Bob McDonnell vs. the Right to Vote

Mere days after rewriting the history of the Civil War - turning it into a war for independence with nothing to do with slavery - Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has done it again. But this time, instead of denying people's humanity, he's "just" making it a lot harder for them to vote.

According to the Washington Post, McDonnell plans to place a significant new burden in front of non-violent felons seeking to have their voting rights restored:

McDonnell will require the offenders to submit an essay outlining their contributions to society since their release, turning a nearly automatic process into a subjective one that some say may prevent the poor and less-educated from being allowed to vote. ...

McDonnell's administration said the essay requirement is designed to put a human face on each applicant and to help staff members better understand each person's situation.

And if you can't read and write well? Or if you're intimidated by things like essays? Or if you just can't express yourself well in writing? You're out of luck.

Even worse, restoration of the right to vote will not be based on a set of objective criteria, but will instead be based on whether McDonnell or some designated official thinks the applicant is worthy of the right to vote:

In coming weeks, McDonnell will start requiring nonviolent offenders to write a letter to him explaining the circumstances of their arrest; their efforts to get a job, seek an education and participate in church and community activities; and why they believe their rights should be restored. Some applicants already have been notified that letters will be required.

In a democracy, the right to vote should never depend on whether the governor finds you worthy of that right. It is not the place of government to make sure that only the "right" type of people vote.

It seems that every day, Virginia is becoming a more and more frightening place to live.


“A new breed of judicial activist” on the D.C. Circuit

With public attention now focused on the selection of a new Supreme Court Justice, it might be easy to forget the federal judicial appointments that get a lot less press, but which can also make a whole lot of difference in the lives of ordinary people.

Steven Pearlstein, a business columnist for the Washington Post, wrote a great column this morning—just before the news of Justice Stevens’ retirement broke—about how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has been instrumental in slowing down or stopping altogether important regulations of drug companies, mutual funds, telecommunications providers, and other industries.

There's a lot of talk these days about how Washington has become dysfunctional. While most of the focus has been on Congress, the inability to perform even basic functions also extends to the agencies that are charged with protecting workers, consumers and investors. Unfortunately, it often takes a global financial crisis or a deadly coal mine explosion to remind us of the serious consequences of regulatory failure.

Much of the blame belongs with regulators who have been captured by the industries they are meant to oversee or have been swept up in the general political drift toward deregulation. But, as we were reminded by a case this week involving the Federal Communications Commission, another big culprit is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which over the past decade has intimidated, undermined and demoralized the regulatory apparatus.

Pearlstein singles out conservative judges whose regulatory reluctance has kept the Food and Drug Administration for ensuring the speedy availability of generic drugs, and the Federal Trade Commission from disciplining a tech company monopolist.

These cases, Pearlstein writes, “are the means by which a new breed of judicial activist is quietly undermining the reach and the effectiveness of government.”

The leaders of this new breed were, unsurprisingly, nominated by former Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Yet another reminder that judicial nominations at all levels make up one of any president’s most enduring legacies.


Gingrich: Let’s Shut Down the Government Again

In a how-to talk to the Southern Republican Leadership Conference last night, titled “Becoming the Party of Yes,” Newt Gingrich advocated the proactive step of shutting down the federal government.

Talking Points Memo reports:

"Stage one of the end of Obamaism will be a new Republican Congress in January that simply refuses to fund any of the radical efforts," said Gingrich. "Now I say this because our friends in the news media said, you know it's realistic to talk about 'repeal and replace,' because after all he's gonna be president for the next three years and he'll veto a repeal bill. And I think they forgot that once upon a time, that I used to be Speaker of the House, and I actually understand the legislative process."

Gingrich continued: "And the truth is, the truth is under our Constitution we simply -- the Congress doesn't have to pass the money. If EPA gets no budget, it can't enforce cap-and-trade. If HHS gets no budget (applause)..."

Yes, we remember “once upon a time” when Gingrich was Speaker of the House and tried the exact same thing. How’d that work out?



Republicans Already Vowing to Obstruct Supreme Court Nomination

We don’t know who the next Supreme Court nominee will be, but Senate Republicans are already vowing to put up a fight.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement this morning wishing retiring Justice John Paul Stevens well and warning that whoever is nominated to replace him won’t get off easy:

As we await the President’s nominee to replace Justice Stevens at the end of his term, Americans can expect Senate Republicans to make a sustained and vigorous case for judicial restraint and the fundamental importance of an even-handed reading of the law.

We respect the judicial confirmation process, but shouldn’t Republicans see who they’ll be considering before they promise “sustained and vigorous” opposition? Or are they having so much fun holding up nominations that it doesn’t really matter?


Continuing Stevens’ Legacy

Justice John Paul Stevens’ announcement that he will retire this summer marks the end of an era for the Supreme Court and a crucial opportunity for President Obama and the Senate to shape the Court’s direction.

Stevens—the last survivor of the era before Supreme Court nominations became televised partisan battlegrounds—has been a bulwark against a Court that has been moving aggressively to the right. His adamant dissent to this year’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, like his dissent in Bush v. Gore, were strong defenses of democracy and indictments of an increasingly politicized Court.

President Obama now has the chance to nominate another Justice who will prioritize the rights of ordinary Americans. People for the American Way President Michael B. Keegan said today:

“His retirement will give President Obama his second opportunity to nominate a jurist for our nation’s Highest Court. I hope he will select someone who will continue Justice Stevens’s tradition of working to ensure that individuals receive the fair treatment that our Constitution guarantees. In recent years, the Court has given extraordinary preference to powerful interests at the expense of ordinary Americans. Justice Stevens was a bulwark against that trend. Our country’s next Justice must play a similar role.”

Let’s hope that Republicans in the U.S. Senate will put aside their habits of obstructionism and support the nomination of a Justice who will continue Stevens’ strong, even-handed legacy.


A New Meaning of "Yes"

Newt Gingrich, it seems, has learned a new word. The title of his talk tonight at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference is “Becoming the Party of Yes.”

The party of “yes”?

It’s a worthy goal, but the GOP has a long way to go to get there. Last year, Republican Senators went to unprecedented lengths to slow down legislation, even targeting bills that many in their own party ended up voting for. They’ve blocked Executive Branch nominees at a rate never before seen. They even forced a time consuming cloture vote on judicial nominee Barbara Keenan even though not a single Republican was willing to oppose her on her merits. And, for a while, GOP Senators decided that it was in the best interest of the country if they didn’t show up to work after lunch.

Gingrich himself isn’t known as a fan of cooperation. But maybe he’s as confused by the “party of yes” concept as Sarah Palin is about the “party of no.”


O’Connor v. Citizens United

In the weeks since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Citizens United, plenty of people (including, ahem, us) have spoke out against the decision. But one critic of the ruling brings a particularly distinguished resume.

Sandra Day O’Connor, in addition to being a former Associate Justice on the Supreme Court, has emerged as one of the most vocal and persistent critics of the ruling and of the dangerous effects of unlimited money in politics. Despite her conservative credentials, though, her stance shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. After all, she wrote one of the decisions that Chief Justice Roberts and co. so casually tossed aside.

And she hasn’t tried to sugar coat the situation:

In speeches and interviews since the 5-to-4 decision came down on Jan. 21, O'Connor has highlighted the decision's impact on precisely the political arena where its corrupting influence and corrosive effects on public trust could be deepest: the races judges themselves must run to keep their seats on state courts.

O'Connor's barnstorm tour deploring the ruling and defending judicial independence continued last week with an audience of law students, faculty, and judges in her home state of Arizona. Earlier, at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, she chastised the court majority for signaling "that the problem of campaign contributions in judicial elections might get considerably worse and quite soon."

She’s right, which might be why Americans across the political spectrum agree that the decision needs to be fixed.


Supreme Court Gets Chance to Remove Roadblocks Keeping Disabled Veterans from Benefits

This spring, the Supreme Court will get another chance to show whether it values the rights of individuals to receive fair treatment from the American legal system.

The New York Times reports on a case before the Supreme Court that could allow the justices to roll back the most perverse consequences of their 2008 decision in Bowles v. Russell, which held that there is no excuse for missing certain court filing deadlines—even if you’ve been given the wrong information by a judge.

That decision is now being used to withhold benefits from disabled veterans like David L. Henderson, whose disability was the cause of his inability to meet a court deadline to file his notice of appeal. Henderson has been caught up for nearly a decade in what three federal appeals court judges have called a “Kafkaesque adjudicatory process.”

The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear an appeal from David L. Henderson, who was discharged from the military in 1952 after receiving a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He sought additional government help for his condition in 2001, and he was turned down in 2004.

Mr. Henderson, who served on the front lines in the Korean War, had 120 days to file an appeal, but it took him 135 days. He had a pretty good excuse.

His psychiatrist has said under oath that he is “incapable of rational thought or deliberate decision-making.” As a consequence, the psychiatrist added, “Mr. Henderson has been incapable of understanding and meeting deadlines.”

Bowles, the case that created the precedent for Henderson’s nightmarish treatment, split the Supreme Court 5-4. The court, if it hears Henderson’s case, has the chance with this case to stop the extreme consequences of its earlier decision and show that it is willing to protect the rights of individual Americans.


Time for the GOP to Own up to Inciting the Tea Partiers

Tea Party activists, ginned up on Republican rhetoric about tyranny, socialism, and death panels, have been lashing out directly at Democrats across the country. On Capitol Hill, members of Congress faced slurs and one was even spat on. Around the country, death threats have poured in along with numerous reports of vandalism.

Given all that has happened over the past week, it’s incredible that some Republicans are trying to blame the victim. For instance, NRCC spokesman Andy Sere accused Rep. Tom Perriello of using a potentially life-threatening act of vandalism as a ‘cynical ploy to distract Virginians.’

Rep. Cantor upped the ante by accusing Democrats of ‘dangerously fanning the flames’ by supposedly politicizing the threats against them. He continued:

I'm not naive enough to think that letters, statements or press releases will prevent anyone disturbed enough to commit violence from acting. But I do know that such letters, statements and press releases can very easily fan the flames. By ratcheting up the rhetoric, some will only inflame these situations to dangerous levels. Enough is enough. It has to stop.           

But this is hypocritical nonsense. The GOP strategy on health care all along has been to whip Americans into a frenzy over “Obamacare” by using extreme rhetoric and imagery. In fact, Cantor is scheduled to be the featured speaker on a conference call later today organized by the S.T.O.P. Obama Tyranny National Coalition.

So rather than owning up to their rhetoric and the effect it’s had, all indications are that Republican leaders will continue to incite the Tea Partiers while looking the other way whenever things get out of hand.


GOP Adopts Sophisticated “Take My Toys and Go Home” Strategy

In case you missed it, the GOP is not pleased about the passage of health care reform, and after careful consideration they’ve decided that the best strategy going forward is to stomp their feet harder and scream louder.

In legislative terms, that means that they’ve chosen to invoke an arcane Senate rule that requires unanimous consent for any committee meetings after 2 p.m. That’s right. GOP Senators are so angry that they won’t work after lunch.

In a statement, Senator Leahy explains what that means for the Judiciary Committee.

I have previously accommodated requests from Judiciary Committee Republicans to delay the Committee’s hearing to consider Professor [Goodwin] Liu’s nomination. I had intended to hold this hearing two weeks ago but, at the request of Republicans, delayed it until today. We had agreed, instead, to proceed to a hearing for Judge Robert Chatigny, a nominee to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, on March 10. Republicans then reversed themselves and asked for additional delay in connection with that March 10 hearing. I, again, accommodated them. Earlier this week I sought to move this afternoon’s hearing to the morning, into the two-hour window of time after the Senate convened, that would not be subject to this arcane objection. Republicans asked that we keep it scheduled for this afternoon because it worked better for the schedules of the Republican members of the Committee, and they had planned to participate this afternoon. Now, having objected to holding the hearing this morning, they object to it not being held this afternoon. They pulled the plug on our hearing and put up roadblocks to the Committee’s process for working to fill judicial vacancies.

And, like most Republican obstruction tactics, it quickly moves from being “annoying” to being “harmful for our nation.”

Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Claire McCaskill both complained that Republicans kept them from holding their hearings on budget requests for the military's Pacific and strategic and police training contracts in Afghanistan.

That, in a nutshell, is the political strategy of the GOP: prevent any effort to assist our armed forces or allow for a functioning judicial branch out of sheer petulance.

You stay classy, guys.


The First Corporate Ad – An Avalanche Begins with One Flake

The ad below may not look like much, but it’s a sign of much greater – and troubling – things to come. It appears to be the very first political ad purchased with corporate money, all thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.

The ad ran in a handful of small Texas newspapers and was purchased by KDR Development Inc., a local real estate firm, to oppose a political enemy of the firm’s president, Larry Durrett.

Durrett, who also runs a chain of fast food franchises, told the Texas Tribune that his “businesses do better under conservative people.” Asked why he used corporate rather than personal money, Durrett said that he took “the money out of the pocket that's got some money in there.”

Apply the same logic to giant corporations, and you can see we have a massive problem on our hands. The Supreme Court gave Exxon the same right to spend a billion dollars as it gave Durrett to spend a few thousand.

Durrett’s modest ad buy is a warning to us all – the avalanche of corporate cash is coming. Click here to join our campaign for government by the people, not corporations.


Former DOJ Official Discusses Impact of GOP Obstruction

On Tuesday, former Deputy Attorney General David Ogden spoke publicly for the first time since leaving the Justice Department.

Among other pressing issues, Ogden addressed the ongoing obstruction of key Obama nominees to the department, including Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel and Chris Schroeder to head the Office of Legal Policy.
In Ogden’s words, “it causes problems for the department not to have key” positions filled.
Johnsen, whom Ogden called a “brilliant” lawyer, has been waiting for over a year for an up-down vote in the Senate. “It would make a big difference to have her in there,” said Ogden. “It’s just not right that it’s been held up so long.”
Johnsen was approved by the Judiciary Committee for a second time on March 4th and could be brought to the Senate floor in the coming weeks.
Click here to learn more about Johnsen’s outstanding qualifications and broad base of support. And click here to call on Senators to finally confirm her and let her get to work on the many pressing issues at Justice Department.

As Health Care Reform Passes, New Poll Shows the Shocking Radicalism of Today's GOP

For years, the GOP has been pandering to extremists. The health care debate and the Obama presidency have brought out the most paranoid, conspiracy theory-driven fringe members of that extremist base including racists, anti-government activists and too many otherwise-normal Americans who have had their economic anxieties and fear of change exploited for the Right Wing's cynical politics.

John Avalon at the The Daily Beast reports that a new Harris poll shows the true fruit of the GOP's inciting fear and bigotry amongst its base:

On the heels of health care, a new Harris poll reveals Republican attitudes about Obama: Two-thirds think he's a socialist, 57 percent a Muslim—and 24 percent say "he may be the Antichrist."

To anyone who thinks the end of the health-care vote means a return to civility, wake up.

Obama Derangement Syndrome—pathological hatred of the president posing as patriotism—has infected the Republican Party. Here's new data to prove it:

  • 67 percent of Republicans (and 40 percent of Americans overall) believe that Obama is a socialist.

The belief that Obama is a “domestic enemy” is widely held—a sign of trouble yet to come.

  • 57 percent of Republicans (32 percent overall) believe that Obama is a Muslim
  • 45 percent of Republicans (25 percent overall) agree with the Birthers in their belief that Obama was "not born in the United States and so is not eligible to be president"
  • 38 percent of Republicans (20 percent overall) say that Obama is "doing many of the things that Hitler did"
  • Scariest of all, 24 percent of Republicans (14 percent overall) say that Obama "may be the Antichrist."

Read More >


Landmark Health Care Bill Approved by House

A few minutes ago, the House of Representatives passed landmark health reform, perhaps the most important piece of domestic policy legislation in a generation.

The feat is all the more impressive given the scorched earth tactics the Right Wing has used to try to derail it.  Even yesterday, Democratic Congressmen faced racist and homophobic slurs for supporting the legislation, and this evening Congressman Bart Stupak (no friend to a woman's constitutional right to reproductive choice) was called a "baby killer" by a Republican Representative for supporting the bill.

But in the end, health care reform passed: a major accomplishment for Congress and an important plank of President Obama's platform realized.

The moral: standing up for your agenda pays off.  The GOP made clear that there was virtually nothing they wouldn't do to stop reform, but by powering through Republican obstruction, Democrats were able to score a major win for themselves and for the American people.

Now that this victory is under Congress's belt, we look forward to pushing past other instances of GOP obstruction.


Right Wing Shocked, *Shocked* at Racist Slurs Aimed at Lawmakers

During protests against health care reform, anti-health care activists used racial and homophobic slurs against members of Congress, and one protester was arrested for spitting on Congressman John Lewis of Georgia.

Right Wing leaders have attempted to distance themselves from the incidents, but their denials would be more convincing if inflaming racial resentment weren't such a central strategy in their campaign against President Obama and his agenda.

As People For the American Way reported in "Right Wing Watch In Focus -- Right Plays the Race Card," incendiary racial rhetoric has long been a part of the Right's crusade against health care:

At first glance, health care reform would not seem as likely an issue for racial wedge politics. But racially charged arguments have been made alongside the by-now familiar charges of government takeovers, socialism, fascism, and death panels. Investors Business Daily and Fox Nation teamed up to portray health care reform as "affirmative action on steroids" and to suggest that reform is actually a back-door way to implement reparations for slavery:

The racial grievance industry under health care reform could be calling the shots in the emergency room, the operating room, the medical room, even medical school. As Terence Jeffrey, editor at large of Human Events puts it, not only our wealth, but also our health will be redistributed.

At the recent How to Take Back America conference organized by far-right doyenne Phyllis Schlafly and her heir-apparent,right-wing radio host and activist Janet Folger Porter, a panelist attacked health care reform saying it would amount to a reenactment of slavery by our first black president, this time with doctors being enslaved. Bishop Harry Jackson, the Religious Right's favorite African American minister, has denounced health care reform proposals that he claims would divert health care resources from wealthier to poorer Americans as "reverse classism."

Two academics, Marc Hetherington of Vanderbilt University and Jonathan Weiler of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recently found an "extraordinarily strong correlation between racial resentment of blacks and opposition to health care reform," a relationship that did not exist during the Clinton health care debate.

If the GOP and the Right Wing want to be able to credibly disavow racism, they should stop associating so closely with those who peddle it.