PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Do Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley Agree With Trump That No Mexican Americans Should Serve On The Supreme Court?

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear this week not only that he wants Donald Trump to be president, but that the main reason he wants Trump to be president is so that he will be the one picking Supreme Court justices.

The Republican leader told radio host Hugh Hewitt that “the Supreme Court is the biggest thing the next president will deal with.” He continued, “I made sure of that by making sure that this president doesn’t get to pick this nominee and get them confirmed on the way out the door. But that alone, that issue alone will define much of what America is like for the next generation.”

According to McConnell, “That issue alone is enough to convince me to support Donald Trump.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley also recently expressed his support for Trump selecting a Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. He told the Des Moines Register, “Based upon the type of people he’d be looking for, I think I would expect the right type of people to be nominated by him to the Supreme Court.”

Yesterday, Trump made clear that he applies a racial test when assessing the impartiality of judges, telling The Wall Street Journal that Judge Gonzalo Curiel should not preside over a fraud case involving his Trump University scam real estate seminars case because the federal judge has “an absolute conflict.”

According to Trump, Curiel’s “Mexican heritage” is “an inherent conflict of interest” because “I’m building a wall.” Curiel, whose parents are from Mexico, was born in Indiana.

Trump’s pronouncement raises a serious question for the Republicans who are engaging in an unprecedented effort to stop President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, from so much as getting a Senate hearing, with the apparent goal to keep the seat open for a President Trump to fill.

Trump claims that a judge’s heritage is a conflict of interest because it means that he will be biased against Trump.

During every president’s term, numerous cases involving their policies or interpretations of the law are argued before the Supreme Court. If Trump believes a district court judge’s heritage creates an unfair bias against him, then one can assume that he thinks this same bias would exist in a judge on the highest court.

Approximately 10 percent of our country’s population is of Mexican heritage, and Donald Trump’s racial test would exclude every single one of them from the judiciary. Perhaps this explains why the list of potential Supreme Court nominees that Trump released last month was 100% white.

McConnell, Grassley and other Republicans obstructing President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as they hope for a Republican victory in November now need to answer whether or not they too would apply Donald Trump’s racial test to the court.

PFAW

Supreme Court’s Recent Non-Decisions Highlight Importance of the Court in June and Beyond

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Perhaps the most important thing about the Supreme Court this May was what it didn’t decide. As Justice Ginsburg candidly admitted to a group of lawyers, having only eight justices hamstrings the Court by making it more difficult to decide closely-divided cases. Far from suggesting that the Court’s importance has diminished, however, the Court’s non-decisions in May show just how important the Court continues to be, particularly in this fall’s elections.

With only eight justices, the Court issued two non-decision decisions in May that effectively punted important controversies for a future, fully-staffed Court to decide, but leaving significant confusion and uncertainty in the meantime. In the Zubik case, rather than splitting 4-4, the Court issued a brief unsigned opinion and vacated conflicting rulings in the lower courts on whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allows religious nonprofit colleges and other employers to effectively take away Affordable Care Act-required contraceptive coverage from their female employees. The Court directed that the lower courts should give the government and the objecting employers another opportunity to try to resolve the issue, and then decide the cases again if necessary, with Supreme Court review after that if needed. While resolving such controversies voluntarily is a desirable goal, it is clear from the prolonged litigation that at least some religious employers will not agree to any resolution under which its employees will get contraceptive insurance coverage from its insurer. The result is uncertainty for millions of women about their contraceptive coverage, as well as for religious employers about their claims.

The same day that the Court effectively punted in Zubik, it also issued a non-decision decision in the Spokeo case. In that case, the Court was to decide whether Congress may give individuals the right to sue for damages in federal court, so that they have “standing” to sue, when a federal law has been violated even in the absence of other actual injury.  This is an important issue since it affects the ability of Congress and individuals to hold companies accountable when they violate federal law.  In a 6-2 decision, the Court did not resolve the question of whether the individual in Spokeoactually had standing, but instead suggested that the lower court’s analysis was “incomplete,” and sent the case back to that court to reconsider the issue, without taking any position on the key issue presented by the case. This important question will need to be revisited by the Court again, after it again has nine justices.

During May, the Court accepted only three new cases for review starting in October, making a total of eight since Justice Scalia’s death. Legal commentators have suggested that the decisions not to take up more significant cases for  review is another result of an eight-justice court, with the remaining justices concerned about their ability to resolve controversial cases — again creating uncertainty about people’s rights.

Finally, non-decisions in three major pending cases in May, concerning affirmative action, reproductive rights, and immigration, will almost certainly lead to some kind of decisions in these cases in June, as the Court completes its work this term, with significant consequences for millions of Americans. Some decision on the merits is most likely in the Fisher case concerning affirmative action in college admissions, since Justice Kagan’s recusal from the case leaves the Court with seven members. The precise result will likely depend on swing Justice Anthony Kennedy, and may affect millions of minority students across America.

4-4 ties are quite possible in some of the remaining cases, including Whole Women’s Health, which concerns the constitutionality of extreme and unnecessary restrictions on abortion clinics in Texas. Advocates strongly believe the Court should resolve this case in favor of reproductive rights, which would protect the rights of millions, but the Court is clearly divided. Although not setting any national precedent, a simple tie vote in this case would leave the lower court opinions standing, which could effectively deprive all but the richest women in Texas of the ability to choose abortion. The Court will clearly be taking significant action soon.

In the meantime, Senate Republican leaders have refused to budge on their unprecedented blockade of the President’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacant seat on the court, refusing even to grant him a hearing. It is becoming increasingly clear that they are trying to hold open that vacancy to be filled by, they hope, a President Trump. Trump’s list of potential nominees (also released in May) includes people who have called Roe v. Wade the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law” and two others who voted to make their appellate court the only one in the country that sided with religious nonprofits’ efforts to deprive female employees of birth control.

To Senate Republican leaders and their right-wing allies, the stakes are clear. They will do everything they can to ensure that the current Court vacancy, and the additional vacancies very likely to arise in the next president’s term, are filled by far-right justices who will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, limit contraceptive coverage, and set the clock back on civil rights and liberties for America. That is why continuing efforts to push Senate Republican leaders to take action on President Obama’s nomination is so important, and why the Supreme Court is such a critical issue in this fall’s elections.

PFAW

The Movers Behind The Anti-LGBT 'Religious Liberty' Movement

This post originally appeared on Right Wing Watch.

In the first few months of this year, for the second year in a row, more than 100 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures, many of them promoted under the banner of protecting religious liberty.  A new report by People For the American Way Foundation, “Who is Weaponizing Religious Liberty?,” explains that “it takes a right-wing village to turn a cherished American principle into a destructive culture-war weapon.”

The report makes clear that the wave of anti-equality legislation promoted in the name of religious liberty is not an outgrowth of local conflicts but the latest step in a long-term campaign by national Religious Right legal and political groups to resist legal equality for LGBT people. As Americans have come to know and embrace their LGBT family members and friends, harsh anti-gay rhetoric has become less effective, says the report, leading social conservatives to try to reclaim the moral and political high ground by reframing debates over marriage equality and nondiscrimination protections as questions of religious liberty.

These efforts are being promoted by “a network of national Religious Right organizations that oppose legal recognition for the rights of LGBT people,” notes the report, which profiles some of the leading organizations while noting that they “represent the tip of the iceberg of a much larger movement that is trying to eliminate legal access to abortion and roll back legal protections for LGBT people, couples, and families — and trying to do so in the name of religious liberty.”

The groups covered in the report include:

·         Family Research Council and FRC Action

·         Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action

·         National Organization for Marriage

·         Alliance Defending Freedom

·         Liberty Counsel

·         American Family Association

·         Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

·         American Principles Project

The report includes links to additional resources on the organizations behind the Right’s use of religious liberty as political strategy for resisting equality. 

PFAW Foundation

Youth Leaders Call on Senators to #DoYourJob on the Supreme Court

Last week young leaders from across the country met with legislators on Capitol Hill to deliver a letter signed by a dozen youth-led and youth-serving organizations demanding that the United States Senate do its job in giving fair consideration to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Chief Judge Merrick Garland.

The day began with a press conference in front of the Supreme Court where several youth leaders and members of Congress spoke about the importance of having a fully-functioning Supreme Court.

Senator Al Franken from Minnesota, Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey, Representative Linda Sanchez from California, and Representative Ruben Gallego from Arizona all spoke about the obligation of the Senate to hold hearings and a vote for Garland.  

Additionally, several youth representatives shared their perspectives on how filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court is vitally important to many issues that directly affect millions of young people including immigration, reproductive justice, racial justice, and affordable healthcare.

The Constitution clearly states that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Councils, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States.” If senators truly want to honor the legacy of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia they should adhere to the guidelines of the Constitution by scheduling a hearing for Merrick Garland. 

Supreme Court Punts in Zubik Case – and Shows Again the Crucial Importance of a Fully-Staffed Supreme Court

The Supreme Court issued a brief unsigned opinion today in the Zubik case, and vacated the conflicting opinions on whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allows religious nonprofits to effectively take away Affordable Care Act-required contraceptive coverage from their employees. The result is to punt the issue away until the Court again has nine justices, reinforcing again why the Court must have a full complement of justices and why the Supreme Court is such a critical issue in the 2016 elections.

Before the Court in Zubik were a series of cases in which federal appeals courts had ruled that objections by religious colleges and other employers to contraceptive coverage had already been accommodated by the Administration by making clear that the coverage was to be provided by insurers and not involve any employer who expressed a religious objection, so that RFRA was not violated and coverage should continue. The more conservative justices on the Court, including Justice Kennedy, were nonetheless troubled by the claim that the religious employers were still involved in providing the coverage, at least by specifically having to provide notice to object to it. So the Court ordered supplemental briefing in the case on whether it was possible to continue to provide the coverage with no involvement by the employers, other than providing insurance that did not include contraceptive coverage.

In its opinion today, the Court vacated the decisions being considered in Zubik and directed that, on remand, the lower courts should give the government and the objecting employers the opportunity to try to resolve the issue, in light of what the Court characterized as the possibility, as expressed in the supplemental briefs, of ensuring that the coverage can be provided without involving the employers. If needed, the lower courts would then issue opinions on the issue, which could be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Interestingly, the Court also gave the same treatment to the single appellate court opinion that ruled in favor of religious employers and was not included in the Zubik case, vacating that decision as well to be reconsidered again if necessary. The Court specifically made clear that while this process is going forward, women covered by the insurance plans should “receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage," and that the “Government may not impose taxes or penalties” on the religious employers for failing to provide the formal notice of their religious objection which they had complained about in their lawsuits. In other words, no harm should occur to any of the parties while the government and the employers try to work out the problem and litigate it in the lower courts if necessary. A separate concurrence by Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg further emphasized that the decision does not resolve either way the substantive issues, including whether the religious employers do incur a “substantial burden” that triggers RFRA.

While both sides can therefore claim some temporary victory from the Court’s ruling, the clear loser is our American justice system. A crucial legal issue that clearly divides the justices on the Court concerning the application and meaning of RFRA and contraceptive rights remains unresolved. Despite the apparent optimism in the Court’s brief opinion, it seems unlikely that every  religious employer in the country will agree to any accommodation under which its employees will still get contraceptive coverage, so that the issue is very likely to remain unresolved and return to the Supreme Court again. Without nine justices on the Court, it seems clear that the Court will not be able to resolve the issue, just as it could not at present. That makes the issue of filling the current vacancy on the Court, and who will be the president that fills future vacancies on our closely divided Supreme Court, extremely crucial now and in November.

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Hosts Telebriefing on Donald Trump as the Presumptive GOP Nominee

On Thursday, little over a week after Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee for president, PFAW hosted a member telebriefing to examine the dangers of a GOP nominee who unapologetically stands for bigotry, xenophobia, and sexism – and who has surrounded himself with some of the most extreme voices of the Right.

On the call, Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery noted that white supremacists have been “electrified” by Trump’s rhetoric, many of whom have “come out of the woodwork” to speak out in support of Trump, from releasing robocalls to encouraging others to volunteer for him. Montgomery noted that the damage Trump’s campaign has done by energizing white supremacists could outlast his campaign, and emphasized that we have to be persistent in holding Trump accountable for his ties to extremism.

Senior Research Analyst Brian Tashman discussed how Trump has chosen to associate himself with far-right figures from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones to pundit Ann Coulter, noting that he is mainstreaming ideas that were once considered fringe by elevating the profiles of these figures. This week PFAW released a new report on Trump’s ties with some of those figures, which you can read here: “Trump’s Team: The Bigoted, Unhinged Conspiracy Theorists Benefiting from Donald Trump’s Campaign.” On the call, Tashman called his courting of conspiracy theorists “one of the most troubling aspects of Trump’s campaign.”

You can listen to the full telebriefing below.

PFAW

One Thing Trump’s Not Flip-Flopping About: His Supreme Court Would ‘Unpass’ Roe

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

On almost any given issue, Donald Trump has taken contradictory positions: He has said he wants to lower, raise and abolish the federal minimum wage, cut and raise taxes on the wealthy, completely pay off the national debt and default on the debt. And those are just a few of his most recent flip-flops.

As he’s done on nearly every policy question, Trump has shifted his stance several times on abortion rights: Labeling himself “pro-choice,” then “pro-life”; calling for “some form of punishment” for women who have abortions, then saying he opposes any such a punishment; insisting that abortion laws should be left the way they are now, then saying abortion laws must be changed.

But if Trump has been consistent on one thing, it has been that he intends to appoint judges to the federal bench who will further conservative causes, including the cause of overturning Roe v. Wade.

In a meeting with televangelist Pat Robertson in February, Trump vowed to appoint “pro-life,” “very conservative” justices in the mold of Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia, whom he called “a perfect representative” of the kind of judges he’d nominate. Most recently, he told Bill O’Reilly that he’d like to see his judicial appointees overturn Roe.

Trump vowed to only nominate Supreme Court justices from a list of recommendationsdrafted by the Heritage Foundation, the right-wing group led by former Sen. Jim DeMint, a zealous opponent of abortion rights.

Trump himself has said that Roe created a “culture of death“ in America, and told Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network that he wants to see the decision “unpassed.”

And that’s coming from the candidate who doesn’t seem to understand the basic legal issue behind the Roe decision or even how the judicial system works.

Indeed, anti-choice groups are confident that Trump will appoint judges who will uphold anti-abortion state laws, such as the recent rash of state laws intended to regulate abortion providers out of existence, and ultimately overturn Roe, which will open the floodgates to states banning abortion outright.

He has hit the campaign trail with outspoken abortion rights opponents like Phyllis Schlafly, Ann Coulter and Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist pastor who oncereferred to 9/11 as God’s punishment for legal abortion. Mark Burns, a pastor who frequently opens for Trump at campaign events, has attacked abortion rights as “the genocide of black people.”

The presumptive GOP nominee has also pledged to sign bills that ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and defund Planned Parenthood unless the organization stops providing abortion care.

While there may be many ambiguities about Trump’s other political positions, he has not equivocated on his promise to appoint ultraconservative jurists to the bench, including the Supreme Court justices who, if given the chance, could overturn Roe.

PFAW

Trump Is Lifting the Profile of Conspiracy Theorists

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Conspiracy theories aren’t incidental to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, they’re one of its driving forces.

The presumptive GOP nominee attacked his former rival Ted Cruz by baselessly connecting his father to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, citing the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer. He brought up debunked claims about the 9/11 attacks to justify his call for the U.S. to commit war crimes by intentionally killing innocent civilians. He has stoked anti-Muslim sentiment by repeating boguschain-email-inspired stories about Muslim-Americans celebrating 9/11 and a U.S. general using bullets drenched in pigs’ blood to — in Trump’s telling, rightly — massacre Muslim detainees.

And let’s not forget that Trump has for years been attacking President Obama bysuggesting that he is a Muslim usurper who was born outside of the U.S. and had a Hawaii state employee killed as part of an effort to cover up his real birthplace. On top of that, he kicked off his presidential campaign by tarring Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and later tweeted a fabricated, racist meme about black crime rates from a neo-Nazi website.

Polling shows that Trump supporters are disproportionately likely to believe in conspiracy theories, including ones about vaccines and climate science that have been championed by the candidate himself.

It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that Trump has courted the support of some of the country’s most extreme and, frankly, bizarre conspiracy theorists.

A new report from People For the American Way, “Trump’s Team: The Bigoted, Unhinged Conspiracy Theorists Benefiting From Donald Trump’s Campaign,” takes a look at six radical pundits and preachers whose profiles the Trump campaign has elevated by inviting them to interview or campaign with the candidate.

This group of supporters includes pastors like Carl Gallups, who has promoted the disgusting claim that the Sandy Hook massacre was staged by government agents and that the parents whose children died were actually actors, and Robert Jeffress, who believes that gay people use “brainwashing techniques“ to advance their “miserable lifestyle“ and will “pave the way“ for the Antichrist.

Another pastor who has been courted by Trump, James David Manning, has received widespread notoriety for his beliefs that “Obama has released the homo demons on the black man“ and that Starbucks injects “semen from sodomites” into their lattes in order to spread Ebola.

Trump has shared the stage with all three at campaign events and has actively sought their endorsements.

He has also boasted about receiving the support of pundits Ann Coulter and Michael Savage, two far-right extremists who have taken credit for the candidate’s draconian anti-immigrant stance and harsh rhetoric that demonizes immigrants as “killers” and “rapists.”

And, probably most disturbingly, Trump has embraced Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist broadcaster known for regularly screaming about false flag attacks, chemtrails, alien overlords and homosexuality-inducing juice boxes. Trump, nonetheless, cited Jones’ conspiracy theory outlet to defend his debunked claim that Muslim-Americans in New Jersey partied during the 9/11 attacks.

Not only has Trump appeared on Jones’ show to praise the unhinged radio host’s “amazing“ reputation and spread his own conspiracy theories, but his close confidant Roger Stone has also become a frequent guest on Jones’ program and is collaborating with Jones on an effort to intimidate Republican convention delegates who won’t vote for Trump. In the project that they are calling “Days of Rage,” Jones and Stone plan to hold rallies at the hotels where delegates are staying to stop them from “stealing” the nomination from the business mogul.

Jones and his ilk not only now have a presidential candidate from a major party who reflects and reinforces their paranoid and bigoted worldview. They also now benefit from a direct line to the leader of the GOP, who is happy to elevate their profiles and ideas.

PFAW

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, Never Forget Necessitates Never Trump

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Today, on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), we pledge to never forget the genocide of 12 million people, based on their religion, ethnicity, sexuality, and other factors. We do this so that we always remember that it is the duty of each and every one of us to fight genocide, anti-Semitism, and bigotry in every form that we see it.

This week, Donald Trump cemented his place as Republican presidential nominee. More than any other year, I’m cognizant today of my responsibility to speak up against the hatred that Donald Trump espouses day after day.

On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, ‘Never Forget’ necessitates ‘Never Trump.’

The unhinged bigotry of Trump requires Jewish Americans -- and all Americans -- to speak up. Trump has been perfectly clear with his pledge that as president -- in fact, within the first 100 days of his presidency -- he’ll ban Muslims from entering the country. He kicked off his campaign describing Mexican immigrants as “rapists.” When a Trump supporter punched an African American protester at one of Trump’s rallies, saying, “next time we see him, we might have to kill him,” Trump said that the protester “obviously loves the country” and that Trump would pay the protester’s legal fees.

Trump legitimizes and raises up the profile of the white nationalist movement in the United States. He at first refused to disavow support from former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke. Yesterday, Duke celebrated Donald Trump’s place as leader of the Republican Party, stating, “Even though Trump is not explicitly talking about European-Americans, he is implicitly talking about the interests of European-Americans,” and “Jewish supremacists who control our country are the real problem and the reason why America is not great.” And Trump says he “doesn’t have a message to [his] fans” who have been sending death threats to Jewish reporter Julia Ioffe, who wrote a profile for GQ on Melania Trump.

When we see this, how can we do anything but speak out? It’s this type of rhetoric that has escalated to genocide in the past. I hope we can put partisan politics aside, and agree that no person hoping to be the next president of the United States should promote racist policies or use xenophobic rhetoric.

It should deeply trouble all Americans that Donald Trump is empowering white nationalists across the country and basing his campaign on demonizing people based on their race and religion. We’re at a pivotal moment in our country. Republican or Democrat, we have an obligation to speak up against the bigotry of Trump. As we pledge on Holocaust Remembrance Day to never forget, we must commit to Never Trump as well.

PFAW

Hey Trump, I Checked My Voter Registration

Donald Trump’s unbridled xenophobia should’ve disqualified him from the presidency long ago, yet he’s now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party. His horrific comments against immigrants, women, and so many others started on Day One of his presidential campaign and they haven’t let up.

While many of us have been appalled by Donald Trump’s egregious anti-immigrant, anti-Latino rhetoric and policies, we may not have gotten around to checking that our voter registration is all set so we know we’re ready to vote on Election Day. I myself had not checked my voter registration, so I went to my Secretary of State’s website and put in my information to check that everything was up to date and ready to go. It took just a few seconds.

Have you checked your registration? Below are the links for your state. Let Trump and the Republican Party know that no candidate can go after our community and win our vote. Latino voters have the power to decide who wins elections, from the local level to the White House, and we will vote against the hate of Donald Trump and the Republican Party.

Check your voter registration here (these links take you directly to the right page):

 

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas

Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina

North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

PFAW

Ted Cruz Hopes To Save Presidential Campaign With Attacks On LGBT People

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Last month, Ted Cruz delivered a warning to the Republican Jewish Coalition: If the GOP nominates Donald Trump for president, the general election will be a “bloodbath.”

The Texas senator assured the group that he is not the right-wing firebrand he has been made out to be. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that “Cruz said social issues devolve to the states and suggested he would not seek to impose his views as a president.”

“Nobody wants to elect a hectoring scold,” he said.

However, this more moderate and toned-down version of Ted Cruz didn’t last very long, as just days later he launched new attacks against transgender people, smearing them as likely sexual predators. In a television ad, Cruz’s campaign attacked Trump and Hillary Clinton for “letting transgender men go in little girls’ bathrooms”; on the campaign trail, he suggested that his daughters may be assaulted by transgender women.

Cruz then said that he doesn’t think transgender people should be let into public restrooms at all, instead saying that they should only be allowed to go to the bathroom at home.

Such attacks shouldn’t be surprising, considering that Cruz has spent his entire presidential campaign courting the support of radical anti-LGBT activists.

Cruz’s campaign is stacked with anti-gay leaders like Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Colorado state lawmaker who also happens to be an anti-LGBT exorcist who believes that gay people “should be discriminated against”; Gary Glenn, a Michigan lawmaker who wants to outlaw homosexuality; and North Carolina activists Flip Benham and Ron Baity, who have crashed gay couples’ weddings and likened gay people to “maggots,”respectively.

Two people with roles in Cruz’s campaign, Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin and Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, have defended Uganda’s “kill-the-gays” bill. Cruz even gladly made a campaign ad with “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson, who said at one Cruz campaign event that Americans should “rid the earth” of gay marriage supporters.

He promised a group of anti-LGBT activists that if he is elected president, “we will not use the federal government to enforce [the] lawless decision [on same-sex marriage].” Speaking with conservative pundits, he warned that marriage equality will destroy the freedom of speech and denounced what he called the gay “jihad“ on freedom.

Then there was Cruz’s attendance at a “religious liberties” conference in Iowa last year that was hosted by radical anti-LGBT pastor Kevin Swanson, who used the forum to promote the death penalty for homosexuality, rail against the Harry Potter books for supposedly turning kids gay, and promise that if his son were ever to marry another man he would show up to the wedding covered in cow manure

Even after having been warned about Swanson’s views on national TV, Cruz attended the event and participated in an onstage interview with Swanson, where he lavished praise on Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who tried to block her office from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples by citing “God’s authority,” and called the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling “fundamentally illegitimate.” The candidate eventually — after much criticism — said that he regretted his appearance at the conference and falsely claimed to have immediately denounced Swanson upon learning about his views.

Despite Cruz’s attempt to reposition himself as the more reasonable alternative to Trump, his anti-LGBT record is one more example of his blatant extremism.

PFAW

It Doesn’t Matter If Donald Trump Is ‘Disciplined’

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

It turns out that the boisterous and bigoted Donald Trump we’ve known for the last few years has just been acting a part. According to the frontrunner’s chief strategist Paul Manafort, Trump is simply “projecting an image“ and once Americans get to know the real Donald Trump, they’ll love him: “The negatives will come down, the image is going to change.”

What a relief!

Some pundits, it seems, were willing to play along with Manafort’s claim that Trump is shedding his outrageous persona, citing a single speech that he delivered immediately following his victory in the New York primary as proof that “Donald Trump 2.0” is “markedly more disciplined, gentler and more appealing than the version of Trump we’ve seen for much of the last year.”

Howard Kurtz of Fox News raved that “the disciplined Donald” was a “changed candidate” who has scrubbed the insults and started “acting more presidential. “

In reality, the only thing that was substantively different about Trump’s New York speech was that he referred to his chief opponent as “Senator Cruz” instead of “Lyin’ Ted.”

That’s it.

But before anybody had a chance to give him a medal for this brave reformation, Trump returned to using his “Lyin’ Ted” moniker in his subsequent speeches and Twitter broadsides. The much-heralded new, disciplined and thoughtful Donald Trump didn’t even last a day.

He even mocked reports of his supposed “presidential” transformation, a transformation we’ve been hearing about since well into last year.

The standards for Trump are so low that he was even hailed for acting “more presidential” simply for using a teleprompter in a speech.

There seems to be no expectation that Trump will have any knowledge of world events, answer basis questions or hold consistent positions. Instead, he wins praise simply for not insulting someone.

Today Trump will deliver a speech at the Mayflower Hotel as part of a series of speeches intended to show “a more sober and serious presidential candidate,” who so far has mostly received attention for his uninformed rants and almost daily policy shifts.

But Trump changing his style won’t make the substance of what he says any less terrifying. After all, his main foreign policy objectives include committing war crimes and accelerating nuclear proliferation.

Appearances in “formal settings” won’t change the fact that Trump’s speeches are so replete with falsehoods that some reporters covering him have admitted that they have all but given up on fact-checking them.

Trump seems to relish in repeating mistruths, like his claim about Muslims partying in New Jersey on 9/11 or a U.S. general who he said rightly massacred Muslim prisoners with bullets covered in pig’s blood. Both are fallacious stories that gained popularity in the online rumor mill. Not that that matters to Trump, who said of the dubious massacre: “It’s an amazing story. It shows toughness, it shows toughness. A true story. The press will say, ‘Well it was a rumor.’ It’s not a rumor, it’s a true story.”

His bizarre birther conspiracy theories, disparaging remarks about POWs and criticism of vaccines have largely faded from the limelight as Trump finds new outrageous things to say each week.

No other candidate for president would ever be able to get away with the amount of falsehoods, unhinged diatribes and sleaze pushed on a daily basis by Trump.

And simply saying that it was all an act doesn’t make Trump a new man or any less scary of a possible future president.

###

PFAW

With 8 New Nominees, Obama Works While Grassley Shirks

One of the most important duties of the president of the United States is to nominate judges for the Supreme Court and our nation’s federal circuit and district courts.  And one of the most important jobs of the chairman of the Judiciary Committee is to ensure that those nominees are thoroughly vetted, starting with a committee hearing.  Sadly for America, while the current occupant of the White House continues to do his job, the current chairman of the Judiciary Committee stubbornly refuses to do his.

While the GOP’s unprecedented stalling of Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination has appropriately made headlines and is opposed by large majorities of the American people, Senate Republicans have long been stalling President Obama’s lower court nominations, as well.  Yet the president continues to do his job: So far this year (excluding today), he has made nominations to fill seven circuit and 16 district court vacancies.  In contrast, Chairman Grassley has been so busy ignoring the Supreme Court nomination that he has not yet allowed a hearing for any of this year’s nominees.

But that hasn’t stopped the White House from continuing its efforts to fill our judicial vacancies and resolve judicial emergencies.  Today, the White House announced eight new district court nominations. They would fill seats and enhance access to justice in Colorado, Florida (3 nominees), Nevada, North Carolina, and Washington DC (2 nominees).

There is no reason today’s nominees cannot be confirmed.  Eleven of President George W. Bush’s district court nominations made after this date in 2008 were confirmed that year, including ones nominated as late as July 24.  Ten had their committee hearings, committee votes, and confirmation floor votes all in the same month, September of 2008, just two months before the presidential election.

Notably, Chairman Leahy and Majority Leader Reid didn’t limit hearings and confirmation votes to nominees from states with two Democratic senators, as nominees from Utah, Kansas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Colorado were among those in this group.  In fact, only two of those 11 confirmed judges came from states with two Democratic senators.

Before today’s eight nominations, there were already 33 circuit and district court nominees in the Judiciary Committee, four fifths of whom have still not even had a hearing even though the overwhelming majority of them were nominated more than two months ago.  With today’s nominations, the bottleneck of long-waiting nominees without hearings that Chairman Grassley has intentionally created grows even larger.

Perhaps Sen. Grassley will do what his predecessor as chairman did: Sen. Leahy held two confirmation hearings in the first week of May 2008, where three of the nominees were for circuit courts.  Indeed, Chairman Grassley has not allowed any of the seven pending circuit nominees nominations to have a hearing, even though most of them were nominated more than two months ago.  Three of those have their blue slips in from both home state senators – Donald Schott of Wisconsin for the 7th Circuit, Jennifer K Puhl of North Dakota for the 8th Circuit, and Lucy Koh of California for the 9th Circuit, so there is no reason for Grassley to continue to deny them hearings.

It is critical for Senate Republicans, starting with Chuck Grassley, to #DoYourJob and stop denying a hearing to the president’s Supreme Court nominee and his nominees for circuit and district courts.

PFAW

Strengthening Public Education in the Face of Relentless Assaults

Hundreds of teachers, parents, students, school board members and other public education advocates gathered in Raleigh, North Carolina on April 16 and 17  for “And Justice for All: Strengthening Public Education for Each Child,” the third annual conference sponsored by the Network for Public Education and its political advocacy affiliate NPE Action.

The mission of the Network for Public Education is to “protect, preserve, promote, and strengthen public schools and the education of current and future generations of students.” It was founded by education historian and author Diane Ravitch as a way to mobilize supporters of public education in opposition to powerful forces that promote privatization and other “reforms” that undermine public education as a core democratic institution.

Rev. William Barber, who heads the North Carolina NAACP and has because a hero to progressive advocates for his inspirational leadership of the Moral Mondays movement, gave a rousing opening keynote before heading to Washington, D.C. to take part in the Democracy Awakening. Barber said public schools are “where we learn to be a public” and develop a “common civic identity.” But, he said, “racism always gets in the way of us meeting the noble goals of public education.”

“We’ve seen this before,” Barber said of attacks on public education combined with tax cuts for the wealthy. He recounted the history of resistance to Brown v. Board of Education and racial redistricting of school districts, noting that schools are re-segregating in high poverty areas today faster than they did in the 1970s.  He said school reforms that contribute to separate and unequal school systems are “giving in to the vision of Plessy v. Ferguson.”

Among the more than 45 panels and workshops was a conversation with two members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, State Sen. Dwight Bullard from south Florida, and County Commissioner Jessica Holmes from Wake County, North Carolina, with PFAW Director of Outreach and Partner Engagement Diallo Brooks acting as moderator.

Bullard, the only classroom teacher in the state legislature, said that bad education policies are moving through the legislature for a variety of reasons: some of his fellow legislators are naïve about education policy and some have family and financial ties to charter school operations.  Bullard said that even though the state government has expanded so-called school choice provisions, the “house of cards is falling apart” when it comes to overzealous testing that harms students’ education. He said dissatisfaction with the overuse of high-stakes testing offers opportunities for coalition building, noting that a recent press conference included liberal legislators, members of the teachers union, and Tea Party activists.

Holmes said that she is a first generation college student attributing her success to “amazing, wonderful public school teachers.” She described herself as a reluctant politician, but urged other participants to consider becoming policymakers as a way to make a real difference.  In a state that ranks near the bottom of the scale for teacher pay, she said, she worked to win approval for the largest education budget in her county’s history, while also developing support for early childhood development. Meanwhile, at the state level, millions in tax dollars were diverted to unaccountable private schools through vouchers.  

The panelists said that supporters of public education must respond to the amount of money and political influence wielded by privatization advocates with on-the-ground organizing that can provide public officials with both incentive and cover to do the right thing.

Another topic of conversation was the damage caused by the explosion of high-stakes testing and the diversion of educational time and resources to test taking. Speakers argued that testing should be used to identify areas of needed improvement for students, not as simplistic evaluation tools that label students and schools as failing. The “test and punish” approach has set up teachers and schools to be declared failures by implementing high-stakes tests without resources and professional development.

Another keynoter, Seattle teacher and blogger Jesse Hagopian, noted that when Washington state declined to tie teacher evaluation to student test scores, former Education Secretary Arne Duncan revoked a waiver from unrealistic standards under the No Child Left Behind Act. As a result, nearly every school in the state, including some of its best, was classified as “failing.” School officials sent parents a letter required by the federal government informing them that their school was now classified as failing, but included a cover letter explaining that NCLB was “regressive and punitive” and that the designation was bogus.

Among other topics covered at the conference:

  • alternatives to increasing privatization and of public school systems, including proven community schools approaches that use schools as a vehicle for addressing broader community needs;
  • the impact of charter schools’ disproportionate use of suspensions and other “zero-tolerance” policies against students of color;
  • the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council in promoting right-wing attacks on public education in state legislatures.  North Carolina’s Tom Tillis was ALEC “Legislator of the Year” before the Koch brothers helped finance his successful campaign for the U.S. Senate;
  • the growing movement among educators to resist high-stakes tests and an opt-out movement among parents and students.

A number of speakers denounced HB2, the recently enacted North Carolina law that overturned Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance – and banned localities from passing their own protections against discrimination as well as living wage ordinances.

People For the American Way Foundation board member Bertis Downs is also a member of NPE’s board of directors, said the conference was a “big success” in bringing together advocates from around the country to meet and compare notes with fellow activists. Downs praised the quality of the presentations and the fact that many of the workshops and all of the keynote speeches were livestreamed and are being archived online at www.schoolhouselive.org.

 

PFAW

Donald Trump’s Pyramid Scheme for America

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

For a man who constantly brags about his success, Donald Trump sure does like to play the victim. In his latest round of self-pity, the billionaire mogul has decried the delegate-allocation system in Colorado, where his rival, Ted Cruz, won the Republican presidential primary contest in a landslide. 

Trump’s campaign is built around earned media and stadium-sized rallies, and never established the “ground game” critical to win states like Colorado, where delegates are elected by state convention attendees. Predictably, his spokeswoman Katrina Pierson called the process “rigged” and a “pyramid scheme.”

While “pyramid scheme” may be an odd way to describe Colorado’s delegate system, the word accurately reflects many of Trump’s campaign promises.

Trump the businessman knows a little something about pyramid schemes. 

He has endorsed, and in some cases put his name on, companies accused of operating like pyramid schemes, where the first people who sign up reap almost all of the benefits, while the vast majority of people, often lured to buy in with assurances of making huge sums of money, are left in the dust.

The Washington Post reported that one such multilevel marketing company, the Trump Network, “often gave the impression of a partnership that was certain to lift thousands of people into prosperity.” In reality, the alternative-medicine sales company had dismal outcomes and left many people feeling scammed and deceived.

Trump’s pitch for the group sounds like one of his stump speeches, promising to save the American dream from the destructive work of the greedy. 

“Americans need a new plan, they need a new dream,” he said while pitching the company in 2009. “The Trump Network wants to give millions of people a renewed hope and with an exciting plan to opt out of the recession. Let’s get out of this recession right now with cutting edge health and wellness formulas.”

In his campaign addresses, Trump likes to remark that “the American Dream is dead - but if I win, I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before.” Add a bit about “health and wellness” and you have a Trump Network infomercial. 

In 2009, Trump boasted that the Trump Network had sparked “unbelievable enthusiasm” and was “a phenomena” that was “going to be really amazing, really amazing.” But the group was selling discredited and suspect treatments and ended up as one of his many business failures.

His work with the company resembles his time on the campaign trail, where he pretends to fight the corrupt political process and financial system while making vague, ambitious promises of national and personal redemption.

He tells supporters that we “are going to start winning again and we’re going to win so much, you are going to be so happy, we are going to make America so great again, maybe greater than ever before.” Trump will not only make you rich, he says, but he will even “get rid of your depression.”

But like in any pyramid scheme, with Trump’s proposals, the ones at the very top will benefit while everyone else loses out.

Under Trump’s massive $12 trillion tax plan, “the top 1 percent of Americans will receive an average tax break of $227,000 per year while the bottom 20 percent will receive an average tax cut of only $250,” according to Citizens for Tax Justice, which found that “the majority of Trump’s tax cut would go to the top five percent of taxpayers.” 

But the biggest winners of Trump’s tax cut won’t be the top five percent. They won’t even be the top one percent.

“[T]he benefits would be overwhelmingly skewed to the highest-income taxpayers, with those in the top 0.1 percent (who make $3.7 million or more) getting an average tax cut of more than $1.3 million,” says Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center.

Forget about Voodoo Economics. This is Pyramid Scheme Economics.

The supposedly populist candidate also promises to pay off the entire $19 trillion national debt in just eight years — “very easy” — but one estimate found that his huge tax cut for the rich alone will grow the debt by almost 80 percent

Just fulfilling his pledge to balance the budget would be mathematically impossibleunder the proposal he has laid out to do so.

Trump’s plan, if ever implemented, would wreck the economy. And that is not even counting the human and economic costs of his massive deportation scheme.

On the campaign trail, Trump is marketing his candidacy the same way he pitched his bogus health business: I am going to save the American Dream and make us rich.

But like any pyramid scheme, it is bound to fail, and take many people down with it.

PFAW