Arkansas

Senate to Hold Cloture Votes on TN and AR Judicial Nominees

Early this week, the Senate is scheduled to hold cloture votes on four judicial nominees, including Timothy Brooks, nominee for the Western District of Arkansas and Pamela Reeves, nominee for the Eastern District of Tennessee. Brooks and Reeves have been waiting for confirmation votes on the Senate floor since October 31 and November 14, respectively.

As we noted earlier this month, Republicans are routinely delaying nominations on the Senate floor by requiring Democrats to invoke cloture on every single judicial nominee and then piling on hours of unneeded “post-cloture debate” for each nominee who is called up for a vote. This practice creates a weeks-long backlog of nominees awaiting votes and prevents the Senate from moving on to other business. Nominees like Brooks and Reeves could have been confirmed within minutes after they were sent to the Senate floor last year. Instead, both of these nominations were sent back to the  president in early January at the end of the first session of the 113th Congress to be re-nominated. After further needless delays in Committee, the nominees were finally placed on the Senate calendar only to wait an additional two months for consideration.

After the Senate has finally worked through the backlog of nominees to get to the Arkansas and Tennessee vacancies, Republicans are throwing up additional roadblocks, forcing Senator Reid to file cloture petitions, which will further delay their consideration. These nonsensical delays of well qualified nominees undermine the public’s faith in the Senate and create hardship for those seeking justice in the courts.

PFAW

Senate to Vote Today on Four Federal District Court Nominees

The Senate is scheduled to vote to end filibusters and then to confirm four federal district court nominees tonight and tomorrow morning, two for the Northern District of California, one for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and one for the District of Connecticut. All four of these nominees were thoroughly vetted and approved by unanimous voice vote by the Judiciary Committee last year. They should have and could have been confirmed months ago. (In contrast, George W. Bush’s confirmed district court noms only waited about a month on average between committee approval and confirmation.) However, because of Republican obstruction, all four nominees have waited months for a simple confirmation vote. And Senate Republicans are indicating that they won’t stop their obstruction anytime soon.  In fact, it looks like they are willing to waste weeks of time in “post-cloture debate” on these and subsequent nominees.

Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer of Connecticut has been waiting for a confirmation since he was first approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 19. Judge James Maxwell Moody, Jr., of Arkansas has been waiting since November 14. The two nominees from Northern California, Judge James Donato and Judge Beth Labson Freeman, have both been waiting since October 31st.

This frustratingly slow process is the result of layers of delaying tactics by GOP senators. Republicans refused to hold votes on these nominees for months, and now that they are being called on their obstructionism through filibuster-ending cloture votes, they’re making the votes take as long as possible by demanding that each take hours of “post-cloture debate.” This is especially ridiculous for nominees whom the Republicans actually support. Not only is this delaying confirmation of judges in these particular states; it’s also delaying nominees in other states waiting in line for their turn, including many for posts that have been deemed “judicial emergencies.” This delaying tactic from Republicans not only slows what should be a simple process, it deprives these states’ constituents the fully functioning justice system they deserve.

PFAW

GOP Blockade of Unopposed Ark. Judicial Nominees Disrupts Local Election

Chuck Grassley tries and fails to justify his party's obstruction, which is complicating an Arkansas state judicial election.
PFAW

The Perils of Teaching About the Bible in Public Schools

Rob Boston at Americans United notes that the Arkansas House just voted to require the state’s Education Board to approve elective classes about the Bible if they meet appropriate standards.  The Supreme Court has said the Bible may be taught about in public schools when “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.”

But teaching about the Bible without teaching it religiously is not an easy thing to do. It requires carefully designed curricula, well-intentioned and well-trained educators, and a commitment to meaningful oversight.  People For the American Way was part of a religiously and politically diverse group of organizations that worked together to produce the 1999 publication The Bible in Public Schools, a First Amendment Guide. That guide emphasized that how any such course is taught will determine whether it passes constitutional muster:

When teaching about the Bible in a public school, teachers must understand the important distinction between advocacy, indoctrination, proselytizing, and the practice of religion – which is unconstitutional – and teaching about religion that is objective, nonjudgmental, academic, neutral, balanced, and fair – which is constitutional.

But that’s not how if often works in practice. In 2000, People For the American Way Foundation published a scathing expose, The Good Book Taught Wrong: Bible History Classes in Florida Public Schools. The PFAW Foundation investigation found that “Bible History” classes were often being taught more like Christian Sunday School classes from a sectarian, Protestant perspective. Bible stories were treated as literal history. Among lessons and exam questions asked of students:

  • "If you had a Jewish friend who wanted to know if Jesus might be the expectant [sic] Messiah, which book [of the Gospels] would you give him?"
  • "Compose an explanation of who Jesus is for someone who has never heard of Him."  
  • "Why is it hard for a non-Christian to understand things about God?"
  • "What is Jesus Christ's relationship to God, to creation, and to you?"
  • "Who, according to Jesus, is the father of the Jews? The devil."

That expose led Florida officials to yank those classes and revamp the curricula.

But more than a decade later, similar problems persist, as the Texas Freedom Network documented in a January report that found classes designed more to evangelize students to a literalist, fundamentalist view of the Bible rather than to teach about its role in literature and history. Included in the lesson plans examined by TFN were characterizations of Judaism as a flawed and incomplete religion, Christian-nation approaches to US history, and material “explaining” racial origins via the sons of Noah.

Are Arkansas legislators and education officials prepared to invest in the development of curricula, the training of educators, and meaningful oversight into how the classes are taught?

PFAW Foundation

Mitt Romney and Rick Perry Confirmed to Attend Far-Right Values Voter Summit

The Family Research Council sent word today that GOP presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney is now confirmed to join Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Herman Cain at this year’s Values Voter Summit, a far-right extravaganza hosted by some of the most intolerant Religious Right groups in the business. Organized by the vehemently anti-gay Family Research Council, the event is also sponsored by the American Family Association and Liberty Counsel, among other right-wing groups.

Last year, we raised an alarm when Romney and Bachmann, along with Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Rep. Mike Pence and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee attended the event. We were particularly concerned that these leaders would be willing to share the stage with the American Family Association’s spokesman Bryan Fischer, whose record of bigotry against gays and lesbians, Muslim Americans and American Indians, among others, is truly appalling.

Although Fischer is not yet listed as a confirmed speaker at this year’s event, attendees will have the honor of sharing the stage with some pretty extreme Religious Right activists, including Liberty Council’s Mat Staver, who opposes anti-bullying initiatives that protect LGBT kids and says that gay rights supporters have “a very militaristic anti-Christian viewpoint”; retired General Jerry Boykin, who thinks President Obama is using health care reform legislation to recruit an army of brownshirts loyal only to him; and Star Parker, who claims that black family life “was more healthy” under slavery than today.

And that’s not to mention the two main organizers of the event, the FRC and the AFA, which have both been listed as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center for their propagation of false anti-gay rhetoric.

Highlights of last year’s summit included FRC leader Tony Perkins simultaneously insulting gay troops and a number of key U.S. allies in Iraq and Afghanistan by declaring that countries that allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in their armed forces are “the ones that participate in parades, they don't fight wars to keep the nation and the world free”; and Rick Santorum asserting that there are “no families” in impoverished neighborhoods.

Apparently the tone of last year’s event and the guest list of this year’s haven’t given any pause to the top GOP presidential candidates, who are eager to recruit the support of even the most extreme leaders of the Religious Right. That Romney is returning to VVS is an important reminder that, despite his self-styled “moderate” image, he is just as beholden to extreme Religious Right interests as the rest of the field.
 

PFAW

PFAW Looks Into Rick Perry's Extremist Ties

PFAW President Michael Keegan today wrote in the Huffington Post today about the radical and fanatical figures organizing Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s The Response prayer rally on August 6. Research from PFAW’s Right Wing Watch exposed many of Perry’s allies’ bizarre views, including interesting theories about Oprah Winfrey and the Statue of Liberty. Keegan writes, “The Response has turned out to be a powerful draw for the farthest of the far Right, attracting all varieties of extremists, whom Perry and his allies have welcomed with open arms.” Read the whole article at the Huffington Post and make sure to watch this must-see video on just some of The Response organizers:

As this is probably the kickoff event for Perry's run for the presidency, we should all know the backgrounds of the people and organizations that Perry is working with to promote the proselytizing event, known as The Response. His choice of allies belies the claim that it will be "apolitical" or even quasi-tolerant of non-Christians. Co-organizing and largely funding the rally is the American Family Association, a Religious Right group dedicated to infusing right-wing evangelical views into American politics. The AFA's chief spokesman, Bryan Fischer, is one of the most offensive voices in politics today. He has compared gays to Nazis and said gay people should be banned from public office; he has called for an end to Muslim immigration into the United States and a ban on the building of new mosques; he has said that Native American communities deserved past persecution and current poverty because of a refusal to convert to Christianity; he has even compared low-income African Americans to animals. In line with Fischer's views, the AFA dedicates itself to launching boycotts against companies that treat their gay employees well and sponsoring political get-togethers for the far right.

Then there is the International House of Prayer (yes, "IHOP"), the 24-hour-a-day worship powerhouse that has lent several senior staff members to planning The Response. IHOP's affiliated The Call rallies - politically charged events that gather hundreds of people to pray for anti-gay and anti-choice policies -- also serve as the model for Perry's event. As People For the American Way reported this month, the church's leader, Mike Bickle, has some pretty extreme views: he has warned that Oprah Winfrey is the harbinger of the Antichrist, and that marriage equality would result in the banning of marriage in some parts of the world.

And these are just the main organizers of the event. The Response has turned out to be a powerful draw for the farthest of the far Right, attracting all varieties of extremists, whom Perry and his allies have welcomed with open arms. Displayed prominently on the official "endorsers" page of The Response website are the names of pastors who have called the Statue of Liberty a "demonic idol"; blamed the 9/11 attacks on America's growing acceptance of gays and lesbians; blamed the mysterious bird deaths in Arkansas on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; and advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Several participants are prominent advocates of "Seven Mountains" dominionist theology, which is basically the idea that a certain far-right breed of evangelical Christians need to take over all aspects of American society -including government, business and entertainment - to pave the way for the Second Coming of Christ. Fittingly, in a perfect illustration of the increasing acceptance of extremism on the Right, Perry even welcomed the endorsement of John Hagee, the pastor whose anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic statements were so shocking that John McCain had to publicly reject his endorsement in 2008.

Perry, questioned about the ragtag team of extremists he has assembled to help him launch his possible presidential run, has repeatedly claimed that he is not responsible for the views of everyone with whom he associates. He's not - but he should know who he's going to for advice, and whose profile he's lifting with a national soapbox. Perry says that The Response is meant in part to seek spiritual guidance for the political problems our nation faces. If these are the people he's going to for guidance, and who he's lifting up to help solve the nation's problems, we should all be concerned. What these groups want is for a very small sliver of American Christians with a certain narrow set of beliefs to control American politics - and to restrict everybody else's freedom to worship or not as they choose. Rick Perry, citing his own religious freedom, seems more than happy to lend them a megaphone.
PFAW

Is Rick Perry a moderate? Perhaps, if the price is right.

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

Here at People For the American Way, we’ve spent the last several weeks marveling as Texas Gov. Rick Perry plans a blockbuster Christian prayer rally in Houston, gathering around him a remarkable collection of Religious Right extremists – from a pastor who claims that the Statue of Liberty is a “demonic idol” to a self-described “apostle” who blamed last year’s mysterious bird deaths in Arkansas on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Perry claims the event is apolitical, but it is conveniently timed to coincide with the possible launching of his presidential bid and bolstered by groups that are dedicated to working far-right evangelical values into American politics.

Which is why we were all surprised today to find a story in The Hill titled “At second glance, Texas Gov. Rick Perry not as conservative as some think.” Really?


The evidence presented for Perry’s maverick-moderate tilt is that the governor has taken some reasonable positions on immigration reform and that he once angered Religious Right groups by requiring that all 6th grade girls in the state receive a vaccine for HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer.


Perry’s 2007 executive order requiring that the vaccine be offered to Texas’s sixth graders was a wonderful, progressive public health policy…but seemed a little odd coming from a far-right Texas governor. Interestingly, while the move angered Perry’s supporters on the Religious Right, it made one constituency very happy: lobbyists for Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical giant that manufactured the vaccine and stood to gain billions from the new law. The Associated Press reported at the time on the cozy relationship Merck had developed with the newly-reelected Texas governor:


Merck is bankrolling efforts to pass laws in state legislatures across the country mandating it Gardasil vaccine for girls as young as 11 or 12. It doubled its lobbying budget in Texas and has funneled money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators around the country.

Details of the order were not immediately available, but the governor's office confirmed to The Associated Press that he was signing the order and he would comment Friday afternoon.

Perry has several ties to Merck and Women in Government. One of the drug company's three lobbyists in Texas is Mike Toomey, his former chief of staff. His current chief of staff's mother-in-law, Texas Republican state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, is a state director for Women in Government.

Toomey was expected to be able to woo conservative legislators concerned about the requirement stepping on parent's rights and about signaling tacit approval of sexual activity to young girls. Delisi, as head of the House public health committee, which likely would have considered legislation filed by a Democratic member, also would have helped ease conservative opposition.

Perry also received $6,000 from Merck's political action committee during his re-election campaign.

Maybe Gov. Perry just really cared about helping prevent an epidemic and helping girls in Texas receive good medical care. On the other hand, health care for Texans doesn’t seem to have been a major priority for Perry: by last year, the tenth year of his governorship, Texas ranked last in the country in terms of the percentage of the population with health insurance and the percentage of insured children.


The “Perry bucks the Religious Right for the health of young girls” story will probably continue to reappear as he continues to be lauded as the Republican Party’s last, best hope for 2012. But the full story in no way proves that Perry’s an independent-minded moderate. Instead, it offers a case study of the sometimes conflicting priorities of the Religious and Corporate Right, and a politician who tries to appease them both.

 

PFAW

GOP’s Corporate Backers Intent on Busting Unions, Not Solving Budget Problems

In both Wisconsin and Ohio, Republican governors are attempting to rush through legislation that would devastate workers’ rights that would in reality do little to help close their states’ budget shortfalls. Behind their proposals to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights is actually a political power play to diminish the voice of organized labor in American politics, a move sponsored by corporate interest groups.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s desire to eliminate collective bargaining has more to do with political baiting than sound fiscal policy.

For example, Walker specifically exempts the four public employee unions that endorsed his gubernatorial bid in his plan to eliminate collective bargaining. Labor law professor Paul Secunda of Marquette University called it “the worst type of favoritism there could be.” And despite his claim to be a fiscal hawk, the Governor pushed through costly corporate giveaways that jeopardized the state’s balanced budget and rejected a Republican’s compromise bill that would permit only a temporary curb on collective bargaining while preserve unions’ financial concessions.

History shows that states that stripped their public employees’ collective bargaining rights did nothing to solve their fiscal problems. Policy Matters Ohio notes that while Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri recently eliminated public workers’ bargaining rights, “the budget shortfalls of these states in 2010 ranged from 10.6 percent of general revenue fund (Indiana) to 14.5 percent (Kentucky) to 22.7 percent (Missouri), mirroring the fiscal crisis of states across the nation.”

Rather than solve the budget problems, doing away with a key right of workers only advances the agenda of the corporate interests funding Republican campaigns.

Jonathan Salant of Bloomberg looked into the ties between virulently anti-labor corporations like Koch Industries and Wal-Mart and the radical GOP proposals in Wisconsin and Ohio:

Koch, a closely held energy and chemical company based in Wichita, Kansas, is controlled by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. Along with other corporations, Koch Industries has often opposed organized labor on regulation and free trade, Holman said. Now they see a chance to cripple unions in the name of balancing budgets, he said.

The $1.2 million in Koch support for Republican governors includes $1.1 million given to the Republican Governors Association, which spent more than $3.4 million in support of Walker, according to Common Cause, a Washington-based advocacy group that opposes the governor’s proposal.

In addition, Koch gave $43,000 directly to Walker, his single largest corporate source; $11,000 to the Wisconsin Republican party; $22,000 to Kasich; and $34,000 to the Ohio Republicans.

Koch also supported the 2008 campaign of Indiana’s Daniels, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The Republican Governors Association, which received $25,000 from Koch, was the biggest source of campaign cash for Daniels, institute records show.

In addition, Americans for Prosperity spent $1.2 million in support of Republican candidates for Congress last year, Federal Election Commission records show. Koch Industries’ federal political action committee contributed $1.3 million to candidates for the 2010 elections, 90 percent of it to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Bentonville, Arkansas, subject of a campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, also contributed to the campaigns of Walker and Daniels, and donated more than $340,000 to the Republican Governors Association for the 2010 elections, according to the Internal Revenue Service and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
PFAW

Senate Confirms Three Judges…But What About the 99 Vacancies Left?

Last night, the Senate struck an agreement to confirm three of President Obama’s non-controversial judicial nominees. That’s great—but, as of this morning, it leaves 99 seats on the federal judiciary left to fill. And, as the long road to last night’s three easy confirmations shows, if the Senate’s behavior with judicial nominations doesn’t change, that number is not going to dwindle fast.

The stories behind the three nominees confirmed last night clearly illustrate the Senate dysfunction that has led to one in nine seats on the federal judiciary being vacant. Marco Hernandez, an Oregon judge, was first nominated to the federal district court in 2008…by George W. Bush. When President Obama renominated him July, 2010, he did not receive a vote in the Senate. When his nomination finally went to a vote yesterday, after three years and three nominations, he was confirmed unanimously.

Attorney Paul Kinloch Holmes was nominated for the federal bench in Arkansas in April, 2010. His nomination stalled all last year in the Senate, and President Obama renominated him last month. He was confirmed without a single dissenting vote. Diana Saldana of Texas, also confirmed without dissent last night, had also been nominated twice and seen her nomination languish on the Senate floor for almost a year.

The Washington Post today reports on the crisis in the federal judiciary created by the Senate’s failure to confirm judges at the rate that they’re retiring:

The crisis is most acute along the southwestern border, where immigration and drug cases have overwhelmed court officials. Arizona recently declared a judicial emergency, extending the deadline to put defendants on trial. The three judges in Tucson, the site of last month's shooting rampage, are handling about 1,200 criminal cases apiece.

"It's a dire situation," said Roslyn O. Silver, the state's chief judge.

In central Illinois, three of the four judgeships remain vacant after two of President Obama's nominees did not get a vote on the Senate floor.

Chief Judge Michael McCuskey said he is commuting 90 miles between Urbana and Springfield and relying on two 81-year-old "senior" judges to fill the gap. "I had a heart attack six years ago, and my cardiologist told me recently, 'You need to reduce your stress,' '' he said. "I told him only the U.S. Senate can reduce my stress.''

As we’ve pointed out here before, the judicial crisis is about far more than the health of overworked judges. Overworked courts mean slower access to justice for citizens:

The effect is most visible in civil cases, with delays of up to three years in resolving discrimination claims, corporate disputes and other lawsuits.

"Ultimately, I think people will lose faith in the rule of law,'' said Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in California. "We as a nation believe that if you have a dispute, you go to court and within a reasonable period of time, you get a decision.''

Ultimately, it’s ordinary citizens who pay for the Senate’s failure to perform one of its simplest and most essential tasks—ensuring the fairness and functioning of the federal judiciary.
 

PFAW

PFAW Sends Letters to GOP Leaders Urging them to Denounce Fischer, Skip Values Voter Summit

People For's President, Michael Keegan, sent the following letter today to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, all of whom are scheduled to appear this weekend at the Values Voter Summit, alongside the virulently anti-Muslim and anti-gay Bryan Fischer.

Dear ________:

I am writing to express my concern about your appearance this weekend at the upcoming Values Voter Summit. Among the participants this weekend will be Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association. We urge you to publically denounce Fischer’s record of hate speech and extremism, and reconsider appearing beside him this weekend.

People For’s RightWingWatch.org blog has tracked Fischer’s career over the past several years. His long and prolific record of hate speech and extremism includes the following recent statements. Just in the past year, Fischer has:

I am attaching the names of over 6,500 concerned citizens who have signed the following letter regarding your participation in the summit:

Values Voter Summit Participants:

Reasonable people can, and do, have reasonable differences of opinion. Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, is not a reasonable person.

By sharing a stage with Fischer at this year's Values Voter Summit, public figures acknowledge the credibility of his shameless anti-Muslim and anti-gay propaganda. Any candidate thinking seriously of running for president in 2012 should think twice about standing alongside a man who has called for the deportation of all Muslims in America; insulted Muslim servicemembers; claimed that brave Americans died in vain because Iraq was not converted to Christianity; and called gay people deviants, felons, pedophiles and terrorists. Bryan Fischer is no mainstream conservative. And neither is any person who shares a platform with him while refusing to denounce his hate-filled propaganda.

We urge you to denounce Fischer's extremism and separate yourself from his comments.

For more background on Fischer’s extreme rhetoric, please click here.

Fischer’s appearance with conservative leaders such as yourself lends his extreme hate speech credibility. We urge you to publicly denounce Fischer’s record and to think twice about sharing the stage with him.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Keegan
President, People For the American Way

 

PFAW

10 Year Old Stands Up for Equality

Will Phillips, a 10 year old boy in Arkansas, recently refused to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance. His reason? He said he could not pledge allegiance to a country that continues to deny equality to the LGBT community.

Will's teacher tried to reprimand him for not participating in the pledge, despite his constitutional right to do so. His principal acknowledges that students cannot be forced to recite the pledge, but is refusing to apologize to the 10 year old.

While some classmates are supportive of Will's stand for equality, others have taunted him with homophobic remarks. His mother commented that, "It's really frustrating to him that people are being so immature." When asked what it means to be an American, Will said, "Freedom of speech. The freedom to disagree. That's what I think pretty much being an American represents."

We couldn't agree more.

PFAW

Witness List for Sotomayor Hearing Announced

Today, Senators Leahy and Sessions released the list of witnesses who will testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

We’re happy to see that Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel will be among those testifying. He was a big hit at our “Four Years of Forty” panel on the Supreme Court that People For hosted at the DNC in Denver last year.

But the list has some disappointments as well, like Peter Kirsanow, who after 9/11 raised the possibility of internment camps for Arab Americans.

If there's a future terrorist attack in America "and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights," commission member Peter Kirsanow said.

The reason, he said, is that "the public would be less concerned about any perceived erosion of civil liberties than they are about protecting their own lives."

Not exactly the kind of person who should be front and center discussing an institution that should be devoted to protecting the rights and liberties of ordinary Americans .
 

PFAW

Blame for Prop 8

It was bad enough that the excitement about Obama's election had to share emotional space with the grim news about anti-gay initiatives passing in California, Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas.  But that news was made even worse by the destructive and racist reactions by some gay activists who are blaming black Californians for Prop 8's passage.  People For's President Kathryn Kolbert puts the blame where it belongs and calls for a forward-looking strategy. Read her memo here.

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