PFAW's Jamie Raskin Takes on Right-Wing Rhetoric on the Courts

As the 2012 presidential campaign gears up, PFAW Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin has collected an extensive glossary of the Right Wing’s favorite rhetoric about the Supreme Court and the Constitution. Sen. Raskin's Daily Kos piece explains the coded phrases and euphemisms, such as “federalism,” “legislating from the bench” and “original intent,” that the Right Wing uses to project their political agenda onto the Founding Fathers’ vision for America.

Here’s an excerpt :

“Follow the Law, Not Make the Law” – Right -Wing Usage: What Republican judges and justices do and what Republican judicial nominees will do, e.g., “It’s only a matter of time before our five justices who follow the law and don’t make the law strike down the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and step up the campaign to invalidate jury verdicts and punitive damages in the states.” Preferred Usage: Essentially meaningless campaign rhetoric used to describe judges who toe the right-wing corporate line, e.g., “I hope they follow the law, instead of making it, and cut our jury verdict down to a price that won’t cost us so much freedom of speech.”

You can read the whole glossary here.


DOJ and Houston senator take a stand for voting rights, against ID law

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.

Not so fast, says the Department of Justice.

Today DOJ issued an official objection that will stop SB 14 from going into effect, saying that it disproportionately affects Hispanic voters.

Thus, we conclude that the total number of registered voters who lack a driver’s license or personal identification card issued by DPS could range from 603,892 to 795,955. The disparity between the percentages of Hispanics and non-Hispanics who lack these forms of identification ranges from 46.5 to 120.0 percent. That is, according to the state’s own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120.0 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification. Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card issued by DPS, and that disparity is statistically significant.

DOJ said that Texas did not meet its burden of proof and failed to demonstrate that SB 14 made positive progress, without discriminatory intent, in ensuring election integrity.

In conclusion, the state has not met its burden of proving that, when compared to the benchmark, the proposed requirement will not have a retrogressive effect, or that any specific features of the proposed law will prevent or mitigate that retrogression. Additionally, the state has failed to demonstrate why it could not meet its stated goals of ensuring electoral integrity and deterring ineligible voters from voting in a manner that would have avoided this retrogressive effect. Because we conclude that the state has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating that the proposed law will not have a retrogressive effect, we do not make any determination as to whether the state has established that the proposed changes were adopted with no discriminatory purpose.

DOJ’s action flows from its mandate under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to review election law changes in certain jurisdictions, Texas being one of them.

State Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston sent DOJ a letter last week, urging:

Regardless of the excuses for why the State fails to fully answer the DOJ’s question, it is clear that the State falls far short of meeting the standards set out in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. As outlined on the DOJ’s own website, Section 5 “requires proof that the proposed voting change does not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group. If the jurisdiction is unable to prove the absence of such discrimination,” then the proposed change cannot receive preclearance and is legally unenforceable.

Again, given the State’s failure to prove that Senate Bill 14 has neither the purpose nor the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group, I respectfully request that the DOJ deny preclearance of Senate Bill 14. We must not proceed recklessly with far-reaching electoral changes that could potentially disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of legal voters.

Senator Ellis was responding to an in-depth Houston Chronicle review of the data that the state submitted to DOJ in support of its preclearance request.

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

GOP Seeks to Distract from their Judicial Obstruction

Senate Democrats are taking action to highlight and end Republicans' three-year efforts to keep our nation's courtrooms empty. Specifically, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has just announced that he will file cloture on all of the 17 district court nominations currently pending on the floor, most of which have been languishing for more than three months.

CQ reports that Republicans are tying their ongoing obstruction to their opposition to President Obama's recess appointments earlier this year.

[Sen. Dick] Durbin is assuming that enough Republicans will break ranks and help deliver the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and clear the way for votes on confirming the judicial nominees. But Republicans said the outcome of such cloture votes is not assured, predicting that the minority will oppose the motions to protest recess appointments Obama made in January.

In reality, it could not be clearer that there is no connection between Republican obstruction and their opposition to the recess appointments. This unprincipled opposition has been going on since the start of the Obama Administration. At the end of 2011, before the recess appointments, President Obama's confirmed district court nominees had waited for a floor vote more than four times longer on average than President Bush's. That is the case today, as well. The unjustified delays in 2009-2011 were hardly caused by recess appointments made in 2012.

No, the obstruction is part of a deeply cynical effort to keep as many courtrooms empty for as long as possible in the hopes of having a Republican president fill them in 2013. With a vacancy crisis worse than anything we've seen in over 35 years, the American people need fully functioning courts.



Three Montana Legislators Support Disgraced Federal Judge

Three members of the Montana House Judiciary Committee have vocally come out in support of disgraced federal Judge Richard Cebull. Last week, Cebull seriously undermined the public's trust in his ability to preside over cases fairly as a neutral arbiter, regardless of who the parties are. However, desperate to defend the indefensible, the Montana legislators are seeking to reframe this as simply an example of someone being punished for exercising his First Amendment rights.

The Great Falls Tribune reports (subscription only):

Three Republicans on the state House Judiciary Committee supported embattled federal Judge Richard Cebull in emails to fellow state lawmakers this week, with one legislator thanking Cebull for exercising his right to free speech. ...

[Rep. David] Howard went on to say that Cebull's comments "were his own, and isn't that Freedom of Speech?"

"Freedom of Speech is being able to say something that might offend someone! Being offended is not a barrier to free speech. Therefore, the unalienable right of freedom of speech doesn't concern itself with feelings," Howard wrote.

Howard then went on to thank the judge for exercising that right.

This has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It has to do with the role of a judge in our constitutional system.

It is important that Americans see their judges as neutral arbiters, not as political figures. There is a reason that the Supreme Court Justices don't applaud lines they agree with during the State of the Union. It would be unseemly. It would cast doubt on their ability to be neutral judges.

A federal judge is free to hate the president and his policies, just as other Americans are. And he is free to privately tell his friends that, just as other Americans do. But because he is a judge, he is NOT free to express his disdain in public. Unfortunately for this judge, his words have become public. People now cannot help but doubt his neutrality, and therefore his fitness as a judge.

To use a sports analogy, if a football referee is known to have grossly insulted some of the teams, then acknowledges that he did so because he strongly dislikes them, would anyone want him refereeing a game they cared about? Would anyone trust his calls, especially the difficult ones where the answer isn't clear? Good referees are constrained in what they can say about the teams whose games they oversee, not because they don't have freedom of speech, but because they accept voluntary constraints as part of their job description.

In this case, it isn't just the integrity of a sports league at issue: It's the integrity of the system of justice throughout our entire federal courts system. Every American has a right to their day in court, but that means nothing if everyone knows the court is run by a grossly biased judge whose every decision comes under a cloud.

How sad for the people of Montana that three members of their state's House Judiciary Committee have so little understanding of the basic concept of having a fair hearing in court.

PFAW Foundation

Elected Officials Officially Calling Out ALEC

Over the past few weeks, more progressive elected officials are not just voting against ALEC inspired legislation that would privatize public services and make a few people very rich, they are calling it out by name and raising awareness of how ALEC serves as a vehicle to enact a corporate wish list into law in states across the country.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton recently vetoed a set of ALEC-modeled tort-reform bills that originated from an “ALEC Boot Camp” for state legislators. Here’s his statement:

“Exactly who did the Republicans in the legislature listen to? Well, three of the four bills come right from this manual, Tort Reform Boot Camp, published by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. This is the same group who reportedly provided legislators last week with all-expense paid trips to a posh Florida hotel for what they call an “education policy conference.” It is an extremely conservative group, funded largely by large corporations, big business associations, insurance companies and very wealthy individuals. I’ve found that Minnesotans do not want their laws written by the lobbyists of big corporations.

“Since these Republican bills so closely follow ALEC’s instructions on tort reform, and since ALEC’s opinion on these subjects are evidently more important to Republican legislators than mine, their fellow legislator’s or the Supreme Court’s, perhaps they would share with us all of the other ALEC boot camp manuals, so we can know in advance what to expect from them for the rest of this session. If Republicans want to continue to prove to Minnesotans that they are too extreme to lead, they should continue to throw ALEC’s ideology at us. If they want to begin to govern responsibly, and work collaboratively, pass real jobs legislation – and my three measures have not even been taken up – real jobs legislations that will put Minnesotans back to work, then I’m ready to work with them. And I’m waiting.”

Just last week, Wisconsin State Representative Mark Pocan (D) decided to take action as well. He joined ALEC to gain access to the bill templates, and then took to the floor to expose the origins of AB110, a bill that would damage the public education system by giving special taxpayer subsidies to private schools for special needs children.

“This is part of dismantling public education in Wisconsin, and Florida, and Ohio, and every single state it’s introduced in,” Pocan explained. “This bill doesn’t come from this body, this bill is an identical bill that’s been introduced brought by special interests by ALEC and introduced state by state by state.”


ALEC’s secret jig is up. The American people don’t want their laws to be written by corporations, and they’ve made their voices heard. Now, our elected representatives – that is, the ones who are actually representing us, not wealthy special interests – are taking a stand too. ALEC’s pro- corporate agenda can only advance if kept secret. Kudos to those elected officials with the courage to shine the spotlight on this undemocratic organization.

PFAW Foundation

UPDATE: Virginia poised to tighten voter ID requirements

UPDATE: SB 1, which came down to a tie vote last week in the Virginia Senate, broken by Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, has now passed the House. Expected to be signed by Governor Bob McDonnell, the new law will tighten voter ID requirements in the state by, among other provisions, removing the option for voters without ID to swear to their identity and replacing it with a provisional ballot that then forces voters to leave and prove their identity later but before their vote is counted. Read the Washington Post editorial and Virginian-Pilot column opposing the measure. The Commonwealth Institute reported on its costly implementation, a fact not lost on the state’s voter registrars.

There is no question that we have a lot of work to do to ensure that eligible Americans can exercise their right to vote. But the goal should be fair and honest enfranchisement, not the politics of distraction. Just as SB 1 did with its tie vote, voter ID has proven to be a political distraction.

Last fall’s 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, details just how harmful the politics can be.

“This report reveals just how the far the Right Wing is willing to go to win elections,” continued Keegan. “Eroding the achievements of the Civil Rights movement by disenfranchising voters is abhorrent. All Americans have a fundamental right to vote, and we need to be vigilant to make sure that ever eligible voter is ready and able to vote on Election Day."

It certainly appears that the Right Wing is behind SB 1. ALEC Exposed reports that its lead sponsor, Stephen Martin (R-11), is ALEC’s Virginia Chair, and the lead sponsor of its House companion (HB 9), Mark Cole (R-88), is also affiliated with ALEC. ALEC itself is a voter ID proponent.

ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, was the subject of its own Right Wing Watch: In Focus report. PFAW Foundation describes the organization as:

A one-stop shop for corporations looking to identify friendly state legislators and work with them to get special-interest legislation introduced. It’s win-win for corporations, their lobbyists, and right-wing legislators. But the big losers are citizens whose rights and interests are sold off to the highest bidder.

Regarding voter ID and election laws:

ALEC is directly tied to the emerging trend among state legislatures to consider voter ID laws. Using false allegations of “voter fraud,” right-wing politicians are pursuing policies that disenfranchise students and other at-risk voters,--including the elderly and the poor--who are unlikely to have drivers’ licenses or other forms of photo ID. By suppressing the vote of such groups, ALEC’s model “Voter ID Act” grants an electoral advantage to Republicans while undermining the right to vote. In addition, ALEC wants to make it easier for corporations to participate in the political process. Their Public Safety and Elections taskforce is co-chaired by Sean Parnell of the Center for Competitive Politics, one of the most vociferous pro-corporate election groups, and promotes model legislation that would devastate campaign finance reform and allow for greater corporate influence in elections.
PFAW Foundation

PA Passes ID Under Objections of 45 Groups and 13,000 Pennsylvanians

On Wednesday, in a 26-23 vote on HB 934, the Pennsylvania Senate passed photo ID. Having passed the House last June, it now goes to concurrence (final negotiations) and will soon reach Governor Corbett’s desk, where it’s expected to be signed into law. It’s important to note that the lead sponsor, Representative Daryl Metcalfe, is an ALEC member.

Protect Our Vote has taken a strong stand against photo ID in their state. Made up of 45 groups, the voting rights coalition recently held a rally at the state Capitol Rotunda, at which they unveiled a petition containing the signatures of 13,000 Pennsylvanians. Have you ever wondered what 13,000 signatures looks like?

It took 1,000 feet to display the strong opposition to photo ID. And voting rights supporters won’t stop there. There is already talk of lawsuits to challenge the (expected) new law.

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

PFAW Foundation

The War on Women in the Courts

The War on Women doesn't stop with reproductive rights. In a new post at Ms. Blog, People For's Marge Baker explains how GOP obstruction of judicial nominees is keeping women -- as well as people of color and gays and lesbians -- from reaching positions of power in the federal courts:

President Obama has made no secret of his goal to make the American courts look like America. Along with the effort to bring more women to the bench, roughly 36 percent of his nominees have been people of color, and he has nominated more openly lesbian and gay individuals to the federal courts than all his predecessors combined.

But the president’s effort to bring a diversity of voices to the federal courts is now facing a major roadblock. Senate Republicans have been obstructing President Obama’s judicial nominees to an unprecedented extent–usually not because of objections to the nominees themselves, but just for the sake of creating gridlock. Indeed, most of President Obama’s nominees have been approved by the Judiciary Committee with unanimous or near-unanimous bipartisan support. Nevertheless, after committee approval, Republicans in the Senate have forced the president’s nominees to wait four times longer to get a yes-or-no vote than President Bush’s nominees at the same point in his term.

As a result, about one out of ten courtrooms in the country are vacant and Americans are facing inexcusable delays as they seek their day in court. One of President Obama’s least-noticed but most long-lasting achievements–putting a qualified, diverse group of judges on our federal courts–has been put at risk.

Read the full post at Ms. Blog.

PFAW Foundation

Stop School Bullying Today

Following the increased media attention paid to bullying-related suicides in 2010, Senator Al Franken took a strong stand on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students and those who are perceived to be LGBT. His Student Non-Discrimination Act (S. 555) protects them from school-based discrimination, much like Title IX does for gender discrimination, and much like other areas of law do for various protected classes. It recognizes bullying and harassment as discrimination, and it provides both for remedies against discrimination and incentives for schools to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Today, Senator Franken has an important video announcement for you regarding S. 555.

On the occasion of this second national call-in day, when we mark the anniversary of SNDA’s introduction this session, and the anniversary of the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, PFAW has called on you to be part of the solution.

Below are some quick talking points (more detailed talking points here) you can use in your call and to help promote awareness about the bill.
  • Support and cosponsor the Student Non-Discrimination Act.
  • Bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination, but federal civil rights statutes leave LGBT students, and those who are perceived to be LGBT, unprotected.
  • Bullying and harassment in schools is a pervasive national problem.
  • Both Americans overall and education professionals in particular recognize the problem and support congressional action.
  • When students lose their sense of safety, they lose their access to quality education.
  • As Congress works to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, it should address the bullying and harassment problem.
  • This isn’t just a question of education. It’s a matter of life and death.
Please call your senators now: Capitol Switchboard - (202) 224-3121

You can let us know how your call went with our online call report form.

More than one third of the Senate already supports the Student Non-Discrimination Act. Check the sponsor list to see if your Senators have signed on since last time. If they have, thank them. If they haven’t, it’s time to make another call.

PFAW and AAMIA have also joined 70 national and state organizations in calling on President Obama to publicly support and endorse SNDA.

We recognize and appreciate the leadership that your administration, particularly the Departments of Education and Justice, has demonstrated in efforts to protect students from harassment in schools. The White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in March and the first-ever Federal LGBT Youth Summit in June helped bring critically important attention to the devastating discrimination and harassment that LGBT students often experience in our nation’s public schools. We view an endorsement of the Student Non-Discrimination Act as the next important step the administration should take in the ongoing federal effort to ensure that all students have access to an education unhindered by discrimination and harassment.

[ . . . ]

The Student Non-Discrimination Act presents us with a historic opportunity to offer critical protections to current and future generations of LGBT youth and their student allies by ensuring that discrimination and harassment of students on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity will have no place in our country’s public elementary and secondary schools.

You can contact the President here.

Thank you!


LWV New Hampshire: We deserve honesty from House leaders

When New Hampshire House leaders chose politics over facts in the voter ID debate, the New Hampshire League of Women Voters called them on it: “We deserve honesty from House leaders.”

The column says voter fraud is well-documented but gives only one instance in New Hampshire: a videotaped scam during the primary. House leadership supports the con-artist behind the videotaping but others called for prosecution. The League said at the time, "The only thing this video shows is that those with time, resources and criminal intent and with no respect for the fundamental laws of our nation can sometimes deceive our neighbors who work as election officials. There is no reason to believe that New Hampshire citizens engage in such un-American behavior."

[ . . . ]

It's clear the authors of the column have never listened to or read any of the testimony from the many organizations - a majority at every hearing - that oppose photo ID to get a ballot. Those opposing photo ID believe creating barriers to the constitutional right to vote, especially for the elderly and disabled, is wrong. House leadership's ranting about race-baiting and fear-mongering is offensive, an insult to our citizens and unworthy of anyone who holds elected office.

The New Hampshire Senate has just passed SB 289, which would require voters to present valid photo identification. The Senate is also considering SB 318, which would alter residency requirements and make other voter registration changes that could have a profound impact, especially among the student population; its lead sponsor, Sharon Carson, is an ALEC member who also supports SB 289.

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

DOJ and DOE Resolve MN Allegations, Plus Bullying Action

In October 2010, the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights issued guidance to address bullying in schools, especially as it relates to federal education anti-discrimination laws. One of those laws, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. While the language does not specify sexual orientation and gender identity, DOE has made clear that harassment on these grounds, under certain circumstances, violates Title IX.

Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination. When students are subjected to harassment on the basis of their LGBT status, they may also [. . .] be subjected to forms of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX. The fact that the harassment includes anti-LGBT comments or is partly based on the target’s actual or perceived sexual orientation does not relieve a school of its obligation under Title IX to investigate and remedy overlapping sexual harassment or gender-based harassment. [. . .] Had the school recognized the conduct as a form of sex discrimination, it could have employed the full range of sanctions (including progressive discipline) and remedies designed to eliminate the hostile environment.

This past Monday, DOE and the Department of Justice joined with six students and the Anoka-Hennepin School District to file a proposed consent decree (legal agreement) in the US District Court in Minnesota that would resolve complaints of sex-based harassment of middle and high school students in the school district.

In November 2010, the Department of Justice received a complaint alleging that students in the school district were being harassed by other students because they didn’t dress or act in ways that conform to gender stereotypes. The Departments of Justice and Education conducted an extensive investigation into sex-based harassment in the district’s middle and high schools. Many students reported that the unsafe and unwelcoming school climate inhibited their ability to learn. The parties worked collaboratively to draft a consent decree addressing and resolving the allegations in the complaints.

If approved by the court, the consent decree will ensure that the school district:
  • Retains an expert consultant in the area of sex-based harassment to review the district’s policies and procedures concerning harassment;
  • Develops and implements a comprehensive plan for preventing and addressing student-on-student sex-based harassment at the middle and high schools;
  • Enhances and improves its training of faculty, staff and students on sex-based harassment;
  • Hires or appoints a Title IX coordinator to ensure proper implementation of the district’s sex-based harassment policies and procedures and district compliance with Title IX;
  • Retains an expert consultant in the area of mental health to address the needs of students who are victims of harassment;
  • Provides for other opportunities for student involvement and input into the district’s ongoing anti-harassment efforts;
  • Improves its system for maintaining records of investigations and responding to allegations of harassment;
  • Conducts ongoing monitoring and evaluations of its anti-harassment efforts; and
  • Submits annual compliance reports to the departments.

Tom Perez, DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights:

Education is a great equalizer. Yet, students cannot learn if they are afraid to go to school. Students cannot learn if they are being harassed and threatened. Students cannot learn if they are not free to be themselves. Students cannot learn if they feel that school administrators can’t and don’t protect them.

Bullying cannot be a rite of passage in our nation’s schools. Instead, our schools must be safe and nurturing environments that promote learning and full participation by all students. As a parent of three students in public school, I realize how important it is for children to be free from fear so that they can learn and thrive in school every day.

[ . . . ]

This administration is committed to combating harassment and bullying. Where we see barriers to educational opportunities, we work aggressively to break down those barriers. In Tehachapi, Calif., following the death of Seth Walsh, a gay student who took his own life, we worked with Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights on an agreement with the school district to amend its policies and provide training to address and prevent sex-based harassment. At South Philadelphia High School, we engaged in a comprehensive consent decree to address the severe and pervasive harassment of Asian American students. And in Owatonna, Minn., we entered a settlement agreement to resolve an investigation into the racial and national origin harassment and disproportionate discipline of Somali-American students at Owatonna High School. Last year, the Department of Education produced a comprehensive guidance on bullying. We will use every tool in our law enforcement arsenal to ensure that all students have access to equal educational opportunity.

The consent decree comes on the eve of another important anti-bullying action, and we need your help.

March 8 marks the second national call-in day supporting Senator Franken’s Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA) (S. 555).

Check the sponsor list to see if your Senators have signed on since last time. If they have, thank them. If they haven’t, it’s time to make another call. Thank you!


Another Empty Courtroom

A few days ago, Judge Valerie Baker Fairbank in the Central District of California took senior status, opening up yet another judicial vacancy in California: its thirteenth. The Central District alone has three current vacancies, with a fourth one set to open possibly within days (as soon as there is a confirmation vote to elevate Judge Jacqueline Nguyen to the Ninth Circuit). Each of the vacancies in this district has been formally recognized as a judicial emergency by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

The Central District serves about 18 million people, including the populations of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Their access to justice is blocked every day their courtrooms are made to sit empty. Clearly, it is urgent to fill this seat as quickly as possible

Fortunately, one of this district's vacancies can be filled today. All the Senate has to do is vote to confirm Michael Fitzgerald, whose nomination to this district has been pending on the floor for more than four months. Unfortunately, that vote is not going to happen today.

No one doubts Fitzgerald's qualifications. A panel of the ABA concluded unanimously that he is well qualified, its highest rating. Judiciary Committee members recognized his qualifications by approving him in an unopposed voice vote. This was way back on November 3, but Senate Republicans have stubbornly refused to allow the full Senate to hold a vote.

If Michael Fitzgerald and all of the other judicial nominees were not being obstructed, our nation would not have so many courtrooms sitting empty while justice passes millions of Americans by.



Voter ID challenges moving forward in Wisconsin

Last May, Wisconsin Governor and ALEC Alum Scott Walker signed Act 23 (aka AB 7), a voter ID law which also counts ALEC affiliated legislators among its sponsors. Groups challenging this legislation have a long road ahead of them, but this week they scored some important successes.

In the League of Women Voters case, Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess ruled on Monday that League President Melanie Ramey has standing as a plaintiff, and Governor Walker is the proper defendant.

The League had countered that whether Ramey herself was affected or not was beside the point because the requirement imposes an additional impediment to voting that is not specified in the state constitution.

"In this, she is surely correct," Niess wrote.

Further, he wrote, the League is in the best position to argue on behalf of voters who are "too physically infirm, mentally ill, impoverished, itinerant, elderly or simply neglectful to comply" but are still qualified voters under the state constitution.

"This is the same cohort of citizens that shows up in the circuit courts in increasing numbers, day in and day out, without lawyers, in foreclosure proceedings, collection actions and family matters," Niess wrote. "Who will advocate for them on these constitutional issues that affect their fundamental, inherent and constitutional right to vote, if not the plaintiffs, or entities like the plaintiffs?"

Walker, Niess wrote, is a proper defendant because under recent state law he has ultimate authority over rule-making by state agencies, including GAB.

In the case brought by the Milwaukee NAACP and Voces de la Frontera, Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan on Tuesday halted AB 7’s enforcement in the upcoming April 3 general election, pending trial.

Flanagan granted a temporary injunction (read the injunction here) ordering Walker and the GAB to "cease immediately any effort to enforce or implement the photo identification requirements" of the law, pending a trial on a permanent injunction scheduled before him on April 16.

"If no injunction is issued, a clearly improper impairment of a most vital element of our society will occur," Flanagan wrote. "The duty of the court is clear. The case has been made. Irreparable harm is likely to occur in the absence of an injunction."

The message from these judges for these and other pending challenges (including Advancement Project and ACLU) is clear: voter suppression is a serious issue, and attempts to implement it merit careful scrutiny from the judicial system.

Indeed, something must be wrong when a veteran appears to vote and his VA card isn’t accepted, or when a 95-year-old cannot get ID because neither she nor the state can locate her birth certificate.

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

Rick Santorum's Latest Target -- Single Moms

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

I am a single parent.

According to the right, I am also a leech on society and pose a danger to my own son.

A new bill proposed by a Republican state legislator in Wisconsin would officially label single parents like me a "contributing factor to child abuse and neglect." When radio host Alan Colmes asked the bill's author, Glenn Grothman, to explain himself, Grossman said that women become single parents in order to live off the government, and then lie about it and say they got pregnant by accident.

As far as I know, Sen. Grothman's the first one to try to write the Single Moms Conspiracy theory into law, but he's far from the first one to think it. Bashing single moms has been a mainstay of right-wing politics for decades. Perhaps this is because it combines two of the right's favorite activities: publicly judging the family lives of others and scapegoating.

One of the most enthusiastic purveyors of the Single Moms Conspiracy theory has been Rick Santorum. Mother Jones today put together a collection of some of his early comments on single parenthood. During his 1994 Senate race, Santorum said, "We are seeing the fabric of this country fall apart, and it's falling apart because of single moms." A month later, he accused single mothers of "simply breeding more criminals."

Santorum hasn't exactly stepped back from his claim that single moms are ruining America. In October, he said that the Democratic Party's support base is single mothers with a "desire for government." At a GOP debate in December, he said that single moms aren't marrying their boyfriends because they want to keep on collecting welfare.

What's remarkable is that the same people pushing the theory that single parents are ruining America are also doing everything in their power to keep women from having access to birth control and to keep gay and lesbian parents from getting married. For them, this isn't about improving women's and children's lives: it's about creating a scapegoat.

Research shows that the key to raising healthy children is stability, not the number or gender of their parents. Kids who have parents that come and go face greater risk than kids who have only one parent throughout their lives that they can rely on to be there. If politicians like Rick Santorum want to promote stable families, they should start by respecting all families.

I can think of a lot of things that are making "the fabric of this country fall apart." Loving single parents are not one of them.

Lara Bergthold chairs People For the American Way's Board of Directors.


Who's Sorry Now? The Republican Art of the Non-Apology

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Ralph Reed reached out to Rush Limbaugh via Twitter yesterday and accepted his apology. "Apology accepted. Let's move on," he said -- a magnanimous gesture had Rush Limbaugh actually apologized to Ralph Reed. Too bad that, despite the too quick headlines, Limbaugh not only hadn't apologized to Reed -- he hadn't really apologized to anyone at all.

Instead, Reed and Limbaugh, with the backing of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, started up the ole vast right-wing fake apology machine -- designed to temporarily quell a too hot controversy while at the same time not giving an inch.

Unfortunately for them, after too much use of the fake apology, people are catching on.

Although considered by some in the GOP to be a little too rough around the edges, Rush Limbaugh has always been considered a net asset to Republicans. Like fellow right-wing shock-jocks Glenn Beck and Bryan Fischer, he reaches a wide audience with toxic sludge that is ultimately helpful to the Republican Party, saying all the things that fire up the right-wing base, but that the politicians wouldn't want to be caught saying themselves. But Limbaugh has a peculiar kind of power -- no matter how outrageous his comments, members of the establishment Right tiptoe around him, afraid that his toxic words might one day be directed at them. George Will said it best: "They want to bomb Iran, but they're afraid of Rush Limbaugh."

The latest boot-up of the right-wing apology machine began when Limbaugh called Georgetown University law student and contraception coverage advocate Sandra Fluke a "slut," saying "She wants to be paid to have sex." And, as if contraception was sold by the gallon or the pound, he added, "She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception."

President Obama immediately stepped up, calling Fluke to check in and encourage her after she had been smeared on national radio.

Rick Santorum, in contrast, called Limbaugh's comments "absurd," but then reasoned that "an entertainer can be absurd... He's in a very different business than I am."

Mitt Romney's response was flimsier and even more timid. Asked about it while shaking hands at a rally, he said that it was "not the language I would have used." Apparently, he had no problem with Limbaugh saying that birth control advocates want the government to pay for them to have sex. He would just use different words.

Finally, Limbaugh himself fake-apologized. "I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke," he said -- before blaming the left and going on to repeat his accusation that she was "discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress."

"I wouldn't have use those words" is the new "I apologize if anyone was offended."

Ms. Fluke did not accept Limbaugh's fake-apology. Ralph Reed, however, accepted it on her behalf. Republican leaders can't be responsible for everything that comes out of the mouths of every right-wing blowhard. But if they want to be president they can be expected to provide clear responses when comments like Limbaugh's are this outrageous, instead of hiding their heads in the sand hoping that the public exposure of these outrages will go away. How hard is it to say that women who advocate for insurance coverage for contraceptives should be heard and shouldn't be called prostitutes for stating their position on the topic? Is it really worth compromising basic decency to stay in the good graces of Rush Limbaugh?

The Republican Party is increasingly buoyed by a small base whose values are antithetical to those of most other Americans. If they want to survive politically, they are going to have to stand up and no longer be fake apologists for the likes of Rush Limbaugh.