Adding to this week’s great news on marriage equality, today U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Shelby struck down Utah’s same-sex marriage ban, which was put into the state constitution by referendum in 2004.
One of the far right’s standard attacks on the increasing number of judicial opinions striking down discriminatory marriage laws is that judges are “redefining marriage” and “usurping the legislature.” No doubt they will do so again in this case. Fortunately, Judge Shelby opens his opinion with a brief but important explanation of how the American constitutional system works:
The issue the court must address in this case is therefore not who should define marriage, but the narrow question of whether Utah’s current definition of marriage is permissible under the Constitution.…
[T]he legal issues presented in this lawsuit do not depend on whether Utah’s laws were the result of its legislature or a referendum, or whether the laws passed by the widest or smallest of margins. The question presented here depends instead on the Constitution itself…
In his opinion, Judge Shelby also takes apart the harmful, bogus argument that preventing same-sex couples from marrying somehow “elevate[s] the status of opposite-sex marriage”:
Rather than protecting or supporting the families of opposite-sex couples, Amendment 3 perpetuates inequality by holding that the families and relationships of same-sex couples are not now, nor ever will be, worthy of recognition. Amendment 3 does not thereby elevate the status of opposite-sex marriage; it merely demeans the dignity of same-sex couples. And while the State cites an interest in protecting traditional marriage, it protects that interest by denying one of the most traditional aspects of marriage to thousands of its citizens: the right to form a family that is strengthened by a partnership based on love, intimacy, and shared responsibilities. The Plaintiffs’ desire to publicly declare their vows of commitment and support to each other is a testament to the strength of marriage in society, not a sign that, by opening its doors to all individuals, it is in danger of collapse. (Emphasis added.)
I can understand why Senate Republicans are angry about the recent change in the Senate’s filibuster rules. It means that their agenda of obstruction just got a lot harder. But all their righteous indignation is ringing hollow.
Yesterday, Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, issued a statement attacking the committee’s chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, for saying he would consider changing committee policies to make it harder for Republican senators to hold up nominations.
Democrats “are slowly but surely taking the world’s greatest deliberative body and moving towards a majoritarian body,” Grassley charged.
The reason Leahy has to even consider policy changes in committee is that GOP senators, in an attempt at retribution for the “nuclear option,” have repeatedly brought up an obscure rule that allows them to prevent the Judiciary Committee from meeting. They have also prevented the committee from meeting by simply not showing up, ensuring the lack of a quorum. Along with threats that Republican senators would refuse to return their “blue slips” signaling approval for hearings on home-state nominees, Sen. Leahy was faced with the prospect of not being able to process any nominees. Senate Republicans have literally not been allowing “the world’s greatest deliberative body” to deliberate on judicial nominations.
And the reason why Senate Democrats were driven to change the filibuster rules for presidential nominees in the first place was that the Republican minority was blocking nominees to positions they just didn’t want the president to be allowed to fill. In other words, they were using the Senate’s rules of obstruction in an attempt to nullify laws they did not like and reverse the results of the presidential election.
This didn’t promote “deliberation.” It shut the entire process down.
This sanctimonious whining from Grassley and his fellow obstructionist Republicans isn’t fooling anyone. Personally, I would have preferred not to have gotten to this place. My guess is that Senator Leahy would as well. But when you’re trying to govern a country and the minority party won’t let you complete even the most basic tasks of governance, there really is no choice. Comity has to be a two-way street.
The high and mighty act doesn’t work when you’re behaving like a child.
It has been quite a year for marriage equality. Today the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state is required by its constitution to allow same-sex couples to marry. This means that New Mexico joins the impressive list of states that legalized marriage for same-sex couples in 2013 alone, including Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, and becomes the 17th state in the country to legalize marriage equality.
As the march toward full equality nationwide continues with today’s victory in New Mexico, the momentum is undeniable. PFAW will continue to advocate for marriage equality until every couple can access the protections necessary to take care of each other for a lifetime.
Last week ALEC held its annual meeting here in Washington, DC, once again bringing together state legislators and corporate representatives to advance legislation that hurts everyday Americans. But they weren’t alone.
Outside their meeting at the Grand Hyatt, PFAW and ally organizations led a protest to stand up to ALEC’s extreme agenda. Holding signs like “ALEC shoots first… and hits real people” and “Stop the war on workers,” hundreds of advocates from diverse organizations and backgrounds marched, chanted, and made speeches about the real toll ALEC-supported policies have on Americans’ lives.
PFAW’s Diallo Brooks’ speech to the crowd was interrupted many times with cheers and applause. He said:
It doesn’t matter where they meet—here in Washington or any other city. When ALEC comes to town, we need to let them know that it is not okay for them to have private meetings with our legislators and corporations and write legislation that impacts our lives every day. We’re here to let them know—loud and clear—that democracy is still alive. We’re paying attention, and we’re going to call them out wherever they go.
Following last week’s news that ALEC drafted an agreement for their state chairs calling on them to put the interests of ALEC first, Brooks and other protest leaders went into the meeting area and asked attendees to sign an alternative pledge – one asking ALEC legislators to honor the Constitution and their constituents rather than corporate interests. None of the attendees signed.
On October 8th, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in McCutcheon v. FEC, which has the potential to be the most destructive campaign finance case it has considered since Citizens United v. FEC. In McCutcheon, the Court is examining the constitutionality of aggregate contribution limits and, depending on the decision it’s expected to release in early 2014, could allow even more money to be poured into our elections.
In addition to mobilizing its networks around the case, People For hosted a rally on the steps of the Supreme Court, where activists from a wide range of backgrounds and issue areas spoke about how moneyed politics affects our democracy. The rally was co-emceed by People For’s Marge Baker, and featured YEO Maryland State Director Craig Rice and YP4 Fellow Brendien Mitchell.
To learn more about People For the American Way’s campaign against big money in politics, visit our Government By The People page.
Last week The Guardian began to shine some light on the shadowy right-wing group ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), exposing how the organization connecting corporations with conservative legislators to move a legislative agenda supporting special interests is declining in popularity. In the wake of tragedies like Trayvon Martin’s shooting, many former members are attempting to distance themselves from ALEC’s extreme agenda.
Close on the heels of that revelation, we now see that a Koch-funded network of state policy groups with ties to ALEC, the State Policy Network (SPN), plans to launch a coordinated assault on many of the issues and services most important to everyday working Americans. Newly-exposed funding proposal documents obtained by The Guardian outline what they call a “blueprint for the conservative agenda in 2014.”
And what an agenda it is. According to the documents, the proposals take aim at public education, health services, worker’s compensation, environmental protections, and more. A new website (www.stinktanks.org) launched by allies ProgressNow and the Center for Media and Democracy helps to further expose the agenda behind these state policy groups and draw attention to some of SPN’s major funders.
SPN, a member of ALEC, should take heed of ALEC’s declining public image. The American people are tired of the coordinated attack on the services, rights, and protections vital to a thriving middle class.
Apparently not all press is good press, after all.
American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) documents recently obtained by The Guardian show the popularity of ALEC, an organization that connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators to push special interest legislation, to be in sharp decline. In the wake of the national outcry surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death, ALEC saw both its corporate and state legislative membership drop in numbers – experiencing what The Guardian describes as a “donor exodus.”
That’s because among the many damaging pieces of legislation ALEC has pushed over the years are “Stand Your Ground” laws, which became a cornerstone of the national conversation about the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Drafted in part by the National Rifle Association, ALEC promoted these types of laws as “model legislation.” But some legislators and corporations – including Kraft, Coca-Cola, Amazon, and more – decided they didn’t want any part of it.
Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg report:
The Guardian has learned that by Alec's own reckoning the network has lost almost 400 state legislators from its membership over the past two years, as well as more than 60 corporations that form the core of its funding. In the first six months of this year it suffered a hole in its budget of more than a third of its projected income.
For forty years, ALEC has helped advance bills that hurt everyday Americans, and PFAW works with allies like the Center for Media and Democracy to expose their extreme agenda.
If you’re in the DC area, you can join us this Thursday for a “DC Stands Up to ALEC” rally to make clear that it’s not only legislators and corporations who have had enough of ALEC – it’s the American people.
Thanks to some tax-return digging, ProPublica found this week that the Karl Rove-connected Crossroads GPS actually spent at least $11 million more on political activities last year than they told the IRS. ProPublica’s Kim Barker reported:
New tax documents, made public last Tuesday, indicate that at least $11.2 million of the grant money given to the group Americans for Tax Reform was spent on political activities expressly advocating for or against candidates. This means Crossroads spent at least $85.7 million on political activities in 2012, not the $74.5 million reported to the Internal Revenue Service.
But what’s an extra $11 million spent on political activities, right? Wrong. Tax-exempt 501(c)(4) social welfare groups are limited in the amount of political spending they can do while maintaining their exempt status. And these developments about Crossroads GPS only underscore the need for more robust government oversight of political spending.
Unfortunately, this is an effort that has been made much more difficult in the wake of recent Supreme Court rulings. As Michael Keegan noted in May, the 2010 Citizens United v. FEC decision opened the door to an explosion of spending by c(4) groups like Crossroads GPS because it allowed them to run political ads as long as they weren’t using the majority of their money for electoral work.
Moreover, dark money groups sometimes attempt to underreport the political spending that they do undertake, which has not been helped by the IRS’s past reluctance to issue “bright lines” around what must be counted as political spending.
But that may change soon. The Treasury Department and the IRS are expected to issue guidance today specifying what “candidate-related political activity” entails and how much of it 501(c)(4) social welfare groups are allowed to do.
In their press conference following yesterday’s vote to change the Senate rules on filibusters, Democratic senators used a chart provided by PFAW to outline the extremity and unprecedented nature of the GOP’s obstruction of President Obama’s nominees.
Photos by J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press via The Washington Post