PFAW Releases New Toolkit on Getting Money Out and Voters In to Our Democracy

Americans today face twin threats to the integrity of our elections. The threats are multifaceted and formidable, involving all branches of government at the local, state and federal level – from legislative bodies, to governorships, to courthouses. The aims are clear:

  • Manipulate the campaign finance system to get "the right people" elected.
  • Manipulate the balloting process to make it harder for "the wrong people" to vote.

These measures must be confronted. But we also need long-term proactive and pro-democracy strategies of our own.

The “Money Out, Voters In” campaign embodies this long-term vision premised on the concept of political equality, of one person = one vote.

We believe in a democratic system where all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and where all Americans, regardless of wealth, can express their views to one another and their government on a level playing field.

Through A Guide to Democratic Reform, a new toolkit released today by People For the American Way, we provide the structural framework for enacting this vision. We do not have all the answers, nor could we. We must embrace an evolution of ideas, tactics, and legislative language to achieve our goals. Yet, as the local, state, and federal initiatives cited herein show, much of that work is already well-underway.

Click here for information about critical allies and other resources.

PFAW

Richard Mourdock and the Supreme Court

Richard Mourdock's statement yesterday about rape and God's will, like so many other election issues, implicates the Supreme Court.

Mourdock and his allies are strongly anti-choice. The far right has been committed for a generation to populating our nation's courts with ideologues who will empower them to use government to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else. Most prominently, rather than letting a woman decide for herself whether to terminate a pregnancy consistent with her constitutional right to privacy, they have pushed for judges who will water down and ultimately reverse Roe v .Wade.

So while a strong majority of the Supreme Court recognized the constitutional right to choose an abortion in 1973, today's Court is hostile to reproductive freedom. Abortion rights have already been significantly circumscribed, and Mitt Romney has promised that if he is elected, he will nominate Justices like Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts. A change in just one Justice will consign the constitutional right to abortion to history.

Similarly, despite the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, the religious right demands the right to codify their hostility to gays and lesbians into law. The Supreme Court will almost certainly decide this term whether the federal government can refuse to recognize state-recognized marriages of lesbian and gay couples. But they may punt the larger issue of whether states that continue to restrict marriage to heterosexuals are acting consistent with the Fourteenth Amendment. How the Court decides will likely be determined by whether it is Barack Obama or Mitt Romney who nominates the next two or three Justices.

There's a reason that the far right is willing to let Mitt Romney pretend to be a moderate as the campaign heads toward Election Day. They know that if he becomes president – and especially if he is backed with a Republican-controlled Senate – the Supreme Court will be in their hands for a generation.

PFAW

Richard Mourdock's Religion Trumps Everyone Else's

Indiana Republican and Tea Party favorite Richard Mourdock is making headlines with his statement during a debate about rape, pregnancy, and God's will. As Talking Points Memo reports:

Defending his stance that abortion should be illegal even in the case of rape, Mourdock explained that pregnancy resulting from nonconsensual sex is the will of God.

"I've struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God," Mourdock said. "And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."

The GOP Senate candidate sought to contain the damage with a statement this morning:

"God creates life, and that was my point. God does not want rape, and by no means was I suggesting that he does. Rape is a horrible thing, and for anyone to twist my words otherwise is absurd and sick," stated Richard Mourdock.

But no one is twisting Mourdock's words. He set out to explain why he wants the law to deny a raped woman the right to an abortion, and he did so clearly: Because he has a personal religious belief that God wants the woman to have a child.

That the woman may have a different religious belief is apparently irrelevant: Mourdock clearly believes that the law should reflect his theology, not hers. Unfortunately, that approach to governing, one which the First Amendment was adopted to prevent, is the founding principle of the religious right.

This calls to mind our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation's booklet 12 Rules For Mixing Religion and Politics, a publication designed to generate conversation on how to create and sustain a civic space reflecting our nation's Constitution and the values of respectful discourse. For instance, Rule Two states:

While it is appropriate to discuss the moral dimensions of public policy issues, religious doctrine alone is not an acceptable basis for government policy.

Because government represents all the people, not just those who share the faith of particular government officials, and because the First Amendment prevents the government from establishing religion, it is inappropriate for government policy to be based solely on religious doctrine. Debates over who speaks for God or who has a superior interpretation of scripture should not form the basis for policymaking.

This and the other rules for the road are explained in greater detail in the booklet. In a nation blessed with both democracy and a rich diversity of religious beliefs, we should not be using the law to codify our own theological positions.

PFAW

House votes to slam courthouse doors shut to immigration cases

Last month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Arizona v. United States, a case that will examine key provisions of Arizona’s infamous and draconian immigration law, SB 1070. Sponsored by ALEC member and former Senate President Russell Pearce, and several others with ALEC ties, SB 1070 was developed in close consultation with ALEC and now stands as one of its model bills.

The Department of Justice argues that Arizona unconstitutionally usurped the federal government’s role in enforcing immigration law. PFAW and other opponents cite evidence of wrongful arrests, racial profiling, and discrimination, especially against Latinos and other minorities.

Now efforts are being made in to block court challenges to SB 1070 and similar laws in other states. On May 9, the US House passed Amendment 1063 by a 238-173 vote.

An amendment to prohibit the use of funds to be used by the Attorney General to originate or join in any lawsuit that seeks to overturn, enjoin, or invalidate Immigration Enforcement Laws in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arizona, Utah, Indiana, Alabama, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Note the especially selective list of states, through which anti-immigrant forces seem to be trying to muzzle DOJ only where they approve of the legislation that is (or might be) challenged, showing a profound and dangerous contempt for the rule of law.

As the ACLU put it:

The DOJ’s filing of this lawsuit proves [that] the department takes its role in stopping rampant racial profiling seriously. Congress should support the DOJ’s role in protecting the constitutional rights of those subjected [to] racial profiling, not tie the department’s hands as the House has with the Black amendment. It is now up to the Senate to ensure that the Black amendment doesn’t become law.

Thankfully, it’s likely that the Senate will do just that.

For more information on ALEC’s role with SB 1070 and other controversial bills, check out PFAW Foundation’s report on ALEC in Arizona (and its April 2012 update).

PFAW

ACLU DNA, Lead Paint, and the Judges who Made it Through GOP Obstruction

As we like to remind anyone who will listen, the current GOP senate has been shameless in its enthusiasm for obstructing judicial nominees just for the sake of obstruction. For instance, a PFAW memo on August 2 reported that of 24 nominees then waiting for confirmation votes, 21 had been voted through the Senate Judiciary Committee with no recorded opposition. Instead of sending through at least the unopposed nominees in a voice vote and moving on with its business, the Senate decided to keep these potential jurists off the bench for as long as possible – despite the pressing problem of unfilled judicial seats leading to slowed down justice. Ultimately, 4 of those nominees were confirmed by the Senate before it left for its August recess, and 20 remain waiting. (The Washington Post this morning lamented that such “gamesmanship is not only frustrating but also destructive”)

This sort of thing is a clear example of obstruction for obstruction’s sake. But what about the nominees who do face some GOP opposition? Last week, The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen took an in-depth look at some of President Obama’s nominees who were ultimately confirmed by the Senate, but who received more than 25 “no” votes. The reason? Most were opposed because of a record fighting for civil liberties or against big corporations. Here are a few of Cohen’s examples:

7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Hamilton (Votes 59-39). Even though his local Federalist Society endorsed this nephew of former Congressional leader Lee Hamilton, Senate Republicans mostly didn't because, as a trial judge, Hamilton had issued this 2005 ruling which had infuriated the religious right. Citing Supreme Court precedent, Judge Hamilton had ruled that Indiana's legislative prayer before each session could no longer be "sectarian" and regularly invoke the name of Jesus Christ.


Northern District of Ohio Judge Benita Y. Pearson (Votes 56-39). The first black female federal jurist in Ohio almost didn't get the gig. The precise reasons why are unclear. The People for the American Way suggested that she was a member of an animal rights group and thus earned the wrath of those in the cattle industries -- although 39 "no" votes is quite a lot of beef to have against a pioneering jurist.


District of Colorado Judge William J. Martinez
(Votes 58-37). By contrast, it is not hard to understand why this Mexico-born nominee roused so much Republican opposition on the floor of the Senate. Before he was nominated, Martinez advised the Americans with Civil Liberties Union and was a lawyer for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (just like Clarence Thomas before him, only Justice Thomas' EEOC experience evidently was a boon for his nomination). Of nominee Martinez, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said: "It seems that if you've got the ACLU DNA you've got a pretty good leg up to being nominated by this president."


District of Rhode Island Judge John J. McConnell (Votes 50-44). It's also fairly clear why Judge McConnell almost didn't make it onto the bench. Senate Republicans didn't like him because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce didn't like him because, as a lawyer, McConnell had successfully sued Big Tobacco and fought for those harmed by lead paint. Evidently that's five Republican votes more serious in the Senate than ticking off Big Beef.


Northern District of California Judge Edward M. Chen
(Votes 56-42). Like Judge Martinez, Edward Chen evidently was touched with the "ACLU gene," which rendered him objectionable to Senate Republicans. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), whose state's Asian population is nearly three times lower than the American average, voted against Chen because he thought the well-respected former magistrate judge employed the "empathy standard" of judging.


District of Oregon Judge Michael H. Simon
(Votes 64-35). Harvard educated? Check. Prior government experience with the Justice Department? Check. So why 35 "no" votes? Because Simon had worked for the ACLU. The seat he took on the federal bench, reported the Oregonian, had been vacant for 664 days, two months short of two years. How would you like to have been a litigant in Oregon during that time?


All of these nominees were ultimately confirmed – but not after plenty of stalling and debate over the value of “ACLU DNA” or of holding big corporations accountable for their actions. When we talk about the many nominees who are unopposed yet unaccountably stalled, it’s important to remember that the few nominees who do face GOP opposition don’t always face that opposition for the most convincing of reasons.
 

PFAW

More Than 50 Legal Academics Blast Obstruction of 7th Circuit Nomination

More and more Americans are fed up with freshman Senator Ron Johnson's single-handedly blocking the Senate from even considering the nomination of Victoria Nourse to Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Yesterday, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that:

Johnson's decision to block the judicial nomination of a University of Wisconsin law professor has drawn a pointed letter of protest from a group of legal academics around the country.

Johnson has singlehandedly held up consideration of Victoria Nourse for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviews federal cases from Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

"For a single senator from one state within the Circuit to assert a hold, months after the nomination was complete, undermines Wisconsin's merit-based selection system, blocking highly qualified nominees from a hearing and a vote," reads the letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and the panel's top Republican, Charles Grassley of Iowa. "The effect is an unbreakable one-person filibuster."

The professors say a "a nominee of sterling credentials who has served under both Republicans and Democrats" should not be subject to "unending delay." You can click here to see the letter and its 53 signatories, some of whom served under Republican presidents.

Indeed, the letter shows Nourse's support across the ideological spectrum. In addition to progressive legal scholars, signers also include conservatives like Randy Barnett (a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who has challenged the constitutionality of the healthcare reform law) and David Bernstein (author of Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform). The signers also include ten scholars from Wisconsin law schools. All agree that Nourse would make an excellent judge.

Nourse was originally nominated by President Obama more than a year ago after consultation with Wisconsin's two senators. Unfortunately, because of the unprecedented obstruction of qualified judicial nominees by Senate Republicans, Nourse was among the dozens of nominees who the Senate was prevented from considering before 2010 came to an end. President Obama renominated her in January, with the new Congress that now includes newly elected Senator Ron Johnson.

Johnson complains he should have been consulted before the renomination even though the appropriate consultation with Wisconsin's senators occurred when Nourse was originally nominated. Other states with new Republican senators have faced the same situation with the re-nominations of judicial nominees who were originally nominated last year. In every case but Wisconsin, the new Republican senator has allowed the nomination to go forward. Only Senator Johnson has refused.

PFAW

Constitutional Privacy Rights and Title X

46 years ago today, the Supreme Court issued its historic ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut, overturning the Connecticut state law that criminalized the use of contraceptives and recognizing that the Constitution protects the right to privacy. Five years after Griswold, Congress enacted Title X, which provides federal funding to family planning services for the uninsured and for low-income families. Griswold also paved the way for Roe v. Wade, which ruled that a woman’s choice to have an abortion was a constitutionally protected private decision.

But 46 years after Griswold, access to both contraception and abortion services are still under attack from the Right. Right-wing legislatures across the country just this year have passed numerous laws restricting women’s access to abortion. In addition, putting access to contraception and health care at great risk, Indiana last month adopted a law cutting off all state funding to Planned Parenthood.

Republicans in Congress are also going after access to contraception, in the form of Title X funding. In February, the House passed a budget bill that would put a stop to all Title X funding, including examinations to screen for sexually transmitted infections, breast cancer, and diabetes. The bill also included a provision to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood. Those draconian provisions didn’t make it into law, but a provision preventing DC from using its own local tax dollars to help fund abortions for low-income residents did.

We’ve come a long way in 46 years…but we’re also still fighting many of the same battles to exercise the rights guaranteed to us in the United States Constitution.

PFAW

GOP Attempt To “Defund The Left” Paying Dividends

The Republican drive to eliminate workers’ rights and bust unions has always been a partisan campaign to “defund the left” cloaked in language of ‘fiscal responsibility.’ Wisconsin State Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald, one of the champions of his state’s anti-union law, even admitted that the plan to dismantle unions for public employees was to undercut progressive political activities and weaken Obama’s state reelection campaign, saying: “If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.”

Now, the International Association of Fire Fighters has decided that it can’t afford to contribute to pro-union candidates on a federal scale because it needs to use its resources to fight back against the mushrooming threats to worker’s rights in GOP-controlled states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Alabama. Politico reports:

As newly elected Republican state legislatures aggressively push a slew of anti-union measures, the International Association of Fire Fighters is freezing its federal political spending and shifting all resources toward its beleaguered state and local colleagues.

“With the survival of our union and the ability to preserve and protect the rights, wages, and benefits our members deserve in jeopardy in the states, we have re-evaluated how to get the best results from our political dollars,” IAFF President Harold A. Schaitberger said Tuesday in an email blast to members that was obtained by POLITICO.



The move by the union is just the latest – and most dramatic – adjustment labor leaders are scrambling to make after Republicans across the nation in January tried to quickly push through new laws that would weaken the movement and its political influence.

In Wisconsin and Ohio, new laws would undermine the collective bargaining rights of most or all public employees. In Missouri, bills have been introduced to loosen wage and child labor laws. In Indiana, lawmakers sought to essentially ban public employee unions by becoming a right-to-work state. In Alabama, lawmakers have eliminated automatic union dues deductions from workers’ paychecks.
PFAW

Update from the Frontlines in Ohio: Voter ID Bill Could Affect Poor and Minority Populations

Poor and minority populations are again under attack in Ohio. With Ohioans putting all of our efforts into stopping Governor Kasich and Republican leaders from destroying workers’ rights, we’re being blindsided by a very troubling bill aimed at limiting access to the ballot box. Ohio’s new Voter ID bill, HB 159, which requires every voter to present a valid government issued photo ID in order to vote, sailed through the Ohio House of Representatives last week. This bill would put up unnecessary road blocks to the voting process and almost certainly cause mass confusion during next year’s presidential election.

Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, was Skyped in last week to testify to the Ohio House in favor of Voter ID restrictions. When asked by an Ohio legislator how many cases of voter fraud in Georgia led to the state’s Voter ID bill, he said “I don’t have a number in front of me,” adding, “It’s hard to put a number on it because you didn’t know that fraud was happening.” We then heard in-person testimony from the Deputy Secretary of State of Indiana (the same state where the current Secretary of State has been recently indicted on voter fraud). His answer to the same question was, “I can’t give you a number, however there were 2 people arrested in Indiana for voter fraud and no evidence of dead people voting.”

It costs between $21.75 and $25.75 to obtain an Ohio driver’s license. Should you need to purchase a birth certificate in order to get a drivers license, there’s an additional cost of $21.50. Paying somewhere between $40 and $50 is an unnecessary burden for many Ohioans in this uncertain economy. Imagine having to choose between paying for a state identification in order to vote and paying an overdue utility bill before disconnection. That’s not the kind of choice Americans should have to make.

In addition, racial minorities, the working poor, students and people with disabilities are twice as likely to lack a non-expired government photo ID.

In 2005, Ohio passed a law that imposed stricter ID requirements than federal law. Now, Ohio may become the most restrictive voting state in the country since this bill does not even permit voters to produce other forms of identification found to be acceptable in states that require identification. This bill would have national implications, considering Ohio’s historical position as “the” deciding state when determining the outcome of Presidential elections.

Shouldn’t we be making voting more accessible instead of making it restrictive and exclusive to a select group of people? The Republican Secretary of State doesn’t even support this bill, so why is the legislature pushing it through? The answer one Republican House member gave is, “Because we can.” As Ohio Representative Mike Foley put it, "There were 3,956,245 votes cast in the 2010 general election and there was one instance of voter fraud out of all of these votes cast. So we’re looking to spend somewhere in the $10-20 million range to deal with a .00000025 percent problem." With an $8 billion budget shortfall, we should be seeking ways to spend less money, particularly on a problem that doesn’t exist.

PFAW

Pence Admits to Using Women’s Health as a Bargaining Chip

NPR reports today on Republican efforts to gut funding to Title X family planning clinics, which “serve 15 percent of women in the United States who obtain contraceptive prescriptions or supplies, or who receive an annual checkup for birth control.” In February, all but three Republican representatives voted for a budget proposal that completely nixed Title X funding, after approving an amendment that also strips Planned Parenthood of all federal funds. As NPR reports, Rep. Mike Pence, the sponsor of the Planned Parenthood amendment, actually thinks that Title X funding is a good thing….but is willing to use it as a bargaining chip to achieve his ultimate goal of decimating Planned Parenthood:

Supporters of defunding have characterized it as an effort to strip funds from Planned Parenthood and other organizations that use other funds to provide legal abortions, without singling out any particular group. The House in February voted 240-185 to defund Title X in the current budget year.

But even staunch anti-abortion legislators like Rep. Mike Pence, the Indiana Republican who has crusaded against federal funding for Planned Parenthood clinics, say that jettisoning the Title X program may be going too far.

"I've never advocated reducing funding for Title X," Pence said during a recent radio interview with the chairman of a county Right to Life organization in his home state.

"Title X clinics do important work in our inner cities," Pence said. "They provide health services for women and children that might not otherwise have access to them."

So, why have Republican House members set their sights on the $327 million that would fund the program this year?

The answer, largely, is Planned Parenthood and politics.

Social conservatives have pressed House Republicans to make cutting off federal funds to Planned Parenthood a priority; but they see room for negotiation over Title X funds.

The Right’s obsession with bringing down Planned Parenthood is destructive enough…that people like Pence are willing to put millions of women at risk to achieve it shows just how blind an obsession it is.

 

PFAW