Pollster Tom Jensen Joins PFAW Telebriefing on the State of the Election

On Thursday People For the American Way hosted a member telebriefing on the current state of the 2016 election cycle to discuss the latest poll numbers and what PFAW is doing to engage in the election.

Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen joined the call to share recent polling data on both the presidential contest and key Senate races, providing an overview of the 2016 landscape just over two weeks before the election. PFAW’s Drew Courtney, Marge Baker, and Laura Epstein outlined some of the highlights of PFAW’s work in 2016 on engaging Latino voters and making the Supreme Court a winning election issue.

You can listen to the full telebriefing here:


SCOTUS Schedule Speaks a Thousand Words

Last Friday, the Supreme Court released its schedule of oral arguments for December.  Notably missing was a potentially far-reaching religious liberty case called Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, which has the potential to weaken church-state separation provisions in state constitutions.  As we stated in our September preview of the Court’s current term:

Notably, one of the highest profile cases on the docket so far was accepted for review before Justice Scalia passed away. The Court at that time had no reason to shy away from the religious liberty issues raised in Trinity Lutheran ChurchBut now, even though it has been fully briefed and is ahead of many other cases in line, the Court has not yet scheduled it for oral arguments. The Court appears to recognize that it simply can’t do its job in this case as long as Senate Republicans continue to force it to operate without its congressionally mandated ninth seat.

So it was disappointing but not surprising given the continuing vacancy on the Court  to see another month’s schedule of oral arguments skip over this case.  Moreover, the Court’s difficulties show up in other ways, too, as SCOTUSBlog’s Amy Howe noted late last Friday:

[T]he most interesting part of the December calendar may be what cases were not on the calendar: the three cases – Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley, Murr v. Wisconsin, and Microsoft Corporation v. Baker – that were granted in January of this year, before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Because cases are normally slotted for oral argument in at least roughly the order in which they were granted, the delay in scheduling these three cases is unusual. This is particularly true when all three cases have been fully briefed for over two months. Moreover, the court has four days in the December sitting which it will only hear one argument and could thus easily accommodate an additional three arguments. All of the cases on the December calendar were granted … in June; with the release of today’s calendar, all of the cases in which the court granted review before its summer recess have now been scheduled for oral argument except for the three January cases.

The Washington Post PowerPost column accurately called this “a bare-bones calendar.”

The justices are saying through their calendar what they would never say so bluntly: “We cannot perform our duties to decide certain important cases as long as the Republican-controlled Senate deliberately sabotages the Court.”

The senators certainly have a lot of important work to do after the election during the lame duck session.  Fair consideration and a vote on Merrick Garland should be the easiest.

PFAW Foundation

Trump or Clinton Will Be Our President for Four Years, but the Supreme Court Justices They Pick Serve For Life

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What Was Missing From the Debate: Even More Reasons the Supreme Court Is a Crucial Election Issue

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

In last night’s presidential debate, the candidates discussed several important issues where their choices for the Supreme Court will be critical for Americans’ rights. Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is elected will decide whether Roe v. Wade is overruled, whether the Court’s historic Obergefell decision on marriage equality is thrown out by a Trump Court, and whether Congress and state legislatures can enact common-sense laws on gun safety and money in politics.

But there are a number of other issues the Supreme Court rules on that underscore why it is crucial that a President Clinton, backed by a Democratic Senate, selects nominees to fill the up-to-four Court vacancies that are likely in the next four years. Specifically:

  • Corporations vs consumers: A Trump Supreme Court would further stack the deck against consumers and in favor of large corporations in the marketplace. Trump justices would make it even harder to bring class actions, often the only way that consumers can effectively seek justice against big corporations. A Trump Supreme Court would almost certainly reverse a recent 5-4 decision or find some other way to rule that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, harming millions of Americans. And a Trump Supreme Court would likely undermine or reverse narrow rulings that have allowed consumer suits against deceptive cigarette labelling in state court and state attorney general action against big banks.
  • Workers’ rights: The current Supreme Court split 4-4 in a case where anti-labor advocates were pushing the Court to overrule an important precedent and eliminate “fair share” fees from non-union members that are crucial for unions to operate. A Trump Supreme Court would break the tie and deal a devastating blow to workers’ ability to organize and operate unions. A Trump Court could also make things even worse than the Roberts Court for workers protected by federal law. One of the judges on Trump’s list of possible Supreme Court justices even tried to rule that a woman who reported sexual harassment on the job could not take legal action when her employer fired her in apparent retaliation.
  • Protecting the environment: Although a President Trump himself is likely to do significant damage to environmental protection efforts, a Trump Supreme Court would do even more. Several important cases concerning the validity of federal rules protecting against mercury and other toxic air pollution and against harmful power plant emissions are pending right now in federal appellate court. A Trump Supreme Court would likely strike down such rules.  A Trump Supreme Court is also likely to remove wetlands almost completely from protection under the Clean Water Act and to make it easier to challenge environmental protection efforts at the federal, state, and local level.
  • Civil and voting rights: A Trump Supreme Court would almost certainly approve restrictive state voter ID and other voting laws that lower courts have found to improperly limit minority voting rights in North Carolina and elsewhere. In fact, one more right-wing justice on the Court would have allowed the discriminatory North Carolina law to take effect in this November’s election. A Trump Supreme Court would also likely approve state redistricting plans like those that have been narrowly struck down as discriminatory, and make it harder for states to undertake nonpartisan redistricting. A Trump Supreme Court could well reverse a recent 5-4 Court ruling and make it impossible to bring housing discrimination lawsuits based on the discriminatory effects of landlord and other practices.
  • Immigration:  The candidates’ discussion last night of their clear differences on immigration policy underlines the importance of who will select Supreme Court justices.  A Trump Supreme Court is likely to uphold a President Trump’s radical immigration policies, particularly if supported by a Republican Congress. Justices like Thomas, Scalia, and Alito have consistently voted to uphold restrictive laws and presidential actions on immigration and on foreign citizens even when the Court majority strikes them down. Adding more right-wing justices would tip the balance decisively in Trump’s favor. So a Trump Supreme Court would likely approve orders by a President Trump mandating mass deportations, imposing ideological litmus tests on immigrants, banning immigration by all Muslims or people from selected countries, and building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.   

These examples and more are likely products of a Supreme Court to which a President Trump is able to nominate even one or two new justices. With three or more nominations considered likely in the next president’s first term, the consequences to all Americans would be disastrous. And in light of recent threats by Republicans like John McCain to block all Clinton nominees to the High Court, it is crucial that Americans also vote for a Democratic Senate.


Demonstrators Send McCain Message That He Was "Too Little, Too Late" In Denouncing Trump

When Arizona Senator John McCain and Representative Ann Kirkpatrick took the stage on Monday night for their one and only debate, theirs weren't the only voices heard at PBS studios in Phoenix.

People For the American Way joined Planned Parenthood, ProgressNow, and other Arizona activists to send a clear message to Senator McCain: he jumped the Trump ship too little, too late.

In her remarks outside of the debate, Stacey Champion, PFAW's Arizona Campaign Organizer, pointed out just how dedicated to the Trump cause Senator McCain has been:

For over a year, Donald Trump has pushed racist, sexist, and bigoted attacks against far too many Americans -- and through it all, Sen. McCain continued to pledge to vote for him. He's made clear he stands with Trump and the extreme Republican Party, not Arizonans.

Senator McCain has been just as dedicated to blocking Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, and for the same disingenuous political reasons. As we noted on Tuesday, McCain’s "straight talk" on the Supreme Court exposes that his obstruction has never been about “the integrity of the Court” as he claimed, but rather about his desire to play politics with judicial nominations.

Shame on Senator McCain for not doing his job, and for waiting far too long to dump Trump.


McCain's "Straight Talk" Exposes Real Reason for Blocking SCOTUS Nominee

Arizona Sen. John McCain cultivates an image of being a maverick who is straightforward and honest with people.  That’s why he called his old presidential campaign bus “the Straight Talk Express,” and now he’s running for reelection for his Senate seat.

But in a Monday night debate with his Democratic challenger Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, he revealed that he’s been anything but straight about why he refuses to consider Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.  Instead of the Straight Talk Express, he’s been taking his constituents for a ride on the “Duplicity Express.”

For the past eight months, McCain has justified his obstruction by claiming that the American people should have a voice in who fills the vacancy, via the 2016 presidential election.  He seems not to care that he was in fact muzzling the American people, who made a choice in 2012 to give Barack Obama that responsibility for another four years.  He claimed that “[t]his issue is not about any single nominee – it’s about the integrity of the Court.”

But at the debate, McCain revealed that his obstruction has everything to do with the identity of the nominee, and that he might even work to prevent the Court vacancy from being filled by the next president, should it be Hillary Clinton:

We only have eight Supreme Court justices, and I would much rather have eight Supreme Court justices than a [ninth] justice who is liberal …”

Whoa, what about his claim that this wasn’t about any particular nominee, but about “giving people a voice” so the next president can make the selection?

Imagine if, when McCain himself ran for president in 2008, he had stated that certain presidential powers and obligations last only three years rather than four:

  • In the third presidential debate in 2008, McCain would have answered a question about the Supreme Court by saying “I will find the best people in the world -- in the United States of America who have a history of strict adherence to the Constitution. And not legislating from the bench. Except during my last year in office.
  • In McCain’s concession speech, he would have noted that the American people had “decid[ed] that Sen. Obama and my old friend, Sen. Joe Biden, should have the honor of leading us for the next four years, except when it comes to the Supreme Court, where the American people have decided Obama and Biden should lead us for only three years.

Of course he didn’t say this.  That’s because he recognized then—and surely recognizes now—that the mandate given by the American people is for four years.

No, his refusal to consider Merrick Garland has everything to do with his dislike for the president who nominated him.  As he stated in 2008, McCain wants a justice like Scalia or Clarence Thomas.  He wants a justice who would:

  • Gut the Voting Rights Act and make voter suppression far easier (Shelby County)
  • Give corporations the right to make unlimited expenditures and contributions to influence elections (Citizens United)
  • Let corporations cite their religious beliefs as an excuse to deprive women of birth control (Hobby Lobby)
  • Refuse to recognize the equality and basic humanity of gays and lesbians (Obergefell, Windsor, Lawrence)
  • Find ways to rule in favor of the wealthy and powerful, regardless of what the law actually requires (too many cases to list)

Since Merrick Garland has given no indication he would be a conservative’s dream, Senator McCain is intent on preventing the Senate from even considering his nomination.  And if we have a President Hillary Clinton for the next four years, McCain has already said he prefers an 8-member Court to one with a nominee who he disagrees with.

How’s that for a principled, “straight talking” senator?  Refuse to move on the president’s nomination to the Supreme Court because you say the next president should decide, but what you really mean is don’t confirm this nominee because you’d rather have another Scalia on the bench.


Hundreds Rally to Tell Senate Republicans #DoYourJob

This week marked the start of a second consecutive term of the Supreme Court without a full roster of nine justices. For months, Senate Republicans have refused to hold a confirmation hearing—and, in some cases, to even meet with—President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland, despite being considered to be perhaps the most qualified Supreme Court nominee in modern history. Members of both parties have applauded his judicious temperament, deep legal knowledge and fair-minded approach to dealing with difficult cases.

To mark the record-breaking 202 days since Garland’s nomination, PFAW and a cadre of allies assembled a crowd of more than 200 people to hold signs calling on Senate Republicans to do their job by holding a hearing and a vote. Speakers at the rally included organizational leaders, such as PFAW’s own executive vice president Marge Baker, as well as the lead plaintiff in the landmark 2015 marriage equality decision, Jim Obergefell. The bipartisan event also featured Republican voters who are fed up with the relentless obstructionism of their leaders in the Senate.  

Because of the Supreme Court vacancy, in recent months a number of critical issues have been left unresolved. Cases pertaining to immigration, affirmative action, and reproductive health have been left hamstrung by a deadlocked court, with cases being sent back down to lower courts because of the inability to break a tie. With the highest judicial body in the United States unable to resolve issues that affect millions of Americans, now more than ever people must tell Republican members of the Senate to #DoYourJob. 


New Trump Supreme Court List Makes Even Clearer the Dangers of a Trump Supreme Court

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Much has already been written about the dangers that a Supreme Court with even one or two Donald Trump-appointed justices would pose to all our rights and liberties. Trump’s latest list of 10 more possible nominees makes that even clearer. In making his announcement last Friday, Trump proclaimed he was using the late Justice Antonin Scalia as a model for his picks, delighting the far Right. A quick look at these potential nominees’ records shows that they would in fact swing the court far to the right, maybe even further than Justice Scalia, on issues like the environment, voting rights, money in politics, consumer rights, gun violence, LGBT and reproductive rights and more. For the sake of all our rights and liberties, Trump cannot be given the opportunity to nominate Supreme Court justices.

Most of the attention so far has focused on Trump’s naming of Sen. Mike Lee as a potential Supreme Court nominee. Among his many other radical positions, Lee has denounced Supreme Court decisions upholding marriage equality and a woman’s right to choose, and has claimed that Social Security, Medicare, the Affordable Care Act, minimum wage and child labor laws, and many more are unconstitutional. Although Lee has indicated he is satisfied with his current job, at least for now, the prospect of Lee on the court has excited the far Right.

The lesser-known candidates on Trump’s list are similarly alarming. Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady, who as a member of the House helped lead the fight to impeach President Clinton in the Senate, has been dubbed one of the Florida Court’s “Scalia-Thomas duo” because of far-right dissents he and one other conservative have written. These included one dissent that would have invalidated state restrictions on soliciting campaign contributions by state judges, and another that would have reversed a decision protecting vulnerable seniors from mandatory arbitration rules by nursing homes.

Another new Trump candidate, Neil Gorsuch of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, recently argued that the Supreme Court’s Chevron decision, under which courts defer to environmental and other agency interpretations of ambiguous laws and which even Justice Scalia had supported, is unconstitutional and should be overruled. Tim Tymkovich, another 10th Circuit judge on Trump’s new list, argued in a dissent that a federal regulation banning the carrying and storing of guns on U.S. Postal Service property should be partially struck down as unconstitutional.

The records of other state supreme court judges on Trump’s list are also disturbing. Georgia’s Keith Blackwell wrote in one case that homeowners injured by a plant’s release of hydrogen sulfide gas could not bring a class action against the plant, even though several lower courts said that they could. Iowa’s Edward Mansfield argued in one dissent that a fired employee should not be able to claim retaliatory discharge when she was fired by an assisted living facility for complaining about a supervisor forging state-mandated training documents. And Michigan’s Robert Young campaigned for re-election as a Tea Party candidate, appearing before Tea Party groups and securing their endorsements. His judicial record has been criticized as “partisan, wildly activist, rabidly pro-insurance, and anti-consumer.” For example, in one case he dissented from a decision that restored the basic rule, which he himself had helped strike down in an earlier case, that allows auto accident victims to sue for pain and suffering. And Young wrote one opinion upholding a requirement mandating photo ID at the polls, despite another judge’s contention that “history will judge us harshly” for the decision.

Perhaps the best summary of Trump’s new list was offered by Carrie Severino of the right-wing Judicial Crisis Network. Trump “continues to take unprecedented steps,” she proclaimed, to show that he would nominate people “like Scalia, Thomas, and Alito” to the Supreme Court. Severino and Trump are clearly hoping that this will shore up Trump’s support on the far Right. In fact, it has already helped secure Trump’s endorsement by former rival and right-wing Sen. Ted Cruz. But for all other Americans, the prospect of Trump nominees to the Supreme Court is truly frightening. This November, voters need to ensure that Donald Trump does not become President Trump.

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren Talks With PFAW Members About Judicial Nominations

Yesterday, Massachusetts senator and progressive hero Elizabeth Warren joined PFAW’s Michael Keegan and Marge Baker on a member telebriefing to discuss GOP senators’ unprecedented obstruction of judicial nominations at all levels, including their refusal to give fair consideration to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee.

Sen. Warren noted on the call that Senate Republicans are now “setting new records for obstruction.” She suggested that they “might want to pull a copy of the Constitution out and take a look,” since the document is “crystal clear” about the Senate’s responsibility to confirm or reject the judges the president nominates. Instead, Warren said, GOP senators are trying to hold the Supreme Court seat open for a President Trump so that he can nominate judges who will bend the laws to suit their interests and the interests of their powerful friends.

Sen. Warren encouraged PFAW members and supporters to ask their senators why they won’t do their jobs and to keep up the pressure. “People For the American Way has done a fantastic job of putting pressure on Senate Republicans to give these judges timely consideration and an up-or-down vote,” she said. “This is a tough fight, but you don't get what you don't fight for.”

Marge Baker reviewed the work that PFAW is doing to make sure Republicans are held accountable at the ballot box on Election Day, including on-the-ground organizing targeting senators who have refused to do their jobs and PFAW’s massive Latinos Vote! campaign, designed to make sure Latino voters are ready to help deliver a progressive victory in November.

You can listen to a recording of the call here:


A New Species of Politicians: “Trumpublicans”

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The number of Republican elected officials criticizing Donald Trump and condemning his policies while pledging to vote for him has many people understandably scratching their heads, and it’s not hard to see why: politicians calling out the GOP nominee in one breath and then working to bring him and his agenda into power in the next utterly defies logic.

I’d like to propose a name for this odd species of politicians: Trumpublicans.

Trumpublicans: /trəmˈpəbləkən/ — n., pl. 1. Republicans who’ve endorsed or pledged to vote for Trump to win support from far-right voters. 2. Republicans who claim to oppose Trump’s hateful campaign, yet work to advance his candidacy and agenda (e.g. holding a Supreme Court seat open for him to fill.)

Examples of Trumpublicans abound. Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire has tried to separate herself from Trump, refusing to endorse him and saying that she would “stand up” to him. But she also says that she’s “glad to get his endorsement” and still plans to vote for him. Huh? Senator John McCain of Arizona is trying to toe the same line, at times criticizing Trump while repeatedly stating his commitment to vote for him. Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey says that Trump’s actions “give me great pause” but has still refused to disavow him.

There’s no more egregious example than the fight over the Supreme Court vacancy to show how each of these senators are already actively working to support Trump’s extremist agenda. They may express misgivings about Trump with their words, but with their actions, they are holding open the vacant Supreme Court seat so that it can be filled by him. They are going to extraordinary lengths—ignoring their constitutionally-defined responsibilities—to let the next Supreme Court justices be picked by Donald Trump, a man who says a judge can’t do his job because of his Mexican heritage.

Senators’ comments against Trump mean nothing when their actions and votes are still with him in all the ways that count. These senators are trying to have it both ways in a straddle to appeal to both voters with common sense and decency and those who are turned on by Trump’s hate. 
Too many people have written off the Trumpublican phenomenon as being only about Trump as if he’s a one-time thing. “He’s coming out of left field,” the story goes. “He’s so out-there that he’s putting ‘moderate’ Republicans in a tough place.” But when it comes to his anti-Latino, anti-women, anti-just-about-everyone agenda, Trump’s not coming out of left field; he’s coming straight from home plate. He’s riding the sorry momentum that the Republican party has built for years.

After all, way before Trump, this is the party that has threatened to shut down the government over immigration reform and the funding of Planned Parenthood. The party of “self-deportation.” The party that wants to ban abortion. The party that now denies science and doesn’t believe in the president’s birthplace or religion. There is no question that Trump’s rhetoric is horrific, but don’t believe the myth that he is a wild aberration; in many ways, he is tapping into the very core of the Republican party that tragically for the country has become more and more extreme every year.

There’s a reason why the strong recommendations of the infamous 2012 GOP post-loss post-mortem couldn’t be heeded, and this was long before the idea of a Trump candidacy was a glimmer in any Republican eye.

This is no longer your granddaddy’s GOP. And it’s not going to be the “the party of Lincoln”—a description they love to throw around, no matter how increasingly inaccurate—again until people start to stand up to the likes of Donald Trump and to the base that so decisively elected him. It’s as simple as that. You can’t tell your children and grandchildren that you stood against a man who proposed banning all members of a religious group from the country, who smeared an entire community as rapists and criminals, who claimed a judge couldn’t do his job because of his heritage. No, Trumpublicans will have to tell them that even though they said Trump was in the wrong, they stood by him all the way.