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Another Federal Court Strikes Down DOMA

A conservative George H. W. Bush nominee on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals authored a strong decision today declaring section 3 of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. Earlier this year, a federal district court judge in Connecticut, that one a Bush-43 nominee, also declared the law unconstitutional. So did a unanimous panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case before the 2nd Circuit was that of Edith Windsor, an octogenarian in New York who lost her wife in 2009; they had been together for forty years. The New York Civil Liberties Union, which is representing Windsor, described her case in a press release this summer:

Windsor and Spyer lived together for more than four decades in Greenwich Village. Despite not being able to marry legally, they were engaged in 1967. In 1977, Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and Windsor helped her through her long battle with that disease. They were finally legally married in May 2007.

When Spyer died in 2009, she left all of her property to Windsor. Because they were married, Spyer's estate normally would have passed to Edie as her spouse without any estate tax at all. But because of DOMA, Windsor had to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes. Payment of the federal estate tax by a surviving spouse is one of the most significant adverse impacts of DOMA since the amount owed, as was true in this case, is often quite substantial.

"Edie Windsor, who recently celebrated her 83rd birthday, suffers from a serious heart condition," said Roberta Kaplan, a partner at Paul Weiss and counsel to Windsor. "Because the District Court's ruling in her favor is entitled to an automatic stay of enforcement, Edie cannot yet receive a refund of the unconstitutional estate tax that she was forced to pay simply for being gay. The constitutional injury inflicted on Edie should be remedied within her lifetime."

The 2nd Circuit opinion leaves no ambiguity as to the discriminatory harm done by section 3 of DOMA. Ian Millhiser at Think Progress pulls out this paragraph of the decision:

[W]e conclude that review of Section 3 of DOMA requires heightened scrutiny. The Supreme Court uses certain factors to decide whether a new classification qualifies as a quasi-suspect class. They include: A) whether the class has been historically “subjected to discrimination,”; B) whether the class has a defining characteristic that “frequently bears [a] relation to ability to perform or contribute to society,” C) whether the class exhibits “obvious, immutable, or distinguishing characteristics that define them as a discrete group;” and D) whether the class is “a minority or politically powerless.” Immutability and lack of political power are not strictly necessary factors to identify a suspect class. Nevertheless, immutability and political power are indicative, and we consider them here. In this case, all four factors justify heightened scrutiny: A) homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination; B) homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society; C) homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.

That’s an unambiguous indictment of DOMA and of all laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians. Nevertheless, House Speaker John Boehner, who has now spent $1.5 million taxpayer dollars in an attempt to defend DOMA, is likely to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. But the easier option, as PFAW president Michael Keegan points out in a statement today, would be for Congress just to repeal DOMA. It’s done enough harm to millions of people like Edie Windsor, and its effects will become clearer as more and more gay and lesbian couples are allowed to marry, and find that their marriages aren’t recognized by the federal government.

PFAW

Romney Distorts His Record As Governor

During Tuesday’s presidential debate, Mitt Romney continued to sell himself as a turnaround artist and savior of the economy—a former CEO whose stellar business acumen will create an abundance of jobs (12 million in four years, to be exact), champion small businesses, and improve the middle class.

But what Romney failed to mention is that when he inherited Massachusetts’ damaged economy in 2003, he was unable to spur the economic growth he had promised in his gubernatorial campaign. And it doesn’t stop at an unsuccessful economic policy. Many of the “accomplishments” that Romney touted last night, such as his education policies and his advocacy of women in the workplace, were futile as well. If we delve deeper into Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts and look past the lies he spouts, we can foreshadow what a Romney presidency would look like. And it’s not a very promising vision.

Last night at the debate, Romney promoted his five-point plan, alleging that he “knows why jobs come and go.” He claimed that he knew “what it takes to get this economy going.” But does he? Here is how Romney’s leadership played out in the Massachusetts economy from 2003 to 2007:

  • In Romney’s four years as governor, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 in job growth. Jobs growth over that period was a pitiful 0.9 percent.
  • Massachusetts only gained one percent in payroll jobs under Romney, compared to 5.3% in the nation as a whole.
  • The net number of jobs added during the four years Romney was in office was 24,400 – a fraction of the total of about 200,000 lost during the recession.
  • Manufacturing jobs in Massachusetts declined by more than 14 percent, the third worst record in the country. The loss was double the rate that the nation as a whole lost manufacturing jobs.
  • Massachusetts infrastructure accrued a $20 billion deficit of overdue maintenance by the end of Romney’s term, according to the Massachusetts Taxpayer’s Foundation.
  • Between 2003 and 2005 the median hourly wage for Massachusetts workers fell 5%–the largest decline in the country during that period.
  • Under Romney, Massachusetts had the 3rd highest rate of domestic out-migration.

Though Romney assaults Obama’s economic record, job growth in the U.S. has been swifter under Obama than job growth in Massachusetts under Romney.

Romney also likes to flaunt the education policies he put in place in Massachusetts. Last night at the debate, he boasted about his John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, which he claimed would send the top quarter of each high school class to the Massachusetts college of their choice tuition-free. But this is not the full picture. Here is the reality of Romney’s education policies in Massachusetts, according to a report in the Boston Globe:

  • Romney’s valued John and Abigail Adams Scholarships cover only tuition at state colleges, not fees , which account for more than 80 percent of yearly costs at some schools. Just a quarter of the recipients actually choose to attend state colleges.
  • Massachusetts students regularly score at the top on national and international tests. But that achievement is largely due to the state’s 1993 landmark education reform law.
  • Mitt Romney campaigned for governor in 2002 in favor of eradicating the nation’s first bilingual education law and instead immersing non-English speakers in classrooms where only English would be taught.
  • In 2006, three years after the law Romney campaigned for went into effect, new state tests showed that 83 percent of students learning English as a second language in the third through twelfth grades could not read, write, speak or understand English well enough for regular classes after their first year in Massachusetts schools.

When asked about pay equity, Romney highlighted his efforts as governor of Massachusetts to hire women to work in his administration. However he does not have a history of appointing women to high-level positions in the private sector, nor did he appoint many women to judicial positions:

Romney’s record in Massachusetts related to women’s health is also not very encouraging:

  • Romney vetoed a bill to require hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims.
  • Romney vetoed $35,678 for early breast cancer detection and research.
  • Romney vetoed $2.8 million for cervical and breast cancer treatment.

Romney is right that his record as governor of Massachusetts shows us a lot about how he would act as president. But he’s intentionally misleading voters about what that record is.

PFAW

Debate Exposes Importance of Supreme Court to Working Women

The discussion of Lilly Ledbetter highlights the threat to working women that Mitt Romney's Supreme Court would pose.
PFAW

Demise of Another GOP Talking Point on Judicial Nominations

The GOP claim that confirmation times for Obama's judicial nominees should be compared to Bush's second term falls apart.
PFAW

Supreme Court to Hear Arizona Voting Rights Case

The Supreme Court announced today that it will hear a critical voting rights case next year. Arizona has appealed a 9th Circuit decision that barred the state from requiring proof of citizenship from those registering to vote via a federally-approved registration form. Current federal law allows voters to register via federal form instead of a state-specific form. Those opting to do so must swear under penalty of perjury that they are citizens. Arizona’s law, which is currently stayed, would require voters using that form to jump over an extra hurdle to register, requiring them to show proof of their citizenship, a provision disproportionately affecting low-income and minority voters.

The AP explains:

The ruling applies only to people who seek to register using the federal mail-in form. Arizona has its own form and an online system to register when renewing a driver's license. The court ruling did not affect proof of citizenship requirements using the state forms.

Arizona officials have said most people use those methods and the state form is what county officials give people to use to register. But voting rights advocates had hoped the 9th Circuit decision would make the federal mail-in card more popular because it's more convenient than mailing in a state form with a photocopy of proof of citizenship.

The mail-in card is particularly useful for voter registration drives, said Robert Kengle of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is representing Native American and Hispanic groups in the case.

The conservative wing of the Supreme Court has been eager to challenge voting rights laws in recent years. In 2008, a 6-3 majority of the court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law, paving the way for suppressive voter ID measures throughout the country. The Court may also hear a challenge to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal preclearance for voting rights changes in states and counties with a history of discrimination at the ballot box. Successful court challenges to discriminatory voting law changes this year have shown just how essential that provision still is.

While the composition of the Supreme Court is unlikely to change before these cases are heard, they underscore the importance of federal courts in this election. Not only are federal courts the final protection we have against discriminatory voter suppression laws, the makeup of these courts is on the line in the presidential election. Either Mitt Romney or President Obama could pick up to three Supreme Court Justices and dozens of federal court judges in the next term. Romney has promised to appoint Justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who have both signaled their hostility to voting rights. If he does, and the Court shifts farther to the right, we could see decades of progress for fair and free elections slip away.

PFAW

CitU Spending Overwhelmingly Benefits Romney

Since Labor Day, 70% of outside spending on the presidential race made possible by Citizens United has benefited Mitt Romney, according to a new analysis.
PFAW

Corporate Allies at the DC Circuit

When Big Business wants to dismantle laws protecting the American people, they turn to the DC Circuit.
PFAW

VP Debate Highlights the Importance of the Supreme Court

Joe Biden spells out the danger of a Supreme Court with Romney justices hand-picked by the infamous Robert Bork.
PFAW

College Diversity Case Shows Importance of Sup. Court as Election Issue

Since Bush replaced O'Connor with Alito, an important affirmative action precedent is now in doubt. The presidential election affects the Supreme Court and all of us.
PFAW

Fisher v. University of Texas Rally Showcases Support for Affirmative Action

Yesterday morning, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a landmark case that could determine whether public colleges and universities can consider race as one of many factors when making admission decisions. Plaintiff Abigail Fisher, a white woman, alleges that the University of Texas discriminated against her based on her race when she was not admitted to the University of Texas in 2008. Should the Supreme Court choose to rule in favor of Fisher and rescind equality measures that were upheld by the Court just nine years ago in Grutter v. Bollinger, public colleges and universities would lose their ability to ensure a diverse student body.

People For the American Way, along with many proponents of affirmative action, rallied in front of the Supreme Court, stressing the necessity of diversity and inclusiveness in higher education. Champions of fairness and racial equality spoke, reflecting upon their own educational triumphs as a result of affirmative action and warning against a color-blind perspective that the Supreme Court may uphold. Speakers emphasized that individuals are multi-faceted, and cannot be judged solely by an SAT score or a GPA.

Speakers at the rally emphasized that a student must be evaluated wholly as an individual. A person’s race and ethnicity is part of their background and part of what they offer to the diverse university community, just like their athletic abilities or legacy family roots.

While people of color have made great strides in closing the education gap, disparities in higher education remain widespread. Colleges and universities must foster diversity and represent the vast spectrum of aspiring students and professionals. This will only enhance ingenuity, bridge the racial divides of our history, and preserve America’s platform of fairness and justice.

PFAW

PFAW joins the “Stop the Greed Bus Tour” in Colorado

 

 

The "Stop the Greed" bus tour rolled into Denver, Colorado today and helped boost support for an important state ballot question on corporate political donations. PFAW’s Colorado Coordinator Ellen Dumm joined Elena Nunez of Colorado Common Cause (pictured above) and Luis Toro of Ethics Watch in support of the bus tour and a ballot initiative to overturn Citizens United.

On Election Day, Colorado voters will have a chance to say “no” to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which allows unlimited corporate campaign donations, by voting for Amendment 65. The ballot measure calls for the Colorado congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

The Stop the Greed Bus Tour is traveling to states to get the word out about how the billionaire oilmen Koch brothers are pouring millions of dollars into the 2012 elections in an effort to bolster their extreme right-wing agenda.

The Koch brothers have also bankrolled the controversial conservative group True the Vote, which has been accused of challenging eligible voters at the polls and disrupting elections.

 

PFAW

The Romney Court: Losing Your Rights Has Never Been Easier!

This is Justice Antonin Scalia, who Mitt Romney and Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown both hold up as their model Supreme Court Justice, discussing his approach to some thorny Constitutional issues:

"The death penalty? Give me a break. It's easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state”

Looking forward to seeing your rights eliminated with “ease” by the Supreme Court? We have just the candidate for you.

PFAW

A Movement’s Katrina Moment

Romney's comments about the 47% are a clarifying moment that can forever change how Americans view him, his party, and the corporate right.
PFAW

Judicial Obstruction in Graphic Form

Even for judicial nominees with no opposition, Republican opposition is setting records.
PFAW

Did Mitt Romney Break the Law with Contradictory Reports on Bain?

Back in July, the Boston Globe reported that Mitt Romney, who has repeatedly stated he left his job at Bain Capital in 1999, was listed on the company’s tax filings as its CEO through 2002. Romney’s campaign later, and confusingly, stated that he had retired “retroactively” from the firm.

The discrepancy wasn’t just about a footnote in Romney’s resume. It was critical to the whole story Romney had been telling about himself, since he had denied involvement in some of the firms more questionable practices during the three years in question.

Now, the Globe reports, MoveOn.org is asking the Justice Department to investigate whether Romney broke the law when he stated on a 2011 campaign ethics filing that his involvement with Bain ended in 1999:

WASHINGTON — A Democratic group supporting President Obama’s reelection has asked the Department of Justice to investigate whether Republican Mitt Romney violated federal law by stating on a 2011 ethics filing that he was not involved with Bain Capital operations “in any way’’ after 1999.
The Globe, citing numerous Securities and Exchange Commission filings, reported in July that Romney continued to serve as chief executive and chairman of Bain Capital, as well as the principal in a number of Bain-related entities, until as late as 2002.

The organization MoveOn.org Political Action, a liberal group, seized on those discrepancies in a letter dated Thursday to the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section. The group, citing its own review of the public records, contends that Romney may have violated the False Statements Act by lying on his 2011 federal financial disclosure statement.

In the 2011 disclosure, which Romney was required to submit as a presidential candidate, the former Massachusetts governor stated that he “has not been involved in the operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way’’ since Feb. 11, 1999. MoveOn.org contends that appears to be false.

“There is substantial evidence that Governor Romney was in fact involved with the operations of Bain Capital after that date,’’ MoveOn.org said in its letter to the Justice Department. In a press release, the group asserts there is “substantial evidence that Mitt Romney may have committed a felony.’’

PFAW

Toobin Asks Candidates to 'Take a Stand' on Supreme Court. They Already Have.

On CNN’s website today, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin laments out how small a role the Supreme Court has played in the presidential election so far. He writes:

With a little more than a month to go, it's not too late to ask the candidates to take a stand on their plans for the court. The president has already had two appointments, and he named Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. But what does Obama, a former law professor, think about the court? Does he believe in a "living" Constitution, whose meaning evolves over time? Or does he believe, like Justices Scalia and Thomas, that the meaning of the document was fixed when it was ratified, in the 18th century.

By the same token, what kind of justices would Romney appoint? Who are his judicial role models? Romney has praised Chief Justice John Roberts, but is the candidate still a fan even after the chief voted to uphold the ACA?

No one is asking these questions. But there are few more important things to know about our current and future presidents.

Toobin is absolutely right that the candidates’ plans for the Supreme Court deserve a lot more air time than they’re getting. But he’s wrong to suggest that we know nothing about what President Obama and Governor Romney have in mind for the Court.

President Obama has already picked two Supreme Court justices. Both, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, have been strong moderates, balancing out the retro extremism of Justices Scalia and Thomas. When female Wal-Mart employees wanted to band together to sue their employer for pay discrimination, Sotomayor and Kagan stood on the side of the women’s rights, while Scalia and Thomas twisted the law to side with the corporation. When Justices Thomas and Scalia ruled that a woman harmed by a generic drug couldn’t sue the drug’s manufacturer in state court, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan stood up for the rights of the consumer.

Mitt Romney obviously hasn’t had a chance to pick a Supreme Court justice yet, but he’s given us a pretty good idea of who he would choose if given the opportunity. On his website, Romney promises to “nominate judges in the mold of Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.” After the Supreme Court’s ruling in the health care reform case, Romney announced he had changed his mind about Roberts, who declined to destroy the law while still writing a stunningly retrogressive opinion redefining the Commerce Clause.

And, of course, Romney sent a clear signal to his conservative base when he tapped Robert Bork to advise him on legal and judicial issues. Bork’s record, and what he signals about Romney’s position on the Supreme Court, is chilling:

Romney’s indicated that he would want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. He’s even attacked the premise of Griswold v. Connecticut, the decision that prohibited states from outlawing birth control by establishing a right to privacy.

Yes, the candidates should be made to answer more questions about their plans for the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. But there’s a lot that we already know.

(For more, check out PFAW’s website RomneyCourt.com.)

PFAW

Issue #267,233 Romney Doesn't Get: Education

Mitt Romney took the stage at NBC's Education Nation to double down on his ridiculous past remarks that class size is "irrelevant" and "didn't make a difference." In light of Romney's remarks, American Bridge 21st Century launched ClassSizeMatters.com, featuring a great video and research revealing Romney's disastrous record on education.

From ClassSizeMatters.com:

Mitt Romney has said that "the effort to reduce classroom size may actually hurt education more than it helps." As governor, he proposed cutting $18 million in funding for class size reduction in Massachusetts. Yet when it came time to choose a school for his children, the Romneys chose an elite private school with an average class size of eleven students.

Mitt Romney wants small class sizes for his family -- but not for yours.

Learn more at http://classsizematters.com/learn-more/

 

PFAW