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Oregon Becomes 16th State to Join the Fight Against Citizens United

Following the approval of House Joint Memorial 6 by a 17-13 vote in the Oregon Senate today, Oregon became the 16th state to call for an amendment to the Constitution overturning the 2010 Citizens United decision and related cases.

The passage of HJM6, first introduced in January by Representative Brian Clem, is the result of a grassroots mobilization effort by the people of Oregon. In 2012 alone, 12 Oregon cities and counties passed local resolutions urging state and federal legislators to call for a constitutional amendment taking back our democracy from corporations and special interests. The mobilization at the state level was led by Oregonians for Restoring Constitutional Democracy, a coalition that gathered signatures and endorsements in support of HJM6.

The joint memorial urges Congress to propose a constitutional amendment “clarifying the distinction between the rights of natural persons and the rights of corporations” and recognizing “that Congress and state legislatures may regulate all moneys raised and spent for political purposes.”

Rep. Jules Bailey, speaking to the Oregon House last week, urged his fellow representatives to support the measure, saying, “When we confuse the monolith with the individual, then a piece of our humanity dies. Let us ask Congress to undo this mistake.” The measure passed the House by a vote of 48-11 on June 21st before being sent to the Senate.

With each additional state joining the movement to overturn Citizens United and related decisions, the will of the American people becomes clearer. We will not let our elections be bought and sold. We will not let corporate power subvert the will of the people.

PFAW

Wendy Davis and the People’s Filibuster in Texas

Guest post from Robin Lane, alumni board member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.

                Tuesday afternoon in Austin, I arrived at the Capitol and was swallowed in a sea of orange, ready to support Senator Wendy Davis and her filibuster of Senate Bill 5. Sen. Davis began by reading the testimonies of women who would be affected by SB5, limiting abortion rights in Texas, getting so emotional reading one woman’s story that she struggled to continue speaking through her tears. Senators Watson, Van de Putte, and West helped her buy time. We cheered every time we heard someone say, “Parliamentary inquiry, Mr. President.” The filibuster continued late into the evening.

                At 11:30, Sen. Watson had the floor. Sen. West requested that the motion to close the previous question be put into writing, “in as large a font as possible.” I couldn’t breathe. And then, Sen. Van de Putte made the comment that erupted the entire Capitol: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”

                Sen. Duncan announced over the noise, “We will have to suspend the vote until the gallery is in order.” The clock ran out. At midnight, the auditorium erupted in cheers. But when all of the Senators remained in front of the podium, the cheers faded. Several news outlets reported that SB5 passed. Conflicting outcomes were coming in droves.

                A large crowd from the auditorium raced upstairs into the rotunda and the sight took my breath away – every inch was packed with people chanting. At around 2:15 AM, we heard a text message sent from Sen. Davis to an ally in the rotunda: Senate Bill 5 was officially dead. There was a request to sing, “The Eyes of Texas,” and the Capitol sang together. Someone raised a Texas flag on the rotunda floor. People were crying.

                I have never been so proud to call myself a Texan.

                Although I didn’t grow up in the Lone Star state, my mother did – and so did my grandmother, and my great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandfather. Texas is in my blood. I came to Texas after leaving the University of Pittsburgh, where I had been organizing for reproductive justice since 2007. I came because I saw so clearly how my issue intersected with the struggles of communities of color, low-income communities, immigrant communities, education justice, LGBTQ rights, environmental justice, and food justice – and I saw Texas as ground-zero for many of these battles. We won the battle, for now, on SB5 – but with Section 4 of the Voting Rights struck down, Texas immediately began advancing a discriminatory redistricting plan. A woman in San Antonio is in deportation proceedings after she took her sick child to the hospital. Senators Cornyn and Cruz continue to fight us on truly inclusive immigration reform. And on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry called another special session of the Texas legislature, set for July 1, to act on the sweeping anti-choice proposals.  Yes, we won this battle – but the war continues.

                Still, the victory at the Capitol this week inspired me to keep up the difficult work of organizing in the state of Texas – from now until the next election, and beyond.

PFAW

Dumping DOMA: The Next Step

PFAW is a strong supporter of the Respect for Marriage Coalition and applauds Representative Nadler, Senator Feinstein, and their 200 bipartisan cosponsors for taking swift action to dump DOMA.
PFAW

After Heroic All-Day Filibuster Foils Anti-Choice Bill, TX Gov. Rick Perry Calls ANOTHER Special Session to Continue Attack on Women

It’s been a chaotic week for the Texas legislature, but the drama isn’t over. Following state Senator Wendy Davis’ epic filibuster of a bill that would limit Texas women’s access to abortion, Governor Rick Perry has called yet another special session to push the legislation through.

The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy – with no exceptions – and would place burdensome requirements on abortion providers, effectively shutting down all but five clinics in the state.

Sen. Davis filibustered the legislation for more than twelve hours and, with the aid of hundreds of protesters, effectively blocked Senate Bill 5 from passing the Senate and reaching the governor’s desk before midnight. Davis was championed around the country as a political celebrity standing, quite literally, for women’s rights. People For the American Way recognized Davis’ efforts, encouraging members to sign a note of appreciation and support.

However, her victory may be short lived.

Perry called the first special session to give the legislature more time to consider anti-choice legislation that failed to advance during the regular legislative period. A special session follows different rules than the normal session, as the governor has sole discretion over what the legislature can work on. Perry said that the legislature also failed to pass bills on infrastructure funding and mandatory life sentences for 17 year-olds committing capital felonies, providing convenient additional justifications for the necessity of a second session. Perry said,

"Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn. Texans want a transportation system that keeps them moving. Texans want a court system that is fair and just. We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do."

Davis refused to let Perry’s affront go unanswered, firing back that it was Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst who had “led the charge” in the breakdown of decorum and “made a mockery of all of the rules we run by in this state.”

As the New York Times reported yesterday, it is unlikely that the Democrats will manage to block the bill for another 30-day session. It will probably pass. But as the governor can call as many special sessions as he likes, even a successful second filibuster may not be enough to stop the Republicans’ anti-choice agenda.

The second session begins July 1st. The war on women rages on.

PFAW

In 2016, Remember This Week at the Supreme Court

It's been a week of mixed emotions for those of us who care about civil rights. There was the elation today when the Supreme Court overturned the so-called Defense of Marriage Act -- the discriminatory law that has hurt so many Americans in its nearly 17 years of existence -- and let marriage equality return to California. There was the anger when the Court twisted the law to make it harder for workers and consumers to take on big corporations. And there was the disbelief and outrage when the Court declared that a key part of the Voting Rights Act that was so important and had worked so well was now somehow no longer constitutional.

But throughout the week, I have been reminded of one thing: how grateful I am that Mitt Romney will not be picking the next Supreme Court justice.

It remains true that this Supreme Court is one of the most right-leaning in American history. The majority's head-in-the-sand decision on the Voting Rights Act -- declaring that the VRA isn't needed anymore because it's working so well -- was a stark reminder of why we need to elect presidents who will nominate Supreme Court justices who understand both the text and history of the Constitution and the way it affects real people's lives.

We were reminded of this again today when all the conservative justices except for Anthony Kennedy stood behind the clearly unconstitutional DOMA. Justice Antonin Scalia -- no stranger to anti-gay rhetoric -- wrote an apoplectic rant of a dissent denying the Court's clear role in preserving equal protection. If there had been one more far-right justice on the court, Scalia's dissent could have been the majority opinion.

Just think of how different this week would have been if Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were not on the court and if John McCain had picked two justices instead. We almost certainly wouldn't have a strong affirmation of LGBT equality. Efforts to strip people of color of their voting rights would likely have stood with fewer justices in dissent. And the rights of workers and consumers could be in even greater peril.

As the Republican party moves further and further to the right, it is trying to take the courts with it. This week, we saw what that means in practice. As we move forward to urge Congress to fix the Voting Rights Act and reinforce protections for workers and consumers, and work to make sure that marriage equality is recognized in all states, we must always remember the courts. Elections have real consequences. These Supreme Court decisions had less to do with evolving legal theory than with who appointed the justices. Whether historically good or disastrous, all these decisions were decided by just one vote. In 2016, let's not forget what happened this week.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

PFAW

Supreme Court Dumps PART of DOMA

The Supreme Court today ruled that the core section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. DOMA’s Section 3, which the Court vacated, prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, thereby hitting legally married gay and lesbian couples with extra taxes and depriving them of a slew of federal protections.

People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan said of the Supreme Court’s ruling: “Today’s  DOMA ruling is a profound step forward for loving, committed same-sex couples across the country. The decision is premised on the plain fact that there is no good reason for the government to recognize some legally married couples while discriminating against others.”

PFAW launched a campaign to “Dump DOMA” in 2008. Since then, our petition calling on Congress to repeal the discriminatory law  has gathered 230,000 signatures.

But the effort to overturn DOMA is not over. While Section 3 was the law’s most damaging provision, DOMA’s Section 2, which says that states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, still stands. We will continue to work to overturn the remainder of DOMA and ensure that all gay and lesbian Americans have the right to marriage, no matter which state they make their home.

While our work continues, today’s decision represents a historic turning point for equality.  DOMA will no longer tear apart binational couples. It will no longer impose a “gay tax” on legally married same-sex couples. It will no longer deny benefits to same-sex spouses of federal employees. It will no longer deny gay and lesbian veterans benefits for their spouses.

The story of Edith Windsor, the plaintiff who brought DOMA to the Supreme Court, and Thea Spyer, her late wife and partner of 40 years, illustrates what this decision will mean to so many Americans:
 

PFAW

The Truth Behind the IRS ‘Scandal’

Now that the smoke has cleared, it appears that the IRS scandal that has consumed right-wing media for weeks is not much of a scandal at all. The original story that the IRS was unfairly targeting conservative groups has dramatically shifted thanks to new documents revealed by the Associated Press showing that the tax agency also targeted groups with liberal keywords in their name, such as “progressive” and “occupy.”

While the IRS may have exhibited some poor judgment, the agency was not waging partisan warfare. Nor was it carrying out any of the false right-wing conspiracy theories outlined yesterday by Right Wing Watch.

PFAW president Michael Keegan argued last month that the lesson being pulled from the blunders of the IRS was the wrong one. While conservatives across the nation cried scandal and used IRS activity to condemn big government, Keegan wrote,

“The danger of this frame is that it will discourage the IRS from fully investigating all nonprofit groups spending money to influence elections. And it will distract from the core problem behind the IRS's mess: the post-Citizens United explosion of undisclosed electoral spending.”

The recent revelation that the IRS was targeting liberal groups as well as conservative ones confirms this message.  Unharnessed and unaccountable spending is the real problem – not oversight.

PFAW

The Smoking Gun in the Voting Rights Case

Scalia's comments during oral arguments show that he was guided by personal ideology, not the law.
PFAW

HUD Report Documents Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples

A new report released this week by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the first-ever national study documenting discrimination against same-sex couples in the private rental market.
PFAW

Delaware Passes Historic Transgender Anti-Discrimination Bill

Last Tuesday Delaware Governor Jack Markell wrote that in his state, it is high time “our laws reflect our values.”  The bill in question was the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act of 2013, which adds gender identity to the state’s hate crime prevention and non-discrimination laws.  As Gov. Markell pointed out,

“Under our State's laws, it is currently legal to fire someone, deny them housing, or throw them out of a restaurant simply because they are transgender. This is simply not the Delaware way…”

And it’s not the American way. With bipartisan support in the state House and Senate, the bill passed the Delaware legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Markell Wednesday evening, making Delaware the 17th state with an employment non-discrimination law covering gender identity in addition to sexual orientation.

This is a profound victory for transgender Delawareans like Jay Campbell, who has so far felt unable to come out in his workplace. Campbell told the News Journal of Wilmington earlier this month,

“Without basic protection from discrimination, I can’t afford to tell my employer. I can’t obtain health coverage for the fear I’ll be outed and fired.”

Campbell shares this concern with other transgender – as well as lesbian, gay, and bisexual – people across the country.  In the majority of U.S. states, it remains legal to fire someone for being LGBT. This means that far too many people find themselves forced to choose between risking their livelihoods and undertaking the painful work of hiding who they are, day after day.

Today’s victory in Delaware underscores the need for employment protections for LGBT workers in every state through the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  This common-sense solution would help ensure that employees like Campbell are judged by how well they do their job, not by who they are or who they love.

PFAW

Longer and Longer Waits for District Court Nominees

Because of a deliberately created backlog, district court nominees have waited longer and longer for a confirmation vote during the 113th Congress.
PFAW

Maddow Applauds PFAW's Work Monitoring the Right Wing

Rachel Maddow gave an appreciative nod to People for the American Way’s work monitoring the Right Wing.
PFAW

New Report Documents Republican Support for Citizens United Amendment

America has awakened. All across the nation, a burgeoning movement has begun to demand the overturn of Citizens United v. FEC and related cases via constitutional amendment, including, according to a new report by Free Speech for People, 130 Republican officials at the state and federal levels.

The new report released in June, titled "Across the Aisle: The Growing Trans-partisan Opposition to Citizens United", compiles quotes from these officials to form a comprehensive body of evidence in support of the fact that, indeed, getting corporations out of political campaigns – at least at the state level – is not a partisan issue.  In fact, Republican support has been instrumental in the passage of fifteen state-level resolutions calling for the overturn of Citizens United, with a Republican primary sponsor even leading the charge in Illinois. As Verner Bertelsen, former Secretary of State of Montana, put it,

... the bad Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and more recent decisions ... threaten to undo Montana's century-old laws against political corruption ... I am a lifelong Republican and I served as Montana secretary of state from  1988 to 1989... Corporations aren’t people and money isn’t speech. CEOs of corporations may choose to personally contribute to political campaigns, but they shouldn’t be allowed to use shareholders’ money to do so.

These views, too, are hardly new – as Theodore Roosevelt declared in 1910,

It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs ... The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint ... has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. If our political institutions were perfect, they would absolutely prevent the political domination of money in any part of our affairs. We need ... a corrupt-services act effective to prevent the advantage of the man willing recklessly and unscrupulously to spend money over his more honest competitor.

With recent polling cited in the report showing robust support for amending the Constitution --  83% of Americans, including 81% of Republicans --  it's quite clear that, with continued education and mobilization, Citizens United's days are numbered.

PFAW

Anti-Bullying Protections Headed to Senate Floor

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected to bring the bill to the floor but has not released a date. People for the American Way will continue to monitor ESEA’s progress and the anti-bullying provisions it contains.
PFAW

Supreme Court Upholds Voting Rights in Arizona Proof-of-Citizenship Case

The Supreme Court issued 7-2 ruling in favor of voting rights today, finding that a restrictive Arizona law requiring that voters show proof of citizenship when registering by mail is preempted by federal law. The court upheld Arizonans’ right to register to vote by mail using a federal form created by the 1993 “Motor Voter” law, which allows voters to certify under oath that they are citizens. Arizonans will not have to submit information that the federal form does not require.

PFAW Foundation joined in an amicus brief in the case, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of  Arizona, on behalf of its Young People For program.

The Arizona law, which would have required voters to present one of a narrow set of documents proving citizenship in order to register to vote, would have impeded the voting rights of countless Arizonans. As Demos put it:

Many eligible citizens do not possess these narrow forms of documentation required by the law and, of those who do, many  do not carry them while conducting their daily affairs.  Community-based registration efforts overwhelmingly rely on approaching individuals who did not plan in advance to register at that time or location and who are thus unlikely to be carrying a birth certificate, passport, or other documentation.

Even when a potential registrant does happen to be carrying one of the required documents, logistical hurdles—ranging from an inability to copy documents on the spot to an unwillingness to hand over sensitive identification documents to registration drive volunteers—greatly hinder the ability of community-based organizations to register people in Arizona.

The Supreme Court has yet to issue a decision in the other major voting rights case on its docket this term, the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

PFAW

First Lesbian Latina Confirmed as Federal Judge

Judge Nitza Quiñones Alejandro broke an important glass ceiling this week, becoming the first openly lesbian Latina confirmed to a federal judgeship.  The Senate confirmed her by voice vote to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania yesterday. Previously Quiñones served for more than two decades on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. 

The Washington Blade notes that Quiñones is only the seventh openly LGBT person in our country’s history to be confirmed as a federal judge.

PFAW has advocated for more diversity in the judiciary, applauding President Obama’s push to bring qualified judges from many backgrounds to the federal bench.  Issuing decisions that affect all communities, the federal bench – and all benches – must reflect the diversity of our nation. 

Last year President Obama said he was committed to ensuring that “the judiciary resembles the nation it serves.”  This week’s confirmation is an important step toward that goal. 
 

PFAW

Recent YP4 Fellow Reunites With Her Mother at a Border Fence

Two months ago, Evelyn Rivera, an alumna our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program, wrote that her family’s dream is a future where “immigration reform will include family reunification and that my mom will return to the United States.”  Rivera’s mother, who she describes as “the most courageous woman I have ever known,” was sent back to Colombia more than six years ago after being stopped while driving without a license.

“I miss her every day,” Rivera said.

Yesterday NBC Latino featured a powerful video of the reunification of Rivera and two other DREAMers with their mothers.  Organized by United We Dream, the young people met their mothers at the border fence in Nogales, Arizona. 

Jacquellena Carrero of NBC Latino reported,

“For the first time in six years, Evelyn Rivera was able to give her mother a hug. But the circumstances were less than ideal: Her mother was on the other side of a steel bar fence, which marked the United States and Mexico border….‘There were so many tears and we couldn’t get words out. Then we just kept saying ‘I love you, I love you’,’ Rivera says, describing the first few moments she spent with her mother. ‘My mom was upset. She was saying ‘I thought I would be able to hug you better.’ But we were so happy just to be able to touch.’”

Across the country from where Rivera and her mom embraced, the Senate voted Tuesday to proceed to debate on the immigration bill – and deliberation among Congress members on immigration reform continues. 

Carrero noted:

“Although the Senate bill would help young immigrants like Rivera and Padilla by giving them an expedited pathway to American citizenship, Rivera says it does not do enough to bring back deportees. While the current bill would allow some deported children, spouses, and siblings of U.S. citizens and permanent residents to return, there is no provision that says deported parents of undocumented immigrants can come back. Republican senators have vehemently opposed the return of any deportees.”

Those in Congress would do well to keep the experiences of Rivera’s family – and the many families across the country and across the world like them – in mind as the debate proceeds.  As United We Dream notes, this is what immigration reform looks like. 

Watch a video of the reunion here:
 

 

PFAW

For LGBT Seniors Fighting DOMA is About Economic Survival

For the elderly, the fight against DOMA often isn’t only a question of receiving federal recognition for a marriage – it’s also a question of basic economic survival.
PFAW

New “Follow the Money” Report Documents Dangers of Big Money in Politics

Strong campaign finance laws lead to more competitive elections and a greater influence from small donors, according to a new report from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The report, released in May, examines state-level elections to gauge the impact of campaign finance laws. Titled "Evidencing a Republican Form of Government: The Influence of Campaign Money on State-Level Elections," it follows the finances of candidates in each state, looking at their donors, expenditures, and disclosures, providing evidence of the deleterious effects that unrestrained campaign spending has on our democracy.

States with high or no contribution limits, for one, have dramatically fewer competitive races than those with public financing. For example, the Institute found that only 6 percent of 2010 elections in Georgia were competitive, compared with 75 percent of elections in Maine. Not coincidentally, Georgia has relatively high contribution limits, with winning candidates raising a median amount of $50,425, while Maine uses public financing and had a much lower fundraising median of $5,844.

Further, removing limits on contributions also appears to crowd out small donors. In Texas, a state where individuals are allowed to contribute unlimited sums directly to campaigns, the median fundraising gap between winners and losers for 2010 was a whopping $255,318. Meanwhile, just 4 percent of 2010 donations in the state were under $250, while 59 percent exceeded $10,000. In fact, the Institute’s data reveals that in Texas, nearly half of all political donations came from a few hundred people. In contrast, in Colorado, which has much stricter contribution limits, the equivalent half of all contributions came from about 35,000 people. The Institute found this pattern to be present in all 50 states.

Lax campaign finance law has a double effect: not only does it reduce the competitiveness of political races, allowing candidates with money to simply overwhelm their opponents with tides of spending, but it also drastically reduces small-donor participation in politics, concentrating power and influence in the hands of those with deep pockets. This, of course, is a problem – as DEMOS has pointed out, the elite “donor class” often has vastly different policy priorities than those of most Americans.

As corporations, wealthy individuals, and special interests continue to adjust their election strategies in the wake of Citizens United, pouring ever more money into political campaigns, the conclusions of this report are cause for worry. Fortunately, the American people are not sitting idly by while our democracy is threatened. We are mobilizing.

PFAW

Following PFAW Advocacy, Delaware Becomes 15th State Calling to Overturn Citizens United

In yet another state, the American people have made it clear that we will not allow our elections to be bought and sold.

Recent months have seen Delaware legislators and local advocates busy collecting signatures for a letter to Senator Carper, Senator Coons, and Representative Carney, asking them and their colleagues in Congress to pass a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United.  Working with Common Cause Delaware, PFAW has been on the front lines of this initiative.  Last month Legislative Representative Calvin Sloan went “door to door” with PFAW members and allies in the state legislature urging lawmakers to sign onto the letter.

Following their hard work, Delaware today became the fifteenth state to go on record calling for an amendment to reclaim our democracy. Signed by the majority of lawmakers in both chambers of the state legislature with bipartisan support, today’s victory means that 30% of our nation’s states have called for such an amendment.  Four of those states – West Virginia, Maine, Illinois, and now Delaware – have made their position official in just the last two months.

The tide is turning.  The momentum is undeniable.  As the letter points out, “There is no more critical foundation to our government than citizens’ confidence in fair and free elections.”  Today’s victory – as well as those in other states and those in states still to come – makes clear that Americans are taking back our elections.
 

PFAW