PEOPLE FOR BLOG

McCutcheon v. FEC Response Rally Hosted by People For The American Way at the Supreme Court

Within hours of the Supreme Court issuing its decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, People For the American Way organized a rapid response protest, the first of over 140 that are taking place across the country today. 

The protest featured key movement leaders from Congress and a wide range of advocacy organizations, all of whom were outraged about the Roberts Court’s disregard for democratic safeguards, like those gutted in McCutcheon v. FEC.

Emceed by People For the American Way’s Diallo Brooks and concluded by People For’s Drew Courtney, the rally featured Senator Bernie Sanders [VT], Representative Keith Ellison [MN-5], and Representative Ted Deutch [FL-19], as well as Jotaka Eaddy of the NAACP, Michael Russo of US PIRG, Steve Cobble of Free Speech For People, Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, George Kohl of Communication Workers of America, Miles Rappaport of Common Cause, Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth, and Courtney Hight of the Sierra Club.

Speakers highlighted the problem of “big money” dominating the political process, and discussed the range of solutions--from enacting disclosure and public financing laws to amending the Constitution--that are available to solve it.

 
   
PFAW

In McCutcheon Decision, Talk of Constituents Seems Out of Place

Chief Justice Roberts caps his opinion in McCutcheon v. FEC by waxing eloquently about the need to ensure that elected officials are responsive to the people. This and other cases have described campaign contributions as a way to promote such responsiveness. But considering that this case is about a non-constituent buying influence in elections across the country, the passage's repeated references to constituents seems strangely out of place:

For the past 40 years, our campaign finance jurisprudence has focused on the need to preserve authority for the Government to combat corruption, without at the same time compromising the political responsiveness at the heart of the democratic process, or allowing the Government to favor some participants in that process over others. As Edmund Burke explained in his famous speech to the electors of Bristol, a representative owes constituents the exercise of his "mature judgment," but judgment informed by "the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents." Constituents have the right to support candidates who share their views and concerns. Representatives are not to follow constituent orders, but can be expected to be cognizant of and responsive to those concerns. Such responsiveness is key to the very concept of self-governance through elected officials.  (emphasis added, internal citations removed)

Shaun McCutcheon – whose contributions are at issue in this case – told the Court that he wanted to make contributions of $1,776 to each of more than two dozen different congressional candidates (as well as to various party committees) during the 2012 election cycle. It seems unlikely that he could have been a constituent of more than two dozen different members of Congress.

Obviously, people have a First Amendment right to participate in congressional races outside of where they live. But a stirring paragraph about political responsiveness to constituents hardly seems appropriate in a case that is all about political responsiveness to non-constituents.

PFAW Foundation

McCutcheon: Great News for Billionaires

The Supreme Court's McCutcheon opinion, released this morning, is another 5-4 body blow to our democracy. To justify striking down limits that cap aggregate campaign contributions during a single election cycle, the Roberts Court ignores the way the world really works and makes it far more difficult to justify much-needed protections against those who would purchase our elections and elected officials.

Americans are deeply concerned that control of our elections and our government is being usurped by a tiny sliver of extremely wealthy and powerful individuals (and the corporations they control). That is not the democracy that our Constitution established and protects. The enormous impact of money in politics can destroy a democracy, undermining its foundations by disconnecting elected officials from the people they are supposed to serve and eroding the trust of the people in their system of government.

But the Roberts Court today stressed that campaign contributions can be justified under the First Amendment only if they address "quid pro quo" corruption – i.e. bribery – despite contrary pre-Citizens United holdings with a broader and more realistic vision. A democratic system rotting at its core – a government of, by, and for the wealthy – is not corrupt in their eyes.

If a wealthy person gives millions of dollars to a party (distributed to the party's multiple candidates and PACs across the country), he clearly exercises enormous influence over the laws that get passed. What the voters want becomes far less relevant, because it's the billionaire whose money is vital to getting elected. A government where elected officials allow a few plutocrats to have enormous access and influence over their policies is not an indication of a healthy government of, by, and for the people.

As Justice Breyer write in his McCutcheon dissent:

Today a majority of the Court overrules this holding [Buckley's 1976 upholding of aggregate limits]. It is wrong to do so. Its conclusion rests upon its own, not a record-based, view of the facts. Its legal analysis is faulty: It misconstrues the nature of the competing constitutional interests at stake. It understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. It creates a loophole that will allow a single individual to contribute millions of dollars to a political party or to a candidate's campaign. Taken together with Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm'n, 558 U. S. 310 (2010), today's decision eviscerates our Nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve.

Americans are organizing around the country to restore our democracy in light of Citizens United and other dangerous court opinions. Today's McCutcheon opinion gives us another reason to rally.

Last year, People For the American Way Foundation released an analysis of McCutcheon within the context of the Supreme Court's past rulings on campaign finance.

PFAW Foundation

Fair Housing for LGBT People Rejected in Louisiana

On March 31, the day before the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) marked the beginning of Fair Housing Month, Louisiana lawmakers said "no" to affording greater protections for LGBT people under state housing discrimination law.

Under current law, Louisiana protects the ability "to compete for available housing on an open, fair, and equitable basis, regardless of race, color, religion, [and] sex." House Bill 804, introduced by Representative Jared Brossett of New Orleans, would have added to the list protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and marital status.

Unfortunately, Monday's House committee vote ended in a 13-5 defeat of Representative Brossett's bill.

Equality Louisiana has shown that Louisianans strongly support on the side of housing fairness:

Equality Louisiana polls shows 93.7% oppose LGBT housing discrimination

But the opposition didn't miss a beat. The Times-Picayune's Laura McGaughy reported:

Kathleen Benfield, from the conservative Christian organization the American Family Association of New Orleans, also testified against the bill on behalf of the Louisiana Family Forum's Gene Mills, who she said could not make the hearing.

She said the issue presented by the bill was "to protect certain sexual practices outside of marriage" and said this isn't a civil rights issue since sexual identity and gender expression are not "immutable" like race and "can change over time." She also said Brossett didn't present proof that homosexuals are being discriminated against in Louisiana.

"In my opinion, this legislation is a solution in search of a problem -- that there is not a problem," said Benfield.

Right Wing Watch has more on the American Family Association.

In other news on the fight for LGBT equality, Illinois moves toward banning sexual orientation conversion therapy while Minnesota falters on that front, and marriage equality developments continue to unfold in Michigan and Wisconsin.

Check out PFAW’s website for more LGBT equality updates.

PFAW

Safe Schools Letter Campaign Wraps Another Week, Twelve Groups Have Gone on Record

The letter-a-day campaign for safe schools that PFAW is leading just finished another week, and now twelve groups have gone on record with Congress in support of safe schools legislation. Together, we are sending loud and clear the message that all students deserve far better than what they're getting when it comes to bullying and harassment in schools.

Below are excerpts from this week's letters.

Family Equality Council:

America has a rich tradition of valuing education and protecting and nurturing children through the educational process. Children with LGBT parents should not grow up feeling that their country does not value their success or the legitimacy of their parents and their families. We must ensure that all children have the same opportunity to thrive – which requires that they feel safe, supported and valued in school. Students experiencing harassment based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or because they have LGBT parents are deprived of equal educational opportunities and are too often left with few or no avenues for recourse.

The Trevor Project:

In honor of next month's Day of Silence highlighting anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment in schools, and on behalf of the more than one hundred thousand lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth served annually by The Trevor Project’s life-saving programming, we write in strong support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA, H.R. 1199 & S. 403). We thank the 226 bipartisan House and Senate cosponsors of this critical bill for addressing what has become a pervasive national problem, and we urge all members of Congress to join them.

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund:

We urge you to support SSIA in response to increasing reports of harassment and violence faced by Sikh American students in schools. Consider the experience of Akashdeep Singh Ahluwalia, an eleven year-old Sikh American from New Jersey. Like many Sikh American students, who keep their articles of faith, he was bullied. Akashdeep was bullied so often that he had to change schools. When asked how he feels about the harassment he continues to face he responded, “It really depresses me. But in the end what can I do?”

American Association of University Women:

In addition to requiring policies prohibiting bullying and harassment, effective complaint procedures, and information sharing in current reporting systems, SSIA also provides opportunities for professional development to prevent bullying and harassment and student education programs. This is a critically important bill that will make a real difference in the lives of ALL students nationwide. That is why this bill is supported by over 110 leading national organizations in the fields of education, health, youth development, civil rights and religion.

PFLAG National:

Specifically, today’s letter to you involves three bills: [t]he Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), [t]he Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) and [the] Every Child Deserves a Family [Act] (ECDF).

PFLAG is the nation’s largest family and ally organization.  It is comprised of parents, families, friends and straight allies united with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LGBT)[,] and has more than 350 chapters and 200,000 members and supporters crossing multiple generations of American families in major urban centers, small cities and town and rural areas in all 50 states.

PFLAG’s values are America’s values.  We believe that the welfare, safety and well-being of our children, all of our children, is an American value with a high priority that merits your attention.

Here are some of our earlier participants – more support for safe schools.

PFAW will continue to update you as we approach April 11, this year's Day of Silence – an annual event organized by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) that is meant to draw attention to the "silencing effects" of anti-gay harassment and name-calling in schools and to be a way for students to show their solidarity with students who have been bullied.

Just today we released a new policy toolkit, Education Without Discrimination: Creating Safe Schools for All Students.

Please also check out PFAW's report on Big Bullies: How the Religious Right is Trying to Make Schools Safe for Bullies and Dangerous for Gay Kids and its 2012 update.

PFAW

PFAW Releases New Policy Toolkit on Safe Schools

For too many students, school is not a safe place. More than six in ten LGBT students have felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and more than four in ten because of their gender expression. Losing their sense of safety means that they lose access to the quality education all students deserve.

In anticipation of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s Day of Silence on April 11, an annual event to highlight the silence created by anti-LGBT harassment in schools, today People For the American Way released a new policy toolkit, Education Without Discrimination: Creating Safe Schools for All Students.



 

From talking points to sample lobbying letters to social media resources, the toolkit is designed to help you understand and advocate for the critical legislation that has been introduced in Congress to address this problem, including the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act.

Together we can send a loud and clear message to Congress: all students deserve safe schools.

PFAW

Florida Puts Hold on Voter Purge, North Carolina Lifts the Veil on Voter ID Law

When we last checked in with the controversial Florida voter purge, advocates and media alike were speculating over what route Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner would take in 2014, with Detzner's office considering comparing its voter records with the US Department of Homeland Security's federal citizenship database known as Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE).

Now we know: the purge is off for 2014.

The about-face on Thursday by Secretary of State Ken Detzner resolves a standoff with county elections supervisors, who resisted the purge and were suspicious of its timing. It also had given rise to Democratic charges of voter suppression aimed at minorities, including Hispanics crucial to Scott’s reelection hopes.

Detzner told supervisors in a memo that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is redesigning its SAVE database, and it won’t be finished until 2015, so purging efforts, known as Project Integrity, should not proceed.

“I have decided to postpone implementing Project Integrity until the federal SAVE program Phase Two is completed,” Detzner wrote.

As the Brennan Center reported in 2008, election officials across the country are routinely striking millions of voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation.

Florida has an especially troublesome history with this practice, so voting rights advocates will have to keep a close eye on what shape it takes next year.

Also this week, in North Carolina US Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake ruled that lawmakers must release correspondence related to the formation of the state's new voter ID law, saying that though some records might be shielded, many are considered public.

Dale Ho of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project:

North Carolinians have a right to know what motivated their lawmakers to make it harder for them to vote. Legislators should not be shrouding their intentions in secrecy.

Allison Riggs of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice:

Defendants have resisted at every turn disclosing information about their reasons for enacting this discriminatory law. Today's ruling will help ensure the court has a fuller picture of why the voting changes at stake are so bad for North Carolina voters.

In other voting rights news, Colorado considers recall election changes, Pennsylvania ID remains in legal limbo, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker approves (mostly) of the state's new voter suppression law.

Check out even more news from our friends at Fair Elections Legal Network.

PFAW

Scott Walker Signs Restrictive Voting Measures, Promptly Jets Off to Kiss Sheldon Adelson’s Ring

Despite vocal opposition from voters across Wisconsin, Republican state legislators last week passed several new voting restrictions at the end of the legislative session.

The measures restrict early absentee voting hours to Mon-Fri 8am-7pm and eliminate weekend voting, restrict voting options for people living in residential nursing care and assisted living facilities, and expand the times when lobbyists can contribute to political campaigns. A Marquette Law School Poll released Wednesday found that 66 percent of Wisconsinites prefer expanding or maintaining current early voting hours, while only 32 percent favor a reduction.

Not to be outdone, on Thursday Republican Governor Scott Walker signed the new voting restrictions into law, part of 31 bills he signed behind closed doors in Milwaukee.  Walker previously told reporters the bills weren’t on his radar, but he signed the elections and campaign finance bills with minor line-item vetoes to the 45-hour weekly limit on total early voting hours and appropriations, enacting egregious early absentee voting restrictions with the stroke of his gubernatorial pen.

At a Madison press conference following the news that Governor Walker had signed the measures, Wisconsin State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) noted the measures’ impact:

"One in six of Wisconsin voters votes absentee, almost 17 percent of our electorate votes in person absentee. We should be doing more to encourage people to vote, not less. If people in this building care about voting rights they would set a floor, not a ceiling."

Taylor went on to say that the measures, combined with the expansion of corporate money in politics, amount to no less than an attempt to silence the people’s voice in elections. She noted that the combined measures will disproportionately affect people with disabilities, minorities, senior citizens, and students, making it harder for everyday people to vote while making it easier for lobbyists to influence elections.

To add insult to injury, Walker — who is running again for governor in 2014, and entertaining a presidential bid in 2016 -- then boarded a jet to Las Vegas to attend a private conference with billionaire GOP kingmaker Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul who poured millions of dollars into the 2012 elections.

Walker is one of several GOP presidential hopefuls convening in Las Vegas to “audition” for support from Adelson and other wealthy GOP donors. So while voters back home in Wisconsin try to figure out how they’ll get to the polls, the governor and other presidential aspirants are gathering to “kiss the ring” of Adelson and his millionaire buddies.

VIDEO: PRESS CONFERENCE: Voting Rights Activists React to WI SB324 Signed Into Law ; 03-27-3024

PFAW

New Hampshire Campaign to Become 17th State to Call for Amendment to Overturn ‘Citizens United’ Stalls

Rising from her chair in the Senate chamber of the capitol building in Concord, New Hampshire – the country’s oldest chamber still in use, housing democratic debate since 1819 – State Senator Martha Fuller Clark (D-21) was unequivocal in her warning:

Citizens United is threatening our citizen-led legislature.”

Senator Clark’s words came yesterday afternoon as she spoke out in favor of SB 307, a bill that she introduced.  The legislation calls for a committee to examine the different constitutional amendments that are under consideration in the 113th Congress that would overturn Citizens United.  But in its most recent form, SB 307 needed a corrective amendment to realign the bill towards its original intent. The amendment would have declared that the committee would assume a constitutional amendment was necessary and discuss which proposal would be best, rather than to debate whether or not a constitutional amendment was needed in the first place.

By this point, the people of New Hampshire had already conveyed, through organizing, through polling, through walking across the state in the dead of winter, through the 48 town hall meetings that had just passed Citizens United amendment resolutions earlier in March, that the debate was long over: the country needs constitutional reform, and it needs it now.

Unfortunately, Senator Clark’s corrective measure failed on a 12-12 vote, with only one Republican, Senator Russell Prescott (R-23), crossing party lines to vote in favor. Russell stated on the Senate floor,

“I just can’t make the leap… that a corporation has the same First Amendment rights as people.” 

Notably, State Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-2) – whose district includes Bridgewater, Bristol, Dorchester, Groton, Piermont, Plymouth, and Tilton, towns that all had just voted in favor of an amendment – refused to support Senator Clark’s correction.

However not all hope is lost for New Hampshire to become the 17th state to call for a constitutional amendment this legislative session.  SB 307 passed with the incorrect intent of examining the need for an amendment.  It will most likely be paired with a much stronger version of the bill from the House in conference committee, which could result in the stronger measure coming back to the Senate.  So it’s important to keep the pressure up.  

In the face of such obstruction, a quote from Winston Churchill comes to mind:

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.” 

Senator Clark and the people of New Hampshire have brought the truth to Concord; it’s only a matter of time before the legislature acts on it.

PFAW

Harry Reid Moving Judicial Nominations Forward, Despite Republican Obstruction

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture yesterday on the nomination of John B. Owens to a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit—one that has been declared a judicial emergency and which has been vacant for almost 10 years. This moves forward the Senate judicial confirmations process that has been relentlessly slowed down by GOP obstruction. In an atmosphere of constant delays, it is commendable that Sen. Reid is taking action to get nominees confirmed, especially circuit court nominees.

Because of obstruction by Senate Republicans, nominations for the circuit court have been made particularly cumbersome. As we explained last month, if Senators refuse to provide “unanimous consent” to schedule a vote, Sen. Reid is forced to file a cloture petition to allow a yes or no vote on the nominee. Once cloture is invoked,  Senate rules allow the minority to insist on “post-cloture debate”— up to 30 hours for circuit court nominees.

With six circuit court nominees now on the Senate calendar, (including the most recent addition, Fifth Circuit nominee Gregg Costa, who was recommended unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning) and more in the pipeline, Republicans can tie the Senate up for 180 hours of needless “post cloture debate” – that is weeks of floor time that could be spent doing something useful. Time is growing short to get them all confirmed by the end of the year. One easy answer is for Senate Republicans to forego their delaying tactics and permit the Senate to both confirm judicial nominees and perform the other important work waiting to be done. Until that happens, Sen. Reid should be applauded for pushing the process forward.

PFAW

Texas Republican Highlights How GOP Should Face the Changing Electorate

In the famously red state of Texas, Republican state legislator Jason Villalba of Dallas last week offered a frank assessment of the crossroads at which his party finds itself.

[T]he time has come closer when we will see the sleeping giant [of the Hispanic electorate] awaken and it will make a tremendous difference in our ability to win elections if we cannot win the votes of our fellow Hispanics.

Even as the country rapidly becomes more diverse, the GOP has clung to its strategy of alienating Latinos, African Americans, women, and LGBT people with an endless barrage of outrageous statements and discriminatory policies.

As some Republican leaders, like Villalba in Texas, are noting, this tactic isn’t good for the GOP. Demographic changes, though small on the surface, could have major political impacts, particularly in swing states, that will make it harder and harder for Republicans to win important elections.

In Texas alone, analysts are projecting a two percent increase in the Latino electorate for the 2016 election cycle compared to 2012. That kind of increase is still relatively minor in Texas, but a similar shift could make a crucial difference in swing states like Florida, Colorado, and Nevada. As GOP pollster Whit Ayres notes

Changing the demographics of the state by two percentage points puts a finger on the scale in each of the swing states for the party that’s doing well among Hispanics. This underscores the critical importance for Republican candidates to do better among nonwhite Americans, particularly among Hispanics, if Republicans ever hope to elect another president.

Some far right activists argue that the GOP can win by increasing its share of the white vote, but the numbers don’t bear that out. As Resurgent Republic noted, “every month for the next two decades, 50,000 Hispanics will turn 18.” Without appealing to those voters, Republicans face a steep climb to victory in any national race—and a quick journey to minority party status.

No wonder the party is so fond of strict voter ID laws, restricted early voting opportunities, and proof of citizenship laws to deter certain people from coming out to vote.

PFAW

Women Justices Press Important Questions During Hobby Lobby Arguments

Crowds of activists and advocacy groups gathered outside while the Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in the Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Inc. case.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not shy away from asking difficult questions that demonstrate the broad implications this case could have. Justices Sotomayor and Kagan voiced concerns regarding the implications of a ruling for the first time in our nation’s history that for-profit corporations have religious rights. Both justices questioned whether this decision would allow companies to deny access to coverage of not only contraceptive methods, but also of other lifesaving procedures employers might object to on religious grounds—like blood transfusions or vaccines.

The Huffington Post quotes Justice Kagan as saying, “There are quite a number of medical treatments that could be religiously objected to… Everything would be piecemeal, nothing would be uniform.”

Pushing the issue further, Justice Sotomayor asked, “How are courts supposed to know whether a corporation holds a particular religious belief?”

Similarly, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

was a law that was passed overwhelmingly [by] both houses of Congress. People from all sides of the political spectrum voted for it. It seems strange that there would have been that tremendous uniformity if it means [corporations are covered].

She added…

[T]here was an effort to adopt a … specific conscience amendment in 2012, and the Senate rejected that… That amendment would have enabled secular employers and insurance providers to deny coverage on the basis of religious beliefs or moral convictions. It was specifically geared to secular employers and insurance providers. And that…was rejected.

Justice Kagan noted that RFRA was considered non-controversial when it passed, an unlikely reaction if it had been understood to open the door to employers citing religious objections to complying with laws relating to sex discrimination, minimum wage, family leave, or child labor.

Justice Kagan also noted that women are “quite tangibly harmed” when employers don’t provide contraceptive coverage. This decision, however, could have far-reaching implications beyond women’s reproductive rights since this case deals with some of the same core issues seen in “right to discriminate” bills like Arizona’s, as we pointed out yesterday morning.

PFAW Foundation

Sheldon Adelson Shops for Next GOP Candidate

The Washington Post reports today that Sheldon Adelson – the casino magnate who spent, with his wife, more than $92 million in the 2012 elections – is in the market for a 2016 GOP presidential candidate to support.

After throwing reams of money at losing candidate Newt Gingrich in the last election, Adelson is now looking for someone he believes will be seen as electable by a country with swiftly changing demographics. He is already being wooed by GOP presidential hopefuls:

The change in attitude comes amid early jockeying by a lengthy list of aspiring Republican presidential contenders to win the affections of the billionaire, who is in the beginning stages of assessing the field.

“The bar for support is going to be much higher,” said Andy Abboud, Adelson’s top political adviser and an executive at the Adelson-run Las Vegas Sands Corp. He added, “There’s going to be a lot more scrutiny.”

This strategy would favor more established 2016 hopefuls such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. All four will descend this week on Adelson’s luxury hotel in Las Vegas, the Venetian, for an important step in what some are calling the “Sheldon Primary.”

Funny, I don’t remember learning about the “Sheldon Primary” in my high school civics class. But in our Super PAC-filled, post-Citizens United world of unlimited election spending, this seems to be the reality of how candidates who have a real shot are chosen. As Harvard law professor and activist Lawrence Lessig puts it,

We have a general election, but only after the funders have had their way with the candidates who wish to run in that general election.

With Adelson essentially interviewing potential candidates, it begs the question: will our presidents be working for the people who elected them, or will they increasingly serve as the puppets of billionaire benefactors? 

When a tiny fraction of the country’s wealthiest people are able to hand-pick candidates, it’s doubtful that we’ll have a government that focuses on the priorities of everyday Americans. A democracy simply doesn’t work if the voices of those of us who aren’t having swanky private dinners with presidential hopefuls are drowned out by the few who are.

PFAW

‘Right to Discriminate’ Bills, Meet Hobby Lobby

Last month, as Arizona governor Jan Brewer deliberated whether to sign or veto a law that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT customers, the public outcry was immense. Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain shared their opposition via Twitter. Companies including American Airlines, Apple, and AT&T urged a veto. Multiple state senators who had voted for SB 1062 asked Gov. Brewer to veto it. When she did, advocacy groups praised the decision and many in Arizona and across the country breathed a well-deserved sigh of relief.

But it turns out that sigh may have been premature.

This morning the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a case that, on its face, appears to be dealing with a different issue – women’s access to contraception – but in fact grapples with some of the same core issues in play with “right to discriminate” bills like Arizona’s. In the Hobby Lobby case, as in its companion case Conestoga Wood Specialities v. Sebelius, corporations are trying to avoid complying with the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act. But both the Supreme Court cases and the “right to discriminate” bills address the question of whether for-profit corporations have religious rights and can use those “rights” in a way that brings harm to others. 

Comparing the vetoed Arizona bill to efforts to let companies deny covering contraception, National Women’s Law Center vice president Emily Martin put it like this: “What you’re seeing in both cases are corporations asserting the right to break the law in the name of religion, even if it results in harm and discrimination for third parties.” And The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin noted,

Indeed, a victory for Hobby Lobby might bring in an Arizona-style rule through the back door….The Arizona law and the Hobby Lobby case represent two sides of the same coin. Both assert that the invocation of a religious belief allows a company to opt out of a government requirement that applies to everyone else.

But corporations have never had religious rights, and as affiliate PFAW Foundation senior fellow Jamie Raskin wrote in a recent report, that concept is simply “absurd.”

[I]t is time for the Court to restore some reality to the conversation.  Business corporations do not belong to religions and they do not worship God.  We do not protect anyone’s religious free exercise rights by denying millions of women workers access to contraception.

PFAW

A Speedy Process for a Vermont Judicial Recommendation

The senators of Vermont, and especially Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, have shown the country what an exemplary process for identifying potential district court judges looks like. Today, Leahy recommended Geoffrey Crawford to the White House as the next federal judge in Vermont.

Leahy and his colleague Sen. Bernard Sanders have moved quickly to ensure that Vermont individuals and businesses are not denied their right to a fully functioning federal court system:

  • January 15: It was announced in advance that a vacancy would be opening on June 15.
  • January 24: Sens. Leahy and Sanders announced the formation of a commission to recommend potential nominees. "The nine-member, nonpartisan panel consists of three commissioners named by Leahy, three by Sanders, and three by the Vermont Bar Association. Rep. [Peter] Welch will also have input during the selection process."
  • February 21: Applications were due to the commission.
  • March 10-11: The commission held interviews with seven people.
  • March 12: The commission announced two recommendations to the senators.
  • March 24: Sen. Leahy recommended Geoffrey Crawford to the president for nomination. (Under Vermont tradition, the senior senators of the president's party makes the recommendation.) Crawford is a current state Supreme Court justice with previous experience representing plaintiffs in personal injury cases, just the kind of background that enhances professional diversity on the bench and makes the federal judiciary stronger.

Just a little over two months after senators became aware of the vacancy and nearly three months before the vacancy actually becomes open, the White House has received a recommendation and can start the vetting process. As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Leahy knows how important this is. Senators in Virginia, New Mexico, and Colorado have also moved quickly to make timely recommendations for recent vacancies in their states.

Would that every senator did so.

PFAW