PEOPLE FOR BLOG

It's Our Moment, Let's Make the Most of It!

This Tuesday marks what I hope will be the beginning of a dramatic new direction for our country. The relevance of President-elect Obama's inauguration falling one day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not lost on any of us. The swearing in of the first African American president will be one of the great moments in America's history and a massive leap toward the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream, not only because of Obama's race, but because the movement that swept him into office was born of the American people's desire to pursue a more just path as a nation. That in itself is something that Dr. King would have been proud to have witnessed.

I said that I "hope" this will be the beginning of a big change in direction because it's up to all of us to make sure that change actually happens, to make sure the new administration corrects the last president's worst mistakes in a timely fashion. And it's not just the Obama administration that needs to feel constant pressure from us, it's Congress as well. I've seen reports of senators and representatives showing some reluctance to make many of the bold changes we need. And as expected, we're seeing the resurgence of the Far Right as a backlash to new progressive power. The Radical Right is not only in a position to strengthen its grip on power in the Republican Party, it's ready to pounce on any anti-government sentiment that may bubble up in the coming months and years, especially -- and ironically -- as a result of the economic hard times their very policies have left us with. Long story short: People For the American Way is more needed than ever, and we need your support and your vigilance in the months and years to come.

When a group of activists confronted him shortly after his first inauguration seeking a list of specific reforms, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, "I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it." That is what grassroots democracy is all about -- making our leaders do what's right. January 20 is the end of our eight-year national nightmare, but it's just the beginning of a new chapter in which we must all do our part.

In the first two weeks of 2009, People For's been fighting the good fight -- our long-term efforts on two pay equity bills are paying off and the legislation has passed the House and is making its way through the Senate. And we've been answering the Right's attacks against Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder, whose Senate confirmation hearing I attended yesterday. Let me say that it was VERY gratifying to hear Holder clearly state that he believes waterboarding is torture, that renditions to countries where there reason to believe they will torture is wrong and that he is committed to restoring the DOJ's Civil Rights Division to a position of prominence and effectiveness). After this week's release of the Inspector General's report on politicization in the Justice Department, it's even more apparent that confirming Holder will be a great beginning to undoing that damage.

On the legal front, the Supreme Court handed People For the American Way Foundation (and the First Amendment) a victory by upholding the policy of the Fredericksburg, Virginia, City Council requiring that the official prayers recited at the beginning of its meetings be non-sectarian. Accepting one of the most important cases of the term, it also chose to hear an appeal of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Mukasey, in which People For the American Way is defending the constitutionality of an important provision of the Voting Rights Act.

We couldn't do any of our important work without your steadfast support. And with your continued support, People For the American Way will continue to carry the progressive flag and advocate your values on Capitol Hill.

Right now is a time to celebrate. Have an amazing Inaugural weekend, MLK Day and Inauguration Day. Congratulations to Barack Obama and congratulations, America!

PFAW

Breaking News: Two Pay Equity Bills Pass the House

 

Workers seeking to bring pay discrimination lawsuits against corporations scored a huge victory today as the House of Representatives passed two key pay equity bills: the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and Paycheck Fairness Act. 
 
Lilly Ledbetter received an anonymous tip late in her career with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. that she had been consistently paid much less than her male coworkers.  Ledbetter sued under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which protects workers against pay discrimination, a lawsuit that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled against her 5-4 in Ledbetter v. Goodyear. The Court's ruling, written by right-wing Justice Samuel Alito, said that Lilly should have filed a complaint within 180 days of the time her supervisors gave her discriminatory evaluations that resulted in her being paid less than her male coworkers.  Today’s vote in the House puts works like Lilly Ledbetter one step closer to justice.  Now on to the Senate!
 
Read more on Lilly Ledbetter at People For’s CorrectTheCourt.org

 

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National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Releases Report on California's Prop 8 vote

A new report released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force this week analyzing the Prop 8 vote paints a stark picture of the work that must be done by the gay rights community to change hearts and minds.  The report shows that four main factors – party affiliation, political ideology (no surprise here), frequency of attending worship services and age – drove the “yes” vote on Prop 8.  

Countering the uproar that ensued in the aftermath of Prop 8’s passage after exit polls wrongly reported 70 percent of African American supported the ban, the Task Force puts African American support for the ban in the range of 57-59 percent.  You may remember following the elections, People For the American Way Foundation President Kathryn Kolbert released a memo explaining that blaming Black voters for passage of Prop 8 is both wrong and destructive.  Fifty-nine percent isn’t the ideal, but it’s indicative of the education that must be done.  Here’s a snapshot of some of the report’s other findings: 
 
Kitty’s post-election edit memo explaining how blaming black voters for passage of Prop 8 is both wrong and destructive, continued to get plaudits from activists, including this from Alejandro Salinas on the Washingtonian blog:  “Sadly after years of experiencing and observing the way race plays out within the LGBT community, I can’t say I was really surprised by the tone and targets of the rage. Thankfully, I have been encouraged by the words of David Mixner, Kathryn Kolbert at People For the American Way, and many of my personal and blogger friends who swiftly condemned this misdirected anger.”
 
  • More than 70 percent of voters who were Republican, identified themselves as conservative, or who attended religious services at least weekly supported Proposition 8. Conversely, 70 percent or more of voters who were Democrat, identified themselves as liberal, or who rarely attended religious services opposed the measure. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of voters 65 or older supported Proposition 8, while majorities under 65 opposed it.
  • When religious service attendance was factored out, however, there was no significant difference between African Americans and other groups.  In other words, people of all races and ethnicities who worship at least once a week overwhelmingly supported Proposition 8, with support among white, Asian and Latino frequent churchgoers actually being greater than among African Americans. 
  • Overall support for marriage equality has increased by 9 percent since 2000, with support increasing among every age group under age 65, across all racial and ethnic groups and among Protestants, Catholics and Jews. There are three “holdout” groups where voting patterns have not changed: Republicans, conservatives, and those 65 and older.  The largest gain — up 16 percent — was among voters 45-64 years of age, followed by a 13 percent increase among voters 18-29.
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Department of Justice Will Actually Uphold the Law!

After 8 years of the Bush Administration, it’s amazing how low our collective standards have fallen. For instance, the idea that Barack Obama has appointed people to the Department of Justice who will uphold the rule of law -- as opposed to wantonly ignoring it for political purposes -- struck me almost too good to be true.

But by any standards the team he’s put together looks top notch. Elena Kagan is clearly the big news, but there’s a lot of depth in the slate of nominees. TAPPED points out:

One particular point of interest: Johns[e]n, the new head of the Office of Legal Counsel, has recently written articles entitled Faithfully Executing the Laws: Internal Legal Constraints on Executive Power and What's a President to Do? Interpreting the Constitution in the Wake of the Bush Administration's Abuses. Given that OLC was a hotbed of torture-justifying and illegal-surveillance-allowing during the last administration, it's nice to see that the new boss has a different set of ideas.

Be still my beating heart!

PFAW

Where Is Today’s Deep Throat?

Mark Felt - better known as the anonymous source Deep Throat - died yesterday at the age of 95.  The deputy director of the FBI in the early 1970s, Felt secretly led Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to the information that eventually toppled the lawless presidency of Richard Nixon.

Felt was hardly a liberal: He had supported several violations of civil liberties perpetrated by the FBI during the 1960s-1970s.  Nevertheless, Nixon’s full-scale assault against the Constitution and the rule of law during Watergate compelled Felt to put his country first and talk to the press about what he knew, albeit anonymously.

Today, we are nearing the end of another presidency that has engaged in a full scale assault against the Constitution and the rule of law.  But unlike a generation ago, the current president’s allies in Congress put partisanship above patriotism and prevented genuine investigations of the administration.

Mark Felt’s death reminds me of another key difference between the era of Watergate and today: Back then, because someone talked, those in power were held accountable.  Today, we are still waiting for people to talk – to tell us what they know and to provide us with the documents shedding light on illegal domestic spying, the outsourcing of torture, the illegal sabotage of Democratic GOTV efforts in 2002, the suppression of voting rights, the politicization of the Department of Justice, Bush’s unlawful signing statements, the arrests of peaceful anti-administration protesters … the list goes on.

The outrages committed by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and others did not happen in a vacuum.  Their illegal policies were carried out by public employees scattered across the government, from the highest levels on down.  There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people who know where the bodies are buried.

For the sake of our country, it is time for them to talk.

PFAW

Vote for the 2008 Equine Posterior Achievement Award!

EPAA Award ImageThe Equine Posterior Achievement Award has been created to honor that leader whose abilities to misrepresent an issue, manipulate his/her followers, brazenly disregard reality or pander to our baser instincts reach such ridiculous levels that we don't know whether to laugh or cry. In other words, a genuine "horse's patootie."

To that individual we are pleased to present PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY's Equine Posterior Achievement Award -- this year, to be known as the Honorary McPalin Equine Posterior Achievement Award.

The duo of John McCain and Sarah Palin -- the latter, especially -- exemplified the spirit of this award in a unique way. But moving beyond the obvious, we wanted to focus this year on some people who may have slipped under the radar or just deserve consideration in their own right.

The nominees are listed at http://site.pfaw.org/epaa Go there now to cast your vote for this year's winner!

PFAW

W. Does Keep It Interesting

The president is not ... um ... liked - with good reason, of course.

Here's our president at a press conference in Iraq this weekend getting a pair of shoes thrown at his head. I'll say two things:

1. The Iraqi reporter who tossed his footwear has a cannon, and potentially a career in major league baseball (if he's not rotting in some military prison somewhere).

2. For all his faults, President Bush does have cat-like reflexes. It must have been all that practice dodging those pesky things like laws and accountability.

PFAW

Beyond the Sigh of Relief...

Earlier this week, People For the American Way Foundation hosted -- and I moderated -- a panel at the National Press Club to discuss what the election of Barack Obama means for the future of the Supreme Court and what kind of justices we should be fighting for. The event's title, "Beyond the Sigh of Relief," says a lot in itself, and it's fantastic that our conversation could focus on the prospects for a return to justice on the High Court rather than strategizing about how to forestall complete disaster.

I hope to have video of the full discussion to share with you in a week or two. The next day, Maryland State Senator and Constitutional Law Professor Jamin Raskin (who was on the panel) and I were on Pacifica Radio in a very substantive joint interview on the same topic. You can listen to that segment here.

Sen. Raskin is also the director of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project and shares my passion for civic education -- I've known and worked with him for years, going back to my time at Justice Talking. The other phenomenal panelists were: Julius Chambers, former director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and founder of Ferguson Stein Chambers Gresham & Sumter PA; John Payton, President, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and one of the finest Court journalists out there, Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor of Slate.

Any conversation about the future of the Court needs to start with acknowledging the voter mandate Obama received on Election Day to appoint judges with a strong commitment to constitutional rights and values. Redefining the conventional wisdom that the Supreme Court is an issue that only the Right Wing cares about, this time it was Obama voters who said that the Court was extremely important to them.

Here were a few quick highlights from the rest of the event:

  • Julius Chambers made some great points about the Court's role in protecting the poor. It's not just disputes over civil rights for minorities, workers rights and environmental protections on which the Court must sometimes weigh in when the government or companies violate constitutional rights. The poor deserve to be protected by the Constitution like we all do, and too often, they certainly do not receive equal justice under the law.

  • There was much discussion about promoting racial and gender diversity on the Court and there was a consensus among us that race, religion, gender and even sexual orientation could be important considerations because they can bring different perspectives to the Court. John Payton in particular stressed just how vital this diversity of perspectives is in having a Court that functions for the best benefit of the people and the law. We also speculated on the pedigrees and career tracks of recent and not so recent nominees -- why should they all come from the corporate world or the major law firms? There are tremendous lawyers working to advance justice at places like nonprofit organizations and unions.

  • Dahlia Lithwick stressed that we need to make sure people know that the judicial philosophies we believe in are based on rigorous interpretation and a sincere love of the Constitution. The public debate over judicial philosophies has too often bought into the Right's claims that so-called "strict constructionism" is the only rigorous approach to the Constitution. But the ideals embodied in both the main articles of the Constitution and the amendments are what John Payton referred to as "aspirational" -- and it's that aspirational view of the law and justice that we subscribe to and that we think President-elect Obama does as well. It's an understanding that the Constitution is a guardian of rights and opportunity for all Americans, including those without much power in our society.

The stimulating conversation left me feeling optimistic about advancing the constitutional principles that have been under attack from right-wing organizations and the Bush administration. After eight years of seeing right-wing ideologues nominated to the federal bench, there is immense opportunity to restore constitutional values. The only thing standing in our way is the Right and the senators who are already gearing up to fight good nominees -- senators like John Kyl (R-AZ), who promised a filibuster of any Court nominee he deemed too liberal... only three days after the election.

People For the American Way will be ready for Sen. Kyl, other right-wing senators and the Right's media echo chamber. Together, we'll make sure President Obama fulfills his mandate to give Americans the Supreme Court justices they deserve.

PFAW

Your Daily Coulter

There was a rumor a week or two about hate clown Ann Coulter having her jaw wired shut. Unfortunately, turns out a rumor is all it was. Anyway -- she was doin' her thang on Fox News, being all nuts as usual and making up lies about our President-elect. David Neiwert at C&L's got it:

http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/ann-coulter-just-cant-resist

PFAW

Kathryn Kolbert Discusses Obama and the Supreme Court on Pacifica Radio

People For President Kathryn Kolbert joined American University law professor Jamin Raskin on Tuesday to discuss Barack Obama and the Supreme Court on Pacifica's What's at Stake. Among other things, Kolbert and Raskin discussed what progressives should look for in an Obama nominee to the Court.

Click below to listen to the interview:

PFAW

Right On, Leahy

Trying to "send a message" and indicating he may try to obstruct Obama's efforts to restore constitutional values in Washington, Sen. Arlen Specter (the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee) is now pushing to delay confirmation hearings for Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder. Read Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy’s letter in response -- it's actually pretty entertaining (as another People For staffer said, meow).

Leahy: No Double Standard For Eric Holder (click)

PFAW

Letter to Obama from Feingold: "Concrete Steps" to Restore Rule of Law

Following up on my previous post about Sen. Feingold....

My main man Russ yesterday sent a letter to the President-elect "urging President-elect Barack Obama to take 'concrete steps' to restore the rule of law after the eight-year assault by the Bush Administration on the Constitution. In a letter to the President-elect, Feingold offered recommendations for action in four key areas – the separation of powers, excessive government secrecy, detention and interrogation policy, and domestic surveillance and privacy."

Read it. It's good.

http://feingold.senate.gov/releases/08/12/20081210.html

PFAW

NY State Senate Democratic Leader: "Real reform should not ever include limiting civil rights"

We are suspending negotiations, effective immediately, because to do so otherwise would reduce our moral standing and the long-term Senate Democratic commitment to reform and to change.  We believe that ultimately, we must do what is right for the people of the State of New York. Furthermore, real reform cannot and should not ever include limiting the civil rights of any New Yorkers. Those issues must be part of the legislative process.

                        -- NY State Senate Democratic Leader Malcolm A. Smith

From Newsday:

ALBANY, N.Y. - Senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith said Wednesday any deal with three dissidents to secure his party's hold on the chamber majority is officially off.

Smith said he has the support of the Democratic Caucus and has ceased negotiations with the three, Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr. and Sen.-elect Pedro Espada Jr., both of the Bronx, and Sen. Carl Kruger of Brooklyn. Their support would give the party a 32-30 majority beginning Jan. 1 after decades of Republican control.

"We're prepared to wait if we have to to come into the majority," Smith said. He was flanked by senators Neil Breslin of Albany and Liz Krueger of Manhattan when he made the announcement.

Smith said the three renegades were motivated by "personal interests." He also said he wouldn't subject civil rights issues to negotiation, referring to a proposal backed by many Democrats to legalize gay marriage.

I've read more reports and looks like what was happening was three senators holding the Democratic majority hostage for their own interests, and in the process, not just obstructing the potential for marriage equality, but an entire progressive agenda which has been blocked for years by a Republican-controlled New York Senate. Even if this means the Democrats lose the majority they won in last month's election, it was the so-called "Gang of Three" who were really trying to thwart the will of New York voters.

PFAW

Supreme Court Says No to Obama Citizenship Challenge

The Supreme Court just rejected an appeal in a case challenging the validity of President-elect Obama's birth certificate, his citizenship and, in effect, his constitutional eligibility to assume the office of President. The fact that it took more than one split second to reject this preposterous, paranoid, conspiracy theory-based case is a little disturbing. A similar case had been thrown out this fall, but that did not stop Justice Clarence Thomas from circulating the appeal papers to his colleagues for consideration.

Read more here:

http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/12/08/supreme-court-rejects-appeal-over-obamas-citizenship/?hp

PFAW

Bill Moyers Journal: Russ Feingold On The Rule Of Law

Senator Russ Feingold, one of Washington's leading voices for civil liberties and constitutional rights, was on Bill Moyers Journal over the weekend discussing some of the steps he hopes the incoming Obama administration will take to restore the rule of law.

Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars has a video, transcript and Sen. Feingold's Daily Kos post on the issue. Read more and check out the video.

Russ Feingold on Moyers screen cap

PFAW