Georgia

Voting Rights Advocates Rack Up More Wins

Earlier this month, PFAW reported on what has gone right for voting rights at the state level in 2014. While there is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack, states like Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina have shown that we can win. Now we've uncovered even more evidence of why we can and should keep fighting the challenges that lay before us.
PFAW

Urgent Action Needed on Georgia Early Voting Bill on Last Day of Legislative Session

Updated March 21: Georgia's legislative session closed without final action being taken on HB 891. According to Facing South, "House sponsors declined to take up a vote on the revised bill, and HB 891 was dead." The report quotes Kelli Persons of League of Women Voters of Georgia, "The message here is that it's very important . . . to pay attention to what's happening at the local level," in reference to the bill's impact on municipal early voting.
PFAW

50 Years Later, John Lewis Returns to Podium as Sole Surviving March Speaker

Recently The New York Times reminded us that Representative John Lewis is still marching on Washington, 50 years later.

On August 28, 1963, as the 23-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis took the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Tomorrow, as the 73-year-old representative from Georgia's 5th congressional district, he will commemorate the 50th anniversary of those remarks.

Representative Lewis returns to the podium as the sole surviving speaker from the March on Washington.

A half century ago he was the torchbearer for youth leadership in the Civil Rights Movement. The message he delivered still hits home for youth leaders like those of Young People For.

Here at YP4 we know that “justice for all” is an expansive idea that includes pushing for and protecting civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT equality and more. It means rededicating ourselves to the promise of vibrant, safe, democratic communities. It means fighting for a country where our voices are not drowned out by massive corporate spending to influence our elections. It means standing up to groups like ALEC which push extreme laws threatening the wellbeing of our communities, such as the “Stand Your Ground” laws that YP4 alumni like [Phillip] Agnew – leader of the Dream Defenders in Florida – have been fighting to change.

In other words, we know that “justice for all” is a promise that has yet to be realized.

Join us tomorrow as Representative Lewis and others once again bring the struggle for jobs, justice, and freedom back to the nation's capital. Check out MLKDREAM50 for information on the full week of events.

PFAW Foundation

Representative John Lewis: "There's other bridges to walk across"

The Supreme Court's ruling in Shelby is a setback, or as Representative Lewis put it to ABC's Jeff Zeleny earlier today: "What the Supreme Court did was to put a dagger in the very heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965." But it's also part of the voting rights bridge that we must continue fighting to get across.
PFAW Foundation

1000-Day Judicial Vacancy in Georgia

Georgia's senators are keeping President Obama's 11th Circuit Court nominee from even having a committee hearing.
PFAW

Jill Pryor Nominated to the 11th Circuit

President Obama has announced the nomination of Jill Pryor to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Pryor would fill a vacancy that has been declared an emergency by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

Pryor's legal skills are recognized by her peers. The Best Lawyers in America recognized her from 2009-2011, and Georgia Super Lawyers selected her as one of the "Top 100 Super Lawyers" in 2010 and 2011. In addition, she has served as president of the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers, as well as on the Georgia State Bar's Board of Governors.

Her peers are not alone in recognizing Pryor's qualifications. Georgia's Republican senators have both stated that she is qualified for a lifetime judicial appointment. In a January 24 letter to President Obama, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson recommended three attorneys to fill judicial vacancies in Georgia. They recommended Pryor for one of the two vacant seats in the Northern District of Georgia, but President Obama recognized that she has the skills and experience needed to serve on the Eleventh Circuit Court.

This seat has been vacant since August of 2010. We hope that Sens. Chambliss and Isakson, who clearly recognize Pryor's qualifications and judicial temperament, quickly give their approval for the Judiciary Committee to proceed to examine the nomination.

PFAW

Honoring King By Following in his Footsteps

The day after the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, a group of undocumented youth in Atlanta honored him by applying his message of peaceful protest against injustice. Supported by civil rights leaders like Rev. Timothy McDonald – a PFAW Board member, the founder of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, and the chair of African American Ministers In Action – they engaged in civil disobedience and highlighted the injustice of laws effectively barring them from higher education because of their parents' immigration decisions. As reported in the Washington Post:

Eight young illegal immigrants were arrested Tuesday for sitting in the middle of a busy street in front of the Georgia Capitol, protesting their lack of access to higher education in a scene reminiscent of civil rights demonstrations decades ago.

The group, made up of mostly students, believe their plight is similar to movement the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. led, and they met with former activists from the 1960s to hash out their civil disobedience plan. As the foreign-born youngsters sat in the road, at times holding hands, hundreds of supporters lined the street and cheered in support as the illegal immigrants were led away in handcuffs.

Before the sit-in the youngsters, their voices trembling, each stood before the crowd, took a microphone and announced: "I am undocumented, and I am unafraid." ...

The Rev. Timothy McDonald was one of the activists who met with the students at Ebenezer Baptist Church in the room where King and other preachers founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization that led the movement for equality and justice for blacks.

"We felt the connection," McDonald said. "We pointed out that there has never been a successful movement of any kind without young people, and that was especially true of the civil rights movement. It was the students who filled up the jails, not the preachers."

As these young people show, part of the strength and beauty of King's message is its universality

PFAW

Update from the Frontlines in Ohio: Voter ID Bill Could Affect Poor and Minority Populations

Poor and minority populations are again under attack in Ohio. With Ohioans putting all of our efforts into stopping Governor Kasich and Republican leaders from destroying workers’ rights, we’re being blindsided by a very troubling bill aimed at limiting access to the ballot box. Ohio’s new Voter ID bill, HB 159, which requires every voter to present a valid government issued photo ID in order to vote, sailed through the Ohio House of Representatives last week. This bill would put up unnecessary road blocks to the voting process and almost certainly cause mass confusion during next year’s presidential election.

Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, was Skyped in last week to testify to the Ohio House in favor of Voter ID restrictions. When asked by an Ohio legislator how many cases of voter fraud in Georgia led to the state’s Voter ID bill, he said “I don’t have a number in front of me,” adding, “It’s hard to put a number on it because you didn’t know that fraud was happening.” We then heard in-person testimony from the Deputy Secretary of State of Indiana (the same state where the current Secretary of State has been recently indicted on voter fraud). His answer to the same question was, “I can’t give you a number, however there were 2 people arrested in Indiana for voter fraud and no evidence of dead people voting.”

It costs between $21.75 and $25.75 to obtain an Ohio driver’s license. Should you need to purchase a birth certificate in order to get a drivers license, there’s an additional cost of $21.50. Paying somewhere between $40 and $50 is an unnecessary burden for many Ohioans in this uncertain economy. Imagine having to choose between paying for a state identification in order to vote and paying an overdue utility bill before disconnection. That’s not the kind of choice Americans should have to make.

In addition, racial minorities, the working poor, students and people with disabilities are twice as likely to lack a non-expired government photo ID.

In 2005, Ohio passed a law that imposed stricter ID requirements than federal law. Now, Ohio may become the most restrictive voting state in the country since this bill does not even permit voters to produce other forms of identification found to be acceptable in states that require identification. This bill would have national implications, considering Ohio’s historical position as “the” deciding state when determining the outcome of Presidential elections.

Shouldn’t we be making voting more accessible instead of making it restrictive and exclusive to a select group of people? The Republican Secretary of State doesn’t even support this bill, so why is the legislature pushing it through? The answer one Republican House member gave is, “Because we can.” As Ohio Representative Mike Foley put it, "There were 3,956,245 votes cast in the 2010 general election and there was one instance of voter fraud out of all of these votes cast. So we’re looking to spend somewhere in the $10-20 million range to deal with a .00000025 percent problem." With an $8 billion budget shortfall, we should be seeking ways to spend less money, particularly on a problem that doesn’t exist.

PFAW

Stoking Fear with Silence: Broun Apologizes, but When Will Republican Officials Stop Condoning Lies?

Last Friday, Rep. Paul Broun of Georgia was at a town hall meeting when a constituent asked him, “Who will shoot Obama?” Rather than confronting the call to violence, Broun—who has his own history of incendiary remarks— laughed it off, and answered, “The thing is, I know there’s a lot of frustration with this president… Hopefully, we’ll elect somebody that’s going to be a conservative.”

Today, after a national outcry made it impossible for him to sweep the incident under the table, Broun issued a full apology, saying, “I condemn all statements -- made in sincerity or jest -- that threaten or suggest the use of violence against the President of the United States or any other public official. Such rhetoric cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Broun was right to apologize, however belatedly. But his apology doesn’t erase what has become a troubling habit among many Republican members of Congress: choosing to ignore—and thereby tacitly embracing—lies and conspiracy theories about President Obama’s birth, religion, and love of country. Earlier this month, House Speaker John Boehner led the way when he refused to publically correct members of his base who believe that Obama is a secret Muslim who is illegally serving as president, stating, “I can’t tell Americans what to think.” Progressives called him out for his slippery response, but he ultimately got away with his convenient non-denial.

Broun himself has fed conspiracy theories about the president, saying that Democrats want to take over “all of society,” and even comparing the president to Hitler. Unfortunately, he’s hardly alone in his sometimes subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle embrace of extreme rhetoric.

Elected officials spend a lot of time talking with, and trying to be polite to, people who they may or may not agree with, and they certainly shouldn’t be held responsible for the views of every person who they happen to be in the room with. But elected officials do have the responsibility to operate honestly and responsibly—and that means correcting clear lies and confronting clear calls to violence.

Broun was rightly criticized for his failure to immediately condemn a call to assassinate the president. But when will he and his fellow members of Congress stop stoking the suspicion and fear that leads to such calls in the first place?

PFAW

Right Wing Escalates Drive to Censor and Investigate the Smithsonian

Even after successfully demanding that the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery censor part of its “Hide/Seek” exhibit, congressional Republicans and conservative commentators have continued their attacks on the Smithsonian. House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor joined right wing extremists like Bill Donohue and Glenn Beck to pressure the Smithsonian to remove a video by the late artist David Wojnarowicz in an exhibit on the ways art portrays homosexuality and AIDS.

Georgia Republican Jack Kingston, who is in the running to become chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, called for a Congressional investigation into the art at the Smithsonian with hopes to strip the museum of its funding, despite the fact that the exhibit was entirely funded by private donors. Speaking to Fox News, Kingston said that parts of the “pro-gay exhibit” are “really perverted” with “lots of really kinky and questionable kind of art.” Kingston went on to say that the Smithsonian “should be under the magnifying glass right now” and is “a waste of tax dollars, and during these hard budget times we can’t afford it.”

With the prospect of congressional investigations of art and the de-fuding of museums, critics of censorship are speaking out.

PFAW President Michael Keegan writes in his new Huffington Post Op-Ed that “the path from David Wojnarowicz's struggle with AIDS to the director of a Smithsonian museum announcing, ironically on World AIDS Day, that Wojnarowicz's artwork might spoil someone's Christmas, says a lot about American politics at the start of a new era of right-wing power.”

Blake Gopnik, the arts critic for the Washington Post, spoke out against the Right’s blatant attempts at censorship in a must-read Op-Ed for the Post. In his November 5th review of “Hide/Seek,” written well-before the Right cultivated the controversy, Gopnik in his description of a painting by Andrew Wyeth said that “it’s that censor-baiting force that clearly made it worth painting for Wyeth -- and worth looking at for all the rest of us.” Now, Gopnik is pushing back on the conservatives’ demands for censorship:

If every piece of art that offended some person or some group was removed from a museum, our museums might start looking empty - or would contain nothing more than pabulum. Goya's great nudes? Gone. The Inquisition called them porn.

Norman Rockwell would get the boot, too, if I believed in pulling everything that I'm offended by: I can't stand the view of America that he presents, which I feel insults a huge number of us non-mainstream folks. But I didn't call for the Smithsonian American Art Museum to pull the Rockwell show that runs through Jan. 2, just down the hall from "Hide/Seek." Rockwell and his admirers got to have their say, and his detractors, including me, got to rant about how much they hated his art. Censorship would have prevented that discussion, and that's why we don't allow it.

Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has said that taxpayer-funded museums should uphold "common standards of decency." But such "standards" don't exist, and shouldn't, in a pluralist society. My decency is your disgust, and one point of museums, and of contemporary art in general, is to test where lines get drawn and how we might want to rethink them. A great museum is a laboratory where ideas get tested, not a mausoleum full of dead thoughts and bromides.

In America no one group - and certainly no single religion - gets to declare what the rest of us should see and hear and think about. Aren't those kinds of declarations just what extremist imams get up to, in countries with less freedom?

Of course, it's pretty clear that this has almost nothing to do with religion. Eleven seconds of an ant-covered crucifix? Come on.



The attack is on gayness, and images of it, more than on sacrilege - even though, last I checked, many states are sanctioning gay love in marriage, and none continue to ban homosexuality.

And the Portrait Gallery has given into this attack.



Artists have the right to express themselves. Curators have the right to choose the expression they think matters most. And the rest of us have the right to see that expression, and judge those choices for ourselves.

If anyone's offended by any work in any museum, they have the easiest redress: They can vote with their feet, and avoid the art they don't like.
PFAW

Big Victories for Young Progressives

This year People For the American Way Action Fund endorsed over eighty candidates of the age 35 or younger who were running for public office. Many of the candidates were already elected officials, while others were running for office for the very first time. The PFAW Action Fund helped provide young progressives with the resources to spread and bolster their messages of equality, justice, and good-government, and put them in the leadership pipeline to strengthen the progressive movement.

Of the candidates we endorsed for the general election, seventy-two of the eighty-six endorsed candidates won their races! Highlights from Tuesday include:

  • Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, a solidly progressive State Representative and one of Time magazine’s 40 under 40, was elected to the State Senate.
  • Elena Parent of Georgia upset a conservative incumbent to secure a seat in the State House.
  • Ariana Kelly, a women’s-rights activist from Maryland, was elected to the House of Delegates.
  • Angie Buhl, a YP4 Fellow and Front Line Leaders Academy graduate, won a seat in the South Dakota State Senate.
  • We are also still waiting to hear the final results of Montana State Rep. Kendall Van Dyk, who is currently slightly ahead of his right-wing opponent in a competitive race for the State Senate.

Congratulations to all of the young candidates, and we hope you can support the efforts of the PFAW Action Fund to ensure a progressive future.

PFAW

The Voter-Fraud Fraud: And On It Goes

As we get closer to Election Day, the cacophony over "voter fraud" grows louder. Here are just a few of the items we're seeing:

  • Fox News hypes the conspiracy theory that the Justice Department is sending out poll monitors to facilitate voter fraud.
  • Republicans are motivating their base by trotting out their baseless charge that Al Franken stole the Minnesota 2008 Senate election.
  • Georgia GOP groups and candidates are helping Tea Party groups access precincts as poll watchers to fight "voter fraud."
  • Rep. Keith Ellison calls out Minnesota "anti-fraud" group for voter intimidation. The "dead voter" cited by a Republican candidate to attack voter fraud last week is, in fact, quite alive.
  • Nevada’s Secretary of State thoroughly debunks Republican allegations of voter fraud and voting machine tampering.

It is important to remember why the Right puts so much energy into the Voter-Fraud Fraud, screaming and yelling and working overtime to tackle a mostly non-existent problem. While they don't root out the voter fraud that was never going to happen in the first place, they do intimidate people, often people of color and likely Democratic voters, into not voting. They also work to paint any election victory by Democrats as illegitimate.

PFAW

Obama to Senate: Stop Playing Games with the Courts

On Wednesday night, the Senate left for recess without confirming a single one of the 23 judicial nominees who had been waiting for a vote, most of them for several months. The GOP blocked the majority of these nominees not because of ideology—19 were approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee—but just for the sake of obstruction. President Obama responded yesterday with this letter to Senate leaders:

Dear Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, Senator Leahy, and Senator Sessions:

I write to express my concern with the pace of judicial confirmations in the United States Senate. Yesterday, the Senate recessed without confirming a single one of the 23 Federal judicial nominations pending on the Executive Calendar. The Federal judiciary and the American people it serves suffer the most from this unprecedented obstruction. One in eight seats on the Federal bench sits empty, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared that many of those vacancies constitute judicial emergencies. Despite the urgent and pressing need to fill these important posts, a minority of Senators has systematically and irresponsibly used procedural maneuvers to block or delay confirmation votes on judicial nominees – including nominees that have strong bipartisan support and the most distinguished records. The minority has even been blocking non-controversial nominees – a dramatic shift from past practice that could cause a crisis in the judiciary.

The Judiciary Committee has promptly considered my judicial nominees. Nonetheless, judicial confirmation rates in this Congress have reached an all-time low. At this point in the prior Administration (107th Congress), the Senate had confirmed 61% of the President’s judicial nominations. By contrast, the Senate has confirmed less than half of the judicial nominees it has received in my Administration. Nominees in the 107th Congress waited less than a month on the floor of the Senate before a vote on their confirmation. The men and women whom I have nominated who have been confirmed to the Courts of Appeals waited five times longer and those confirmed to the District Courts waited three times longer for final votes.

Right now, 23 judicial nominees await simple up-or-down votes. All of these nominees have the strongest backing from their home-state Senators – a fact that usually counsels in favor of swift confirmation, rather than delay. Sixteen of those men and women received unanimous support in the Judiciary Committee. Nearly half of the nominees on the floor were selected for seats that have gone without judges for anywhere between 200 and 1,600 days. But despite these compelling circumstances, and the distinguished careers led by these candidates, these nominations have been blocked.

Judge Albert Diaz, the well-respected state court judge I nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, has waited 245 days for an up-or-down vote – more than 8 months. Before becoming a judge, Diaz served for over 10 years in the United States Marine Corps as an attorney and military judge. If confirmed, he would be the first Hispanic to sit on the Fourth Circuit. The seat to which he was nominated has been declared a judicial emergency. Judge Diaz has the strong support of both of North Carolina’s Senators. Senator Burr has publicly advocated for Judge Diaz to get a final vote by the Senate. And just before the August recess, Senator Hagan went to the floor of the Senate to ask for an up-or-down vote for Judge Diaz. Her request was denied.

We are seeing in this case what we have seen in all too many others: resistance to highly qualified candidates who, if put to a vote, would be unanimously confirmed, or confirmed with virtually no opposition. For example, Judge Beverly Martin waited 132 days for a floor vote – despite being strongly backed by both of Georgia’s Republican Senators. When the Senate finally held a vote, she was confirmed to the Eleventh Circuit unanimously. Jane Stranch was recently confirmed by an overwhelming majority of the Senate, after waiting almost 300 days for a final vote. Even District Court nominees have waited 3 or more months for confirmation votes – only to be confirmed unanimously.

Proceeding this way will put our judiciary on a dangerous course, as the Department of Justice projects that fully half of the Federal judiciary will be vacant by 2020 if we continue on the current pace of judicial confirmations. The real harm of this political game-playing falls on the American people, who turn to the courts for justice. By denying these nominees a simple up-or- down vote, the Republican leadership is undermining the ability of our courts to deliver justice to those in need. All Americans depend on having well-qualified men and women on the bench to resolve important legal matters – from working mothers seeking timely compensation for their employment discrimination claims to communities hoping for swift punishment for perpetrators of crimes to small business owners seeking protection from unfair and anticompetitive practices.

As a former Senator, I have the greatest respect for the Senate’s role in providing advice and consent on judicial nominations. If there is a genuine concern about the qualifications of judicial nominees, that is a debate I welcome. But the consistent refusal to move promptly to have that debate, or to confirm even those nominees with broad, bipartisan support, does a disservice to the greatest traditions of this body and the American people it serves. In the 107th Congress, the Judiciary Committee reported 100 judicial nominees, and all of them were confirmed by the Senate before the end of that Congress. I urge the Senate to similarly consider and confirm my judicial nominees.

Back in June, President Obama made a similar plea in a meeting with Senate GOP leaders, but apparently bipartisan cooperation on something as straight-forward as filling seats in the judiciary wasn’t on their list of priorities.

(I also want to point out that while the GOP is holding up most of the 23 stalled nominees for absolutely no reason, there are a handful of nominees who certain GOP senators actively oppose. We’ve explored some of the reasons for this opposition here and here and here.)
 

PFAW

Alabama County Brings the Voting Rights Act to Court

An 87% white county in Alabama is arguing that some of the anti-discrimination protections in the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary…and its case might end up in the Supreme Court.

Shelby County is protesting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires counties with a history of discriminatory election practices to run new election rules by the Justice Department.

"For Congress to continue to interfere with Shelby County's electoral autonomy in 2010 based on conditions that existed in 1965 is both arbitrary and without constitutional justification," according to one of the county's written arguments in the case.

Shelby County's complaint is that Section 5 of the law -- which says the Justice Department has to make sure election-related changes don't discriminate against minority voters -- is no longer necessary and that complying with the law is a significant legal expense for county taxpayers.

The county, however, does not provide any details about the "taxpayer dollars, time and energy" it has spent over the years asking the federal government to pre-approve things like new district lines or polling place changes. The U.S. Justice Department, the defendant in the lawsuit, argues the claim about expenses is vague and unsupported by evidence.

A number of African American residents of Shelby County disagree that voter discrimination is an outdated problem, and have tried to stop the county’s suit from going forward. They have some concrete examples to back them up. Just in 2008, a redistricting plan for one city in Shelby didn’t pass Justice Department muster because it eliminated the city’s one majority-black council district.

Shelby County’s argument recalls some of the right-wing objections to the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland said of the 1965 bill, "It was set up to be temporary, just to get things to where they should be," he said. "And if you look at the results we have here in Georgia, I think you can see that it's worked. Its time has passed."

If only it had.
 

PFAW

More Conservative Demagoguery on Obama’s Faith

Right-wing leaders continue to feed into the increasingly-held belief that Obama is not a committed Christian, a view now held by one-fifth of Americans. From a Republican National Committeewoman to the RNC’s new media director and even Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, the Republican Party has not shied away from feeding into the massive misinformation campaign about Obama’s Christian faith. Glenn Beck, who earlier described the President’s religion as “it's not Muslim, it's not Christian,” claimed on Fox News Sunday that “people aren't recognizing his version of Christianity.”

Now, Carl Paladino, a Republican candidate for governor of New York, flat-out claims in an interview with Capital Tonight that Obama is dishonest about being a Christian, and is deceitful about his faith for political purposes:

Q: You do not believe that the President is a practicing Christian?

CP: No. Not in his heart. I think it’s part of the theater of Mr. Obama. I’m not quite, I’m not saying he’s anything else, but I think Mr. Obama is about himself. I think any religious beliefs that he advocates are part of the theatre to make himself look better to the American people.”

Q: “So, you’re not specifically saying that he is not a Christian. You just don’t believe him when he says he’s a practicing Christian?”

CP: “I don’t believe he… No, I think he worships himself. He’s a very condescending person.”


Paladino’s claim about Obama’s alleged narcissism is extremely close to the description of Obama as “uppity” from conservative figures such as Rush Limbaugh and Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA). With Republican leaders pushing these smears, is it any wonder why one in three self-defined conservatives believe that Obama is not a Christian?

 

PFAW