As the Supreme Court heard arguments today in McCutcheon v. FEC – a campaign finance case in which the Court will decide whether to strike down overall limits on direct political contributions – a great crowd of PFAW and allies rallied outside the Court in support of getting big money out of politics. From students and small business owners to members of Congress – including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ted Deutch, Jim McGovern, and John Sarbanes – people from all backgrounds came together in support of protecting the integrity of our democracy.
PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker kicked off the speeches by painting a picture of the “people versus money” nature of the case:
Inside the court – right now – one wealthy man is asking for permission to pour even more money directly into political campaigns. But we’re here, too, and we have a different ask. We’re asking the justices to protect the integrity of our democracy. We’re asking them to protect the voices and the votes of ‘We the People’….We’re here today saying loud and clear: our democracy is not for sale.
Also speaking at today’s rally was Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig L. Rice, Maryland State Director of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. Rice spoke about the effect of campaign finance laws on young political candidates:
As a young minority elected official, let me tell you: this [case] is extremely troubling….Young minority candidates throughout this country are routinely outspent and therefore denied the ability to serve in elected roles….Money should not determine who serves in office.
Howard University student Brendien Mitchell, a fellow in affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program, talked about the importance of being able to hear the political voices of young people in the midst of voter suppression efforts and massive spending by the wealthy in our democracy:
What about the freedom of young Americans who cannot donate grandiose sums of money to political candidates?....We gather to say that this is our country. And that in a case of money versus people, the answer should be apparent: the people.
One of the highlights of the day was hearing from Moral Monday demonstration leader Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and a member of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action. Rev. Barber highlighted the millions of dollars Art Pope has poured into conservative projects and campaigns in his home state of North Carolina:
We [in North Carolina] know firsthand that when you undermine laws that guard against voter suppression, and you undo regulations on the ability for corporations and individuals to spend unchecked amounts of money to influence and infiltrate and literally infect the democratic process, it has extreme impacts.
Extreme impacts – and not only on the electoral process itself, but also on a whole host of issues shaping the lives of everyday Americans. Whether you care most about protecting voting rights, preserving our environment, or workers getting paid a livable wage, a political system where the super-rich can make six-digit direct political contributions harms us all.
And that’s why organizations and activists with focuses ranging from civil rights to environmental protection to good government issues came together today with a common message: our democracy is not for sale.
Conservatives have long touted the game-changing impact that voucher and similar taxpayer funded K-12 school tuition programs have on improving educational success, but as you peel back the layers we find lackluster results at best.
A recent Politico article shines a light on this issue as states are set to spend upwards of $1 billion dollars on private school vouchers and similar programs in 2014. What we see are outcomes that don’t making the grade for students, parents and taxpayers, with some of this money even going to schools that teach creationism and religion as science. According to a 2011 study published by the Center on Education Policy, when compared to similar public school students, voucher recipients have generally performed at the same level on reading and math assessments.
With the lack of real and positive impacts for students, as we see in so many places around the country, including Louisiana, Wisconsin and Ohio, we should question why states are not putting that public money back into public schools to help the children that need it the most.
Earlier this summer, People For’s Peter Montgomery wrote an excellent piece that highlights right-wing strategies on vouchers, entitled “Choice’ School Accountability in the Eye of the Beholder – or Big Donor.”
Not to be outdone by PA's Department of Health and Human Services recently comparing gay and lesbian couples to 12-year-olds, Lehigh County PA Tea Party Commissioner Tom Creighton Wednesday explained his opposition to an initiative to expand benefits to to same-sex partners with this doozy: "I don't feel the county should be looking for new ways to give away taxpayer money. Next it could be giving money to people's pets or whatever."
Creighton sponsored the sole amendment to the 2014 county budget, pushing back against County Executive Matt Croslis’ expansion of benefits to same-sex partners whose marriage is recognized in another state.
Creighton is up for reelection this November and is evidently not vying hard for the canine vote. Thankfully even most household dogs understand bad analogies better than Creighton.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett hasn’t been helping his own approval ratings lately.
A Corbett administration legal brief filed on August 28th regarding the state’s same-sex marriage ban seemed to argue that same-sex marriage is analogous to the marriage of two 12-year-olds. Corbett rejected that argument after the fact in a written statement, but then in a TV interview made an even worse analogy.
On WHY-TV’s ‘Ask The Governor” segment Friday morning, a smirking Corbett called his legal advisors’ analogy ‘inappropriate,’ but then asked the news anchor interviewing him ‘I think a much better analogy would have been brother and sister, don’t you?”
The shocked news anchor didn’t quite know what to say other than “I don’t know,” and attempted to move on to the next question after saying she was going to leave the comments to Corbett.
Things didn’t get much better from there, with Corbett saying Federal courts shouldn’t get involved in Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage cases because the U.S. Supreme Court left that decision up to the states, failing to specify what court case to which he was referring. Later Friday morning Corbett then was forced to apologize for his offensive comparison of same-sex marriage and sibling incest. Corbett’s approval ratings continue to drop after a stream of self-inflicted gaffes he has made, even when given questions in advance; leading Philadelphia Independent and Watchdog.org reporter Eric Boehm to label the Governor ‘Gaffe-tastic.’
TV Ad Campaign Will Highlight Ken Cuccinelli's Discriminatory Agenda & Career-Long Record of Divisive Rhetoric
People For the American Way and Terry McAuliffe's campaign for Virginia governor will launch a major partnership next week to highlight McAuliffe’s commitment to making Virginia open and welcoming to all and inform voters of his opponent Ken Cuccinelli’s record of driving a divisive and discriminatory agenda. The six-figure Spanish-language advertising campaign will include a series of TV ads running in the Washington, DC and Richmond media markets. The ad campaign will start on Monday and run through Election Day.
"Ken Cuccinelli has tried to cover up his extreme agenda on immigration, health care, women’s rights and gay rights, but his record speaks for itself," said Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way. "From sponsoring legislation while in the State Senate that would let companies fire employees for speaking Spanish, even during break times, to launching divisive rhetorical attacks against Latinos, Cuccinelli has shown that he's more focused on driving his extreme Tea Party agenda than doing what's best for all Virginians."
"As governor, I will be committed to increasing opportunities for all Virginians, because our Commonwealth is stronger when all who want to live, work, or raise a family here are able to," said Terry McAuliffe. "We need to be focused on keeping Virginia open and welcoming to all, which is why I will be proud to sign the Virginia DREAM Act as governor and work to increase access to quality education, good jobs and support for small business owners for all citizens of our great Commonwealth."
Latino voters play an increasingly critical role in Virginia’s politics. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 8.2 percent of Virginia residents are of Hispanic or Latino descent. From 2000 to 2010, the number of eligible Latino voters in Virginia grew by 76 percent, outpacing all other groups in the electorate.
The ad campaign is modeled after People For the American Way’s successful programs in 2012, aimed at increasing Latino turnout in key states. In 2012, People For the American Way undertook a comprehensive plan to get out the vote and communicate with Latino voters in Virginia and five other key swing states about Mitt Romney’s dangerous agenda, as well as the GOP’s extreme and offensive rhetoric about the Latino community. In Virginia, President Obama won the Latino vote by 32 points (64-33%).
To learn more about the PFAW Latino advertising campaign’s history, please visit: http://www.pfaw.org/press-releases/2012/11/memo-pfaw-and-latino-vote
An “overwhelming majority” of Americans support federal legislation protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination, new data from Republican pollster Alex Lundry finds – including a majority (56%) of Republican voters. In fact, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is so in keeping with basic American values that eight in ten people think that it is already on the books, according to the poll.
An innovative statistical modeling method…allows us to estimate support for ENDA in all 50 states by combining data from our national survey with state level census data. The result? We estimate that across all 50 states a majority of voters support passing federal nondiscrimination protections.
Politico’s Maggie Haberman writes that the new data comes as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seeks more Republican support for the bill and as advocates urge Congress to move it forward this fall.
As we have noted in the past, passing ENDA is simply common sense. Employees should be evaluated on how well they do their job, not on who they are or who they love. And as poll numbers increasing show, Americans from all parts of the country of all political stripes agree.
President Obama has nominated three extraordinarily well qualified individuals to serve on the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. But the Republican Party's intransigence and opposition have turned this into one of the most important obstruction fights we've seen in the last five years.
On Tuesday, September 24, People For the American Way hosted a telebriefing with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to discuss the matter.
Senator Blumenthal, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, chaired last week’s hearings on the nomination of Nina Pillard to a seat on the D.C. Circuit. He gave a first-hand account of how very qualified she is to serve on this all important court. He explained how important the D.C. Circuit is in the federal judicial system, why it’s important to fill the current vacancies on the court, and how Pillard exemplifies the brilliance and integrity that is so important in filling these vacancies.
Listen to the call for yourself here:
We had a lot of questions from callers about the need to overcome the GOP’s obstruction on these nominees and talked about how important it is for constituents to let their Senators know that it’s time for the obstruction to end.
Thanks to all the PFAW members who the time to join our call. We’ll continue to fight to make sure President Obama's nominees get the simple yes or no votes they deserve.
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has for months been single-handedly holding up the nomination of William Thomas, an openly gay African American Miami judge, to a federal district court.
Rubio’s indefinite hold on Thomas’ nomination is one of the most egregious examples yet of Senate Republicans using the obscure “blue slip” procedure to prevent home-state judicial nominees from even having a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Under a Senate custom that has varied over time Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy will not advance a nominees’ consideration -- won’t even hold a hearing, let alone take a vote -- until both of that nominee’s home-state senators return a “blue slip” giving their permission for a nomination to go forward. The blue slip doesn’t indicate a senator’s approval of the nominee – the senator is still free to vote against the nominee and to lobby their fellow senators to do the same. It just means that the nominee can be considered by the Judiciary Committee and then the full Senate. But if just one senator doesn’t return a blue slip, the nomination won’t see the light of day.
Republican senators have been routinely using this tactic of withholding blue slips in order to slow-walk President Obama’s judicial nominees. Currently, five nominees are being held back because one or both senators have refused to return blue slips. And all are women or people of color.
Because the blue slip process is secretive and little-known, senators are often able to get away with holding nominees this way with little public pressure and no public explanation.
Rubio, however, faced pressure from the Florida legal community in recent weeks for his failure to return blue slips for Thomas and another Florida nominee, Brian Davis. The senator finally gave in under pressure and allowed Davis’ nomination to go forward, but is digging in his heels on his blockade of Thomas.
Rubio’s stated reasons for blocking Thomas’ nomination are exceptionally flimsy. He has cited two cases where he claims Thomas gave insufficiently harsh sentences in criminal trials; in one case, even the prosecutor has defended Thomas’ judgment and a local judge has written to Rubio to correct the record. In the other case the senator cites, Judge Thomas sentenced the defendant to death, which Rubio seems to think was insufficiently harsh. It is clear that there is no merit to the senator’s claims. Holding hearings on this nominee would help clarify that, if they were allowed to take place.
The real reason for Rubio’s blockade and his smear of Judge Thomas’ character, writes Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm, is plain and simple “crass Tea Party politics.”
Rubio has stated no compelling reason why Thomas should not have a hearing before the Judiciary Committee, where he can answer any of Rubio’s alleged concerns in the public record.
The Senate today confirmed Justice Department attorney Todd Hughes to a federal appeals court, making him the highest-ranking openly gay federal judge in U.S. history.
President Obama has nominated more openly gay men and women to the federal courts than all his predecessors combined – by a long shot. So far, the Senate has confirmed seven openly gay Obama nominees to federal district courts. Before Obama’s presidency, there had been just one openly gay federal judge, Clinton nominee Deborah Batts.
Two other openly gay district court nominees are still in committee, but one of them –openly gay district court nominee, Florida’s William Thomas – is currently being held up indefinitely by Sen. Marco Rubio.
But today, the Senate’s attention is on Todd Hughes, who will be the newest judge on the Federal Circuit. The Washington Post outlines Hughes’ impressive credentials:
Hughes, who has served as deputy director of the commercial litigation branch of the Justice Department's civil division since 2007, has specialized in the kinds of issues that come up before the bench on which he will soon sit. Unlike the other 12 Circuit Courts of Appeals, the Federal Circuit specializes in a handful of designated issues including international trade, government contracts, patents, trademarks, veterans' benefits, and public safety officers' benefits claims. Hughes could not be reached for a comment.
Geovette Washington, who is the Office of Management and Budget's general counsel and has been friends with Hughes since they attended law school together, described him as "a problem solver" who "can do very complicated constitutional issues," but also brings a degree of pragmatism to cases.
"I have always been amazed by how intelligent he is, but also how practical he is," she said, adding that Hughes is well prepared for the Federal Circuit because he's appeared before it so many times. "He's dug in and done the hard work on those issues."
Georgetown Law professor Nina Pillard, who has had a long and impressive career in law and public service, was approved today by the Senate Judiciary Committee to serve on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Her nomination now goes to the full Senate.
Scores of people and organizations who have worked with Professor Pillard or observed her work have written to the Senate in support of her nomination. Her supporters include:
Alumni of the Virginia Military Institute, which Pillard helped open to women:
VMI gauges its success as an institution by measuring the societal contributions of its alumni. Professor Pillard would rank high for her work to open VMI to female cadets. The case was initiated by the George H.W. Bush Administration and made its way to the Supreme Court during Professor Pillard’s tenure at the office of the Solicitor General of the United States. Professor Pillard drafted the five Supreme Court briefs for the United States and her winning arguments opened VMI’s doors for women who have become leaders in the armed forces, elsewhere in public service, and in the private sector.
Josiah Bunting III, superindent of the Virginia Military Institute when women were first admitted:
During the course of the United States v. Virginia case, I was impressed by Pillard’s fairness and rigor. She respected others’ strongly held views about male-only education at VMI, and I always felt that while we had opposing positions at the time, she comported herself with integrity and understanding — qualities that distinguish the best judges at all levels.
A bipartisan group of former attorneys of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, where Pillard served for two years:
We believe that Ms. Pillard has the skill, character, and objectivity that would make her a superlative judge on the D.C. Circuit. She was a respected leader and trusted advisor in OLC, valued for her fair-minded and meticulous approach to legal questions of all sorts. She is an exemplary nominee whom we wholeheartedly endorse.
Dozens of retired members of the armed forces:
Our experience advocating for the full participation of women in the armed forces has shown us that women, indeed, are suited for rigorous military training, service, and leadership. Our military and our nation benefit when both women and men are able to fully contribute to the defense of our country. We support Professor Pillard’s nomination because her accomplishments and credentials demonstrate that she has the qualifications to be a federal
appellate judge, and because her dedication to principles of equality demonstrates that she will be a great one. We urge you to give her a swift and fair hearing, and vote to approve her nomination.
In her legal advocacy and scholarship, Professor Pillard shows a clear understanding offundamental distinctions between the roles of courts and the political branches, and between law and culture, morality, politics or other important sources ofnorms that guide and constrain human behavior. Throughout her work, she has shown an appreciation ofnuance and respect for opposing viewpoints, grounded in a profound commitment to fair process and fidelity to the law.
In short, Professor Pillard is a talented advocate, a brilliant legal mind, a sensible and moderate problem solver, and a careful thinker who has devoted her career to public service and work for others. We wholeheartedly urge that you confirm her to the D.C. Circuit.
Prominent prosecutors and law enforcement officials:
We urge her confirmation because she is unquestionably eminently qualified, and is a sensible and fairminded lawyer and scholar who has worked extensively with law enforcement in her career. She brings to the bench sensitivity to the compelling need for effective and legitimate law enforcement in the modern era. She stands for fidelity to the law above all, and has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the important, albeit limited, role of the courts in our federal system
I believe that Ms. Pillard has had invaluable work experience that makes her especially well-suited to the bench. While I do not know Ms. Pillard personally, others in the law enforcement community whom I know and respect are supporting her, and their views, combined with her superb experience and qualifications, convince me that she would make an excellent judge, especially on the DC Circuit, which requires someone with such experience and qualifications.
Based on our long and varied professional experience together, I know that Professor Pillard is exceptionally bright, a patient and unbiased listener, and a lawyer of great judgment and unquestioned integrity. We certainly do not agree on the merits of every issue, but Nina has always been fair, reasonable, and sensible in her judgments. She approaches faculty hiring, teaching and curriculum, and matters of faculty governance on their merits, without any ideological agenda--at times even against the tide of academic popularity to defend and respect different views and different types of people.
As we do not share academic specialties, I have not studied Professor Pillard's writings in full, but I know her to be a straight shooter when it comes to law and legal interpretation. She is a fair-minded thinker with enormous respect for the law and for the limited, and essential, role of the federal appellate judge-- qualities that make her well prepared to taken on the work of a D.C.
Circuit judge. I am confident that she would approach the judicial task of applying law to facts in a fair and meticulous manner.
Ms. Pillard’s record of achievement, and unanimous rating of Well-Qualified, the highest rating available, from the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, reflects her significant talents as an appellate litigator and scholar. Her legal career is remarkable for her accomplishments and the breadth and depth of her experience, and her reputation for fairmindedness, collegiality, and dedication to principles of equal justice is well founded.