PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Senator Cardin on a Constitutional Amendment

In a hearing today entitled "We the People? Corporate Spending in American Elections after Citizens United,” the Senate Judiciary Committee discussed the impact of the Citizens United v. FEC and possible steps to repair the damage.  In addition to touching on legislative fixes, the question of a Constitutional Amendment came up, posed by Senator Benjamin Cardin on Maryland. 

Don't forget to sign our petition, calling for a Constitutional Amendment to restore government by the people.

UPDATE: YouTube has been having some problems with embedded videos. If you have trouble playing it, try double clicking the video to open it in YouTube in a new window.

PFAW

LA Times: Corporate Money Pours into Chamber of Commerce to Sway Elections Thanks to Supreme Court

Investigative reporter Tom Hamburger has an excellent article in today's Los Angeles Times on the tens of millions of dollars pouring into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to defeat candidates who stand in the way of Big Business.

As Hamburger reports, the Chamber spent $144 million last year on advocacy and plans to spend substantially more this year. And those dollars will have more impact than ever thanks to the Supreme Court, which recently ruled 5-4 that giant corporations can directly oppose or support candidates for public office.

The article also explains how companies use the Chamber to do their dirty work while concealing their involvement:

Using trade associations such as the chamber as the vehicle for spending corporate money on politics has an extra appeal: These groups can take large contributions from companies and wealthy individuals in ways that will probably avoid public disclosure requirements.

The chamber has developed that into something of a specialty: Under a system pioneered by Donohue, corporations have contributed money to the chamber, which then produced issue ads targeting individual candidates without revealing the names of the businesses underwriting the ads.

And remember, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is not the national equivalent of your local community chamber of commerce, as the name might suggest. Instead, it's an extremely conservative advocacy group that does the bidding of a small group of companies that provide most of its funding:

The chamber says it represents 3 million companies that pay dues to the national chamber or a local affiliate, though internal documents suggest the organization's treasury is filled in substantial part by contributions from a couple dozen major corporations most affected by Washington policymakers.

The entire article is definitely worth reading. You can find it here.

PFAW

More evidence that in Virginia, the Radical Right's in charge

The Washington Post reported today that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has sent a letter to the Commonwealth’s public colleges and universities asking them to rescind policies that ban discrimination against LGBT people, stating:

"It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including 'sexual orientation,' 'gender identity,' 'gender expression,' or like classification as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy absent specific authorization from the General Assembly."

Colleges that have included such language in their policies -- which include all of Virginia's leading schools -- have done so "without proper authority" and should "take appropriate actions to bring their policies in conformance with the law and public policy of Virginia," Cuccinelli wrote.

I posted last week on the new Virginia Governor's assault on LGBT Virginians, in his rush to carry out the agenda of the Religious Right. Clearly it's not just Gov. Bob McDonnell who poses a threat to Virginians’ rights. The Religious Right has spread its tentacles throughout the upper echelons of Virginia’s state government, and with its grip firmly on the levers of power, Virginians have a lot to be worried about.

More brutal evidence of the fact that elections matter... Progressives will have a lot of work to do fighting back the policies of McDonnell, Cuccinelli and right-wing state legislators in Virginia.

PFAW

A Committee Meeting Worth Sitting Through

Today, well over a year after she was originally nominated, the Senate Judiciary Committee once again approved the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

As with any Judiciary Committee meeting, there was the requisite huffing and puffing by Republican Senators who never met a nominee they didn't want to obstruct.  But anyone willing to sit through their tirades was treated to an energetic showing by Democrats who seem to have had enough of the delay and the baseless attacks.

A personal favorite is the remarks by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who showcased the bipartisan support that Johnsen has received and thoroughly demolished the ridiculous claims that the recent OPR report somehow vindicated the Bush Administration OLC.

 

PFAW

GOP Obstructionism Is No Surprise

The good news is that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted this morning to approve - again - Dawn Johnsen's nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel. The bad news is that this was yet another party-line vote where the Republicans opposed an unquestionably qualified candidate solely because she was nominated by President Obama.

People For the American Way has carefully documented the unprecedented behavior of Congressional Republicans, as they have done everything in their power to stymie President Obama's nominations and administration-supported initiatives even if they have overwhelming support within their own caucus. Just this week, for instance, Republicans filibustered the nomination of Judge Barbara Keenan to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, after every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee had voted in support of her nomination. When the filibuster was broken, she was confirmed 99-0. 99-0!

How do you explain a party whose position on more and more issues is determined simply on whether they can hurt President Obama, even when they agree with him?

If you consider today's GOP as a traditional political party in the mold of other political parties throughout American history, their behavior is surprising. But this is the party that impeached President Clinton, shut down the 2000 Florida recount, and launched vast voter disenfranchisement campaigns around the country.

So just what is today's GOP? Just six weeks after President Obama's inauguration, our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation foresaw the next step in the party's devolution in a powerful and prescient Right Wing Watch In Focus report: Dragged along by its most extreme base, today's Republican Party does not see itself as the minority party in a democracy. Instead, they increasingly see themselves as a resistance movement, a mindset appropriate for fighting a dictatorship, but not for working with a democracy's freely elected government.

No one who read that report has been at all surprised by the GOP efforts to sabotage the workings of the federal government. They made it clear over a year ago how they envision themselves in a nation that rejected them at the ballot box. Their behavior since has been consistent.

It's sad that the party of Abraham Lincoln has sunk so low.

And it's outrageous that qualified nominees are being blocked by the GOP's obstructionist tactics. Help put a stop to it here.

PFAW

Marriage Equality in DC

It took a while, and opponents of equality still insist they'll fight it, but marriage equality legislation finally took effect this morning in Washington, DC.

Washington, D.C., became the nation’s sixth jurisdiction to allow same-sex marriage Wednesday when it opened its marriage license application process to gay and lesbian couples.

More than one dozen couples lined up outside the D.C. Superior Court building — some arriving even before sunrise — to become the first same-sex pairs to obtain their applications to wed. Couples alternately smiled and wept as emotion swept the crowd.

“Love has won out over fear,” said Rev. Dennis Wiley, co-pastor at Covenant Baptist Church and co-chair of DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality. “Equality has won out over prejudice. Faith has won out over despair.”

Congratulations to the happy couples, and congratulations to everyone who contributed to this victory.  The DC community produced a vibrant, diverse coalition in support of equality, and it has paid enormous dividends.

Next up: voting rights.

PFAW

Judiciary Committee Hearing on OPR Report

On Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on the recently-released report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).  The Office had been tasked with assessing whether lawyers in the Bush Office of Legal Counsel had acted unethically in crafting legal memoranda justifying torture.

Although the OPR report concluded that John Yoo and Jay Bybee had demonstrated “professional misconduct,” their recommendation for sanctions was overruled by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, who acknowledged that it was a close question but concluded that the two had exercised “poor judgment.

As we pointed out, regardless of the final recommendation, the detailed reports absolutely affirm that embattled nominee Dawn Johnsen, who has been waiting for more than a year to be confirmed to head OLC under Attorney General Eric Holder, was correct in her criticisms of the “torture memos” issued by the Bush OLC. 

Rather than being pilloried for her legitimate criticisms of the Bush OLC’s failure to respect the rule of law, Johnsen should be celebrated for extraordinarily valuable process she led with 19 former OLC lawyers in fashioning principles to guide OLC’s work going forward.

Those principles, by the way, have garnered support across the political spectrum, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Timothy Elliott Flanigan (nominated by Bush to be Deputy Attorney General), and former OLC head Steven Bradbury.

At the hearings, Senator Leahy noted that Attorney General Holder has been hampered in fully reforming OLC as Johnsen’s confirmation continues to be obstructed by Republicans. She should be confirmed without further delay.

PFAW

Rev. Kenneth Samuel Responds to Rep. Trent Franks

You'd think that Congressman Trent Franks would have learned from his brush with fame last year when he declared that President Obama was an "enemy of humanity" because he's pro-choice.

But he didn't.  Yesterday Congressman Franks argued that African Americans were better off under slavery than having the constitutional right to reproductive choice.

FRANKS: In this country, we had slavery for God knows how long. And now we look back on it and we say "How brave were they? What was the matter with them? You know, I can't believe, you know, four million slaves. This is incredible." And we're right, we're right. We should look back on that with criticism. It is a crushing mark on America's soul. And yet today, half of all black children are aborted. Half of all black children are aborted. Far more of the African American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by the policies of slavery. And I think, What does it take to get us to wake up?

Thank goodness there are people like Rev. Kenneth Samuel, of People For Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council, to stand up for choice--and sanity. 

PFAW

African American History Awareness Month - A Chance to Prove

In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of Black people throughout American history. Today the celebration in the arts and science, public and private business industries, sports, domestic and foreign policy, and political, social and economic justice arenas continues throughout February and is now known as African American History Awareness Month.

Like others during these 28 days, I find myself hungry to learn of yet another person who, because of their thoughts, actions, motivation, "made a way out of no way". One Saturday evening I watched a PBS documentary titled "For Love of Liberty" and the sacrifices of African American soldiers who fought for a "cause greater than me".

Dating as far back as the Revolutionary War, it is the story of "America's Black Patriots." I watched images and heard narratives of those who faced ultimate racism and bigotry, but continued to sign up to for a chance to prove African Americans were worthy of dignity, humanity and full rights of citizenship. I also watched images of soldiers lynched in their uniforms as a message from extremist that no matter what their sacrifice, they would never be equal, honored or worthy.

This month I was afforded the opportunity to participate in a Congressional Black Caucus staff briefing on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In preparing for this presentation I realized here was yet another group of military personnel, soldiers waiting for a "chance to prove" they were worthy. I found what may seem like an unlikely connection with those of the past who fought for love of liberty for others with no gains or recognition of who they were with those who fight today and serve this county honorably for the same reason.

The contributions of African American's to this country are substantial, but as important they are inspiring. Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was the first non-white and first person of African American descent to become governor of a U.S. state, serving as the 24th Governor of Louisiana for an entire 35 days. Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was an educator, writer, and human rights leader. Vernon Johns was an African American minister and leader who was active in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans from the 1920s and is considered the father of the American Civil Rights Movement, having laid the foundation on which Martin Luther King, Jr. and others would build.

There are no ordinary sacrifices a person can make when their motivations and actions are for a cause greater than self. Religious and racial extremists haven't deterred those who seek that chance to prove their worthiness. As an African American, I am aware of what the insults of oppression, injustice and inequality can have on the mind and spirit of a persons and a people. I also know that separate is not necessarily equal. But I also have read and witnessed that "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."

I believe in revelation, the connection to historical moments, the legacy of persons and people in pursuit of "a chance to prove." This African American History Awareness Month I recognized the contributions of all men and women who served and are serving in our armed forces with profound appreciation for their sacrifices in pursuit of a chance to prove. In the words of what is known as the African American National Anthem by James Weldon Johnson, we must continue to celebrate, educate, and be inspired to "Lift every voice ... until victory is won."

PFAW

Senators Dodd and Udall call for a constitutional amendment

Yesterday, Senators Christopher Dodd and Tom Udall introduced a constitutional amendment to correct the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. According to Senator Dodd:

Ultimately, we must cut through the underbrush and go directly to the heart of the problem, and that is why I am proposing this constitutional amendment: because constitutional questions need constitutional answers.

People for the American Way applauds Senators Dodd and Udall, Senator John Kerry, and House members like Donna Edwards, John Conyers, and Leonard Boswell, for pushing constitutional amendments. We believe that this is the only complete remedy for the grave threat posed to our democracy by the Roberts Court and its equation of corporations with individuals – a perversion of the First Amendment.

While legislation is a crucial part of the effort to repair this decision, it should be only a part of our response. Constitutional amendments are warranted in only the most extreme circumstances. This is one of them.

You can join People For the American Way’s call for a constitutional amendment by signing our petition at http://www.pfaw.org/Amend.

PFAW

Despite the Right's Objections, Maryland To Recognize Same-Sex Marriages from Other States

This morning, the Maryland Attorney General released a well-reasoned opinion that firmly establishes that the state may recognize same-sex marriages from other states (and countries). The Far Right, of course, wanted an opinion stating that Maryland would not recognize out-of-state marriages. Unfortunately for them, the law just wasn't on their side, and the Attorney General was not willing to twist it for their purposes.

Maryland law specifically prohibits same-sex marriage. But as the AG writes in detail, Maryland has a long history of recognizing out of state marriages that cannot be performed within the state. The only exception: During the dark era of Jim Crow, Maryland found out-of-state interracial marriages so repugnant to its public policy that its high court stated that they would not be recognized within the state.

As the AG opinion points out, Maryland has numerous laws that protect and respect the rights of same-sex couples. Gays and lesbians do not face a virulent and violent foe in the form of the state, as African Americans once did. So you'd have to bend legal precedent beyond the breaking point to say that Maryland cannot recognize the out-of-state marriages of gay and lesbian couples.

The Far Right will likely not be happy with this opinion, claiming that it violates the right of Maryland to decide this issue by itself, rather than have other states decide for it. But an opinion doing what they want would be based on animus, not principle.

Every day in this country, state officials choose to recognize lawful out-of-state marriages of the type that their own state legislatures have explicitly rejected.

For instance, fully one half of the states - twenty-five - prohibit marriages between first cousins, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nevertheless, cousins who marry in one of the other 25 states don't go from married to unmarried and back to married again every time they cross state lines. That's because across America, states recognize marriages performed in their sister states even if they themselves would not allow the marriage.

Yet we do not hear screeds from the Far Right on how this violates the people's [or state legislatures'] right to define marriage in their own states.

So don't be fooled by the Far Right's claimed fealty to respect for the rule of law or state sovereignty. That's not what this is about.

Do the Far Right groups demand that states revoke recognition of all out-of-state marriages that could not be performed within the state?

Of course not. Because this has nothing to do with state sovereignty. It has everything to do with animus against gays and lesbians. Statements against the AG's opinion should be recognized – and condemned – as such.

PFAW

John Yoo versus Reality

Via The San Francisco Chronicle, it seems that the latest filing by John Yoo's lawyer— in a case brought by a prisoner who was illegally detained and tortured based on Yoo’s advice—has all the hallmarks of one of Yoo’s own briefs: it’s slipshod, morally questionable and utterly unsupported by the facts.

Take this assertion, for instance:

[Miguel Estrada, Yoo’s lawyer] also cited the Justice Department's report last week concluding that Yoo committed no professional misconduct in his memos.

As the Chronicle points out, Estrada failed to mention that that the Office of Professional Responsibility concluded that Yoo (along with now-Federal Judge Jay Bybee) demonstrated “professional misconduct” and ignored legal precedents.  Even the memo prepared by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, who ultimately attributed Yoo’s and Bybee’s actions to “poor judgment,” is “far from a vindication for John C. Yoo and Jay S. Bybee's shamefully narrow interpretations of laws against torture” according to the Los Angeles Times.  Margolis, while ruling out the harshest punishment for Yoo, says that debate over whether “Yoo intentionally or recklessly provided misleading advice to his client” is a “close question.”  Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

In fact, anyone who has actually read the report or Margolis’s memo knows that they paint a damning picture of Yoo’s actions.  Estrada’s claim that they exonerate Yoo is wishful thinking at best.

Next up is Estrada’s shot at guidelines drawn by a group of OLC alumni, headed by Dawn Johnsen, to help the Office move forward after the torture memos were made public.

In Friday's filing, Yoo's lawyer, Miguel Estrada, said Johnsen's guidelines reflect "only partisan disagreement with the policies of the previous administration."

How Estrada can deliver such an allegation with a straight face is difficult to fathom.  The idea that only partisans could oppose Yoo’s torture memos simply isn’t borne out by the facts.  First off, Republican Lindsey Graham didn’t seem to be a big fan of Yoo’s opinions, saying:

The guidance that was provided during this period of time, I think will go down in history as some of the most irresponsible and short-sighted legal analysis ever provided to our nation's military and intelligence communities.

Even putting aside Graham’s criticism of Yoo’s memos, Johnsen’s statement of principles was endorsed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Timothy Flanigan, and Acting OLC head Steven Bradbury in testimony to Congress.

But perhaps most galling is Estrada’s claim that Yoo remains a "respected legal scholar."

Honorifics aside, most “respected legal scholars” aren’t being investigated for war crimes by our allies.  Most don’t find their colleagues debating about whether or not ones tenure should be revoked.  And, notwithstanding the Margolis memorandum, the Office of Professional Responsibility doesn’t usually recommend that its findings of misconduct be referred to the state bar disciplinary authorities.

Estrada’s defense of Yoo is logically indefensible and divorced from even a passing resemblance to reality.  In short, it’s a brief only John Yoo could love.

PFAW

Virginia's New Radical Right Governor Begins His Assault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We must do better.

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

PFAW

Jeffrey Rosen on John Roberts' Judicial Activism

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Leahy Keeps Pushing Forward on Nominations

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

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

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

PFAW