PEOPLE FOR BLOG

No, Trump, Harassed Women Should Not Find New Careers

This piece was originally published on Huffington Post.

After over a dozen women came forward to say they were sexually harassed by former Fox CEO Roger Ailes, last week Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump offered his “solution” to the pervasive problem of workplace harassment: women who are targeted should just quit their jobs. If his daughter Ivanka were harassed, Trump said, “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company.” As others have noted, it was a response breathtakingly out-of-touch with daily realities for most women, who could not afford simply to leave our jobs and who, it should go without saying, should never be asked to change careers for becoming the target of harassment.

For almost anyone else in the political spotlight, such an outrageous response would have been hard to believe. But for Donald Trump, these remarks are simply the latest example of his dehumanizing brand of sexism, where women are objects to be ranked from one to ten and where proposed “solutions” to the challenges women face are constituted of victim-blaming rather than actual policy changes.

Take his view on the gender pay gap. At an event in New Hampshire last year, a woman in the audience asked Trump about it, telling him that she wants to be paid the same as a man for her work. His response was that “you’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Seriously? In our country, white women are paid 78 cents for every dollar white men make, while African American women make 63 cents and Latinas make only 54 cents. It’s a discrepancy that causes women to lose out on hundreds of thousands of dollars across our lifetimes and threatens the economic stability of countless women and their families. Suggesting that the real issue behind the gender pay gap is that women just don’t do as good a job as men could not be more offensive, or more wrong.

The same can be said about Trump’s comments on workplace harassment. According to a 2011 ABC News/Washington Post nationwide poll, a staggering one in four women has experienced sexual harassment at work, with some polling showing even higher numbers. It’s a pervasive and disturbing trend that affects women across all types of workplaces and requires a serious policy response. But instead, Trump’s answer is to place the blame on those who are harassed, asking them to upend their careers in hopes that they might find in a new career an environment free of harassment. His son, Eric Trump, even went as far as to say that a woman like Ivanka Trump “wouldn’t allow herself to be subjected” to workplace harassment, implying that women who are targeted are part of the problem themselves.

Women who are harassed at work should just quit, and women who are paid less than men should just do a better job: this is how the Republican presidential candidate sees women in the workplace. If voters elect Trump when they go to the polls in less than 100 days, that’s the disturbing worldview he would bring to the presidency. Trump’s brand of chauvinism – one in which he takes every opportunity to demean, blame, and undermine women — doesn’t belong in our country, and it certainly doesn’t belong in the Oval Office. On Election Day, let’s make sure he doesn’t get that chance.

PFAW

The Trump Test -- Searching for Decency

This piece was originally published in Inside Sources.

What first seemed like faux pas and jabs at political correctness by Donald Trump have turned out to be a series of deeply troubling revelations about his malignant character and his seemingly pathological dishonesty. Trump’s campaign is providing Republican Party officials with repeated tests of their character, tests that they are failing again and again, to the long-term detriment of their party and our country.

Consider Trump’s devotion to — in his words — “getting even.” As he promised during the Republican primary, “Anybody who hits me, we’re gonna hit them 10 times harder.” He’s given us many examples, including his declaration during a rhetorical feud with Sen. John McCain that McCain (and by implication other prisoners of war) was not a war hero because he had been captured. “I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said.

This Trump trait was on full display during the Democratic convention. When retired four-star general John Allen criticized Trump over his support for torture and other violations of international law, Trump responded by calling Allen a “failed general.” Michael Bloomberg, who Trump had previously called a “fantastic” mayor, became a “disaster” who “couldn’t get elected dog catcher.”

Most notoriously, Trump attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the Muslim parents of an American soldier who was killed in Iraq. Khizr Khan challenged Trump’s vow to block Muslims from entering the United States, speaking movingly about his son’s sacrifice and asking Trump if he had ever read the U.S. Constitution. Trump considered this criticism a “vicious” attack, and responded to the family’s loss with shameful religious bigotry and innuendo.

When his actions generated significant outrage, Trump did not acknowledge error or apologize. Instead, his allies are doubling down on Trump’s bigotry. Mike Huckabee, for example, has flatly denied the fact of Trump’s repeated vow to block Muslims from entering the United States. Trump confidant Roger Stone and campaign adviser Al Baldasaro both promoted a stunningly irresponsible post from fringe extremists alleging that Khan is a Muslim Brotherhood agent and suggesting that his son was an Islamist double agent who was killed before his murderous mission was accomplished. Baldasaro tweeted a link to the article, saying “Read the truth about your hero.” (He later tweeted that he was “not sure” about the extremists’ credibility.)

In the face of this ugliness, most Republican elected officials have remained weak kneed or shamefully silent. Some have put out statements supporting the Khan family but they didn’t have the courage to criticize Trump by name.

Even John McCain, who strongly criticized Trump, has not repudiated his endorsement for a candidate whose recklessness has become undeniable. This is the same John McCain who, in refusing to consider President Obama’s nomination of the unquestionably well qualified judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, is holding the vacancy open to be filled by the reckless, irresponsible and unprincipled Donald Trump.

More than 60 years ago, a dangerous, bullying demagogue was deflated with a simple question, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

An open letter to Donald Trump from a group of Gold Star families echoes those sentiments, calling Trump’s comments about the Khans “repugnant,” and saying, “This goes beyond politics. It is about a sense of decency. That kind decency you mock as ‘political correctness.’”

It is time for Republican Party leaders to recognize that Trump poisons everything he touches, including, and especially, them and their party. Trump shares Joseph McCarthy’s cruelty and reckless disregard for others and for the truth. So the question must be asked of Reince Priebus, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders who have refused to leave Trump’s side: Have you left no sense of decency?

And we as Americans should ask ourselves, is there decency enough left among people of good will to reject Trump and Trumpism, and begin to recover an honest discourse, grounded in facts and shared values, about the future of our country?

PFAW

DNC & RNC: Facts vs. Feelings

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

As millions of Americans tuned into the national conventions of the Democrats last week and Republicans the week before, the tone and substance between the two parties could not have been more different. During his weekly satirical news show, comedian John Oliver put the contrasting frames used by the political left and right in perspective while commenting on the Republican National Convention.

“It was a four-day exercise in emphasizing feelings over facts,” said Oliver.

It doesn’t take an especially sensitive person to see that fear is a common theme in Republican messaging, particularly this election cycle. Whether it’s lies about Mexican immigrants or smears about Muslim Americans, fear is consistently used as part of the core Republican message. Donald Trump, perhaps the worst offender of this in modern history, has presented himself as the sole solution to all problems - real and perceived - faced by the United States, without explaining how he would actually solve them.      

It’s not uncommon for the fear and insecurity stoked by Republicans to conflict with facts. For instance, in his RNC commentary, Oliver included a news clip from an interview with former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The segment does an excellent job of highlighting how in the world of Republican rhetoric, feelings often get conflated with facts. In the clip Gingrich says “the average American, I bet you this morning, does not think that crime is down, does not think they are safer.” He presents his statement as a fact, which may be technically true in terms of feelings, but in reality, people are actually safer. For that matter, crime rates have been steadily dropping across the board since the 1990s, with few exceptions.   

Compared to the Democratic National Convention, the difference could not be more clear. The message of the event was largely rooted in empirical facts, citing job growth and other quantifiable factors to show the progress that has been made over the past eight years with Obama in the White House. But it was also a message of enduring hope. In her speech accepting the democratic nomination for president of the United States, Hillary Clinton quoted the famous line from Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, “the only thing to fear is fear itself,” presenting a stark contrast to the paranoid and divisive rhetoric of her opponent.

Clinton’s campaign slogan, “Stronger Together,” invokes unity, collaboration and creating common purpose in order to make a “more perfect union.” Indeed, many of our nation’s greatest advances in history have come about through people coming together to find common ground, working as one with a shared sense of optimism. When voters go to the polls in November to cast their ballots, they will be faced with a choice of historic proportions: take a radical step to the right, deepening divisions and elevating hateful rhetoric, or continue along the path exemplified by the American ideals of diversity and inclusivity.

 

PFAW

Voting Rights – We Can Win

This Saturday marks the 51st anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act. Though we have a long way to go to restore this landmark law and ensure that every voter can cast a ballot that counts, it's important to recognize the progress being made.

Yesterday a ruling in North Dakota provided relief for voters facing restrictive voter ID this November. From the Native American Rights Fund:

[A] federal district court enjoined North Dakota’s strict voter ID law and ruled that voters unable to obtain the necessary identification may vote in the upcoming election by completing a declaration or affidavit. The court agreed with the seven Native American voters that the new law disproportionately burdens Native Americans and denies qualified voters the right to vote.

Last week was huge for voting rights victories, with voters in five states receiving favorable rulings.

Kansas: A Shawnee County district judge ruled that thousands of questioned (thanks to Kris Kobach) voter registrations will count in the August 2 primary. As reported by the Kansas City Star:

A Shawnee County district judge ruled Friday that the votes of 17,500 people whose registrations had been questioned are to be tallied in Tuesday’s primary.

Judge Larry Hendricks issued a temporary order, meaning the votes will be counted Tuesday. The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit against Secretary of State Kobach on behalf of Kansas voters who were told that they could vote in federal elections but that their votes in state and local elections would not be counted.

Louisiana: A federal district court held the state accountable for its neglect of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which expands voter registration access to motor vehicle offices and other agencies. Niyati Shah provided this Project Vote analysis:

In this exhaustive opinion, the court basically held that mere lip service to the public assistance provisions of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) is not an option . . . In Louisiana, however, the state had apparently decided that our vulnerable citizens weren’t all that important, and gave all sorts of excuses for neglecting Section 7 of the NVRA. But, in a resounding victory for the right to franchise, a federal district court rejected the state’s arguments.

North Carolina: The state's monster voter suppression law that covers a number of harmful policies was struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Paul Gordon provided this PFAW Foundation analysis:

A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today reversed a lower federal court and struck down North Carolina’s notorious voter ID law, as well as its provisions curtailing or eliminating early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and preregistration of 16 and 17 year-olds.

Significantly, the unanimous circuit court concluded that the law does more than "just" have a discriminatory impact, in violation of a section of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).  The court also found that the law’s purpose was to discriminate, putting it in violation of the United States Constitution. One piece of evidence: state officials moved to enact the law within days of the Shelby County case removing any preclearance requirements under Section 5 of the VRA.

Virginia: Though here it was a state court pushing back on voting rights progress, Governor Terry McAuliffe stood strong in defense of voting rights restoration for formerly incarcerated persons. After the Virginia Supreme Court struck down Governor McAuliffe’s executive orders restoring the voting rights of over 200,000 formerly incarcerated persons, McAuliffe said "he would forgo his blanket declaration — and, instead, individually sign about 206,000 restoration orders for ex-felons, including 13,000 who had registered after his April order."

Wisconsin: A federal district court struck several provisions of the state's voter suppression package. Rick Hasen provided this Election Law Blog analysis:

This is a pretty sweeping opinion, which rejects many of the state’s arguments for its restrictive voting rules as [pretextual], and really aimed at giving Republicans advantage in elections. The judge was particularly skeptical of measures which made it harder to vote in Milwaukee, with its large population of minority voters, and to a lesser extent, Madison, a liberal stronghold in the state. But this is a careful opinion which parses the evidence and does not accept all of the claims.

Two weeks ago it was Texas and, again, Wisconsin.

Texas: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed previous rulings against voter ID. As reported by the Texas Tribune:

Texas' voter identification law violates the U.S. law prohibiting racial discrimination in elections, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed previous rulings that the 2011 voter ID law — which stipulates the types of photo identification election officials can and cannot accept at the polls — does not comply with the Voting Rights Act.

Wisconsin: A federal district court provided relief for voters facing restrictive voter ID this November. From the American Civil Liberties Union:

Wisconsin’s voter ID law has been a mistake from day one. This ruling is a strong rebuke of the state’s efforts to limit access to the ballot box. It means that a failsafe will be in place in November for voters who have had difficulty obtaining ID.

There is a lot of work left to do in the voting rights arena. Not even these victories signal the end of the road for voting rights advocates. But they are important signs of progress.

Onward.

PFAW

NC Voting Restrictions Struck Down as Intentionally Discriminatory

A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today reversed a lower federal court and struck down North Carolina’s notorious voter ID law, as well as its provisions curtailing or eliminating early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and preregistration of 16 and 17 year-olds.

Significantly, the unanimous circuit court concluded that the law does more than “just” have a discriminatory impact, in violation of a section of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).  The court also found that the law’s purpose was to discriminate, putting it in violation of the United States Constitution.  One piece of evidence: state officials moved to enact the law within days of the Shelby County case removing any preclearance requirements under Section 5 of the VRA.

The district court had concluded that the provisions at issue had neither a discriminatory intent or effect, noting that there was little “official discrimination” in the state since the 1980s.  The unanimous Fourth Circuit took a more careful look:

The record reveals that, within the time period that the district court found free of “official discrimination” (1980 to 2013), the Department of Justice issued over fifty objection letters to proposed election law changes in North Carolina -- including several since 2000 -- because the State had failed to prove the proposed changes would have no discriminatory purpose or effect. …

During the same period, private plaintiffs brought fifty-five successful cases under § 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In other words, it was only the VRA (including its preclearance provision) that prevented discriminatory voting changes from being enacted and enforced.

In the court’s analysis of the law’s elimination of one of two Sunday early voting days (which were used as “souls to the polls” voting turnout efforts by African Americans), the judges pointed to North Carolina’s own attorneys’ explanation to the lower court of why the state did this.  Among other things, the state claimed it had an interest in more uniform rules across the state, and not all counties had Sunday early voting.  The attorneys elaborated on its justification, noting that counties with Sunday early voting in 2014 were disproportionately African American and disproportionately Democratic.  The Fourth Circuit judges called this as close to a smoking gun as we’re likely to see in modern times.

Using race as a proxy for party may be an effective way to win an election. But intentionally targeting a particular race’s access to the franchise because its members vote for a particular party, in a predictable manner, constitutes discriminatory purpose. This is so even absent any evidence of race-based hatred and despite the obvious political dynamics. A state legislature acting on such a motivation engages in intentional racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act.

In 2008 and 2012, the state’s more open voting laws empowered more African Americans to vote.  Armed with this knowledge, and soon after Shelby County, the state legislature took action to adopt the laws being challenged in this case.  The discriminatory intent was transparent, but with a wink and a nod, conservatives devised rationales for the restrictions.  The Fourth Circuit today rejected those rationales and recognized that these were all “solutions in search of a problem.”  Those bogus explanations may not get probed very deeply by the media, but it is harder to get away with the “wink and nod” approach before an effective federal court.  All three judges agreed that the provisions were adopted with the intent to discriminate, in violation of the Constitution.  (One of the judges would have sent the case back down to the district court to see if post-enactment changes to the voter ID law affected the court’s legal analysis.)

Although the court could have used the unconstitutional motivation as a basis to impose a preclearance requirement on the state, the judges concluded that would not be necessary in this case.

If you ever wonder if courts matter, think about this case.  We need fair and independent courts with highly qualified judges to protect our rights and our democracy.  Courts matter immensely, as does the identity of the president who nominates federal judges to the bench.

PFAW Foundation

New Guard of Progressive Elected Officials Represented On Stage at DNC

Something the planners of the Democratic National Convention seem to be getting very right is the selection of top-notch speakers, which include some of the strongest progressive voices in national politics and reflect the ever-increasing diversity of America. Communities of color, the LGBT community, disabled and Native communities, and young people are all represented.

Activist leaders and various everyday heroes are taking the stage to speak simultaneously to the vast diversity of American experiences and the common needs and values, hopes and desires, that unify us as one people.

Included in the impressive list of speakers are several dynamic young elected leaders, and among them, some very familiar faces to the People For family. And we could not be prouder.       

Mayor Andrew Gillum

Andrew Gillum, 37, is the mayor of Tallahassee, Florida. He has repeatedly set the example for unapologetic progressive leadership, and was included in Huffington Post’s “50 Young Progressive Activists Who Are Changing America.” He is the youngest person to ever be elected to the Tallahassee City Commission, assuming that office at the age of 23.

Andrew is the national Director of Youth Leadership Programs for PFAW’s affiliate, People For the American Way Foundation (PFAW Foundation).

US Rep. Joaquin Castro

Joaquin Castro, 41, uses his strong progressive voice to superbly represent the people of Texas’s 20th District in the US Congress.

Both Joaquin and his twin brother Julian -- the current US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, former mayor of San Antonio, and keynote speaker of the 2012 Democratic convention -- were charter members of PFAW Foundation’s nonpartisan Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network, which works to nurture the leadership abilities and provide a supportive nationwide network to America’s young progressive elected officials.

Colorado Rep. Crisanta Duran

Crisanta Duran, 35, is the Majority Leader of the Colorado House of Representatives and one of America’s boldest progressive champions in such an influential state-level leadership position.

Crisanta is also an active member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.

This is just a small sampling of the growing number of young progressive champions running for and winning elected office at every level around the country.

Be on the lookout for live or recorded speeches from all of these excellent young leaders, and you will no doubt find inspiration and hope about the future of our movement.

We will try to obtain video clips after the speeches to embed in this post as updates. So stay tuned!

Update 1: Mayor Andrew Gillum's 2016 DNC speech:

PFAW

PFAW's Peter Montgomery Discusses the Trump-Pence Ticket and the RNC on Democracy Now!

Last week People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery was in Cleveland, Ohio, covering this year’s Republican National Convention for Right Wing Watch.

On Thursday, he joined Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! to discuss Donald Trump’s selection of Governor Mike Pence as his running mate, the Religious Right’s response to this choice, and Montgomery’s recent piece in Right Wing Watch entitled, “How Would Religious Right Respond to Pence as VP?” Montgomery told Goodman:

“I think he [Trump] probably chose Mike Pence because Mike Pence is close to both the Koch brothers’ political network and to the Religious Right. And those are two hugely important parts of the Republican infrastructure that have not been uniformly excited about Trump.”

While on the program, Montgomery also detailed some instances of hate speech and intolerance that he observed in Cleveland, including misogynistic rhetoric about Hillary Clinton, attacks on Black Lives Matter activists, and attacks on immigrants. “It’s really been a disturbing show,” Montgomery said.

You can watch the full interview here:

[https://publish.dvlabs.com/democracynow/360/dn2016-0721.mp4?start=4548&end=5065]

PFAW

Trump: "I alone can fix this."

Donald Trump’s big speech last night was full of false humility, false promises, false sympathy (for minorities, women, and workers), and outright falsehoods. He affirmed various right-wing tropes for his base, but the speech was -- at its core -- a naked attempt to con the voters Trump and the Republicans need to sway to their side by November.

Trump was introduced by his daughter Ivanka, who was completely out of touch with the Republican Party by claiming that Trump would change labor laws to ensure equality in the workplace for women and, especially, mothers. Of course, the Republican Party has firmly opposed those same policies for years, and the federal judges promised by Trump subscribe to an ideology that shuns protections for women -- not to mention the fact that Trump himself has called pregnancy “an inconvenience” for business.

Citing the recent mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Trump promised to keep LGBTQ Americans, specifically, safe from Islam … but what they really need is to be kept safe from Republican policies.

Trump’s chosen running mate, Mike Pence, is the most anti-gay vice presidential nominee in memory. He once called for HIV/AIDS funding to be reallocated to “gay conversion therapy.”

This Republican Convention, just days before Trump’s speech, passed the most anti-gay major party platform EVER -- including opposition to same-sex marriage, adoption by LGBT people, and protections for transgendered students, as well as support for, you guessed it, “gay conversion therapy.”

And almost the very next part of Trump’s speech focused on the kind of Supreme Court justices he wants to appoint -- the kind that have consistently opposed legal protections for LGBT rights! (Let’s not forget that earlier this year Trump pledged to nominated justices who were against what he called the “shocking” Supreme Court decision affirming marriage equality as a right.)

Trump also distorted statistics to gin up the anxiety and inflame many of the false perceptions driven by right-wing media lies, oversaturation of sensationalistic news stories, and the violent videos and memes that constantly go viral on social media.

The reality is that, despite recent high-profile, and rightfully concerning, tragedies, violent crime is at historically low levels, and has been trending down, not up. Same goes for illegal immigration. And those are just two examples -- Trump also promoted Orwellian notions about our military being “depleted,” refugees not being vetted, and the US being humiliated on the global stage that run directly counter to the actual facts.

As one of my colleagues here at PFAW pointed out, Trump was lying from his very first breath last night, when he said he “humbly” accepts his party’s nomination -- clearly, this is not a man who does anything “humbly.” In fact, Trump seems to believe a previous convention speaker’s assertion that he “is sent from God.”

The entire theme of Trump’s speech was that the country is beset by crises of a historic magnitude and that Trump and ONLY Trump can save us. His speech, which has widely been called "apocalyptic," made the case that Americans are completely unsafe, and are under siege from enemies both within and outside our borders … that the state of the economy is terrible.

He said he would fix all of our problems quickly upon taking office -- make the streets safe, bring back all of our lost manufacturing jobs, expand opportunity for young people and minorities, and more -- but declined to say how.

He also reminded the crowd that his economic “plan” includes the biggest tax cut of all of this year’s candidates in either major party -- weighted heavily for the ultra-rich, of course -- but at the same time promised wildly expensive programs, including his infamous border wall -- the price tag of which analysts estimate would be at least $25 billion (no, Mexico is not going to pay for it). It’s a recipe for a behemoth deficit … but of course, facts don’t matter … and never have for Trump.

Now, as if all of that wasn’t scary enough, here’s the really scary part: There are many -- too many -- Americans that will find all of Trump’s blustery rhetoric and empty promises appealing. If there is anything history has taught, it’s that when people are afraid, they will put power in the hands of strongman leaders who promise safety and national glory. We’re even seeing it right now in other places in the world.

Sadly, no one should be surprised to see Donald Trump get a significant post-convention bump in the polls, both nationally and in key swing states (like the Rust Belt states he is specifically targeting).

We need to keep voters’ attention on the GOP’s radical agenda, and on the hate and extremism that were on display all week long at their convention.

We need to ERASE any polling bounce and success Trump gets from last night’s speech.

And we need to DEFEAT right-wing extremists like Trump and many of the other candidates running in the GOP.

PFAW

Pew Report: With GOP Presidents, We Get Fewer Judges of Color

The Pew Research Center has released a new report (“More minority federal judges have been appointed under Democratic than Republican presidents”) examining the presence of people of color serving as judges in our nation’s federal judiciary.  Their study’s conclusion, apparent from the title, quantifies what many Americans probably already suspected: Democratic presidents have done more to increase judicial diversity than have GOP presidents.

Pew’s report shows that:

The number of minorities named to the federal courts has increased faster under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents. From 1945 to today – a period in which Republicans and Democrats have each occupied the White House for a total of 36 years – Democratic presidents have appointed three times as many black judges as their Republican counterparts (162 vs. 49). Democrats have also named more Hispanic judges to the federal bench (73 vs. 51).

Pew’s analysis also indicates that President Obama has put more Asian Americans on the federal bench than all his predecessors combined:

Before 2009, Republicans had appointed 10 Asian judges, while Democrats appointed six. During Obama’s presidency the number of Asian federal judges greatly increased: About half (17) of the 33 Asian American judges to ever serve on the federal bench were appointed by Obama.

As we have written before in discussing why it is important to have a judiciary that looks like America:

For much of our nation's history, judges were uniformly white men. When women argued for equality under the law, they were repudiated with sexist arguments that only men could have come up with. African Americans were told that separate can be equal. Native Americans were told that they never really owned the land they had been on for centuries, but were only in temporary possession of it until Europeans arrived.

A judiciary that looks nothing like America is far less likely to understand how the law affects other people, a misunderstanding that has often led to great injustice. As Republicans exacerbate judicial emergencies, their obstruction is preventing us from having a judiciary that looks more like America.

We see this at all levels, including at the Supreme Court.  Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in the Schuette affirmative action case and her condemnation of a prosecutor’s attempt to substitute racial stereotype for evidence are great examples.  At the Obergefell oral arguments, when Justice Scalia suggested that a ruling for same-sex couples could force anti-gay clergy to conduct marriages against their religious beliefs, Justice Kagan had to inform him what Jewish Americans already know: that many rabbis refuse to conduct marriages between Jews and non-Jews without raising any constitutional problem.

Diversity brings people with more varied life experiences to our courtrooms, and that helps judges make better decisions.  And when Senate Republicans engage in record obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees, the result is a less diverse federal bench.

PFAW

GOP's Record-Breaking SCOTUS Obstruction

A lot can be accomplished in 125 days.  It took less time than that for the Allies to liberate Paris after D-Day.  And Franklin Roosevelt’s first 100 days are still remembered for the incredible amount that was accomplished in such a short time.

So surely the United States Senate could manage to hold a hearing within 125 days for an unquestionably qualified, uncontroversial Supreme Court nominee with strong support from across the ideological spectrum.  But the Republicans who control the Senate have continued to simply pretend that President Obama hasn’t nominated anyone to fill the vacancy.  And at Day 125 of the nomination, the GOP has set a shameful record:  D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland is now the longest pending Supreme Court nominee in American history, and he still has not been allowed to have a committee hearing.

Of course, Senate Republicans can act quickly when they want to.  For instance, it was only a few hours after Justice Antonin Scalia’s untimely death that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that, contrary to all precedent, the Senate would refuse to consider anyone nominated by President Obama to fill the vacancy, no matter who it might be.  This was at a time when there was still nearly a full year left in Obama’s presidency, so McConnell’s lightning-fast decision for obstruction and politicization guaranteed that the Court vacancy would remain open not only for the rest of that Supreme Court term, but also for most or even all of the following term as well.

Unfortunately, neither McConnell nor his fellow GOP senators seem to care about the damage an extended vacancy can do to a Court characterized by important and headline-grabbing 5-4 decisions.  These are analyzed in Material Harm to Our System of Justice: The Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court, a report by our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation and the Constitutional Accountability Center.  Senate Republicans are unmoved that their unprecedented obstruction is politicizing what is supposed to be an apolitical institution.  They are not bothered that their unprecedented obstruction is harming their constituents and people and businesses across America.

But if they don’t care about harming the Constitution, the American judicial system, and their own constituents, maybe these GOP senators will care if it hurts them.  They should be concerned about the finding in a new polling memo out today from the Constitutional Responsibility Project and Hart Research.  The memo shows that:

  • As the GOP’s obstruction has dragged on, even more voters want a hearing than on the day he was nominated.  National surveys have all registered at least 60 percent in favor, with political independents and voters in battleground states with vulnerable Republican senators demonstrating comparable levels of support.
  • Nearly two-thirds of voters consider it to be “wrong” that Senate Republicans are refusing to hold hearings.
  • In battleground states, support for Garland’s nomination grows as voters learn more about his background and extensive qualifications.
  • At least seven out of ten voters think Republicans are playing politics with the Supreme Court, and a supermajority is convinced that the Senate is failing to fulfill its constitutional duty. No GOP framing to justify their obstruction is considered nearly as compelling.
  • In key battleground states, 40 percent or more of voters say that they are less likely to support incumbent senators because they are obstructing Chief Judge Garland’s nomination.  At the same time, most voters don’t seem to know what their own senator’s position is.  So when they find out, vulnerable GOP senators could find themselves even more vulnerable.

So on this record-breaking 125th day of the GOP’s refusal to do its job, let us hope that Senate Republicans will move to hold a hearing and vote on Judge Garland as soon as they return in September, even if it’s only to save their own skin.

PFAW

At Committee Meeting, PFAW & Allies Urge Senators to #DoYourJob

Thursday, July 14, marked the 120th day since Chief Judge Merrick Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court. July 14 was also the Senate Judiciary Committee’s final markup before the August recess. In order to highlight Republican senators’ irresponsible obstruction on  judicial vacancies, People For the American Way staff members attended and stood in solidarity with activists from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Americans United for Change at the markup.

We wore buttons that read “#DoYourJob” and some advocates silently held signs when the meeting concluded. Our presence put additional pressure on Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley and his Republican colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee to give Garland fair consideration and to fill the growing number of other judicial vacancies.

On the agenda for the markup meeting were four judicial nominees: Jennifer Puhl, Don Coggins, David Nye, and Kathleen Sweet. Puhl, Coggins, and Nye were unanimously approved by the committee on a voice vote, but they join a long list of nearly 20 other nominees who are still waiting for consideration from the full Senate. They are unlikely to receive a vote before the fall.

During the committee proceedings, ranking member Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) gave voice to our frustrations, and the frustrations of so many Americans, by directly addressing the rising number of judicial vacancies across the United States and the failure of Republican senators to fulfill their job requirements by adequately processing judicial nominees:

“The sharply rising number of judicial vacancies across the country is the direct consequence of Republican leadership neglecting the Senate’s duty to ensure the federal judiciary can function. When Senate Republicans took over the majority last year, there were 43 judicial vacancies, 12 of which were emergency vacancies. Because of the Republicans’ refusal to do their jobs, vacancies have nearly doubled to 83, and emergency vacancies have nearly tripled to 30.”

Astoundingly, at the last markup session before the congressional recess, and 120 days since Merrick Garland’s nomination, Sen. Chuck Grassley did not even speak about the most pressing judicial vacancy: the open ninth seat on the Supreme Court. Sen. Leahy, however, did, saying:

"Republicans are failing our justice system and the American people by continuing their unprecedented blockade of Chief Justice Merrick Garland’s nomination for the Supreme Court.”

We agree with Sen. Leahy and so many Americans. The American people deserve a fully-functioning judicial system, including a Supreme Court with nine justices. Republican Senators’ refusal to adequately process judicial nominees is disgraceful. Tell Sen. Grassley to stop playing politics with our justice system, and tell GOP senators to do their jobs. 

PFAW

Beyond plagiarism: 9 more stories from the RNC's Day 1

By now, it’s likely that you’ve seen the reports that last night’s featured speaker Melania Trump, in a move that would seem typical of her husband, PLAGIARIZED Michelle Obama, from the First Lady’s convention speech in 2008.

But while the media today remains distracted by Mrs. Trump’s ironic theft of a Michelle Obama passage about family and community values, it’s vitally important that we try to keep some attention on the truly shocking and frightening -- things that happened yesterday both on- and off-stage at the convention.

Here’s a quick recap of some of the other biggest stories from Day 1 of the GOP Convention.

Anti-Trump delegates attempted a brief but chaotic revolt on the floor of the convention hall -- seemingly more as a show than an actual attempt to seek a different nominee.

The protest, while offering a bit of early drama, was quickly scuttled by Trump loyalists, giving us the day’s first concrete demonstration of the GOP now being, definitively, the Party of Donald Trump -- but just the first example of many.

One of the more high profile offsite events of the day was the “America First Unity Rally,” hosted by unhinged radio conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a hate radio talker who has been embraced by Trump, and Trump adviser and legendary political dirty trickster Roger Stone. PFAW’s Right Wing Watch was on the ground to cover the event, which definitely did not shy away from inflammatory speakers or topics.

During one of the many media discussions with Republican leaders from the convention hall, Rep. Steve King of Iowa -- one of the GOP’s loudest xenophobic voices -- defended the politics of racial resentment that is driving much of Trump’s movement by insisting that white people have contributed more to civilization than “any other subgroup of people.”

Then it was time for the evening program of speakers…

Grieving family members of people who lost their lives in Benghazi and to crimes involving undocumented immigrants were trotted out as sympathetic and relatable figures to rally viewers against the people the GOP says are responsible for all of those tragedies: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and all 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the US.

Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato, Jr. were among the first “celebrities” to take the stage and speak on behalf of their friend Donald Trump. They both gave subsequent interviews in which the former defended his posting of a meme referring to Hillary Clinton as a “cunt” and the latter said he "absolutely" believes President Obama is a Muslim.

An anti-government extremist sheriff gave a taunting speech in which he called Black Lives Matter “anarchy” and celebrated the latest acquittal of one of the Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray as a victory over “malicious prosecution.”

Republicans like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani gave characteristically bombastic speeches.

Then, Donald Trump took the stage -- to Queen’s We Are the Champions, a song that the band’s guitarist Brian May was outraged to hear Trump was using on the campaign trail before he specifically asked Trump not to use it months ago. It’s perhaps worth mentioning that Queen’s singer, Freddie Mercury, was a gay man who died of AIDS, and Donald Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, once advocated that money for HIV/AIDS care be reallocated to groups conducting gay conversion therapy (something that is also, incidentally, promoted in this year’s official Republican Party Platform).

During one of the evening’s earlier speeches, Donald Trump had called into Fox News to bash his former primary rival Gov. John Kasich and claim credit for the idea of holding the Republican Convention in Ohio -- a demonstrable outright lie.

It’s going to be an interesting week.

Continue to check PFAW’s Right Wing Watch at rightwingwatch.org for ongoing convention coverage.


 

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PFAW

A Big Week for #Democracy4All

People For the American Way and our pro-democracy allies have been working hard to boost House and Senate cosponsorship of the Democracy For All Amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United and get big money out of politics.

Based on the pressure we have brought to bear, we just reached a major milestone in the House. Eleven new cosponsors have signed on since July 8. That makes 159 total – as many as all House amendments from the last Congress combined, and then some. That's more than halfway to the two-thirds majority needed to send an amendment to the states for ratification.

We also made progress in the Senate this week, adding Maria Cantwell of Washington and Chris Coons of Delaware to our list of supporters, bringing the total to 44 – more than sixty percent of the votes needed.

Thank you for helping us get to this point.

We hope that you'll continue to stand with us and tell Congress to overturn Citizens United.

PFAW

Far Right Co-opts Tragedy To Promote Hate, Again

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post

Last week, in which the police shootings of two African American men were followed by the assassination of five police officers guarding a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, was wrenching. Sadly, in this atmosphere of mourning, anger and grief, too many on the far right have done what they do best: co-opt tragedy to promote hatred and fear. These are more than just a few absurd and cringe-worthy comments; instead, they represent a line of thinking that has elevated many right-wing politicians who wield significant power in this country.

After the Dallas shootings, Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman turned radio host from Illinois, tweeted: “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.” He later tried to claim that he wasn’t calling for violence against the president. Ted Nugent, a board member of the National Rifle Association, said that President Obama “wants a racewar [sic].”

Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas and, probably not coincidentally, a former conservative talk radio personality, blamed the innocent bystanders at the Dallas attack, saying that they were “hypocrites” for running from gunfire while relying on the police to protect them. His point seems to have been that the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t want police protecting communities, which is clearly not true.

Rush Limbaugh called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist group,” as did right-wing authorBrad Thor. One conservative commentator called Black Lives Matter “the new KKK.” The ever-perceptive Sarah Palin said that the social justice movement is promoting “the antithesis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message” by saying that “one race matters more than another.” Mike Huckabee said that the real movement should be “Male Lives Matter.”

Others fell back to their standard talking points, no matter how irrelevant. Frank Gaffney, an anti-Muslim activist who advised Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign,claimed that Black Lives Matter was working with “Islamic supremacists” to foment revolution. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a great favorite of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, claimed that liberal philanthropist George Soros engineered the whole thing in order to start a race war. Conservative activist Jesse Lee Peterson said it was all a plot to distract from Hillary Clinton’s emails. The Oath Keepers, an anti-government group, called for the formation of citizen militias.

These aren’t just fringe activists and media personalities; as much as we’d like to ignore them, we can’t afford to. Their cynical exploitation of bigotry and fear has already caused too much damage in our country. This is the same media swamp that has for years promoted the idea that white people in America are the real victims of racial prejudice, the same people who have spent more than seven years claiming that the first African-American president is an outsider impostor who possibly even lied about his heritage to earn his seat. Is it any surprise that the right-wing media was ready to demonize Black Lives Matter when it emerged and to claim that the movement’s critiques are illegitimate? Is it any wonder that they were ready to blame a gruesome crime against police officers on the president’s concern for racial justice?

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the wake of last week’s tragedies, some conservativesapproached the national conversation with genuine attempts to speak honestly and thoughtfully about race in America. We might not always agree, but if we can speak with open minds, that’s a good start.

Indeed, as much as the right-wing media would like us to think it, the tragedies of last week weren’t about taking sides in a political debate or a “race war.” You can believe that Black lives matter and see the weight that disparities in policing have on people of color and, at the same time, grieve and be angry at the mass murder of police officers who were trying to protect a peaceful protest. Millions of Americans feel both. Let’s not allow the right-wing swamp to skew these tragedies to promote bigotry and fear.

PFAW

Senate GOP Keeping Court Vacancies Open So Trump Can Transform America’s Judiciary

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The Constitution sets up an independent judiciary as the third branch of government, intended to protect people’s rights and to serve as a check on the power of the other two branches. Our nation’s charter tasks the president and the Senate with the job of selecting and vetting the people who would serve on those courts.  President Obama has been doing his duty by nominating qualified women and men to serve as judges at all levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court.

But the GOP-controlled Senate is not living up to its constitutional responsibilities. While this has always been harmful to America, it is even more so with Donald Trump the presumed presidential nominee of his party.

Mitch McConnell and his party have slow-walked or outright blocked so many nominees that the number of circuit and district court vacancies has risen from 40 when they took over the Senate to 80 today. (There are also several vacancies for the Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.) In that same time, the number of vacancies formally designated as judicial emergencies has skyrocketed from 12 to 29. The Senate has not been allowed to vote on nominees who were thoroughly vetted and approved months ago by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support.

Yesterday, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin went to the floor to draw attention to the problem. She noted that while the Senate GOP’s blockade of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland has been in the headlines, that has not been the case with the obstruction of lower court nominees.

She focused particularly on Seventh Circuit nominee Donald Schott, who not only has Democrat Baldwin’s support, but also that of his other home-state senator, Republican Ron Johnson.  Schott would fill the nation’s longest circuit court vacancy, which has been open for well over six years.  Since the Supreme Court takes so few cases, the Seventh Circuit is usually the last word on the meaning of the Constitution and federal laws for millions of people in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, and every day that goes by with that vacancy open hurts everyone in those states.  Schott earned strong bipartisan support from the Judiciary Committee, which advanced his nomination to the full Senate four weeks ago.  Baldwin noted that Schott also has the support of a bipartisan group of former Wisconsin Bar presidents.  Saying that “the people of Wisconsin and our neighbors in Illinois and Indiana deserve a fully functioning appeals court,” Baldwin urged McConnell to finally allow votes on Schott and on all of the judicial nominees who have cleared the Judiciary Committee.  Many of them have been waiting for more than half a year for a floor vote, with several having been approved by the Judiciary Committee last year.

But Republicans are fighting to keep vacancies open for as long as possible so that they will be filled by a President Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, who wants to make it easier for the government to punish media sources whose reporting he disagrees with.

Donald Trump, who has said that Latinos cannot serve effectively as unbiased judges.

Donald Trump, who would ban certain people from entering the country based on their religion.

Donald Trump, who has demeaned and humiliated women at every opportunity.

Donald Trump, who has used hate groups’ blatantly anti-Semitic imagery in his campaign.

Donald Trump, who has said he is considering firing all Muslim TSA agents.

With serious discussion among scholars, political figures, and Americans across the political spectrum on whether Trump’s extreme views amount to fascism, we need a strong, effective, and independent federal judiciary more than ever. Yet Senate Republicans are pulling out the stops to allow Donald Trump to move quickly to dramatically transform our judiciary from the Supreme Court on down.

The Senate GOP is abdicating their constitutional and moral responsibility to the American people and to our democracy.

PFAW