PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Chairman Leahy Reprimands Senate Republicans

After helping Elena Kagan sail through the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Leahy isn’t content resting on his laurels. Yesterday the Chairman censured his Republican colleagues for their obstructionism on lower profile but just as vital judicial nominations. When Republicans foiled his attempt to schedule discussion on 4th Circuit nominee Jane Stranch of Tenessee, who enjoys the bipartisan support of her home state Senators, Chairman Leahy called them out:

Senate Republicans have further ratcheted up the obstruction and partisanship that have regrettably become commonplace this Congress with regard to judicial nominees. We asked merely for a time agreement to debate and vote on the nomination. I did not foreclose any Republican Senator from voting against the nominee or speaking against the nominee but simply wanted a standard agreement in order to allow the majority leader to schedule the debate and get to a vote. This is for a nomination reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee over eight months ago with bipartisan support. Yet the Republican leader objected and blocked our consideration.

For anyone who still thinks that both parties engage in this kind of obstructionism when in the minority, Senator Leahy came prepared with statistics:

No one should be confused: the current obstruction and stalling by Senate Republicans is unprecedented. There is no systematic counterpart by Senate Democrats. In fact, during the first 2 years of the Bush administration, the 100 judges confirmed were considered by the Democratically controlled Senate an average of 25 days from being reported by the Judiciary Committee. The average time for confirmed Federal circuit court nominees was 26 days. The average time for the 36 Federal circuit and district and circuit court judges confirmed since President Obama took office is 82 days and the average time for Federal circuit nominees is 126 days. So when Republicans say that we are moving faster than we did during the first 2 years of the Bush administration they are wrong. It was not until the summer of 2001 that the Senate majority shifted to Democrats, but as soon as it did, we proceeded on the judicial nominations of President Bush, a Republican President. Indeed, by this date during the second year of the Bush administration, the Senate had confirmed 58 of his judicial nominations and we were on the way to confirming 100 by the end of the year. By contrast, Republican obstruction of President Obama's judicial nominees has meant that only 36 of his judicial nominees have been confirmed. We have fallen dramatically behind the pace set for consideration of President Bush's nominees.

…Indeed, when President Bush was in the White House, Senate Republicans took the position that it was unconstitutional and wholly inappropriate not to vote on nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. With a Democratic President, they have reverted to the secret holds that resulted in pocket filibusters of more than 60 nominees during the Clinton years. Last year, Senate Republicans successfully stalled all but a dozen Federal circuit and district court nominees. That was the lowest total number of judges confirmed in more than 50 years. They have continued that practice despite the fact that judicial vacancies continue to hover around 100, with more than 40 declared judicial emergencies.

As Chairman Leahy emphasized, these obstructionist tactics have rarely come with explanations. For example, Judge James Wynn, who was nominated first by President Clinton and then by President Obama and would become the first black Justice on the 4th Circuit, has been on anonymous hold for six months with no reason given.

Our judicial system can’t function properly without qualified judges on the bench. But Senate Republicans are leaving dozens of judicial vacancies open for purely political reasons. Good for Chairman Leahy for speaking out on this.

PFAW

Oiling the Wheels of Justice

We’ve commented before on the oil ties of Judge Martin Feldman, the Reagan-appointed federal judge who struck down President Obama’s moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Now Alliance for Justice has issued a full report on his financial relationship with the energy sector and his refusal to recuse himself from the case. The results are damning. In 2008, for example, Judge Feldman reported energy-related financial holdings valued between $15,000 and $545,000, with a realized income of between $27,000 and $100,500. And yet, despite a statute that specifically requires recusal when a Justice has even a slight financial interest in a case, Judge Feldman did not step aside in the moratorium case. As Nan Aron, the President of Alliance for Justice, said:

Even the most cursory look at his personal financial holdings would lead any reasonable person to say he can't possibly hear this case and stay within the formal rules of recusal, to say nothing of common-sense notions of bias.

Not only does Judge Feldman stand to make a profit from deciding on big oil’s behalf. He also, like conservative-appointed justices across the country, seems eager to impose a pro-corporate ideology on our legal system. It’s judicial activism like this that makes it so crucial to ensure that judicial appointments are part of the conversation during senatorial and presidential elections.

PFAW

Rove Returns

One of the greatest of many great parts about the end of George W. Bush’s presidency a year and a half ago was, I thought, that we wouldn’t have to spend our lives worrying about what Karl Rove was up to. How wrong I was.

A new political operation conceived by Republican operatives Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie formed a spinoff group last month that - thanks in part to its ability to promise donors anonymity - has brought in more money in its first month than the parent organization has raised since it started in March.

The new group, called American Crossroads GPS, has been telling donors their contributions would be used to dig up dirt on Congressional Democrats’ “expense account abuses” and to frame the BP oil spill as “Obama’s Katrina.”

… A veteran GOP operative familiar with the group’s fundraising activities said the spin-off was formed largely because donors were reluctant to see their names publicly associated with giving to a 527 group, least of all one associated with Rove, who Democrats still revile for his role in running former President George W. Bush’s political operation.

This kind of shadowy politicking is exactly why we so urgently need measures like the DISCLOSE Act, which would require those who are attempting to influence elections through conduits such as Rove’s group to reveal their contributions. Even more importantly, we need a constitutional amendment to ensure the continuing ability of Congress and the states to regulate in this nefarious arena That’s why we’ve joined with Public Citizen in a campaign to get all candidates for federal office to pledge to work towards amending the constitution.

PFAW

Saying No To Good Government

Although Elena Kagan’s nomination moved out of committee yesterday, almost every Republican committee member voted against her, and most Senate Republicans are expected to follow suite. Why? As an editorial in the New York Times pointed out , Republican opposition to the broad interpretation of the commerce clause in recent decades may partly explain their refusal to support Kagan:

[D]ozens of Senate Republicans are ready to vote against [Kagan], and many are citing her interpretation of the commerce clause of the Constitution, the one that says Congress has the power to regulate commerce among the states. At her confirmation hearings, Ms. Kagan refused to take the Republican bait and agree to suggest limits on that clause’s meaning. This infuriated the conservatives on the Senate Judiciary Committee because it has been that clause, more than any other, that has been at the heart of the expansion of government power since the New Deal.

The clause was the legal basis for any number of statutes of enormous benefit to society. It is why we have the Clean Air Act. The Clean Water Act. The Endangered Species Act. The Fair Labor Standards Act, setting a minimum wage and limiting child labor. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing segregation in the workplace and in public accommodations. In cases like these, the Supreme Court has said Congress can regulate activities that have a “substantial effect” on interstate commerce, even if they are not directly business-related.

…Make no mistake that such a vote is simply about her, or about President Obama. A vote against the commerce clause is a vote against some of the best things that government has done for the better part of a century, and some of the best things that lie ahead.

In voting against Kagan’s anticipated interpretation of the commerce clause, the “Party of No” isn’t just opposing the confirmation of extremely qualified Supreme Court Justice; they’re also opposing the government fulfilling its responsibility to protect clean air and water, fair labor standards, and civil rights for all.

PFAW

Kagan Clears Judiciary Committee

Yesterday the Judiciary Committee voted to forward Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination to the full Senate. Here’s PFAW President Michael B. Keegan’s statement:

Today’s vote is a step towards achieving a Supreme Court that understands the way the law affects individual Americans. In her hearings, Solicitor General Kagan made clear that, unlike the current Court, she understands that corporate interests shouldn’t be allowed to run rampant over the rights of individual Americans.

It’s frankly puzzling that the GOP seems dead set on opposing that principle. Throughout much of the hearings, Republican senators lavished praise on Citizens United v. FEC, a decision that gave corporations unchecked rights to buy elections and which most Americans abhor. Given the national outrage at companies like BP and Goldman Sachs, it’s surprising that the GOP would expend so much breath pining for a Supreme Court Justice who would give even greater deference to corporations while slamming the door on individual Americans fighting for their rights.

Apparently, the ‘Party of No’ can’t stop from saying ‘Yes’ to corporate interests who want to get their way in the Supreme Court.

Fortunately for the country, the GOP has been unable to block the confirmation of this supremely qualified nominee. But as we’ve noted, their largely under-the-radar obstructionism on lower priority nominations is still going strong.

PFAW

Will Your Representative Sign the Pledge to Protect America’s Democracy?

Today, People For the American Way and Public Citizen launched a new campaign to get the ball rolling on a Constitutional Amendment to kick corporate money out of elections.

In January, the Supreme Court overturned a policy that was more than a century-old to allow corporations to spend millions of dollars from their treasuries to influence elections. To get to that decision, in the case of Citizens United v. FEC, the Court determined that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals.

This reasoning, and the conclusion it led to, have been soundly rejected by Americans across the political spectrum. A poll we commissioned last month found that 85% of Americans disagree with the Court’s conclusion that the First Amendment allows corporations to spend whatever they like on elections, and 77% wanted to amend the Constitution to undo it.

What’s more, 74%--including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents-- said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who pledged to work for a Constitutional Amendment to undo Citizens United.

We saw this as a clear call to action. So we joined up with Public Citizen to create www.PledgeForDemocracy.org and start making a Constitutional Amendment a reality.

Here’s how it works. We’ve written up a pledge for federal candidates to sign, committing them to work towards a Constitutional Amendment to return our democracy to voters. It reads:

The Supreme Court's flawed decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts to influence election outcomes endangers our democracy and threatens to drown out the voices of individual citizens. I pledge to protect America from unlimited corporate spending on our elections by supporting a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision giving corporations the same First Amendment rights as people.

If you support a Constitutional Amendment, contact your representatives and candidates in your area and urge them to sign the pledge. Then get back to us and let us know what they said. We’ll keep track of contacts to candidates and officials, and publicize which candidates sign the pledge and which refuse to sign it.

We know that elections belong to voters…it’s time for elected officials to show they agree.
 

PFAW

We’re Helping to Put Up a Billboard in Boehner’s Hometown. What Should It Say?

The PFAW Voters Alliance is cosponsoring an effort by our friends at Blue America PAC to beat Republican Leader John Boehner in his own House district. Because Boehner is an unbelievably avid golfer (he golfed 119 times last year—how is that even possible?) we’ll be putting up a billboard near a golf course in Boehner’s district. And we need your help deciding what it will say.

As you cast your vote, keep in mind these fun facts about the out-of-touch, lobbyist-schmoozing, industry-loving aspiring Speaker of the House:

  • He said passage of affordable health care for all Americans would be “Armageddon” and would “ruin the country.”
  • He dismissed Wall Street’s greedy and disastrous practices as “an ant,” saying regulatory reform would be like killing the ant with a nuclear weapon.
  • He suggested that taxpayer dollars should be used to bail out BP.
  • He wants a moratorium on new federal regulations of all industries.

On top of all these indicators that Boehner would be simply disastrous in the role of Speaker of the House, if he did achieve that position it would mean several equally extreme right-wing members taking over as chair of key committees – like Joe Barton, who apologized to BP for the government taking actions to hold the company accountable, taking over the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Here are two of the billboards we’ve designed to remind Boehner’s constituents where his--and his party’s--priorities lie:

To see the rest of the options and cast your vote, click here.

 

PFAW

The Ethical Imperative of Immigration Reform

One of the more interesting developments in the latest push for comprehensive immigration reform has been the split developing between conservative anti-immigrant groups who are committed to mass deportation at all costs and some right-wing evangelical leaders who have come out in favor of a compassionate and realistic approach to immigration reform.

In May, a coalition of conservative evangelical leaders announced their intention to gather support for “a just assimilation immigration policy.” Soon afterwards, of course, they made it clear that their definition of “just” does not include justice for LGBT couples.

On Wednesday, a number of those leaders spoke to the House Judiciary Committee on their support for ethical immigration reform—and its limits.

In the hearing on the Ethical Imperative for Reform of our Immigration System , immigration reform was discussed in the context of ethics and morals, and the committee heard testimonies from three religious leaders and one scholar about the problems and possible solutions for immigration reform in America.

Nobody at the hearing denied that the current immigration system is broken and untenable. Rev. Gerald Kicanas, Bishop of the Archdiocese of Tucson, contextualized immigration as a humanitarian issue with moral implications, underlining that our immigration system fails to protect basic human rights and dignity. He voiced his support for comprehensive immigration reform that would encompass features such as paying a fine, paying taxes, learning English, and waiting behind those who already applied legally to eventually gain citizenship, and argued that CIR would fulfill our moral obligation to protect immigrants under rule of law.

Richard Land, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention, echoed those sentiments, stating that when looking at the issue of immigration through a faith-based lens, individuals had a biblical mandate to care for others and act mercifully.

Both speakers advocated an earned path to citizenship, recognizing that deporting over 11 million immigrants was not only unfeasible, but immoral and inconsistent with the rule of law.

It’s troubling that the compassion Kicanas and Land are advocating stops at the equal treatment of gay people. Both are right that too often, pivotal issues like immigration reform become mired in politics and party-line ideology, and it’s important for leaders from different faith backgrounds to step up and have a conversation on the detrimental effects of our broken system of immigration on millions of families. But that discussion should include all families.
 

PFAW

Boehner: Only Regulate in “Emergencies”

In another stunning moment of out-of-touch kowtowing to industry lobbyists, House Republican Leader John Boehner has told reporters that he would support a moratorium on all new federal regulations…with an exemption for “emergencies.” Greg Sargent at the Washington Post contacted Boehner’s office to see if the moratorium would include a halt to new oil industry regulations:

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel gets in touch to clarify that this moratorium would not apply to new regs for the oil industry.

"Boehner said at the same press event that we need to find out what happened in the Gulf and how we can make sure it never, ever happens again," Steel said. "So it is clear that would fall under the `emergency' regulations exception he described."

Asked how this would work, Steel said the idea had first surfaced today during the much-publicized meeting with trade groups, which was streamed online. He said it was too early to go into detail on how such a moratorium would function.

To summarize: Boehner went to a meeting with industry lobbyists and came away with the idea to let those industries avoid all new government regulation…until AFTER that lack of regulation has created a disastrous situation that can be classified as an emergency.

Great idea. After all, that attitude worked so well for George W. Bush.
 

PFAW

The GOP's Judicial Obstruction Stats

Yesterday, Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina tried to convince the Senate to confirm two appeals court nominees from her state. The two nominees, Judges James Wynn and Albert Diaz, have no controversial baggage--each received near-unanimous bipartisan support from the Judiciary Committee.

The confirmation of Wynn and Diaz would also contribute to the Obama Administration’s effort to add diversity to a woefully un-diverse court system. Diaz would be the first Latino appointed to the Fourth Circuit, Wynn the fourth African American.

Wynn and Diaz have both been waiting 169 days—over five months— for a Senate vote.

But none other than Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the floor yesterday to block a vote on the two nominees. He freely admitted that his action had nothing to do with Wynn and Diaz themselves, but was rather a purely political retaliation against the president’s recess appointment of a Medicare and Medicaid administrator. That appointment was not only unrelated to Wynn and Diaz, but came after the two nominees had already been stalled for months on the Senate floor.

Watch the video of Hagan’s and McConnell’s exchange:


Using judicial nominees as political pawns—thereby leaving important vacancies in courts throughout the country and stalling efforts to put judges with diverse background on the bench—is a tactic that the Republican minority has been using with zeal.

We’ve been collecting statistics on Republican efforts to keep qualified judges from starting their jobs. Here’s the latest update:

Nominees waiting for confirmation: 21
Nominees who have been waiting for more than 90 days: 18
Average number of days since nominated: 161 (200 for circuit court nominees)
Average number of days waiting for a Senate floor vote: 90 (111 for circuit court nominees)
 

PFAW

Advocates and members of Congress gather to support LGBT equality and comprehensive immigration reform

Yesterday I joined fellow advocates and members of Congress for a press conference to support LGBT equality and comprehensive immigration reform.

We are pushing for the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) to be included in all reform proposals. Incorporating UAFA would be a meaningful step taken toward providing equality to same-sex couples and keeping their families together. UAFA allows many same-sex partners to begin the immigration process more quickly and efficiently, and with fewer limitations. Gay men and lesbians whose partners are US citizens or legal permanent residents could apply for family-based visas and green cards.

Representative Nadler (D-NY8), UAFA’s lead sponsor in the House, laid out our demands.

As the urgency for comprehensive immigration reform increases nationally, and the debate in Washington widens, it is essential to ensure that the LGBT community is included in the reforms we propose and pass.

Representative Gutierrez (D-IL4) described the plight of the LGBT community.

Right now, too many same-sex, binational couples face an impossible choice: to live apart or to break the law to be with their partners, families, and children. That's not good for them and it is not good for the rest of us either.

Representative Polis (D-CO2) emphasized why equality is important not only for them but for us all.

We are a nation of immigrants and, as a result, our diversity is our greatest strength . . . Unfortunately, our out-dated immigration system contains laws that discriminate against LGBT families and hinder our economy, our diversity, and our status as a beacon of hope and liberty to people across the world. To be truly comprehensive and achieve real, long-lasting reform, we must provide all domestic partners and married couples the same rights and obligations in any immigration legislation.

Appearing with Representatives Nadler, Gutierrez, and Polis were Representatives Honda (D-CA15) and Quigley (D-IL5), as well as Rachel Tiven, Executive Director of Immigration Equality Action Fund, and Karen Narasaki, President and Executive Director of the Asian American Justice Center.

As my fellow advocates and I stood in solidarity behind these champions of LGBT equality and comprehensive immigration reform, I was struck by the words of Erwin de Leon.

We are not asking for special rights. We are only asking for equal rights.

Erwin works hard at his job and his education and does what he can to help the community. He has been in a committed relationship for 12 years. He and his partner are married in DC. Yet his partner cannot sponsor him for residency. Their family will be torn apart if Erwin is forced to leave the country after completing his PhD.

For more information, please visit Immigration Equality Action Fund.

PFAW

The Right Wing Immigration Playbook Gets Scary

We reported earlier this year on the whisper campaign strategy we expected from the right wing in its effort to defeat comprehensive immigration reform, and since then we’ve seen exactly that--fringe extremism met with tacit acceptance by the mainstream.

We saw that strategy at work in Arizona, where an extreme-right state senator convinced the entire state government to hop on board an anti-immigrant plan that sanctioned racial profiling, hampered local law enforcement, and created a culture of fear for Latinos in the state.

But I don’t know if we expected anything as scary as we’re seeing this week.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that an anonymous group had circulated a list to media outlets and government officials containing the names, birth dates, addresses, and telephone numbers of 1,300 Utah residents who, they said, they “strongly believe are in this country illegally and should be immediately deported.” The list also included the due dates of pregnant women.

The release of the list has caused residents who are here legally as well as those without documentation to fear retaliation by self-appointed immigration enforcers.

Today, Think Progress reported a similar fear tactic in Arizona, where someone pretending to be a sheriff has sent letters to businesses and individuals telling them in an intimidating tone to “take heed” of the state’s new draconian anti-immigrant policy.

Both of these incidents involved anonymous groups of individuals, not government officials (though Utah officials suspect government employees might have been involved in leaking the personal information to the list). In both cases, state and local authorities are looking into who is responsible.

These incidents have been disturbing, but what is even more disturbing is the right’s silence in response. Utah’s governor, Gary Herbert, has expressed his disapproval of the Utah list, but few right wing leaders have joined him in speaking out against it. A spokesman for the Utah chapter of the Minuteman Project went so far as to say he thought the release of the list was a good idea, as long as the information on it was accurate.

If right wing leaders don’t condemn these tactics of intimidation, they tacitly condone them. And they can’t claim to be interested in real reform if they stand by silently while fringe groups incite hatred and fear.
 

PFAW

Court Stops Right-Wing Anti-Marriage Referendum

An appeals court ruled this morning that the DC City Council has every right to refuse to hold a referendum aimed at shooting down the city’s four-month-old marriage equality law.

The push to end DC’s marriage law was led by Bishop Harry Jackson, an anti-gay activist who has allied with national right-wing groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the Family Research Council in his quest to undo the law.

The DC Council refused to let Jackson introduce a referendum to ban gays from marrying in the District, citing a policy that prohibits ballot intiatives to authorize discrimination. In January, a lower court agreed with the Council, and today the DC Court of Appeals upheld that decision. The Appeals Court’s decision was split 5-4, but the judges were unanimous on one key point: that Jackson’s referendum constituted discrimination.

The DC Council passed the marriage equality law in an 11-2 vote in December; marriage licenses became available in March.

All in all, it’s been a good July for marriage equality.
 

PFAW

Come to our Netroots Nation Panel: Undoing Citizens United

Will you be in Las Vegas next week for Netroots Nation? If so, join us on Saturday for a discussion of corporate influence in elections and what we can do about it. We’ve put together a great panel of experts and activists to discuss the Citizens United decision and its aftermath—including Reps. Donna Edwards and Alan Grayson, People For’s Marge Baker, Public Citizen’s Robert Weissman, and Lisa Graves of the Center for Media and Democracy.


For details, visit the Netroots Nation page on the panel: Undoing Citizens United: A Comprehensive Plan to Prevent Corporations from Buying Elections.


And, if you’re an overachiever looking to do some background reading, take a look at our recent poll showing overwhelming opposition to the Citizens United ruling and our report on the Rise of the Corporate Court.
 

PFAW

Second Circuit Strikes Down FCC’s Indecency Rules

Few people could have imagined that Bono’s utterance of a single expletive during a 2003 awards show would have such a massive impact seven years later. Today, in Fox v. FCC, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the FCC’s unclear rules regarding fleeting vulgar language are unconstitutional. From the Wall Street Journal, the court said that:

…the FCC's indecency policies were "unconstitutionally vague, creating a chilling effect that goes far beyond the fleeting expletives at issue here."

The 32-page ruling was laced with many of the words FCC policy said broadcasters could not allow to be spoken on air. It sets up the possibility that the Supreme Court could be asked to revisit rulings that have formed the basis for government curbs on "indecent" broadcast speech, including a 1978 decision that allowed the FCC to fine the Pacifica Foundation for broadcasting a monologue on dirty words by the late comedian George Carlin.

This decision will almost certainly lead to an appeal, but it remains unclear to what extent the Obama administration will fight it. Keep in mind that the current FCC regulations date back to George W. Bush’s time in the White House. In any case, today’s decision signals that the FCC cannot broadly punish broadcasters for airing expletives, absent clear guidelines. And as the court stated, all TVs 13 inches or larger sold in the United States come with V-chips, allowing parents to choose what their children can and cannot watch, further weakening the rationale for the FCC’s regulations.

PFAW