PEOPLE FOR BLOG

America as a Christian Nation Panel Highlights

On November 8, 2011, People For the American Way Foundation hosted a forum at the National Press Club entitled America as a ‘Christian Nation’ – A conversation with experts on religion, history, law and the Constitution. The panel of experts discussed the historical and political forces behind the often-peddled myth that America was founded specifically as a Christian Nation and the effects of this narrative in today’s religious and political dialogue. Highlights are below, and you can find the full video with the transcript here.

Peter Montgomery, Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation, provides background information on the notion of America as a “Christian Nation” and introduces the panel.

Dr. John Ragosta, author and Resident Fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, describes the historical significance of 18th and 19th century evangelical Baptists’ insistence on the separation of church and state.

Dr. John Ragosta compares religious nations that have officially sectarian governments with the United States' experience under the doctrine of the separation of church and state and challenges the misleading statements and faulty evidence cited by figures such as David Barton to advance the myth that America is a “Christian nation.”

Maryland State Senator Jamie Raskin, a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way Foundation and the Director of the Law and Government program at American University’s Washington College of Law, describes the ways in which David Barton's ideology is at odds with the Constitution and its ban on religious tests for holding public office.

Jamie Raskin explains why interpreting the Constitution as a religious document is inaccurate, and betrays the original meaning of the First Amendment and denies two centuries of American jurisprudential development.

Dr. Julie Ingersoll, author, associate professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida and contributor to Religion Dispatches, analyzes the incorporation of David Barton’s biblical views into conservative policy.

Dr. Ingersoll identifies some of the subtle language used by Dominionists and Christian Reconstructionists, including a focus on “sphere sovereignty.”

Dr. John Kinney, dean of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University and pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Beaver Dam, Virginia, and member of People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council, argues against the notion that there is only one correct, “Christian” interpretation of the bible and public policy, and provides a progressive perspective on the role of the church in public and private life.

PFAW

Washington Post Urges Halligan Confirmation

In an editorial today, the Washington Post urged the Senate to confirm Caitlin Halligan to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Halligan was originally nominated by President Obama in September 2010 and was approved by the Senate judiciary committee seven months ago.

Ms. Halligan has had a distinguished career and deserves to be confirmed. A graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center, she clerked for D.C. Circuit Judge Patricia M. Wald and later for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. She has served as head of the appellate practice at a top New York law firm, as solicitor general in that state and now as general counsel for the New York County District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. The American Bar Association gave Ms. Halligan a unanimous well-qualified rating. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination seven months ago; she has been waiting for a floor vote ever since.

While it is true that caseloads have been inching downward at the D.C. Circuit, the decline does not take into account the complexity and scope of the cases that land at the court. They include direct appeals involving federal regulatory decisions and national security matters, including cases stemming from the detentions at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


Halligan has come under fire from the Right for work she has done as the Solicitor General of New York, where she was representing the interests of a client, rather than her own. Judith Schaeffer at the Constitutional Accountability Center writes:


Nonetheless, in a completely partisan action, every Republican on the Judiciary Committee voted against Ms. Halligan’s confirmation on March 10. Ranking Member Charles Grassley seized on aspects of Halligan’s record that he believes suggest she holds progressive views on certain legal topics. Apart from the fact that such views would hardly be disqualifying, these arguments against Ms. Halligan, as Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has pointed out, are largely based on her work as a lawyer for a client — primarily as the Solicitor General of New York. It is always very dangerous to attribute to a lawyer positions taken on behalf of a client; all lawyers are required to represent their clients’ interests zealously, and they violate their ethical obligations if they fail to do so.


Moreover, Ms. Halligan’s conservative opponents have been engaged in cherry-picking through her record. As with most if not all attorneys who have had the great honor of serving as the lawyer for a State or other governmental entity dealing with a myriad of legal and political concerns and interests, Ms. Halligan’s record is replete with arguments made on behalf of her clients that could be characterized as “conservative,” along with others that could be characterized as “liberal.”


Linda Greenhouse of the New York Times examined the other right-wing charge leveled against Halligan:


As far as I know, Ms. Halligan has not been an activist for any cause. So what could Republican senators possibly hold against her? Nothing, it turns out, except excellence and career potential. Conservative bloggers floundered around trying to come up with something. A National Review blogger was reduced to accusing her of “left-wing extremism” for having been one of three dozen members of a committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York that issued a report in early 2004 critical of the Bush administration’s Guantanamo Bay detention policies.

As it happens, this report has been sitting on my shelf for the past seven years. Not having looked at it in quite a while, I turned to the conclusion on page 153 to see how exactly how extreme it was. Anyone who finds the concluding paragraphs to represent left-wing extremism has been living in a different universe:

"The Constitution is not a 'suicide pact,' as a Supreme Court justice once famously declared. But neither is it a mere compact of convenience, to be enforced only in times of civic tranquility. It should take far more than the monstrous brutality of a handful of terrorists to drive us to abandon our core constitutional values. We can effectively combat terrorism in the United States without jettisoning the core due process principles that form the essence of the rule of law underlying our system of government.
Insistence on the rule of law will not undermine our national security. Abandoning the rule of law will threaten our national identity."


Senate Republicans have been stalling Halligan’s nomination for seven months. It’s time to finally put it to an up or down vote.

 

PFAW

Supreme Court Asked to Limit Congressional Ability to Protect the Public

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Monday in First American Financial Corporation v. Edwards, a case that threatens to undermine a number of federal statutory protections Americans have fought to have enacted over the years. This case involves standing: Under the Constitution, in order to have their case heard in a federal court, a plaintiff must demonstrate that they have suffered an injury of some sort. The specific question in this case is whether an individual can sue over illegal real estate settlement kickbacks, notwithstanding the fact that those kickbacks did not result in poorer service or increased costs to the individual, if the lawsuit is brought pursuant to a statute giving private parties the ability to hold companies accountable for harm caused by their illegal practices.

When Denise Edwards bought her home, the company she used as her settlement agent was paid to refer her to First American for title insurance, a kickback she says violated the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). Congress adopted RESPA to protect consumers from the national industry problem of kickbacks and referral fees that unnecessarily increase real estate settlement costs. If the statute is violated, the consumer is entitled to collect three times the amount of any settlement charge paid. Edwards filed a class action suit on behalf of similarly situated consumers.

The standing issue is based on the fact that Edwards was not overcharged and did not receive lower quality service. The corporation is using that to argue that Edwards suffered no injury and, therefore, does not have the constitutionally-required standing to file her claim in a federal court.

The Ninth Circuit disagreed, ruling that she did have an injury that gives her standing: the violation of her right under RESPA and the judicial relief the law entitles her to.

RESPA is one of many statutes where Congress has addressed a national problem by prohibiting certain specific harmful practices and giving the right to sue and collect damages to those who are most likely to be injured by those practices, regardless of whether the feared harm actually occurred in that particular case. Other examples include when:

  • a credit report has negative information about you that is older than a certain cutoff date;
  • you are denied a free credit report that you are guaranteed by statute;
  • your employer fails to post a legally required notice of workers' rights;
  • you are not provided legally required notices about your home mortgage; or
  • someone discloses personally identifiable information from your motor vehicle records.

In these and other cases, Congress has created legal rights whose violation – and not some proven loss in that specific case – creates the required standing and the right of private parties to collect damages. Those damages are a key incentive for companies to comply with the law. First American Financial Corporation's dangerously cramped definition of standing would cripple Congress's ability to protect consumers, employees, and others from practices that on the whole harm people and the nation, even if they don't cause harm in every circumstance.

PFAW

AAMLC on Washington Watch with Roland Martin

In early November, People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) launched VESSELS, a Get Out the Vote Program aimed at combatting voter suppression by empowering clergy to turn out the vote in their communities.

Last week, People For the American Way Foundation’s Director of African American Religious Affairs, Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, and two AAMLC members visited Washington Watch with Roland Martin to discuss the program.

Watch the clip here:
 

PFAW

Déjà Vu as the Right Attacks ‘Hide/Seek’ at the Brooklyn Museum

The Religious Right is up in arms about an exhibit of art by and about gay and lesbian Americans that’s opening at the Brooklyn Museum today --- especially about a small snippet of a video work that some have deemed “anti-Christian.”

Sound familiar? That’s because it’s an exact repeat of what happened when the same exhibit, “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture,” opened at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery last year.

To recap, “Hide/Seek,” which was the first major exhibit to explore themes of gender and sexual difference in American art, opened at the Smithsonian in October 2010 to rave reviews and no complaints. The next month, a reporter from the right-wing outfit CNSNews visited the exhibit and was shocked by what she saw. On November 29, she filed an epic 3,700 word story with the breathless title: “Smithsonian Christmas-Season Exhibit Features Ant-Covered Jesus, Naked Brothers Kissing, Genitalia, and Ellen DeGeneres Grabbing Her Breasts.” Cue the right-wing outrage, which ended up settling mostly on the “ant-covered Jesus,” a few seconds of a compilation of video works by the gay artist David Wojnarowicz, who had used traditional Catholic iconography of the suffering of Christ to reflect on the suffering of victims of the AIDS crisis.

Bill Donohue, the unsavory leader of the Catholic League (an advocacy organization not officially related to the Catholic Church), immediately took on the crusade against gay art and the “ant-covered Jesus” as his own, calling the Wojnarowicz piece “hate speech,” and claiming the exhibit was “designed to insult and inflict injury and assault the sensibilities of Christians.” Soon-to-be House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor smelled blood and jumped on the issue, threatening the Smithsonian’s relatively miniscule federal funding if the exhibit was not removed. Cantor adopted Donohue’s and CNSNews’ preposterous argument, stating the show was "an obvious attempt to offend Christians during the Christmas season."

On November 30 – one day after the CNSNews hit piece was published – the Smithsonian caved in and removed the Wojnarowicz piece from the exhibit.

It was a stunningly quick cave to arguments backed only by anti-gay prejudice and the increasingly popular myth of Christian victimization. But the Smithsonian’s cowardice had one silver lining: “Hide/Seek” got national press attention and Wojnarowicz’s work was displayed in museums across the country.

Now, New York viewers are getting a change to see the whole exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. And, it seems, the Religious Right is getting another chance to raise a fuss about gay people making art. As PFAW Foundation’s Michael Keegan writes in the Huffington Post today, a coalition of right-wing figures, including Donohue, CNSNews, the Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and a handful of GOP elected officials, are attacking the exhibit, recycling the same claims that it somehow amounts to attack against Christians during the “Christmas season.”

Importantly, the Brooklyn Museum has dug in its heels and is not backing down to the pressure. But it’s remarkable that the weak attacks on “Hide/Seek” still have energy behind them from the Right one year later. PFAW Foundation has invited Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the Bishop of Brooklyn, who first raised the right-wing alarm about the Brooklyn exhibit, to debate the issue in a public forum. We hope he accepts.
 

PFAW

Wisconsin May Make It Harder for Some Students to Vote

Last Tuesday in Madison, a Republican controlled legislative committee, on a party-line vote, ordered the state’s accountability board to write “administrative rules” on the state’s new voter ID law, determining what counts as appropriate forms of voter identification under the law.

The central issue behind the vote was determining the eligibility of technical college IDs as a valid form of voter ID. The Government Accountability Board determined in September that technical college IDs could not be used under the state’s new ID law but this month reversed their decision. The majority in the legislative committee, in response, ordered the Board to submit “formal rules” on ID cards.


Democrats in the legislature are alleging that bouncing the decision on technical college IDs back to the accountability board is another Republican effort to undermine the voting rights of any groups that are likely to vote Democratic. In this case, Republicans have targeted students. An article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article noted that Republicans in the legislature “never intended to include technical college IDs and said that was clear because the Assembly rejected an amendment to the legislation that would have explicitly allowed them”.


Right-wing activists and Republican legislators are increasingly arguing that strict voter ID rules are necessary to prevent voter fraud. These claims, however, lack any serious substance. In a recent report on voter suppression, PFAW Foundation notes that in the 2008 election, prior to Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators’ efforts to enact a Voter ID law, “there were just 14 improper votes cast in Wisconsin, out of a total of 3 million”.


The uproar over technical college IDs in Wisconsin shows how burdensome and undemocratic Voter ID laws can be. Politicians should not be allowed to decide which eligible voters are allowed to cast votes.
 

PFAW

Proposition 8 Appeal Will Continue

Today, the California Supreme Court ruled that the proponents of Proposition 8 have standing under California law to defend it when government officials decline to. The court is addressing this issue at the request of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which needed an answer in order to determine if the Prop 8 proponents have standing to pursue their appeal of the federal district court decision striking Prop 8 down.

Since the proponents are now known to have standing under California law, the Ninth Circuit will likely rule that they have a stake in the outcome of the federal case and, therefore, standing for purposes of federal constitutional law.

The court clearly explained that its logic had nothing to do with Proposition 8 in particular, but with ballot initiatives in general. Its reasoning was straightforward:

Neither the Governor, the Attorney General, nor any other executive or legislative official has the authority to veto or invalidate an initiative measure that has been approved by the voters. It would exalt form over substance to interpret California law in a manner that would permit these public officials to indirectly achieve such a result by denying the official initiative proponents the authority to step in to assert the state‘s interest in the validity of the measure or to appeal a lower court judgment invalidating the measure when those public officials decline to assert that interest or to appeal an adverse judgment.

It is worth noting that other states do not always give initiative proponents the right under their own laws that California recognized today. This is a state court resolving a question of California law.

PFAW

Republicans Advocate Censorship Of New York Exhibit

Cross-Posted from Right Wing Watch

On Friday, the Brooklyn Museum will begin hosting “Hide/Seek,” an exhibit about the experience of gays and lesbians in American art that provoked a firestorm of criticism from the Religious Right when it opened at the National Portrait Gallery last year. The New York museum has decided to include in its show A Fire in My Belly, the compilation of video work by the late artist David Wojnarowicz that was ultimately removed from the National Portrait Gallery show. Now, in what feels like a replay of last year’s drama at the Smithsonian, Republican politicians in New York are attacking the Brooklyn Museum for hosting “Hide/Seek” and Wojnarowicz’s work and demanding that it censor the exhibit.

The film A Fire In My Belly, a compilation of surrealist film footage exploring the suffering of people with HIV/AIDS, which was pulled from the National Portrait Gallery following complaints from Republican and Religious Right figures. While the Brooklyn Museum is defending itself from censorship proponents, Republican politicians are beginning to make threats against the museum. Republican state senator Andrew Lanza introduced legislation to have the government withdraw “all public funding of the museum”:

“It is outrageous for an institution that accepts funding from city, state and federal governments to display content that is so blatantly disrespectful and offensive to Christians during the holiday season,” said Senator Andrew Lanza. “Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for hatred and ignorance.”

Senator Lanza believes that the actions of the Museum are analogous to a hate crime. He is calling for all public funding of the museum to be withdrawn.

Rep. Michael Grimm, Councilman James Oddo, Councilman Vincent Ignizio, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, Assemblyman Lou Tobacco and Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro signed onto a letter condemning the exhibit:

In 1999, the Museum presented the shock art exhibit “Sensation,” which featured a painting of the Blessed Mother Mary surrounded by pornographic images and covered in elephant dung. This week, the Museum is opening another controversial exhibit, “Hide/Seek,” which will include a film featuring ants crawling over the image of Jesus on a crucifix – just in time for the Christmas season. This is not art, this is Christian-bashing. This is an outrageous use of taxpayer money by the nation’s second-largest art museum, and an obvious attempt to offend Christians on the eve of one of the holiest times of the Christian faith. … As I’m sure you’re aware, this sacrilegious film was pulled from an exhibit at the Smithsonian last year after House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor objected to the use of taxpayer dollars to show a film patently offensive to Christians. I respectfully request that you do the same.

Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, who led the charge to censor the Smithsonian exhibit, condemned the New York exhibit in a statement. “The fact is that the artist who made the vile video died of self-inflicted wounds: he died of AIDS,” Donohue writes. “The homosexual, David Wojnarowicz, hated the Catholic Church (had he lived by its teachings, he would not have self-destructed.”

For Arnold Lehman, there is no such thing as anti-Catholic art. Catholics who disagree are apparently too stupid to appreciate the complexities of these masterpieces. For example, in 1999 Lehman said it was not anti-Catholic for an artist to smear elephant dung and pornographic pictures on a portrait of Our Blessed Mother (he loved the “Sensation” exhibition). Now he says that a video featuring large ants crawling all over Jesus on the Cross is actually a statement about “human suffering and death.” Guess us stupid Catholics missed that one, too.



The fact is that the artist who made the vile video died of self-inflicted wounds: he died of AIDS. The homosexual, David Wojnarowicz, hated the Catholic Church (had he lived by its teachings, he would not have self-destructed). He once referred to Cardinal John O’Connor as a “fat cannibal,” and labeled the Catholic Church a “house of walking swastikas.” Sounds like the words of a bigot. But perhaps I’m too stupid not to understand that they were really meant to endear the artist to the Catholic community.
PFAW

In Tight Race with Elizabeth Warren, Scott Brown Bucks Party to Endorse Cordray for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Last month, PFAW’s Marge Baker wrote an op-ed for The Hill suggesting a simple way that Congress can respond to the energy behind Occupy Wall Street: by finally confirming Richard Cordray to head the long-languishing Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Marge wrote:

Thanks to Republican obstructionism, the CFPB, tasked with holding big banks accountable to American consumers, has been without a leader since it was created by the Dodd-Frank Act last year. Elizabeth Warren, who conceived of the agency and oversaw its creation, would have been the natural fit to lead it, but her unapologetic work holding financial institutions accountable put her on the bad side of Congress’s GOP leadership.


In July, President Obama nominated former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to head the agency. Cordray is a strong defender of consumers who has also earned respect from the banks he worked with in Ohio. Last week, a bipartisan group of 37 state attorney generals wrote to Congress urging his confirmation. Even Ohio’s Republican attorney general Mike DeWine, a former U.S. senator who defeated Cordray in last year’s election, has endorsed him for the job. He is a well-respected, reasonable and eminently qualified choice to lead the agency.

Cordray’s nomination would be a shoe-in if it weren’t for one thing: Republicans in Congress don’t want the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to exist at all. Unable to stop its creation, they have turned their energies to starving it. In May, 44 Republican senators sent a letter to the president saying that they would not confirm any nominee to head the CFPB unless the agency was first substantially weakened. Without a confirmed leader, the agency can’t fully start the work that it was designed to do.


While the agency is already overseeing credit companies and big banks, it can’t have its full oversight over mortgage companies and payday lenders until a head is confirmed. This situation is perfectly satisfactory to big lenders and the GOP leadership – but it’s bad for American consumers.


There is now one notable exception to the Republican blockade of Cordray’s nomination. Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, who is running against CFPB architect Elizabeth Warren in what will likely be a tough reelection race, has urged his fellow GOP senators to break their filibuster of Cordray’s nomination.

Brown’s in a more precarious political position than many of his Republican colleagues, but his endorsement of Cordray is telling. Recent polls have shown that Americans are concerned about the nation’s increasing income inequality and want tougher government regulation of Wall Street. The big banks may not want the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to get up and running, but American consumers are eager for the protections that the bureau would provide. Sen. Brown has done the right thing by bucking his party to support Cordray – but by doing so he’s also acknowledging the tough spot that opponents of financial sector accountability may find themselves in in 2012.
 

PFAW

Leahy Notes Consequences of GOP Obstruction of Judges

This morning began with 25 highly qualified judicial nominees who have been cleared by committee - 23 of them with strong bipartisan support and 21 unanimously - eligible for a quick floor vote. Unfortunately, Senate Republicans allowed only two of them to have a vote.

On the Senate floor today, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy blasted the GOP for their ongoing obstruction. After noting the fact that ten percent of the nation's courts are vacant, he turned to the consequences of preventing our nation's courtrooms from having enough judges to operate effectively.

[A Wall Street Journal article last week] highlights that over 2,000 citizens of Merced California who filed suit in 2007 over toxic chemical contamination stemming from a 2006 flood are still awaiting resolution, and only one civil trial has been held in the matter. In the article, Senior Judge W. Royal Furgeson of the Northern District of Texas is quoted warning that if decisions on contracts, mergers and intellectual-property rights "can't be reached through quick and prompt justice, things unravel for business." ...

A report published last month by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts demonstrates the extent of these delays in Federal court. Across the country, there are over 15,000 civil cases that have been pending for more than three years without resolution. The Administrative Office's data show that many of the circuits with the highest number of vacant district judgeships also have the highest backlog of pending cases. The Ninth Circuit has over 1,700 civil cases that have been pending for more than three years. There are currently 14 district judgeships vacant in that circuit, including five vacancies that the Administrative Office has classified as judicial emergency vacancies. The Fifth Circuit has over 1,300 civil cases that have been pending for more than three years. There are eight district judgeships vacant in that circuit, six of which are emergency vacancies.

Our courts need qualified Federal judges, not vacancies, if they are to reduce the excessive wait times that burden litigants seeking their day in court. While three years may be necessary for some of the most complex business disputes, it is unacceptable for hardworking Americans who are seeking their day in court. When an injured plaintiff sues to help cover the cost of his or her medical expenses, that plaintiff should not have to wait for three years before a judge rules on his or her case. When two small business owners disagree over a contract, they should not have to wait years for a court to resolve their dispute.

Those who routinely prevent votes on consensus nominees apparently have other priorities than the rule of law and the ability of Americans to have their day in court.

PFAW

Healthcare Reform at the Supreme Court

This morning, the Supreme Court granted review to three cases involving challenges to the Affordable Care Act. As a result, the political conversation on the American people's ability to address national issues via congressional legislation will be paralleled by a legal conversation at the nation's highest court.

The Court will address several specific legal issues:

  1. Does Congress have the constitutional authority under Article I to adopt the individual mandate, either under the Commerce Clause or under the Taxing Clause? With regard to the former, the Far Right has been pushing for a radical re-interpretation of the Commerce Clause to severely restrict congressional power to resolve national problems that cannot be resolved through individual or state action. In fact, the ACA fits perfectly with the text, intent, and history of the Commerce Clause.
  2. If the mandate is struck down, do all the other reforms in the law (like the requirement that insurance companies stop denying coverage to people with preexisting conditions) automatically fall with it, or is the mandate severable from the rest of the law? This is not a constitutional question but one of interpreting congressional intent in passing the ACA.
  3.  To what extent does the Constitution's Spending Clause let Congress attach conditions to federal grants to the states? The context here is the ACA's expansion of Medicaid eligibility.
  4. Do courts have jurisdiction to hear challenges to the individual mandate, or do they have to wait until 2015, when someone actually has to pay penalty for not having health insurance. This is a question of statutory interpretation involving a law called the Anti-Injunction Act, which generally prohibits courts from hearing challenges to levied taxes that have not yet been paid. The Court will address whether the penalty is a tax under the terms of that law.

SCOTUSBlog notes the significant amount of time the Court will be devoting to this issue:

The allotment of 5 1/2 hours for oral argument appeared to be a modern record; the most recent lengthy hearing came in a major constitutional dispute over campaign finance law in 2003, but that was only for 4 hours. The length of time specified for the health care review was an indication both of the complexity of the issues involved, and the importance they hold for the constitutional division of power between national and state governments. (In its earlier years, the Court customarily held days of oral argument on important cases; the modern Court, however, ordinarily limits oral argument to one hour per case.)

It is worth remembering that the individual mandate was a Republican idea. Their opposition to it today has nothing to do with constitutional principle, and everything to do with damaging President Obama politically and sabotaging the American people’s ability to effectively address national problems through national solutions.

PFAW

You Have the Right to Sue, But ...

There are now 25 highly qualified judicial nominees whose nominations are pending on the Senate floor, 21 of whom cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee without opposition. As Republicans continue to prevent timely confirmation votes, the judicial vacancy crisis goes on. More than 10% of all lower federal courts are now or will soon be vacant. In fact, more than 30% of the current vacancies are judicial emergencies, which means there simply aren't enough judges to get the work of justice done.

In the Wall Street Journal Law Blog, Joe Palazzolo writes about the consequences:

Despite the surge in case loads, the number of authorized federal judgeships has risen just 4% since 1990. ...

Meanwhile, the number of pending federal criminal cases has jumped 70% in the past decade — to over 76,000, according to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.

The upshot is that fewer civil litigants are having their day in court. Instead of waiting, many are settling their disputes.

That can be appropriate in many cases, but there is “no shortage of plaintiffs who wind up taking inadequate settlements” or businesses that make unnecessary payments to end the expense and uncertainty of litigation, Ian Millhiser, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, told the Journal.

W. Royal Furgeson, a senior federal judge in Dallas, told the Journal that if decisions on contracts, mergers and intellectual-property rights “can’t be reached through quick and prompt justice, things unravel for business.”

A related Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) highlights some specific cases that have been delayed or derailed over the past few years due to the lack of judges available to handle the growing caseload. They include Elizabeth and Nicholas Powers, who sued their employer for sex discrimination and retaliation in 2008. As they were awaiting jury selection earlier this year, the judge halted the trial so he could preside over a growing number of criminal cases. Rather than continue to wait for a trial, the Powers settled the case.

The judge in the case, Mike McCuskey, who is also the chief federal jurist for the central district of Illinois, said in an interview he has no choice but to push back civil cases because of his criminal caseload. In 1997, federal court statistics show, Judge McCuskey's district had 55 civil cases that were pending more than three years. Last year, it had 1,200.

"Civil litigation has ground to a halt," Judge McCuskey said, adding that "you've got a right to sue but you do not get a right to a speedy jury trial."

President Obama has nominated highly qualified jurists to sit on our nation’s federal courts and ensure that every American gets their day in court … if only Senate Republicans would allow that to happen.

PFAW

PFAW Applauds Committee Vote on Respect For Marriage Act

Back in July, I had the privilege of attending the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act. Today brought me to another historic moment: the passage of that bill out of Committee.

Senator Feinstein, the bill’s chief sponsor, offered a perfect description of how times have changed.

“When DOMA passed 15 years ago, no state permitted same-sex marriage. Today, 6 states and the District of Columbia do: Vermont, Connecticut, Iowa, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.

So, today there are 131,000-plus legally married same-sex couples in this country.

These changes reflect a firmly-established legal principle in this country: marriage is a legal preserve of the states.

DOMA infringes on this state authority by requiring the federal government to disregard state law, and deny more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits to which all other legally married couples are entitled.”

Here are a mere few of the many highlights from the other nine Democrats on the Committee, all nine among the bill’s thirty cosponsors.

Chairman Leahy:

“The Federal Government should not deny recognition and protection to the thousands of Americans who are lawfully married under their state law. We must repeal DOMA to ensure the freedom and equality of all of our citizens.”

Senator Durbin:

“I voted for DOMA. I believe I was wrong.”

“If this is called to the floor and only the 30 cosponsors vote for it, it’s worth the effort.”

Senator Franken:

“But every year, when they fill out their federal tax return, Javen and Oby have to check the ‘single’ box. They have to sign that form—under penalty of perjury. Every year, DOMA forces Javen and Oby to lie under oath. Every year, Javen and Oby pay taxes to a government that says their marriage is a fiction, even though they are a married couple—in the eyes of the God that they worship, in the eyes of their friends and family, and in the eyes of the state of Connecticut.”

“And you know, when we do pass it, straight people aren’t suddenly going to become gay. Straight people aren’t going to stop getting married. No, we’re going to be just fine. What will happen is that millions upon millions of lesbian and gay Americans aren’t going to suffer the indignity of having their own government tell them that their marriages are no good. What will happen is that it will be easier for those people to start and protect their families.”

Senator Coons:

"This is a truly important day in our nation's journey toward equality," Senator Coons said. "We’ve made tremendous progress and I am proud of the committee's vote today. As more Americans join the cause of equality, the Senate is changing with it. Equality is never a special interest — it is a fundamental interest of this country. Whether the Respect for Marriage Act moves to the floor in this Congress or the next, we will eventually repeal DOMA. We must redouble our efforts to show that the love and commitment shared by same-sex couples is of equal value as that shared by heterosexual couples."

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

Tuesday's Biggest Loser: The New, New Mitt Romney

The new, new Mitt Romney has been doing everything he can to fit in. But on Tuesday, he faced a big setback: he found out that he had been trying too hard to fit in with the wrong crowd.

Mitt was having a hard time figuring out which side to pick in two statewide referendums that pit the most extreme interests of the Republican party against the common sense interests of American voters. In Ohio, he endorsed a bill that took a sledgehammer to workers' rights, then couldn't decide if he would oppose its repeal, then finally decided he was for the anti-worker bill all along. On Tuesday, Ohio voters killed the bill by a whopping 61-39 percent margin.

The former governor performed an almost unbelievable flip-flop on a proposed referendum in Mississippi, which would have defined "personhood" as beginning at the moment of fertilization - thereby banning not only all abortions regardless of circumstances, but also hormonal birth control, in vitro fertilization and the treatment of ectopic pregnancies. Asked about such "personhood" bills by Mike Huckabee, Romney said he "absolutely" supported them. Asked by a participant at a town hall meeting whether he really supported banning hormonal birth control, Romney hedged the question. Finally, the day after Mississippi resoundingly rejected the restrictive amendment, surprise! Romney's campaign came out to clarify that he was on the side of the majority after all, that he had never supported personhood, and thought these decisions should be left up to the states anyway.

Got that? Pick the one of those three positions that work best for you.

The GOP's radical shift to the right in recent years has caused Mitt Romney to do whatever it takes to get with the right Right crowd. In his endless quest for electability, Romney has followed Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and the rest of the Radical GOP off a cliff - and appears not to have noticed that the rest of America has stayed behind.

What Romney might not have counted on is that American voters, unlike him, know when a line has been crossed. While the GOP establishment steadfastly supported Ohio's anti-worker law, voters rejected the policy across party lines. Protecting the fundamental right to collective bargaining wasn't a partisan issue - it was an issue of core values.

Similarly, Mississippi voters rejected the "personhood" amendment by a decisive 16-point margin. Banning birth control and life-saving procedures for pregnant women was a line that Romney easily crossed, but it is one which voters in one of the most conservative states in the nation would not.

Romney must have felt a similar unpleasant jolt when voters in Arizona unseated state senate president Russell Pearce, the author of the state's devastating anti-immigrant reforms. Whoops-- Mitt Romney had already moved his position on immigration to the right of Rick Perry.

We can only expect that Romney will keep radically reversing all of his earlier positions on every important issue. That is until it is time to start changing them back again for the general election. Is anyone, no matter what their politics, going to buy that?

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

PFAW

A Time for House Party Action

Last night the energy continued to grow as citizens from all over the country gathered in living rooms, church basements, college campuses and “Occupy” protests to discuss the need for a constitutional amendment to undo the Supreme Court’s ruling that lets corporations spend as much as they want to influence our elections.  US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was the featured speaker during our webcast highlighting the impact the decision will have on our lives and our political system and calling for a constitutional amendment as the remedy.

People For the American Way was one of the proud co-sponsors of the over 200 house parties focused on educating, planning and developing actions in the states. The planning focused on grassroots actions taking place all over the country on January 21, 2012, the second anniversary of the Citizen’s United decision.

Click here to view last night’s webinar. Also visit www.united4thepeople.org  to see many of the organizations working to overturn the Citizens United decision.

PFAW