Florida

New Attacks on Public Schools

When Republicans take over the House next month, we can expect a flurry of bills seeking to impose school vouchers. But around the country, state and local officials are already escalating their assault against public education.

In Florida, voucher supports had already gotten their foot in the door with voucher programs for low-income students and those with disabilities. Last week, they took the predictable next step:

Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott on Thursday blew the door wide open to the idea of a voucherlike program for all students, saying he's working with lawmakers to allow state education dollars to follow a student to the school his or her parents choose.

He did not use the term vouchers. Others called it an "education savings account."

But whatever it's called, the incoming governor, key lawmakers and a foundation tied to former Gov. Jeb Bush are setting the stage for Florida to consider one of the most radical education ideas that it - or arguably any state - has ever considered.

In Indiana:

Gov. Mitch Daniels said Wednesday he will ask lawmakers to approve an education voucher system that would let low-income students use state money to help pay for private school tuition.

Daniels provided few details about his proposal - including income levels at which families would qualify or the amount they could receive - but said it will be part of his larger education agenda for the 2011 session.

And in Denver:

The Douglas County school board Tuesday night took another step toward a voucher program, with the board president saying he would like a pilot program for the 2011-12 school year. ...

[T]he board agreed to have Superintendent Elizabeth Celania-Fagen analyze whether vouchers would be good for the school district. After that analysis, the board will receive additional public input and make a final decision. ...

Some at the packed school-board meeting room were not in favor of using public money for a private education, especially for religious schools. Thirteen of the 14 private schools in the district are religious.

They carried signs that read "Keep Public Money in Public Schools" and "Do Not Bankrupt Our Schools."

"I think this would help destroy the public school system," said former teacher Sue Carter.

Indeed, the diversion of funds from public to private schools threatens the integrity of our public education system. By providing public funds to religious schools, voucher programs undermine the separation of church and state. To make things worse, studies show that vouchers don't even lead to significant academic improvements. For instance, earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education's final report on the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP, the name of the voucher program) found that there "is no conclusive evidence that the OSP affected student achievement."

The problems that are faced by America's public schools will not be solved by taking kids out of the system.

PFAW

Empowered GOP Seeks to Sink Immigrant Rights

The Republican Party’s virulently anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies are far from mere political tactics, as GOP members of Congress usher in a radical agenda to rollback the rights of immigrants and their families. Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has appeared with violent vigilante groups and has referred to undocumented immigration as both a “slow-motion Holocaust” and a “slow-motion terrorist attack,” is set to chair the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration. Members of the House Republican Freshman Class, including Pennsylvania’s Tom Marino and Florida’s Allen West, frequently used immigrant-bashing in their campaigns, and Louisiana Senator David Vitter made demonizing immigrants the cornerstone of his reelection campaign.

Two new reports today demonstrate how extreme the Republican Party is moving to not only oppose immigration reform but also to undermine one of the most important protections guaranteed by the US Constitution:

GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the incoming chairman of the subcommittee that oversees immigration, is expected to push a bill that would deny "birthright citizenship" to such children.

The measure, assailed by critics as unconstitutional, is an indication of how the new majority intends to flex its muscles on the volatile issue of illegal immigration.

The idea has a growing list of supporters, including Republican Reps. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove and Dan Lungren of Gold River, but it has aroused intense opposition, as well.

"I don't like it," said Chad Silva, statewide policy analyst for the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California. "It's been something that's been a part of America for a very long time. … For us, it sort of flies in the face of what America is about."

Republicans are also gearing up to defeat the DREAM Act, which would allow students and military servicemembers who came into the country illegally as children and have a clean criminal record to gain a pathway to citizenship. Even though the DREAM Act has historically garnered bipartisan support, Politico reports that Republicans on the Hill are trying to deceptively tar the bill as amnesty for criminals:

Already, GOP staffers have begun circulating to senators and conservative groups a white paper outlining what they see as the social and financial costs of passing the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

“In addition to immediately putting an estimated 2.1 million illegal immigrants (including certain criminal aliens) on a path to citizenship, the DREAM Act would give them access to in-state tuition rates at public universities, federal student loans and federal work-study programs,” said the research paper, being distributed by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.



The bill’s backers, though, say it outlines a “rigorous and lengthy process” for legalization, hardly the amnesty plan that opponents have depicted.

Eligible immigrants must have entered the U.S. before age 16, have been in the country for at least five consecutive years before the bill’s enactment and been at least under age 35 at the time of enactment; been admitted to a college or earned a high-school diploma or GED certificate; and have no serious criminal record.

A recent Rasmussen poll found that a majority of Americans believe that “children brought to the U.S. illegally should get a chance at citizenship if they complete two years of college or participate in the military,” and military leaders have called on Congress to pass the DREAM Act as a way to strengthen the country’s armed forces. A study by UCLA’s North American Integration and Development Center states that the DREAM Act both “offers a moral solution to the trap of being a young, motivated, undocumented immigrant in the U.S.” and is “an economically sensible piece of legislation that advances the interests of U.S. society as a whole.”

However, the extreme anti-immigrant sentiment that is pervasive within the GOP stands in the way of reasonable efforts at reform, and even leads to radical legislation that challenges the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

PFAW

Breaking fraud/suppression news from Election Day

With Election Day half over (at least for some), we have three new reports of the Right Wing’s voter-fraud fraud and voter suppression. This follows up on a couple of the items Miranda shared earlier this afternoon.

Florida. Consider this another case of the Right fighting back against a government that fails to buy into their voter-fraud fraud. The Rick Scott for Governor Campaign and the Florida Republican Party recently launched the Honest Voter Hotline.

While we are hopeful that Election Day will be free of any wrongdoing, we have seen that allies of the Democrat Party, have shown a willingness to commit fraud across the country, in both this election cycle and recent years. Given the tightness of the polls, all examples of fraud must be addressed to preserve the integrity of the election.

We, too, want Election Day to be free of wrongdoing – and free of claims that voter fraud is a pervasive national problem when it simply isn’t.

Kansas. State Attorney General Steve Six has opened an investigation into weekend robocalls alleged to not only give the incorrect election date but also false information regarding voter ID. Kansas requires ID only for first-time voters, and that’s only if they didn’t provide ID when registering to vote. Targets of the robocalls reported being told to bring their voter registration cards and proof of homeownership. Neither is necessarily required, and voting certainly isn’t restricted to homeowners. The original complaint was filed by the Kansas Democratic Party based on reports it received from individual voters.

South Carolina. Reports have surfaced regarding harassment targeted at Black students and Black voters generally. At Benedict College, a historically Black institution, the perpetrators have done what they can to make voting difficult or uncomfortable, even forcing some voters to fill out provisional ballots. At Sumter’s North Hope Center precinct, and possibly other locations, they’re manufacturing a similar air of uneasiness.

 

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The Crossroads Juggernaut Reaches New Heights and Receives More Scrutiny

American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the sister conservative organizations that hope to raise $52 million in order to defeat Democratic candidates in 2010, is already close to spending a combined $20 million in ads. After spending an initial $14 million in ads to boost the GOP’s chances at taking control of the Senate, Crossroads is ready to spend an additional $4.2 million for ads in Senate races in Colorado, Nevada, Washington, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Florida. Now, Mike Allen of Politico reports that the two groups will begin running ads in competitive House races shortly.

Crossroads GPS, the leading outside group airing ads in Senate races, does not have to disclose its donors since it is a 501(c)4 “social welfare” organization. But as a 501(c)4, it is supposed to focus on “issue advocacy” rather than deliberately urge voters to support or oppose specific candidates for office. Now, the heads of Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center have asked the IRS to look into the group’s status, maintaining that Crossroads GPS “was organized to participate and intervene in the 2010 congressional races while providing donors to the organization with a safe haven for hiding their role.” J. Gerald Hebert of the Campaign Legal Center explains:

While the abuses of 501(c)(4) tax designation for no-fingerprint political attack ads seems rampant in this election cycle, the most blatant certainly appears to be Crossroads GPS. The group makes almost no effort at all to hide the fact that it was created principally to impact the 2010 elections, and to take money from those interested in contributing to their efforts but doing so anonymously. The IRS has a duty to ensure that groups are not violating their tax status in this election cycle, and Crossroads GPS certainly seems like a logical place to start.
PFAW

Pro-GOP Outside Groups Eclipse Parties in Spending

Traditionally, political parties and their campaign arms spend the most amount of money promoting their congressional and senatorial candidates across the country. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, however, a flurry of outside groups has materialized with gigantic war chests. As profiled in After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics, the Court’s decision allowed for new groups to surface and older organizations to increase their fundraising capacities. In the midterm elections, Kristin Jensen and Jonathan D. Salant of Bloomberg report that political committees supporting Republicans and attacking Democratic officials have so-far outspent both the Republican and Democratic parties’ campaign arms in 2010:

Republican-leaning groups outspent the two political parties combined during September’s first four weeks in a bid to sway the U.S. congressional elections, Federal Election Commission reports show.

The groups -- including Crossroads GPS, advised by Republican strategist Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- spent more than $33 million, mainly on advertising. That compares with just under $20 million spent by the Republican and Democratic committees charged with electing their party’s candidates.

Outside organizations are focusing most of their fire on Senate races, particularly in California, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada and Pennsylvania, their reports to the FEC show. Many of the groups are registered as nonprofits that don’t have to disclose their donors, drawing protest from Democrats including President Barack Obama and Montana Senator Max Baucus.

“Republican operatives in the shadows are clearly winning the hidden money game,” said Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Obama has used two of his recent weekly addresses to blast Republicans for blocking legislation that would make groups engaged in political activity report their contributions. Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, today asked Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Doug Shulman to investigate the organizations.

While political parties and their campaign arms must disclose their donors and have caps on contribution amounts, many outside groups accept unlimited amounts of money from individuals and corporations and do not have to disclose the sources of their funding. Thanks to such organizational advantages, such outside groups are now overshadowing political parties as regulations concerning transparency and spending fall by the wayside.

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Right Wing Watch In Focus: "Rogues' Gallery"

Today, People For the American Way released our latest Right Wing Watch In Focus report examining the slate of extremist GOP Senate candidates running for office this year.

Entitled "The Rogues' Gallery: Right-Wing Candidates Have A Dangerous Agenda for America and Could Turn the Senate," the report examines the radical agendas and views held by Joe Miller, Carly Fiorina, Ken Buck, Christine O'Donnell, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Roy Blunt, Sharron Angle, Kelly Ayotte, Richard Burr, Rob Portman, Pat Toomey, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, and Dino Rossi, plus the role that Sen. Jim DeMint has played in dragging the GOP further and further to the right.

Here is the introduction:

Republicans in the U.S. Senate have already broken all records for unprincipled partisan obstructionism, preventing the administration from putting people into key positions in the executive branch, blocking judicial confirmations, and delaying and preventing Congress from dealing with important issues facing the nation, from financial reform to immigration. Now a bumper crop of far-right GOP candidates threatens to turn the "deliberative body"into a haven for extremists who view much of the federal government as unconstitutional and who are itching to shut it down.

Fueled by the unlimited deep pockets of billionaire anti-government ideologues, various Tea Party and corporate-interest groups have poured money into primary elections this year. They and conservative voters angry about the actions of the Obama administration have replaced even very conservative senators and candidates backed by the national Republican establishment with others who embrace a range of radically right-wing views on the Constitution, the role of government, the protection of individual freedoms, and the separation of church and state.

Recently, Religious Right leaders have been grousing that Republican candidates arent talking enough about abortion and same-sex marriage. But this report indicates that anti-gay and anti-choice activists have little to worry about, as the right-wing candidates profiled here share those anti-freedom positions even if theyre talking more about shutting down federal agencies, privatizing Social Security, and eliminating most of the taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans. A number of these candidates oppose legal abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina is helping to lead the charge with his Senate Conservatives Fund. DeMint, an absolute favorite of both the Tea Party and Religious Right political movements for his uncompromising extremism on both economic and social issues, is at the far right fringe of the Republican Party and has committed himself to helping elect more like-minded colleagues. Sarah Palin, also popular among both Tea Party and Religious Right activists, has also injected her high-profile name, busy Twitter fingers, and PAC cash into numerous Senate races.

Among the right-wing insurgents who defeated candidates backed by national party leadership are Christine ODonnell of Delaware, Joe Miller of Alaska, Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Sharron Angle of Nevada, Ken Buck of Colorado, and Mike Lee of Utah. Others, like Carly Fiorina of California, came through crowded primaries where right-wing leaders split their endorsements, but have now coalesced around her candidacy.

And thanks to the conservative Supreme Courts ruling in the Citizens United case, which said corporations have the same rights as citizens to make independent expenditures in elections, right-wing candidates across the board will be benefitting from a massive infusion of corporate money designed to elect candidates who will oppose governmental efforts to hold them accountable, for example environmental protections and government regulation of the financial industry practices that led the nation into a deep recession.

This In Focus provides an introduction to a select group of right-wing candidates who hope to ride a wave of toxic Tea Party anger into the U.S. Senate. The potential impact of a Senate with even half of these DeMint-Palin acolytes would be devastating to the Senates ability to function and the federal governments ability to protect the safety and well-being of American citizens.

Be sure to read the whole thing.
 

PFAW

Scalia’s Selective Originalism

Earlier this week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told an audience of law students that the Constitution does not protect against sex discrimination. In a great column for Time today, Adam Cohen outlines what has gone so wrong with the trend toward vehement--but inconsistent--Constitutional originalism that Scalia represents:

The Constitution would be a poor set of rights if it were locked in the 1780s. The Eighth Amendment would protect us against only the sort of punishment that was deemed cruel and unusual back then. As Justice Breyer has said, "Flogging as a punishment might have been fine in the 18th century. That doesn't mean that it would be OK ... today." And how could we say that the Fourth Amendment limits government wiretapping — when the founders could not have conceived of a telephone, much less a tap?

Justice Scalia doesn't even have consistency on his side. After all, he has been happy to interpret the equal-protection clause broadly when it fits his purposes. In Bush v. Gore, he joined the majority that stopped the vote recount in Florida in 2000 — because they said equal protection required it. Is there really any reason to believe that the drafters — who, after all, were trying to help black people achieve equality — intended to protect President Bush's right to have the same procedures for a vote recount in Broward County as he had in Miami-Dade? (If Justice Scalia had been an equal-protection originalist in that case, he would have focused on the many black Floridians whose votes were not counted — not on the white President who wanted to stop counting votes.)

Even worse, while Justice Scalia argues for writing women out of the Constitution, there is another group he has been working hard to write in: corporations. The word "corporation" does not appear in the Constitution, and there is considerable evidence that the founders were worried about corporate influence. But in a landmark ruling earlier this year, Justice Scalia joined a narrow majority in striking down longstanding limits on corporate spending in federal elections, insisting that they violated the First Amendment.

The view of the Constitution that Scalia champions—where corporations have rights that the Constitution’s authors never imagined, but women, minorities, and working people don’t—has become a popular political bludgeon for many on the Right. GOP senators pilloried now-Justice Elena Kagan during her confirmation hearings for offenses such as thinking Congress has the right to spend money, arguing the case against giving corporations the same free speech rights as human beings, refusing to judge according to a subjective view of “natural rights,” and admiring the man who convinced the Supreme Court that school segregation was unconstitutional.

An avowed allegiance to the original intent of the Constitution has become a must-have for every right-wing candidate. The talking point sounds great, but it hides the real priorities behind it. Anyone who needs reminding of what the fidelity to the Constitution means to the Right needs just to look to Scalia.

 

PFAW

The Long-Term Consequences of Hateful Politics

Suhail A. Khan, who served as a liaison to faith communities in George W. Bush’s White House, writes this week in Foreign Policy that he finds himself increasingly alone as a Muslim Republican. Many American Muslims have conservative values, Khan writes, but the GOP won’t win their support “until the party finds leadership willing to stop playing to the worst instincts of its minority of bigoted supporters”:

In recent weeks, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and other prominent Republicans have loudly voiced their opposition to the proposed Cordoba House project near ground zero in lower Manhattan, fanning the flames of a protest that has since spread into a more generalized criticism of Muslim institutions in the United States. But even before this month's controversy, the exodus of Muslim Americans from the Republican Party was nearly complete. In 2008, this country's more than 7 million Muslims voted in record numbers, and nearly 90 percent of their votes went to Obama.

It wasn't always this way. Muslim Americans are, by and large, both socially and economically conservative. Sixty-one percent of them would ban abortion except to save the life of the mother; 84 percent support school choice. Muslims overwhelmingly support traditional marriage. More than a quarter -- over twice the national average -- are self-employed small-business owners, and most support reducing taxes and the abolition of the estate tax. By all rights they should be Republicans -- and not long ago they were. American Muslims voted two to one for George H.W. Bush in 1992. While they went for Bill Clinton by the same margin in 1996, they were brought back into the Republican fold in 2000 by George W. Bush.

Kahn compares the GOP’s current alienation of Muslim Americans to the party’s history with Hispanics. George W. Bush won 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004; in 2008, with the GOP ramping up its anti-immigrant rhetoric, only 31% of Hispanics voted for John McCain.

In the Washington Post today, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson writes of what are likely to be the far-reaching unintended consequences of the GOP’s embrace of the Tea Party’s more nativist and xenophobic strands:

[A] question of Tea Party candidates: Do you believe that American identity is undermined by immigration? An internal debate has broken out on this issue among Tea Party favorites. Tom Tancredo, running for Colorado governor, raises the prospect of bombing Mecca, urges the president to return to his Kenyan "homeland" and calls Miami a "Third World country" -- managing to offend people on four continents. Dick Armey of FreedomWorks appropriately criticizes Tancredo's "harsh and uncharitable and mean-spirited attitude on the immigration issue." But the extremes of the movement, during recent debates on birthright citizenship and the Manhattan mosque, seem intent on depicting Hispanics and Muslims as a fifth column.

There is no method more likely to create ethnic resentment and separatism than unfair suspicion. The nativist impulse is the enemy of assimilation. In a nation where minorities now comprise two-fifths of children under 18, Republicans should also understand that tolerating nativism would bring slow political asphyxiation.

The Tea Party is undoubtedly on a bit of a roll. Last night, Sarah Palin-endorsed Tea Party candidates won (or look likely to win) Republican primaries in Alaska, Arizona, and Florida as did John McCain, who compromised many of his famed “maverick” positions to compete with a far right-wing challenger. And extreme right-wingers Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and Rand Paul have already grasped their party’s nominations after campaigns tinged with racially divisive rhetoric.

The Tea Party movement is not all about the politics of fear and exclusion—but to the extent that it is, it may face a limited, if dangerous, shelf life. For many on the far Right, short-term political expedience trumps doing what is right; but doing what is wrong may have long-term political consequences.

 

PFAW

Corporate Spending Run Amok in Florida

One week before the Florida primary, Republican candidates Rick Scott and Bill McCollum have spent a combined $51.2 million in the fight for their party’s nomination for governor. Rick Scott, the former head of the HCA/Columbia hospital conglomerate, already spent close to $38 million on his gubernatorial bid. In order to compete with Scott’s massive self-financed war chest, Bill McCollum, a former congressman and Florida’s current attorney general, has reached out to corporations to back his campaign.

Two political action committees have emerged to support McCollum’s campaign: the Sunshine State Freedom Fund and the Florida First Initiative. The Sunshine State Freedom Fund has received tens of thousands of dollars from corporations, including a $25,000 donation from the car dealership chain AutoNation.

The McCollum-allied Florida First Initiative obtained even more money from corporate backers, receiving $100,000 from Progress Energy and $50,000 from the insurance company Blue Cross Blue Shield. Most noticeably, the League of American Voters Inc. donated a whopping $600,000 to the Florida First Initiative. But as Steve Bousquet and Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald point out, the League of American Voters “does not have to disclose its donors under federal tax law because it is a 501(c)4 nonprofit activist group.”

However, the reporters found out that the “secretive political committee” received a large amount of its funding from U.S. Sugar Corp. In fact, according to Bousquet and Caputo, U.S. Sugar Corp. is spending around $1.1 million altogether to prop up McCollum’s campaign for governor. U.S. Sugar Corp’s enormous funding to back Attorney General McCollum is especially troubling considering that the State of Florida is currently purchasing land from the same corporation, a project that involves the Attorney General’s office and the state’s future governor.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, we may see Florida-like levels of corporate involvement elsewhere. Already in states like Minnesota, where barriers to corporate electioneering came down following the Citizens United ruling, corporations have dramatically increased their role in supporting particular candidates for office. Because of Citizens United, the enormous amount of corporate election spending witnessed in Florida may become the norm in other races across the country.

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What Citizens United has to do with Rod Blagojevich

Last night, a federal jury in Chicago convicted Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich on just one of 24 counts of political corruption. On the rest of the counts, the jury was hopelessly deadlocked.

Scott Turow, the bestselling novelist who started his career as a US Attorney prosecuting political corruption cases in Chicago, writes in the New York Times that whatever the fuzziness of fact in the Blagojevich case, what is even fuzzier is the way our legal system deals with political corruption. The influence of big money is everywhere in our political process—and the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United opened the door for less showy, but equally problematic, versions of the corruption that Blagojevich is accused of.

Indeed, in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the court decided that such organizations could spend as much as they wished at any time, assuming there was no direct coordination with the candidate. In doing so, the court overturned its own precedents and refused to distinguish the free speech rights of corporations and unions in any way from those of actual people.

The problem with this logic is that corporations have a legal duty not to spend money unless it is likely to improve profits. Unions, too, are expected to make only contributions that will benefit members. As a result, no idealistic patina of concern about good government or values-driven issues can burnish these payments.

The future of other campaign finance restrictions looks bleak. Thirty-four years ago, when the Supreme Court first declared in Buckley v. Valeo that the First Amendment protected election spending, it nonetheless approved contribution limits “to prevent ... the appearance of corruption.” In Citizens United, the Roberts Court gave short shrift to any concern about appearances. Limits on direct contributions to candidates appear likely to be the next campaign safeguard to fall.

In any case, the bevy of ways in which donors can get around current spending laws, combined with the Supreme Court’s elastic approach to the First Amendment, have left our campaign finance system as little more than a form of legalized influence-buying. Only those as naive as Wanda Brandstetter or as crass and ham-handed as Rod Blagojevich find themselves subject to prosecution, while others wise enough to say less out loud find snug protection in the First Amendment, no matter how bald their desire to influence government actions.

We see daily examples of this sort of dynamic happening in elections—take the Florida governor’s race--where any causal relationships between campaign cash and policy decisions can never be fully sorted out. It’s a dangerous thing for democracy…and one, as Turow points out, we aren’t going to fix without a Constitutional amendment.
 

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Kagan’s Policy Experience

In his opening remarks in the Elena Kagan nomination hearings, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) expressed concern about Gen. Kagan’s lack of judicial experience. Additionally, he chose to chastise her for opting to take jobs in the policy arena.

Professor Kagan left teaching law to spend five years at the center of politics, working in the Clinton White House, doing – as she describes it – mostly policy work… In many respects, Ms. Kagan’s career has been consumed more by politics than law.

How conveniently Sen. Sessions forgets that the Chief Justice of the United States, John Roberts, served in both the Reagan and H.W. Bush administrations, and also was a part of Bush Sr.’s Office of White House Counsel. Even more alarmingly, Jeff Sessions doesn’t seem to mind that Roberts flew to Florida in 2000 to stop the recount in the presidential election.

The GOP’s double standard becomes clearer and clearer.

 

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Candidates Begin to Appeal to Voters’ Disappointment with Corporate Court

Republicans say they’re plotting to use any Supreme Court nomination battle to their advantage in November.

But polls show that the issue cuts strongly the other way—the American public is overwhelmingly concerned about the current Court’s pro-corporate sympathies and its failure to fully appreciate how the law affects individual Americans.

Within hours of President Obama’s announcement that he would nominate Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, Illinois Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias seized on that message in an email to supporters. Here’s a screenshot:

Giannoulias isn’t the first candidate to appeal to the public’s discomfort with the Court’s pro-corporate bent. Last month, now-Rep. Ted Deutch decisively won a special election in Florida, after running on a platform that included a Constitutional Amendment to reverse Citizens United v. FEC.

Citizens United, Ledbetter, and Exxon v. Baker have brought home the impact that the Court’s corporate leanings can have on all Americans. We’re expecting to see a lot more office-seekers raising these issues as November approaches.

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Kyl disagrees with 69% of Americans on SCOTUS nominee

In his remarks on the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, President Obama alluded to his displeasure (which he hasn’t exactly been keeping secret) with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC. Now the GOP is crying “litmus test”:

Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) invoked Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’s name in a Senate floor speech Tuesday warning Obama not to nominate someone who would be an automatic vote against corporate interests. He made it clear such a nomination could provoke a GOP filibuster.

“The big corporation might have the right law and facts in a particular case,” said Kyl, who noted that Roberts in his own confirmation hearing said that in a dispute between a “big guy and little guy” he would vote for whoever had the law behind him.

“You don’t go on to the bench [saying], ‘I’m always going to be against the big guy,’ ” said Kyl.

Kyl’s straw man argument not only misconstrues Obama’s words, but shows how out of touch his party has become with the American people. A People For poll in February found that a full 78% of Americans—from across the political spectrum— believe that corporations should be limited in how much they can spend to influence elections, with 70% believing that corporations already have too much influence. And asked whether President Obama should nominate a Supreme Court justice who supports limiting corporate spending in elections, 69% said yes.

And just this week, a candidate running on a platform that included a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United won a resounding victory in a congressional special election in Florida.

Given that kind of evidence, Senator Kyl might want to rethink his decision to make himself a champion of corporate interests over the rights of ordinary Americans.
 

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GOP Obstructionism Is No Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bob McDonnell and the High Cost of Being a Gay Couple

In Virginia, far right gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell has gotten a lot of attention for his belief that it is the duty of government to punish homosexuality. McDonnell came to mind this weekend when I read a sobering article in the New York Times entitled "The High Cost of Being a Gay Couple."

By not recognizing marriages between two men or two women, our federal and state governments treat these couples as legal strangers. The authors of the article calculated the financial burden that results from this discrimination.

We looked at benefits that routinely go to married heterosexual couples but not to gay couples, like certain Social Security payments. We plotted out the cost of health insurance for couples whose employers don't offer it to domestic partners. Even tax preparation can cost more, since gay couples have to file two sets of returns. Still, many couples may come out ahead in one area: they owe less in income taxes because they're not hit with the so-called marriage penalty.

Our goal was to create a hypothetical gay couple whose situation would be similar to a heterosexual couple's. So we gave the couple two children and assumed that one partner would stay home for five years to take care of them. We also considered the taxes in the three states that have the highest estimated gay populations — New York, California and Florida. We gave our couple an income of $140,000, which is about the average income in those three states for unmarried same-sex partners who are college-educated, 30 to 40 years old and raising children under the age of 18.

And what was the result?

In our worst case, the couple’s lifetime cost of being gay was $467,562. But the number fell to $41,196 in the best case for a couple with significantly better health insurance, plus lower taxes and other costs.

Of course, as far as Bob McDonnell is concerned, the government is only doing what it’s supposed to do: punishing homosexuality.

PFAW

Biased Critiques of Sotomayor's "Judicial Temperament"

Amid questioning concerning her supposed “aggressive” judicial temperament and “bullying” courtroom demeanor, Judge Sotomayor today emerged from the tussle of the hearings a composed and careful speaker, unwilling to let pointed critiques ruffle her feathers.

Senator Lindsey Graham read comments by attorneys -- as collected in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary -- that referred to Judge Sotomayor as “temperamental” and “excitable.” However, Senator Graham’s statements that followed took on a decidedly patronizing tone, as he recommended the judge see the confirmation hearings as a time for self-reflection during which she should reconsider her courtroom behavior.

Would Graham have had the same critique of a male nominee? One whose demeanor was overtly hostile at times?

Says the L.A. Times: “[B]eing tough on advocates is de rigeur for the Supreme Court. Lawyers there often barely begin their presentations before they are interrupted by one of the justices. Being able to survive that sort of intense questioning and still deliver your argument is viewed as a badge of honor. If anyone ever asked Antonin Scalia if he had a temperament problem, he'd probably readily agree -- and be proud of it.”

PFAW

Stop Voter ID in Texas

The New York Times editorial board probably didn’t write their piece today directly in response to a vote in the Texas State Senate yesterday, but they might as well have. 

From the NY Times editorial:

In last year’s presidential election, as many as three million registered voters were not allowed to cast ballots and millions more chose not to because of extremely long lines and other frustrating obstacles. Ever since the 2000 election in Florida, the serious flaws in the voting system have been abundantly clear. More than eight years later, Congress must finally deliver on its promise of electoral reform.

At a hearing last week, the Senate Rules Committee released a report sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the sorry state of voting. It said that administrative barriers, such as error-filled voting lists or wrongful purges of voter rolls prevented as many as three million registered voters from casting ballots. Another two million to four million registered voters were discouraged from even trying to vote because of difficulty obtaining an absentee ballot, voter ID issues and other problems.

More on the voter ID bill from the Dallas Morning News:

Senate Republicans pushed through a bill Tuesday that would require Texans to show a photo ID or two alternative IDs before voting, while Democrats shifted their efforts to derail the legislation to the House.

The measure, commonly referred to as "voter ID," was approved 19-12, with all Senate Republicans voting for the bill and all Democrats voting against it. A final vote will be required Wednesday before the proposal is sent to the House.

As if we need any extra barriers to an already broken system.

The article goes on to say that there’s a 50-50 chance of passage in the House. There are 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats in the House. That means your calls and advocacy are crucial. If you’re a Texas resident, make sure to call your representative and tell them that to stop this thinly-veiled attempt to keep certain kinds of voters – voters who wouldn’t vote for them – away from the polls.
 

PFAW

Do elephants really never forget?

From today's Politico:

McConnell said that Coleman’s team seems to have been laying the groundwork for a federal appeals challenge by citing the 2000 Supreme Court case in Bush v. Gore, which ended the Florida recount. McConnell argued that the equal protection clause of the Constitution ensures that each county should use similar standards in counting its ballots, which the Coleman campaign asserts was not done in Minnesota.

"We all remember Bush v. Gore," McConnell said.

I am not sure Senator McConnell remembers.

It's interesting that McConnell is willing to let an election -- which has already had a recount -- hang in the air for two months. After all, less than a month after the 2000 election, McConnell was already demanding that Al Gore concede to George W. Bush. McConnell's comments to the Lexington Herald-Leader on Nov. 27, 2000:

We've had a count, we've had a recount, we've had a recount of the recount. It's been three weeks since the election and it's time for Gore to be a statesman and give it up.

But do not worry, others have not forgotten, Senator McConnell.

PFAW

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.

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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