PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Putting the "Lame" in Lame Duck

Republicans continue to make the case that they are the ones who serious about fixing the economy, shrinking the deficit and putting Americans back to work. This, as they gear up for endless witch hunts that will be make the Republicans' investigations into the Clinton administration in the 1990's look like a picnic... as they move to oppose extending unemployment insurance for millions of Americans in need... as they push to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit with tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans.

Zach Carter at Campaign for America’s Future put it very succinctly last week when he wrote:

Economic sabotage is the essential Republican strategy for winning the White House in 2012. They will block every effort to actually improve the economy they can, and make a big show out of criticizing any economic aid they can't block.

Incredibly, the GOP is attacking Democratic efforts on the Hill to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, pass the DREAM Act, confirm judicial nominees and pass the DISCLOSE Act as "distractions" from addressing economic concerns, while Republicans do all they can to block real progress on getting Americans back to work.

A report released today shows, conclusively, that the military is ready for gays and lesbians to serve openly. Ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell is a matter of basic fairness, our national character and national security. The same goes for the DREAM Act, which the Pentagon has said would strengthen the military in addition to offering a much-needed path to citizenship for hardworking immigrant youth. Confirming judges is essential to the country having a working justice system. Passing DISCLOSE is a matter of making sure American voters wield the power in our democracy and not corporations that hide behind shadowy front groups to buy elections.

These things are not distractions. They are essential to making sure Americans have a country that works... one in which their rights are protected and democracy thrives. Republicans want block these measures for the same reason they want to block economic assistance for Americans in need and policies which would strengthen the economy and create jobs. They know that what's good for America is bad for them politically, and for the next two years, everything we want to do that will be good for America will have to be done over the vigorous opposition of an ultra right-wing Republican Congress.

PFAW

A new Pew Research survey confirms, again, that a large majority of Americans support repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and allowing gay and lesbian Americans to serve openly in the military:

As the Pentagon prepares to release its highly anticipated survey of military personnel about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, most Americans (58%) say they favor allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces. Fewer than half that number (27%) oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

These opinions have changed little in recent years. Since 2005 – including three surveys this year – roughly 60% have consistently favored permitting homosexuals to serve openly in the military. There is greater support for permitting gays to serve openly today than there was in 1994, after President Clinton put in place the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In July of that year, 52% said they favored allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military while 45% said they opposed allowing this.

Pew found that majorities in each age group and education level favor DADT repeal. Large majorities of Democrats and Independents favor repeal, and Republicans are about evenly split. Interestingly, one group that Pew found is resoundingly against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is people who say they identify with the Tea Party: “Only about four-in-ten (38%) Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party favor allowing gays to serve openly while 48% are opposed.” About half of the Republicans surveyed chose to align themselves with the Tea Party.

The Senate will mostly likely take a final vote on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal after this week’s release of the Pentagon’s report on repeal. A handful of GOP senators have indicated that they’ll vote to get rid of the discriminatory policy in the likely event that the Pentagon’s report supports the move. Pew’s survey is yet another piece of evidence that the senators who continue to back Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are not supporting the majority of Americans, the needs of the armed forces, or even the preference of the majority of their own party. Instead, in trying to hold on to a discriminatory and failed policy, they pander almost exclusively to the extreme social conservatism of a vocal right-wing movement.
 

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At the Supreme Court, a New Threat to Workers

Tuesday morning, with Justice Sotomayor recused, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in CIGNA v. Amara, a case that will test the Court's pro-corporate leanings, in this case, whether it will become harder for employees to hold their employers accountable for providing inaccurate summaries of major changes in their pensions plans.

Cigna has 27,000 employees participating in the pension plan at issue. Several years ago, Cigna made a number of significant changes to its plan. As required by federal law (ERISA, or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act), the company gave its employees a summary of the major changes written in a way that the average plan participant would understand.

Unfortunately for the 27,000 participants in Cigna's pension system, Cigna gave them a misleading summary, one that did not reveal some of the financial disadvantages of the plan. In a class action suit against the company, a federal district court found that Cigna had deliberately misled its employees in order to avoid a backlash, one that might have led the company to roll back some of the changes. Had employees known the truth, they could have protested, they could have sued to stop the changes, or they could have begun looking for work elsewhere with a better retirement plan. In a decision affirmed on appeal, the court concluded that since the class of plaintiffs suffered "likely harm" as a result of the misleading summary, Cigna has to give them some measure of recovered benefits.

So Cigna has turned to the Roberts Court for a bailout.

The corporation argues that employees need to do more than show "likely harm" to recover benefits. Instead, according to Cigna, the standard should be "detrimental reliance:" Each of the up to 27,000 plaintiffs in this class action suit should be required to convince a court that they (1) actually read the summary document; (2) had no knowledge of plan terms contradicting the summary; and (3) relied on the summary to make a detrimental employment or retirement decision that he would not otherwise have made (e.g., prove that they would have moved to a company with better retirement benefits but for the misleading summary).

That's an extremely high hurdle for each individual. How likely is it that employees will be able to prove that they read a summary document that they may have received years ago? How does it help employees who relied on their coworkers to explain the summary document to them? How will employees prove that if they had known the truth about the pension plan, they would have challenged their employer to change it or, alternatively, would have found a new employer with a better pension package?

In addition, forcing the employees to prove their individual cases rather than act as a class would be an administrative nightmare for a court, and a boon to large corporations with thousands of employees.

The statutorily mandated summary document is the central mechanism for achieving one of ERISA's fundamental goals - ensuring that participants accurately understand their rights and obligations under the plan. Cigna's "detrimental reliance" standard threatens to frustrate that goal, taking power from the employees who Congress sought to protect and handing it to the corporations.

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Republican Judges Against Republican Obstruction

Add another set of voices to the growing chorus of Americans fed up with Republican leaders' unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominations: Federal judges nominated by Republican presidents. According to ThinkProgress:

[Last] week, seven Republican-appointed federal judges co-signed a letter warning of the consequences of the GOP's systematic obstruction of President Obama's judges. The letter [is] from the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit, which includes Republican appointees Alex Kozinski, Ralph Beistline, Vaughn Walker, Irma Gonzales, Frances Marie Tydingco-Gatewood, Richard Frank Cebull, [and] Lonny Ray Suko[.]

The letter states:

In order to do our work, and serve the public as Congress expects us to serve it, we need the resources to carry out our mission. While there are many areas of serious need, we write today to emphasize our desperate need for judges. Our need in that regard has been amply documented ... Courts cannot do their work if authorized judicial positions remain vacant.

While we could certainly use more judges, and hope that Congress will soon approve the additional judgeships requested by the Judicial Conference, we would be greatly assisted if our judicial vacancies - some of which have been open for several years and declared "judicial emergencies" - were to be filled promptly. We respectfully request that the Senate act on judicial nominees without delay.

Americans want a government that works. Why don't Senate Republican leaders agree?

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Groundswell of Support for Overturning 'Citizens United' Continues

The latest polling on the Citizens United decision reflects the growing public support for overturning the Roberts Court’s ruling. According to a new Public Policy Polling analysis, 46% of Americans agreed that “Congress should consider drastic measures such as a constitutional amendment overturning the recent Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections,” while 36% disagreed and one-in-five had not formed an opinion.

A large majority of Americans across party lines disagree with the Citizens United decision, according to poll after poll after poll after poll. Members of both the House and Senate have already introduced constitutional amendments to overturn the ruling and reaffirm Congress’s right to limit corporate spending in elections. As Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), the chief sponsor of one amendment in the House, told the Huffington Post:

A lot of progressives are not accustomed to using the mechanisms of the Constitution. The right has used-- has tried to do that an awful lot of times on a whole range of different things in state legislatures and across the board. And as progressives, we're not accustomed to doing that, and this is one instance, though, where the populist demand is there, and our energy and our policy has to match that demand and a Constitutional amendment does that.

People For the American Way and Public Citizen joined together this election year to support candidates who pledged to back a Constitutional Amendment overturning Citizens United, and are continuing the fight for both constitutional and legislative remedies by advancing bills such as the DISCLOSE Act. Americans are increasingly speaking out against the Court’s far-reaching pro-corporate bent, and calling on Congress to make sure that corporations don’t dominate the political system and drown out the voices of individuals.

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On October 7, 1998, Aaron Kreifels found Matthew Shepard clinging to life in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming. Unfortunately, Shepard lost that battle five days later. What resulted was a rallying cry for the LGBT equality movement.

One of the most enduring voices in the years since has been The Laramie Project, a play produced by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project based on interviews conducted in the aftermath of Shepard’s death. I’ll never forget my own experience with The Laramie Project, and the emotion that overcame one of my friends in the audience. He was struck by the fact that Laramie wasn’t so different from his hometown. What happened there could have happened in his backyard. It could happen just about anywhere without people and a government willing to stand up to fear and hate.

Now comes The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. There’s a point at which the story turns to current students at the University of Wyoming. They don’t know who Shepard was. Or they choose to believe rumors. Or it simply doesn’t affect them. And we’re told several times throughout that the fence on which Shepard clung to life no longer exists, broken up into pieces and lost forever. As generations pass and the physical signs fade, it’s ever more important that we openly and honestly talk about Shepard and what happened to him – not just the attack, but what we can learn from his life and death and the very real ways in which they impact our own lives.

In the very meeting where I found out that the show was in town, we were discussing what is being done and what more might be needed to address bullying in schools. We also discussed the federal hate crime law that bears Shepard’s name. And just today the FBI released its 2009 hate crime statistics.

Just as Shepard’s legacy lives on, our work continues.

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AT&T's Political Pitch to the Roberts Court

 Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, where the cell phone company is asking the Supreme Court to demolish class-action suits and cripple state consumer protection laws. This case threatens to be one of many where the Roberts Court bends the law in order to give even more power to already-powerful corporations.

In the Huffington Post, David Arkush of Public Citizen has an interesting observation about the arguments AT&T is making to sway the Roberts Court: They are nakedly aimed at the conservative Justices' political ideology, not any conception of the law. After noting how eager the Roberts Court has been to overrule decades of once-settled law, Arkush writes:

[W]hen the court is so willing to remake the law in a broad range of areas, individual political appeals become much more important. A devastating piece of evidence on this point came [when] AT&T's lawyers made this argument:

"Accordingly, California's professed belief that class actions are necessary for deterrence boils down to the proposition that deterrence is served by imposing on all businesses -- without regard to culpability -- the massive costs of discovery that typically precede a class certification motion and the inevitable multimillion dollar fee award extracted by the class action attorneys as the price of peace. In other words, because class actions always cost vast amounts to defend and eventually settle with a large transfer of wealth from the defendant to the class action lawyers no matter how guiltless the defendant may be, all businesses will be deterred from engaging in misconduct by the very existence of this externality producing procedure." 

Note that this is a pure policy argument, not a legal argument. More important, it's politically charged hyperbole. ...

AT&T's lawyers are not hacks. They are some of the nation's best Supreme Court litigators. It is a devastating indictment of the Roberts court that these lawyers think repeating myths about greedy trial lawyers is an effective way to argue. They must think the court is brazenly activist and political.

 Hmm, I wonder what gave them that idea?

 

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Empowered GOP Seeks to Sink Immigrant Rights

The Republican Party’s virulently anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are far from mere political tactics, as GOP members of Congress usher in a radical agenda to rollback the rights of immigrants and their families. Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has appeared with violent vigilante groups and has referred to undocumented immigration as both a “slow-motion Holocaust” and a “slow-motion terrorist attack,” is set to chair the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration. Members of the House Republican Freshman Class, including Pennsylvania’s Tom Marino and Florida’s Allen West, frequently used immigrant-bashing in their campaigns, and Louisiana Senator David Vitter made demonizing immigrants the cornerstone of his reelection campaign.

Two new reports today demonstrate how extreme the Republican Party is moving to not only oppose immigration reform but also to undermine one of the most important protections guaranteed by the US Constitution:

GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the incoming chairman of the subcommittee that oversees immigration, is expected to push a bill that would deny "birthright citizenship" to such children.

The measure, assailed by critics as unconstitutional, is an indication of how the new majority intends to flex its muscles on the volatile issue of illegal immigration.

The idea has a growing list of supporters, including Republican Reps. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Dan Lungren of Gold River, but it has aroused intense opposition, as well.

"I don't like it," said Chad Silva, statewide policy analyst for the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. "It's been something that's been a part of America for a very long time. … For us, it sort of flies in the face of what America is about."

Republicans are also gearing up to defeat the DREAM Act, which would allow students and military servicemembers who came into the country illegally as children and have a clean criminal record to gain a pathway to citizenship. Even though the DREAM Act has historically garnered bipartisan support, Politico reports that Republicans on the Hill are trying to deceptively tar the bill as amnesty for criminals:

Already, GOP staffers have begun circulating to senators and conservative groups a white paper outlining what they see as the social and financial costs of passing the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

“In addition to immediately putting an estimated 2.1 million illegal immigrants (including certain criminal aliens) on a path to citizenship, the DREAM Act would give them access to in-state tuition rates at public universities, federal student loans and federal work-study programs,” said the research paper, being distributed by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.



The bill’s backers, though, say it outlines a “rigorous and lengthy process” for legalization, hardly the amnesty plan that opponents have depicted.

Eligible immigrants must have entered the U.S. before age 16, have been in the country for at least five consecutive years before the bill’s enactment and been at least under age 35 at the time of enactment; been admitted to a college or earned a high-school diploma or GED certificate; and have no serious criminal record.

A recent Rasmussen poll found that a majority of Americans believe that “children brought to the U.S. illegally should get a chance at citizenship if they complete two years of college or participate in the military,” and military leaders have called on Congress to pass the DREAM Act as a way to strengthen the country’s armed forces. A study by UCLA’s North American Integration and Development Center states that the DREAM Act both “offers a moral solution to the trap of being a young, motivated, undocumented immigrant in the U.S.” and is “an economically sensible piece of legislation that advances the interests of U.S. society as a whole.”

However, the extreme anti-immigrant sentiment that is pervasive within the GOP stands in the way of reasonable efforts at reform, and even leads to radical legislation that challenges the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

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Standing together for schools that are safe and free of discrimination

Last Thursday I attended a press conference convened on Capitol Hill in support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act. It was a diverse mix of speakers. Representatives Linda Sánchez and Jared Polis and Senators Robert Casey and Al Franken showed their support as our legislative champions. Clay Aiken (American Idol) and Louis Van Amstel (Dancing with the Stars) talked about using their star power to advance the cause. Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and Dr. Cathy Minke, President of the National Association of School Psychologists, shared the work they do everyday as advocates and practitioners. Then there were the people for whom this issue hits closest to home: Sirdeaner Walker, mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover; Tammy Aaberg, mother of Justin Aaberg; and Joey Kemmerling, a 16-year-old gay student from Bucks County, PA.

Something Dr. Byard said really stuck with me.

This is an issue of behavior, not belief.

Ensuring that schools are safe, as does the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and free of discrimination, as does the Student Nondiscrimination Act, isn’t about sexual orientation and gender identity, or how you might feel about LGBT issues being raised in schools. This is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing the quality education they need and deserve. Every student, LGBT or not, has the right to be educated in the same way.

Click here for more information, and be sure to take a look at this video posted by Senator Franken.

 

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Editorial Boards From Across the Country Call on Senate to Pass DISCLOSE Act

Even though Republican obstructionism has upheld passage of the DISCLOSE Act in the US Senate twice before, the need to pass the bill has grown more urgent following the midterm election which experienced an onslaught of campaign ads funded by secret money from shadowy groups. The DISCLOSE Act will ensure that organizations who run ads to influence elections reveal to the public their donors, as under current law organizations can hide the identities of all of their donors, damaging transparency and the public’s right to know. In the last vote, 59 US Senators supported bringing the DISCLOSE Act to the Floor for an up-or-down vote, but the Republican minority blocked the vote from taking place.

Newspaper editorial boards from around the US are speaking out, calling for the Senate to act on the DISCLOSE Act:

Miami Herald:

Regardless of which candidates win, voters lose when they are left in the dark about who is signing the checks to pay for the commercials -- mostly, attack ads -- that dominate political campaigns. Disclosure enables voters to make informed decisions about the message and the candidate. Secrecy leaves them clueless.

The remedy lies in the Disclose Act, which the House has passed and is pending in the Senate. It would expand disclosure requirements to help the public know more about the rivers of money pouring into campaigns. Thus far, it has failed to attract any Republican support, but sponsors say they are willing to drop some nonessential provisions -- prohibiting government contractors from making donations, for example -- to attract at least one or two Republicans.

This bill should be at the top of Congress' agenda in the lame-duck session that begins later this month. It's too late to do anything about this year's elections, but it can remove the shield of secrecy before the next round of races in 2012. A failure to act benefits only those who thrive in political darkness.

Charleston Gazette:

The Supreme Court breakthrough even lets businesses hide their identity as they funnel cash to front committees that buy smear ads. To halt this concealment, Democrats in Congress drafted the Disclose Act, which would force big donors out into the daylight. They still could spend freely to buy elections, but they could no longer hide from the public.

The House passed the Disclose Act, but Democrats in the Senate twice could not overcome Republican opposition. "Not a single Senate Republican and only two in the House have been willing to vote for the Disclose Act," the San Jose Mercury News noted.

The Senate is expected to try again after the election -- before more winning Republican senators take their seats. We hope the bill finally passes. It's disgusting that firms now can spend millions of company money to sway elections, under the silly pretext that such spending is free speech. At least, they shouldn't be allowed to hide while they do it.

Kansas City Star:

One solution being offered is the DISCLOSE Act (Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections), which passed the U.S. House this summer, but not surprisingly stalled in the Senate.

The act, simply summarized, seeks to force those pumping money into campaigns to take personal responsibility for their actions and not hide behind front organizations.

It must be passed. Specifically, corporations, labor unions and nonprofits would have to disclose their donors, and their leaders would have to appear on their television ads noting "I approve of this message."

Philadelphia Daily News:

The DISCLOSE Act, passed by the House of Representatives last year, would require, among other things, that political donors be publicly identified. The bill has majority support in the U.S. Senate, but twice has been blocked when not one Republican senator would vote to break a filibuster - even senators who have supported campaign-finance reform in the past.

There's one last chance to impose a minimum check on the Wild West environment that campaigns have become: let the disclosure provision of the DISCLOSE Act come to a vote in the "lame duck" session of the Senate that begins next week.
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Paycheck Fairness Act defeated, but we shouldn't be

There’s no denying the fact that it was frustrating to see the Paycheck Fairness Act defeated in a 58-41 vote – 2 votes shy of overcoming a procedural hurdle that has stopped the bill itself from coming to the floor.

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement, was herself frustrated.

Today, only Democratic senators voted to support Paycheck Fairness for women -- not a single Republican voted to allow the Senate to move forward. It is notable that the first vote after the election in which the American people sent a clear message that they want Washington to work better, the Republicans blocked a common sense measure aimed simply to help ensure that women get the pay they deserve.

But in the same post, it’s clear that neither she, nor President Obama, nor his Administration are ready to give up.

Despite today’s vote, the Administration will continue its fight for equal pay for women – an issue that in these trying economic times is even more pressing given American families’ reliance on women’s income. The National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, with representatives from the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Office of Personnel Management, (“OPM”) continues its pursuit of pay equity for women. The agencies are strengthening their own enforcement efforts and working together, building regional partnerships to promote earlier and more effective collaboration on investigations. And with leadership from OPM, we will continue to improve the federal government’s role as a model employer.

This Administration will keep fighting to improve the economic security for women and their families. This includes working hard in this session and the next Congress we will keep fighting for things such as an extension of emergency unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other measures we have supported that must now be extended. The President is committed to working with the women who joined us today and people around the country to support women and their families.

I think the President himself said it best.

Click here for People For the American Way’s statement on the vote.

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Bipartisan Agreement Breaks Out at Hearing on Faith Based Initiatives

At today’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, there was one item on which witnesses and Members of Congress from across partisan and ideological divides agreed: the Obama administration is ducking an important and controversial decision on whether religious organizations that take federal money to provide social services can discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring people to provide those services.  The administration further dodged the issue and rankled committee members by declining an invitation to testify.

There is some progress to report: the hearing came one day after the White House issued a long-awaited Executive Order (Subcommittee Chair Jerold Nadler called the pace of reform “glacial”) on the topic of federal funding for faith-based groups.  The Executive Order implements a number of recommendations made by an advisory council the administration had created to review what was called the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives by the Bush Administration and what is now called the Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships. Melissa Rogers, Director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest Divinity School and a co-chair of the president’s commission, was among those who testified.
 
Among the elements of the new Executive Order and provisions to: require that beneficiaries who object to a religiously affiliated program have access to a secular alternative; clarify rules requiring that federal money not be used for religious activities like worship or proselytizing; ensure that awards are made on the basis of merit, not religious or political considerations; and require meaningful oversight of grants without excessive entanglement in religious groups’ internal affairs.  These provisions were mostly welcomed across the political spectrum (with some sniping from the Religious Right), though there was disagreement in the advisory council over the issue of social services being provided in rooms where religious art or symbols are displayed (the administration OK’d religious symbols in rooms where secular programs are carried out) and over the question of requiring churches to set up separate nonprofit organizations to receive federal money (the administration decided not to require that step).
 
But the big unresolved issue is one that the Obama White House prevented its own advisory commission from addressing – whether groups can decide to hire only people of a certain faith for social service jobs that are being funded by American taxpayers.
 
People For the American Way, like all the Democrats present at the hearing, believes the Obama administration should overturn the poorly reasoned Bush-era Justice Department memo that misinterpreted the law to allow federally funded discrimination.  During his 2008 campaign, Obama explicitly pledged to do so. But since then the administration has declared that the Justice Department would consider the issue on a case-by-case basis. 
 
Religious Right groups and their political allies want the administration to explicitly embrace the status quo set up during the Bush administration, which allows hiring discrimination.  Progressive groups want the administration to revoke the controversial Bush-era legal memo and return to a bright line standard against taxpayer-funded discrimination.  Pretty much everyone agrees that churches and religious groups can and should be able to make religiously-grounded hiring decisions for jobs that are paid for with privately raised funds.  And everyone agrees that administration’s “case by case” approach makes no sense.
 
Come to think of it, there was one other topic of agreement: Rep. Trent Franks doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Franks, who gained a measure of infamy last year when he denounced President Obama as an “enemy of humanity,” popped into the hearing to assert that the administration’s lack of clarity on the hiring issue was stirring controversy over a principle that the federal courts had settled for 50 years, the right of religious groups to hire based on religion.  After Franks left, there was general consensus in the room that, to be charitable, Franks was confusing the basic issue: the difference between private and taxpayer funds.  Franks wrapped his embarrassing confusion in Religious Right rhetoric about groups that supposedly want to erase religion from public life, or in his memorable words, ensure that “anything in the shadow of the American flag cannot be religious.”
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People For and Progressive Groups Urge Senate to Break Confirmation Gridlock

This week, People For and 46 other progressive groups sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate urging them to end the backlog of judicial nominees before the end of this session of Congress. Republican obstruction has prevented dozens of nominees from even receiving a vote on the Senate floor, leaving the federal court system with over 100 vacancies and the slowing down the process of bringing more diversity to the federal bench. Read the full letter:

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

The undersigned organizations strongly urge you to end the troubling backlog of judicial nominees that exists to date in the 111th Congress. The obstruction of many of President Obama’s nominees through filibuster threats and anonymous “holds” is hindering the important work of our judicial branch, particularly in the many areas of our nation that now face judicial emergencies due to unfilled vacancies on the bench.

Throughout the 111th Congress, President Obama has worked with the Senate on a bipartisan basis to select extraordinarily well-qualified judicial nominees who could easily be confirmed by wide margins and begin serving the public, if brought to a vote before the full Senate. Yet a troubling number of these nominees, many of whom have been cleared by the Committee on the Judiciary with little or no opposition, have been blocked from up-or-down confirmation votes for reasons that defy explanation. Indeed, many of President Obama’s judicial nominees who have been confirmed, to date, have been confirmed by unanimous votes – but only after languishing for many months on the Senate floor, raising significant doubts about the legitimacy of the ongoing delays in confirmation proceedings.

Due to arcane floor procedures that allow a single member to impede the important business of the Senate, our judicial branch has reached a state of crisis. Out of 872 federal judgeships, 106 are currently vacant, with 50 of those vacancies now characterized as “judicial emergencies” in which courts are being overwhelmed by filings that cannot be considered. As a result, a growing number of Americans, from all walks of life and across all economic strata, are finding it increasingly more difficult to assert their legal rights and to have their fair day in court.

In the meantime, the Senate is badly failing in its constitutionally-mandated role of considering the nominees that President Obama has selected. Prior to entering its pro forma session, the Senate failed to confirm any of the 23 nominees who are currently pending on the Senate floor, 17 of whom advanced through the committee process with no opposition whatsoever. Moreover, 11 of the pending nominees would fill seats designated as judicial emergencies – and more than half of the pending nominees are people of color, while 10 of them are women, who would bring badly-needed and long-overdue diversity to our judicial branch.

We write to you at a time when our nation faces numerous challenges that cry out for bipartisan cooperation, including major economic challenges and continued international threats. We strongly believe that the continued obstruction of nominations will poison the political atmosphere, needlessly heighten partisan tensions, and make it far more difficult for the federal government to serve the public interest in any respect. These consequences are all but certain to continue into the 112th Congress and beyond.

For these reasons, in the remaining weeks of the 111th Congress, we strongly urge you to work together in a bipartisan fashion to proceed with confirmation votes on the two dozen judicial nominees who remain pending on the Senate floor. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

AFL-CIO

Alliance for Justice

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

American Association for Affirmative Action

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Association of University Women

American Federation of Government Employees

American Federation of Teachers

Americans for Democratic Action

Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Asian American Justice Center

Common Cause

Constitutional Accountability Center

Equal Justice Society

Families USA Foundation

Feminist Majority

Hispanic National Bar Association

Hispanics for a Fair Judiciary

Human Rights Campaign

Japanese American Citizens League

Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Lambda Legal

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

League of United Latin American Citizens

Legal Momentum

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

NAACP

NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse

National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum

National Association of Consumer Advocates

National Association of Human Rights Workers

National Association of Social Workers

National Black Justice Coalition

National Congress of Black Women, Inc.

National Council of Jewish Women

National Disability Rights Network

National Employment Lawyers Association

National Fair Housing Alliance

National Partnership for Women & Families

National Urban League

National Women’s Law Center

OCA

People For the American Way

Secular Coalition for America

SEIU

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Sikh Coalition

 

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Secret Money in 2010 Election Doubled All Outside Group Spending in Last Midterm

The rapid growth and increased prominence of outside groups attempting to influence voters in the 2010 midterm election was apparent to all Americans who saw the deluge of campaign spending and TV ads this year. But the matter of who actually financed such groups is far less clear, as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision made it much easier for groups to raise secret money from individuals and corporations to advance their political agendas. A new report by Public Citizen, Disclosure Eclipse, details how 2010 became a watershed moment for groups who do not publicly disclose the sources of their funding:

Of 308 outside groups, excluding party committees, that reported spending money on this year’s elections, just 116 (53.9 percent) provided any information about the sources of their funding, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of Federal Election Commission (FEC) data.

Of the 10 top spending groups, only three provided information about their founders. These top 10 groups – which collectively spent $138.5 million, equal to 52 percent of the $266.4 million spent by all outside groups in the 2010 to influence this years election – disclosed the sources of only 27.1 percent, of the money they spent.

Groups not disclosing any information about their funders collectively spent $135.6 million to influence this year’s elections. That was almost exactly double the $68.9 million grand total spent by outside groups in 2006, the most recent midterm election cycle.

Although the Supreme Court’s opinion in Citizens United lauded the virtues of disclosure, the effect that decision and the court’s earlier retrenchment of campaign finance regulations in 2007 has been less disclosure.



Such disclosure, [Justice] Kennedy wrote, would enable citizens to “see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”

But, even for independent expenditures, no provision requires the type of disclosure that Kennedy discussed. The plain rules of [Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act] require such disclosures, but the FEC has gutted them.

In 2010, as mentioned above, only 70 percent of 30 top spending groups provided any information about their funding sources. These groups disclosed only 55.4 percent of their independent expenditures.

People For the American Way’s Citizens Blindsided: Secret Corporate Money in the 2010 Elections and America’s New Shadow Democracy report shows how undisclosed money is flowing into groups with a specifically pro-corporate political agenda. Members of Congress who supported measures to reform Wall Street and the health insurance system found themselves in the crosshairs of shadowy organizations which did not reveal their donors to the public. As this Public Citizen analysis demonstrates, Supreme Court rulings and the resulting FEC actions dismantled campaign finance rules to the point where secret money took off in the 2010 election, mostly to the benefit of pro-corporate politicians and causes.

 

PFAW

Former Bush Lawyer: Stop Partisan Bickering and Confirm Liu

The Blog of the Legal Times is reporting that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is planning to call Senate Republicans on their obstruction of judicial nominees and break the gridlock that has kept four of these nominees pending, in some cases for over a year. Reid will attempt to stop the Republican filibuster of Ninth Circuit nominees Goodwin Liu and Edward Chen, Rhode Island District Court nominee John McConnell, and Wisconsin District nominee Louis Butler. 

This is a critical moment for these nominees, who despite support from their home-state senators and endorsements across the ideological spectrum, have for various reasons been branded as “too extreme” by obstructionist Republicans in the Senate. McConnell has been up against an expensive lobbying campaign from the Chamber of Commerce, which objects to his work as a public interest lawyer representing victims of lead paint poisoning. Butler has been up against business interests who don’t think he was friendly enough to them when he was on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Chen was accused by Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee of having an apparently disqualifying “ACLU chromosome.”

Liu’s nomination has been the subject of the most partisan squabbling. Liu’s main obstacle, it seems, has been his own brilliance: some on the Right worry that if he makes it on to the bench, he could eventually become a Supreme Court nominee. But Liu’s nomination is backed by legal luminaries from across the ideological spectrum, including former Bush White House lawyer Richard Painter, who today wrote another plea for the Senate GOP to break the judicial gridlock and at least take a vote on Liu’s nomination:

In any event, nominees who should not be controversial, including Goodwin Liu (I have made previous posts here on his nomination), are described as radical activists, the same tactic that advocacy groups deployed to mischaracterize many of President Bush’s nominees.

Public opinion of Members of Congress (both parties) these days is lower, far lower, than it was in the days when Senator Henry Cabot Lodge used just the right term to describe what he saw going on when Senators filibustered legislation. Those of us who care about the future of the judiciary should make it clear that the delay must stop.

This does not mean the Senators should vote "yes". They can vote "no". But they should vote.

Specific nominations aside, the federal judicial system in general has taken a drubbing under the Senate GOP’s refusal to confirm nominees. A new report from the Alliance for Justice has found that the number of vacancies in the federal judiciary has nearly doubled since President Obama took office, and that the number of open seats designated as “judicial emergencies” has risen from 20 to 50, affecting 30 states.

Confirmation votes will become much more difficult next year, with Democrats hanging on to a much slimmer majority in the Senate. Now’s the time to push through the nominees whom the GOP has been the most eager to obstruct.
 

PFAW