people for the american way

Will Your Representative Sign the Pledge to Protect America’s Democracy?

Today, People For the American Way and Public Citizen launched a new campaign to get the ball rolling on a Constitutional Amendment to kick corporate money out of elections.

In January, the Supreme Court overturned a policy that was more than a century-old to allow corporations to spend millions of dollars from their treasuries to influence elections. To get to that decision, in the case of Citizens United v. FEC, the Court determined that corporations have the same free speech rights as individuals.

This reasoning, and the conclusion it led to, have been soundly rejected by Americans across the political spectrum. A poll we commissioned last month found that 85% of Americans disagree with the Court’s conclusion that the First Amendment allows corporations to spend whatever they like on elections, and 77% wanted to amend the Constitution to undo it.

What’s more, 74%--including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents-- said they’d be more likely to vote for a candidate who pledged to work for a Constitutional Amendment to undo Citizens United.

We saw this as a clear call to action. So we joined up with Public Citizen to create www.PledgeForDemocracy.org and start making a Constitutional Amendment a reality.

Here’s how it works. We’ve written up a pledge for federal candidates to sign, committing them to work towards a Constitutional Amendment to return our democracy to voters. It reads:

The Supreme Court's flawed decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts to influence election outcomes endangers our democracy and threatens to drown out the voices of individual citizens. I pledge to protect America from unlimited corporate spending on our elections by supporting a Constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's decision giving corporations the same First Amendment rights as people.

If you support a Constitutional Amendment, contact your representatives and candidates in your area and urge them to sign the pledge. Then get back to us and let us know what they said. We’ll keep track of contacts to candidates and officials, and publicize which candidates sign the pledge and which refuse to sign it.

We know that elections belong to voters…it’s time for elected officials to show they agree.
 

PFAW

Regulation and the 2010 Elections

The Washington Post is reporting that Wall Street contributions to Democratic campaign committees are markedly lower than this time in 2006 or 2008.

The drop in support comes from many of the same bankers, hedge fund executives and financial services chief executives who are most upset about the financial regulatory reform bill that House Democrats passed last week with almost no Republican support. ... This fundraising free fall from the New York area has left Democrats with diminished resources to defend their House and Senate majorities in November's midterm elections.

With Democrats seeking to impose reasonable regulations designed to protect the American people, this is no surprise.

The Republican Congress was a dream come true for the rapacious financiers who dragged our economy over a cliff, just as it was for all manners of giant corporations. We're seeing the results of the Republican ideology of allowing the most powerful industries to write their own laws and draft their own regulations. Not even the Supreme Court is immune, as a recent report from our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation demonstrates.

Deregulation has made the most powerful even more powerful, while the rest of us find ourselves more and more helpless against corporate behemoths.

Anyone who's spent an hour on hold waiting to get through to a large corporation knows who holds the power in our society, and it isn't us. These companies have been allowed to become so large that they can afford to mistreat their consumers in ways that no business would have gotten away with a generation ago.

Are you happy with the level of corporate influence on our politicians and on our lives? Do you wish you could make Big Business even stronger?

Or do you think it's time for Americans to retake control of our lives? If so, then it's time to act. Because the corporations aren't sitting this election out.

PFAW

“A Judicial Philosophy that Keeps Faith with the Constitution”: Our Endorsement of Kagan

Here at PFAW, we were all eager to hear what Elena Kagan had to say in this week’s hearings, and have spent the past two days in the Senate hearing room or glued to CSPAN 3  listening to her testimony. We were all extraordinarily impressed, and PFAW this afternoon endorsed Kagan’s nomination to the Supreme Court. PFAW president Michael Keegan’s statement:

“The departure of Justice Stevens leaves a hole in the Supreme Court that will be difficult to fill. Throughout his career, Justice Stevens stood up for his belief that all people, no matter their situation, deserve a fair hearing in the courts. Judging by her record of service, her writing, and her testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Elena Kagan is the right person to fill that vacancy.

“Solicitor General Kagan gave the American people a sound and thoughtful lesson about the Constitution as a timeless document, brilliantly conceived by its framers to be interpreted over time in light of new situations and new factual contexts. Her testimony gave voice to a view of the Constitution and the role of judges in sharp contrast to Chief Justice Roberts’ misleading analogy to an umpire calling balls and strikes. And she refused to buy into the cramped and distorted view of the role of the judiciary in interpreting the Constitution that was pushed by some Republican Senators.

“Elena Kagan’s testimony made clear that she has the intellect and the command of the law to stand firm for a judicial philosophy that keeps faith with our Constitution--its amendments, its history, and its core values like justice and equality under the law.

“Instead of engaging in a serious debate however, some Republican Senators chose to lob dishonest attacks at General Kagan's support for our armed forces and, inexplicably, at her mentor Justice Thurgood Marshall. Justice Marshall was a passionate advocate for our Constitution, and it's thanks to him that all Americans have access to its protections. For Senators to repeatedly attack the man who helped our nation move past our shameful history of segregation would be foolish if it weren't just plain offensive.

“After carefully evaluating her record and her statements, People For the American Way is proud to support Elena Kagan's nomination to the Supreme Court.”
 

PFAW

Outdated Stereotypes and Gender-Based Discrimination in Flores-Villar v. United States

On Monday, People For the American Way Foundation signed on to an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision to enforce a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that imposes a greater residency requirement for unmarried citizen fathers to transfer citizenship to their children born abroad than on unmarried citizen mothers.

The statute permits unmarried citizen fathers to transmit citizenship only if they have lived in the U.S. prior to the child’s birth for ten years, five of them after the age of 14. Mothers, on the other hand, are only required to have lived in the U.S. for just one year prior to the child’s birth. The petitioner’s father was 16 when his son was born, making it impossible for him to meet the requirement of five years of residency after age 14. Mr. Flores-Villar filed suit on the grounds that the law violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.

PFAWF’s brief, authored by the National Womens’ Law Center, argues that such gender-based discrimination perpetuates the old stereotype that unwed fathers have less meaningful relationships with their children than do unwed mothers, and the Supreme Court has rejected the use of such stereotypes in justifying gender-based classifications. The classifications also do nothing to further the government’s stated objective of encouraging parent-child relationships, and in countries where citizenship is derived from the father, would render stateless the children of fathers who cannot meet the requirements.

If the Supreme Court were to uphold the Ninth Circuit’s decision, it would be ignoring over 30 years of Equal Protection jurisprudence to enforce a discriminatory law that perpetuates outdated stereotypes and is harmful to family relationships.

PFAW

A Victory For Religious Liberty

In today's 5-4 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court correctly ruled that a publicly funded law school need not provide funding and recognition to a campus group with policies that discriminate based on religion and sexual orientation.

The University of California, Hastings College of Law, is a public institution with a viewpoint-neutral policy of recognizing and providing some funding to official student organizations, as long as the groups open their membership to all comers regardless of their status or beliefs. The campus Christian Legal Society (CLS) denies voting membership to those who do not subscribe to its religious beliefs, including those which condemn sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Because the CLS's discrimination on the basis of religion and sexual orientation violates the school's "all comers" policy, Hastings denied them official recognition.

All student groups, the CLS included, are subject to the same rules. But the CLS demanded – and the four arch-conservative Justices would have given them – a special favored status denied to other groups: the right to the funds and benefits of recognition from a public institution, along with an exemption from the rules that apply to any other group seeking those funds and benefits.

People For the American Way Foundation filed an amicus brief with other civil rights organizations in support of Hastings College of Law in the case. The brief emphasized that the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the right of the states to withhold public funding that would support discrimination. This is particularly relevant in the context of government-funded "faith-based initiatives," where conservative Christian groups are demanding the right to receive public funds and then use them to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Had the four-Justice dissent carried the day, grave damage would have been done to the power of government to prohibit public funds from being used to forward invidious discrimination. Today is a victory for religious liberty.

PFAW

The Confirmation Hearings Are Coming!

At last, the wait is over: it's time for the Senate Confirmation Hearings for Supreme Court Nominee Elena Kagan.

Here at People For the American Way Headquarters, we're hoping for (and expecting to get) a conversation that addresses the clear pro-corporate tilt of the Roberts Court and its willingness to bend the law to favor powerful interests. We're also hoping that we'll hear some of our 20 Questions for Solicitor General Kagan asked and answered.

While we'd like to believe that the hearings will be all about the law and Solicitor General Kagan's judicial philosophy, we also expect to see a fair amount of preening from conservative Senators trying to score points with their far-right base.

We'll be blogging throughout the hearings, and we hope that you'll stop by from time to time and have a read.  To help beef-up our commentary on the right-wing craziness that's sure to go on around the hearings, Kyle from RightWingWatch.org will be cross posting relevant posts here on the People For Blog.

Finally, you can follow our Twitter feed, @PeopleFor.

Opening statements start today at 12:30, so pull up a chair, turn on C-Span 3, and watch with us for a while.

PFAW

Texas Textbooks: What happened, what it means, and what we can do about it

People For has been tracking the Religious Right’s crusade to politicize textbooks—and fighting against it—since the 1980s. Our new Right Wing Watch: In Focus report outlines how the latest right-wing takeover of Texas textbooks fits into the history of the religious right’s efforts to influence public education:

Religious Right leaders in Texas have been waging war against science and history for the past few decades. A primary target and battleground has been the state’s public schools, in particular the statewide approval process for textbooks. People For the American Way Foundation first started working with Texans to resist Religious Right takeovers of textbooks back in the 1980s.

The Religious Right has invested so heavily in Texas textbooks because of the national implications. School districts in Texas have to buy books from a state-approved list, and Texas is such an enormous market that textbook publishers will generally do whatever they can to get on that list. Textbooks written and edited to meet Texas standards end up being used all over the country. So Religious Right leaders in Texas can doom millions of American students to stunted, scientifically dubious science books and ideologically slanted history and social studies books. Advances in printing technology make it easier to prevent that from happening now, but it will take vigilance to keep publishers from following the path of least resistance.

Earlier this month, we led a coalition of groups to deliver over 130,000 petitions to a textbook publisher in New York urging them to reject Texas’s new right-wing curriculum standards. You can sign the petition here.

Read the full Right Wing Watch report here.
 

PFAW

Equal Protection Under Attack: Doe v. Vermilion Parish School Board

Last week, People for the American Way Foundation signed on to an amicus brief urging the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s decision allowing a Louisiana middle school to segregate classrooms by sex. The amicus brief, led by the National Women’s Law Center, argued that sex-segregated classrooms are harmful to members of both sexes and violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Parents of the Rene A. Rost Middle School were informed in 2009 that classes for the school would be segregated by sex for the coming fall semester. A parent whose children were placed in sex-segregated classes without receiving constitutionally mandated coeducational options objected and was told that because the coed classes had already been filled, the only option left for one of her daughters was a special needs class. Represented by the ACLU, the parent sued and the trial court dismissed the case by wrongly shifting the burden of proof, requiring the victim to prove discrimination by demonstrating an “intent to harm” - a new standard that is almost impossible to meet and not recognized by the Supreme Court.

As the Supreme Court held in its 1996 decision requiring the Virginia Military Institute to admit women, for a state to permissibly classify on the basis of sex, it “must carry the burden of showing an exceedingly persuasive justification for the classification.” Additionally, the state must not “rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females.” Simply put, the Court has found that a state must have a very good reason before it decides to discriminate on the basis of sex.

NWLC’s brief cites evidence that suggests a total lack of adequate justification for the school’s policy, both from a legal and practical perspective, specifically a flawed study performed by Rost Middle School’s principal. Simply put, if the Fifth Circuit were to uphold the District Court’s decision, it would ignore almost 30 years of settled Equal Protection law in order to endorse a discriminatory policy that is harmful to all students regardless of gender.
 

PFAW

PFAW and AAMIA tell Congress: Repeal DADT

People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action wrote to Congress today urging repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Votes are imminent in both the House and Senate.

According to PFAW’s Michael B. Keegan and Marge Baker:

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell runs counter to the honesty and integrity we associate with the armed forces, not to mention the values of equality and freedom of expression espoused by our Constitution. Repeal is necessary to restore these values. Until then, LGBT soldiers will have to lie and hide their true identity on a daily basis. Those who live openly and share information about their spouses, significant others, or dating life risk investigation and involuntary expulsion. Any statement that one is gay – to anyone, at any time, before or after enlistment – can be reason for discharge. Your life is a constant liability to your career when you are gay in the military.

AAMIA’s Reverend Timothy McDonald, III and Reverend Dr. Robert P. Shine further explored the ideas of equality and open service.

The faith community will continue in faithful dialogue to address the questions of LGBT equality and recognition of same-sex relationships. However, one thing people of faith should and do recognize is the need to protect constitutional and civil rights of all Americans, especially those who are discriminated against because of who they are. LGBT individuals are ready and willing to step up, and have stood up to the challenge of military service. They share in the sacrifices made by their family, friends, and neighbors. They deserve to serve honestly and openly with dignity.

Please write or call your Representative now and tell him or her that you support repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Share the same message with your Senators if they are on the Armed Services Committee.

PFAW

Appeals Court Rules Against Bagram Detainees

Today, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against three detainees held by the U.S. on a military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, holding that the federal courts do not have jurisdiction to review their habeas petitions. People For the American Way Foundation filed an amicus brief in support of the detainees’ position that the federal courts do have such jurisdiction.

 In apparent concern about opening the door to habeas cases from detainees held on U.S. military bases all over the world, the three-judge panel distinguished the United States’ control and sovereignty over the Bagram military base from the de facto sovereignty over Guantanamo Bay - a determinative factor in the Supreme Court’s decision in Rasul v. Bush (2004) which held that Guantanamo detainees could seek habeas relief in U.S. courts. The panel pointed out that the U.S. has exercised its leasehold interest in Guantanamo Bay for over 100 years, while its leasehold interest in Bagram is only a few years old.

More interestingly, the court also accepted the government’s “practical obstacles” arguments on appeal that allowing these cases to proceed in our federal courts would overly burden a military that is engaged in active hostilities in Afghanistan. PFAW Foundation wrote about this very issue, urging the court to take notice of the orderly and unobtrusive manner in which the Guantanamo habeas cases have been disposed since the Supreme Court’s decision in Boumediene in 2008. Those cases are particularly instructive given that 30 of the 38 detainees whose cases were brought before the D.C. district courts by the time of filing were found to have insufficient evidence to support their detentions, belying the notion that those detained as enemy combatants are the worst of the worst. In fact, many are not and worse still, some may even be innocent.

PFAW

Coalition Urges Holder to Reconsider Moves to Weaken Miranda Rights

A coalition of 35 progressive organizations, including People For the American Way, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder this morning urging him to reconsider his stance on weakening Miranda rights. Holder has said the Obama Administration is open to expanding the “public safety exception,” which allows officers in exceptional circumstances to question suspects before reading them their rights. The coalition, led by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, argues, “Weakening Miranda would undercut our fundamental Fifth Amendment rights for no perceptible gain.”

As you know, the Supreme Court crafted the "public safety exception" to Miranda more than 25 years ago in New York v. Quarles. This exception permits law enforcement to temporarily interrogate suspected terrorists without advising them of their Miranda rights – including the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney – when "reasonably prompted by a concern for public safety." It allows federal agents to ask the questions necessary to protect themselves and the public from imminent threats before issuing a Miranda warning. Provided the interrogation is non-coercive, any statements obtained from a suspect during this time may be admissible at trial.

Law enforcement used the Quarles “public safety exception” to question Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber,” and Faisal Shahzad, the alleged “Times Square bomber.” Both suspects reportedly provided interrogators with valuable intelligence during that time and continued to do so even after being advised of their rights. As you observed during your May 9, 2010, appearance on “Meet the Press,” “the giving of Miranda warnings has not stopped these terror suspects from talking to us. They have continued to talk even though we have given them a Miranda warning.”

In the nearly nine years since the attacks of 9/11, the Department of Justice has obtained convictions in more than 400 international terrorism or terrorism-related cases without weakening Miranda or risking the safety of Americans. The “public safety exception” is exception enough. Should the need arise to conduct an un-Mirandized interrogation unrelated to any immediate threat to public safety, law enforcement is free to do so under the Constitution. Miranda imposes no restriction on the use of unadvised statements for the purpose of identifying or stopping terrorist activity. The Fifth Amendment only requires that such statements be inadmissible for the purposes of criminal prosecution. Yet even this requirement has exceptions. Un-Mirandized statements obtained outside the public safety exception may still be used for impeachment, and physical evidence discovered as a result of such statements may also be admissible.

Read the full letter here.

 
PFAW

On Ellis Island, African American Ministers Leadership Council Are First to Sign Immigration Reform Covenant

Members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council and African American Ministers in Action gathered on Ellis Island to sign an immigration reform covenant.

On Wednesday, members of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC) and African American Ministers In Action (AAMIA) gathered on Ellis Island to pledge their unified support for a dignified, just, and tolerant approach to reforming the country’s immigration laws. The ministers, from five states and diverse denominations, were the first to sign a multi-faith covenant calling for “immigration dialogue and reform that will inspire hope, unite families, secure borders, ensure dignity and provide a legal avenue for all of God’s children working and desiring to reside in this country to drink from the well of justice and equal protection under the law.”


The covenant, which lays out seven principles for a respectful immigration reform debate, will be circulated among faith leaders of diverse traditions and ethnicities across the United States.

“We believe immigration reform is important for this nation. As faith leaders from various faith traditions, we stand united with one message and that is a message of love,” said Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African American Religious Affairs.

Watson Malachi put together the covenant in response to what she called the “increasingly nasty and divisive political and social tone of the immigration debate.”

Rev. Robert Shine

“For years, we have witnessed rhetoric around immigration reform that is deceptive, harmful, and pits communities against each other,” she said. “What took place in Arizona last month, when the state essentially legalized racial profiling in the name of immigration reform, demonstrated the mean-spirited, inhospitable atmosphere that is moving across state lines. This covenant is a statement that faith leaders will reclaim civility, lead a genuine, compassionate conversation, and not stand for racially divisive tactics that undermine the dignity of human beings.”

Members of the AAMLC were quick to sign on.

“We are concerned about all people, from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all races, all nationalities, ethnic origins, etc.,” said Reverend Melvin Wilson of St. Luke AME Church in New York, one of the original signers, “But the tone of the current discussion of immigration has been so negative, so divisive, we are just not going to sit idly by and let the talking heads speak without providing a counter-voice.”

Rev. Patrick Young signs the covenant as Rev. Dr. E. Gail Anderson Holness looks on.

“To sign this covenant is important for multiple reasons,” said Reverend Byron Williams, of Resurrection Church in Oakland, California, who was among the first leaders to add his name to the document. “First of all, it’s important on the issues of equality, and justice, and fairness and dignity. But it also makes an important statement that we have African American pastors coming together. Our ancestry does not take us by Ellis Island, but the concept of liberty is one that’s as deep in our community as it is for anyone that’s come to these shores looking for a better life. It’s those deeply held values of liberty, justice and fairness that are the bedrock of American principles.”

Watson Malachi plans to continue promoting the messages of unity and dignity through education and awareness efforts that include informative dialogue sessions, roundtable conversations with faith leaders from African, Caribbean, Latino, African American and other communities.

The full text of the covenant can be found here.

People For’s report on divisive and dishonest rhetoric in the debate on immigration reform is here.
 

PFAW

PFAW and AAMIA tell House: Pass ENDA now

People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action wrote to the House of Representatives today urging swift passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act – as a clean bill with no harmful amendments or motions to recommit. This follows last month’s joint statement by over 200 organizations demanding immediate action.

According to PFAW’s Michael B. Keegan and Marge Baker:

American principles of fairness and equal opportunity should be extended to all in the workplace. Passage of ENDA would be a major step in the right direction.

AAMIA’s Reverend Timothy McDonald further explored the idea of shared values.

If we’re going to build the beloved community that Dr. King spoke of, we must be conscious of discrimination, no matter where it rears its ugly head.  As African American ministers, we know what it takes to stand up against systemic oppression. It is in solidarity and love that we recognize the plight of others and support this struggle for the same protections.

We believe a committee vote is imminent, with a House floor vote not far behind. Please write or call your Representative now and tell him or her that you support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Before I go, a special shout out to our friends at the National Center for Transgender Equality for their recent action calling on transpeople to seek employment at congressional offices as a way to demonstrate that transpeople need jobs and are determined to get them.

PFAW

New People For Report Tracks the Rise of the Corporate Court

When the Supreme Court decided this year to open the electoral process to floods of money from corporate interests, it provoked a vehement public backlash. But Citizens United v. FEC was just the tip of the iceberg of a decade of rulings—some high-profile and some less noticed— made by a Court that has been disturbingly deferential to corporate interests. A new People For the American Way Foundation report outlines the rise of the corporate court under Chief Justice Rehnquist and the new life it has taken on in the Roberts court.

Americans across the spectrum have been startled and appalled by the Citizens United decision, which will "open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign companies—to spend without limit in our elections," as President Obama said in his 2010 State of the Union Address. According to a Washington Post nationwide poll, more than 80% of the American people reject the Court's conclusion that a business corporation is a member of the political community entitled to the same free speech rights as citizens.

Yet, the Court's watershed ruling is the logical expression of an activist pro-corporatist jurisprudence that has been bubbling up for many decades on the Court but has gained tremendous momentum over the last generation. Since the Rehnquist Court, there have been at least five justices—and sometimes more—who tilt hard to the right when it comes to a direct showdown between corporate power and the public interest. During the Roberts Court, this trend has continued and intensified. Although there is still some fluidity among the players, it is reasonable to think of a reliable "corporate bloc" as having emerged on the Court.

Take a look at the full report here.
 

PFAW

DC voting rights bill expected to move next week

DC has waited over 200 years to have a voting voice in Congress. Today the nation’s capital may be as close as it’s ever come to making that dream a reality.

On Wednesday afternoon came the breaking news that an agreement had been reached to move forward on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act, which would give DC a full Representative with the same voting power as other House members. Just this morning, I joined a room full of concerned citizens and activists for a briefing lead by DC Vote and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. We then took to the halls of Congress in support of the Delegate’s tireless efforts on this issue.

Nobody is happy that this agreement comes at the price of right-wing interference in local affairs. But to go any longer without voting rights is an even higher price to pay. DC can’t keep fighting these intrusions without a meaningful way to say “aye” or “no” when those infamous bells ring calling members to the House floor. As Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights put it:

The civil rights community recognizes that it must be prepared to accept some setbacks in the name of long-term progress. Virtually every major piece of civil rights legislation, from 1957 onwards, has involved difficult and often painful tradeoffs. In this case, given the fundamental importance of gaining a vote in Congress, we are prepared to move forward with the voting rights bill.

People For the American Way believes that the right-wing should stay away from this bill. But we also believe it’s a tragedy that our Democracy has allowed DC residents to live without voting representation for over 200 years. Any citizen who pays taxes, and is otherwise legally eligible to vote, should be able to vote. And certainly no member of the armed services should be robbed of the right to vote simply because of where they live.

The fight will not be over even when DC can cast a House vote. It is high time the nation’s capital be given both House and Senate representation, with voting power in both chambers.

PFAW

Can the filibuster be fixed?

The threat of filibuster is holding up Senate business more than ever before, and Senators are at odds over whether to do away with or amend the rule that’s causing so much trouble.

People for Executive Vice President Marge Baker joined a panel yesterday at American University’s Washington College of Law to discuss what can be done to loosen up the gridlock in the deliberative body.

Baker, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus and Cato Institute scholar John Samples discussed several proposals that have been put forward to fix the filibuster problem, from limiting lawmakers to a “one bite” rule that would not permit filibusters of both motions to proceed to a bill as well as on the merits of the bill itself to reducing the number of votes needed to invoke cloture to scuttling the rule altogether. But they kept coming back to one point: what’s causing the gridlock isn’t the filibuster rule itself but its increasing use as an obstructionist tactic.

“The problem is not its existence; the problem is its overuse,” Marcus said.

People For the American Way has found that Republicans in the 111th Congress are holding up executive branch nominations at an unprecedented rate, and that they are more than ever invoking the cloture process to delay votes whose outcome they know they can’t change.

“It really is a problem. It really is causing government to break down,” Baker said, “The cloture vote is being used to an unprecedented degree, and the degree to which it’s being used primarily for obstruction, is really a serious problem.”

Here’s a look at the rate of cloture filings in the past 90 years:


And a look at filibuster threats to executive nominees from 1949 through March of 2010:

Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Tom Harkin have introduced a measure to phase out the filibuster in a series of steps, eventually ending in a Senate where votes can pass with a simple majority. Senator Tom Udall has proposed letting the Senate adopt new rules--and make a choice about the filibuster--at the start of every new Congress. But the solution may lie not in taking away the power of the minority to have some leverage in matters that are truly important (nobody likes that idea when they’re in the minority), but in limiting the situations where the filibuster can be used. Marcus suggested taking the option off the table for executive nominations, limiting its use in judicial nominations, and limiting the minority to one filibuster per law. Baker suggested changing the rule that provides for 30 hours of post-cloture debate before a matter can be voted on, which would save enormous time, particularly where the result is a foregone conclusion.

Though, whatever the form that filibuster rules take, I’m pretty sure we can count on the GOP to come up with creative ways to keep on stalling business.


Baker, Samples, Marcus, and moderator William Yeomans at American University's Washington College of Law

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

Right Wing Shocked, *Shocked* at Racist Slurs Aimed at Lawmakers

During protests against health care reform, anti-health care activists used racial and homophobic slurs against members of Congress, and one protester was arrested for spitting on Congressman John Lewis of Georgia.

Right Wing leaders have attempted to distance themselves from the incidents, but their denials would be more convincing if inflaming racial resentment weren't such a central strategy in their campaign against President Obama and his agenda.

As People For the American Way reported in "Right Wing Watch In Focus -- Right Plays the Race Card," incendiary racial rhetoric has long been a part of the Right's crusade against health care:

At first glance, health care reform would not seem as likely an issue for racial wedge politics. But racially charged arguments have been made alongside the by-now familiar charges of government takeovers, socialism, fascism, and death panels. Investors Business Daily and Fox Nation teamed up to portray health care reform as "affirmative action on steroids" and to suggest that reform is actually a back-door way to implement reparations for slavery:

The racial grievance industry under health care reform could be calling the shots in the emergency room, the operating room, the medical room, even medical school. As Terence Jeffrey, editor at large of Human Events puts it, not only our wealth, but also our health will be redistributed.

At the recent How to Take Back America conference organized by far-right doyenne Phyllis Schlafly and her heir-apparent,right-wing radio host and activist Janet Folger Porter, a panelist attacked health care reform saying it would amount to a reenactment of slavery by our first black president, this time with doctors being enslaved. Bishop Harry Jackson, the Religious Right's favorite African American minister, has denounced health care reform proposals that he claims would divert health care resources from wealthier to poorer Americans as "reverse classism."

Two academics, Marc Hetherington of Vanderbilt University and Jonathan Weiler of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recently found an "extraordinarily strong correlation between racial resentment of blacks and opposition to health care reform," a relationship that did not exist during the Clinton health care debate.

If the GOP and the Right Wing want to be able to credibly disavow racism, they should stop associating so closely with those who peddle it.

PFAW

GOP Obstructionism Is No Surprise

The good news is that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted this morning to approve - again - Dawn Johnsen's nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel. The bad news is that this was yet another party-line vote where the Republicans opposed an unquestionably qualified candidate solely because she was nominated by President Obama.

People For the American Way has carefully documented the unprecedented behavior of Congressional Republicans, as they have done everything in their power to stymie President Obama's nominations and administration-supported initiatives even if they have overwhelming support within their own caucus. Just this week, for instance, Republicans filibustered the nomination of Judge Barbara Keenan to the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, after every Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee had voted in support of her nomination. When the filibuster was broken, she was confirmed 99-0. 99-0!

How do you explain a party whose position on more and more issues is determined simply on whether they can hurt President Obama, even when they agree with him?

If you consider today's GOP as a traditional political party in the mold of other political parties throughout American history, their behavior is surprising. But this is the party that impeached President Clinton, shut down the 2000 Florida recount, and launched vast voter disenfranchisement campaigns around the country.

So just what is today's GOP? Just six weeks after President Obama's inauguration, our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation foresaw the next step in the party's devolution in a powerful and prescient Right Wing Watch In Focus report: Dragged along by its most extreme base, today's Republican Party does not see itself as the minority party in a democracy. Instead, they increasingly see themselves as a resistance movement, a mindset appropriate for fighting a dictatorship, but not for working with a democracy's freely elected government.

No one who read that report has been at all surprised by the GOP efforts to sabotage the workings of the federal government. They made it clear over a year ago how they envision themselves in a nation that rejected them at the ballot box. Their behavior since has been consistent.

It's sad that the party of Abraham Lincoln has sunk so low.

And it's outrageous that qualified nominees are being blocked by the GOP's obstructionist tactics. Help put a stop to it here.

PFAW

Senators Dodd and Udall call for a constitutional amendment

Yesterday, Senators Christopher Dodd and Tom Udall introduced a constitutional amendment to correct the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. According to Senator Dodd:

Ultimately, we must cut through the underbrush and go directly to the heart of the problem, and that is why I am proposing this constitutional amendment: because constitutional questions need constitutional answers.

People for the American Way applauds Senators Dodd and Udall, Senator John Kerry, and House members like Donna Edwards, John Conyers, and Leonard Boswell, for pushing constitutional amendments. We believe that this is the only complete remedy for the grave threat posed to our democracy by the Roberts Court and its equation of corporations with individuals – a perversion of the First Amendment.

While legislation is a crucial part of the effort to repair this decision, it should be only a part of our response. Constitutional amendments are warranted in only the most extreme circumstances. This is one of them.

You can join People For the American Way’s call for a constitutional amendment by signing our petition at http://www.pfaw.org/Amend.

PFAW