PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Biased Critiques of Sotomayor's "Judicial Temperament"

Amid questioning concerning her supposed “aggressive” judicial temperament and “bullying” courtroom demeanor, Judge Sotomayor today emerged from the tussle of the hearings a composed and careful speaker, unwilling to let pointed critiques ruffle her feathers.

Senator Lindsey Graham read comments by attorneys -- as collected in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary -- that referred to Judge Sotomayor as “temperamental” and “excitable.” However, Senator Graham’s statements that followed took on a decidedly patronizing tone, as he recommended the judge see the confirmation hearings as a time for self-reflection during which she should reconsider her courtroom behavior.

Would Graham have had the same critique of a male nominee? One whose demeanor was overtly hostile at times?

Says the L.A. Times: “[B]eing tough on advocates is de rigeur for the Supreme Court. Lawyers there often barely begin their presentations before they are interrupted by one of the justices. Being able to survive that sort of intense questioning and still deliver your argument is viewed as a badge of honor. If anyone ever asked Antonin Scalia if he had a temperament problem, he'd probably readily agree -- and be proud of it.”

PFAW

An Interesting Op-Ed Analyzes Republican Outrage at Sotomayor’s “Wise Latina” Remark

The first day of Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings was replete with opening statements from Republican Senators expressing their concerns about her 2001 “wise Latina” remark: “I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experiences, would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.”

Conservative commentators have latched onto the statement, but Eugene Robinson’s op-ed in the Washington Post today unpacks what their objections imply.


Republicans' outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor's musings about how her identity as a "wise Latina" might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any "identity" -- black, brown, female, gay, whatever -- has to be judged against this supposedly "objective" standard.


Thus it is irrelevant if Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. talks about the impact of his background as the son of Italian immigrants on his rulings -- as he did at his confirmation hearings -- but unforgivable for Sotomayor to mention that her Puerto Rican family history might be relevant to her work.


It is highly likely that this “wise Latina” remark will be the focal point of questions Judge Sotomayor will face from some members of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week.

PFAW

First Day of Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings

Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings began this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee with the opening statements of Chairperson Leahy and Ranking Member Sessions, followed by each of the remaining members in order of seniority.

Most Senators lauded Judge Sotomayor’s experience on the bench and academic credentials, but Republicans took the opportunity to accuse Sotomayor of being unable to rule impartially.

But Sotomayor's opening statement refuted that, underscoring her “rigorous commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its terms…and hewing faithfully to precedents established by the Supreme Court and by [her] Circuit Court.

Senator Hatch noted that while he will question Judge Sotomayor vigorously, “[T]he Senate owes some deference to the [P]resident's qualified nominees.” Senator Graham followed suit, stating that “President Obama won. And that ought to matter. It does to me.” He went so far as to add that “unless [Judge Sotomayor had] a complete meltdown,” she would be confirmed.

Tomorrow brings one-on-one questioning by Judiciary Committee members broadcast live, beginning at 10 a.m. Stay tuned for updates as the hearings progress.

PFAW

Witness List for Sotomayor Hearing Announced

Today, Senators Leahy and Sessions released the list of witnesses who will testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

We’re happy to see that Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel will be among those testifying. He was a big hit at our “Four Years of Forty” panel on the Supreme Court that People For hosted at the DNC in Denver last year.

But the list has some disappointments as well, like Peter Kirsanow, who after 9/11 raised the possibility of internment camps for Arab Americans.

If there's a future terrorist attack in America "and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights," commission member Peter Kirsanow said.

The reason, he said, is that "the public would be less concerned about any perceived erosion of civil liberties than they are about protecting their own lives."

Not exactly the kind of person who should be front and center discussing an institution that should be devoted to protecting the rights and liberties of ordinary Americans .
 

PFAW

Indefinite Detention: Wrong Under Bush, Wrong Under Obama

For some people in Guantanamo Bay who are found not guilty in a court of law for whatever they are eventually put on trial for, the Obama Administration is floating the idea of keeping them in "indefinite detention" anyway. According to the Washington Post:

Guantanamo Bay detainees who are acquitted by civil or military courts may still be imprisoned indefinitely if the government determines that they pose a national security threat, the Defense Department's chief lawyer said yesterday. "The question of what happens if there's an acquittal is an interesting question -- we talk about that often within the administration," Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson said at a Senate hearing. "If, for some reason, he's not convicted for a lengthy prison sentence, then, as a matter of legal authority, I think it's our view that we would have the ability to detain that person," he said.

Reading this sends a chill down my spine. We are a country governed by law, and we cherish our liberty. The United States Constitution establishes a number of safeguards to limit the government's ability to use its awesome power to simply lock people away. That's why we have trials. That's why we have juries. That's why we prevent the police from beating confessions out of people. That's why we give defendants the right to cross-examine those testifying against them. And when the government loses at trial and a person is found not guilty, our liberty is further protected by the Constitution's prohibition of double jeopardy.

Our nation's founders knew that the system wouldn't be perfect, but they recognized that protecting the rights of all people - even bad people - is what liberty is all about.

An LA Times editorial put it simply two years ago, when President Bush proposed the same idea as the one currently being discussed: "[A]n acquittal must mean more than a return trip to a prison cell."

Just because it would be Barack Obama and not George Bush holding the prison door key does not make this any less of a threat to America's constitutional principles.

PFAW

233 Years Old and Still Looking Good

Birthdays are a good time to look back and take stock of the previous year’s events.  Usually a person tries to get a hold of the where they have been and where they want to go.  On July 4th, you might want to celebrate our nation’s birthday by looking back, and forward, by watching People For the American Way Foundation’s reading of the US Constitution

Four of our readers in particular gave us a reason to be proud of our past, and two others should make us all feel good about the future.

Two Japanese-American WWII Veterans and two Tuskegee Airmen honored us by agreeing to participate in the reading.  Grant Ichikawa and Kelly Kuwayama read Article II, Section 2, and LeRoy Gillead and Dabney Montgomery read the 23rd and 24th Amendments.  Looking at the inauguration weekend it is clear that it’s because of what people like Mr. Ichikawa, Mr. Kuwayama, Mr. Gillead and Mr. Montgomery did that so many people truly believed, “Yes, We Can.”

At the same event, we were proud to host two local high school students Sakinah Muhammad and Joel Carelafrom Caesar Chavez Public Charter School in Washington, DC. Their enthusiasm and excitement at being able to take part in our celebration was a reminder of how important it is to engage the next generation in civic education—and how capable young people are of understanding and embracing our nation’s legacy of liberty and justice for all.

On behalf of everyone at People For the American Way and People For Foundation, I hope you enjoy the 4th and that you use the occasion to re-commit yourself to keeping this “Grand Experiment” going.

PFAW

Judicial Activism and Horne v. Flores

Given all the recent talk from the Right about judicial activism, it was pretty amazing to see Justice Alito's contortions in Thursday's decision in Horne v. Flores that gave the Arizona School Superintendent one more shot at justifying what seems to be a flawed approach to helping its English language learners overcome language obstacles.  The crux of the case, as Justice Breyer noted in his dissent, was that the graduation rate and test scores of English language learners in the Nogales Unified School District were significantly below that of the rest of the student body and the record demonstrated that this was because adequate resources were not being made available to address these students' needs.

Justice Alito thought the lower court was being too protective of the students and that the case should be sent back for a re-do. He was not able to reach this result by concluding that compliance with the more lenient No Child Left Behind Act satisfied the higher standards of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 – because a fair reading of the statutes would not permit such a conclusion. He resorted, therefore, to an in-depth, soup to nuts, re-examination of the detailed lower court findings, substituting his judgment for that of the courts below, without the deference traditionally accorded lower courts in this situation.  He also, as the dissent pointed out, reached out to consider claims not even raised or considered below.  Indeed, one of those claims Justice Breyer characterizes as "[springing] full-grown from the Court's own brow, like Athena from the brow of Zeus."  The result of all this, in Justice Breyer's view:  it will now be far more difficult for federal courts to enforce standards designed to support non-English speaking school children.

This result is troubling. And how the Court got there is equally troubling. Indeed, it’s the same kind of "unabashed display of judicial lawmaking" we saw in last week's decision in Gross v. FBL Financial Services.

PFAW

AAMIA Members Revs. Frank Dunn and Joseph Smith attended yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 (S.909), where Committee Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) acknowledged the work of AAMIA toward passage of this critical legislation. Witnesses included Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., Author Janet Langhart Cohen, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary Professor Dr. Mark Achtemeier, US Commission on Civil Rights Commissioner Gail Heriot, The Heritage Foundation’s Brian W. Walsh, and the Anti-Defamation League Washington Counsel Michael Lieberman. You can view the webcast of the hearing here.

AAMIA and PFAW have submitted letters in support of the legislation, along with a fact sheet on the legislation, and myths and facts about hate crimes protections. AAMIA and PFAW have been out in front combating the lies from the right wing that this bill will silence pastors who speak out against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

While they were at the hearing AAMIA staff and Rev. Joseph Smith caught up with author, playwright and producer Janet Langhart Cohen, a witness before the committee, and learned more about her Anne & Emmett Project, a play about a beyond-the-grave conversation between Anne Frank and Emmett Till. The play was scheduled to premiere at the US Holocaust Museum the week of the unfortunate tragedy at the museum where Officer Stephen Johns was killed in the line of duty by an avowed white supremacist.
 

PFAW

AAMIA Chair Rev. Timothy McDonald Turns Up the Heat at Healthcare For All Rally

“You think its hot now, wait until we turn up the heat on [Congress] with our activism on health care reform.” - Rev. Timothy McDonald, Pastor of First Iconium BaptistChurch in Atlanta.

Rev. Timothy McDonald, chair of our African American Ministers In Action, closed out yesterday’s Interfaith Prayer Service for Healthcare Reform with a message inspiring hundreds of participants in yesterday’s Congressional lobby visits and march to continue to ring the alarm in their churches and communities on the urgent need for healthcare for 46 million uninsured Americans.

He reminded those in attendance of the book by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, “Why We Can’t Wait” and why we absolutely cannot wait for health care for our brothers and sisters. Rev. McDonald said our country could no longer look at the healthcare system as a profitable institution, we must see it as a civil right for all Americans. Under the theme “Believing Together,” he called for all of us – rabbis, pastors, priests, ministers, community leaders, laypersons, concerned citizens – to build bridges and take the message and the energy from the day to our neighborhoods, communities, churches, and everywhere else to demand healthcare for all Americans.

He implored us to not remember this moment as just an event, but an event that sparked a movement.
 

 

 

 

PFAW

Broad Coalition Calls for Mormon Church to End Anti-Gay Policies

A broad group of current and former Mormons, non-Mormoms, gays, and heterosexuals united to call on leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to end their anti-gay policies and their involvement with anti-gay politics (California’s Prop. 8) and fundraising. Through their website, the coalition has launched a petition to “earnestly seek to create a climate for reconciliation between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and gays and lesbians who have been affected by the policies, practices and politics of the Church.” More from the petition:

We recognize that issues surrounding sexuality and gender orientation are complex; that understanding of these matters has evolved, especially over the past several decades, and are continuing to evolve as scientists, therapists, theologians and others continue to explore and ponder their meaning and significance; We believe that people of good will may have differing views about homosexuality, while maintaining amicable relationships.

True reconciliation requires that parties on both sides of this issue be willing to honestly examine their attitudes, behaviors (including past behaviors), policies and practices—and be open to understanding, forgiveness (both asking for and accepting), and apology.

The site includes links to the church’s historical involvement in gay marriage legislation, personal testimonies from gay and lesbian Mormons and a list of gay and lesbian Mormons who have committed suicide.
 

PFAW

President Obama, Census Bureau Looking at Ways to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages in 2010 Census

Pres. Obama and the White House are now looking at ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data – another small step of what we hope will be a larger agenda toward equal justice under the law for gays and lesbians in America. Last year, PFAW launched a petition drive urging the Census Bureau to reverse its policy of ‘editing’ the data from same-sex couples who accurately report that they are legally married, and re-classifying them as “unmarried partners.” From the Wall Street Journal:

The White House said Thursday it was seeking ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data, the second time in a week the administration has signaled a policy change of interest to the gay community.

The administration has directed the Census Bureau to determine changes needed in tabulation software to allow for same-sex marriage data to be released early in 2011 with other detailed demographic information from the decennial count. The bureau historically hasn't released same-sex marriage data.

The gay community strongly supported President Barack Obama during the 2008 election. But some gay activists say they have been frustrated by what they see as his slow approach to rolling back discriminatory policies.

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said "the administration continues to make progress on the president's longstanding commitment to promoting equality for [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] Americans."

This is a positive step forward although there’s no word on an actual policy proposal yet. In the meantime, People For the American Way is helping activists tell President Obama and Congressional leaders to “Dump DOMA.” You can find the petition here.

PFAW

Obama Takes Small Step for LGBT Equality When He Promised a Leap

Since taking office, the American people have seen a flurry of activity from the Obama administration, ranging from increased diplomatic efforts abroad to fixing the economic crisis at home. There is one area, however, where we've seen far too little movement―gay rights.

Last night, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum that will extend certain job benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

Over the past several months, the Director of the Office of Personnel Management and the Secretary of State have conducted internal reviews to determine whether the benefits they administer may be extended to the same-sex partners of federal employees within the confines of existing laws and statutes. Both identified a number of such benefits.

For civil service employees, domestic partners of federal employees can be added to the long-term care insurance program; supervisors can also be required to allow employees to use their sick leave to take care of domestic partners and non-biological, non-adopted children.

For foreign service employees, a number of benefits were identified, including the use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad, and inclusion in family size for housing allocations. 

While it is a small step in the right direction, it is hardly the action that Senator Obama spoke of so often on the campaign trail:

I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)– a position I have held since before arriving in the U.S. Senate. While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether. Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples, which is precisely what DOMA does. 

It seems that rather than take real action to repeal DOMA, the administration is offering a gesture to the LGBT community, a gesture without much weight behind it.

President Obama promised all of us that he would push to end the discrimination caused by DOMA; Let your voice be heard and tell the Obama administration that you want it repealed. Sign our petition to end DOMA now!

PFAW

Bishop Harry Jackson Challenges DC Board’s Decision to Forego Same-Sex Marriage Referendum

Not that this comes as a surprise to anyone, but Bishop Harry Jackson and other opponents of same-sex marriage have filed a lawsuit here in DC hoping to get a referendum on the ballot on whether to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

The civil suit against the District's Board of Elections and Ethics asks Judge Judith E. Retchin to overturn an election board ruling Monday that blocked a proposal to put the issue before the voters. Citing a District election law prohibiting votes on matters covered under the 1977 Human Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination against gay men, lesbians and other minority groups, the board said that a referendum would "authorize discrimination."

The plaintiffs asked for an expedited hearing. If the court or Congress does not intervene, recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere will become law early next month, at the end of the required congressional review period.

"We are not going to sit by and allow an unelected board of bureaucrats to deny voters their rightful say on this issue and, by their action, allow the institution of marriage and the entire structure of our society to be radically redefined," said Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville and one of seven District residents who are plaintiffs in the suit.

Bishop Harry Jackson is touted in the Washington Post’s article as “one of seven District residents who are plaintiffs in the suit,” but Lou Chibbarro of The Washington Blade has found evidence that suggests otherwise.

For more information about Jackson’s crusade across the country to strip LGBT people of the equal protection under the law, see People For the American Way Foundation’s report Point Man for the Wedge Strategy.


 

PFAW

Fourteen Years Later, PFAW Continues to Denounce ‘Irresponsible Speech’ and Intolerance in Our Country

It’s no mistake that freedom of speech is in the first Amendment to the Constitution.  It’s impossible to overstate its importance to our democratic system.  But respect for free speech doesn’t give us the right to turn a blind eye to dangerous, irresponsible speech.  As we’ve seen through the explosion on rightwing hate, violent rhetoric can lead to violent actions, and we have a duty to stand up to it and call it by name.

Fourteen years ago, a PFAW memorandum (pdf) was released, focusing on the hateful rightwing speech on issues like racism, abortion, and LBGT rights.  It is no coincidence that names like Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, Newt Gingrich, and Randall Terry rise to the top of both this fourteen year old memorandum and the news headlines of today.  In comparing this article to our current situation, it is easy to see that too little has changed in the last fourteen years.

People For stood up to hateful speech then, and we’ll continue to stand up to it as long as it takes.

After you read the memo, be sure to sign our petition calling on the Department of Homeland Security to reissue its report on rightwing extremism.
PFAW

Despite Promise, Obama Defends DOMA

Today, President Obama’s Justice Department, in a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the Defense of Marriage Act, argued that DOMA is constitutional. The Administration argues that DOMA “does not impinge upon rights that have been recognized as fundamental.”

I remember the thrill I felt when candidate Obama condemned DOMA and promised to eliminate it. He even put that promise on the White House website. But several weeks ago, in lieu of eliminating DOMA, he instead eliminated the promise from the website.

And today, he argues that DOMA does not discriminate against gays and lesbians (or, to use the Administration’s language, homosexuals):

“DOMA does not discriminate against homosexuals in the provision of federal benefits. … DOMA does not distinguish among persons of different sexual orientations, but rather it limits federal benefits to those who have entered into the traditional form of marriage.” (motion to dismiss, page 30)

The Administration’s reasoning is as illogical as that used by segregationists to defend laws prohibiting interracial marriage. So it’s ironic that the brief was filed today, on the 42nd anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision striking down laws that would have barred President Obama’s own parents from marrying.

We need to remind President Obama of his promises. It’s long past time to Dump DOMA.

PFAW