President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made clear that LGBT youth, just like all students, should feel safe and secure when they enter the schoolhouse doors. Now we must make sure that the Administration recognizes the tremendous energy and focus it takes to change the end of this story.
Sustained federal leadership on these issues is absolutely essential to reassert the fundamental culture of respect that must prevail in our schools. We need the President’s clear endorsement of the vital principles embodied in the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act . . . As the current crisis tragically illustrates, far too many school districts have not taken the actions needed to protect all students. And the tenor of public debate in this country stands in the way of effective local action and finding common ground. At times like these, on the difficult issues that really matter, Presidential leadership is paramount . . . They need his words, delivered now in this message, and they also need his actions.
But what Americans are experiencing this election year is the emergence of political organizations with secret sources of funding, an increase in corporate “Astroturfing” through front groups, and an avalanche of money to run misleading advertisements across the country.
In the New York Times, Timothy Egan points out how the astronomical amount of money poured into this election is actually drowning-out the voices of citizens and distorting the democratic process. Egan writes that the Court’s decision in Citizens United “will go down in infamy” for giving corporations the right to easily and secretly fund political groups “to bludgeon the electorate” by flooding the airways with deceptive ads:
Here’s what’s happened: Spending by interest groups in this fall’s senate races has gone up 91 percent from the same period in 2008, according to the Wesleyan Media Project. At the same time, spending by political parties has fallen 61 percent.
So corporations, whose sole purpose is to return money to shareholders, were given the legal right to be “natural persons” in our elections and are now overwhelming them. But political parties, which exist to promote ideas and governing principles, have seen their voices sharply diminished.
If the hell of Colorado’s current election season is what those isolated, black-robed kingmakers on the high court had in mind, you certainly didn’t see it in the nonsense of their decision.
“We should celebrate rather than condemn the addition of this speech to the public debate,” wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in his concurrence of Citizens.
I can’t find any celebrating in Colorado, except by broadcasters cashing the checks of big special interest groups. Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, by a large majority in the polls, agree on this: outside groups should not be allowed to dominate election spending.
The court missed the reality of what would happen once the floodgates were opened to the deepest pockets of the biggest players. They turned back a century of fine-tuning the democracy, dating to Teddy Roosevelt’s 1907 curbs, through the Tillman Act, against Gilded Age dominance of elections. They focused on a fantasy.
“The First Amendment protects more than just the individual on a soapbox or the lonely pamphleteer,” wrote Justice Roberts.
Come to Colorado, your honor. You will see that those iconic individuals don’t have a prayer in the post-Citizens-United world, let alone some broadcast time for the soapbox.
Here was the court’s prediction: “The appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.” Really? Perhaps the top complaint this year about the barrage of outside attack ads is that nobody knows who is behind them, which promotes the exact opposite of what the Roberts court predicted.
Celebrating yet? Get used to it. Though Republican-leaning special interests are currently outspending the other side by a 9-to-1 ratio, Democrats will soon follow Karl Rove’s lead and learn to bundle and hide wealthy contributors.
As ugly as 2010 has been, the next election cycle, for president in 2012, will bring us a John Roberts’s America that will make this year look like a town hall meeting from a Rockwell painting.
527 “Super PACs” are permitted to explicitly urge viewers to vote for or against a candidate running for office, but are required to disclose their contributors. In the case of Citizens for a Working America PAC, which can raise unlimited funds from corporations and individuals, the “Citizens” represent just one group: an organization called “New Models.”
According to its FEC filing, New Models is the PAC’s single donor. Citizens for a Working America’s lone expenditure was $250,000 for ads opposing South Carolina Democrat John Spratt, and the PAC raised $255,000 from New Models, a 501(c)4 that does not disclose its donors. Therefore, Citizens for a Working America’s only “Citizen” is not a citizen at all, but a 501(c)4 firm that claims to specialize in political communication.
The Sunlight Foundation profiles the connection between a top Republican consultant, pro-GOP political groups (including Sarah Palin’s leadership PAC), and Citizens for a Working America:
According to records kept by the Virginia Secretary of State, the president and treasurer of New Models is Tim Crawford. According to reports published earlier this year, Crawford was also involved in a shadowy political advertising campaign in Ohio. His firm was the sole funder of a $1.5 million anti-slot machine campaign. People involved in the case in Ohio charged that New Models was a front organization bankrolling the political agendas of certain powerful players.
Crawford is also listed as the treasurer of Sarah Palin’s Political Action Committee, SarahPAC. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, SarahPAC made a $3,500 contribution to Republican candidate Mick Mulvaney--who's running against Spratt in South Carolina.
Including Citizens for a Working America PAC, Spratt has been targeted by seven outside groups. Club for Growth, an organization that's supported Tea Party candidates, has spent $209,000 opposing the South Carolinian Democrat. According to TransparencyData.com, the group has also contributed $1,000.00 to Mulvaney.
Mulvaney is also a recipient of $2,000 from Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who has supported Tea Party-backed candidates.
Sen. DeMint has not only contributed to help Mulvaney win along with Club for Growth and SarahPAC, but has received money for his own campaign from those groups as well. Club for Growth is DeMint’s top contributor giving him almost $150,000 since 2005. He's received $2,500 from SarahPAC.
To date, $1.6 million has been spent to oppose Spratt’s bid for re-election. Citizens for a Working America has spent $250,000.
Illinois Democrat Alexi Giannoulias discussed the need to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United, which he called “a dangerous decision,” in a debate with rival US Senate candidate Mark Kirk. His Republican opponent, who has a habit of distorting and lying about his record, spoke in favor of greater campaign disclosure laws. However, Kirk voted against the DISCLOSE Act, which would have made sure that political organizations disclose their donors and make their funding sources more transparent. Giannoulias, on the other hand, has signed the Pledge to Protect America’s Democracy, which calls on candidates for Congress to overturn Citizens United.
Crossroads GPS, which does not disclose its donors, has spent over $3 million in ads attacking Giannoulias, and its sister “Super PAC” American Crossroads has spent over $1 million to smear Giannoulias. Two groups which do not disclose their donors and are backed by corporate entities, the New Prosperity Foundation and the US Chamber of Commerce, spent around a half-million dollars each in ads to help Mark Kirk.
As I was reading Brian's blog post on the "First Amendment Alliance" - the energy industry front group that has already pumped nearly a million dollars to purchase elect a Republican Congress - I came across a familiar name: Clayton Williams of Clayton Williams Energy has donated $100,000 to the front group.
Anyone who was living in Texas in 1990 remembers Clayton Williams. He was the GOP candidate for governor who lost to Ann Richards that year - and who said that women should enjoy getting raped, a remark for which he was forced to apologize. As the New York Timesreported at the time:
Mr. Williams made the remark on Saturday while preparing for a cattle roundup at his West Texas ranch. He compared the cold, foggy weather spoiling the event to a rape, telling ranch hands, campaign workers and reporters around a campfire, "If it's inevitable, just relax and enjoy it."
By any standard, the remark was over the line, and the uproar over it contributed to his losing the election.
The entire “First Amendment Alliance,” as if it weren't sleazy enough already, is particularly tainted by the participation of Clayton Williams. So, too, are the campaigns of Republican Senate candidates profiting from this dirty money, including Ken Buck of Colorado, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Christine O'Donnell of Delaware, and Sharron Angle of Nevada.
The First Amendment Alliance is a 527 “Super PAC” that can raise unlimited funds from corporations and individuals for independent expenditures on the election, and the group is currently smearing Democratic candidates for Senate with negative ads in competitive races. So far, the First Amendment Alliance has spent over $800,000 running attack ads against Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Jack Conway of Kentucky, Chris Coons of Delaware, and Harry Reid of Nevada.
On its website, the organization says “we communicate instances of waste, fraud, hypocrisy, and general disregard for standards of civility in society,” and its contact information only lists a mailbox in Alexandria, Virginia. Its President, Anthony Holm, works on the campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry and was tied to a GOP scheme to place a Green Party candidate on the ballot for governor in order to take away votes from Rick Perry’s Democratic opponent. But Holm is also a representative for GOP mega-fundraiser Bob Perry, who contributed $4.45 million to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004 and recently donated $2.5 million to the Republican Governors Association.
According to a review of the group's recent FEC filings, it's clear that the First Amendment Alliance is a sham group for the energy industry whose office is a mailbox. Nearly every single donor, including businesses and individuals, has links to the energy industry. Of the 73 contributors, 39 are businesses and 34 are individuals, and 70 of the donors are clearly tied to the oil and gas industry. The group raised close to $1.1 million, and of that amount more than $300,000 came from businesses tied to the energy industry and over $600,000 came from individuals with energy connections.
Here is just a sampling of some of the group’s most generous donors: Oilman Russell Gordy contributed $150,000, Clayton Williams of Clayton Williams Energy and Earl Rodman of Rodman Petroleum both donated $100,000. The Anschutz Corporation donated $50,000, and Melange Associates and Chisos LTD, which are both involved in oil and gas exploration, gave $25,000 each. And of course, Bob Perry gave the group $50,000 this year.
The First Amendment Alliance has to disclose its donors according to FEC rules for “Super PACs,” but many political organizations that are 501(c) groups, like Crossroads GPS and the Chamber of Commerce, never have to disclose the sources of their funding. As a result of such disclosure rules, we now know who is behind the First Amendment Alliance’s attack ads in Senate races across the country.
Using those funds, the group launched an aggressive, and sometimes plainly dishonest, campaign aimed at defeating Democratic candidates for the Senate.
In addition to attacks against Senators Bennet and Reid, the First Amendment Alliance’s ad against Jack Conway was so misleading that one TV station pulled it from the airways. In the ad, the First group used information showing the increased numbers of meth-labs shut down by police officers as evidence that the number of meth-labs increased while Conway was Attorney General. In essence, it used statistics pointing to increased effectiveness by Kentucky law enforcement to deceptively claim that Conway was unsuccessful in fighting drugs. Conway actually presided over the largest drug-bust in state history, and the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police cited Conway’s achievements in cracking down on drugs as one of the reasons the group endorsed him. The Glasgow Daily Times reports that “Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton says law enforcement ‘would be lost’ in the war on drugs if it weren't for federal help, funding assistance opposed by Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul.” Paul, Conway’s Republican opponent, also asserted that drug abuse was not “a pressing issue” in the state.
In its Delaware ad, the First Amendment Alliance accuses Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons of “bankrupting New Castle County,” even though the county under Coons’s leadership received a triple-A bond rating, which Moody’s Investors Services said “reflects the county’s strong financial operations bound by conservative policies.” Despite such proof of sound fiscal leadership, the First Amendment Alliance falsely claims that Coons is responsible for an “economic train wreck.”
Republican-affiliated groups have been getting less and less subtle in their attempts to prevent those likely to be Democrats from voting. There was the voter-caging operation in Wisconsin that sought to scare young and minority voters away from the polls in the name of preventing the proven non-problem of “voter fraud.” There was Illinois Senate candidate Mark Kirk suggesting that poll watchers be sent to predominantly black districts, “where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers.” But enough of the dog whistle. A Republican-affiliated group called “Latinos For Reform” has made an ad simply telling Latinos in Nevada: “Don’t Vote." Here's the English transalation:
The organization’s president, conservative Unavision pundit Robert Desposada, has acknowledged that Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle would do nothing to advance immigration reform. "I can't ask people to support a Republican candidate who has taken a completely irresponsible and bordering on racist position on immigration," he told Politico.
For someone who thinks Angle’s positions are “irresponsible” and “bordering on racist,” he seems awfully interested in getting her elected.
To the litany of public safety threats resulting from anti-Muslim fear-mongering, add the fact that Justice Department officials have had to spend time writing a brief explaining that Islam is, in fact, a religion. TPM reports on the DOJ’s amicus brief supporting the expansion efforts of the Islamic Center of Mufreesboro, TN. Opponents have claimed that the Islamic Center can’t get a religious permit to build a new mosque because, they say, Islam isn’t really a religion. The Justice Department did a little research:
"To suggest that Islam is not a religion is quite simply ridiculous. Each branch of the federal government has independently recognized Islam as one of the major religions of the world," Martin said in the press release.
The brief painstakingly cites proof, from the Oxford English Dictionary, Supreme Court rulings, presidential proclamations by Clinton and George W. Bush and the writings of Thomas Jefferson, that Islam has long been recognized as a major world religion.
It also notes the definition of religion set forth by other federal courts, including that a belief system must address "fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters" in order to be considered a religion.
In the brief, the DOJ argues that the lawsuit implicates two federal civil rights statutes, the Religious Land Use Act and the Church Arson Prevention Act, which fall under the DOJ's purview. The county, the brief argues, would be in danger of violating the land use act were it to deny building permits for the mosque.
A concerted right-wing misinformation campaign has succeeded in making denial of the scientific consensus about climate change a politically acceptable position. Will denying the existence of one of the world’s largest and diverse religions be next?
The Supreme Court today agreed to decide if former Attorney General John Ashcroft can be personally sued for alleged abuse of his authority in the days after 9/11 attacks. According to Bloomberg News:
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider reinforcing the legal immunity of top government officials, agreeing to decide whether a man can sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft after being detained without charge for 16 days.
The justices will review a ruling that allowed a suit filed by Abdullah al-Kidd, a Muslim U.S. citizen who was arrested in 2003 and held as a material witness in a terrorism probe. Al- Kidd says the government classified him as a material witness because it lacked enough evidence to hold him as a suspect.
A panel of the Ninth Circuit held that Ashcroft was not immune from being sued personally for the illegal abuse of authority that was the subject of al-Kidd’s claim. Ashcroft, with the support of the Obama Administration, asked the Supreme Court to reverse this decision and not allow the lawsuit to go forward. In his brief urging the Supreme Court not to hear Ashcroft’s appeal, al-Kidd claims that:
The impetus for arresting [him and other] individuals was not to secure their testimony for a criminal proceeding. Rather, these were individuals whom the government viewed as suspects and wished to detain and investigate. But because the government lacked probable cause to arrest these individuals on criminal charges, it had them arrested as material witnesses, thereby circumventing the Fourth Amendment’s traditional probable cause standard and distorting the basic purpose of the material witness statute.
The Court will likely hear arguments in the case next year and issue an opinion by summer. Justice Kagan has recused herself.
This case is a reminder that in the weeks and months after 9/11, innocent people were being rounded up by the federal government with little to no evidence against them. With Bush’s popularity at its height and few willing to oppose him and his administration publicly, People For the American Way Foundation led the nation in exposing and condemning the Ashcroft Justice Department’s multifaceted threats to liberty.
It will be interesting to see if all of those Tea Partiers who claim to oppose big government encroaching on individual liberties will take a stand against the excesses of the Bush years - and explain why they were silent at the time.
Nearly ten months since the Supreme Court drastically expanded the ability of corporations to influence the political process, the public is still greatly troubled by the Court’s ruling in Citizens United. The majority Americans do not buy the absurd arguments of Congressional Republicans that Citizens United was as significant a step forward as the Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, as most people believe that corporations should not be allowed to spend unlimited sums from their general treasuries to fund political efforts. A Hart Research poll conducted on behalf of People For the American Way found that77% of Americans want Citizens United to be overturned, and that corporations already have too much political power.
A recent “Constitutional Attitudes Survey” by Harvard and Columbia University professors found that while self-described liberals and conservatives all found Court decisions they agree with, Citizens United stands out asthe most unpopular among all respondents:
One notable decision that stuck in respondents' respective craw, however, was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the January 2010 opinion that struck down a federal law prohibiting corporations from airing advertisements endorsing a political candidate.
Fifty-eight percent of survey respondents disagreed with the statement, "Corporations ought to be able to spend their profits on TV advertisements urging voters to vote for or against candidates." Only 40 percent agreed with the statement.
Additionally, an overwhelming 85 percent of respondents answered yes to the question, "Should corporations be required to get approval from their shareholders for expenditures related to political campaigns?" Indeed, Persily told the Spokane, Washington-based Spokesman Review that the Citizens United opinion is "very out of step with public opinion."
The survey's results are consistent with those of a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken in February, shortly after the case was decided. A full 80 percent of respondents in that poll disagreed with the court's holding, and 65 percent labeled themselves "strongly" opposed. Surprisingly, that poll found that views of the decision did not split along party lines -- fully 76 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of independents, along with 85 percent of Democrats, disagreed with the decision.
After extremist Republican Joe Miller upset incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski in the GOP primary, many Alaskans panicked over the prospect of having a Senator that wants to greatly diminish the federal government’s role in Alaska. After Senator Murkowski announced a write-in bid to take on Miller and the Democratic nominee, Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams, a new organization emerged to back the incumbent: Alaskans Standing Together.
Alaskans Standing Together is a “Super PAC” which can raise unlimited amounts of funds from individuals and corporations, and must disclose its donors to the FEC. The group is solely dedicated towards supporting Senator Murkowski’s reelection campaign and criticizing both of her opponents. So far, Alaskans Standing Together has reported having nine donors: Native American Corporationsthat have contributed over $800,000 to the group. But these Native American Corporations are also federal contractors, and many of them openly claim that they receive much of their federal money as a result of the legislative efforts of Lisa Murkowski. The corporations say that such money is needed since outside organizations like the California-based Tea Party Express are running hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads promoting Joe Miller.
But as the Miller and Murkowski squabble over the non-party groups backing their campaigns, only Scott McAdams directly pointed to an important reason for the massive downpour in campaign cash:
The Democrat in the race, Scott McAdams, took a different approach, blaming the U.S. Supreme Court for opening up politics to unlimited corporate donations. If he's elected, McAdams said, he'd move to pass a campaign finance law backed by Democratic leaders in the Senate and President Barack Obama. He also seized on a claim the White House has been hammering in recent weeks: that unlimited corporate money has the potential to give foreign-owned corporations a say in U.S. elections.
"As a small state, Alaska can't afford to allow its elections to be overtaken by corporate spending," McAdams said. "Unfortunately, Sen. Murkowski has voted to allow corporations, including foreign corporate money, to continue to influence elections."
Outside independent expenditure groups are playing a major role in the Alaska Senate race -- and those across the country. In previous elections, such contributions wouldn't have been legal, but the recent Citizens United Supreme Court decision allows corporate and union donors to inject unlimited amounts of money into politics.
With Election Day fast approaching, tens of millions of dollars from corporations flooding the airwaves each week and seemingly endless news stories about apathy in the Democratic base, right-wing candidates are getting more brazen -- advancing ever more extreme positions and spreading outright lies.
Sharron Angle, the Republican running to unseat Harry Reid in Nevada, told a crowd that Dearborn, Michigan and a town named Frankford, Texas are under Islamic Sharia Law. Utter nonsense. The statement earned her a strong rebuke from the Mayor of Dearborn and it turns out that Frankford, TX doesn't even exist!
Rand Paul, running for Senate in Kentucky, now supports ending the income tax in favor of a more regressive national sales tax that would hit the poor and middle class far more harshly than the income tax. After saying a few months back that he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and making controversial statements about mining and the BP oil spill, Paul's handlers have tried hard to keep his extremism under wraps. But for someone as "out there" as Rand Paul, that's hard to do for very long.
In a debate on Wednesday night, Tea Party favorite and Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, perpetuating an attack that has been thoroughly discredited, accused her Democratic opponent Chris Coons of being a Marxist, based on Coons' tongue-in-cheek comment in an article he wrote as a student. On a roll, O'Donnell launched into a rant that included attacks on Coons for things he never said and completely fabricated declarations about the "tenets" of Marxism.
These are just some of this week's salvos from the right-wing Rogue's Gallery of Senate candidates -- let's not forget some of the past gems from Tea Party candidates. Sen. Russ Feingold's opponent in Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, is such an extreme pro-corporate ideologue that he tries to push the notion that global warming is caused by sunspots in order to cover for corporate polluters... he also wants to drill for oil in the Great Lakes and even fought against protections for victims of child abuse on the grounds that it would be bad for business.
But the worst of the bunch has to be Colorado's GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck. When he was a county D.A., he refused to prosecute a rape that the accused essentially admitted he had committed. Instead, Buck chose to blame the victim, calling her charges a case of "buyer's remorse." Perhaps most disturbingly, it appears his statement and inaction might have been retribution for what some claimed was an abortion the victim had a year before (despite the victim's claim that she had a miscarriage). Keep in mind this is a man who is against legal abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, and apparently agrees with Sharron Angle that rape victims who become pregnant as a result of their assault should make "lemonade" out of "what was really a lemon situation."
If this weren't enough, this week an interview from March reemerged in which the "get rid of government no matter what the cost" Buck actually came out in favor of privatizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention! Imagine the CDC privatized -- the profit motive being the sole determination for whether the Center might act to save millions of lives... or let millions suffer or even die.
This is what extremism looks like. These could be the new people making our laws.
But it's not too late. We can Stamp Out Extremism. Please, this election, dig deep, speak out and get involved.
The latest poll numbers have progressive Democrat Joe Sestak ahead of pro-corporate extremist Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Senate race for the first time... Colorado is a very tight race and our endorsed candidate Michael Bennet is in position to defeat Buck with enough of our help... the progressive Senate candidate in Kentucky, Jack Conway, is running very close and could actually beat Republican Rand Paul because of his extremism... and we are fighting tooth-and-nail to keep Russ Feingold in the Senate and stop the radically right-wing Ron Johnson. We are in the process right now of producing ads for all of these states and more, and finalizing our field plan to get out the vote.
Please stay tuned for more on those products and activities, and, in the meantime, help spread around our resources, like our "Rogues Gallery" report, which calls out the GOP's extremist Senate candidates, and our "After Citizens United" report, which exposes the corporate front groups that are trying to buy this election for the Republicans.
UPDATE:Jed Lewison at Kos highlights right-wing candidates attacks on the miminum wage:
As Joan McCarter (here, here, and here) and DemFromCT (here) have documented, in the past few weeks leading Republican candidates have come out against the minimum wage, either calling for it to be lowered or for eliminating it altogether because they think it's unconstitutional. And now West Virginia GOP Senate nominee Joe Raese is once again vowing to repeal the Fair Labor Standards Act which established the minimum wage.
The key thing about the GOP position is that it's not just the minimum wage that they want to get rid of. They want to nuke virtually every law and regulation that protects workers. And that includes another provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act: overtime pay.
UPDATE 2: Tea Party House candidate in California's 11th Congressional District, David Harmer, wants to abolish public schools. Sharron Angle and others want to do away with the Department of Education, but Harmer's position could be an even more extreme attack on public education. Harmer is leading progressive incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney in the polls...
Greg Sargent reports the results of a new MoveOn poll that shows that yes, Americans really do care that secretive corporate money is funding elections. A lot:
The poll finds that two thirds of registered voters, or 66 percent, are aware that outside groups are behind some of the ads they're seeing. This makes sense, since the issue has dominated the media amid the battle over the huge ad onslaught against Dems funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove's groups.
What's more, an overwhelming 84 percent say they have a "right to know" who's bankrolling the ads. And crucially, the poll also found that the issue is resonant when linked to the economy. A majority, 53 percent, are less likely to think a candidate who is backed by "anonymous groups" can be trusted to "improve economic conditions" for them or their families. People don't believe these groups are looking out for their interests.
These numbers send a pretty clear message. But this is nothing new—for months, poll after poll has shown that large majorities of Americans are fed up with the control corporate money has over politics, want political spending to be disclosed, and are more likely to vote for candidates who will work toward passing a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United.
Dan Froomkin is reporting on a depressing new report that paints a frightening picture of just how difficult it is for ordinary Americans to receive justice in our courts. He discusses:
the finding[s] of a world-wide survey unveiled Thursday morning that ranks the United States lowest among 11 developed nations when it comes to providing access to justice to its citizens -- and lower than some third-world nations in some categories.
The results are from the World Justice Project's new "Rule of Law Index", which assesses how laws are implemented and enforced in practice around the globe. Countries are rated on such factors as whether government officials are accountable, whether legal institutions protect fundamental rights, and how ordinary people fare in the system. ...
But the most striking findings related to access to justice for ordinary people. ...
[The study] found a significant gap between the rich and the poor in terms of their use and satisfaction with the civil courts system.
Froomkin quotes from a World Justice Project news release:
[O]nly 40% of low-income respondents who used the court system in the past three years reported that the process was fair, compared to 71% of wealthy respondents. This 31% gap between poor and rich litigants in the USA is the widest among all developed countries sampled. In France this gap is only 5%, in South Korea it is 4% and in Spain it is nonexistent.
Unfortunately, it is no surprise that the wealthy and powerful are happier with our court system than are the rest of the American people. This is consistent with the analysis contained in a People For the American Way Foundation report released earlier this year. Citing Citizens United and numerous other cases, The Rise of the Corporate Court: How the Supreme Court is Putting Business First exposed the undue deference the Supreme Court has too often paid to corporations at the expense of the legal rights of individuals.
Making it even harder for average Americans victimized by powerful corporations to seek justice, one in eight seats on the federal bench is vacant. In fact, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared judicial emergencies in numerous circuits and districts where the vacancies have reached the crisis point. Yet Senate Republicans refuse to allow floor votes on qualified and unopposed judicial nominees to help relieve the overburdened federal judiciary.
The integrity of the entire judicial branch of the United States government is at risk.
At 36, Julián Castro, Mayor of San Antonio, is the youngest mayor of a Top 50 American city. He’s been a member of the YEO Network since it’s founding, when he was a city councilman—he was elected mayor last year. In his first year in office, among other accomplishments, he sealed a multimillion dollar deal for alternative energy research in the city. You can read more about Julián in a lengthy New York Times Magazine profile from May.
Hannah Pingree, 33, the speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, was also one of the original members of the YEO Network. Here’s what she had to say to Time about why she’s in politics:
"I love politics. Even in these times, politics is hard, the word 'politics' isn't popular, and politicians aren't the most poplar people. But being able to serve in the stage legislature, where a lot of the work we do is bipartisan, there are decent people on both sides of the aisle. You can make a difference. I've been able to pass a lot of bills or make an impact on the people I grew up with: fishermen in my district, people who need good housing, environmental policy that impacts kids' health. If I hadn't been able to do that in politics, I would have given up a long time ago. All the challenges and, sometimes, meanness and frustration you encounter in politics is worth it, if you can make good things happen."
Bakari Sellers became the youngest member of the South Carolina General Assembly at the age of 22. Now 26, he’s earned a law degree and continues to be a voice in the legislature for the ‘have-nots’ in his community. He told BET last year, "My goals again are relatively simple, representing a very poor and rural district. I want to ensure all South Carolinians access to a first-class education and ensure access to quality health care.”
Kyrsten Sinema, 34, is a member of PFAW Foundation’s Board of Directors as well as the YEO Network. A member of the Arizona House of Representatives, she’s running for a seat in the State Senate this fall. Kyrsten’s been a leader in Arizona on gay rights, responsible immigration policy, and economic development. Here’s her debate with Sherriff Joe Arpaio about Arizona’s draconian immigration law in April: