PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Citizens United and State Laws

The Citizens United decision didn’t merely overturn nearly a century of federal laws and precedents; it also threw state campaign finance laws into turmoil. Before Citizens United, 24 states restricted corporate spending in elections. After the Supreme Court invalidated the federal laws governing corporate influence in political campaigns, states started scrambling to prepare for their own campaign finance laws to be struck down. And none too soon: as we’ve mentioned before, legal challenges have already started to bring down some of these state-level laws.

On Monday, Wisconsin’s attorney general formally announced that the state’s campaign finance laws would have to be repealed. A local news station reported that lifting these restrictions could lead to an increase in campaign spending from $30 million last year to $90 million this year. It remains to be seen whether Wisconson, like many of the other states affected by the Supreme Court decision, will enact disclosure laws to lessen the impact of corporate money on elections.

The conservative majority on the Roberts court didn’t just invalidate the anti-corruption measures enacted by our democratically elected Congress. It also limited the ability of state governments to decide for themselves how to regulate their own elections. Wisconsin’s election laws are just the latest casualty. To keep track of what’s happening in other states, go here.

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Julian Bond: In the Kagan Hearings, Echoes of the Past

Last month, Republican senators turned to a surprising strategy in their questioning of Supreme Court nominee (and now Supreme Court Justice) Elena Kagan. They attempted to smear Kagan by connecting her with a figure who most of us don’t see as a liability—the revered civil rights leader Justice Thurgood Marshall. The attacks Senators Charles Grassley, Jon Kyl, and Jeff Sessions levied at Marshall rang a bell for former NAACP member and People For board member Julian Bond. Bond writes in today’s Des Moines Register:

These attacks didn't surprise me because they're completely consistent with a party locked in the past, echoing the anti-civil rights message of those who opposed Justice Marshall's own confirmation in 1967.

Grassley, Sessions and their fellow Republicans roasted Solicitor General Kagan with the same attacks used against Marshall four decades earlier. Then, the late Sen. Sam Ervin of North Carolina complained about the likelihood that Marshall would be "a judicial activist," which he defined as someone "unable to exercise the self-restraint which is inherent in the judicial process when it is properly understood and applied, and who is willing to add to the Constitution things that are not in it and to subtract from the Constitution things which are in it."

When Ervin spoke of adding rights to the Constitution, there was no doubt that he was referring to the court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, which he had fervently opposed. Ervin went on to join with 10 other southern Senators in voting against Marshall's confirmation.

Faced with the inevitable backlash for their attacks, today’s senators have tried to equivocate by saying they have no problem with Justice Marshall, just with his “judicial philosophy.” As Bond makes clear, that’s not a new—or convincing--argument.

For a refresher, take a look at the compilation of Marshall attacks Talking Points Memo put together after the first day of the Kagan hearings:
 

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First Boehner Billboard Up, Second On the Way

Last month, PFAW Voters Alliance joined up with the AFL-CIO and Blue America PAC to host a contest to choose a billboard to grace a busy highway near House Minority Leader John Boehner’s home district. The winning concept is now a reality, by the side of a Cincinnati-area stretch of I-75:

The contest was such a success that we’ll be putting up a second billboard with the runner-up slogan:

Take a look at this segment on the first billboard from Cincinnati’s WLWT:

It’s not too late to contribute to the effort to confront Boehner on his home turf. You can find the billboard options here.

But first, let’s take a minute to remember why we’re putting up these billboards in the first place—and why it’s so important that Boehner doesn’t end up with more power in Congress than he already has. Just in the past two months, Boehner has:

  • Referred to the nation’s financial crisis as an insignificant “ant
  • Suggested that taxpayers bail out BP
  • Suggested that Congress not impose any new regulations on any industry (including, say, the oil industry) until there is an “emergency
  • Has repeatedly insisted on extending Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans without being able to explain how he would pay for it.

And that’s just what he could come up with during two summer months, in between rounds of golf.

Top photo: Howie Klein

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Target apologizes, but will stay in politics

Why would two companies that received 100% ratings from the Human Rights Campaign's 2010 Corporate Equality Index give a combined $250,000 to a group backing a candidate with extreme anti-gay views? According to Target's CEO, the company was only trying to advance "policies aligned with our business objectives" when it contributed $150,000 to Minnesota Forward, a group whose sole purpose is to support the candidacy of State Rep. Tom Emmer, the Republican nominee for governor of Minnesota.

MN Forward is a creation of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Business Partnership, and its top priority is, of course, lowering the corporate tax rate. In fact, MN Forward is led by Brian McClung, who previously served as "government affairs director for the Twin West Chamber of Commerce" and ran the "group's political-action committee." Benefiting from the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, the organization already raised $1.1 million, much of it from corporate donors like Hubbard Broadcasting, Red Wing Shoe Co., Federated Insurance and Davisco Foods. Ultimately, MNForward hopes to obtain $2 to $5 million in order to run advertisements across the state promoting Emmer.

It's not a surprise that big business has rallied around Emmer, who repeatedly voted against consumer protection laws, such as "good faith" requirements for insurance companies, and raising the minimum wage. In fact, Emmer was rewarded with a perfect 100% rating from the Chamber of Commerce for his 2010 voting record. But Emmer is not only a consistent defender of corporations in the State House, but is also a leading opponent of gay rights.

He voted against a bill that would permit same-sex domestic partners to have rights over the burial of their deceased partners, and also opposed allowing domestic partners of state employees to collect health insurance. Emmer even voted against legislation that would mandate anti-bullying policies in public schools to protect LGBT youth. When a local Christian rock band's lead singer called the execution of gays "moral," Emmer refused to condemn the band, and instead called them "nice people."

While Emmer declined to denounce the viciously anti-gay rock band he has financially supported, he did take the opportunity to blast critics of corporate influence in elections as enemies of free speech.

In the end, faced with an outcry from shareholders and a boycott from consumers, Target's CEO apologized for the donations. However, the company did not say that it would stop making contributions; instead, it will create a review board to oversee future contributions.

No word yet from BestBuy and other companies who have financially backed MN Forward.

PFAW

The Wrong Lesson To Learn From the Kagan Confirmation

Over at The Atlantic, Max Fisher draws some conclusions from the Kagan confirmation, and I think he’s pulled together a pretty good summation of what folks in Washington are thinking—but that doesn’t mean they’re right.

Fisher argues that since 37 votes were cast against Kagan, and since the GOP could pick up Senate seats in November, Obama will be forced to nominate a “moderate.”

Not so fast.

The fact that 37 Senators voted against Elena Kagan is a sign that Senate Republicans will fight anyone who gets nominated to the high court, no matter how unobjectionable (a fact that’s borne out by their disgraceful treatment of lower court nominees.) If Republicans are willing to attack a Supreme Court nominee endorsed by Jack Goldsmith, Miguel Estrada, Ken Starr and Ted Olson, they’re not going to let anyone off without a food fight.

Will more Republicans mean a bigger fight next time? Maybe, but there’s nothing to be done about it. President Obama should consider himself free to nominate whoever he wants: if we’re going to fight, it might as well be a fight worth having.

PFAW

Celebrating Elena Kagan's Confirmation

I'm just back from a reception at the White House celebrating the confirmation of Elena Kagan to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The mood was truly upbeat, with everyone thrilled at the reality of three women sitting on the Supreme Court. I got to congratulate soon-to-be Justice Kagan and tell her how truly excellent and inspiring I thought her testimony was.

 

PFAW

The Party of No Lives Up to Its Name

Last night, in the latest episode of their passive-aggressive crusade to keep President Obama’s judicial nominees off the bench, the Senate GOP put on a mind-boggling display of obstruction.

As the Senate confirmed Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court nomination, 21 other judicial nominees were waiting for Senate votes. More than half of these nominees had been approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee, and all had been waiting more than 100 days for confirmation.

After the Kagan vote, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell agreed to hold voice votes on four of the stalled nominees, and promised to agree to a vote on another—Jane Stranch, a Tennessee attorney who has been waiting more than a year for confirmation, despite having the support of both of her home state’s Republican senators-- in September.

The GOP sent five nominees back to the White House—meaning that the President will have to renominate them and start the process again.

That left eleven nominees in Senate limbo. Nine of them had received absolutely no opposition from either party in their Judiciary Committee hearings.

In an interview Monday, the National Journal asked McConnell about his party’s obstructionism. “Is the Senate broken?” the interviewer asked. McConnell answered:

No. Members frequently on both sides hold up a nominee because of some concern they have. It is more likely to be done if you are in the minority because the administration is not of your party and less likely to address your concern. This kind of give-and-take I have seen go on before. It is not any more dramatic now than it has been in the past, and this president has not been treated worse than the last one was. But it is always maddening to the majority and maddening to every president.

I must say the president even made it worse by recessing a guy like [Craig] Becker [to the National Labor Relations Board], who was defeated in the Senate. We had a vote. He was defeated on a bipartisan basis. And recessing a guy like [Donald] Berwick [to oversee Medicare and Medicaid] without any hearings at all and with the chairman of the Finance Committee [Max Baucus, D-Mont.] saying he didn't think he should have been recessed. That is not the kind of action that is designed to, shall I say, engender a cooperative reaction on the part of the minority. I think we can statistically show you that it is not worse for President Obama. He hasn't been singled out more for shoddy treatment than it has been in the past.

It’s unclear what “concern” McConnell is referring to in the case of the nine blocked nominees who have received absolutely no Republican opposition. The concern seems to have nothing to do with the nominees at all—but rather with unrelated executive branch nominations that the GOP is seeking revenge for.

And as for McConnell’s claim that “we can statistically show you that it is not worse for President Obama,” the Center for American Progress has a chart for that:


PFAW

Conservatives Against Religious Tolerance

Recently the right wing, including Sarah Palin and other prominent Republicans, has been loudly protesting the proposed construction of an Islamic center and mosque in the vicinity of Ground Zero. The center is intended to help build an interfaith community in downtown Manhattan. But to hear the National Republican Trust tell it, radical Islamic terrorist-supporters are planning to build a mosque next to the world trade center site in order to celebrate the 9/11 attacks. In one ad, the NRT Pac pairs disturbing images of 9/11 with this message:

"On Sept. 11, they declared war against us. And to celebrate that murder of 3,000 Americans, they want to build a monstrous 13-story mosque at Ground Zero. This ground is sacred. When we weep, they rejoice. That mosque is a monument to their victory and an invitation for more. A mosque at Ground Zero must not stand."

It’s hard to count everything that is wrong with this statement: there is no link between the organizers and extremist Muslim groups; the project is a community center, not just a mosque, complete with a swimming pool and art exhibition space; the building isn’t even visible from Ground Zero; and the list goes on. As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made clear in an eloquent speech, conservatives’ misleading rhetoric does a disservice to the American spirit of religious tolerance that was attacked on September 11.

In a statement, PFAW President Michael Keegan said:

Of course a Muslim community center should be allowed in lower Manhattan. This is not a close question.

Our country is built upon the bedrock principle that people of all faiths and of no faith at all are equally welcome in our nation’s civic life. No community should be told to move away because of its religion. Arguing that Muslims are unwelcome anywhere is a threat to religious liberty everywhere. Religious intolerance is not the American way.

Those political leaders who have spoken out against religious intolerance should be applauded—they have taken a stand for our most essential values. It’s deeply disappointing that so many of their colleagues chose instead to use this incident to inflame religious strife.

I just can’t get over the hypocrisy of Sarah Palin tweeting “Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand. Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts,” while her Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives blocked a health care bill for New Yorkers and first responders sickened from inhaling toxins from the 9/11 attacks.

That’s right, Americans, the GOP will NOT be there to help if you are made permanently ill in the aftermath of a terrorist attack – but don’t worry, they’ll fight to protect the site of the attack from “peace-seeking Muslims.”

PFAW

Back to the Future?

Why, asked Senator Chuck Schumer of New York before Elena Kagan's confirmation today, were so many conservatives opposed to the nominee, despite her record of achievement and mainstream credentials? Because conservatives are attached to right-wing judicial activism, and see Kagan as a threat to the current hegemony of conservative ideology on the highest court. Said Schumer:

The supposedly staunch opposition to judicial activism on the right has shown its true colors in this debate over a truly moderate and mainstream candidate. They themselves want right wing judicial activism to pull this country into the past. I’ve always said that the far right is using the only unelected branch of government to do what it cannot do through the two elected branches: turn back history to a time when corporations and large special interests had more say in our courts than ordinary people.

As Senator Schumer reminds us, our society has made tremendous progress over the last century – but that’s not the way the right sees it. A case in point for Senator Schumer’s argument was the memorable exchange between Senators Coburn and Klobuchar during Kagan’s hearing, in which Sen. Coburn suggested that Americans were “freer” thirty years ago and Sen. Klobuchar reminded him of the astonishing progress women have made during that time.

PFAW

Fiorina’s Supreme Court Extremism in Disguise

Is this the best impression of a political moderate that Carly Fiorina can do?

The California senatorial candidate announced yesterday that if she were currently a member of the Senate she would not vote to confirm Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court. Her reasoning?

The confirmation process revealed that she has many admirable qualities – an ability to solve problems, an energetic mind and an enthusiasm for her colleagues and her work – all of which qualify her to serve as Solicitor General, the Dean of a Law School or even as a legislator. However, the process also underscored her lack of experience as a jurist, which in my mind is a key element in determining whether or not a nominee is qualified to serve as a member of the Supreme Court.

Yes, Fiorina claims that her one and only qualm with Kagan is that the Solicitor General has never been a judge before.

I don’t think we need to remind Fiorina that the lack of judicial experience is hardly unusual for Supreme Court nominees. 41 of the 109 Supreme Court justices in American history came to the high court with no previous judicial experience--including former chief justice and stalwart conservative William Rehnquist.

In fact, since Kagan’s nomination, current and former Supreme Court justices have come out saying you don’t need judicial experience to do the job well. Former justice Sandra Day O’Connor said that Kagan’s professional background was “just fine.” Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative justices in the past 50 years, was actually enthusiastic about Kagan’s background: “I am happy to see that this latest nominee is not a federal judge - and not a judge at all,” he said.

Which leads to the obvious question: Does Fiorina really think that judicial experience is the only qualification for a Supreme Court justice? If that’s the case, she would she have had to oppose the nominations of some of the most influential justices in Supreme Court history, including Rehnquist, John Marshall, Louis Brandeis, Earl Warren, William O. Douglas, Harlan Fiske Stone, Robert Jackson, Felix Frankfurter, and Joseph Story, among others.

Or is the “inexperienced” argument just a flimsy front for Fiorina’s real right-wing views on judicial appointments?

Fiorina clearly cannot oppose Kagan, a decidedly mainstream nominee with bipartisan support, on ideological grounds without blowing her newly-constructed cover as a political moderate. Instead, she has latched onto a flimsy excuse to oppose Kagan in order to pander to her ultra-conservative base--without setting off the alarms of moderate and progressive voters.

This statement isn’t about Elena Kagan’s resume. It’s about Carly Fiorina’s attempt to appease Sarah Palin conservatives while pretending to be a middle-of-the-road politician. And that should be very scary to moderate California voters.
 

PFAW

Senate Sends Kagan to the Supreme Court

The Senate just confirmed Elena Kagan to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. The vote was 63-37, with five Republicans voting to confirm her, and one Democrat (Ben Nelson of Nebraska) opposing her.

People For’s President, Michael Keegan, said:

“Americans should be proud that Elena Kagan was confirmed to the Supreme Court today. She brings to the bench sterling credentials and a formidable intellect. Her commitment to the Constitution and equal justice under law will serve the Court well in the decades ahead.

“During her hearings, Elena Kagan spoke powerfully about the Constitution as a timeless document, constructed by its framers to be interpreted over time in light of new situations and in new contexts. She articulated a view of the Constitution and the role of judges in sharp contrast to Chief Justice Roberts’ misleading analogy to an umpire calling balls and strikes. Solicitor General Kagan made clear that she has the intellectual fortitude and the command of the law to keep faith with our Constitution--its amendments, its history, and its core values like justice and equality under the law.

“Thanks to today’s vote, the Supreme Court will have three female Justices for the first time in our nation’s history. This is an historic step forward for all Americans, and an advancement of which every citizen should be proud.”
 

PFAW

Empathy vs. Sympathy

As the Senate debate continues on Elena Kagan’s confirmation, Republicans have used this opportunity to blast Obama for previously stating that judges should have the empathy to understand the lives of ordinary Americans. Republicans argue that possessing “empathy” is synonymous with “liberal judicial activism,” and have attempted to use this standard to oppose Kagan’s nomination.

Yesterday, Sen. Kaufman of Delaware reminded his colleagues of the actual meaning of “empathy”: 

Likewise, President Obama’s promotion of empathy is not, as his critics suggest, the advocacy of bias. “Empathy,” as a quick look at the dictionary will confirm, is not the same as “sympathy.” “Empathy” means understanding the experiences of another, not identification with or bias toward another. Let me repeat that. “Empathy” means understanding the experiences of another, not identification with or bias toward another. Words have meanings, and we should not make arguments that depend on misconstruing those meanings.

Republicans launched their assault on empathy last year during Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. What was lost in the hubbub is what the word actually means. Sympathy leads to the kind of bleeding-heart reactionary reasoning that Republicans claim to be afraid of in nominees like Sotomayor and Kagan. Empathy is the quality that enables judges to understand the reasons laws are made, and the real-life implications they have on the lives of Americans. Republicans have access to the same dictionaries as the rest of us—but if they stopped twisting Obama’s words, they would lose one of their favorite empty arguments.

PFAW

Proposition 8: Just the Facts

Yesterday afternoon, federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 violated the United States Constitution. This is an important milestone.

One reason it is so important is the factual record that was compiled for the case. Judge Walker developed an extremely detailed factual record upon which to base his legal conclusions - a record of the significant harm that marriage inequality causes, of the history of discrimination faced by lesbian and gay people, and of the animus behind Prop 8. In fact, more than 50 pages of the opinion are devoted to his findings of fact.

For instance, there's Fact 55: "Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages."

Or Fact 56: "The children of same-sex couples benefit when their parents can marry."

Or Fact 66: "Proposition 8 increases costs and decreases wealth for same-sex couples because of increased tax burdens, decreased availability of health insurance and higher transactions costs to secure rights and obligations typically associated with marriage. Domestic partnership reduces but does not eliminate these costs."

Or Fact 74: "Gays and lesbians have been victims of a long history of discrimination."

Or Fact 76: "Well-known stereotypes about gay men and lesbians include a belief that gays and lesbians are affluent, self-absorbed and incapable of forming long-term intimate relationships. Other stereotypes imagine gay men and lesbians as disease vectors or as child molesters who recruit young children into homosexuality. No evidence supports these stereotypes."

This factual record is very important, because when Prop 8 supporters appeal the decision, the appellate court will have to accept these facts. Appellate federal courts are generally limited to deciding issues of law, not of fact. Well-supported facts like these will make it much harder for an appellate court to reverse the decision.

More broadly, this case shows us that when the forces of the Right face an independent judge, the arguments that serve them so well on Fox News wither before genuine scrutiny. It also shows the beauty of the American constitutional system, where our independent judiciary protects Equal Justice Under the Law.

PFAW

A Win for Fact Over Prejudice

California federal judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion yesterday in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger—in which he struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage—was a strong defense of the values embodied in the Constitution. But it was also something more. In his 136-page opinion, Judge Walker carefully dismantled dozens of the myths that opponents of marriage equality have attempted to use as legitimate legal arguments against allowing gay people to marry. And unlike the defenders of marriage discrimination, Walker didn’t make up evidence out of whole cloth—in his analysis, he relies on expert testimony, statistics, and the lessons of history. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick writes:

It's hard to read Judge Walker's opinion without sensing that what really won out today was science, methodology, and hard work. Had the proponents of Prop 8 made even a minimal effort to put on a case, to track down real experts, to do more than try to assert their way to legal victory, this would have been a closer case. But faced with one team that mounted a serious effort and another team that did little more than fire up their big, gay boogeyman screensaver for two straight weeks, it wasn't much of a fight. Judge Walker scolds them at the outset for promising in their trial brief to prove that same-sex marriage would "effect some twenty-three harmful consequences" and then putting on almost no case.

The stunning thing is that the feeble arguments that Prop 8 defenders were able to muster against marriage equality were in fact the best they could come up with. Kyle at Right Wing Watch writes that there was some in-fighting among the Right Wing over who would get to defend Proposition 8 in court. The fervently anti-gay Liberty Council tried to wrest the defense away from the equally anti-gay but slightly more street-smart Alliance Defense Fund, because the ADF wanted to base its case partially on factual evidence rather than purely on vitriol. The ADF won out, but they were left with a small problem: there was no factual evidence to be found.
 

PFAW

Federal Judge Rules Gay Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

A federal judge in California today ruled Proposition 8, the state’s ban on gay marriage, unconstitutional. Judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion declares the marriage ban a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses, and debunks the arguments of marriage equality opponents on issues ranging from the welfare of children raised by gay and lesbian parents (they do just fine) to the effect of same-sex marriage on other marriages (none).

To be honest, we’re still wading through the opinion, and will have more analysis of the legal arguments tomorrow. But for now, let’s appreciate the real effect this decision will have on people like Jeff Zarillo and Paul Katami, two of the plaintiffs in the case, who now have a chance at regaining the right to marry. Here are the video that the American Foundation for Equal Rights put together about Jeff and Paul:
 

Paul and Jeff from American Foundation for Equal Ri on Vimeo.

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