Blistering Coretta Scott King Letter Opposing Jeff Sessions’ Judicial Nomination Kept Secret For 30 Years

When Jeff Sessions was nominated to a federal judgeship in 1986, the late civil rights activist Coretta Scott King was among those who opposed his confirmation. King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr., sent senators a nine-page statement opposing Sessions’ confirmation as a federal judge.  Sen. Strom Thurmond, who chaired the Judiciary Committee at the time, kept the letter out of the public record. And, as the Washington Post has noted, “The current Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), has not previously released the letter, which committee rules grant him the sole authority to reveal.”

Now that the statement and a cover letter from Coretta Scott King has been published by the Washington Post, it is easy to see why Republicans kept it out of the public eye for so long.

In the short cover letter to her longer statement, King wrote:

Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts. Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.

In the statement, King explained that the organization whose activists were targeted for prosecution by Sessions was created as an outgrowth of voting rights efforts in Selma and neighboring Perry County in the 1960s. Sessions continues to defend that effort; as PFAW’s Marge Baker noted in a statement on the first day of Sessions’ confirmation hearing, Sessions “brushed off the allegations of racism and Republicans and Democrats alike determined were credible in 1986, and he doubled down on his unsuccessful prosecution of voting rights activists.”

Coretta Scott King noted that while the Voting Rights Act led to real progress, Blacks still fell “far short of having equal participation in the electoral process.” She continued:

It has been a long up-hill struggle to keep alive the vital legislation that protects the most fundamental right to vote. A person who has exhibited so much hostility to the enforcement of those laws, and thus, to the exercise of those rights by Black people should not be elevated to the federal bench.

The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods.

Among the witnesses testifying this week against Sessions’ confirmation as U.S. attorney general was one of MLK’s closest colleagues, Rep. John Lewis, who suffered a skull fracture on “Bloody Sunday” when voting rights marchers were violently attacked in Selma, Alabama. 

PFAW

PFAW Hosts Telebriefing on How to Fight Back Against Trump and His Dangerous Team

In our first member telebriefing since Election Day, PFAW staff joined members and supporters on a call about how to fight back against Donald Trump and the dangerous far-right team he is putting in place.

Our communications, program, and Right Wing Watch staff detailed the unprecedented danger of the incoming Trump administration. Communications director Drew Courtney noted that Trump is “unquestionably… the most profound threat to the American Way and to the values that we care about that we have seen in the lifetime of this organization,” but pointed out that the way to answer this threat is, in many ways, to do the work we have always done as progressives: to stand firm in our values and fight back.

We discussed the alarming choices Trump is making for his team, in particular, civil rights foe Sen. Jeff Sessions, whom Trump plans to nominate for attorney general.

Right Wing Watch researcher Brian Tashman shared numerous examples of Sessions’ appalling record on various important issues including voting rights, immigration, and civil rights.

Executive Vice President Marge Baker described how, in response to Sessions’ nomination, the larger progressive community is already coming together to take action, with events like large-scale sign-on letters and petition deliveries. But this is just the beginning. We also discussed how we need to be making sure that our senators hear from us about the importance of this nomination—and that we shouldn’t write off senators from either political party, since all senators need to think carefully about whether they can support a nominee as unfit as Sessions.

“This is likely to be the very first big fight, and it’s really, really important that we fight this as aggressively as we possibly can,” Baker said.

The team also discussed the record of Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, as well as some of the other dangerous selections Trump has made for his team.

You can listen to the full telebriefing here:

PFAW

Donald Trump’s Religious Bigotry Isn’t New, But It’s Still Dangerous

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

A disloyal religionA religion that mandates violenceA religion incompatible with freedomA religion intent on overthrowing the governmentA religion that’s not a religion but a political movement.

Such smears were used for years in American politics to attack Roman Catholics, and Catholic immigrants in particular. In the 19th century, rioters attacked Catholic churches and homes, and an entire political party was created based on the fear of a Catholic plot to undermine America. The Ku Klux Klan reorganized in the early 20th century in part by using anti-Catholicism to recruit members

While John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Houston speech on the separation of church and state and his subsequent election were seen as turning points, religious bigotry never went away in American politics; the targets simply shifted, as the very same attacks once hurled against Catholics are now being used to demonize and marginalize Muslims. 

This year, Donald Trump showed once again that religious bigotry remains an effective and destructive way for politicians to foment hate and win political power.

Muslims were among Trump’s top targets of scorn and ridicule in his successful presidential bid. He falsely claimed that Muslims took to the streets by the thousands to celebrate 9/11; declared that “Islam hates us”; repeated a debunked story about Muslims refusing to report the terrorists behind the San Bernardino attack; proposed banning all Muslims from entering the U.S.; considered a Muslim registry and databasebaselessly alleged that around one out of three Muslims were ready to go to war against the U.S.; and praised a general who he said massacred his Muslim detainees with bullets washed in pigs’ blood. 

Trump’s attacks against America’s Muslim community capitalized on existing anti-Muslim bigotry that has been diligently spread by a network of far-right groups. But he brought those bigoted ideas to a far wider audience, feeding anti-Muslim conspiracy theories directly into the national media. Unsurprisingly, his election has led to a spike in attacks against Muslim-Americans.

On the campaign trail, Trump surrounded himself with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists like Michael Flynn, who is now set to be his national security adviser, and Steve Bannon, whom he has named his top White House strategist.

Flynn, a board member of the anti-Islam group ACT for America, has described Islam as “a cancer” and “a political ideology” that “hides behind this notion of it being a religion.” If Islam isn’t a religion, activists like Flynn believe, then Muslims shouldn’t receive First Amendment protections.

On his Twitter page in August, Flynn posted a video that said “ISIS is practicing Islam to the letter.” He has tweeted that Muslim leaders must “declare their Islamic ideology sick.” “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” he said in one tweet promoting a video that said Islam “wants 80% of humanity Enslaved or EXTERMINATED.” 

Before joining Trump’s team, Bannon ran the ultraconservative website Breitbart, which he boasted was the “platform for the Alt-Right,” a racist and xenophobic movement. Under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart was dominated by stories about the purported dangers of Muslims, and promoted the Alt-Right narrative that the West is engaged in a civilizational war with the Islamic world.

This rhetoric, incidentally, plays into the very message that terrorist groups like ISIS are attempting to promote: that their version of Islam is the only true one and that they are engaged in a civilizational battle against the West. Mara Revkin and Ahmad Mhidi noted in Foreign Affairs over the summer that Trump’s rhetoric had the potential to be a valuable recruiting tool for these groups. Both ISIS and Al Qaeda celebrated Trump’s win by claiming that it validated their claim that the U.S. hates Muslims.

Even before his inauguration, Trump’s religious bigotry is wreaking real damage on America, undermining national security and giving the green light to a wave of assaults against Muslim-Americans.

Perhaps Trump can learn from Abraham Lincoln, a man he claims to admire, who called out as hypocrites politicians who claimed to believe in liberty while seeking to exclude Catholics and immigrants from fully taking part in American society.

Judging by his pick of advisers, however, it seems unlikely that President Trump will be that much different than the man we saw on the campaign trail, a man willing to sow divisions and ratchet up bigotry no matter the cost.

PFAW

We Can’t Win a Fight We’re Not In

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

In this wrenching week, I have been thinking about something my former boss Paul Wellstone liked to say: “You’ve got to start a fight to win a fight.”

An animated professor-turned-senator from Minnesota, Paul’s willingness to be confrontational, and his refusal to back down from a fight he believed in, was central to his political and organizing strategy. It’s a lesson that the progressive movement and everyone who holds dear the values of equal justice, democracy, and basic compassion can take to heart this week: we can’t win a fight we’re not in.In 2002, he took a risky stand when he announced his opposition to the Iraq Warduring a tight reelection campaign. I remember that day in our senate office. After his floor speech, our phones started ringing off the hook. He knew that his position might put his job at risk, but the majority of the calls turned out to be calls of support. “I don’t agree with you,” they said, “but I appreciate that you took a principled stand.”

In this election our country took a devastating blow, especially so for women and racial and religious minorities. Many of our fights going forward—from the Supreme Court to abortion rights to immigrant rights—will be uphill battles, to say the least. But principled stands in support of our values, in support of fundamental rights, in support of a country where everyone is safe from violence and hate: these are more important stances than ever. If we don’t show up, the fight has been lost before it started.

To be clear, this fight is unlike any I’ve seen in my lifetime. Our next president has made it known that he does not respect our democratic norms. He has incited violence against protesters, threatened to open up libel laws in order to go after journalists, proposed a ban on all Muslims, casually declared that he might not accept the results of our election. He made a man who promotes white nationalism and anti-Semitism his chief strategist in the White House. This is not business as usual: it is a crisis for our democracy and for our values.

But it also means that the work to protect those values took on a profound new importance overnight. We can’t win a fight we’re not in.

Paul put himself in the middle of a number of fights that seemed impossible, and which sometimes turned out to be doomed efforts. In the mid-1990s, as public assistance programs were being gutted and every other Senate Democrat running for reelection got on board with the cuts, Paul was resolute in his opposition. He told a journalist, “You could stick a gun to my head, and I’m not going to vote for a bill that will hurt children.” Despite the fact that most of his constituents favored the cuts, his numbers shot up in the polls.

 
 
PFAW

Ask Your Representative to Condemn Hate: Sample Script on Steve Bannon

This week president-elect Donald Trump decided to name Steve Bannon to a top White House position. Bannon is the former head of far-right outlet Breitbart News, which openly promoted white nationalism, misogyny, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism under Bannon’s leadership.

Neo-Nazis and white nationalists immediately celebrated the decision to elevate Bannon, and it is critical and urgent that people of conscience call our elected officials in Congress and urge them to speak out against hate by condemning Bannon’s new position.

Maybe you’ve never called your member of Congress before. That’s okay: now is a great time to start.

Here’s how it works. Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tell them your senator's or representative’s name, and they will connect you to their office. (Don’t know who represents you? Look it up here.)

When someone from the office answers, tell them that it is unconscionable for a man who has promoted white nationalism and other hateful ideologies to be serving as a top White House official.

If you’re unsure of what to say, here is a sample script:

Hi, my name is _______ and I’m a constituent of Representative _______/ Senator _________. I’m calling because I’m concerned about Donald Trump naming Steve Bannon as his chief White House strategist. Bannon ran a website openly promoting white nationalism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and more. White supremacists and the American Nazi Party are publicly celebrating his appointment.

I’m calling to see if Rep. _________ / Senator ___________ plans to publicly condemn Trump’s choice to name Bannon to a top White House position?

[If there are any questions, reiterate your concerns.] Yes, please express to Rep. ______/ Sen. ________ that Bannon doesn’t represent our values, and that I am asking him/her to take a principled, public stand against this kind of hate.

Thanks for your time.

After you call, you can share this graphic online to urge your friends to do the same:

PFAW

Senator Ayotte's Real Record on Equal Pay for Women

When New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan and U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte went head to head last week in a debate hosted by NH1 News, they touched on one of the most talked-about issues this election season, women's rights – specifically a woman's right to equal pay for equal work. Governor Hassan called for "an inclusive economy that works for everyone" while Senator Ayotte claimed that "equal pay for equal work is so important to me."

This issue has been a point of contention for the candidates for many months now. The New Hampshire Democratic Party fact-checked Senator Ayotte back in March, noting that her website misleads voters and covers up her past votes on the issue. Then in April Emily's List exposed Senator Ayotte's real record on the occasion of Equal Pay Day 2016, the date that women, on average, have to work to in order to make as much money as their male counterparts did in the previous year. Not only has Senator Ayotte opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act multiple times, but Donald Trump – who she has since renounced but stuck by for far too long – believes that the burden is on women to "do as good a job" as men.

The issue came up again two weeks ago when the Ayotte campaign released a new ad defending Senator Ayotte's equal pay record. Governor Hassan took her to task for this specious claim, citing not only the senator's votes against the Paycheck Fairness Act, but also her failure to introduce a meaningful alternative or to even fully acknowledge the pay gap's existence.

After last week's debate, Granite State Progress dug into the pay data on Senator Ayotte's own staff. They found a clear pay gap that has only gotten worse over time, in addition to an underrepresentation of women among her senior advisors. Governor Hassan and the state's other senator, Jeanne Shaheen, had virtually no pay gap in their offices. Senator Ayotte countered with her introduction of the GAP Act, a bill that is far from the most effective way to combat pay discrimination.

Like with her obstruction of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee and his other federal judges, Senator Ayotte has made clear that she won't do her job on a lot of things. Ensuring equal pay for equal work seems to be one of them.

PFAW

Voter Suppression Is Not The Solution To Problems With Voter Registration

Throughout out his campaign, Donald Trump has been sounding the same voter fraud alarm that Republican leaders have been sounding for years.

Trump had this to say on the subject during Wednesday's final presidential debate:

If you look -- excuse me, Chris -- if you look at your voter rolls, you will see millions of people that are registered to vote -- millions, this isn't coming from me -- this is coming from Pew Report and other places -- millions of people that are registered to vote that shouldn't be registered to vote.

What he appears to be referring to is a 2012 research report commissioned by the Pew Center on the States, which says:

  • Approximately 24 million—one of every eight—voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.
  • More than 1.8 million deceased individuals are listed as voters.
  • Approximately 2.75 million people have registrations in more than one state.

Nowhere does Pew assert that there are 24 million cases of voter fraud. The only use of the word "fraud" in the entire report is this:

The inability of this paper-based process to keep up with voters as they move or die can lead to problems with the rolls, including the perception that they lack integrity or could be susceptible to fraud.

In fact, the rate of voter impersonation fraud is staggeringly low – 31 credible instances out of more than 1 billion ballots cast, according to another study.

A comprehensive 2014 study published in The Washington Post found 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud from 2000 to 2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast. Even this tiny number is likely inflated, as the study’s author counted not just prosecutions or convictions, but any and all credible claims.

In case you're wondering, that's 0.0000031 percent.

What we have is a system desperately in need of modernization. Some states have taken positive steps forward on voting rights, while others have failed or been unable to act, or even worse, have taken steps backward with new, potentially suppressive restrictions. Members of Congress have introduced federal legislation, which has yet to receive any meaningful attention from the Republican leadership – the failure to restore the Voting Rights Act being one of the worst cases.

So, Mr. Trump, we do have a voter registration problem in this country. But fraud isn't the problem. And voter suppression isn't the solution.

PFAW

Trump Wants Another Scalia on the Supreme Court, Which Would Eviscerate LGBT Equality

Donald Trump has used the prospect of Supreme Court nominees as a way to get the support of the far right conservatives who run and fund the Republican Party.  He has promised to outsource the selection to ideological groups like the Federalist Society, and he pleased Republicans with his promise last March to appoint “someone as close to [the late Justice Antonin] Scalia as I could find.”  He repeated this promise in August during an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, promising that in his selection, “I want to get as close to Scalia as I can.”  And at the second presidential debate with Hillary Clinton on October 9, he said he was “looking to appoint judges very much in the mold of Justice Scalia.

This is chilling for all Americans across a broad range of communities and issues, and especially for the LGBT community.  It is perhaps appropriate that Donald Trump would model his next justice on Scalia.  The late justice’s unusually venomous, paranoid, divisive, and contemptuous dissents about LGBT equality were at times the judicial equivalent of a Trump campaign rally.

In 1996’s Romer v. Evans, the Court struck down Colorado’s notorious state constitutional amendment that prohibited state and local governments from protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  “Amendment 2” also eliminated anti-discrimination laws already on the books.  But only one group of people was barred from seeking the rights and protections available to others, and the Court could find no reason for it but animus toward that group.

Justice Scalia’s dissent described Amendment 2 as just “a modest attempt by seemingly tolerant Coloradans to preserve traditional sexual mores against the efforts of a politically powerful minority to revise those mores through use of the laws.”  But his dissent in this first major civil rights victory for the LGBT community at the high court wasn’t just a legal analysis disagreeing with the majority.  His own animosity, paranoia, and rabble-rousing shone through his words like a beacon … or like Donald Trump’s inflammatory accusations toward populations he and his supporters clearly disdain.  He criticized the majority for concluding that animosity towards “homosexuality” (the term used in the opinion) is wrong, and he defended the right of a majority to pass laws against an unpopular minority based on their moral disapproval of that group.

Even worse was how he saw the struggle of LGB people in Colorado to live their lives openly and free from discrimination.  He characterized this as a “special right.”  And he saw Amendment 2 as a legitimate response by Coloradoans against a small yet wealthy population concentrated in cities and who had “disproportionate political power,” who opposed the traditional morality of the majority, and who had brought their quest for “social endorsement” from New York, San Francisco, LA, and Key West to communities in Colorado.

Scalia's dissent in 2003’s Lawrence v. Texas (striking down “sodomy laws”) was also revealing—and disturbing.  The majority opinion was remarkable in its treatment of gays and lesbians as people, stating what should have been obvious: sexual intimacy for gays and lesbians is just as central to personal autonomy and dignity as it is for heterosexuals.  As a result, it implicates the same fundamental constitutional liberties, and moral condemnation is not a sufficient justification for criminalizing it for same-sex couples.

Scalia would have none of it.  His dissent described the case not as one about the human act of sexual intimacy (and the consequences for individual liberty that flow from that), but as one about “homosexual sodomy.”  He apparently could not conceive that two people of the same sex have sex for the same reasons that two people of the opposite sex do.  And he leapt to the defense of voting majorities who consider sex between two men or two women as immoral to punish those men and women through the criminal code.

A decade later, when the Court struck down the misnamed Defense of Marriage Act in Windsor v. United States, Justice Scalia wrote a separate dissent in which he concluded that the Court lacked jurisdiction to consider the case in the first place.  But then he proceeded to consider the merits anyway.  In what might be considered unnecessarily hyperbolic language, he accused the majority of judging opponents of marriage equality to be “enemies of the human race,” “enem[ies] of decency,” “monsters,”  and “unhinged members of a wild-eyed lynch mob.”  His fury at the majority was palpable.

Similarly, in the Obergefell case, when the Court at last recognized that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violates their constitutional rights, Scalia chose to write a separate dissent.  He wrote that he agreed with the main dissent (written by the Chief Justice), but that he wanted to write separately “to call attention to this Court’s threat to American democracy” by deciding the case as it did.  Calling it a “judicial Putsch,” Scalia slammed the elitism of the Court and wrote that:

to allow the policy question of same-sex marriage to be considered and resolved by a select, patrician, highly unrepresentative panel of nine is to violate a principle even more fundamental than no taxation without representation: no social transformation without representation.

Essentially, Scalia was saying the Court cannot legitimately address whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry because they don’t have a constitutional right to marry.  (And yet he and his fellow dissenters did address the question; they just came to a different answer than the majority.)  It seems that any opinion on this issue that didn’t agree with Scalia’s was (in his eyes) illegitimate, just as any election result where Trump loses is (in his eyes) illegitimate.

Scalia’s reasoning was circular, but the result would have been the same if his other dissents had been majority opinions: the preservation of as many methods as possible to use the force of government to marginalize, stigmatize, and harm gays and lesbians.

There will surely be cases in the coming years (and perhaps months) at the Supreme Court that will have a profound influence on the rights not only of LGB people but also of transgender people.  Donald Trump wants justices “as close to Scalia” as possible.  That is a profound threat to every LGBT person in America.

PFAW

Ayotte & Trump: All the Straws that Didn't Break the Camel's Back

Most Americans realized more than a year ago that a Donald Trump presidency would pose a grave threat to our nation.  But it took Trump’s “hot mic” recording about sexually assaulting women to push New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte into finally renouncing her party’s nominee.

But her explanation for why this was the last straw only highlighted all the straws she was willing to accept in a president, as long as it was someone of her party.  Ayotte explained her decision on Saturday:

I’m a mom and an American first, and I cannot and will not support a candidate for president who brags about degrading and assaulting women.

But she’s been willing to support Trump until now.  In essence, she’s been saying:

  • I can and will support a candidate for president who would round up 11 million mostly Latino immigrants, forcibly separate them from their families, and ship them out of the country … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who encourages his supporters to beat up peaceful anti-Trump protesters … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who encourages gun violence to effect political change … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who proposes to impose an unconstitutional religious test for visitors and immigrants, blocking Muslims from entering the United States … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who will use the force of government to go after media outlets that criticize his administration, severely undermining if not destroying the First Amendment’s freedom of the press … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who defends and admires the leadership of Vladimir Putin, the man who has his critics murdered and who turned Russia’s democracy into a dictatorship … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who declares that a federal judge cannot be unbiased (a judge’s most important quality) because he is a Latino … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who basks in the frenzied shouts of his supporters to put his campaign opponent in jail … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who retweets posts from notoriously anti-Semitic hate groups … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president who routinely and publicly calls women he deems unattractive fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.
  • I can and will support a candidate for president whose campaign is based on demonizing millions of Americans as a threatening “other” … because the candidate is a fellow Republican.

Ayotte’s criticizing individual Trump statements while still supporting his efforts to gain the massive power of the presidency is hardly an exercise in leadership.

People in New Hampshire should be relieved that there is, at long last, something that Kelly Ayotte puts ahead of her loyalty the Republican Party.

But they should be terrified at all the monstrous and dangerous things she is willing to accept, since, for Ayotte, political calculations clearly outweigh things like democracy and equality.

PFAW

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.

PFAW