Over 1,000 Law Professors Condemn Senate Vote on Debo Adegbile’s Nomination

Last month, the US Senate failed to invoke cloture on the nomination of Debo Adegbile to head the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department after a right-wing smear campaign that attacked Adegbile for helping provide legal representation at the appellate level to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted murderer, while working at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Every Senate Republican and seven Democrats voted to filibuster Adegbile’s nomination, effectively blocking the nomination and throwing out the window the constitutional ideal that all criminal defendants should have access to quality legal representation.

People For the American Way’s vice president Marge Baker called the filibuster a “triumph of demagoguery.”

Last week, over one thousand law professors came together to publicly condemn the vote by writing a letter to the Senate where they explain the ramifications of the vote for law students, lawyers, and the legal profession as a whole. The letter – dated April 25, 2014 – states:

[W]e are deeply concerned that the vote and the rationale publicly articulated by a majority of Senators rejecting Mr. Adegbile sends a message that goes to several core values of the legal profession. These include the right to counsel, the importance of pro bono representation, and the importance of ensuring that constitutional protections are afforded to every criminal defendant regardless of the crimes for which they are accused.

As law teachers we are particularly concerned about the disquieting message conveyed to law students and graduates entering the profession who may fear that their engagement with pro bono representation of unpopular clients may imperil their future eligibility for federal government service.

…We believe that the criticism of Mr. Adegbile, based on his representation of a death row inmate, is unjust and inconsistent with the fundamental tenets of our profession. The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the assistance of counsel to persons charged with crimes, and all accused defendants are entitled to zealous representation by competent counsel.

The highest calling of any lawyer is to ensure that the Constitution is applied fairly and in accordance with the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court to every defendant.

…The debate surrounding Mr. Adegbile’s confirmation also threatens to undermine the widely-recognized importance of lawyers providing pro bono representation to meet unmet legal needs. Providing representation to defendants on death row is among the most challenging, resource-intensive and critically important pro bono counsel a lawyer can provide. Lawyers engaged in this work should be commended rather than denounced for their hard-work and commitment to ensuring that the protections of the Constitution are extended even to those accused of heinous crimes.

…Finally, as every lawyer knows – including the 57 in the U.S. Senate – we are not our clients. The constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel would be turned on its head if the contrary view were advanced. Indeed, had past candidates for public office been held to the Senate’s unjust standard, our nation would have been deprived of the likes of President John Adams (who defended British soldiers charged with killing Americans in the Boston Massacre), Justice Thurgood Marshall (who defended countless black men on death row in the Jim Crow South), and Chief Justice John Roberts (who represented convicted serial killer John Errol Ferguson).

Simply put, the rule of law cannot succeed if attorneys are judged guilty by association with their clients. In rejecting a qualified nominee for public service based on conduct which reflects the best of our profession, the Senate has done a grave disservice to the legal profession and those who seek to enter it.


Will Marco Rubio Let His Colleagues Delay Four Florida Judicial Nominees?

With a dire need to fill emergency vacancies in Florida, will Rubio ask the GOP not to delay a committee vote on four Florida judicial nominees?

All GOP Senate Candidates in North Carolina Deny Existence of Climate Change

Many Americans celebrate Earth Day by planting trees, organizing a citywide trash pickup, or talking about the consequences of climate change and the ongoing threat it creates for our planet. But on Earth Day yesterday, all four Republican candidates for Senate in North Carolina used the opportunity to deny that climate change is real. TPM reports:

Fittingly, all four Republican candidates in the North Carolina Senate race were asked on Earth Day if they believed climate change is a proven fact. And all four candidates said "no."

The question was asked during a GOP primary debate on Tuesday night. The candidates, House Speaker Thom Tillis, Rev. Mark Harris, Dr. Greg Brannon, and nursing practitioner Heather Grant, in response to the question, said "no."

This is not the first time Republicans have denied the existence of climate change and it will likely not be the last. But the fact that all four candidates agreed underscores the GOP extremism in the North Carolina Senate race and serves as yet another example of a political party increasingly divorced from reality.


Need for Safe Schools Advocacy Clear in Nebraska

The flier, whose advice includes "do not tell on bullies," is indeed problematic, but it's district policy in Lincoln and state policy in Nebraska that offer real cause for concern. Neither employs the bullying and harassment prevention strategies that have proven most effective. In fact, only sixteen states and the District of Columbia have in place laws that enumerate specific categories of targeted students, "underscore[ing] those students who research shows are most likely to be bullied and harassed and least likely to be protected."

Scott Walker Re-Election Tour Runs Away From His Record

Governor Scott Walker announced his re-election campaign at a series of appearances Tuesday across Wisconsin, highlighting all the supposedly great things he had done for the average Wisconsinite. The list was pretty thin.

From Dane to La Crosse, Chippewa Falls, Schofield, Green Bay, and finally Fairgrounds Park in Milwaukee, Walker kicked off his campaign, rolling out a new campaign ad with the theme“Wisconsin Is Back On.”

Stating "We want to reduce the dependence on government and increase the dependence on hard work and pride," Walker bragged that his administration created 100,000 jobs during his first term, lowered taxes, and took credit for giving health care to those in poverty.

The facts behind Walker’s carefully-constructed narrative tell the real story. In his ten-minute speech to supporters at Dane Manufacturing outside Madison, Walker avoided telling the estimated 100 supporters there about his failure to create the 250,000 new jobs he repeatedly promised to create during his first term.

Walker’s list of accomplishments also leaves out how he used his state budget to move thousands of Wisconsinites off BadgerCare,delayed health insurance coverage for others, increased costs to residents, and put thousands in danger of losing coverage byrefusing to set up a state-based exchange under the Affordable Care Act.

He also didn't talk about how rather than taking more than $810 million in federal transportation funds to install high-speed commuter rail service between Milwaukee and Madison, he set Wisconsin’s economy back by refusing to participate. Months later he went back to the US Department of Transportation asking for more than $150 million to upgrade the Chicago to Milwaukee Amtrak service, which would have been covered by the initial program, costing the state millions in the process.

Walker also was mum on his crowning "achievement," decimatingstate workers’ ability to collectively bargain for wages and benefits under ACT 10. He also forgot to talk about how he increased Wisconsin’s structural deficit through massive borrowing andgiving tax cuts to the highest earners instead of average Wisconsin voters.

The biggest omission in today’s re-election announcement is also one of Walker’s most egregious offenses. Just last month the Governor signed measures restricting early voting while simultaneously expanding the time that lobbyists can give to political campaigns. He signed the bills right before he jetted off to Las Vegas to curry favor with wealthy casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

The takeaway from Scott Walker’s re-election campaign is that he’s running away from his own record, away from average voters, and towards his wealthy campaign donors.


Video: PFAW's Drew Courtney Discusses Right Wing Conspiracy Theories on Politics Nation with Al Sharpton

Monday afternoon, Right Wing Watch reported on conspiracy theories by conservative talking heads Bernard Goldberg and Rush Limbaugh who claim that the shoe-throwing incident in Las Vegas was staged by Hillary Clinton so she could seem more presidential. Similarly, Mark Blitz told WorldNetDaily yesterday that the “blood moon” from Monday night was a divine warning to President Obama about his plans to use executive action and his bully pulpit in the face of GOP obstruction.

Last night, PFAW Director of Communications Drew Courtney joined Rev. Al Sharpton on Politics Nation to discuss these outrageous conspiracy theories and what they say about the GOP and the political process today:


Senate Should Quickly Confirm Circuit Nominees, Like in 2006 Midterm Year

Circuit court nominees who had not even been nominated at this point in 2006 were nevertheless quickly confirmed before the midterm elections.

Minnesota Safe Schools Bill Becomes Law

In the wee hours of April 9, the Minnesota House of Representatives took the final vote on the Safe and Supportive Schools Act. That afternoon Governor Mark Dayton signed it into law.

Voting Rights Advocates Rack Up More Wins

Earlier this month, PFAW reported on what has gone right for voting rights at the state level in 2014. While there is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack, states like Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina have shown that we can win. Now we've uncovered even more evidence of why we can and should keep fighting the challenges that lay before us.

Safe Schools Letter Campaign Concludes with Nearly 30 Organizations Standing Together to Say Students Deserve Better

The letter-a-day campaign for safe schools that PFAW led concluded today, when we also marked the Day of Silence – an annual event organized by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) that is meant to draw attention to the "silencing effects" of anti-gay harassment and name-calling in schools and to be a way for students to show their solidarity with students who have been bullied. Over the last month twenty-eight groups went on record with Congress in support of safe schools legislation. Together, we sent loud and clear the message that all students deserve far better than what they're getting when it comes to bullying and harassment in schools.

On the Day of Silence, Check Out PFAW’s New Safe Schools Policy Toolkit

Today is the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s Day of Silence, an event meant to bring attention to the “silencing effect” of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. In classrooms across the country, thousands of young people will stay silent throughout the day as part of an annual student-led effort that has been occurring since 1996.

In anticipation of the Day of Silence, People For the American Way recently released a new policy toolkit, Education Without Discrimination: Creating Safe Schools for All Students, which provides activists with the tools they need to advocate for critical safe schools reforms. The toolkit includes lobbying and media tips, talking points, sample materials, and background info on the lead federal legislation, the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA) and Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA).

Unfortunately the Religious Right continues to rail against commonsense legislation like SSIA and SNDA that would help make our schools safe for all students. Right-wing activist Gordon Klingenschmitt has warned that the Student Non-Discrimination Act would “give homosexuals and perverts protected status” and “mandate pro-homosexual recruiting of kids in public schools.” Just this week, Mission America’s Linda Harvey – who once claimed that anti-bullying programs would turn schools into “indoctrination camps” – publicly encouraged young LGBT people to stay in the closet.

To learn more about how to stand up to these hateful attacks and push for positive change, check out the safe schools toolkit.


So Many Vacancies, So Little Cooperation from GOP Senators

Judicial vacancies are remaining open and without nominees in states with Republican senators.

Obama's Had a Lot More Judicial Vacancies to Fill than Bush Did

A statistic on parity in confirmations is misleading without additional information about vacancies and nominations.

Blue Slips: Republicans Should Stop Abuse of Consultation Process

In an op-ed Sunday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, addressed critics of his use of blue slips, a committee tradition that Republicans continue to abuse. Under this policy, the chairman asks the Senators from a nominee’s home state to submit a blue slip expressing their support or opposition. The consequences have varied over time, depending on who the chairman has been. Leahy’s practice has been to not hold a hearing unless both senators submit their blue slips saying they support letting the committee process the application. As Senator Leahy points out

The Constitution requires presidents to seek both the “advice and consent” of the Senate in appointing judges to lifetime posts on the federal courts. … When senators return this paper, it is proof that the senators elected to represent that state were consulted and the nominee is likely to be confirmed.

Leahy states he “cannot recall a single judicial nominee being confirmed over the objection of his or her home-state senators,” and affirms the importance of home-state support in moving the process forward.

But Leahy also acknowledges that the “judicial confirmation process in the Senate has grown increasingly difficult,” and that Senate practices that bring principles of the Constitution to life do need “ongoing evaluation to make sure they work as intended. And he reiterates that he “would not rule out proceeding with a nomination if the blue slip is abused.”

Indeed, since his election, President Obama has routinely sought the advice of senators through the judicial nominations process. It has been a hallmark of his presidency. But too many Republicans have refused to engage in a cooperative process, instead seeking the authority to pick the nominee themselves, even if it is someone the president would oppose. When that happens, no nomination is made. Other times, the senators withhold the blue slip indefinitely, often refusing to give a reason why, and sometimes even after they themselves recommended the nominee they are now blocking. The result of this abuse has been the worsening of a serious judicial vacancy crisis.

Chairman Leahy has stressed the importance of blue slips in showing that senators have been consulted by the White House. Taking heed of Leahy’s words, Republicans should be wary of continuing the abuse of the blue slip process to block judicial confirmations. Their continued use of this “silent, unaccountable veto” is a detriment to the judicial process. As GOP obstruction continues through withholding of blue slips despite substantial consultation, judicial nominations grow more cumbersome, and the impracticality of this part of the process becomes clearer.


YEO Leads Fight Against ‘Right to Discriminate’ Law in Mississippi

In the wake of the recent uproar about an expansive “right to discriminate” bill that was vetoed in Arizona, on Thursday Mississippi governor Phil Bryant quietly signed similar legislation, the so-called Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, into law.

Mississippi State Senator Derrick Simmons, a member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, has been a vocal opponent of the distressing law. On the floor of the state Senate last week, Sen. Simmons, who is African American, said:

If you have never been discriminated against, you don't know how that feels…. I urge you to vote against this bill because it legalizes discrimination.

On Friday he spoke out again in a powerful op-ed outlining some of the negative repercussions his state may see now that, in Simmons’ words, “the worst outcome has occurred”:

Businesses wishing to discriminate against any person under state law could use “religious exercise” as a defense to justify their actions.

Federal and state laws do not let business owners with religious objections to “mixing the races” refuse service on religious grounds. We do not let business owners with traditional views of sex roles refuse to sell certain products to women or not hire married women for full-time jobs on religious grounds. Yet the way this bill is written could open the doors to many other types of discrimination.

…The Jim Crow laws ended in 1965. I was born 11 years later. I never witnessed those horrible years. I don’t want to see any shadow of the Jim Crow era, but this bill could turn back the clock. Arizona stopped it from happening when Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill in her state. I was praying for the same here; however, Mississippi just doesn't have the will to do what is right. Mississippi is burning again.

The worst outcome has occurred - Governor Bryant has signed the discriminatory bill into law. Yes, we can hope the Mississippi court system will recognize the importance of enforcing protection from discrimination, but we can act locally. We must ask our counties and cities to pass non-discrimination ordinances so our friends of all races, colors, creeds and orientations can find oases from prejudice in the great state of Mississippi.


African American Ministers in Action Featured This Week in Safe Schools Letter Campaign

The letter-a-day campaign for safe schools that PFAW is leading just finished another week, and now twenty groups have gone on record with Congress in support of safe schools legislation. Together, we are sending loud and clear the message that all students deserve far better than what they're getting when it comes to bullying and harassment in schools. PFAW's own African American Ministers in Action was one of this week's highlights.

McCutcheon v. FEC Response Rally Hosted by People For The American Way at the Supreme Court

Within hours of the Supreme Court issuing its decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, People For the American Way organized a rapid response protest, the first of over 140 that are taking place across the country today. 

The protest featured key movement leaders from Congress and a wide range of advocacy organizations, all of whom were outraged about the Roberts Court’s disregard for democratic safeguards, like those gutted in McCutcheon v. FEC.

Emceed by People For the American Way’s Diallo Brooks and concluded by People For’s Drew Courtney, the rally featured Senator Bernie Sanders [VT], Representative Keith Ellison [MN-5], and Representative Ted Deutch [FL-19], as well as Jotaka Eaddy of the NAACP, Michael Russo of US PIRG, Steve Cobble of Free Speech For People, Nick Nyhart of Public Campaign, George Kohl of Communication Workers of America, Miles Rappaport of Common Cause, Erich Pica of Friends of the Earth, and Courtney Hight of the Sierra Club.

Speakers highlighted the problem of “big money” dominating the political process, and discussed the range of solutions--from enacting disclosure and public financing laws to amending the Constitution--that are available to solve it.


Fair Housing for LGBT People Rejected in Louisiana

Under current law, Louisiana protects the ability "to compete for available housing on an open, fair, and equitable basis, regardless of race, color, religion, [and] sex." House Bill 804, introduced by Representative Jared Brossett of New Orleans, would have added to the list protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and marital status.