Voting For The Future Of Voting: Secretary of State Races To Watch

This post originally appeared on Right Wing Watch.

One influential issue at the ballot box this year is the future of how we cast our ballots. In secretary of state races throughout the country, voters will be choosing who runs their elections — and how open those elections are to all voters.

As Republican lawmakers continue to enact news laws aimed at curtailing the rights of voters, secretary of state elections have taken on renewed importance.

We’ve picked three key secretary of state races that we’ll be watching closely Tuesday and added a few more influential races that are also worth keeping an eye on. (And this isn’t even counting states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where the secretary of state is picked by the governor, leaving the gubernatorial elections will have even stronger voting rights implications.)

Kansas

Perhaps the hardest-fought and most-watched secretary of state race this year is taking place in the heavily Republican Kansas. And that’s all because of the national profile and extreme agenda of one man: incumbent Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

When Kobach won his job in 2010, he was already a national figure. After a stint in the Bush Justice Department, Kobach joined the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) — the legal arm of the nativist anti-immigrant group FAIR — where he worked with lawmakers to craft harsh anti-immigrant measures throughout the country, including Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, where he helped write the infamous “show me your papers” law SB 1070. After a failed run for Congress in 2004, Kobach set his sights on his state’s elections office.

Kobach has recently gained a prominent place in national Republican politics, serving as an immigration policy adviser to Mitt Romney and working to insert anti-gay and anti-immigrant language into the 2012 GOP platform.

Kobach won his position handily in 2010, but is facing an unexpectedly tough fight to hold onto it. Part of the reason is because he’s kept up his out-of-state anti-immigrant work: He still holds a position at IRLI and jets around the country advising states and localities that have agreed to be his policy guinea pigs, prompting his critics to complain that he’s not spending enough time in Kansas. And part of it is because he’s brought his activism home, using his platform in Kansas to push some of the most extreme voting restrictions in the country by hyping fears that undocumented immigrants are voting en masse in Kansas.

In 2011, at Kobach’s urging, Kansas passed a restrictive voter ID law that included a requirement that those registering to vote provide a passport, birth certificate, or similar “proof of citizenship" to elections authorities. The proof-of-citizenship provision, which took effect this year, has thrown Kansas voter registration into chaos. Less than one week before the election, 22,394 potential Kansas voters are unable to cast ballots because they had not provided an acceptable form of citizenship documentation. In addition, Kobach has placed an estimated 300-400 voters in a special voting rights “tier” in which they can vote only in federal elections and not in state elections. Kobach has proudly reported that of the 200 people who were placed in this special class of disenfranchised voters in this summer's primary election, only one bothered to show up to cast a half vote.

Kobach is also at the helm of Interstate Crosscheck, a faulty program that claims to identify people who are voting in two states at once but in reality has encouraged states to purge eligible minority voters from their voter rolls.

Kansans became even more leery of Kobach’s priorities this year when he spent $34,000 in taxpayer money trying to keep a Democratic senate candidate, Chad Taylor, on the ballot after he dropped out to make way for the independent challenging Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. Kobach only relented when the state supreme court ordered him to, and even then he tried (unsuccessfully) to find a way around the order.

A recent poll shows Kobach tied with his Democratic challenger, Jean Schodorf.

Ohio

In the presidential swing state of Ohio, the secretary of state is often in the center of national battles over voting rights. Republican John Husted has been no exception.

In the lead-up to the 2012 election, Husted stepped in to break tie votes in Democratic-leaning Ohio counties, allowing those counties to eliminate night and weekend early voting hours... even as Republican-leaning counties expanded their early voting hours. In response to a national outcry, Husted enforced “uniformity” by requiring all counties to bring early voting opportunities down to the lowest common denominator, including cutting off night and weekend voting and eliminating early voting in the three days before the election. When a federal judge ordered Husted to reopen voting in the three days before the election, he flatly refused to comply, saying it would “confuse voters.” Eventually he relented, but as the election approached he appealed the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court.

Since the 2012 election, Husted has kept up his efforts to restrict early voting in 2014, fighting to eliminate the so-called “Golden Week” of early voting — in which voters can register and cast their ballots in one visit — and to cut early voting hours, including on Sundays, a time frequently used by African American churches for get-out-the-vote efforts.

Husted faces a Democrat state Sen. Nina Turner, a major critic of his record on voting rights. Although the two were neck-and-neck in an early poll, a recent poll shows Husted with a significant lead.

Arizona

Before Kansas ushered in its restrictive “proof of citizenship” law, Arizona was already fighting for a similar measure. In 2004, Arizona voters passed Proposition 200, a medley of anti-immigrant and voter suppression measures including a requirement that those registering to vote present one of a narrow set of documents to prove that they are citizens. The Supreme Court struck down the provision in 2013, saying that it was preempted by federal law — but left a loophole, suggesting that Arizona could sue the federal Election Assistance Commission to require that federal voter registration forms used in the state include the extra “proof of citizenship” requirement. So Arizona did just that, joined by Kansas under Kobach.

That case is still working its way through the courts, but it’s left a peculiar situation in Kansas and Arizona where Kobach and his Arizona counterpart Secretary of State Ken Bennett have set up dual-track voting systems in their states in which people who register to vote with a federal form but do not provide additional citizenship documents are allowed to vote in federal elections, but not in state elections. As we noted above, of about 200 Kansans on the special limited-rights voting track in this year’s primary election, just one voted. In Arizona, about 1,500 were put on the limited track, and 21 cast ballots.

Bennett isn’t up for reelection this year — he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor — but the race to succeed him will determine the future implementation of Arizona’s restrictive requirements. Republican Michele Reagan sought and won Kobach’s endorsement, boasting that she voted for the infamous anti-immigrant bill that Kobach helped bring to Arizona. In the state senate, Reagan wrote a bill that, among other voting restrictions, would prevent community groups from collecting and delivering mail-in ballots, a method commonly used in voting drives by Latino groups. When an effort to repeal the bill by referendum started to gain steam, Reagan and her fellow Republicans worked to repeal it first, thus allowing the state legislature to bring back parts of the bill in a piecemeal fashion.

Reagan is facing off against Democrat Terry Goddard, a former state attorney general and mayor of Phoenix. Both candidates have said they want tighter disclosure requirements for “dark money” spending by outside groups. But when the Koch-backed 60 Plus Association bought $304,000 in ads attacking Goddard last week, she refused to distance herself from the dark money effort.

Reagan also struggled this week to explain her vote for Arizona’s so-called “birther bill,” which would have required presidential candidates to prove to the secretary of state that they are native-born American citizens.

Other States To Watch: Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas, Iowa

In Colorado, Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler — a key Kobach ally and crusader against the supposed scourge of Democratic “organized voter fraud” who last year tried to stop county clerks from sending ballots to voters who had not voted in the the last election — is stepping down this year, having tried and failed to get his party’s gubernatorial nomination. In the race to replace him are Republican El Paso County Clerk Wayne Williams, described by the Denver Post as Gessler’s “lone public ally” among clerks in the ballot controversy, and Democratic attorney Joe Neguse. The two differ on the sweeping elections overhaul Colorado passed last year, which allows same-day voter registration and requires the state to mail a ballot to every voter.

New Mexico’s secretary of state race has incumbent Republican Dianna Duran pitted against Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a rising Democratic star. Toulouse Oliver is emphasizing “full participation across a wide spectrum of the electorate” in her campaign, while Durran is accusing her of using “community-organizer, consultant-styled rhetoric.” In a TV ad that doubles as a promotion for right-wing myths about widespread voter fraud, Durran accuses Toulous Oliver of “registering a dog to vote.” In reality, a right-wing activist tried to register his dog to try to prove a point; he was caught and Toulouse Oliver referred his case to the proper authorities.

Earlier this month, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down the state’s voter ID requirement, a ruling that Secretary of State Mark Martin is vowing to fight. As the case worked its way through the courts, Arkansas voters got conflicting messages from elections officials under Martin’s leadership. He faces a challenge from Democrat Susan Inman.

In Iowa, outgoing Secretary of State Matt Schultz spent $150,000 in taxpayer money in a quest to root out voter fraud in Iowa…and found none. He also conducted a voter roll purge that critics called an attempt to  intimidate Latino voters.” The race to succeed him — between Republican voter ID supporter Paul Pate and Democrat Brad Anderson — is locked in a dead heat.

PFAW

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Yesterday's Big Election Victories and What They Mean

What a huge day for progressive power! Yesterday, voters in nearly every region of the country turned out and resoundingly defeated right-wing attacks on:

  • Workers’ Rights (Ohio);
  • Choice (Mississippi);
  • Voting Rights (Maine);
  • Marriage Equality (Iowa);
  • Immigrant Civil Rights AND Government By the People (Arizona);
  • Public Education (North Carolina);
  • AND MORE.

In the nationally-watched races and ballot initiatives across America, progressives won across the board. These hard-fought victories are not just wins for people in these states. The results have important ramifications moving forward into the 2012 elections, with this flexing of political muscle providing a good source of hope that maybe 2012 can be our 2010.

Let’s remember that most of the Republican presidential candidates came down on the losing side of virtually every one of these issues, showing how out of touch they and their party are with Americans’ values. Frontrunner Mitt Romney, whom many consider to be the presumptive nominee, after his usual hemming and hawing, came out strongly against workers’ rights in Ohio and said he would support the shockingly extreme “personhood” amendment in Mississippi that would have given fertilized eggs the rights of human beings. Even the overwhelmingly Republican -- and culturally conservative -- electorate of deep red state Mississippi rejected that radical position by a whopping 58%-42%. An astute political observer might accurately say that Mitt Romney was in fact yesterday’s, and thus Election 2011’s, biggest loser.

Ohio – workers’ rights and defending the middle class WIN

In Ohio, voters stood up their neighbors -- their nurses, teachers, policemen and firefighters -- and successfully repealed the right-wing governor’s Wisconsin-style attack on the fundamental collective bargaining rights of public employees -- the law known as SB 5. Tallies are showing that over 60% of voters voted “No” on Issue 2, to repeal SB 5, with only six counties in the entire state showing majorities in favor of keeping the law. In all those counties, Republican Governor John Kasich won with more than 60% of the vote in 2010.

We worked hard, with PFAW activists in Ohio playing a critical role in the effort. Our allies in Ohio, especially our friends at We Are Ohio, led an inspiring and effective campaign. This victory will have a lasting impact in Ohio and national politics, as it staved off an attack that could have been crippling to progressives in a critical swing state.

The attacks on working people in Ohio, Wisconsin and other states are part of a right-wing effort to break the back of organized labor, which is a major source of progressive power and one of the only political counterweights to the corporate special interests that fund the Right. Like laws that disenfranchise voters in communities that traditionally vote more progressive, these new policies are a naked partisan power grab by Republican politicians, and at the same time serve as a big gift, basically a policy kickback, to their corporate contributors like the Koch brothers.

We will work hard to help replicate nationally for 2012 the Ohio organizing model that mobilized a middle-class revolt against right-wing extremism in that state.

Mississippi – reproductive rights WIN

As I mentioned above, voters in Mississippi, a state in which Democrats didn’t even bother to run a candidate in several statewide races, overwhelmingly rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person. That dreadful law would have effectively turned ALL abortions, without exception for rape, incest of the health of the mother, into murder under state law. It would have done the same with many popular forms of birth control and the processes involved in fertility treatment, even creating legal suspicion around miscarriages.

A similar “personhood” amendment had twice been rejected by voters in Colorado by similarly large margins, but polling leading up to Election Day in Mississippi showed a toss up. It’s important to note that while many anti-choice conservatives expressed reservations about the far-reaching extremity of the amendment, just about every Religious Right group and Republican supported it … and it lost by 16 points … IN MISSISSIPPI.

Maine – voting rights WIN

Maine voters yesterday voted to preserve their same-day voter registration policy after the right-wing legislature passed a law to repeal it.

In another example of the Right doing everything it can to make ballot access more difficult for some voters, after Republicans took control of the governorship and the legislature in 2010, one of the first things on the chopping block was Maine’s same-day voter registration law.

Voters have been able to register at their polling place on Election Day in Maine since 1973 -- if there is anything ingrained in the voting culture of Maine it’s same-day registration. Same-day voter registration is the reason Maine has one of the highest voter turnouts in the country (states with same-day registration average 6% higher turnout than states without it). It’s good for democracy … but apparently that’s bad for the Right.

Republicans had used the bogus straw man argument about “widespread voter fraud” -- even though it’s never been a reported problem in Maine. They amazingly trotted out the argument that people who wait until Election Day to register are not “engaged” enough in the process, even though same-day registrants are simply abiding by the law of nearly 40 years, and showing up on Election Day is the ultimate demonstration of “engagement.”

The Maine Republican Party even ran a full page newspaper ad just before the election trying to portray the ballot initiative to “repeal the repeal” and save same-day registration as some sort of gay activist plot. The ad implied that Equality Maine’s support of the referendum was somehow insidious and revealing of some problem with the long-standing, pro-democracy law. In reality, LGBT rights groups did have stake in the results of yesterday’s same-day voter registration ballot initiative because if Mainers would not join together to defeat such a radical right-wing usurpation of voters’ rights, then the Equality movement in that state concluded there would be little hope in waging another campaign to enact same-sex marriage equality by referendum. So, yesterday’s victory for voting rights effectively leaves the door open for a future victory for marriage equality as well. 

Iowa – marriage equality WIN

While the victory in Maine opens the possibility of a future win for marriage equality in that state, in Iowa, the state’s existing marriage equality law won a major victory with the election of the Democrat running in a special election for state Senate. Party control of the Senate hinged on this race and if the Republican had won, the legislature would surely move to undo marriage equality for same-sex couples in Iowa.

The Senate seat in question became open when Republican Governor Terry Branstad appointed incumbent Democratic Senator Swati Dandekar to a high paying post on the Iowa Utilities Board. Republicans knew full well that the bare majority Democrats held in the Senate would then be up for grabs, and with it, the fate of marriage equality. Congratulations to Democratic Senator Elect Liz Mathis, the voters who elected her and all the people of Iowa whose rights will continue to be protected by a state marriage law that holds true to our core constitutional values of Fairness and Equality.

Arizona – immigrant rights and democracy WIN

Voters in Arizona really made an impressive show of strength yesterday when they voted to RECALL Republican State Senator Russell Pearce, the architect of Arizona’s infamous draconian “show me your papers” immigration bill, SB 1070. Arizonans did themselves and the country a great service in rejected the lawmaker who pioneered the shameful racial profiling bill.

This is not just a victory for fair and humane immigration policy. The often untold story of SB 1070 is that it was engineered by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a policy group funded by corporate special interests that essentially writes many of the laws pushed every year by right-wing state legislators across the country. SB 1070 was on its face an ugly, racist backlash against undocumented immigrants, but it was also a handout to the powerful private prison industry, which stood to benefit financially by mass roundups of undocumented immigrants who would, of course, be held in prisons.

The successful recall of the right-wing, anti-immigrant icon Russell Pearce was a win for fairness, for civil liberties and for the dignified treatment of America’s immigrant communities. But it was also a triumph over corrupt corporate influence in government and a victory for Government By the People.

Wake County, North Carolina – public education and racial equality WIN

Last month, voters in Wake County, North Carolina decisively defeated four conservative school board candidates responsible for scrapping the district's lauded diversity policies. Yesterday, the final runoff election was decided by Wake County voters who handed victory, and majority control of the school board, to the Democrats.

The ousted board members had been backed by the Koch-funded Tea Party group Americans For Prosperity (AFP). This past summer, People For the American Way and PFAW's African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA) program joined with Brave New Foundation to cosponsor the release of their “Koch Brothers Exposed” video that told the story of AFP’s involvement in the school board election and the board’s effort to resegregate schools. I’m proud that we were able to help shine a light on the Right’s unconscionable attack on public education, racial equality and civil rights.

More Notable Results

The citizens of Missoula, Montana passed a resolution in support of amending the Constitution to end corporate personhood and undo the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizen's United v. FEC. The referendum was initiated by a City Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken, an active member of our affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Official (YEO) Network.

In Kentucky, Democrats won four out of five statewide races with incumbent Democratic governor Steve Beshear winning in a landslide over his Republican challenger

In New Jersey, after two years on the losing side of confrontations with Gov. Chris Christie, Democrats seemed to turn the tide, fighting off well-funded Republican challenges and gaining one seat in the state Legislature.

And in Virginia, the GOP was expected to take majority control of the state Senate -- which they only needed two seats to do – but might have fallen just short. With a paper-thin margin of 86 votes in one race handing preliminary victory to the Republican, there will surely be a recall and Democrats are at least publicly optimistic.

There were more progressive victories in local races around the country, and some losses. For the most part, however, the losses were either very minor or very expected. Where the eyes of the nation was focused, and where progressives put energy and resources, we won across the board. This morning, as we look ahead to 2012, the Right should be very nervous.

Thank you for your ongoing support -- it makes all the difference, every time … and 2012 will be no exception.

PFAW

Republican-Appointed Former Judge: Speed Up Judicial Confirmations

Timothy K. Lewis, a George H.W. Bush nominee who served on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals from 1992 through 1999, offers some perspective on how judicial confirmations were handled before they became mired in hyper-partisan gridlock:

Nineteen years ago, in the fall of 1992, I was nominated by President George H. W. Bush for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. My confirmation hearing lasted one hour. In fact, I had no time to prepare for it. As a federal district judge, I was in the courtroom, charging a jury, when my secretary burst in with the news that my Senate hearing was to be the very next day. That is how much notice I had. When the vote was called only a few days later, I was unanimously confirmed.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not to celebrate me. It is to reflect on a better time for our politics and ask how things went so wrong. Among the 192 Article III judges confirmed during the elder Bush’s presidency, only David Souter and Clarence Thomas faced confirmation battles (with Thomas undergoing a very difficult confirmation battle). But, of course, they were under consideration for the Supreme Court.
 

Compare that now with the Obama administration. The president has had only 96 Article III nominations confirmed and 55 others remain in limbo, awaiting Senate action. They are stuck in a process that should by all constitutional standards remain rigorous, but shouldn’t it also be productive? In the same period of time, George W. Bush had 322 confirmed nominees and Bill Clinton had 372 confirmed.

The Obama administration was slow out of the gate on this one – nominations trickled forth in the early days of the administration when the President’s team should have been well-prepared with the names of nominees. But a considerable amount of the fault for this also has to be laid at the feet of Republicans who have made it a badge of honor to frustrate this President, himself a man of the law, from shaping the federal courts he inherited from George W. Bush. If you doubt this conclusion, reflect for a moment on the Senate minority leader’s comment shortly before the 2010 mid-term election when he said that the top – top — political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term in office. Really, Senator? So where on the priority list do we put conducting the Senate’s constitutional business?

The gridlock in judicial nominations has been one of the less-noticed bits of collateral damage from the congressional GOP’s scorched-earth policy. But it has caused very real harm to Americans seeking justice in courts around the country -- there are currently 37 judicial emergencies in the federal courts in areas where the sitting judges are too overworked to provide prompt access to justice. Last week, Senate Republicans made an exception to their gridlock rule to fill the most publicized of those emergencies: the seat of Arizona Judge John Roll, who was murdered in the Phoenix shooting that critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Roll had stopped by the Giffords event to tell the congresswoman about the urgent need to fill vacancies on the court.

Senate Republicans’ commitment to delay was made particularly clear when they refused to allow a floor vote on 20 pending nominees, most of whom had advanced with no opposition. The Senate GOP’s foot-dragging on judicial nominees is clearly meant to hobble the president’s attempts at basic governance and preserve the dominance of conservative George W. Bush-appointed judges. But it also amounts to the shirking of a basic duty of the Senate: to fill the judiciary with capable, non-politically-motivated judges.
 

PFAW

Senate Republicans Only Delayed Four of Five New Nominees Today!

This morning, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee did something they have done only a handful of times: They exercised their discretion NOT to obstruct one of President Obama's judicial nominees.

The Committee was scheduled to vote on ten nominations this morning. With only four exceptions during the entirety of Obama's presidency, Republicans have exercised their prerogative to delay a committee vote for judicial nominees, even when those nominees are unopposed and are desperately needed to address burgeoning judicial emergencies. It is part of their larger strategy to throw sand in the wheels of the confirmation process in every way possible.

This morning, they did not request a delay for Jennifer Guerin Zipps, who has been nominated to be a district judge in Arizona. What makes Guerin Zipps different? The seat is a judicial emergency, but that has not mattered before. The nominee is unopposed, but even nominees without opposition and with the strong support of their Republican home-state senators have seen their votes delayed.

Only one thing makes this nomination different: Republicans know that the American people are paying attention, because this is to fill the seat that was held by Judge John Roll, who was among those killed in Tucson last January when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot. Roll was seeking to meet Giffords to discuss the worsening caseload crisis overwhelming the area's federal judges. Americans were appalled by the violence, which brings this particular vacancy far more public attention than usual.

Knowing the American people are somberly watching, Senate Republicans declined to play political games with this nomination.

Not surprisingly, for all the other nominations that were scheduled for a committee vote for the first time this morning, they demanded a needless delay.

PFAW

Two-Thirds of Americans Would Vote for a Gay President

USA Today ran a fantastic article on its front page today, featuring PFAW Foundation board member Kyrsten Sinema, who is an Arizona state senator and a member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. The article highlights some statistics that show our nation as a whole becoming more accepting of members of the LGBT community…and more willing to elect LGBT candidates for public office.

In politics, the number of gay men and lesbians running for public office and winning has begun to increase significantly, although gay candidates, especially in more conservative areas, continue to face skepticism and opposition from some voters.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund calculates that 107 openly gay candidates were elected to office nationwide in 2010, an increase of one-third from 2008 and nearly threefold the number of a decade earlier. The political action committee projects another significant jump in 2012.

In a seismic shift, Americans by more than 2-1 say they would vote for a gay candidate for president.

While there is still work to be done, these numbers are inspiring. The full story features many more interesting facts, along with some great quotes from PFAW Foundation’s own Krysten Sinema, so I definitely suggesting reading the entire article!

PFAW

Don’t Speak: The Supreme Court’s New Theory of Free Speech in Elections

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend as much as they want to influence elections. Yesterday, the Court ruled that wealthy candidates and campaign donors have the First Amendment right not to have their spending matched by their opponents.

Welcome to the new logic of free speech in elections.

In a 5-4 decision today, the Supreme Court ruled that a crucial provision of Arizona’s landmark clean elections law, which provides matching funds to publicly financed candidates who are up against particularly well-financed opponents, to be unconstitutional. Why? Because the provision to put publicly financed candidates on even footing with their privately financed opponents “chills” the speech of wealthy individuals and groups who want to pour money into elections.

Yes, if you’re a wealthy person or interest group looking to buy an impact in an election, you might be put off by knowing that, because of matching funds, you would never be able to overwhelm a publicly funded opponent into comparative silence. But, looking at it from the other side, if you’re a candidate who wants to spend your campaign talking to voters rather than donors, you might hesitate to take public financing if you knew you would never be able to even come close the funds of your opponent – without matching funds, the public financing system is all but useless. By taking away the mechanism by which a greater number of candidates can make their voices heard, the Court has stifled speech, rather than protected it.

Justice Elena Kagan, in a zinger-laden dissent, took on the majority’s “more speech is less speech” argument:

The First Amendment's core purpose is to foster a healthy, vibrant political system full of robust discussion and debate. Nothing in Arizona's anticorruption statute, the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Act, violates this constitutional protection. To the contrary, the Act promotes the values underlying both the First Amendment and our entire Constitution by enhancing the "opportunity for free political discussion to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people."

People For’s Marge Baker had this to say:

The Roberts Court has once again twisted the Constitution to benefit the wealthy and powerful while leaving ordinary Americans with a diminished voice. Like in Citizens United v. FEC, which prohibited legislatures from limiting corporate spending to influence elections, the Court’s majority has strayed from the text and history of the Constitution in order to prevent citizens from maintaining control over our democracy. The Roberts Court would do well to remember that the Constitution was written to protect democracy for all people, not just the rich and powerful. Today it has ruled not only that the wealthy have a right to spend more but that they have a right that everyone else spend less.


PFAW

Alabama Governor Signs Anti-Immigrant Law Even More Extreme Than Arizona’s

Last year, Arizona’s state legislature caused a national uproar when it passed a constitutionally dubious bill giving state and local law enforcement officers the power to police for illegal immigrants and essentially requiring all people who may look like immigrants to carry their immigration papers. Parts of that law are currently on hold as courts determine their constitutionality, but the copy-cat laws keep coming. Alabama’s governor has now signed the state’s own SB 1070 on steroids, or what its sponsor called “an Arizona bill with an Alabama twist”:

Under the new measure, police must detain someone they suspect of being in the country illegally if the person cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any reason.

It also will be a crime to knowingly transport or harbor someone who is in the country illegally. The law imposes penalties on businesses that knowingly employ someone without legal resident status. A company's business license could be suspended or revoked.

The law requires Alabama businesses to use a database called E-Verify to confirm the immigration status of new employees.

….

Alabama's law is unique in requiring public schools to determine, by review of birth certificates or sworn affidavits, the legal residency status of students.

In other words, not only are Alabama police now being roped into immigration enforcement – so are public schools and private businesses and even private citizens. The law enforcement provision is troubling: like Arizona’s law, it would seem to encourage racial profiling by police officers instructed to detain people who they suspect may be undocumented immigrants. But Alabama’s new “twist,” requiring schools to investigate the immigration status of their students is one of the most dramatic over-reaches included in the many anti-immigrant laws that have been making their way through state government’s since the passage of SB 1070.

It’s no surprise that the mind behind Alabama’s law is Kris Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state, who was also behind Arizona’s law. Kobach was formerly the top lawyer at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, the legal arm of FAIR, the central group in the anti-immigrant movement, which has a long history of racially-charged attacks on immigrants. FAIR, formerly a fringe group, and the divisive and dehumanizing rhetoric it pushes have been enjoying a renewed national prominence in the vicious anti-immigrant movement that has begun to take hold among even the mainstream GOP. We reviewed the tactics of Kobach and his allies in a report last year on growing trends in anti-immigrant rhetoric.

 

 

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Roberts Court Upholds Arizona's "Death Penalty" for Companies Hiring Undocumented Immigrants

With Chief Justice Roberts writing an opinion for the conservative majority (or, in parts of the decision, a plurality), the Supreme Court yesterday upheld an Arizona law imposing draconian penalties on employers for hiring undocumented aliens, evading a federal law preempting such state laws.

Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting involves a 2007 Arizona law that punishes employers who knowingly hire undocumented aliens by suspending or revoking most of their state licenses. The Chamber of Commerce argued that the law is preempted by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). IRCA prohibits the hiring of undocumented aliens and sets forth procedures employers must follow before hiring someone and the sanctions they will incur for violating the law.

Most importantly, IRCA expressly preempts local and state laws creating sanctions (other than through licensing and similar laws).

It is the "licensing and similar laws" clause in the federal law that is crucial in this case, because the draconian punishment set forth in the Arizona law is the suspension and revocation of "licenses," a term defined so broadly in the Arizona statute that it even includes a company's articles of incorporation. Some have called this the "business death sentence."

The Court noted that in dictionary definitions and other statutes, the term "license" can have a very wide definition that includes articles of incorporation. The Court concluded that nothing in the federal law prohibits Arizona from broadly defining the term licenses, so it upholds the state law. However, Justices Breyer and Sotomayor's dissents pointed out that the opinion overlooks how context narrows the definition of a word. As Justice Breyer wrote:

But neither dictionary definitions nor the use of the word "license" in an unrelated statute can demonstrate what scope Congress intended the word "licensing" to have as it used that word in this federal statute. Instead, statutory context must ultimately determine the word's coverage.

Justice Breyer pointed out that IRCA is carefully calibrated to balance multiple competing goals. Arizona's "death penalty" for businesses and lax procedural safeguards throw IRCA's carefully calibrated balance into disarray. Justice Sotomayor explained that the uniform federal plan becomes wildly internally inconsistent if interpreted to allow state-by-state decisions as to whether an employer has hired an undocumented worker.

The Court also upheld Arizona's requiring employers to use the federal E-Verify database to confirm that a person is legally authorized to work. Federal law makes its use voluntary, but the Roberts Court held that means only that no federal agency can make its use mandatory. States are free to require it if they so choose. The fact that it is a pilot program and that Congress actually had reasons not to make its use mandatory seems not to matter.

Federal law mandates a unified federal approach to immigration issues, and comprehensive immigration reform is long overdue. But right-wing efforts in Arizona to attack immigrants on a state-by-state basis today got a green light from the Roberts Court. This may signal that the state's infamous "your papers please" anti-immigrant law may get a welcome reception from the conservative Justices.

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Arizona Governor Vetoes Birther Bill

In a nod to arbitrariness, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer decided yesterday that one particularly crazy, shameful and embarrassing proposal from her state legislature was just too crazy, shameful and embarrassing to actually sign into law. We are of course talking about the shockingly-still-popular “birther” trend in Republican politics, and Arizona was set to become the first state to pass a requirement that presidential candidates must prove their U.S. citizenship before they can appear on the ballot. According to Brewer, asking the potential next president of the United States to show his or her birth certificate (or perhaps circumcision records) is undignified and unnecessary:

I never imagined being presented with a bill that could require candidates for President of the greatest and most powerful nation on earth to submit their 'early baptismal or circumcision certificates'… this is a bridge too far. This measure creates significant new problems while failing to do anything constructive for Arizona.

 

Apparently, “show me your papers” is an inappropriate thing to ask of someone who wants the top job in the “greatest and most powerful nation on earth,” but it is a perfectly fine thing to demand from someone who just wants to live and work there. And it is definitely okay to ask this of people that you have racially profiled.

On another note, Governor Brewer must have felt the need to balance her rational decision to veto the birther bill by signing a correspondingly irrational bill that creates huge obstacles for same-sex couples wishing to adopt a child.

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