PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Legal Scholars Speak out to Support Dawn Johnsen

People For the American Way co-hosted a press call on 4/27 concerning the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

We were joined by Walter Dellinger, Solicitor General and head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President Clinton, Douglas Kmiec, head of the Office of Legal Counsel for Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Aviva Orenstein, an Indiana University law professor and longtime colleague of Dawn Johnsen.

All three vouched for Johnsen's legal acumen and commitment to the rule of law and expressed disbelief that Senate Republicans were attempting to block her nomination.

You can listen here:

 
The Washington Post reported on the call -- "Scholars Urge Confirmation of Johnsen to OLC" -- along with progressive bloggers like Christy Hardin Smith and Armando LLorens who have reported extensively on the Johnsen nomination: "The War Against Dawn Johnsen" and "Kmiec Calls Out “Rank Politics” Against Dawn Johnsen’s OLC Nod."

The call was co-hosted by the Alliance for Justice, National Women's Law Center, and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

PFAW

Maryland High School Says No to Hate

Protesters from the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kanas - the "God Hates Fags" folks led by Fred Phelps - protested at Walt Whitman HIgh School in Bethesda, Maryland on Friday. Why? Well, for one thing, the school is named after someone who wasn't heterosexual. Isn't that reason enough?

According to the Potomac Almanac:

When Whitman sophomore Ryan Hauck first heard about the scheduled protest at Whitman from a friend he thought it was a joke. Then he went online — the church’s Web site is www.godhatesfags.com — and saw just how serious the church is.

"I was just shocked just from the second I heard it and I knew I had to do something," Hauck said. "[It was] the hatred of the whole thing that shocked me. It’s not disapproval, it's outright hatred. It’s not something you would expect from people who would consider themselves a church." ...

[To help Hauck,] sophomore Amar Mukunda set up a Facebook group to generate support for [a] counter-protest.

According to the Washington Post, more than 500 students came out to stand up against anti-gay hatred. And it wasn't just students who did the right thing:

[A]t Whitman, the protesters arrived to palpable excitement. Faculty had spun the event into an interdisciplinary lesson. English teachers spent the day on Whitman's verse. Social studies teachers led a unit on tolerance. Math teachers fanned through the crowd, attempting a head count.

I am heartened to see school faculty and students coming together against anti-gay bigotry. And I'm grateful to live in a country where the First Amendment protects the right of even the most hateful people to speak and worship as they please.

PFAW

We couldn't have said it better

Republicans are trying to paint OLC nominee Dawn Johnsen as "out of the mainstream." Rachel Maddow turned the tables on them last night in an interview with Salon's Dahlia Lithwick. Lithwick noted that Republicans are creating a storm — threatening to filibuster — because of two things: First, that Johnsen was ahead of her time in pointing out what everyone now knows about how bad the OLC memos were, and second, that she's pro-choice... hardly positions that place her "out of the mainstream" since, unfortunately for Republicans, those views are shared by most Americans.

A bit from the interview:

Lithwick: This is a dry run for future confirmation wars. ... She's been very vocally critical of the work that happened at the OLC in the Bush administration. ...

I think this has nothing really to do with Dawn Johnsen It's sort of a little warm up, a practice run for when they REALLY go after someone in a confirmation hearing for the courts. ...

Maddow: At Johnsen's confirmation hearing there was one comment from Republican Senator Jeff Sessions that stuck with me because he accused her of, and I'm quoting here, "blogging, advocating, and speeching for the opposite sides." Essentially he's saying, "She's got a side, she has known positions on things." Does it make any reasonable sense that would be an objection to an OLC candidate?

Lithwick: Well, it's doubly paradoxical if you think about it, because the thing she was blogging and "speeching" about was torture! It was how bad OLC was and how sloppy their work was. So it puts the Republicans in this awful position of having to say "Because the work they did in the Bush OLC was terrific. How dare they call it into question?" ... This is an issue on which she was very clear — before the rest of us were clear — that the memos were bad, the lawyering was sloppy, and that torture was torture.

And video:

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

There was also a segment at the beginning of the show about impeaching Jay Bybee that was good. Watch it here.

PFAW

Two Strikes Against Senator Inhofe

Senator Inhofe announced earlier this week that he would filibuster the nomination of David Hamilton for a seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. And on the Senate floor he elaborated—he said this was because, in a case involving a ban on the Indiana House of Representatives’ use of opening prayers to advance a particular religion, Hamilton placed limits on prayers that used Christ’s name, but, according to Inhofe, said that invoking the name of “Allah” would be permissible.

There are two major problems with Senator Inhofe’s announcement.

First is the senator’s statement, back in 2005, that filibusters of judicial nominees were contrary to the Constitution. Of filibusters of judicial nominations he said: “I don’t think it should be used where it is contrary to the Constitution.” If you watched Rachel Maddow last night you go this point loud and clear. You can’t have it both ways – the Constitution didn’t change between 2005 and 2009; what changed is the President making the nominations.

The second is the Senator’s gross misreading of Hamilton’s opinion. As noted in an earlier post, Hamilton never ruled that prayers to Christ were impermissible, while Muslim prayers were permissible. What he said was that any prayers that advanced a particular religion were impermissible and that on the record before the court, the official prayers being offered in the Indiana House “repeatedly and consistently” advanced the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, but that the single instance of a Muslim imam offering a prayer was not distinctly Muslim in its content.

In a ruling on a post judgment motion, Hamilton did say that prayers to “Allah” would be permissible, but what Senator Inhofe’s statement leaves out is both the context and the full content of the statement. Hamilton was asked in the post judgment motion to rule on whether a prayer can be addressed to “Allah.” Explaining that this is the Arabic word for “God” used in translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures, Hamilton ruled this permissible. He went on to say: “If those offering prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives choose to use the Arabic Allah, the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language’s terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers contemplated in Marsh v. Chambers, the court sees little risk that the choice of language would advance a particular religion or disparage others.”

If Senator Inhofe would carefully review the record, either Judge Hamilton’s or his own, he’d see that his pledge to filibuster this nomination is a very poor idea.

PFAW

Does the National Organization for Marriage want to overthrow the government?

If the National Organization for Marriage was attempting to position itself as a respectable group, they’ve been having a rough time of it lately.

First, they created the hilariously inept “Gathering Storm” ad which generated a blizzard of mockery.

Now, via Box Turtle Bulletin, we learn that they’ve announced that science fiction writer Orson Scott Card will serve on their board.

The problem?  He’s advocated the overthrow of the government as an appropriate response to pro-marriage equality decisions.

What these dictator-judges do not seem to understand is that their authority extends only as far as people choose to obey them.

How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.

One would like to believe that even NOM realizes that this kind of rhetoric is beyond the pale.  If so, they should be coming out with a statement disavowing Card’s views any minute now.  Or do they agree with him?

We’re waiting . . .

PFAW

UPDATED: Message from Senator Whitehouse: Keep Up the Pressure to Confirm Dawn Johnsen

Today I had the opportunity to moderate a discussion with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on a conference call with PFAW members and activists.

As we’ve mentioned before, Senator Whitehouse has been one of the leading voices in the push to restore the integrity of the Department of Justice and confirm Dawn Johnsen to the Office of Legal Counsel.

Before the conversation, we solicited questions from our participants and got an enthusiastic response. Many of those questions focused on similar themes: What exactly happened at OLC? How can we fix it? And what can individuals do to help move the process forward?

Senator Whitehouse repeatedly emphasized the importance of OLC in providing honest legal advice, and he called on citizens in red and blue states alike to urge their senators to support Dawn Johnsen’s confirmation (and although he didn’t mention it, I’m sure he’d be happy to have you sign our petition as well.)

If you weren’t able to join our call, you can get a taste of what Senator Whitehouse shared with us from his appearance on Rachel Maddow’s show earlier this week.

UPDATED: You can listen to the conference call using the player below, or read the transcript here.
 

 

PFAW

David Hamilton to Appear on the Hill. Again.

We just got word from the Senate Judiciary Committee that Republicans are going to get another shot at questioning Judge David Hamilton, President Obama’s first judicial nominee who is being put forward for a seat on the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Senator Leahy is indeed bending over backwards to accommodate Republicans, who, as we’ve reported, threatened to filibuster the President’s judicial nominees before a single name was put forward and who boycotted Hamilton’s first hearing, because they claimed they did not have enough time to prepare, prompting Senator Leahy to ask their questions for them.

As Senator Leahy said in making the announcement of this rare second hearing, “It has been four weeks since Judge Hamilton first appeared before the Committee, and I am disappointed that Committee Republicans have yet to ask a single question of this nominee.” Hopefully, this time the Republicans will show up and ask their own questions. Judge Hamilton is eminently qualified for this position – his nomination should not be further delayed.
 

PFAW

Restore Justice -- Impeach Bybee

Sunday's New York Times included an editorial calling for the impeachment of Jay Bybee, a U.S. Appeals Court Judge on the Ninth Circuit (nominated by Bush) who, while at the Department of Justice, authored memos providing the "legal" justification for the Bush administration's torture policies.

The Times is absolutely right: "These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him."

Here's some more from the excellent editorial regarding the investigation that should take place (my emphasis added):

That investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury, who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.

...

And if the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues, then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable. If that means putting Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales on the stand, even Dick Cheney, we are sure Americans can handle it.

If the administration won't do it, Congress must hold the executive branch accountable. Sounds familiar.

PFAW's Campaign to Restore Justice

Checks and balances. What a novel concept...

PFAW

Kathleen Turner Speaks Out for Dawn Johnsen

People For the American Way Foundation board member Kathleen Turner posted a piece today on the Huffington Post making a forceful case for confirming Dawn Johnsen as the head of Office of Legal Counsel.

To restore integrity and respect for the rule of law to the Department, President Obama has nominated an inordinately qualified individual - Dawn Johnsen - who is now being attacked by Republicans and her right-wing allies for having the nerve to criticize Bush administration excesses. They're faulting her for criticizing OLC opinions that the Bush administration itself repudiated. In other words, she's being pilloried for having the very integrity and respect for the rule of law that the Bush OLC so clearly lacked.

If you want to speak out to support Dawn Johnsen’s confirmation, don’t forget to sign the petition.
 

PFAW

Not a Joke. We think.

What do you get when you cross a desperate Republican House campaign and a US senator who only months ago held the very seat the Republican candidate is seeking?

Another reason no-excuse absentee voting makes sense.

PFAW

Obama Administration Raises the Bar on Wiretap Secrecy

Two of the most damaging legacies of the Bush Administration - the gutting of FISA through warrantless wiretapping, and the assertion of the almost monarchical "unitary executive" theory of executive branch authority - returned to center stage late last week, as the government responded to the suit brought by the EFF in Jewel v. NSA.

Glenn Greenwald writes in a post yesterday the disappointing direction Obama's DOJ has taken in regards to the warrantless wiretapping lawsuit the Electronic Frontier Foundation brought against the Bush Administration in October. On Friday the DOJ offered up its first response to the court. Greenwald:

[T]he Obama DOJ demanded dismissal of the entire lawsuit based on (1) its Bush-mimicking claim that the "state secrets" privilege bars any lawsuits against the Bush administration for illegal spying, and (2) a brand new "sovereign immunity" claim of breathtaking scope -- never before advanced even by the Bush administration -- that the Patriot Act bars any lawsuits of any kind for illegal government surveillance unless there is "willful disclosure" of the illegally intercepted communications.

Greenwald's post involves a lot of legal heavy lifting, but it's very accessible and worth reading.

This development is scary, but sadly not the first time Obama's DOJ has taken cues from its predecessor. In February we noted with disappointment the continued use of the "state secrets" privilege in the extraordinary rendition case Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen.

One of the much lauded compromises of the FISA amendments last year was the fact that while telecom corporations were immune from suit, government officials could still be brought to court for illegal wiretapping. So while the new FISA now allows for longer periods of warrantless wiretapping (7 days, up from 48 hours) and permits the destruction of wiretap records, the DOJ now aims to snatch away the single bone thrown to civil libertarians.

You can read the EFF's press release here.

PFAW

What a Day for Marriage!

As we hope you’ve already heard, champagne corks are popping in Vermont where both houses of the state legislature successfully overrode the Governor’s veto of same-sex marriage legislation. And for those of us in DC, marriage equality is a step closer now that the District’s City Council enacted legislation to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

We’re exceptionally proud of the fact that the legislation granting marriage equality in Vermont was co-sponsored by a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, Representative David Zuckerman.

And he’s just one of the YEOs doing great work for LGBT rights nationwide. You can read about other members working hard for equal rights for all in the most recent YEO Newsletter.

PFAW

The Audacity of Blackmail

According to the Daily Beast, the GOP is threatening to filibuster President Obama’s legal nominees if he moves to release the infamous “torture memos” that came out of the John Yoo-era Office of Legal Counsel:

A reliable Justice Department source advises me that Senate Republicans are planning to “go nuclear” over the nominations of Dawn Johnsen as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel if the torture documents are made public. The source says these threats are the principal reason for the Obama administration’s abrupt pullback last week from a commitment to release some of the documents. A Republican Senate source confirms the strategy. It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.

It was bad enough that George W. Bush spent the last eight years politicizing the Department of Justice and degrading the rule of law. Now, instead of working with the new administration to clean up the DOJ, Republican Senators are apparently doubling down and desperately attempting to cover up the Bush Administration’s misdeeds and their own complicity.

As several of the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee said during the Committee’s vote on Dawn Johnsen’s nomination: bring it on. If the GOP wants a public debate about what’s been going in on the Justice Department, that’s the kind of debate the American people will understand.

In the mean time, now would be a good time to remind every member of the U.S. Senate, Democrat and Republican alike, that it’s time to confirm Dawn Johnsen and clean up the DOJ.

PFAW

More Good News from Iowa

While national Religious Right leaders have reacted with predictably apocalyptic venom to the unanimous Iowa Supreme Court ruling upholding marriage equality, there's more good news from the state's political leaders. According to the national Stonewall Democrats, the Iowa Democratic Party has long been on record supporting marriage equality, with a position clearly and unequivocally written in the state party platform.

And while state Religious Right leaders are demanding that the legislature begin the process of amending the state constitution, legislative leaders instead praised the Supreme Court's decision. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy issued a strong statement. Here's an excerpt:

Thanks to today's decision, Iowa continues to be a leader in guaranteeing all of our citizens' equal rights.

The court has ruled today that when two Iowans promise to share their lives together, state law will respect that commitment, regardless of whether the couple is gay or straight.

When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today's events will be why it took us so long. It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency.

Marriage equality is a done deal in the state for now. Even if legislative leaders were eager to amend the state constitution, it's a long and complicated process that requires action by both houses in two consecutive general assemblies to put an amendment before the voters. According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa Family Policy Center President Chuck Hurley "acknowledged that until a constitutional amendment could be placed on the ballot, there's nothing gay-marriage opponents can do to stop gay couples from marrying in Iowa. The soonest such a vote could take place would be 2012."

Congratulations and thanks, Iowa. Next up: Vermont, where marriage equality has passed both houses with large majorities in spite of a veto threat from the governor. The vote to override is expected to be a close one.

PFAW

Iowa Marriage Decision Recognizes Religious-Civil Distinction

People For the American Way Foundation's recent Right Wing Watch In Focus report documented the deceptive ways that Religious Right leaders blur the distinction between civil and religious marriage in order to convince Americans that marriage equality is a threat to religious liberty. Today's thrilling unanimous Iowa Supreme Court decision that it is unconstitutional to deny marriage to same-sex couples in the state included a powerful and respectful section on the same topic. Here's how it concludes:

In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage—religious or otherwise—by giving respect to our constitutional principles. These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to associate with the religion that best reflects their views. A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution.

The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.

PFAW