UPDATE: ID and assistance restrictions on tap for voters in Mississippi

UPDATE: HB 921, which passed the House in March, has now passed the Senate and gone into concurrence. It’s unlikely to go into effect before the November elections. HB 1315, which also got through the House, has died in committee in the Senate.

Last November, Mississippi voters approved by referendum a voter ID constitutional amendment. Because it requires enacting legislation, the House has passed HB 921. It must get through the Senate and Governor, and be approved by the US Department of Justice, before becoming law. Representative Bill Denny, an ALEC member, is its primary sponsor.

Representative Denny also sponsors HB 1315, which puts voting even further out of reach for those who are blind, disabled, or unable to read and write. Clarion Ledger, page 3:

After passionate debate, lawmakers passed 63-57 a measure that would set up rules on those who can assist a voter and how often. For instance, a Mississippi voter would have to get the assistance of two election officials, rather than just one, and if someone other than an election official were to assist those blind or otherwise disabled, that person must swear under oath he or she has followed the law.

Under that proposed law, those who aren't election officials are limited to helping 10 people. The measure also would require signed declarations of attesting witnesses.

The legislation connects with the voter fraud law, which carries up to five years in prison if convicted. The bill also connects with voter intimidation, which carries up to a year in jail.

Voters seeking assistance deserve strong legal protections, and those providing assistance should have their best interests at heart, but people who face already significant obstacles to enfranchisement shouldn’t be forced to climb even higher hurdles.

For more information, check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

The climate change we all should want

David and Tina Long wanted answers following their son’s 2009 suicide so they held a townhall meeting to address the bullying suffered by Tyler and his classmates. Though well-attended by parents, students, and community leaders alike, Bully highlights a troubling absence – school officials. It’s a sign that climate change is needed.

You see, bullying is an environmental problem. As director Lee Hirsch puts it:

It’s the whole ecosystem of the schools.

Everyone has a stake. It’s not just bullies and the students they target. It’s students who witness incidents. It’s teachers and administrators with the power to intervene. It’s nurses and counselors dealing with the physical and emotional tolls taken. It’s parents trying to get through to their children. It’s community groups who simply want to help. It’s bus drivers:

To support [Bully], [First Student] is working with The Bully Project to help transport 1 million students across the country to see the movie in theaters. Following the film, a trained facilitator will lead a discussion about bullying and bullying prevention.

It’s also not paying lip service to the problem. It’s a genuine interest in making it better now and sustaining those solutions in the future. James Wendorf, Executive Director of the National Center for Learning Disabilities:

It’s having those supports, having those personnel there, but also having them prepared and trained in the right way is absolutely critical.

When we’re out of sync or insincere, you get school officials who skip a townhall. You get a student at that same townhall who says:

It’s a shame that [Tyler Long] had to do this for anybody to notice.

I think that Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association, says it best: (5:24)

Click here for more from the American Federation of Teachers on Tuesday’s DC screening of Bully. And here for more from PFAW.


DOJ takes step forward with latest hate crime indictment

October 28, 2009 marked a historic step forward in the fight for equality. With the signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, President Obama sent loud and clear the message that freedom from violence is a right all Americans should enjoy.

In an ideal world, the law would never be used. But we know that there are victims who need protections based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, and disability. And today, the first-ever indictment was handed down for a violation of the sexual orientation provision of the statute.

The indictment alleges that on April 4, 2011, [David Jason Jenkins, 37, and Anthony Ray Jenkins, 20] kidnapped and assaulted Kevin Pennington because of Pennington’s sexual orientation. According to the indictment, the defendants enlisted two women to trick Pennington into getting into a truck with the defendants, so that the defendants could drive Pennington to a state park and assault him. According to the indictment, the defendants then drove Pennington [to] a secluded area of the Kingdom Come State Park in Kentucky and assaulted him.

What happened to Kevin Pennington is an outrage. That this prosecution is possible is a success for the rule of law.


ALEC's Self-Defense Doesn't Hold Water

Facing unprecedented public scrutiny and the beginnings of a mass corporate exodus, the American Legislative Exchange Council is on defense. This morning, the organization issued a statement explaining that they are a “pro-growth, pro-jobs” policy organization, and really can’t see what all the fuss is about. Here’s a snippet:

"For years, ALEC has partnered with legislators to research and develop better, more effective public policies – legislation that creates a more transparent, accountable government, policies that place a priority on free enterprise and consumer choice, and tax policies that are fair, simple and that spur the kind of competiveness that puts Americans back to work.

"At a time when job creation, real solutions and improved dialogue among political leaders is needed most, ALEC’s mission has never been more important. This is why we are redoubling our commitment to these essential priorities. We are not and will not be defined by ideological special interests who would like to eliminate discourse that leads to economic vitality, jobs and fiscal stability for the states."

Unfortunately for ALEC, these defenses simply don’t hold water. If ALEC’s idea of “discourse” means putting corporate lawyers together with state lawmakers at secret conferences to draft pro-corporate legislation; and “economic vitality” and “jobs” means suppressing the vote, locking up immigrants, busting unions and wrecking the environment – all measures designed to funnel money into the coffers of ALEC’s corporate members regardless of the damage to others – then there’s a lot more fuss headed their way. Here’s part of PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan’s response:

“ALEC’s statement would have us believe that their policies promote ‘economic vitality,’ but it is difficult to see how policies that disenfranchise thousands of voters, create irrational gun laws like ‘Shoot First,’ promote fast tracks to prison for immigrants and endanger our health and safety by gutting environmental protections make any American better off. The true economic consequences of the ALEC agenda – which includes privatizing public resources such as schools and prisons, dismantling unions and stacking the deck against average people who try to seek justice in a court of law – is that wealthy special interests get even richer while the rest of us are left in the dust. ALEC believes in job creation – unless job elimination is better for the bottom line of a few corporations."

The full statement is available here.

PFAW Foundation

Lifting the veil on bullying

The R rating felt ridiculous. It was like R for Ridiculous.

That was what director Lee Hirsch had to say at last night’s Bully screening in DC regarding the ratings controversy that ended last week when an editing agreement was reached to get a PG-13 rating. (Shout out to Katy Butler for her successful petition that attracted more than 500,000 signers, including 35 Members of Congress and celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Meryl Streep.)

Hirsch is right. Rules are rules, but in this case, the R rating would have severely limited Bully's audience. These aren’t the “f” words that fly freely in other films. This is reality. This is what kids in schools are really saying to each other.

Indeed, Bully is a movie that should be shown as widely as possible. To teachers, administrators, and other school personnel. To the parents who are trying to get through to their children. To the kids who are bullied, the ones who do the bullying, and the adults who endure one or both scenarios and carry it with them for the rest of their lives.

As Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association, puts it:

The power of this movie is not just the movie but the conversation after.

There’s so much I could say after seeing Bully, and I can’t capture all of it here, but I’ll share a few key points.

Something that Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, said struck a chord.

[the] importance of everyone telling their stories. I think we have to actually make these kinds of issues real for people.

I think it’s incumbent upon me to tell my own story. I was no exception to the rule that middle school is bad. Kicking my calculator down the hall. Reaching into my locker for lunch money. You get the picture. But there’s one incident that really stands out. I was on the bus and someone asked me if I was gay. I wasn’t then, and am not now, but felt the need to respond with a defensively sarcastic yes. In essence I bullied something I didn’t understand and became the victim all at the same time. Certain people never let me forget. One of them called me “Ellen” during freshman Spanish class. What can you do but laugh it off?

As Alex Libby and I can tell you, laughing it off doesn’t make the problem go away. There’s a scene in Bully where one of Alex’s assistant principals calls a parade of students into her office as part of an investigation into the violence he regularly suffers on the school bus. One of the kids admits that he’s witnessed bullying but says that Alex laughs it off.

Just because the victims laugh it off doesn’t mean that bullying isn’t a problem. Just because Ja’Meya Jackson takes the drastic step of bring a gun to school doesn’t mean that bullying isn’t a problem. Just because we’ve latched on to the “kids will be kids” myth doesn’t mean that bullying isn’t a problem. Violence is not just “messing around,” and bullying is a problem. Even if you can’t make it stop, bullying is a problem. The list goes on for those whose stories are told in Bully.

So what do we do about it?

Kelby Johnson says:

I just keep thinking that I’m the one in this town who can make a change.

Kelby's struggle doesn’t stop there, but we should learn a lesson from her. Change starts with one person standing up and speaking out.

Kirk and Laura Smalley agree.

Out of the power of the individual grows something extraordinary. I believe it's David Long who says in Bully:

Everything starts with one and builds up. Eventually we have an army.

The anti-bullying coalition here in DC continues to grow. Senator Franken is speaking out. 46 civil rights, education, labor, faith, LGBT, and other groups have written to the Senate. 70 wrote to President Obama. But none of us have said it better than Ty Smalley's friend.

If I was the king of the US, I’d make it where everyone was equal, because that’s the way it should be.

Lee Hirsch continues.

This is the dream, and I know people in this room could make that happen.

And what can you do right now?

Join the Bully movement. Heed PFAW’s call to action. Check out AFT and NEA.


Romney’s ‘War on Women’ Gambit

So, Mitt Romney’s campaign has a new idea, which is that they will neutralize the media devastation caused by the GOP’s attacks on women by turning things around and accusing President Obama of waging a “War on Women.” So far, the one piece of evidence Romney’s team has been able to hustle up to back up their new claim is an out-of-context jobs number that Politifact has rated Mostly False.

Asked to explain their new tagline in more detail today, Romney’s advisers were at a loss.

In the meantime, Romney shows no signs of abandoning any of the GOP’s anti-woman policies. The candidates advisors told a reporter that they weren’t sure if their boss supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a landmark law – signed by President Obama – that ensures that women can sue for pay discrimination. Ledbetter fired back, saying, “If he is truly concerned about women in this economy, he wouldn’t have to take time to ‘think’ about whether he supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.”

Romney has done a 180 on reproductive rights, supporting extreme “personhood” measures and calling the Obama administration rule making sure women have insurance coverage for contraceptives an “attack on religious conscience, religious freedom.” When a firestorm erupted over Rush Limbaugh’s false and degrading attacks on Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, Romney simply said Limbaugh’s sexist slurs were “not the language I would have used.”

And of course Romney tapped Robert Bork, a vociferous opponent of feminism and reproductive rights, to head his advisory team on courts and the law.

If Romney wants to convince American voters that his opponent is the one waging a War on Women, he’s going to have an uphill battle.


PFAW to Corporations: Get out of ALEC!

As the American people become more and more aware of the damage caused by the extreme pro-corporate agenda pushed in state legislatures by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the more evident it becomes that this organization is undermining our democracy by advocating for special interest bills that benefit the wealthy few at the expense of the many.

But ALEC can’t do this on their own. They need complicit state legislators to introduce the corporate lobbyist-drafted model bills in state legislatures, but they also rely on the millions of dollars paid annually by major corporations for membership in the organization. That’s why PFAW and a number of other advocacy organization have launched a petition calling on ALEC members like State Farm, Johnson & Johnson and McDonald’s to disassociate from the organization. Over 68,000 people have signed it so far.

ALEC’s agenda is so extreme that the organization is becoming unpalatable even for the corporations that fund it. The Coca-Cola company, PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, and Intuit have already ditched the group, and the Gates Foundation has decided that they will no longer provide grants to ALEC. We need to tell major corporations that funding a secretive organization that hawks legislation that is not in the American people’s interest is not in their interest either. As PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan said,

“Corporate membership in ALEC isn’t just destructive to democracy, it’s also bad for business. Corporations that currently support ALEC have a choice to make: they can continue to underwrite reckless assaults on our rights and wellbeing, or they can stand up for their customers by leaving ALEC immediately.”

ALEC can be tied to the proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” laws like the one that is hindering bringing justice for Trayvon Martin, as well as tons of model bills that are aimed at increasing corporate profits by privatizing schools and prisons, weakening environmental protections, dismantling unions, disenfranchising voters and making it harder to seek justice in a court of law. The American people want nothing more to do with ALEC, and neither should the corporations we support.

PFAW Foundation

The Right to Vote under Attack: Latest News from the States

Voting rights and voter suppression, especially voter ID, continue to make headlines in many states. Below is a sample of the latest. For more information, click here and also check out The Right to Vote under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box, a Right Wing Watch: In Focus report by PFAW Foundation.


Voter ID (HB12-1111) made it through the House but was postponed indefinitely in the Senate. One of its lead sponsors, Representative Kenneth Summers, is an ALEC member.


Evidence continues to mount against what should properly be called the Voter Suppression Act for its disenfranchising impacts, including its reduction of early voting hours and its harsh new restrictions on community groups seeking to help register voters. HB 1355 was originally sponsored by Representative Dennis Baxley, who has ties to ALEC.


The voter ID constitutional amendment (HF 2738) sponsored by ALEC State Chairwoman Mary Kiffmeyer has been approved by the state legislature and will now go to the voters in November. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie says that it will “turn our state's entire election system upside down.” Mike Dean, Executive Director of Common Cause Minnesota, “expects groups opposed to photo ID to challenge the amendment in court on the discrepancy between the ballot question and the actual changes to the Constitution.”


Cole County Circuit Court Judge Pat Joyce struck down the proposed voter ID constitutional amendment (SJR 2) on the grounds that the ballot summary is “insufficient and unfair.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorialized, “In a perverted, poetic justice kind of way, it's pitch perfect that in their alleged attempt to stop voter fraud, Missouri Republicans committed, well, fraud.” Prospects for an appeal are unclear, but the legislature is already working on contingency plans. They might try to bring the same bill back up with a new amendment (HCR 53), or they might get around the court by passing HJR 89. Representative Shane Schoeller, an ALEC member, is behind both, as well as efforts (HB 2109) to pass proof of citizenship for voter registration.


Voter ID looked set to pass before voting rights advocates put the brakes on LB 239, sponsored by Senator Charlie Janssen, ALEC member. But that doesn’t mean their work is over. Nebraskans for Civil Reform and Nebraska Appleseed have called for an investigation into polling place closures in Douglas County. Omaha World-Herald: “But is that cost savings worth making it harder for some people to exercise their right to vote? Is it worth eroding the American voting franchise, discouraging voters from going to the polls, not only because of the extra distance but also because of longer lines?” A lawsuit may be looming.

New Hampshire

SB 289, which would require voters to present valid photo identification, and SB 318, which would alter residency requirements and make other voter registration changes that could have a profound impact, especially among the student population, have both passed the Senate and are due soon in the House, as early as April 10. SB 318’s lead sponsor, Senator Sharon Carson, is an ALEC member who also supports SB 289. Tabled in committee was a bill (HB 1301) concerning oaths for vote challengers and the voters they challenge.

North Carolina

The voter ID battle began last session when the state legislature passed HB 351, legislation requiring photo ID, whose 3 primary sponsors all have ties to ALEC. But the House failed to override Governor Perdue’s veto. Now voting rights advocates are concerned that HB 351 will be pulled out of the “veto garage.”


In July 2011, Governor John Kasich signed a sweeping “election reform proposal” (HB 194) into law. Voting rights supporters were able to move forward with a referendum for repeal, which is set for the November ballot. Now the forces behind HB 194, sponsored by former Representative and ALEC member Robert Mecklenborg, want to head off what they worry will be an embarrassing defeat at the ballot box. Senator William Coley, also an ALEC member, has sponsored his own version of repeal through SB 295. It has passed the Senate and is expected in a House hearing on April 17. We’ll have to see what they try to replace it with, likely much of the same language.


Last month, Representative Daryl Metcalfe’s (an ALEC member) HB 934 passed the Pennsylvania Senate. It got through concurrence by a House vote of 104-88. Governor Corbett signed it as soon as it got to his desk. Though photo ID is now law in Pennsylvania, the legal debate continues, and voting rights supporters continue efforts to demonstrate the impacts, including what it means for students and what it really costs to have “free” ID.

South Carolina

With the state still embroiled in its battle over voter ID, the ACLU and League of Women Voters have moved to intervene, as has the Department of Justice, which rejected the law last year. HB 3003 was originally sponsored by Representative Alan Clemmons, an ALEC member.


Evidence continues to mount against voter ID and now the issue is before the state Supreme Court. Act 23 (aka AB 7) was originally sponsored by Representative Jeffrey Stone and several others with ties to ALEC.

PFAW Foundation

Wisconsin’s Walker Signs Religious Right Wish-List of Bills

We noted on Friday that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, working with a Republican-led state legislature, had taken the extraordinary step of repealing the state’s enforcement mechanism for pay discrimination lawsuits.

But it turns out that’s not all. Daily Kos points out that along with equal pay repeal, Gov. Walker signed what reads like a wish list of bills from the Religious Right:

The first bill bans abortion coverage through policies obtained through a health insurance exchange, set to be created under the federal health care reform law starting in 2014. The only exceptions would be in cases of rape, incest or medical necessity. [...]

The second bill requires a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an exam and consult with a doctor alone, away from her friends and family. The doctor must determine whether someone is pressuring the woman into the procedure. Doctors who break the law could be charged with a felony. [...]

The sex education bill requires teachers in schools that offer sex education to stress abstinence as the only sure way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

The bill also declares that sex education teachers do not have to address contraception. That's a dramatic shift from current state law, which requires teachers to instruct students on birth control options.

And it doesn’t end there. Walker has now decided to stop defending a law that gives gay and lesbian couples the right to visit each other in the hospital, a law that an anti-gay group is disputing in court.

That’s right. After making it harder for women to sue for pay discrimination, setting up demeaning hurdles for women seeking legal abortions, and giving the go-ahead for ineffective sex ed, Gov. Walker is going out of his way to try to keep same-sex couples from visiting each other in the hospital.

Is this the governor’s “jobs” agenda?


UPDATE: Standing up for the freedom to marry, access to healthcare, and immigration equality

UPDATE: Frances and Takako and Tim and Edwin are among five plaintiff couples suing the federal government in a new challenge to the federal-recognition component of the Defense of Marriage Act, filed by Immigration Equality and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Executive Director Rachel Tiven:

The families in today’s lawsuit meet every qualification for immigration benefits, with the sole exception that they happen to be lesbian or gay. Solely because of their sexual orientation, they have been singled out, under federal law, for discrimination and separation. That’s not only unconscionable; it is unconstitutional. We know DOMA cannot withstand careful review, and we know we will prevail on their behalf.

Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California, a Bush nominee, ruled last month against the federal-recognition component of the Defense of Marriage Act, saying:

The Court has found that DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex married couples.

In so doing, Judge White ruled in favor of Karen Golisnki, a Ninth Circuit staff attorney, who had sought the enrollment of her wife, Amy Cunninghis, in her existing family coverage health insurance plan with Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Now the spousal coverage can be granted.

In compliance with that Order, OPM hereby withdraws any outstanding directive regarding the enrollment of Ms. Golinski’s wife, Amy C. Cunninghis, in her family health benefits plan. Please implement an expeditious enrollment of Ms. Cunninghis, pursuant to the Standard Form 2809 dated September 2, 2008 as supplemented by this letter and consistent with the Court’s Order of February 22, 2012.

Judge White’s ruling is consistent with previous rulings and marks yet another step forward in the fight for the freedom to marry. Though applying only to Karen and Amy, it’s a strong statement that legally married couples shouldn’t have to go to court in order to access healthcare. (Click here to learn about the backlash.)

It’s also the latest sign that conservatives in Congress have a tough road ahead in their political push to keep DOMA on the books. On Monday, Representative Jerrold Nadler and the other lead sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act sent a letter to Speaker Boehner asking that he abandon his defense of DOMA.

At a time when families are struggling to make ends meet and asking Congress to focus on jobs, the economy, and federal spending, all Members should be concerned that taxpayers dollars are being used to pay costly legal fees to make arguments that lack adequate factual or legal support, in pursuit of a law that is not worthy of a defense.

Senator Patrick Leahy is also taking a stand.

I am confident that justice and fairness will prevail in the end. Our Nation is too noble and our sense of liberty too strong to tolerate injustice without end. I am heartened by the progress that we are seeing across the country. Public consciousness is evolving, and will reach the point at which discrimination based on sexual orientation becomes another sad relic of our past. I believe we will look back at these prejudices with disappointment and regret, just as we have at other points in our history. But the capacity of our Nation to evolve and progress is a defining characteristic of the American spirit. And the American people ultimately come to reject that which is fundamentally unfair and unjust.

Senator Leahy is the lead sponsor of the Uniting American Families Act, a bill that would allow same-sex “permanent partners” to be united legally through the US immigration process, making them eligible for green cards and immigrant visas. To protect against abuse, UAFA imposes the same penalties for immigration fraud as those currently imposed on married heterosexual couples – and in some cases sets the bar higher for same-sex couples.

Frances Herbert and Takako Ueda, two of Senator Leahy’s constituents, are legally married in Vermont. But Frances cannot sponsor Takako for immigration because they are not married under the eyes of the federal government. After over a decade together, DOMA repeal and, short of that, UAFA are the only ways to ensure that this loving couple is not torn apart or forced to live in a permanent state of uncertainty.

Please support Frances and Takako. And Tim and Edwin. And Michael and Gordon. Then take a moment to add your name to PFAW's petition urging Congress to Dump DOMA and end this unconstitutional, discriminatory policy once and for all.


Walker Steps Up War on WI Women With Repeal of Equal Pay Provision

In July 2009, Wisconsin passed a law making it easier for victims of pay discrimination to seek justice in court.

Today, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill repealing the segment of the law:

The 2009 Equal Pay Enforcement Act was meant to deter employers from discriminating against certain groups by giving workers more avenues via which to press charges. Among other provisions, it allows individuals to plead their cases in the less costly, more accessible state circuit court system, rather than just in federal court.

In November, the state Senate approved SB 202 , which rolled back this provision. On February, the Assembly did the same . Both were party-line votes in Republican-controlled chambers.

SB 202 was sent to Walker on March 29. He had, according to the state constitution, six days to act on the bill. The deadline was 5:00 p.m. on Thursday. The governor quietly signed the bill into law on Thursday, according to the Legislative Reference Bureau, and it is now called Act 219.

Wisconsin voters have put Gov. Walker up for a recall election this summer, along with his lieutenant governor and four of their allies in the state senate. Two of the state senators up for recall, Terry Moulton and Pam Galloway, were a primary sponsors of the repeal. The other two, Scott Fitzgerald and Van Wanggard, voted for its passage.

The repeal of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act is just the latest extreme measure pushed through by Gov. Walker and his Tea Party allies, including an attack on collective bargaining rights, a measure to take away care from 12,000 low-income women served by Planned Parenthood clinics, and a restrictive Voter ID law that has already resulted in voters being turned away from the polls.


Yes, There is a War on Women

In an interview with Bloomberg today, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus claimed that accusing the Republican Party of waging a “war on women” is as absurd as accusing them of a “war on caterpillars”:

“If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we’d have problems with caterpillars,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend. “It’s a fiction.”

Perhaps Preibus should listen to women in his own party before declaring the GOP’s war on women to be a “fiction.” Speaking in Alaska today, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski was very clear that the war on women exists and is alienating female voters. According to the Huffington Post:

"It makes no sense to make this attack on women," she said at a local Chamber of Commerce luncheon, according to the Homer News. "If you don't feel this is an attack, you need to go home and talk to your wife and your daughters."

She also said that she would continue to support funding for Planned Parenthood, adding that the courts have affirmed a legal right to an abortion and she stands by that.

Murkowski criticized GOP presidential candidates for not condemning Rush Limbaugh for calling Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute," which he later apologized for. Fluke was rejected as a witness before a panel on the Obama contraception mandate chaired by House Oversight And Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) last February. (She spoke Thursday to HuffPost in a Q&A.)

"To have those kind of slurs against a woman … you had candidates who want to be our president not say, 'That's wrong. That's offensive.' They did not condemn the rhetoric," she said.


Death of a Ninth Circuit Judge

The death several days ago of Robert Beezer, an 83 year-old senior judge on the Ninth Circuit, highlights the lengths to which semi-retired judges have been going to help ease the crushing caseload burden on their fellow jurists. The LA Times reports on his lifetime of accomplishments and contributions to the legal profession. It also reports:

Like most of the senior judges, Beezer continued to hear cases long after resigning his active judgeship in 1996. As his eyesight failed in recent years, he turned to computerized text-to-audio translation technology to keep up with the voluminous reading required for each case, the court said in its report on his death. ...

Beezer's death now drops to 18 the number of semi-retired senior judges [in the Ninth Circuit] who help shoulder caseloads twice that of the other 12 federal appeals courts.

Just how bad is the caseload crisis? Senator Dianne Feinstein talked about it last year when she was testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of Paul Watford to fill one of the four vacancies on the Ninth Circuit.

I would also like to note that the Ninth Circuit is in serious need of new judges. It has 1,453 cases per three-judge panel. That's by far the highest in the nation, and more than 400 more than the next highest court. Each of the court's vacancies is a judicial emergency.

The term Sen. Feinstein used – "a judicial emergency" – isn't hyperbole. It's a formal category based on caseload used by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to describe those areas where Americans' timely access to justice is at risk. Across the country, there are 34 vacancies that are judicial emergencies, four of which are empty circuit court seats in the Ninth Circuit.

Beezer was the sixth Ninth Circuit judge to die in little over a year. The vacancies there need to be filled.


Stripped of Dignity by the Roberts Court

Last week, the Supreme Court's arch-conservatives made professions of deep concern for the right of the individual to be left alone from a government mandate to purchase insurance. Less than a week later, in yesterday's 5-4 Florence v. Board of Freeholders decision, the same arch-conservatives had no difficulty in approving the needless dehumanization by the government of completely innocent Americans by forcing them to endure the humiliation of unwarranted strip searches.

A New Jersey government database incorrectly stated that Albert Florence had failed to pay an old fine. When he was in a car that was pulled over by a state trooper, the trooper called up the (inaccurate) records and immediately handcuffed and arrested Florence. He was held in jail for seven days and strip-searched twice. As reported by NPR:

Florence said the experience "petrified" and "humiliated" him. Upon entering the jail, he was ordered to take a delousing shower, then inspected by a guard who was about "an arm's distance" away and instructed Florence to squat, cough and lift up his genitals.

Florence subsequently sued, contending that automatically strip-searching a person who is arrested for a minor offense violates the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches.

But on Monday, the Supreme Court disagreed by a 5-4 vote. Writing for the court's conservative wing, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that jails are "often crowded, unsanitary, and dangerous places," and that, therefore, the courts must defer to the judgment of correctional officials in order to prevent new inmates from putting lives at risk with weapons or contraband that they may "carry in on their bodies."

So even the most minor of infractions can now trigger degrading strip searches. Justice Breyer's dissent describes other Americans forced to endure this degradation: a nun arrested for trespassing during an anti-war demonstration; people stopped for driving with a broken headlight or a noisy muffler; a driver who turned without signaling; and a bicyclist riding without a bell. And, of course, as Mr. Florence's case shows, the people forced to endure this may be completely innocent.

The five Justices have corrected the impression that the rest of us had that America isn't the sort of country where the government can arrest innocent people and force them to endure a humiliating strip search with no reason at all to suspect they are hiding anything.

Yet they were so respectful of Tea Partiers who don't want to buy health insurance, expressing deep concern about a fundamental change in the relationship between the American people and their government.

I think Mr. Florence would argue that the five conservatives have already made that change.

PFAW Foundation

Wisconsin: GOP Presidential Primary Shows Where the Energy Isn't

In yesterday's primary election in Wisconsin -- a major defining event in the long, often ugly GOP presidential contest -- less Wisconsin voters turned out to vote in the Republican primary (under 720,000) than signed the petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker (roughly 1 million). The actual turnout fell short of what it was projected to be by a whopping 12 points.

From AP:

Turnout in Wisconsin's presidential primary election was just over 23 percent, falling short of predictions it would be 35 percent.

With 98 percent of precincts reporting Wednesday, just over 1 million people voted in the presidential primary. That was the only race statewide, although President Barack Obama had no opposition.

About 719,000 people voted on the Republican side and about 290,000 voted on the Democratic side.
That equates to about 23.2 percent of the state's 4.3 million eligible voters.

The Government Accountability Board had predicted 35 percent turnout, the same as it was in the 2008 presidential primary when Obama and Hillary Clinton were battling it out. The board also factored in high interest in numerous local elections around the state.