The Extremists Behind the 2016 GOP Presidential Candidates

As People For the American Way (PFAW) Senior Researcher for Special Projects Miranda Blue explained on the most recent telebriefing for PFAW members, “In past years, we’ve seen extreme endorsers for Republican presidential candidates, but there was always a level of extremism that the candidates wouldn’t go past. This year, it’s completely different. Leading 2016 Republican presidential candidates have shared the stage with individuals who say that the government should kill gay people, embrace a Christian Nation ideology, and more.”

This unprecedented extremism was discussed during last Thursday’s telebriefing, and has been closely tracked by PFAW’s Right Wing Watch team.

Some of the most striking examples come from Ted Cruz. He spoke at a conference alongside far-right pastor Kevin Swanson, who believes that according to the Bible, our government should impose the death penalty on gay people. Troy Newman, who Cruz appointed to co-chair his anti-abortion committee, has argued that the government should execute abortion providers. And Cruz touted the endorsement of Mike Bickle, who says that Hitler was a “hunter” sent by God for the Jewish people. But don’t just take our word for it – watch this clip from the Rachel Maddow Show last month, which uses research from PFAW’s Right Wing Watch:

It’s not just Ted Cruz who’s courting extremists. Donald Trump, for example, has campaigned with the support of people like Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter. Coulter is not quite the household name that Palin is, but they’re two peas in a pod in their far-right extremism. Coulter said recently that Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States was her “best birthday gift ever!”

Far-right figures also exert undue influence in the 2016 election through campaign spending. Because of Citizens United, millionaires and billionaires are able to push a far-right agenda in the Republican Party through unlimited expenditures. As PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery discussed on the telebriefing, Farris and Dan Wilks are top donors to Ted Cruz’s super PACs. The Wilks brothers hold strongly anti-gay, anti-choice and anti-government views. Peter was quoted earlier this month in the Houston Chronicle discussing the Wilks brothers: "Their willingness to pour millions of dollars into the presidential race and to write enormous checks for Religious Right organizations give them the potential to make a huge and destructive impact on our politics.”

Marco Rubio, for his part, is bankrolled both personally and professionally by billionaire Norman Braman. Marco Rubio returned the favor to Braman when he was in the Florida state legislature; Rubio “has steered taxpayer funds to Mr. Braman’s favored causes, successfully pushing for an $80 million state grant to finance a genomics center at a private university and securing $5 million for cancer research at a Miami instate for which Mr. Braman is a major donor.”

As the 2016 election continues, we’re sure to see more of the far-right financing and supporting the leading 2016 candidates. Be sure to follow our coverage at


No, Biden Didn't Call For Rejecting All Supreme Court Nominees In Election Years

Within hours of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this month, conservatives retroactively invented a bogus “tradition” that Supreme Court justices are never confirmed in presidential election years. That claim is demonstrably false, but conservatives are sticking with it in an attempt to justify their efforts to keep President Obama from naming the next Supreme Court justice.

Today, the pro-obstruction crowd thought it got a boost when a short clip of now-Vice President Joe Biden was unearthed from the depths of the C-SPAN archives. In the clip of the 1992 floor speech, Biden, who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during what turned out to be the last year of George H.W. Bush’s presidency, urges the president to, in the event of a Supreme Court vacancy, “not name a nominee until after the November election is completed.”


Well, not quite.

As ThinkProgress’ Igor Volsky and Biden himself have pointed out, when taken in context, that wasn't Biden's point. The then-senator made the remarks in the context of a long speech bemoaning the increased politicization of the confirmation process and, in Biden’s words, urging the White House and the Senate to “work together to overcome partisan differences to ensure the Court functions as the Founding Fathers intended.”

Secondly, even if you were to claim that Biden were offering some new rule for blocking Supreme Court nominations, that rule wouldn't cover the current situation.

Look at the timestamp on the video. Biden was speaking on June 25, 1992 about filling a vacancy if a justice “resigns tomorrow or within the next several weeks resigns at the end of the summer.” By June 25, the presidential primaries were over and Bill Clinton was the presumptive Democratic nominee. That’s a very different point in an election year than we are in today, when the vacancy opened so very early on in the presidential nominating contests and with the risk of a Supreme Court seat remaining open for more than a year, severely disrupting two consecutive terms.

If you go back to read the transcript of Biden’s remarks, he repeatedly states that he is concerned about vacancies that occur “in the summer or fall of a presidential election year” — not vacancies that occur as early in the year as Justice Scalia’s did. The last four Supreme Court confirmations took an average of 75 days from nomination to confirmation, meaning that if President Obama nominates anyone in the next month, they could be confirmed well before the period that Biden was supposedly arguing should be off-limits for Supreme Court nominations.

There is still no “tradition” of shutting down judicial nominations for the entire last year of a presidency or of leaving the Supreme Court short-handed for an entire year.

And, as Volsky notes, while Biden didn’t face a Supreme Court vacancy in 1992, his Judiciary Committee did continue approving Circuit Court nominees well through the summer and fall of the election year, a stark contrast to current Republican threats to shut down the judicial nominations process entirely this year:




New Poll Shows Obstructionist Stance on Supreme Court Vacancy is Hurting Toomey and Portman With Voters

Note to senators in tough reelection battles: putting your Washington DC party bosses over the Constitution by standing in the way of filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court is not only the wrong thing to do for our country, it’s also making voters less likely to support you.

New Public Policy Polling surveys released today show that large majorities of voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where Senators Pat Toomey and Rob Portman are running for reelection, want the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death to be filled this year. According to the polling memo:

  • Strong majorities of voters – 58/35 in Ohio and 57/40 in Pennsylvania – think that the vacant seat on the Supreme Court should be filled this year. What’s particularly noteworthy about those numbers – and concerning for Portman and Toomey – is how emphatic the support for approving a replacement is among independent voters. In Ohio they think a new Justice should be named this year 70/24 and in Pennsylvania it’s 60/37.
  • …Voters are particularly angry about Senators taking the stance that they’re not going to approve anyone before even knowing who President Obama decides to put forward. By a 76/20 spread in Pennsylvania and a 74/18 one in Ohio, voters think the Senate should wait to see who is nominated to the Court before deciding whether or not to confirm that person. Toomey and Portman are out of line even with their own party base on that one – Republicans in Pennsylvania think 67/27 and in Ohio think 63/32 that the Senate should at least give President Obama’s choice a chance before deciding whether or not to confirm them. [emphasis added]

Perhaps most notable for the senators, more than half of voters (52 percent in both states) say they would be less likely to vote for Toomey or Portman if they “refused to confirm a replacement for Justice Scalia this year no matter who it was.” Among independents, the numbers were even higher.

Senators Toomey and Portman would be wise to take heed of their constituents, and of the Constitution, and stop refusing to even consider any Supreme Court nominee, regardless of his or her credentials. Any nominee must be treated fairly and honestly. The Supreme Court is far too important to be held hostage to the overtly political obstruction of GOP senators.


The Democracy Awakening Mobilization Is Coming to DC

American democracy is premised on the fundamental tenet of “one person, one vote,” but since the very beginning, we’ve had to fight for every voice to be heard and every vote to be counted. Today an array of barriers are keeping regular Americans shut out of the political process, from restrictive voting laws suppressing the voting rights of people of color, students, and low-income Americans, to a campaign finance landscape that allows big money to increasingly shape elections and the policy-making process. For both issues, Congress has solutions in front of them, but has so far failed to pass them into law. It’s time for us to come together and claim a democracy where every voice is heard and every vote counts equally.

This April thousands of people will convene in Washington, D.C. for the Democracy Awakening, a long weekend of workshops, trainings, speakers, rallies, lobbying and direct action, calling for voting rights and money in politics reform. This groundbreaking event marks the first time that some of the largest progressive reform organizations – representing the environmental, labor, social and economic justice, and youth movements – have worked together to turn out their members for a collaborative, transformative event. This Democracy Awakening is only the beginning, kicking off a broader “year of action” that will unite the efforts of more than 160 organizations working on the local, state and national level.


Want to be a part of the Democracy Awakening? Sign up here for more information and to receive regular updates. 

GOP vs. the Integrity of the American Judicial System

The nation is mourning the loss of Justice Antonin Scalia, who served on the nation’s highest court for nearly 30 years.  Since he became a justice in 1986, Americans have – appropriately and vigorously – debated the merits of his approach to the law.  The Constitution could not be any clearer that such debate is protected as vital to our democracy.

The Constitution also could not be clearer about what happens next:  The president nominates someone to fill the vacancy, and the Senate votes on whether to confirm the nominee.  President Obama has, responsibly, said he plans to fulfill his constitutional duty.  Yet bizarrely, many Senate Republicans are standing behind their Majority Leader’s insistence that the vacancy should be filled only by the next president, the Constitution notwithstanding, since this is a presidential election year and Obama’s final year in office.

He and other GOP senators have said that the American people deserve to have their voices heard and weigh in on who should fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.  That clever bit of misdirection suggests that this hasn’t already happened.  However, the public did weigh in and make their voices heard in 2012, when the American people overwhelmingly re-elected President Obama to remain president for the next four years (and not just three).  The losing candidate’s political party does not have the right to simply nullify the American people’s choice, or to unilaterally amend the United States Constitution to limit the president’s responsibilities and powers during their final year.

We have a president, and he has nearly a year left in office.

Interestingly, the principle Senate Republicans would impose on the president are ones they are not imposing on themselves.  For instance, Florida Sen. (and presidential candidate) Marco Rubio is  serving out his last year in office, just as President Obama is.  Will he abstain from participating in votes because doing so would deny Floridians a chance to weigh in on the matter?  The same could be asked of retiring Sens. Dan Coates (Indiana) and David Vitter (Louisiana)?  Are conservatives seeking to delegitimize their roles in Senate consideration of judicial nominees or any other matter because they are retiring in eleven months?  Of course not.  While the Senate awaits President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination, it should be working overtime to consider and vote on the three-dozen circuit and district court nominees pending before the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor.

Just as the Constitution and principle are not on the GOP’s side, neither are the facts.  For instance, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has said that “it's been nearly 80 years since any president was permitted to immediately fill a vacancy that arose in a presidential election year.”  His constituents could be forgiven for inferring that the situation we now face is common, and that nomination and confirmation of Scalia’s replacement this year would go against historical norms.

However, the current situation is anything but common.  The fortunate reality is that it is extremely rare for a Supreme Court justice to die in office.  In fact, since 1950, this is only the fourth time a sitting justice has passed away, and this is the only time it has happened in a presidential election year:

1.      Chief Justice Fred Vinson – died in 1953

2.      Justice Robert Jackson – died in 1954

3.      Chief Justice William Rehnquist – died in 2005

4.      Justice Antonin Scalia – died in 2016

Thankfully, this is an extremely unusual situation.  Republicans cannot cite precedent for an incumbent president under these circumstances to abstain from carrying out his constitutional duties and force Americans to wait a year or more for the next president to fill a sudden, unexpected vacancy on the nation’s highest court, simply because it was a presidential election year when a justice died.

Justices who retire often time their announcements in time for a replacement to be nominated and confirmed by the beginning of the next Supreme Court term.  That is why most of the current justices were able to take their seats in time for the traditional First Monday in October, ensuring a full complement of nine justices.  As an alternative way to protect the institution, Sandra Day O’Connor agreed to remain on the Court until her replacement could be confirmed.  So even though Justice Alito was confirmed in January 2006, the middle of the term, the nation’s highest court was not forced to operate short-staffed.  In ways such as these, retiring justices have sought to protect the integrity of the Court by ensuring it be able to operate at full capacity.

Unfortunately, despite Justice Scalia’s devotion to the Court he served on for three decades, he did not have the opportunity to protect it from having to operate short-staffed.  And yet many Republicans are vowing to keep the Court hobbled for as long as possible.

Waiting until 2017 to nominate and confirm the next justice would force our nation’s highest court to operate understaffed not just for the remainder of the current term (which ends in June), but for at least half of the 2016-2017 term, as well. The Court’s term begins in October, and it generally hears oral arguments until April.  Even if the next president’s pick were confirmed quickly (say, in February 2017), the new justice would have already missed oral arguments in the majority of cases that term and would not be able to vote on them.  Having only eight justices would very likely lead to numerous cases being tied 4-4, and such cases have no precedential effect.

Intentionally crippling the Supreme Court for two consecutive terms would be the height of irresponsibility.

Public rejection of the GOP’s explicit obstructionism has made some Republican try to walk back their inflexible stance, but actions will speak louder than words.  The president’s nominee should be given a timely and fair committee hearing, be fully vetted, and receive a timely confirmation vote by the full Senate based on the nominee’s qualifications.

This shouldn’t be about politics.  It should be about the Constitution, our democracy, and the integrity of the United States justice system.

PFAW Foundation

Jeb! Wants to Overturn Citizens United, But Not to Get Big Money Out of Politics

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

It’s safe to assume that when most people say they want the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision to be overturned, it’s because they’ve seen its disastrous effects and they want to see big money have less influence in politics. But GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who inspired a flurry of headlines on Monday when he expressed his support for reversing the decision, actually wants instead what many would consider an even worse system: one where billionaires can give unlimited money directly to the candidates themselves.

It’s almost hard to imagine a campaign finance landscape more broken than the one we currently have, but Jeb! has done it. As MSNBC’s Steve Benen points out, his vision seems to rest on the question: why have donors give millions to outside groups like super PACs, when you can have those millions just go straight to the candidates?

For one, because this would plainly undermine one of the few remaining rules aimed at preventing “corruption” in our democracy. Even the conservative majority of the Supreme Court has recognized that donors shouldn’t be able to directly hand unlimited sums of money to campaigns.

Another reason -- and one that Bush and the other national GOP leaders would be wise to pay more attention to -- is that Americans across the board, including Republican voters, overwhelmingly want to see real reforms to our system, reforms that actually curtail the outsized influence of wealthy special interests in our democracy rather than simply redirect the big money from super PACs straight to the campaigns. More than seven in ten Republicans favor limits on how much money people can give to campaigns. Eight in ten Republicans say that money has too much influence in political campaigns, and that our campaign finance system needs either “fundamental changes” or to be remade entirely. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to see it rebuilt in order for candidates to be able to directly collect eight-figure checks from the likes of Sheldon Adelson.

It makes sense that presidential candidates from both political parties are “talking the talk” on money in politics. Calling out the harmful influence of our big money system ispolitically popular, and candidates are smart to bring it up. But until GOP candidates are willing to walk the walk by calling for a comprehensive set of solutions to big money in politics, the gap between Republican voters and national Republican leaders on this issue will continue to grow.

As more than five million Americans agree, overturning Citizens United is an idea whose time has come. But it also matters what happens after it’s overturned. And if what comes next is a system where campaigns can take multi-million dollar contributions directly from billionaire donors, as Jeb Bush would like to see, then our money in politics problem will certainly not have been solved.


Don't Be Fooled: Marco Rubio And Rick Santorum Are Two Of A Kind

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Some were taken by surprise when former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum endorsed his former opponent Marco Rubio as soon as he dropped out of the Republican presidential race on Wednesday. But it shouldn’t come as a shock that the conservative true believer, notorious for his anti-gay and anti-abortion crusades, would back the supposedly “mainstream” Florida senator.

While the press likes to portray Santorum as a kooky culture warrior and Rubio as an establishment square, the two hold many of the exact same positions.

The similarities start with their dangerous views on abortion rights. Rubio wants to ban all abortions with no exceptions even for survivors of rape and incest or for women withlife-endangering pregnancies. In the very first 2016 Republican presidential debate, Rubio went so far as to suggest that the U.S. Constitution may already ban abortion. Rubio has hailed anti-abortion activists as similar to those who fought for the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage and civil rights for African Americans and has pledged to “immediately” re-impose the Mexico City Policy, which would block crucial funding to women’s health groups outside of the U.S. A vocal critic of Planned Parenthood, Rubio once made the absurd claim that women at Planned Parenthood clinics are “pushed into abortions so that those tissues can be harvested and sold for a profit.”

He told one conservative pundit that because “there is no way that you can read that Constitution and deduce from it that there is constitutional right to an abortion,” he would only appoint Supreme Court justices who see Roe v. Wade as a “flawed” decision.

The Florida senator is aggressively courting the Religious Right, which should come as no surprise since his stances on social issues are barely distinguishable from Santorum’s.

Rubio joined Santorum and four other Republican presidential candidates in pledgingto sign legislation making it legal to discriminate against same-sex couples. He even implied his support for Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who attempted to use her county office to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, by claiming that people can and should “ignore” laws or court rulings that do not “adhere to God’s rules” because “God’s rules always win.” “We cannot abide by that because government is compelling us to sin,” he said.

Rubio has called same-sex marriage “a real and present danger” to freedom and religion, arguing that only someone who has a “ridiculous and absurd reading of the U.S. Constitution” would agree with the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality decision and promising that his nominees to the Supreme Court would disagree with the ruling.

The potential for a President Rubio to be nominating the next few Supreme Court justices could prove especially frightening seeing that the senator, in an address to afar-right Florida grouprejected the separation of church and state as unconstitutional.

He has also embraced the Right’s phony religious persecution rhetoric, running campaign ads and delivering speeches about how conservative Christians like himself who oppose gay marriage are the real victims of discrimination in America. During Saturday’s debate, he said that Christians in America face far more discrimination than Muslim-Americans.

On the economy, Rubio might even be furtherto the right of many in the GOP. For starters, as New York Times reporter Josh Barrow explained, Rubio “would impose no tax at all on interest, dividends or capital gain income from stocks” as part of a larger tax-slashing regimen that Barro called “a big tax cut for people who are already doing well.” Think of it as the Bush tax cuts on steroids: disproportionate government aid to the ones who need it the least that costs the government trillions of dollars in revenue.

Rubio, who was first elected to the Senate as a Tea Party favorite, has also vowed torepeal Wall Street reform and oppose any increase in the minimum wage, and has adopted a “do-nothing” and denialist approach to climate change.  

Despite this record, the media has given Rubio flattering coverage, portraying him as a mainstream candidate who can thwart radicals like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Part of Rubio’s reputation as somehow more “moderate” or “mainstream” comes from his previous support for a bipartisan immigration reform bill. But of course Rubio ended uprenouncing the bill and tacking further to the right on immigration than many of his Republican colleagues.

Even though Santorum, when asked last week, couldn’t name a single legislative accomplishment of Rubio’s, it is obvious that Rubio has succeeded in doing at least one thing: embracing the ideology of the GOP’s extremist wing without being held accountable for it.


New Report Looks at Wins on Money in Politics Reform Since Citizens United

It’s no secret that the Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United decision in 2010 opened the floodgates for an influx of money into our elections. But a new report released today by PFAW and six other organizations highlights what else it did: energize a movement to fight big money in politics that’s made real progress in the six years since the decision was handed down.

As the report notes, since 2010:

  • More than 5 million people have signed petitions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United. Sixteen states and more than 680 cities and towns – as well as a majority of the U.S. Senate in 2014 – have called for an amendment.
  • At least 23 states have put in place disclosure rules to ensure the peoples’ right to know about the big donors trying to buy political influence.
  • States and cities across the country have acted to pass or strengthen publicly funded election systems to amplify the voices of small donors, including Seattle and Maine in 2015.

As the 2016 presidential race sees an increasing focus on the problem of big money in politics, the magnitude of our country’s current crisis can make progress seem unlikely, or even impossible. But as this report outlines, change is already happening in cities and states across the country, as people organize in their own communities for solutions to make sure that our democracy is working for everyone – not just for billionaires and corporations.

You can read the full report here.


Rating States' Commitment To Public Education

In the wake of National School Choice Week, the Brookings Institution released a report card on the largest school districts, which were ranked according to how open the districts are to school choice. That reflects a common assertion among education “reformers” that maximizing choice will always be best for students, a presumption also evident in scorecards from right-wing groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and corporate-minded reform groups like Students First.

But such an assumption is not true. We know that charter schools, for example, have a mixed record of success and failure. And a recent report from scholars at Berkeley, Duke, and MIT found that the test scores of Louisiana students who won a voucher to attend a private school “dropped precipitously in their first year of attending private school, compared to the performance of lottery losers.”

This week the Network for Public Education released a different kind of report card, one that grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia according to how well they support their public schools. “Valuing Public Education: A Fifty State Report Card” was released at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where Network for Public Education co-founder and president, education historian Diane Ravitch, and NPE Executive Director Carol Burris spoke about the report.

Ravitch said the NPR report is based on factors that have proven to be important to the success of public schools. The report draws on the work of the University of Arizona’s Francesca Lopez and a team of researchers. They identified 29 measurable factors that could be used to evaluate states on six criteria: use of high-stakes testing; professionalization of teaching; resistance to privatization; school finance; spending taxpayer resources wisely; and “chance for success.” The latter category recognizes that factors outside schools that are influenced by policymaking decisions also have a big impact on schools and students, such as the percentage of children living in poverty even though someone in the household works full time, and the extent to which schools are segregated racially and ethnically.

Grading in the report is tough: while some states receive “A” grades in particular categories, no state earns higher than a C overall, and a majority were graded D or F. Ravitch said those scores reflect in part the impact of the “unprecedented assault” that is being waged against public education and the teaching profession, as well as the “unconscionable” number of American children now living in poverty.

Burris, a 2013 New York state high school principal of the year, said improving a school is hard work and happens incrementally over time – “there are no silver bullets.”

Regarding school finances, she said, the report considers not only funding levels but whether money is spent on things that are known to make a difference, such as class size in elementary schools.

Ravitch said that the current policy framework grounded in high-stakes testing has proven to be a failure, and that standardized tests in general reflect income levels more than anything else. Burris said that closing the opportunity gap is essential to closing the achievement gap, noting that schools with a high percentage of children in poverty need resources like social workers, guidance counselors, and nurses. But many poorer schools have been “stripped clean” of those resources, said Ravitch.

The report, “Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card” is available online, and as an interactive map.


MD House Overrides Voting Rights Veto

2/5/16 Update: PFAW has sent a new veto override message to the Maryland Senate. Their vote was to have taken place on January 21, but was postponed to today, and is now not expected until next week.

In early 2015, the House and Senate in Maryland voted to restore voting rights for formerly incarcerated persons.

Then in May the legislation was stopped in its tracks by a veto from Governor Larry Hogan . . . until now. This afternoon the House voted 85-56 in favor of overriding the veto.

As sponsors Cory McCray and Alonzo Washington wrote in The Baltimore Sun last year:

In representative democracy, the right to vote is a fundamental interest. When folks have their access to the ballot box restricted, they lose their ability to have a voice in the decision making process. These folks are our neighbors, our friends, and even our family members. These folks have children who attend our schools. These folks care about when the recreation centers are closing. They care about high unemployment rates or cuts to program funding. They pay taxes just like the rest of us. Yet ex-offenders are systematically denied the right to vote until after any parole or probation is served.

PFAW members and supporters in Maryland called on delegates to stand up to Governor Hogan.

Tomorrow the Senate is expected to follow suit. We’re poised to win on this critical issue!


Washington State moves to #GetMoneyOut

We just won an important victory in our fight to create a democracy that is of, by and for the people.  Earlier this week, Initiative 735, calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United and get big money out of politics, was certified by the Washington Secretary of State, meaning that after months of petition gathering the people of Washington state will be able to officially weigh in at the ballot box come November on the influence of big money in politics. 

PFAW members were among those that played a decisive role in this effort, participating in phone banks, sign-on letters, and signature gathering efforts that led to this exciting accomplishment. Getting Initiative 735 on the ballot was no small feat; as recently as December more than 50,000 signatures remained to be collected. Yet due to the hard work put forth by the WAmend coalition, along with support from PFAW members and many allies, we collected enough signatures so that Washington has the opportunity to become the 17th state to support a constitutional amendment overturning Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United. Such an amendment is critical to getting big money out of politics, and members of Congress, major reform groups and millions of Americans agree.

Public opinion is clear: voters support campaign finance reform, and when given the chance to vote in favor of it, they do. Just this past November, voters in Seattle and Maine passed measures that put in place or strengthened programs to amplify the voices of ordinary people in elections, and to provide opportunities for candidates who want to be competitive in fundraising without being beholden to a few big donors. On the amendment front, more than 680 towns and cities have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the Constitution, in addition to the sixteen states that have already done so.  

While getting Initiative 735 on the ballot is a significant breakthrough, the work is far from over.  We need to win this at the polls in November. Voters in Washington state now have the power to be next in line when it comes to taking a stand for our democracy. While big money continues to pour into the 2016 elections, initiatives like this one remind us that our system is ultimately still accountable to “We the People.” 


Supreme Court Goes Back to Work in January and Shows Again Why Election Day is Judgment Day

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

After a Holiday break, the Supreme Court returned to a full schedule of arguments and other activity in January. The crucial oral argument before the Court this month in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, as well as several cases that the Court agreed to review later this year, again show that on a variety of important issues, the Court has enormous influence but is closely divided. With the president elected in November likely to select as many as four new Supreme Court justices beginning as early as next year, the person we elect as president will be critical. That’s why Election Day 2016 will be Judgment Day for the Court and our rights and liberties.

Friedrichs is the latest battle in what the New York Times has called the “war on workers” and unions being waged by Justice Alito and other conservatives on the Court. A primary target of that war has been a decision almost 40 years ago inAbood v. Detroit Board of Education. In that case the Court determined that although workers cannot be forced to join a union or contribute to its political activities, since that would violate their First Amendment rights, they can be required to help pay for the costs of collective bargaining and related activities from which they benefit even if they are not union members. That solution to what would otherwise be a “free rider” problem is crucial to the ability of unions to effectively represent the interests of workers.  Even though a unanimous Supreme Court recognized the principle of Abood as recently as 2009, subsequent 5-4 decisions written by Justice Alito have criticized that ruling and effectively invited attempts to overturn it. That is exactly what the plaintiffs in Friedrichs, a small group of California teachers, are attempting to do, claiming they should not have to join or pay “fair share” costs to the state teachers union and that Abood should be overturned.

The justices’ comments at the oral argument made clear that the conservative 5-4 majority remains hostile to unions and Abood, and may well be prepared to overrule it this year. (As usual, Justice Thomas did not speak at the argument, but his negative views in this area have been made clear in past opinions). Particularly troubling were some comments by Justice Kennedy, who is often the “swing” vote on the Court, but in this case maintained that “free riders” are really “compelled riders” who, he claimed, are forced to support unions on “issues on which they strongly disagree.” Regardless of the merits of that claim, on which many have disagreed, it strongly suggests that there may now be five votes to overturnAbood, with disastrous consequences for unions and workers.

It is impossible, of course, to predict the precise outcome of a Supreme Court case based on the oral argument, and the Court could issue a decision that does not completely overrule Abood. The Court could send the case back to a lower court for specific fact-finding on issues like the impact of eliminating “free rider” payments on unions, as was suggested at one point in the argument, or could limit its holding to the specific case in California. Particularly if the Court chooses one of those alternatives, the question of who will replace older justices like Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Scalia when they retire will be critical. That is why the election in November of our next president, who will nominate such replacements, is crucial for the Court and workers’ rights. Even an outright overruling of Abood could be softened or revisited, but only if a progressive president is elected and selects more progressives Justices for the Court.

During January, the Court also agreed to review several important cases on other subjects this year. The case that has generated the most controversy is United States v. Texas, where lower courts have put on hold the president’s executive orders on immigration that would defer deportation enforcement against millions of undocumented immigrants who have children who are citizens or legal permanent residents and would be able to apply for jobs and stay in the U.S. for three years.  Twenty-six states led by Texas filed the challenge, and the huge partisan divide on the question almost guarantees that it will be an election issue this fall. The most extreme Justices on the Court (Scalia, Alito and Thomas) have voted against virtually every significant Obama initiative that has come before the Court, and the Court’s decision to add a question for the parties to address - whether the Obama order is consistent with the Constitution’s language that the president should “take care” that federal laws be “faithfully executed” -- suggests deep skepticism by some of the justices. The decision itself could have a huge impact not only on this specific issue, but also on the ability of a future progressive president to take other executive action in the face of a recalcitrant Congress. However this case is decided, there is also little question that these issues will return to the Court in 2017 or later, and the views of the president who will appoint future justices will be crucial to the results. 

The Court also decided in January to review several other important cases this year. In one, the Court has been asked to decide whether a state constitution can more strictly separate church and state than the increasingly conservative Supreme Court has and can prohibit any direct state financial aid to religious institutions. Thirty-five states have such constitutional provisions, and the Court is very divided on such religion issues, which are very likely to come up in the future as well. And in another big business vs. consumers case, the Court will consider what must be proven to prosecute someone for illegally using inside company information for stock or other trading. This issue has divided lower courts, one of which has adopted a narrow interpretation that has dealt a significant setback to the efforts of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara to crack down on insider trading in the $3 trillion hedge fund industry. The Court is likely to be divided on this issue as well.

The Court’s decisions in both these cases later this year will be important in and of themselves. But they are also very unlikely to be the last word on the significant big business, consumer, and religion issues they raise. The fact that these and other crucial issues will be decided by this divided Court in the future, and the fact that four justices on the current Court will be over 80 in the next president’s first term, is what makes the identity of the president who will appoint future justices so important. Statements this month by both Democratic and Republican candidates show that, even as they also discuss other issues, they clearly recognize the importance of the election for the future direction of the Court. In short, Election Day 2016 truly is Judgment Day for the Supreme Court and for all of our rights and liberties.


Supreme Court Rejects Attempt At Restrictive Six-Week Abortion Ban

There has long been a debate raging within the anti-abortion movement between those who have mapped out a careful strategy to slowly chip away at Roe v. Wade through incremental restrictions on abortion and those who want to launch legal broadsides against abortion rights in the hopes that one will take Roe down once and for all.

The incrementalists will have their big day in court on March 2, when the Supreme Court hears arguments in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a challenge to a set of laws in Texas that seeks to cut off access to legal abortion even as the procedure remains legal. Whole Woman’s Health is the culmination of a decades-long strategy by groups like Americans United for Life to choke off abortion access by creating unnecessary regulations on clinics. These groups are also hoping to get the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe in the form of laws banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, just before when the court has said that abortion bans are legal.

But those who want to find a silver bullet to end abortion rights completely just had a day in court too … and it didn’t go well for them.

The Supreme Court today declined to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that struck down North Dakota’s “fetal heartbeat” law, which would have banned abortion at about six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know that they are pregnant. The law was clearly unconstitutional — one prominent anti-choice lawyer has called such efforts “futile” — but North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said that it was an “attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.”

The boundaries of Roe v. Wade, it turns out, however much they may be weakened by incremental restrictions, still prevent banning almost all abortions.

Yet today’s rejection is unlikely to halt the efforts of “heartbeat bill” crusaders, the most prominent of whom is Religious Right activist Janet Porter, who is currently running for the legislature in her home state of Ohio in an effort to push such a bill through.


PFAW, CODEPINK and Allies Speak Out Against Trump

Donald Trump has established himself as the candidate of hatred and bigotry, and he's dragging the rest of the party along with him. Anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric has become the norm in the GOP presidential debates, as Trump's policy proposals become more absurdly racist and xenophobic -- like a ban on allowing any Muslims to enter the United States.

In the face of this, the progressive movement is standing up for what's right. Over 30,000 PFAW members have already pledged to stand strongly against fascist policies that restrict our basic rights, like the ones Trump has built his campaign on. And our allies at CODEPINK are leading the #StopHateDumpTrump campaign, calling on Americans of all political affiliations to speak out in every way possible against political fear-mongering.

Together, we are pledging to take action in the face of hatred and bigotry that stand in stark contrast to our fundamental American values.