PEOPLE FOR BLOG

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

Obama: Repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'

In last night's State of the Union Address, President Obama pledged to work with Congress and the military to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" this year.
 

Thousands of activists joined People For the American Way in urging the President to include the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in the defense budget proposal he sends to Congress early next month.
 

While it's not yet clear what the vehicle is going to be for repeal, the President's strong statement last night is an indication that he's getting the message. Now, it's up to the Obama administration to deliver on last night's pledge and it's up to all of us to make sure that it does.
 

We can't slack up in our fight to make sure that the administration and Congress advance pro-equality reforms this year. Anti-LGBT discrimination in the military, the workplace and, yes, in the institution of civil marriage must be addressed by this president and this Congress without delay.
 

You can join the fight for equality at:
 

PFAW

President Obama Addresses Supreme Court Decision

In his weekly address today, President Obama addressed the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

You can read his address here.  And you can sign People For's petition to pass a Constitutional Amendment allowing Congress to regulate corporate influence in elections.

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Rev. Madison Shockley Reflects on the 37th Anniversary of Roe and Stupak Amendment

As we reflect upon the 37th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, I had the privilege of speaking with Rev. Madison Shockley, pastor of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, Calif. briefly about the anniversary, health care reform and the Stupak amendment, and why he feels “the struggle still continues and we must be vigilant.”

Stacey (SG): What do you see as the enduring legacy of Roe v. Wade?
Rev. Madison Shockley (MS): The major accomplishment of Roe was to establish fairly firmly in our culture that women are full citizens and have the right to control their lives. In a modern society, their lives are no longer pre-determined by the demands of the larger agricultural industrial society that, in times, past determined-child rearing. We’ve left the notion of women as baby factories behind and entered into an era of women as full persons.

SG: Recently, we’ve seen renewed attacks on a woman’s right to choose, particularly within the health care reform bill and the Stupak amendment.
MS: Stupak is part of the ongoing strategy of people who opposed full personhood of women. They label themselves as pro-life, which is abhorrent to all of us because we are all pro-life. They are anti-women’s reproductive rights, anti-women’s personhood. This is part of an ongoing effort to impede upon a woman deciding what to do with a woman’s reproductive right. As we are on the brink of providing health care reform, this pokes women in the eye by managing what women do with their reproductive rights. They do that by saying you can be part of this historical movement for health care reform, but you also have to leave your reproductive rights behind.

SG: Why did you feel it was important to travel to Washington, DC to travel lobby against the Stupak amendment?
MS: I represent a constituency whose voice is not heard often enough – black men, black clergymen. There are men, and black men, people of faith, African American men and clergy that are strongly committed to women’s reproductive rights and full personhood. I wanted to share my insight, and to represent this underrepresented population of people in this movement.

SG: What are you doing in your church and community to convince people of the need to reject the Stupak amendment?
MS: The main thing I want people to know is that the struggle continues and we must be vigilant. In my church, we’ve preached against Stupak on Sunday mornings as an infringement upon the divine personhood of women, and we’ve also done letter writing campaigns. I want my community to know that health care is the best way for all who are concerned about life to achieve the goal of women being able to welcome each pregnancy with joy.

PFAW

Reproductive rights 37 years later

Roe v. Wade established a constitutional right to privacy and protected a woman's right to make reproductive decisions based on her own life, health, and conscience. Today, on the 37th anniversary of this landmark ruling, we face a new call to action.

People For the American Way shares the widely held view that abortion should be safe, rare, and legal. We believe that healthcare reform can and should uphold these principles. Unfortunately, current legislation would do more to restrict the rights of women than it would to protect them.

In the House, health insurance plans that participate in the new exchange would be prohibited from providing full reproductive health benefits to millions of American women. Senate language sets up an unworkable system in which women are forced to purchase abortion coverage separately from other healthcare needs, which violates privacy and stigmatizes abortion, and also has the potential to dissuade insurance companies from offering abortion coverage in the first place.

While the Senate has not gone as far as the House in its restrictions, neither bill upholds President Obama’s promise that those who are happy with their healthcare before reform will be able to keep it after. It is critical that whatever he is asked to sign is, at the very least, abortion neutral. Now is the time to defend women’s rights – not roll them back.

Please stand up to right-wing activists who want to hold healthcare reform hostage.

PFAW

The New Preamble

The New Preamble:

We the corporations of the United States, in order to accumulate historically unparalleled wealth, take advantage of limited liability, control the nation's news media, exercise monopolistic and oligarchic control over trade, and secure the blessings of power to ourselves and our subsidiaries, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Personally, I kind of liked the old "We the People" idea, back when we thought the Constitution existed to protect people's liberty. Guess I'm an old-fashioned kind of guy. It'll take a constitutional amendment to get our Constitution back.

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Extra! Extra! 59 is more than 41!

In the wake of yesterday's extremely disappointing election in Massachusetts, you'd be forgiven for thinking that the Democrats had somehow lost control of the Senate.  In fact, the Democrats still have an 18 vote majority--an enormous power base in a legislative chamber with only 100 seats.

Former Solicitor General Walter Dellinger points out that on Supreme Court nominations, President Obama has a majority that most presidents would envy:

President George H. W. Bush had only 43 Republican Senators when he nominated Judge Clarence Thomas – undoubtedly the most conservative nominee of the past half-century – to the Supreme Court. That’s right: 43 Senators of his party. In the end, Justice Thomas was confirmed 52 to 48. The nomination was not remotely close to having enough Senators to prevail on a cloture vote – that would have required all 43 Republicans, joined by 17 Democrats. But he was confirmed because the settled expectation was that the President and the country are entitled to have an up or down vote on a matter such as a Supreme Court nomination. A filibuster that prevented such a vote was politically unthinkable.

And if there aren't 60 votes in favor of a particular issue or nominee?  Let them filibuster.  After a while, voters might start wondering why it is that 41 senators won't allow a vote on legislation with clear majority support.

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Justice Department Intervenes in LGBT Rights Case

Think Progress points out that the Department of Justice is intervening in an LGBT rights case for the first time in a decade.

The case centers on an openly gay 14-year old student named Jacob in Mowhawk, New York* who sued his school district for failing to appropriately respond to the repeated harassment he suffered at school.  Now the DOJ, citing Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is intervening in the suit, arguing that “the law also covers discrimination based on gender stereotypes.”

According to the Utica Observer-Dispatch, the school district claims that it’s close to a settlement.  It also contains an apt summation of the case from Jacob’s father: “He has the right to go to school and feel safe.”

We’re glad that the Justice Department feels the same way.

* - Side Note: Can we all agree on how awesome it is that Mowhawk, New York has an openly gay 14 year old willing to stand up for his rights?  Jacob – When you get to college, give us a call.  I know some people you should meet.

PFAW

Rev. Byron Williams: Robertson Making his own Deal with the Devil

You know by now that less than 24 hours after a massive earthquake destroyed Haiti’s capitol city Port-au-Prince, Pat Robertson took to the airwaves to declare the nation cursed a result of a so-called “pact with the Devil.” In a piece entitled, “Robertson Making his own Deal with the Devil,” syndicated columnist Rev. Byron Williams, also a member of our African American Ministers In Action, examines Religious Right leaders such as Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell’s impulse to declare natural disasters as God’s punishment:

It is always problematic when any type of religious discourse offers definitive answers to the complexities of the human condition.

The so-called deal with the Devil that Robertson refers is the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). If we momentarily suspend reality by granting Robertson’s words a scintilla of legitimacy, is he suggesting the only way Haitians could act on the most basic instinct humans possess, which is the freedom guaranteed by self-determination, was to enter into agreement with Satan?

This leaves us to conclude that God was siding with the French and their desires to occupy and enslave a foreign land.

It is this type of Neanderthal thinking as it relates to theology that justified Manifest Destiny, The Trail of Tears, African American chattel slavery, as well of other atrocities under the pseudonym progress.

And instead of distancing themselves from Robertson, some on the Right are sticking by him. From our statement: “Guess Who's Coming to the McDonnell Inauguration:”

When Bob McDonnell is sworn into office as governor tomorrow, one of his most steadfast supporters will be there too: Religious Right leader Pat Robertson, fresh off of his recent comments about Haiti. Rather than being a fringe element, Robertson's presence will be a vivid illustration of how the Religious Right movement remains deeply influential in today's GOP

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Albert Mohler even went a step further and declared that God does hate Haiti.

As for me, I’m inclined to agree with Rev. Byron Williams’ conclusion:

I’m quite certain it was a sudden release of energy from the Earth’s crust creating seismic waves in 2010 that had more to do with the earthquake in Haiti than some alleged satanic pact in 1791.
 

PFAW

Specter Says He’ll Support Dawn Johnsen

In what can only be taken as good news for the rule of law, Senator Arlen Specter said today that he’ll support Dawn Johnsen’s nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

UPDATE (3:48 p.m.): A statement from Specter's office: “After voting 'pass' (which means no position) in the Judiciary Committee, I had a second extensive meeting with Ms. Johnsen and have been prepared to support her nomination when it reaches the Senate floor.”

Johnsen has received support from across the political spectrum, but her nomination has so far been blocked in the unprecedented obstruction that we’ve seen from Senate Republicans. Today’s announcement from Senator Specter is a major step forward.

PFAW

“Ministerial Exception” in Maryland Court

Today, Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, will hear oral argument in the case of Mary Linklater v. Prince of Peace Lutheran Church.  Its decision will address the application of the “ministerial exception” – a judicially recognized legal doctrine that has been misused by courts to improperly shield religious employers from unlawful employment practices.  The exception says that ministers and other clergy members should be able to make hiring decisions based on religious criteria.  But too often the law is used to shield some clergy members from laws that should obviously apply to all—like laws preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

Mary Linklater was in just such a situation, and she sued.  A jury ruled in favor of Linklater and awarded her over a million dollars in damages after she proved that she was unlawfully terminated by the church as its music director after complaining about the pastor’s repeated sexual harassment of her.  

People For Foundation filed an amicus brief in the case arguing that the exception was never intended to relieve religious employers of their obligation to comply with neutral laws of general applicability.  A copy of our brief can be viewed here.

PFAW

Prop 8 Case Goes to Trial

Anyone interested in equal rights for all Americans might want to pay attention to the trial starting today in San Francisco. In the case, superstar lawyers David Boies and Ted Olson are arguing that Prop 8 violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution. They’re right, of course, but the trial is expected to last for weeks and appeals may well go on for years.

For now, though, you’ll be limited to media reports about what goes on in the courtroom. Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who is hearing the case, had ruled that video of the proceedings would be made accessible through YouTube, but this morning the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the video—for now. Their injunction only lasts until Wednesday, by which time they’ll (presumably) make a more final decision.
 

PFAW

The GOP and the Courts

If anyone had any doubt that the courts matter, check out this article in today’s Hill about Republicans and allied groups vowing to spend millions on legal challenges to healthcare reform and other parts of the Obama agenda.

Health care, global warming, financial reform, workers rights--you name it.  The courts make a huge difference in the lives of all Americans. Who sits on those courts--and how fully they embrace our core constitutional values--is critical.

That’s why there’s so much urgency about breaking the current nominations impasse created by Republicans’ unprecedented obstruction. And that’s why we need a bold choice to fill any new vacancy on the Court--someone who understands the constitution mandates attention to the interests of all, not just a privileged few.

PFAW

Dawn Johnsen’s Year in Review

January 5th might not be circled in red on your calendar (unless, of course, you’re celebrating Twelfth Night) but for some of us it’s become a noteworthy, if not entirely happy, anniversary.

One year ago today, then-President-elect Obama announced that he would nominate Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

OLC doesn’t traditionally grab headlines, but under the Bush Administration leadership of lawyers like John Yoo and Jay Bybee, it was ground zero for creating slipshod legal justifications for torture, rendition and abuses of executive power. So it was a breath of fresh air to hear that Obama had chosen a woman with impeccable qualifications and unimpeachable integrity to restore the reputation of the office.

But now, a year later, Dawn Johnsen is still waiting for a vote in the Senate, and Republicans (who can’t seem to find a nomination they don’t want to obstruct) have gone so far as to use the end of the term to send her nomination back to the White House. She’ll be renominated later this month, but then she’ll have to make yet another trip through the Judiciary Committee.

Dawn Johnsen certainly isn’t the only nominee who’s been caught up in GOP delay, but she’s spent more time in confirmation purgatory than anyone else.

The votes are there to confirm Johnsen and have been for some time. Any more delay is inexcusable. President Obama deserves to have his team in place—especially in an office as important as the OLC.

Take a minute to sign our petition calling on the Senate to confirm Dawn Johnsen.
 

PFAW

Dawn Johnsen and the GOP Obstruction Game

As you may have seen reported, in a perfect exclamation point to the obstruction we've seen all year, when the Senate adjourned last week, the Republicans objected to what is ordinarily a routine request to waive Senate rules and permit pending nominations to remain in the Senate confirmation pipeline. Without what's called "unanimous consent," under Senate rules, pending nominations must be returned to the President, who then has to re-nominate in the next session. In what has become a far too typical exercise by the "Just Say No" party, Republicans objected to three DOJ nominees who have been on the Senate’s calendar awaiting consideration for months: Dawn Johnsen, for the Office of Legal Counsel; Chris Schroeder for the Office of Legal Policy; and Mary Smith, for the Tax Division. They also objected to two pending federal District Court nominees (Edward Chen, for a seat on the Northern District of California and Louis B. Butler for a seat on the Western District of Wisconsin) and to Craig Becker for reappointment as a member of the National Labor Relations Board. 

This is just more of the same unconscionable obstruction by the Republicans that is interfering with the President's ability to assemble the team he needs to serve the American public. And the obstruction is pointless. All the Republicans are doing is slowing down the inevitable -- but as we've seen with any number of issues, anything they can do to gum up the works they treat as a victory. So much for the Republicans' past claims about how elections matter and about the deference owed to the President in filling out his cabinet.

Right now, three of eleven Assistant Attorney General slots in the Justice Department -- more than one quarter of the key leadership slots at DOJ -- are filled by individuals in interim "acting" capacities because the Republicans are playing politics and tying up the nominees. It's nearly one year since Dawn Johnsen's nomination was announced; her nomination has been pending on the Senate calendar for nine months.

We fully expect the President and the Senate to work through this latest round of irresponsible Republican obstruction. The nominees will be sent back to the Senate; the Judiciary Committee will consider them promptly; they'll go back on the Senate Calendar; and, unless cooler and more responsible heads prevail, Senator Reid, unfortunately, will have to file cloture on each and every one of them to put an end to the obstruction. These are exceptionally talented nominees -- and the American people will be well-served when they are finally confirmed. 

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