It’s been an exciting few days for supporters of LGBT equality. Following last night’s Senate cloture vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, today the Illinois House passed a bill allowing same-sex couples to marry, setting the stage for Illinois to become the 15th state in the nation with full marriage equality. One version of the bill has already been passed by the Illinois Senate, and Governor Pat Quinn has promised to sign it. When he does, thirty percent of our nation’s states will have marriage equality.
PFAW has been on the ground in Illinois, supporting the push for marriage equality in any way we can. In addition to providing lobbying training materials so Illinois voters could bring their support for equality directly to their elected officials through calls, emails, and in-person visits, PFAW members joined thousands of friends in the March on Springfield for Marriage Equality last month.
In what the CEO of Equality Illinois has called the “national march toward full recognition of the dignity of all gay and lesbian couples,” Illinois has brought us one state closer to full marriage equality nationwide. And while 15 states represents real momentum, we won’t stop until every committed couple in the country has access to the legal protections they need to take care of each other and their families.
On a cold, wet Tuesday this week, People For members joined an estimated 2,000 marriage equality supporters at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield for the March on Springfield for Marriage Equality. For two full hours prior to marching around the capitol complex, activists rallied for same-sex marriage, with major news cameras rolling. Scores of activists, entertainers, politicians, and faith leaders called on the Illinois House of Representatives to pass SB 10, a bill legalizing marriage for same-sex couples which was passed by the Illinois State Senate early in 2013.
Highlights from the rally included out gay country singer Steve Grand performing his hit “All American Boy,” the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus and Windy City Gay Choirs, and independent artist Sonia; along with a lineup of other performers and speakers demanding that House Speaker Michael Madigan hold a vote on SB 10. In the middle of the event, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn made an appearance. With a pen in hand, Quinn said he was ready to sign the bill into law as soon as the House passes it, evoking a roar from the 2,000 attendees. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (daughter of the Speaker), State Comptroller Judy Barr-Topinka, and Secretary of State Jesse White all voiced their endorsements of SB 10.
But the biggest reaction of the day came from keynote speaker Bishop Carlton D. Pearson of the Churches of God In Christ, who called on the Illinois Legislature to “pass the damn bill” and foster a society of fairness, social justice, and inclusion in Illinois. In the style of a sermon, Pearson delivered a powerful address, apologizing to the LGBT community on behalf of the evangelical Christian community for the lack of compassion previously given to them by some Christian leaders.
Following Pearson’s rousing speech, marchers funneled to the sidewalks surrounding the Capitol Building, at one point nearly completely encircling the complex with their numbers. Check out this gallery of photos from the rally, and the recorded livestream of the event.
All photos by Scott Foval.
Bill Moyers once called ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) the “most influential corporate-funded political force most of America has never heard of.” Today, PFAW is helping to change that – coming out in full force to shed some light on the harm ALEC’s extreme agenda causes to everyday Americans.
As ALEC holds its 40th annual meeting in Chicago, PFAW is there – along with ally organizations, labor groups, and advocates from around the country – to crash their party. The protest happening now outside Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton is the biggest anti-ALEC protest to date.
The mass of people at the rally underscores the growing momentum to expose and fight back against ALEC, which connects corporate lobbyists with state legislators to pass special interest legislation in all fifty states. For four decades, ALEC has worked behind closed doors to get laws harmful to everyday Americans on the books – working against paid sick days, pushing tax policies favoring the rich, and helping “Stand Your Ground” become law in more than two dozen states. As our signs say, “ALEC corporations write laws, real people suffer.”
And today, we’re calling them out.
With all eyes on Illinois today for a possible marriage equality vote, the Illinois General Assembly took another important action – they called for a constitutional amendment to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC. Following on the heels of West Virginia and Maine last month, today’s action makes Illinois the fourteenth state to call for such a resolution.
The Rock River Times reports:
“The effort in Illinois was bipartisan, underscoring what poll data have shown: People of all political stripes are deeply concerned about corporations having too much influence over our democratic process. A measure calling for a constitutional amendment was on ballots across Illinois in November, and was supported by three-quarters of voters.”
Indeed, in Illinois and across the country, Americans of all “political stripes” are making clear that they do not want a democracy ruled by corporate spending. And with each additional state that goes on record supporting the movement to reclaim our democracy from wealthy special interests, that momentum grows even stronger.
President Obama yesterday nominated three highly qualified candidates to federal district court judgeships in Illinois. The nominations of Colin Stirling Bruce, Sara Lee Ellis and Andrea R. Wood underscore the president’s commitment to bringing qualified, diverse candidates to the federal bench. Two of the three nominees, Ellis and Wood, are African-American women. Wood brings unique professional diversity to the bench: she currently works for the enforcement division of the Securities and Exchange Commission, which helps keep financial companies accountable to voters and consumers.
More and more Americans are fed up with freshman Senator Ron Johnson's single-handedly blocking the Senate from even considering the nomination of Victoria Nourse to Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Yesterday, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that:
Johnson's decision to block the judicial nomination of a University of Wisconsin law professor has drawn a pointed letter of protest from a group of legal academics around the country.
Johnson has singlehandedly held up consideration of Victoria Nourse for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which reviews federal cases from Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
"For a single senator from one state within the Circuit to assert a hold, months after the nomination was complete, undermines Wisconsin's merit-based selection system, blocking highly qualified nominees from a hearing and a vote," reads the letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and the panel's top Republican, Charles Grassley of Iowa. "The effect is an unbreakable one-person filibuster."
The professors say a "a nominee of sterling credentials who has served under both Republicans and Democrats" should not be subject to "unending delay." You can click here to see the letter and its 53 signatories, some of whom served under Republican presidents.
Indeed, the letter shows Nourse's support across the ideological spectrum. In addition to progressive legal scholars, signers also include conservatives like Randy Barnett (a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who has challenged the constitutionality of the healthcare reform law) and David Bernstein (author of Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform). The signers also include ten scholars from Wisconsin law schools. All agree that Nourse would make an excellent judge.
Nourse was originally nominated by President Obama more than a year ago after consultation with Wisconsin's two senators. Unfortunately, because of the unprecedented obstruction of qualified judicial nominees by Senate Republicans, Nourse was among the dozens of nominees who the Senate was prevented from considering before 2010 came to an end. President Obama renominated her in January, with the new Congress that now includes newly elected Senator Ron Johnson.
Johnson complains he should have been consulted before the renomination even though the appropriate consultation with Wisconsin's senators occurred when Nourse was originally nominated. Other states with new Republican senators have faced the same situation with the re-nominations of judicial nominees who were originally nominated last year. In every case but Wisconsin, the new Republican senator has allowed the nomination to go forward. Only Senator Johnson has refused.
John Wayne: Rugged. Distinctive. An enduring American Icon. It’s no wonder that Michele Bachmann, as she kicks off her presidential campaign, wants to embody these qualities.
"Well what I want them to know is just like, John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That's the kind of spirit that I have, too," said Bachmann.
Well, it turns out that Bachmann’s fellow Waterloonian is not John Wayne the movie star, but John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer.
According to the Washington Times, Gacy began his life of crime in Waterloo, before moving on to Illinois, where he picked up a whopping 33 murder convictions before his eventual execution in 1994.
This afternoon in El Paso, President Obama laid out his case for comprehensive immigration reform. In his speech he again expressed his disappointment in the failure of the DREAM Act, which sunk under a filibuster by Senate Republicans late last year:
And we should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents – by denying them the chance to earn an education or serve in the military. That’s why we need to pass the Dream Act. Now, we passed the Dream Act through the House last year. But even though it received a majority of votes in the Senate, it was blocked when several Republicans who had previously supported the Dream Act voted no.
It was a tremendous disappointment to get so close and then see politics get in the way. And as I gave the commencement at Miami Dade, it broke my heart knowing that a number of those promising, bright students – young people who worked so hard and who speak to what’s best about America – are at risk of facing the agony of deportation. These are kids who grew up in this country, love this country, and know no other place as home. The idea that we would punish them is cruel and it makes no sense. We are a better nation than that.
Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is planning to reintroduce the DREAM Act tomorrow. As the week goes on, we’ll have more on the renewed effort to pass the legislation.
Republicans in the Wisconsin State Senate announced that they will penalize the fourteen boycotting Senators by imposing a $100-a-day fine and taking away their parking spaces, but the chamber’s Democrats are determined to block the GOP’s radical anti-labor legislation. In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Democratic State Sen. Chris Larson described the group’s resolve not to budge in the face of Republican threats. Sen. Larson is a member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, and is working closely with PFAW to build momentum to stop Governor Scott Walker’s plan to quash workers’ rights. He makes clear that the public is increasingly turning against Walker’s plans, and that the Republicans’ latest move only shows their desperation to quickly pass their extreme legislation:
"They've become increasingly desperate with these petty things that they're throwing out there," Larson said. "The next thing they're gonna throw out is we're gonna have to say 'Mother, may I' before anybody can talk."
TPM asked Larson, who said he was at a rest stop in Illinois, whether he was prepared to pay the fines. "You know, it's not about us, it's not about the finances," said Larson. "It's about the cuts that they're doing to workers rights, it's about the cuts that they're doing to educators, and throwing out Medicare, Medicaid and Seniorcare, and trying to change these provisions."
Larson also was not entirely sure whether the fines were legally permissible. "First of all, it's in the Constitution that you cannot diminish a person's wages," said Larson. "But it's beside the point. The fact that they're trying to hold our paychecks and have these fines, it's petty and it's not impacting anybody. We had a meeting and nobody flinched at it. It was just like, wow, he's [Fitzgerald] looking really desperate."
Later in the interview, TPM noted to Larson that the fines appeared to be based on a provision in the state Constitution that the legislature "may compel the attendance of absent members in such manner and under such penalties as each house may provide."
"Well, we'll have to see when we go back," said Larson. "We'll go over it with some lawyers. The fact is, it's giving - it's not making us think about it twice. We're focused on preserving workers' rights, preserving the way of life in Wisconsin without these huge cuts to rights. That's what we're focused on.
"If they want to throw out fines, if they want to call us names and if they want to take over our staff, they're doing everything they can to ignore what the real issue is, and that's that they're going too far with their power grab. The public is crying foul and calling them out on their power grab, and they're just ignoring it."
He also added: "What they do to us is of little consequence, compared to what they're doing to themselves right now."
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.
In a 61-52 vote on November 30, the Illinois House approved the Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act. The Senate followed suit on December 1 with a 32-24 vote. The bill would make civil unions available to Illinoisans as of July 1 of next year.
Equality Illinois celebrated the victory.
On that date, thousands of same-sex couples in Illinois will have access to protections that were previously denied to them, such as emergency medical decision-making, hospital visitation, inheritance rights, and others. This is a historic moment for our State, and we would not have been able to get here without the extraordinary leadership of the bill's chief sponsors, State Representative Greg Harris and State Senator David Koehler. Many of our partner organizations and community leaders devoted endless energy to helping pass this bill. Clergy all around Illinois educated their congregations and even prayed for elected officials to understand the urgency of the protection that civil unions offers. And our supporters from every corner of the State participated by contacting lawmakers, canvassing, phone banking, writing letters, and making contributions. This is your victory too.
Governor Quinn has pledged to sign it into law.
Quinn has been an outspoken supporter of the bill, which was co-sponsored by state Rep. Greg Harris, D-Chicago, one of two openly gay state legislators. During the recent election, Quinn gambled his political career on the legislation by vowing to pass it and sign it into law. He defeated state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, a staunch conservative, by less than 20,000 votes.
"It's always the right time to do the right thing,"; Quinn said paraphrasing Martin Luther King Jr. during a press conference, when asked to address criticism that the state's large debt and high jobless rate should take precedence over social issues.
"My conscience is not kicking me in the shins today," he said. "I believe I did the right thing for the people of Illinois and all those who live in Illinois."
The action in Illinois is an important step forward in the fight for equitable relationship recognition. PFAW welcomes this step but notes that civil unions are no substitute for marriage. Marriage is a state institution recognized in every state, across state lines, and at the federal level. Civil unions are exclusively state-based. Like domestic partnerships, they provide some state benefits, but they are not portable from state-to-state, and they receive no federal recognition. In addition, the separate status of “civil unions” stigmatizes lesbian and gay families as unworthy of perhaps the most basic foundation of our society.
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has produced maps that show the successes thus far and the challenges moving forward.
We have won the battle, but we have not yet won the war.
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:
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.
"I don't want everybody to vote ... our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." - Paul Weyrich, founding father of the conservative movement, 1980.
When news hit last week that Democrats were doing better than expected in early voting turnout, Republican Dick Armey - whose FreedomWorks organization ensures that the Tea party is well funded by Big Business - immediately took to the airwaves with two goals: to delegitimize any potential Election Day victories for Democrats, and to justify this year's efforts by Republicans and their allies to keep people of color from voting. Armey told Fox News viewers that:
Democrats vote early because there's "less ballot security," creating a "great opportunity" for fraud. He also claimed that such fraudulent early voting is "pinpointed to the major urban areas. The inner city."
Of course, the former congressman had no more evidence to support his false and inflammatory claims than Joseph McCarthy had for his. But he does have an echo chamber of Republican and allied supporters all making the same unsupported claims of rampant voter fraud to justify aggressive efforts to keep likely Democratic voters - especially African Americans - out of the voting booth.
First, let there be mo mistake: Analysis after analysis has shown that there is no national problem with voter fraud. For instance, in its report The Truth About Voter Fraud, the Brennan Center for Justice has
analyzed purported fraud cited by state and federal courts; multipartisan and bipartisan federal commissions; political party entities; state and local election officials; and authors, journalists, and bloggers. Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated - and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked.
Similarly, when the New York Times turned its investigatory resources to the "problem" of voter fraud in 2007, it found that
[f]ive years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department ha[d] turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.
Nevertheless, the Republicans and their close allies are up to their usual election-time hysterics about voter fraud, especially by nefarious dark-skinned people. They are ginning up fears of stolen elections ... so they can suppress the vote and thereby steal the elections themselves.
Over the past few weeks, as reported in Talking Points Memo and elsewhere:
This isn't new territory for the Right. For instance, in 2006, the Bush Administration fired U.S. Attorneys who refused to press phony voter fraud prosecutions. In 2008, until their plans were exposed, Michigan Republicans planned to use home foreclosure lists to challenge likely Democratic voters at the polls, supposedly to prevent voter fraud. That same year, the Montana Republican Party challenged the eligibility of 6,000 registered voters in the state's Democratic strongholds after matching the statewide voter database with the National Change of Address database to identify voters who aren't living where they are registered to vote. In Ohio, voter caging was used as a prelude to challenge individuals at the voting precinct.
These actions were part of a larger pattern. During the fall of 2008, the Right was setting itself up to challenge the integrity of the election. Across the country, they repeatedly trumped up claims of voter fraud, attacking ACORN and other voter registration efforts and lambasting the Justice Department for its failure to stop this alleged "fraud." However, that effort sputtered when the false claims of voter fraud mushroomed into threats against ACORN workers and vandalism of their offices, which PFAW helped to expose. Last year's doctored "pimp and prostitute" ACORN videos and their aftermath showed the lengths Republicans and their allies are willing to go to demonize and ultimately destroy successful minority voter registration efforts.
Clearly, the Right puts a great deal of energy into tackling a non-existent problem. But while these actions may do nothing to prevent instances of voter fraud that were never going to happen in the first place, they do accomplish something very important, as noted above: They intimidate people, often people of color, into not voting. They also work to paint any election victory by Democrats as illegitimate, thereby seriously destabilizing one of the foundations needed for America's constitutional government to work.
Voting is our assurance that those in power govern only by the consent of the people. The theory of American electoral democracy is that We the People act through government officials who we elect to act on our behalf. However, that assumes that all parties are willing to abide by the results of free and fair elections, win or lose.
Unfortunately, when the most powerful groups in society are willing to ignore democratic principles when it’s convenient - when they are eager to disenfranchise those who are most likely to vote against them - the democratic system fails.
In the past, these forces used poll taxes, literacy tests, and even brute force to keep disfavored Americans from voting, staining the legitimacy of the elected government in the process. Today, far more wary of appearances, they use the false accusation of "voter fraud" to do the same thing, often against the same targets: African Americans and other people of color.