C4

Beyond the plagiarism: 9 more important stories from Day 1 of the convention

By now, it’s likely that you’ve seen the reports that last night’s featured speaker Melania Trump, in a move that would seem typical of her husband, PLAGIARIZED Michelle Obama, from the First Lady’s convention speech in 2008.

But while the media today remains distracted by Mrs. Trump’s ironic theft of a Michelle Obama passage about family and community values, it’s vitally important that we try to keep some attention on the truly shocking and frightening -- things that happened yesterday both on- and off-stage at the convention.

Here’s a quick recap of some of the other biggest stories from Day 1 of the GOP Convention.

Anti-Trump delegates attempted a brief but chaotic revolt on the floor of the convention hall -- seemingly more as a show than an actual attempt to seek a different nominee.

The protest, while offering a bit of early drama, was quickly scuttled by Trump loyalists, giving us the day’s first concrete demonstration of the GOP now being, definitively, the Party of Donald Trump -- but just the first example of many.

One of the more high profile offsite events of the day was the “America First Unity Rally,” hosted by unhinged radio conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a hate radio talker who has been embraced by Trump, and Trump adviser and legendary political dirty trickster Roger Stone. PFAW’s Right Wing Watch was on the ground to cover the event, which definitely did not shy away from inflammatory speakers or topics.

During one of the many media discussions with Republican leaders from the convention hall, Rep. Steve King of Iowa -- one of the GOP’s loudest xenophobic voices -- defended the politics of racial resentment that is driving much of Trump’s movement by insisting that white people have contributed more to civilization than “any other subgroup of people.”

Then it was time for the evening program of speakers…

Grieving family members of people who lost their lives in Benghazi and to crimes involving undocumented immigrants were trotted out as sympathetic and relatable figures to rally viewers against the people the GOP says are responsible for all of those tragedies: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and all 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the US.

Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato, Jr. were among the first “celebrities” to take the stage and speak on behalf of their friend Donald Trump. They both gave subsequent interviews in which the former defended his posting of a meme referring to Hillary Clinton as a “cunt” and the latter said he "absolutely" believes President Obama is a Muslim.

An anti-government extremist sheriff gave a taunting speech in which he called Black Lives Matter “anarchy” and celebrated the latest acquittal of one of the Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray as a victory over “malicious prosecution.”

Republicans like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani gave characteristically bombastic speeches.

Then, Donald Trump took the stage -- to Queen’s We Are the Champions, a song that the band’s guitarist Brian May was outraged to hear Trump was using on the campaign trail before he specifically asked Trump not to use it months ago. It’s perhaps worth mentioning that Queen’s singer, Freddie Mercury, was a gay man who died of AIDS, and Donald Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, once advocated that money for HIV/AIDS care be reallocated to groups conducting gay conversion therapy (something that is also, incidentally, promoted in this year’s official Republican Party Platform).

During one of the evening’s earlier speeches, Donald Trump had called into Fox News to bash his former primary rival Gov. John Kasich and claim credit for the idea of holding the Republican Convention in Ohio -- a demonstrable outright lie.

It’s going to be an interesting week.

Continue to check PFAW’s Right Wing Watch at rightwingwatch.org for ongoing convention coverage.


 

Will you donate to help PFAW fight -- and defeat -- the Far Right?

donate:

 

PFAW

A Big Week for #Demcoracy4All

We reached a major milestone in the House and also made progress in the Senate.
PFAW

Far Right Co-opts Tragedy To Promote Hate, Again

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post

Last week, in which the police shootings of two African American men were followed by the assassination of five police officers guarding a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, was wrenching. Sadly, in this atmosphere of mourning, anger and grief, too many on the far right have done what they do best: co-opt tragedy to promote hatred and fear. These are more than just a few absurd and cringe-worthy comments; instead, they represent a line of thinking that has elevated many right-wing politicians who wield significant power in this country.

After the Dallas shootings, Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman turned radio host from Illinois, tweeted: “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.” He later tried to claim that he wasn’t calling for violence against the president. Ted Nugent, a board member of the National Rifle Association, said that President Obama “wants a racewar [sic].”

Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas and, probably not coincidentally, a former conservative talk radio personality, blamed the innocent bystanders at the Dallas attack, saying that they were “hypocrites” for running from gunfire while relying on the police to protect them. His point seems to have been that the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t want police protecting communities, which is clearly not true.

Rush Limbaugh called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist group,” as did right-wing authorBrad Thor. One conservative commentator called Black Lives Matter “the new KKK.” The ever-perceptive Sarah Palin said that the social justice movement is promoting “the antithesis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message” by saying that “one race matters more than another.” Mike Huckabee said that the real movement should be “Male Lives Matter.”

Others fell back to their standard talking points, no matter how irrelevant. Frank Gaffney, an anti-Muslim activist who advised Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign,claimed that Black Lives Matter was working with “Islamic supremacists” to foment revolution. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a great favorite of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, claimed that liberal philanthropist George Soros engineered the whole thing in order to start a race war. Conservative activist Jesse Lee Peterson said it was all a plot to distract from Hillary Clinton’s emails. The Oath Keepers, an anti-government group, called for the formation of citizen militias.

These aren’t just fringe activists and media personalities; as much as we’d like to ignore them, we can’t afford to. Their cynical exploitation of bigotry and fear has already caused too much damage in our country. This is the same media swamp that has for years promoted the idea that white people in America are the real victims of racial prejudice, the same people who have spent more than seven years claiming that the first African-American president is an outsider impostor who possibly even lied about his heritage to earn his seat. Is it any surprise that the right-wing media was ready to demonize Black Lives Matter when it emerged and to claim that the movement’s critiques are illegitimate? Is it any wonder that they were ready to blame a gruesome crime against police officers on the president’s concern for racial justice?

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the wake of last week’s tragedies, some conservativesapproached the national conversation with genuine attempts to speak honestly and thoughtfully about race in America. We might not always agree, but if we can speak with open minds, that’s a good start.

Indeed, as much as the right-wing media would like us to think it, the tragedies of last week weren’t about taking sides in a political debate or a “race war.” You can believe that Black lives matter and see the weight that disparities in policing have on people of color and, at the same time, grieve and be angry at the mass murder of police officers who were trying to protect a peaceful protest. Millions of Americans feel both. Let’s not allow the right-wing swamp to skew these tragedies to promote bigotry and fear.

PFAW

Senate GOP Keeping Court Vacancies Open So Trump Can Transform America’s Judiciary

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The Constitution sets up an independent judiciary as the third branch of government, intended to protect people’s rights and to serve as a check on the power of the other two branches. Our nation’s charter tasks the president and the Senate with the job of selecting and vetting the people who would serve on those courts.  President Obama has been doing his duty by nominating qualified women and men to serve as judges at all levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court.

But the GOP-controlled Senate is not living up to its constitutional responsibilities. While this has always been harmful to America, it is even more so with Donald Trump the presumed presidential nominee of his party.

Mitch McConnell and his party have slow-walked or outright blocked so many nominees that the number of circuit and district court vacancies has risen from 40 when they took over the Senate to 80 today. (There are also several vacancies for the Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.) In that same time, the number of vacancies formally designated as judicial emergencies has skyrocketed from 12 to 29. The Senate has not been allowed to vote on nominees who were thoroughly vetted and approved months ago by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support.

Yesterday, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin went to the floor to draw attention to the problem. She noted that while the Senate GOP’s blockade of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland has been in the headlines, that has not been the case with the obstruction of lower court nominees.

She focused particularly on Seventh Circuit nominee Donald Schott, who not only has Democrat Baldwin’s support, but also that of his other home-state senator, Republican Ron Johnson.  Schott would fill the nation’s longest circuit court vacancy, which has been open for well over six years.  Since the Supreme Court takes so few cases, the Seventh Circuit is usually the last word on the meaning of the Constitution and federal laws for millions of people in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, and every day that goes by with that vacancy open hurts everyone in those states.  Schott earned strong bipartisan support from the Judiciary Committee, which advanced his nomination to the full Senate four weeks ago.  Baldwin noted that Schott also has the support of a bipartisan group of former Wisconsin Bar presidents.  Saying that “the people of Wisconsin and our neighbors in Illinois and Indiana deserve a fully functioning appeals court,” Baldwin urged McConnell to finally allow votes on Schott and on all of the judicial nominees who have cleared the Judiciary Committee.  Many of them have been waiting for more than half a year for a floor vote, with several having been approved by the Judiciary Committee last year.

But Republicans are fighting to keep vacancies open for as long as possible so that they will be filled by a President Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, who wants to make it easier for the government to punish media sources whose reporting he disagrees with.

Donald Trump, who has said that Latinos cannot serve effectively as unbiased judges.

Donald Trump, who would ban certain people from entering the country based on their religion.

Donald Trump, who has demeaned and humiliated women at every opportunity.

Donald Trump, who has used hate groups’ blatantly anti-Semitic imagery in his campaign.

Donald Trump, who has said he is considering firing all Muslim TSA agents.

With serious discussion among scholars, political figures, and Americans across the political spectrum on whether Trump’s extreme views amount to fascism, we need a strong, effective, and independent federal judiciary more than ever. Yet Senate Republicans are pulling out the stops to allow Donald Trump to move quickly to dramatically transform our judiciary from the Supreme Court on down.

The Senate GOP is abdicating their constitutional and moral responsibility to the American people and to our democracy.

PFAW

PFAW Hosts Member Telebriefing on the SCOTUS Term

As the Supreme Court session wrapped up for the term, PFAW hosted a member telebriefing on Thursday to analyze the impact of the term's decisions and to look towards the future of the Court overall. The latest term was atypical in a number of ways, from the death of Justice Antonin Scalia to Republican senators’ unprecedented and unconstitutional refusal to consider Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination, leaving the Court with only eight justices to decide cases. 

On the call were PFAW’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker, Communications Director Drew Courtney, Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon, and Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg, who discussed the Republicans' blockade of the Garland nomination, the impact of the court being forced to operate with only eight justices for a significant portion of the term, and the future of the Supreme Court in coming years, with three of the current justices soon to be over the age of 80. They also fielded questions from members around the country, unpacking the outcomes of cases such as Fisher v. University of Texas, Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, U.S. v. Texas and others.

Mincberg said that “this term turned out very differently” than many expected because of two primary reasons: Justice Scalia’s passing, and Justice Kennedy joining the moderate justices in decisions on cases such as Fisher.  Baker stressed that “we need a full Court” in order for the Supreme Court to work effectively and encouraged members to speak out about the issue. She also emphasized that “it does make a difference to vote,” and that Americans need to have their voices heard by their representatives about the Court.    

You can listen to the full telebriefing here:

 

PFAW

House GOP Follows Orlando Tragedy with a License to Discriminate

On July 12, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, an odious anti-LGBT bill that would redefine and hijack the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty.
PFAW

The Fisher Decision Was a Victory for Equality of Opportunity

Last month the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in a case about equal educational opportunity for all people, regardless of their race. In a 4-3 decision, the Court upheld the University of Texas’s diversity admission policies, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing the majority opinion. Justice Kennedy remarked that “courts must give universities substantial but not total leeway in designing their admissions program.”

Some backstory on the case: in 2008, Abigail Fisher applied to the University of Texas-Austin undergraduate program and was denied admission. Fisher, who is white, filed a lawsuit against the university claiming that she was denied admission based on her race. In 2014, the conservative Fifth Circuit Court affirmed the District Court’s decision in the case, in which it sided with the University of Texas. Fisher then filed a petition to the Supreme Court to hear the case, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments for the case in 2015.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Fisher v. University of Texas case was a crucial victory for racial justice in America. The Supreme Court upheld the right of the University of Texas to use race as part of the admissions policy for prospective students. The decision not only reflected the need for equality of opportunity for all people, it was also a step toward addressing the deep-seated racism that unfortunately is still present in our society. As PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan put it: “From universities to the workplace, diversity policies are among the many needed programs to combat structural racism and strive towards equal opportunity for every American.”   

PFAW

We the People versus Donald Trump

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Donald Trump is an unhinged con man who regularly fans the flames of racism, sexism and xenophobia. Yet disturbingly, he has become the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States. Part of what appears to be bolstering the support he does have is his supposed business success and his claim to be insulated from special interest pressure by “self-funding” his campaign. But these claims, like so many others, are egregiously misleading. Whether it’s the predatory scheme known as Trump University, or his recent slew of fundraising events catering to wealthy donors, it’s clearer with each passing day that much of Trump’s support is built on manipulation and outright deceit.

Trump’s claims about not being beholden to rich donors was understandably appealing to an electorate that’s tired of an out-of-balance political system that shuts out the voices of everyday Americans. Throughout the Republican primary, Trump repeatedly lambasted his opponents for being in the pockets of wealthy donors. When Sheldon Adelson was considering supporting Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, Trump tweeted that Adelson wanted to support Rubio so he could make him into “his perfect little puppet.” But Trump’s actions don’t live up to his rhetoric.

Trump has made raising money from wealthy interests a top priority in recent weeks. As noted in a recent Bloomberg report, last week in New York City a cabal of hedge fund managers and private equity executives held a joint fundraiser for Trump and the RNC, at a price of $50,000 per person, with the hosts paying $250,000 per couple. Trump also recently held a fundraiser at the former residence of the late Senator Barry Goldwater, with attendees shelling out thousands of dollars per seat. Apparently Trump and the donors he was wooing didn’t mind that Goldwater’s widow said the senator himself would be appalled by Trump’s candidacy.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump’s campaign is expressing support for a super PAC founded by billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer. The super PAC – called Make America Number 1 – is reportedly soliciting contributions from a who’s who of conservative mega-donors, including casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged to spend $100 million backing Trump.

Trump is also using this campaign to line the pockets of his own companies. A significant amount of the money that the Trump campaign has spent so far has gone to companies owned by Trump himself. In fact, according to Fortune magazine, an estimated 10 percent of total campaign expenditures thus far have gone to companies that bear his name. That doesn’t include expenditures billed to his estate, Mar-a-Lago, or his private plane, which has its own holding company.

What’s more, Trump has used deceitful, disingenuous and predatory business practices to further enrich himself at the expense of anyone and everyone else. Hundreds of former employees and contractors allege that they still haven’t been paid for work done for companies controlled by Trump, and literally thousands of lawsuits have been filed against him. One high profile example is a class-action suit regarding Trump University. Former employees of Trump University, an institution which never had accreditation, have testified in saying that they essentially “engaged in a methodical, Systematic Series of misrepresentations” designed to separate people from their money. This case is one of many that show Donald Trump for who he really is: a fraud who regularly exploits people for personal gain.

Donald Trump is a dangerous con man of epic proportions, taking money from – and profiting off of – the same special interests he has railed against. He is running on a business record rife with misconduct and malicious practices. The American people cannot afford to sit this one out – there is simply too much at stake. Trump must be taken down by the greatest political force ever known: “We the People.”    

PFAW

Donald Trump’s Evangelical Advisers Revolt

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign hit a snag on Monday, after several prominent endorsers made statements suggesting his fitness to hold the highest office in our country would be undercut by his own personal behaviors and failings.*

It began with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, who previously stated he had no qualms with Donald Trump “appointing people to the Supreme Court,” lamenting that “the true tragedy in this case is the collapse of the [future-]president’s moral authority.”

Referring to the presumptive Republican nominee’s penchant for wildly gesticulating his hands while telling falsehoods, the Judiciary Committee chairman stated that “he undermined himself when he wagged his finger and lied to the nation on national TV.”

Prominent conservative Christian activists quickly echoed these sentiments. Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, who released videos arguing that conservative Christians should support Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as early as March, now states he is “a tyrant; he's a monster.” This is in part based on the fact that the presumptive GOP nominee has at least twice violated his marriage vows.

Members of Trump’s newly formed Evangelical Executive Advisory Board also began to revolt against their chosen candidate.

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson proclaimed “character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it.”

He went on to state:

I just don’t understand it. Why aren’t parents more concerned about what their children are hearing about the president[ial candidate’s] behavior? Are moms and dads not embarrassed by what is occurring? At any given time, 40 percent of the nation’s children list the president of the United States as the person they most admire. What are they learning from [Mr. Trump]? What have we taught our boys about respecting women? What have our little girls learned about men? How can we estimate the impact of this scandal on future generations?

Dobson was not alone. Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, expressed regret over his endorsement of twice-divorced Donald Trump, bemoaning the ease with which marriages can dissolve in the United States. “Do we really want to make it easier for a man to discard the wife of his youth than it is for him to fire his secretary?” he asked.

He went on to state, “Republicans, unlike Democrats, have very systematically adopted a standard of family values and moral uplift."

Jerry Falwell Jr., another member of Donald Trump’s evangelical advisory group, simply referred reporters to Liberty University’s code of conduct. Despite several occasions when Trump spoke at the school, its code prohibits “sexual relations outside of a biblically ordained marriage between a natural-born man and a natural-born woman.”

Trump has previously bragged about his sexual conquests on the Howard Stern Show.  

The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment on his rejection by evangelical leaders, primarily because I never asked.

*Obviously this is parody. All of the quotes are real but represent statements made about other political leaders or codes of conduct relating to individuals not named Donald Trump.

PFAW

A Renewed Cry to #RestoreTheVRA on the Anniversary of the Shelby County Decision

June 25, 2016 will mark the third anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder decision that gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act. A coalition of more than 100 organizations, including People For the American Way, are participating in a Week of Action to raise awareness about voter suppression and to pressure Congress to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act.

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed in hopes of bringing the United States closer to the promise of a true democracy: a political system in which all people can fairly and easily participate in government, regardless of race. One of the VRA’s most significant protections was found in Section 5, which requires states and localities with a history of racial discrimination in voting to seek federal preclearance to approve proposed changes to their voting process. This preclearance sought to address decades of voting practices that disenfranchised communities of color. The provision worked. For nearly 50 years, the VRA, and in particular, Section 5, helped curtail the disenfranchisement of voters of color and helped expand the electorate so that it became more representative of the populace. It succeeded in helping the United States progress towards a more inclusive democracy.

However, three years ago, on June 25, 2013, democracy in America was dealt a major blow. On this day, the Supreme Court, in its controversial Shelby County v. Holder decision, struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which defined what areas were covered by Section 5 preclearance. States immediately began to implement new voting restrictions, including strict voter identification laws, limitations on early voting, and the elimination of same-day voter registration. These barriers to voting — implemented under the guise of making elections more efficient and limiting so-called “voter fraud” — disenfranchised eligible voters across the country, disproportionally affecting underrepresented communities such as people of color, women, students, the disabled, and low-income individuals. We have already seen the negative effects of these voting restrictions in our midterm elections and presidential primaries.

Come November, the stakes will be raised. As the Leadership Conference Education Fund notes in their new report on the likely impact of the Shelby County decision in this election cycle:

2016 will be the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. It is also an election that could be won or lost in just a few key states – states where minority voters could determine the outcome.

The report notes that five states formerly covered, in whole or in part, by preclearance — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia — will all see competitive races in the fall, in which voters of color could be decisive. But voters in these states are now without the full protections of the VRA. The Shelby County decision still has very real consequences, and could alter the face of our political landscape in 2016.

As Election Day rapidly approaches, now is the time to call on Congress to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. The Shelby County decision was a huge setback to American progress towards a truly fair and accessible democracy, but we can move forward again. Legislation aimed at restoring the protections of the VRA is already pending in Congress. Tell your representatives that a democracy in which eligible voters are unable to cast their ballots is a broken democracy, and that it is their duty to help mend it.  

PFAW

House Democrats #HoldTheFloor in #NoBillNoBreak Action on Guns

Rep Israel just announced that House Democrats, who have been sitting in for almost 24 hours now, are expected to come back together on the floor at 12:30 pm for closing speeches. Watch on C-SPAN or check out one of the members' live feeds. Click for more from USA Today.
PFAW

Powerful Sotomayor Dissent Shows Dangers of Supreme Court Ruling on Police Searches

Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that evidence found by police officers even after they stop someone illegally can still be used if the searches happen after the officers learn of an unrelated outstanding arrest warrant. In a particularly powerful dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor explained the dangers of the majority ruling, particularly for people of color.

In the case, Utah v. Strieff, a police officer investigating possible narcotics activity in a house decided to stop Edward Strieff, who left the house, even though there were no reasonable grounds for the stop, which made it illegal. The officer then ran a check on Mr. Strieff, found a warrant for a minor traffic violation, and arrested him on that prior offense. The officer then searched him, found illegal drugs, and charged him accordingly. Even though the Utah Supreme Court found that the evidence should have been suppressed because of the illegal stop, the Supreme Court reversed because of the prior unrelated warrant.

“The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” Sotomayor wrote. “This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification and check it for outstanding traffic warrants – even If you are doing nothing wrong.” As she continued, “if the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay, courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.” Justices Sotomayor and Kagan (who also dissented as did Justice Ginsburg) explained that this danger is far from hypothetical: federal and state databases show more than 7.8 million outstanding warrants, most of which are for minor traffic and other offenses. For example, in Ferguson, Missouri, which has a population of 21,000, there are 16,000 such outstanding warrants.

In a part of her dissent that she wrote only for herself, Sotomayor highlighted the problems that minorities face due to police stops. “For generations,” she explained, “black and brown parents have given their children ‘the talk’ – instructing them never to run down the street, always keep your hands where they can be seen, do not even think of talking back to a stranger – all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them.” She added that people “routinely targeted by the police” are the “canaries in the coal mine whose deaths, civil and literal, warn us that no one can breathe in this atmosphere,” She continued that “unlawful police stops corrode all our civil liberties and threaten all our lives.” Until the voices of these people “matter, too,” she concluded, “our justice system will continue to be anything but.”

The majority tried to minimize the impact of its ruling, stating that the stop was not a “flagrant” violation or part of a “dragnet” or “systematic or recurrent police misconduct,” but simply an “isolated instance” of an error by a police officer. Time and future cases will tell if Strieff will truly be an isolated case and if the Court will prevent abuse. Much will depend on the future votes of Justice Breyer, who joined the majority in the case, and of course the unfilled vacancy on the Court being held open by Republican obstructionism. But Sotomayor’s strong opinion was a remarkable and important statement that will hopefully help shape the future direction of the Court. As University of Chicago law professor Justin Driver put it, her dissent is “the strongest indication we have yet that the Black Lives Matter movement has made a difference at the Supreme Court--- at least with one justice.”

PFAW

Letter from Top Lawyers at Major Companies Urges Senate to Act on Merrick Garland Nomination

The stubborn refusal by Senate Republicans to consider the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court has caused the Supreme Court to deliberate with only 8, rather than its full complement of 9 justices. Senators have a constitutional responsibility to give fair consideration to the president’s nominee to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, yet they continue to neglect this responsibility as it has been 100 days since President Obama nominated Judge Garland to fill the seat left vacant by Justice Scalia’s death earlier this year. 

On Thursday, top lawyers from 44 United States companies, such as Nike and Qualcomm, released a letter calling on the Senate Judiciary Committee to move forward on this nomination, emphasizing that “[t]he business community has a great interest in avoiding the legal uncertainty that could result if the vacancy remains unfilled for an extended period of time.”

Bloomberg reports: “The signers of the letter include Michael Fricklas of Viacom; Hilary Krane of Nike; David Ellen of Cablevision Systems Corp.; Ivan Fong of 3M Co.; Donald J. Rosenberg of Qualcomm Inc.; Lori Schechter of McKesson Corp.; and Audrey Strauss of Alcoa Inc. The letter was spearheaded by Jonathan Schwartz, general counsel of Univision Communications Inc.”

PFAW

Garland Gets the ABA's Highest Possible Evaluation

You can practically hear the ABA members saying "WOW!" as you read their report on Merrick Garland.
PFAW

VRA on the Brink a Half Century after Freedom Summer

Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman did not give their lives 52 years ago today so that Congress could allow the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement and the voting protections it achieved to continue to unravel. We owe it to them and the countless others who put everything on the line in defense of voting rights to make sure – once and for all – that all eligible citizens can register to vote and cast a ballot that counts.
PFAW

Major Win for Democracy in New York

Last week New York became the 17th state to formally call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. This landmark achievement came as the result of a multiyear collaborative campaign involving several advocacy groups including People For the American Way.

On behalf of the 156,000 PFAW members who live in New York, Government By the People Campaign Manager Rio Tazewell spoke at the state capitol in Albany on Wednesday to help commemorate this significant victory. After remarks from activists, organizational leaders, and lawmakers, a strategy session was held to discuss what comes next for democracy reform organizing in the state of New York.

Over twenty municipalities from across the state including Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Mt. Vernon, Ithaca and New York City have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the constitution. Moreover, since 2010 — the year of the Citizens United decision — nearly 700 cities and towns nationally have passed resolutions calling for an amendment and more than five million petition signatures have been gathered in support.

People in this country want a government that represents them and their interests. In New York and across the nation, poll after poll shows that reforming our big money system is a top priority for Americans. Not only does this win help affirm the hard work and value of partnerships on the ground between activists, organizations and lawmakers, it helps drive a national narrative that the days of Citizens United are numbered.

PFAW

PFAW Launches “Donald Trump’s Year of Hate” Campaign with Dolores Huerta and Former Miss Universe Alicia Machado

On Wednesday, People For the American Way marked the one year anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign through launching a new campaign, “Donald Trump’s Year of Hate.” Yesterday’s event, which was cohosted by CASA in Action (Virginia), featured six speakers, including actress and former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, civil rights leader and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta, former Arlington County Board Member and Virginia community leader J. Walter Tejada, Virginia State Delegate Alfonso Lopez, CASA in Action’s advocacy and elections specialist Luis Aguilar, and PFAW’s own Lizet Ocampo, who serves as director of Latinos Vote! and manager of political campaigns.

The six speakers discussed how Donald Trump’s candidacy has directly harmed people of color in the United States, particularly Latinos. The bilingual event addressed the negative impact of Trump’s candidacy, the dangers of a Trump presidency, and the need to mobilize the Latino vote in local, state, and national elections. 

The first speaker was actress and former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, who spoke about how Donald Trump humiliated and belittled her when she was just a teenager. Trump referred to her as “Ms. Housekeeping,” in reference to her Venezuelan accent and heritage. Machado said that Donald Trump’s disrespect has compelled her to become an American citizen in order to vote against him. She closed by urging other Latinos living in the United States to vote against Trump and become citizens if they aren’t already.

Following Machado, civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and PFAW board member, some of the many reasons why Donald Trump is “unfit to be president.” She cited examples of Trump’s racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. She then urged the Latino community to vote against him, saying:

“We can’t let Donald Trump be president, and I know that we won’t. We won’t because we will get out to vote against him, we will talk with our friends and our families and make sure they go out to vote against him as well… We have the power of the vote, and that can overcome the hate that Donald Trump spews day after day after day.” 

Arlington community leader J. Walter Tejada and Virginia’s only Latino state lawmaker, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), both called out the hateful rhetoric used by Donald Trump and the divisive nature of his campaign. Lopez stated that the tactics used by Trump are “not worthy of America, not worthy of our heritage, and definitely not worthy of Virginia.” Both Tejada and Lopez stressed the importance of the Latino vote in Virginia, with Tejada pointing out that “the road to the White House goes through the Latino vote,” and Lopez saying, “as Virginia goes, so goes the nation. And as Latinos vote in Virginia, so goes Virginia.” They both closed by urging Latinos in Virginia to register to vote and vote in November in order to protect their communities and protect Latinos everywhere from the negative impact of a Trump presidency.

PFAW’s Lizet Ocampo and CASA in Action’s Luis Aguilar both echoed the same sentiments: a Donald Trump presidency represents a very real danger for women, people of color, and immigrants, especially Latinos. Ocampo said, “Trump is the most hateful, anti-immigrant presidential candidate that any of us have ever seen. His hate harms every one of us and goes against the American values of welcoming immigrants and celebrating diversity.” They both ended their remarks by restating their commitment to mobilizing voters and combating the hateful ideology of Donald Trump. 

To mark the campaign launch anniversary, PFAW has also released a Spanish language ad in eight key target states. The ad, which is running on TV and online, highlights just some of the ways Trump's divisive rhetoric and policies hurt Latino communities, and urges people to stand -- and vote -- against Trump's hate. 

PFAW

Money in Politics: a Barrier to Civil Rights Progress in the 21st Century

Panelists at the conference “Money in Politics: A Barrier to a 21st Century Civil Rights Agenda?” on Thursday last week, including PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker, held an important conversation about how big money in politics today is impeding crucial civil rights progress. Baker was joined on the panel — which was moderated by The American Prospect’s Eliza Newlin Carney — by Rashad Robinson of ColorOfChange.org, Spencer Overton of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Janai Nelson of the NAACP, and Heather McGhee of DEMOS. Their dialogue explored the socioeconomic and racial implications of the way we fund elections, and how big money in politics serves as a barrier to a working and representative democracy in the United States. As the panelists made clear, in today’s political system, people of color, women, and low-income people often do not have an equal voice in our democracy.

 

Heather McGhee remarked that “the campaign finance system currently has inherent racial bias,” and noted that the money coming into our political system is overwhelmingly from wealthy white communities. Baker elaborated on this by discussing how many of the policies now in place are those favored by these wealthy interests, and highlighting the lack of adequate disclosure of political contributions as a barrier to organizing against these discriminatory policies. Robinson picked up that theme, discussing how the lack of timely disclosure becomes a barrier for activists trying to connect the dots between political contributions and political outcomes. Overton, who has direct experience with fundraising for campaigns, discussed the pressure to court super-rich donors who have the capacity to give massive sums, rather than reaching out to larger numbers of more modest donors. And Nelson tied money in politics reform to voting rights and outlined the need for a “deliberative democracy” that is responsive to the people.

As the panel drew to a close, panelists discussed how to address this issue moving forward. Baker made the point that currently there aren’t enough elected officials who are fighting for solutions to counteract big money in politics. McGhee reiterated that, despite a few notable exceptions, there has not been sufficient attention given to this issue from politicians serving in office.

It is time for a campaign finance system and a political system no longer run only by those with money and power. To achieve equitable public policies we need a fully representative democracy where all people, no matter their race or socioeconomic status, have an equal voice in the democracy, and that currently is simply not the case.

PFAW

Big Win for Democracy in New York

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Today the people of New York scored a significant victory for democracy in the United States by officially becoming the 17th state on record in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn disastrous Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. This decision, among others, has created an out-of-balance system that allows powerful corporations and other wealthy interests to spend unlimited amounts of money to buy access and influence to advance their political agenda at the expense of everyone else.

This landmark accomplishment in New York comes as the result of a multi-year effort to encourage legislators in the state Senate and Assembly to sign onto a formal letter calling for such an amendment. Because of the work of dedicated activists and a broad coalition of organizations, lawmakers from both parties, representing a majority of each house of the legislature, have joined to represent the will of the people. Over twenty municipalities from the state of New York including Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Mt. Vernon, Ithaca and New York City have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the constitution. Moreover, since 2010 — the year of the Citizens United decision — nearly 700 cities and towns nationally have passed resolutions calling for an amendment and more than five million petition signatures have been gathered in support.

This victory represents the results of collaborative campaigning, with a diverse coalition of organizations coming together to educate, organize, and apply the political pressure necessary to win. On behalf of our more than 156,000 New York members,  People For the American Way is proud to have been one of several national organizations to play a role in advancing this effort. Since the start of this campaign several years ago, our members have signed petitions, written letters, called their legislators and shown up to advocate and protest in person.

In New York and across the country, poll after poll shows that reforming our big money system is a top priority for Americans. And with this historic win, the people of New York have contributed to the momentum of a growing national movement calling for a constitutional amendment to remedy a system that is tilted in the favor of wealthy special interests. If history is any guide, it’s not a  question of whether unaccountable money in politics will be addressed, it’s a question of when. Since our founding, this country has been on an uneven but ultimately forward-moving path towards creating a government that is truly of, by and for all the people. New York has just helped the nation take yet another step in making this promise a reality.  

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Call on Platform Committees to Incorporate Money in Politics Reforms

As the Democratic and Republican platform drafting committees gear up in advance of the party conventions, PFAW joined other national democracy organizations this week in submitting letters calling for the committees to include a comprehensive package of reform measures to fight big money in politics in the platforms.

Specifically, the groups called for the policy reforms outlined in the “Fighting Big Money” agenda — which was released by 13 reform organizations last year — to be incorporated. These measures include: a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, small donor public financing, a restoration of the Voting Rights Act, increased disclosure of political spending, and stronger enforcement of existing campaign finance rules.

The letters note that the presidential candidates have talked about the need to reform our big money system throughout their campaigns, and polling consistently shows that voters of all political backgrounds agree. With an overwhelming majority of Americans frustrated with our out-of-balance political system, incorporating a comprehensive reform agenda within the party platforms is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

You can read the letters to the DNC and RNC platform committees here and here.
 

PFAW