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Warren Warns of ‘Corporate Capture of Federal Courts’

At an AFL-CIO convention this weekend, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren called out the increasingly pro-corporate lean of the U.S. Supreme Court. Politico reports:

On the opening day of the AFL-CIO’s convention, Warren — the highest-profile national Democrat to address the gathering here — warned attendees of a “corporate capture of the federal courts.”

In a speech that voiced a range of widely held frustrations on the left, Warren assailed the court as an instrument of the wealthy that regularly sides with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She cited an academic study that called the current Supreme Court’s five conservative-leaning justices among the “top 10 most pro-corporate justices in half a century.”

“You follow this pro-corporate trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you’ll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of Big Business,” Warren said, drawing murmurs from the crowd.

The study that Warren was referring to is a Minnesota Law Review study that found that the five conservative justices currently on the Supreme Court have sided with corporate interests at a greater rate than most justices since World War II. All five were among the ten most corporate-friendly justices in over 50 years. Justice Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts were the top two.

The Supreme Court majority’s consistent twisting of the law to put the interests of corporations over those of individuals is one of the main characteristics of the Roberts Court, but it is not the only extremely influential court with such a pro-corporate bent. In fact, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to which President Obama has nominated three highly qualified candidates, has been following the same trend, also because of the influence of judges named by George W. Bush.  This is the court whose ultra-conservative justices declared that cigarette label warning requirements violate the free speech rights of tobacco companies and that requiring that employers inform employees of their right to unionize violates the free speech rights of the corporations.

While there is not currently a vacancy at the Supreme Court that could affect its balance, there are three at the DC Circuit.  That is why Senate Republicans are working so hard to keep them empty.

PFAW

Virginia Plans Massive, Faulty Purge of Voter Rolls

Between the Supreme Court’s decision to neuter Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and the passage of one of the nation’s most restrictive voter ID bills in North Carolina, with many other states also passing bills to restrict voting and registration, it’s been a tough year for the right to vote in America. And it just got worse in Virginia, where elections are just around the corner.

According to a report by Think Progress, around “57,000 Virginians have been flagged as being registered in another state, and counties are removing some from the voter rolls without any notice or opportunity to rebut the claim.” This is a crucial point in this case: it’s one thing to make thousands of registered voters jump through hoops to prove they’re eligible to vote in the state, but it’s quite another to remove those voters without any notice, less than two months before an election and less than six weeks before the registration deadline. If the voter was removed in error, the burden is on that voter to fix the state’s mistake in time to vote this November. As Think Progress points out, 57,000 voters is around 3% of the number of voters in 2009—more than enough to make the difference in a close election.

This is disturbing news, particularly following reports that Florida may be looking to take another shot at purging their voter rolls, which they failed to do in time for the 2012 election. Oh, and Iowa, too. Any other swing states feel like joining in?

For more information on voter purges, take a look at  the Brennan Center’s report, as well as our report on voter fraud, The Right To Vote Under Attack: The Campaign to Keep Millions of Americans from the Ballot Box.

PFAW

All Hands On Deck: Stop the NRA’s Colorado Senate Recall!

YOU can help defeat gun extremists' unprecedented power grab in Colorado.
PFAW

Video: Meet The Nativists Trying to Stop Immigration Reform

Right Wing Watch reported this summer about the creation of the Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA), a new anti-immigrant group designed to appeal to African Americans, which is just the latest member of a closely knit circle of anti-immigrant groups tied to Nativist leader John Tanton.

Also part of that circle are the three most prominent groups working to stop immigration reform in Congress: The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and Numbers USA.

Our friends at the immigrants’ rights groups America’s Voice, Black Alliance For Just Immigration and Center for New Community have put together a great, short video illustrating the ties between these groups and how they’re working together to try to bring down the new immigration law.

PFAW

Study: Wave of Anti-Choice Laws Has Shut Down 1 in 10 Abortion Providers

In our recent report, “Chipping Away at Choice,” we examined the ways that conservatives in state legislatures are quietly undermining the right to choose by passing laws meant to shut down abortion providers.

An analysis by Bloomberg BusinessWeek published today finds that that strategy has been enormously effective. In fact, Bloomberg finds, almost one out of every ten abortion clinics in the country has closed since 2011, as conservative lawmakers have passed 200 abortion restrictions – as many as in the previous ten years combined.

At least 58 U.S. abortion clinics -- almost 1 in 10 -- have shut or stopped providing the procedure since 2011 as access vanishes faster than ever amid a Republican-led push to legislate the industry out of existence.

A wave of regulations that makes it too expensive or logistically impossible for facilities to remain in business drove at least a third of the closings. Demographic changes, declining demand, industry consolidation, doctor retirements and crackdowns on unfit providers were also behind the drop. More clinics in Texas and Ohio are preparing to shut as soon as next month.

Opponents have tried to stop access to abortion through civil disobedience, blockades and legal action. Clinics were bombed and doctors killed. Now, legislatures are proving to be the most effective tool after Republicans made historic gains in the 2010 elections. Their success is creating one of the biggest shifts in reproductive health care since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 legalized abortion in all 50 states.

The pace began accelerating in 2011. Since then, through Aug. 1 of this year, state lawmakers passed 200 abortion restrictions, according to Guttmacher. That’s about the same number that had passed in the prior 10 years combined.
..

The reporting by Bloomberg, coupled with data from Guttmacher, which surveys providers every few years, show that clinics have closed at a record pace since 2011. During the past three years, an average of 19 closed each year. That’s more than double the rate in the decade ending in 2008.

Interestingly, Bloomberg’s data comes from Operation Rescue, a militant anti-choice group that keeps a public database of abortion providers. Operation Rescue, of course, is thrilled by the developments. Spokeswoman Cheryl Sullenger – who served two years in federal prison for a plot to blow up an abortion clinic and has been linked with the man who murdered Kansas abortion provider George Tiller -- told Bloomberg that such laws are a doing some of her organization’s work for them: “People who don’t have power protest on the street. People who have influence work from within to enact change.”

 

PFAW

Meaningless Talk, No Action from Corbett on Gay Marriage Brief

Yesterday, we brought you the story of the Corbett administration comparing gay marriage to marriage between 12-year-olds. Now, Governor Corbett is attempting to tamp down criticism without making any substantive changes to policy. A brief filed by his administration argued that gay marriage licenses had no “value or legitimacy” and that issuing those licenses would be like issuing marriage licenses to 12-year-olds:

“Had the clerk issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each 12-year-old . . . is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his ‘license’?”

On Thursday, Corbett admitted that “[t]he analogy chosen in the legal brief filed on August 28th is inappropriate." Whoa, settle down, Governor— “inappropriate?” Strong word there, that’s some real no-holds barred talk.

Generous as it is of Corbett to acknowledge this comparison was inappropriate—let alone offensive, dumb and condescending—this admission doesn’t change much. The brief still stands; the lawsuit to stop marriage licenses being issued in Montgomery County will continue; and the officials who wrote the brief still work for the governor. The official who wrote this, who thinks that gay people are as incapable of legitimate consent as children, is still a part of the state government, charged with serving the people of Pennsylvania and representing their interests. Sadly, though, with Corbett as governor, a weak apology like this might be the best we can hope for.
 

PFAW

James Crow, Jr., Esquire and the Moneyed Assault on Voting Rights

At the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this Wednesday, Reverend Al Sharpton made the case that people of color are facing a new generation of Jim Crow-type laws.  “Jim Crow had a son,” Sharpton said, a son who writes voter suppression, Stand Your Ground, and stop-and-frisk laws.  His name?  “James Crow, Jr., Esquire.” 

At Rosa Park’s funeral in 2005, Sharpton made similar comments:

The one we’ve got to battle is James Crow, Jr., Esquire. He’s a little more educated. He’s a little slicker. He’s a little more polished. But the results are the same. He doesn’t put you in the back of the bus. He just puts referendums on the ballot to end affirmative action where you can’t go to school. He doesn’t call you a racial name, he just marginalizes your existence.

A case in point of the slicker, more polished push for policy that disproportionately harms people of color is the assault on voting rights in North Carolina. The Institute for Southern Studies released the results of an investigation yesterday finding that mega-donor Art Pope has played an important, if largely hidden, role in making restrictive voting laws in the state a reality.  Whether through funding conservative think tanks disseminating lies about voter fraud or by financially backing Republican elected officials involved in pushing the sweeping anti-voter law, Pope’s influence in bringing about what The Nation described as “the country’s worst voter suppression law” is clear.

At PFAW, we often write about the danger of individual Americans’ voices being drowned out by the roar of moneyed interests in our democracy.  Through organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporate lobbyists can quietly help get Stand Your Ground and voter ID laws on the books.  Art Pope’s support of North Carolina’s draconian voting law shows one more example of why the struggle to protect individual voices and votes in a democracy being flooded by the money of wealthy special interests is an uphill battle – but a battle unquestionably worth fighting.

PFAW

Governor Corbett's Condescending Anti-Marriage Argument

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has been floundering recently, facing personnel problems and dire poll numbers. But his abysmal public approval ratings aren’t stopping the governor from charging full steam ahead on his extreme agenda. A brief filed by the Corbett administration today in its lawsuit to stop Montgomery County, PA from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples argues that gay marriage licenses have no “value or legitimacy,” and that issuing those licenses is just like issuing marriage licenses to 12-year-olds:

“Had the clerk issued marriage licenses to 12-year-olds in violation of state law, would anyone seriously contend that each 12-year-old . . . is entitled to a hearing on the validity of his ‘license’?”

Unfortunately, we’re all too used to this form of argument, where homosexuality’s legitimacy is dismissed or ridiculed by comparing it to any number of things, from bestiality to alcoholism or even murder. Now, we know that the governor of Pennsylvania is also struggling to understand the concept of consent, which is what makes gay marriage actually nothing at all like children getting married: children can’t consent, adults can. These actions show Corbett’s deep misunderstanding of marriage equality, and an inability (or refusal) to see it for what it is. They also show that, despite the great Supreme Court victories for gay rights this year, there’s still a lot of work to do.

PFAW

PFAW’s Money Out/Voters In Work Highlighted in CNN Article

Yesterday Ben Cohen (co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s) and Edward Erikson had a great op-ed at CNN.com connecting the student debt crisis with the broader issue of big money’s influence in our political system:

But the education system isn't broken -- it's “fixed.” If we're serious about tackling the issue of affordable education and student debt, we need to strike at the root of the problem -- the influence of money in politics.

Private corporations like Sallie Mae -- which own 15% or $162.5 billion dollars of total student debt -- rake in private-island-purchasing profits while students suffer.

Indeed, from student debt bills to workers’ rights legislation to environmental protections, policies that protect everyday Americans will continue to face uphill battles until we can limit the influence of wealthy special interests in our democracy.

Cohen and Erikson point out:

It's time to dam the deluge of cash and corporate influence in Washington once and for all….Thanks to the leadership by groups like People for the American Way, Move to Amend, Common Cause, Free Speech for People and Public Citizen, 16 states have passed referendums calling on Congress to take action and over 150 members of Congress support the amendment strategy.  (emphasis added)

And with so much amendment momentum at the state and local level, PFAW and allies are shifting our focus to Congress. As part of our “160 Summer” campaign, money in politics groups are working toward a goal of getting 160 members of Congress to sponsor an amendment resolution limiting the deluge of big money pouring into our elections by overturning Citizens United.  Has your representative already voiced their support?

As Cohen and Erikson put it, “This is our future and our fight to win.”

PFAW

Right Wing Watch Telebriefing on Anti-Immigration Activists

Last week, People For the American Way issued its latest Right Wing Watch: In Focus report on the stark choice presented to congressional Republicans: stand up for the comprehensive immigration reform supported by a strong majority of Americans, or stand with anti-immigrant extremists using lies and bigotry to derail it.

On Tuesday, we hosted a telebrieifing with PFAW members to discuss the report, the prospects for reform in the House of Representatives and how activists can help make a difference.

If you missed it, you can listen to the call here.

And, of course, take a look at the report itself, Congressional Republicans' Clear Choice on Immigration: Stand With Pro-Reform Majorities or Cave to Anti-Immigrant Extremists.

PFAW

DC Circuit Court Activist Toolkit

In June 2013, President Obama nominated three extremely well-qualified people to fill the three vacancies on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, a court that has been deemed “the second most important in the United States.”  As the nominees - appellate attorney Patricia Millet, Georgetown law professor and appellate advocate Cornelia “Nina” Pillard, and D.C. District Court judge and former public defender Robert Wilkins - make their way out of the Senate Judiciary Committee and towards the Senate floor, Senate Republicans are threatening to ramp up their partisan gridlock by blocking votes on any of them.

The far right has accused the president of trying to “pack” the courts just for making nominations to existing vacancies, as the Constitution calls for.  Senate Republicans have even introduced a bill to eliminate the three judgeships, just to keep President Obama from filling them.

In anticipation of the fight we expect to see this fall, People For the American Way has drafted an activist toolkit for concerned citizens across the United States who understand the importance of the courts, and who know we must stand up against Republican obstruction. Check it out here:

www.pfaw.org/DCCircuitToolkit

PFAW

Pat Robertson’s AIDS Ring Theory Makes Anderson Cooper’s RidicuList

Cross-posted from Right Wing Watch

Pat Robertson’s theory that gay men in San Francisco intentionally infect other people with HIV/AIDS using special sharp rings earned Robertson a spot on Anderson Cooper’s RidicuList last night.

Robertson made the comment on Tuesday’s broadcast of the 700 Club, which his producers then edited out of the version of the show posted online. Luckily, Right Wing Watch found the missing section of the video on the 700 Club’s YouTube account before the network yanked that as well. Since then, Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network has been trying desperately to remove our copies of the video from YouTube – an effort that has just brought more attention to Robertson’s comments.

In his RidicuList segment last night, Cooper played our video of Robertson’s comments, and for context added our clips of Robertson speculating that homosexuality is “related to demonic possession,” wishing for a Facebook “vomit” button to use on pictures of gay couples kissing; advising a man to “move to Saudi Arabia” so he can beat his wife; telling a woman whose husband cheated on her to not worry about it because “he’s a man”; and marveling at the popularity of “50 Shades of Gray” among women.

In a video posted today, Slate also explores CBN’s attempted cover-up of Robertson’s theory:

Sadly, we’re sure that we will have collected many more of Robertson’s unique insights by the time his next turn on the RidicuList  rolls around.

PFAW

New Poll Shows Overwhelming Opposition to Private School Vouchers

The annual PDK/Gallup poll records the highest level of opposition to private school vouchers in the survey's history.
PFAW

Keeping ALEC In The Spotlight

When the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council recently held its 40th annual meeting in Chicago, thousands -- including PFAW activists -- crashed the party.
PFAW

Durbin Questions Potential ALEC Backers on Stand Your Ground Laws


As the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) meets in a swanky Chicago hotel for its 40th annual summit this week, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) has raised some important questions for the corporations that may be funding the group.

Roll Call reports that Sen. Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s civil rights subcommittee, has reached out to more than 300 corporations that are possible ALEC funders to ask for their positions on “Stand Your Ground” laws.  Durbin announced last month that he will hold a hearing on these laws in the fall.

Because ALEC operates behind closed doors, it can be a challenge to expose the corporations, corporate trade associations, and corporate foundations backing its damaging work.  Durbin’s letter notes:

Although ALEC does not maintain a public list of corporate members or donors, other public documents indicate that your company funded ALEC at some point during the period between ALEC’s adoption of model “stand your ground” legislation in 2005 and the present day.

Despite the potential roadblocks, Durbin’s letter shines a spotlight on the clear link between ALEC, an organization that connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators, and the “Stand Your Ground” laws it helped to get on the books in over two dozen states.   And this is a critical connection to highlight, because as PFAW President Michael Keegan wrote last month, these are laws which “help create a climate like the one that encouraged George Zimmerman to use lethal force against an unarmed teenager.”

PFAW

From the Archives: Ken Buck's Extreme Record

As you may have heard, 2010 Tea Party candidate Ken Buck has decided to throw his hat into the ring for the 2014 Senate race in Colorado. Unfortunately for him, no one has forgotten the extreme record that led voters to reject him last time around.

PFAW

PFAW Crashes ALEC’s Party at Biggest Anti-ALEC Protest to Date


All photos by Scott Foval.

Bill Moyers once called ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) the “most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of.”  Today, PFAW is helping to change that – coming out in full force to shed some light on the harm ALEC’s extreme agenda causes to everyday Americans.

As ALEC holds its 40th annual meeting in Chicago, PFAW is there – along with ally organizations, labor groups, and advocates from around the country – to crash their party.  The protest happening now outside Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton is the biggest anti-ALEC protest to date. 

The mass of people at the rally underscores the growing momentum to expose and fight back against ALEC, which connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators to pass special interest legislation in all fifty states.  For four decades, ALEC has worked behind closed doors to get laws harmful to everyday Americans on the books – working against paid sick days, pushing tax policies favoring the rich, and helping “Stand Your Ground” become law in more than two dozen states.  As our signs say, “ALEC corporations write laws, real people suffer.”

And today, we’re calling them out.

PFAW

"160 Summer" Citizens United Amendment Update

We're working to get 160 members of Congress to sponsor one of the fourteen "Money Out" amendment resolutions that have been introduced so far in the 113th session.
PFAW

Tell the GOP: Yes or No Votes for Obama’s DC Circuit Nominees!

Now that we’re well into President Obama’s fifth year in office, there are no prizes for guessing what the GOP’s response is to a diverse slate of nominees to the critical DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

Obstruct. Obstruct. Obstruct.

Even before they were nominated, Republican Senators were laying the groundwork to block anyone nominated to the circuit. Now that President Obama has nominated three unquestionably qualified jurists with broad support from across the ideological spectrum…Republican leaders are still intent on denying them simple yes-or-no votes.

We’ve created a simple graphic to share on Facebook to let Republicans know you’re watching how they treat this diverse set of nominees. Click here to share.


PFAW

Revisiting McConnell’s Obstruction and the 2014 Kentucky Senate Race

The 2014 elections are quickly heating up in Kentucky. Two weeks ago, Tea Party candidate Matt Bevin announced his plans to challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Republican primary, setting off a round of vicious attack ads from McConnell’s campaign almost instantly.  Even more troublesome for McConnell though than Bevin’s primary challenge is the prospect of a general election fight with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who announced her candidacy in early July and who is expected to coast through the Democratic primary.  According to a poll released on July 31st, Grimes is leading McConnell by 2% in a potential head to head race, and is polling 15% higher amongst those who have heard of both candidates – McConnell, a longstanding incumbent, currently enjoys substantially higher name recognition.

Although Grimes and Bevin are polar opposites on the political spectrum, they both are in agreement on one thing: Senator Mitch McConnell is vulnerable.  Polling data released in April revealed that a full 54% of Kentuckians disapprove of McConnell’s job performance in the Senate, while only 36% approve.

Such numbers should not come as a surprise to any casual observer of the Senate.  McConnell is the king of gridlock, and has become the personification of DC dysfunction.  Kentuckians, like the rest of the country, have grown understandably fed up with his tactics.

Earlier this year, Public Campaign Action Fund explored McConnell’s obstruction in a report entitled, “Cashing in on Obstruction: How Mitch McConnell’s Abuse of the Filibuster and Other Senate Rules Benefits His Big Money Donors.” Among other findings, the report revealed that McConnell’s repeated and unprecedented use of the filibuster has benefitted the interests of his campaign backers.  The report’s case studies were particularly instructive.

In March of 2012, on the very day debate began on a bill that would have repealed Big Oil subsidies, McConnell received an astonishing $131,500 in campaign contributions from Texan oil donors.  Three days later, the bill was blocked by a filibuster.

In April of 2009, the House passed the “Helping Families Save Their Homes Act,” a bill that included a provision that would have granted bankruptcy judges more flexibility to modify mortgages for homeowners facing foreclosure, and that would have cost the country’s biggest banks billions of dollars in profits.  That provision failed to receive the necessary 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and didn’t make it into the Senate version of the bill.  Over the course of his career, McConnell has received $8.7 million in campaign contributions from Wall Street interests.

In 2010 and 2012, despite overwhelming public support for providing transparency in election spending, McConnell led the charge against the DISCLOSE acts, bills that would have closed current loopholes in federal election law and brought Citizens United-empowered “dark money” groups to light.  Those groups – 501c4 non-profits and 501c6 trade associations – spent at a 5:1 ratio in favor of Republicans like Senator McConnell over Democrats in the 2012 election cycle.

In March of 2010, John J. “Jack” McConnell (no relation) was nominated to the District Court of Rhode Island, after successfully litigating against asbestos, tobacco, and lead paint interests on behalf of consumers.  Jack McConnell faced substantial opposition from trade associations that represent those interests, like the Chamber of Commerce, and from Senator McConnell, who, after filibustering the nomination and delaying the vote so that it took a full 420 days to be confirmed, stated for the record he resented Jack McConnell’s “persistent hostility to American job creators.” Senator McConnell has received, it should be noted, $1.7 million in campaign contributions from the insurance industry alone.

McConnell’s career campaign contributions by sector
Source: Public Campaign Action Fund

Yet beyond obstructing the governing process to the benefit of his campaign backers, Senator McConnell has also pursued obstruction for the sake of gridlock itself.  As People For the American Way continues to report , McConnell’s treatment of judicial nominees has been particularly abominable.  The obstruction of Jack McConnell, a district court nominee, was not an aberration; it was part of a strategy of judicial obstruction that, under McConnell’s continued abuse of Senate rules, has become standard practice.  During the eight years that President George W. Bush was in office, only one federal district court nomination was filibustered, requiring the majority to file a cloture petition; so far under President Obama, Republicans have forced Democrats into 20 such filings for district court nominees. 

There’s a price to pay for unremittingly representing corporate interests, and for being the leader of an assault on the Senate’s functionality.  And the American public, and the state of Kentucky, are well of aware of who’s to blame.

PFAW