PEOPLE FOR BLOG

More Professional Diversity in Recent Judicial Nominations

To ensure the best possible federal courts, it is essential that our nation's judges have significant diversity in their professional backgrounds and experiences. While prosecutors and corporate lawyers can and often do make terrific judges, a judiciary composed of only former prosecutors and corporate lawyers would be a great disservice to our country. When certain professional backgrounds are underrepresented on the bench, it is important that new nominations address that problem.

Fortunately, most of the nominations made by the White House so far this year would enhance the professional diversity of the federal judiciary. Nominees like Missouri's Stephen Bough, Louisiana's John deGravelles, and Illinois' Staci Yandle bring a wealth of experience representing individuals who have suffered personal injuries. Nevada's Richard Boulware has substantial public defender experience, and Washington's Salvador Mendoza spent years as a criminal defense attorney before becoming a state judge last year.

In some cases, this work is in areas the nominee has specialized in for years. In others, the time doing such work is part of a larger career experience. For instance, from 1997-2001, Florida's Carlos Mendoza worked in the U.S. Navy as court-appointed defense counsel and in the Navy equivalent of a legal aid clinic. While Florida's Beth Bloom has been a state judge for nearly 20 years, she had earlier experience representing individual plaintiffs in medical malpractice, wrongful death, personal injury, and product liability cases, as well as representing companies in commercial litigation cases.

In fact, three-quarters of the dozen men and women that President Obama has nominated so far this year to become federal judges bring experience as public defenders, criminal defense lawyers, or plaintiffs' attorneys. That experience will make our judiciary stronger.

PFAW

Over 30 Towns in New Hampshire Call for a Constitutional Amendment To Get Big Money Out of Politics

Over the past week in New Hampshire, in efforts supported by People For the American Way activists, 31 towns have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decisions in Citizens United and related cases. In the coming week, at least 20 more towns will vote on their own resolutions. If this week’s victories are any indication, we will likely see a strong majority of the 20 succeed.

These votes demonstrate the strength of the nation’s growing movement to amend the Constitution and take back our democracy. So far 16 states and over 500 municipalities have called for an amendment. The movement is particularly strong in New Hampshire, where nearly 70% of people support a constitutional amendment that limits campaign contributions and spending.  This winter, over 100 residents marched across the state in support of campaign finance reform for the New Hampshire Rebellion campaign.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) opened the floodgates to corporate and special interest spending in our elections.  Since Citizens United, activists and advocacy organizations have been mobilizing across the country calling for an amendment to overturn the decision, its progeny, and the cases that led to it.  To learn more about the campaign, visit wwww.UnitedForThePeople.org and People For the American Way’s amendment toolkit.

PFAW

Mississippi Tries to Redefine Southern Hospitality With Proposed 'Right to Discriminate' Bill

The following is a guest blog from Zane Ballard, a Fellow in affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.

In spite of the nationwide outcry over Arizona’s SB 1062, the “Turn Away the Gays” bill vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer last month, some far-right legislators across the country have continued to claim that gay rights present a threat to their religious freedom. In my state of Mississippi, conservative legislators have pushed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (SB 2681), which is similar to the vetoed Arizona law. When the Mississippi State Senate passed SB 2681 on January 31, some senators said they did not even realize its implications. Mississippi Sen. David Blount, for example, said he “was not aware…of this intention or possible result” when he voted – that is, the result of legalizing discrimination.

The version of the bill passed by the Senate would have allowed businesses to deny service to individuals based upon the belief that “state action or an action by any person based on state action shall not burden a person's right to exercise of religion.” It would have allowed broad, almost unchecked discrimination by any business that claimed its “exercise of religion has been burdened or is likely to be burdened” by serving a customer. This could have included refusal to serve LGBT persons, people of color, or those of non-Christian or no faith, all on the basis of an individual exercising their religion.

Yesterday the discriminatory bill faced a major setback when the House voted to replace most of the text of the bill with language establishing a committee to study the issue. The study committee will be examining the bill closely in search of any possible way that the language could be usable without promoting discrimination.  But according to the Mississippi ACLU, “Senate Bill 2681 remains a looming threat. The results of the study committee that was established by the amendment that passed the House today may go to conference. If the conference committee reaches an agreement, its report must be approved by both houses by April 2nd.”

In the meantime, advocates on the ground in Mississippi will continue to watch closely as the process unfolds. Last week, I joined students from Mississippi State University and Millsaps College, representatives from Equality Mississippi, and other concerned Mississippians on the steps of the state capitol to demonstrate against the bill. Protestors had also planned to be present during a House Judiciary Committee meeting that day, in hopes that they would be duly represented by those they had elected. However, these concerned Mississippians were unable to sit in on the committee meeting, which ended seven minutes before it was even scheduled to even begin. 

Even though the bill has been stalled, the work to keep this discriminatory law off the books continues. The Gulf Coast Lesbian & Gay Community Center in Mississippi has organized an action on the steps of the state capitol for March 26 at 12 pm, to once again draw attention to the bill and to highlight the general lack of protections for LGBT people in our state. In the wake of momentum generated in response to SB 2681, it would not be surprising to see the pro-equality energy of those in the state carrying over into other channels. This could include support for non-discrimination ordinances in cities across Mississippi, or even a statewide piece of legislation preventing discrimination and preserving the real ideal of southern hospitality.
 

PFAW

Money Buys Political Access, New Study Confirms

We can file this under news that should shock no one: a new study has found that members of Congress and their top staffers are significantly more likely to meet with political donors than with other constituents. 

The study – carried out by researchers at Yale and UC Berkeley in partnership with CREDO Action – sought to answer the question, just how much do donations buy access to elected officials in our political system?

Matea Gold at the Washington Post explains the experiment:

Last summer, a group of CREDO fellows e-mailed congressional offices seeking meetings to discuss the measure, sending one of two different form letters.

The first e-mail had the subject line: “Meeting with local campaign donors about cosponsoring bill.” The body of the e-mail said that about a dozen CREDO members “who are active political donors” were interested in meeting with the member of Congress in his or her home district to discuss the legislation.

The second e-mail stripped out the donor references and instead said “local constituents” were looking to meet the member of Congress.

…The e-mails went out to 191 members of Congress – all members of the same political party – who had not already co-sponsored the bill….The results: Only 2.4 percent of the offices made the member of Congress or chief of staff available when they believed those attending were just constituents, but 12.5 percent did when they were told the attendees were political donors. [emphasis added]

Huffington Post’s Amanda Terkel notes that the study could have implications for court cases like the infamous Citizens United v. FEC, which paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending. In the majority Citizens United opinion, Justice Kennedy argued that “independent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption. In fact, there is only scant evidence that independent expenditures even ingratiate.”

Terkel points out that the new study may debunk the claim that there isn’t evidence that “independent expenditures,” such as those made to a super PAC rather than directly to a candidate, can curry favor with elected officials:

In this experiment, the lawmakers knew nothing about the donors, such as whether they had donated to their campaign in particular, or how much they gave and when. In fact, they could simply have been a donor to a super PAC.

Even so, the Supreme Court’s too-narrow understanding of “corruption” as tit-for-tat exchanges (for example, political bribes) may limit the study’s implications for Citizens United and cases like it.  But it does throw into stark relief how problematic the Court’s frame for understanding political corruption continues to be. When money can buy access to elected officials, we have a serious democracy problem.
 

PFAW Foundation

Senators Cornyn and Cruz Don't Help Texas Nominee

Several days ago we asked what Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz would do at this week's business meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which they both serve. Would they stand up for their home-state's Fifth Circuit judicial nominee Gregg Costa? Or would they side with their fellow Judiciary Committee Republicans and let them delay Costa's scheduled vote for at least two weeks for no reason except to obstruct an Obama nominee?

This morning, we got our answer from the Texas senators: The vote was delayed. Cornyn and Cruz didn't even bother to show up for the meeting.

Committee chairman Patrick Leahy noted their absence:

I had hoped that we'd have one of the Texas senators here, so far as we have a Texas judge here, but apparently they're tied up.

It's not Senators Cornyn and Cruz who are tied up, but the Fifth Circuit Court, which has three vacancies, all of which have been designated as judicial emergencies. But they – and the people they serve – will just have to wait for some relief.

PFAW

Sen. Diane Feinstein Charges CIA Obstruction of Senate Investigation

Yesterday, Sen. Diane Feinstein made an extraordinary 40-minute speech on the Senate floor denouncing the Central Intelligence Agency for obstructing congressional oversight by withholding information, intimidating staff involved in a congressional investigation, and removing documents from computers being used by the Senate Intelligence Committee staff.  Feinstein, who chairs the Intelligence Committee, has been a long-term public advocate for the intelligence community. CIA Director John Brennan is disputing Feinstein’s charges.

At the center of the dispute with the CIA is a years-long investigation of the detention and interrogation programs carried out in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. But the core constitutional issue being raised by Sen. Feinstein is the ability of Congress, operating under rules agreed to by the CIA, to conduct an oversight investigation without being spied on and having its investigation obstructed by the agency.

Sen. Patrick Leahy said he could not think of any more important speech during his many years in Congress. Sen. Mark Udall, who is also a member of the Intelligence Committee, praised Feinstein for “setting the record straight today on the Senate floor about the CIA’s actions to subvert congressional oversight.”

People For the American Way President Michael Keegan released a statement:

“We applaud Sen. Feinstein for voicing publicly her serious concerns about the CIA’s alleged obstruction of congressional oversight. Congress’s ability to provide oversight for our nation’s intelligence gathering operations isn’t incidental to the work they do—it’s essential. If information was withheld and intimidation tactics were used to deter investigations, this would be a gross abuse of power.

“We depend on Congress’s ability to conduct these investigations in order to protect the separation of powers in our government as well as the fundamental civil liberties guaranteed by our Constitution. We commend Sen. Feinstein for speaking out and calling on the CIA to cooperate rather than obstruct congressional oversight."

PFAW

From "Right to Discriminate" to "Don't Say Gay," Standing up in Tennessee

With "right to discriminate" bills making news across the country, Tennessee's "don't say gay" battle continues to have a lasting – and inspiring – impact.

In 2011, Tennessee made national headlines for its effort to pass a "don't say gay" bill that would have prohibited educators from discussing any sexual orientation other than heterosexuality with students in kindergarten through eighth grade. This not only applied to lessons in classrooms, but to all discussions between educators and students. Any acknowledgement that LGBT people exist was officially prohibited, a cruel effort to isolate and declare as abnormal any children who were LGBT or who had LGBT family members (including parents).

It's come back in various forms since then, but it has yet to become law – thanks in part to courageous young people like Marcel Neergaard, who has consistently spoken out against the legislation and its chief sponsor, John Ragan, and who has also advocated for policies to protect LGBT students in the Volunteer State.

This week, Marcel wrote for the Huffington Post:

I know I am not alone in my struggles. I know I have to be happy with the progress LGBTQ people have made. I also know that it's not okay to be called out for being different. I know I can be helped by Tennessee's Dignity for All Students Act (HB927). It is important to say students cannot be harassed, intimidated or bullied because they are gay or perceived to be gay. The Dignity for All Students Act specifies many other groups, like kids who are bullied because of their religion, race, gender, gender identity or gender expression. It even helps the kids who are brave enough to be friends with students who are "different."

I'm not the only gay youth in Tennessee. I'm not the only gay kid in Oak Ridge. I'm not even the only gay student in my school [–] I'm just someone who is standing up. I know I have written about bullying many times, but this is still happening to kids like me everywhere and I refuse to let it continue. I will go on educating my school system, and the people around me who believe the gay stereotypes, but we [cannot] do this alone . . . We need . . . to convince legislators that students everywhere deserve safe places to learn. We also need people to encourage our representatives, who are supposed to represent us, to pass bills like the Dignity for All Students Act and federal legislation such as the Safe Schools Improvement Act. I want to make sure other kids do not have to go through what I have. This week I will be in Nashville for Advancing Equality on the Hill Day talking to my senator and (hopefully) representative about making schools safer for kids like me. What will you do?

Marcel's words ring especially true in the month leading up to the Day of Silence, an annual event organized by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) that is meant to draw attention to the "silencing effects" of anti-gay harassment and name-calling in schools and to be a way for students to show their solidarity with students who have been bullied.

As we approach April 11, this year's Day of Silence, PFAW will be doing its part to spread Marcel's message – the idea that all students deserve far better than what they're getting when it comes to bullying and harassment in schools.

In the meantime, check out Big Bullies: How the Religious Right is Trying to Make Schools Safe for Bullies and Dangerous for Gay Kids and its 2012 update.

In other LGBT news, Wisconsin marriage equality advocates are trying to get their litigation on the fast track.

Check out even more news from our friends at GLAAD, the Victory Fund, and the Washington Blade.

PFAW

John Boehner's House -- The Future of the Senate?

Look no further than John Boehner’s House of Representatives (really run by the Tea Party) for a crystal clear view of what we’ll get in the Senate if the GOP wins in November and takes full control of Congress.

Every measure the House brings up seems like it tries to do the exact opposite of what a majority of Americans overwhelmingly want done ... on equal rights protections, guns, tax and budget issues, income inequality and the minimum wage, global warming and so much more.

Instead, the House focuses on attacking women’s access to reproductive health care and voting to repeal Obamacare for the 50th time.

Because Speaker Boehner “governs” by a ridiculous principle known as the Hastert Rule, he refuses to let even popular legislation that would pass with majority support see the light of day -- unless a majority of the Republican caucus supports it. The result: uncompromising Tea Party radicals get to block everything and only allow votes on the most extreme right-wing bills!

Could you imagine Democrats ever trying to get away with something like this? The Right would be rioting in the streets.

During the Bush years when Republicans controlled the House, they would reportedly shut Democrats out of meetings, but that’s nothing compared to how today’s GOP is running “the People’s House.”

Yet, turn on the news and still ubiquitous is the farcical “conventional wisdom” that both parties are equally to blame for the gridlock in Congress.

Last week in a committee hearing, Rep. Darrel Issa threw a tantrum and outrageously cut off the microphone of the ranking Democrat on the committee, Elijah Cummings, proving Congress’s richest members is also one of its biggest bullies. (video below)

As chair of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, Issa has spent the entirety of his tenure pursuing one political witch hunt after another with McCarthyite fervor. And now he’s breaking House rules and denying speaking time to Democrats who challenge his nonsense by cutting their mics and abruptly adjourning hearings.

Issa’s antics are the perfect example of how the Republicans use their majority in the House and how they will use it in the Senate if they win this November. They’ll lock out minority Democrats from all decision making, silence them completely and ram through the most radically right-wing issue agenda of the modern era.

PFAW

Will Texas Senators Help Delay 5th Circuit Judicial Nominee?

This Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on several judicial nominees, including Fifth Circuit nominee Gregg Costa of Texas. With two Texans on the committee and the vacancy having been designated a judicial emergency by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, Sens. Cornyn and Cruz have the ability – and the responsibility – to make sure that vote isn't needlessly delayed by their GOP colleagues.

Costa sailed through his committee hearing last month, with no one expressing any concerns with his nomination. In fact, Sen. Cornyn cited Costa's nomination as a welcome area of agreement between the two parties. So why would we even be talking about a partisan-motivated delay?

Unfortunately, in the Obama era, needless delays of committee votes have become the GOP's standard operating procedure. Republicans have exercised the right of the minority party to have a committee vote delayed without cause in almost every instance for President Obama's judicial nominees, which is an unprecedented abuse of the rules. Until a month ago, they had allowed only five exceptions to this delaying tactic.

Notably, in a development Sens. Cornyn and Cruz should pay attention to, the number of exceptions doubled just a couple of weeks ago when Arizona Sens. Flake and McCain persuaded their colleagues not to delay a committee vote on six desperately needed district court nominees for a state overrun with judicial emergencies.

Like Arizona, Texas has an unusually acute need to have its vacancies filled. All three of the Fifth Circuit's vacancies are for seats slotted for Texas judges; that's a full third of the Lone Star State's allotted seats. All three of the court's vacancies have been formally designated as judicial emergencies, since the caseload is so high there. The seat to which Costa has been nominated has been vacant for more than two years.

If Costa doesn't get a committee vote as scheduled, that means a further two-week delay (since the Senate will be in recess next week). But why delay a consensus nominee whose service is badly needed? The senators from Texas are well placed, as members of the Judiciary Committee, to urge their GOP colleagues not to obstruct the scheduled vote.

PFAW

Behind the Scenes with the Right-Wing on Arizona's "Right to Discriminate" Bill

At the end of February, Right Wing Watch introduced us to the Center for Arizona Policy's Cathi Herrod, who helped lead the effort to pass a "right to discriminate" bill in Arizona.

Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy accused the bill’s opponents of “incredible hostility to religion.”

“Our first freedom, our ability to live out our religious belief as our founders intended, as wars have been fought for our right to live out our religious belief, that is what is very much under attack,” Herrod said, adding that she is shocked that people would oppose the right-to-discriminate bill. “This was non-controversial until the last four or five days.”

She told Perkins that listeners should “pray for a miracle and to pray for an intervention” for the governor to sign the legislation.

Now that SB 1062 has been vetoed, we're learning more about the Center's involvement.

Documents recently obtained by Capitol Media Services detail meetings between the Center and Governor Jan Brewer's office.

“But the intent of the meetings, the purpose of the meetings, was to thoroughly vet the language, address their concerns, and make changes in the language pursuant to their concerns,” Herrod said. She said her organization addressed every concern raised by Hunter and Sciarrotta with the idea that this year’s version would not meet the same fate as a similar bill Brewer vetoed last year.

What led to this year’s veto, Herrod insisted, had nothing to do with the wording of SB 1062.

“Opponents made the bill about something it was not,” she said, with Brewer reacting to the highly vocal opposition, particularly from the LGBT community, rather than the language of SB 1062. “The governor vetoed a bill that didn’t exist.”

People For the American Way President Michael Keegan spoke earlier about the Right's influence:

In Arizona and across the country, Americans can see through the Right’s continued attempts to cloak anti-gay bigotry in the language of First Amendment rights. We hope that the pushback Arizona received this week will be a message, loud and clear, to the states with similar bills pending. Americans don’t want to live in a country where businesses have free rein to post a ‘No Gays’ sign.

In other LGBT news, Illinois continues implementing marriage equality; court cases progress in the Michigan and Virginia marriage battles; and Oregon Republicans stand up for the freedom to marry.

Check out even more news from our friends at GLAAD, the Victory Fund, and the Washington Blade.

PFAW

Florida Senate Committee Takes Up Voting Rights Bill

At the same time pro-democracy advocates in Wisconsin were speaking out against their state's latest suppressive legislation yesterday, the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee in Florida also had election reform on the agenda.

SPB 7068 – which cleared a procedural hurdle on March 10 and is expected to come back before the Committee later this month – addresses a number of issues, including the use of certain drop-off locations for the submission of absentee ballots. Last year, Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued a directive against the use of some drop-off sites, such as tax collector offices and county library branches, despite their use in Pinellas County since 2008.

Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark:

I do not understand why the secretary of state, the chief elections official for the state of Florida, would want to eliminate an option that voters have to participate by returning their ballot to the ballot dropoff locations.

Even US Senator Bill Nelson has joined the absentee ballot fray, telling Committee Chairman Jack Latvala:

The last thing Floridians need are laws that make it harder for them to exercise their right to vote.

Chairman Latvala hit back, claiming that Supervisor Clark needs to focus more on early voting and less on absentee ballots.

In other voting rights news, Minnesota moves closer to resolving its turf war over online voter registration, and Ohio considers putting voters' rights on the November ballot.

Check out even more news from our friends at Fair Elections Legal Network.

PFAW

CPAC: Right-Wing Woodstock or Bad Family Reunion?

Like at a family reunion, the infighting at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) started long before anybody arrived.

First, the group American Atheists announced that it would be sponsoring a booth at the conference, with the goal of bringing conservative nonbelievers "out of the closet." The religious right was not pleased.

"CPAC's mission is to be an umbrella for conservative organizations that advance liberty, traditional values and our national defense," said the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins. But he made clear that atheists would certainly not fit under his umbrella: "Does the American Conservative Union really think the liberties and values they seek to preserve can be maintained when they partner with individuals and organizations that are undermining the understanding that our liberties come from God?" he asked. Good question.

So, the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC, gave the atheist group the boot. In response, the atheists showed up anyway to debate attendees in the hallway.

Then there was the perennial problem of the gays. In 2011, religious right groups including the FRC boycotted CPAC after the ACU allowed the conservative LGBT group GOProud to cosponsor the event. Once again, the establishment sided with the religious right and for the next two years banned GOProud from participating. This year, ACU offered a "compromise" in which GOProud was allowed to attend the event but not to so much as sponsor a booth in the exhibition hall. The "compromise" was so insulting that one of GOProud's founders quit the organization's board in protest.

But what about the people who were too embarrassingly far-right for CPAC? Not to worry, there's no such thing.

Although the atheist and LGBT groups were too far off-message for the ACU, it did allow the anti-immigrant group ProEnglish to sponsor a booth at CPAC. Just a quick Google would have told the conference organizers that ProEnglish is run by a zealous white nationalist, Bob Vandervoort. In fact, CPAC's organizers might have recognized Vandervoort's name from the uproar his inclusion in the event caused in 2012 and 2013.

Now, just because the ACU was ready to welcome anti-immigrant extremists doesn't mean that that was enough for immigrant bashers. A group of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim activists who were worried that CPAC was going too soft on their issues organized an alternative conference across the street. One of their concerns was the perennial conspiracy theory that ACU member Grover Norquist is a secret Muslim Brotherhood agent. Another is that CPAC dared to hold a panel featuring immigration reform proponents.

They shouldn't have worried. Three days of speeches on the CPAC main stage made clear that many prominent conservative activists have no intention of moderating their stance on immigration reform. Donald Trump told the audience that immigrants are "taking your jobs," Rep. Michele Bachmann said she wouldn't even consider immigration reform until they "build the danged fence," and Ann Coulter, never one to disappoint, suggested that if immigration reform passes "we organize the death squads for the people who wrecked America." Then, there was One America News anchor Graham Ledger, who used the CPAC podium to claim that because of immigration, schools no longer teach "the American culture."

To be fair, CPAC did make some efforts at opening the Republican umbrella, hosting a panel on minority outreach off the main stage. But the gesture would have been slightly more meaningful if anybody had bothered to show up.

Any family has its squabbles. But this awkward backyard barbeque has turned into a full-fledged food fight.
 

Content originally published at HuffingtonPost.

PFAW

Sarah Palin Rewrites Green Eggs And Ham For CPAC

This article originally appeared on our Right Wing Watch blog.

Michele Bachmann kicked off Saturday’s program at CPAC by explaining that the Tea Party is “at its core is an intellectual movement.” It was only fitting, then, that Sarah Palin ended CPAC by reading her own version of “Green Eggs and Ham.”

“Dr. Seuss, who’d have thunk? Who’d have thunk?” Palin said of Ted Cruz’s use of “Green Eggs and Ham” during his fake filibuster against Obamacare.

She ended the reading of her own version of the Dr. Seuss story by saying: “Hat tip the Internet!

I do not like this Uncle Sam, I do not like his health care scam;
I do not like these dirty crooks or how they lie and cook the books;
I do not like when Congress steals, I do not like their crony deals;
I do not like this buy-in man, I do not like ‘oh yes we can’;
I do not like this spending spree, we’re smart, we know there’s nothing free;
I do not like reporters’ smug replies when I complain about their lies;
I do not like this kind of hope and we won’t take it ‘nope, nope, nope’

Wisconsin Democracy Advocates Push Back Against Voter Suppression and Big Money in Politics

Today, under the banner of the Coalition to Protect Wisconsin Elections, a group of seventeen grassroots nonprofit organizations including People For the American Way gathered in the Wisconsin Senate Parlor to protest a batch of anti-democracy voting rights and campaign finance bills slated for Senate consideration tomorrow. The event included voters with their mouths taped shut to symbolize their voices being silenced by the proposed legislation as well as speakers from a range of progressive organizations, including PFAW regional political coordinator Scott Foval.

Speakers expressed opposition to a legislative package that will restrict access to a free and fair vote, allow unfettered spending on so-called political “issue ads,” and reduce transparency on reporting political activity in Wisconsin, including:

•  Senate Bill 324, restricting early voting hours and banning the option of weekend voting like “souls to the polls” drives organized by faith communities.

•  Senate Bill 267, making it more difficult for people to register to vote early.

•  Senate Bill 655, repealing current law to allow lobbyists to contribute directly to legislators starting April 15 of election years, even while the legislature is in session; lowering the bar for disclosing political contributions; and allowing unlimited Internet political activity without disclosure to the Government Accountability Board.

•  Assembly Bill 202, requiring poll observers to be allowed as close as three feet to poll workers, despite numerous complaints of harassing and intimidating behavior in recent elections.

Also under consideration, but not yet added to the official Senate calendar, is Senate Bill 654, which would rewrite the rules for disclosing political “issue ads” ahead of an election.  And currently seeking sponsors but not yet introduced is a bill that would eliminate same-day voter registration.

These bills could do serious damage to our democracy. In 2012, hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites cast their ballots early. Several municipal clerks, who are responsible for administering elections, offered extended hours for voting to allow working people to participate in their democracy by casting their votes after work or on weekends.

In addition, the proposed new disclosure requirements would allow nearly unlimited, undisclosed political ad spending, both in broadcast and on the Internet, as well as increased allowances for solicitation activity for political bundling by political action committees and political conduits.

But “We, the People” are fighting back. Check out the video of today’s event below:

PFAW

North Carolina School Board Votes to Keep ‘The House of the Spirits’ in Curriculum

Last October, a parent at Watauga High School in Boone, North Carolina asked the local school board to remove Isabel Allende’s internationally-renowned The House of the Spirits from the curriculum. After making its way through a multi-step county review process, last week the school board voted 3-2 to uphold the teaching of the book.

The fight to keep the book in the curriculum was backed by many supporters – including the author herself. In a letter to the Watauga County Board of Education, Isabel Allende wrote,

Banning books is a common practice in police states, Like Cuba or North Korea…but I did not expect it in our democracy.

PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan also spoke out against censorship to the school board. In his letter, Keegan wrote:

We trust that as educators you will uphold the right of all students in Watauga County to receive a competitive, rigorous education free from censorship. While individual parents have every right to decline reading material for their own children, they should not be allowed to censor the curricula for all students in the county.

The House of the Spirits is not the first book PFAW Foundation has fought to protect. In addition to speaking out about Allende’s novel, in the past year PFAW Foundation has advocated against censorship attempts aimed at Invisible Man, Neverwhere, and The Bluest Eye.
 

PFAW Foundation