PEOPLE FOR BLOG

2008’s Court

David Savage of the Los Angeles Times and Adam Liptak of the New York Times both examined this week how president Obama’s two Supreme Court picks are changing the dynamic of the high court. “Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan,” writes Savage, “have joined the fray and reenergized the liberal wing.”

Gone are the mismatches where the Scalia wing overshadowed reserved and soft-spoken liberals like now-retired Justices David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens. Instead, the liberals often take the lead and press attorneys defending the states or corporations.

"They're clearly on a roll," said Washington attorney Lisa S. Blatt, who has argued regularly before the high court. "They are engaged and really active. It just feels like a different place."

That dynamic was on display this fall, when a court that leans conservative on cases of crime and punishment heard California's appeal in a case where a panel of three federal judges had ordered the release of about 40,000 prisoners. The state's lawyer stepped to the lectern with reason to expect a friendly reception.

The order is "extraordinary and unprecedented," Carter G. Phillips began, and "extraordinarily premature" because the state was not given enough time to solve its prison problems.

But Sotomayor soon cut him off.

"Slow down from the rhetoric," she said, launching into a withering discussion of the state's 20-year history of severe prison overcrowding and "the needless deaths" from poor medical care.

Kagan picked up the theme, contending that the state had spent years fighting with the judges but not solving the problem. It's too late now for "us to re-find the facts," Kagan said. The California judges had delved into the details for 20 years, and it was time now to decide whether the remedy was right, she said.

While Kagan, due to her recent role as the administration’s Solicitor General, has had to sit out many of the most contentious cases since she took her seat on the court, Sotomayor has clearly shown herself “alert to the humanity of the people whose cases make their way to the Supreme Court,” writes Liptak. He looks at the three opinions Sotomayor has written commenting on the court’s decision not to hear particular cases:

Justice Sotomayor wrote three of the opinions, more than any other justice, and all concerned the rights of criminal defendants or prisoners. The most telling one involved a Louisiana prisoner infected with H.I.V. No other justice chose to join it.

The prisoner, Anthony C. Pitre, had stopped taking his H.I.V. medicine to protest his transfer from one facility to another. Prison officials responded by forcing him to perform hard labor in 100-degree heat. That punishment twice sent Mr. Pitre to the emergency room.

The lower courts had no sympathy for Mr. Pitre’s complaints, saying he had brought his troubles on himself.

Justice Sotomayor saw things differently.

“Pitre’s decision to refuse medication may have been foolish and likely caused a significant part of his pain,” she wrote. “But that decision does not give prison officials license to exacerbate Pitre’s condition further as a means of punishing or coercing him — just as a prisoner’s disruptive conduct does not permit prison officials to punish the prisoner by handcuffing him to a hitching post.”

In the courtroom, she was no less outraged at the argument in a case concerning prison conditions in California, peppering a lawyer for the state with heated questions.

“When are you going to avoid the needless deaths that were reported in this record?” she asked. “When are you going to avoid or get around people sitting in their feces for days in a dazed state?”

In her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kagan praised her former employer and mentor Justice Thurgood Marshall, saying his “whole life was about seeing the courts take seriously claims that were not taken seriously anyplace else.” Obama’s appointment of two justices who follow vocally in his path may be one of the most profound and lasting results of the 2008 elections.
 

PFAW

When Even the Right-Wing Media Stands Up to the GOP

Republicans in Congress have finally backed down and have stopped blocking a bill to provide health care to 9/11 first responders.

It seems that one factor in the GOP’s giving in on the bill is that the right-wing media for once did not unquestioningly buy its talking points. The New York Times reports:

Headlines in normally conservative news outlets blasted Republicans. Newsmaxx.com wrote, “Giuliani Raps Fellow Republicans for Holding Up 9/11 Heroes Money‎.” The Fox News host Shepard Smith drew attention to Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who has said he will try to block the legislation.

“He is the man who is vowing to slow this down or block it, so the necessary funding for the illnesses of the first responders who made it to ground zero to try to save lives on the day that America changed — remember?” Mr. Smith said during his broadcast Tuesday. “This is the senator who is vowing to block it so that it doesn’t make it through.”

On Wednesday morning, the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, called the G.O.P.’s opposition to the bill “a terrible mistake” for the party.

“It’s a terrible, terrible mistake to be seen as opposing relief for 9/11 heroes,” he said. “This is one of those times when you get so wrapped up in the game that you forget to look and see what’s happening. Here, the Republicans, whether they know it or not, look horrible.”

Think Progress reported last week that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had lobbied against the bill because it opposed the method of funding it—closing a tax loophole for foreign corporations. When Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand changed the mechanism for funding the bill to a 2% excise tax on some foreign companies, the Chamber still opposed it.

The debate over the 9/11 bill may be so stunning because it perfectly crystallizes the choice that the far right wing of the GOP makes again and again—given the choice between the profits of corporations and the welfare of individuals, they fight for the corporations. It’s no surprise that people across the political spectrum were upset by the GOP’s opposition to a bill that should have been a no-brainer. But the logical pattern that their opposition to the bill took is nothing new.

Jon Stewart, who devoted an entire show last week to the bill, started skewering the GOP over its choice of foreign corporations over the heroes of 9/11 back in August:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
I Give Up - 9/11 Responders Bill
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Witnessing History: the President Signs Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal

Earlier this morning I had the privilege of attending the signing ceremony for the bill repealing the infamous Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell military service policy. It was an incredibly moving experience. This is a watershed moment for the cause of LGBT equality – there is absolutely no turning back from the march we are on for full equality for LGBT individuals. Or, as Rep. Barney Frank said at yesterday’s enrollment ceremony at which Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally sent the bill to the President for his signature: For those on the Right worried about the so-called radical homosexual agenda - two down and two to go!!

There was much joy and celebration in the room, and also a sense of gravitas at being witness to this historic moment. There is much more to accomplish, but for now, it feels great to savor this win for justice and equality. And to salute all of the heroes who never gave up on this important battle.

PFAW

Sessions Puts His Lab Coat Back On

Back in September, we wrote about Sen. Jeff Sessions’ discovery of what he called the “ACLU chromosome”—according to the senator, a common genetic defect that disqualifies bearers from the federal judiciary.

Well, Dr. Sessions is back at it. TPM has this video of Sessions ranting yesterday about the supposed prevalence of the “ACLU chromosome” in President Obama’s judicial nominees:

As Sen. Mark Udall later pointed out on the Senate floor, it’s unlikely that Sen. Sessions would have a similar reaction to a “Federalist Society chromosome”. While a few of President Obama’s nominees have had a history working with the ACLU—for instance, Edward Chen of California who worked to prevent discrimination against Asian Americans—President Bush made a point of packing the courts with judges who belonged to the far-right Federalist Society.

It’s absurd arguments like Sessions’ that are keeping qualified, well-respected nominees like Chen from even receiving an up or down vote in the Senate. While reports say that the Senate GOP has finally agreed to vote on 19 judicial nominees who they have been stalling despite little or no opposition to their confirmations, four nominees, including Chen, will be left out to dry without even a vote.

And, for the record, the ACLU had this to say about Sessions’ rant:

"Senator Sessions' reference to 'ACLU DNA' in President Obama's judicial nominees should be greeted as a welcome discovery by all Americans, regardless of party. For 90 years, the ACLU has defended the rights enshrined in the Constitution for everyone, regardless of their political beliefs. While not everyone agrees with us on every issue, Americans have come to rely on the ACLU for its unyielding dedication to principle."

"There is a long record of highly respected ACLU-affiliated lawyers who have been appointed to the federal bench, including luminaries such as Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. All have demonstrated their dedication to the Bill of Rights in important decisions supporting freedom of speech, the right to due process and gender and racial equality. There are also dozens of highly regarded district court and appellate court judges who have served or serve now on federal benches throughout the nation. Their ACLU background has helped them bring to the judicial system a steadfast commitment to constitutional values and an understanding of the critical role that the judiciary plays in safeguarding them."

"If you ask us, ACLU chromosomes make for a pretty remarkable gene pool," she added.


 

PFAW

Arlen Specter Denounces Roberts Court, Republican Obstructionism

In his farewell speech, US Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania called on Congress to move quickly to counter the burgeoning right-wing extremism of the Roberts Court and the Republican caucus. Specter, who was first elected to the US Senate in 1980 as a Republican, spoke about how the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has shown little respect for their own precedents or congressional fact-finding while pursuing a hard line pro-corporate bent. The increasingly conservative Court has consistently ruled in favor of corporations over the rights of workers and consumers, and the concerns of environmental protection and fair elections. Specter specifically pointed to the Roberts Court’s decision in Citizens United, which gave corporations the right to spend unlimited and undisclosed funds from their general treasuries in elections and overturned decades of Court precedents and congressional measures limiting corporate influence in politics. Specter said:

This Congress should try to stop the Supreme Court from further eroding the constitutional mandate of Separation of Powers. The Supreme Court has been eating Congress’s lunch by invalidating legislation with judicial activism after nominees commit under oath in confirmation proceedings to respect congressional fact finding and precedents, that is stare decisis.

The recent decision in Citizens United is illustrative: ignoring a massive congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony, given under oath, and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising, thus effectively undermining the basic democratic principle of the power of one person, one vote.

Chief Roberts promised to just “call balls and strikes,” and then he moved the bases.

Specter also blasted Republican obstructionism in the Senate. He said that even though 59 Senators backed ending debate on the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required groups to publicly disclose their donors, the important bill never received an up-or-down vote due to Republican procedural moves:

Repeatedly, senior Republican Senators have recently abandoned long held positions out of fear of losing their seats over a single vote or because of party discipline. With 59 votes for cloture on this side of the aisle, not a single Republican would provide the sixtieth vote for many important legislative initiatives, such as identifying campaign contributors to stop secret contributions.

The Pennsylvanian later criticized the GOP for preventing judicial nominees from also having up-or-down votes:

Important positions are left open for months, but the Senate agenda today is filled with un-acted upon judicial and executive nominees. And many of those judicial nominees are in areas where there is an emergency backlog.

When discussing how Senate Republican leaders, such as Jim DeMint (R-SC), supported ultraconservative candidates against Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Bob Bennett (R-UT), and Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), Specter condemned the GOP’s embrace of “right-wing extremists,” adding: “Eating or defeating your own is a form of sophisticated cannibalism.”

PFAW

People For the American Way attended today’s enrollment ceremony for the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal bill. Representatives and Senators stood alongside those discharged under this discriminatory policy to formally send the bill to President Obama for his signing. Each should be commended for their dedication to this cause, especially Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA8), a veteran himself and the lead House sponsor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. From CNN:

Earlier, Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania told the gathering of an e-mail he received from a company commander in Afghanistan, who mentioned how he often had to counsel soldiers who received divorce papers or "Dear John" letters from spouses or opposite-sex partners.

Murphy continued: "This young company commander, this captain, on his fourth deployment, wrote in that e-mail saying, 'I never thought I'd see the day when I got one of those letters myself. And I'm sitting here at three o'clock in the morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, and I have no where to go because I happen to be gay, and I can't walk to the chaplain, and I can't go to a battle buddy, and I can't walk to my commander's office, so I'm sitting here cradling my 9 mm pistol thinking about blowing my brains out. But I read this article about this Iraq war veteran named Patrick Murphy from Pennsylvania that's fighting for me, and it gives me hope.'"

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD5) had this to say about the American promise of equality for all.

Perhaps the most memorable sound bites came from, as they often do, Representative Barney Frank (D-MA4).

This one, in particular.

For those who are worried about the radial homosexual agenda, let me put them on notice – two down, two to go.

Representative Frank’s message is simple.

LGBT equality advocates aren’t working some nefarious plot. What the Right labels as radical isn’t radical at all. It’s about fairness, freedom, and the Constitution. It’s about core values and fundamental rights that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, hold dear and should enjoy.

PFAW

Haley Barbour's Whitewash of History

Mississippi governor and potential presidential candidate Haley Barbour is now trying to backtrack his previous support for the racist White Citizens Councils that existed in the state when he was young.

In a recent interview with the Weekly Standard, he made his feelings quite clear:

You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you'd lose it. If you had a store, they'd see nobody shopped there. We didn't have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.

Since not everyone in America is wholly ignorant of recent history, Barbour is being forced to backpedal, according to Talking Points Memo. Among other things, he now says:

My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either.

Perhaps we are meant to think that the formation of the White Citizens Councils in the 1950s represented a principled rejection of the Klan. However, neither the timing nor the motivation rings true. As People For the American Way said in a 2003 report:

[I]t is worth noting that by 1967, "even the white establishment of Mississippi had begun to decide that Klan violence was bad for business." Clarence Page, "Fight Over Judges Replays Our Bitter History," Chicago Tribune (Feb. 13, 2002) (citing William Taylor, who at the time was Staff Director for the U.S. Civil Rights Commission).

Barbour’s desperate and unconvincing backtracking should not be the end of the story, because it is simply not credible that he was unaware of what the White Citizens Councils really were ... as if their name wasn’t already a giveaway.

While Barbour today likens them to just another "organization of town leaders," the Mississippi White Citizens Councils show up in contemporaneous federal court cases as anything but a Rotary Club.

For instance, in 1964, a federal district court noted the then-recent formation of the Mississippi White Citizens Councils, including its first priority, in United States v. Mississippi:

In 1954, after the Supreme Court had declared state operation of racially segregated schools unconstitutional, white citizens councils -- not parties to this action -- were formed in Mississippi. The purpose of these organizations was the maintenance of racial segregation and white supremacy in Mississippi. The first statewide project undertaken by these organizations was the attempt to induce the white voters of Mississippi to adopt the proposed amendment to Section 244 of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890.

They succeeded, thereby introducing the literacy and civics tests that government officials subsequently used to keep African Americans disenfranchised.

Four years later, in 1968, their racist mission and funding were said to be common knowledge by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co:

It appears to be common knowledge that, in addition to its own activities promoting segregation, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, an agency created in 1956 and financed by state tax revenues, used a part of its funds to finance some of the activities of various groups, including the White Citizens Council, which promote adherence to the ancient custom of proscribing the mixing of the races in places of public assembly; and that these groups, especially the White Citizens Council, use economic and social power to pressure those who might attempt to disregard custom into adhering to custom. See, generally, J. Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society, 8, 32, 39-40, 42, 43, 65, 79, 94, 97, 110, 133, 151, 217 (1964).

People For the American Way discussed this key funder of the White Citizens Councils in a 2002 report:

The Sovereignty Commission, a state-funded agency, was created not long after the decision in Brown v. Board of Education in order to resist desegregation, and was empowered to act as necessary to protect the "sovereignty" of the state of Mississippi from the federal government. The Commission infiltrated and spied on civil rights and labor organizations and reported on their activities. It compiled dossiers on civil rights activists and used the information to obstruct their activities. The Commission existed until 1977, when the state legislature voted to abolish it and to seal its records for 50 years.

The White Citizens Councils were a dark stain on the history of our nation. No responsible officeholder - or office seeker - can think otherwise. Had Governor Barbour stated that he did not recognize that at the time because he was a product of the environment he grew up in, it might be believable. But his defense of the White Citizens Council coupled with his unconvincing backpedaling suggests that he still doesn’t understand how repugnant the South’s Jim Crow system really was.

PFAW

White House staff: It gets better

In recent months I’ve written about various contributions to the It Gets Better Project. Dan and Terry. Ellen DeGeneres. President Obama. Secretary Clinton. Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. Yesterday brought a video from White House staff members.

The video’s release notes:

Inspired by President Obama’s It Gets Better video, several LGBT White House staffers decided to add their voices to the project. President Obama has more LGBT appointees than any previous administration and he is committed to making his administration reflect the diversity of our nation.

I also just came across a page that collects It Gets Better videos produced by the Obama Administration. Some I’d seen. Some I hadn’t. Check it out!

PFAW agrees that every student, LGBT or not, has the right to be educated in the same way. Click here for more information.

PFAW

NY Times Analyzes the Corporate Court

As the latest example of the evolving media narrative of the Roberts Court, Sunday's New York Times had an extensive article accurately titled "Justices Offer Receptive Ear to Business Interests." The Times article discusses the successful long-term efforts of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to get the Court to focus on the rights of Big Business, which come at the cost of the rights of consumers, workers, governments elected by the people, and anyone else who tries to hold corporate giants accountable.

Almost 40 years ago, a Virginia lawyer named Lewis F. Powell Jr. warned that the nation's free enterprise system was under attack. He urged the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to assemble "a highly competent staff of lawyers" and retain outside counsel "of national standing and reputation" to appear before the Supreme Court and advance the interests of American business.

"Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court," he wrote, "the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change."

Mr. Powell ... got his wish - and never more so than with the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

The Roberts Court's favoritism toward Big Business has become so blatant as to prompt the Times to commission an in-depth study analyzing Supreme Court cases going back more than half a century. The article finds that:

The Roberts court, which has completed five terms, ruled for business interests 61 percent of the time, compared with 46 percent in the last five years of the court led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who died in 2005, and 42 percent by all courts since 1953. ...

In the first five terms of the Roberts court, the corresponding bloc of five more conservative justices voted for the [U.S. Chamber of Commerce's] position 74 percent of the time, and the four more liberal justices 43 percent of the time.

Unfortunately, the "social, economic, and political change" the U.S. Chamber is so actively working for involves snuffing out the rights of everyday Americans. As made clear from the amicus briefs it has filed this term, the Chamber's values include letting businesses fire family members of any employee who dares assert their rights, devastating state-level consumer protections against fraud, and severely restricting states' ability to take action against corporations' dangerous pollutants. Last term, the Chamber supported the activist Citizens United decision, which has had devastating consequences for American democracy and generated unusual criticism from former Justices O'Connor and Stevens.

When activist pro-business Justices regularly give a sympathetic ear to a national Chamber of Commerce that is hostile to basic American values, the resulting tilt in favor of Big Business is not good for our country.

PFAW

Scalia Asked to Withdraw from Speaking to Bachmann’s Far-Right Caucus

As first reported by Right Wing Watch, Justice Antonin Scalia is set to lecture about the Constitution for the opening class of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s new Constitutional Conservative Caucus. Bachmann, a favorite of Tea Party and Religious Right groups alike, hopes to promote to her peers her far-right and fringe perspective on the Constitution. For example, Bachmann bizarrely rejects the notion of “negative rights” as “infantilism,” even though negative rights are the basis of constitutionally protected non-interference, such as freedom of speech or the freedom from slavery.

But for Bachmann’s Tea Party-inspired caucus, the language and spirit of the Constitution is altered and manipulated to fit their ultraconservative outlook on the country.

On Saturday, the New York Times called on Justice Scalia to bow out from his class for Bachmann’s group in order to maintain the independence of the Supreme Court and to avoid lending credence to the Tea Party’s radical approach to the Constitution:

The Tea Party epitomizes the kind of organization no justice should speak to — left, right or center — in the kind of seminar that has been described in the press. It has a well-known and extreme point of view about the Constitution and about cases and issues that will be decided by the Supreme Court.

By meeting behind closed doors, as is planned, and by presiding over a seminar, implying give and take, the justice would give the impression that he was joining the throng — confirming his new moniker as the “Justice from the Tea Party.” The ideological nature of the group and the seminar would eclipse the justice’s independence and leave him looking rash and biased.

There is nothing like the Tea Party on the left, but if there were and one of the more liberal justices accepted a similar invitation from it, that would be just as bad. This is not about who appointed the justice or which way the justice votes. Independence and the perception of being independent are essential for every justice.



By presiding over this seminar, Justice Scalia would provide strong reasons to doubt his impartiality when he ruled later on any topic discussed there. He can best convey his commitment to the importance of his independence, and the court’s, by deciding it would be best not to attend.

Just as Bachmann’s caucus won’t include balanced perspectives on the Constitution, there is nothing apolitical about Bachmann’s caucus either. Other lecturers for Bachmann’s group include right wing Fox News commentators Sean Hannity and Andrew Napolitano. She is also organizing a lecture by pseudo-historian David Barton, a Republican Party activist who has no training or expertise in history but publicizes the belief that the Framers intended to create a Constitution that reflected Biblical law.

Bachmann recently floated conspiracy theories about the Census and AmeriCorps, which she likened to reeducation camps, and demanded investigations of “people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America?” But with increased influence in the House GOP and help from Justice Scalia, Bachmann and her radical ideas will have more power as Republicans hold the majority in the House next session.

PFAW

Progress in Maryland Voter Suppression Investigation

There has been a development in investigating one of the Election Day efforts to suppress the Democratic vote.

On Election Day, Maryland Democrats received telephone calls late on Election 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.

On Friday, state police raided that operative's home. According to the Baltimore Sun:

Investigators for the state prosecutor on Friday raided the home and office of Julius Henson, the political operative who ordered the controversial Election Day robocalls for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich. ...

Henson, a Democratic operative who was working this year for the Republican Ehrlich, ordered more than 112,000 robocalls before the polls closed on Election Day last month.

The calls focused on Democratic precincts in Baltimore and Prince George's County. The recorded message featured a female voice suggesting that Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley had already won the election and encouraging supporters to stay home. ...

Ehrlich, who paid Henson $111,000 for "community outreach," told the Annapolis Capital last week that the calls were "done outside of my purview." When news of the calls broke on Election Night, an Ehrlich spokesman called them "absolutely irresponsible."

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has filed a civil lawsuit against Henson, alleging voter intimidation and vote suppression.

By the way, the effort to suppress the Democratic vote failed. Not only did Governor O'Malley win reelection by 14 points (double the margin over the same opponent in 2006), but Democrats gained seats in the state senate.

PFAW

There were many strong speeches during the House debate on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Part 1. Part 2.

I wanted to share three highlights with you now.

Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA8) is the lead sponsor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. He shared his personal experience: “When I deployed to Iraq as a captain with the 82nd Airborne Division, my team and I didn't care about someone else's sexual orientation. We cared whether everyone could do their job so we could all come home alive.”

Representative Al Green (D-TX9), a veteran civil rights advocate, is heading into his 4th term in Congress. He fought on a battlefield of a different sort: “Mr. Speaker, life has prepared me for this vote. When you have had to sit at the back of the bus, in the balcony of the movie and have had to stand in a line for colored only, then you are prepared for this vote.”

But there’s perhaps no more passionate a civil rights voice serving in Congress today than Representative John Lewis (D-GA5), who led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in what’s since become known as Bloody Sunday. His plea was simple: “Vote ‘yes’ because discrimination is wrong.”

Repeal is now before the Senate, where we need your help to make sure that the bill is taken up, passed, and sent to the President’s desk. Call now! (202) 224-3121

PFAW

The Conservative Assault on the Constitution

Last week, SCOTUSBlog had a podcast interview with legal scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, discussing his new book The Conservative Assault on the Constitution. The blog has asked Chemerinsky some follow-up questions, and his responses are worth reading.

For instance, he discusses the concept of a living Constitution and the hypocrisy behind the Right's claims of a consistent approach to judging cases.

Q. Within the context of the "conservative assault" you discuss in the book, can you please define the terms "living constitution" and "strict constructionist"?

- Everyone is a strict constructionist in that everyone believes that the text of the Constitution should be followed where it is clear. But the phrase "strict constructionist" was coined by Richard Nixon to refer to something more ideological: Justices who followed the conservative approach to interpreting constitutional provisions. Interestingly, conservatives are not strict constructionists in interpreting the Second Amendment. There conservatives read the Second Amendment as if it simply said "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." They ignore the first half of the Amendment which speaks of the right existing for the purpose of having a well-regulated militia.

A belief in a "living Constitution" rejects the notion that the meaning of a constitutional provision is the same in 2011 as when it was adopted. A living Constitution says that in interpreting the Constitution, Justices and judges should consider history, tradition, precedent, and modern needs. There always has been a living Constitution and hopefully always will be. The opposite of a living Constitution is a dead Constitution and no society can be governed under that.

He also discusses how self-professed conservative "originalists" are selective in when they pay attention to original intent.

Q. You write in your book that "it is clear that conservatives often abandon the original-meaning approach when it does not serve their ideological purposes." Can you please elaborate - perhaps by providing an example or two?

- Affirmative action. I am skeptical that we can ever really know the original intent or meaning for a constitutional provision. But if ever it is clear, it is that the drafters of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment intended to allow race-conscious programs of the sort that today we call affirmative action. The Congress that ratified the Fourteenth Amendment adopted many such programs. Yet originalist Justices, like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, pay no attention to this history in condemning affirmative action. Another example is campaign finance. There is absolutely no indication that the drafters of the First Amendment intended to protect the speech of corporations (that did not occur for the first time until 1978) or spending in election campaigns. But conservative Justices nonetheless find a First Amendment right for corporations to engage in unlimited expenditures in campaigns.

Of course, that is a reference to Citizens United, where the aggressively activist Roberts Court handed our elections over to powerful corporate interests. There is a direct line from that case to the new corporate-friendly gang that will be running the House of Representatives for the next two years.

Who sits on the Court has consequences for us all.

PFAW

Artist Requests that his Work be Pulled from Censored Smithsonian Exhibit

The Stranger reports that AA Bronson, an artist whose work is featured in the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” exhibition has asked that his work be removed from the exhibit after the censoring of a video that the Religious Right was unhappy with. Here’s his letter to Portrait Gallery director Martin Sullivan:

Dear Martin Sullivan,

I have sent an email to the National Gallery of Canada requesting that they remove my work “Felix, June 5, 1994″ from the “Hide/Seek” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. I had resisted taking this step, hoping that some reconciliation could be reached regarding the censorship of the David Wojnarowicz video, but it is clear that this is not coming any time soon. As an artist who saw first hand the tremendous agony and pain that so many of my generation lived through, and died with, I cannot take the decision of the Smithsonian lightly. To edit queer history in this way is hurtful and disrespectful.

yours truly,
AA Bronson
Artistic Director

Bronson is the latest arts luminary to renounce the Smithsonian’s censorship. Earlier this week, the Warhol Foundation, a prominent arts funder, announced that it would refuse to fund any future Smithsonian exhibits if the National Portrait Gallery didn’t restore Wojnarowicz’s work to the exhibit. The Mapplethorpe Foundation joined them in suspending funding for the Smithsonian.

Last week, People For’s Michael Keegan traced the path of Wojnarowicz’s work from an expression of suffering during the AIDS crisis to political lightning rod for the Religious Right. Read it here.
 

You can also sign People For's petition telling the incoming GOP House leadership not to censor free expressing.

PFAW

On a 250-175 vote, the House just passed repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action issued the following statements:

 

Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:

“The House has once again stood with the American people, the leaders of our military, and our men and women in uniform in voting to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The minority of Republican senators who are fighting to save this discriminatory and failed policy have resorted to far-fetched arguments and procedural excuses in their efforts to stall the process of repeal. Secretary of Defense Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mullen have spoken clearly and eloquently about the need for immediate repeal, and more than 60 senators have said they will listen to their advice. It’s now time for the Senate to put aside excuses, and do what’s right for the military and the country.”

Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Ministers in Action, added:

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell forces men and women serving this country to make compromises with the values of honor, integrity, faithfulness and service. Until the policy is repealed, gay and lesbian service members will continue to be forced to lie about their identities in order to serve their country. Gay and lesbian individuals are ready and willing to step up, and have stood up to the challenge of military service. They share in the sacrifices made by their family, friends, and neighbors. During this season of giving, give what they deserve - to serve honestly and openly with dignity.”

Repeal now goes to the Senate, where we need your help to make sure that the bill is taken up, passed, and sent to the President’s desk. Call now! (202) 224-3121

PFAW and AAMIA have already sent letters to the Senate urging the same.

From the PFAW letter:

Nationwide polls and the Pentagon’s own working group have shown strong support for the right of servicemembers to serve their country openly and honestly. We ask you to make open service a priority by casting your vote to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

From the AAMIA letter:

There is a time and a season for every activity, every purpose. Now is the time, this is the season to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

I know there’s been a lot of confusing procedural wrangling lately, but the time is now. The Senate must take up the House bill. It must be sent to the President’s desk. Call (202) 224-3121.

On a personal note, one of the newspapers in my alma mater’s hometown recently published an editorial on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act. Please click here to read Terry Smith’s piece in the Athens News.

PFAW