PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Pro-Voucher Group Working Against Recall of Union-Busting Wisconsin Republicans

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

An organization that backs private school vouchers is campaigning against the recall of the eight Republican Wisconsin senators who backed Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation. The so-called American Federation for Children (AFC) is an ardent supporter of the voucher scheme in Milwaukee, the unsuccessful voucher program which Walker and his GOP allies want to export to other parts of the state as part of bolstering the Republicans’ attacks on public schools and teachers.

Listen to their robocall defending GOP Senator Sheila Harsdorf:

At the same time that Walker and the Republicans proposed a massive $834 million cut to public schools, endangering the state’s esteemed public education system, they seek to spend more taxpayer money on a wasteful voucher program that has been unable to improve the education of Milwaukee students. A comprehensive study in 2009 found “no overall statistically significant difference between [voucher school] and [public school] student achievement growth in either math or reading one year after they were carefully matched to each other,” and that fourth graders in the voucher program were actually performing worse than comparable public school students.

While the private school voucher scheme did nothing to improve education, it did funnel taxpayer dollars to religious schools: of the 120 schools receiving vouchers examined in the study, 95 were religious and 7 operate within a religious tradition.

Renowned education scholar Diane Ravitch, once a proponent of the so-called “school choice” movement, told OnMilwaukee.com that the voucher program “has not worked”:

Milwaukee is indeed the nation's laboratory for assessing the value of school choice. The advocates of school choice predicted that academic performance in choice schools would not only soar, but that the competitive pressure would cause achievement in the regular district schools to improve. None of this has happened. The latest studies show that students in voucher schools and in charter schools do not perform any differently from those in the regular public schools.



"Reformers" in Milwaukee have been pursuing strategies that we now know are ineffective. The more time and resources devoted to ineffective strategies, the less attention there is to finding useful improvements. Choice got the support of foundations and business leaders, but it has not worked.

Even the state schools superintendent Tom Evers agreed that “choice schools have proven to be no more effective and in some cases less effective than Milwaukee Public Schools.”

But organizations like the AFC ignore and dismiss the clear findings that the Milwaukee voucher program is a wrongheaded and ill-designed effort to improve education, and instead want to expand the program to more school districts and tear down the public education system. Now, they want to make sure that Republican legislators keep their jobs and continue to support vouchers and bust unions representing public school teachers.

PFAW

Will the Supreme Court Close the Door to Civil Rights Lawsuits?

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing hear oral arguments in Fox v. Vice, a case that threatens to choke off future civil rights litigation. People For the American Way Foundation has joined an amicus brief protecting the right of people to sue to protect their basic rights.

In a federal civil rights lawsuit, where the government or a government official is being sued, a trial court can sometimes order the plaintiff to pay the defendant's legal fees. The law allows this if (1) the defendant is the prevailing party and (2) the plaintiff's case was frivolous. In Fox v. Vice, the Supreme Court is being asked to interpret this law. The potential exposure to paying a defendant's legal fees serves as an obvious deterrent to bringing suit, and it's important, therefore that it be narrowly construed in order not to violate Congress's intent to empower people to vindicate their rights in the courts.

In this case, Ricky Fox sued the local chief of police, Billy Ray Vice, based on two incidents that took place after both men had announced their competing candidacies for the police chief job. Fox claimed that Vice, the incumbent, sent him an "anonymous" letter attempting to blackmail him into not running for office. The next month, Vice allegedly encouraged someone to file a false police report about Fox.

Fox claimed that these acts violated both federal civil rights laws and state tort laws. The case was before a federal court, and Fox eventually acknowledged that he had no valid federal claim. So the trial court judge dismissed the federal claims and remanded the state civil claims to state court for future adjudication. The judge also ruled that the federal claims had been frivolous, and he ordered the plaintiff to pay the defendant's legal fees related to the frivolous claims.

However, because the frivolous and non-frivolous claims were all based on the same set of facts, it was nearly impossible to disentangle legal fees for one from legal fees for the other. So the district court judge classified them all as being for the frivolous federal claims and ordered the plaintiff to pay the entire legal bill. Fox ended up paying the legal fees that will be used by the defendant to oppose Fox's own non-frivolous state court claims still to be litigated. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision.

If the Supreme Court affirms this decision, it could severely chill civil rights lawsuits. It sets up a standard where plaintiffs risk having to pay all of the defendant's legal fees even if only one of their claims is judged frivolous. To make matters worse, it is very hard to predict what a judge will consider frivolous. Even judges hearing the same case at the same time may differ wildly as to whether it is frivolous. The standard adopted by the lower court would discourage civil rights plaintiffs from pursuing novel legal theories and create a powerful disincentive against filing valid civil rights suits in the first place.

In considering the case, the Supreme Court should be consistent with Congress's intent to encourage meritorious suits and discourage frivolous ones. It should rule that legal fees should not be awarded in federal civil rights cases when a plaintiff's "frivolous" claim is factually intertwined with non-frivolous claims.

The Roberts Court has devised numerous ways to close the courthouse door to innocent people seeking to vindicate their rights. By the end of the Court's term, we will learn whether Fox v. Vice will join cases like Ledbetter v. Goodyear in the Roberts Court's Hall of Shame.

PFAW

The Costs of Eliminating Constitutional Citizenship

Last month, Right Wing Watch looked at the historical revisionism, lack of legal logic, and indifference to practical results endemic in the movement to change the Constitution’s definition of citizenship. Following last week’s defeat of a law challenging constitutional citizenship in the Arizona senate, the Arizona Republic took takes an extensive look at the arguments for and against Constitutional citizenship. Their analysis of the pragmatic pros and cons is telling. While denying citizenship to American-born children of undocumented immigrants might save some money on social programs in the short term, the paper reports, the long-term costs of creating a huge American-born undocumented underclass—with up to 400,000 new children each year—could be huge. In addition, implementing a system to discriminate against children based on the citizenship status of their parents would be burdensome:

Limiting birthright citizenship could create costs and challenges for the government at various levels while potentially saving money in other areas.

At some level - local, state, federal or even at the hospital - someone would have to determine whether a newborn's parents were legally in the United States before the infant could be processed for a Social Security number.

Regardless of how the process worked, it would require governments to spend money creating and running an agency to verify the citizenship of parents at a time when the public is calling for less government spending and bureaucracy, said Margaret Stock, a retired Army Reserves lieutenant colonel and immigration attorney specializing in military cases.

She is concerned too that limiting birthright citizenship could hurt the nation's armed services because immigrants, and the children of immigrants, have a higher propensity to join the military than other citizens, she said.

Denying citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants could save taxpayers some money.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the children of undocumented immigrants are more likely to live in poverty and lack health insurance than children of U.S. citizens. As citizens, many of those children qualify for public benefits.

By denying them citizenship, those children would not be eligible for most public-assistance programs, so some of the costs to taxpayers would be less, Van Hook said.

In the long run, however, without citizenship, those children would not be able to work legally and would probably earn less money, pay less in taxes and cost the public in other ways such as emergency medical care, she said.

 

PFAW

A Religious Exemption From the Rule of Law

As originally written and introduced, the marriage bill that recently failed to pass in Maryland was very straightforward, simply removing the restriction that limits marriage to opposite-sex couples. Other laws in the state would have remained unchanged. However, a number of equality opponents expressed concern that some people would have to recognize the civil marriages of same-sex couples in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs. Therefore, they introduced a variety of "conscience clause" amendments.

These amendments tell us a great deal about their supporters' real agenda, and it has nothing to do with a principled stand for religious liberty. The amendments did things like provide:

  • that a public school teacher not be required to teach materials that promote same-sex marriage if the content of the materials violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.
  • that a religious entity (or any nonprofit organization operated or controlled by one) need not provide adoption, foster care, or social services if providing the services would violate the entity's religious beliefs.
  • that a government employee (like a clerk or judge) not be required to perform a civil marriage ceremony if performance of the ceremony would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs.

The common phrasing – violating someone's religious beliefs, as opposed to violating their First Amendment rights – is extremely important. It makes it sound like people's constitutional Free Exercise rights are being protected. But in Maryland and elsewhere, that is not the case: Provisions like these do not codify existing First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion.

Neutral laws of general applicability that infringe on a person's religious beliefs have been upheld as not violating a person's First Amendment rights. For instance, in the 1990 Employment Division v. Smith case, the Supreme Court upheld Oregon's right to deny unemployment benefits to a person who had been fired for violating the state's anti-drugs laws (specifically, smoking peyote), even though the person smoked peyote as part of his religion.

In that case, with Justice Scalia writing for the majority, the Court ruled that the First Amendment does not allow a person to cite their own religious beliefs as a reason not to obey generally applicable laws. "To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."

Anti-discrimination laws have long required people to do things that may not be consistent with their religious faith. For instance, an election worker who believes God commanded the sexes to remain separate in public cannot force men and women to vote in different rooms. A white innkeeper who believes that God commands segregation must nevertheless open his inn to all races. An employer who believes God commanded women to defer to men cannot refuse to make women supervisors.

So opponents of marriage equality certainly aren't acting to protect anyone's constitutional right to religious liberty. What they are demanding is a religious exemption from laws they don't like.

As if that wasn't bad enough, it's only those who share their particular religious beliefs who they deem worthy of this special right.

Since the marriage equality bill in Maryland failed to pass, have these self-styled stalwarts of religious liberty insisted that the amendments they proposed be made into law anyway, as general religious liberty protections not targeting gay people as a class?

They have not.

Perhaps what drives them is animus toward gays and lesbians. Or perhaps it's an arrogant certainty that their religious beliefs and no one else's should be protected by law.

Whatever it is, it certainly is not a principled fidelity to religious liberty.

We faced a similar issue more than forty years ago, when people with religious opposition to interracial marriages found themselves in a society that no longer prohibited such marriages. Indeed, as the Virginia trial court judge wrote when convicting Richard and Mildred Loving of violating the state's prohibition of interracial marriage:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

After Loving v. Virginia, our nation did not empower that judge or any other public official to opt out of performing his duty to marry eligible couples simply because he personally opposed interracial marriages on religious grounds. Nor did we empower public school teachers to "opt out" of teaching students that such couples exist. No different standard should be applied with respect to gay couples.

PFAW

Pence Admits to Using Women’s Health as a Bargaining Chip

NPR reports today on Republican efforts to gut funding to Title X family planning clinics, which “serve 15 percent of women in the United States who obtain contraceptive prescriptions or supplies, or who receive an annual checkup for birth control.” In February, all but three Republican representatives voted for a budget proposal that completely nixed Title X funding, after approving an amendment that also strips Planned Parenthood of all federal funds. As NPR reports, Rep. Mike Pence, the sponsor of the Planned Parenthood amendment, actually thinks that Title X funding is a good thing….but is willing to use it as a bargaining chip to achieve his ultimate goal of decimating Planned Parenthood:

Supporters of defunding have characterized it as an effort to strip funds from Planned Parenthood and other organizations that use other funds to provide legal abortions, without singling out any particular group. The House in February voted 240-185 to defund Title X in the current budget year.

But even staunch anti-abortion legislators like Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who has crusaded against federal funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, say that jettisoning the Title X program may be going too far.

"I've never advocated reducing funding for Title X," Pence said during a recent radio interview with the chairman of a county Right to Life organization in his home state.

"Title X clinics do important work in our inner cities," Pence said. "They provide health services for women and children that might not otherwise have access to them."

So, why have Republican House members set their sights on the $327 million that would fund the program this year?

The answer, largely, is Planned Parenthood and politics.

Social conservatives have pressed House Republicans to make cutting off federal funds to Planned Parenthood a priority; but they see room for negotiation over Title X funds.

The Right’s obsession with bringing down Planned Parenthood is destructive enough…that people like Pence are willing to put millions of women at risk to achieve it shows just how blind an obsession it is.

 

PFAW

Walker’s Patronage Faces Scrutiny

While Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the state legislature talk a tough game when it comes to fiscal responsibility and sound governance, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today reports on a brewing controversy regarding the governor’s hiring practices. According to reporter Daniel Bice, Walker’s team helped a Republican political operative get a job in a state agency with a higher pay than her predecessor. Not only was the staffer a paid GOP activist, but she is also the mistress of Republican State Senator Randy Hopper.

Progressives are currently seeking to recall Hopper, an ardent supporter of Walker’s union-busting legislation. But Hopper may not even reside in the district anymore, as his estranged wife claims that he now lives with his mistress in Madison.

Bice reports:

Even though the state is supposedly broke, top officials in Gov. Scott Walker's team were able to scrape together enough money to give a state job to the woman identified as Sen. Randy Hopper's girlfriend.

Anything for a political ally.

Valerie Cass, a former Republican legislative staffer, was hired Feb. 7 as a communications specialist with the state Department of Regulation and Licensing. She is being paid $20.35 per hour. The job is considered a temporary post.

Cass previously had worked in the state Senate and for the GOP campaign consulting firm Persuasion Partners in Madison. She also was paid for campaign work for the state Republican Party and U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner before that.



Cullen Werwie, spokesman for the governor, confirmed that it was Keith Gilkes, Walker's chief of staff. She was then interviewed by the Department of Regulations and Licensing's executive assistant and deputy and hired by Secretary Dave Ross, a Walker cabinet member.



Hopper has maintained that he had nothing to do with Cass' recent appointment to the state job.

Interestingly, Cass' name does not appear on a lengthy list of job applicants to Walker's transition team.
PFAW

Boehner Takes a Hit from the Right on DC Vouchers

House Speaker John Boehner took a hit yesterday in, of all places, the conservative Washington Examiner, a newspaper owned by the same folks who own the conservative Weekly Standard. Columnist Harry Jaffee slammed the Speaker for his plans to impose a reinvigorated private school voucher program on the District of Columbia. Jaffe states he is neutral on the issue of private school vouchers in general, but "with one caveat: The scholarships should not be used for parochial school tuition. And that is exactly where they have been going."

The Founding Fathers must be frowning on House Speaker John Boehner; you can almost envision the furrow on Thomas Jefferson's brow.

How could this fine conservative lawmaker from Ohio, who often cloaks himself in the Constitution, go on a crusade to give federal funds to D.C.'s Catholic schools? What happened to the separation of church and state?

Why is this a church-state issue? Because the vouchers are overwhelmingly used for religious education. In fact, the Department of Education reports that about 80% of the participating students have used the voucher to attend religious schools. Although the program may not expressly favor religious schools over others, you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief to think that that's not one of the goals of the program's proponents.

Jaffe ties the program directly to Boehner's upbringing.

So let's not let Boehner kid anyone. He's a good Catholic, attended Catholic schools in Cincinnati, has raised funds for D.C.'s Catholic schools, reads to their students, invited Cardinal Donald Wuerl to the State of the Union. His bill is a subsidy, plain and simple.

Catholic schools provide a strong education, build character and give poor kids a way out. No doubt. In Chicago and other cities, Catholic congregations support vibrant school systems. The truth is that D.C.'s Catholic community can no longer finance more than a few schools, which is why Wuerl turned seven into charter schools.

When John Boehner attended Archbishop Moeller High in Cincinnati, his parents split the cost with the local parish. When his brothers attended, Boehner helped.

That's the American way, where congregations and families helped their own get religious education. That's the way Thomas Jefferson saw it, at least.

Indeed, that is the American Way. But apparently it's not John Boehner's way.

PFAW

Arizona Senate Defeats Extremist Anti-Immigrant Laws

Arizona’s state Senate yesterday defeated five extreme anti-immigrant bills, including two aimed at provoking the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider the constitutional definition of citizenship, and three more that would have required hospitals, schools, public housing administrators, and DMV officials to become immigration enforcers:

One of the rejected bills would have required hospitals to contact federal immigration officials or local law enforcement if people being treated lack insurance and can't demonstrate legal status.

Critics said that would burden hospitals, but Republican Sen. Steve Smith of Maricopa said his bill didn't require much.

"Maybe you forgot it's illegal to be in this country illegally," he said during the vote on his bill. "We just ask them to report the crime, not be the judge and executioner."

Also defeated was a bill to require schools to file reports on enrollments of illegal immigrant students.

The fifth bill was a sweeping measure sponsored by Pearce. It would have made it a crime for illegal immigrants to drive in Arizona. It also had provisions on registering vehicles, workplace hiring and various public benefits.

It would ban illegal immigrants from attending Arizona's public universities and community colleges. The state does not now have a ban but it does require illegal immigrants to pay higher, non-resident tuition rates.

Pearce's bill also would have required eviction of public housing tenants who let illegal immigrants live with them and make applicants for vehicle titles and registration prove they are in the country legally.

Arizona has in recent months led the way in extremist anti-immigrant measures, including passing last year’s SB 1070, which would have required racial profiling by state police. Parts of that bill were temporarily blocked by a judge as the bill is appealed.


That these five bills couldn’t make it through the Arizona Senate shows the power of the backlash against such harsh—and possibly illegal—measures.
 

PFAW

Encouraged by Citizens United, Right-Wing Groups Demand Even More Corporate Influence in Politics

While the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United overturned decades of precedent by granting corporations the right to spend money from their corporate treasuries to help elect or defeat candidates, many pro-corporate activists believe that the ruling didn’t go far enough and seek to eviscerate even more restrictions on corporate money in elections. Opponents of campaign finance reform are spearheading efforts to allow corporations to contribute directly to candidates for office, permit political groups to keep the identity of their donors a secret, and loosen restrictions on foreigners contributing to candidates. The Supreme Court is also set to consider a major case on the constitutionality of Arizona’s clean elections laws that provide public financing for qualifying candidates. Politico reports on the Right’s “sustained assault” on campaign laws:

Not satisfied by the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that opened the floodgates to corporate-sponsored election ads, conservative opponents of campaign finance regulations have opened up a series of new legal fronts in their effort to eliminate the remaining laws restricting the flow of money into politics.

They have taken to Congress, state legislatures and the lower courts to target almost every type of regulation on the books: disclosure requirements, bans on foreign and corporate contributions and – in a pair of cases the Supreme Court will consider this month – party spending limits and public financing of campaigns.

The sustained assault, combined with the Supreme Court’s rightward tilt on the issue, has some advocates for reducing the role of money in politics fretting about the possibility of an irreversible shift in the way campaigns are regulated and funded that would favor Republicans and corporate interests in the 2012 presidential race and beyond.



“Depending on its scope, an adverse ruling from the high court could undermine public financing systems across the country and increase still further the grossly disproportionate voice given to corporations and unions in our elections,” warns a memo by Gerry Hebert and Tara Malloy, lawyers at the pro-regulation Campaign Legal Center, which filed a brief defending the Arizona law.

“Just a year after the controversial decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the Court is once again poised to issue a ruling that could make it harder for ordinary citizens to compete with big money in our democracy,” their memo predicted.

Opponents of campaign rules argue that removing restrictions allows more voices to compete in the political marketplace. And they have a slew of other suits pending that could dramatically alter the political money landscape, including one challenging a rule that limited how much the Republican National Committee could spend supporting the unsuccessful 2010 reelection campaign of former Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.).

The Supreme Court is set to decide on Friday whether to hear the case which is being handled by Jim Bopp, a Republican lawyer and leading opponent of campaign restrictions. The impact of the Cao case “could be real big,” if the court overturns the so-called coordination limits at issue, predicted Bopp, who has dozens of cases pending in courts around the country.

One seeks to advance the Citizens United ruling by challenging an Iowa law banning direct corporate contributions to state candidates, while a pair of others dispute whether non-profit groups called the Committee for Truth in Politics and The Real Truth About Obama that aired ads critical of then-candidate Barack Obama had to disclose their donors or activity.
PFAW

Health Care Providers Fear GOP Plans to Defund Planned Parenthood

As congressional Republicans attempt to pass measures to end funding to Planned Parenthood and the Title X program, health care providers fear the devastating consequences for women and health care services. The Hartford Courant reports that Republican legislation could force Planned Parenthood to shut down many of the organization’s clinics. Far-right groups like the Family Research Council say that “there are plenty of other clinics out there to take up the slack,” but health care providers don’t buy the misinformed rhetoric of groups like the FRC, and worry about the GOP’s attack on women’s health care:

"I can't even imagine what would happen if Planned Parenthood's patient base would suddenly have to be absorbed here or at other clinics," said Dr. Peter J. Beller, the director of Hartford Hospital's Women's Ambulatory Health Services.



"Defunding Planned Parenthood would be the moral equivalent of turning off the electricity and a whole segment of health care would go dark," said Mark Masselli, the president of Community Health Center Inc., which serves a population of about 130,000 uninsured and working poor patients in 12 cities throughout the state.

"Many women in the state would just go without vital reproductive health services," Masselli said. "This is what people just don't seem to understand. There just is no other capacity in Connecticut for what Planned Parenthood provides."



The state's new health commissioner, Dr. Jewel Mullen, cites another reason for opposing defunding. In February, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report showing that the national birth rate for teens was dropping dramatically, with Connecticut registering the fourth-lowest teen birth rate in the country.

Mullen said Planned Parenthood's birth-control services — especially to the urban poor — have played an important role in lowering the teen birth rate.

"Statistics show that as few as one-third of teen mothers finish high school," Mullen said. "Less than 2 percent finish college. That has huge social and economic costs. You can't be very optimistic about the outcome for this group if they don't have access to basic reproductive services."
PFAW

Solidarity Rally Challenges GOP’s Corporate Backers

Yesterday, hundreds of people turned out to protest a DC fundraiser held to reward Wisconsin Republicans who voted for anti-union legislation. Activists brought the demonstration to the front door of the BGR Group, a lobbyist firm founded by Mississippi Governor and potential 2012 candidate Haley Barbour, which hosted the lavish fundraiser. The BGR Group’s clients include several Chamber of Commerce affiliates, DuPont, and WE Energies, a major donor to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

PFAW joined a wide coalition to send a message to the Wisconsin Republicans and their corporate financers that Wisconsinites and most Americans oppose union-busting:


PFAW

Hundreds Turn Out at Rally to Support Wisconsin's Working Families

People For the American Way joined a coalition of progressive and labor organizations protesting a high-dollar fundraiser for Wisconsin Republican legislators in Washington D.C. today. After the Republicans pushed through extreme legislation to take away the rights of Wisconsin workers, they came to D.C. for high-dollar fundraiser hosted by a major corporate lobbyist firm, the BGR Group. To show solidarity with the people of Wisconsin, PFAW and activists from around Washington came to the BGR Group’s headquarters for a massive demonstration against union-busting and the GOP’s pro-corporate agenda.


Here are a few pictures from the protest. You can see more on our Facebook page.


PFAW

School Voucher Hypocrisy

In the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes the Speaker of the House to task on his hypocrisy in supporting the slashing of vitally important programs while setting some funds aside for a pet project of his in the District of Columbia.

Let me get this straight. As far as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is concerned, the United States government is "broke," which means we can't afford to pay for key domestic priorities, even if we want to.

Boehner, however, is also convinced that we have federal funds lying around to pay for private school tuition. …

[He] wants U.S. taxpayers to spend $20 million for private school tuition in D.C. over the next five years.

Maybe this is just an extension of Boehner's deep and abiding passion for looking out for struggling children? I have a strong hunch that's not it. After all, the Speaker's budget plan calls for devastating cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, among other things.

If Boehner were motivated solely by a desire to help children and students, these cuts would be off the table. Instead, they remain near the top of the GOP to-do list.

So what's really going on here? It's simply a matter of priorities. Boehner supports brutal spending cuts for most domestic priorities, but he loves vouchers, especially those that benefit Roman Catholic private schools and undermine public education (which his party is growing increasingly hostile towards).

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program certainly does help religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. In other words, the program funnels taxpayer money into religious organizations. In addition to the many other arguments against school vouchers, this program raises significant First Amendment concerns.

Does the Speaker support the program because he thinks it helps students achieve academically? In fact, neutral analyses of the program demonstrate clearly that it simply has not significantly improved the educational attainment of the enrolled students. The Department of Education has concluded that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same for students who applied from schools in need of improvement.

Does the Speaker think that the people of DC want this voucher program? In fact, the city’s mayor opposes it, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and numerous members of the DC Council. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.

So why support a program that the locals don’t want and that the local population’s elected officials have asked you not to impose on them?

Throughout America and within Congress, there are ideologues seeking to privatize education as part of a larger push to privatize a wide swath of core government functions. Other ideologues chafe against the restrictions on government-funded religion that the Founders wisely placed in the First Amendment. So-called “opportunity scholarships” are an opportunity for them, but not for students.

People For the American Way opposes the Speaker’s bill, H.R. 471. It has been passed by committee, and a floor vote is expected near the end of March.

PFAW

Help “Welcome” the Wisconsin GOP to DC this Afternoon!

A bunch of us from the PFAW office will be heading downtown this afternoon to show our support for Wisconsin’s workers, and to tell the state’s GOP legislators what we think of their union busting—in person. Join us! Here’s some info about the rally, in front of the Republican lobbying firm BGR:

Angry about the Republican shenanigans in Wisconsin? Well, now you have the chance to let them know in person!

TODAY (Wednesday), at 5pm, labor, environmental, consumer and civil rights groups will gather for a protest outside a corporate lobbyist fundraiser being held for Wisconsin Republican state and federal lawmakers by the Washington, D.C.-based firm BGR Group.

Please join us there!

What: Protest/speakers outside Wisconsin Republican fundraiser

When: Wednesday, March 16th at 5:00 p.m.

Where: 601 13th Street NW, Washington, D.C.

Last week, Wisconsin Republicans stripped middle class workers of their basic rights under the guise of fixing their state's budget. This week, they are in Washington to receive campaign donations from corporate lobbyists and donors. Wisconsin state Republican lawmakers, including the Senate and House leaders, are expected to attend. Wisconsin's federal delegation was also invited. BGR clients include foreign corporations and governments, health insurers, energy companies and others.

The fundraiser starts at 5:30, so we want to make sure we amass our numbers by 5 and catch some of the legislators on their way in. The event is rain or shine, so please be prepared to take your umbrella if needed.

Hope to see you there!
 

PFAW

Government Shutdown Would Close Courts, with “Dire Consequences”

As if the current judicial vacancy crisis wasn’t enough, now a group of federal judges is warning that a government shutdown over budget issues could lead to courts closing, accused criminals going free, and Americans waiting even longer for access to justice. Judge David Sentelle, chairman of the 27-member Executive Committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference, told reporters that a government shutdown could have “potentially dire consequences” for the courts:

Federal judges would still get paid because under the Constitution, judges’ pay cannot be decreased, Sentelle said. But no other federal employees in the courthouses, like clerks, stenographers, bailiffs and security guards, would get paychecks, making it difficult if not impossible to hear cases, he said.

Also, jury trials would have to end because there would be no money to pay jurors to compensate for them missing work, he said.

If the government shuts down, Sentelle said they would ask essential personnel to work anyway and get their money after a budget is approved. “We’ve been there before and it’s not something you want to ask your employees to do,” Sentelle said.

Without personnel to hear cases, some suspected criminals could be released from prison because their case was not heard before a judge within a required deadline.

A government shutdown would be a one-two punch to the federal courts, which are already severely hampered by a vacancy crisis caused by politically motivated gridlock in the Senate confirmation process. As of March 8, there were almost 100 seats open on the federal bench, 41 of which have been declared “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Too often the courts are forced to be a pawn in political maneuvering in Washington—in this case, with “dire consequences” for ordinary Americans seeking justice.

PFAW