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Employment Non-Discrimination Act to be Reintroduced in Congress

In much of our country, employers can legally fire someone simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.  It’s something most Americans don’t realize.  It’s also something most Americans believe is wrong.

Today a bill designed to address that kind of discrimination, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), is expected to be reintroduced in both the House and the Senate. This important civil rights legislation would expand current federal employment protections against discrimination – such as those based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age, and disability – to include sexual orientation and gender identity.  It is a common-sense measure that would help ensure that employees are judged by their qualifications and work performance rather than their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Yesterday People For the American Way joined with a broad coalition of organizations in asking members of Congress to become cosponsors of ENDA.  As the letter notes,

“Hardworking Americans should not be kept from supporting their families and making a positive contribution to the economic life of our nation because of characteristics that have no bearing whatsoever on their ability to do a job…Only 21 states’ laws prohibit discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, and only 16 also do so based on gender identity, meaning that it is legal to fire members of the LGBT community in 29 and 34 states, respectively. ENDA prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in most workplaces. The time has long since come to end this injustice for LGBT Americans and pass ENDA.”

PFAW

Senate Confirms Second Woman and First Ever Public Defender to Eighth Circuit

Yesterday, the Senate unanimously confirmed Iowa’s Jane Kelly to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Kelly, who currently serves as a federal public defender, becomes “only the second woman, and the first public defender, to serve in the history of the court that was established in 1891,” according to the Iowa City Gazette.

Kelly also makes history by having the quickest confirmation process of any of President Obama’s appeals court nominees so far, according to the Gazette. Kelly waited just 33 days for a confirmation vote, compared to the average 153 day wait for President Obama’s circuit court nominees (as of two weeks ago). Kelly’s quick confirmation, however, would not have been at all noteworthy at this point in George W. Bush administration, when appellate nominees waited an average of just 37 days between committee approval and Senate confirmation.  

Kelly’s speedy confirmation may have something to do with the senators supporting her. Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee has been instrumental in obstructing President Obama’s judicial nominees, seemed to put aside his obstruction habits for a nominee from his own state.
 

PFAW

The Filibuster ‘False Equivalence’

Journalist Andrew Cohen, writing for the Brennan Center for Justice, explains how attempts to portray today’s Republican filibusters as routine “tit-for-tat” maneuvers are misleading:

By trying not to be partisan, at least in this area of political coverage, we journalists are in many ways becoming more partisan than we fear. James Fallows, the author and longtime correspondent at The Atlantic, has been preaching for years now about “false equivalence” in reporting about the Senate’s current gridlock. He has called out reporters and editors, producers and television hosts, headline writers and analysts, for their continuing failure to call it like it really is when it comes to these Senate votes. For example, on Wednesday, in the wake of the background check vote, which “passed” the Senate by a vote of 54-46 but effectively “failed” because of the threat of a filibuster, Fallows again explained the concept. He wrote:

Since the Democrats regained majority control of the Senate six years ago, the Republicans under Mitch McConnell have applied filibuster threats (under a variety of names) at a frequency not seen before in American history. Filibusters used to be exceptional. Now they are used as blocking tactics for nearly any significant legislation or nomination. The goal of this strategy, which maximizes minority blocking power in a way not foreseen in the Constitution, has been to make the 60-vote requirement seem routine. As part of the "making it routine" strategy, the minority keeps repeating that it takes 60 votes to "pass" a bill — and this Orwellian language-redefinition comes one step closer to fulfillment each time the press presents 60 votes as the norm for passing a law.

News consumers, in other words, are led to believe that what is happening is just “politics as usual,” tit-for-tat, part of the murky vote-counting calculus that has always been a part of the Senate’s rules. But there is now ample evidence to suggest that this tactic has fundamentally changed the way Congress works. In 2009 alone, the Brennan Center’s Diana Kasdan told me last week, “there was double the number of filibusters that occurred in the entire 20-year period from 1950-1969, when they were used repeatedly and notoriously to block civil rights legislation.”  In other words, today’s abuse of the filibuster is extraordinary. Yet Fallows gives many examples — actual headlines, probably hundreds of them over the years — in which journalists have refused or failed to properly communicate this to their audience. Without adequate context and perspective about what is happening in the Senate, the American people are hampered in how quickly they can force their elected officials to change (or, more accurately, to change their elected officials).

In fact, as we have reported here, today’s GOP has taken Senate obstruction to an extraordinary new level.

PFAW

PFAW Joins Over 80 Ally Organizations in Calling for Support of Student Non-Discrimination Act

Today People For the American Way joined with more than eighty other national and state organizations in sending a letter to all members of Congress asking for support of the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA).  SNDA, which was reintroduced in the House today by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), would prohibit discrimination and harassment based on actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools. 

As the letter notes, the need for this type of legislation is profound:

“A 2011 study of more than 8,500 LGBT middle and high school students across the US found that eight out of ten reported experiencing harassment at their school within the past year based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and three-fifths said they felt unsafe at school because of who they are. Nearly three in ten skipped at least one day of school within the previous month because of concerns for their safety. Most tragically, LGBT youth face significantly increased risks for suicide related to mental health issues that often arise from poor treatment and discrimination in schools.”

Today a Florida eighth grader named Bayli put a face on these alarming numbers, telling the Huffington Post that her friends regularly face bullying because of their sexual orientation:

“Watching it tear apart my friends is what scared me the most. It's not right, I don't like it, and I don't [like seeing] my friends going through it.”

PFAW has long spoken out on the pervasive problem of bullying, including tracking the work of right wing anti-anti-bullying activists.  With the majority of LGBT young people reporting that they do not feel safe in their own schools, the need for action only continues to grow.  Discrimination and harassment of LGBT youth has no place in our nation’s classrooms. 
 

PFAW

The Background Check Filibuster: "Who's Laughing Now?"

Senators who voted to filibuster a bipartisan gun sale background check bill are losing friends quickly. After all, 90 percent of voters and 90 percent of gun owners supported the measure...
PFAW

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Corporations in Human Rights Abuses Case

Back in September, PFAW senior fellow Jamie Raskin wrote a preview of the major cases coming before the Supreme Court this term, one of which, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, deals with the ability of foreign nationals to sue corporations for human rights abuses in American courts. The Supreme Court today issued a sweeping ruling siding with the multinational corporations accused of abuse. Main Justice sums up the facts of the case:

The plaintiffs accuse Royal Dutch, the Shell Transport and Trading Company and their joint Nigerian subsidy of allowing, indeed encouraging, atrocities by the Nigerian military against people who were protesting environmental damage caused by drilling in the Niger Delta in the 1990s. The companies were complicit in beatings, rapes and mass arrests by paying the soldiers, feeding them and allowing them to use oil company property as staging areas for their attacks, the plaintiffs maintain.

At issue was the application of the Alien Tort Statute, enacted in 1789, that gives United States courts jurisdiction over civil actions brought by aliens alleging torts committed in violation of United States treaties or international law. The seldom-used ATS was enacted partly in response to piracy on the high seas. The Nigerian plaintiffs, now legal residents of the United States, tried to use it in a present-day context.

As Jamie Raskin wrote in his Supreme Court preview, the Second Circuit radically twisted legal precedent in this case to rule that individuals could not sue corporations under the Alien Tort Statute:

Jurisdiction to hear the suit was clear. In 2004, the Supreme Court held, in Sosa v. Alvarez-Machain, that the Alien Tort Statute gave federal courts jurisdiction to hear claims about torts committed against aliens that violate well-established international norms like the human rights norms implicated in this case. Yet a bitterly divided Second Circuit panel in Kiobel held for the first time that the statute does not allow courts to hear suits against corporations as opposed to individuals. The Kiobel majority’s ruling on this issue was amazing since the issue was never raised, never briefed, never argued and never decided in any of the proceedings below that took place over the course of nearly a decade. (This rings a bell for close observers of the Citizens United majority, which also pulled a rabbit out of a hat to ask and answer a question never raised below.)

Today, the Roberts Court agreed. The Court unanimously ruled against the Nigerians in Kiobel, but disagreed about how far the ruling should go. Justice Roberts, writing for the conservative majority, wrote a broad ruling in favor of the corporations accused of human rights abuses. The four moderate justices concurred with the majority’s ruling on this particular case, but left the door open for similar cases to be tried in U.S. Courts. Main Justice explains:

Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote that the defendants’ “minimal and indirect presence in the United States was not enough to give American courts jurisdiction over the case.”  But he stopped short of declaring that similar cases should never end up in American courts if the abuse at issue “adversely affects an important American national interest.” Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan agreed with him.

Nicole Flatow at ThinkProgress explains the possible implications of the majority’s ruling:

This decision not only means that Nigerians cannot sue foreign corporations for their conduct abroad. On this particular point, the four-justice Breyer concurrence agreed that this case did not pass muster. Roberts’ sweeping pronouncement against extraterritoriality may also mean that foreign nationals subject to abuse, for example, at the hands of a U.S. corporation that houses its factories in places whose laws shield it from liability, or an American citizen who commits human rights violations abroad against foreigners, also could not be subject to suit in the United States.

The scope of the opinion will not become clear until it is interpreted by courts. Extraterritoriality is a legal concept that asks not just whether conduct took place abroad, but also whether the claims “touch and concern the territory of the United States” such that a plaintiff can overcome the presumption against them. The only hint the court gives is that lawsuits against corporations will face a particularly heavy burden, noting, “Corporations are often present in many countries, and it would reach too far to say that mere corporate presence suffices.”

What is clear is that the presumption is exceedingly difficult to overcome, and that both individuals and corporations have a high chance of skirting liability simply by doing their dirty work elsewhere.

PFAW

Why the National Conversation on Immigration Reform Is about My Family

I am a 24-year-old, proud Floridian. My parents came to the U.S. from Colombia many years ago, looking for a safe and opportunity-rich place to raise their daughters. From the time I was a toddler, I have spent my whole life here in Florida. I received a great public education, participated in sports, and served as a member of a Christian youth group. I am also an undocumented American.

What does that mean in my day-to-day life?  It means that despite my top grades in high school, I can’t get financial aid to go to college. It means that no matter how hard I study traffic rules or parallel parking, I don’t qualify for a driver’s license.  It means that though I am proud to have been raised here in America, there is no waiting list I can join to one day become a U.S. citizen.  The path is simply not there for me.

The Senate “Gang of 8” includes my senator, Marco Rubio, who has said he believes in a path to citizenship. “But,” I asked in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed last month,

“when push comes to shove, will Rubio support a meaningful path to citizenship? It can't be a path in name only; it must be clear and direct, not tied to arbitrary metrics around border security, like he has proposed. The path to citizenship can't be full of hurdles and trap doors, and it can't require a decades-long wait in line. No one should be blocked from citizenship and relegated to a lifetime stuck in second-class status.


Rubio's parents left Cuba and came to the U.S. for economic opportunity – the same reasons my parents left everything they knew, making sacrifice after sacrifice for my family's future. Would Rubio deny my family the same opportunity his family had?...It's time for Rubio to truly represent Florida – the immigrant families who came here seeking a better life and everyone who believes in a common-sense solution that doesn't involve deporting millions of hard-working men and women or forcing them into a permanent underclass. It's time for Rubio to step up, on behalf of his mother and my mother...”

And thousands of other mothers and fathers out there.  My parents had a dream that I could grow up in the United States and get a world-class education. My dream for my parents is that they can see me and my sisters thrive and fulfill our potential – and for them to be part of the American dream, too. Right now that dream seems distant for my mom, who was stopped while driving without a license over six years ago and is back in Colombia. My dream is now my parents' dream. A dream that immigration reform will include family reunification and that my mom will return to the United States. I miss her every day.

I’m a Young People For Fellow, a member of the United We Dream Network, an undocumented American, and most importantly a daughter to the most courageous woman I have ever known. I hope that no other family has to endure the separation that mine has, but I know that so many others are suffering the same heartbreak.

Our country needs immigration reform that creates a path to citizenship and keeps families like mine together.  The national conversation on immigration reform isn’t a distant policy debate – it’s a conversation about my life.

Evelyn Rivera, Seminole State College
Member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For Program

 

PFAW

Republicans Seek to Rig the DC Circuit Court

GOP bill would delete three of the vacancies on the DC Circuit so President Obama would be unable to restore balance to this extremely influential court.
PFAW

Trouble on the GOP Homefront

The GOP seems to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Responding to last month’s Republican National Committee “autopsy,” the leaders of thirteen right wing organizations sent a letter this week to RNC Chairman Reince Priebus to “strongly recommend” a reaffirmation of the 2012 National GOP Platform—including strident opposition to marriage equality.

On the question of young voters and marriage equality, the letter states that “Republicans would do well to persuade young voters why marriage between a man and a woman is so important rather than abandon thousands of years of wisdom to please them.”  The letter also explicitly warns the GOP leadership that “an abandonment of its principles will necessarily result in the abandonment of our constituents to their support.”

It seems like those right-wing groups will get their wish: the Washington Post reports that the RNC’s Resolution Committee passed a resolution reaffirming the 2012 platform yesterday which will be voted on by the full RNC tomorrow.

This incident highlights the degree to which the Republican Party is caught in a trap of its own making.  Despite a dawning awareness that moderate voters reject the extreme agenda of the Right, the GOP can’t escape the reactionary anti-gay ideology that it’s exploited for so long.

PFAW

West Virginia Becomes 12th State to Call For Amendment Overturning Citizens United

The West Virginia Legislature has approved a resolution calling on Congress to propose a constitutional amendment overturning the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC and related cases.  This makes West Virginia the twelfth state to call for such an amendment.

People For the American Way has been working with activists in West Virginia to help rally support for the resolution.  As PFAW Legislative Representative Calvin Sloan noted in a recent action alert, many West Virginians already understood the need to get big money out of politics:

“West Virginia has already seen the drastic need for a constitutional amendment to enact free and fair elections. In 2010, West Virginia’s congressional races attracted more than $15 million from outside groups such as American Crossroads and FreedomWorks, organizations that can, in the wake of Citizens United, raise and spend unlimited amounts of money in our elections.”

As a West Virginian, I am especially proud to see this resolution pass in my home state.  While the states that have called for an amendment are diverse – stretching from Hawaii to Rhode Island – protecting the integrity of our democratic process is a core American value.  As one West Virginia delegate pointed out,

“One of government's roles within this great democracy is making sure everyone has a voice.”

West Virginians are now formally joining the proliferation of voices across the country calling for a democracy of, by, and for the people.

PFAW

As Washington Begins Debate on Gun Violence Bills, National Responses Vary

As the U.S. Senate prepares to consider a package of gun violence prevention proposals this week, the current debate on the role of guns in society has led to a variety of legislative responses in D.C. and across the nation.
PFAW

Delaware General Assembly Members Send Letter to Washington Urging Constitutional Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

Earlier this month, members of the Delaware General Assembly began gathering signatures for a letter to be sent to Senator Carper, Senator Coons, and Representative Carney urging them and their colleagues to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases.
PFAW

Courts Without Judges, Per the GOP Plan

The NY Times explains how Republican obstructionism is the main cause of the judicial vacancy crisis, which is undermining our system of justice.
PFAW

Keeping the Pressure On: PFAW Canvassing in Pennsylvania

This weekend, our Pennsylvania volunteers had their best canvassing trip yet- and not just because of the beautiful weather. 20 volunteers met in State Senator Lloyd Smucker’s district, spending their Saturday afternoon talking to 700 Pennsylvanians and collecting signatures for our petition to Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania. We weren’t surprised to hear the same things we hear every time we talk to Pennsylvania voters about the Republican electoral college plans: shock, confusion, and disappointment that Republican lawmakers like Senator Smucker are trying to make Pennsylvania less important to national elections.

Again and again, we’ve seen these Republican lawmakers avoid discussion of this bill by saying it isn’t a priority- but we know this is just another attempt to pull the wool over voters’ eyes. We know they’re trying to get these plans through quietly and without debate. And we know that Pennsylvanians won’t stand for it. We’re keeping the pressure on, and we need your help to do it. On April 10, we're delivering more than 100,000 signatures of PFAW supporters against the electoral college rigging at the Pennyslvania State Capitol Rotunda. If you haven't done so already, it's not too late to add your name to our petition to Republican lawmakers in PA and other states telling them to abandon this effort. Or donate to support our campaign here.

PFAW

North Carolina Drops Official Religion Bill

After vocal opposition from People For the American Way and others, Speaker Thom Tillis of the North Carolina House announced yesterday that a resolution stating that North Carolina has the power to declare an official religion would not be brought to a vote.  In effect, this means that the resolution has been dropped. 

The bill claimed that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution’s First Amendment does not apply to states.  But as People For the American Way President Michael Keegan noted in a statement on Wednesday,

“There’s no question that any attempt to establish an official state religion is blatantly unconstitutional. That’s true whether it’s North Carolina or the federal government.”

The proposal highlighted the extremes that Tea Party Republican lawmakers are willing to go to in order to push their dangerous ideology – even when it means ignoring core principles on which our nation was founded, such as religious liberty and the separation of church and state.  

UPDATE (4/8/13): North Carolina Representative Harry Warren, one of the sponsors of the resolution, has now publicly stated that he “regret[s] any embarrassment or concern that it has caused the citizens of Rowan County and North Carolina,” calling the resolution “poorly written.”  Warren’s explanation is, however, still problematic.  He says he wanted a resolution that county officials have the right, despite the Establishment Clause, to open their proceedings with specifically Christian prayers.  That, of course, flies against the Constitution. 
 

 

PFAW

Using the Courts to Derail Reform

Powerful financial entities are turning to conservative judges to undermine the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
PFAW

Good-Bye, Judge Cebull

Before a confidential order and memorandum from a federal judicial disciplinary body becomes public, the notorious Judge Cebull changes plans and announces his retirement.
PFAW

Shredding the Constitution in North Carolina

North Carolina legislators introduce a resolution declaring that the state can establish a religion and that federal courts can't declare laws unconstitutional.
PFAW

Inside the Supreme Court, Bearing Witness to History

Yesterday, I was privileged to have been able to get a seat at the Supreme Court and witness a historic moment for equality.
PFAW

Turning Up The Heat: PFAW Canvass in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Republicans’ strategy to rig the Electoral College rests on their pushing their plan through quietly, without voters realizing what they’re up to. They know they can’t win if people are paying attention, because rigging the game isn’t fair, it isn’t popular, and it isn’t right for Pennsylvania. We’re not going to let their deception defeat Pennsylvanians’ democratic rights. We’re turning up the heat on the State Senate Majority Leader, Dominic Pileggi, who introduced the bill to rig the Electoral College. Last weekend, we led 14 Pennsylvanians on a canvass in Pileggi’s district to show him that Pennsylvanians know what he’s up to, and that he can’t get away with these underhand tactics. 

Our volunteers knocked on over 1500 doors and talked to hundreds of voters- but we’re just getting started. More canvassing and phonebanking shifts are scheduled this week, and we’ll keep this up as long as state Republicans keep trying to rig the game. We’re showing Dominic Pileggi that Pennsylvanians know what he’s up to, they know what his plan would do to their state, and that they won’t stand for it. 

Sign our petition to GOP lawmakers in PA and other states telling them to abandon their efforts to rig the Electoral College>>

If you can, donate to our campaign here>>

PFAW