Give the gift of equal pay on Mother’s Day

As we mark Mother’s Day this Sunday, think about taking action to support women’s rights. Ask your Senators to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. Be sure to thank them if they’re already cosponsors.

Equal pay in America needed to be put back on track after the devastating Ledbetter ruling, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act answered that call – but it wasn’t the last word. The Paycheck Fairness Act would move us even further forward by providing the tools necessary to enforce equity in the workplace and prevent further disturbing incidents like the one that befell Lilly Ledbetter. It ensures that employers would not have the incentive to continue to discriminate against workers like Lilly Ledbetter, and in doing so actually increases employer incentives for pay equity. It would also prohibit retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices and increase educational outreach to employers and employees about proper pay practices.

National Women’s Law Center, the American Association of University Women, and the American Civil Liberties Union are among the many good resources for information and action. I would also encourage you to check out the National Committee on Pay Equity.


On Hold

The AP has counted up the presidential nominees currently awaiting Senate confirmation. Most of those nominations are being held up by individual Republican senators. Most of those senators remain anonymous. There’s quite a logjam:

These "holds," which frequently have nothing to do with the qualifications of the nominee, have only become more prevalent as the Senate becomes more partisan. As of this week, 91 of President Barack Obama's nominees awaiting confirmation votes were on the Senate's calendar. Almost all of them were entangled in some sort of hold.

At the same time in George W. Bush's first term, there were only eight nominees awaiting Senate action.

Many of Obama's stalled nominees are in line for what appear to be noncontroversial jobs in agencies such as the Peace Corps, Amtrak and the Marine Mammal Commission. Some confirmation delays, however, are clearly disruptive.

The National Transportation Safety Board met Tuesday to discuss findings from last year's ditching of an airliner in New York's Hudson River. But only three of the five board members were there because the Senate hasn't acted on two nominees, one a Democrat and one a Republican. The Democrat has been on the Senate's docket since December.

NPR has a list of 83 nominations that are currently on hold. In limbo along with two fifths of the TSA board are Obama’s picks to fill high-level positions in the Commerce, Energy, and State Departments and the Federal Aviation Administration. In only 10 of the 83 cases has the Senator holding up the process copped to it.

UPDATE: The White House has released its own list of nearly a hundred nominees waiting for a Senate floor vote.


PFAW and AAMIA tell House: Pass ENDA now

People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action wrote to the House of Representatives today urging swift passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act – as a clean bill with no harmful amendments or motions to recommit. This follows last month’s joint statement by over 200 organizations demanding immediate action.

According to PFAW’s Michael B. Keegan and Marge Baker:

American principles of fairness and equal opportunity should be extended to all in the workplace. Passage of ENDA would be a major step in the right direction.

AAMIA’s Reverend Timothy McDonald further explored the idea of shared values.

If we’re going to build the beloved community that Dr. King spoke of, we must be conscious of discrimination, no matter where it rears its ugly head.  As African American ministers, we know what it takes to stand up against systemic oppression. It is in solidarity and love that we recognize the plight of others and support this struggle for the same protections.

We believe a committee vote is imminent, with a House floor vote not far behind. Please write or call your Representative now and tell him or her that you support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Before I go, a special shout out to our friends at the National Center for Transgender Equality for their recent action calling on transpeople to seek employment at congressional offices as a way to demonstrate that transpeople need jobs and are determined to get them.


The Return of Soft Money

In the New York Times today, Adam Liptak predicts that in the wake of Citizens United, the Supreme Court will reconsider, maybe as early as this summer, the constitutionality of limits on “soft money”—unlimited contributions to political parties. The lawyer who won the Citizens United case appealed last month a lower court decision upholding the ban on soft money donations.

 Liptak explains the difficulty of keeping the soft money ban in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to give corporations essentially free reign to spend on elections:

Ever since the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo, election law has relied on what many people think is an artificial distinction. The government may regulate contributions from individuals to politicians, Buckley said, but it cannot stop those same people from spending money independently to help elect those same politicians.

Why not? Contributions directly to politicians can give rise to corruption or its appearance, the court said, but independent spending is free speech. A $2,500 contribution to a politician is illegal; a $25 million independent ad campaign to elect the same politician is not.

Citizens United extended this logic to corporations. Corporate contributions to candidates are still banned, but corporations may now spend freely in candidate elections.

The distinction between contributions and spending has not been popular in the legal academy.

“Buckley is like a rotten tree,” Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University, wrote in 1997. “Give it a good, hard push and, like a rotten tree, Buckley will keel over. The only question is in which direction.”

The return of soft money to elections would not be a trivial matter. In the 2000 election cycle, before the McCain-Feingold bill banned the practice, soft money donations to party committees totaled over $500 million—about a sixth of the total amount spent on federal campaigns that year.

It will be interesting to see if the Roberts Court, given its track record on issues involving large bank accounts, is willing to take us back there.


Judiciary Committee Schedules Vote on Goodwin Liu

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote for this Thursday on the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Richard Painter—who, as George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer helped to shepherd through the nominations of Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito— brought an interesting perspective to the Liu nomination in this morning’s Los Angeles Times:

A noisy argument has persisted for weeks in the Senate, on blog sites and in newspaper columns over President Obama's nomination of Liu to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. This political spat over a single appellate judge makes no sense if one looks at Liu's academic writings and speeches, which reflect a moderate outlook. Indeed, much of this may have nothing to do with Liu but rather with politicians and interest groups jostling for position in the impending battle over the president's next nominee to the Supreme Court.

Painter is right that Liu’s nomination has served as a flashpoint for partisan squabbles and a testing ground for new conservative talking points. We hope that the Judiciary Committee will be able look past the political expedience of bickering over Liu, and recognize him as the qualified, fair nominee he is.


Late Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen urged Congress to hold off on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell until the Pentagon completes its policy review. This was followed by a White House statement (cited by Washington Post and other media outlets) deferring to Secretary Gates.

Alexander Nicholson, a former Army interrogator discharged under Don't Ask, Don't Tell and current Executive Director of Servicemembers United, believes that the push for repeal is not the real problem.

This letter from Secretary Gates is a significant cause for concern for those who truly respect and support the gay military community.

PFAW agrees that careful thought must be given to a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But like Alexander Nicholson, we believe just as strongly that legislative action does not depend on the actions of the DOD Working Group. The Working Group was commissioned to study how to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – not whether it should be repealed. That’s the point on which Congress wants to act. They could do so as early as this month when work begins on the DOD Authorization bill. Congress should proceed now so that we are ready for implementation by December 1 – the deadline for completion of the Working Group report.

Aubrey Sarvis, Army veteran and Executive Director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, described this “fierce urgency of now” in his response.

As a result of the Commander in Chief's decision to defer to Secretary Gates' wishes and timeline, gay service members will continue to be treated as second class citizens, and any sense of fairness may well have been delayed for yet another year, perhaps for another decade.

Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign, continues.

[F]ailure to act this year will, without a doubt, continue to send the message to the thousands of gay and lesbian Americans serving their country in silence that their views and concerns, and the impact on them and their families, do not matter to the military leadership, including their Commander-in-Chief.

Advocates will not rest in their push for an end to LGBT discrimination and muzzled military service. In fact, we’re just one week away from the National Veterans Lobby Day. Hundreds of veterans will come to Capitol Hill to stand up and speak out for the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.


LGBT families included in immigration reform framework

Senate Democrats made news this week with the release of their framework for moving forward on immigration reform. It is by no means perfect, and there is much work left to be done. However, these Senators should be commended for the framework’s attention to family unity and its inclusion of LGBT families. Page 22 stands strong on behalf of keeping LGBT families together in the US.

[The proposal] will eliminate discrimination in the immigration laws by permitting permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status.

This language speaks to the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) and lays the foundation for fully incorporating UAFA into whatever legislation results from the framework. Incorporating UAFA would be a meaningful step taken toward providing equality to same-sex couples and keeping their families together. UAFA allows many same-sex partners to begin the immigration process more quickly and efficiently, and with fewer limitations. Gay men and lesbians whose partners are US citizens or legal permanent residents could apply for family-based visas and green cards.

Last month, PFAW urged the Senate to take action on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). We believe this issue is critical to the welfare of our country.

Today, we thank Senators Schumer (NY), Reid (NV), Menendez (NJ), Durbin (IL), Feinstein (CA), and Leahy (VT) for recognizing that addressing immigration fairly and effectively means addressing the needs of ALL people.

For more information, please visit Immigration Equality.


Majority of Americans Comfortable with Obama Picking Supreme Court Justice

Jeff Sessions take note: a new Washington Post-ABC News poll has found that a large majority of Americans are just fine with President Obama picking the next Supreme Court Justice.

Overall, two-thirds of Americans say they are comfortable with Obama selecting the nation's next justice, including nearly a third of Republicans. That is comparable with a Fox News poll conducted last May before the president chose Sonia Sotomayor to be his first nominee to the court.

The poll finds 65 percent of Americans -- 63 percent of registered voters -- comfortable with Obama making the choice. In June 2005, a Fox poll found 54 percent of registered voters comfortable with President George W. Bush choosing a replacement for the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.


Senators Introduce Crucial Citizens United Fix

This morning, Senate Democrats announced a sweeping legislative remedy to the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which opened up elections to unlimited corporate spending. The DISCLOSE Act would require the disclosure of corporate money spent on influencing elections, and it would prevent foreign companies, government contractors, and bail-out recipients from spending money in American elections. People For’s President, Michael Keegan, weighed in:

Only a constitutional amendment or new ruling can truly 'fix' Citizens United, but the DISCLOSE Act goes far in mitigating its corrosive effect on our democracy. Americans want government by the people, not corporations. But as long as corporations have the ability to pour money into elections, Americans have the right to know how that money is being spent.

The Supreme Court enabled companies to spend money on elections while hiding behind front groups, PR firms, and advocacy groups -- without any disclosure whatsoever. It also opened American elections to spending by foreign corporations, government contractors, and companies that receive billions in government bailouts. The DISCLOSE Act would close these outrageous loopholes.

Not surprisingly, the main opposition to the legislation so far has come from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has plans to spend $50 million on this fall’s elections.

The Chamber may be up for a tough fight. A PFAW poll in February found that 78% of those surveyed believe corporations should be limited in how much they spend to influence elections; 70% though corporations already had too much influence in the process. Other polls have found similar levels of displeasure—across the political spectrum—with Citizens United and the increasing role of corporate money in politics.


Sessions warns of Obama’s “dangerous” SCOTUS philosophy

Don’t say he didn’t warn you. Sen. Jeff Sessions has taken issue with several of President Obama’s criteria for picking a Supreme Court nominee, but he’s especially concerned about the stipulation that the new justice have a “keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.”

That priority, Sessions warned ABC News this week, is “dangerous.”

One has to wonder if Sessions was similarly terrified in 2006, when in his confirmation hearings before Sessions’ committee, now-Justice Samuel Alito made an eloquent speech about his ability to identify with the concerns of immigrants, children, victims of discrimination, and people with disabilities.

He shouldn’t have worried: despite his professed understanding, Alito helped bring us a variety of decisions that have ignored the realities of daily life in America.

But if he sees out-of-touch as the most desirable quality in a Supreme Court justice, Sessions may have found his ideal Justice in John G. Roberts. Roberts has already reassured us that he missed the Internet age entirely. And on Monday, the Chief Justice showed us his lack of concern for low-wage laborers when he belittled the situation of workers forced to sign bad contracts as “economic inequality or whatever.”

If Sessions is looking for a Supreme Court that disregards the lives of ordinary Americans, he’s got it. But maybe it wouldn’t be so dangerous for our newest Justice to understand the difference between “economic inequality” and “whatever.”


Senate Republicans continue to warn of “bailout,” stall reform

Senate Republicans this afternoon again voted in a bloc to stall debate on a Wall Street reform measure, after a concerted effort to brand the increased regulations a fat-cat bailout. The “bailout” label, as People For’s Peter Montgomery explains in a new Right Wing Watch In Focus report, is a carefully calculated lie:

Back in January, Republican pollster and communications strategist Frank Luntz distributed a strategy memo instructing Republican officials how to obstruct Wall Street reform while confusing the American public about who was looking out for their interests. Among Luntz's key recommendations was to tie reforms to big bank bailouts. There's the 180 degree spin from reality. One of the key goals of Wall Street reform legislation being considered in both houses of Congress is preventing the need for such bailouts by clamping down on the kind of overly risky behavior that led to the financial system meltdown. The legislation has been designed to create mechanisms to shut down failing institutions in an orderly way to prevent the need for expensive improvised bailouts in the future.

So, to be clear, the purpose of the Bailout Lie was to let Republicans get away with stopping reforms that would crimp the style of Wall Street speculators while at the same time convincing tea party activists and Main Street Americans that it was somehow the Democrats doing Wall Street's bidding. That's a big bluff. But Senator McConnell is nothing if not audacious in putting the Bailout Lie to work.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll this week showed that a majority of Americans, including over a third of Republicans, actually back the legislation’s so-called “bailout” provision—a requirement that banks contribute to a fund that would cover the cost of taking over and breaking up any failing financial institutions. Two-thirds of those surveyed supported the bill’s increased regulation of Wall Street.

While the GOP’s Wall Street Reform talking points are clearly reaching Republican Senators, it’s unclear how much of an effect they’ll have on a public that’s fed up with the current lax oversight of the financial industry. Perhaps it’s time GOP Senators started consulting their constituents before their party’s spin doctors.


Breathing While Undocumented in Arizona

Linda Greenhouse, writing for the New York Times Opinionator blog, rightly points out that Arizona's new anti-immigrant law quite literally creates a new crime of "breathing while undocumented" due to a provision that someone lacking authorization to be in the country is "trespassing," even on public land.

Greenhouse wonders what Arizonan libertarian and conservative icon Barry Goldwater would have to say about the law, writing, "Wasn’t the system of internal passports one of the most distasteful features of life in the Soviet Union and apartheid-era South Africa?"

She discusses possible responses to the law and importantly notes that even though the law might seem blatantly unconstitutional to many:

[Her] confidence about the law’s fate in the court’s hands is not boundless, however. In 1982, hours after the court decided the Texas case [Plyler v. Doe, which overturned a Texas law depriving undocumented immigrant children of public education], a young assistant to Attorney General William French Smith analyzed the decision and complained in a memo: “This is a case in which our supposed litigation program to encourage judicial restraint did not get off the ground, and should have.” That memo’s author was John G. Roberts Jr.


Two Must-Read Op-Eds on the Stevens Vacancy and What This Court Fight Should Be About

In his column yesterday, E.J. Dionne laid out exactly the right prescription for liberals and Democrats in the upcoming confirmation battle over the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice John Paul Stevens.

We don't know who the nominee is yet, but we know the dangers posed by the Roberts Court and what the right-wing ideologues are doing to our country via their agenda-driven interpretations and reinterpretations of the law and the Constitution.

Citizens United is an extreme case of a general tendency: Conservative judges are regularly invoking their alleged fealty to the "original" intentions of the Founders as a battering ram against attempts to limit the power of large corporations. Such entities were not even in the imaginations of those who wrote the Constitution. To claim to know what the Founders would have made of Exxon Mobil or Goldman Sachs or PepsiCo is an exercise in arrogance.

What liberals forgot during the years when their side dominated the judiciary is that for much of our history, the courts have played a conservative role. But today's conservatives have not forgotten this legacy. Their goal is to overturn the last 70 years of judicial understandings and bring us back to a time when courts voided minimum-wage laws and all manner of other economic regulations.

Read the whole thing here >

Several days earlier, Joe Conason wrote a great piece discussing the politics of Supreme Court confirmation battles and why Democrats and progressives should be eager to have a constitutional debate about the role of the Court and how the Right's definition of "constitutional" really means the dangerous upending of the traditional understanding of the Constitution which has served America well.

Conason writes:

What exactly do they mean by "constitutional"? On the increasingly powerful fringes of the Republican right, a category that includes some Tea Party activists, the Constitution is interpreted as prohibiting every social and political advance since before the Civil War. They would outlaw the Federal Reserve System, the progressive income tax, Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection, consumer regulation and every other important federal initiative of the past century.

Targets of the "constitutional conservatives" would certainly include civil rights legislation that guarantees equal protection under law to minorities and women...

Click here to read the whole piece >


Double your delay: Senate GOP picks another tactic off the obstruction menu

Some more evidence of the Senate GOP’s extraordinary efforts on behalf of getting nothing done: trying to put off a vote on Wall Street reform, Senate Republicans are filibustering the motion to proceed to the legislation, adding yet another layer of delay to stall the bill.

The motion to proceed has traditionally been a quick formality, dispatched by unanimous consent in order to start debate on a bill. But recently, Republicans have been embracing it as yet another opportunity to slow down Senate proceedings. NPR reports:

It used to be relatively rare that so-called "motions to proceed," or to bring up a bill, were filibustered.

Before Democrats became the majority in 2007, such filibusters occurred only about eight times a year. Since then, the Republican minority has nearly quadrupled the frequency of such filibusters.

This dilatory tactic is just one of many ways that the GOP has found to impose unprecedented delays on Senate business both controversial and mundane. At least they haven’t yet skipped out of work altogether. Oh, wait.


Senators Study How to Break the Filibuster Gridlock

Yesterday’s confirmation of Chris Schroeder to head the Office of Legal Policy was a welcome break in the gridlock that GOP senators have created over President Obama’s Executive Branch nominees. (Though, as has become the pattern, they made sure Schroeder’s confirmation was held up for nearly a year before allowing it to easily pass in a 72-24 vote).

The GOP’s recent unprecedented abuse of procedural stalling tactics has Senators and observers scrambling for ways to amend filibuster rules to get the Senate working again.

In the Washington Post this morning, Ruth Marcus details her ideas on reforming the filibuster while maintaining the power of the minority to have a strong voice in the Senate, and Ezra Klein outlines the enormous time-wasting potential of the current rules.

And Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, has launched a (sure to be smash hit) series of hearings on filibuster reform. At this morning’s hearing, there was some especially interesting testimony from the Brookings Institution’s Sarah Binder, who debunked the widely held idea that the Founding Fathers meant the Senate to be deliberative to the point of inaction.

The filibuster clearly has worthy uses (as anyone who’s seen Mr. Smith Goes to Washington knows), but it’s clearly wrong to imply that the Senate’s inventors intended the sort of obstruction that we see today.

Stanley Bach, a former legislative specialist at the Congressional Research Service who testified at this morning’s hearing, put it this way: “A useful starting point [to discussions of reform] is to ask whether the usual purpose of filibusters is more balanced legislation or no legislation at all.”

These days, the answer to that seems pretty clear.