PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Fourth Circuit Victory For Religious Liberty

If you read my post back in March after the oral argument before the Fourth Circuit in Turner v. City Council of Fredericksburg, Virginia, you know that it was quite an honor to have had retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the three-judge panel. And now Justice O’Connor has written the court’s opinion in the case, a July 23 unanimous decision in favor of our client, the Fredericksburg City Council.

As I’ve reported previously, the Council has been sued by one of its own members, Rev. Hashmel Turner, who claims that he has the constitutional right to deliver a prayer in the name of Jesus as the official Council prayer to start Council meetings. Never mind that this would make the non-Christian residents of Fredericksburg feel like second-class citizens when they attend Council meetings. Rev. Turner, who is represented in this case by the religious right Rutherford Institute, also claims that the Council’s policy requiring that its official opening prayers be nonsectarian (that is, not in the name of a specific deity) is unconstitutional. A federal district court judge soundly rejected those claims, and now the Fourth Circuit has rejected them as well.

As Justice O’Connor explained in the court’s opinion holding that the Council’s policy does not violate the Constitution, “[t]he restriction that prayers be nonsectarian in nature is designed to make the prayers accessible to people who come from a variety of backgrounds.” This does not mean, of course, that Rev. Turner’s own free speech or free exercise rights have been violated. To the contrary, as Justice O’Connor observed, Rev. Turner “remains free to pray on his own behalf, in nongovernmental endeavors, in the manner dictated by his conscience.”

Justice O’Connor’s opinion is a sound repudiation of the Rutherford Institute’s efforts to stand the First Amendment on its head. Unfortunately, it seems that the Institute is not listening; it has already announced that it will ask the Supreme Court to hear Rev. Turner’s case.

So stay tuned. In the meantime, I want to add my personal thanks to our co-counsel in this case, the very fine lawyers at Hunton & Williams.

PFAW

Staking Out Our Principles

A lot of my friends and colleagues — and political journalists and bloggers — have spent a good chunk of time this week debating whether or not Barack Obama is "shifting to the middle," or how much he is shifting, or whether it's politically necessary or smart or disastrous for him to do so. You and I might not answer those questions the same way, and could probably have great discussion over dinner or drinks. But I've been thinking more about a different set of questions. What should we expect -- or demand -- from progressive candidates in an election year? How can we most effectively advance our principles and mobilize our supporters to make a difference in these important public debates? I think the answers are clear, at least in the big picture. Our role is to stake out our principles, push public officials to do the right thing, and work to hold them accountable for their actions. We don't always win, and political wrangling sometimes blurs the lines, but I'll always try to keep us focused on advancing the American Way and protecting the civil rights and liberties we hold dear. This week, we were sorely disappointed that so many Democratic senators supported the White House-backed intelligence bill, which gave immunity to telecommunications companies who assisted the administration's illegal wiretapping and which left the door open to further abuse. We, our activists, and our allies pushed hard until the very end, and when many of the people we should have been able to count on voted the wrong way, we said so. Next year we will be pushing for a fix from the new Congress and President -- one more reminder that People For the American Way's work will be important no matter who gets elected. A few days earlier, Sen. Obama proposed a set of changes to President Bush's Office of Faith Based initiatives, which has been a practical and constitutional disaster. We took a careful look and commended changes that would strengthen constitutional principles the Bush administration has undermined. But we also drew a clear line against direct funding for houses of worship — and we'll work before and after the election to make sure that any initiative respects core constitutional principles. This is going to be an exciting year, and I'm convinced that there will be many progressive victories. Along the way we'll have disagreements with each other, and with some of our friends and champions. My style is to be direct about those differences, and to work through them in ways that keep our eye on the big picture. Let me know what you think. I have loved hearing from so many of you in recent weeks. As always, you can reach me at Kathryn@pfaw.org.
PFAW

The Muppets Take Philadelphia

Happy Fourth of July! After a busy week traveling to Pittsburgh and San Francisco, talking to activists about the Supreme Court and to donors about People For's work, I'm using the long weekend to spend some much needed time with my family. I hope you too will have a happy and healthy Fourth of July! I heard from many of you in the last week in response to my Friday Note about George Carlin and Big Bird. Your ideas about how best to use culture to bring change to America were wonderful. I hope that in the coming months I will have the opportunity to talk with you more about the direction of our country and what People For can do to create an America that values religious liberty and free speech, a democracy where all our voices and votes count. When Norman Lear read last week's Note, he reminded me that in 1982, Big Bird, Martin Sheen and the Muppets participated in "I Love Liberty," a two-hour television special that Norman produced for People For the American Way. The Muppets do a wonderful reenactment of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, reminding us all that our nation's founders were a group of unruly rebels who stood up to tyranny. If you have a moment this weekend, watch this terrific blast from the past ... preferably with your children or grandchildren who might not yet know about our nation's rich history. You can watch the video on YouTube here. Today we celebrate the patriots who inspired their friends and neighbors, and launched an independent nation committed to justice and the rule of law. They remind us that with passion and principle on our side, we too can make a difference. As Margaret Mead said so well, "A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Thanks for your support, and have a great holiday!
PFAW

The Power of Culture

What do seven dirty words, Big Bird and Archie Bunker have in common? George Carlin, the envelope-pushing, line-crossing comedian was probably most famous for "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." That routine provoked countless conversations about censorship and the First Amendment, both before and after the Supreme Court upheld a Federal Communications Commission order against his "indecency." I didn't remember until reading his obituary that he had actually been arrested several times for delivering "Seven Words" in a show. Carlin was about far more than dirty words. He used his immense talents as a wordsmith and performer to simultaneously make listeners laugh and challenge them to look askance at the status quo in politics, culture and society. Carlin was scheduled to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. this fall, and it's a great misfortune that we won't be able to see the ways that he undoubtedly had in mind to have the gala crowd squirming in their seats. Also in the news this week was the death of Kermit Love, a much lesser known name. Love was a costume designer who built Big Bird and other Sesame Street characters. The gentle, uplifting spirit of Sesame Street, so prized by generations of parents and children, is in many ways a stark contrast to Carlin's purposefully jarring routines. But Carlin and Big Bird both reminded me of the power of culture to shape our society. People For the American Way's founder Norman Lear has always understood the great ability of pop culture to puncture unexamined prejudice, to make people think, to point toward a higher ideal. That's one of the reasons I was so excited about taking this job. I would love to hear your ideas on ways we can creatively use culture to make social and political change — send me your thoughts at Kathryn@pfaw.org. One last thought about the week. Thursday was the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned state sodomy laws. Reading our legal director's remembrance of that day reminded me how exciting it was to have the Court make a ringing defense of liberty — and reminded me what a huge difference it makes whether our top Court is friend or foe on individual rights. That is also why I'm here. And why I'm grateful that you are too.
PFAW

Five Years Later: Decriminalizing Gay People

Many people probably don’t recall much, if anything, about June 26, 2003, but I recall a great deal. That’s because it’s the day on which the Supreme Court issued one of its most important rulings in the area of individual rights and human dignity. In Lawrence v. Texas, a sharply divided Court struck down a Texas state law that prohibited consensual, private sex between adults of the same gender, a law that essentially made criminals out of gay men and lesbians. Five justices held that the law was an improper intrusion on the right to liberty guaranteed to everyone by the Constitution, effectively invalidating all state laws that invade the home to prohibit so-called sodomy.

Five years later, I can still recall vividly the absolute joy and elation that I felt learning that these pernicious laws were no more. The Court’s ruling meant not only that these laws could no longer be used to intrude into a realm of personal conduct in which government has no place, but also that they could no longer be cited to deny gay people jobs or participation in any other aspect of human endeavor on the ground of criminality.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was a ringing endorsement of constitutional liberty. According to Justice Kennedy:

Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.

As news of the Court’s decision unfolded, it was equally wonderful to learn that the five-justice majority had also overturned the Court’s 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, in which the Court, by a vote of 5-4, had upheld a Georgia anti-sodomy law under which Michael Hardwick had been arrested for having had sex in his own home with another man. Bowers was a strikingly anti-gay decision in substance and language and, like Plessy v. Ferguson, a low point in Supreme Court history and an instance of the Court’s abject failure to protect the constitutional rights of minorities. Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court in Lawrence, soundly declared that Bowers “was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent.”

One of my law school classmates was Michael Hardwick’s original attorney. I accompanied her to the Supreme Court that day in March 1986 when Bowers was argued, and I commiserated with her when that terrible ruling came down several months later. She was the first person I called after learning that Bowers had been overturned, and we shared a long-delayed moment of joy.

And so June 26, 2003 is a day that I remember quite well. But as significant as the Lawrence ruling was, I am mindful that four justices did not join Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was part of the majority in Bowers (truly a low point in her judicial career as well), declined to join the majority in overruling that decision. She agreed, however, that the Texas “sodomy” law was unconstitutional, but only because it treated same-sex and opposite-sex couples differently.

Three justices dissented outright from the ruling in Lawrence: then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Scalia and Thomas are still on the bench today. The late Chief Justice Rehnquist has been replaced by the equally ultraconservative John Roberts, while Justice O’Connor has been replaced by the extreme right-wing Samuel Alito.

Counting the numbers, then, it’s very clear that the constitutional protection of the essential human dignity of gay men and lesbians is hanging by a slender thread on the Supreme Court. John McCain has praised Justice Scalia and has also promised to put more justices like Roberts and Alito on the Court, which should be a consideration for any voter who cares about gay rights and the future of the Supreme Court.

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post

PFAW

Five Years After Lawrence: Decriminalizing Gay People

Many people probably don’t recall much, if anything, about June 26, 2003, but I recall a great deal. That’s because it’s the day on which the Supreme Court issued one of its most important rulings in the area of individual rights and human dignity. In Lawrence v. Texas, a sharply divided Court struck down a Texas state law that prohibited consensual, private sex between adults of the same gender, a law that essentially made criminals out of gay men and lesbians. Five justices held that the law was an improper intrusion on the right to liberty guaranteed to everyone by the Constitution, effectively invalidating all state laws that invade the home to prohibit so-called sodomy.

Five years later, I can still recall vividly the absolute joy and elation that I felt learning that these pernicious laws were no more. The Court’s ruling meant not only that these laws could no longer be used to intrude into a realm of personal conduct in which government has no place, but also that they could no longer be cited to deny gay people jobs or participation in any other aspect of human endeavor on the ground of criminality.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was a ringing endorsement of constitutional liberty. According to Justice Kennedy:

Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.

As news of the Court’s decision unfolded, it was equally wonderful to learn that the five-justice majority had also overturned the Court’s 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, in which the Court, by a vote of 5-4, had upheld a Georgia anti-sodomy law under which Michael Hardwick had been arrested for having had sex in his own home with another man. Bowers was a strikingly anti-gay decision in substance and language and, like Plessy v. Ferguson, a low point in Supreme Court history and an instance of the Court’s abject failure to protect the constitutional rights of minorities. Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court in Lawrence, soundly declared that Bowers "was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent."

One of my law school classmates was Michael Hardwick’s original attorney. I accompanied her to the Supreme Court that day in March 1986 when Bowers was argued, and I commiserated with her when that terrible ruling came down several months later. She was the first person I called after learning that Bowers had been overturned, and we shared a long-delayed moment of joy.

And so June 26, 2003 is a day that I remember quite well. But as significant as the Lawrence ruling was, I am mindful that four justices did not join Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was part of the majority in Bowers (truly a low point in her judicial career as well), declined to join the majority in overruling that decision. She agreed, however, that the Texas "sodomy" law was unconstitutional, but only because it treated same-sex and opposite-sex couples differently.

Three justices dissented outright from the ruling in Lawrence: then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Scalia and Thomas are still on the bench today. The late Chief Justice Rehnquist has been replaced by the equally ultraconservative John Roberts, while Justice O’Connor has been replaced by the extreme right-wing Samuel Alito.

Counting the numbers, then, it’s very clear that the constitutional protection of the essential human dignity of gay men and lesbians is hanging by a slender thread on the Supreme Court. John McCain has praised Justice Scalia and has also promised to put more justices like Roberts and Alito on the Court, which should be a consideration for any voter who cares about gay rights and the future of the Supreme Court.

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post

PFAW

History Being Made

It was an incredibly moving week for me. Couples in California who have been denied equality for so long began to get married — in weddings recognized by the largest state in the nation. It's one of those rare moments when we can actually recognize history as it's being made — both for the country and for the couples and families celebrating this week. As a long-time admirer of feminist and equal-rights pioneers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, I love that so many people have signed our guestbook with heartfelt wishes for the two of them. They have been together for 55 years and were the first couple to be married on Monday evening. If you haven't done so, here's your last chance before we deliver our best wishes to them. This week's images were so positive, so reflective of what's best in our lives and communities, that it is jarring to be reminded that some people will stop at nothing to pull the rug out from under these couples. If you saw what comes across my desk every day, you'd understand that this is Armageddon for the Far Right. It's not just ridiculous end-of-civilization rhetoric. The Right knows how high the stakes are on this, and they fear the public is moving away from them on this issue. They know that if their ballot initiative to roll back equality fails, they will lose their ability to dismiss progress as the actions of a few rogue judges overriding the will of the people. So they are pulling out every lie in their heavy handbook. And they are pouring millions of dollars into their campaign to reverse the tide of history. Polls show that we can win in California — but it's going to be close and hard-fought. I'm proud and excited that People For is working shoulder to shoulder with so many allies to win this battle for people's hearts and minds. We're putting together a campaign in California that's going to make a real difference — something you'll be hearing a lot more about in the weeks and months to come. Making change is fun! Let's keep it up.
PFAW

97-Year-Old Arizona Woman Disenfranchised by Voter ID Law

Shirley Preiss was born in Kentucky in 1910 — a full 10 years before American women gained the right to vote. She first voted in a presidential election in 1932, for FDR. She’s voted in every presidential election since, but that’s all about to change due to Arizona’s draconian voter ID law.

As Art Levine reported, Shirley effectively lost her right to vote when she moved to Arizona:

After living in Arizona for two years, she was eagerly looking forward to casting her ballot in the February primary for the first major woman candidate for President, Hillary Clinton. But lacking a birth certificate or even elementary school records to prove she’s a native-born American citizen, the state of Arizona’s bureaucrats determined that this former school-teacher who taught generations of Americans shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

The state’s voter ID law, passed in 2004, requires voters to show ID at the polling place and to provide proof of citizenship in order to register. But birth certificates weren’t issued in 1910 in Shirley’s birthplace of Clinton, KY, and her elementary school no longer exists.

Shirley appeared on the local news Monday night in Phoenix to tell her story:

 

 

She’s far from the only victim of this law. The Arizona Advocacy Network reports that nearly 40,000 voter registration forms have been rejected due to inadequate proof of citizenship. And it’s getting to be a national problem.

The Supreme Court gave Indiana the green light last month on its restrictive voter ID law, and other states have already or are in the process of passing similar laws. Everywhere such laws are enacted, the voting rights of thousands of Americans - especially among the poor, elderly, and minorities - are put at risk. Fortunately many other states have fended off voter ID laws, and I’m proud that People For the American Way’s Democracy Campaign played a role in many of those fights. Nothing short of a concerted effort by the progressive movement over the coming years will succeed in safeguarding the right to vote.

Cross-posted on CrooksAndLiars.com

PFAW

Supreme Court Narrows Protections for Public Employees

In a 6-3 ruling on June 9, the Supreme Court made it harder for public employees who are victims of arbitrary or malicious firings to obtain justice. In doing so, the Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, rejected an approach followed by nine federal appellate courts that had allowed a public employee who is arbitrarily treated differently from other similarly situated employees to bring an equal protection claim under the 14th Amendment, even if that employee had not been discriminated against because of membership in a particular class (e.g., African Americans or women).

Those courts had held that membership in a "class of one" is sufficient in the public employment context to invoke the equal protection guarantees of the 14th Amendment, which protect "any person." Chief Justice Roberts was joined in this opinion by the other conservative members of the Court (Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas), as well as by Justice Breyer.

Justice Stevens wrote a sharp dissent, joined by Justices Souter and Ginsburg, accusing the majority of "carv[ing] a novel exception out of state employees' constitutional rights." According to the dissent, "[e]ven if some surgery were truly necessary to prevent governments from being forced to defend a multitude of equal protection 'class of one' claims, the Court should use a scalpel rather than a meat-axe." Instead, in the words of Justice Stevens, the Court had "adopt[ed] an unnecessarily broad rule that tolerates arbitrary and irrational decisions in the employment context."

PFAW

Ledbetter v. Goodyear and Fair Pay, One Year Later

As a Senator, John McCain has helped George W. Bush pack the federal courts with right wing judges, judges who serve for life and who will extend the legacy of President Bush for decades to come. In fact, it seems that Senator McCain has never met a bad Bush judicial nominee he didn’t like, including John Roberts and Samuel Alito. With McCain’s help, Roberts is now the Chief Justice of the United States, and Alito is right by his side on the Supreme Court.

And with McCain continuing to heap praise on Roberts and Alito, it’s only fitting, as we approach the first anniversary of one of the most harmful rulings in which Roberts and Alito have participated, to take a look at the damage done in that one decision alone.

Lilly Ledbetter worked for decades in a Goodyear Tire plant in Alabama, the kind of place where so many Americans work. But until Lilly received an anonymous tip late in her career, she had no idea that for years on end she was being paid far less than were her male colleagues doing the same work — and that the unequal pay was the result of a discriminatory evaluation.

Lilly sued, and won her case before a jury, which found that Goodyear had unlawfully discriminated against Lilly because of her sex, and awarded her back pay.

Did Goodyear settle with Lilly, a longtime employee? No, it appealed, all the way to the Supreme Court, and in a 5-4 ruling on May 29, 2007, the Court ruled against Lilly, taking away her back pay. In an opinion by Justice Alito and joined by Chief Justice Roberts, the five-justice majority held that Lilly had sued too late, that she should have filed her lawsuit within 180 days of the discriminatory evaluation. Alito and Roberts rejected the previously accepted view of federal anti-discrimination law — that each paycheck Lilly received based on a discriminatory evaluation started a new 180-day clock running on the time to sue.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a scathing dissent in which she accused Alito and Roberts of a "cramped interpretation" of the anti-discrimination law that was incompatible with the law’s "broad remedial purpose." As Justice Ginsburg pointed out, many employees have no idea what their co-workers earn, and discriminatory pay is often hidden by employers.

And so thanks to the Supreme Court, Lilly Ledbetter has been left with no remedy for the sex discrimination that she suffered on the job. Lilly could be any worker, anywhere. The Court’s decision in her case will make it harder for workers across the country who have been victimized by unlawful pay discrimination to recover the back pay to which they are entitled. Rulings like the one in Lilly’s case underscore how important the Supreme Court is to all Americans, every single day.

Happy Anniversary, Senator McCain.

PFAW

Brown v. Board of Education: a 54th Anniversary Reminder of the Importance of the Supreme Court

As George Orwell might put it, all Supreme Court decisions are important, but some are more important than others. And in the history of our country, there can be little doubt that one of the Court’s most important decisions was its unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, decided 54 years ago this May 17th. Overturning the shameful “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson and striking down school segregation laws, the ruling in Brown gave substance to the Constitution’s promise of equality for all. Without question, May 17, 1954 saw the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, at its very best.

Flash forward 53 years, to June 28, 2007. On that date, a bitterly divided 5-4 Supreme Court, now headed by Bush-nominee John Roberts, invalidated the school-assignment plans adopted by two public school districts to promote racial diversity in their schools. Joining Chief Justice Roberts in striking down those plans were Justices Samuel Alito (the Court’s other Bush-nominee), Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy.

Although Brown had eliminated state laws mandating segregated schools, it could not rid the country of school segregation created by local housing patterns. So public school districts, recognizing that children benefit from being educated in racially diverse schools, have tried to achieve such diversity on their own. The Court’s ruling last year has made that goal much harder to attain.

In a half-century, we’ve gone from a Court taking a stand for equal opportunity and against legally imposed segregation to a Court that rejects good-faith efforts by school officials to overcome patterns of segregation and give students the benefit of more diverse schools. That pretty much sums up the direction of the Court and its two Bush-nominated justices. Educational opportunity is only one of the arenas in which the Court is leading the nation in retreat. Every American is affected by the Court’s recent rulings undermining voting rights, privacy and reproductive choice, fair pay, religious liberty, and the very ability of individuals to turn to the federal courts for justice when their rights or interests have been harmed.

The Court will be on the ballot this November, as Americans vote for a new President and new Senators. Under Chief Justice Roberts, the Court has already moved far to the right. You can help People For the American Way Save the Court.

PFAW

Reflections on Mildred Jeter Loving, an American Hero, and the Importance of the Supreme Court

A very heroic woman died yesterday. She probably never wanted to be a hero. She did want to be a wife, though. But back in Virginia in the late 1950s, when Mildred Jeter, a black woman, fell in love with Richard Loving, a white man, and they decided to marry, that was indeed a heroic act. Not only because of society's prejudices, but also because it was a crime — a felony punishable by one to five years in prison.

Virginia's law prohibiting interracial marriage wasn't some unenforced statute, either. Oh no, Virginia was quite serious about keeping the races from "mixing." The County Sheriff burst into the Lovings' home in the middle of the night, and Mildred and Richard were charged as criminals and prosecuted — that's right — prosecuted — for having gotten married. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to a year in prison. The trial judge, in a moment of magnanimity, made the Lovings an offer they couldn't refuse: he agreed to suspend their prison sentence for 25 years if they would just leave Virginia and not return for a quarter of a century. He also had this to say about interracial marriage:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

No fools, Mildred and Richard moved to Washington, D.C. But they also took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, in a unanimous decision by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Supreme Court reversed their convictions and declared that laws prohibiting interracial marriage were unconstitutional. The Court struck down these laws — 15 other states had them as well — because they were racially discriminatory and also because they infringed on what the Court recognized was every person's fundamental right to marry.

Richard Loving was killed by a drunk driver in 1975. Last year, on the 40th anniversary of the Court's historic ruling in their case, Mildred Loving issued a statement supporting the right of all couples to marry, regardless of race or sexual orientation. Mildred knew that what makes a marriage is love and commitment, not race or gender. And she knew that it shouldn't take a lawsuit, either, for two people in love to be able to marry.

Mildred and Richard Loving helped teach America some important lessons. Lessons in courage, lessons in love, and, yes, lessons in the importance of the Supreme Court.

America lost another hero yesterday.

PFAW

The Supreme Court Makes It Harder To Vote

The state of Indiana has the most restrictive voter I.D. law in the country. Show up at the polls without a currently valid, government-issued photo I.D., and you can’t vote. I realize that to many Americans, that doesn’t sound like much of a burden. And for many Americans, it isn’t.

But it is a very substantial burden for many groups of eligible voters, including the elderly who don’t drive, college students, and the poor who don’t own cars. There’s a great deal of overlap between those who are unduly burdened by this law and Democratic voting constituencies. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that support for Indiana’s restrictive law came from Republicans in the state legislature.

Indeed, the law is a “solution” looking for a problem, since Indiana has been unable to identify a single case of in-person voter fraud occurring in its history. In fact, studies have shown that widespread, in-person voter fraud simply does not exist, whereas many eligible voters do in fact lack the I.D. that laws such as this require.

No matter. Today, by a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the Indiana law. The Court that should be the staunchest defender of American democracy has enabled a state, without substantial justification, to erect barriers to voting. As we approach a presidential election with the possibility of a record voter turnout, the last thing our democracy needs is more roadblocks to voting.

There’s a small ray of hope, however, as the Court left the door open to future challenges to the Indiana law and to voter I.D. laws in other states. In the meantime, today’s ruling once again underscores how important the Supreme Court is to the rights of every American, including that most fundamental of rights — the right to vote.

PFAW

The Supreme Court: What a Difference an Election Makes

April 18, 2007 is the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling upholding a federal ban on certain abortion procedures even though the law did not include an exception to protect a woman’s health. And that ruling, which significantly chips away at women's reproductive freedom, upheld the federal ban even though the Court had struck down a virtually identical state law several years ago.

What had changed in the interim? Well, as Justice Ginsburg observed in her dissent in last year's case, only the composition of the Court. Justice O'Connor, who had voted with the majority to strike down the state law, had been replaced by Justice Alito, who voted in last year's case to uphold the ban. Samuel Alito, an extreme, far right nominee, was put on the Supreme Court by President Bush and complicit Senators.

Regardless of one's views about abortion, the Court's very obvious, 180-degree reversal of course on the same critical issue of women's reproductive freedom last year was a stark reminder that who sits on the Court matters. And when it comes to who sits on the Court, it was also a reminder of the importance of elections.

The President elected in November will likely have the opportunity to fill one or more vacancies on the Court. And Senators elected in November will vote on whether or not to confirm that President's nominees. Although the future of the Court won't be a line item on the ballot in November, it is definitely at stake on Election Day.

Cross-posted on Daily Kos

PFAW

Court Allows FedEx Age Discrimination Case to Go Forward

In a 7-2 decision today, the Supreme Court held that current and former employees of FedEx who had sued the company claiming age discrimination could proceed with their lawsuit. At issue before the Court was whether one of the employees had filed a "charge" of discrimination with the EEOC — a prerequisite to being able to file suit under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act — when the form that she had submitted to the EEOC was not a "charge" form but rather an "intake questionnaire."

In a majority opinion written by Justice Kennedy, the Court held that the documents submitted by the employee satisified the requirements for a "charge," upholding a ruling by the Court of Appeals that rejected form over substance and allows the employees to proceed with their lawsuit. Justices Thomas and Scalia dissented, and would have denied the employees their day in court.

As we have previously reported on Court Watch, People For the American Way Foundation filed an amicus curiae brief in this case along with AARP and several other organizations, urging the Court to rule as it now has in favor of the employees.

PFAW