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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.


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.