Alabama

Supreme Court Chips Away at Voting Rights Protections

Twenty four hours after thousands celebrated “Bloody Sunday” earlier this week – a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery where civil rights marchers including Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) were attacked and brutally beaten by Alabama state and local police, but ultimately led to the historic passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – the Supreme Court undermined some of the enforcement mechanisms of the Voting Rights Act.

I was troubled, in particular by this reference in a NY Times article about Richard Pildes, an expert whose views the Justices relied on in Mondays’ decision, who, according to the Times, “said that current events, including the fact that both major political parties are led by African-Americans, had complicated the legal landscape, creating ‘tremendous pressure on a statute that was primarily structured for an earlier era in which blacks were completely excluded from office.’ “

There’s no disputing the fact that much progress has been made, but even today, we’re a far cry from the post-racial world that MLK described in his famous I Have a Dream speech. To it's credit, even the Supreme Court recognized that racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history. This issue is not simply about having an African American President or leader in the Republican Party. This is a larger issue of opportunity for all citizens and one federal election has not summarily changed the reality existing in this country still. There’s no African American representing an overwhelmingly white district in the House, and no African American governors representing a Southern state (there’s only been one in history – Douglas Wilder of Virginia).

I recognize that there’s been much progress, but there’s more work to be done and vital protections such as those in the VRA are still necessary.
 

PFAW

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.

PFAW

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.

PFAW

Ledbetter v. Goodyear and Fair Pay, One Year Later

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

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

PFAW