YP4 Featured Fellow: Elena Swartz

Young People For (YP4), a program of People For the American Way Foundation, is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of student leaders turn their idealism into actions that advance social change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 Fellows design and implement a capstone project called the Blueprint for Social Justice and work on social justice projects of their choosing. We’ll be highlighting the work of some of our outstanding Fellows here.

This week, we’re pleased to introduce Elena Swartz, representing Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

Recognizing the importance strong voter turnout in order to foster positive change in her community, Elena chose to organize a Civic Empowerment Summit at Bryn Mawr as her Blueprint for Social Justice. The summit provided information on how students can be a voice for change through vote work on campus and in their community, and was strategically planned in the spring to help students plan their voter engagement work ahead of the upcoming fall elections. During the training, Elena shared strategies for effective campus and community outreach, volunteer recruitment, data management, voter registration and more. Elena’s project is so important because the right to vote is constantly under attack by those who want to disenfranchise certain groups of voters for political gain, such as students.

Across the country, states are implementing Voter ID laws that exclude student ID’s from the list of acceptable forms of identification, imposing strict residency requirements to register to vote and some are even requiring college students to travel to their home precincts to vote instead of casting a ballot near their campuses. By organizing and educating her fellow students, Elena is helping to empower young people to take a stand against these measures and strengthen our fundamental rights.

PFAW Foundation

Guest Post: YP4, Norman Lear, and a Movement Family

By Erik Lampmann

Norman Lear, more so than almost any other, understands the inspiration, joy, and revitalization to be had by bringing together a diverse and wide movement to share in moments of success -- large and small. This week, I was honored to attend Norman Lear’s 90th Birthday celebration and the kick-off to the Young Elected Officials Network’s national convening. An alum of the Young People For (YP4) millennial fellowship program, I was invited to the event to share my experience and represent young people active in the progressive movement. While being in the presence of celebrities, major donors, and political leaders would give any college student simultaneous sensations of absolute fear and overwhelming excitement, I think the most poignant emotion I felt during the night was a profound sense of purpose, of drive, of calling.

Of the activists and organizers I met Thursday, I was continually impressed not by their successes -- be they electoral, issue-based, or local -- but by their resounding human spirit. From Norman Lear’s keen ability to enrapture a crowd -- whisking them from applause line to somber reflection -- to the YEO members who not only envisioned change but came to embody it within themselves, I was humbled. From talking to students from different campuses about the wins and losses of their organizations this Spring semester to discussing the Presidential Medal Freedom with Dolores Huerta, to hearing Jane Lynch give an interview on the consequences of the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court case, I was astounded by the grace with which my peers in the movement campaigned for justice with compassion.

I will confess that I am, at times, disillusioned with the progressive movement, in general. As a campus organizer working on progressive public policy and LGBTQ justice in Richmond, VA, I am often disheartened at the gap between what we’ve currently achieved and the ideal that we continue to pursue. While everyday I see the stifling states’ rights conservatism of the former Capital of the Confederacy, local progressive wins seem much slower coming. For these reasons, the reinvigoration of the PFAW Foundation celebration of this past week could not have come at a better time. As I complete a summer research fellowship on political theory and strategize for next year’s mobilizations on-campus, I am reminded of the inclusive, accomplished, and intentional family of YP4 and the dedication of People For the American Way Foundation in the pursuit of justice, equality, and the American Way even despite the challenges ahead.

Indeed, our fight as a movement has never been more necessary or the challenges we face more dire. Most recently, conservative ad hominem attacks on Attorney General Eric Holder continue to distract Congress from meaningful action. Out-of-touch elected officials continue to hold hostage major pieces of policy legislation from confronting the student debt crisis to tackling the federal deficit. Voter suppression bills are -- this very minute -- actively disenfranchising the elderly, youth, and communities of color across the country. Reproductive justice continues to be vilified and erased from popular discourse by those who censure speeches in the Michigan State House, for example, or close all of the abortion clinics in Mississippi simply in order to devalue the personal autonomy of women. Racial profiling continues to make life for undocumented people in Arizona and Alabama that much more difficult. Queer folks continue to challenge a heterosexist culture that seeks to tokenize their experience while the elderly, young people, and the differently-abled are shunned to the margins of political discourse.

Reflecting on the significance of Thursday’s event as well as the struggles to come reminds me of a refrain within this piece, the need for solidarity and union within our movement family. I think my sentiment is expressed best by a quote I first heard at a YP4 training: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” -- Assata Shakur.

Erik Lampmann is a junior studying political theory and French at the University of Richmond (VA) and a 2011-2012 YP4 Fellow. 

PFAW Foundation

PFAW Shows Support for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

People For the American Way staff, members and activists braved the heat today to showcase their support for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, alongside hundreds of others Americans outside the United States Supreme Court. However, PFAW was not merely standing silently while awaiting the court’s decision. We were busy waving signs reading “Don’t Hijack My Healthcare” and “Fear Romney Court,” and chanting “Health Care for All!”

Finally the clock had struck 10 a.m. and the tea party began celebrating due to premature and incorrect reports. Upon finally learning the court’s actual 5-4 decision to uphold the Act, PFAW and so many of the other supporters outside the Supreme Court began celebrating, cheering, and embracing. The Tea Party had found a microphone to continue spreading their propaganda, but the sounds of progress drowned them out. Today was an important win. To partially quote Vice President Biden, this is “a big…deal.”



A Few Thoughts About the Supreme Court’s Obamacare Decision

First and foremost, today’s Supreme Court ruling was an extraordinarily important win for anyone who cares about healthcare. As Justice Kennedy’s dissent made clear, the Court’s most conservative members were on the verge of trashing the entire Affordable Care Act, including provisions ending discrimination because of preexisting conditions, allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ health plans, and reigning in some of the worst excesses of the insurance industry. All of that was at stake today, and the Court’s ruling will allow millions of people to receive better, more affordable health care. Hallelujah for that.

But today’s ruling also shows how dangerously extreme our Court has already become.

To be clear: there should be no question that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. The Constitution’s text and history, bolstered by decades of precedent support the law. The fact that the nation was forced to endure a grueling legal drama over the Act’s fate says nothing about the constitutionality of the mandate itself (which has been supported by Republicans ranging from Mitt Romney to Newt Gingrich) and everything about the makeup of our federal courts. As John Cassidy pointed out yesterday at The New Yorker, the challenge to the Affordable Care Act is the result of decades of concerted work by the far Right:

Though the case against Obamacare that the Court is considering is a legal travesty, lacking in serious foundation, the moment is truly momentous. After thirty years of organizing, strategizing, and mobilizing, the conservative counter-revolution may be about to win its biggest victory yet: the striking down of a massive new government program, and, equally important, the overthrowing of a legal doctrine that Administrations of both parties have relied on for seventy years to regulate the economy.

In the wake of Roe and the Warren Court’s Civil Rights and religious liberty decisions, the Right realized that in order for its agenda to win in the Courts, it needed to change the judges. Judicial restraint aside, Conservative activists in black robes are powerful advocates for the Right’s extreme agenda, and Republicans have been relentless in placing partisan ideologues on the bench throughout the judicial system.

The four votes in favor of striking down Obamacare are a monument to that strategy and a promise of things to come. Twenty-five years after his own nomination was rejected by a bipartisan coalition, Robert Bork has a new job as Mitt Romney’s chief judicial advisor. If Romney wins in November, votes that upheld the Affordable Care Act will likely be replaced with votes to strike it down, legal niceties be damned.

Finally, it would be wrong to read this ruling—especially Justice Roberts’ portion of it—in isolation. Some supporters of the Act have been quick to applaud the Chief Justice’s vote to uphold the law, but the details of his decision and his broader agenda are profoundly disturbing. Not only does his ruling today carry frightening implications for future cases under the Commerce Clause--which undergirds a panoply of hard won progressive legislation—it says little about the issues most squarely in his sights. In voting to uphold Obamacare, Roberts paused only briefly from his ongoing gutting of laws protecting Civil Rights, women’s rights, environmental protections, clean elections and labor unions. It would be unconscionable if Roberts’ vote to uphold health care reform distracted from, say, the likelihood that he’ll eviscerate the Voting Rights Act next year.

All told, progressives shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate today’s ruling: a win is a win. But no one should forget that our Court has lurched dangerously to the right in recent years, and that if Mitt Romney achieves the White House in November, today’s narrow victory will become tomorrow’s devastating defeat.


Wisconsin Voter ID Undermined by Ethics Violation

Defenders of Wisconsin’s Act 23 (aka AB 7), a voter ID law sponsored by ALEC affiliated legislators and signed by ALEC alum Scott Walker, were dealt a blow last week when State Representatives Robin Vos and Bob Ziegelbauer were forced to end their attempt to intervene in court on behalf of the law. The Government Accountability Board determined that they received legal services in a manner inconsistent with the state ethics code.

Representatives Vos, himself an ALEC State Chair, and Ziegelbauer previously refused to state where they received political funds to cover their legal fees, but yesterday a Republican National Committee spokesperson revealed that the RNC was footing the bill.

Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now:

The RNC involvement in this state lawsuit clearly reveals a strategy to use Wisconsin state legislators as pawns to advance legislation to suppress voting and gain partisan advantage in this battleground state.

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

Biden Challenges Americans to Picture a Romney Court

Seems like Biden has an opinion on a Romney Supreme Court, as reported by CNN Political Ticker:

"Close your eyes and picture what the Supreme Court would look like four years from now under Romney," Biden said to groans from a crowd of supporters at a rally in Dubuque. "Tell me what you think would happen to women's rights in this country, civil rights."

Good to note that we’re not the only ones afraid of a Romney Court. Not worried yet? Check out


Split Decisions Impact Immigration and Unions

Here’s a quick recap of the Supreme Court’s decisions during the past week: Unions are now further disadvantaged and despite some important changes to the state’s immigration law, racial profiling remains a viable option for Arizona law enforcement.

On June 21, the Supreme Court issued its decision on Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000. The case dealt with a labor policy several states have, known as agency shops, in which employees are not required to become members of the union representing their place of employment, but must pay dues since they benefit from the work the union does. At the point in which all employees working at an establishment that has a union presence are receiving higher wages, more vacation days, and overall better working conditions, it is only fair that all employees pay union dues and not free-ride off of just the union members who pay.

However, in the case of public sector unions, the Supreme Court held a generation ago that non-members have the right to opt out of having their dues used for political activity by the union, effectively weakening the union’s ability to operate on its members’ behalf. In Knox, the Court criticized the balance struck in 1986 and ruled that when the union has a mid-year special assessment or dues increase, it cannot collect any money at all from non-union members unless they affirmatively opt-in (rather than opt-out). This ruling addressed an issue that wasn’t raised by the parties and that the union never had a chance to address, furthering the Right Wing’s goal to hamper a union’s ability to collect dues and make it harder for unions to have a voice in a post-Citizens United political environment. To add insult to injury, Justice Alito let his ideological leanings shine through when he essentially claimed right-to-work laws are good policy.

After the Knox v. SEIU decision, the court released its ruling on the highly contentious 2010 Arizona anti-immigration law, known as S.B. 1070. In a 5-3 decision, the court struck down the majority of the southwestern state’s draconian immigration policy. The court ruled that much of the state’s law unconstitutionally affected areas of law preempted by the federal government, acknowledging the impracticality of each state having its own immigration policy. Oppressive anti-immigrant provisions were struck down, such as one criminalizing the failure to carry proof of citizenship at all times, and a provision making it illegal under state law for an undocumented immigrant to apply for or hold a job. The decision also recognized that merely being eligible for removal is not in itself criminal, and thus the suspicion of being eligible for removal is not sufficient cause for arrest.

Although the majority of S.B. 1070 was overturned by the Supreme Court this week, one component remains, at least for the moment. Officers can still check the immigration status of anyone stopped or arrested if they had “reasonable suspicion” that the individual may be undocumented. This keeps the door wide open for racial profiling. Arresting an individual is not the same as being convicted for a crime. Latinos and other minority groups can be stopped for a crime as simple as jaywalking and “appear” suspicious enough to warrant an immigration background check. By leaving this portion of the law, the US Supreme Court has, for the time being, allowed the potential profiling of thousands of Arizona residents, regardless of whether they are immigrants or US citizens, but has left open the ability to challenge the manner in which this provision is put into practice.


PFAW, AAMIA support Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus

Tomorrow, June 28, marks another milestone in the fight against bullying. Chairman Mike Honda and dozens of his colleagues are set to launch the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus.

The Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus will be a premier forum for individuals and advocates from private sector organizations and non-profit agencies, educators, students, and everyday individuals, along with Members of Congress, to proactively respond to issues of bullying – both online and offline. This includes providing a safe environment to hear from individuals who have been involved in different aspects of bullying and also recognizing the importance of addressing external issues that lead to bullying behavior. We all share the responsibility of creating welcoming and inclusive environments to foster a more vibrant, educated, and respectful society. The Caucus will generate positive solutions -- starting with an inclusive, focused dialogue.

Jen Herrick, Senior Policy Analyst, People For the American Way:

Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides in 2010, People For the American Way took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. Today we are proud to support the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus. We commend Chairman Honda and his colleagues for uniting to address what has become a pervasive national problem.

Leslie Watson Malachi, Director, African American Ministers in Action:

The hundreds of progressive faith leaders across the country who are members of African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA) comprise not only a body of clerics but also a body of concerned parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, sisters and brothers of school age children and youth. We look forward to working with Chairman Honda and the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus to turn the tide on bullying.

Stay tuned for our special report from launch day!

In the meantime, click here for more information, and be sure to check out Big Bullies: The Right Wing’s Anti-Anti-Bullying Strategies, which details the efforts of right-wing activists and organizations to prevent school districts from implementing strong anti-bullying policies that protect LGBT and LGBT-perceived students. This Right Wing Watch: In Focus report is an update to our April 2011 edition.


Lawsuits, politics color voter ID in Pennsylvania

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania lawmakers passed HB 934, a voter ID law whose original sponsor, Daryl Metcalfe, is an ALEC member. Voting rights advocates filed a lawsuit in May, and in June, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that he, too, plans to challenge the law in court. Fitzgerald and local officials cite the legislation as being too expensive and too difficult to implement by November, among other major flaws.

Even Secretary of State Carol Aichele, who has been touring the state to defend the law, seems to have fallen prey to one particular flaw – the restrictive expiration date clause, which is expected to bar a large chunk of the student population from the polls. When displaying her own ID, it was noticed that it lacked an expiration date, automatically invalidating it for voting purposes.

Aichele and other proponents claim that HB 934 will minimize so-called widespread voter fraud. There is a reason the Right Wing has been so eager to invent such a problem and then offer gratuitous solutions: to disenfranchise the voters least likely to back conservative politicians. Indeed, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a one-time ALEC member recently suggested that the new law will deliver Pennsylvania for Mitt Romney in November.

The first of the HB 934 trials is set to begin at the end of July, setting the stage for what will surely be a long battle.

Until then, 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

US Rep joins Citizens United fight after Phila. passes resolution

The Philadelphia City Council added its voice to the growing grassroots chorus against the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizen’s United v. Federal Elections Commission last week, when it passed a resolution in support of amending the Constitution to overturn the decision.

Resolution No. 120601 was originally introduced by Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez and co-sponsored by Councilmembers Curtis Jones, Cindy Bass, and Marian Tasco. The resolution passed by a majority voice vote without roll-call and yielded strong community support.

Steve Masters, team leader of Public Citizen’s Democracy is For People Campaign in Philadelphia, stated:

This great city, which gave birth to both our democracy and our Constitution, is not about to sit quietly and watch our nation lose that precious gift. We’re willing to fight as hard as we need to defend and preserve our democracy for ourselves and future generations.

Responding to Philadelphia’s action, Congressman Robert Brady (PA-1) issued a press release announcing his support for amending the Constitution. That endorsement is significant, and shows why these local resolutions are essential: they connect everyday citizens with their representatives, facilitating a form of grassroots democracy that, in the age of super PACs and big money politics, is severely needed.

Since the Court’s ruling two years ago, the negative effects of Citizens United have been felt nationwide, and have sparked a movement. States like Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont and Rhode Island, and local governments from Los Angeles to New York have passed resolutions calling upon Congress to propose a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision. Over 1,700 public officials at the local, state, and federal levels are on the record in support, and thirteen amendment resolutions have been introduced by senators and representatives in the 112th Congress.

For more information about Citizens United and on how to join the fight for defending democracy, check out PFAW’s Government by the People Campaign and United For The People.


Voting rights victory in New Hampshire

With voting rights under attack nationwide, it was refreshing to see New Hampshire Governor John Lynch veto two bills last week that would have required identification at the polls and profoundly impacted voter registration.

SB 289 was "voter ID lite" requiring voters unable to provide ID to sign an affidavit and have their photo taken, and after 2013, accepting as valid only state-issued IDs like a driver’s license, military ID, or passport, and rejecting student IDs.

Governor Lynch:

The right to vote is a fundamental right that is guaranteed to all citizens of this State under the United States and New Hampshire Constitutions. Our election laws must be designed to encourage and facilitate voting by all eligible voters in New Hampshire. […] SB 289 would put into place a photo identification system that is far more restrictive than necessary.

SB 318 would have altered residency requirements and other voter registration regulations that could have had a profound impact, especially among the student population. Its lead sponsor, Senator Sharon Carson, is an ALEC member who also supported SB 289.

Governor Lynch:

Persons who are 18 and older who attend college in New Hampshire should be able to vote regardless of where they drive or have a license. This provision is overly broad and will effectively require resident seniors, as well as retirees and young persons coming from out of state, to register a car and apply for a New Hampshire license in order to vote. […] Any changes to our voting procedures must ensure a person's constitutional right to vote is protected. This bill does not meet that test.

An attempt to override both vetoes is expected tomorrow, requiring a two-thirds majority.

In the meantime, 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

ALEC-Supported Disability Scholarship Program Challenged in Oklahoma, Threatens Public Schools and Church-State Separation

In June 2010 the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Act was signed into law in Oklahoma. The law allows parents of disabled students—without regard to financial need— to take funds appropriated to public schools and divert them to help pay for private school education.

But five counties in the state voted not to process the scholarships, correctly viewing them as a threat to public education, and now face lawsuits from parents of some disabled students. Two districts, Jenks and Union, responded with a countersuit the following September, pointing out that the act violates the state constitution because it uses public money to fund sectarian schools, in violation of the state constitution’s so-called "Blaine Amendment," which forbids using public money to support religious entities. They explained that public schools are adversely affected by the act as it drains their resources, and that public schools have the constitutional right to protect their revenues. The districts also showed that the law allows for the use of public funds that do not serve a public purpose, again in violation of the state constitution. They demonstrated that this is the case both because the law fails to restrict the use of state funds by private schools to secular purposes and because it requires that recipient students forgo protections granted to them by the federal Individuals With Disabilities Education Act.

On March 27, 2012 Tulsa County Judge Rebecca Nightingale sided with the school districts, ruling the law unconstitutional, though a stay was granted pending appeal.

A timeline detailing the events of the case can be found here.

The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty represented the litigating parents. This organization describes its mission as to "defend the religious rights of people" of all faiths. Such a firm should support the protection of minority religious rights by restricting state support of religion. Yet, curiously, the group is opposed to Blaine Amendments, referring to Oklahoma’s as a "bigoted provision that targets religious groups." This opposition to the separation of church and state is perhaps unsurprising once one discovers that the firm is supported by right-wing organizations including notorious ALEC bankrollers the Koch Family Foundations, who are known to envisage a country in which right-wing religion and politics are intimately intertwined.

In fact, the law has ALEC footprints all over it. The wording of the bill is strikingly similar, and at points identical to, the model "Special Needs Scholarship Program Act" passed by the ALEC Education Task Force. That Task Force is chaired by Mickey Revenaugh of Connections Academy. Connections Academy is a division of Connections Education, a multi-billion dollar corporation that profits hugely from the transfer of taxpayer funds from public to private educators. ALEC’s legislative success is no surprise, as two of the bill’s sponsors are alternates on the Task Force. Many other legislators in the state have overt ALEC ties.

The Special Needs Scholarship Program push is part of a larger nationwide effort by ALEC and its supporters to privatize education by swiping taxpayer dollars from public schools and passing them to private ones. Programs are often targeted toward sympathetic groups (such as children with special needs), which helps proponents gain a foot in the door toward a more widespread privatization of education. A similar program has been enacted in Georgia and another is making its way through the legislature in Wisconsin.

As Steve Klingaman at Salon puts it:

ALEC’s true vision is […] corporate control of the classroom. The equivalent of competition between MacDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s; that, after all, is the final-stage outcome of the realization of ALEC’s vision for American education. The goal is to make education safe for duopoly capitalism with taxpayers footing the bill.

The scholarship program is also being pushed by the Religious Right, who want taxpayer dollars to be spent on private schools that lack state academic standards. At such schools children can be taught creationism and other sectarian ideas.

The Oklahoma case is now being appealed to the Supreme Court of Oklahoma, where some legal experts expect the law to be upheld despite what they say are its clear constitutional violations.

ALEC continues to magnify corporate influence on the government of Oklahoma, with disastrous consequences for everyday citizens. ALEC’s status as a corporate agent is clear; it receives only 2% of its funding from dues from its member legislators. The rest comes from corporations: from corporate ‘foundations’ like the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, and from corporate-funded trade associations like PhRMA .

In May of 2013, ALEC will hold its Spring Task Force Summit right in the heart of the state in Oklahoma City. There, behind closed doors, corporate lobbyists and ALEC legislators will vote as equals on adopting ‘model legislation’ like the "Special Needs Scholarship Act" – legislation that benefits corporations and not the American people.

PFAW Foundation

Supreme Court Reverses MT Court, Affirms Flawed Citizens United Decision

Any hope that the Supreme Court would reconsider the disastrous Citizens United decision was dashed this morning, when the Court in a 5-4 decision summarily reversed a Montana Supreme Court decision on campaign finance without even hearing oral arguments. Rather than acknowledge the obvious damage done to our democracy in the 2½ years since Citizens United was decided, the five arch-conservatives solidified the distorted electoral playing field they created that lets the powerful few overwhelm the rest of America in deciding our elections.

Citizens United struck down federal restrictions on corporate independent expenditures to support or defeat a candidate based on two premises: (1) the First Amendment gives corporations the same First Amendment right as people to make independent expenditures to influence elections; and (2) independent expenditures do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. But late last year, the Montana Supreme Court upheld that state’s restrictions on corporate independent expenditures, citing its unique history of political corruption and the many factors that distinguish state and local races from the federal races at issue in Citizens United.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court quickly granted a request to stay that decision as likely at odds with Citizens United, two Justices pointed out the opportunity the Montana case raised to re-examine Citizens United’s faulty factual assumptions:

Montana's experience, and experience elsewhere since [Citizens United] make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations "do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption." A petition for certiorari will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates' allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.

Today, due to Citizens United and its progeny, political candidates’ top staffers go off to form purportedly independent “super PACs” to accept the multi-million dollar checks that the formal campaign cannot legally accept. Karl Rove and his allies are planning to raise $1 billion, much of it anonymously given, to impose Republican control over all levers of the federal government. Organizations like the Chamber of Commerce funnel millions upon millions of dollars from corporate coffers to buy up the airwaves, refusing to disclose to the American people who is paying for the political advertising they are bombarded with.

Even when wealthy donors hide their identity from the American people, they make themselves known to the candidates who benefit from their largesse. No one doubts their influence over the officials who they put into office – and who they could turn their millions of dollars against if crossed.

No one who has seen the transformation in our democracy in the past 29 months could possibly believe that “independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” This basic factual assumption underlying Citizens United has been shown to be incorrect.

As Justice Breyer said in his dissent from the Court’s decision:

“[M]ontana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the Court’s decision in Citizens United casts grave doubt on the Court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.”

The Montana case was the Court’s chance to right a terrible wrong and take our country off a dangerously anti-democratic path. History will remember this as a great opportunity lost to the American people.


Court’s Conservatives Join Right Wing Attack on Unions

The right wing effort to defund unions opened a new front at the Supreme Court this morning in the case of Knox v. SEIU, as the five conservative Justices crafted a new constitutional rule that will make it harder for public sector unions to protect workers’ rights. To do this, they violated the Court’s own rules about not addressing an issue that was not before them, in order to destabilize a careful balance established a generation ago by a Supreme Court more respectful of the law.

On one side is a public sector union's right, as employees' exclusive collective bargaining representative, to require nonunion employees to pay a fair share of the union's costs. On the other side is the constitutional limitation on the union's right to collect fees from dissenting employees for political purposes not germane to the union's duties as an agent for collective bargaining ("non-chargeable expenses"). (It is a constitutional issue because the contributions are required by law of public sector employees.)

In the 1986 Hudson case, the Supreme Court ruled that a public sector union must annually notify employees of its anticipated expenses for the upcoming year, saying the percentage that is non-chargeable. The union must then give dissenting employees a chance to opt out of paying the non-chargeable percentage.

In this case, SEIU, representing California state employees, imposed a temporary dues increase during the Hudson year in order to raise funds to fight anti-worker initiatives placed on the California ballot. It did not provide an additional opt-out opportunity. Consistent with that year's Hudson notice, dissenting nonmembers were assessed about half of the temporary dues increase, and they sued.

Seven Justices agreed that SEIU was required to send out a new Hudson notice. But rather than end the case there, the five conservatives chose to place a new obstacle to union funding by addressing a question that was not before them. Specifically, they decided that the existing opt-out system set forth in Hudson “substantially impinge[s] upon the First Amendment right of nonmembers.” Therefore, they ruled, when there is special assessment or dues increase, the union cannot collect any additional dues from non-members unless they affirmatively opt in.

Justice Sotomayor's concurring opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg and with Justices Breyer and Kagan agreeing in their dissent, harshly condemned this unwarranted action:

Petitioners did not question the validity of our precedents, which consistently have recognized that an opt-out system of fee collection comports with the Constitution. They did not argue that the Constitution requires an opt-in system of fee collection in the context of special assessments or dues increases or, indeed, in any context. Not surprisingly, respondents [SEIU] did not address such a prospect.

Under this Court’s Rule 14.1(a), “[o]nly the questions set out in the petition, or fairly included therein, will be considered by the Court.” …

The majority’s refusal to abide by standard rules of appellate practice is unfair to the Circuit, which did not pass on this question, and especially to the respondent here, who suffers a loss in this Court without ever having an opportunity to address the merits of the question the Court decides.

We can never forget that the Roberts Court, in an aggressively political act, asked the parties in Citizens United to argue a new issue not raised in their pleadings, so that the Court would be able to overrule precedent that no one was questioning. When the political prize is tempting enough, the Court’s arch-conservatives enthusiastically reach out for the brass ring. Today, the five arch-conservatives on the Roberts Court might as well have taken off their judicial robes and donned Scott Walker tee-shirts in their zeal to make it harder for unions to protect workers.

PFAW Foundation

ABA Expresses “Grave Concern” Over Obstruction of Judicial Nominees

Last week, Senate Republican leaders sharply escalated their obstruction of judicial nominees, saying they will block all votes on all circuit court nominations until after the election. Yesterday, Bill Robinson, the president of the nonpartisan American Bar Association, condemned this decision in no uncertain terms in a letter to Senate Democratic and Republican leaders.

Amid concerns that the judicial confirmation process is about to fall victim to presidential election year politics through the invocation of the "Thurmond Rule," I am writing on behalf of the American Bar Association to reiterate our grave concern for the longstanding number of judicial vacancies on Article III courts and to urge you to schedule floor votes on three pending, noncontroversial circuit court nominees before July and on district court nominees who have strong bipartisan support on a weekly basis thereafter.

Robinson specifically mentioned several of the circuit court nominees who have been needlessly caught up in this trap, including William Kayatta of Maine (to the First Circuit), Robert Bacharach of Oklahoma (to the Tenth Circuit), and Richard Taranto (to the Federal Circuit). Republicans have no legitimate basis to block a vote on them.

[They] are consensus nominees who have received overwhelming approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee. [Kayatta and Bacharach] have the staunch support of their Republican senators. Richard Taranto, nominated to the Federal Circuit, enjoys strong bipartisan support, including the endorsement of noted conservative legal scholars. All three nominees also have stellar professional qualifications and each has been rated unanimously "well-qualified" by the ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

Although not specifically mentioned in the letter, it is also important to schedule a vote on Patty Shwartz, a highly qualified mainstream nominee for the Second Circuit from New Jersey who has the bipartisan support of her Democratic home-state senators and her Republican governor, Chris Christie.

As for the so-called "Thurmond Rule" that Mitch McConnell falsely claims calls for the Senate to simply stop voting on any and all circuit court nominees, the ABA president writes:

As you know, the "Thurmond Rule" is neither a rule nor a clearly defined event. … With regard to the past three election years, the last circuit court nominees were confirmed in June during 2004 and 2008 and in July during 2000. In deference to these historical cut-off dates and because of our conviction that the Senate has a continuing constitutional duty to act with due diligence to reduce the dangerously high vacancy rate that is adversely affecting our federal judiciary, we exhort you to schedule votes on these three outstanding circuit court nominees this month.

Every American deserves their day in court. The American people know it. The American Bar Association knows it. If only Senate Republicans agreed.