This April, a group of more than 100 progressive African American clergy gathered in Columbia, South Carolina for the Spring Training Institute of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council. Among a week of trainings, advocacy meetings at the state capitol, and strategic conversations about the Black Lives Matter movement, this ecumenical body of women and men took time to gather together for a prayer in front of the capitol where the confederate flag still waves.
That week, less than two months before our friend and brother Reverend and State Senator Clementa Pinckney, along with members of the congregation, were massacred at Emanuel A.M.E. church by a shooter who embraced the Confederate flag, clergy stood hand in hand in prayer, reflection, and even tears for the removal of this symbol of hate and bigotry.
The public prayer was the culmination of ongoing work led by South Carolina faith leaders like Reverend and State Representative Terry Alexander. Rep. Alexander has long been a guiding voice in this push, meeting with other elected officials and advocating strongly for its removal.
Why did we pray that day that started out with dark clouds and rain and turned into one of sunshine and light? Because the Confederate flag remains a visible, strategically placed reminder of a southern heritage that embraced slavery, segregation and hate. Because a symbol rooted in the dehumanization of Black Americans is still prominently waving at the capitol, still validated by a government body.
We first prayed facing this symbol of disunity – a symbol of the painful past – for a present and future of peace, unity, and prosperity as a people and a country. We then prayed and sang with our backs turned to it, rejecting the division and pain that it continues to represent. In memory of the love and compassion of Senator Pinckney and the eight others, it’s time for the state of South Carolina to do the same.
This month, our friends at Corporate Accountability International delivered 232,000 petition signatures to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany demanding that the planet’s biggest polluters be kept out of the climate treaty conversation. Among the signatures calling on the United Nations to keep corporate polluters from influencing climate policy were tens of thousands from PFAW members.
For more, check out this post on Daily Kos-- another partner in this action -- by one of the leaders at Corporate Accountability International.
Although the case hasn’t gotten as much mainstream press attention as the forthcoming blockbuster rulings on marriage and on the ACA, the Supreme Court will be issuing a crucial decision on fair housing in the next few weeks in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project. A bad decision would reverse decades of positive decisions and progress in fair housing.
As our nation learned during the riots of the 1960s, and is tragically re-learning today, segregation in housing is both a major cause and effect of our urban problems and inequality. Partly in response, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act in 1968, with the explicit purpose to “provide, within constitutional limitations, for fair housing throughout the United States.” For almost four decades, every appellate court that has considered the issue and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under both Republican and Democratic administrations have interpreted the Act to prohibit conduct that has a discriminatory effect based on race, color, religion, gender, disability, or familial status without a good justification. The issue in Texas Department is whether the Court will overturn that standard and rule that you don’t have a case under the Fair Housing Act unless you can prove specific intent to discriminate.
Why is this important? On a practical level, requiring proof of intent will make fair housing enforcement much more difficult; as one court noted, “clever men may easily conceal their motivations.” More broadly, discrimination and segregation often result from policies that may not be motivated by specific bad intent but that build on historic and systemic patterns of discrimination and lock out racial and other minorities. The “disparate impact” test, which is the legal term for the standard based on unjustified discriminatory effects, has helped combat that problem.
For example, in one case a building policy that imposed a limit of two people per bedroom resulted in the effective eviction from a one-bedroom apartment of a young couple who had just had a child. The policy was challenged based on disparate impact. It turned out there was no good business justification for the policy, and 150 units were opened up for families with children as a result. Similar challenges to policies that excluded disabled veterans by requiring residents to have full-time jobs or zoning restrictions that excluded racial minorities by requiring large lot sizes have helped break down long-entrenched problems of discrimination and exclusion.
All eleven federal courts of appeal that have considered this issue since the 1970s have approved the disparate impact standard. As explained in a brief to the Supreme Court by former Republican and Democratic HUD appointees, HUD has also followed this standard for decades. As a former HUD official and career-long civil rights attorney, I know the importance of the disparate impact test. As I wrote in a law review article more than 35 years ago, “only by concentrating on effect can the issue of discrimination be realistically addressed at all.”
If the Supreme Court overturns the long-accepted disparate impact standard, the continuing problems of discrimination and segregation in our country will only get worse in the years to come. The outcome of this case will have an enormous impact on millions of people throughout America, and on the nature of who we are as a nation.
The following is a guest blog by Montana Representative Jenny Eck, a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network and Minority Whip in the Montana House of Representatives.
It hasn’t been easy, but after years of debate and hard work, Montana now has a law extending the unemployment benefits available to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. This is a huge development. It means that someone trying to leave an abusive spouse can now focus on tasks like seeking counsel, navigating the legal system, looking for a new place to live, moving children into a new school district, or finding another job in a new town – without the added burden of finding the money to make it all happen.
At the bill’s signing, Governor Steve Bullock said, “No Montanan should be forced to choose between the physical safety of themselves and their children, and their economic security.” It’s a stark choice, and one that nobody should have to make.
Yet for the hundreds of women in recent years who have been murdered at their workplace by current or former intimate partners, this choice is all too real. Intimate partner violence is a leading cause of fatalities for women at work, and women are at a significantly higher risk than men of being the target of a violent act while on the clock. A 2012 Labor Department study found that of all workplace incidents of intimate partner violence from 1997 to 2010, 38 men were victims, while women numbered 346 over the same period. There are severe economic ramifications, too – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women in the U.S. lose around 8 million days of paid work each year because of intimate partner violence.
Leaving an abusive relationship is hard enough; the state shouldn’t make it even harder. Yet historically, that is precisely what Montana has done. Until HB 306 was signed into law, survivors of sexual assault were eligible for just 10 weeks of unemployment insurance. Victims of a natural disaster, on the other hand, were entitled to 28 weeks of benefits. This disparity was shocking; surely suffering the trauma of sexual assault can be just as debilitating as living through an earthquake or tornado.
The new law corrects this imbalance. Extending support to these survivors was the right thing to do, and it will save lives as a result.
People For the American Way Foundation board member Kathleen Turner appeared on “All In with Chris Hayes” on Friday to discuss the “personhood” movement and how it’s working in concert with its rivals in the anti-choice movement to end abortion access, especially for low-income women.
Turner said that she sees “personhood,” which would give fertilized eggs and fetuses the same rights as people, as “a Trojan horse.”
The fact is because [personhood] has been soundly defeated in several states – Mississippi, North Dakota – that one thinks that it’s a non-issue. But in fact at the same time, there’ve been hundreds, hundreds of bills in every state that have made it more and more difficult to access any kind of healthcare, not just abortion.
To learn more about the personhood movement, be sure to check out PFAW Foundation’s new report, “The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes from and What It Means for the Future of Choice,” and read Kathleen Turner’s piece in RH Reality Check, “Think the “Personhood” Issue Is Over? Think Again.”
(Originally posted on RightWingWatch.org)
The “personhood” movement — those who seek sweeping bans on all abortion and common types of birth control in an effort to confront Roe v. Wade head-on — is hugely divisive within the anti-choice community. Groups like National Right to Life Committee, which have been pushing a more careful, incremental approach toward ending legal abortion, worry that the personhood movement risks undermining their progress toward the ultimate goal. Meanwhile, personhood advocates accuse groups like NRLC of selling out the ultimate goal in the service of small steps that they claim will never lead to the full criminalization of abortion.
A few months ago, we published a series of posts exploring the anti-choice personhood movement, its history, and how it is confronting a changing political landscape. People For the American Way Foundation has adapted that series into a report, “The Personhood Movement: Where It Comes From And What It Means for the Future of Choice,” which was released today.
As the national debate over a NRLC-backed federal bill banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy have shown, one of the major sticking points between the two factions is whether the anti-choice movement should accept “compromises” that exempt women who have been raped from abortion bans. From the report’s introduction:
The largest and best-funded groups opposing abortion rights have, over the past several years, achieved astounding success in chipping away at women’s access to legal abortion in the United States. But these successes, Personhood Alliance’s founders maintain, are too small and have come at a grave cost.
In seeking mainstream approval for anti-choice politics, personhood advocates believe, groups like the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and Americans United for Life (AUL) have adopted a secular tone and downplayed their Christian origins. In focusing on drawing attention to issues like late-term abortion, they may have won some support for the cause but have done little to end the procedures they targeted. In seeking incremental successes, personhood advocates argue, the movement has given up on making a moral argument for the humanity of fertilized eggs and fetuses and lost sight of its larger goal of eliminating legal abortion entirely.
But the greatest betrayal in the eyes of these personhood advocates is the willingness of major anti-choice groups to endorse legislation that includes exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest. The personhood movement’s leaders contend that these political concessions are not only immoral and intellectually inconsistent, but also threaten to undermine the movement’s goals in the long term.
The personhood movement provides an interesting look into the bitter “incrementalist vs. immediatist” divide that has split the anti-choice movement since before Roe v. Wade. Both sides want an end to legal abortion; neither trusts the other to get there. But in the meantime, each is making progress in making it more difficult and more dangerous for women to access safe and legal reproductive care.
On May 5, “Selma” – the award-winning film chronicling the voting rights movement and its violent opposition – will be released on DVD. And while this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the marches from Selma to Montgomery that culminated in the signing of the Voting Rights Act, the fight to ensure that all Americans have equal access to the voting booth continues today. Voter suppression still threatens many Americans’ ability to cast a ballot, and we are still in dire need of a fix for the Supreme Court’s gutting of the VRA in the 2013 Shelby County decision.
“Selma” is an important film for all progressives, and its release presents a great organizing and activism opportunity for voting rights activists. The film’s creators have put together this guide for hosting a “Selma Salon” – a watch party that brings friends, family, neighbors, or colleagues together to talk about and mobilize around civil rights. If you’re interested in hosting your own Selma Salon, check out the guide for tips and discussion ideas.
If you are a teacher (or have a teacher in your life), the Selma4Students campaign is giving every high school in the U.S. a free copy of “Selma” on DVD, along with a companion study guide to help use the film as an educational tool. Learn more at Selma4Students.com.
The following is a guest post by Erik Lampmann, a 2011 Young People For (YP4) Fellow. It is cross-posted on the Alliance for Justice blog and the YP4 blog.
Federal courts routinely hand down judgments that affect everyday Americans at an immediate, painful, and personal level – for good or ill.
Consider the case of Seamus Johnston, a transgender student expelled by the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ) for his use of male restrooms and gym facilities on campus. When he sought redress for his experiences at the hands of UPJ, U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled he had no room to claim discrimination since he was being treated in accordance with his sex as assigned at birth and had not had sex reassignment surgery.
In some ways, Johnson was warranted in thinking he was free to live openly as a transgender man since UPJ offers gender identity and expression protections under its student nondiscrimination statement. Indeed, Johnson had lived openly and without significant difficulty as a man since 2009 — even having taken advantage of men-only exercise courses. Only in 2011 was Johnson first confronted for using a men’s locker room. After issuing Johnson citations, barring him from certain facilities, and eventually arresting him, the university expelled him for his attempt to use the bathroom in which he felt most at peace and which he believed he was permitted to use by university policy. In his appeal for justice, Johnson didn’t ask for much — simply that a university that purports to protect students based on “gender identity and expression” allow him a modicum of relief as a transgender person rather than criminalizing his attempts to live authentically.
Essentially, Judge Gibson acknowledged Johnson’s self-identification as a transgender man, but she didn’t think it really mattered in the context of the Equal Protection Clause or Title IX. Flatly ignoring guidance from the Department of Education encouraging institutions of higher education to recognize transgender and gender non-conforming students’ right to protections under Title IX, Judge Gibson left Johnston, and other transgender students, without protection from sex discrimination. She wrote:
While Plaintiff might identify his gender as male, his birth sex is female … It is this fact … that is fatal to Plaintiff’s sex discrimination claim. Regardless of how gender and gender identity are defined, the law recognizes certain distinctions between male and female on the basis of birth sex. Thus, even though Plaintiff is a transgender male, his sex is female.
In sum, this decision reflects a sobering reality for LGBTQ people, particularly transgender and gender non-conforming individuals: The government — more specifically, a judge — holds the power to determine if the law protects how you define yourself.
This example dramatizes just one way that our courts fail to live up to the promise of the motto “equal justice under law” by protecting the vulnerable among us from exclusion and discrimination. I’ll admit that several years ago the result in this case might have led me to give up on the courts as an avenue for change.
Recent decisions from the Supreme Court and other federal courts have prompted some progressives to view the courts as a once-relevant institution home only to disconnected jurists. When we as progressives write off the courts and treat them as spaces where our communities were never meant to triumph, we concede the power to speak from our lived experience as those affected by the law and to shift the balance of power within the judiciary.
In reality, the legal knowledge of our communities paired with our deeply personal understanding of how the courts’ decisions impact real people gives us a tremendous power to affect the composition of the courts and to create legal precedents that respect rather than ignore our communities’ needs.
Seamus Johnston’s experiences with the justice system are then instructive for progressives building long-term judicial strategies. His loss in the Western District of Pennsylvania is but one battle in a much longer struggle for social justice.
The courts have to matter for LGBTQ Americans and so many others who find themselves on the losing end of cases like Johnston’s. They have to matter because we cannot afford to write off institutions, elected officials, or organizations as permanent friends or enemies. Rather, if we truly believe another world is possible, we have to build it brick by brick, precedent by precedent, judge by judge.
People For the American Way Foundation's latest report explores the extreme pro-corporate jurisprudence of the Supreme Court in recent years, identifying parallels to the Court’s infamous Lochner era a century ago.
“The Supreme Court in the Citizens United Era” by PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin explores how the Roberts Court’s right-wing majority has established a precedent for privileging corporations over individuals, allowing corporations to enjoy the rights of the people while reducing the rights that people have against corporations.
“Corporations increasingly enjoy all the rights of the people, but the people increasingly have no rights against corporations. Indeed, as we shall see, the conservative majority on the Roberts Court not only interprets federal law in dubious ways to defeat corporate liability but often works its special wonders to preempt state laws that would hold corporations accountable for civil injuries they cause against patients and consumers.”
The report covers cases ranging from Hobby Lobby, which granted corporations religious rights to opt-out of requirements on women’s health, to Sorrell v. IMS Health, which struck down Vermont’s prescription confidentiality law, to Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders, which allowed interlocking corporations to hide assets from individuals defrauded by investment advisors.
The following is a guest post by Zachary Koop, a 2014 Young People For Fellow.
This past Monday, the US Supreme Court made a troubling decision: it rejected an appeal to overturn Wisconsin’s voter ID law, considered one of the strictest in the nation. In so doing, the justices paved the way for other states to prohibit eligible voters from casting ballots.
As a young, progressive Wisconsin student, my peers and I share the sentiment that our voices are being attacked by Wisconsin’s recent voter ID law. Indeed, this policy disproportionately impacts young voters, especially youth of color. Among voters between the ages of 18-29, 17.3 percent of black youth and 8.1 percent of Latino youth were unable to vote because of inadequate identification, compared to 4.7 percent of white youth.
Governor Walker claims that subjugation of Wisconsinites is not the intent, but it is unquestionably the impact. This policy threatened to prevent 300,000 Wisconsinites from voting. Inclusion should be an American ideal, but that is clearly not the case today.
This attack on the voting rights is just one example of how the Right is further disenfranchising historically marginalized communities across this country. But despite their intent, these moves are also mobilizing millennials to demand that our democracy include us. While complex legal and legislative processes often make us feel frustrated and powerless, we understand we need to claim our place at the voting booth. As the largest, most diverse and most progressive demographic in history, we have the power to alter the policy and political landscapes in substantial ways – and we’re already doing it.
Millennials are advancing change across the country. I found my own place in the progressive movement thanks to programs like People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) Fellowship. Through YP4’s Vote and Courts Matter programs, I learned how to organize my peers, mobilize voters, and came to understand just how important the courts are to advancing (or dismantling) progressive policies.
Because of YP4’s support, this past fall at UW-La Crosse I passed policies through my campus’ student government that enfranchised students during the 2014 midterm elections. By requiring the administration to issue free student IDs compliant with the voter ID law to all students who requested one, running voter registration drives, and more, we helped ensure that 10,000 students could cast ballots during the election cycle. We are now creating a campus voter registration system that is easily accessible to all students and plan to share our tactics with surrounding state universities to make voting more inclusive and widespread amongst students.
Nothing is more voice-squelching than voter ID laws, an economically inefficient policy that marginalizes youth and other minorities. The Supreme Court’s decision is a call to action for Wisconsin millennials to realize that justice does not advocate for itself and that we must incorporate courts activism in our fight for civil rights.