people for the american way

What a Shooting Doesn’t Mean

The attack that took place yesterday at Fort Hood was utterly horrifying, and Americans of all stripes are holding the victims of the violence in their thoughts and prayers.

That the perpetrator of the attack was deeply disturbed is obvious, but it’s also been widely reported that he is a practicing Muslim.

If he were a Christian, no one would use the incident to spread suspicion of Christians, but because of deeply ingrained cultural misunderstanding of Islam, some commentators are pushing the lie that Nidal Malik Hasan’s reprehensible actions should in some way reflect on all Muslims.

That’s absurd.

People For the American Way Foundation said as much today.

While the facts of the case are still being established, some commentators have latched onto the suspect’s name and religion and used them to impugn the characters of all Muslim Americans. That’s unacceptable. All Americans are united in condemning this violence, and it would be horrific if this incident was used to sow divisiveness and discord.

Our friends at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) put out a press release that should have been entirely unnecessary, but which should clear up any lingering misconceptions:

We condemn this cowardly attack in the strongest terms possible and ask that the perpetrators be punished to the full extent of the law. No religious or political ideology could ever justify or excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence. The attack was particularly heinous in that it targeted the all-volunteer army that protects our nation. American Muslims stand with our fellow citizens in offering both prayers for the victims and sincere condolences to the families of those killed or injured.

Yesterday’s shooting was a tragedy, and the proper response is sympathy for the heartbreaking ordeal the Fort Hood community is going through. Not intolerant attacks on fellow Americans.
 

PFAW

Have they no decency?

McCarthyism is back. Let's call it what it is.
 
We are seeing one witch hunt after another led by right-wing opinion leaders, media outlets, organizations and even members of Congress. They pursue personal smear campaigns, grasping at straws to create "guilt by association" and challenge the legitimacy, allegiances and patriotism of their opponents.
 
Remember the Bush-era attacks on the patriotism of anyone who questioned the administration's policies? Those look tame in comparison. Now, with Democrats in power, the insinuation is that the president, his advisers and his political allies are actively trying to destroy America from within and, despite being elected by the people, are inherently unfit to lead.
 
We stand up to right-wing bullies every day, and we want to help all courageous Americans do the same. People For the American Way is ready to confront this new McCarthyism head-on. In the coming days and weeks we will be exposing the Right's tactics and rhetoric and creating tools to help activists combat them. We will educate Americans about the insidious nature of what we see happening in this country and impress upon Americans the urgency of stopping it.
 
In a 1954 Senate hearing, Army head counsel Joseph Welch famously put Senator Joseph McCarthy in his place, saying, "Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"
 
In that great moment in American history, Welch called McCarthy out for his "cruelty" and "recklessness." The crowd at the hearing erupted in applause and, in that instant, McCarthy's power started its decline.
 
It's time for all of us to ask that same question -- Have you no sense of decency? -- of those on the Right who have resurrected McCarthy's tactics.
 
Radical Right activists ("Birthers," "Tea Baggers"), paranoid anti-government extremists and irresponsible media personalities like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh (and media outlets like FOX News) -- in many cases with the backing of entrenched right-wing and corporate interest groups -- have simultaneously raised the ominous, not to mention incompatible, specters of socialism, communism, fascism, Nazism and infiltration by foreign elements. This has created a backdrop of suspicion in which McCarthy-like intimidation, guilt by association and character assassination thrive.
 
In the last two weeks alone, we've seen:

  • 53 right-wing members of Congress sign a letter to the President requesting that he fire Kevin Jennings who heads the office at the Department of Education tasked with keeping schools safe, for "promoting homosexuality and pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America's schools." Jennings, a gay man and founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), has been the target of right-wing groups like Family Research Council for months. He was also the victim of false accusations that he broke the law in counseling an underage student when he was a teacher - and the congressional letter included that allegation even though the office of the letter's primary signer, Rep. Steve King, had been made aware that the story was wrong.
  • Glenn Beck, whose "6 degrees of Obama" guilt-by-association attacks have generally lacked any shred of coherence, has been going after White House Communications Director Anita Dunn for once offhandedly referring to Mao Tse-tung (along with Mother Teresa) as one of her favorite political philosophers. He has repeatedly implied that this means she must endorse his heinous deeds and personal ideology while remaining conspicuously silent about the fact that many icons of the conservative movement have approvingly cited the political writings and tactics of communists like Mao, Lenin and the Viet Cong.
  • Just this past Sunday, the notoriously right-wing editorial page of the Washington Times savaged Judge Edward Chen, who is nominated to the Northern District Court of California, opening the piece with the sentence, "Another day, another Obama nominee who doesn't appear to love America." For its 'evidence,' the editorial cites: Chen's acknowledgement of what we all know -- that a judge's life experiences affect how he or she views a case (shades of the attacks against Sonia Sotomayor); the fact that he expressed concern -- as many thinking Americans did -- about potential recriminations for Muslim Americans following the tragedy of September 11; and his former work with the ACLU.

Of course, the use of race-baiting, red-baiting, gay-baiting and lies to characterize people as enemies of America doesn't stop with attacks on administration officials and nominees. There have been many more examples, and sadly, there will undoubtedly be many more to come.
 
That's why we must all be vigilant. We must call out fear-mongering and intimidation in government, in the media and in our own communities. And when we confront it, we must ask the vital question, "Have you no sense of decency?"
 
People For the American Way is getting out in front of this troubling and pervasive new trend. Through research, educational materials and activism tools, we'll give you what you need to stand up to the Right and McCarthyism.

PFAW

PFAW Opposes Unconstitutional Vitter-Bennett Amendment

Today, People For the American Way was represented by our General Counsel Debbie Liu at a press conference to oppose the Vitter-Bennett amendment, which would require Census workers to ask all Americans their citizenship and immigration status in the 2010 census. Doing so could discourage minority communities’ participation in the 2010 census, and would result in an inaccurate census. Not only is the amendment unconstitutional, it is a thinly-veiled effort by the radical Religious Right and their counterparts in Congress to target undocumented immigrants. 

Above, attendees at the press conference to oppose the Vitter-Bennett amendment.

The New York Times featured an editorial citing how changing the census would waste time and valuable resources. Should the Vitter-Bennett amendment pass, the Census Bureau would have to reprint forms, promotional materials and training software:

As required by law, the Census Bureau gave Congress the exact wording of the survey’s 10 questions in early April 2008 — more than 18 months ago. Changing it now to meet Mr. Vitter’s demand would delay the count, could skew the results and would certainly make it even harder to persuade minorities to participate.

It would also be hugely expensive. The Commerce Department says that redoing the survey would cost hundreds of millions of dollars: to rewrite and reprint hundreds of millions of census forms, to revise instructional and promotional material and to reprogram software and scanners.

Other civil rights groups including the Center for American Progress (CAP), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Demos, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) attended the press conference.

PFAW

Hate Crimes Legislation Passes the House

Last night, the House passed the Department of Defense Authorization bill in a 281 to 146 vote. Attached to the legislation was the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which will expand current hate crimes law to cover acts of violence motivated by a victim's sexual orientation, gender, disability or gender identity.

The bill passed despite Republican opposition to the hate crimes provision and accusations that it would prosecute "thought crimes." People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan said in a statement:

Last night's vote was an important step towards finally enacting these hate crimes protections into law. This bill will help ensure that fewer Americans will become victims of violence simply because of who they are, while at the same time providing strong First Amendment protections. Limited hate crimes protections have existed for years on the basis of race and religion. It's long past time to expand this to include other targeted groups. I'm especially proud that this bill includes protections based on gender identity-the first time gender identity will receive positive protection in federal law.

The Byrd/Shepard Act is expected to pass in the Senate next week, the same week as the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepard, the University of Wyoming student murdered in 1998 because he was gay.

PFAW

Scalia, Empathy, and Crayons

This week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Salazar v. Buono, a case involving the display of a cross on top of Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve, which is federal property. (People For the American Way Foundation joined an amicus brief in this case filed by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and other religious and secular non-profits).

By now, you've probably read about Justice Scalia's angry response when a Jewish lawyer had the audacity to point out that Jews don't use Christian crosses to honor their dead.

Mr. Eliasberg [the ACLU Foundation attorney] said many Jewish war veterans would not wish to be honored by "the predominant symbol of Christianity," one that "signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins."

Justice Scalia disagreed, saying, "The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead."

"What would you have them erect?" Justice Scalia asked. "Some conglomerate of a cross, a Star of David and, you know, a Muslim half moon and star?"

Mr. Eliasberg said he had visited Jewish cemeteries. "There is never a cross on the tombstone of a Jew," he said, to laughter in the courtroom.

Justice Scalia grew visibly angry. "I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead that that cross honors are the Christian war dead," he said. "I think that's an outrageous conclusion."

When I read this, my mind immediately went to … crayons. Yes, crayons.

When I was five, I had a somewhat peach-colored crayon that Crayola called "flesh." I'm white, and the crayon was close to my own skin color. It didn't occur to me that Crayola was assuming that all people are white. I didn’t need to think about it – After all, I was part of the majority. Later on, of course, I realized how this nomenclature marked African Americans as other, as outsiders in our society.

But not everyone who is a member of the in group has the capacity to understand what it is to be on the other side. Justice Scalia certainly doesn't.

For Justice Scalia, the cross has never had anything but positive connotations. From the perspective of his life experience, how could a cross grave marker be anything but an honor?

But in the history of America, Jews and other non-Christians have experienced the cross at times as neutral, and at times as a symbol of exclusion and persecution. Yet when someone points out that Jews do not see the cross as a symbol of honor, Justice Scalia gets angry.

In analyzing how the law impacts people, a wise judge considers people who are different from himself. A wise judge has empathy. Justice Scalia has none.

PFAW

Hate Crimes Legislation One Step Closer to Becoming Law

Last night, in a 178-234 vote, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act moved one step closer to becoming law. This legislation protects victims of hate crimes based on disability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity. 

The vote was taken on what's called a motion to instruct conferees - this one would have instructed those negotiating a final Defense Authorization bill to remove the hate crimes language included by the Senate. In a series of speeches (item 35) fit only for Right Wing Watch, the motion's supporters tried to take down this critical update to "equal protection under the law." Thankfully, their efforts were to no avail, and the Shepard/Byrd bill may soon reach President Obama's desk. A few minor hurdles remain, but we hope to see it signed within the next week.

With the stroke of a pen, the President will have an opportunity to send loud and clear the message that freedom from discrimination is a right all Americans should enjoy. And we cannot forget that this action would affirm - for the first time in federal law - a positive protection for gender identity.

Click here for more information from People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action.

PFAW

Church, State, Land Swaps, and the Supreme Court

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing oral argument in the case of Salazar v. Buono, a case involving the display of a cross on top of Sunrise Rock in the Mojave National Preserve, which is federal property. A former employee of the Preserve sued in federal court challenging the legality of the display, arguing that the religious symbol violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  The district court agreed and ordered that the display be taken down.  So far, so good.

But in order to sidestep the ruling, Congress swapped Sunrise Rock—but none of the land around it—with a private party who agreed to maintain the cross.  Buono asked the Court to enforce its order prohibiting the display of the cross and also asked the court to prohibit the land swap.  The court agreed as to both and on appeal to the 9th Circuit, the district court’s order was upheld.

People For the American Way Foundation joined a brief filed by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State and other religious and secular non-profits on behalf of Buono to point out that objections to such religious displays on public land are more than the just general grievances.  Rather, the effects of an unconstitutional government display of religion inflict real and significant harm that cannot be easily ignored. 

Government-sponsored religious symbols are potent forms of speech that can have real, palpable effects on people who are subjected to them. The harm from them is not that they evoke mere distaste, displeasure, or even disgust. It is that they deprive citizens of the use and enjoyment of public lands, because using a public facility where the government has chosen to erect a monument to one faith stigmatizes nonadherents as second-class citizens, while demeaning the faith of adherents by coopting what is sacred.

Also, these harmful effects cannot be fixed by a contractual land transfer of a particular parcel of land, particularly when the parcel is entirely enclosed within a federal preserve and where the government has taken no steps to disassociate itself from the display[].  Nothing was done at all to make it clear that the display is no longer on government land.  As such, the transfer cannot be seen as anything other than a cheap strategy designed solely to preserve the display of the cross.  Allowing a scheme like that to cure the unconstitutionality of a government act wouldn’t correct the wrong—it would perpetuate it.

 

PFAW

Mary Travers, Defender of Democracy and Folk Music Legend, R.I.P.

Mary Travers of the folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary passed away this week. She was a longtime friend, ally, and supporter of People For the American Way and a powerful advocate for justice and equal rights throughout her life.

PFAW honored Travers and her bandmates Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey for their decades of activism at our 1999 Spirit of Liberty event. This tribute video, which was played at the event, explains why they were awarded the Defender of Democracy award: The progressive movement had a great friend in Mary Travers, and we are saddened by the loss. We send our condolences to her friends and family.

PFAW

A personal reflection on 9-11

It's hard to believe that 9-11 was eight years ago.

My partner Dan had just moved from Chicago to DC a month before. After watching the buildings fall from the PFAW conference room, and hearing rumors about a truck bomb at the State Department, where one of my best friends had just started working, I walked several blocks and grabbed a bus filled with stunned-into-silence passengers.  I traveled a few miles to Wesley Seminary, where Dan was supposed to be having a meeting. We went home and tried to imagine what it would feel like to live in D.C. under a now far more real threat of terrorist attacks.  

The next day, home from work, we painted walls, bringing a little change and beauty to our tiny corner of the planet.

The following day, back at work, my colleagues and I were stunned to hear Jerry Falwell blaming gays, liberals, feminists, church-state supporters, and People For the American Way, among others, for the attack, and to see Pat Robertson enthusiastically agreeing with him. It was breathtaking even for those of us accustomed to the televangelists' harsh rhetoric for all who disagreed with them. 

PFAW moved quickly to put video of that exchange on Robertson's TV show into the hands of national news organizations and helped the world understand more clearly the cruelty at the heart of the Religious Right political movement. 

That mean-spiritedness is again on public display, with Religious Right leaders energetically peddling false charges about supporters of marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples and portraying their political opponents, including President Obama, as bent on the destruction of liberty in America. I wonder what sort of patriotic platitudes we'll hear from today from the leaders of a movement that has tried for decades to claim ownership of patriotism and the flag and smear as un-American all those who don't share their vision of an America in which some are more equal than others. 

Will they even bother to pause from their ongoing efforts to destroy the president, denigrate their opponents, and rile enough fear and hatred to push their way back into power?

PFAW

Rep. Joe Wilson’s Macaca Moment

Causing a stir on the Internet and throughout Capitol Hill, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted “you lie” during Pres. Obama’s health care speech to a joint session of Congress. Rep. Wilson, who claims that his emotions got the best of him, made the inappropriate outburst as Pres. Obama stated that people who immigrated into the country illegally would not be covered under his health care plan. From CNN:

Two words, delivered with index finger punctuating the air and directed at the president of the United States, made a little-known South Carolina congressman one of the most controversial men on the Internet -- at least Wednesday heading into Thursday.

Following the initial outburst, after Pres. Obama stated “no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions,” Rep. Wilson then shouted out “not true.”

People For the American Way President Michael B. Keegan issued the following statement:

“Representative Wilson’s behavior last night was inappropriate and deeply disrespectful of the President, the Congress, and the millions of Americans who want to hear a reasoned discussion of health care reform. Mr. Wilson was right to apologize, and GOP leaders were right to distance themselves from his behavior.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing this as a skit on Saturday Night Live.

PFAW

233 Years Old and Still Looking Good

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

President Obama, Census Bureau Looking at Ways to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages in 2010 Census

Pres. Obama and the White House are now looking at ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data – another small step of what we hope will be a larger agenda toward equal justice under the law for gays and lesbians in America. Last year, PFAW launched a petition drive urging the Census Bureau to reverse its policy of ‘editing’ the data from same-sex couples who accurately report that they are legally married, and re-classifying them as “unmarried partners.” From the Wall Street Journal:

The White House said Thursday it was seeking ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data, the second time in a week the administration has signaled a policy change of interest to the gay community.

The administration has directed the Census Bureau to determine changes needed in tabulation software to allow for same-sex marriage data to be released early in 2011 with other detailed demographic information from the decennial count. The bureau historically hasn't released same-sex marriage data.

The gay community strongly supported President Barack Obama during the 2008 election. But some gay activists say they have been frustrated by what they see as his slow approach to rolling back discriminatory policies.

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said "the administration continues to make progress on the president's longstanding commitment to promoting equality for [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] Americans."

This is a positive step forward although there’s no word on an actual policy proposal yet. In the meantime, People For the American Way is helping activists tell President Obama and Congressional leaders to “Dump DOMA.” You can find the petition here.

PFAW

Bishop Harry Jackson Challenges DC Board’s Decision to Forego Same-Sex Marriage Referendum

Not that this comes as a surprise to anyone, but Bishop Harry Jackson and other opponents of same-sex marriage have filed a lawsuit here in DC hoping to get a referendum on the ballot on whether to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

The civil suit against the District's Board of Elections and Ethics asks Judge Judith E. Retchin to overturn an election board ruling Monday that blocked a proposal to put the issue before the voters. Citing a District election law prohibiting votes on matters covered under the 1977 Human Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination against gay men, lesbians and other minority groups, the board said that a referendum would "authorize discrimination."

The plaintiffs asked for an expedited hearing. If the court or Congress does not intervene, recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere will become law early next month, at the end of the required congressional review period.

"We are not going to sit by and allow an unelected board of bureaucrats to deny voters their rightful say on this issue and, by their action, allow the institution of marriage and the entire structure of our society to be radically redefined," said Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville and one of seven District residents who are plaintiffs in the suit.

Bishop Harry Jackson is touted in the Washington Post’s article as “one of seven District residents who are plaintiffs in the suit,” but Lou Chibbarro of The Washington Blade has found evidence that suggests otherwise.

For more information about Jackson’s crusade across the country to strip LGBT people of the equal protection under the law, see People For the American Way Foundation’s report Point Man for the Wedge Strategy.


 

PFAW

Sotomayor Hearings to Begin July 13th

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced today that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will begin her confirmation hearings on July 13th. People for the American Way President Michael B. Keegan released the following statement on the announcement:

"Today's announcement is a clear sign that Judge Sonia Sotomayor is on track to be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

Judge Sotomayor is an eminently qualified nominee, and the misguided efforts by some prominent Republicans and their right-wing allies to smear her have failed.

In recent years Supreme Court nominees have traditionally had hearings within two months of being nominated. Today's announcement is consistent with the timeline for nominees of both parties." 

Make sure to sign our petition today, calling on the Senate to confirm Judge Sotomayor to the court.

PFAW

PFAWF’s Sharon Lettman on Rev. Byron Williams Radio Show Today at 1 PM

People For the American Way Foundation’s Sharon Lettman will be on Rev. Byron Williams’ Radio Show on Blogtalkradio.com to discuss the African American Ministers Leadership Council and the work the organization does around civic participation, economic justice, equal justice, health care, and public education.  Tune in here at 1 pm EDT for the hour long show – and be sure to call-in with questions. 

 

 

 

PFAW

Maine Becomes Latest State to Make Gay Marriages Legal

Today, Maine became the latest state to affirm the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont when Gov. John Baldacci signed into law LD 1020, An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom. People For the American Way applauds Gov. Baldacci for recognizing that this is about fairness and equal protection under the law for all citizens of Maine. In a public statement, Gov. Baldacci said:

“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions. I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.

“Article I in the Maine Constitution states that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against.’

“This new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of Church and State.

“It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine’s civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.”

This news comes a day after the D.C. Council voted 12-1 to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Congratulations to the Maine Legislature and all those who are working hard to make fairness and equality for same-sex couples in Maine a reality.

PFAW

Justice Souter to Retire at the End of the Term

Ending months of speculation, several news outlets reported last night Supreme Court Justice David Souter is planning to retire at the end of the term, after 19 years on the bench. People For the American Way released a statement expressing gratitude Justice Souter’s years of service to the Court, and called on President Obama to nominate “someone who can continue his work to defend our personal freedoms and ensure that every person has equal access to justice.”

On the campaign trail, then-Sen. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, told Wolf Blitzer of CNN “I I think that my first criteria is to make sure that these are people who are capable and competent, and that they are interpreting the law. And, 95 percent of the time, the law is so clear, that it's just a matter of applying the law. I'm not somebody who believes in a bunch of judicial lawmaking.” An excerpt from the transcript:

What you're looking for is somebody who is going to apply the law where it's clear. Now, there's going to be those 5 percent of cases or 1 percent of cases where the law isn't clear. And the judge then has to bring in his or her own perspectives, his ethics, his or her moral bearings. …

That's been its historic role. That was its role in Brown vs. Board of Education. I think a judge who is unsympathetic to the fact that, in some cases, we have got to make sure that civil rights are protected, that we have got to make sure that civil liberties are protected, because, oftentimes, there's pressures that are placed on politicians to want to set civil liberties aside, especially at a time when we have had terrorist attacks, making sure that we maintain our separation of powers, so that we don't have a president who is taking over more and more power.

I think those are all criteria by which I would judge whether or not this is a good appointee.

Well put, Mr. President. November’s election results were a mandate to President Obama to appoint judges committed to justice, equality, and opportunity for all Americans.

Soon after the election, People For the American Way Foundation hosted a panel called “Beyond the Sigh of Relief: Justices in the Mold of Marshall and Brennan.” It’s newly relevant, so take a look.
 

PFAW

NAMUDNO In the Supreme Court

This morning the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Eric Holder, a case involving a small municipal district in Austin, Texas seeking to invalidate a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 - one of the most important civil rights laws in American history.

With the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Congress finally acted to prevent discriminatory tactics designed to prevent minorities from exercising their fundamental right to vote. Section 5, in particular, is the centerpiece of the Act, and requires certain covered jurisdictions where voting discrimination has been the most flagrant to seek a preclearance from the Justice Department or a three-judge panel of the federal court in DC for any voting related changes. According to the statute, preclearance will be given as long as the proposed change does not have the purpose or the effect of denying or infringing on the right to vote because of one’s race or color.

In this case, the party seeking to invalidate Section 5 is a municipal utility district in Travis County, Texas, that conducts elections to select the members of its board of directors. Because the State of Texas is a covered jurisdiction, the district is subject to the preclearance requirements of Section 5, and sought relief under the Act’s bailout provision in federal court in the days following the reauthorization of the Act in 2006. Alternatively, the utility district sought to invalidate the provision if it could not bailout from its requirements. It failed on both counts in the courts below.

Today’s arguments confirm that Justice Kennedy again holds the deciding vote on whether the Court will weaken or invalidate a provision upheld by the very same Court four times in the past.

To those who argue that Section 5 is no longer needed because racial discrimination no longer exists, as evidenced by the election of the country’s first African American president, look at the facts. Because of Section 5’s sunset provisions, Congress was required to re-examine whether the statute is needed and last conducted an examination of this type in 2006. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees held a combined 21 hearings over 10 months and received testimony from over 90 witnesses, including state and federal officials, experts and private citizens. And although they concluded that significant progress had been made, they recognized that “[d]iscrimination today is more subtle than the visible methods used in 1965” and concluded that discrimination continues to result in “a diminishing of the minority community’s ability to fully participate in the electoral process and to elect their preferred candidates of choice.” Congress voted 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate that, among other things, Section 5 was still necessary.

We hope that Justice Kennedy will remember the extensive record finding Congress performed in 2006 and remember his words earlier this year when he wrote in Bartlett v. Strickland, “Still, racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history. Much remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all races have equal opportunity to share and participate in our democratic processes and traditions. . .”


Deborah Liu is General Counsel to People For the American Way, which is a defendant-intervenor in the case.

PFAW

Legal Scholars Speak out to Support Dawn Johnsen

People For the American Way co-hosted a press call on 4/27 concerning the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

We were joined by Walter Dellinger, Solicitor General and head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President Clinton, Douglas Kmiec, head of the Office of Legal Counsel for Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Aviva Orenstein, an Indiana University law professor and longtime colleague of Dawn Johnsen.

All three vouched for Johnsen's legal acumen and commitment to the rule of law and expressed disbelief that Senate Republicans were attempting to block her nomination.

You can listen here:

 
The Washington Post reported on the call -- "Scholars Urge Confirmation of Johnsen to OLC" -- along with progressive bloggers like Christy Hardin Smith and Armando LLorens who have reported extensively on the Johnsen nomination: "The War Against Dawn Johnsen" and "Kmiec Calls Out “Rank Politics” Against Dawn Johnsen’s OLC Nod."

The call was co-hosted by the Alliance for Justice, National Women's Law Center, and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

PFAW

Kathleen Turner Speaks Out for Dawn Johnsen

People For the American Way Foundation board member Kathleen Turner posted a piece today on the Huffington Post making a forceful case for confirming Dawn Johnsen as the head of Office of Legal Counsel.

To restore integrity and respect for the rule of law to the Department, President Obama has nominated an inordinately qualified individual - Dawn Johnsen - who is now being attacked by Republicans and her right-wing allies for having the nerve to criticize Bush administration excesses. They're faulting her for criticizing OLC opinions that the Bush administration itself repudiated. In other words, she's being pilloried for having the very integrity and respect for the rule of law that the Bush OLC so clearly lacked.

If you want to speak out to support Dawn Johnsen’s confirmation, don’t forget to sign the petition.
 

PFAW