people for the american way

Kathryn Kolbert Talks Judges and GOP Hypocrisy on Air America Radio

People For the American Way president Kathryn Kolbert appeared recently on the David Bender Show on Air America to talk about President Obama’s judicial nominees.

 
Even before Obama nominated a single person, GOP Senators threatened to filibuster his nominees. These are the very same Senators who were pounding their fists over President Bush’s nominees and clamoring for the “nuclear option,” which would have obliterated the filibuster.
 
You can listen to the interview here:

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Obama Rebukes Radical Right on Stem Cells

The week started on a very positive note Monday morning with President Obama signing an executive order to overturn the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. It was a great step toward "restoring scientific integrity to health care policy," as one administration official phrased it. But it was a somewhat bittersweet for me as I remembered Christopher and Dana Reeve, who were such amazing champions for this issue and unfortunately passed away before being able to enjoy the moment. In fact, the order came only three days after the third anniversary of Dana's death on March 6.

When he died, Christopher Reeve was scheduled to participate in the upcoming edition of Justice Talking, a talk radio show I produced before a live audience at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. His wife Dana joined us for the event. Both Christopher and Dana were very active with many progressive causes and organizations including People For the American Way.

Despite the scientific and medical communities' optimism about the cures embryonic stem cell research might produce and significant majorities of Americans supporting this research, the reaction of the Right's anti-choice zealots was less than jubilant. From Right Wing Watch:

"As expected, President Barack Obama overturned the Bush administration ban on using federal funds for embryonic stem cell research.  Needless to say, the Religious Right is livid: FRC called it a 'slap in the face'; Gary Bauer called it 'a tragedy'; Operation Rescue called it 'morally, unethical and fiscally irresponsible'; and others weighed in as well."

But perhaps the most absurd response was the comparison of stem cell research to eugenics by Fox News' Glenn Beck. Of course, right-wing talk show hosts crossing the line on this issue is nothing new. We can all remember Rush Limbaugh's sick attack on stem cell research advocate Michael J. Fox and his cruel mocking of the actor's Parkinson's disease symptoms. Limbaugh has long been part of the Right's misinformation campaign about this important scientific research.

The new administration's policy is a great step towards correcting our nation's path, not only because it's a victory for science and the economic competitiveness and medical breakthroughs this biotechnology can yield. It also marks a much-needed departure from the Religious Right being able to shove its views down the throats of all Americans via federal policy.

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NYT: Who's Filibustering Now?

Great editorial in New York Times this morning recognizing the hypocrisy of Senate Republicans threatening to filibuster President Obama's judicial nominees well before any are named and urging Senator Leahy to let the blue slip process -- under which senators get a way to block judicial nominees from their home state -- die quietly. The editorial very eloquently echoes some of the most important points People For the American Way has been making for weeks, and it is definitely worth reading.

When President George W. Bush was stocking the federal courts with conservative ideologues, Senate Republicans threatened to change the august body's rules if any Democrat dared to try to block his choices, even the least-competent, most-radical ones. Filibustering the president's nominees, they said, would be an outrageous abuse of senatorial privilege.

Now that President Obama is preparing to fill vacancies on federal benches, Republican senators have fired off an intemperate letter threatening -- you got it -- filibusters if Mr. Obama's nominees are not to their liking. Mr. Obama should not let the Republicans' saber-rattling interfere with how he chooses judges.

Read the whole article.

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The Right Re-Tools as 'Resistance Movement'

Another week, another clear example of who is pulling the strings in the Republican Party. On Monday, Republicans in the Senate -- all 41 of them -- sent a letter to President Obama all but demanding that he re-nominate three of President Bush's nominees and threatening filibusters if the president does not do what they want with his future judicial nominations.

It was only a few years ago that the GOP wanted to eliminate the judicial filibuster entirely, telling anyone who would listen that every judicial nominee deserved an up-or-down vote without exception. Apparently, the Senate Republicans have the collective memory of a goldfish.

Of course, these senators' attempt to force "bipartisanship" at gunpoint, to coerce the president with threats, is one giant pander to their extreme right-wing base. The Far Right wants to maintain conservative majorities on the most powerful courts in the country. And they want senators to do everything in their power to block judges that don't meet their strict litmus tests on everything from Roe v. Wade and gay rights to free speech and the separation of church and state -- and much more.

This is one more example in a long list of the GOP marching in lockstep to the Radical Right's orders in just the last few weeks:

  • In the spirit of Rush Limbaugh's clarion call to conservatives to hope for President Obama's failure, 100% of the Republican caucus in the House voted against the majority's stimulus package last month.
  • Some Senate Republicans have been following through on the Radical Right's challenges to the president's Department of Justice nominees, this week moving to delay a floor vote on the confirmation of David Ogden.
  • And earlier this week, RNC Chairman Michael Steele was forced apologize to the real leader of his party after making some comments seen as critical of Rush Limbaugh -- proving that Limbaugh and other extremists are calling the shots within the party.

People For the American Way just released a very timely Right Wing Watch In Focus on the status of the Radical Right's strength and influence (available here). Please read it and share it with your friends and fellow activists.

There has been much talk in the media about the Republican Party and even the Conservative Movement being lost in the wilderness. But the leadership vacuum is being filled with the most fringe elements of that side of the political spectrum. The Far Right is stronger than ever ... and the weakness of one of the major parties has provided a huge opportunity for them to assert that strength.

AND we've released our own take on Limbaugh's recent comments which is a must watch. Please take a moment to watch the video and then send a message to Rush telling him to GROW UP. Then tell your friends to check it out at www.BabyRush.org.

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Rebuild and Renew America Now

Yesterday, People For the American Way joined a growing coalition of organizations in support of President Obama's budget priorities. While People For doesn't "do" health care or housing or the environment, we do "do" equal opportunity and justice for all -- and that's what this bold and progressive budget is about. You can read the statement of support we joined here. The Rebuild and Renew America Now campaign has a lot of work ahead of it. I hope we all do our part to realize this budget's vision of an America that has turned its back on the "harsh trend of rising poverty, unemployment, hunger and homelessness."  

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Voter Caging Bill Introduced in the Senate

Today, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), along with 10 of his colleagues, re-introduced his bill – the “Caging Prohibition Act” – that if enacted, would prevent political operatives from removing eligible voters from voting lists based on inaccurate and unreliable information. Like the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act, originally introduced by then Senator Barack Obama, the need for this bill became increasingly evident in the most recent federal elections where we have seen an increase in dirty campaign tricks aimed at suppressing the vote.

From the press release:

The Caging Prohibition Act, which was first introduced in the 110th Congress, would prohibit interference with registration or voting based solely on unreliable information, such as a "caging list." Caging is a voter suppression tactic in which a political party, campaign, or other entity sends mail marked "do not forward" to a targeted group of voters - often minorities or residents of minority neighborhoods. A list of those whose mail was returned "undelivered" is then used as the basis for challenges to the right of those citizens to vote, on the grounds that the voter does not live at the address where he or she is registered. There are many reasons that mail is returned undelivered, however; an eligible voter could be overseas on active military service or a student registered at a parent's address.

The Caging Prohibition Act would mandate that anyone who challenges the right of another citizen to vote must set forth the specific grounds for that voter's alleged ineligibility and describe the evidence to support that conclusion, under penalty of perjury. Following allegations in 2008 that Republican Party officials in Michigan, Florida, Indiana, and Ohio were considering challenging the eligibility of voters who were on a list of people whose homes were subject to foreclosure, the sponsors updated last year's version of the Caging Prohibition Act to explicitly prohibit challenges based on the foreclosure status of a voter's residence.

People For the American Way is committed to passing legislation that will increase the franchise and eliminate barriers to the ballot. This is what a true democracy is all about. While this country may have passed a threshold in the 2008 elections such that those working to decrease the franchise were overtaken by voting right advocates and the massive participation of voters, we must still be vigilant in protecting the franchise lest we repeat the electoral tragedies experienced during the 2000 and 2004 Presidential Elections. Senator Whitehouse’s voter caging bill is a welcome step in this process and we encourage all Senators to support this bill in a timely fashion so that we can protect the rights of all voters.

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Remembering Barbara Jordan

Every February, People For the American Way, along with the rest of the country, celebrates Black History Month. And this year, more than ever, it's humbling to see just how far our nation has moved. And how far we still have to go.

I'm proud that People For the American Way can point to its own history to demonstrate why Black History Month is relevant to people of all backgrounds. Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate, the first African American woman to represent a southern state in Congress, and one of the founders of People For the American Way.

In 1981, when U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan joined Norman Lear to form People For the American Way, they understood that the promise of our nation, that all men (and women) are created equal, was not just unrealized, but was under active attack. But instead of focusing on what was wrong with our country, they used their powerful, utterly unique voices to speak for America's highest ideals and to push forward towards a better America.

Rep. Jordan was an energetic advocate of our Constitution's core values of fairness and equality under law. She continues to be an inspiration in our work, and it's not an exaggeration to say that it's because of leaders like Barbara Jordan that we were all able to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama last month.

But still, there are those who are intent on dragging us backwards. While the inauguration was still fresh in our minds, People For was forced to lead an aggressive campaign to help confirm President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder -- the first African American to hold the position. After eight years spent undermining the crucial work of the Department of Justice, the Right is fighting hard to prevent the new administration from truly restoring justice at the DOJ. This is why Attorney General Holder's comments about the racism in America ring true to so many of us in this constant battle against those who would turn back the clock on civil rights. And just last week we all got an ugly reminder of this pervasive racism and racial insensitivity in America when the New York Post published an offensive cartoon depicting President Obama as a chimp getting shot by two white police officers. The cartoon literally included several layers of tastelessness: the comparison of our first African American president to an ape, what could be construed as an invitation for violence against the president AND the stirring up of racial issues with law enforcement in a city that has particularly sensitive recent history in that area.

Many have pointed out that the lack of diversity in senior management and on the editorial staff of the Post was a major contributing factor to how a cartoon like that could get published in the first place. That's why I'm proud that People For and our affiliate foundation have taken so seriously our mission to help promote diversity. It can be seen very clearly in People For the American Way Foundation's leadership development programs, the Young Elected Officials Network and Young People For, which are among the most diverse programs of their kind -- ever. And it can be seen in our groundbreaking efforts to promote equality for all, like with People For Foundation's work with African American ministers to combat homophobia in the Black Church.

We're working hard to make sure that civil rights remain a top priority for this administration, and fighting against those who are intent on erecting barriers to the ballot, not to mention advocating for a more just Supreme Court, organizing for marriage equality for all and defending religious liberty by maintaining the separation between church and state.

Barbara Jordan made clear that there are certain principles that are not negotiable, values she called "indigenous to the American idea." Opportunity. Fairness. Equality under law. Those are still the values that bind our community together, and every day we're moving closer to that nation that she envisioned.

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DC has a 200-year long line at the polls…but not for long

Long lines at the polls on Election Day are a problem not to be ignored. But imagine if you had been standing in line to vote since 1801. That’s where you’ll find the nearly 600,000 Americans living in DC. Thankfully, their 200-year wait is nearly over.

This morning the Senate brought DC one step closer to the ballot box by clearing a procedural hurdle placed in the way of the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009 (S. 160). I was in the Capitol as 62 Senators cast votes in favor of moving this bill forward. By the end of the week, it may very well be in the hands of the House. Then it’s on to the President’s desk. President Obama is a strong supporter of DC voting rights and a former cosponsor of the bill, which would give DC a full Representative with the same voting power as other House members.

As I joined my colleagues who had gathered for the vote, I couldn’t help but think about my own journey to get to this point. DC voting rights has had a place in my portfolio for some time, and an even longer history with People For the American Way, an organization that has worked for years in the field and on Capitol Hill alongside DC Vote and its coalition in support of DC’s voting voice in Congress.

Today is a day of great celebration for all of us who belong to this movement, including those of you who have made calls, written letters, and visited Congress to say that House representation is long overdue for DC. Thank you for everything you’ve done.

But the fight is not yet over. The right-wing has S. 160 (and its House companion, H.R. 157) in its sight and will try to derail its progress. Contact your Representative and Senators to make sure they are on the right side of history when it comes to the rights of DC residents.

And 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.

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The Obstruction Strategy

On Wednesday night, I was thrilled to represent People For the American Way members and activists at a small White House reception. When meeting the President and First Lady, as well as Vice President Biden and his wife Jill, it really sunk in that, finally, progressives are no longer locked out as we were during the Bush administration. People For's seat at the table is the Obama administration's recognition of you and all your efforts, your passion and your activism, and our collective strength.

We will still need to organize and fight to achieve our goals, but so much more is possible now and it's good to know that we have a receptive audience. Our vigilance is needed to help make sure the administration does the right thing, but it's also needed because with this shift that I've just described, the Far Right has amplified its efforts to divide Americans and obstruct a progressive agenda.

Yesterday, People For the American Way released a Right Wing Watch In Focus report exposing the Radical Right's real intentions in their efforts to obstruct confirmation of President Obama's Department of Justice nominees:

"The rhetoric used in the attacks, documented extensively on RightWingWatch.org, suggests that the campaign may be less about actually stopping any of these nominees and more about getting right-wing activists, pundits, and lawmakers warmed up for similar attacks on eventual Obama nominees to the federal judiciary, and in particular to the U.S. Supreme Court."

This is more than just "playing politics." The DOJ is a vital branch of the government and these positions are critical to fill. Americans need to be able to put the past eight years of politicization and cronyism at the Department behind us and once again rely on the DOJ as a protector of our rights and values.

As I write this, the Justice Department is at the center of some serious legal matters pertaining to fundamental checks and balances. The Bush administration pushed most people's understanding of executive power to the limit and went significantly beyond. Some members of Congress did not take it lying down, asserting their constitutional authority and acting on their duty to check the president's power and cut through the extreme secrecy. But the process will be a long and intense one and we need a full team in place at Justice to help do the job.

The Senate must not delay in confirming all of the president's nominees, and first up, due to be voted on in committee next week, is Deputy Attorney General nominee David Ogden.

Ogden is incredibly well qualified, but the Right has attacked him because of his representation of American Library Association, the American Booksellers Association, and, yes, Playboy and Penthouse in First Amendment cases. They also went after him for arguing vigorously on behalf of a woman's right to choose and advocating that the U.S. follow the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child -- something that only the most fringe elements on the Right oppose.

But most of all, the Far Right is flexing its muscle in advance of judicial confirmation battles to come.

The Family Research Council has generated thousands of calls to the Senate in opposition to Ogden as a show of strength. It is absolutely necessary that senators not only hear from their side. Every senator needs to see that progressive activists are willing to stand up for constitutional values and weigh in on these fights. And they need to see it well in advance of Obama's first judicial nominations.

Please take a moment now to send an e-mail to your senators urging the swift confirmation of David Ogden as Deputy Attorney General.

Whether you live in a red state or a blue state, your senators need to hear from you. Even the most right-wing senators need to know that people in their states are spreading a counter message and are ready to hold them accountable.

Help Ogden achieve speedy confirmation for the sake of the DOJ AND to show senators that it's not only the Right that's strong.

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Rumors of their death...

Even before November's election, gallons of ink were being spilled to report the demise of the Religious Right. But, as Mark Twain might have said, rumors of the Right's death have been greatly exaggerated.

A small incident that was mostly ignored by the media gives a glimpse of the Radical Right's continued pull on Capitol Hill. Last week, People For's Right Wing Watch blog documented the evolution of a right-wing lie, starting with complaints by Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice that a provision in the stimulus bill discriminated against people of faith (and was, specifically, anti-Christian). In fact the provision in the bill was standard language that barred the use of federal funds to construct buildings designed for religious worship or sectarian instruction and had no bearing at all on campus prayer.  Nevertheless, ACLJ's complaints bubbled up through the right-wing echo chamber and eventually became an amendment, offered by Senator DeMint of South Carolina, to strip the provision. The amendment was ultimately defeated, although by a less-than-comfortable margin. In the end, 43 senators, including some Democrats, voted with DeMint ... on an amendment that was based on nothing but the paranoid demagoguery of a fringe right-wing organization.

The right-wing message machine is firing on all cylinders too: aggressively targeting the Obama administration. It has already weighed in heavily on the economic stimulus plan, ensuring that there was no Republican support for the Obama plan during the House vote (and little more in the Senate), and Religious Right leaders are moving quickly to increase their influence within the Republican Party and at the state and local level.

Perhaps most dauntingly, the Right is laying the groundwork for future battles over judicial nominations. Some Right Wing leaders, including Family Research Counsel President Tony Perkins, have been very explicit about linking their current attacks on DOJ nominees to future obstruction of Obama judges. And if the current attacks are any indication, they'll throw everything they've got at the President's nominees to the bench. Deputy Attorney General-nominee David Ogden, for instance, represented groups defending the First Amendment (including the American Library Association and the American Booksellers Association), and is now being smeared as a "porn lawyer" for his efforts. Dawn Johnsen, President Obama's choice to head the Office of Legal Counsel, is being aggressively targeted because of her outspoken opposition to the Bush administration's support of torture, rendition, and warrentless spying -- to say nothing of her time on staff at NARAL Pro-Choice America.

People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation are out there every day -- pushing back on the Right's unyielding efforts. We're digging in our heels for 2009, ready to:

  • research, educate about and counter extreme claims of the Radical Right;
  • uphold and advocate for a progressive vision of the Constitution;
  • support the confirmation of progressive jurists and promote progressive legal theories while taking part in strategic litigation;
  • fight for equality for all, especially through the Foundation's work to combat homophobia in the Black Church; and
  • invest in progressive leadership.

You can help with these efforts by helping to expose the Radical Right in your community, and by staying abreast of right-wing trends by reading the Right Wing Watch blog (and signing up for regular Best of the Blog e-mail updates).

By standing with People For the American Way, you are standing against the undeserved influence of right-wing extremists in our politics and our culture. And I thank you for it.

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Dealing With the Right's Big Lies

We here at People For have been making the case since the November elections that even though the results were devastating for the Republican Party, they actually strengthened the Radical Right and increased its influence within the GOP. Republicans in Congress are now unabashedly taking their marching orders directly from right-wing demagogues and organizations ... even scarier: some Democrats seem to be falling in line as well.

Kyle at Right Wing Watch had two great posts yesterday on the Right's direct manipulation of some of the biggest current debates in Washington. He exposed how the targeting of President Obama's DOJ nominees is really being directed by the Family Research Counsel and other fringe groups and wrote about the outright lie started by Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) that a provision of the stimulus package -- now being debated in the Senate -- is an attack on people of faith.

The ACLJ’s water was carried by Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) who actually offered an amendment to the stimulus package which would have stripped the 'controversial' provision -- the provision in question simply prevents the tax dollars being appropriated here from being used to support religion. So we had DeMint and others parroting lies on the Senate floor to support an amendment that had no legitimacy whatsoever.

And the amendment only failed by a close vote of 54-43 ... with several Democrats defecting and voting for DeMint's amendment!

Why did they defect? Well, in part, it's because President Obama's been sending them the wrong message about how to deal with the Religious Right. The other day, the president announced the creation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, but very conspicuously did not use the opportunity to rescind the Bush-administration policy making it legal for recipients of faith-based funding to discriminate in providing services.

Equivocation on very fundamental religious liberty issues will not help the country, and it will not help the president move his agenda. President Obama is starting to get angry – and rightly so -- at the people who are trying to derail his stimulus package. Most critics are trying to Republicanize the spending package to kill some very vital spending that would aid recovery and add more tax cuts. The president correctly states that the old supply-side economic policies of Reagan and Bush -- reckless tax cuts, cuts in spending where the economy needs it most, rampant and irresponsible deregulation -- were exactly the same policies that landed us in this economic mess to begin with. But now, some Democratic Senators are being cowed by the Rush Limbaugh-led Right into compromising on key parts of the stimulus plan.

Getting beyond partisanship is a lofty ambition, but when the other side is trying to take the country backwards, firm opposition is what's needed. Our new president would be best served to stick to the principles he campaigned on and stand up to the Right's ideological agenda -- whether it rears its ugly head in the economic debate or in the arena of constitutional rights and the separation of church and state.

President Obama and all the Democrats on the Hill should read People For the American Way's new Right Wing Watch In Focus memo on The Right's "Big Lie" Strategy.

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Restoring Justice, Step by Step

On Monday, Eric Holder was confirmed as Attorney General. Big news ... and good news for Americans who depend on the Justice Department to defend their rights. A bit more under the radar, Monday also saw another important piece of news at the DOJ. Leslie Hagen, a Justice Department attorney who was fired by Monica Goodling because of rumors that she was a lesbian, was rehired to her previous job at the Department.

This is just one step in cleaning up the appalling mess at the DOJ left by egregious politicization during the Bush administration. Monica Goodling, senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, was by all objective standards unqualified for such a high post. Her only "qualifications" -- the only ones that mattered in the Gonzales DOJ -- were that she was a partisan ideologue who graduated from Pat Robertson's Regent University Law School and was committed to reshaping the Justice Department to operate on a right-wing agenda.

Even though the politicization of the DOJ under President Bush was shameful (and possibly criminal), some senators apparently think it should continue and are taking their marching orders from the Radical Right. The next targets of their witch hunt? Three more of the president's eminently qualified DOJ nominees: David Ogden, Thomas Perrelli and Dawn Johnsen.

Dawn Johnson, for example, has been tapped to head the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) -- the office that, under the Bush administration, produced the memos that served as its guidelines for detainee treatment and executive overreaching. Johnsen has been a harsh critic of the Bush administration's legal justifications for its policies. And, in her extremely impressive legal career, she spent several years at NARAL Pro-Choice America. Already some senators like Jeff Sessions of Alabama -- who earlier this week assailed the Johnsen nomination on the Senate floor -- are suggesting that, in their view, pro-choice bona fides should be an instant disqualifier.

Quickly confirming the rest of President Obama's Justice Department team will be one more important step, but there's still much more to be done to repair what was so damaged during the Bush years.

Let's look back at just a few of the disasters born out of DOJ's right-wing politicization:

  • political firings of U.S. attorneys;
  • political firings of staff attorneys, especially in the Civil Rights Division;
  • refusal to properly enforce civil rights laws, particularly those protecting voting rights;
  • Department approval and justification of unconstitutional policies from warrantless domestic spying to the denial of habeas corpus and torture.

People For the American Way will be pushing for investigations into these wrongdoings. I know how important this issue is to our activists -- you've pitched in time and again over the last eight years as we've pushed for accountability and the rule of law at the DOJ, and hundreds of you wrote me impassioned emails last week about just how critical it is to keep pushing.

Karl Rove and others who are subpoenaed to testify or provide documents must comply and cooperate not just with Justice Department probes into these matters, but also with any and all congressional investigations. Congressional action is what's needed to get to the bottom of what happened, hold those responsible accountable and prevent similar abuses of power from happening in the future.

Making sure investigations happen and proceed effectively and making sure President Obama's other Justice Department nominees are confirmed smoothly are just two things we'll be working hard for in the coming weeks, and there will be much more.

I'd also like to take a moment to ackowledge Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who is in the hospital recovering from surgery. She's a true defender of our constitutional values and I know you'll join me and the rest of the staff of People For in wishing her a speedy recovery.

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New Rasmussen Supreme Court Poll: Garbage In, Garbage Out

This week, right-wing polling firm Rasmussen Reports heralded a new poll which supposedly revealed that 64% of Americans think that "Supreme Court decisions should be based on what is written in the Constitution," whereas only 27% think the decisions "should be guided by fairness and justice." Yes, you heard that right, Rasmussen conducted a poll which pitted "fairness and justice" against "what is written in the Constitution" and then blasted out a press release about their amazing findings.

The media all too often treats pollsters like they're interchangeable, and that's a shame. Rasmussen is infamous among pollsters for its automated polling method – computers, not people, ask the questions – which is frowned upon by mainstream practitioners. And sometimes I have to wonder whether the computers are doing more than just asking the questions. It's almost as if they're writing the poll questions and sending out the press releases too.

But back to this week's poll. Focus on the Family quickly chimed in to say it "reveals that the American people are much more conservative regarding judges than our president is or any of the liberals in Congress." This is laughable, but we can't just laugh it off.

The Right has convinced millions of Americans that the Constitution is inherently conservative and that woolly-headed liberal judges disregard the Constitution and our laws in order to reach their desired outcomes. But these are just myths they've created to help prevent what we, and the overwhelming majority of Americans, really want: a Supreme Court that interprets the Constitution in a fair and just way. There is no need to choose between "fairness and justice" and "what is written in the Constitution." We want both.

And as for Rasmussen, it's clear enough to see the game they're playing. If you ask people ridiculous questions they're going to give you ridiculous responses. You don't need a poll and a press release to tell us that.

Kathryn Kolbert is president of People For the American Way Foundation

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Executive privilege for Rove?

This was an exciting week. Our efforts to prevent the Right from building Senate opposition against Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder paid off and his nomination was approved by a 17-2 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And yesterday President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. I was at the bill signing ceremony and it was amazing to see the leaders of our government, up to the President of the United States, so invested in enacting a law to protect civil rights.

We are not "the opposition" anymore, but we still have a vital role in passing progressive policy and making the change we need as a country happen. Many progressives have differing opinions on how best to move forward. The Bush administration was a common enemy. Its every move was predictable, motivated by its allegiance to a set of radical ideologies and ideologues. Now we are faced with the challenge of cleaning up the past administration's messes and moving our country forward. A legitimate question to ask is, how much of that effort should include holding Bush administration officials accountable for their trespasses against the Constitution and our nation's values?

Rep. John Conyers, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has subpoenaed Karl Rove to testify before the Committee on Monday about his role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys and some other matters like the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman. Rove along with other Bush administration officials had hidden behind "executive privilege," evading testimony by essentially ignoring congressional subpoenas. And now, even with the Bush administration out of office, it looks like he's at it again!

Through his lawyers, four days before his term was up, former President Bush informed Rove that he was continuing to assert executive privilege over any testimony by Rove -- even after he leaves office -- and instructed him not to cooperate with congressional inquiries.

People For the American Way was a leader in the fight for Bush administration accountability, helping to get Congress to pass contempt citations against other Bush officials who hid behind executive privilege. Even though a new administration has taken over, if the law was broken, if the Constitution was violated, those who are guilty should be held accountable in order to preserve the rule of law and send the message to future generations and presidents that violating the law and people's rights will not go unanswered.

Getting to the bottom of the U.S. Attorney scandal and the politicization of the DOJ's Civil Rights Division is essential to cleaning up the Justice Department and putting it back to work for the American people. And I know we would all rather see Rove squirming in a congressional hot seat than as a talking head on cable news networks.

People For the American Way will not take this affront to justice sitting down. Expect us to be out front with a strong response if Rove chooses to be a no show on Monday. We'll also let you know what you can do to weigh in and make sure Rove and others in the Bush administration are held accountable and justice is served.

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It's Our Moment, Let's Make the Most of It!

This Tuesday marks what I hope will be the beginning of a dramatic new direction for our country. The relevance of President-elect Obama's inauguration falling one day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not lost on any of us. The swearing in of the first African American president will be one of the great moments in America's history and a massive leap toward the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream, not only because of Obama's race, but because the movement that swept him into office was born of the American people's desire to pursue a more just path as a nation. That in itself is something that Dr. King would have been proud to have witnessed.

I said that I "hope" this will be the beginning of a big change in direction because it's up to all of us to make sure that change actually happens, to make sure the new administration corrects the last president's worst mistakes in a timely fashion. And it's not just the Obama administration that needs to feel constant pressure from us, it's Congress as well. I've seen reports of senators and representatives showing some reluctance to make many of the bold changes we need. And as expected, we're seeing the resurgence of the Far Right as a backlash to new progressive power. The Radical Right is not only in a position to strengthen its grip on power in the Republican Party, it's ready to pounce on any anti-government sentiment that may bubble up in the coming months and years, especially -- and ironically -- as a result of the economic hard times their very policies have left us with. Long story short: People For the American Way is more needed than ever, and we need your support and your vigilance in the months and years to come.

When a group of activists confronted him shortly after his first inauguration seeking a list of specific reforms, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, "I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it." That is what grassroots democracy is all about -- making our leaders do what's right. January 20 is the end of our eight-year national nightmare, but it's just the beginning of a new chapter in which we must all do our part.

In the first two weeks of 2009, People For's been fighting the good fight -- our long-term efforts on two pay equity bills are paying off and the legislation has passed the House and is making its way through the Senate. And we've been answering the Right's attacks against Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder, whose Senate confirmation hearing I attended yesterday. Let me say that it was VERY gratifying to hear Holder clearly state that he believes waterboarding is torture, that renditions to countries where there reason to believe they will torture is wrong and that he is committed to restoring the DOJ's Civil Rights Division to a position of prominence and effectiveness). After this week's release of the Inspector General's report on politicization in the Justice Department, it's even more apparent that confirming Holder will be a great beginning to undoing that damage.

On the legal front, the Supreme Court handed People For the American Way Foundation (and the First Amendment) a victory by upholding the policy of the Fredericksburg, Virginia, City Council requiring that the official prayers recited at the beginning of its meetings be non-sectarian. Accepting one of the most important cases of the term, it also chose to hear an appeal of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Mukasey, in which People For the American Way is defending the constitutionality of an important provision of the Voting Rights Act.

We couldn't do any of our important work without your steadfast support. And with your continued support, People For the American Way will continue to carry the progressive flag and advocate your values on Capitol Hill.

Right now is a time to celebrate. Have an amazing Inaugural weekend, MLK Day and Inauguration Day. Congratulations to Barack Obama and congratulations, America!

PFAW

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Releases Report on California's Prop 8 vote

A new report released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force this week analyzing the Prop 8 vote paints a stark picture of the work that must be done by the gay rights community to change hearts and minds.  The report shows that four main factors – party affiliation, political ideology (no surprise here), frequency of attending worship services and age – drove the “yes” vote on Prop 8.  

Countering the uproar that ensued in the aftermath of Prop 8’s passage after exit polls wrongly reported 70 percent of African American supported the ban, the Task Force puts African American support for the ban in the range of 57-59 percent.  You may remember following the elections, People For the American Way Foundation President Kathryn Kolbert released a memo explaining that blaming Black voters for passage of Prop 8 is both wrong and destructive.  Fifty-nine percent isn’t the ideal, but it’s indicative of the education that must be done.  Here’s a snapshot of some of the report’s other findings: 
 
Kitty’s post-election edit memo explaining how blaming black voters for passage of Prop 8 is both wrong and destructive, continued to get plaudits from activists, including this from Alejandro Salinas on the Washingtonian blog:  “Sadly after years of experiencing and observing the way race plays out within the LGBT community, I can’t say I was really surprised by the tone and targets of the rage. Thankfully, I have been encouraged by the words of David Mixner, Kathryn Kolbert at People For the American Way, and many of my personal and blogger friends who swiftly condemned this misdirected anger.”
 
  • More than 70 percent of voters who were Republican, identified themselves as conservative, or who attended religious services at least weekly supported Proposition 8. Conversely, 70 percent or more of voters who were Democrat, identified themselves as liberal, or who rarely attended religious services opposed the measure. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of voters 65 or older supported Proposition 8, while majorities under 65 opposed it.
  • When religious service attendance was factored out, however, there was no significant difference between African Americans and other groups.  In other words, people of all races and ethnicities who worship at least once a week overwhelmingly supported Proposition 8, with support among white, Asian and Latino frequent churchgoers actually being greater than among African Americans. 
  • Overall support for marriage equality has increased by 9 percent since 2000, with support increasing among every age group under age 65, across all racial and ethnic groups and among Protestants, Catholics and Jews. There are three “holdout” groups where voting patterns have not changed: Republicans, conservatives, and those 65 and older.  The largest gain — up 16 percent — was among voters 45-64 years of age, followed by a 13 percent increase among voters 18-29.
PFAW

Vote for the 2008 Equine Posterior Achievement Award!

EPAA Award ImageThe Equine Posterior Achievement Award has been created to honor that leader whose abilities to misrepresent an issue, manipulate his/her followers, brazenly disregard reality or pander to our baser instincts reach such ridiculous levels that we don't know whether to laugh or cry. In other words, a genuine "horse's patootie."

To that individual we are pleased to present PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY's Equine Posterior Achievement Award -- this year, to be known as the Honorary McPalin Equine Posterior Achievement Award.

The duo of John McCain and Sarah Palin -- the latter, especially -- exemplified the spirit of this award in a unique way. But moving beyond the obvious, we wanted to focus this year on some people who may have slipped under the radar or just deserve consideration in their own right.

The nominees are listed at http://site.pfaw.org/epaa Go there now to cast your vote for this year's winner!

PFAW

Beyond the Sigh of Relief...

Earlier this week, People For the American Way Foundation hosted -- and I moderated -- a panel at the National Press Club to discuss what the election of Barack Obama means for the future of the Supreme Court and what kind of justices we should be fighting for. The event's title, "Beyond the Sigh of Relief," says a lot in itself, and it's fantastic that our conversation could focus on the prospects for a return to justice on the High Court rather than strategizing about how to forestall complete disaster.

I hope to have video of the full discussion to share with you in a week or two. The next day, Maryland State Senator and Constitutional Law Professor Jamin Raskin (who was on the panel) and I were on Pacifica Radio in a very substantive joint interview on the same topic. You can listen to that segment here.

Sen. Raskin is also the director of the Marshall-Brennan Constitutional Literacy Project and shares my passion for civic education -- I've known and worked with him for years, going back to my time at Justice Talking. The other phenomenal panelists were: Julius Chambers, former director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and founder of Ferguson Stein Chambers Gresham & Sumter PA; John Payton, President, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and one of the finest Court journalists out there, Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor of Slate.

Any conversation about the future of the Court needs to start with acknowledging the voter mandate Obama received on Election Day to appoint judges with a strong commitment to constitutional rights and values. Redefining the conventional wisdom that the Supreme Court is an issue that only the Right Wing cares about, this time it was Obama voters who said that the Court was extremely important to them.

Here were a few quick highlights from the rest of the event:

  • Julius Chambers made some great points about the Court's role in protecting the poor. It's not just disputes over civil rights for minorities, workers rights and environmental protections on which the Court must sometimes weigh in when the government or companies violate constitutional rights. The poor deserve to be protected by the Constitution like we all do, and too often, they certainly do not receive equal justice under the law.

  • There was much discussion about promoting racial and gender diversity on the Court and there was a consensus among us that race, religion, gender and even sexual orientation could be important considerations because they can bring different perspectives to the Court. John Payton in particular stressed just how vital this diversity of perspectives is in having a Court that functions for the best benefit of the people and the law. We also speculated on the pedigrees and career tracks of recent and not so recent nominees -- why should they all come from the corporate world or the major law firms? There are tremendous lawyers working to advance justice at places like nonprofit organizations and unions.

  • Dahlia Lithwick stressed that we need to make sure people know that the judicial philosophies we believe in are based on rigorous interpretation and a sincere love of the Constitution. The public debate over judicial philosophies has too often bought into the Right's claims that so-called "strict constructionism" is the only rigorous approach to the Constitution. But the ideals embodied in both the main articles of the Constitution and the amendments are what John Payton referred to as "aspirational" -- and it's that aspirational view of the law and justice that we subscribe to and that we think President-elect Obama does as well. It's an understanding that the Constitution is a guardian of rights and opportunity for all Americans, including those without much power in our society.

The stimulating conversation left me feeling optimistic about advancing the constitutional principles that have been under attack from right-wing organizations and the Bush administration. After eight years of seeing right-wing ideologues nominated to the federal bench, there is immense opportunity to restore constitutional values. The only thing standing in our way is the Right and the senators who are already gearing up to fight good nominees -- senators like John Kyl (R-AZ), who promised a filibuster of any Court nominee he deemed too liberal... only three days after the election.

People For the American Way will be ready for Sen. Kyl, other right-wing senators and the Right's media echo chamber. Together, we'll make sure President Obama fulfills his mandate to give Americans the Supreme Court justices they deserve.

PFAW

Great Idea Posted at Change.org/ideas: Dept. of Innovation

I wrote a post yesterday about a Change.org in which People For the American Way is participating: Ideas for Change in America. It's actually a collaboration with MySpace as well, and many organizations and everyday citizens have become involved. The ideas so far are GREAT. I hope some readers here have the chance to add their own.

One idea that I particularly liked is for the creation of a Department of Innovation. The idea in itself is incredibly innovative, and it might be just what the doctor ordered to help overcome some of the enormous challenges facing us as a country and a planet.

Here's more:

We need to harness the creative imaginations of all americans as individuals and collectives to overcome the great challenges of our time. We know we need to do this, but do we know how?

Yes. We can:
- help leaders articulate the need for innovation and focus American's creative energy on the areas that matter most and can most benefit from creative solutions
- help individuals collaborate to come up with even better ideas than they already have or could come up with on their own
- manage ideas and the innovation process so that the most promising ideas are identified, and the very best implemented successfully
- engage more and more americans in contributing creatively to solving our challenges

You can read more about this idea and others at Change.org/ideas. I also stongly encourage you to add your creativity to the process if and submit your own idea or ideas if you have any. But remembe: you can vote for many ideas! So please make sure to support National Early Voting to help it to the next round in the Civic Engagement category.

PFAW

Vote for Ideas to Change America

Change.org is running a great contest to get ideas for real change and innovation from the public and presenting some of the best ones to the Obama transition team.

From Change.org:

What's Your Big Idea for Change in America?

President-Elect Obama says he wants to hear ideas from all Americans, so we're taking him up on his offer. Submit your ideas for how to change America, discuss with others, and vote for your favorites.

The "Top 10 Ideas for America" will be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day. We will then build a national campaign to advance each idea in Congress, marshaling the resources of Change.org, MySpace, and our dozens of partner organizations and millions of combined members.

There are a bunch of issue categories under which you can enter ideas. I already entered National Early Voting as a People For the American Way-sponsored idea in the Civic Engagement category. Please read more and support the idea by clicking the vote count button so it can make it to the second round.

Click here:

http://www.change.org/ideas/view/national_early_voting_great_way_to_safeguard_fair_elections

Then cruise the change.org/ideas site, read about some other ideas and ENTER YOUR OWN!

If you post an idea that you think People For the American Way would like to sponsor, please send me the link for your idea, after you post it, at bbetz[at]pfaw[dot]org.

Good luck with your idea or ideas. And tell your friends!

PFAW