hopefully winning them, and when we do we're going to continue to hire people," says Schwarz.


All of this contradicts the arguments about job creators being made by Republicans in Congress.

Republicans are stopping a tax break for the middle class because of a myth about “job creators” they they aren’t able to back up with any actual examples, while actual job creators are keeping on investing in their own futures and that of their employees.
 

PFAW

In Plan B Decision, Obama Administration Channels but Does Not Please the Religious Right

On Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled a science-based decision by the FDA to allow girls under 17 to access the emergency contraceptive Plan B without a prescription. Currently, women 17 and older can obtain the drug without a prescription, but must show ID at a pharmacy in order to access it. The FDA found that the drug, which is more effective the more quickly it is taken, is “safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of child-bearing potential.”

Defending Sebelius’ decision yesterday, President Obama said that as a father of two girls he was uneasy with Plan B being available “alongside bubble gum and batteries.”

In making this argument, Obama and Sebelius are channeling both the Religious Right’s contempt of science and its paternalistic attitude toward women’s reproductive health.

The “bubble gum and batteries” argument is, of course, not about safety – and neither is the Right’s opposition to Plan B. Girls of any age can walk into a pharmacy and buy any number of things that could damage their health if used improperly (Aspirin, Robitussin, rat poison). Plan B, at a cost of $30 to $50 a pop, is unlikely to be either an impulse purchase or a sexually active young woman’s primary method of birth control. Instead, it’s exactly what it bills itself as – an emergency measure to prevent pregnancy in the event of rape or contraceptive failure. And it becomes less effective the longer a woman waits to take it – adding a compelling reason why it should be available without a prescription and without a middle man.

The Religious Right’s fight to keep young woman from obtaining Plan B has never been about safety. Unable to keep the drug from being approved in the first place, anti-choice groups have fallen back on trying to keep it off the shelves and out of sight. In an email alert about the decision, the Family Research Council made these priorities very clear. The group applauded Sebelius for ensuring that Plan B would “stay behind pharmacy counters--where it belongs” and then backtracked to say they “opposed” the drug “from the beginning.” Wendy Wright, former director of Concerned Women for America, also ended a statement focusing on the safety of teenage girls (who she said would “rely on” Plan B as birth control if it became easily available) by criticizing the fact that the drug was available at all.

The decision to keep Plan B behind pharmacy counters will not appease the groups that don’t want it to be available in the first place. Instead, it will add more fuel to the Right’s attempts to cut off reproductive rights for women, while denying women of all ages the right to buy a safe drug without having to jump over hurdles laid out by politicians.
 

PFAW

GOP Disinformation Campaign on Filibustering Judges

Apparently recognizing the severe and possibly permanent damage they did to the judicial nominations process – and the entire U.S. court system – by filibustering Caitlin Halligan, Senate Republicans are running to the press to do damage control. Two days after they blocked consideration of a highly qualified, mainstream appeals court nominee for purely political reasons, they are claiming that they did nothing of the sort. Still covered in soot from the bomb they set off, they are painting themselves as peace-loving senators treating their Democratic colleagues respectfully.

In what might be mistaken for an April Fool's Day article, Roll Call has a piece trumpeting the GOP's claim that they are following the "golden rule" on judicial nominations, treating nominees supported by Democrats with as much respect as they would want theirs to be treated.

Graham and other Senate Republicans said they expect more of Obama's judicial nominees to be approved by the Senate next year, as long as the nominees' views are within the mainstream and they are properly vetted.

Then why have the Senate Republicans continued to slow-walk every nomination that comes before them? Even those with no opposition at all are forced to wait for months before the GOP allows them a floor vote. The contrast with how quickly President Bush's committee-approved nominees were given a floor vote is shocking. An average 22-day wait for President Bush's district court nominees has ballooned to 90 for President Obama. For circuit courts, Senate Republicans have forced the average wait from 30 days (for Bush) to 137 (for Obama).

The Senate has, for the most part, continued to adhere to the [2005 Gang of 14] agreement. Only two judges have been filibustered since 2005: Goodwin Liu and Halligan ...

Adhering "for the most part" is a cynical attempt to put a positive spin on "not adhering." The filibusters of Liu and Halligan were in clear violation of the agreement. And it's not "the Senate" that has violated the agreement, it's Senate Republicans.

The article conveniently overlooks the aggressive Republican effort to filibuster district court nominee Jack McConnell earlier this year, an effort that garnered the support of the majority of the Republican caucus. It also overlooks the fact that Democrats have had to file cloture on seven of Obama's judicial nominees in order to break through GOP obstruction. That some of those were ultimately confirmed overwhelmingly, sometimes even without any opposition, shows the cynical nature of the Republicans' misconduct.

But there are even more Republican filibusters than that. As a 2011 Congressional Research Service report states, "Cloture may be sought when no filibuster is taking place, and filibusters may occur without cloture being sought." Democratic leadership has sought to bring dozens of qualified, unopposed nominees to the floor in a timely manner, only to have them blocked for months by Republican leadership's refusal to agree. Just because Majority Leader Reid has not filed a cloture petition on them does not mean that they are not being filibustered.

Currently, there are 21 judicial nominations pending on the floor, 19 of them with overwhelming bipartisan support. There is no reason not to vote on them. If Republicans want people to do anything other than laugh at articles like this, they should end their filibusters and allow votes on them all.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) also said the Halligan vote was no watershed. Lee said the GOP treads lightly when it comes to filibustering judicial nominations, in part, for fear of antagonizing Democrats in the event that Republicans win the majority.

"We don't want to abuse [the filibuster of judicial nominees] because abusing it is wrong," Lee said. "But also there are consequences attached to abusing it and that is [another reason] why we are not abusing it."

"Abuse" is exactly the right word to describe the ongoing Republican obstruction of judicial nominees. Saying that black is white does not make it so.

PFAW

Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover’s Story Comes to ABC

Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides last fall, PFAW took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. Last Friday, ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition turned its attention to the story of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover.

On April 6, 2009, 11-year-old Carl Walker took his own life after being relentlessly bullied at school. Carl's family has focused their energies on helping others. They have turned this tragic event into something positive by lobbying for new state and federal laws against bullying.

The 3rd floor of the Walker home is where Carl took his own life. As a result, the family cannot bear the sadness of being on that floor. They need a new home that would meet their current needs yet also honor Carl in a positive way. Know anyone who can help?

Ty Pennington and designers Michael Moloney, Tracy Hutson, Jillian Harris, John Littlefield and local builders N. Riley Construction, Inc., as well as community volunteers, are tasked with building a new home while the Walkers are whisked away on a dream vacation to Hollywood.

As part of the episode, ABC teamed up with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network:

GLSEN worked with the Makeover team to create Stand Together, a community of people dedicated to taking action against bullying, with Sirdeaner Walker - a leading advocate on this issue - as the driving force behind the movement. The online hub featured in the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition episode is designed to raise awareness about the overwhelming number of bullying incidents in our nation's schools. Those touched by her work of making schools safe for all students can get involved and make a pledge against bullying and harassment by visiting www.standtogether.tv.

Stand Together is a great new tool to show how diverse the fight against bullying has become. They are well over one hundred thousand strong and still growing.

PFAW will continue its own advocacy to make sure that lessons are learned from stories like Carl's. Just this week, we sent a letter to the Senate supporting the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

S. 555 protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Ultimately, this is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing quality education. All children deserve far better than that.

Senator Franken is the sponsor of the Student Non-Discrimation Act.

On a personal note, Carl's story will remain saved in my DVR as a reminder of why I – why all of us in this fight do what we do.

PFAW

An Extraordinary Vote Shatters Senate Deal on ‘Extraordinary Circumstances’

The Senate GOP has already made it more difficult than ever for qualified judicial nominees to make it through the confirmation process. Yesterday, they made it even harder.

Caitlin Halligan, President Obama’s nominee to fill the seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that Chief Justice John Roberts vacated when he was appointed to the Supreme Court six years ago, is widely regarded as well-qualified and moderate. She has the support of a large and bipartisan group of prominent attorneys and law enforcement officials. Her legal views are decidedly non-controversial and middle of the road.

Yet Halligan yesterday became another victim of the Senate GOP’s strategy to defeat the Obama administration by preventing anything at all from getting done. When Democrats tried to get her a simple up-or-down confirmation vote, all but one Republican voted to keep up the filibuster against her. Why? Because, they said, the D.C. Circuit could keep on functioning with one third of its seats empty.

Andrew Cohen at The Atlantic summed up the implications:

If it were possible to strip the political varnish from the judicial nomination process, if we reduced the dark art down to its elemental tones, what we would see is both simple and maddening. 1) Our nation doesn't have enough federal judges working on cases. 2) The result is a growing backlog in the administration of justice that impacts the lives of millions of Americans. 3) There is a limited supply of capable, honest lawyers who are willing to take a pay cut, not to mention endure the background checks, to work as life-tenured jurists. 4) The Senate is unwilling to confirm dozens of these dedicated people out of partisan spite.

The Senate GOP’s ongoing efforts to keep the judiciary from functioning properly are both a powerful deterrent to talented lawyers who are recruited for the bench, and set a dangerous precedent for future Senate confirmation battles.

In 2005, the Senate’s “Gang of 14” cut a deal agreeing to only filibuster judicial nominees under “extraordinary circumstances,” which Sen. Lindsey Graham defined as “a character problem, an ethics problem, some allegation about the qualifications of the person, not an ideological bent.” Republican senators lined up to bash judicial filibusters, some even calling them unconstitutional,  and expound on the importance of a functioning judiciary. Many of these, including Graham, have apparently changed their minds.

The filibuster of Halligan clearly shatters this deal. The desire to keep President Obama’s nominees off the bench is in itself not an “extraordinary circumstance.” The new standard for judicial filibusters the Senate GOP set yesterday is one that will hurt qualified nominees of this president and of the next president, whatever his or her party.
 

PFAW

Stars Celebrate 30 Years of PFAW Foundation

On Monday night, stars and political leaders gathered in Los Angeles to celebrate the 30th anniversary of People For the American Way Foundation. California Gov. Jerry Brown, PFAW Foundation board members Alec Baldwin and Tracey Edmonds, Jane Lynch, will.i.am, Rob Reiner, J.J. Abrams, Lisa Ling and others joined the celebration.

Entertainment Tonight was there and put together this video of stars discussing the influence of PFAWF founder Norman Lear and the importance of People For the American Way Foundation’s work:

The Huffington Post was also there and filed this report. Among the speakers at the event was Lynch, who spoke about the importance of PFAW Foundation’s work on marriage equality:

Lynch spoke of her marriage to her wife, Lara Embry, in 2010 in Massachusetts. On equality for all, she said to the room, "You have been fighting for me, and I thank you. This is a topic that is particularly important to me. Last time I checked, same-sex marriage has not ruined anyone else's marriage."

Norman Lear, Lyn Lear, Alec Baldwin  Doris Roberts, Normal Lear

Jane Lynch, Norman Lear, will.i.am  "Alec

J.J. Abrams, Rob Reiner, Tracey Edmonds, Norman Lear  Carl Reiner, Rob Reiner

SEE MORE PHOTOS FROM THE EVENT HERE >

UPDATE: Watch Norman Lear, Alec Baldwin and members of the Young Elected Officials Network discuss PFAW Foundation's work:

PFAW

Maryland GOP Campaign Manager Found Guilty of Election Fraud

A jury verdict was reached today in one of the most notorious of the GOP dirty tricks designed to suppress the vote on Election Day 2010.

That's when Maryland Democrats received telephone calls late in the day telling them that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley had won reelection, so they could "relax" (i.e., not vote). Prosecutors alleged this was done to suppress the African American vote, and a jury agreed. The Republican candidate's campaign manager was today found guilty of election fraud.

One of the shocking developments of the trial was the defense: When paid consultant Julius Henson (whose idea it was to make these robocalls) had presented an earlier plan explicitly designed to suppress the black vote, the campaign rejected it, so the second plan couldn't have been designed to do that. The Baltimore Sun reports one juror's dismay:

Jurors said they didn't understand the Ehrlich campaign's decision to retain Henson, even after he pitched them on a $600,000 plan to suppress black votes in July 2010.

"The first and most desired outcome is voter suppression," Henson's plan stated, saying the goal was to have "African-American voters stay home."

Instead, the Republican candidate's campaign continued to pay Henson $16,000 a month — for a total of $112,000 — and promised him a $30,000 bonus should Ehrlich win.

"Why wasn't he fired right on the spot?" asked Johnson, the juror.

Why not, indeed?

PFAW

Rick Perry: Don’t Use the Constitution to Interpret the Constitution

Researchers at People For’s Right Wing Watch were watching Mike Huckabee’s presidential candidate forum on Saturday, and picked out this interesting exchange:

First, Perry presents his plan to impose term limits on Supreme Court justices – which he correctly points out would require a constitutional amendment. Then he explains why he wants to do this: because the Supreme Court (which happens to be the most conservative in decades) keeps on making decisions he finds “offensive.”

Perry’s advice to the Justices who keep on offending him: “Don’t use any of these different clauses, whether it’s the Commerce Clause or any of the other clauses to try to try to change what our founding fathers were telling us.”

The Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power to tackle economic issues that affect the entire country, is at the center of the legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act. It has also played a major role in the formation of the country: according to a report by PFAW Foundation, the clause has been "the most important constitutional instrument for social progress in our history.”

Of course, there can be many different interpretations of the Constitution – that’s what makes so-called “originalism” more opinion than science – but Perry’s doing more than offering a differening interpretation. He’s outright telling us that he wants to ignore the parts of the Constitution that he doesn’t like. In other words, he doesn’t want judges to use the Constitution to interpret the Constitution.

Perry’s latest Constitutional law lecture places him solidly in the company of fellow GOP candidate Newt Gingrich, who has said he’ll urge Congress to subpoena judges who make decisions he doesn’t like and encourage his administration to flatly ignore unpalatable court rulings.
 

PFAW

Senate Schedules Cloture Vote for Caitlin Halligan

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a cloture vote for Tuesday at noon on Caitlin Halligan's nomination to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Hopefully, that means the Senate will be able to finally cast an up-or-down vote on an exceptional nominee who was approved by the Judiciary Committee almost nine months ago.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy released a statement this morning on what it means that Senate Republicans would even consider filibustering someone like Caitlin Halligan:

Republicans' shifting standards with respect to judicial nominations have required cloture motions to be filed on some nominations that ultimately won unanimous support from the Senate. Those shifting standards even required cloture to be filed on a district court nomination earlier this year. It would set yet another new standard if a nominee this well-qualified is prevented from even having an up-or-down vote, and one that could not be met by judicial nominees of Presidents of either party.

Indeed, Halligan's exceptional qualifications and broad-based, bipartisan support cannot be denied:

  • She has received the highest possible rating of her qualifications from a unanimous panel of the ABA's nonpartisan Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.
  • She served as New York's State's solicitor general for nearly six years.
  • She has a broad range of professional experience in government service, private practice, and academia.
  • She has received the strong support of a bipartisan group of America's most renowned appellate advocates, including Miguel Estrada (Assistant to the Solicitor General under President George W. Bush and former nominee to this same court), Seth Waxman (Solicitor General under President Clinton), Carter Phillips (Assistant to the Solicitor General under President Reagan), and Walter Dellinger (Solicitor General under President Clinton).
  • She has been endorsed by women's professional organizations like the National Center for Women and Policing, the National Conference of Women's Bar Associations, the Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce.
  • She has the support of law enforcement organizations like the National District Attorneys Association, the New York Association of Chiefs of Police, the New York State Sheriff's Association, and New York Women in Law Enforcement.
  • She has been endorsed by top law enforcement officials in her home state like Raymond Kelly (New York City Police Commissioner) and Robert Morgenthau (former New York County District Attorney).
  • She was awarded the National Association of Attorneys General “Best Brief” award five consecutive years.

Clearly, Caitlin Halligan is supremely qualified, mainstream, and uncontroversial. The need for a cloture vote shows how far Senate Republicans have moved the goalposts since claiming during the Bush Administration that the Constitution actually prohibits the filibustering of judicial nominees. It is hard to imagine what "extraordinary circumstances" – the standard set by the "Gang of Fourteen" in 2005 – would possibly warrant a filibuster in this case.

Chairman Leahy is right to mention that a new standard would be created if a DC Circuit Court nominee with such sterling qualifications and bipartisan support cannot even get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. What nominee could possibly meet this new standard? Should Halligan be filibustered, then it seems unlikely that any vacancy on that court could ever get filled. Considering that three of the eleven seats on the DC Circuit are vacant (this one for more than six years), that would deal a crippling blow to what many consider to be the nation's second most important court.

When the cloture vote on Halligan is held this Tuesday, let's hope cooler heads prevail. And let's hope that by Wednesday, we'll be calling her Judge Caitlin Halligan.

PFAW

Exposing ALEC in Arizona

Yesterday, community leaders in Arizona spoke out against the undue influence that corporations hold in our democracy. With the help of secretive organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), wealthy corporations and special interests are able to sit down with state lawmakers and present “model bills” that serve to transfer taxpayer dollars and public resources into a few private hands – with the goal of privatizing schools and prisons, rolling back environmental regulations and attacking workers’ rights, to name a few.

Coinciding with an ALEC meeting in Scottsdale, speakers at a press conference in front of the Arizona State House identified specific ALEC legislation that has directly impacted their families and communities. Present at the event were many concerned Arizonans, activists, the media and groups such as Occupy Phoenix.

People For the American Way Foundation and Common Cause released a joint report, “ALEC in Arizona: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in the Halls of Arizona’s Legislature,” which examines the extensive influence wielded by corporations, with the assistance of ALEC, in shaping Arizona’s laws through a side-by-side comparison of ALEC model legislation and actual bills submitted by ALEC-associated politicians.

The full video is available here.

PFAW

Guest Post: Local Governments Speak Out Against Citizens United

By Cynthia Wolken

City Councilwoman, Missoula, Montana & Member of People For the American Way Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network

Across the nation, Americans are mobilizing against the damage done to our democracy by Citizens United. The only way to fully correct the decision is through a constitutional amendment, and activists all over the country are debating exactly what an amendment would look like. But there is one important point of agreement: We must reclaim our democracy from powerful corporate interests. As the blog post below by Missoula city councilwoman Cynthia Wolken demonstrates, members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials are part of this continuing dialogue.

I am proud to live in a community where this November, 75% of voters agreed that corporations are not people and should not have the same rights as you and I. This common sense opposition to corporate ‘personhood’ spanned party affiliation, age, gender, and yes, even class. The resolution that I referred to the ballot was so common sense that it overwhelmingly passed with only a bare-bones, grass roots, word-of-mouth campaign that raised and spent less than $5,000.00. Five thousand dollars! And now, like a good old fashion Montana prairie fire, communities across the state are hoping to run similar campaigns to raise awareness of the issue among their friends and neighbors and push our state and federal elected officials to fix this mess we’ve found ourselves in.


As a newly elected official serving on the City Council in Missoula, Montana, the last thing on my policy agenda was thinking about ways to tinker with the United States Constitution. I was elected to do the people’s work, and at the time, I thought that meant fixing potholes and making sure their leaves were picked up on time (which I can assure you, I did and still do spend plenty of time on). But what I heard knocking doors in my community was an overwhelming and disheartening sense of despair about people’s relationship to their own government. Many did not vote because they didn’t think their votes mattered – they believe that those with the most money wield the most influence.


Before Citizens United, I would have tried to convince them otherwise. Now, it’s hard not to agree, even as we fight for change. In Citizens United v. the FEC, the U.S. Supreme Court majority declared that corporations are people and that they have a first amendment right to spend as much money as they like defeating or supporting their favored candidates or ballot issues. Because of this ruling, Montana’s own campaign finance laws are on the chopping block, challenged by a group that doesn’t believe in complying with our contribution limits or disclosure laws.


This ruling violates our fundamental sense of fairness and rules of logic. Even the most educated of voters can be fooled by dishonest ad campaigns funding by corporate front groups with misleading names. Astroturf groups use names with words like ‘freedom, justice, prosperity, and liberty,’ when their aims are often the complete opposite. I could never have predicted that our little ballot referendum campaign in Western Montana would coincide with Occupy Wall Street and its subsequent demand to abolish corporate personhood, but I think this speaks to the depth and breadth of the appeal of getting our representative democracy back on track.


The only way to right this wrong is to amend the Constitution to explicitly state that corporations are not people. As a lawyer myself, I know the City of Missoula can’t amend the United States Constitution. So why a referendum on the Missoula City ballot? Local government is the forum left where citizens’ voices are heard the loudest, that is why I referred this to the City Council – I felt the voters of Missoula deserved to have a say on this issue. This is what grass-roots government looks like – I am honored to represent intelligent, informed voters who supported this effort to demand transparency and accountability. After all, as my constituents remind me, on-time leaf pick-up doesn’t mean much if we were living in a full-fledged corporatocracy.
 

PFAW

Suppressing the African American Vote in Maryland

When a paid campaign consultant presents you with a plan designed to illegally suppress the African American vote, what is the proper response? When this happened last year to Republicans in Maryland, rather than show the consultant the door, they chose instead to continue to solicit his ideas. This came out yesterday during the trial of former Gov. Bob Ehrlich's campaign manager Paul Schurick and consultant Julius Henson for voter suppression on Election Day last year.

While the polls were still open, Maryland Democrats received telephone calls late in the day telling them that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley had won reelection, so they could "relax" (i.e., not vote). The calls were generated and approved by operatives working for Ehrlich's campaign. His campaign manager and former high-ranking aide Paul Schurick and campaign consultant Julius Henson are on trial for seeking to suppress the African American vote. The Washington Post reports Schurick's alternative explanation for the robocalls:

The calls were a kind of reverse psychology, Schurick’s attorney said, intended to motivate Democrats inclined to cross party lines and vote for Ehrlich to head to the polls in the election’s waning hours.

...

[Schurick's attorney] said other members of Ehrlich's campaign team will attest that Schurick previously rejected a plan by Henson to suppress black voter turnout. And on Election Day, Pettit said, Schurick's approval of the robo-calls came in response to Henson's assertion that the calls would motivate a few final supporters to turn out for Ehrlich.

Even if we take Schurick at his word, his statement is damning. A paid consultant presented the Republican campaign with a plan to suppress the African American vote, which is anti-democratic to say the least. But rather than terminating their relationship with him, they simply rejected that particular idea and continued to work with him on other campaign strategies.

This is hardly an isolated incident. As the GOP nationwide works to make it harder for Americans to vote, their professions of fealty to free and fair elections are hard to take seriously.

PFAW