Legacy

Help build support for comprehensive immigration reform

Last month, Sen. Menendez introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011. Drawing on provisions from the AgJOBS, DREAM, and Uniting American Families Acts, this piece of legislation seeks to establish a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

Countless families have been torn apart, young people’s dreams of a bright future crushed, and communities brought to a halt because of harsh and unfair immigration laws. Menendez’s legislation, however, will make changes that allow undocumented workers, students, and families a chance at the American dream.

This legislation would be a powerful step not only towards making our nation a more humane place, but also towards making all of us safer. Undocumented workers would have to meet stringent requirements before being considered for citizenship, but creating a pathway to citizenship recognizes the hardwork of many undocumented immigrants and the numerous contributions they have made to American society.

Currently, the bill awaits further action in the Senate Judiciary Committee. There are currently 9 cosponsors of the legislation, but it will need much more support in order to pass. Please contact your senators and urge them to cosponsor the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act. Immigrants throughout our history have transformed us into a strong country, and the immigrants of today will help build upon this legacy to keep this nation great.

PFAW

Just as Shepard’s legacy lives on, our work continues

On October 7, 1998, Aaron Kreifels found Matthew Shepard clinging to life in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming. Unfortunately, Shepard lost that battle five days later. What resulted was a rallying cry for the LGBT equality movement.

One of the most enduring voices in the years since has been The Laramie Project, a play produced by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project based on interviews conducted in the aftermath of Shepard’s death. I’ll never forget my own experience with The Laramie Project, and the emotion that overcame one of my friends in the audience. He was struck by the fact that Laramie wasn’t so different from his hometown. What happened there could have happened in his backyard. It could happen just about anywhere without people and a government willing to stand up to fear and hate.

Now comes The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later. There’s a point at which the story turns to current students at the University of Wyoming. They don’t know who Shepard was. Or they choose to believe rumors. Or it simply doesn’t affect them. And we’re told several times throughout that the fence on which Shepard clung to life no longer exists, broken up into pieces and lost forever. As generations pass and the physical signs fade, it’s ever more important that we openly and honestly talk about Shepard and what happened to him – not just the attack, but what we can learn from his life and death and the very real ways in which they impact our own lives.

In the very meeting where I found out that the show was in town, we were discussing what is being done and what more might be needed to address bullying in schools. We also discussed the federal hate crime law that bears Shepard’s name. And just today the FBI released its 2009 hate crime statistics.

Just as Shepard’s legacy lives on, our work continues.

PFAW

Claiming the Dream: Notes from Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" Event

I wasn't able to stay for all of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally today (I missed Sarah Palin) but I was able to stop by for a significant chunk of the event.  And what an event it was.

There were a lot of people there.  Walking down from the mall, people were streaming in steadily for some time.  Once I got to the base of the Washington monument and looked down to the Lincoln Memorial, it really hit home.  There were thousands of people, filling up the area surrounding the Reflecting Pool up to the World War II Memorial, with more people camped out on the slope running up to where I was.



From my view, it was a slightly sickening distortion of the 1963 March on Washington: thousands of people praising diversity and freedom, unconcerned about their vitriol against our first African American president or about the vanishingly small number of people of color in the crowd.

But if I thought the rally was an affront to Dr. King's vision, the crowd was convinced that they represented its fulfillment.  King's name was invoked over and over again, and Beck and the other speakers repeatedly portrayed themselves as following in his footsteps.  I'm firmly convinced that few, if any, members of the crowd saw anything questionable about claiming King's legacy.

Beck's request that no one bring signs to the event was mostly followed, but I did find one gentleman walking towards the event with a Christian Flag.



Another couple had a sign calling for "One Nation Back to God."



And this person was displaying a flag of his own design, available for sale at FreedomFlag2012.com.



One of the most interesting things I saw were stickers that read "I Can See November From My House, Too!" sponsored by GOPride.org.  After seeing several people wearing the stickers, I asked where they came from.  They were being handed out at the Metro, and no one seemed to be aware they were sponsored by a conservative gay group.

PFAW

Hatch: Defense of Thurgood Marshall is “Offensive”

Watching the Senate debate on Elena Kagan’s nomination yesterday afternoon, I wasn’t sure I heard correctly when Sen. Orrin Hatch called the backlash against the GOP’s anti-Thurgood Marshall campaign “offensive.” I heard correctly. Here’s the transcript:

While Ms. Kagan has not herself been a judge, she has singled out for particular praise judges who share this activist judicial philosophy. In a tribute she wrote for her mentor, Justice Thurgood Marshall, for example, she described his belief that the Supreme Court today has a mission to “safeguard the interests of people who had no other champion.” Ms. Kagan did more than simply describe Justice Marshall’s judicial philosophy but wrote: “And however much some recent Justices have sniped at that vision, it remains a thing of glory.”

Justice Marshall was a pioneering leader in the civil rights movement. He blazed trails, he empowered generations, he led crusades. But he was also an activist Supreme Court Justice. He proudly took the activist side in the judicial philosophy debate. Some on the other side have suggested that honestly identifying Justice Marshall’s judicial philosophy for what it is somehow disparages Justice Marshall himself. I assume that this ridiculous and offensive notion is their way of changing the subject because they cannot defend an activist, politicized role for judges.

Among the members of the GOP who continue to cling to this line of attack, variations of the “I’m not disparaging Justice Marshall, I just don’t like his judicial philosophy” argument are a mainstay. The problem is, Justice Marshall’s work as a Supreme Court Justice—or his “judicial philosophy”—is a key part of his legacy. He’s a hero for his years of work rooting out segregation as a lawyer for the NAACP; he’s also a hero for his adherence, as a Supreme Court justice, to the Constitution’s promise of “protecting individual freedoms and human rights.”

When Hatch attacks Marshall’s work as a justice, he attacks his entire legacy. I won’t call that “offensive”—but I can’t say it’s wise, either.
 

PFAW

Republicans Against Thurgood Marshall?

Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee tried to smear Elana Kagan all day by attacking her mentor and hero, Thurgood Marshall, as a “liberal activist judge.” Senator Jon Kyl in particular complained that Marshall’s judicial philosophy was “not what [he] would consider mainstream.” Really? Let’s not forget: this was the man who won the breakthrough victory for civil rights in Brown v Board of Education. Justice Marshall spent his quarter century tenure on the Supreme Court protecting the rights of privacy, equal opportunity, and a fair trial. According to Senate Republicans, that record makes Marshall a radical judicial activist.

Can the Republican Senators really be opposed to the legacy of Thurgood Marshall? If so, what in the world could they be for?

PFAW

Al Franken Takes On the Corporate Court

I want to flag a speech that Al Franken made on the Senate floor yesterday about the Supreme Court’s decision this week in Rent-A-Center v. Jackson. The legal issues in question were complicated, to say the least, but the impact of the Court’s decision on individual Americans is simple and clear. This excerpt is a little long, but it’s worth going to the Congressional Record and reading the whole thing. Franken explains:

On one side of the courtroom in this case was Rent-A-Center, a corporation that runs over 3,000 furniture and electronics rent-to-own stores across North America, with 21,000 employees and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual profits. On the other side stood Antonio Jackson, an African-American account manager in Nevada who sought to bring a civil rights claim against his employer. Jackson claims that Rent-A-Center repeatedly passed him over for promotions and promoted non-African-American employees with less experience.

Although Jackson signed an employment contract agreeing to arbitrate all employment claims, he also knew the contract was unfair, so he challenged it in court. But yesterday the Supreme Court sided with Rent-A-Center, ruling that an arbitrator, not a court, should decide whether an arbitration clause is valid. Let me say that again. The arbitrator gets to decide whether an arbitration clause is valid. Let me repeat that. The arbitrator gets to decide whether the arbitration clause is valid. That is just one step away from letting the corporation itself decide whether a contract is fair.

In doing so, the Supreme Court made it even harder for ordinary people to protect their rights at work. Justice Stevens, not surprisingly, wrote the dissent. As he did in Gross, Stevens notes that the Supreme Court, yet again, decided this case along lines ``neither briefed by the parties nor relied upon by the Court of Appeals.'' In other words, the Supreme Court went out of its way to close those bronze doors--and keep them closed. Clearly, this is a ruling that Congress needs to fix, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to do so.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that the Supreme Court matters to average people--to our neighbors and our kids. Some have tried to convince us that Supreme Court rulings only matter if you want to burn a flag or sell pornography or commit some horrendous crime. But as Jamie Leigh Jones and Antonio Jackson show us, the Supreme Court is about much more than that. It is about whether you have a right to a workplace where you won't get raped and whether you can defend those rights in court before a jury afterwards. It is about whether corporations will continue to have inordinate power to control your life with their armies of lawyers and their contracts filled with fine print. It is about whether they can force you to sign away your rights in an unfair employment contract so you never see the inside of a courtroom. It is, quite frankly, about the kind of society we want to live in.

Next week, the Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the nomination of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. Those hearings provide a good opportunity for us to examine the legacy of the Roberts Court and talk about what it would mean to have a Court that instead cares about hard-working Americans.

Cases like this one often fly under the radar because the legal issues they deal with are hard to boil down to a soundbite or even a paragraph (I couldn’t make heads or tails of this initial SCOTUSblog summary of the case, much less Scalia’s opinion…which is why it’s great to have a legal staff around). But this is the kind of case that is the bread and butter of the Supreme Court’s work—questions of contracts and business deals and real estate that aren’t as easy to grasp and explosive as abortion and marriage and school prayer, but still make a very real difference in all of our lives. And that’s the kind of case that the Roberts Court has consistently been deciding on the side of powerful interests like Rent-A-Center over people like Antonio Jackson.

We hope Franken’s right that the current Court’s pro-corporate leanings are major topic of discussion at Kagan’s upcoming hearings. We’ve saved up more than a few questions for her on the subject.

 

PFAW

Two Must-Read Op-Eds on the Stevens Vacancy and What This Court Fight Should Be About

In his column yesterday, E.J. Dionne laid out exactly the right prescription for liberals and Democrats in the upcoming confirmation battle over the Supreme Court seat being vacated by Justice John Paul Stevens.

We don't know who the nominee is yet, but we know the dangers posed by the Roberts Court and what the right-wing ideologues are doing to our country via their agenda-driven interpretations and reinterpretations of the law and the Constitution.

Citizens United is an extreme case of a general tendency: Conservative judges are regularly invoking their alleged fealty to the "original" intentions of the Founders as a battering ram against attempts to limit the power of large corporations. Such entities were not even in the imaginations of those who wrote the Constitution. To claim to know what the Founders would have made of Exxon Mobil or Goldman Sachs or PepsiCo is an exercise in arrogance.

What liberals forgot during the years when their side dominated the judiciary is that for much of our history, the courts have played a conservative role. But today's conservatives have not forgotten this legacy. Their goal is to overturn the last 70 years of judicial understandings and bring us back to a time when courts voided minimum-wage laws and all manner of other economic regulations.

Read the whole thing here >

Several days earlier, Joe Conason wrote a great piece discussing the politics of Supreme Court confirmation battles and why Democrats and progressives should be eager to have a constitutional debate about the role of the Court and how the Right's definition of "constitutional" really means the dangerous upending of the traditional understanding of the Constitution which has served America well.

Conason writes:

What exactly do they mean by "constitutional"? On the increasingly powerful fringes of the Republican right, a category that includes some Tea Party activists, the Constitution is interpreted as prohibiting every social and political advance since before the Civil War. They would outlaw the Federal Reserve System, the progressive income tax, Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection, consumer regulation and every other important federal initiative of the past century.

Targets of the "constitutional conservatives" would certainly include civil rights legislation that guarantees equal protection under law to minorities and women...

Click here to read the whole piece >

PFAW

Continuing Stevens’ Legacy

Justice John Paul Stevens’ announcement that he will retire this summer marks the end of an era for the Supreme Court and a crucial opportunity for President Obama and the Senate to shape the Court’s direction.

Stevens—the last survivor of the era before Supreme Court nominations became televised partisan battlegrounds—has been a bulwark against a Court that has been moving aggressively to the right. His adamant dissent to this year’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, like his dissent in Bush v. Gore, were strong defenses of democracy and indictments of an increasingly politicized Court.

President Obama now has the chance to nominate another Justice who will prioritize the rights of ordinary Americans. People for the American Way President Michael B. Keegan said today:

“His retirement will give President Obama his second opportunity to nominate a jurist for our nation’s Highest Court. I hope he will select someone who will continue Justice Stevens’s tradition of working to ensure that individuals receive the fair treatment that our Constitution guarantees. In recent years, the Court has given extraordinary preference to powerful interests at the expense of ordinary Americans. Justice Stevens was a bulwark against that trend. Our country’s next Justice must play a similar role.”

Let’s hope that Republicans in the U.S. Senate will put aside their habits of obstructionism and support the nomination of a Justice who will continue Stevens’ strong, even-handed legacy.
 

PFAW

Supreme Court Gets Chance to Remove Roadblocks Keeping Disabled Veterans from Benefits

This spring, the Supreme Court will get another chance to show whether it values the rights of individuals to receive fair treatment from the American legal system.



The New York Times reports on a case before the Supreme Court that could allow the justices to roll back the most perverse consequences of their 2008 decision in Bowles v. Russell, which held that there is no excuse for missing certain court filing deadlines—even if you’ve been given the wrong information by a judge.


That decision is now being used to withhold benefits from disabled veterans like David L. Henderson, whose disability was the cause of his inability to meet a court deadline to file his notice of appeal. Henderson has been caught up for nearly a decade in what three federal appeals court judges have called a “Kafkaesque adjudicatory process.”



The Supreme Court will soon consider whether to hear an appeal from David L. Henderson, who was discharged from the military in 1952 after receiving a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He sought additional government help for his condition in 2001, and he was turned down in 2004.

Mr. Henderson, who served on the front lines in the Korean War, had 120 days to file an appeal, but it took him 135 days. He had a pretty good excuse.

His psychiatrist has said under oath that he is “incapable of rational thought or deliberate decision-making.” As a consequence, the psychiatrist added, “Mr. Henderson has been incapable of understanding and meeting deadlines.”


Bowles, the case that created the precedent for Henderson’s nightmarish treatment, split the Supreme Court 5-4. The court, if it hears Henderson’s case, has the chance with this case to stop the extreme consequences of its earlier decision and show that it is willing to protect the rights of individual Americans.
 

PFAW

African American History Awareness Month - A Chance to Prove

In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson launched Negro History Week as an initiative to bring national attention to the contributions of Black people throughout American history. Today the celebration in the arts and science, public and private business industries, sports, domestic and foreign policy, and political, social and economic justice arenas continues throughout February and is now known as African American History Awareness Month.

Like others during these 28 days, I find myself hungry to learn of yet another person who, because of their thoughts, actions, motivation, "made a way out of no way". One Saturday evening I watched a PBS documentary titled "For Love of Liberty" and the sacrifices of African American soldiers who fought for a "cause greater than me".

Dating as far back as the Revolutionary War, it is the story of "America's Black Patriots." I watched images and heard narratives of those who faced ultimate racism and bigotry, but continued to sign up to for a chance to prove African Americans were worthy of dignity, humanity and full rights of citizenship. I also watched images of soldiers lynched in their uniforms as a message from extremist that no matter what their sacrifice, they would never be equal, honored or worthy.

This month I was afforded the opportunity to participate in a Congressional Black Caucus staff briefing on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In preparing for this presentation I realized here was yet another group of military personnel, soldiers waiting for a "chance to prove" they were worthy. I found what may seem like an unlikely connection with those of the past who fought for love of liberty for others with no gains or recognition of who they were with those who fight today and serve this county honorably for the same reason.

The contributions of African American's to this country are substantial, but as important they are inspiring. Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback was the first non-white and first person of African American descent to become governor of a U.S. state, serving as the 24th Governor of Louisiana for an entire 35 days. Anna Julia Haywood Cooper was an educator, writer, and human rights leader. Vernon Johns was an African American minister and leader who was active in the struggle for civil rights for African Americans from the 1920s and is considered the father of the American Civil Rights Movement, having laid the foundation on which Martin Luther King, Jr. and others would build.

There are no ordinary sacrifices a person can make when their motivations and actions are for a cause greater than self. Religious and racial extremists haven't deterred those who seek that chance to prove their worthiness. As an African American, I am aware of what the insults of oppression, injustice and inequality can have on the mind and spirit of a persons and a people. I also know that separate is not necessarily equal. But I also have read and witnessed that "suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."

I believe in revelation, the connection to historical moments, the legacy of persons and people in pursuit of "a chance to prove." This African American History Awareness Month I recognized the contributions of all men and women who served and are serving in our armed forces with profound appreciation for their sacrifices in pursuit of a chance to prove. In the words of what is known as the African American National Anthem by James Weldon Johnson, we must continue to celebrate, educate, and be inspired to "Lift every voice ... until victory is won."

PFAW

Rev. Madison Shockley Reflects on the 37th Anniversary of Roe and Stupak Amendment

As we reflect upon the 37th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, I had the privilege of speaking with Rev. Madison Shockley, pastor of the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Carlsbad, Calif. briefly about the anniversary, health care reform and the Stupak amendment, and why he feels “the struggle still continues and we must be vigilant.”

Stacey (SG): What do you see as the enduring legacy of Roe v. Wade?
Rev. Madison Shockley (MS): The major accomplishment of Roe was to establish fairly firmly in our culture that women are full citizens and have the right to control their lives. In a modern society, their lives are no longer pre-determined by the demands of the larger agricultural industrial society that, in times, past determined-child rearing. We’ve left the notion of women as baby factories behind and entered into an era of women as full persons.

SG: Recently, we’ve seen renewed attacks on a woman’s right to choose, particularly within the health care reform bill and the Stupak amendment.
MS: Stupak is part of the ongoing strategy of people who opposed full personhood of women. They label themselves as pro-life, which is abhorrent to all of us because we are all pro-life. They are anti-women’s reproductive rights, anti-women’s personhood. This is part of an ongoing effort to impede upon a woman deciding what to do with a woman’s reproductive right. As we are on the brink of providing health care reform, this pokes women in the eye by managing what women do with their reproductive rights. They do that by saying you can be part of this historical movement for health care reform, but you also have to leave your reproductive rights behind.

SG: Why did you feel it was important to travel to Washington, DC to travel lobby against the Stupak amendment?
MS: I represent a constituency whose voice is not heard often enough – black men, black clergymen. There are men, and black men, people of faith, African American men and clergy that are strongly committed to women’s reproductive rights and full personhood. I wanted to share my insight, and to represent this underrepresented population of people in this movement.

SG: What are you doing in your church and community to convince people of the need to reject the Stupak amendment?
MS: The main thing I want people to know is that the struggle continues and we must be vigilant. In my church, we’ve preached against Stupak on Sunday mornings as an infringement upon the divine personhood of women, and we’ve also done letter writing campaigns. I want my community to know that health care is the best way for all who are concerned about life to achieve the goal of women being able to welcome each pregnancy with joy.

PFAW

233 Years Old and Still Looking Good

Birthdays are a good time to look back and take stock of the previous year’s events.  Usually a person tries to get a hold of the where they have been and where they want to go.  On July 4th, you might want to celebrate our nation’s birthday by looking back, and forward, by watching People For the American Way Foundation’s reading of the US Constitution

Four of our readers in particular gave us a reason to be proud of our past, and two others should make us all feel good about the future.

Two Japanese-American WWII Veterans and two Tuskegee Airmen honored us by agreeing to participate in the reading.  Grant Ichikawa and Kelly Kuwayama read Article II, Section 2, and LeRoy Gillead and Dabney Montgomery read the 23rd and 24th Amendments.  Looking at the inauguration weekend it is clear that it’s because of what people like Mr. Ichikawa, Mr. Kuwayama, Mr. Gillead and Mr. Montgomery did that so many people truly believed, “Yes, We Can.”

At the same event, we were proud to host two local high school students Sakinah Muhammad and Joel Carelafrom Caesar Chavez Public Charter School in Washington, DC. Their enthusiasm and excitement at being able to take part in our celebration was a reminder of how important it is to engage the next generation in civic education—and how capable young people are of understanding and embracing our nation’s legacy of liberty and justice for all.

On behalf of everyone at People For the American Way and People For Foundation, I hope you enjoy the 4th and that you use the occasion to re-commit yourself to keeping this “Grand Experiment” going.

PFAW

Does the Anti-Gay Movement in DC think that Congress should run the District?

As a supporter of marriage equality for all people, I'm thrilled at the almost-unanimous vote of the DC City Council to recognize marriages of same-sex couples performed elsewhere.

As a supporter of marriage equality for all people and voting rights for the residents of DC (myself included,) I'm a little concerned about the response from the anti-marriage forces on the right.

Another protester, C.T. Riley, added: "This is not over. We are going to the Hill with this issue."

. . .

Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, who opposes gay marriage, said opponents are developing a "political and legal strategy" to block same-sex marriage in the District.

Does this imply that right wing activists are going to attempt to ignore the decision of the elected representatives of the District of Columbia by asking a body in which District residents have no representation to overrule the decision?

I look forward to discovering how this jives with the right's opposition to pro-gay rulings from "unelected judges" and allegations that it's the pro-gay rights community which is "usurping" the legacy of civil rights movement.

PFAW

The Choice Is Clear

If you haven't already gotten a chance, be sure to read Joan Biskupic's article on the Supreme Court in today's USA Today, a good primer on the choice that voters face on Election Day.

The appointment of life-tenured judges can be an administration's most consequential legacy, as Obama and McCain observed in last week's debate. Five of the nine Supreme Court justices are age 70 or older, so a new president might have to make multiple appointments.

Because the court is tightly split over issues such as abortion rights, race-based policies and the handling of Guantanamo Bay detainees, even a change of one justice could alter the law across the nation for decades to come.

The article does contain one line of very generous understatement.

[Palin] has invoked God on public occasions and suggested she does not believe in a high wall to separate church and state.

I think that's a pretty safe inference.

The website also offers a fun little SCOTUS quiz.  (I don't mean to brag, but I aced it.)

PFAW

Ledbetter v. Goodyear and Fair Pay, One Year Later

As a Senator, John McCain has helped George W. Bush pack the federal courts with right wing judges, judges who serve for life and who will extend the legacy of President Bush for decades to come. In fact, it seems that Senator McCain has never met a bad Bush judicial nominee he didn’t like, including John Roberts and Samuel Alito. With McCain’s help, Roberts is now the Chief Justice of the United States, and Alito is right by his side on the Supreme Court.

And with McCain continuing to heap praise on Roberts and Alito, it’s only fitting, as we approach the first anniversary of one of the most harmful rulings in which Roberts and Alito have participated, to take a look at the damage done in that one decision alone.

PFAW

The State of the Judiciary and the Bush Legacy

Individual Rights, Access to Justice Threatened
President Bush's final State of the Union address will in part be an effort to shape the public view of his presidency. But here's something he won't say: a long-lasting part of his legacy will be the weakening of Americans' rights and legal protections due to the dangerous state of the federal judiciary created by judges he has placed on the federal bench.

PFAW