PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Wal-Mart, Class Action, and Rules Without Remedies

One of the daunting realities of modern life is that we as individuals are confronted by far more powerful corporations. When we want to buy a product, get a job, or seek to hold a large corporation accountable for its misdeeds, our negotiating power is limited by the fact that we are individuals. In contrast, due to its eternal life, its being composed of thousands or even millions of people, and its many state-granted benefits such as limited liability, corporations have consolidated vast resources that would be impossible for any living person attain.

So when that corporation does wrong against individuals – when it engages in a pattern of illegal discrimination, sells defective products, or cheats its customers – the victims often are powerless to hold the corporation accountable unless they, too, can consolidate their resources.

That’s why class actions are so important – and why Big Business keeps asking the Roberts Court to sabotage people’s ability to band together in class actions. Earlier this term, the Corporate Court undercut class actions against consumer fraud in AT&T v. Concepcion. And Monday, it struck out against women employees seeing to hold Wal-Mart accountable for illegal employment discrimination.

Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest private employer. Several women sued the corporate giant on behalf of themselves and similarly situated women around the country - anywhere from 500,000 to 1.5 million employees. To sue as a class, they would have to show that they have claims typical of the whole group.

So that’s what they did. As Justice Ginsburg’s dissent pointed out, the district court that had certified them as a class had identified systems for promoting in-store employees that were sufficiently similar across regions and stores to conclude that the manner in which these systems affect the class raises issues that are common to all class members. The women showed that Wal-Mart has a national corporate climate infused with invidious bias against women. Wal-Mart’s policy is to have personnel decisions made by local managers, all of whom are products of that toxic corporate climate.

But the conservative majority’s 5-4 opinion, authored by Justice Scalia, went out of its way to overlook that obvious commonality, focusing instead on the differences that will inevitably be present when a corporate giant targets so many people. The Roberts Court accepted Wal-Mart's assertion that the women cannot be designated a class because the representative plaintiffs do not have claims typical of the whole group.

What this 5-4 opinion states is that Wal-Mart is so large – and the discrimination it has allegedly engaged in is so great – that its victims cannot unify as one class to hold the company accountable. Individuals or small groups are much less likely to have the resources to seek justice.

Large corporations may be licking their chops at the opportunities the Roberts Court has opened to them to violate the law. They realize that a rule without a remedy is no rule at all.

PFAW

Menendez Introduces Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

Senator Robert Menendez, along with Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senators Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy, Charles Schumer, and John Kerry, today introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011. The bill creates a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who must meet strict requirements before waiting in line to become legal residents. The bill also addresses the continuing need for effective border security. Most notably, this bill includes the provisions for LGBT families outlined in the Uniting American Families Act, as well as the DREAM Act and AgJOBS. Here at PFAW, we’re very pleased to see such inclusive legislation being introduced.

America is a nation of immigrants, and our country’s history would be unfathomable without the men and women who have come here from all around the world. Comprehensive immigration reform will help the economy and create greater fairness and equality in our deeply flawed immigration system. We applaud these senators for their leadership in seeking to create a comprehensive and fair immigration policy. When addressing undocumented immigrants, the best thing our nation can do is to implement a stable path to legal citizenship, with equal opportunity for all, and that’s precisely what this bill does.

PFAW

YEO Network Meets with Obama Administration

UPDATE: The White House has posted some great video interviews with YEOs. 

Last Friday, 200 members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network visited the White House to talk with Obama administration officials and meet the president. The elected officials, all progressives under the age of 35, were able to discuss their concerns about issues including the economy, immigration, health care and education with highly placed administration officials including Council of Economic Advisors Chairman Austan Goolsbee, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra. The elected officials then attended an intimate reception with President Obama.

The White House has a blog post on the event here, and below are some photos by YEO staff and network members.

(Photo: YEO Network member)

Young Elected Officials at White House policy briefing (Photo: Matthew Lesser)

President Obama speaks to the Young Elected Officials Network (Photo: YEO Network member)

 President Obama greets Young Elected Officials (Photo: YEO Network member)

 The YEO Network's Women's Caucus at the White House (Photo: YEO Network member)


The YEO Network’s Black Caucus at the White House (Photo: YEO Network member)

PFAW

Huntsman Backer Seeks Gay Money with False Claim on Civil Unions

PFAW President Michael Keegan's recent Huffington Post commentary pointed out that former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, the latest to throw his hat in the GOP presidential ring, is more conservative than his media-generated image as a moderate. Here’s more evidence supporting Keegan’s claim that Huntsman’s campaign strategy is to try to be all things to all people: Huntsman supporters are making a big play for campaign contributions from LGBT donors -- but they aren't telling the truth about his record. 

According to Politico, California Log Cabin Republican official Charles T. Moran has sent a fundraising email that makes this claim:“Governor Huntsman signed into law Utah’s first Civil Unions legislation – a politically courageous move on his part given that state’s politics.”

That claim is simply false.  It is true that in 2009, Huntsman declared his support for civil unions, five years after he backed a state constitutional amendment that bans marriage and forbids recognition of any "other domestic union" that has the "same or substantially equivalent legal effect" as marriage. But civil unions never became law in Utah.

In 2008, Huntsman did sign a law, SB 299, that allowed local governments to have something like a domestic partnership registry as long as they did not describe it as a domestic partnership registry. That’s a far cry from a state civil unions law, which is still prohibited by a constitutional amendment that Huntsman supported.

PFAW

Huntsman Polishes His Magic Mirror to Show GOP Voters Whatever They're Looking For

Just who is Jon Huntsman? At this stage, he is whatever anyone hopes that he will be. As he prepares to officially join the gaggle of GOP presidential candidates, his campaign strategists seem to have adopted an "all-things-to-all-people" approach: play up his conservative credentials for Republican primary voters while courting general election voters by promoting his media image as the only moderate in the race. A CNN commentator, for example, calls him "the lone standard-bearer of the center-right in a crowded GOP field." Katrina Trinko, a reporter at the conservative National Review Online, sees this all-things-to-all-people approach as a potentially winning strategy:

It remains to be seen whether Jon Huntsman can successfully be all things to all men. But if, by stressing different parts of his record, he can successfully sell himself as a moderate to centrists and a conservative to hard-liners, he could be difficult to beat.

An analysis of Huntsman's record shows that, faced with the reality that he must appeal to the increasingly far right Republican base, he is quickly trying to jettison formerly held "moderate" positions. We agree with Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, who has publicly rejected the notion that Huntsman is a RINO (Republican in Name Only), saying "there's no question he's a conservative."

It's worth noting that many Americans first met Huntsman when he introduced "my friend Sarah" Palin at the 2008 Republican National Convention, exulting that "history will be made tonight!" He praised her strength, tenacity, authenticity and originality, calling her a rebel and a renegade who is "not afraid to kick a few fannies and raise a little hell." Said Huntsman, "We are looking for a beacon of light to show us the way. We are looking for Sarah!"

Huntsman and the Religious Right: Ralph Reed's 'Great Friend'

There are plenty of reasons that former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed recently introduced Huntsman to a group of right-wing activists as "a good conservative and a great friend."

In 2009, Huntsman told a reporter that he has little patience for traditional "culture war" issues, saying "I'm not good at playing those games." That sounds like a promising and refreshing break from the norm of Republican presidential candidates, but in reality he has played those "games" devastatingly well. He made his efforts to make abortion completely unavailable to women a centerpiece of his address to Reed's "Faith and Freedom Coalition" summit:

"As governor of Utah, I supported and signed every pro-life bill that came to my desk," he said. "I signed the bill that made second-trimester abortions illegal and increased the penalty for doing so. I signed the bill to allow women to know about the pain an abortion causes an unborn child. I signed the bill requiring parental permission for an abortion. I signed the bill that would trigger a ban on abortions in Utah if Roe v. Wade were overturned."

Huntsman has also appealed to the public school-hating wing of the Religious Right. In 2007, he signed a statewide school voucher bill that provided up to $3,000 in taxpayer funds for students attending private schools. That was too much even for voters in conservative Republican Utah, who rejected the attack on public education and overturned the plan through a referendum.

At Reed's recent confab, Huntsman also joined the chorus of speakers warning Tea Party conservatives not to abandon social conservatives. The Republican Party, he said, should not focus on economics to the detriment of the fight to make abortion unavailable, saying that would lead to "a deficit of the heart and soul."

Huntsman and the Economic Right: A Full Embrace of the Ryan Budget

Huntsman, who is making his tax-cutting record as governor of Utah a major campaign theme, has praised Rep. Paul Ryan's radical budget proposal as a "very, very good one." Even though Republicans have been abandoning the Ryan plan in droves, Huntsman has said that he would have voted for the Ryan budget if he were a member of Congress. He has specifically embraced the Ryan budget's plan to essentially abolish Medicare, saying the size of the national debt required drastic policy changes. However, unlike some other Republican governors, Huntsman's concerns about the debt did not prevent him from welcoming federal stimulus funds.

He embraces the Tea Party's warnings about the economy and the suggestion that the nation is being destroyed by internal enemies. He says that America is "buying serfdom" with its deficit spending. Invoking Ronald Reagan's 1964 "A Time for Choosing" speech on behalf of Barry Goldwater, Huntsman says America is at a crossroads, with voters needing to choose "whether we are to become a declining power in the world, eaten from within, or a nation that regains its economic health and maintains its long-loved liberties."

As governor, Huntsman proposed abolishing corporate taxes altogether; campaigning in New Hampshire recently, he suggested that he would cut federal corporate taxes. The 2012 campaign, he says, will determine whether the nation will endure an economic "lost decade" or "unleash the economic magic."

Moving Right on Climate Change

This month the Salt Lake Tribune examined Huntsman's shift on climate issues. Four years ago, he supported a regional cap-and-trade program, saying, "If we do this right, our citizens are going to have a better quality of life, we're going to spawn new technologies and industries, and we're going to leave our most important belongings in better shape for the next generation." That was then, as the paper noted:

But now, in a political environment rocked by recession and a rowdy tea party, and with Huntsman's eyes on a possible presidential run in 2012, his position has evolved. He's still defending the science of climate change, but he has ditched his support for cap-and-trade.

Given that most of the GOP field is in full denial on climate change, Huntsman has gotten some credit for simply acknowledging reality. "All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring," he told TIME magazine. "If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer, we'd listen to them." But, he says, now "isn't the moment" to deal with climate change.
That led the Washington Monthly's Steve Benen to comment:

This is, in general, the worst of all possible positions. Much of the right believes climate change is a "hoax" and an elaborate conspiracy cooked up by communists to destroy America's way of life. These deniers have a simple solution to the problem: ignore it and pretend there is no problem. Much of the left takes the evidence seriously, is eager to address the crisis, and has a variety of possible solutions to the problem, including but not limited to cap-and-trade plans.

Huntsman apparently wants to split the difference -- he accepts the evidence and believes the problem is real; Huntsman just doesn't want to do anything about it.

To borrow his analogy, Huntsman has heard the collective judgment of 90% of the world's oncologists, but believes it'd be inconvenient to deal with the cancer or what's causing the cancer anytime soon.

Moderate Image, Conservative Reality

Huntsman's moderate image is based in large part on his 2009 endorsement of civil unions for gay couples. Five years earlier, when campaigning for governor, he had supported a state constitutional amendment that bans marriage and "other domestic unions" for same-sex couples. Huntsman's rhetorical shift did not find its way into any policy that offers legal protection for gay couples in Utah; he still opposes marriage equality, calling himself "a firm believer in the traditional construct of marriage, a man and a woman."

Huntsman has taken some heat from far-right activists who cannot tolerate the slightest sign of heresy against right-wing dogma. But former George W. Bush official Michael Gerson thinks Huntsman's moderate media image could actually help him by setting initial expectations low among GOP activists:

The media have often covered Huntsman as a liberal Republican -- a Rockefeller reincarnation. After all, he supports civil unions. He made it easier to get a drink at a bar in Utah. This easy press narrative gives Huntsman an odd advantage in a Republican primary: He is more conservative than his image. For many Republicans, he will improve upon closer inspection.

Huntsman's campaign is just getting under way, but his positioning is already clear. Tell Religious Right activists you're one of them by emphasizing your support for the most draconian anti-choice measures. Tell the Tea Partiers you're one of them by backing Paul Ryan's radically anti-government and anti-middle-class budget. And encourage more moderate Republicans to believe you're one of them by calling for civil discourse and offering rhetorical support for short-of-equality measures for same-sex couples. It's a calculated strategy that might make some sense politically, but it seems unlikely that trying to be all things to all people provides a path to victory through the restrictive gauntlet of the Republican primaries.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

PFAW

Last week, I reported the need for vigilance over Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) repeal given pending action on the FY12 Defense Authorization bill in the Senate Armed Services Committee. Thankfully, the challenges we faced in the House did not materialize in the Senate.

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:

After a decade of discussions with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and specific recommendations to the Hill, we welcome the Senate Armed Services Committee’s (SASC) decision to repeal Article 125 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) relating to sodomy. This action has been recommended by SLDN and several groups, including the Cox Commission, which includes distinguished legal scholars from the military and academia, as well as the Comprehensive Review Working Group (CRWG). The committee’s decision to amend Article 120 of the UCMJ is also timely and welcomed.

We were also pleased that provisions to delay ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal certification, as well as inject DOMA language into the bill, were not offered.

As we look toward the Senate floor and eventually the conference committee, keep in mind that we are two days away from the six-month anniversary of DADT repeal on June 22. The clock is ticking.

Servicemembers are still waiting. We’re all still waiting. We need swift certification and effectuation of DADT repeal.

PFAW

UPDATE: DC approps subcommittee action, 5 days left before White House rally

Last week, I reported on the introduction of the new DC appropriations bill and challenges DC may face in the House. We cleared the first committee hurdle, but the bill is still a problem, and by no means is DC out of the woods on any issue.

DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton:

[A]s expected, there were no new riders added today at a House Subcommittee markup of the fiscal year 2012 Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill, but warned that it would not be the first time that there is quiet before a storm as the bill goes to the full appropriations committee next Thursday and then to the House floor. Norton said that, just as with the 2011 appropriations bill, "Keeping home-rule intact in the 2012 appropriations bill is essentially a job for the Senate and the Obama administration."

Be sure to set your sights on Thursday’s full committee markup, and also on Saturday’s White House Rally for DC Democracy, organized by our friends at DC Vote.

Date: Saturday, June 25, 2011

Location: Lafayette Square Park, 16th Street & H Street NW (in front of the White House)

Time: 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM

Click here to RSVP, and here to learn about additional opportunities to support DC Vote on June 25.

As you may know, there have been dozens of civil disobedience arrests this year of citizens who stood up for the District’s right to self-govern. Neither PFAW nor AAMIA are organizing a civil disobedience action for June 25. If you need assistance, you may contact DC Vote directly.

For more information, please click here.

PFAW

This Time, the Roberts Court Keeps the Courthouse Doors Open

The Roberts Court is notorious for too often seeking excuses to close the courthouse door and keep individuals from vindicating their rights. So yesterday’s unanimous opinions in Bond v. US and Smith v. Bayer were refreshing.

In Bond, the Court ruled that an individual has standing to challenge a federal criminal conviction that she claims violates the Tenth Amendment. That Amendment states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Cited by many Tea Partiers as part of their efforts to diminish federal authority, it goes to the federal structure of our country and the rights of states; it does not directly address the rights of individuals. However, that does not bar individuals from standing to argue that they have been harmed by a congressional act that violates the Tenth Amendment.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision completely and correctly bypassed the substantive issue and remanded it to the lower courts. But regardless of the merits of Bond’s argument, she has the right to make it as someone whose freedom or imprisonment rests on whether the law she is challenging is constitutional.

Smith v. Bayer was similarly a breath of fresh air. The case asked if a federal court that has denied class certification can prohibit a separate West Virginia state court lawsuit seeking class certification in a case that is brought by people who had not been part of the federal lawsuit, but who would have belonged to the federal class had it gone through. A federal law called the Anti-Injunction Act authorizes a federal court to shut down state litigation of a claim or issue that was already presented to and decided by the federal court.

In an opinion authored by Justice Kagan, the Supreme Court unanimously pointed out that the federal rules on when you can validly form a class are not necessarily the same as West Virginia’s rules. So the state court was addressing a new legal question, not the one that the federal court had already addressed. In addition, eight of the Justices (all but Justice Thomas) agreed that because the federal class status was denied, Smith was by definition not a party to the federal claim and cannot be bound by it.

While the Supreme Court kept the courthouse doors open in these two cases, there are still cases pending like Wal-Mart where the Corporate Court can do significant damage to people’s ability to hold corporations accountable.

PFAW

Has Roberts Repudiated His Umpire Analogy?

Inside yesterday's Supreme Court opinion in Smith v. Bayer lies a repudiation of much of the far right's propaganda about judges. The severely flawed analogy of a judge interpreting the law with an umpire calling balls and strikes is one the right has favored since John Roberts used it at his confirmation hearing for his nomination to be Chief Justice. What makes yesterday's repudiation particularly interesting is that every member of the Court, including Roberts, signed on to it.

The opinion discussed whether one could assume that West Virginia's rule on forming class actions is the same as the federal rule, whose wording it closely follows. The lower court had concluded that the state rule is the same as the federal one. But as the unanimous Supreme Court explained:

The Eighth Circuit relied almost exclusively on the near-identity of the two Rules' texts. That was the right place to start, but not to end. Federal and state courts, after all, can and do apply identically worded procedural provisions in widely varying ways. If a State's procedural provision tracks the language of a Federal Rule, but a state court interprets that provision in a manner federal courts have not, then the state court is using a different standard and thus deciding a different issue.

In other words, you can't just read the text of a law and automatically know how to interpret it. Different judges can reasonably come to different conclusions about how to interpret the exact same text. The Justices do not condemn state courts for this, but instead understand it as an unexceptional aspect of jurisprudence.

In other words, judging is not simply the mechanical calling of balls and strikes.

PFAW

Indictments in Maryland Voter Suppression Case

On Election Day last year, while the polls were still open, Maryland Democrats received telephone calls late in the day telling them that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley had won reelection, so they could "relax" (i.e., not vote). It was soon discovered that the calls were generated by an operative working for the campaign of O'Malley's Republican opponent, former Governor Bob Ehrlich. Yesterday, criminal indictments were handed down against a close Ehrlich aide and a political operative for their efforts to suppress the African American vote. According to the Washington Post:

One of former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s most trusted aides and a campaign consultant were accused Thursday of orchestrating tens of thousands of anonymous election-night robo-calls last year that prosecutors said were part of a larger attempt to suppress the black vote.

Paul E. Schurick, 54, Ehrlich's de facto campaign manager, and Julius Henson, 62, a paid consultant, were indicted on multiple counts of election law violations stemming from an automated call that was placed to more than 110,000 Democrats in Baltimore and Prince George's County, according to prosecutors.

...

The indictments might be the first in the country involving Election Day attempts to suppress voting using robo-calls, experts said. The case also appears to be a rarity nationwide, one in which prosecutors might have the physical evidence necessary to prove intent to commit voter suppression, experts said.

...

"There is a long history in urban areas of people passing out fliers that say Republicans vote on Tuesday and Democrats vote on Wednesday, and specifically in Maryland of ploys telling people if you owe tickets or back child support that you can't vote," [Gilda Daniels, an elections law expert at the University of Baltimore Law School] said. "But this isn't someone printing off fliers that can't be easily tracked. These are phone calls, and there are records of them."

The Baltimore Sun provides some more details:

The indictment describes a document titled "The Schurick Doctrine" and says that it was "designed to promote confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats."

The indictment quotes from the document: "The first and foremost desired outcome [of the Schurick Doctrine strategy] is voter suppression."

While the criminal case progresses, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler is pursuing a civil suit in federal court:

Gansler alleges that the robocalls were made with the intent to suppress and intimidate voters in predominately African-American Democratic neighborhoods. The attorney general says 112,000 such calls were made on election night, and if found to be violations, each carries a $500 fine.

PFAW

The Company Rick Perry Keeps

Last night, People For's Peter Montgomery went on MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell to discuss Texas Gov. Rick Perry's newest big project: a prayer rally cosponsored by the American Family Association.

As it happens, our Right Wing Watch blog has been following the American Family Association and its spectacularly bigoted spokesman Bryan Fischer for years. On the show, O'Donnell introduced our new report on Fischer, which you can read here.

For the occassion, we also put together a highlight real of Bryan Fischer's most bigoted moments (it was hard to choose): 

Yes, this is who Texas governor and potential presidential candidate Rick Perry is choosing to associate himself with. More on the AFA and other participants in Perry's rally here.

PFAW

PFAW and AAMIA react to DC approps, reaffirm support for White House rally

Last week, DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton hosted a press conference on Capitol Hill in defense of her city. Speaking out against several policy riders that have been passed or threatened by conservatives in Congress, Delegate Norton, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, DC Vote, and members of the civil rights community, including People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action, voiced their support for autonomy and the right to self-government for the people of the District of Columbia.

PFAW and AAMIA just got their first glimpse of the FY12 DC appropriations bill. While some issues were spared, other riders are in.

Roll Call:

The bill that funds the District includes a provision restricting the city from spending federally appropriated and locally collected funds on abortion services, except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger or the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest.

It also includes $60 million for a federally funded, private-school voucher program, a key priority for Boehner.

Delegate Norton warns that we’re not out of the woods on any issue.

The introduction of the bill is only the first step in a long appropriations process, and action by the new national coalition is essential as the bill goes to committee and to the floor.

We are currently waiting for news from the first of the committee meetings.

PFAW President Michael B. Keegan recently noted:

Rather than address the many complex issues facing our nation, House Republicans are choosing to threaten women's constitutional rights by attacking choice and preventive care, and they are taking every chance they get to force their social priorities on the people of Washington, DC.

And while there is no doubt that educational opportunities and standards must be improved across the country, allocating money to private schools at the expense of public school students is not the way to succeed. Public dollars must continue to fund public services.

PFAW and AAMIA continue to believe that enough is enough – the people of DC deserve a voice. We hope that voice will be heard loud and clear on June 25 at the White House Rally for DC Democracy, organized by our friends at DC Vote.

Date: Saturday, June 25, 2011

Location: Lafayette Square Park, 16th Street & H Street NW (in front of the White House)

Time: 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM

Click here to RSVP, and here to learn about additional opportunities to support DC Vote on June 25.

As you may know, there have been dozens of civil disobedience arrests this year of citizens who stood up for the District’s right to self-govern. Neither PFAW nor AAMIA are organizing a civil disobedience action for June 25. If you need assistance, you may contact DC Vote directly.

For more information, please click here.

PFAW

Vermont teenager uses One Voice to make it better

Last week, Brian and I met a Vermont teenager named Josh Klein.

My name is Josh Klein, and I am 14 years old. I am not a bully, and I have never been bullied, but I have seen kids get beat up and picked on, and it needs to stop. I made a movie that I hope will help create social change by changing peoples’ attitudes and behaviors regarding gay bullying. I became interested in this topic because of all the news stories lately about gay teenagers killing themselves. No one should ever feel so desperate that he takes his own life.

In the short film I wrote, a bully picks on a gay student. When the movie begins, the bully is making fun of a thirteen-year-old boy at his school. Similar to the famous story A Christmas Carol, when the bully goes to sleep that night, he is visited by a ghost who tells him that before the night is over, he will be visited by two other ghosts. The film itself will have to tell the rest of the story.

Josh’s short film, One Voice, has recently made its DC and Vermont debuts and will officially premiere in Los Angeles later this summer.

Meeting Josh and watching his film reminded me of the Make It Better Project, a safe schools action campaign organized by the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Network and endorsed by dozens of LGBT equality advocates. Make It Better Project has two new initiatives to keep everyone engaged this summer.

Make It Better Summer Camp(aign): Hold local groups or parties to participate in an online activist camp(aign) to keep youth engaged over the summer and inspire them to make it better come the fall! Students should be able to take more than the summer off from bullying. Through weekly online camp sessions, the Make It Better Summer Camp(aign) will connect LGBT and allied youth across the country and empower them to make it better when they head back to school.

Write A Letter, Make It Better: Were you ever a youth? You have the power to Make It Better. Write a letter to your high school or middle school’s current principal and describe how LGBT youth were treated when you attended. Let them know what a principal’s support or intervention would have meant for you or your LGBT classmates. Simply share your story, and you can make it better for today’s students – whether you graduated last year or 30 years ago! This is a great way to engage your community members and donors who might want to take action but don’t know how to help.

Like Josh, we all need to do our part to ensure that students feel safe and secure when they enter the schoolhouse doors. The time to act is now.

PFAW

Issa: "You Can Have Opinions" But They Aren't Valid

Recently, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has been working very hard to silence those who don’t agree with him, from choosing the minority’s witnesses for them to now discouraging them from responding to questions that Issa doesn't want answered. At today’s House Oversight Committee hearing on Project Gunrunner, when Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked an ATF agent if their prosecutions were made difficult by weak gun laws, Rep. Issa interrupted to remind the agent that “your testimony here is limited, and that it's not about proposed legislation and the like, and under House rules would not fall within the scope of this. So, anecdotally you can have opinions but ultimately it would not be considered valid testimony.” Will Issa stop at nothing to stack these hearings in his favor?

 

PFAW

Empathy and The Loving Story

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama let us know who he would be selecting as judicial nominees.

You know, Justice Roberts said he saw himself just as an umpire. But the issues that come before the court are not sport. They're life and death. And we need somebody who's got the heart to recogni-- the empathy to recognize what it's like to be a young, teenaged mom; the empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges.

This “empathy standard” became a red herring used to attack the President and qualified jurists like Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Then Senator Ted Kaufman (DE) emphasized just how wrong that argument was.

Likewise, President Obama’s promotion of empathy is not, as his critics suggest, the advocacy of bias. “Empathy,” as a quick look at the dictionary will confirm, is not the same as “sympathy.” “Empathy” means understanding the experiences of another, not identification with or bias toward another. Let me repeat that. “Empathy” means understanding the experiences of another, not identification with or bias toward another. Words have meanings, and we should not make arguments that depend on misconstruing those meanings.

As we continue to hear empathy trotted out as something sinister, it’s important to consider where our country might’ve been without it. That’s the lesson of The Loving Story.

Virginia’s argument that its law did not discriminate on the basis of race because it restricted both whites and African Americans equally might have persuaded Justices who were blind to the devastating impact of anti-miscegenation laws on everyday people. However, empathy allowed the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia to see what it really meant to ban interracial marriage. Yet just because that meant the Warren Court came down on the side of the “little guy,” doesn’t mean it ignored constitutional principles.

This case presents a constitutional question never addressed by this Court: whether a statutory scheme adopted by the State of Virginia to prevent marriages between persons solely on the basis of racial classifications violates the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. For reasons which seem to us to reflect the central meaning of those constitutional commands, we conclude that these statutes cannot stand consistently with the Fourteenth Amendment.

It just so happens that the Lovings were on the right side of the Constitution in their struggle to live with who they loved, where they were happiest, and where they wanted to raise their family.

If you get the chance to see The Loving Story, as I did at a DC screening earlier this week (more in Silver Spring next week), think about Mildred and Richard Loving and the countless couples who faced the same struggle. Think about how their state laws wronged not only them but also the Constitution. Think about how empathy put justice back on track.

Laura Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office, sums it up better than I ever could.

PFAW