PEOPLE FOR BLOG

If You Care About the Environment . . .

You should also care about the Supreme Court.

In a setback for environmentalists, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that federal regulators may consider costs when deciding whether to order the operators of power plants to install protections for fish.

By 6 to 3, the court overturned a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, which had ruled that the Clean Water Act barred the Environmental Protection Agency from engaging in the kind of cost-benefit analysis that it had proposed.

The recent narrow-but-good decision in Massachusetts v. EPA shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking that the Supreme Court is a particularly green institution at the moment, and today’s 6-3 decision (Justice Breyer wrote a concurrence) should be a reminder that the “liberal” wing of the Court is far from uniform. There’s a big difference between a good Justice and a great one, especially when it comes to environmental issues.
 

PFAW

What About the D.C. Voting Rights Act?

The DC Voting Rights Act (H.R. 157) is currently sitting in limbo, hung up over controversial amendments. The bill has been removed from the floor, further delaying the vote that the citizens of the District deserve.

This week DC Vote began to run a new series of ads with the line: “D.C.’s rights held hostage.”

The entire episode shows why D.C. desperately needs a vote. Congress shouldn’t be passing laws for D.C. without the input and consent of Washingtonians. And on the issue of guns, it appears Congress and the District are at odds:

"[DC Mayor Adrian] Fenty said that if the city secured a House vote, it would give the District more power to fight laws it doesn't agree with, "such as getting rid of the amendment.”

We must pass the D.C. Voting Rights Act as a clean bill, and every day that passes until then is another day of injustice and disenfranchisement—“taxation without representation”—for the residents of our nation’s capital.
 

PFAW

Homophobia and the Black Church Event

This week, People For Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council is co-sponsoring the Harambee* celebration at Howard Divinity School. 

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend one of the panels we sponsored, “Homophobia in the Black Church.” It was, if I do say so myself, pretty great.

The event is part of AAMLC's ongoing work to target homophobia in the Black Church.  And while it would be nice to say that everyone was in complete agreement on the subject, that would also be a little dull. That wasn’t a problem yesterday.

Instead, there was a rich and respectful conversation about homophobia, sexuality, history, theology, and the role religion to plays in our Democracy. (Which stands in stark contrast to the deception and fear mongering that the Right has used to exploit divisions on the issue.)

Harambee!

The panel was moderated by Rev. Tony Lee, Senior Pastor of Community of Hope AME Church in Temple Hills, MD, and featured:

  • Rev. Dr. Kenneth L. Samuel, Senior Pastor of Victory for the World (Stone Mountain, Ga.) and Vice Chair of the African American Ministers Leadership Council
  • Donna Payne, Associate Director of Diversity, Human Rights Campaign
  • Rev. Byron Williams, syndicated columnist and pastor of the Resurrection Community Church in Oakland, CA.
  • Rev. Dr. Ronald Hopson, psychologist and ordained minister. Dr. Hopson holds a joint appointment as a professor with the Howard University Department of Psychology and the School of Divinity.
  • Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, Fellow in Residence at the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture

We had a sizable crowd, but if you weren’t able to attend, fear not: we’ll be releasing a transcript of the event in the near futures, and the conversation will be continuing throughout the year.

(* - "Harambee" is the Kenyan tradition of community self-help.  In case you were wondering.)

PFAW

Obama DOJ Invokes State Secrets For Second Time

This Washington Post recently had a story on a second instance of the Obama Department of Justice invoking "state secrets" in an effort to shut down a lawsuit challenging violations by the Bush Administration of individuals' constitutional rights.

The first instance, in February, came in the case of Mohamed et al. v. Jeppesen, a suit challenging a company's alleged participation in the rendition of terrorism suspects to countries where they suffered torture. At that time, People For the American Way decried the "blow to our much-needed efforts to restore justice." This time the lawsuit involves allegations by the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation that the federal government used warrantless wiretaps to gather information on the charity's board members and attorneys in violation of their due process and free speech rights.

The Post story reports that in addition to invoking the state secrets privilege to terminate the lawsuit -- thereby denying the charity its day in court -- the Justice Department is also threatening to remove the documents from the district court's custody to keep them out of the hands of the charity's lawyers. No doubt there must be a careful balancing of competing interests in these kinds of cases -- legitimate efforts to protect our nation's security versus holding the government accountable for violations of individuals' constitutional rights. But I must say the balancing that appears to be going on in these instances is making me pretty nervous.

PFAW

More Nonsense from the Right on Hamilton

Late last week several leaders of the Right, including Tony Perkins, Edwin Meese, and Alfred Regnery issued a statement opposing the nomination of David Hamilton (currently the Chief Judge of the Southern District of Indiana) to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Among other things the statement recycles the screed working its way through the right wing blogoshpere that treats Hamilton's one-month job as a canvasser for ACORN thirty years ago when he was twenty two as if it constitutes a major portion of his career.  And it repeats the gross mischaracterization of a decision by Hamilton that police shouldn’t be allowed to violate “the privacy and sanctity of family relations” by directing a school social worker to interrogate a nine-year old student to get evidence against her mother.

And, now, for the first time as far as I’m aware, the statement levels charges that Hamilton ruled that prayers to Jesus Christ offered at the beginning of state legislative sessions were impermissible, but that prayers to Allah were not.

Of course, that’s not an accurate reading of Hamilton’s opinion. Rather, he concluded, as the Supreme Court has said, that “any official prayers [must] be inclusive and non-sectarian and not advance one particular religion.” And he found, based on an in-depth analysis of the record, that the official prayers being offered in the Indiana House in fact “repeatedly and consistently” advanced the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, and as such, were impermissible. He also said that Muslim prayers that similarly advanced the Muslim faith were also impermissible, but that the one and only instance of a prayer being offered by a Muslim imam “was inclusive and was not identifiable as distinctly Muslim from its content.”

A debate on the merits of judicial nominees is perfectly appropriate. But let’s at least get the facts straight.

PFAW

Justice O’Connor Speaks Out. Kinda.

The New York Times has a short interview of former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and it’s interesting to see all the topics she doesn’t want to talk about.

Whom did you vote for in the presidential election?

Come on, is this about my Web site?

She dodges a question about Harriet Miers and declines to call herself a feminist, but one thing O’Connor doesn’t hold back on is her desire to see another woman appointed to the Court.

It was better for me when I was joined at the court by a second woman. When I was there alone, there was too much media focus on the one woman, and the minute we got another woman, that changed.

Makes sense.

Diversity on the Court—in all its many forms—was a big topic at our recent Beyond the Sigh of Relief panel. Take a look if you haven’t already.

PFAW

Torturing the Rule of Law

Newsweek is reporting:

Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify—and publicly release—three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the "enhanced" interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against "high value" Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity, said the memos were "ugly" and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a "truth commission" on torture.

Torture and the other illegal activities approved at the very highest levels of the Bush Administration must be exposed to the public for a simple reason: sweeping officially-sanctioned lawbreaking under the rug is dangerously corrosive to the rule of law.  After all, if one president can get away with illegal behavior without any consequences, what’s to prevent another president from doing the same?

America will have more presidents, good and bad, and letting the malefactors of the Bush Administration off the hook can only encourage future criminal abuses of authority.

We must have full accountability for what happened during the Bush era.
 

PFAW

Marriage Equality on the March

As if Ben and Jerry’s wasn’t enough reason to love Vermont, it looks like marriage equality legislation is moving forward in the state legislature:

A Vermont Senate committee voted to advance a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state.

The senate Judiciary Committee voted 5-0 on Friday to advance a bill that was the topic of an emotional public hearing on Wednesday that drew hundreds to the Statehouse.

Governor Douglas has said he opposes the bill, but hasn’t said that he’d actually veto it if it got to his desk.

Of course, even if same-sex couples in Vermont can get married, they’re still prevented from receiving the federal protections that marriage affords their heterosexual friends. Just another reason why we should Dump DOMA.

PFAW

Kathryn Kolbert Talks Judges and GOP Hypocrisy on Air America Radio

People For the American Way president Kathryn Kolbert appeared recently on the David Bender Show on Air America to talk about President Obama’s judicial nominees.

 
Even before Obama nominated a single person, GOP Senators threatened to filibuster his nominees. These are the very same Senators who were pounding their fists over President Bush’s nominees and clamoring for the “nuclear option,” which would have obliterated the filibuster.
 
You can listen to the interview here:

PFAW

Truth Telling in the Senate Judiciary Committee

President Obama’s choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel moved out of the Judiciary Committee today on a not-quite party line vote of 11-7. All the Democrats on the Committee supported her nomination, and all the Republicans opposed it, except for Arlen Specter, who passed.

Today’s vote is important because now the nomination of this extraordinarily qualified woman to head the Office of Legal Counsel will go forward to the floor, where—hopefully—she will get a vote by the full Senate.

But today’s session was also important because of the truth telling by a number of members, including Senators Leahy, Durbin, and Whitehouse, about the central role the Office of Legal Counsel played during the Bush Administration in undermining the rule of law and advancing some of its "most horrendous practices." As Senator Whitehouse said it was the "leading contender for the most rotten place during the Bush Administration.” 

The Senators made the case for how qualified Dawn Johnsen is to head this office—her record of previous service as a Deputy Attorney General; her intellectual honesty and exceptionally good judgment; her extremely constructive role, in response to the Bush Administration excesses, in pulling together nineteen former OLC attorneys to craft a statement of principles to guide the Office of Legal Counsel that has won bipartisan praise. And they told their colleagues on the other side of the aisle that when this nomination comes to the floor, if they want to debate the past role of the Office of Legal Counsel, if they want to debate the role that John Yoo among others played in undermining the rule of law, then bring it on. That’s the kind of debate the American people will understand!

This was a good day for the American people, and for the rule of law.  Let’s hope it continues.

PFAW

Stop Voter ID in Texas

The New York Times editorial board probably didn’t write their piece today directly in response to a vote in the Texas State Senate yesterday, but they might as well have. 

From the NY Times editorial:

In last year’s presidential election, as many as three million registered voters were not allowed to cast ballots and millions more chose not to because of extremely long lines and other frustrating obstacles. Ever since the 2000 election in Florida, the serious flaws in the voting system have been abundantly clear. More than eight years later, Congress must finally deliver on its promise of electoral reform.

At a hearing last week, the Senate Rules Committee released a report sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the sorry state of voting. It said that administrative barriers, such as error-filled voting lists or wrongful purges of voter rolls prevented as many as three million registered voters from casting ballots. Another two million to four million registered voters were discouraged from even trying to vote because of difficulty obtaining an absentee ballot, voter ID issues and other problems.

More on the voter ID bill from the Dallas Morning News:

Senate Republicans pushed through a bill Tuesday that would require Texans to show a photo ID or two alternative IDs before voting, while Democrats shifted their efforts to derail the legislation to the House.

The measure, commonly referred to as "voter ID," was approved 19-12, with all Senate Republicans voting for the bill and all Democrats voting against it. A final vote will be required Wednesday before the proposal is sent to the House.

As if we need any extra barriers to an already broken system.

The article goes on to say that there’s a 50-50 chance of passage in the House. There are 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats in the House. That means your calls and advocacy are crucial. If you’re a Texas resident, make sure to call your representative and tell them that to stop this thinly-veiled attempt to keep certain kinds of voters – voters who wouldn’t vote for them – away from the polls.
 

PFAW

Hamilton, Due Process, and the Right

Ed Whelan in yesterday's post about Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals nominee David Hamilton bemoans Hamilton's "inventive invocation of substantive due process to suppress evidence of a criminal defendant's possession of cocaine." Sound ominous? Perhaps - if it were true.

Here's the real story.

There were two defendants in this case. The first, the cocaine dealer, was convicted and received a sentence from Judge Hamilton of 188 months. Although Hamilton concluded that the search warrant pursuant to which drugs were found was not based on probable cause, he nonetheless refused to exclude the evidence obtained from the search because the officers conducted the search based on good faith that the warrant was properly issued. The defendant challenged Judge Hamilton's decision on appeal and lost in the Seventh Circuit. No substantive due process suppression of evidence for this defendant.

The second defendant was a girlfriend of the convicted cocaine dealer. She was charged with possession of marijuana and related offenses--but what concerned Judge Hamilton was how the police collected their evidence against her: by using a school social worker to interrogate her nine-year old daughter for, as Judge Hamilton found, the sole purpose of getting the "goods" on her mother.

This offended Judge Hamilton's sense of fundamental fairness and he concluded as such in an extremely carefully-reasoned opinion. He found that this governmental abuse of power violated a core interest at the "foundation of American liberty long protected by constitutional safeguards: the privacy and sanctity of family relations."

The Seventh Circuit didn’t agree with Judge Hamilton’s analysis of the government’s rationale for questioning the defendant’s daughter and the balancing of government interests v. intrusion into familial relations and it so reversed the decision. But this is not exactly the picture of "extremism" painted by Whelan, is it?
 

PFAW

Repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) is a prime issue for LGBT lobbyists and activists nationwide--including here at People For. Freedom from discrimination is a basic right that all Americans should enjoy. Repealing DADT is necessary for our nation to restore its core values, especially the principle of equality for all.

On Friday, March 13th, 2009, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) hosted a lobby day and a "Freedom to Serve Rally" on Capitol Hill, and I was pleased to be able to join them. Lobby groups targeted Representatives and Senators who currently oppose the repeal.

As a supporter of repeal, it was difficult for me to understand how Representatives and Senators could refuse to support ending DADT. It was shocking for me to see how many Congress members were completely uninterested in hearing from our group--even those of us who had served in uniform for our country.

Later, I could not hold back the tears when some of our discharged service members, some after even 25 years of service, shared their stories during the Freedom to Serve Rally. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) was a standout among an impressive lineup of speakers. Rep. Norton declared: "I'm done asking! And I'm telling!" We're not asking for repeal any longer, we're telling Congress and President Obama that the time for repeal is now. And this isn't just about fairness and job discrimination, Rep. Norton noted, but it is also about the strength of our military.

Lifting the ban on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is not only necessary for retaining equality, but it's necessary for ensuring that our armed forces remain the best in the world. It is imperative that we join together to make sure that all Americans can serve honestly and openly in our armed forces. Together, we can and we will lift the ban!

PFAW

Obama's First Judicial Nomination: A Good Start

News reports state that David Hamilton, a federal district court judge in Indiana, will be President Obama’s first judicial nominee. He will apparently be nominated to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

I am just learning about Judge Hamilton. In 2005, according to the New York Times, "he made news by ruling that the legislature was prohibited from beginning its sessions with overtly Christian prayers. The decision drew widespread criticism in the legislature and across the state."

I can only imagine.

The overwhelming majority of Indianans are Christian. I’d venture to guess that very few of them have ever lived in a society where theirs was a minority religion, and where the government officially promoted a religion that condemned theirs. The experience of their lives is one where they are comfortably in the majority.

As a Jew who grew up in conservative Texas, my experience is different. I know how it felt in elementary school when public school teachers imposed their Christianity upon the classroom. Officially-sanctioned Christianity regularly made it clear that I was an outsider in my own society: I did not belong.

That is but one of the many excellent reasons that the Founders wisely adopted the First Amendment’s prohibition of the establishment of religion by government. But it’s the one that first occurred to me as I read about the Indiana legislative prayer case.

It is important that judges as a group reflect the diversity of America, so the bench is filled with jurists with a wide variety of life experiences, ranging from the top to the bottom of the social ladder. But that does not excuse the individual judge from being able to step outside their own life experience and recognize that what is not a problem for them can be a severe problem for someone whose life has been different. That is an essential quality for a judge. It’s what made the Brown v. Board of Education decision so different from Plessey v. Ferguson, even though both cases were decided by all-white Courts. Similarly, it’s what made 1976’s Craig v. Boren (establishing a higher level of scrutiny for legal sex-based classifications) so different from 1872’s Bradwell v. Illinois (upholding the state’s prohibition against women attorneys), even though both cases were decided by an all-male Court.

Perhaps Judge Hamilton’s ability to step outside his own experiences helped him decide the legislative prayer case. Either way, he clearly was willing to enforce the First Amendment and clear Supreme Court precedent in a case where he knew that he would be condemned by many people in his state. He put the law over ideology. That’s another quality needed in a judge.

This is an encouraging first judicial nomination from President Obama.

PFAW

Do elephants really never forget?

From today's Politico:

McConnell said that Coleman’s team seems to have been laying the groundwork for a federal appeals challenge by citing the 2000 Supreme Court case in Bush v. Gore, which ended the Florida recount. McConnell argued that the equal protection clause of the Constitution ensures that each county should use similar standards in counting its ballots, which the Coleman campaign asserts was not done in Minnesota.

"We all remember Bush v. Gore," McConnell said.

I am not sure Senator McConnell remembers.

It's interesting that McConnell is willing to let an election -- which has already had a recount -- hang in the air for two months. After all, less than a month after the 2000 election, McConnell was already demanding that Al Gore concede to George W. Bush. McConnell's comments to the Lexington Herald-Leader on Nov. 27, 2000:

We've had a count, we've had a recount, we've had a recount of the recount. It's been three weeks since the election and it's time for Gore to be a statesman and give it up.

But do not worry, others have not forgotten, Senator McConnell.

PFAW