people for the american way

It's Time to Confirm Goodwin Liu

The Senate is currently debating the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Liu is a phenomenally well qualified legal scholar who has support across the political spectrum, as well as among a majority of U.S. Senators. However, because Senate Republican leaders are putting politics over all else, they are set on stymieing the majority and filibustering the nomination. A cloture vote to end this stalling tactic may occur as soon as tomorrow morning.

People For the American Way supports the nomination. We sent a letter this morning that says much of what we have been saying in person on the Hill for over a year. Among other things, the letter states:

Perhaps the most powerful testament to Professor Liu's superb qualifications is the extensive support his nomination has garnered from across the ideological spectrum. It is not only progressive and moderate legal thinkers who admire his work: He has received endorsements from conservatives such as Ken Starr, Solicitor General under President Ronald Reagan; Richard Painter, the chief ethics counsel for President George W. Bush; and Clint Bolick, Director of the conservative Goldwater Institute.

When a judicial nominee attracts such strong support independent of political ideology, you can be confident that he is exactly the kind of mainstream, talented, and fair jurist we need on the federal bench.

Although Liu has the support of a majority of senators, his opponents are working to block his nomination from receiving an up or down vote. Their claim is that Liu's nomination constitutes one of those rare "extraordinary circumstances" warranting a filibuster, under the benchmark developed by the Gang of 14 during the George W. Bush Administration.

By no measure can this nomination be considered to even approach "extraordinary circumstances." Even a cursory look at President Bush's nominees who were approved using that test – those whose nominations were not considered to constitute "extraordinary circumstances" – makes clear that Liu's nomination must be permitted to go forward.

  • Pricilla Owen's dissenting positions on the Texas Supreme Court were so extreme that even her fellow conservatives on the Supreme Court in different cases described them with phrases like "an unconscionable act of judicial activism," "disregard of the procedural elements the Legislature established," "def[ying] the Legislature's clear and express limits on our jurisdiction," and "inflammatory rhetoric." Her nomination was not considered extraordinary, and the Senate afforded her an up-or-down vote for a seat on the Fifth Circuit, where she is now serving.
  • Thomas Griffith pushed to severely curtail laws ending discrimination against women and girls' participation in school athletic programs, declaring "illegal" a test upheld by all eight of the nation's Circuit Courts of Appeals that had considered the issue. He was also suspended from the DC Bar for failure to pay mandatory Bar dues yet continued to practice law in the District during that time. Published reports and an examination of Utah law indicated that he had been engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Utah for the four years prior to his nomination. Nevertheless, the Senate did not consider Griffith's nomination extraordinary, and he received an up-or-down vote confirming him to a seat on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Janice Rogers Brown criticized opposition to the Lochner decision, which began the period when the Supreme Court issued its most pro-corporate rulings—rulings that struck down laws requiring minimum wages, regulating working hours and conditions, and banning improper business practices. In addition, despite several Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, she explicitly suggested that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is unconstitutional. Despite this record, her nomination was not considered an "extraordinary circumstance," and the Senate was allowed to cast an up-or-down vote, confirming her to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • William Pryor called Roe v. Wade "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history" and urged Congress to consider repealing or amending Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Despite the significant opposition that these and other extreme positions garnered, his nomination was not filibustered, and he was confirmed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Each of these nominees attracted substantial controversy and was opposed by numerous civil rights and civil liberties groups, but not one was found to constitute "extraordinary circumstances."

The claim that Goodwin Liu is out of the mainstream as compared to any of these nominees simply does not bear scrutiny. In fact, a fair reading of his work makes clear that Liu is well within the judicial mainstream.

By any standard articulated by either party, Goodwin Liu's nomination deserves a vote on the Senate floor, and he should be confirmed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tomorrow, we will learn which Republican senators are willing to toss logic, consistency, principles, and the good of the nation's court system out the window in order to score political points against a Democratic president.

PFAW

Issa Ignores Reality at His Anti-Transparency Hearing

Yesterday afternoon, Rep. Darrell Issa, the founder of the Transparency Caucus, dedicated a committee hearing to smearing transparency as the enemy of democracy. President Obama is reportedly drafting an executive order that would require businesses seeking government contracts to disclose their political spending. Since Issa's patrons in Big Business would rather cloak their machinations in secrecy, Issa called a hearing to try to reframe a provision that would protect democracy as a threat to democracy. Shortly before the hearing, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan wrote a Huffington Post piece about this.

Listening to Issa and his fellow Republicans, you'd never know that last year's Citizens United decision undermined a century's work of reforming our campaign finance system. You'd never know that from the congressional midterm election immediately before Citizens United and the one immediately after, spending from groups that don't disclose their donors skyrocketed from one percent of total spending by outside groups to an incredible 47 percent. You'd never know that corporate giants were anonymously flooding the airwaves with campaign ads and drowning out the voices of everyone else.

At the hearing, Issa and his fellow Republicans repeatedly framed the executive order as injecting political considerations into federal contracting decisions. They ignored the fact that both current federal law and the proposed executive order prevent that from happening. They ignored the testimony of an OMB official who described the effective appeals process bidders have whenever they suspect they were turned down for a contract for political reasons. They ignored the fact that, as Ranking Member Elijah Cummings pointed out, if the proposed disclosure requirements inject political considerations into procurement decisions, then so do existing disclosure requirements.

Issa and his allies kept repeating that the only reason to require disclosure would be to incorporate politics into contracting decisions. The OMB official pointed out other examples where contractors submit information that cannot be used by procurement officials but which the American public has a vital interest in – such as lobbying disclosures.

Disclosure of political spending is simply not a threat to political speech, as much as Issa and his wealthy patrons want to claim otherwise. In fact, eight of the nine Justices in Citizens United voted to uphold disclosure requirements and agreed that the federal government has an important interest in providing Americans information about the sources of election-related spending. It's not easy to get eight Justices to agree on much of anything these days, so that says a lot about just how far beyond the mainstream Issa and his corporate backers have gone.

PFAW

The Unwelcome Return of the Newt

After more than a dozen years out of office, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich jumped into the GOP presidential campaign this week, rolling out his candidacy via social media and a friendly interview with Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity. Gingrich thinks he's just what is needed to save America from itself and its flirtation with Barack Obama and the rest of the evil of what he calls the "secular-socialist machine."

Much of the media attention of Gingrich's candidacy has centered around his role in the 1995 government shutdown, which Gingrich alone seems to think was a great success for the GOP, and his more recent urging of congressional Republicans not to fear a repeat. The implication seems to be that if you're the kind of voter who wants a more combative conservative willing to take down the federal government in order to bring down deficits, Newt may be your guy. But that kind of discussion -- and the crazily early poll-watching "which tier is he in?" stories -- miss something more important. Let's remind ourselves what kind of person Newt Gingrich is, and what kind of impact he has had on our public life.

Gingrich hasn't exactly been in hiding. In fact, he is at the center of his own machine, a 24/7 festival of self-promotion that includes an emailed "Newt and Callista Weekly Recap" courtesy of Gingrich Productions. If self-promotion were the top trait Americans were looking for in a president, Gingrich would be a shoo-in. But the job requires a bit more than that. People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch, Mother Jones and Media Matters have already posted compilations of Newtonian 'wisdom' from a long and dishonorable career. Once you start to consider characteristics like honesty and integrity, it becomes clear that Gingrich is unfit to lead our country.

The Newt McCarthyism

Gingrich is an enthusiastic participant in the right wing's divisive and destructive McCarthyism, portraying his political opponents as enemies of America's very existence. In To Save America, Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine, he warns, "America as we know it is now facing a mortal threat... The secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did... It's up to those of us who love our country to save America from the destructive, irreversible transformation that the Left have in store for us." In Real Change: The Fight for America's Future, he claims that the Obama administration (that would be the Faith-Based Initiative-continuing, National Prayer Day-celebrating, Easter Breakfast-sponsoring Obama administration) "has shown an unprecedented hostility to Christianity." He promotes ridiculous Religious Right claims about religious persecution in America, saying that Christians are threatened by "gay and secular fascism."

Gingrich spoke this spring at the Texas church led by John Hagee, whose support proved too controversial for John McCain in 2008. Newt combined two of his favorite threats, secularists and Islamists, into one memorable, if intellectually incoherent, sentence, declaring that he feared that his grandchildren could grow up "in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American." He told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody, "In a sense, our Judeo-Christian civilization is under attack from two fronts. On one front, you have a secular, atheist, elitism. And on the other front, you have radical Islamists. And both groups would like to eliminate our civilization if they could. For different reasons, but with equal passion."

Newt is also placing himself at the forefront of the concerted conservative campaign to turn "American exceptionalism" into an attack on the patriotism of their political opponents. Candidates like Sen. Marco Rubio made American exceptionalism into a campaign theme in 2010, and hope to continue to smear Democrats as unbelievers in America's divinely-blessed founding and mission in the world. Gingrich has teamed up with Citizens United's David Bossie for a new "documentary" on American exceptionalism, A City Upon a Hill, The Spirit of American Exceptionalism, which features, among others, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Allen West, Andrew Breitbart and Phyllis Schlafly.

Gingrich, an old hand at politics-by-smear, is responsible for much of the venomous state of our politics. In the mid-1990s, his GOPAC distributed to Republican lawmakers a memo titled "Language: a Key Mechanism of Control." The memo urged Republicans to use a set of denigrating words to describe their opponents and the Democratic Party: "decay, failure (fail) collapse(ing) deeper, crisis, urgent(cy), destructive, destroy, sick, pathetic, lie, liberal, they/them, unionized bureaucracy, 'compassion' is not enough, betray, consequences, limit(s), shallow, traitors, sensationalists, endanger, coercion, hypocricy, radical, threaten, devour, waste, corruption, incompetent, permissive attitude, destructive, impose, self-serving, greed, ideological, insecure, anti-(issue): flag, family, child, jobs; pessimistic, excuses, intolerant, stagnation, welfare, corrupt, selfish, insensitive, status quo, mandate(s) taxes, spend (ing) shame, disgrace, punish (poor...) bizarre, cynicism, cheat, steal, abuse of power, machine, bosses, obsolete, criminal rights, red tape, patronage."

Religious Liberty: Hypocrisy and Bad History

Gingrich, like other Religious Right political figures, postures as a defender of Americans' religious liberty against a deeply hostile elite, the "secular-socialist machine." Yet he joined with gusto the opponents of the proposed Park51 Islamic community center in Manhattan, which right-wing activists vilified as the "Ground Zero Mosque," saying, "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." In his book, Rediscovering God in America, Gingrich declared, "A steadfast commitment to religious freedom is the very cornerstone of American liberty." Regarding the Islamic center in New York, he said, "No mosque. No self-deception. No surrender."

Gingrich, like other Religious Right leaders, justifies his attacks on Islam by suggesting that it is not really a religion, saying radical Islam "is a comprehensive political, economic, and religious movement that seeks to impose sharia -- Islamic law -- upon all aspects of global society... Radical Islamists see politics and religion as inseparable in a way it is difficult for Americans to understand. Radical Islamists assert sharia's supremacy over the freely legislated laws and values of the countries they live in and see it as their sacred duty to achieve this totalitarian supremacy in practice." Yet while Gingrich decries radical Islamists' goal of achieving "totalitarian supremacy," one of his own organizations, Renewing American Leadership, is run by an advocate of the 7 Mountains Mandate, a dominionist theology that argues that Christians are meant to control the levers of power in every aspect of government and society.

Gingrich is ideologically joined at the hip to "Christian nation" pseudo-historian David Barton. In Barton's worldview, the First Amendment is not about protecting religious pluralism, but was only meant to keep the federal government from siding with one group of Christians over another. Barton believes the First Amendment should not apply at all to the states, but that states should be free to pose religious tests for office, and local religious majorities should be free to use public schools for proselytizing prayer. On Barton's radio show, Gingrich promised that if he ran, he would be calling on Barton for help, presumably the way Barton helped turn out evangelical voters for the Republican Party during George W. Bush's reelection campaign. It seems to be a mutual admiration society. When Barton and other right-wing activists were pushing for changes in Texas textbooks, they urged that Cesar Chavez and Thurgood Marshall be dropped, but that Newt be added.

Gingrich shares Barton's view of the federal courts as evil usurpers of the founding fathers' religious intentions. "There is no attack on American culture more destructive and more historically dishonest than the secular Left's relentless effort to drive God out of America's public square," Gingrich wrote in Rediscovering God in America. In a recent speech to the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Gingrich said the courts have been "especially powerful engines of coerced secularization," and that "From the 1962 school prayer decision on, there has been a decisive break with the essentially religious nature of historic American civilization." While in Congress, Gingrich promoted the Religious Right's false claims that courts had somehow banned students from praying, and repeatedly supported efforts to pass a constitutional amendment to return organized prayer to public schools.

Politics over Principle

In addition to intellectual arrogance, a shameless lack of principle may be Gingrich's most identifying characteristic. When the popular uprisings in the Middle East spread to Libya, Gingrich denounced President Obama for not immediately imposing a no-fly zone: "We don't need to have the United Nations. All we have to say is that we think that slaughtering your own citizens is unacceptable and that we're intervening." Less than two weeks later, when the U.S. joined other nations in imposing a no-fly zone, Gingrich attacked Obama, saying "I would not have intervened" and declaring that "it is impossible to make sense of the standard for intervention in Libya except opportunism and news media publicity." Newt clearly knows a thing or two about opportunism and publicity-seeking; getting some coverage for an attack on Obama was clearly more important to him than questions of U.S. policy in Libya.

Hubris

For all the far-right's charges that President Obama harbors anti-democratic tendencies -- Gingrich vowed to Hannity that he would abolish all the White House "czar" positions by executive order -- Gingrich's own behavior has made it clear that he sees himself as so superior to others, such an essential treasure for the nation, that the rules he would apply to others should not apply to him. When his second wife asked Newt how he could give a speech about the importance of family values just days after he admitted that he was having an affair, he reportedly told her, "It doesn't matter what I do. People need to hear what I have to say. There's no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn't matter what I live." That is a breathtaking level of hubris, even by presidential candidate standards. And when the CBN's Brody lobbed him the fluffiest of softballs by asking him to talk about his affairs in the context of his experience of God's forgiveness, Newt blew it by blaming his cheating on his love of country: "There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."

So Right and So Wrong

Gingrich's policy positions are pretty much standard fare in today's far-right Republican Party, including anti-worker, pro-corporate economic policies and support for criminalizing abortion. He has demonstrated his new-found commitment to the sacred nature of marriage by trying to buy the support of Religious Right activists in presidentially important Iowa, where he funneled about $200,000 into an unfortunately successful campaign to punish and purge three state Supreme Court justices who had voted to end marriage discrimination against same-sex couples in the state.

America is grappling with a set of deeply serious challenges at home and abroad. Americans would benefit from a substantive discussion of those problems and the policy choices that face them. What they're most likely to get from Newt Gingrich is toxic McCarthyism, petty and unprincipled partisanship, and preening self-promotion. Thanks but no thanks.

Cross posted on The Huffington Post

PFAW

As Students Standup To Anti-Gay Bullying, The Religious Right Pushes Back

People For the American Way’s Michael Keegan writes today in the Huffington Post about right-wing activists who are trying to stop school officials and lawmakers from developing bullying-prevention strategies that address anti-gay harassment and violence, erroneously warning it would lead to “homosexual indoctrination” and “reverse discrimination.” Keegan writes:

Today, students across the country will take a vow of silence to protest anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools. The Day of Silence, an annual event organized by GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), is meant to draw attention to the "silencing effects" of anti-gay harassment and name-calling in schools and to be a way for students to show their solidarity with students who have been bullied.

But all this silence has made the religious right very uncomfortable.



The religious right's campaign against anti-bullying programs, documented in a new report by People For the American Way, has been raging since school districts first started trying to recognize and confront anti-gay bullying. And it has since the beginning focused on the same set of myths.



The anti-anti-bullying effort shows the staggering extent of the religious right's campaign to prevent the recognition and acceptance of gay people in all parts of society -- and their desperation as more and more Americans, especially young people, want their gay friends and family members to enjoy equal rights. The Day of Dialogue's marketing is slick and its content carefully focus-grouped, but its true message is clear: as clock ticks on the religious right's anti-gay agenda, the Right's leaders know that intolerance, exclusion, and polarization can start at an early age, but they've "got to be carefully taught."

Find out more about the religious right’s latest anti-gay campaign in the new PFAW report, “Big Bullies: How the Religious Right is Trying to Make Schools Safe for Bullies and Dangerous for Gay Kids.”

PFAW

The Right's Use of Records Requests to Chill Dissent and Attack Academics

In Wisconsin and Michigan, we are seeing what appears to be the latest right wing tool to intimidate and harass its critics: extensive – and baseless – public records requests against academics at public universities. The consequences for the free and open debate on which our democracy depends are serious indeed.

Last week, Wisconsin Republicans clamped down on criticisms of their party's efforts to undermine workers' rights by filing a broad demand for copies of all of the emails of University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor William Cronon that mention Governor Scott Walker, the eight Republican state senators who have been targeted for recall, or unions that represent government employees. Cronon had recently penned a blog post calling attention to the work of a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its apparently significant influence on Republican state lawmakers, including those in Wisconsin such as Governor Walker. The message was clear. Criticize what we do and we'll come after you to see what we can dig up to smear you with.

Any thought that this might be an isolated response was quickly shattered when similar requests were made for Wisconsin-related e-mails at three Michigan universities. Rather than being from the Wisconsin GOP, these were from a right-wing organization called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. They filed requests for e-mails of the faculty of the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center, the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University, and the Labor Education Program of Michigan State University. The requests cover not only e-mails relating to the Wisconsin clash over the labor rights, but, according to press reports, also any e-mails mentioning Rachel Maddow.

Aside from their far right conservative ideologies, the Mackinac Center and ALEC have something else in common: Although not well known among the general public, they are part of a network of right wing ideological organizations that have been heavily funded over the years by many of the same small group of wealthy funders, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, the Coors family, the Scaife family, and corporate giant Exxon Mobil.

It is not likely a coincidence that these two right wing organizations employed the same unusual tactics in two different states just days apart. Who knows where they will go next. Clearly this is a pattern. And, unfortunately, it's a familiar one. Just as in the McCarthy era, academics face intimidation and harassment and possible threats to their reputations if they take public stands against the far right. The specific method of intimidation may be different (i.e., public records requests), but the goal is the same.

This intimidation is as insidious now as it was more than half a century ago, because it does not matter that the targets have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. As we have seen, all it took was one purloined e-mail, taken out of context and distorted beyond all recognition, to manufacture the phony "Climategate" scandal that threatened the reputation of climate scientists around the world and set back climate change regulations by years.

Anyone doubting that the far right is both willing and able to destroy their reputations with such distortions needs look no farther than the devastating video "exposés" of ACORN, NPR, and Planned Parenthood. The ACORN video came first and essentially destroyed the organization. In the best traditions of McCarthyism, the right now uses any association with ACORN to discredit its opponents. They are hoping for equal success with NPR and Planned Parenthood.

People For the American Way strongly supports the Freedom of Information Act and its state and local equivalents. Opening government records to the public serves as an essential check on the abuse of government power. Indeed, the Bush Administration prepared for its long war against civil liberties in the administration's early days by essentially reversing the Clinton Administration's presumption that FOIA requests should generally be granted unless there is some reason to deny it.

Such laws exist to expand public dialogue and the dissemination of information affecting the public welfare. But the rights granted by FOIA laws, like so many others, have limitations and can be abused. A demand for information can be made not to hold government accountable and enhance public debate, but instead to harass, intimidate, suppress public debate, and keep information and opinions out of the public square. This is particularly true when it is aimed at individuals in state academic institutions.

That's what we see happening in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The public has a right to know about the activities of government entities working in its name. When a government entity has the authority to issue licenses, allocate funds, imprison people, conduct safety inspections, conduct elections – the core activities of government, all of which have substantial impacts on individuals, businesses, and groups – open records laws can help ensure that these tasks are done lawfully, without favoritism or waste. Reflecting how often members of the public request such information, many government organizations have entire offices dedicated to fulfilling these records requests.

So how often does a member of the public submit a record request for, say, the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan? I asked Roland Zullo, a research scientist there. He had to think about it because such requests are so rare, but he thinks the last one was about five years ago, a fishing expedition from a conservative organization essentially seeking all of their records going back to the 1950s. When the organization learned how much it would have to pay to cover the costs of its truly expansive request, it apparently backed off.

The Supreme Court has recognized the unique role that universities, including public universities, play in maintaining our liberties. As it stated in 1957, during the McCarthy era, "[t]eachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die."

That is why the American Historical Society has strongly condemned the efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to intimidate Professor Cronon:

The purpose of the state's Open Records Law is to promote informed public conversation. Historians vigorously support the freedom of information act traditions of the United States of which this law is a part. In this case, however, the law has been invoked to do the opposite: to find a pretext for discrediting a scholar who has taken a public position. This inquiry will damage, rather than promote, public conversation. It will discourage other historians (and scholars in other disciplines) employed by public institutions from speaking out as citizen-scholars in their blogs, op-ed pieces, articles, books, and other writings.

We should recognize that public universities are a unique hybrid. They are funded by the public, and we should be able to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent efficiently and legally. But their work also contributes to the robust debate over public issues without which our freedom will die. And that debate requires that we protect academic freedom and ensure that faculty have no reason to feel intimidated for asking difficult questions, conducting their research and writings, and making statements that those in power do not wish to hear.

That is the American Way.

PFAW

Jon Stewart Slams Republican Hypocrisy on Corporate Power

The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart took Republicans to task for baselessly holding “parasitic” workers and “greedy” labor unions for the country’s economic and budget problems, while staying silent when many of the country’s largest corporations “pay no federal taxes” at all as a result of off-shore schemes and corporate tax breaks and loopholes.

Stewart also points out that the Supreme Court in Citizens United granted corporations the same political rights as people, defenders of corporations are fine when business giants like General Electric pay no taxes at all while cutting American jobs. “I know the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people, but what I didn’t realize is that those people are assholes.”

People For the American Way has launched a petition telling members of Congress that “cuts to social security and vital programs that help students, poor children and the unemployed should not be part of the deficit discussion before tax fairness and making corporations pay their fair share.” You can also join our Facebook page, “I pay more taxes than G.E.”

PFAW

South Dakota Governor Signs Harsh Law Restricting Reproductive Freedom

In another blow to women’s rights, the Republican governor of South Dakota Dennis Daugaard today signed legislation intended to curtail women’s access to reproductive healthcare and bolster anti-choice propaganda. The law creates a 72 hour waiting period for women seeking an abortion in the state, which has only one clinic which offers abortion services just once a week. Moreover, women seeking to terminate their pregnancy would be required to meet with staff of a “pregnancy help center,” more commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers, which do not provide abortion services.

People For the American Way’s report, “The GOP Takes Its War on Women to the States,” describes how such centers are fronts for anti-choice organizations to spread false information about abortion and deceive women:

In 2006, a congressional committee looked into federally funded CPC’s, and found that “the vast majority of the federally funded pregnancy resource centers contacted during the investigation provided information about the risks of abortion that was false or misleading,” and “in many cases, this information was grossly inaccurate or distorted.” The National Abortion Federation notes that such centers are mostly staffed by volunteers whose “main qualifications are a commitment to Christianity and anti-choice beliefs,” rather than by medical professionals, and “many CPCs are connected with religious organizations, but few disclose that fact in their advertising.”
PFAW

Will the Supreme Court Close the Door to Civil Rights Lawsuits?

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing hear oral arguments in Fox v. Vice, a case that threatens to choke off future civil rights litigation. People For the American Way Foundation has joined an amicus brief protecting the right of people to sue to protect their basic rights.

In a federal civil rights lawsuit, where the government or a government official is being sued, a trial court can sometimes order the plaintiff to pay the defendant's legal fees. The law allows this if (1) the defendant is the prevailing party and (2) the plaintiff's case was frivolous. In Fox v. Vice, the Supreme Court is being asked to interpret this law. The potential exposure to paying a defendant's legal fees serves as an obvious deterrent to bringing suit, and it's important, therefore that it be narrowly construed in order not to violate Congress's intent to empower people to vindicate their rights in the courts.

In this case, Ricky Fox sued the local chief of police, Billy Ray Vice, based on two incidents that took place after both men had announced their competing candidacies for the police chief job. Fox claimed that Vice, the incumbent, sent him an "anonymous" letter attempting to blackmail him into not running for office. The next month, Vice allegedly encouraged someone to file a false police report about Fox.

Fox claimed that these acts violated both federal civil rights laws and state tort laws. The case was before a federal court, and Fox eventually acknowledged that he had no valid federal claim. So the trial court judge dismissed the federal claims and remanded the state civil claims to state court for future adjudication. The judge also ruled that the federal claims had been frivolous, and he ordered the plaintiff to pay the defendant's legal fees related to the frivolous claims.

However, because the frivolous and non-frivolous claims were all based on the same set of facts, it was nearly impossible to disentangle legal fees for one from legal fees for the other. So the district court judge classified them all as being for the frivolous federal claims and ordered the plaintiff to pay the entire legal bill. Fox ended up paying the legal fees that will be used by the defendant to oppose Fox's own non-frivolous state court claims still to be litigated. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision.

If the Supreme Court affirms this decision, it could severely chill civil rights lawsuits. It sets up a standard where plaintiffs risk having to pay all of the defendant's legal fees even if only one of their claims is judged frivolous. To make matters worse, it is very hard to predict what a judge will consider frivolous. Even judges hearing the same case at the same time may differ wildly as to whether it is frivolous. The standard adopted by the lower court would discourage civil rights plaintiffs from pursuing novel legal theories and create a powerful disincentive against filing valid civil rights suits in the first place.

In considering the case, the Supreme Court should be consistent with Congress's intent to encourage meritorious suits and discourage frivolous ones. It should rule that legal fees should not be awarded in federal civil rights cases when a plaintiff's "frivolous" claim is factually intertwined with non-frivolous claims.

The Roberts Court has devised numerous ways to close the courthouse door to innocent people seeking to vindicate their rights. By the end of the Court's term, we will learn whether Fox v. Vice will join cases like Ledbetter v. Goodyear in the Roberts Court's Hall of Shame.

PFAW

Hundreds Turn Out at Rally to Support Wisconsin's Working Families

People For the American Way joined a coalition of progressive and labor organizations protesting a high-dollar fundraiser for Wisconsin Republican legislators in Washington D.C. today. After the Republicans pushed through extreme legislation to take away the rights of Wisconsin workers, they came to D.C. for high-dollar fundraiser hosted by a major corporate lobbyist firm, the BGR Group. To show solidarity with the people of Wisconsin, PFAW and activists from around Washington came to the BGR Group’s headquarters for a massive demonstration against union-busting and the GOP’s pro-corporate agenda.


Here are a few pictures from the protest. You can see more on our Facebook page.


PFAW

School Voucher Hypocrisy

In the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes the Speaker of the House to task on his hypocrisy in supporting the slashing of vitally important programs while setting some funds aside for a pet project of his in the District of Columbia.

Let me get this straight. As far as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is concerned, the United States government is "broke," which means we can't afford to pay for key domestic priorities, even if we want to.

Boehner, however, is also convinced that we have federal funds lying around to pay for private school tuition. …

[He] wants U.S. taxpayers to spend $20 million for private school tuition in D.C. over the next five years.

Maybe this is just an extension of Boehner's deep and abiding passion for looking out for struggling children? I have a strong hunch that's not it. After all, the Speaker's budget plan calls for devastating cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, among other things.

If Boehner were motivated solely by a desire to help children and students, these cuts would be off the table. Instead, they remain near the top of the GOP to-do list.

So what's really going on here? It's simply a matter of priorities. Boehner supports brutal spending cuts for most domestic priorities, but he loves vouchers, especially those that benefit Roman Catholic private schools and undermine public education (which his party is growing increasingly hostile towards).

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program certainly does help religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. In other words, the program funnels taxpayer money into religious organizations. In addition to the many other arguments against school vouchers, this program raises significant First Amendment concerns.

Does the Speaker support the program because he thinks it helps students achieve academically? In fact, neutral analyses of the program demonstrate clearly that it simply has not significantly improved the educational attainment of the enrolled students. The Department of Education has concluded that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same for students who applied from schools in need of improvement.

Does the Speaker think that the people of DC want this voucher program? In fact, the city’s mayor opposes it, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and numerous members of the DC Council. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.

So why support a program that the locals don’t want and that the local population’s elected officials have asked you not to impose on them?

Throughout America and within Congress, there are ideologues seeking to privatize education as part of a larger push to privatize a wide swath of core government functions. Other ideologues chafe against the restrictions on government-funded religion that the Founders wisely placed in the First Amendment. So-called “opportunity scholarships” are an opportunity for them, but not for students.

People For the American Way opposes the Speaker’s bill, H.R. 471. It has been passed by committee, and a floor vote is expected near the end of March.

PFAW

Anti-Immigration Groups Push Green Wedge Strategy

PFAW’s Right Wing Watch in Focus report, “Previewing the Right-Wing Playbook on Immigration Reform,” identified nine strategies employed by right-wing pundits and politicians to demonize immigrants and derail comprehensive reform.  Among those strategies were to portray immigrants as criminals, invaders, and disease-carriers.   It’s time to add a new category: blaming immigrants for environmental degradation. 

At last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) distributed a beautifully photographed report decrying the declining health of the Chesapeake Bay, blaming the failure of clean-up efforts on immigration, and slamming environmental groups for not joining FAIR’s anti-immigrant crusade.

If you find it confusing that FAIR, whose political allies are among the most far-right members of Congress, is professing deep concern for the environment, there’s a simple explanation. FAIR and its anti-immigration allies believe that appealing to environmentalists concerned about the impact of sprawl and other growth-related issues can be an effective wedge issue to divide progressives.

For more about the blame-immigrants-for-environmental problems strategy, and a progressive response, see this article by People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery on Alternet

PFAW

Stepping Between Women and Their Doctors

From the Des Moines Register comes a heartbreaking story about a Nebraska couple who were prevented from making the deeply personal decision to end a late-term pregnancy after they found out their child “had virtually no chance of survival.” Nebraska bans abortions after the 20th week of gestation, leaving Danielle Deaver no choice but to carry her pregnancy through to its end:

At 3:15 p.m. Dec. 8, 1-pound, 10-ounce Elizabeth Deaver - named in memory of Robb's grandmother - made one final attempt to breathe.

Her life struggle, 15 minutes outside the womb after 23 weeks and five days of gestation, was over.

"Our hands were tied," Danielle Deaver said. "The outcome of my pregnancy, that choice was made by God. I feel like how to handle the end of my pregnancy, that choice should have been mine, and it wasn't because of a law."

Nebraska is one of 38 states [pdf] that ban abortions after a certain point in a pregnancy, except to save the life of the woman.

States across the country are working to further roll back reproductive choice rights and to come between women and their doctors. A new report from People For the American Way examines some of those state-level efforts to legislate away access to reproductive choice.

 

PFAW

The Corporate Discount: Who the Republican Spending Cuts Really Benefit

In the Huffington Post today, People For the American Way's President Michael Keegan connects the extreme pro-corporate policies being pushed by federal and state GOP officials with the new liberty that corporations have to buy influence in elections:

One year after Citizens United v. FEC, when the Supreme Court opened American elections to a corporate spending free-for-all, elected officials in Washington and in statehouses around the country are pushing a stunning set of financial policies that, if passed, will provide a windfall for giant corporations at the expense of already-hurting individual taxpayers. Largely proposed under the guise of financial responsibility, these proposals threaten job creation and essential government services while ensuring the coffers of corporations remain untouched.

American taxpayers are beginning to fight back against some of the most egregious proposals, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to bust public employee unions and the House GOP's slashing of funding for women's health care. But as long as corporations can buy unlimited political influence, these battles will only escalate and they will continue to be just as lopsided.

In the coming weeks, we will see the interests of corporate funders and the interests of individual taxpayers go head-to-head as Congress and the president attempt to hammer out a continuing spending resolution that will keep the government running for the rest of the year. The Republican House wants to block funds to reproductive health services, gut the Affordable Care Act, and even prevent the Environmental Protection Bureau from regulating pollution -- all while costing an estimated 700,000 American jobs. The winners in the House's proposal? Large corporations and the wealthy, who under the proposal astoundingly would not even be asked to give up a single tax loophole.

Read the whole thing here.

PFAW

Updates from the Front Lines of Wisconsin

Below you will see live Facebook updates from State Rep. Kelda Roys of Wisconsin, a member of People For the American Way Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network. She has been repeatedly denied entry to the state Capitol as a result of the protests against Gov. Walker's attempt to obliterate Wisconsin's public employee unions under the guise of fiscal reform.

UPDATE:

Check out Rep. Roys' coverage of the protests: 

PFAW

Report from Madison: Standing Up (in the Snow) for Wisconsin's Workers

By Dave Kreisman

Over the last 13 days, neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor cold has been able to stop the tens of thousands of public employees, their families and allies in Wisconsin’s fight to protect the rights of the middle class and working families.

Democracy, while flourishing in the halls of the Capitol and outside in the streets, was crushed in the Assembly chambers Friday morning at 1am, when after over 60 hours of debate, Speaker Pro Tem Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) opened the roll and closed it within 15 seconds, allowing only 13 of the 38 Democratic Assembly Representatives the opportunity to cast their vote. The floor immediately erupted with Democratic members rushing the line of Republicans filing out of the chamber chanting “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

As Republicans filed out of the building, Democratic members greeted the hundreds of supporters in the rotunda who have been camping out in solidarity for over a week.

On Saturday over 75,000 people filled the lawn of the Capitol here in Madison, listening as Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, Bradley Whitford along with fellow actors Gabrielle Carteris and Robert Newman and U.S. Airways Pilot Jeff Skiles, the co-pilot who helped safely “land” a passenger plane on the Hudson River in 2009 spoke about their own unions and encouraged the masses to carry on “one more day” with Peter Yarrow assuring the crowd that “the eyes of the world are upon you.”

As has been the case at the end of each day of protests, nothing (not even snow and 14 degree weather) can stop the will of those standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in labor.

Dave Kreisman is coordinating People For the American Way's support for workers' rights in Wisconsin.

PFAW

Bruesewitz v. Wyeth: As Sotomayor Comes Out Strong Against Pro-Corporate Judicial Activism, Scalia May Have Met His Match

There is something wearily predictable about Justice Scalia’s straitjacket reinterpretation of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (NCVIA) to eliminate the possibility of injured families suing manufacturers for design defects in vaccines. Justice Scalia brings his trademark sleight-of-hand to the task of explaining why the law does not provide for citizens what it obviously does provide and offers his well-developed rhetorical polish and high-minded sarcasm as a way to assure everyone that there is no reasonable alternative to his vigorous rewrite of the law in the interest of corporate immunity. Ah, another federal law, another judicial gloss for the corporations: business-as-usual on the Roberts Court.

What is startling and refreshing about this decision is that Justice Scalia has finally met his match in Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who comes out swinging hard in her powerful dissenting opinion against this aggressive pro-corporate judicial activism and impressionistic rewrite of the statute at hand. It seems that Justice Sotomayor is finding her voice defending popular legislation and democratic rights against the finger-painting and cut-and-paste rewrites of legislation that have become the specialty of free-wheeling conservative Justices.

Consider the numerous hard and effective punches Justice Sotomayor’s throws back at Justice Scalia here, quoting Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the “plain text and structure” of the statute, and the essential canons of statutory construction, to show who the real “judicial activists” are:

She starts off by blowing the whistle on Justice Scalia’s substitution of his political views for those of Congress: “In holding that the . . . Act pre-empts all design defect claims for injuries stemming from vaccines covered under the Act, the Court imposes its bare policy preference over the considered judgment of Congress.”

After a masterful explanation of the Act and why it permits causes of action related to design defects, Justice Sotomayor writes: “In contrast to the interpretation . . . set forth above, the majority’s interpretation does considerable violence to the statutory text, misconstrues the legislative history, and draws the wrong conclusions from the structure of the Vaccine Act . . .”

And, to leave no doubt about what has just taken place to rob the Bruesewitz family--whose daughter suffered more than 100 seizures after being vaccinated with the DTP vaccine made by Lederle Laboratories--of its fair day in court, she concludes that “whatever the merits of the majority’s policy preference, the decision to bar all design defect claims against vaccine manufacturers is one that Congress must make, not this Court.”

It’s good to know that Justice Sotomayor at least has woken up to the fact that we are headed at a high speed right back into a Lochner-era jurisprudence where conservative Justices work overtime to undo progressive legislation and substitute their own authoritarian judgments for democratic decision-making. The combination of this judicial assault on popularly enacted statutes with the decision in the Citizens United case to arm private corporations with political campaign spending rights under the First Amendment makes for a pretty scary polity and economy. We need more judges and Justices like Justice Sotomayor to stand up for democracy and the rule of law.

Jamie Raskin is a Maryland state senator, constitutional law professor at American University's Washington College of Law, and Senior Fellow at People For the American Way.

PFAW

Judge's Children Respond to GOP Congressman Who Wanted to Put Their Father "On the Endangered Species List"

In an address to the Montana State Legislature, Republican Congressman and Senate-candidate Denny Rehberg blasted a federal judge who ruled that the grey wolf had to remain on the Endangered Species list, saying: “When I first heard his decision, like many of you I wanted to take action immediately. I asked: how can we put some of these judicial activists on the Endangered Species list?”

Despite the call for greater civility in politics after the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that left a federal judge and five others dead, Rehberg continued to employ violent rhetoric to score political points against a judge who was simply doing his job.

In the wake of the Tucson shooting, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan said that all people have a “duty to consider the impact of our words and to approach political discourse with honesty and responsibility,” and the politicians “who denounce violence should also denounce the rhetoric that can incite it.”

Now, the children of the vilified judge are speaking out against the Congressman’s ferocious language targeting their dad in a letter to the Helena Independent Record. The judge’s children ask Rehberg “to remember that words matter, and inflammatory words inflame,” and point out that their father was simply following his role as a judge to “interpret and apply the laws” no matter how unpopular. The judge’s children remind Rehberg and all politicians that such vicious rhetoric has no place in the political and legal debate:

We are writing to express our disappointment and voice our concerns over the comments that Congressman Rehberg recently made at a joint session of the Montana Legislature. Although Congressman Rehberg didn’t identify by name U.S. District Judge Don Molloy — our dad — it was clear to whom he referred.

For the benefit of those not there, here is what was said: When referring to a recent federal court decision about wolves and the Endangered Species Act, Rehberg stated, “When I first heard his decision, like many of you I wanted to take action immediately. I asked: ‘How can we put some of these judicial activists on the endangered species list.’ I am still working on that!”

We, too, are still trying to figure out exactly how he thought it appropriate or responsible to make these comments, especially in light of recent events in Tucson.

We fully recognize that the wolf issue has become a polarizing, politicized issue. Through the years, we have come to understand that the press and public will often critique court decisions without a full understanding of the law or facts. Many cases, like the one involving wolf delisting, are complicated. Politicians like Congressman Rehberg have every right to comment, and like the rest of the public, they have the right to do so on an uninformed basis. But a line is crossed when language such as that used by Congressman Rehberg is spoken. It is not acceptable or appropriate to make veiled or outright threats of harm toward anyone, including a judge who is performing a constitutional responsibility to interpret and apply the laws that Congress enacts, based on the facts and law presented in the court room, and not on public opinion.

This is a personal issue for us, and not only because of these comments about Judge Molloy. We are proud Montanans. In fact, we are fourth-generation Montanans and our parents raised us to respect other people, even people with whom we may disagree. We grew up in a Montana where threats and jeers were unwelcome on a school playground and unheard of in political discourse.

It is our firm belief that we must hold our elected officials to a standard of conduct that is representative of Montanans and how we wish to be known. The respect and civility that we call upon Congressman Rehberg to demonstrate are qualities that we see every day in our fellow Montanans. Each of us can and should rise above the divisive and shallow rhetoric that is becoming so common in public discourse. Each of us can commit to showing through our own words and actions how we can debate the issues with respect, thoughtfulness and vigor.

It is our hope that the image of Montana and its citizens that we have grown up holding tightly to remains — that we are strong in our willingness to stand up and behave responsibly and respectfully to all. For all Montanans, and on behalf of our family, we ask Congressman Rehberg to remember that words matter, and inflammatory words inflame.

Molly, Brynn, Jennifer and Daniel TC Molloy are the children of U.S. District Judge Don Molloy of Missoula.
PFAW

Progressive Coalition Stands Up for Planned Parenthood

A diverse coalition of twenty six progressive groups, including People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action, signed on to a letter to Congress standing up for Planned Parenthood against right-wing attacks originating from the radical anti-choice group Live Action. Politico reports:

Liberal groups are banding together to come to the defense of Planned Parenthood in the wake of the recent controversy over videos taped inside the clinics. Conservative groups say that the films provide more than enough evidence for Congress to immediately de-fund the women’s health centers.



“We realized very quickly we needed to get together and stand up against the right wing smear machine and make a strong statement in solidarity with an important organization,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for People for the American Way, another progressive group that signed onto the letter. “The bigger picture is too important- that’s why you see such a range of organizations on this letter.”

Read the letter below:

Dear Members of Congress,

Right-wing groups are once again attempting to destroy an organization dedicated to providing crucial primary care services to Americans that need them most. Armed with heavily edited videos, countless lies, and a shameless echo chamber that repeats unfounded accusations ad nauseam, they’ve now turned their sights to Planned Parenthood, which offers a range of important health and reproductive services that help both women and men prevent unintended pregnancies and provide screenings for cervical and other cancers.

We are writing to inform you that our organizations stand united in opposition to any effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

These attacks are not about the issue of choice. Instead they are designed to systematically vilify and destroy institutions dedicated to helping America’s most vulnerable citizens with "evidence" that does not support their claims. They're about disempowering those who don’t share their world view. And they're about intimidating those in desperate need of help.

Your constituents sent you to Washington to be a strong advocate for their interests and stand up for the quintessential American values of justice and fairness -- and this latest digital witch hunt is neither just nor fair.

Sincerely,

Julian Bond, Board Chairman Emeritus, NAACP

Accountable America

African American Ministers in Action

Alliance for Justice

Center for Community Change

Center for Media & Democracy

Common Cause

Courage Campaign

CREDO Action

Demos

EMILY's List

Feminist Majority Foundation

Friends of the Earth

Keystone Progress

Media Matters Action Network

Midwest Academy

MoveOn.org Political Action

NARAL Pro-Choice America

National People's Action

People For the American Way

ProgressNow

Project Vote

Public Campaign

Service Employees International Union

Sierra Club

USAction

Voices for Progress
PFAW

Hundreds in California Protest Corporate Influence in Elections

In the year since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, there has been new scrutiny on the increasingly cozy relationship between corporate funders of elections and national policy makers. Exemplifying that relationship have been the Koch brothers, billionaires whose dollars have helped to fund right-wing organizations and campaigns for years, and who were behind one of the most powerful outside groups in the 2010 elections, Americans For Prosperity. The brothers also hold twice-yearly meetings of influential donors, pundits, and politicians—past guests have included Glenn Beck, Sens. Jim Demint and Tom Coburn, and even Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas (both of whom were in the Citizens United majority).

The Kochs held their most recent strategy meeting at a spa in Palm Springs this weekend. Attending the secretive event was House Republican Leader Eric Cantor, among other undisclosed guests. Outside were 800-1,000 protestors, 25 of whom were arrested for trespassing. The LA Times reports:

Protest organizers said they hoped to raise awareness about the Koch brothers and what activists portray as their shadowy attempts to weaken environmental protection laws and undercut campaign contribution limits.

The brothers control Koch Industries, the nation's second-largest privately held company. They have funded groups pushing a limited-government, libertarian agenda, helped organize "tea party" groups and contributed $1 million to a failed ballot initiative to suspend California's law to curb greenhouse gases.

"We cannot have democracy unless everyone has a voice," said Cathy Riddle, a Temecula website developer who held a sign reading "Corporations are not people." Donors like the Koch brothers are "drowning us out," she said. "Their voices are louder."

The protest, organized by Common Cause, included some members of People For the American Way. It came one week after activists, in events around the country, marked the first anniversary of Citizens United and called for a constitutional amendment to reverse it. Watch PFAW’s video explaining the decision and its impact:
 

PFAW

PFAW Calls On Smithsonian Secretary to Step Down

People For the American Way has called on Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough to resign following his handling of a censorship controversy that resulted in a work of art being removed from one of the Smithsonian’s museums. In the Huffington Post today, People For’s president, Michael Keegan, writes:

The controversy around "Hide/Seek" will not be an isolated incident. Instead, with the rise of the Tea Party and the GOP takeover of the House, the far right has found new and stronger voices in its effort to rewrite American history, redefine American values and narrow the range of the American experience. House Speaker John Boehner has already promised "tough scrutiny" of the Smithsonian's budget--and, presumably, its collections and research. Like with the right-wing campaigns against climate science and American Muslims, the campaign against the Smithsonian is likely to be loud and sensationalized. The institution, one of our greatest national resources, deserves a leader who will stand up for its integrity and fight for its future, not one who will so easily cave to the political pressures of the moment.

The Smithsonian’s board will be meeting in Washington on Monday. We’ll be joining ART+ there in a demonstration calling for Clough’s ouster. If you’re interested in joining the demonstration, details are here.

People For has also joined with a dozen other anti-censorship organizations to recommend [pdf] that the Smithsonian’s board adopt a set of policies to protect free expression when similar issues arise:

We urge you to adopt explicit policies that uphold First Amendment principles, as well as a procedure for responding to complaints, whether coming from the general public or from elected politicians. The latter entails creating an open process of careful review and discussion, which should take into account the facts that

  1. members of the American public hold diverse beliefs and values,

  2. that some of the most vital issues facing us are subject to controversy,

  3. and that controversy in a museum setting, when handled well, can productively illuminate such issues and advance public dialogue.

 

PFAW