PEOPLE FOR BLOG

New Mexicans unite for marriage

December 2013 marked a southwestern step toward marriage equality nationwide when the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state is required by its constitution to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Today the state said no to dismantling that progress when its legislative session ended without any consideration of a proposed constitutional amendment. With bipartisan support, SJR 6 is dead, and New Mexico still represents the seventeenth state (plus DC) to have legalized marriage for same-sex couples.

New Mexicans United for Marriage:

When the Supreme Court ruled that our state constitution guarantees all New Mexicans the rights and responsibilities of marriage, we expected there would be some who would seek to overturn the decision. But the Legislature listened to the citizens of New Mexico and stood strong against attempts to deny New Mexicans their constitutional right of marriage equality. This should prove once and for all that marriage equality is here to stay in New Mexico and that all families in our state are valued and secure.

Freedom to Marry:

In the end, as we’re finding in so many other states, the freedom to marry was protected by bipartisan support. We’re indebted to the leadership of our co-chairs, including former Gov. Gary Johnson, a libertarian who speaks directly to many New Mexicans who believe that freedom means freedom for everyone.

The timing of today’s victory bodes well as two important federal court challenges to marriage bans are headed to the 10th Circuit Court in Denver. New Mexico is one of the six states served by that court and we hope the resounding silence by its political and legislative leaders to challenge the freedom to marry resonates with the justices.

PFAW stood with Freedom to Marry and other NMUM partners in asking members to make calls on behalf of fairness for all couples. We will continue to support the freedom to marry nationwide and will remain vigilant against backlash in the Land of Enchantment.

PFAW

Cruz: 'Our Heart Weeps' Due To Marriage Equality Gains

This post originally appeared on our Right Wing Watch blog.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz joined Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on Washington Watch on Thursday to discuss his proposed State Marriage Defense Act, which as we explained earlier would “make it more difficult for married same-sex couples to receive legal recognition.”

Cruz said that the Obama administration’s support for LGBT equality represents an “abuse of power and lawlessness” and chided gay rights advocates for their “litigation approach.”

“Our heart weeps for the damage to traditional marriage that has been done,” Cruz said, warning that marriage is “under attack.”

“We need to stand up and defend traditional marriage and especially do everything we can to prevent the federal government from forcing a different definition of marriage that is contrary to the views to the citizens of each state.”

The Texas senator also agreed with Perkins’ assessment that and Obama administration officials want to “move quick[ly]” on marriage equality “because there will be pushback from the country when people see the consequences of this redefinition of marriage; they are trying to lock this in quickly hoping that it cannot be reversed.”

Ending the Disenfranchisement of Formerly Incarcerated Americans

The following is a guest blog from Reverend Michael Couch, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action.

On Tuesday, while speaking at the Georgetown University Law Center, Attorney General Eric Holder called for a repeal of state voting laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people. In a country where nearly six million citizens are unable to vote because of felony convictions, these changes could not come quickly enough.

State laws dictating voting rights for those who have served time in prison vary, from an automatic restoration of rights after sentence completion in some states to outright bans in others. Restrictions on this civil right in states like Kentucky, Florida, Iowa, and Virginia should no longer be subject to criteria such as the type of convictions, arbitrary time frames, petitions to clemency boards and/or the state governor.

I work daily with others around the country to make sure nonpartisan voting education and voter registration of women and men who have completed their sentences takes place. Laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people take away the single most fundamental American right, and they do so disproportionately to people of color. As Attorney General Holder pointed out in his speech, restrictive laws prohibit a shocking one in thirteen African Americans adults from voting.

As an African American faith leader, I find this to be both morally unacceptable and counterproductive to the goal of fostering supportive, engaged communities. I know from experience if someone has committed a crime, served their time in prison, and is released, no good could come of permanently stripping them of their most basic right and responsibility. Moreover, what isn’t often addressed is how restrictive laws keep families of those adults from helping them transition back to being a responsible, contributing citizen of their community. It’s time to change the message sent to the nearly six million Americans who have lost their voice and civic responsibility in our democracy.

Attorney General Holder is right: These laws are “unwise…unjust, and… not in keeping with our democratic values.” It’s time for states to get rid of laws that suppress those who have served their time and prevent them from fully participating in our democratic system.

PFAW

Virginia Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Struck Down

On Thursday evening a federal judge ruled that Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen stayed the decision pending appeal, meaning that while the ban has been struck down, the ruling will not immediately take effect.

Close on the heels of a federal judge’s decision earlier this week directing Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, Judge Wright Allen’s decision makes Virginia the first state in the South where a statewide ban has been entirely struck down.

In the South and across the country, it’s clear that Americans increasingly believe it is wrong to block committed couples from the protections and responsibilities that only marriage can provide. As Judge Wright Allen wrote in her decision:

Our nation's uneven but dogged journey toward truer and more meaningful freedoms for our citizens has brought us continually to a deeper understanding of the first three words in our Constitution: we the people. "We the People" have become a broader, more diverse family than once imagined.

PFAW Foundation

GOP Senators Fail to Support Their States' Judicial Nominees

Because of Republican refusal to let Majority Leader Reid hold confirmation votes, there are 32 judicial nominations languishing on the Senate floor. They could be confirmed in a day, and even in a few minutes. But with Republicans filibustering all judicial nominees, the Senate will have to spend weeks doing nothing but engaging in needless "post-cloture debate" before finally being able to confirm these 32 nominees.

All these nominees have had the support of their home-state senators, many of whom are Republicans. But with the GOP blocking votes on those same nominees, that support seems to be in name only.

For instance, Arkansas senators Mark Pryor (D) and John Boozman (R) were united in their strong support of nominees James Moody and Timothy Brooks before the Judiciary Committee last fall. Both nominees were approved by the committee unanimously, Brooks in October and Moody in November. But since then, Republicans have prevented them from having confirmation votes. Yesterday, Pryor went to the Senate floor to request unanimous consent to hold a confirmation vote, which Republican Chuck Grassley objected to. Boozman, however, did not speak up for the nominees or against his party's sabotage of the federal courts in Arkansas.

Such silence characterizes most if not all of the Republican senators who seem not to be protecting their states' nominees:

Illinois (Mark Kirk): Manish Shah (Northern District) and Nancy Rosenstengel (Southern District) were both approved by the Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote on January 16 and February 6, respectively. Rosenstengel would fill a vacancy that has been officially designated a judicial emergency by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.

Kansas (Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran): Nancy Moritz (Tenth Circuit) and Daniel Crabtree (District of Kansas) were both approved by the committee by unanimous voice vote on January 16. Crabtree would fill a judicial emergency and would fill a vacancy that opened back in 2010; Moritz's vacancy opened in back in 2011.

Maine (Susan Collins): Jon Levy has been awaiting a confirmation vote since January 16, when the committee approved him overwhelmingly. Sen. Collins spoke glowingly about Levy when he was nominated and when he appeared before the Judiciary Committee. But now what he needs is for her to have a conversation with her fellow Republicans about letting him have a confirmation vote.

Missouri (Roy Blunt): Douglas Harpool was unopposed when the committee approved his nomination on January 16. He would fill a seat that became vacant ten months ago when a sitting judge passed away.

Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey): Gerald McHugh and Edward Smith were both among those approved by the committee on January 16, Smith unanimously and McHugh with a bipartisan 12-5 vote. Sen. Toomey has noted that "Judge Smith will sit in the Easton courthouse, which has lacked a sitting federal judge since 2004, thus ensuring that the people of the northern Lehigh Valley will once again have close, ready access to the federal judiciary." But unless Toomey can get his party to relent, the people of the northern Lehigh Valley will have to wait.

Tennessee (Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker): Pamela Reeves, who would be the first woman federal judge in the state's Eastern District, was approved by the Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote in November, yet has not been allowed a simply yes-or-no vote. Since then, she has been joined by Sheryl Lipman, who was similarly approved unanimously last month.

Utah (Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee): Carolyn McHugh would be the first woman from Utah to serve on the Tenth Circuit. Both her senators are actually on the Judiciary Committee. Last year, Hatch said he hoped the Senate would "act quickly" in confirming her, and Lee said he would work to "ensure her speedy confirmation." But this year? Despite her unanimous approval by the Judiciary Committee, Hatch and Lee's party hasn't allowed her to take her seat on the Tenth Circuit.

Wisconsin (Ron Johnson): James Peterson would fill a seat that has been vacant for more than five years, and which has been designated a judicial emergency. Last year, Sen. Johnson recommended him to the White House and urged his fellow Senators toward a "swift confirmation." He was approved with overwhelming bipartisan support by the Judiciary Committee last week, but he and the two other nominees advanced that day found themselves at the back of a line that already had 29 people on it. If Johnson wants a "swift confirmation," he might ask his fellow Republicans to let up and allow votes on all those other nominees.

In all these cases, courtroom vacancies could be filled if only Republicans would allow it. Each of these Republican senators has to decide whether GOP leader Mitch McConnell deserves a show of loyalty more than their constituents deserve a fully functioning system of justice.

PFAW

GOP Blockade of Nominees Disrupts Ark. Judicial Election

Because of ongoing Republican obstruction, the Senate may be forced to take five weeks of its time to confirm 32 mostly unopposed judicial nominees ... all of whom could be confirmed in five minutes. Among those 32 are two from Arkansas. Sen. Mark Pryor stood up yesterday to urge his colleagues to allow a vote on the two Arkansans, but Republicans would have none of it.

Some background: Timothy Brooks was approved by the Judiciary Committee by unanimous voice vote way back in October. Two weeks later, the committee approved James Maxwell Moody, also by unanimous voice vote. But in the months since then, Senate Republicans have refused to give the "unanimous consent" that is required to schedule a confirmation vote without the need for a filibuster-busting cloture vote. So Brooks, Moody, and 30 other highly qualified nominees are stuck.

Yesterday, Sen. Pryor stood on the Senate floor and explained how the GOP's obstructionism was messing up local elections in his state: With the Senate preparing to leave town before a snowstorm and not return until the last week of February, Pryor explained the impact of inaction on the people of his state. As reported in the Arkansas Times Record:

Pryor said there was an urgent need to confirm Moody in particular, because the filing period to be listed on the ballot for Pulaski County Circuit judge opens later this month.

Without confirmation, Moody is left to wonder if he should file for re-election. If he does, his name cannot be removed from the ballot even if is confirmed to the federal bench.

"So this is causing a lot of problem back home," Pryor said on the Senate floor.

But the Judiciary Committee's senior Republican, Chuck Grassley, objected. Why? Because Senate Democrats changed the filibuster rules last year (although Pryor actually voted against the change).

It is important to note Grassley's situational ethics. In 2005, when it was George W. Bush's nominees who were at issue, he publicly supported the effort of Senate Republicans to eliminate the filibuster altogether for judicial nominees, and to make that change in Senate rules by majority vote. For instance, check out this press conference he gave with fellow GOP senators on May 19, 2005 (about 13 minutes into the clip).

So it was awfully rich yesterday for Grassley to cite the November rules change as justification for blocking votes on the two Arkansas nominees (as well as the 30 others being stymied). When Grassley makes comments like that, you almost expect to hear a laugh track.

Unfortunately, it isn't funny that the Senate will have to waste weeks of its time in needless "post-cloture debate" when it could confirm all these nominees in less than a day. Nor is the damage that the GOP is doing to the nation's federal court system and the Americans who rely on it for access to justice anything to laugh at.

PFAW

Globalizing Homophobia: PFAW Member Telebriefing

As the world’s eyes turned to Russia for the Sochi Olympics, and for the increasingly anti-gay policies of the Putin government, People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery spoke with PFAW supporters on an activist teleconference about the destructive export of homophobia by American Religious Right groups and political leaders.

Montgomery discussed the contents of a new Right Wing Watch In Focus report, “Globalizing Homophobia: How the American Right Supports and Defends Russia’s Anti-Gay Crackdown.” The report exposes the active involvement of Religious Right figures like Scott Lively and Brian Brown in encouraging the passage of anti-gay laws and fomenting a homophobic climate that has contributed to horrific anti-gay violence in Russia. The World Congress of Families, backed by many Religious Right groups in the U.S., is holding its 2014 summit in Moscow with the support of the Russian government.

Montgomery also spoke with callers about Religious Right leaders’ support for anti-gay legislation in other parts of the world, including Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and India.

PFAW President Michael Keegan said the new report, like ongoing coverage of Religious Right leaders on PFAW’s Right Wing Watch blog, gives activists tools to help expose the extremism of right-wing groups and hold them accountable for the harm they are causing to people’s lives and to the values of freedom, fairness, and human rights.

Listen to call here:

PFAW

PFAW Members Join Largest Civil Rights March in the South Since Selma

This Saturday, People For the American Way and affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For members joined the estimated 80,000-100,000 progressives from across North Carolina and around the country in the biggest civil rights march in the South since Selma.

Saturday’s Moral March on Raleigh brought together the most diverse coalition of individuals our state, perhaps our country, has ever seen: young, old, black, brown, white, faithful, agnostic, atheist, documented, undocumented, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender.  People from all walks of life marched together – from students and activists to lawyers, healthcare professionals, and teachers.

YP4 Fellow and UNC student Omar Kashef joined the rally “to be a part of a larger movement of forward thinking North Carolinians working to build a better, more progressive future.” YP4 Fellow Jazmin Medoza-Sosa marched to use her voice “to stand up for [her] parents, siblings, and those who are unheard.” PFAW members joined as grandmothers “embarrassed by what they have done to our state” marching for their grandchildren and our future, as disabled Vietnam veterans committed to continuing their service, and as dozens of other concerned North Carolinians determined to “take back our North Carolina.” And movement leader Reverend William Barber II, a member of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action, marched to “inaugurate a fresh year of grassroots empowerment, voter education, litigation, and non-violent direct action.”

While the day started off chilly and gray, spirits were running high, and by the end of the rally—as the masses committed to mobilizing their communities on election day and linked arms to sing We Shall Overcome—the sun had emerged to warm everyone’s way home.

Though every one of the tens of thousands who showed up Saturday brought their own motivation and carried with them their unique vision for a more progressive state that takes care of all of its own—not just those with the money to buy political influence—the power born of the Moral Monday movement will ensure North Carolina truly does move forward together, not one step back!

PFAW

Historic Nomination: Diane Humetewa Would Be First Native American Woman On Federal Bench

A historic nomination by President Obama is being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee: Diane Humetewa is poised to become the first Native American woman on the federal judiciary. Humetewa is a highly qualified nominee with bipartisan support. She was nominated by President Obama with Senator McCain ’s recommendation to serve on the federal judiciary and was previously appointed by President Bush as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona.

The Senate Judiciary Committee had Humetewa’s confirmation hearing on January 29, and her committee vote has been scheduled for this Thursday, February 13. But there is already a growing line of nominees stalled on the Senate floor unable to get a confirmation vote. On January 29, 29 nominees were stalled, and by February 6 the waiting list grew to 32 nominees who are stuck at Senate floor step in the confirmation process. Humetewa and her five fellow Arizona nominees will be added to the end of this already unacceptably long line.

In the meantime, Arizona needs qualified judges like Humetewa to fill its six federal judicial vacancies

If Diane Humetewa is confirmed, she will be the:

First Native American woman to serve as a judge in a federal court;

Third Native American to be a federal judge; and

Only Native American in active service on the federal bench.

Diversity on the federal bench is always important, and Indian legal advocates and tribal leaders have emphasized the need for federal judges who understand Indian Law in particular.

Many Americans know little more about the complexities of Indian tribal laws—and their unique relationship to state and federal laws. Indian sovereign authority, recognized by federal law, extends to the Indian tribal courts that adjudicate Indian affairs-related matters. Some law firms have a specialized practice area in Indian law. Some law schools, such as Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law where Humetewa is a professor, have an Indian legal program “to promote an understanding of the differences between the legal systems of Indian Nations and those of the state and federal governments.”

“Indian legal experts have long said that tribal law gets shortchanged in the federal legal arena because so few judges are well-versed and experienced in it. This is one reason why federal cases are often harmful to tribal and Indian interests, according to many tribal analyses,” reported Indian Country Today after Republican Senators blocked Avro Mikkanen, a Native American previously nominated by President Obama to the federal judiciary.

The National Congress of American Indians applauded the nomination of Diane Humetewa and particularly noted her firsthand experience in federal Indian law. Humetewa’s Indian law background includes her work as an attorney on the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee and an Appellate Judge on the Hopi Appellate Court.

This is an important nomination for which President Obama—and all Americans—should be proud. The Judiciary Committee should act expeditiously on this opportunity to make this federal judicial nomination a historic confirmation. That means that Republicans should not demand a needless delay in the committee vote as they have done in all but five cases since Obama became president.  It also means the full Senate should finally be allowed to hold confirmation votes on the 32 nominees ahead of Humetewa and her fellow Arizonans.

PFAW

Assault On Voting by Ohio GOP Ahead of November 2014 Elections

Ohio Republican legislators are up to their voter suppression tricks again, trying to limit absentee ballot registrations and restricting voting hours ahead of the November 2014 elections. The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday that GOP Rep. Mike Dovilla, Chairman of the Ohio House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee, said the committee will vote on Senate Bill 205 and Senate Bill 238 as early as Tuesday.  If passed out of Dovilla’s committee, it could be off to the full House for a floor debate on Wednesday.

SB 205 would ban county clerks from mass mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters, holding that duty only for OH Secretary of State Jon Husted, who has proven in the past that he will restrict voting access almost every chance he gets.

SB 238 would achieve one of Husted’s anti-voter policy agenda items by limiting early voting days, effectively eliminating Ohioans’ ability to register and vote on the same day anywhere in the state.

These legislative moves come just days after the news broke that Hamilton County officials might relocate Cincinnati’s largest early voting location to a new, much less accessible location.  That decision met with considerable push-back from voting rights activists and the media, resulting in a deadlock vote from the Board of Elections. The final decision now also goes to Secretary Husted to decide, effectively putting the power to restrict access to early voting in Cincinnati’s largest city in his hands.

If you are from Ohio, call your Representative now and tell them to protect your early voting rights by voting ‘NO’ on SB 205 and SB 238. You can find your Representative’s contact information here: http://www.ohiohouse.gov/members/member-directory. Once you have talked to your Representative, drop us an email at political@pfaw.org to let us know what they said.  We’ll keep tabs on the situation and update you on voter suppression efforts in Ohio – and across the country – on the PFAW blog.

PFAW

The Senate Could Cut Judicial Nominations Backlog in Five Minutes…or Five Weeks

On January 13, the Senate confirmed Judge Robert Wilkins to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. So far, despite a growing backlog of judicial nominees, he is the only judge to have been confirmed this year.

There are currently 96 vacancies in federal courts across the country. Thirty-nine of them have been officially designated “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, indicating that there are too few judges available to handle the court’s workload. This isn’t a built-in feature of the judicial system. In fact, the Senate could cut the judicial vacancy rate by one third today.

There are 32 federal judicial nominees who have been approved by the Judiciary Committee and are waiting for Senate confirmation votes – enough nominees to fill one-third of the country’s judicial vacancies and reduce the number of judicial emergencies by a quarter. All but three nominees cleared the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support, most unanimously. The Senate could confirm all 32 in an afternoon if Republicans would agree to hold simple yes-or-no confirmation votes on their nominations. They could even confirm all 32 in less than five minutes by holding a unanimous consent vote.

But Senate Republicans still seem to be uninterested in confirming nominees to carry out the business of the nation’s courts, even in the many cases where nominees have been recommended and supported by Republican senators.

Since the Senate was forced to change the rules of the filibuster in response to Republican intransigence, the GOP has retaliated by obstructing nominations in other ways. One of these has been demanding that each confirmation vote take the maximum amount of time possible: Senate rules allow for “post-cloture debate” after a filibuster has been broken – 30 hours of floor time for appeals court nominees and two hours for district court nominees. If Republicans forced the Senate to take the  maximum amount of time on all 32 nominees currently waiting for votes, it would take the Senate 204 hours to clear the backlog.

Those 204 hours would add up to five weeks of full-time work: five weeks in which the Senate wouldn’t be able to do anything else – not immigration reform, not a debt ceiling deal, not an update to the Voting Rights Act.

The Senate could use five weeks of its time this year to confirm judicial nominees. Or, Senate Republicans could agree to confirm all 32 nominees in five minutes, cut the number of judicial vacancies by a third, and move on to other business.

PFAW has launched a petition to urge Senators to address the judicial nominations crisis and stop the obstruction of judicial nominees .

PFAW

While the GOP Fiddles, Judicial Emergencies Mount

The Administrative Office of United States Courts today announced that a vacancy in Michigan's Eastern District has been formally designated a judicial emergency. It's a good reminder that while Republicans refuse to provide the unanimous consent needed to schedule confirmation votes for any judicial nominees, the vacancy crisis throughout the United States is getting worse. That is hardly a surprise: Not replacing departing judges is bound to hurt our nation's judicial system.

It's been more than three months since Republicans consented to confirm a judge. In December, Democrats scheduled seven confirmation votes, each one of which required the filing of a cloture petition to break the GOP filibuster. And last month, again over Republican obstruction, they held a confirmation vote for Robert Wilkins for the D.C. Circuit.

That refusal to agree to confirmation votes even for nominees that no one opposes is why we have so many nominees (32) pending on the Senate floor.

Four of those stalled nominees would fill vacancies in Michigan's Eastern District, two of which have now been designated as judicial emergencies. All four were nominated way back in July and had committee hearings in October. All four were scheduled for committee votes in November so they'd be able to get confirmed by year's end. Unfortunately, Republicans found various ways over the next three months to prevent that vote from happening. Finally, the committee was allowed to vote on January 16, and all four Michigan nominees were approved with overwhelming bipartisan support (three of them unanimously).

In the three months since the GOP stopped consenting to judicial nominations, five vacancies have been newly designated as judicial emergencies, two of them in Michigan. Across the country, the number of judicial emergencies has reached 39.

Are Republicans proud as they bend over backwards to prevent America's judicial system from working effectively?

PFAW

The Fight for Immigration Reform is a Fight for Human Rights

The following is a guest post by Italia S. Aranda, a 2013 Fellow of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program.

Last year, people all over the United States spoke out like never before on why we need to fix this country’s broken immigration system. Undocumented mothers participated in acts of civil disobedience that led to their arrests, immigrant youth organized their communities with more energy than ever, and  organizations all around the country joined forces to put pressure on Congress to reach a sensible solution. 2013 became the year when many families fought as one. We realized that what makes this movement different is not the fear, uncertainty, or struggles we face every single day as undocumented immigrants, but rather the strength, determination, and willingness that is born in our hearts.

As an undocumented immigrant who benefited from President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process, or DACA, I am often asked why last year I fought harder than ever for comprehensive immigration reform. A world of possibilities opened up after being granted deferred action.Because of DACA, I now have a social security number and a two-year work permit. Not only am I now able to pursue my dream of going to medical school, but I’m now also able to travel safely around the country and go to bed each night knowing that for the next two years, the possibility of my deportation has drastically decreased.

But this is not the case for my parents, who don’t qualify for deferred action. DACA was meant to help DREAMers who have waited all of their lives to be able to give back to this country by earning degrees and joining the workforce.  But immigration reform is not just about DREAMers. It is about remembering that our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and entire families have always contributed to this country’s growth and success, regardless of immigration status or college degree.

I continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform because my parents gave up some of their dreams so I could follow mine. My parents had me when they were only teenagers.  They did not have the opportunity to finish high school, and although they wanted to go to college with all of their hearts, they suddenly had a family to sustain. So they began working – my mom as a seamstress, and my dad in any and all jobs he could get. But it was never enough, and when Mexico’s economy began to worsen they knew that they would never be able to afford an education for my brother and me in our home country. They saw education as a way out of poverty, as a way to end the cycle of monumental struggles that had affected our family for generations. But no one ever wakes up in the morning wanting to leave everything behind – your relatives, your friends, and everything you own – to become an undocumented immigrant.

For many immigrant families, uncertainty rules your life. This last holiday season alone, thousands of families had empty seats around the table. In some cases, their mom had been deported.  In others, their dad was spending weeks, months, or even years in a detention facility. No one should have to go through that kind of pain.

The fight for comprehensive immigration reform is about more than a piece of legislation. It is a fight for human dignity and human rights. I continue to fight alongside millions of others so that our families no longer have to live through the uncertainty, the fear, and the injustice. I fight so my parents can one day follow their own dreams, so they can one day feel like human beings again.

PFAW Foundation

GOP-Created Nominees Bottleneck Grows

This morning, the Judiciary Committee voted to approve another three judicial nominees. As they are advanced to the Senate floor, they get in line behind another 29 judicial nominees who could (and should) have been confirmed long ago.

The GOP has not allowed the Senate to confirm even one judge during the current session of Congress. If the required unanimous consent to schedule a vote can't be found, then the only recourse is a cloture petition. There is no doubt that the needed majority would vote to end the Republicans' blockade. The only problem is that Senate rules allow the minority to insist that the Senate devote time to needless "post-cloture debate" before final confirmation.

Each circuit court nominee would take up 30 hours of the Senate's time; with five circuit nominees currently pending, that adds up to 150 hours. For district court nominees, the 30-hour rule that usually applies to them has been reduced to two hours under a temporary rule that expires at the end of the 113th Congress (in early January 2015). With 27 district court nominees, that's 54 hours of "post-cloture debate." So it could take 204 hours of Senate time to confirm the 32 nominees currently pending on the floor if Republicans continue to refuse to consent to any confirmations.

Even if the Senate put in 12-hours days, it would take 17 days of doing nothing but "post-cloture debate" to clear the current backlog. In fact, at this morning's committee meeting, Chairman Patrick Leahy noted that since Republicans are refusing to consent to any confirmation votes, the Senate might have to have weekend sessions or cancel its two-week spring recess in order to get these nominees confirmed.

As of today, there are an astounding 96 current judicial vacancies. Confirming the 32 pending nominees would immediately fill a third of those vacancies. It would also reduce the number of judicial emergencies across the country from 38 to 28. And it would help diversify the bench: Half of the nominees pending on the floor are women or people of color, and one is a lesbian. Almost all of them received overwhelming bipartisan support in committee. The obstruction is inexcusable.

With the Judiciary Committee continuing to process nominees – such as the six from Arizona who had a hearing last week – the bottleneck will only continue to grow unless all the Senate is finally allowed to hold confirmation votes on all these nominees.

PFAW

Leader Pelosi and Rep. Sarbanes Call for Government by the People Act and Reversal of Citizens United

Today Representative John Sarbanes was joined by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and others in introducing legislation to help put our democracy back where it belongs: in the hands of “We, the People.”  The Government by the People Act (H.R. 20) is a bill designed to empower everyday voters to make small donations to candidates, amplify those donations through matching funds, and make our elected officials accountable to all of us, rather than to wealthy campaign donors.

In the Washington Post yesterday, Representatives Pelosi and Sarbanes penned a powerful op-ed in the support of the bill, calling for solutions to the influx of money that has flooded our elections in the post-Citizens United world.  That Supreme Court decision, they wrote, “shook the foundation of our democracy: the principle that, in the United States of America, it is the voices of the people, not the bank accounts of the privileged few, that determine the outcome of our elections and the policies of our government.”

But they note that we can, and must, push for solutions – including a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United:

We must disclose the sources of the money in our campaigns, amend the Constitution to reverse the grievous error of the Citizens United decision, reform our broken campaign finance system and empower citizens everywhere to exercise their right to vote.

The Government by the People Act would help build a politics and a government that answer to the people. Together, we can reassert the full promise of our ideals and restore confidence in our democracy.

PFAW has launched a petition to urge members of Congress to do all they can to support passage of the Government by the People Act.

PFAW