PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Whose Opinion of the Courts Matters to the GOP?

During last night's GOP presidential debate, Newt Gingrich perhaps unintentionally but perfectly encapsulated his party's distorted vision of the role of the judiciary in our constitutional structure. It came when Fox News moderator Megyn Kelly asked the candidates whether Congress should eliminate courts that issue decisions it does not approve or. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, a key part of the exchange went as follows:

GINGRICH: Sure. I'd ask, first of all, have they studied Jefferson, who in 1802 abolished 18 out of 35 federal judges? Eighteen out of 35 were abolished.

KELLY: Something that was highly criticized.

GINGRICH: Not by anybody in power in 1802. [emphasis added]

Putting aside the question of historical accuracy, note that Gingrich did not say "not by anyone in 1802." He was careful to limit the people whose criticism he deemed relevant to those who were in power in 1802.

One reason we have courts is to prevent those in power from using their official authority to harm those out of power – the tyranny of the majority. If the majority uses their control of government to pass laws harmful to minorities, you don't expect them to criticize their own actions. The criticism would come from those out of power who are their victims – the same people who courts are intended to protect.

That no other candidate found Gingrich's limited framing objectionable says volumes about their dangerously distorted vision of the role of courts in our society.

PFAW

Mitt Romney is Right

There was one remark in last night’s GOP debate that we here at PFAW whole-heartedly agreed with. Asked about his view on judicial appointments, Mitt Romney said:

Let me note that the key thing I think the president is going to do, is going to be with the longest legacy. It's going to be appointing Supreme Court and justices throughout the judicial system. As many as half the justices in the next four years are going to be appointed by the next president.

Judicial nominees will indeed be the most lasting legacy of the next president. And that’s why we can’t afford to hand over those decisions to Mitt Romney.

At last night’s debate, Romney joined his fellow candidates in praising Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court’s ultra-conservative base. Under these justices, the Court has moved farther to the right than it has in decades, consistently privileging big corporations over individual Americans. When Romney declared this summer that “corporations are people, my friend,” he was summarizing, and approving of, the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

But it’s not just that Romney wants more Alitos and Thomases on the Supreme Court. Romney sent a signal that he would move the federal courts even farther to the right than they are today when he took on Robert Bork as his campaign’s chief legal advisor. Bork’s conservativism is so extreme that a bipartisan majority of the Senate rejected him for the Supreme Court in 1987. He was against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He thought it was just fine to criminalize homosexuality. He was a professed fan of censorship. And since then, he has become even more extreme in his defense of corporate power and dismissal of individual rights. But not, apparently, too extreme for Mitt Romney.

Romney is absolutely right that appointing judges will be “the key thing” the next president will do. And it’s exactly the reason why he shouldn’t be president.
 

PFAW

Video: Peter Montgomery on the Marriage of the Religious Right and the Corporate Right

The Al Jazeera program Fault Lines takes an in-depth look this week at the increasingly close relationship between the Religious Right and the Corporate Right, and how it’s playing out in the Republican presidential race in Iowa.

Among those interviewed are former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Michelle Bachmann’s Iowa co-chair Tamara Scott, Cornerstone Church pastor Cary Gordon….and People For the American Way’s own Peter Montgomery.

Peter concludes:

Over the past few decades, the Religious Right won the fight to turn the Republican Party into an anti-abortion, anti-choice party. They won that. They have won the fight to turn the party almost entirely into an anti-gay party. They are winning the fight to turn the party into an anti-environmental party, an anti-regulatory party. And now they are winning the fight to make it an anti-tax party: no tax increases no matter what, no matter how dire the economic situation the country’s in. It’s the corporate agenda pretty much whole-hog.

Watch it above.
 

PFAW

On Judges, Murkowski Stands Alone Within Her Party

Since President Obama took office, Senate Republicans have used every weapon in their arsenal to slow down or prevent altogether confirmation of his judicial nominees. With partisan obstruction as their lodestar, they have abandoned the principles they professed to have when they were pushing for rapid confirmation of President Bush’s nominees.

But one Republican stands out as an exception: Senator Lisa Murkowski.

When it came time to break the outrageous filibuster of Goodwin Liu, Senator Murkowski was the lone Republican not to salute and obey when her party leadership pushed her to vote against cloture. Last week, she again stood alone among her party and voted to end the partisan filibuster of Caitlin Halligan.

We thank Senator Murkowski for standing on principle.

Today, Sen. Murkowski’s efforts to end the obstruction of a highly qualified Alaskan nominee to the Ninth Circuit are bearing fruit. Morgan Christen’s nomination has had the strong, bipartisan backing of both Sen. Murkowski and Democratic Sen. Mark Begich. The workload in that part of the Ninth Circuit has become so bad as to be officially declared a judicial emergency. Late summer, Christen’s nomination was approved unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Christen should have received a floor vote expeditiously, and that is what Sen. Murkowski requested. Unfortunately, Republican leadership put partisanship against President Obama over all other factors and prevented a floor vote for over three months, until today. This afternoon, to no one’s surprise, she was confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support (the vote was 95-3).

We often disagree with Sen. Murkowski on issues and expect to do so in the future. But when it comes to President Obama’s judicial nominees, we agree. Sen. Murkowski’s lonely stands for principle over party deserve praise.

PFAW

Justice Department Charges Anti-Immigrant Hero Joe Arpaio with Long List of Civil Rights Violations

Sheriff Joe Arpaio is something of a hero to the anti-immigrant Right. He was one of the most outspoken proponents of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law last year, in a large part because he had already been using the racial profiling tactics it authorized for years. He delighted in punishing prisoners –including protestors of his tactics – by making them wear pink underwear, a practice he commemorated last month by giving Sarah Palin her very own pair. He briefly had his own reality TV show. He was courted by the Tea Party. GOP presidential candidates, including Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain vied for his endorsement, which he ultimately gave to Rick Perry before joining the candidate on the campaign trail.

Arpaio’s reckless flair for self-promotion and disregard for civil rights have been well-known for as long as he has had national fame. But today, the Justice Department released a long and scathing report detailing the Sheriff’s record of civil rights violations, including his discrimination against Latinos and non-English speakers, “excessive use of force” and “unlawful retaliation against individuals exercising their First Amendment right to criticize MCSO’s policies or practices.”

The AP outlines some of the most shocking allegations in the report:


The civil rights report said Latinos are four to nine times more likely to be stopped in traffic stops in Maricopa County than non-Latinos and that the agency's immigration policies treat Latinos as if they are all in the country illegally. Deputies on the immigrant-smuggling squad stop and arrest Latino drivers without good cause, the investigation found.

A review done as part of the investigation found that 20 percent of traffic reports handled by Arpaio's immigrant-smuggling squad from March 2006 to March 2009 were stops - almost all involving Latino drivers - that were done without reasonable suspicion. The squad's stops rarely led to smuggling arrests.

Deputies are encouraged to make high-volume traffic stops in targeted locations. There were Latinos who were in the U.S. legally who were arrested or detained without cause during the sweeps, according to the report.

During the sweeps, deputies flood an area of a city - in some cases, heavily Latino areas - over several days to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders. Illegal immigrants accounted for 57 percent of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted by his office since January 2008, according to figures provided by Arpaio's office.

Police supervisors, including at least one smuggling-squad supervisor, often used county accounts to send emails that demeaned Latinos to fellow sheriff's managers, deputies and volunteers in the sheriff's posse. One such email had a photo of a mock driver's license for a fictional state called "Mexifornia."


The report said that the sheriff's office launched an immigration operation two weeks after the sheriff received a letter in August 2009 letter about a person's dismay over employees of a McDonald's in the Phoenix suburb of Sun City who didn't speak English. The tip laid out no criminal allegations. The sheriff wrote back to thank the writer "for the info," said he would look into it and forwarded it to a top aide with a note of "for our operation."
 

Federal investigators focused heavily on the language barriers in Arpaio's jails.

Latino inmates with limited English skills were punished for failing to understand commands in English by being put in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day or keeping prisoners locked down in their jail pods for as long as 72 hours without a trip to the canteen area or making nonlegal phone calls.

The report said some jail officers used racial slurs for Latinos when talking among themselves and speaking to inmates.

Detention officers refused to accept forms requesting basic daily services and reporting mistreatment when the documents were completed in Spanish and pressured Latinos with limited English skills to sign forms that implicate their legal rights without language assistance.

The agency pressures Latinos with limited English skills to sign forms by yelling at them and keeping them in uncomfortably cold cells for long periods of time.

These allegations are disturbing enough in themselves. But what’s even more troubling is that the person behind them has been not only held up as a hero by the Right, but has served as an inspiration for immigration legislation around the country. In a report last year, we examined the ways the anti-immigrant Right has worked to dehumanize immigrants in order “to inflame anti-immigrant sentiment and build political opposition to comprehensive immigration reform.” It should come as no surprise that Sheriff Joe is the movement’s figurehead.
 

PFAW

Kayak Joins Lowes in Caving in to Bigotry

Last week, Lowes made an enormous blunder when it pulled its advertising from TLC’s reality show “All American Muslim” after a Religious Right group complained that the show portrayed Muslims as ordinary Americans, not radical terrorists.

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Now, the travel website Kayak has apparently decided that it too would like to alienate millions of potential customers.

Yesterday the company, citing concerns about “specific content” (which it didn’t identify) admitted that it had joined Lowes in pulling ads from the show.  Kayak later posted an explanation of its actions, but instead of simply apologizing and reinstating the ads, Chief Marketing Officer Robert Birge decided to keep digging, claiming that the blame should go to TLC, which “wasn’t upfront about the nature of the show.”

Since the complaints from the Florida Family Association are that the show portrays Muslims as ordinary, peaceful Americans, it’s hard to take Birge’s explanation seriously.  The name of the show is, after all, “All American Muslim.”  What exactly did Birge expect?  Did he want more stereotypical anti-Muslim caricatures, like the FFA did? 

Birge goes on to say that he’d never actually watched the show before, but now that he’s seen it, he insists that, “The show sucks.”  Those are pretty big words from a Chief Marketing Officer who spent his day earning a cascade of bad press for his company.

PFAW

Holder: Protecting Voting Rights a ‘Moral Imperative’

In a groundbreaking speech last night, Attorney General Eric Holder promised that the Obama administration would fight back against attacks on voting rights – whether they’re launched by individuals committing voter intimidation or state governments suppressing the vote through restrictive and discriminatory laws.

Holder said the administration would fight for voting rights on three levels: prosecuting voter intimidation, ensuring that state redistricting efforts are not discriminatory; and urging lawmakers to reform election laws “in ways that encourage, not limit, participation.”

A People For the American Way Foundation report in October examined the proliferation of right-wing attacks on voting rights, from restrictive Voter ID laws to illegal but hard to trace deception campaigns.

Holder addressed the efforts of dozens of states to make voter registration more difficult, saying:

As concerns about the protection of this right and the integrity of our election systems become an increasingly prominent part of our national dialogue – we must consider some important questions. It is time to ask: what kind of nation – and what kind of people – do we want to be? Are we willing to allow this era – our era – to be remembered as the age when our nation’s proud tradition of expanding the franchise ended? Are we willing to allow this time – our time – to be recorded in history as the age when the long-held belief that, in this country, every citizen has the chance – and the right – to help shape their government, became a relic of our past, instead of a guidepost for our future?

For me – and for our nation’s Department of Justice – the answers are clear. We need election systems that are free from fraud, discrimination, and partisan influence – and that are more, not less, accessible to the citizens of this country.

Today, Senators Ben Cardin and Charles Schumer introduced legislation that would impose tough penalties on those who create and distribute deceptive information about voting and elections. PFAW Foundation’s Andrew Gillum responded:

Right-wing politicians and talking heads have aggressively pushed the myth that ‘voter fraud’ is a great threat to the sanctity of our elections. However, the evidence shows that the real threat to our democracy comes from laws that discourage whole communities of people from voting and from devious voter suppression practices like those that took place in Maryland last year. We must fight suppressive laws, like Voter ID requirements, at the legislative level. Deceptive practices can, and should, be combated by law enforcement. This bill takes an important step toward ensuring that all Americans are free to exercise their right to vote without intimidation and harassment.
 

PFAW

Ornstein: Senate GOP Causing "Damage to the Vital Interests of the United States"

The latest condemnation of the Senate GOP's dangerous obstruction against executive and judicial nominees comes from Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. In a column published in Roll Call, Ornstein blasted Senate Republicans for the damage they are doing to our country.

Last week, Republicans blocked a vote on the nomination of Caitlin Halligan to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, setting a new standard for nominees to that court that will be virtually impossible for any president of either party to meet. Just two days later, they blocked a confirmation vote for Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, admitting that they did so not because of any problems with him but because they do not like the law creating that Bureau. Next, two days ago, Senate Democrats tried to overcome Republicans' obstruction of ambassadorial nominees, with mixed results. Ornstein writes:

The good news on Monday was that the Senate, in a show of broad bipartisan support, confirmed Norm Eisen to be the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.

Eisen had been in the post for the past year on a recess appointment, and by all accounts, Czech and American, had been doing an exemplary job protecting and advancing American interests and values in a country that is a critical ally to the United States and an important commercial and trading partner. Why the recess appointment? Because Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) decided well over a year ago that Eisen, while serving in the White House, had not been truthful to the Senator's staff over his role in the dismissal of the inspector general of AmeriCorps. Never mind that a voluminous record showed that Eisen had not dissembled, that the entire board of AmeriCorps, left to right, Democrats and Republicans, supported the dismissal, and the actions were upheld in two federal courts. Grassley would not budge.

Senate Democrats filed a successful cloture petition and Eisen was confirmed by voice vote. But the obstruction continued with a politically motivated filibuster of Mari Carmen Aponte to be ambassador to El Salvador. Aponte is now serving under a recess appointment, which expires at the end of the month.

The ostensible reason to oppose her? Decades ago Aponte had a boyfriend who might have had ties to Fidel Castro's government. Never mind that Senators had access to her FBI file — and that she has had a succession of top-secret clearances after exhaustive security checks. Aponte did not fare well — she fell 11 votes shy of the 60 needed once again to overcome cloture.

In a different world — i.e., the world the United States knew from 1789 until a few years ago — her 49-37 margin would have meant a comfortable confirmation. No more. Filibusters used to be rare events for bills, rarer for executive confirmations, rarer still for judicial nominations. Now they are more than routine; they are becoming the norm. Holds were not as rare, but the use of holds to block multiple nominees for not weeks or months but years or until death, were not typical; now they are the standard.

Citing other ongoing examples of Republican senators sabotaging ambassadorial nominations to countries key to U.S. security, Ornstein sums up the situation:

This goes beyond partisan polarization to damage to the fabric of governance and worse — to damage to the vital interests of the United States. ...

[S]hame on a Senate which went from blocking a well-qualified nominee for an appeals court judgeship via filibuster to blocking a superbly qualified nominee for the consumer bureau, to yet another in a series of ambassadors stymied via holds and filibusters. This is no way to govern.

PFAW

Corporate Investment of Choice: Political Influence

It turns out that many major U.S. corporations do spend a great deal of money on government – but not on taxes. Rather, they pay lobbyists to garner favorable government. According to a recent report in the International Business Times, at least 30 multi-million dollar American corporations spent more money lobbying Congress than in federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010.

Corporate behemoths such as General Electric, Verizon Communications and Wells Fargo managed reap huge profits and actually receive tax rebates, while shelling out huge sums to influence politicians. The article was based on staggering findings by Public Campaign: The 30 corporations studied racked up $164 billion in profits and received $11 billion in tax rebates – a feat made possible with the help of $22 million spent on federal campaigns and much, much more on lobbying – over the two year period, all while laying off employees and increasing executive compensation at a time of stagnant middle class wages.

It’s hardly a surprise that corporations are investing so much in political influence, judging by the tax loopholes they’ve created and enjoyed. But it’s clear that these policies don’t serve the American people. Because corporations don’t have to disclose their political donations, shareholders are all too often put in the position of indirectly contributing to political campaigns they may not wish to support. Most shareholders would prefer their investments to go towards strengthening the company and the economy, but according to the report’s co-author, Matthew Gardner, corporations “are so busy avoiding taxes, it’s no wonder they’re not creating any new jobs.”

The time has come to demand accountability and fair treatment of corporations. This begins with stopping the undue influence they enjoy due to their ability to spend endlessly on lobbying, a luxury that everyday Americans simply do not have. Shareholders can demand that their investments go towards developing better products instead of to political contributions by supporting the Shareholder Protection Act. The harm caused by extensive corporate influence in the political system is clear, and we need to act now to restore the balance of power to the people.

 

PFAW

Holder to Speak Out Against Voter Suppression Measures

The New York Times reports that Attorney General Eric Holder will speak out tonight against the proliferation of state-level measures intended to make it more difficult for certain groups of people to vote:

Mr. Holder is to speak Tuesday evening here at the presidential library of Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The act enables the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to object to election laws and practices on the grounds that they would disproportionately deter minority groups from voting, and to go to court to block states from implementing them.

A draft of Mr. Holder’s speech urges Americans to “call on our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success and, instead, achieve success by appealing to more voters.”

People For the American Way Foundation examined the growing trend of unnecessary and burdensome Voter ID laws and other efforts to suppress the vote in a report earlier this year, concluding:


Decades after the Civil Rights Movement, there are now extraordinary attempts to reverse the trend towards equality and throw roadblocks in the way of voters. Voter suppression through new laws that make it more difficult to register to vote and cast a ballot and aggressive tactics to intimidate voters at the polls are undermining the country’s democratic foundations, all in the name of an imaginary, invented crisis.

If the current trend continues, potential voters in 2012 will face greater challenges than ever, with the enactment of burdensome and unnecessary new laws and right-wing groups mobilizing to target polling places in specific communities.

The proliferation of laws making it harder to register and to vote presents a real threat to our democracy. The attorney general is right to call them out for what they are.
 

PFAW

Supreme Court Becoming a Prominent Campaign Issue for 2012

The choice of a Supreme Court nominee is one of a president's most important roles, one that has an impact on every American for decades. When Americans vote for president, they are also voting for what the Supreme Court will look like. While that has always been the case, several high-profile cases are making unlikely that anyone will overlook the importance of the Court when they cast their vote in 2012. In recent days, the Court announced that it would hear cases on:

  • the constitutionality of healthcare reform (a case that sets a fundamental challenge to congressional authority to address national problems);
  • Arizona's anti-immigrant bill, which would expose the state’s Latinos to harassment and intimidation regardless of immigration status; and
  • a Texas GOP redistricting scheme that doesn't reflect the substantial growth in the Hispanic population and which the Justice Department says was "adopted with discriminatory purpose."

As a result, a number of press outlets are out with stories on the Court and the election. The Washington Post's The Fix blog has a headline proclaiming "Supreme Court inserts itself into 2012 election in a major way." Politico reports:

Together, the cases will help shape the national political debate as well as the direction of policy on one of the most contentious issues of the election: the power of the federal government. On immigration, the justices will decide whether the federal government has the right to block state efforts to enforce immigration laws. On health care, the high court will wrestle with the question of whether the national government can require individuals to purchase health insurance.

...

While the political impact of the high court's entrance into these pivotal cases won't be clear until the justices rule, some analysts believe Obama would benefit from a decision on his health care law, regardless of the outcome.

"If the court does the unlikely and strikes the law down, he could try to run against the court. And if they uphold it, it takes some of the other side's rhetoric away" by undercutting arguments that the law is unconstitutional, said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. "Immigration is harder to figure," he added.

Politico also quotes a number of legal and political experts and activists discussing the importance of the Court in 2012:

Thomas J. Whalen, Professor of Social Science, Boston University: [The Supreme Court] is one of President Obama's best political trump cards heading into his reelection campaign. He can reasonably argue to independents that although they're not crazy about how he's handled the economy, they'd be even more upset with a staunchly conservative Supreme Court intent on overturning almost a century of social and political reform dating back to the New Deal. ...

and

Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way: The current Supreme Court, the most conservative in decades, has repeatedly gone out of its way to rule against individual Americans and in favor of powerful corporations, and yet is still little discussed in presidential politics. I hope that the legal battles over Arizona's immigration law and health care reform will focus wider attention on the true importance of the Court in all of our lives.

As Newt Gingrich concocts radical plans to undermine judicial independence and Mitt Romney hires extremist Robert Bork as his legal adviser, the importance of Supreme Court nominations is a conversation that all Americans need to have.

SCOTUSBlog has a good round-up of coverage:

"Yesterday the Court (with Justice Kagan recused) granted cert. in Arizona v. United States, in which the state has asked it to overturn the lower courts' decisions blocking enforcement of four provisions of its controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070 . . . several journalists – including Adam Liptak of the New York Times, Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor, Robert Barnes of the Washington Post, and Nina Totenberg of NPR — focused on the case's potential effect on the upcoming presidential election, particularly when combined with the Court's expected rulings on the health care and Texas redistricting cases."

It is hardly news that the Supreme Court is one of the most important issues in any presidential election. George Bush's nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito have led to a number of 5-4 decision finding novel ways to prevent individual Americans from exercising their legal rights when they have been wronged by powerful corporations. People's ability to pursue the legal remedies written against employment discrimination, consumer scams, and misleadingly labeled prescription drugs have all been severely undermined by an arch-conservative Supreme Court.

There's no doubt that the Supreme Court is a critical presidential campaign issue.

PFAW

Videos: Norman Lear, Alec Baldwin, Young Elected Officials Celebrate 30 Years of PFAW Foundation

Last week, celebrities and political leaders gathered in Los Angeles to celebrate the 30th anniversary of People For the American Way Foundation.

We posted some photos from the event here.

We’ve now posted a couple of videos of the event. The first is Norman Lear speaking about what led him to found People For and why the organization’s work is still important:

PFAW Foundation board member Alec Baldwin:

And finally, three members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network – network director and Tallahassee City Commissioner Andrew Gillum, Georgia State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan and South Dakota State Sen. Angie Buhl – spoke about how they got involved in progressive politics and how People For the American Way Foundation has helped them along the way. Watch:


 

PFAW

PFAWF to Lowe's: Catering to Hate Is Bad for Business, Bad for America -- This Holiday Season, Boycott Hate

Lowe's Home Improvement made a recent decision to pull advertising from TLC's "All-American Muslim" in the wake of an email campaign by a Florida-based right-wing hate group, setting a dangerous precedent and emboldening bigots.

In response, People For the American Way Foundation president Michael B. Keegan released the following statement:

"Lowe's is setting a dangerous precedent by meeting the demands of a fringe group, the Florida Family Association. Let's be very clear about what happened.

"TLC launched a popular reality show called 'All-American Muslim' about everyday Americans, who happen to be Muslim, going about their lives. They play sports, they go school, they go to work and pay their taxes. This was too much for the anti-Muslim fear mongers at the Florida Family Association, who were outraged that the show was depicting 'Muslims as ordinary folks just like you and me.' An article on the organization's website suggests that the show instead depict 'one of its secular, attractive nominal Muslims as he decided to get more serious about his faith, and ended up participating in jihad activity or Islamic supremacist efforts.'

"The controversy should have ended there. Lowe's should have ignored the canned emails and gone about its business. Instead it caved to a group of fanatics who want to make everyone live in accordance with their narrow and rigid religious beliefs.

"Lowe's should not base its advertising decisions on religion or the complaints of groups preaching intolerance. The company claims it is committed to diversity -- it's time to prove it.

"There are millions of Americans who happen to be Muslim, and there are tens of millions more who won't stand for religious bigotry. This holiday season, Americans should boycott hate. Lowe's has taken the side of the bigots. I'm encouraging our members, and all liberty-loving Americans, to take their business elsewhere until Lowe's rejects extremism and reinstates its advertising on 'All-American Muslim.'"

PFAW

Coalition Urges Federal Agencies to Shed Light on Faith Discrimination Policies

A coalition of religious, civil rights, labor, secular, and women’s advocacy groups, including People For the American Way, sent a letter to thirteen federal agencies last week asking them to explain the process by which they review the legality of religious discrimination by grant recipients in federally funded programs.


President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative opened a gaping hole in our nation’s civil rights protections. Through a wholesale reinterpretation of federal law, the Bush administration declared that employment discrimination on the basis of religion by faith-based organizations using federal taxpayer money was legal. As a candidate, President Obama promised to prohibit this federally funded discrimination. However, his administration has instead stated it would take a “case-by-case” approach to the issue. Three years into his term, we still have no indication of what that “case-by-case” approach looks like.


The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination, an alliance of dozens of groups dedicated to supporting religious liberty, asked agencies distributing faith-based funds to make public their process for evaluating discrimination in federally funded jobs by faith-based programs. The letter asks the agencies to explain:


(1) What is the process for how your agency begins the “case-by-case” review of an organization that seeks to discriminate on the basis of religion with federal funds? Is there a process for a person who suspects federally funded religious discrimination is taking place to report a potential violation? To whom would they report? How are individuals informed of this process? Is there an appeal process? How are grants or contracts to these organizations handled during the review process?


(2) What offices and components of your agency are involved in the “case-by-case” analysis and what are their roles in the review?


(3) Utilizing a “case-by-case” analysis requires that the Administration have a set standard that applies to each case. What principles and criteria does your agency apply when developing a case for the White House Counsel, Department of Justice, and the President to review?


(4) If there have, in fact, been cases forwarded from your agency for review under this mechanism, (a) how many have there been; (b) what were the facts of those cases; and (c) what was the decision reached in each case? Have there been any cases reported to or reviewed by your agency that were not forwarded under this mechanism?


Letters were sent to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Justice, the Department of Labor, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration and the United States Agency for International Development.

 

PFAW

With Nominations, the Senate GOP Legislates by Gridlock

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

The Senate GOP under President Obama has mastered the art of proactive apathy. Not content with neglecting their own jobs, Senate Republicans have expertly used their own dysfunction to prevent other parts of government from doing theirs. These efforts have consequences far beyond bureaucratic procedure: whether it's by crippling the courts or attacking agencies that hold corporations accountable, Republicans are making it harder for individual Americans to access the rights that a functioning government protects.

This week, Senate Republicans added two new public disservices to their resume. On Tuesday, they shattered the 2005 "Gang of 14" deal that prevented filibusters of judicial nominees in all but extraordinary circumstances, setting a standard that no nominee for the D.C. Circuit will be able to meet. As President Obama said about the filibuster of Halligan's nomination, "The only extraordinary things about Ms. Halligan are her qualifications and her intellect." And then on Thursday, they blocked President Obama's nominee to head a new federal agency simply because they do not want that agency to exist -- a move that will have untold consequences on future attempts to staff the executive branch.

These political power plays by a minority of senators are far more than "inside the Beltway" procedural dust ups. They signal the emergence of a party that is so intent on tilting the playing field in favor of the powerful that they will sacrifice basic public service in order to serve the interests of a powerful few.

On Tuesday, all but one Senate Republican refused to allow an up-or-down confirmation vote on Caitlin Halligan, a D.C. Circuit Court nominee who in any other year would have been easily approved by the Senate. The GOP struggled to find a reason to oppose Halligan on her merits, ultimately settling on a handful of trumped-up charges and the ridiculous argument that the D.C. Circuit, with one third of its seats vacant, didn't need another judge. When George W. Bush was president, many of these same Republicans loudly proclaimed that filibustering judicial nominees violates the United States Constitution, ultimately agreeing to the "Gang of 14" deal that judicial nominees would only be filibustered under "extraordinary circumstances." The vote on Halligan shattered that deal, opening the door for further political abuse of the judicial confirmation process.

On Thursday, the story repeated itself when the GOP succeeded in blocking a vote to confirm Richard Cordray to lead the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray, the former attorney general of Ohio, is as non-controversial as they come. He has a history of working with banks and with consumer advocates. He's backed by a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general, including the Republican who beat him in last year's election. Republicans in the Senate don't have any problems with Cordray. But they've made it very clear that they'll do everything in their power to keep the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau from performing the functions that it is required by law to carry out. They don't want anyone to lead the agency, because without a Senate-confirmed head, it cannot perform all of its legally assigned duties. This is not conjecture on the part of progressives; Republicans have brazenly admitted it.

Unfortunately, these votes are not aberrations. They are part of a clear pattern of the Senate GOP since President Obama's election. Unable to accept the results of an election they lost, and unable to get their own way on everything, they have resorted to obstruction and dysfunction. They have abused the extraordinary power the Senate minority is granted , blocking everything they get their hands on, sometimes, it seem, simply because they can. In the process, they are damaging America's system of justice and accountability and betraying the voters they were elected to serve.

Perhaps they are doing this to serve the powerful corporate special interests that do not want courts and agencies to hold them accountable, or perhaps they are doing it to score political points against a Democratic president, or some combination of those reasons. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. Either way, they are abusing their positions and throwing sand in the gears of the Senate to make it harder for ordinary Americans to get our day in court and to defend ourselves against the powerful. It's a deeply cynical strategy, and ultimately a deeply harmful one.

PFAW