PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Why do YOU pay more taxes than G.E.?

GEDo you pay taxes? Guess who doesn't. America's largest corporation: General Electric.

G.E. did not pay any taxes on their $14 billion in profits last year and instead got a $3 billion tax refund.1 But it doesn't end at G.E....

Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont put out a Top 10 list of corporations with high profits and no taxes in recent years including Exxon-Mobil, Chevron, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Boeing and Carnival Cruise Lines. Over the last two years, Wells Fargo earned $37 billion in profits but got a $4 billion tax refund.2 And Hewlett-Packard reported over $9 billion in profits last year, but paid the same amount in taxes as someone earning just $30,000 a year.3

Tell members of Congress: Before gutting the budget of necessary programs that help middle-class and poor Americans, make sure corporations are paying their fair share!

This is not about business incentives, which are fine and can be valuable in helping to kick start the economy. This is about a system gone completely off the rails in which corporations are getting an unnecessary free ride at the expense of everyone else.

Congress is on the verge of shutting down over Republicans' demands for deep, draconian cuts to everything from public broadcasting and reproductive health to college loans and programs that feed poor children. So why aren't increases in revenue, beginning with basic Tax Fairness for corporations, on the table too? Conservatives seem hell-bent on slashing funding for every program under the sun that helps ordinary Americans, including Social Security and Medicaid, just so they can protect corporations' free ride.

The New York Times reported that corporate taxes made up 30 percent of all federal revenue in the mid-1950s, but as of 2009 were only 6.6 percent of total revenues. It's not hard to see that closing loopholes and ending billions of dollars of giveaways in corporate welfare could solve most if not all of our budget problems. Don't let this Tea Party Congress pay for corporate welfare on the backs of poor and middle-class families. Demand Tax Fairness Now!

Call on Congress to collect corporations' fair share in taxes before forcing through cuts that will harm millions of Americans.


We need to change the conversation and now is the time. While Republicans, the media and too many conservative Democrats continue to play to the false narrative that deep cuts are necessary, including cuts to essential retirement and health care programs, everyone is ignoring the real elephant in the room: that profit-swollen corporations are shorting America and its taxpayers billions of dollars every year. Congress can show they are really serious about budgets and deficits by making corporations pay their fair share, and making it the top priority over cuts.

After taking action, please help spread the word.

Thank you for all that you do to defend the American Way.

1. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/business/economy/25tax.html
2. http://wallstcheatsheet.com/breaking-news/economy/the-top-7-corporate-ta...
3. http://www.makewallstreetpay.org/bigbankdrain/big-bank-tax-drain.pdf
 

 


 

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PFAW

Does Holding Banks Accountable Count as “Terrorism”? Glenn Beck Thinks it Does.

This weekend, the New York Times told the story of a man named Charlie Engle who is in jail for being sold a bad loan. Engle did commit a crime by signing a so-called “liar loan,” in which he falsely stated his income to get a mortgage. But what is shocking is who got off scot-free: the financial executives who convinced millions of Americans like Engle to sign similar loans, helping to bring the economy to its knees.

I thought of this story when reading about the new campaign being waged by Fox News demagogue Glenn Beck to get a man who is trying to hold big banks accountable for their actions charged with “domestic terrorism.”

Stephen Lerner is a prominent figure in the labor movement. A former executive at the SEIU, he designed the Justice for Janitors organization, which has secured workers’ rights and living wages for thousands of janitors across the country. Recently, Lerner echoed the frustration of many in saying that big banks got off scot-free after their reckless lending procedures forced millions of Americans out of their homes and caused a major financial crisis. And he proposed a solution. Ezra Klein summarizes:

Like a lot of people, he feels the financial system got off too easy in the crisis. They created the mess, but unlike the millions of foreclosed homeowners and newly unemployed workers, they’ve come out mostly unscathed. It’s still very, very good to be a banker in this country. It’s not good at all to be underwater on your house. And he’s got a plan for changing that.

Union types are always looking for “leverage.” Leverage is what I have that gives me power over you. And Lerner thinks he’s identified the point of leverage that workers and homeowners and students have over the financial system. “What does the other side fear most?” Lerner asked. “They fear disruption, they fear uncertainty. Every article about Europe says a riot in Greece, the markets went down. The folks that control this country care about one thing: how the stock market does; how the bond market does; and what their bonus is. So I think we weed out a very simple strategy: how do we bring down the stock market, how do we bring down their bonuses, how do we interfere with their ability to, to be rich.” To do so, he wants to see a campaign of disruption and strategic default led by community-activist groups and aimed at J.P. Morgan Chase.

As Lerner sees it, once there’s leverage, once the banks are scared, there can be a settlement. What sort of settlement? Lerner gives a couple of examples in his talk. “You” — meaning banks in general, and J.P. Morgan Chase in particular — “reduce the price of our interest, since your interest rate is down; and second, you rewrite the mortgages for everybody in the community so they can stay in their homes. We could make them do that.”

You may or may not agree with the wisdom of Lerner’s idea. But would you call it “terrorism”? Glenn Beck would, and has now chosen Lerner to be the newest anchor point in his vast liberal conspiracy theory, saying that the labor leader is plotting to commit “economic terrorism" by “collaps[ing] the system.”

People For’s legal department looked into what our laws actually say about domestic terrorism and, needless to say, it's not even a close question. There’s no danger to human life involved here. And there’s certainly no effort to intimidate the civilian population or the government.

In fact, under Beck’s definition of terrorism as advocating for peaceful economic disruption, he himself should be investigated. As Media Matters has pointed out, Beck himself has more than once advocated “taking down” or “resetting” our entire financial system—a much more sweeping economic action than the targeted protests Lerner is advocating.

The corporate-funded right wing has made it clear in the last few months that they will not tolerate working people who want to take on big corporations. In Wisconsin and Ohio, teachers and police officers and other public workers have been demonized for fighting to their right to organize, while corporations continue to get massive tax breaks and hold a huge amount of sway over elections.

In their world, the millions of Americans who suffered from the financial crisis—people like Charlie Engle—are the criminals, and the people who try to organize working Americans are “terrorists.” That topsy-turvy view of justice and power is unsettling, to say the least.
 

UPDATE: Lerner responds to Beck in The Nation:

So that was it: Beck, right-wingers and Wall Street sympathizers went ballistic because they knew the ideas I talked about are far from being a secret leftist conspiracy; in fact, they’re in sync with the thinking of most Americans. In my talk, I raised a very simple yet powerful idea: that homeowners, students, citizens and workers should make the same practical decisions Wall Street and corporate CEOs make every day—they should reject bad financial deals.


PFAW

Women versus Wal-Mart at the Supreme Court Today

Today the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Dukes v. Wal-Mart, a gender discrimination case brought by female workers of Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer. The workplace discrimination case is a complicated piece of litigation and has already been in the courts for a decade.

The women suing Wal-Mart won an important victory in 2004 when a district court ruled that they could pursue their case as a “class,” representing all similarly situated women working for Wal-Mart.

Class action cases are permitted under very limited circumstances but they serve as important vehicles for groups of plaintiffs who may not have the means or resources to individually take on a deep-pocketed defendant in court. Because without a class action case, most of the plaintiffs wouldn’t be willing to go through the difficult process of filing a suit, class actions mean that corporations are forced to deal with cases they could otherwise ignore. In addition, class actions raise the possibility that a company will have to pay an enormous monetary award and even punitive damages—a powerful incentive to settle out of court.

So it’s no surprise that Wal-Mart appealed the district court’s decision to let this case proceed. The company’s appeal resulted in two split decisions by three-judge panels and a later 6-5 decision from the full 9th Circuit which, among other things, ultimately upheld the district court’s decision as to certification of the class. Wal-Mart appealed to the Supreme Court.

Wal-Mart is arguing that the women suing shouldn’t be designated a class for a number of reasons. The company claims that that the representative plaintiffs do not have claims typical of the whole class—a group which could involve from 500,000 to 1.5 million women with varying jobs and circumstances. Wal-Mart also argued that allowing the district court’s decision to stand would make the trial so unmanageable that it would violate Wal-Mart’s federal and constitutional rights.

The women pushing the suit point to company-wide practices that they claimed resulted in a culture of gender discrimination, including sexist nicknames, managers who held meetings at Hooters restaurants, and other disparaging conduct directed at women. They also point out that only a class action approach would work against a giant corporation like Wal-Mart. Individual claims of $1,100 per worker would do nothing towards ending the company’s discriminatory practices.

PFAW Foundation filed an amicus brief in support of the female class along with 33 other civil rights organizations, including the ACLU and the National Women’s Law Center. The brief emphasizes that sex discrimination in the workplace remains a very serious problem in the United States and the systemic barriers to individual actions reinforce the need for a class action to address the kind of discrimination alleged in the case against Wal-Mart. Not surprisingly, corporate America and its many powerful trade associations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, came out in full force in support of Wal-Mart, filing amicus briefs to protect their corporate interests.

While the outcome of the case remains unclear, it can be certain that there remains a pro-corporate bloc of the Court that will be sympathetic to Wal-Mart’s claims. Justice Scalia tipped his hand at his skeptical view of class actions last year in another case, suggesting that there was “national concern over abuse of the class action device.” The Court is also considering a case this term that would weaken the ability to bring class action lawsuits in the context of state consumer protection laws.

We’ll keep you posted as the case moves forward.

 

PFAW

Creating Change That Lasts: The 2011 YP4 National Summit

This past January, Young People For (YP4) convened over 250 young progressives, activists, and movement leaders from across the country for four days of dynamic skills and issue trainings during our 2011 National Summit in Washington, DC.

We were joined by Fellows from over 100 campuses in 28 states that spent the weekend building relationships with national progressive leaders, learning powerful strategies for making social change in their communities, and working on their Blueprint for Social Justice projects.

We are excited to debut our 2011 National Summit Video “Creating Change That Lasts” that provides an overview of our work as well as what Fellows experience in the YP4 Fellowship. We encourage you to share it with friends, partners, and anyone who might be interested learning more about YP4. On behalf of the entire YP4 team, thank you to our alumni, partners, and fellows who helped us make the Summit such a huge success.

Enjoy!

 

PFAW

Jon Stewart Slams Republican Hypocrisy on Corporate Power

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart took Republicans to task for baselessly holding “parasitic” workers and “greedy” labor unions for the country’s economic and budget problems, while staying silent when many of the country’s largest corporations “pay no federal taxes” at all as a result of off-shore schemes and corporate tax breaks and loopholes.

Stewart also points out that the Supreme Court in Citizens United granted corporations the same political rights as people, defenders of corporations are fine when business giants like General Electric pay no taxes at all while cutting American jobs. “I know the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people, but what I didn’t realize is that those people are assholes.”

People For the American Way has launched a petition telling members of Congress that “cuts to social security and vital programs that help students, poor children and the unemployed should not be part of the deficit discussion before tax fairness and making corporations pay their fair share.” You can also join our Facebook page, “I pay more taxes than G.E.”

PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Challenge The Rule Of Law To Push Anti-Union Agenda

After the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature rushed-through Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting legislation, the District Attorney of Dane County, which covers the state capital, sued to block the law’s implementation. According to the District Attorney, the legislature violated the state’s open meetings law by failing to give the public 24 hours notice before meeting about the bill, resulting with a judge issuing a temporary restraining order on the bill’s implementation. But the GOP leaders of the legislature decided to publish the bill despite the judge’s ruling, creating immense confusion about whether the anti-union legislation is the law or not. While the judge did not explicitly bar the Legislative Reference Bureau from publishing the law, the clear intent of the judge’s order was to prevent the law from being implemented.

CNN reports on the ensuing legal crisis and the reactions of labor organizers and State Senator Chris Larson, a member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, who are leading the charge against the GOP’s latest power grab:

The litigious and contentious battle in Wisconsin over collective bargaining rights has a new twist -- the publishing of the law despite a judge's order against such a move.

That left lawmakers and observers wondering Saturday whether the law had taken effect.

This latest drama started Friday afternoon when the state's Legislative Reference Bureau published the controversial act that curbs the collective bargaining rights of most employees.



The Wisconsin State Employees Union Council 24 blasted the publishing of the law.

"By attempting to unilaterally publish their bill eliminating the rights of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites, (Gov.) Walker and his cronies have unquestionably violated the laws of this state to further their extreme overreach for absolute power over our state's people."

Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson said, "The courts are going to step in again and say, 'No, you have to follow the letter of the law' and again they broke it. ... I think it's pretty shameless of Walker and the Republicans."

Update: Gov. Walker has announced that he will begin implementing the anti-union law despite the legal uncertainties. In response, state Democratic chair Mike Tate said:

"Are there any laws that yet bind Scott Walker and the Republicans? With the arrogance of the zealot, they act as if they were laws unto themselves. Ultimately, our Constitution and our courts will protect us from their warped ideologies, but in the meantime, our democracy in Wisconsin is being flayed."

Update 2: (AP) MADISON, Wis. (3/30):

A Wisconsin judge has ruled that there should be no further implementation of a law taking away nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi said Tuesday that her earlier restraining order saying the law shouldn't be enacted had either been ignored or misinterpreted.

Sumi stopped short of saying the law was not already in effect. She says she will take more testimony on that issue.

The Legislative Reference Bureau posted the law on a legislative website Friday, leading Gov. Scott Walker's administration to declare the law was in effect.

Sumi revised her original March temporary restraining order blocking the secretary of state from publishing the law, which is typically the last step before it becomes effective.

PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Clamp Down on the Right to Criticize Them

Wisconsin Republicans have escalated their assault on Democrats, liberals, unions, and anyone else who does not fall into line for their ideological agenda. This time, it is the right to criticize the Republican Party that is under attack, as the Cap Times reports:

The Wisconsin Republican Party, apparently stung by a blog post written by UW-Madison history professor William Cronon, has responded by asking the University of Wisconsin-Madison for copies of all of Cronon's office e-mails that mention prominent Republicans or public employee unions.

Cronon revealed the GOP's Freedom of Information Act request in his Scholar as Citizen blog post late Thursday evening along with a lengthy, and typically scholarly, defense.

In his inaugural blog post on March 15, Cronon, one of the UW's academic stars, had sketched the apparent influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadow conservative policy group that works with Republican state legislators, on Gov. Scott Walker's legislative agenda. It was the first time the respected professor had used a blog format and he was, to put it mildly, surprised by the response. The blog generated more than half a million hits. For many of his readers, it was the first time they were aware of the organization and its involvement with conservative legislators around the country.

Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, major Walker campaign contributors, provide funding support for ALEC. ...

The Republican request, filed two days after Cronon's March 15 post appeared, asks for "Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon's state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell."

The named individuals are the Republican governor, the Republican leaders of the state House and Senate, and the eight Republican senators targeted for recall.

Professor Cronon has written a long, must-read response to this political effort to intimidate him for daring to question the Republican Party.

In some ways, this is reminiscent of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's assault on academic freedom in Virginia. Academic freedom exists only in name if scholars questioning the Republican Party are bullied into not using it. In that sense, the Wisconsin assault against Professor Cronon is directly related to all the other ways that the modern-day GOP is actively undermining the infrastructure of our democracy, giving us:

  • elections where significant numbers of the GOP's opponents are prevented from voting;
  • campaigns where the GOP's opponents can't be heard over corporate millions;
  • the right to protest, but if you oppose a Republican official he may secretly plant troublemakers among your group to discredit you;
  • the right to a free press, but if a Republican who you criticize sends his goons to rough you up, the Party will not bat an eye;
  • the right to form a union that cannot collectively bargain;
  • the right to free speech, but if you displease the GOP you risk becoming the subject of phony video smears followed up by legislative attack;
  • the right to lobby, but your lobbying firm loses access to a GOP-dominated Congress if it hires Democrats.

In isolation, the incident in Wisconsin is terrible. But to see it only in isolation would be a grave mistake.

If the party officials involved with this are not condemned and banished from the party, this incident will do long-term damage. Continuing party support for those who undermine the foundations of our free society – as in the examples above – significantly lowers the bar for what departures from the principles of democracy are now acceptable.

This incident should be a rallying cry for Americans to protect the liberties and rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

PFAW

Maine Governor to Remove Labor Murals from Department of Labor

The Right’s war on worker's rights is serious business, but this is just absurd. Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage has ordered a mural depicting the state’s labor history removed from the lobby of the state Department of Labor. The governor’s spokesman claims that the removal, meant to appease unnamed members of the business community,  is just an effort to “achieve a little aesthetic balance”:

According to LePage spokesman Dan Demeritt, the administration felt the mural and the conference room monikers showed "one-sided decor" not in keeping with the department's pro-business goals.

"The message from state agencies needs to be balanced," said Demeritt, adding that the mural had sparked complaints from "some business owners" who complained it was hostile to business.

Demeritt declined to name the businesses.

The mural was erected in 2008 following a jury selection by the Maine Arts Commission and a $60,000 federal grant. Judy Taylor, the artist from Seal Cove, said Tuesday that her piece was never meant to be political, simply a depiction of Maine's labor history.

The 11-panel piece depicts several moments, including the 1937 shoe mill strike in Auburn and Lewiston, "Rosie the Riveter" at Bath Iron Works, and the paper mill workers' strike of 1986 in Jay.

I guess it was just a matter of time before the anti-labor movement started employing the Right’s tried-and-true strategy of pretending that history they don’t like never happened.

via The Awl

 

PFAW

The Further Marginalization of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce

For the second time in less than a month, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has learned that its extremism can sometimes be too much for even one member of the notoriously pro-corporate Roberts Court to swallow.

Yesterday, a unanimous Supreme Court released its opinion in Matrixx Initiatives v. Siracusano. At issue was whether a publicly traded company can be held accountable when it withholds from investors the fact that its main product has been linked to significant, negative health consequences, but not so often as to be statistically significant. (The Chamber submitted an amicus brief supporting the company.)

Matrixx is a pharmaceutical company that makes a product called Zicam Cold Remedy. It submitted a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission that omitted certain negative information about Zicam. Matrixx had been told independently by three medical researchers and physicians that some users of Zicam had lost their sense of smell. The company was also being sued by two people claiming to have lost their sense of smell due to Zicam. Matrixx's SEC filing did not mention any of these facts.

When the facts about Zicam became known, a pension fund initiated a class-action suit against Matrixx on behalf of investors.

Federal securities laws prohibit companies from making "material" omissions - omissions that an average shareholder would consider important - in connection with the buying and selling of shares. In 2004, when Good Morning America aired a story about a possible link between Zicam and the loss of the sense of smell, the company's share price dropped by 23.8% in just one day, suggesting that this just might have possibly been material information for investors.

Nevertheless, the district court dismissed the case because the number of reports was not statistically significant. The Ninth Circuit reversed that decision and, in a refreshing display of common sense, has now been upheld by a unanimous Supreme Court in an opinion written by Justice Sotomayor: Just because the number of negative incidents isn't statistically significant doesn't mean you automatically can hide it from investors.

Congress enacted the securities laws during the New Deal, in response to widespread abuses in the securities industry - a scenario all too familiar to Americans today. The intent was to replace a system of caveat emptor with an honest market. Congressional intent was clear: If the average shareholder would consider something important, then it must be disclosed.

Big Business was paying attention to this case: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief urging the Court to rule for Matrixx - which would have made it harder to hold publicly traded corporations accountable when they choose to omit important information affecting Americans' investments. The Chamber was hoping the conservative Justices would once again throw common sense and legal precedent out the window in order to achieve a corporate-friendly result.

But this time, the Chamber's extremism was too much for even one Justice on the Supreme Court to swallow.

PFAW

South Dakota Governor Signs Harsh Law Restricting Reproductive Freedom

In another blow to women’s rights, the Republican governor of South Dakota Dennis Daugaard today signed legislation intended to curtail women’s access to reproductive healthcare and bolster anti-choice propaganda. The law creates a 72 hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion in the state, which has only one clinic which offers abortion services just once a week. Moreover, women seeking to terminate their pregnancy would be required to meet with staff of a “pregnancy help center,” more commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers, which do not provide abortion services.

People For the American Way’s report, “The GOP Takes Its War on Women to the States,” describes how such centers are fronts for anti-choice organizations to spread false information about abortion and deceive women:

In 2006, a congressional committee looked into federally funded CPC’s, and found that “the vast majority of the federally funded pregnancy resource centers contacted during the investigation provided information about the risks of abortion that was false or misleading,” and “in many cases, this information was grossly inaccurate or distorted.” The National Abortion Federation notes that such centers are mostly staffed by volunteers whose “main qualifications are a commitment to Christianity and anti-choice beliefs,” rather than by medical professionals, and “many CPCs are connected with religious organizations, but few disclose that fact in their advertising.”
PFAW

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

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

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

Listen to their robocall defending GOP Senator Sheila Harsdorf:

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

PFAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

The Costs of Eliminating Constitutional Citizenship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PFAW

A Religious Exemption From the Rule of Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They have not.

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer, largely, is Planned Parenthood and politics.

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

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

 

PFAW