PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Sen. Reid Cosponsors Amendment to Fix Campaign Finance System, Senate to Hold Vote in 2014

Big news for our democracy: This morning at a Senate Rules Committee hearing on “dark money,” Sen. Chuck Schumer announced that the Senate will vote this year on a constitutional amendment that would put the power of regulating the raising and spending of money in elections back in the hands of Congress and the states.

The Hill reports:

“The Supreme Court is trying to take this country back to the days of the robber barons, allowing dark money to flood our elections. That needs to stop, and it needs to stop now,” said Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who announced the plan.

“The only way to undo the damage the court has done is to pass Senator Udall’s amendment to the Constitution, and Senate Democrats are going to try to do that,” he said.

Adding fuel to the amendment efforts, Majority Leader Harry Reid recently signed on as a cosponsor of Sen. Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment. Sen. Reid is among the senators People For the American Way has reached out to urging cosponsorship.

In the wake of this month’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision and a recent study that found the US to be an oligarchy rather than a democracy, efforts to reclaim our political system from the outsized influence of wealthy interests are more essential than ever. Sen. Reid’s support and the newly announced Senate vote plans highlight the growing momentum of this movement, with over 150 members of Congress, 16 states, more than 550 cities and towns, and even our nation’s president already on record in support of an amendment.

As former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said at the committee hearing this morning, “Unlimited campaign expenditures impair the process of democratic self-government.” You can add your name to PFAW’s petition and tell other members of Congress to support a constitutional amendment to restore government by the people.

PFAW

Obstruction 2.0: How Republican Senators Continue to Block Judicial Nominations Post-“Filibuster Reform”

Tuesday afternoon, PFAW hosted a special member telebriefing on the continued GOP obstruction of judicial nominees. The briefing featured PFAW’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon. They discussed how Republicans’ obstruction has reached staggering levels, despite changes in Senate filibuster rules.

Marge gave a brief background on the issue of GOP obstruction of judicial nominations, explaining how important federal judgeships are for deciding many issues that affect everyday Americans and defining why Republicans are determined to continue obstruction confirmations of judicial nominees. Their underlying goal is to keep as many seats empty as possible so a President Cruz or Rubio can fill them with right-wing ideologues.

She addressed the current narrative that President Obama has had more confirmations at this time than Bush had, and explained that these numbers need to be put in the context of the fact that Obama has had around 70 more vacancies to fill than his predecessor. That means for Obama’s confirmation results to be seen as equivalent to those of President Bush, he would have had to have many more nominees confirmed at this point in his presidency.

Paul began a discussion of some of the choke methods Republicans are employing to block the confirmation of President Obama's nominees to the bench. Paul delineated how all too often, GOP senators do not cooperate with the White House to suggest candidates for nomination, delaying the process from the very beginning. Once nominees are made and are sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, we have seen GOP Senators delay the hearing by not submitting their blue slips, an unofficial tradition that gives home state Senators an opportunity to express their support for the nominee.

Marge explained ways in which Republicans are delaying the process once nominees are in committee, where the minority is allowed to request one-week delays. To express the magnitude of the obstruction, Marge explained how of the 270 nominees who have had a vote during President Obama's term, only 11 have had their votes held on time.

Once on the Senate floor, the situation doesn't get better as senators are able to filibuster nominees by refusing to give unanimous consent to the simple act of holding a yes-or-no confirmation vote. To offset these delays, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been forced to file for cloture. Since the rules change in November, there have been cloture votes on all the nominees, adding hours of senate time in post-cloture debates (30 hours per circuit court nominee).

Marge highlighted that if all 30 nominees on the floor were voted on today, which is possible, then the number of current vacancies would drop precipitously, down to the level at this point in George W. Bush’s presidency. It is essential that these be voted on now, and that confirmation votes for nominations coming out of committee be voted on expeditiously.

Fielding questions from PFAW members, Marge and Paul discussed particular cases of obstruction like that of William Thomas's nomination in Florida, where Senator Marco Rubio withheld his blue slip in support of the nominee-–one that he himself had recommended in the first place. Members also made the connection between the effect of big money in politics and the motivations for GOP senators to obstruct confirmations, and attempted to find ways in which everyday Americans can make their voices heard to their senators regarding the issues of obstruction in judicial nominations. Paul used the example of the DC Circuit Court fight, where with the activism from people across the country rallying together helped get all the court's vacancies filled.

Marge and Paul, along with PFAW members, emphasized how as activists, we can intervene in the fight to take back our democracy by letting Senators know that average Americans are paying attention, watching how they respond and vote on judicial nominations, and considering who may be pulling their strings. For instance, a caller in Florida wanting to influence Marco Rubio could call his office and ask him to prevent a delay in a committee vote for nominees to fill four emergency vacancies. And everyone, regardless of whether there are vacancies in their state, can call their senators and call for the quick confirmation of the large number of nominees awaiting a floor vote. She also highlighted what is at stake in this mid-term election since the officials we elect today will help confirm the judges that will decide important cases that affect average Americans. For this reason, it is important to have demographic and experiential diversity in the courts so judges making decisions understand the impact of the law on regular Americans.

Click here more information on our Fair and Just Courts campaign.

PFAW

Video: PFAW’s Calvin Sloan Discusses Money in Politics on Capital Tonight

On Monday, People For the American Way joined ally organizations in the New York for Democracy Coalition in Albany to urge state lawmakers to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC.  If successful, New York would become the 17th state to go on record in support of such an amendment, joining a rapidly growing nationwide movement to reclaim our democracy.

People For the American Way’s legislative representative Calvin Sloan joined Nick Reisman on Capital Tonight to discuss the efforts underway in New York – and across the country – to fight back against the outsized influence of big money in our political system.

PFAW

Scalia's Mistake Exposes His Ideological Agenda

Yesterday's 6-2 Supreme Court ruling in EPA v. EME Homer City Generation upholding the EPA's cross-state air pollution rules is in the news, and not just because it reversed a highly criticized DC Circuit opinion that served as an example of that court's ideological, pro-corporate rulings when it was dominated by conservative judges. Berkeley Law Professor Dan Farber noticed a glaring factual error in Justice Scalia's dissent:

Scalia's dissent also contains a hugely embarrassing mistake. He refers to the Court's earlier decision in American Trucking as involving an effort by EPA to smuggle cost considerations into the statute. But that's exactly backwards: it was industry that argued for cost considerations and EPA that resisted.

This morning, the mistake was rectified. But it is a telling incident, not because Scalia made a factual mistake in which party made which argument in a decade-old case. What the mistake and the way Scalia corrected it show is that Scalia jumps to conclusions to fit his preconceived ideological and political beliefs.

Page 3 of the dissent raises the specter of Marxism, describing the EPA's "utterly fanciful 'from each according to its ability' construction" of the Clean Air Act. While we now come to expect far right hysterics about President Obama being a communist, a Marxist, a socialist, or a Stalinist, Americans deserve better from Justices of the Supreme Court. But Scalia's fanciful allusion to communist ideology suggests that he's approaching this case less as a disinterested judge and more as an ideological Tea Party warrior.

In this case, the EPA wants to incorporate cost considerations into its analysis of what regulations will best serve the goals of the Clean Air Act. In the 2001 American Trucking case that he cites, the Supreme Court ruled that in a different context, such an analysis is not permitted by the law. In that case, it was industry and not the EPA that wanted to include cost considerations.

But that apparently didn't fit into Scalia's preferred conception of the world. So he wrote:

[t]his is not the first time EPA has sought to convert the Clean Air Act into a mandate for cost-effective regulation.

Sounds like a long-term conspiracy, with the big bad federal government constantly grasping for power in a lawless way. But this morning's scrubbed version says:

[t]his is not the first time parties have sought to convert the Clean Air Act into a mandate for cost-effective regulation.

Not so scary.

Scalia's subject headings and the change he made this morning are equally telling. Scalia gleefully began this section of this pre-scrubbed dissent with the sarcastic header:

Plus Ça Change: EPA's Continuing Quest for Cost-Benefit Authority.

As we now know, the only "continuing quest" was Scalia's quest to see federal regulations as part of some vast left wing conspiracy. A potentially chagrined Scalia has now changed the heading to the glee-less:

Our Precedent

Making a simple factual mistake is embarrassing for a Supreme Court Justice. You might forget which was Marbury and which was Madison. Ordinarily, we might note the mistake, correct it, and move on. But yesterday's mistake and today's corrections suggest that Justice Scalia is approaching cases with an overly ideological lens, rather than as a fair and disinterested judge.

PFAW Foundation

Over 1,000 Law Professors Condemn Senate Vote on Debo Adegbile’s Nomination

Last month, the US Senate failed to invoke cloture on the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department after a right-wing smear campaign that attacked Adegbile for helping provide legal representation at the appellate level to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted murderer, while working at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Every Senate Republican and seven Democrats voted to filibuster Adegbile’s nomination, effectively blocking the nomination and throwing out the window the constitutional ideal that all criminal defendants should have access to quality legal representation.

People For the American Way’s vice president Marge Baker called the filibuster a “triumph of demagoguery.”

Last week, over one thousand law professors came together to publicly condemn the vote by writing a letter to the Senate where they explain the ramifications of the vote for law students, lawyers, and the legal profession as a whole. The letter – dated April 25, 2014 – states:

[W]e are deeply concerned that the vote and the rationale publicly articulated by a majority of Senators rejecting Mr. Adegbile sends a message that goes to several core values of the legal profession. These include the right to counsel, the importance of pro bono representation, and the importance of ensuring that constitutional protections are afforded to every criminal defendant regardless of the crimes for which they are accused.

As law teachers we are particularly concerned about the disquieting message conveyed to law students and graduates entering the profession who may fear that their engagement with pro bono representation of unpopular clients may imperil their future eligibility for federal government service.

…We believe that the criticism of Mr. Adegbile, based on his representation of a death row inmate, is unjust and inconsistent with the fundamental tenets of our profession. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the assistance of counsel to persons charged with crimes, and all accused defendants are entitled to zealous representation by competent counsel.

The highest calling of any lawyer is to ensure that the Constitution is applied fairly and in accordance with the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court to every defendant.

…The debate surrounding Mr. Adegbile’s confirmation also threatens to undermine the widely-recognized importance of lawyers providing pro bono representation to meet unmet legal needs. Providing representation to defendants on death row is among the most challenging, resource-intensive and critically important pro bono counsel a lawyer can provide. Lawyers engaged in this work should be commended rather than denounced for their hard-work and commitment to ensuring that the protections of the Constitution are extended even to those accused of heinous crimes.

…Finally, as every lawyer knows – including the 57 in the U.S. Senate – we are not our clients. The constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel would be turned on its head if the contrary view were advanced. Indeed, had past candidates for public office been held to the Senate’s unjust standard, our nation would have been deprived of the likes of President John Adams (who defended British soldiers charged with killing Americans in the Boston Massacre), Justice Thurgood Marshall (who defended countless black men on death row in the Jim Crow South), and Chief Justice John Roberts (who represented convicted serial killer John Errol Ferguson).

Simply put, the rule of law cannot succeed if attorneys are judged guilty by association with their clients. In rejecting a qualified nominee for public service based on conduct which reflects the best of our profession, the Senate has done a grave disservice to the legal profession and those who seek to enter it.

PFAW

NYT Examines Walton Foundation Backing for School Privatization

This weekend the New York Times published a long story about the Walton Family Foundation’s massive financial support for the charter school movement and for right-wing think tanks that back other efforts to privatize public education like private school vouchers.

The foundation, which is run by the family that founded Walmart, has given more than $1 billion to educational efforts since 2000, according to the Times’s Motoko Rich. The foundation has given grants to one out of every four charter start-ups in the country.

The size of the Walton foundation’s wallet allows it to exert an outsize influence on education policy as well as on which schools flourish and which are forced to fold. With its many tentacles, it has helped fuel some of the fastest growing, and most divisive, trends in public education — including teacher evaluations based on student test scores and publicly funded vouchers for students to attend private schools.

“The influence of philanthropy in terms of the bang for the buck they get is just really kind of shocking,” said Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.

As the article notes, charter schools promoted by Walton and other big foundations have supporters and critics that cross typical ideological lines; the article cites the success of some Walton-supported charter schools in Washington, D.C., where the foundation has had a huge influence on education policy.

But there is plenty of controversy about the overall effect of charter school expansion. And Walton and its allies also support more radical education “reforms” like private school vouchers. Walton has given a voucher advocacy group, the Alliance for School Choice, $18.4 million. The article also mentions that Walton “hired an education program officer who had worked at the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative business-backed group.” ALEC’s support for private school vouchers is examined in PFAW’s report, ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in State Legislatures.

In March, we wrote about the Network for Public Education’s inaugural national conference:

A primary focus of the conference was the heavily funded corporate “reform” movement that pushes for increased testing and expanded “school choice” via vouchers, charters, and virtual schools. That push comes in the context of massive cuts to public education, particularly in states where Tea Party Republicans took power in recent years, including Pennsylvania and North Carolina. And huge sums are being diverted to for-profit companies through tax credit schemes and lucrative contracts.  In Texas, for example, the state has a five-year, $500 million contract with testing giant Pearson, the world’s biggest for-profit education corporation.

Public education advocate Diane Ravitch is a vocal critic of efforts to privatize public education and is the author of several books on corporate education reform efforts, most recently Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. In a positive review of Reign of Error, Jonathan Kozol wrote, Those….who have grown increasingly alarmed at seeing public education bartered off piece by piece, and seeing schools and teachers thrown into a state of siege, will be grateful for this cri de coeur — a fearless book, a manifesto and a call to battle.” Writes Kozol:

Again and again, she returns to this: “Our urban schools are in trouble because of concentrated poverty and racial segregation,” which make for a “toxic mix.” Public schooling in itself, she emphasizes, is “in a crisis only so far as society is and only so far as this new narrative of crisis has destabilized it.”

Ravitch responded to the new New York Times article on her blog:

The Waltons do not like public education. They do not like unions. They like charters and vouchers. They spend $160 million every year to spread the gospel of privatization and to destroy the public schools that are the heart of most communities.

With their support, the US is recreating a dual school system: one that chooses its students and the other that accepts all….

 

Will Rubio Let GOP Delay Four Florida Judicial Nominees?

Next week will be an opportunity for Senator Marco Rubio to exercise some influence within his party and prevent a needless delay in considering nominees to fill four judicial vacancies in Florida's Southern and Middle Districts that very much need to be filled as soon as possible.

How extensive is the need? Just ask the nonpartisan Administrative Office of United States Courts, which has formally designated all of the current vacancies in these two districts as judicial emergencies. Both districts saw increased caseloads in 2013 over previous years. They have the highest and second highest caseload within the entire 11th Circuit. Among all 94 districts in the entire U.S., Florida's Middle and Southern Districts rank ninth and twelfth highest, respectively.

The situation in Florida is so dire that even if every vacancy were to be filled tomorrow, it would not be enough to take care of the courts' growing workloads. In fact, the Judicial Conference has requested a number of new judgeships for the state, including:

  • 5 new judgeships for the Middle District, plus a temporary judgeship; and
  • 3 new judgeships for the Southern District, plus the conversion of a temporary judgeship to a permanent position.

So next week's committee vote on Beth Bloom, Darrin P. Gayles, Carlos Eduardo Mendoza, and Paul G. Byron couldn't come soon enough. All four were recommended to the White House by Senators Rubio and Bill Nelson after they were recommended to them by the senators' Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission. Yet the vote is likely to be delayed for no reason other than partisan politics. That's because delaying the committee vote is a small but reliably constant way that Senate Republicans delay and obstruct all of President Obama's judicial nominees.

Committee rules let the minority have a vote "held over" until the next meeting without providing a reason. Committee Republicans have routinely held over nominees since President Obama took office, even if they are completely unopposed. The routine use of this hold, without cause and almost without exception, is unprecedented. In fact, only eleven of Obama's judicial nominees have actually been allowed by the GOP to have their committee vote held as scheduled.

Most of these exceptions occurred in just one day just a couple of months ago, when Arizona's Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake successfully persuaded their fellow Republicans to let a vote on six Arizona district court nominees occur on schedule. They recognized just how dire the situation was in their state, and they got their fellow Republicans not to stand in the way of a timely committee vote.

Will Rubio have a similar conversation with committee Republicans? We'll find out on Thursday.

PFAW

All GOP Senate Candidates in North Carolina Deny Existence of Climate Change

Many Americans celebrate Earth Day by planting trees, organizing a citywide trash pickup, or talking about the consequences of climate change and the ongoing threat it creates for our planet. But on Earth Day yesterday, all four Republican candidates for Senate in North Carolina used the opportunity to deny that climate change is real. TPM reports:

Fittingly, all four Republican candidates in the North Carolina Senate race were asked on Earth Day if they believed climate change is a proven fact. And all four candidates said "no."

The question was asked during a GOP primary debate on Tuesday night. The candidates, House Speaker Thom Tillis, Rev. Mark Harris, Dr. Greg Brannon, and nursing practitioner Heather Grant, in response to the question, said "no."

This is not the first time Republicans have denied the existence of climate change and it will likely not be the last. But the fact that all four candidates agreed underscores the GOP extremism in the North Carolina Senate race and serves as yet another example of a political party increasingly divorced from reality.

PFAW

Sotomayor's Schuette Dissent

The Supreme Court today ruled that voters in the state of Michigan could amend their constitution in a way that harmed racial minorities by passing an amendment to ban race-based Affirmative Action. (The Court made clear that this case was not about the constitutionality of affirmative action itself.) In the 6-2 decision in Schuette v. BAMN, there was no majority agreeing on the reasons, but they did agree on the outcome. Justice Sotomayor wrote a powerful dissent, joined by Justice Ginsburg.

Notably, while consideration of an applicant's race was prohibited by the state constitution under the ballot initiative, no other factors (like legacy, geographic diversity, or athletic skill) were similarly made unconstitutional. An applicant who wants her alumni connections to be considered can ask the university to adopt a legacy-conscious admission program, but an African American applicant who wants a race-conscious admissions policy must persuade the entire electorate to adopt a constitutional amendment. The Court was asked if adopting the ban by constitutional amendment restructured the political process to the detriment of racial minorities and was therefore unconstitutional.

Six justices concluded that it did not. Justice Sotomayor's dissent frames the issue against the backdrop of history, up to political restructuring cases from earlier decades where the Court protected minority rights:

[T]o know the history of our Nation is to understand its long and lamentable record of stymieing the right of racial minorities to participate in the political process. At first, the majority acted with an open, invidious purpose. Notwithstanding the command of the Fifteenth Amendment, certain States shut racial minorities out of the political process altogether by withholding the right to vote. This Court intervened to preserve that right. The majority tried again, replacing outright bans on voting with literacy tests, good character requirements, poll taxes, and gerrymandering. The Court was not fooled; it invalidated those measures, too. The majority persisted. This time, although it allowed the minority access to the political process, the majority changed the ground rules of the process so as to make it more difficult for the minority, and the minority alone, to obtain policies designed to foster racial integration. Although these political restructurings may not have been discriminatory in purpose, the Court reaffirmed the right of minority members of our society to participate meaningfully and equally in the political process.

Sotomayor writes that the Court has ignored those precedents from decades ago in order to uphold Michigan's affirmative action ban. She also responded forcefully to Chief Justice Roberts' famous line from 2007 that "the way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race:"

In my colleagues' view, examining the racial impact of legislation only perpetuates racial discrimination. This refusal to accept the stark reality that race matters is regrettable. The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination. As members of the judiciary tasked with intervening to carry out the guarantee of equal protection, we ought not sit back and wish away, rather than confront, the racial inequality that exists in our society. It is this view that works harm, by perpetuating the facile notion that what makes race matter is acknowledging the simple truth that race does matter.

There are millions of Americans who can attest to that.

PFAW Foundation

Need for Safe Schools Advocacy Clear in Nebraska

Earlier this week, Nebraska's Lincoln Journal Star reported about a flier sent home with fifth grade students that offered questionable advice for "turning bullies into buddies." Lincoln officials have apologized, saying that the flier doesn't reflect actual district policy and offering their own "facts about bullying."

The flier, whose advice includes "do not tell on bullies," is indeed problematic, but it's district policy in Lincoln (see Policy 5482, pg. 130) and state policy in Nebraska that offer real cause for concern. Neither employs the bullying and harassment prevention strategies that have proven most effective. In fact, only sixteen states and the District of Columbia have in place laws that enumerate specific categories of targeted students, "underscore[ing] those students who research shows are most likely to be bullied and harassed and least likely to be protected."

 

GLSEN: Enumerated anti-bullying laws by state

We must remain engaged in safe schools advocacy at the state and local level, and we must work toward a federal baseline that holds all states, including Nebraska, accountable. It starts with the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), which supports the creation of enumerated anti-bullying policies that include data collection, public education, and grievance procedures. It continues with the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which protects students from school-based sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes; recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination; and provides remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Check out PFAW's policy toolkit: Education Without Discrimination: Creating Safe Schools for All Students to learn more about SSIA and SNDA and how you can raise safe schools awareness.

Then take a look at PFAW's report on Big Bullies: How the Religious Right is Trying to Make Schools Safe for Bullies and Dangerous for Gay Kids and its 2012 update.

Finally, be sure to visit our website and Right Wing Watch for more updates.

PFAW

Scott Walker Re-Election Tour Runs Away From His Record

Governor Scott Walker announced his re-election campaign at a series of appearances Tuesday across Wisconsin, highlighting all the supposedly great things he had done for the average Wisconsinite. The list was pretty thin.

From Dane to La Crosse, Chippewa Falls, Schofield, Green Bay, and finally Fairgrounds Park in Milwaukee, Walker kicked off his campaign, rolling out a new campaign ad with the theme“Wisconsin Is Back On.”

Stating "We want to reduce the dependence on government and increase the dependence on hard work and pride," Walker bragged that his administration created 100,000 jobs during his first term, lowered taxes, and took credit for giving health care to those in poverty.

The facts behind Walker’s carefully-constructed narrative tell the real story. In his ten-minute speech to supporters at Dane Manufacturing outside Madison, Walker avoided telling the estimated 100 supporters there about his failure to create the 250,000 new jobs he repeatedly promised to create during his first term.

Walker’s list of accomplishments also leaves out how he used his state budget to move thousands of Wisconsinites off BadgerCare,delayed health insurance coverage for others, increased costs to residents, and put thousands in danger of losing coverage byrefusing to set up a state-based exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

He also didn't talk about how rather than taking more than $810 million in federal transportation funds to install high-speed commuter rail service between Milwaukee and Madison, he set Wisconsin’s economy back by refusing to participate. Months later he went back to the US Department of Transportation asking for more than $150 million to upgrade the Chicago to Milwaukee Amtrak service, which would have been covered by the initial program, costing the state millions in the process.

Walker also was mum on his crowning "achievement," decimatingstate workers’ ability to collectively bargain for wages and benefits under ACT 10. He also forgot to talk about how he increased Wisconsin’s structural deficit through massive borrowing andgiving tax cuts to the highest earners instead of average Wisconsin voters.

The biggest omission in today’s re-election announcement is also one of Walker’s most egregious offenses. Just last month the Governor signed measures restricting early voting while simultaneously expanding the time that lobbyists can give to political campaigns. He signed the bills right before he jetted off to Las Vegas to curry favor with wealthy casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

The takeaway from Scott Walker’s re-election campaign is that he’s running away from his own record, away from average voters, and towards his wealthy campaign donors.

PFAW

Video: Drew Courtney Discusses Right Wing Conspiracy Theories with Al Sharpton

Monday afternoon, Right Wing Watch reported on conspiracy theories by conservative talking heads Bernard Goldberg and Rush Limbaugh who claim that the shoe-throwing incident in Las Vegas was staged by Hillary Clinton so she could seem more presidential. Similarly, Mark Blitz told WorldNetDaily yesterday that the “blood moon” from Monday night was a divine warning to President Obama about his plans to use executive action and his bully pulpit in the face of GOP obstruction.

Last night, PFAW Director of Communications Drew Courtney joined Rev. Al Sharpton on Politics Nation to discuss these outrageous conspiracy theories and what they say about the GOP and the political process today:

PFAW

Senate Should Quickly Confirm Circuit Nominees, Like in 2006

Because Republicans are now filibustering every judicial nominee and generally requiring hours of needless "post-cloture debate" before an actual confirmation vote can be held, it has been harder than ever to "clear the calendar" (which is Senate lingo for "hold confirmation votes on all the nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee and are pending on the Senate floor"). Among the 31 nominees left hanging when the Senate took off for its spring recess last week are six circuit court nominees.

Five of the six were nominated last year; the sixth was nominated in February and was fully vetted by the Judiciary Committee earlier this month. Every one of these nominees should have a confirmation vote this spring, and any circuit nominees cleared by the committee in the coming months should have a confirmation vote before the Senate recesses for the midterm elections.

This would hardly be exceptional. In 2006, at this point in George W. Bush's presidency, the Senate confirmed eight circuit court nominees between April and September (plus a ninth during the lame duck session). Most of them had not even been nominated at this point in 2006 yet were confirmed by year's end, all but one before the Senate recessed for the midterms. These circuit court nominees went all the way from nomination to confirmation as little as 3½ months, 2½ months, and (in two cases) just two months.

Exceptional? Hardly. Only by redefining the current era of Republican obstruction as normal can the efficient processing of circuit court nominations be regarded as exceptional.

If the Senate in 2006 could confirm so many of President Bush's circuit court nominees so quickly, then why apply a different set of rules to President Obama's nominees?

Perhaps that is a question to ask Senate Republicans in the coming weeks if they have the audacity to demand an even slower pace on President Obama's nominees as the midterm elections approach.

PFAW

Minnesota Safe Schools Bill Becomes Law

Amid last week's activity surrounding the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network's Day of Silence and the PFAW-led safe schools letter campaign came a state success for the idea that all students deserve far better than what they're getting when it comes to bullying an harassment. In the wee hours of April 9, the Minnesota House of Representatives took the final vote on the Safe and Supportive Schools Act. That afternoon Governor Mark Dayton signed it into law.

PFAW activists proudly joined OutFront Minnesota and the Safe Schools for All Coalition in supporting the bill as it moved to the Governor's desk.

PFAW will continue to stand up for safe schools.

We have released a policy toolkit designed to help activists understand and address the problem head-on. We hope that you'll use it to continue your own work on this important issue.

We also hope that you'll check out PFAW's report on Big Bullies: How the Religious Right is Trying to Make Schools Safe for Bullies and Dangerous for Gay Kids and its 2012 update.

Then visit our website and Right Wing Watch for more LGBT equality updates.

PFAW

Voting Rights Advocates Rack Up More Wins

Earlier this month, PFAW reported on what has gone right for voting rights at the state level in 2014. While there is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack, states like Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina have shown that we can win.

Now we've uncovered even more evidence of why we can and should keep fighting the challenges that lay before us.

Voters themselves will get to decide what voter empowerment means in Illinois. House Speaker Michael Madigan's constitutional amendment providing "that no person shall be denied the right to register to vote or to cast a ballot in an election based on race, color, ethnicity, status as a member of a language minority, sex, sexual orientation, or income" passed both chambers and will be on the November ballot. A similar effort is afoot in Ohio.

Native American voters in Montana have seen two encouraging developments. In Jackson v. Wolf Point School District, an agreement was reached that will provide for five-single member school board districts in addition to one at-large representative, as opposed to the existing multimember districts that heavily favored the area's white population. Wandering Medicine v. McCullough, which challenges the availability of late registration and early voting for residents of the Crow, North Cheyenne, and Fort Belknap Reservations, will proceed following a failed motion to dismiss the case.

In Washoe County, Nevada, home to Reno and the state's second most populated county, voters have come to expect 14 consecutive early voting days. This year, though, county commissioners planned to eliminate the two optional Sundays that fall within that period. The American Civil Liberties Union and other allies organized quickly, sending a letter to Chairman David Humke and providing testimony at a commission meeting. Thankfully at that same meeting Chairman Humke announced that Sunday early voting was back on and warrants further study.

Tod Story, ACLU of Nevada Executive Director, said:

Early voting allows more people to participate in our democracy, and weekend voting is necessary for many hardworking Nevadans. Weekends are especially important days for voting drives, including for communities of faith

US District Judge Nelva Ramos told Texas legislators, much like US Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake did in North Carolina, that their emails must be disclosed – albeit confidentially – in the ongoing Voting Rights Act challenge to the 2011 Texas voter ID law.

Huffington Post:

The United States argued that the emails could be the only existing candid evidence about the purpose of the legislation because Texas Republicans coordinated their talking points on the bill and refused to publicly engage with the concerns of minority legislators. If any of the emails reveal discriminatory intent, the U.S. will still have to argue to get them admitted as evidence during the trial phase of the lawsuit.

Finally, Utah is taking Election Day Registration for a test drive. Governor Gary Herbert has signed HB 156, which sets up an opt-in pilot program for counties and municipalities. The state will keep an eye on how they do and report back to the legislature for possible further action.

We can win, and let's not forget that.

Check out PFAW’s website for more voting rights updates.

PFAW