PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Legislature-Passed Civil Unions Bill Not Democratic Enough, Says Hawaii Governor

Hawaii’s governor, Republican Linda Lingle, has vetoed a civil unions bill that was passed by the state legislature in April. Her reasoning was interesting:

Lingle said voters should decide the fate of civil unions, not politicians.

"The subject of this legislation has touched the hearts and minds of our citizens as no other social issue of our day," she said. "It would be a mistake to allow a decision of this magnitude to be made by one individual or a small group of elected officials."

Wait, isn’t that how representative democracy works?

Perhaps Lingle can chat with Sen. Tom Coburn about their apparent mistrust of democratically elected bodies. Or do they only come out against representative government when it produces legislation they don’t like?
 

PFAW

Regulation and the 2010 Elections

The Washington Post is reporting that Wall Street contributions to Democratic campaign committees are markedly lower than this time in 2006 or 2008.

The drop in support comes from many of the same bankers, hedge fund executives and financial services chief executives who are most upset about the financial regulatory reform bill that House Democrats passed last week with almost no Republican support. ... This fundraising free fall from the New York area has left Democrats with diminished resources to defend their House and Senate majorities in November's midterm elections.

With Democrats seeking to impose reasonable regulations designed to protect the American people, this is no surprise.

The Republican Congress was a dream come true for the rapacious financiers who dragged our economy over a cliff, just as it was for all manners of giant corporations. We're seeing the results of the Republican ideology of allowing the most powerful industries to write their own laws and draft their own regulations. Not even the Supreme Court is immune, as a recent report from our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation demonstrates.

Deregulation has made the most powerful even more powerful, while the rest of us find ourselves more and more helpless against corporate behemoths.

Anyone who's spent an hour on hold waiting to get through to a large corporation knows who holds the power in our society, and it isn't us. These companies have been allowed to become so large that they can afford to mistreat their consumers in ways that no business would have gotten away with a generation ago.

Are you happy with the level of corporate influence on our politicians and on our lives? Do you wish you could make Big Business even stronger?

Or do you think it's time for Americans to retake control of our lives? If so, then it's time to act. Because the corporations aren't sitting this election out.

PFAW

A Lopsided Witness List

There’s an interesting pattern among the members of the military who are weighing into Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination. On one side, we have members of the military who were at Harvard when Kagan was Dean and have showed up to testify or written letters in support her confirmation. And then there are the conservative activists who the GOP has recruited to testify against the Solicitor General and who, as far as I can tell, have never so much as met her.

All of these people should be commended for their military service. But are they equally qualified to speak about Kagan’s record?
 

PFAW

Jon Kyl Attacks Women, Older Workers, Baby Seals

Today, when questioning the first panel of witnesses for the Elena Kagan confirmation, Senator Jon Kyl decided not to ask questions, but simply to attack those who had agreed to testify.

Instead of, say, listening to the witnesses, or even ignoring them, he accused three witnesses testifying about sex discrimination, age discrimination, and the devastating impact of the Exxon Valdez spill of demanding a Justice who would rule for them. All they wanted, he claimed, was “results oriented judging.”

He didn’t give them a chance to answer the accusation, so maybe we can answer for them.

No, Senator Kyl, all we want is a Justice who will follow the law.

In Ledbetter, the Court read the law in a cramped and unnatural way in order to limit the right of women to sue for discrimination. In Gross, the Court arbitrarily changed the standard used to determine discrimination on the basis of age. And in Exxon v. Baker, the Court invented a limit on punitive damages out of whole cloth—the ruling was so bad that even the Heritage Foundation thought it was judicial activism.

In the Ledbetter, Gross and Exxon cases, the Court went out of its way to side with corporations and defend them from people who were trying to hold them accountable.

Remind me again, Senator Kyl: what’s the definition of “results oriented judging?”

PFAW

Lilly Ledbetter Recounts Her Fight

Lilly Ledbetter just appeared in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to speak about the damage that can be done by a Supreme Court that’s not grounded in the realities of life for average Americans.

When Ledbetter found out that she’d been discriminated against, it would have been easy for her to just walk away—after all, it’s not in any way easy to pursue a discrimination claim—but Ledbetter was used to tough jobs. She stood up and demanded that Goodyear be held accountable for its actions. She fought hard, she pursued her case for many years, and she won.

But when the case made it to the Supreme Court, it decided that Goodyear couldn’t be held accountable for its actions. Because the company hid the discrimination for long enough, they were free to discriminate for as long as they wanted.

In 2007, when the Court denied her compensation for decades of pay discrimination, Ledbetter sat down with us to talk about her fight for fair pay for herself and others like her:

After the Supreme Court stopped her from collecting the pay she had earned, she led the fight to make sure it wouldn’t happen to anybody else—and she’s still fighting to make sure that the Supreme Court gives a fair hearing to people like her when they go up against big corporations like Goodyear.

She told the Judiciary Committee:

Since my case, I’ve talked to a lot of people around the country. Most can’t believe what happened to me and want to make sure that something like it doesn’t happen again. They don’t care if the Justices are Democrats or Republicans, or which President appointed them, or which Senators voted for them. They want a Supreme Court that makes decisions that make sense.

That’s why the hearings here are so important. We need Justices who understand that law must serve regular people who are just trying to work hard, do right, and make a good life for their families. And when the law isn’t clear, Justices need to use some common sense and keep in mind that the people who write laws are usually trying to make a law that’s fair and sensible. This isn’t a game. Real people’s lives are at stake. We need Supreme Court justices who understand that.
 

PFAW

Jeff Sessions Comes Out Against Ideas

When I got to the office this morning, I turned on C-SPAN, which was rerunning the confirmation hearings all over again. While I was listening, I heard again something that caught my ear yesterday.

Senator Sessions: I think that yesterday you indicated that the court could consider foreign court opinions as they could “learn about how other people might approach” and think about approaching legal issues. And you said, well I guess “I'm in favor of good ideas coming from wherever you can get them.” I think some of the judges on the court have used that phrase, but ideas sound like policy to me. It does not sound like authority to me.

Is Senator Sessions arguing that judges shouldn’t have ideas? That having ideas per se might undermine the authority of the Court?

On one level, it’s a bit frightening, but, on another, it’s Chief Justice Roberts’ “balls-and-strikes” theory of judging extended to its absurd, inevitable conclusion.

PFAW

The Immigration Misinformation Campaign

Last week, Arizona governor Jan Brewer further fanned the flames of resentment and suspicion around the immigration debate in her state when she announced her evidence-free view that the majority of people entering the United States illegally do so to transport illegal drugs. Thankfully, President Obama seems to be relying on actual facts in that area. In his speech today outlining the need for comprehensive immigration reform, he gave an honest explanation of the dangers of the current system:

The result is an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. The overwhelming majority of these men and women are simply seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Many settle in low-wage sectors of the economy; they work hard, they save, they stay out of trouble. But because they live in the shadows, they’re vulnerable to unscrupulous businesses who pay them less than the minimum wage or violate worker safety rules -– thereby putting companies who follow those rules, and Americans who rightly demand the minimum wage or overtime, at an unfair [dis]advantage. Crimes go unreported as victims and witnesses fear coming forward. And this makes it harder for the police to catch violent criminals and keep neighborhoods safe. And billions in tax revenue are lost each year because many undocumented workers are paid under the table.

As we predicted in our Right Wing Watch: In Focus report on the efforts to derail comprehensive immigration reform, the Right has not been letting facts get in the way of its smear efforts. From Brewer’s claim about drug smuggling to false assumptions that illegal immigration causes crime, opponents of immigration reform have been trying to shift the debate to be about fear and suspicion, rather than reality and solutions. These tactics are nasty, but they shouldn’t be underestimated.

It’s encouraging that Obama is trying to counter the campaign of misinformation. Let’s hope that it leads to actual solutions.
 

PFAW

Joining the Club

Yesterday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar shot down her colleague Tom Coburn’s assertion that the American people are less free now than we were 30 years ago, offering up some powerful illustrations of the progress women have made since 1980. “I think about whether people were more free in 1980,” she said, “it's all in the eyes of the beholder.”

Kagan, who if confirmed would be the fourth female Justice in the history of the Supreme Court, responded, “I think that there's no question that women have greater opportunities now, although they could be made greater still.”

Today, the Pew Research Center released a survey of attitudes toward working women throughout the world. One finding stood out:

Indeed, the United States and Germany reported an especially strong gap between the sexes on whether enough has been done to give women equality. Of those who believe in equal rights, many more American and German men believe their nations have made the right amount of changes for women, while many more women than men in those countries think more action is required.

“When you’re left out of the club, you know it,” said Prof. Jacqui True, an expert in gender relations and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland. “When you’re in the club, you don’t see what the problem is.”

This disparity in the perception of progress brings to mind Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fiery dissent to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. In that ruling, the Court’s majority ruled that Lilly Ledbetter couldn’t collect her fair share after decades of pay discrimination because, they said, she would have had to report the discrimination before she even knew that it was taking place. At the time, Ginsburg was the only female member of the Supreme Court, and she knew what it was like to be “left out of the club.”

Introducing her dissenting opinion, Ginsburg said, “In our view, the Court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”

This isn’t to say that those who haven’t experienced discrimination can’t understand it. But it’s a powerful reminder of why it’s so important to have a diversity of voices, coming from a diversity of experiences, in positions of power.
 

PFAW

“A Judicial Philosophy that Keeps Faith with the Constitution”: Our Endorsement of Kagan

Here at PFAW, we were all eager to hear what Elena Kagan had to say in this week’s hearings, and have spent the past two days in the Senate hearing room or glued to CSPAN 3  listening to her testimony. We were all extraordinarily impressed, and PFAW this afternoon endorsed Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court. PFAW president Michael Keegan’s statement:

“The departure of Justice Stevens leaves a hole in the Supreme Court that will be difficult to fill. Throughout his career, Justice Stevens stood up for his belief that all people, no matter their situation, deserve a fair hearing in the courts. Judging by her record of service, her writing, and her testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Elena Kagan is the right person to fill that vacancy.

“Solicitor General Kagan gave the American people a sound and thoughtful lesson about the Constitution as a timeless document, brilliantly conceived by its framers to be interpreted over time in light of new situations and new factual contexts. Her testimony gave voice to a view of the Constitution and the role of judges in sharp contrast to Chief Justice Roberts’ misleading analogy to an umpire calling balls and strikes. And she refused to buy into the cramped and distorted view of the role of the judiciary in interpreting the Constitution that was pushed by some Republican Senators.

“Elena Kagan’s testimony made clear that she has the intellect and the command of the law to stand firm for a judicial philosophy that keeps faith with our Constitution--its amendments, its history, and its core values like justice and equality under the law.

“Instead of engaging in a serious debate however, some Republican Senators chose to lob dishonest attacks at General Kagan's support for our armed forces and, inexplicably, at her mentor Justice Thurgood Marshall. Justice Marshall was a passionate advocate for our Constitution, and it's thanks to him that all Americans have access to its protections. For Senators to repeatedly attack the man who helped our nation move past our shameful history of segregation would be foolish if it weren't just plain offensive.

“After carefully evaluating her record and her statements, People For the American Way is proud to support Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court.”
 

PFAW

Whose Freedom?

After debating 1776, we move on to a conversation about 1980.

In his long complaint about the Commerce Clause, Sen. Coburn declared that Americans had more freedom 30 years ago than we do now.

Sen. Klobuchar then took the floor, and brought up a few interesting points in response.

  • In 1980, there were no women Supreme Court Justices
  • In 1980, there were no women on the Senate Judiciary Committee
  • In 1980, there were was one woman in the United States Senate


“I think about whether people were more free in 1980,” she said, “it's all in the eyes of the beholder.”
 

PFAW

Constitutional Fidelity, Except for the Other Stuff

First, Sen. Tom Coburn railed against Solicitor General Kagan for her refusal to agree to his skewed and narrow vision of the original intent of the Constitution.

Then he switched tacks to rail against her for not subscribing to a view of the law outside of the Constitution.

Coburn asked Kagan if she believed that there was a fundamental right for humans to own guns, and then broadened his question to ask if she believes there exist “fundamental rights” and “natural rights” outside of the U.S. Constitution.

“I don’t have a view of what our natural rights are outside of the Constitution and the law,” Kagan responded. “I’m not saying I don’t believe in fundamental pre-existing rights, but my job as a Justice would be to enforce the Constitution.”

Coburn was not satisfied. He demands, apparently, that judges interpret the law ONLY with the original words of the Constitution…but ALSO with a belief in an undefined set of “natural rights.”

Huh?
 

PFAW

Dreaming Of What Might Have Been Had Boykin Testifed At Kagan's Hearing

Last week we noted that Senate Republicans had put Gen. Jerry Boykin on their list of witnesses to testify against Elena Kagan during her Supreme Court confirmation hearing, seemingly unaware of just how radically right-wing his views were.

Sadly, they quickly wised up and dropped him from the list but, in a serendipitous turn of events, the AFA's Bryan Fischer had Boykin on his radio program today to discuss the entire issue.

In this clip, Fischer calls out Senate Republicans to caving to a bunch of bloggers sitting around in the pajamas and clicking away on their laptops, and Boykin agrees, saying that Sen. Sessions called him to apologize but that doesn't change the fact that there are no good Christian men in Congress who are willing to stand up for the truth.  Boykin then goes on to give a quick synopsis of what he would have said, had his invitation not been rescinded, eventually getting into Sen. Inhofe territory suggesting that the troops will be unwilling to die for their fellow gay soldiers:

Now, that sort of testimony might be relevant to a hearing about Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but that Boykin intended to deliver it during a confirmation hearing for Kagan seems rather odd, to put it mildly.  

So it seems pretty clear that Senate Republicans made a smart move by dropping Boykin ... after all, I am sure that the last thing they wanted was to watch Boykin go off about how Islam is not a religion and should not be protected by the First Amendment:

Crossposted from RWW.

PFAW

Senator Hatch Defends Citizens United

During his second round of questioning, Senator Hatch again spent a significant amount of time defending the Court’s ruling in Citizens United. I won’t go into a long explanation of why the decision is wrong (as we’ve done several times before) or point out that it’s tremendously unpopular. What should be remarked is that, for the first time in a while, conservatives are routinely being forced to defend the decisions made by conservative Justices (Ledbetter springs to mind as another example.)

When it comes to the debate about the Court and the Constitution, the right-wing is on its heels.

PFAW

Thurgood Marshall Roundup

We were far from the only ones noting the surprising volume of GOP attacks on Justice Thurgood Marshall on Monday. Talking Points Memo counted the number of references to the illustrious Justice on the opening day of Kagan’s hearings:

In an example of how much the GOP focused on Marshall, his name came up 35 times. President Obama's name was mentioned just 14 times today.

Harpers Magazine shared my confusion about what might have motivated Republican Senators to engage in these attacks:

So what made Marshall the image of an “activist judge”? Was it his role in Brown v. Board of Education, the decision that put an end to the lie of “separate but equal” education across the American South, forcing desegregation in public education? Or perhaps it was the fact that he won nearly all of his Supreme Court cases, most of them on behalf of the NAACP, and all of them testing the official refuges of bigotry and racism?

The attacks were led, predictably, by neoconfederate senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Republican ranking member and the Theodore Bilbo of his generation, who snarled that Kagan’s affection for her former boss “tells us much about the nominee”—a comment clearly intended as an insult. But so many other Republican senators joined in—Orrin Hatch, John Cornyn, and Jon Kyl, for instance—that it appears to have been an agreed talking point. (I see Dana Milbank reports that Republican staffers were actually handing out opposition research on Marshall’s voting record after the hearing–another sign that the war on Marshall was a formal strategy.)

At first it was unclear to me what possible complaint about Justice Marshall the Republican Senators could have had. But Dana Milbank at the Washington Post cleared things up:

Republicans saw trouble in this Marshall fellow. "In 2003, Ms. Kagan wrote a tribute to Justice Marshall in which she said that, 'in his view, it was the role of the courts in interpreting the Constitution to protect the people who went unprotected by every other organ of government,' " Kyl complained.

Protecting the unprotected? Say it ain't so!

And that wasn't all. Kagan also emphasized Marshall's "unshakable determination to protect the underdog," Kyl said.

Let’s take a moment to remember all the great things Justice Marshall did for this country. Stephanie Jones’ thoughtful piece in the Washington Post this morning details his vital role in fulfilling the promises of the Constitution. She summarizes:

Marshall was a great jurist who used his skills to move this country closer to being a more perfect union. As a lawyer and a justice, he protected us from activist judges and the cramped thinking of politicians who tried to keep our country in the muck. And he never forgot how the high court's rulings affect the least of us.

So what do Republicans have to gain from attacking this giant? Out west at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, columnist Joel Connelly reminded us that attacks on Marshall are just part of a larger right wing trend to de-legitimize American heroes with whom they disagree:

The political right has taken to beating up on great American presidents, with the "progressive" Theodore Roosevelt demonized by Fox's Glenn Beck, and Thomas Jefferson ordered banished from textbooks by the Texas Board of Education.

At confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Senators from the party of Abraham Lincoln have discovered -- literally -- a new black hat. They are denouncing and labeling Thurgood Marshall, our country's greatest civil rights lawyer.

 

UPDATE: even conservatives are perplexed by the Republicans' anti-Marshall strategy. Check out Joe Scarborough mocking Senate Republicans:

 

PFAW

Franken on Rent-A-Center and Forced Arbitration

Senator Al Franken’s questioning included a reference to the recent decision in Rent-A-Center v. Jackson, which was particularly well explained. He applauded Gen. Kagan’s comment from yesterday, where she said that the Court should provide equal access to everyone. However, arbitration means a case doesn’t go to court, and in Rent-A-Center the Roberts Court effectively decided that, in certain cases, the person who decides whether arbitration is appropriate is . . .  the arbiter.

These disputes often pit large corporations against individuals, and arbitration proceedings almost always benefit these companies, by keeping costs down and avoiding costly attorneys’ fees. Not to mention that corporations often keep private arbitrators in business – it’s pretty clear that it’s in an arbitrator’s best interest to rule in favor of a corporation, rather than an individual, to keep that money coming in.
 
Applause to Sen. Franken for acknowledging, very eloquently, the pro-business bent of the Supreme Court.

PFAW