PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Did Hobby Lobby Majority Undercut Its Own Argument?

The five-justice majority in Hobby Lobby finds that closely held family companies like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood have religious liberty rights. There is nothing in their reasoning that would limit this startling conclusion to closely held corporations. In fact, the majority undercuts its own attempt to downplay the consequences of its extreme ruling.

Rather than come up with a principled way to distinguish a closely held company from the large, publicly traded corporations that exercise such enormous influence over nearly every aspect of our lives, they punt: They say that large, publicly held businesses are not likely to make religious liberty claims because "the idea that unrelated shareholders—including institutional investors with their own set of stakeholders—would agree to run a corporation under the same religious beliefs seems improbable." [page 29 of majority opinion]

Yet on the very next page, the majority seems to undercut this argument, pointing out that state laws provide "a ready means for resolving any conflicts by, for example, dictating how a corporation can establish its governing structure." Generally under those laws the corporate board and officers speak for the corporation, even if there are millions of shareholders with countless positions on various issues. As a practical matter, the shareholders don't need to agree on religious issues or anything else.

So no one should be surprised after this ruling when a large, publicly traded corporation asserts its religious liberty under the Religious Liberty Restoration Act to get a "pass" from a law it does not want to comply with.

PFAW Foundation

Hobby Lobby: 'Closely Held' Does Not Mean 'Mom and Pop'

In the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, the Court held for the first time ever that a for-profit corporation counts as a “person” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and that a “closely held” corporation basically shares the religious exercise rights of its owners.  This leads American law into a treacherous minefield, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg made clear in her dissent.

It’s worth pointing out, as Justice Ginsberg also noted, “’Closely held’ is not synonymous with ‘small.’” Hobby Lobby is a massive corporation employing some 13,000 people, but there are other closely held companies that are much larger. In a footnote, Ginsberg mentions family-owned Mars, Inc. and closely held Cargill, which are both among the largest five private companies in the country. Guess which is number two? Koch industries, with $115 billion in revenue and 60,000 employees. Brothers David and Charles Koch reportedly own 84 percent. Rounding out the top five private companies are Dell and Bechtel. Those five companies employ more than 436,000 people. What religious claims might their owners find useful to make in undermining laws that protect their workers?

PFAW Foundation

Hobby Lobby Opens Up a Minefield

With a far-right Supreme Court majority ruling in Hobby Lobby 5-4 that for-profit closely-held corporations have religious rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), Justice Ginsburg is rightly warning that the Court has "ventured into a minefield."

Although the Court says its ruling is limited to "closely held corporations" like Hobby Lobby (where one family owns and runs the corporation), there is nothing in its reasoning that doesn't apply to any other for-profit corporation, such as Exxon. And even some closely-held family corporations are enormous. For instance, Justice Ginsburg points out that the Mars candy company has 72,000 employees and takes $33 billion in revenue.

Large corporations already wield enormous power over ordinary Americans, and the far-right Justices have just handed them another way to exercise that power.

The Court that gave corporations the same right as people to spend money to influence our elections now says that these same corporations have religious beliefs. Dare we ask what rights they will be given next?

And the majority's assertion that their decision today won't give businesses the power to ignore anti-discrimination laws is far from persuasive, raising more questions than it answers. The five conservatives say:

The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. See post, at 32–33. Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest in providing an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racial discrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.

Note that the only type of discrimination the majority bothers to mention is race discrimination, although the dissent's discussion that they cite mentioned other types. Their decision not to include other types of discrimination was surely deliberate and leaves women and LGBT people (to name just a few) left out in the cold. Businesses whose owners cite their religion to support their anti-equality positions will eagerly take note.

Justice Ginsburg's description of this case as a minefield could well be an understatement.

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PFAW Foundation

Will Latino Voters Determine Who Controls the Senate?

The National Journal just cited our work in an article about how control of the Senate could hinge on Latino voters. The story focused on the North Carolina race and noted that PFAW was the first group out with a Spanish Language ad targeting extreme Republican candidate Thom Tillis. PFAW’s political director, Randy Borntrager, spoke with the National Journal about why Tillis is out of touch with North Carolinians, and why his extreme agenda is bad for Hispanics.

From the article:

"North Carolina is the first state we've gone into because Thom Tillis's extreme agenda is forcing our hand to get involved early," said PFAW political director Randy Borntrager. "We're extremely concerned about the Latino community understanding what's at stake, so we engaged quickly."

Borntrager said Tillis's record on Medicaid, education, and tax breaks for the wealthy, combined with a history of "foot-in-mouth" comments when it comes to minorities, was something PFAW would make sure all Latinos were aware of come November.

"He's so bad on so many issues that's it is an incredible motivation to get out and vote," Borntrager said.

PFAW's award-winning program to mobilize the Latino vote has made a difference in key races over the last several election cycles – including major impacts in several presidential swing states in 2012. As Latino voters become more and more critical to progressive victories at the ballot box, our program will continue to grow with the support of allies who understand the urgent need to speak directly to this long-overlooked community.

Read the entire article here.

PFAW

Defending the Right to Vote

Earlier this week, on the first anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the important work of restoring the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). People For the American Way and its African American Ministers in Action program were among the many voting rights advocates who sent a loud and clear message that the VRA is still needed, and the time is now to right what the Court wronged.

As we work to ensure not only that President Obama receives legislation without undue delay, but also that whatever language he signs protects as many voters as possible from discrimination, it is important to remember those who died a half century ago fighting for this very cause.

On June 21, 1964, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman were murdered in Mississippi while participating in the Freedom Summer campaign to register African Americans to vote.

Today, they are remembered by our friends at Bend the Arc.

Following "Bloody Sunday" on March 7, 1965, Reverend James Reeb traveled to Selma, AL to participate in a second attempt to cross the Edmund Pettis Bridge. On the 9th, he was beaten. On the 11th, he succumbed to his injuries.

Today, members of one of his former congregations, All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington, DC, are "singing on" for change.

Failing to defend the right to vote is simply not an option.

It wasn't then. It isn't now.

PFAW

Big Money in Your Backyard

The Koch brothers are coming to a neighborhood near you. That’s the message from a new Public Citizen report, “Outside Spenders, Local Elections.” The report details how the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is dumping money into local government races to advance their pro-corporate, anti-worker and anti-government agenda.

In Douglas County, Colorado, for example, AFP pumped $350,000 into a school board race in an effort to keep the incumbent board members and protect recent policy changes such as one that weakened the local teachers union. In Iron County, Wisconsin, AFP sent out mailers to 1,000 homes labeling board of supervisors candidates opposed to a new open pit mine as “anti-mining radicals.” AFP even reportedly spent more than $20,000 to oppose a levy to support the Columbus Ohio zoo!

It appears that no election, no matter how local, is immune from the big money machine unleashed by Citizens United.  The American peoples’ voices cannot be heard when organizations such as Americans for Prosperity funnel their money into our communities. We need a constitutional amendment to fight back against corporations and billionaires hijacking our elections.

PFAW

Roberts Court Strikes Down Clinic Buffer Zone Law

The Supreme Court gave abortion protesters a win this morning in McCullen v. Coakley, but it was not the knockout blow against all clinic buffer zones that they had hoped for. While the Justices all agreed on the result, they were bitterly divided on their reasoning, with the majority opinion relatively narrow compared to the concurrences of Justices Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy, and Alito.

The Court was being asked to overrule a 2000 precedent that upheld buffer zones making it illegal to approach within eight feet of people at reproductive health clinics for the purpose of counseling, education, or protesting. (This applied anywhere within 100 feet of the clinic.) Hill v. Colorado had analyzed that state's law as a content-neutral regulation of speech that was reasonable in light of the importance of protecting unwilling people's right to avoid unwanted conversations and their right to pass without obstruction. The "content-neutral" part is important, because that means it was subject to a lower level of scrutiny under the First Amendment, which made it easier to pass constitutional muster.

Massachusetts had a law like Colorado's which, after several years, legislators realized was not working as effectively as they had intended. So they adopted a new law creating a static 35-foot buffer zone around such clinics (with exceptions for employees, patients and others with business there, and people passing through on their way somewhere else). (PFAW Foundation had joined an amicus brief supporting the law's constitutionality.)

Even with the law in place, anti-choice advocates were able to distribute literature to individuals approaching clinics, as well as to have quiet conversations with them. Nevertheless, these advocates urged the Court to consider the Massachusetts law as an impermissible content-based regulation, subject to a much higher level of scrutiny, and strike it down as distinguishable from Hill. Even further, they asked the Court to overrule Hill completely. This seemed like a real possibility, given that Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas had dissented in Hill, and since Roberts and Alito had joined the Court since then.

However, that isn't what happened. Instead, the four moderates joined a majority opinion written by the Chief Justice reaffirming that buffer zones at reproductive health clinics are not necessarily content-based speech restrictions, nor was this one in particular. The ruling also reaffirmed the state's interests in adopting buffer zones: maintaining public safety on streets and sidewalks and preserving access to reproductive healthcare clinics.

That said, the Court still struck the law down. Noting that the text of the law makes it a crime to stand on a "public way or sidewalk" within the buffer zone, Roberts and the majority expressed concern that public ways and sidewalks are areas that "occupy a special position in terms of First Amendment protection because of their historic role as sites for discussion and debate." They ruled that even under the diminished scrutiny of content-neutral regulations, this particular law burdened substantially more speech than necessary to achieve those goals. State law, they noted, prohibits the deliberate blocking of clinics. To address harassment, Massachusetts could adopt laws like those elsewhere that (for instance) make it a crime to follow and harass a person within 15 feet of a clinic. In addition, civil injunctions against specific individuals and their conduct would raise fewer concerns than a blanket law covering everyone. The Court basically said that the state needs to show that it has tried a number of other, less restrictive ways to achieve its goals without success before its law can be upheld.

Justice Scalia, on the other hand, would have demolished all buffer zones protecting women seeking access to reproductive health clinics. In a concurrence joined by Thomas and Kennedy, the three Hill dissenters would have applied the highest level of scrutiny to the law. They wrote that the majority's ruling "carries forward this Court's practice of giving abortion-rights advocates a pass when it comes to suppressing the free-speech rights of their opponents. There is an entirely separate, abridged edition of the First Amendment applicable to speech against abortion." Keep in mind that Chief Justice Rehnquist, hardly a supporter of abortion rights, was part of the Hill majority.

But while today's Court did not overrule Hill, it didn't exactly reinforce it, either. In fact, they barely mentioned Hill at all. That may not be a positive sign, given the Chief Justice's penchant for gradually undermining precedents he doesn't like rather than immediately overturning them, part of what some have called his "long game."

So what is the status of other buffer zone laws, ones that aren't structured like the Massachusetts law? What about the Colorado law itself that was upheld in Hill? Would it be upheld today? While it is hard to know for sure, it may be on shakier ground than it was yesterday.

PFAW Foundation

GOP Obstruction Leads to Court Ruling on Recess Appointments

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Ruling in the Noel Canning case this morning, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down President Obama's recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board as unconstitutional but the justices were sharply divided 5-4 in how they reached that conclusion. While Justice Breyer (joined by Kennedy, Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan) upheld the conclusion of the right-wing D.C. Circuit judges who had struck down the appointments, they did so on a far different and narrower basis: The Senate's pro-forma sessions meant that it wasn't in recess to begin with, so there couldn't be any recess appointments made.

The Court's majority also wrote that, consistent with practice going back to the 19th century, the Constitution lets the president make recess appointments during any recess (not just ones between two sessions of Congress) and for any vacancy (not just ones that opened up during the recess when the appointment is being made). Justice Scalia (joined by Roberts, Thomas, and Alito) have a much more cramped view: The president can make recess appointments only during the recess that occurs between two different sessions of Congress, and only for a vacancy that was created during that particular recess.


Senate Republicans have used unprecedented obstruction tactics to block nominees.

It's important to remember why this case arose in the first place. President Obama had been driven to make key appointments to the NLRB in January 2012, when the Senate was in recess but having pro forma sessions every three days to make it look like they were still in session. Senate Republicans were preventing the majority from holding a vote on whether to confirm Obama's nominees (at that time, a minority of 41 senators could prevent any confirmation vote), and the unfilled vacancies would have meant that NLRB lacked a quorum and would no longer be able to fully function and protect the rights of millions of working people.

Although Senate Republicans could not pass legislation closing the NLRB's doors, they sought to accomplish essentially the same results through another route, by blocking the Senate from voting to confirm new members of the Board. This was widely recognized as part of a larger pattern using obstruction to nullify laws and agencies that they lacked the electoral mandate to overturn or eliminate through legitimate means.

Justice Scalia accused his colleagues in the majority of being "atextual."

Scalia's concurrence gives examples of political opposition in the Senate leading to vacancies that cannot be filled, including "if [the Senate] should refuse to confirm any nominee for an office, thinking the office better left vacant for the time being." It seems a rather cavalier attitude to take to one chamber of Congress unilaterally deciding that the laws of the nation need not be carried out. And it should be noted that this particular constitutional conflict was not brought about by a Senate that thought the NLRB was better left impotent, but by a Senate minority that refused to let the majority fill the agency's vacancies.

PFAW

Here's What Tuesday's Primaries Really Mean

A Republican incumbent held on against his upstart Tea Party challenger in Mississippi, but let’s be clear: Radical right-wing candidates secured their place on the ballot in races for federal, state and local office yesterday.

People PFAW’s Right Wing Watch follows closely like:

Gordon Klingenschmitt, a candidate for state representative, in Colorado, who:

And Michael Peroutka, a far-right activist and county council candidate in Maryland who:

On the congressional front…

We knew that after Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss to an even bigger Tea Party extremist that the GOP would shift even farther to the right.

Well, they have not wasted a single minute.

Newly elected House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made his very first official appearance at Religious Right icon and former Christian Coalition Director Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference over the weekend.

The event was nothing more than an extremist hate fest, featuring a butcher shop’s worth of red meat for right-wing activists from the likes of Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, Allen West and John Bolton, and even pictures of President Obama placed in the men’s room urinals.

Then on Sunday, McCarthy appeared on Fox News to assure the GOP base know that Republicans are unifying around a more extreme right-wing issue agenda.

This is the same political party that is backed by endless special interest cash and will be pulling out every distortion and dirty trick to take over the U.S. Senate this year.

These recent happenings are just the latest example of why 2014 is a fight we can’t lose.

PFAW

Tenth Circuit Protects Right to Marry

Since last year's Windsor decision striking down DOMA, one federal district court after another has struck down bans against marriage equality. Many of those rulings are being appealed. Today, for the first time, a federal appeals court has entered the national conversation, with a powerful opinion upholding the right of same-sex couples to marry.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit concludes that denying gays and lesbians the right to marry violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause (by denying a fundamental right to marry) and Equal Protection Clause (by making that right depend on a classification – the sex of the couple – that bears little if any relation to the state's purported goals).

Under Due Process, a law denying a fundamental constitutional right is subject to strict scrutiny: It can survive only if it's narrowly tailored to serve a compelling government interest. Similarly strict scrutiny is required under Equal Protection for a classification that impinges on a fundamental right. (The court doesn't address one of the law's unanswered questions, which is whether any law discriminating against lesbians and gays should be subject to heightened scrutiny.)

The state of Utah put forth several arguments relating to reproduction and child-rearing, but the court pointed out that:

each of the appellants' justifications rests fundamentally on a sleight of hand in which same-sex marriage is used as a proxy for a different characteristic shared by both same-sex and some opposite-sex couples. Same-sex marriage must be banned, appellants argue, because same-sex couples are not naturally procreative. But the state permits many other types of non-procreative couples to wed. ... Same-sex marriage cannot be allowed, appellants assert, because it is better for children to be raised by biological parents. Yet adoptive parents, who have the full panoply of rights and duties of biological parents, are free to marry. As are opposite-sex couples who choose assisted reproduction.

...

[A] state may not satisfy the narrow tailoring requirement by pointing to a trait shared by those on both sides of a challenged classification.

For those who argue that the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment never intended for it to guarantee the rights of gays and lesbians, the court says:

Although courts may be tempted to suppose that the Due Process Clause protects only those practices, defined at the most specific level, that were protected against government interference by other rules of law when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified ... such a view would be inconsistent with our law. A prime part of the history of our Constitution ... is the story of the extension of constitutional rights and protections to people once ignored or excluded. (internal quotations and citations omitted)

The opinion elaborates:

A generation ago, recognition of the fundamental right to marry as applying to persons of the same sex might have been unimaginable. A generation ago, the declaration by gay and lesbian couples of what may have been in their hearts would have had to remain unspoken. Not until contemporary times have laws stigmatizing or even criminalizing gay men and women been felled, allowing their relationships to surface to an open society. As the district court eloquently explained, "it is not the Constitution that has changed, but the knowledge of what it means to be gay or lesbian."

The three-judge panel stayed today's ruling until the Supreme Court can resolve the expected appeal, so the right to marry won't automatically be coming immediately to the other states in the Tenth Circuit (Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming). In fact, the same three-judge panel is still considering a constitutional challenge to a marriage ban in one of those states, Oklahoma. Oral arguments in the two cases were held just a week apart.

Utah could appeal today's panel decision to the entire Tenth Circuit, or it could instead go directly to the Supreme Court (which would decide for itself whether to hear the case).

PFAW Foundation

Indiana’s Marriage Ban Struck Down

In another win for equality, today U.S. District Judge Richard Young struck down Indiana’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Because the judge did not stay the ruling, the Indianapolis Star reports that couples can begin getting married right away.

Not a single state marriage ban has been able to withstand a challenge in federal court in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor, which struck down part of DOMA.

Congratulations, Indiana!

PFAW Foundation

New Report Reflects Persistence of Voting Rights Violations

While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) took a giant leap toward reducing voting discrimination, a wealth of evidence today shows that discrimination at the polls persists. A new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights documents148 separate instances of voting violations since 2000, with each affecting hundreds to thousands of voters.

The report, The Persistent Challenge of Voting Discrimination, came just days before today’s one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted a key provision of the VRA. The litany of voting rights violations detailed therein underscores the need for reform – now.

Key takeaways gleaned from recent examples:

• Racial discrimination in voting remains a significant problem in our democracy. Nearly 50 years after the enactment of the VRA, racial discrimination in voting remains a persistent problem in many places around the country…

• The problem of racial discrimination in voting is not limited to one region of the country. The examples outlined in this report document instances of voting discrimination from 30 states, representing every region of the country…

• Voting discrimination occurs most often in local elections… They often concern the election of city, county or other local elected officials, where many of the contests are nonpartisan.

• Discrimination in voting manifests itself in many ways, and new methods continue to emerge. Voting discrimination occurs today in both overt and subtle forms.

Here are just a handful of the cases in which systematic discrimination threatened to discourage or sideline voters:

• In 2008, the state of Alaska requested preclearance of a plan to remove polling places in multiple Native villages. The state intended to consolidate predominately Alaska Native voting precincts with those of other communities, creating new polling places that were geographically remote and inaccessible by road. Instead of complying with a “More Information Request” by the Department of Justice regarding the proposed changes, Alaska withdrew their submission.

• Between 2004 and 2011, DOJ alleged that five counties and four cities in California had been in violation of Section 203 of the VRA, citing failures to implement bilingual election programs for language-minority voters, as well as failures to translate election-related materials for precincts with large language-minority populations.

• Between 2002 and 2011, multiple school districts and localities in Louisiana proposed redistricting plans that would have eliminated districts in which an African American majority was able to elect the candidate of their choice. 

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights notes that because the study was only able to take into account reported cases, the statistics are likely a conservative estimate of the real magnitude of the problem.

Sadly, discrimination in the electoral process still happens. Moving forward on legislation to update and modernize the VRA would help return a voting voice to Americans who are too often, even today, marginalized.

PFAW

Cleaning Up the Supreme Court's Mess

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

One year ago this week, the Supreme Court's conservative majority struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and took yet another step toward undermining our democracy. Since then, civil rights leaders have been hard at work trying to clean up the Court's mess.

The Shelby decision was a devastating loss, especially for those who fought to see the original Voting Rights Act enacted. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the sole surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington and a leader of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, accused the Supreme Court of "stab[bing] the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart." Civil rights advocates mourned the naïve assumption that Selma had been relegated to ancient history and that racial discrimination in voting went with it. People For the American Way's director of African American religious affairs noted on the day of the decision: "Those who sided with the majority clearly have not been paying attention, reading the paper, attending community meetings, living in America."

Indeed, anyone who has been paying attention knows that voting discrimination is far from ancient history. A new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found nearly 150 documented instances of voting rights violations since 2000, with each case affecting between hundreds and tens of thousands of voters.

Happily, reform is finally underway in the Senate. On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on legislation to put the VRA back together again. It's a critically important first step in getting our country's laws back to where they need to be on voting rights protections. But so far House Republican leadership has refused to move forward. Maybe they think that if they pretend a problem doesn't exist, they won't have to fix it.

The push for voting rights protections isn't the only effort underway to clean up the mess the Supreme Court has made of our democracy. With the 2012 election the most expensive in history, this week the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC, the infamous 2010 ruling that paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending. Like Shelby, Citizens United was a contentious 5-4 decision with a strong dissent. Also like Shelby, it set our democracy back dramatically. Citizens United let corporate bank accounts overwhelm the voices of everyday Americans. Shelby made it easier for state and local governments to create barriers to voting.

But Americans know that the answer to attacks on our democracy isn't despair -- it's action. Sixteen states and more than 550 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics like the one moving forward in the Senate, and that number is growing rapidly.

National leaders are also speaking out. President Obama has expressed his support for an amendment to overturn Citizen United multiple times since the decision. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens are just a handful of other high-profile amendment supporters. And earlier this month, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not hold back her disdain for the recent democracy-harming decisions coming from the Supreme Court's majority: "Like the currently leading campaign finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I regard Shelby County as an egregiously wrong decision that should not have staying power."

The Supreme Court has made some very bad calls when it comes to protecting the rights of all Americans to participate meaningfully in our political system. But Justice Ginsburg is right: these wrong-headed decisions shouldn't have staying power. And if the American people have anything to do with it, they won't.

PFAW

"Citizen Koch" Premieres Nationwide (And We Highly Recommend It!)

All around the country, the important film "Citizen Koch" is premiering in cities large and small. Find a screening near you!

The movie tracks the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that lifted a century-long ban on corporate election spending by looking at the standoff in Wisconsin between state employees and GOP Governor Scott Walker. During his election and recall campaigns, Walker was bankrolled by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, demonstrating the torrent of unlimited, anonymous political spending by corporations and billionaires that was unleashed through this Supreme Court decision. As the film follows this story, it also shows the fracturing of the Republican Party and proves how Citizens United fundamentally changed how our democracy works.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funding, and even losing its public television distributor, the movie finally comes to theatres this summer. The process that led to it being pulled from public television airwaves illustrates exactly what “Citizen Koch” depicts—that money buys not only action, but also silence. As Buddy Roemer, whose presidential run is chronicled in the film, stated, “Sometimes it's a check. Sometimes it's the threat of a check. It's like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways.”

People For the American Way hosted the DC premiere of the documentary film “Citizen Koch” at the Washington’s West End Cinema Friday night to a sell out crowd. Friday’s premiere was followed by a panel discussion with one of the documentary’s Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Tia Lessin, along with PFAW’s director of outreach and partner engagement Diallo Brooks and PFAW president Michael Keegan. After the screening, the audience participated in a question and answer session on the effects of big money in politics and what different organizations and mobilized citizens are doing to reverse the effects of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.

 

PFAW

PFAW Files Amicus Brief Supporting Fair Trials for Undocumented Immigrants

Last Thursday, People For the American Way, joined by the UC Hastings Appellate Project (HAP) and the ACLU of Southern California, submitted an amicus brief to the California Court of Appeal in Velasquez v. Centrome, Inc. dba Advanced Biotech, a toxic tort case brought by an undocumented immigrant that resulted in a gross denial of justice.

Wilfredo Velasquez filed a lawsuit against a chemical manufacturer seeking damages for medical expenses after contracting a devastating lung disease due to exposure to one of the company’s toxic chemicals while on the job. During the jury selection process, where prospective jurors are questioned to discover potential biases, the trial judge wrongly disclosed Mr. Velasquez’s immigration status to the entire jury pool, despite the fact that it was not relevant to any issues in the case. The disclosure appears to have harmed Mr. Velasquez’s pursuit of justice: Even though the jury ultimately found the chemical manufacturer negligent, it awarded no damages to Mr. Velasquez. He effectively lost his case. The court refused to grant a mistrial for its error in possibly tainting the jury, and Mr. Velasquez appealed the verdict. 

PFAW submitted its amicus brief in support of a new trial for Mr. Velasquez because of the highly prejudicial nature of the court’s wrongful disclosure of his citizenship status, explaining, “Rather than protect against prejudice, the judge’s statement unnecessarily injected prejudice into the [jury] selection process, making it impossible to know whether Mr. Velasquez received his constitutionally guaranteed fair trial by impartial jurors.” Given the ongoing hostility towards undocumented immigrants, as chronicled by PFAW’s Right Wing Watch blog, PFAW’s brief urges the appellate court to find that when a trial court erroneously discloses a litigant’s citizenship status to the jury during voir dire a new trial must be awarded.

Read the full text of the amicus brief for more information
 

PFAW