PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Virginia's New Radical Right Governor Begins His Assault

Pat Robertson's man in the Virginia State House, Governor Bob McDonnell, has been in office less than a month and is already delivering on the Religious Right's agenda ... at the expense of Virginians' civil rights.

A February 5 executive order from the 'Gov stripped gay and lesbian state workers of protections against job discrimination. It was that simple: signing an order that prohibits discrimination based on nearly every category except sexual orientation (which had been included under McDonnell's predecessor, Gov. Tim Kaine). The move has already been praised by Radical Right groups like Tony Perkins' Family Research Council.

This is a painful, cringe-inducing "I told you so" moment that brings no satisfaction to anyone and certainly no desire to gloat. It's a sad reminder that when we snooze, we lose -- in this case, progressive voters snoozing has led to LGBT Virginians losing, but rest assured, there will be more to come and enough misery to go around.

Bob McDonnell's opponent in the gubernatorial race was Creigh Deeds, who failed to inspire his progressive base. Deeds campaign ran away from progressive values instead of embracing and fighting for them, and the Democratic ticket paid the price on Election Day. Deeds got the Democratic nomination in the first place because of dreadful turnout, particularly among progressives, in that party's primary election.

The other lesson we must take away is that we must EXPOSE right-wing candidates for what they are. This need makes organizations like PFAW and blogs like RightWingWatch very important. McDonnell is an undoubtedly intelligent and charismatic politician. He seems like a very nice guy, a good family man and emanates a sincerity that might be genuine. But this persona belies his radical beliefs.

McDonnell could rightly be called a "wolf in sheep's clothing" for running a campaign that avoided the polarizing issues on which his Religious Right agenda is focused. But the evidence was there all along. He was elected, in part, due to progressives' and Democrats' failure to expose his true radical right-wing inclinations despite a wealth of evidence.

His master's thesis (at Pat Robertson's Regent University, which itself should have been portrayed as a bigger red flag to VA voters) espoused extremely radical views. It became a major campaign issue for his opponent Deeds but somehow McDonnell was able to diffuse it by saying those were the views of a younger, less lived and learned version of himself. He was 34 YEARS OLD when he wrote the thesis, though, and hardly some naïve kid. McDonnell's record as Attorney General and statements he had made in the past, as well as his close connection to Pat Robertson, should have been additional red flags.

But here we find ourselves, with LGBT Virginians taking the first of what will likely be many blows to their basic rights throughout Gov. McDonnell's tenure. And it's not only Virginians who are going to suffer.

McDonnell has been unleashed onto the national political scene too. Americans already have enough fear from hatemongers like Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and others who threaten America with their potential candidacy for president. Now, we have Bob McDonnell (Pat Robertson's protégé!!!) who is clearly being groomed to be a national leader of the Republican Party after he gave the GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union Address -- a response that was very well executed and positioned the articulate family man McDonnell as what one would imagine to be a Tea Party activist's ideal alternative to our current president. (The fact that McDonnell is white is sadly of central importance in the GOP's ploy, but that's a topic that deserves further dissection in another post).

It's been said that we get the government we deserve, based on who we vote for or whether or not we choose to vote at all. But no one deserves a governor like Bob McDonnell. And the likes of Pat Robertson and Tony Perkins certainly do not deserve to have their errand boy serving them up one wish list item at a time wrapped all pretty with a bow on it.

Progressives stay at home on Election Day at all of our peril. And that goes for the primaries especially. The progressive "base" can't just be the voters whose turnout makes the difference for Democrats in general elections (young voters, low-income voters, etc.). People who truly embrace what it means to be progressive need get out there and stand up for our values within the political party structure. If there's one thing this current crop of Democratic members of Congress has made all too clear, it's that no one else is going to assert those values (the same ones that made and continue to make America great, I might add) if we don't do it in the voting booth.

We must do better.

In the meantime, we need to keep an eye on Governor Bob McDonnell, lest he follow the path of another perceived "every man" who was strong on "family values" and played the part of a "uniter, not a divider." That "every man," George W. Bush, served up the most radical right-wing policies of any modern president and was quick to empty the nation's treasury into the pockets of war profiteers and his other corporate sponsors. Let's learn from the past.
 

PFAW

Jeffrey Rosen on John Roberts' Judicial Activism

Despite Chief Justice John Roberts’ claims in 2006 that his goal for the Supreme Court was to converge around narrow, unanimous rulings, The New Republic’s Jeffrey Rosen writes that Citizen’s United v. FEC is, “the kind of divisive and unnecessarily sweeping opinion that Chief Justice John Roberts had once pledged to avoid.”

The Roberts Court is demonstrating the kind of conservative activism seen during the New Deal, which was met with political backlash by then-president Roosevelt. What could Roberts’ failure to deliver on his goal of judicial restraint mean for the Court? According to Rosen:

 “…contested constitutional visions can’t be successfully imposed by 5-4 majorities, and challenging the president and Congress on matters they care intensely about is a dangerous game. We’ve seen well intentioned but unrestrained chief justices overplay their hands in the past--and it always ends badly for the Court.”

Maybe Chief Justice Roberts will take Rosen’s concerns to heart, but this is also a reminder as to why it’s important that we fight to confirm fair minded Justices who will stand up to defend core constitutional values.

PFAW

Leahy Keeps Pushing Forward on Nominations

At a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Dawn Johnsen was set to be sent for a second time to the full Senate—this time on the one year anniversary of her original nomination. True, Washington is almost totally shut down by snow at the moment, but Senator Patrick Leahy (of Vermont, a place used to a few snowstorms) forged ahead and convened the Committee, succeeding in moving four more judicial nominations to the full Senate.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as willing to deal with a little bad weather. Republicans insisted that Johnsen's nomination be held over yet again due to the storm. After all, they wouldn’t want to pass up one more opportunity to try to paint her as “controversial.”

Sure, Johnsen has already served with distinction as acting head of the OLC under President Clinton, received bipartisan support from her home state senators and garnered endorsements from legal experts across the ideological spectrum, but that’s not going to stop the GOP from taking all the pot shots they can.

PFAW

Judging, Judges and Prop 8

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus, in a piece titled, “Don’t ask, don’t judge?” gave a rhetorical green light to Religious Right activists who have responded to news that federal judge Vaughn Walker is gay by attacking his ability to rule fairly on the constitutional challenge to Prop. 8, the California ballot initiative that stripped same-sex couples of the right to get married.

Although Marcus concludes in the end that Walker, who was randomly assigned to hear the case, was right not to recuse himself simply because he is gay, she does so after a lot of “squirming” like this:

So when Walker considers claims that the ban on same-sex marriage violates the constitutional guarantees of equal protection and due process of law, it's hard to imagine that his sexuality, if he is gay, does not influence his decision-making -- just as the experience of having gay friends or relatives would affect a straight judge.

In the end, Marcus writes,

In this case, I hope the plaintiffs win and that Walker rules that the same-sex marriage ban violates their constitutional rights. At the same time, I've got to acknowledge: If I were on the side supporting the ban and found it struck down by a supposedly gay judge, I'd have some questions about whether the judicial deck had been stacked from the start.

But why wouldn’t the deck be considered “stacked” against gay people if a straight judge were deciding the case? By concluding her column that way, Marcus gives credence to the offensive notion that is already being promoted by right-wing leaders that a gay judge cannot be expected to rule fairly in a case involving the legal rights of gay Americans.

Here’s Matt Barber, director of cultural affairs with Liberty Counsel, responding to news that Judge Walker is, in Barber’s words, “an active practitioner of the homosexual lifestyle.”

“At worst, Judge Walker’s continued involvement with this case presents a textbook conflict of interest. At best, it objectively illustrates the unseemly appearance of a conflict.

"If Judge Walker somehow divines from thin air that the framers of the U.S. Constitution actually intended that Patrick Henry had a ‘constitutional right’ to marry Henry Patrick, then who among us will be surprised?

“Any decision favoring plaintiffs in this case will be permanently marred and universally viewed as stemming from Judge Walker’s personal biases and alleged lifestyle choices.

"For these reasons, and in the interest of justice, Judge Walker should do the honorable thing and immediately recuse himself.”

Barber tries to make a case that he is taking a principled stand by saying, “This is no different than having an avid gun collector preside over a Second Amendment case,” continued Barber, “or a frequent user of medical marijuana deciding the legality of medical marijuana.”

Really, Matt? You expect us to believe that you would advocate that judges who collect guns should recuse themselves from cases involving the Second Amendment? What about avid hunters, like Justice Antonin Scalia? Should anyone who owns a gun be assumed not to be able to rule fairly on legal issues involving guns?

The Post’s Marcus concluded that asking Judge Walker to recuse himself would “invite too many challenges to judicial fairness -- Jewish judges hearing cases about Christmas displays, or judges who once represented unions or management presiding over labor disputes.”

What about Christian judges presiding over Christmas displays? Can you imagine the outrage from Matt Barber and his Religious Right colleagues if someone were to suggest that Christian judges should be barred from hearing cases involving legal and constitutional questions about separation of church and state?

In a diverse and pluralistic nation, it’s important that the federal bench reflect that diversity. But what’s far more important than an individual judge’s race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation is his or her judicial philosophy and understanding of the Constitution’s text, history, and role in protecting the rights and opportunities of all Americans.

The unspoken offensive presumption at work here is that people who come to the law with a life experience that is considered “normal” – say, straight white male Christian – are inherently unbiased, or that their life experience somehow gives them a singularly correct way of viewing the law. Others are suspect.

This notion was on ugly display during the Sonia Sotomayor hearings, when her recognition that she would bring her life experience as a Latina to the bench was used to pillory her as a white-male-hating racist. What about all those white male senators, and the white male Supreme Court Justices they had voted to confirm? Samuel Alito’s ethnic pride and empathy were considered valid, while Sotomayor’s was radical and threatening.

Ruth Marcus is no Matt Barber. She is in some ways simply acknowledging the reality that there is still a level of emotional prejudice against gay people that will keep some Americans from believing that a gay judge can be fair. But she is far too sympathetic to the purveyors of that prejudice. Her column validates their bigotry and will encourage more of the kind of divisive rhetoric we see from the likes of Barber.

PFAW

Ronald Reagan's Court

By any measure, the Supreme Court has moved far to the right in the last few years.  In the Los Angeles Times today, David Savage writes about how the decision in Citizens United shows how far the court has moved on corporate issues.

In the 1970s, Justices William H. Rehnquist and Byron R. White said business corporations were "creatures of the law," capable of amassing wealth but due none of the rights of voters.

By contrast, the court's current majority described a corporation as an "association of citizens" that deserves the same free-speech rights as an individual. Because speech and debate are good for democracy, they said, the public should welcome more corporate-funded campaign ads.

He also makes a cogent observation about the origin of this pro-corporate tilt.

All five justices who made up the majority in last month's case, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, were either appointed by Reagan or worked as young lawyers in the Reagan administration.

A reminder that the Supreme Court is often one of a President's most enduring legacies.

PFAW

Voter ID Battles on the Horizon

The fight to protect voting rights celebrated a victory last fall in the Indiana State Court of Appeals. There, the court struck down what has become known as the strictest voter identification law in the country.

But it’s an election year again, and, as Tova Wang points out at TPM, it's not over in the Hoosier state.

An Indiana state court recently struck down the state's voter ID law, the most restrictive ID law in the country, and the Indiana State Supreme Court has just announced it will hear arguments on appeal March 4.

And that's not the only place voter ID laws are cropping up:

At least nine states and a city in Massachusetts (of all places!) are considering bills introduced in January 2010 that make identification requirements for voting more strict and/or require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. As usual, the debates are partisan. This is particularly true in South Carolina where it is estimated that 178,000 South Carolinians do not have the photo identification they would need to vote under the proposal.

There has yet to be any proof of significant voter fraud, but it seems to be political concerns, not principle, pushing these initiatives forward.

Instead of working to suppress the votes of American citizens, perhaps these legislators could help fix the real problems in the nation’s flawed voter and electoral systems--systems that are integral to our democracy.

PFAW

Senator Shelby Should Maybe Review His Website

There are plenty of reasons to be outraged by Senator Shelby's decision to put a blanket hold on all executive branch nominations in an effort to steer more federal dollars to his state.  After all, most people would agree that it's good for the country for the Senate to be able to move forward on key nominations to the Army, Air Force, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense.

Senator Shelby, of course, would rather have more pork for his state, but you'd think that even he would be outraged by the principle of refusing an up or down vote on nominations.  After all, his own senate website rails against filibusters on judicial nominees.

As a U.S. Senator, I believe that the review of judicial nominations is one of the most important responsibilities of the Senate, and I firmly believe that each of the President's nominees should be afforded a straight up-or-down vote. I do not think that any of us want to operate in an environment where federal judicial nominees must receive 60 votes in order to be confirmed. To that end I firmly support changing the Senate rules to require that a simple majority be necessary to confirm all judicial nominees, thus ending the continuous filibuster of them.

And that's how he feels about nominations for lifetime seats on the federal bench.  If he's that committed to guaranteeing up or down votes on nominees who will have their positions for life, then obviously he'd support up or down votes for nominees who serve at the pleasure of the president.

Yet Senator Shelby is still obstructing these nominees to gain political leverage for his own pet projects.

I think there's a word for that.

PFAW

A Good Day For Equality in Maryland

The Baltimore Sun is reporting good news on the marriage equality front in Maryland today, where a bill that would have prohibited the state from recognizing out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples was defeated in committee.

The state's Attorney General is currently making a legal determination as to whether Maryland law recognizes such out-of-state marriages. The bill would have short-circuited that determination.

Maryland's long-settled practice is to recognize marriages validly solemnized in other states that could not be solemnized in Maryland. However, the state has in the past made an exception to that rule: Maryland once refused to recognize out-of-state interracial marriages, calling them "repugnant to Maryland's public policy."

Today, legislators were asked to echo that ugly history by treating gays and lesbians' marriages in the same discriminatory way that interracial marriages were treated during the era of Jim Crow. Fortunately, a majority of members of the House Judiciary Committee chose not to go down this path.

PFAW

Justice Alito: Words v. Actions [VIDEO]

The media spent much of last week obsessing over Justice Samuel Alito's injudicious show of disapproval during the State of the Union. They went a bit overboard to be sure, but were it not for that, millions of Americans may have missed the Citizens United ruling entirely.

Citizens United, as you probably know, opened up elections to unlimited corporate spending. The 5-4 decision overturned a century of precedent and was made possible by Justice Alito -- President Bush's nominee to replace moderate Sandra Day O'Connor.

Sorely absent from last week's coverage was how far Alito's actions on the bench have departed from his words as a nominee. With that in mind I've pulled some relevant clips from the confirmation hearing.

Alito praised the principle of stare decisis (respect for precedent) throughout his hearing but hasn't let it prevent him back brashly overruling longstanding decisions. Here, in conversaton with Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), he argued that the court should take limited actions and use its ability to overrule precedent sparingly:

HATCH: Does that mean that the Supreme Court should perhaps be even more cautious, even more self-restrained, since there is no appeal from any errors that they might make?

ALITO: I think that's a solemn responsibility that they have. When you know that you are the court of last resort, you have to make sure that you get it right. It is not true, in my judgment, that the Supreme Court is free to do anything that it wants. It has to follow the Constitution and it has to follow the laws. Stare decisis, which I was talking about earlier, is an important limitation on what the Supreme Court does. And although the Supreme Court has the power to overrule a prior precedent, it uses that power sparingly, and rightfully so. It should be limited in what it does.

Alito frequently said that his judicial philosophy discourages him from reaching overly broad decisions when a narrower ruling is possible. Yet he and the other conservatives went far out of their way in order to strike down as many restrictions on corporate influence in elections as possible. Here, still speaking to Senator Hatch, Alito praised narrow rulings and noted that court rulings on consitutional grounds often cannot be undone by Congress (indeed, we are coming up against that limitation now with Citizens United):

ALITO: Because a constitutional decision of the Supreme Court has a permanency that a decision on an issue of statutory interpretation doesn't have. So if a case is decided on statutory grounds, there's a possibility of Congress amending the statute to correct the decision if it's perceived that the decision is incorrect or it's producing undesirable results. I think that my philosophy of the way I approached issues is to try to make sure that I get right what I decide. And that counsels in favor of not trying to do too much, not trying to decide questions that are too broad, not trying to decide questions that don't have to be decided, and not going to broader grounds for a decision when a narrower ground is available.

Alito also made a good show of deference to the elected branches of government, arguing that the role of a judge is to interpret the law, not make public policy. He clearly disregarded these remarks to Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) when he joined with four other judges to strike down decades of legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by the President:

SESSIONS: But we really want the court to be more modest and to draw back from some of its intervention and policy issues that are causing much angst around the country. You want to comment on that? Otherwise, Mr. Chairman, I would yield my time.

ALITO: Well, Senator, I think your policy views are much more legitimate than the policy views of the judiciary because members of Congress are elected for the purpose of formulating and implementing public policy and members of the judiciary are appointed for the purpose of interpreting and applying the law.

PFAW

Senator Kerry Speaks Out for a Constitutional Amendment

During a hearing of the Senate Rules Committee today, Senator John Kerry announced his intention to introduce a Constitutional Amendment to repair the damage done by the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC.

We face two challenges: first, to mediate the impact of the Court's decision and stop the bleeding through immediate countermeasures and, second, to think boldly about the best way to free our democracy from the dominance of big money.

Mr. Chairman, the reform ideas already circulating are promising - mandating shareholder approval of spending, prohibiting spending by domestic subsidiaries of foreign corporations and government contractors, giving candidates primetime access to the public airwaves at the lowest rates.

We must do those things quickly. But we may also need to think bigger. I think we need a constitutional amendment to make it clear once and for all that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals.

The entire statement is worth a read.
 

PFAW

What Moderates?

Last night, Patricia Smith, President Obama’s choice to be Solicitor of the Department of Labor, passed an important procedural hurdle: the Senate decided to vote on her nomination.

What’s remarkable is that, unlike past attempts to block votes on executive branch nominees, the vote was entirely along party lines.  Even the so-called moderates in the Republican party, like Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, voted against allowing an up or down vote on a second-tier executive branch nomination.

For a party that railed against the use of the filibuster even in the case of judicial nominees, the hypocrisy is remarkable.

Perhaps, you think, Patricia Smith is far outside the mainstream, and the GOP was using it’s last tactic to stop an extreme nominee. 

Nope.  

But filibustering a nominee like Smith for a position most people have never heard of in a department that is rarely in the news still requires some justification. After all, most of the GOP senators have been around long enough that they served during a time when such a filibuster would be unimaginable.

So they called Smith a liar.

Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wy.), the ranking Republican on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, led the pack, decrying her "lack of candor" and cited "discrepancies in her testimony." The issue -- which was really not, of course, the issue -- centered on a small pilot program in New York called Wage Watch, which aims to educate workers about the minimum wage is and when they are entitled to overtime. Republicans, during committee hearings, insisted that it was a Big Labor plot, but Smith said the idea had been generated within her office. It was later shown that apparently a labor representative had suggested it to an employee, who then suggested it to Smith.

The GOP also lambasted Smith for categorizing the pilot program as "educational" rather than "enforcement." Democrats pointed out that the distinction was an irrelevant one: The purpose of the education was to improve enforcement efforts.

The pilot program cost $6,000. Smith manages some 4,000 employees and oversees an $11 billion annual budget.

The conclusion is obvious.  The GOP, including so-called moderates, are obstructing nominations for the sake of obstruction, throwing sand into the gears of government and attempting to hobble the Obama administration by any means necessary.  That tactic is irresponsible and unacceptable.  Americans deserve better.

 

PFAW

Justice Alito Begs to Differ

If you watched the State of the Union last week, you probably saw Justice Samuel Alito take exception to President Obama's entirely accurate characterization of the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

Some people were outraged by Justice Alito's lack of decorum, but not E. J. Dionne in the Washington Post.

Alito did not like the president making an issue of the court's truly radical intervention in politics. I disagree with Alito on the law and the policy, but I have no problem with his personal expression of displeasure.

On the contrary, I salute him because his candid response brought home to the country how high the stakes are in the battle over the conservative activism of Chief Justice John Roberts's court.

Hopefully, Justice Alito's actions at the State of the Union will help feed the conversation about the damage done by the Court's decision in Citizens United and what can be done to fix it.

PFAW

Upcoming Progressive Book Club Events

Book Talk Radio: a weekly online radio show hosted by columnist Joe Conason on the Blog Talk Radio platform.

February 3 -- 8pm (EST)
The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. From Iraq to Afghanistan, Americans are learning the wrong lessons about the use and abuse of military force. Join Joe Conason and author Andrew Bacevich for a discussion about the use of America's military might.

RSVP and get The Limits of Power for free when you join the Progressive Book Club:

http://www.progressivebookclub.com/pbc2/emailSignUp.pbc?splash_id=252&srcKey=211aac

Moving Forward: Foundations of a New Progressive Era

Once a month, PBC holds an online discussion about the history and future of the progressive movement with our partners at the Center for American Progress.

February 10 -- 6pm (EST)
Interesting Times: George Packer and Todd Gitlin on the Future of American Foreign Policy.  In his new collection of essays, New Yorker journalist George Packer turns a critical eye on the Bush years.  Join us for a look back at the past, and ahead to the future, of American foreign policy with two leading progressive thinkers.

RSVP to watch online, or attend in person if you are in New York City:

http://www.progressivebookclub.com/pbc2/emailSignUp.pbc?splash_id=262&srcKey=211aac

The Progressive Book Club offers some pretty great opportunities to engage with some of the leading voices in progressive politics.

Don't forget, you can get these books -- or any other book offered by the PBC -- for free when you become a full member.
 

PFAW

Leahy Smacks Down Alito

From Ryan Grim via The Huffington Post:

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) lashed into Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Thursday morning on the Senate floor, calling out the swing vote who overturned a hundred years of precedent to legalize deep corporate involvement in elections.

Leahy said that, in 36 years in the Senate he had never come to the floor to criticize a court decision, but was moved to do so by the activist nature of last week's 5-4 ruling in the Citizens United case.

He personally attacked Alito, noting that his confirmation testimony was under oath, yet was proven false by his brazen and radical dismissal of a century of precedent.

Read more and watch Sen. Leahy on video at Huffington Post >

(It's worth it!)

PFAW

Correcting the Court is nothing new

On January 29, 2009, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, restoring the rights taken away by the Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. One year to the day, a new movement is afoot to correct the Court.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to protect individuals from discrimination they face in the workplace.  In Ledbetter, the Supreme Court undermined that protection by holding that employees who are subjected to pay discrimination must bring a complaint within 180 days of the discriminatory compensation decision and that each paycheck that is lower because of such discrimination does not restart the clock.  Advocates fought hard for a law that would reiterate Congress’ intent to hold employers accountable for their discriminatory practices and to allow employees a fair chance to challenge unlawful pay discrimination.

Advocates are now calling for another Court correction, this time in response to the Citizens United ruling, which prohibits Congress from limiting the influence of corporations in elections for public office. Not only is this a radical departure from longstanding precedent, it defies common sense: it argues that corporations and American citizens have identical free speech rights under the Constitution. As Justice Stevens pointed out in his dissent, corporations are not people. They cannot vote, they cannot hold office, and they should not be allowed to pour billions of dollars into our system of government.

Unfortunately the fix we found in for the Ledbetter decision is not enough to fix Citizens United. Legislation, while important and critically needed to mitigate the effects of the decision, may ultimately prove to be inadequate against the unfettered influx of corporate election spending. Only a constitutional amendment can restore the American people’s authority to regulate corporate influence in our elections and restore our democracy.

People For the American Way is calling for just such an amendment. Click here for more information and to sign our petition.

PFAW