PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Boehner: Only Regulate in “Emergencies”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The GOP's Judicial Obstruction Stats

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information, please visit Immigration Equality Action Fund.

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The Right Wing Immigration Playbook Gets Scary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Court Stops Right-Wing Anti-Marriage Referendum

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

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

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

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

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

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Come to our Netroots Nation Panel: Undoing Citizens United

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


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


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

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Second Circuit Strikes Down FCC’s Indecency Rules

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

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

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

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

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The Next Frontier in Undoing Campaign Finance Reform

Since the Supreme Court decided earlier this year that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend however much they like to influence elections, groups have been attempting to use that decision to hack away at the core of federal and state campaign finance laws.

Last month, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the federal ban on soft money (unlimited contributions to political parties), a centerpiece of the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign reform bill. Though that case was cut short, at least one other challenge to the law is in the works.

Now, groups at the state level are trying to use the Citizens United decision as leverage to do away with bans not only on independent expenditures by corporations, but also on corporate contributions directly to candidates’ bank accounts. 22 states, like the federal government, prohibit corporations from contributing directly to campaign committees. After Citizens United, business groups in Montana were the first out of the gates, filing suit to get rid of Montana’s 98-year old ban on both independent campaign expenditures by corporations (the spending that Citizens United allowed on the federal level) and direct corporate contributions to campaigns (which Citizens United didn’t touch).

In May, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce convinced a federal court to strike down that state’s independent expenditures ban. Now, Minnesota business interests are following the Montanans’ lead and broadening their challenge to include the state’s ban on direct contributions:

State law now allows corporations to spend money independently of campaigns on ads supporting or opposing candidates, an arrangement that the U.S. Supreme Court approved early this year.

But the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life and Coastal Travel Enterprises seek to go beyond that ruling and allow direct contributions to candidates by corporations.

"Our clients believe ... that the First Amendment gives corporations ... the right to contribute to candidates and political parties through their general treasury funds," said Joe La Rue, an attorney for the plaintiffs, who sued this week in U.S. District Court in Minnesota.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court clearly created a slippery slope of corporate money in politics. State-level bans on independent spending by corporations have been the first to go. Will guards against corporate-to-candidate contributions—and the very clear appearance of corruption that they create—be next
 

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The Substance of the Kagan Hearings

Many viewed it as a foregone conclusion that Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings would lack any real discussion of law and the Constitution. In fact, People For’s Marge Baker argues in a new memo, Kagan’s hearings were more substantial than any in recent memory. Kagan politely but decisively refused to buy into empty conservative rhetoric, and laid out a strong view of the limited, but not simple, role of the courts in a democracy:

Kagan said a great deal about how judges should approach Congressional statutes and argued for significant deference to legislators and reluctance to strike down federal law. Even when invited to take on straw men (like Senator Coburn’s fruits-and-vegetables line of questioning) she went to great lengths to describe the latitude that Congress should be allowed, even pointing to Justice Holmes, approvingly noting that he “hated a lot of the legislation that was being enacted during those years, but insisted that if the people wanted it, it was their right to go hang themselves.”

In applying laws passed by Congress, she emphasized looking at Congressional intent and examining the Congressional record—approaches very much at issue in cases like Ledbetter and Citizens United. Her testimony made an unmistakable argument both for the importance of judges’ responsibility to uphold the Constitution and for the limits of what judges should do.

We’ve put together a collection of some of the most interesting moments from the hearings. Here, Kagan takes down Chief Justice Roberts’ flawed judge-as-umpire analogy:

Click here to watch our top ten favorite clips from the hearings.
 

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Alexander Hamilton's Plug for Kagan

For all the right wing talk of “strict constructionism" and the "original intent of the Founders," it’s important to bear in mind that the Founders themselves actually did envision the Constitution evolving to apply to new circumstances. Alexander Hamilton (who died 206 years ago today) put it this way:

Constitutions should consist only of general provisions; the reason is that they must necessarily be permanent, and that they cannot calculate for the possible change of things.

Elena Kagan echoed that sentiment in her hearing:

 

 

For more words of wisdom from Kagan’s testimony, see PFAW’s Top Ten Highlights of the Kagan Hearings.

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Bush’s Courts

We talk a lot about the purely political motives Republican senators have in their efforts to slow down the confirmation process for President Obama’s judicial nominees. It’s easy to forget that who those nominees are—and when they start working— makes a huge difference. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this weekend that nearly 40% of all federal judges currently on the bench were appointed by George W. Bush--who made a concerted effort to appoint judges with right-wing credentials, and, you might say, didn’t put much of a priority on gender or racial diversity.

Obama, in contrast, has returned to a more bipartisan appointment process and has a notably diverse list of appointees. But thanks to Republican obstruction, Obama’s appointees aren’t making it to the bench:

So far, nearly half of Obama's 73 appointments to the federal bench have been women, 25 percent have been African American, 11 percent Asian American, and 10 percent Hispanic. About 30 percent of Obama's nominees were white males. By contrast, two-thirds of George W. Bush's nominees were white males.

Obama's rate of appointing women and people of color is higher than those of any of his predecessors during the first year of their terms. But he is not the only one setting records.

According to a report by the Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group: "The Senate confirmed both fewer nominees and a smaller percentage of nominees under President Obama than under any other previous five presidents during their first year in office."

Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan had 91 percent of their nominees confirmed in their first year in office. Since then, however, the figure has sharply declined, with George H.W. Bush getting 65 percent of his early judicial nominees confirmed, followed by Bill Clinton at 57 percent, George W. Bush at 44 percent, and Obama at 36 percent.

As recent events in the Fifth Circuit reminded us, it really does matter who ends up in federal judgeships. And Republicans, booted from control of the legislative and executive branches, are fighting tooth and nail to keep the courts.
 

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A Hot Mess of Intolerance

In a new op-ed in the Huffington Post, Michael Keegan, People For’s president, asks why the GOP spent so much of Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings defending the nearly-dead Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. The answer? They just can’t seem to quit gay people:

We were once again given a strong reminder of this at Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings, when Republican senators hosted a four day-long attack on the nominee based on one issue--her opposition to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the anti-gay policy that is not only overwhelmingly unpopular across the political spectrum, but is unlikely to even be on the books by this time next year.

This line of attack was catnip for the GOP because it provided a too tempting mix of three Republican stock favorites: provoking resentment of gay people, accusing Democrats of being anti-military, and insinuating the existence of an Ivy League East Coast Elite Conspiracy. With so many critically important issues facing the country and the world, this Republican obsession came off as a ridiculous hot mess of intolerance and irrelevance.

Read the full piece at the Huffington Post.
 

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The “Irrational Prejudice” Behind DOMA

Yesterday, a federal judge in Massachusetts struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act on two separate constitutional challenges. Judge Joseph Tauro, a Nixon appointee, ruled that the provision banning the federal government from recognizing gay people’s marriages violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, and the principle of state sovereignty.

Tauro’s opinion in the equal protection case includes some strong words on the motivation behind DOMA, the 1996 law designed to push back against states granting marriage equality. The main purpose of the law was to disadvantage a particular set of people simply out of dislike for them, he writes…and that sort of motivation doesn’t pass constitutional muster:

This court simply “cannot say that [DOMA] is directed to any identifiable legitimate purpose or discrete objective. It is a status-based enactment divorced from any factual context from which [this court] could discern a relationship to legitimate [government] interests.” Indeed, Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves. And such a classification, the Constitution clearly will not permit.

In the wake of DOMA, it is only sexual orientation that differentiates a married couple entitled to federal marriage-based benefits from one not so entitled. And this court can conceive of no way in which such a difference might be relevant to the provision of the benefits at issue. By premising eligibility for these benefits on marital status in the first instance, the federal government signals to this court that the relevant distinction to be drawn is between married individuals and unmarried individuals. To further divide the class of married individuals into those with spouses of the same sex and those with spouses of the opposite sex is to create a distinction without meaning. And where, as here, “there is no reason to believe that the disadvantaged class is different, in relevant respects” from a similarly situated class, this court may conclude that it is irrational prejudice that motivates the challenged classification. As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this court must hold that Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

It seems pretty straight-forward to conclude that the Constitution doesn’t allow Congress to discriminate against people just because they dislike them…but, of course, conservative groups are already calling itactivism.”
 

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Judges Order Drilling to Continue

It looks like oil drilling will begin again in the Gulf of Mexico. Yesterday afternoon, three appeals court judges in New Orleans agreed with a lower court ruling that struck down the Obama Administration’s Gulf drilling moratorium. The President imposed the moratorium in order to allow for time to study what went wrong with the BP rig that burst in April, causing the worst oil spill in American history.

Alliance For Justice reported yesterday that the three judges on the panel all have significant ties to the oil industry.
 

The Oil Industry Ties of Oil Industry Judges

We’ve been worried about what will happen if liability suits from BP’s massive oil spill in the Gulf reach the Supreme Court. But it sounds like fans of justice might have more immediate concerns.

When a district court judge halted the Obama administration’s Gulf drilling moratorium last month, that judge’s history of ties to the oil industry caused a stir. Today, a three judge panel from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals is set to hear an appeal of the case.

But we shouldn’t get our hopes up. Alliance For Justice has looked into the backgrounds of the three judges on the panel and found some pretty startling oil industry ties: two of the judges represented major oil companies in previous jobs, two have major investments in oil companies, and two went on an oil industry-financed junket to Montana in 2004 to learn “why ecological values are not the only important ones.”

Read the full Alliance For Justice report here.


 

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