PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Lamar Smith Needs to Get His Facts Straight on the 14th Amendment

Rep. Lamar Smith, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is introducing himself to the American people. Someone should have told him to get his facts straight before talking about important issues affecting the lives of millions of people.

Smith had a letter published in the LA Times earlier this week, saying:

Congress should act to end birth citizenship for three reasons. ... [T]hird, during the debate on the 14th Amendment in 1866, a senator who helped draft the amendment said it would "not of course include persons born in the United States who are foreigners."

Actually, as Media Matters pointed out long ago, that quotation cuts out the rest of the sentence, a change that completely alters its meaning. The actual quote is:

[The amendment would] not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons. (emphasis added)

So, contrary to Smith's assertion, the quote was limited to children born to diplomats.

Changing the comma to a period and eliminating the most important part of the sentence may serve the far right's anti-constitutional agenda, but it doesn't serve the cause of truth or civil debate, and it doesn't help Rep. Smith gain the trust of the American people. On a matter as central to American liberty as the Fourteenth Amendment, he needs to get his facts straight.

PFAW

Roles of Justices Scalia and Thomas in Citizens United Under Scrutiny

Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas raised eyebrows and ethics questions late last year when they attended a conference sponsored by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who head Koch Industries. A comprehensive expose from The New Yorker reported on the Koch Brother’s immense financial and ideological ties to right-wing and pro-corporate groups, and the Koch-sponsored event that Scalia and Thomas attended was held “to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.” The Koch Brothers have greatly benefited from the Supreme Court’s pro-corporate rulings, including the Citizens United decision which allowed corporations to use funds from their general treasuries to finance, sometimes secretly, political organizations. Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Citizens United, and Common Cause is requesting that the Justice Department look into whether Justices Scalia and Thomas should have recused themselves from the case:

The government reform advocacy group Common Cause today asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia should have recused themselves from the landmark Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision because they were involved with an array of conservative groups that stood to benefit from it.

In the case, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 margin struck down a provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance act that prevented corporations and unions from spending an unlimited amount of money on electioneering, such as campaign ads. Scalia and Thomas sided with the majority in the decision, which was made a year ago this week.

In a letter addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder, Common Cause President Bob Edgar said both justices should have been disqualified from hearing the case because of their ties to Charles and David Koch, wealthy brothers who fund an array of conservative causes.

The justices both attended “retreats” held by Koch Industries, Edgar said, that focused on championing conservative ideas including opposition to campaign finance laws.

Their attendance raises the question of whether the two judges were impartial in their decision, Edgar said. He also questioned Thomas's impartiality because his wife, Ginny, ran a nonprofit group that Edgar said benefited greatly from the Citizens United decision.

“Until these questions are resolved, public debate over the allegations of bias and conflicts of interest will serve to undermine the legitimacy of the Citizens United decision,” Edgar said.
PFAW

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon, Spread the Word, Take Action

Saturday marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This landmark ruling, along with the earlier Griswold v. Connecticut, recognized a constitutional right to privacy and protected a woman's right to make reproductive decisions based on her own life, health, and conscience. Ensuring that women are trusted to make those decisions is a cause that stills needs our support all these years later.

As you may know, People For the American Way has joined the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women. Along with our Silver Ribbon partners, we’re asking you to wear a silver ribbon during Trust Women Month – January 22 through February 22. And when you do, don’t forget to spread the word and take action.

From our friends at Silver Ribbon:

Since the recent election, the opponents of reproductive health care and women’s rights have claimed they speak for America. They do not.

It’s time to express the true voices of America.

It’s time to come together and show our strength.

We need to stand by each other and claim our rights to the legal health care to which we’re entitled.

Join the Silver Ribbon campaign to Trust Women, for Reproductive Rights and Justice.

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon. Order your Silver Ribbon pin engraved with the credo: "Trust Women," >> for a $5 donation, and wear it through Feb. 22. (or make your own!)

Spread the word. Get your Twibbon on. Follow us on Twitter.

Take action! Donate today to one or more of our partner organizations. January 22 is the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Our Silver Ribbon partners will be organizing a series of calls to action leading up to this anniversary. Check our Take Action section for the latest updates from our partner organizations.

Join us!

The Silver Ribbon represents science over ideology.

We who proudly wear it:
  • Support reproductive rights
  • Support free access to birth control
  • Support keeping abortion legal and accessible
Trust Women!

For more information, please click here.

PFAW

More Voices Call For a Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United as Ruling’s Anniversary Approaches

Friday is the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which helped unleash massive corporate spending in the 2010 elections, and more voices have emerged to denounce the Court’s wrongheaded and extreme ruling. The decision’s impact on public policy debates became more apparent today as the House of Representatives prepares to vote to repeal the health care reform law after pro-corporate groups spent handsomely to discredit the law with bogus charges and attack Congressmen which supported reform.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, along with companies like Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms and Honest Tea, have launched Business for Democracy, “a coalition of like-minded businesses to protest a Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on corporate campaign spending in candidate elections.” The Wall Street Journal reports that “members of ‘Business for Democracy’ believe ‘the decision is inconsistent with the basic ideal of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’" and support a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision.

In today’s Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel discussed how the vast corporate spending to influence the midterm elections was “just an experiment” compared to how corporations plan to sway the 2012 election. But despite the push by pro-corporate groups to keep spending by businesses in elections unchecked, the efforts for legislative remedies and the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United persevere:

According to Bill de Blasio, New York City's public advocate, Citizens United spending - that is, spending that was only made possible by the court's ruling - accounted for 15 percent of the roughly $4 billion spent on the 2010 midterm elections. Eighty-five million dollars of Citizens United money was spent on U.S. Senate races alone. Worse, 30 percent of all spending by outside groups was funded by anonymous donations, an illegal action prior to the ruling. Forty million of the dollars spent on Senate races came from sources that might never be revealed.

But as striking as these consequences might be, the 2010 election was just an experiment, the first opportunity to test the new law. In future elections, corporations and shadowy organizations will have a clearer understanding of the boundaries they are operating within, a reality that is sure to translate into more undisclosed cash. And the savvier corporate players know that the mere threat of a corporate onslaught of funding for or against a candidate is enough to win legislative favor, in effect blunting prospects for sound regulation, consumer protection and fair tax policies. As former senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), himself a victim of Citizens United spending, said, "It is going to be worse in 2012 unless we do something - much worse."

Yet even as we lament this decision, we should recognize the opportunity it presents. Justice Roberts and his allies overreached so brazenly that they have created an opening for genuine reform.



The clearest and boldest counter to the court's ruling would be a constitutional amendment stating unequivocally that corporations are not people and do not have the right to buy elections. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) introduced such an amendment to counter Citizens United during the last session of Congress and views it as the only sure way to beat back the court. "Justice Brandeis got it right," she noted last February. " 'We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.' "

Campaigns for constitutional amendments demand a great deal of patience and tenacity. But as Jamie Raskin, a Democratic Maryland state senator and professor of constitutional law at American University, notes, "American citizens have repeatedly amended the Constitution to defend democracy when the Supreme Court acts in collusion with democracy's enemies." Not only is a push for an amendment a worthy act, it also provides a unique opportunity to educate the broader public, raise the profile of this important issue and force elected officials to go on record as to where they stand. The campaign could create enormous pressure on state legislatures and Congress, prompting changes to campaign finance even before an amendment is ratified.

Success will require a coalition that transcends party. In this case, there is promising news. An August 2010 Survey USA poll found that 77 percent of all voters - including 70 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of independents - view corporate spending in elections as akin to bribery. Broad majorities favor limiting corporate control over our political lives. A coordinated effort, executed right, could unite progressives, good-government reformers and conservative libertarians in a fight to restore democracy.
PFAW

Another Step Forward for LGBT Equality

In a step forward for LGBT equality, the Obama Administration's new hospital visitation regulations go into effect today. Under the rules, hospitals that participate in Medicare and Medicaid can no longer deny visitation privileges based on factors including sexual orientation or gender identity. To forcibly separate loving couples when one of them is sick or even dying is cruel and wrong.

The Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement writes:

This significant policy change is due in no small part to the journeys of two incredibly courageous and passionate women, Janice Langbehn and Charlene Strong. Both lived through unimaginable experiences with the loss of their wives and life partners. While I never had the opportunity to meet Janice's wife Lisa Pond, or Charlene's wife Kate Fleming, I have had the honor to meet and work with Janice and Charlene. I want to thank them for bringing us all into their lives and for sharing themselves and their families with us, and for using their voices to make lives better for LGBT families.

To have a White House publication referring to "Janice's wife Lisa" or "Charlene's wife Kate" is no small indication of societal change. Words have power, and the more people get used to hearing juxtapositions like these, the less alien the idea becomes.

PFAW

Cue the Violins: Inanimate Corporations Have Feelings, Too

On Wednesday, in a case involving the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the nation's corporate giants are asking the Supreme Court to rule that they have a right to "personal privacy" just as people do. If the Corporate Court ignores the ordinary meaning of the term "personal privacy" and grants corporations their wish to have the same rights as people, as in Citizens United, corporations will be able to block the news media and government watchdogs from accessing important government records that corporations would prefer remain hidden.

The case started several years ago, when the FCC investigated alleged overcharges by AT&T. After the investigation, AT&T's competitors filed a FOIA request to get the FCC to release documents on what they had found. The FCC said it would not disclose confidential commercial information about AT&T, pursuant to a specific exemption in the FOIA statute. However, the company argued that certain additional material would cause the company embarrassment and therefore fell into a separate statutory FOIA exemption - Exemption 7(C) - allowing government agencies not to disclose material compiled for law enforcement purposes that would "constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

The FCC ruled that Exemption 7(C) does not cover a corporation's "privacy interest," noting that a corporation's interests are of necessity business interests, not privacy ones.

However, the agency was overruled by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that FOIA's statutory language "unambiguously" indicates that a corporation may have a personal privacy interest within the meaning of this FOIA exemption. The court said that:

  • FOIA defines "person" to include a corporation; and
  • the term "personal" is derived from the word "person" and is simply the adjectival form of the word.

Therefore, the court reasoned, corporations have personal privacy under the FOIA exemption. And because this interpretation was unambiguous, the court said statutory purpose, legislative history, and contrary case law from other circuits were not relevant.

Nevertheless, it did devote a footnote apiece to these three factors and claimed they were not inconsistent with its interpretation. For instance:

Finally, the [DC Circuit Court of Appeals] in Washington Post noted that Exemption 7(C) concerns only "intimate" details, including "marital status, legitimacy of children, identity of fathers of children, medical condition, welfare payments, alcoholic consumption, family fights, and reputation." But a corporation, too, has a strong interest in protecting its reputation.

Cue the violins: Inanimate corporations have feelings, too.

Numerous corporate interests, including the Chamber of Commerce, have filed amicus briefs in support of AT&T, arguing that inanimate corporations have "personal privacy."

If the Roberts Court - with Justice Kagan recused - rules in favor of AT&T, it will significantly weaken the ability of news organizations and government watchdogs to examine government records containing vital information about corporate behavior affecting public health and safety – records that would otherwise remain hidden from the American people. In addition, the Court may seize the opportunity to lay the legal groundwork for treating inanimate corporations like people in other respects.

At least before Pinocchio became human, he had to prove himself truthful and unselfish. Here, in contrast, we have profit-seeking entities asking for humanity so they can hide their embarrassing conduct.

PFAW

A Constitutional Lesson for Rick Perry

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who has notoriously floated the idea of secession, was reminded yesterday by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals that states cannot simply ignore a federal law they disagree with.

Last fall, Texas flat-out told the EPA that it has no intention of implementing a key part of a federally required permitting program to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA informed the state that since Texas refused to implement this part of the permitting program, the EPA would step in and do it itself.

Yesterday, the DC Circuit refused Texas's request for a stay of the EPA's efforts to implement the law. As the National Resources Defense Council blog notes:

Texas is the only state in the nation that refused to let anyone - the state or the feds - issue permits for carbon dioxide, the main cause of global warming. Ironically, that left Texas the only state where companies could not legally start construction on new power plants or other big projects.

The court's ruling now assures that EPA will be able to fill that void for as long as Texas' leaders continue their grandstanding, so that companies can continue building their projects, but with reasonable limits on all of their dangerous pollutants.

Governor Perry may not like this federal law, and he can fight it in court, but he can't simply ignore it.

PFAW

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon, Spread the Word, Take Action

January 22, 2011 will mark the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This landmark ruling, along with the earlier Griswold v. Connecticut, recognized a constitutional right to privacy and protected a woman's right to make reproductive decisions based on her own life, health, and conscience. Ensuring that women are trusted to make those decisions is a cause that stills needs our support all these years later.

People For the American Way has joined the Silver Ribbon Campaign to Trust Women. Along with our Silver Ribbon partners, we’re asking you to wear a silver ribbon during Trust Women Month – January 22 through February 22. And when you do, don’t forget to spread the word and take action.

From our friends at Silver Ribbon:

Since the recent election, the opponents of reproductive health care and women’s rights have claimed they speak for America. They do not.

It’s time to express the true voices of America.

It’s time to come together and show our strength.

We need to stand by each other and claim our rights to the legal health care to which we’re entitled.

Join the Silver Ribbon campaign to Trust Women, for Reproductive Rights and Justice.

Wear a Trust Women Silver Ribbon. Make your own Silver Ribbon, or for a $5 donation you can order a Silver Ribbon pin. Wear your Silver Ribbon from January 22nd to February 22nd to show your solidarity.

Spread the word. Get your Twibbon on. Follow us on Twitter.

Take action! Donate today to one or more of our partner organizations. January 22 is the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Our Silver Ribbon partners will be organizing a series of calls to action leading up to this anniversary. Check our Take Action section for the latest updates from our partner organizations.

Join us!

The Silver Ribbon represents science over ideology.

We who proudly wear it:
  • Support reproductive rights
  • Support free access to birth control
  • Support keeping abortion legal and accessible
Trust Women!

For more information, please click here.

PFAW

A Real Blood Libel

Today, Sarah Palin used the term 'blood libel' to describe criticism she's received in the wake of the Tucson shooting. There are plenty of people debating what that term implies in her statement, but for me it has a very personal meaning.

While much of my family was able to settle peacefully in America a century ago, their relatives overseas were not so lucky. In 1926, in the little Lithuanian town of Ariogala, a cousin named Hinde was accused of blood libel, her house was ransacked, her husband was murdered, and the town's Jewish community lived in terror for days. It was an old and sadly familiar story.

It would never have occurred to me to equate what happened to Hinde and so many other people with peaceful public discussion calling attention to the consequences of inflammatory political rhetoric.

Yiddish Newspaper Describing Blood Libel Aftermath

Jewish Lithuanian Newspaper Covering the Return of Calm to Ariogala After the Blood Libel

PFAW

Thomas and Scalia, the Commerce Clause, and the Healthcare Law

Justices Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, issued an interesting dissent yesterday to the Supreme Court's decision not to hear a challenge to a federal law making it a federal crime for a convicted felon to buy, own, or possess body armor (such as a bullet-proof vest) that had ever been sold in interstate or international commerce, even if the felon himself did not obtain it through interstate or international commerce. Congress passed the law as an exercise of the power granted it by the Constitution's Commerce Clause.

The rejected challenge in Alderman v. U.S. asserted that Congress had gone beyond the power granted to it by the Commerce Clause - the same argument that opponents of the landmark healthcare reform legislation have made. Since the constitutionality of the healthcare law under the Commerce Clause will likely be decided by the Supreme Court, Thomas and Scalia's dissent in this case may be a window into how they will rule in that case.

The Los Angeles Times gives one interpretation of the Court's decision:

The Supreme Court may not be so anxious to rein in Congress' broad power to pass regulatory laws under the Constitution's commerce clause, the key point of dispute in the pending court battles over President Obama's health insurance law. ...

The majority's decision, rendered without comment, could make it more difficult for those challenging health insurance reform to win court orders overturning parts of the new law. ...

Thomas referred to a pair of decisions, beginning in 1995, in which the court's conservatives, led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, sought to put clearer limits on Congress' power. ...

But since Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. arrived in 2005, the court has not moved to restrain federal power.

A Justice can have any number of reasons for not wanting to hear a case — perhaps the Justice agrees with the lower court, or the issue is not important enough, or the facts of the case make it an inconvenient vehicle to discuss the legal issue, or there has not yet been enough debate among the circuit courts. As in this case, the public rarely knows why the Court voted not to grant cert.

For any of the Justices to voice their disagreement when cert is denied is unusual, and it suggests that they feel strongly about the issue at stake. In the body armor case, Justices Thomas and Scalia wrote:

Today the Court tacitly accepts the nullification of our recent Commerce Clause jurisprudence. Joining other Circuits, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [uses reasoning that] threatens the proper limits on Congress' commerce power and may allow Congress to exercise police powers that our Constitution reserves to the States. ...

[The lower courts’ interpretation of the Commerce Clause] seems to permit Congress to regulate or ban possession of any item that has ever been offered for sale or crossed state lines. Congress arguably could outlaw the theft of a Hershey kiss from a corner store in Youngstown, Ohio, by a neighborhood juvenile on the basis that the candy once traveled to the store from Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Such an expansion of federal authority would trespass on traditional state police powers. We always have rejected readings of the Commerce Clause and the scope of federal power that would permit Congress to exercise a police power.

While the dissent addresses this case alone, the fact that they issued it may reflect a strong desire to limit the scope of the Commerce Clause across the board. That would likely have an impact on the healthcare case when it reaches the Supreme Court. It may also signal their willingness to strike down acts of Congress that would unquestionably have been found constitutional in the past.

Historically, the Commerce Clause has been one of the most powerful tools that the American people have to impose reasonable regulations on giant corporations — and to hold them accountable when they do wrong. Justices Thomas and Scalia have been reliable supporters of Big Business on the Corporate Court. Any narrowing of the scope of the Commerce Clause needs to be viewed with caution.

PFAW

Standing with the Sheriff

There may be a politically active extremist serving as a sheriff in Arizona. But it’s not Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. On the day of the horrific shootings in Tucson that killed 6, critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and injured 13 others, Sheriff Dupnik, visibly shaken, decried the vicious tone that politics has taken recently, especially in his state. He blamed nobody for the murders but the murderer. But, he said, it was time for some national “soul searching.”

When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government, the anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

...
Let me say one thing, because people tend to pooh-pooh this business about all the vitriol that we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech, but it's not without consequences.

Many on the Right saw these remarks and reacted not with an honest discussion of responsibility in political speech, but with a campaign to demonize the sheriff. People For’s Right Wing Watch blog has been reporting these reactions…from statements that Sheriff Dupnik was “politicizing” tragedy to implying that the sheriff wants the killer to go free.

People For’s president, Michael Keegan, responded to the smears on Sheriff Dupnik in the Huffington Post yesterday:

Unfortunately, "civil discourse" is exactly what's lost when calls for honesty and responsibility are demonized and belittled. Nobody but Loughner can be blamed for Saturday's violence. But that does not absolve any of us from the duty to consider the impact of our words and to approach political discourse with honesty and responsibility. Sheriff Dupnik deserves to be thanked, not demonized, for telling that uncomfortable truth.

Those who talk openly and honestly about the dangerous strains in our national political discourse and work to start a more responsible political debate aren't politicizing tragedy--they're working to prevent it. Political figures owe this to all of us who want to participate in democracy without fearing for our safety: those who denounce violence should also denounce the rhetoric that can incite it.

We’re asking those who want to stand in solidarity with the sheriff to sign this letter of support: http://site.pfaw.org/site/PageServer?pagename=sheriff
 

PFAW

Tea Party group: “There can be no civil discourse.”

The weekend violence in Tucson has ignited a national discussion on the far right’s violent rhetoric against elected officials and candidates who do not subscribe to their ideology. "Second Amendment solutions" rather than First Amendment ones should never be seen as legitimate ways to express opposition to a democratically elected government.

But instead of taking this event as a reminder of how important responsible debate is to our nation, some groups are claiming they’ve given up on it completely. According to Roll Call:

[A]fter the group was "attacked" for the shootings, Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation wrote this weekend that the era of agreeing to disagree was over.

"[T]he aftermath of today's shooting is the official obituary for political civility in this country," he wrote. "The left has simply gone to far. There can be no civil discourse with people as crazy as those on the left are."

Responding to the national discussion on overheated political rhetoric by declaring an end to civil discourse is not constructive, to say the least.

If Phillips has given up on civil discourse, what exactly is he suggesting take its place?

PFAW

Corporate Front Group on the Attack in North Dakota

Even though Election Day is almost two years away, a shadowy political organization with ties to the agriculture industry is already on the air with negative ads attacking North Dakota’s Democratic Senator Kent Conrad. The American Future Fund, as profiled in People For the American Way’s report Citizens Blindsided, is run by GOP operatives in Iowa and funded by anonymous donors who likely have ties to Big Agriculture.

A New York Times report traced the group’s founding to the ethanol industry and their lobbyists, and Dan Morain of the Sacramento Bee wrote that groups like the AFF “operate in the shadows. Their donors are anonymous. The power behind them is rarely apparent. It’s impossible to track the exact amounts they spend on campaigns in any timely fashion.” The AFF is also responsible for running some of the midterm elections most misleading and disgraceful ads, including one spot that viciously attacked Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley over the Park 51 Islamic Community Center in New York.

Now, barely two months after the midterm election, the AFF is on the air in North Dakota criticizing Senator Conrad, who is up for reelection in 2012. The AFF spent over $10 million of secret money to sway the last election, and three good-government groups asked for an investigation into the AFF’s status as a 501(c)4 nonprofit. 501(c)4 groups don’t have to publicly disclose their donors but also cannot spend the majority of their money to influence elections. The AFF’s new ad campaign, which calls on North Dakota voters to “call Kent Conrad” rather than to vote against him, may be their attempt to avoid a possible IRS investigation into the amount of their political spending. But the AFF’s early spending shows that even though the midterm elections are over, political groups like the AFF with little transparency or supervision are gearing up to play an even larger role in the 2012 elections.

PFAW

The Tea Party’s Constitution

The new House GOP majority is planning to read the entire Constitution aloud on the House floor tomorrow. We can’t argue with that—our elected representatives can always use a brush-up on what’s in the document. But what’s troubling about the GOP’s planned Constitution-reading is that the new far-right class of House Republicans is trying to paint themselves as the sole defenders of our nation’s laws.

In fact, as PFAW’s Jamie Raskin examines in a new report, the Tea Party movement and the elected officials it empowered are in fact fighting against selected values in the Constitution. Raskin writes of the Tea Party’s relationship with the Fourteenth Amendment:

By railing against the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Amendments, the Tea Party makes clear that it is not at peace with our written Constitution, and its hostility to democratic constitutional purposes runs even further back than its opposition to Populist and Progressive-era amendments. The Tea Party has problems with the Fourteenth Amendment’s fundamental protection of equal civil rights, the very anchor of modern democratic constitutionalism. Tea Party activists may dress themselves up in colonial garb and swear their devotion to the Constitution. But the Constitution they revere is not the real one, but only a projection of their own reactionary desires.

Tea Party leaders have a tortured relationship with the Fourteenth Amendment. They have been attacking its very first sentence, which grants citizenship to all people born in the United States: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.” This sentence overturned the Dred Scott decision, which had determined that descendants of slaves could never be citizens of the United States with equal rights. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex,.) and other activists have been calling for a constitutional amendment to repeal this language in order to solve the crisis they perceive in the advent of Americans they call “anchor babies,” babies born in the United States to undocumented immigrants. At the same time, other conservative activists without the intellectual honesty of Rep. Paul and the constitutional repealers are claiming that this language does not establish birthright citizenship at all, despite the fact that it has always been understood that way. Ignoring the plain text, they contend that Congress can deny citizenship to the “anchor babies” through a simple bill, and they have proposed to do just that in the Birthright Citizenship Act, introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.), the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

This difference in opinion on whether to repeal this provision of the Fourteenth Amendment or simply deny its existence and legislate over it is a tactical skirmish, yet both sides essentially agree that it is time to subtract a long-standing and fundamental liberty from the Constitution. The last time we tried this was with Prohibition and we could expect similar chaos and division resulting from this kind of repressive effort if it succeeds today.

Beyond the first sentence, the Tea Party has even bigger fish to fry when it comes to the Fourteenth Amendment, which its leaders see, paradoxically, not as the legitimate and authoritative constitutional source for the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, but rather as the illegitimate pretext for a massive assault on the civil rights and liberties of private business owners ever since then. This extraordinary controversy over the meaning and uses of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Reconstruction effort that gave rise to it, and the Civil War that made it possible, tells us everything we need to know about the boastful and ubiquitous claim that the Tea Party speaks for liberty and freedom.

Raskin’s report, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party’s Really Serving America, also tackles the Tea Party’s complicated relationship with populism, libertarianism, and the original Tea Party of the American Revolution.

You can read the whole thing here.

 

PFAW

Deferred Decision in Prop 8 Case

Earlier today, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in the Proposition 8 case, unanimously concluding that they do not have enough information to decide if the Proposition 8 proponents have standing to pursue the appeal. Only if they have standing can the Ninth Circuit even consider the merits of the case.

The answer depends on what California state law is, so they have asked the California Supreme Court for guidance. We will have to wait for that court to respond before we learn if the Ninth Circuit will even get to the merits of the case.

If the Ninth Circuit should eventually overturn Proposition 8, we will doubtless hear accusations from the right that the judges pursued a political agenda to get the desired result at the expense of the law. Today’s decision undercuts any such argument. All three judges deferred making a decision until they could address the basic legal question of standing. This is hardly the move of judges with a political agenda and contempt for law.

PFAW