PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Advice for Obama from FDR

Jeff Shesol, author of the fascinating Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. The Supreme Court, has some advice for President Obama in a new blog post for the American Constitution Society. Shesol argues that Obama can learn a thing or two from Roosevelt’s struggles with an “activist” Supreme Court that was overturning key legislative initiatives to protect individual rights and his success in shifting the frame of the public’s debate on the Court and the Constitution.

It's a paradox: we've got a former constitutional law professor as president, but he's had far less to say than his critics (and some of his supporters) about the relevance of the Constitution to key questions of national policy. No doubt he's got plenty to say on the subject. No doubt he's unwilling to cede the argument to Republicans mouthing pieties about "the plain language of the Constitution." So what's holding the professor back?

Understandably, his focus now is the confirmation of Elena Kagan, and that goal might not be served by starting a debate with the self-styled defenders of the Constitution. But as Senator Cornyn said last year, not incorrectly, "each Supreme Court nomination is a time for national conversation and reflection on the role of the Supreme Court." And by keeping mostly mum on the matter, President Obama is missing an important opportunity to "take the country to school," as Felix Frankfurter advised President Roosevelt to do in the mid-1930s. Frankfurter urged FDR to launch a campaign of "quiet education" about the Court's proper role and the ways in which ideologically driven conservative justices were overstepping it.

As Shesol points out, for decades conservatives have dominated the debate over the meaning of the Supreme Court and the Constitution. But in recent months, their talking points have been noticeably loosing credibility. The Roberts Court’s far-reaching decision in Citizens United—in which it went out of its way to upend 100 years of settled law to give corporations the same rights as citizens to influence elections— angered Americans across the political spectrum, and soundly debunked the myth of “judicial activism” as a liberal trait. And the Republican National Committee’s recent attempt to smear Elena Kagan for questioning the perfection of the original Constitution spectacularly backfired when the flaws in their argument became clear.

Americans are clearly ready to embrace a view of the Supreme Court and the Constitution that does not fit neatly into flawed baseball-themed talking points. The debate over Kagan’s nomination provides an opportunity to have that conversation.
 

PFAW

The Politics Behind the Public Safety Exception

In a new piece for The American Prospect, Adam Serwer investigates the political roots of Attorney General Eric Holder’s call for weakening Miranda rights in the name of national security.

“[C]ivil libertarians and even experienced FBI interrogators argue,” Serwer writes, “that attempting to modify Miranda would be a political solution to a national security problem that doesn't exist.”

Conservative criticism of Miranda itself has had a dramatic effect, which can be seen in the administration's handling of the Times Square attempt. Testifying before a Senate subcommittee on May 6, Holder said Shahzad had been questioned for "hours" under the public-safety exception before being read his Miranda rights. According to the administration, he also waived his right to be brought before a judge and so was questioned for two weeks before seeing the inside of a court on Tuesday.

After Holder announced the administration sought to change the rules around Miranda, The New York Times reported that the administration also wanted to be able to prolong the time that law enforcement can detain a suspect before bringing him or her before a judge, generally 72 hours. Under the PATRIOT Act, law enforcement can actually get an extension -- in the case of a non-citizen -- as long as seven days. The administration's position on Miranda represents a reversal from its previous position, supported by veteran FBI national security officials like Ali Soufan, Jack Cloonan, and Joe Navarro, that law-enforcement procedures don't interfere with intelligence gathering.

Serwer’s full piece is worth a read.

This week, People For joined 34 other progressive organizations in sending a letter to Holder urging him to reconsider the proposed move. “Weakening Miranda,” the groups wrote, “would undercut our fundamental Fifth Amendment rights for no perceptible gain.”

PFAW

Taking a Stand on Immigration Reform

The New York Times ran a powerful editorial today on the stark contrast between the courage of activists fighting for fair and comprehensive immigration reform and the somewhat less courageous behavior of those in power in Washington.

They highlight the story of four students—three of them undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children— who were arrested Monday for staging a sit-in in Sen. John McCain’s Tucson office to advocate for the DREAM Act.

Who else has shown such courage in the long struggle for immigration reform? Not Mr. McCain, who ditched his principled support of rational immigration legislation to better his odds in a close re-election campaign against a far-right-wing opponent. Not President Obama, who has retreated to lip service and vagueness in his calls for reform. Not his administration. The Justice Department has stood by as a civil-rights coalition — the American Civil Liberties Union, Maldef, the N.A.A.C.P., the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and others — has swiftly sued to block the Arizona law.

Other supposed defenders of immigrants, Democrats in Congress, have lost their voices. Senators Charles Schumer, Robert Menendez and Harry Reid, mindful of November elections and frustrated Latino voters, have unveiled a blueprint for immigration reform that parrots Republican talking points about clamping down the southern border and treating the undocumented as a swelling tide of criminals.

Good immigration reform needs a good bill, and the administration and the president and Democratic leaders haven’t yet offered or convincingly fought for one. The fight for reform is stalled. It could be simple acts of protest that ignite a fire. Half a century ago it was young people, at lunch counters and aboard buses across the South, who help galvanize the movement for civil rights, and to waken more powerful elders to injustice.

Last month, we documented the dangerous and deceitful playbook that the right wing has constructed to stamp out any attempt at advancing reasonable immigration reform…and then we saw the playbook at work in Arizona, where moderate legislators supported an appalling anti-immigrant bill by an extreme right wing politician; in the rapidly changing immigration views of Sen. McCain; and in the reluctance of congressional Democrats to get near the issue in an election year.

The right wing certainly hasn’t made it easy for elected leaders to stand up for a fair and pragmatic approach to immigration reform…but it’s sad to see how few are willing to take the risk.
 

PFAW

Wall Street’s 903 Anti-Reform Lobbyists

A Public Citizen report, released today, finds that since the start of last year, lobbyists fighting against strong derivatives regulation—a key part of Wall Street reform—have outnumbered those supporting it by a ratio of 11-1.

Since the beginning of 2009, nearly 1,000 lobbyists have worked on at least one of nine key bills designed to rewrite the rules governing derivatives, a new Public Citizen report shows.

These lobbyists have overwhelmingly represented organizations opposing or attempting to water down proposed regulation, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of lobbying disclosure data filed with the U.S. House of Representatives.

Lobbyists representing opponents of strong derivatives reform have outnumbered pro-reform lobbyists by more than 11-to-1 (903 to 79 lobbyists). Among the clients represented by the anti-reform lobbyists were the nation’s five largest banks, several major financial trade associations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

With that kind money and influence advantage, it’s no wonder the big banks have felt free to take big liberties with the facts about reform.

PFAW

YEO Network Member Kyrsten Sinema Discusses Arizona Immigration Law

Arizona State Representative Kyrsten Sinema, in Washington for the annual convening of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, went on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal on Saturday to discuss Arizona’s new immigration law. Watch the full clip here:

Sinema, recipient of last year’s Young Elected Officials Network Barbara Jordan Leadership Award, has been a strong voice in opposition to Arizona’s new law, and in support of real, comprehensive immigration reform. You can watch her debate Maricopa County Joe Arpaio on CNN here, and discuss the new law with Keith Olbermann here.

PFAW

Coalition Urges Holder to Reconsider Moves to Weaken Miranda Rights

A coalition of 35 progressive organizations, including People For the American Way, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder this morning urging him to reconsider his stance on weakening Miranda rights. Holder has said the Obama Administration is open to expanding the “public safety exception,” which allows officers in exceptional circumstances to question suspects before reading them their rights. The coalition, led by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, argues, “Weakening Miranda would undercut our fundamental Fifth Amendment rights for no perceptible gain.”

As you know, the Supreme Court crafted the "public safety exception" to Miranda more than 25 years ago in New York v. Quarles. This exception permits law enforcement to temporarily interrogate suspected terrorists without advising them of their Miranda rights – including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney – when "reasonably prompted by a concern for public safety." It allows federal agents to ask the questions necessary to protect themselves and the public from imminent threats before issuing a Miranda warning. Provided the interrogation is non-coercive, any statements obtained from a suspect during this time may be admissible at trial.

Law enforcement used the Quarles “public safety exception” to question Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber,” and Faisal Shahzad, the alleged “Times Square bomber.” Both suspects reportedly provided interrogators with valuable intelligence during that time and continued to do so even after being advised of their rights. As you observed during your May 9, 2010, appearance on “Meet the Press,” “the giving of Miranda warnings has not stopped these terror suspects from talking to us. They have continued to talk even though we have given them a Miranda warning.”

In the nearly nine years since the attacks of 9/11, the Department of Justice has obtained convictions in more than 400 international terrorism or terrorism-related cases without weakening Miranda or risking the safety of Americans. The “public safety exception” is exception enough. Should the need arise to conduct an un-Mirandized interrogation unrelated to any immediate threat to public safety, law enforcement is free to do so under the Constitution. Miranda imposes no restriction on the use of unadvised statements for the purpose of identifying or stopping terrorist activity. The Fifth Amendment only requires that such statements be inadmissible for the purposes of criminal prosecution. Yet even this requirement has exceptions. Un-Mirandized statements obtained outside the public safety exception may still be used for impeachment, and physical evidence discovered as a result of such statements may also be admissible.

Read the full letter here.

 
PFAW

People For Signs on to Arizona Travel Boycott

Last month, Arizona’s governor signed a draconian anti-immigrant law that has come under fire from civil rights and civil liberties groups, sports teams, the president, and even the occasional outspokenly anti-immigrant politician.

People For has now joined a number of other national groups in signing on to a travel boycott of Arizona until the law is reversed. The groups—including the National Council of La Raza, the American Civil Liberties Union, SEIU, the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, and the Center for Community Change—have agreed to:

  • Not hold any conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.
  • Strongly discourage their affiliates, chapters, or members from holding any conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.
  • Widely disseminate the adverse consequences of this legislation to their key stakeholders, for the purpose of encouraging informed judgments regarding whether stakeholders should hold, convene, sponsor, or otherwise support any conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.
  • Call on all other major American institutions to consider choosing alternative locations for conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings already scheduled involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.
  • Call on their affiliates, chapters, members, stakeholders, all major American institutions, and people of conscience everywhere to carefully consider whether the dollars they spend as consumers of goods and services could end up, directly or indirectly, supporting the perpetuation of this unjust law.

Arizona is already hurting from this and other boycotts. Less than three weeks after the new law was passed, Arizona’s hotel and lodging association had already counted a loss of 23 meetings, at an estimated loss to the state of $6 to $10 million. And a city official in Phoenix has predicted that boycotts could cost his area $90 million over the next five years.

Read questions and answers about the boycott here.
 

PFAW

Big Money in State Elections

The PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network is gathering this week in Washington, in part to discuss how to work on national progressive issues on the state and local levels.

A panel this afternoon discussed local activism to fix the Supreme Court’s decision to grant corporation’s huge power to influence elections—and the outsized impact that corporate money can have on state- and local-level campaigns with small budgets.

Jeffrey Clements, and attorney who helped found the advocacy group Free Speech for the People, brought up the case of Montana, whose nearly hundred-year-old ban on corporate campaign contributions and expenditures is being challenged in court in the wake of Citizens United. In 2008, the average winning state senate candidate in the state spent just $17,000. An infusion of corporate cash into the state's elections would have a dramatic impact, Clements argued.

Massachusetts State Senator Jamie Eldridge, a member of the YEO Network, came to the issue with an interesting perspective—he is the only “Clean Elections” candidate to have ever won office in Massachusetts (he first ran for a seat in the state House of Representatives one year in which Massachusetts had a Clean Elections public financing program).

“When I first ran, I was entirely publicly financed,” he said, “I didn’t have to raise money and could go door-to-door talking to voters about what they cared about.”

State elections with unlimited contributions from corporations and individuals aren’t uncharted territory—six states currently have no contribution limits at all—but it will be interesting to see how campaigns in states like Montana change if the rules that candidates have been playing by for decades disappear.
 

PFAW

Party Line Vote on Goodwin Liu in Committee

In a vote that surprised absolutely no one, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously against the confirmation of Goodwin Liu, President Obama’s nominee for a seat on the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals. Nevertheless, he passed out of committee by a vote of 12 to 7.

Since even Liu’s critics concede that he’s brilliant, the GOP decided to attack him as “outside the mainstream” and for lacking judicial experience.

By now it’s well established that the Senate GOP will attack anyone as outside the mainstream, so that attack merits little more than a hearty yawn.

But lacking judicial experience? That’s relatively new for Senate Republicans. They sure didn’t mention it when they were voting for 24 courts of appeals judges nominated by President George W. Bush without any judicial experience, or when they were praising former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist who went to the high court without ever having been a judge. And maybe they didn’t notice that the American Bar Association declared Liu “well qualified,” its highest possible endorsement.

Then again, Senate Republicans have never been shy about applying a double standard when it comes to judicial nominations.
 

PFAW

At a Crossroads

This past Sunday as I was waiting to go on Fox News to talk about the importance of the upcoming debate about the kind of Supreme Court Americans wanted, I had an extra few minutes to walk around the Capitol Hill area near the studio. As I was thinking about one of my key points – that we need a Justice who will keep faith with a Constitution that has been amended by generations of Americans to make sure that “We the people” means “all the people” -  across my blackberry, came word that Attorney General Holder had just said on one of the morning news shows that he wanted Congress to consider modifying the Miranda rule to permit the government to interrogate citizens and legal aliens suspected of being involved in terrorism without advising them of their constitutional right to a lawyer and of their constitutional right not to incriminate themselves. 

Now, I understand that these are troubled and scary times and that Americans understandably fear for their own safety as well as that of their loved ones. The attempted bombing in Times Square certainly was a wake up call.  But, my gut told me that this was a bridge too far – that if we surrender the core constitutional values that make us and our democracy unique in the world, we are left with very little. As hard as it is sometimes, we really do need to make sure that “all the people” and not just some are protected by the Constitution.  

And, as I was pondering this critical crossroads that we find ourselves at as a nation – I came upon the most eloquent reminder of how crucial it is to keep faith with these core constitutional values. It was the small park, near the corner of North Capitol Street and Louisiana Ave that houses the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism during World War II. The memorial was created as a tribute to brave Japanese Americans who fought for this country – and for our democracy – during World War II, despite that fact that their families and loved ones had been stripped of their homes and their belongings and were being kept in internment camps because of (what legislation passed by Congress and signed by Ronald Reagan in 1988 called) “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”  The shame of that moment in our history – capped by the Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Korematsu v. United States – should serve as a potent reminder to us of how important it is to keep faith with our core values and who we are as Americans. 

My humble advice – let’s step back, take a deep breath, and think long and hard before we take steps that we will regret in the future.

PFAW

Kagan v. Rehnquist

In their uphill battle to paint Solicitor General Elena Kagan as unqualified for the Supreme Court, some Republicans are complaining that she doesn’t have any experience on the federal bench. It’s an attack that doesn’t hold water for several reasons. But nothing illustrates the double standard more than comparing her resume with that of William Rehnquist, who had strong GOP backing but much less experience.

KAGAN:
1986-87: Clerk for Judge Abner Mikva, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit
1987-88: Clerk for Justice Thurgood Marshall, U.S. Supreme Court
1989-91: Associate in Private Practice, Williams & Connolly
1991-97: Assistant Professor and Professor, University of Chicago Law School (1991-94 as assistant professor)
1995-96: Associate White House Counsel
1997-99: Deputy Assistant to the President, Domestic Policy Council
1999-01: Visiting Professor, Harvard Law School
2001-03: Professor, Harvard Law School
2003-09: Dean of Harvard Law School
2009-10: Solicitor General of the United States

REHNQUIST:
1952-1953: Clerk For Justice Robert Jackson
1953-1969: Private Practice in Phoenix, AZ
1969-1971: Assistant USAG, Office of Legal Counsel

PFAW

Candidates Begin to Appeal to Voters’ Disappointment with Corporate Court

Republicans say they’re plotting to use any Supreme Court nomination battle to their advantage in November.

But polls show that the issue cuts strongly the other way—the American public is overwhelmingly concerned about the current Court’s pro-corporate sympathies and its failure to fully appreciate how the law affects individual Americans.

Within hours of President Obama’s announcement that he would nominate Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias seized on that message in an email to supporters. Here’s a screenshot:

Giannoulias isn’t the first candidate to appeal to the public’s discomfort with the Court’s pro-corporate bent. Last month, now-Rep. Ted Deutch decisively won a special election in Florida, after running on a platform that included a Constitutional Amendment to reverse Citizens United v. FEC.

Citizens United, Ledbetter, and Exxon v. Baker have brought home the impact that the Court’s corporate leanings can have on all Americans. We’re expecting to see a lot more office-seekers raising these issues as November approaches.

PFAW

GOP Strategy Call: Obstruct Supreme Court Nomination to Delay Policy Debates

The day Justice John Paul Stevens announced his retirement, Senate Republican leadership vowed to obstruct the confirmation of whoever was nominated to replace him. Today, Republican Senators who had previously praised nominee Elena Kagan’s intellect and qualifications have become strikingly less supportive.

And now we have evidence that the obstruction of Obama’s Supreme Court pick, as a way of delaying progress on policy initiatives like climate change regulation and immigration reform, has been the GOP’s explicit strategy all along.

Talking Points Memo’s Brian Beutler obtained a recording of an April 22 RNC strategy call led by right-wing activist Curt Levey:

The crux of the GOP's strategy is to use Obama's nominee to wedge vulnerable Democratic senators away from the party, and drag the confirmation fight out until the August congressional recess, to eat up precious time Democrats need to round out their agenda.

"[I]t wouldn't take much GOP resistance to push a final vote into early August," Levey advised. "And, look, the closer we could get it to the election, frankly, the better. It would be great if we could push it past the August recess because that forces the red and purple state Democrats to have to go home and face their constituents."

Levey acknowledged that a filibuster likely won't last--that Obama's nominee, now known to be Solicitor General Elana Kagan, will almost certainly be confirmed. But he hammered home the point to Republicans that there's value in mischaracterizing any nominee, and dragging the fight out as long as possible, whether or not Obama's choice is particularly liberal.

This is frustrating, but not surprising, from a party that has recently displayed an unparalleled mastery of the Senate’s rules for delay. If they’re willing to stall the confirmation of one of their own party’s most prominent spokespeople, why would they not draw out the confirmation process for an obviously qualified Supreme Court nominee?
 

PFAW

GOP Blocks Confirmation of Bush's Press Secretary

The Senate GOP spent the day repeatedly refusing to remove their holds on 108 of President Obama's picks to fill executive branch and judicial vacancies. In case you thought they actually object to these nominees:

One of the blocked nominees: former White House press secretary Dana Perino, picked for the Broadcasting Board of Governors.

Via David Weigel
 

PFAW

On Ellis Island, African American Ministers Leadership Council Are First to Sign Immigration Reform Covenant

Members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council and African American Ministers in Action gathered on Ellis Island to sign an immigration reform covenant.

On Wednesday, members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) and African American Ministers In Action (AAMIA) gathered on Ellis Island to pledge their unified support for a dignified, just, and tolerant approach to reforming the country’s immigration laws. The ministers, from five states and diverse denominations, were the first to sign a multi-faith covenant calling for “immigration dialogue and reform that will inspire hope, unite families, secure borders, ensure dignity and provide a legal avenue for all of God’s children working and desiring to reside in this country to drink from the well of justice and equal protection under the law.”


The covenant, which lays out seven principles for a respectful immigration reform debate, will be circulated among faith leaders of diverse traditions and ethnicities across the United States.

“We believe immigration reform is important for this nation. As faith leaders from various faith traditions, we stand united with one message and that is a message of love,” said Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs.

Watson Malachi put together the covenant in response to what she called the “increasingly nasty and divisive political and social tone of the immigration debate.”

Rev. Robert Shine

“For years, we have witnessed rhetoric around immigration reform that is deceptive, harmful, and pits communities against each other,” she said. “What took place in Arizona last month, when the state essentially legalized racial profiling in the name of immigration reform, demonstrated the mean-spirited, inhospitable atmosphere that is moving across state lines. This covenant is a statement that faith leaders will reclaim civility, lead a genuine, compassionate conversation, and not stand for racially divisive tactics that undermine the dignity of human beings.”

Members of the AAMLC were quick to sign on.

“We are concerned about all people, from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all races, all nationalities, ethnic origins, etc.,” said Reverend Melvin Wilson of St. Luke AME Church in New York, one of the original signers, “But the tone of the current discussion of immigration has been so negative, so divisive, we are just not going to sit idly by and let the talking heads speak without providing a counter-voice.”

Rev. Patrick Young signs the covenant as Rev. Dr. E. Gail Anderson Holness looks on.

“To sign this covenant is important for multiple reasons,” said Reverend Byron Williams, of Resurrection Church in Oakland, California, who was among the first leaders to add his name to the document. “First of all, it’s important on the issues of equality, and justice, and fairness and dignity. But it also makes an important statement that we have African American pastors coming together. Our ancestry does not take us by Ellis Island, but the concept of liberty is one that’s as deep in our community as it is for anyone that’s come to these shores looking for a better life. It’s those deeply held values of liberty, justice and fairness that are the bedrock of American principles.”

Watson Malachi plans to continue promoting the messages of unity and dignity through education and awareness efforts that include informative dialogue sessions, roundtable conversations with faith leaders from African, Caribbean, Latino, African American and other communities.

The full text of the covenant can be found here.

People For’s report on divisive and dishonest rhetoric in the debate on immigration reform is here.
 

PFAW