PEOPLE FOR BLOG

The Tea Party Constitution and the Debt Ceiling

Last year, we released a report on the myriad ways that the Tea Party movement – supposedly obsessed with the Constitution – twists the United States’ founding documents beyond recognition.

This month, in the debate over the normally routine process of raising the nation’s debt ceiling to prevent a default and the resulting massive setback to the recovering economy, we get another example.

Republicans in the House have introduced a plan that would, among other demands, require the passage of a constitutional “balanced budget” amendment before they will consider taking a simple step to avert economic disaster. In Slate on Friday, Dahlia Lithwick and Doug Kendall explained why a balanced budget amendment -- championed by Utah senator and Tea Party favorite Mike Lee -- would not just be bad policy…it would be a big departure from the original text and intent of the Constitution:

It's fairly certain that George Washington and the other Founders gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 would be appalled by the Lee amendment. It is not an accident that the first two enumerated powers the Constitution vests in Congress are the power "to lay and collect Taxes … to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States" and "to borrow money on the credit of the United States." The Constitution's broad textual grant of power was a direct response to the Articles of Confederation, which had imposed crippling restrictions on Congress's power to borrow and tax. These restrictions plagued the Revolutionary War effort and made a deep and lasting impression on Washington and other war veterans. Lee and the other proponents of shrinking the federal government to restore freedom misapprehend that the Constitution recognized there would be no freedom without a strong federal government to promote it.

Finally, in a Constitution filled with broad principles of governance, the amendment's arbitrary spending limit of 18 percent of GDP—an awkward and unworkable figure—would stick out like a sore thumb. Contrary to Chief Justice John Marshall's warning in the landmark decision of McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), Lee's arbitrary spending limit "partake[s] of the prolixity of a legal code," and would be out of place in a document that is designed to "to endure for ages to come … to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs."

We face a high duty when amending the Constitution: to match the Framers' maturity and foresight. By every measure that would have mattered to the Founders, Lee's proposed amendment easily flunks this test. Sen. Lee fancies himself a friend to the Constitution and an originalist. So why is he pushing for the ratification of an amendment that would take us back to the days before the Constitution was even ratified? The framers trusted in the wisdom of future legislators. The Balanced Budget Amendment represents a betrayal not only of our future but of our past as well.

Of course, the most pressing issue here is that House Republicans are playing chicken with the world economy in order to uphold massive tax breaks for the rich. But that they’re using such a misguided constitutional amendment as a bargaining chip speaks volumes about the Tea Party’s priorities.
 

PFAW

Republican Obstructionism Knows No Bounds

We’ve seen Republican Obstructionism at work against our federal judicial system, as Sen. Mitch McConnell and his cohorts have blocked many exceptionally-qualified, mainstream jurists from receiving an up-or-down vote in the Senate and many more have been needlessly delayed. But his recent comments regarding the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which still is without a director, unequivocally shows that his priority is to prevent President Obama from building a functioning government that serves the American people. Unfortunately, this means handicapping the CFPB – which was created to help protect Americans from the types of financial abuse by Wall Street that caused the Great Recession and is toothless without a director – just to score political points and curry favor from the financial industry.

Raw Story reports:

President Barack Obama has decided to nominate Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) instead of Elizabeth Warren, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) doesn’t care. He says Republicans still plan to block the nomination.
“I would remind [President Obama] that Senate Republicans still aren’t interested approving anyone to the position until the president agrees to make this massive government bureaucracy more accountable and transparent to the American people,” McConnell announced on the Senate floor Monday.

By making the agency “more accountable and transparent,” Sen. McConnell and other Republicans mean replacing the director with a board of directors and making it easier for other agencies to overrule the CFPB’s actions – in other words, providing more opportunities for the financial industry to insulate itself from oversight and regulation.

It’s pretty easy to see how the Obstructionist agenda might not be in the best interest of the American people.

PFAW

A Milestone for Diversity on the Federal Bench

Today, the Senate confirmed J. Paul Oetken to be a federal judge in the Southern District of New York. He is the first openly gay man to be confirmed as an Article III judge (one with lifetime tenure).

In order for the federal judiciary to effectively protect our constitutional rights, the bench must reflect the diversity of America. That is not to say that demography determines how a judge will rule. But it is true that a person's background can give them insight into the effect of a law that others might miss. Ignorance of a law's actual impact can lead to a serious misanalysis of its constitutionality.

Some of the most notorious Supreme Court cases in history rest on such misunderstandings and show the results of a non-diverse bench. For instance, Plessey v. Ferguson, the 1896 case that upheld racial segregation, reflected the thinking of an advantaged class who had no real idea of how Jim Crow laws affected real people. The majority rejected out of hand

the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.

Similarly, Justice Scalia made headlines in 2009 when he angrily challenged the assertion that non-Christians might not see a Christian cross as a symbol of respect. While they may not have changed his mind, it was good that he had non-Christian colleagues who could have given him a sense of how people different from him are affected by the law. And perhaps the notorious 5-4 Bowers v. Hardwick opinion might have been different had there been an openly gay Justice there to tell his colleagues that their assumptions about "practicing homosexuals" were simply incorrect. Surely discussions of laws impacting women are improved by actually having women on hand to offer the benefit of their experience. And judges who have been stopped for "driving while black" may recognize the real-world impact of certain police practices that might seem relatively benign to others.

A richly diverse judiciary makes it more likely that judges will understand how their decisions will affect ordinary people, and that laws protecting individuals will actually be enforced as intended. President Obama's nomination of J. Paul Oetken is part of his overall efforts to significantly increase the diversity of the bench, an effort that has, unfortunately, been met with stubborn resistance by Senate Republicans.

PFAW

Warren faces Issa one more time before launch of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Elizabeth Warren appeared before the House Oversight Committee yet one more time on Wednesday – her third trip to the Committee – in advance of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) launch next week. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street and Consumer Protection Act, signed into law in nearly one year ago, called for the creation of the CFPB as a way to ensure consumer protection from fraudulent and abusive practices by banks, mortgage companies, lending agencies, and other services and products.

As the lead architect of the agency’s creation, Warren faced relentless questioning from the panels’ Republican members, who probed her about issues including the bureau employee salaries, the agency’s budget, and her views on parts of the Dodd-Frank Act. Instead of finding ways to support an agency tasked, by Congress, with the mission of protecting American consumers from fraud and abuse, it seemed instead that the Republicans were looking for ways to undermine Professor Warren and the work of the upcoming agency.

There is a place for serious oversight for any government agency, but it is clear the Republicans are not interested in oversight, but rather in bringing down the agency before it even gets off the ground.

The CFPB is essential for protecting the financial security, stability, and wellbeing of both American families and the nation’s economy. Indeed, insufficient financial regulations and lack of consumer protections led to the recent financial meltdown that has so devastated our economy and created such hardship for working families.

Chairman Issa has already shown that he is not serious about looking out for the financial interests of the American people. He refuses to issue subpoenas to many of the banks that are behind the foreclosure crisis, abruptly halted an investigation of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission despite legitimate evidence of wrongful malfeasance by some of its members, and continues to attack the work of Elizabeth Warren and the Congressionally mandated agency she has been so instrumental and committed to building.

Congressman Jim Cooper put it best during the hearing when he expressed his disappointment in the committee. He admonished its members for constantly sticking to partisan talking points instead of truly focusing on the heart of the issues and doing what is right for the American people.

While Chairman Issa said he joined Representative Cooper in sharing this important message, let’s see if his actions speak louder than his words.

PFAW

Will California’s LGBT-inclusive curricula promote safer schools?

California's Governor Jerry Brown signed the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act (FAIR Act) today, a landmark piece of legislation requiring the state’s public schools to include LGBT history in their curricula. This major step forward is not only a sign of a significant societal shift, but is also proof lawmakers, activists, and everyday people are working to make things better for LGBT youth.

This exciting news comes at a time when we too frequently hear about numerous LGBT students suffering constant—and sometimes violent—bullying and harassment by their peers and even teachers. Though the FAIR Act is by no means a solution to the bullying problem by itself, its impact will hopefully help foster an environment of tolerance and respect in California’s public schools.

While states such as California continue to make important strides towards equality and inclusiveness, it is important that we continue tackling the bullying problem head on by supporting federal legislation such as the Safe Schools Improvement Act, the Student Non-Discrimination Act, and the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Act.

To learn more about these important pieces of legislation, please see our fact sheet on safe school and find out what you can do to support this effort.

PFAW

PFAW Denounces Voter Suppression Laws

At yesterday’s press conference on Capitol Hill, People For the American Way joined with Rev. Jesse Jackson, 12 other national civil rights organizations and numerous members of Congress to denounce the draconian and suppressive voting measures that have been enacted or are being considered by states across the country.

These laws, which create strict voter ID requirements, will have the effect of disenfranchising over 20 million potential voters who do not have any form of government-issued identification. Voters targeted by this legislation are disproportionately minority, low-income, disabled, elderly or student voters – all populations that the measures’ proponents see as an obstacle to their agenda. Strict voter ID measures have been introduced in more than half of the states so far this year, and Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina and Wisconsin have already passed the legislation.

Of course, past investigations of voter fraud in this country have come to a startling conclusion: it doesn’t exist.  Even during a five-year campaign by President Bush’s Justice Department to prosecute voter fraud, only a few dozen people were ever convicted.  In most cases, they had cast votes without knowing they weren’t eligible.

We believe that it is every eligible American’s constitutional right to cast a vote that counts on Election Day. Efforts to prevent students, minorities, and disabled, elderly or low-income individuals from engaging in our nation’s civic and political life will not be tolerated and are simply not the American Way. People For the American Way is committed to fighting these suppressive voting measures alongside our civil rights allies and will continue to work with our network partners across the U.S. to ensure that every eligible American is able to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Courtesy of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the following map shows vote suppression legislation by state:

PFAW

Judiciary Committee Republicans: More and More Delay

As People For the American Way has noted before, Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans have exercised their prerogative to delay committee consideration of every single one of President Obama's judicial nominees by at least one week, with only four exceptions. More than seventy of these nominees were confirmed without opposition.

Republicans have no good explanation for this. They are doing this simply to obstruct. The routine use of this hold, without cause and almost without exception, is unprecedented. It is part of a larger set of procedural roadblocks the Senate GOP uses to obstruct confirmation of qualified nominees whose only "fault" is that they were nominated by a Democratic president.

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on the nominations of eleven judicial nominees, five of whom were scheduled for the first time. To the surprise of no one, they, too, fell victim to this form of partisan obstruction.

There is no reason that Republicans should have delayed committee consideration of Second Circuit Court nominee Christopher Droney or district court nominees Robert D. Mariani, Cathy Bissoon, Mark R. Hornak, and Robert N. Scola, Jr. All five appeared before the committee last month to answer questions. However, of the eight Republican members of the committee, only Ranking Member Grassley showed up for the hearing, where he spent just a few minutes asking questions of each nominee. Although all committee senators had an opportunity to ask follow-up questions in writing, no Republican but Senator Grassley did so.

So there really is no good reason for Senate Republicans to have exercised their prerogative to hold the vote over by a week for any of these nominees. But Republican obstructionism has become the rule: Highly qualified judicial nominees are blocked solely because they were nominated by a Democratic president.

Committee Republicans should be asked what exactly they need to learn about these nominees that they don't know already ... and, if they have questions, why they chose not to avail themselves of the many opportunities they have had to ask them.

More importantly, they should be asked why they are actively sabotaging the confirmation process when there are judicial crises all around the country. Americans need access to the courts, not partisan mudfights.

PFAW

ALEC’s Elections Agenda

Justin wrote earlier today about the trove of model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that the Center for Media and Democracy released today. ALEC, which is funded largely by corporate interests, is a driving force behind a whole lot of state-level legislation that helps out big business at the expense of individual citizens – legislation that curtails workers’ rights, undercuts public education and other essential government services and, most importantly, and big tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy.

The agenda that ALEC helps to spread to state legislatures doesn’t just help give the group’s corporate funders a leg up – it also helps them keep American voters from wresting away any power they have in the electoral process.

The Nation’s John Nichols went through the ALEC legislation and found not only model Voter ID language – variations of which have been introduced in 33 states this year -- but various attempts to keep voters from imposing campaign finance limits:

Beyond barriers to voting, ALEC is also committed to building barriers to direct democracy. Horrified by the success of living-wage referendums and other projects that have allowed voters to enact protections for workers and regulations for businesses, ALEC’s corporate sponsors have pushed to toughen the rules for voter initiatives. “The legislative process should be the principal policy-making vehicle for developing state law,” declares one 2006 resolution, which specifically mentions concerns about state minimum wage laws, taxation and “the funding of other government programs and services.” ALEC’s Resolution to Reform the Ballot Initiatives Process recommends making it harder to qualify referendum language and suggests that proposals on fiscal issues should require supermajorities to become law.

ALEC is also determined to ensure that citizens do not have the final say on who is elected president, an agenda outlined in such documents as its Resolution in Support of the Electoral College and its ardent opposition to the National Popular Vote project (which it has warned would “nationalize elections and unravel Federalism”). A related resolution encourages state legislatures to formally complain that an interstate compact to defer to the popular will “would allow a candidate with a plurality—however small—to become President.” While ALEC worries about the candidate with the most votes winning, it has no problem with policies that increase the likelihood that the candidate with the most money and corporate support will prevail. Its 2009 Resolution Supporting Citizen Involvement in Elections bluntly “opposes all efforts to limit [citizen] involvement by limiting campaign contributions.” A resolution approved last year expresses support for the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. ALEC even opposes moves to give shareholders a say in the expenditure of corporate funds on campaigning. At the same time, ALEC urges legislators to fight the “federal takeover” of state election procedures, objecting in particular to universal standards for voting procedures.

PFAW

Progressive groups to Wisconsin Supreme Court: Prosser must go

Yesterday, members of a number of Wisconsin progressive groups gathered in front of the Wisconsin capitol to demand that state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser step down until an investigation into his alleged choking of another justice is complete.

Prosser – who once called the state’s female Supreme Court Justice a “total bitch” and then bragged about it – is accused of placing another female colleague in a chokehold during an argument about the state’s controversial budget bill. The justices who witnessed the incident have provided differing accounts of what happened, while Prosser’s allies and the right-wing media have teamed up to blame the alleged victim.

Speakers at the rally laid out the reasons for Prosser to step down until the investigation is completed:

Anthony Prince, a labor lawyer likewise representing the lawyers' group, told the crowd that asking Prosser to step aside is "not a radical proposal," adding that most employers would place an employee accused of similar behavior on administrative leave while the accusations were investigated.

"An employer has a legal obligation to provide a workplace free of hazard," Prince said. "We are the employer of Justice David Prosser."

Subeck agreed: "Every woman is entitled to a safe workplace, free of violence." She told the crowd that one out of every 250 women will be a victim of workplace violence, and also cited a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study (PDF) finding that, in 2009, workplace violence accounted for 24 percent of all nonfatal violence against employed people age 16 or older.

There is a reason the rest of the country has its eye on Wisconsin, said Scot Ross, executive director of liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now. Ross said Prosser has brought "dishonor" to the state's highest court because of his violent behavior.

"This is classic workplace bullying, and it's got to stop," Ross said.

Prosser survived a close bid for reelectionearlier this year, despite his alliance with Gov. Scott Walker and his unpopular anti-worker policies.

PFAW

Cummings takes on Issa (again): Exposes bias and partisanship in stewardship of Oversight Committee

House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings has, yet again, exposed Representative Darrell Issa’s apparent use of his Committee chairmanship to advance a partisan agenda.

Cummings earlier today released a forty-page investigative report, which presents compelling evidence of efforts by Republican members of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission to support House Republican efforts to modify or repeal the Dodd-Frank Act (quite the departure from the bipartisan panel’s charge to investigate the causes of the financial crisis, not undermine legislative solutions to avoid future crises.) The report also raised serious ethical questions about the actions of GOP Commissioners and their staff, including evidence that they had leaked confidential Committee information to outside parties on multiple occasions.

This is a pretty amazing turnaround for an investigation launched by Chairman Issa to pursue baseless claims that Democratic FCIC commissioners and their staff had “conflicts of interest” and extensive ties to “partisan Democratic politics”. Yet rather than following up on the Cummings’ extensive report by agreeing to a request for bipartisan interviews with Commissioners Bill Thomas and Peter Wallison, the Chairman instead abruptly indefinitely postponed today’s hearings.

Unfortunately, this is not a surprising turn of events given Issa’s partisan stewardship of the Oversight Committee. Thank goodness for Rep. Cummings’ dogged pursuit of the truth and his sense of duty to the American people.

PFAW

New Tool Gives Unprecedented Insight into ALEC

Today, the Center for Media & Democracy and The Nation unveiled www.ALECexposed.org, an important resource that provides key insight into the workings of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the shadowy organization that shepherds corporate-crafted bills through state legislatures, as detailed in this PFAW Foundation report. This new wiki-style website allows you view the actual legislation ALEC is pushing, including bills affecting:

These “model bills” are extraordinarily influential – they reach almost every state, and give incredible advantages to big corporations by carving special loopholes into environmental, tax and safety regulations and slashing worker and consumer protections. Below is a clip of PFAW’s Andrew Gillum discussing ALEC’s work with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell:

 

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

PFAW

Press Conference to Support the Shareholder Protection Act

Tomorrow, PFAW will join the Corporate Reform Coalition to support the Shareholder Protection Act, a valuable tool which will help improve transparency in the wake of Citizen’s United by requiring corporations to disclose their political donations to their shareholders. Often, shareholders of a corporation may be indirectly contributing to a political candidate that they don’t personally support through the corporation's political contributions, and might not even be aware of it.


A press conference announcing the bill will be held on Wednesday, July 13 at noon in the Capitol. Sen. Robert Menendez and Rep. Michael Capuano, who are the sponsors of the House and Senate bills, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal are slated to speak.

PFAW

Deceitful Robocalls Added to List of Dirty Election Tricks in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin GOP has been going to great lengths to sabotage efforts to conduct fair and open recall elections in Wisconsin. Instead of honestly putting their candidates against the Democrats and letting the voters decide between the two, they are running fake Democratic candidates in the primaries in an attempt to confuse voters and draw out the process. They have even distributed posters designed to encourage Republican voters to participate in the Democratic primary and vote for their planted candidates.

Adding to the list of dirty tricks, reports are surfacing that a “Right to Life” group is robocalling Wisconsin Democrats and telling them not to go to the polls today, and instead to wait for an absentee ballot to arrive in the mail. This is false, as July 12 is the last day to cast a vote in the Democratic primary, and there is not enough time to cast a vote by mail. Apparently, the robocalls are coming from a 703 area code (Virginia).

We do not know yet exactly who is ultimately responsible for these calls, and even if an individual is caught and takes the fall, we may never find out who’s really pulling the strings. Whoever they are, they are obviously people in synch with the right wing agenda of Governor Walker and the Koch Brothers. Disenfranchising voters by tricking them into not voting is a tried and true method of voter suppression. So is finding excuses at the polling place to keep certain people from voting, as GOP-pushed voter ID laws do. What all the tactics we see in Wisconsin have in common is that the right wing is pulling out the stops to prevent the people from exercising their constitutional right to remove them from office.

PFAW

Wisconsin News Round-Up, 07/11


Today's news from Wisconsin:

  • Democrats in the Wisconsin state legislature got their first look at the new district map, which shamelessly ignored the law and [] redistricted Democrats out of their districts. John Nichols at the Nation has a great piece explaining how the Republicans put their political interests above the law: for example, in flouting a law which requires the state legislature to wait until local governments have drawn their own maps, designed to ensure “communities are not cut up for partisan purposes.” Democrats are now suing, calling it a ‘naked power grab’, and with Democratic candidate Nancy Nusbaum being drawn out of her district by half a block[] it’s hard to disagree with that characterization. Currently, state legislature plans to vote on the maps next Tuesday.
  • Continuing on the theme of Republicans being unable to win on the issues, GOTV efforts are being made in several districts encouraging Republicans to vote for the fake Democrats in tomorrow’s sham primary.
  • From the Desperation Files, we have Luther Olsen and his campaign’s underwhelming attempt at spinning his dire fundraising numbers. His campaign has attacked Fred Clark for not having enough contributors in the district – despite that small, irrelevant fact that Clark has more contributors in the district than Olsen. I suppose that’s what happens when your opponent has over twenty times as many contributors as you do, Luther.
  • Concerns about the impact of the new voter fraud law (or, the Let’s Solve a Problem That Doesn’t Exist Law) on voter turnout continue to mount: Andrea Kaminski of League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Fund is worried that rumors about what to expect at the ballot will discourage voters. The city of Glendale will only be opening one of its polling places for tomorrow’s primary, although it will open all polling places for the August 9th general.
  • A nice look at the GOP candidates’ tax hypocrisy from the WisconsinGazette.com.
  • Finally, take a moment to think of poor Sen. Robert Cowles, who may be being bullied into supporting Walker’s radical agenda. Because while families are being forced to make sacrifices and struggling to make ends meet, the worst thing Robert Cowles has to fear is a primary challenge and fewer campaign contributions from big corporations. Don’t you feel sorry for him?

 

PFAW