PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Hurwitz Finally Confirmed By Voice Vote

Yesterday, more than three months after a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Andrew Hurwitz to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Senate Republican filibuster was finally ended in a 60-31 cloture vote. Today, the Senate voted to confirm him, and the method of the confirmation shows how without principle the obstruction has been.

Hurwitz was confirmed by voice vote, the method generally used to show overwhelming support. Contentious issues of importance are generally done by roll call vote, so each senator can have their position formally on record. So after blocking a highly qualified state supreme court justice with bipartisan support for three months and claiming that he is unqualified to be a district court judge, Senate Republicans decided that it wasn’t important enough to cast a vote against his confirmation.

Perhaps they want to devote their energies to blocking the 17 other qualified nominees waiting for a floor vote.

PFAW

Another Day, Another Filibuster

Yet again, Senate Republicans have forced a vote to end their unwarranted filibuster of a qualified judicial nominee nominated by President Obama, a filibuster that was ended by a 60-31 vote this evening. Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Hurwitz has been nominated to serve on the severely understaffed Ninth Circuit, a vacancy in desperate need of filling so the court can serve the people in nine western states.

It is those millions of Americans who are hurt the most when qualified nominees willing to serve their country are blocked for partisan reasons. The Ninth Circuit has far more cases per three-judge panel than any other circuit in the nation. These cases involve employment discrimination, contract disputes, civil rights, consumer protection, immigrant rights, and a host of other issues. While we may not hear much about most of these cases, they are of vital importance to the individuals and businesses involved. When final resolution of their cases is delayed because there aren't enough judges to hear cases expeditiously, ordinary Americans pay the price.

Since Senate Republicans' well publicized shaming in March, when their unwarranted filibuster of 17 district court nominations was widely condemned, they have improved in generally allowing “regular order,” where confirmation votes are cast each week that the Senate is in session. However, because they have so gummed up the works for more than three years, there is an enormous backlog of pending nominations that are awaiting confirmation votes. Allowing one or two a week does not effectively address that backlog, especially since the Judiciary Committee continues to approve nominations and send them to the Senate floor.

What appears to be grudging cooperation is really cementing the obstruction: This evening, there are 18 pending nominees waiting for a Senate confirmation vote, exactly the same number as two months ago.

It is in this light that this second Ninth Circuit filibuster in the past month must be seen. Justice Hurwitz has received the highest possible evaluation from the nonpartisan panel of the American Bar Association that analyzes the qualifications of judicial nominees. His former law clerks have submitted a strongly supportive statement highlighting his mastery of the law, his deliberate approach to interpretation, and his evenhandedness the bench. His qualifications have been recognized by his two Republican home state senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl. The Judiciary Committee approved of his nomination with the unanimous Democratic and significant Republican support. Yet a number of Senate Republicans not only plan to vote against him when the confirmation vote is held (possibly as early as tonight), but they tried today to prevent that vote from ever happening.

When former electoral opponents Barack Obama and John McCain join the Judiciary Committee's Al Franken and Tom Coburn in recognizing that a nominee is highly qualified, it is hard to take seriously those on the fringe who claim he is an extremist.

PFAW

Allen West's "American Way'

Congressman Allen West (R-FL) is out with a new ad this week. Set to soaring, dramatic music, the Congressman tells the story of his upbringing and how describes how his father gave him the opportunity live the American Dream. He runs through typical Republican talking points calling for tax cuts and slashing services, and laments the failings of Washington. It’s standard campaign-ad fare, and he concludes by stating “I’m just getting started; that’s the American Way.”

However, West’s record suggests that his notion of the “American Way” is rather at odds with the Constitution’s promise of freedom and equality for all.

The First Amendment guarantees the freedom of religion for all Americans, and Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” But West thinks that Representative Keith Ellison (D-MI), a practicing Muslim, represents the "antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established." He also harbors some vehemently anti-Islamic ideas.

America is a country that values free speech and open debate. Yet West has a habit of resorting to calling his colleagues who disagree with him Communists. Liberals, he said, can just “Get the hell out of the United States of America.” 

Freedom of the press doesn’t seem to be high on his list either. He once called for censoring American news agencies for publishing information about the government’s activities.

West believes America is a land of opportunity – something to which he owes his own success – but “equality” and “fairness” somehow fly in the face of liberty. Marriage equality, he says, is not only un-American but will destroy society as we know it.

Congressman West may have produced a slick ad, but the agenda he pushes in Congress would increase inequality, harm working families, destroy core constitutional liberties and cripple Americans’ ability to address pressing problems through government. That’s not the American Way.

PFAW

Confusion, purge lead to low turnout in Texas primary

Last May, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed SB 14 into law. An ALEC award-winner himself, Governor Perry had the support of several ALEC members and others who pushed the legislation. Together they made Texas a photo ID state.

Then the DOJ issued an official objection that stopped the law from going into effect, saying that it disproportionately affects Hispanic voters. Not only is Texas defending the law but Attorney General Greg Abbott has amended the state’s complaint with a direct challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The AG has also dropped his objection to taking depositions from state lawmakers.

Though it remains tied up in court, the effects of the law have already been felt statewide, especially surrounding the May 29 primary. KSAT:

The turnout for early voting was meager, some say because many are confused about what kind, if any, identification is needed to cast a ballot.

Many lawmakers and elected officials called the situation a "crisis" and said they are concerned people are getting the wrong message about voting in the Texas primary.

"I spoke with a senior citizen who said she may not vote because she was confused," State Rep. Sylvester Turner said.

In reality, voters need only have proved residency by showing their registration card, driver’s license, passport, or utility bill.

A voter purge similar to that occurring in Florida is also thought to have contributed to the low turnout. Houston Chronicle:

State and federal laws require the nation's voter rolls be regularly reviewed and cleaned to remove duplicates and eliminate voters who moved away or died. But across Texas, such "removals" rely on outdated computer programs, faulty procedures and voter responses to generic form letters, often resulting in the wrong people being sent cancellation notices, including new homeowners, college students, Texans who work abroad and folks with common names, a Chronicle review of cancellations shows.

Click here for more information, and be sure to 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

Problems plague Wisconsin voters

Last May, Wisconsin Governor and ALEC Alum Scott Walker signed Act 23 (aka AB 7), a voter ID law that also counts ALEC affiliated legislators among its sponsors. Thanks to the NAACP/Voces and LWV court challenges, voters in Tuesday’s recall election were not legally required to produce ID in order to vote – but that doesn’t mean Election Day was problem free.

Still in force was a new requirement for 28 days of residency for new and updated voter registrations, as opposed to the previous 10-day requirement. While proof of duration isn’t required, many attempting to register and vote on Tuesday reported having been asked to provide such proof anyway. And students had a terrible time with the longer window.

The Nation:

College students were hampered by a new voter residency requirement that says a citizen must live in one location for twenty-eight days in order to register to vote. Before the 2011 law went into effect, the requirement was only ten days. Many students graduated in mid-May, went home from campuses to live with their families and thus were affected by the twenty-eight-day rule.

Between the residency requirement, erroneous requests for ID blocked by the court, True the Vote challengers, and a host of other incidents leading up to and on Election Day, the Election Protection Hotline received over 2,000 calls.

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

UPDATE: Voter suppression’s on the menu in Michigan

UPDATE: The Michigan House has voted a trio of voter suppression bills out of committee, sending them to the floor for votes expected in the coming week. The bills have already passed the Senate and could soon go before Governor Rick Snyder. Part of Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s so-called Secure and Fair Elections package, they echo the nationwide attack on the right to vote. A fourth (House Bill 5061) is moving in the Senate.

Last month we reported on the citizenship question that came up during Michigan’s primary. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for voter suppression in the Great Lakes State.

Pending before the Michigan House are 3 bills that the Senate has already passed. Common Cause Michigan (links added):

Senate Bill 754 would make it more difficult for Michiganders to exercise their right to vote. Two provisions of this legislation: identification requirements for in-person voter registration and the imposition of further restrictions on organizations conducting third party voter registration offer a solution in search of a problem.

Senate Bill 751 would create confusion over the registration and absentee voting process in Michigan particularly affecting young voters, college students, and mobile citizens such as military families.

Senate Bill 803 would require voters to check a box that affirms and explains their residency status, which would needlessly duplicate an existing provision, since voters declare their citizenship upon registration already.

Sponsors of the latter two, David Robertson and Darwin Booher, both have ties to ALEC.

Also pending in the House are the chamber’s own contributions to the voter suppression menu, including:

House Bill 5061 would require those wishing to vote absentee to provide photo ID when obtaining their ballots, as well as amend requirements for the ballot tracker program, ballot coaching at residential care facilities, and provisional ballot affidavit reports.

House Bill 5221 would require all persons registering to vote to provide proof of citizenship before they are added to the rolls.

The latter bill is sponsored by Dave Agema. Not only does he have ties to ALEC, but his text shares some similarities (and a few differences) with the proof of citizenship bill in South Carolina (SB 304), sponsored by ALEC member George Campsen.

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

Sen. Coburn Hopes GOP Won't Block His State's Nominees

Here's yet another sign that the Senate Republican leadership's obstruction of qualified judicial nominees is beyond the pale: It is too extreme for Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn.

Yesterday, the Judiciary Committee approved by voice vote President Obama's nomination of Robert Bacharach to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Bacharach is from Oklahoma, and the president made sure to find a qualified nominee who had the strong support of both of that state's conservative Republican senators. A unanimous ABA panel analyzed his record and concluded that he was well qualified, the highest possible rating. The Judiciary Committee approved his nomination by voice vote, along with that of John Dowdell for a district court seat in Oklahoma.

Nevertheless, according to NewsOK, Sen. Coburn is concerned that his party leadership will prevent the Senate from voting on Bacharach and filling an important circuit court seat that has been vacant for two years:

Senate Republican leaders will have to agree to allow their nominations to come up for a vote in the full Senate, and Coburn said he didn't expect that to happen for Bacharach.

Coburn, R-Muskogee, said he spoke to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, on Thursday about the nominations. McConnell told Coburn that he plans for Senate Republicans to discuss their approach to judicial nominations early next week.

For a responsible Senate leader, determining your "approach to judicial nominations" should not be difficult: Allow timely votes on nominees after they have been cleared by the Judiciary Committee, so that America's courts can once again function effectively. But Sen. McConnell has made clear throughout the Obama presidency that partisanship takes priority over the proper functioning of the justice system.

The aim of the tactic is to delay making lifetime appointments to courts in hopes that their party will regain the White House and the power to fill judicial vacancies.

"I think it's stupid," Coburn said in an interview, adding that the goal should be to confirm good judges.

If only it really was stupidity that explained Senate Republican obstruction tactics. Unfortunately, Mitch McConnell knows exactly what he is doing.

PFAW

Registration drives to resume in Florida

Last week, Judge Robert Hinkle of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida issued an injunction blocking most of the worst provisions of HB 1355. While the litigation proceeds, community groups are set to resume their voter registration efforts. The League of Women Voters of Florida and Rock the Vote will be back in business as soon as they register with the state.

Deirdre Macnab, League of Women Voters of Florida, President:

Now it's time for our volunteers to work overtime to make up for lost ground. Our goal? To make sure every eligible Floridian has the opportunity to have their voice heard and their vote counted.

Marilynn Wills, Vice President, League of Women Voters Tallahassee:

Heather Smith, Rock the Vote, President:

Florida is an important youth vote state. This decision enables us to get back to the work of encouraging a new generation of engaged voters and future leaders.

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

UPDATE: Voter suppression spotlight shines squarely on Florida

UPDATE: What we expected has come to pass: Secretary of State Ken Detzner has officially responded to the Department of Justice, indicating that the voter purge will continue, throwing his own accusations back at DOJ, and giving them a deadline of June 11 to respond. A legal battle is indeed looming.

News out of Florida this morning suggests that, despite a warning from the Department of Justice, Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner will proceed, and possibly expand, their sweeping effort to purge voters from the rolls.

The Miami Herald:

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is positioning itself for a showdown with the U.S. Department of Justice for demanding that Florida cease searching for and purging noncitizen voters.

The DOJ gave Florida until Wednesday to respond to a letter, sent last week, that said the purge probably ran afoul of two federal voting laws.

Florida will respond, but it probably won’t quit its effort and will likely ask the DOJ to clarify its interpretation of the federal laws it cited.

Thousands of voters have already been targeted, with thousands more possible, for revocation of their right to vote should they not provide the requested proof of citizenship, despite the widespread concern that the state is using flawed day and that many are in fact eligible voters.

DOJ:

Our records do not reflect that these changes affecting voting have been submitted to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for judicial review or to the Attorney General for administrative review as required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Accordingly, it is necessary that they either be brought before that court or submitted to the Attorney General for a determination that they neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of discriminating on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group under Section 5.

The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections has instructed all 67 supervisors to comply with the DOJ order, but Governor Scott and Secretary Detzner appear to be moving forward, with DOJ and voting rights supporters thus likely very soon to sue.

Florida is already in court over HB 1355, the law commonly referred to by voting rights supporters as the “Voter Suppression Act.” Last week, Judge Robert Hinkle of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida issued an injunction blocking most of its worst provisions. It was originally sponsored by Representative Dennis Baxley, who has ties to ALEC.

Judge Hinkle:

Together speech and voting are constitutional rights of special significance; they are the rights most protective of all others, joined in this respect by the ability to vindicate one’s rights in a federal court. [. . .] [W]hen a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever. [. . .] And allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives—thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote—promotes democracy.

The next hearing with Judge Hinkle is set for June 15.

Click here for more information from the parties involved in the case, and be sure to 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 (and more) by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

Election Day Registration takes center stage in California

With the right to vote under attack, it is refreshing to see positive electoral reform making its way from the east coast to the west.

In California, the Assembly-passed AB 1436 provides for Election Day Registration. Where current law requires voters to submit an affidavit at least 15 days prior to an election, the new proposal would allow voters the ability to register as late as Election Day. Ballots would be cast provisionally and counted upon verification of registration. It would take effect in 2016.

Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-42), the bill’s sponsor:

This bill helps assure all eligible Californians will have the chance to determine who speaks for them in Washington, Sacramento and their home towns. I’m pleased that the Assembly has recognized the importance of increasing voter turnout in our state.

While waiting for the Senate to take action, be sure to visit our friends over at Demos for more information.

PFAW Foundation

Massachusetts working toward positive electoral reforms

An election modernization bill (H 4139) intended to "strengthen vote-counting and voter registration processes" has passed the Massachusetts House, in stark contrast with attacks on voting rights dominating the news in many other states.

Under H 4139, 16- and 17-year-olds would be permitted to pre-register to vote upon getting a driver’s license, and come their 18th birthday their names would be automatically added to the voter list. Registration regulations would also be amended to permit voters to fill out an electronic registration form that they could then print, sign, and mail in.

If enacted, it would mark the first time in 20 years that lawmakers amended the state’s voting system. Massachusetts would join only a handful of other states in making a meaningful attempt to increase the number of young voters.

Representative Aaron Michlewitz (D-Boston), Chair, Joint Committee on Election Laws:

The bill is an example of common sense reforms that will keep our Commonwealth as one of the leaders in demonstrating a forward thinking electoral process.

Representative Ellen Story (D-Amherst):

If you start voting at an early age, you keep voting. If you don't start voting, you realize that you don't have to vote and you may not acquire the habit.

Avi Green, Co-Director of MassVOTE:

Pre-registration will help 20,000 teens get ready to vote every year. The online PDF of the voter registration form will make registering more convenient for everyone. Together, these reforms mark the biggest step forward to modernize elections since the Motor Voter law was implemented in 1994.

H 4139 now goes to the Senate.

PFAW Foundation

New Report Grades States' Response to Citizens United

A new report by the Corporate Reform Coalition released this morning grades each state's response to the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United, the flawed decision that opened the floodgates to unlimited, undisclosed spending by corporations and special interests to influence our elections. The decision forced 22 states to reexamine their laws on the books that limited such expenditures.

The report, "Sunlight State By State After Citizens United," examines how many states either repealed their corporate expenditure bans or declared them unenforceable in the wake of Citizens United. Montana is the notable exception, claiming that its law is still valid. That claim will be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

Other states have adopted more creative approaches to ensure that the public is informed about the outsized influence in our elections that corporations try to buy with their vast treasuries. For example, Alaska, California and North Carolina require the disclosure of the top contributors to political ads, and Iowa requires that shareholders be directly informed of corporate political spending.

The Corporate Reform Coalition, which is composed of more than 75 good-government groups seeking to combat undisclosed money in elections, evaluated each state's response to the Citizens United decision by scoring disclosure requirements related to political spending. While only a constitutional amendment to reverse the Court's decision can undo the damage of Citizens United, disclosure requirements are an important step toward a more transparent democracy.

AK, CA, CO, HI IA, IL, MA, NC, SD, VT, WA, WI and WV all received the top score. IN, SC, WY, NY and ND received the lowest scores.

You can read the report here.

PFAW

Voter suppression spotlight shines squarely on Florida

News out of Florida this morning suggests that, despite a warning from the Department of Justice, Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner will proceed, and possibly expand, their sweeping effort to purge voters from the rolls.

The Miami Herald:

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration is positioning itself for a showdown with the U.S. Department of Justice for demanding that Florida cease searching for and purging noncitizen voters.

The DOJ gave Florida until Wednesday to respond to a letter, sent last week, that said the purge probably ran afoul of two federal voting laws.

Florida will respond, but it probably won’t quit its effort and will likely ask the DOJ to clarify its interpretation of the federal laws it cited.

Thousands of voters have already been targeted, with thousands more possible, for revocation of their right to vote should they not provide the requested proof of citizenship, despite the widespread concern that the state is using flawed day and that many are in fact eligible voters.

DOJ:

Our records do not reflect that these changes affecting voting have been submitted to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for judicial review or to the Attorney General for administrative review as required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Accordingly, it is necessary that they either be brought before that court or submitted to the Attorney General for a determination that they neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of discriminating on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group under Section 5.

The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections has instructed all 67 supervisors to comply with the DOJ order, but Governor Scott and Secretary Detzner appear to be moving forward, with DOJ and voting rights supporters thus likely very soon to sue.

Florida is already in court over HB 1355, the law commonly referred to by voting rights supporters as the “Voter Suppression Act.” Last week, Judge Robert Hinkle of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida issued an injunction blocking most of its worst provisions. It was originally sponsored by Representative Dennis Baxley, who has ties to ALEC.

Judge Hinkle:

Together speech and voting are constitutional rights of special significance; they are the rights most protective of all others, joined in this respect by the ability to vindicate one’s rights in a federal court. [. . .] [W]hen a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever. [. . .] And allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives—thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote—promotes democracy.

The next hearing with Judge Hinkle is set for June 15.

Click here for more information from the parties involved in the case, and be sure to 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 (and more) by PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

Vitter Deprives Louisianans of Their Day in Court

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter has announced that he will not allow the Senate Judiciary Committee to even consider the nomination of Shelly D. Dick to a judgeship in the Middle District of Louisiana. He has not challenged her qualifications or provided any other substantive reason for his obstruction. Instead, he has cited the fact that there will be a presidential election in five months.

Under the practice of Chairman Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee will not move forward on a nomination and hold a hearing unless both of the nominee's home-state senators submit their "blue slips," which signal their approval for allowing the committee to process and consider the nomination. Dick was nominated on April 25, and Sen. Landrieu quickly submitted her blue slip. However, the Baton Rouge Advocate is reporting that Sen. Vitter has chosen to obstruct the nomination.

"By any measure, I've bent over backwards to cooperate regarding President Obama's Louisiana nominees, which has resulted in all 10 before this being confirmed in record time," Vitter stated. "Now that it's a few months before a presidential election, however, I'm going to let the people speak before supporting any others."

There is some conjecture that Vitter's unexplained obstruction is political payback for the actions of his Democratic colleague Mary Landrieu to deny a blue to slip to a 2007 George W. Bush nominee – then-U.S. Attorney David Dugas – to the same court. At the time, she cited Dugas's decision not to intervene in an insurance fraud lawsuit following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In contrast, Vitter has stated plainly that he is blocking President Obama's nominee not because of any problem with the nominee, but because it is an election year.

Although he now champions the right to obstruct a nominee this way, he demanded a very different standard when it was a president of his own party making the nomination. In February of 2008, he took to the Senate floor and demanded that if the Judiciary Committee did not act on the Dugas nomination, that the full Senate take it out of their hands and vote on the nomination directly.

In the unlikely event that someone were to make a similar motion with regard to Shelly Dick's nomination, one suspects that Sen. Vitter would be the first to object.

PFAW

Prop 8 Appeal Sent to the Supreme Court

This afternoon, the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear an appeal of the Prop 8 case.  In February, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit struck down Prop 8, finding California's revocation of the right of same-sex couples to marry same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit's decision means that either the Supreme Court will take up the case or the 9th Circuit’s decision striking down the law will stand.

The appeals court ruling is on narrow grounds unique to California, where same-sex couples were left with all the state rights of marriage but not the name. It found that taking away gay and lesbian couples’ designation of “marriage” while leaving their rights unchanged did not serve any of the purposes put forth by its defenders. Instead, its only purpose and effect was to lessen a targeted group’s status and dignity by reclassifying their relationship and families as inferior. The Court did not address the larger question of whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry. While the Supreme Court will be presented with the narrower question as framed by the Ninth Circuit, it is impossible to tell, if it agrees to hear the case at all, whether they will rule on this principle or more broadly on the ability of states to deny lesbians and gays the right to marry.

PFAW Foundation