Indiana

Dawn Johnsen on Caution and Principle

Last night, Dawn Johnsen spoke to the American Constitution Society, her first public appearance after a year and a half long battle over her confirmation to head the Office of Legal Counsel. Johnsen withdrew her nomination in April after an extended right-wing attack on her criticism of Bush administration torture policies and history of fighting for the right to choose.

In speaking about her nomination, she reminded us why she would have made a strong and honest defender of the law as the head of the OLC:

“As to whether I would have changed any of my positions or softened my stances or decided to just sit out a few issues, the message could not be more clear or more simple: I have no regrets,” Johnsen said.

A law professor at Indiana University, Bloomington, she said her biography “should hardly be used as an example of why we should not stand on principle or speak out in public.” Her willingness to speak out, she added, “has not hurt me professionally. Just the opposite.”

Johnsen recounted, for example, the opportunity she had three years out of law school to co-write an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in a 1989 case, Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, in which the justices upheld abortion rights. At the time, Johnsen was legal director for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Republicans last year seized on a footnote from that brief, accusing Johnsen of equating pregnancy with slavery. But she noted Thursday that the brief was quoted in The New York Times at the time of the case and was published in full in two law reviews, and that the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of her side. “Whatever you think about that footnote, it was a damn good brief,” Johnsen said.

“Do you think for one moment that I wish I had sat that fight out, due to caution and calculation? Not a chance, not for a moment, not on your life,” she added. “One should not live one’s life deciding whether and how to write such briefs based on calculated judgments about possible future political payoffs.”

PFAW

Voter ID Battles on the Horizon

The fight to protect voting rights celebrated a victory last fall in the Indiana State Court of Appeals. There, the court struck down what has become known as the strictest voter identification law in the country.

But it’s an election year again, and, as Tova Wang points out at TPM, it's not over in the Hoosier state.

An Indiana state court recently struck down the state's voter ID law, the most restrictive ID law in the country, and the Indiana State Supreme Court has just announced it will hear arguments on appeal March 4.

And that's not the only place voter ID laws are cropping up:

At least nine states and a city in Massachusetts (of all places!) are considering bills introduced in January 2010 that make identification requirements for voting more strict and/or require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. As usual, the debates are partisan. This is particularly true in South Carolina where it is estimated that 178,000 South Carolinians do not have the photo identification they would need to vote under the proposal.

There has yet to be any proof of significant voter fraud, but it seems to be political concerns, not principle, pushing these initiatives forward.

Instead of working to suppress the votes of American citizens, perhaps these legislators could help fix the real problems in the nation’s flawed voter and electoral systems--systems that are integral to our democracy.

PFAW

Dawn Johnsen’s Year in Review

January 5th might not be circled in red on your calendar (unless, of course, you’re celebrating Twelfth Night) but for some of us it’s become a noteworthy, if not entirely happy, anniversary.

One year ago today, then-President-elect Obama announced that he would nominate Indiana University law professor Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

OLC doesn’t traditionally grab headlines, but under the Bush Administration leadership of lawyers like John Yoo and Jay Bybee, it was ground zero for creating slipshod legal justifications for torture, rendition and abuses of executive power. So it was a breath of fresh air to hear that Obama had chosen a woman with impeccable qualifications and unimpeachable integrity to restore the reputation of the office.

But now, a year later, Dawn Johnsen is still waiting for a vote in the Senate, and Republicans (who can’t seem to find a nomination they don’t want to obstruct) have gone so far as to use the end of the term to send her nomination back to the White House. She’ll be renominated later this month, but then she’ll have to make yet another trip through the Judiciary Committee.

Dawn Johnsen certainly isn’t the only nominee who’s been caught up in GOP delay, but she’s spent more time in confirmation purgatory than anyone else.

The votes are there to confirm Johnsen and have been for some time. Any more delay is inexcusable. President Obama deserves to have his team in place—especially in an office as important as the OLC.

Take a minute to sign our petition calling on the Senate to confirm Dawn Johnsen.
 

PFAW

Don’t Believe the Right’s Propaganda on the Supreme Court

With everyone talking about the retirement of Justice David Souter, the Radical Right’s propaganda machine is set to max.

Right Wing Watch is reporting on the Right’s reaction.  One of the more laughable claims comes from Wendy Long of the Judicial Confirmation Network:

The current Supreme Court is a liberal, judicial activist court.  Obama could make it even more of a far-left judicial activist court, for a long time to come …

Calling the current Court liberal is like calling Mitt Romney consistent – you can’t say it with a straight face.  In fact, no less an authority than Justice John Paul Stevens has pointed out that “every judge who’s been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell has been more conservative than his or her predecessor,” with the possible exception of Justice Ginsburg.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s review some of the highlights of the current “liberal” Supreme Court.

In order to achieve their desired ideological results, the Far Right justices have recklessly toppled precedents, or even ignored them while pretending not to, with alarming frequency.  For example, the restrictive federal abortion ban upheld by the Roberts Court was essentially identical to one the Court had struck down before Roberts and Alito joined the bench.  Unfortunately, extreme Right Wing ideology trumped the rule of law.

Voting rights have also come under attack.  The Roberts Court upheld the constitutionality of the most restrictive voter ID law in the country, an Indiana law requiring people to present a currently valid, government-issued photo ID in order to vote.  This imposes a substantial burden on the elderly who don’t drive, college students, and the poor who don’t own cars.  Indiana was unable to identify a single case of in-person voter fraud occurring in its history.  That didn’t stop the Roberts Court from upholding a restriction that kept many Americans from being able to go to the polls on Election Day and cast a vote.

Even our very access to the courts has come under attack from the “liberal” Supreme Court.

Lilly Ledbetter was a victim of sex discrimination effectively barred from the courthouse.  Late in her career, she learned that she had, over the years, been subjected to salary discrimination on the basis of her sex, and she sued.  A jury found that she had been illegally discriminated against.  Yet a 5-4 Right Wing majority held that she should have sued within 180 days of the initial discriminatory conduct—even though she didn’t learn that she was being discriminated against for more than a decade.

The Court also closed the courthouse door in Riegel v. Medtronic, holding that patients injured by a defective medical device cannot sue for damages for violations of state common law if it was approved for marketing by the Food and Drug Administration and made to the agency’s specifications.  To reach this result, the Court had to interpret a federal law in a manner directly contrary to how its Senate sponsor said it was intended.

Keith Bowles was yet another victim denied his day in court.  After Bowles was denied relief in federal district court, the judge informed him that he had 17 days to file an appeal.  Unbeknownst to him, the rules really gave him only 14 days.  So when Bowles, relying on the federal judge, filed on day 16, a narrow 5-4 Supreme Court majority said that he had filed too late.  In so doing, the Court majority overruled clear and principled precedent that protected people in his situation.  In dissent, Justice Souter correctly wrote that “it is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way, and there is not even a technical justification for this bait and switch.”

The danger from right-wing justices was clear in Boumediene v. Bush, a case related to the then-President’s claim of virtually unlimited executive powers to conduct the war on terror.  The case involved the constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which eliminated federal court jurisdiction over habeas corpus claims by certain foreign detainees.  The Court rebuked President Bush’s vision of the presidency as an office of limitless power and declared that the president of a free nation cannot simply lock people up and throw away the key like some third-world dictator.  Chillingly, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas dissenting, the case was decided by a single vote, 5-4.  One more hard-right justice on the Court, and the decision would likely have gone the other way.

That’s why it’s crucial to have justices who are committed to our core constitutional values of justice and equality under the law.

It is of the utmost importance that Justice Souter be replaced by a powerful advocate for our Constitution—a justice in the mold of great jurists like Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan.  Our nation cannot afford anything less.

PFAW

Legal Scholars Speak out to Support Dawn Johnsen

People For the American Way co-hosted a press call on 4/27 concerning the nomination of Dawn Johnsen to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

We were joined by Walter Dellinger, Solicitor General and head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President Clinton, Douglas Kmiec, head of the Office of Legal Counsel for Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Aviva Orenstein, an Indiana University law professor and longtime colleague of Dawn Johnsen.

All three vouched for Johnsen's legal acumen and commitment to the rule of law and expressed disbelief that Senate Republicans were attempting to block her nomination.

You can listen here:

 
The Washington Post reported on the call -- "Scholars Urge Confirmation of Johnsen to OLC" -- along with progressive bloggers like Christy Hardin Smith and Armando LLorens who have reported extensively on the Johnsen nomination: "The War Against Dawn Johnsen" and "Kmiec Calls Out “Rank Politics” Against Dawn Johnsen’s OLC Nod."

The call was co-hosted by the Alliance for Justice, National Women's Law Center, and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

PFAW

Two Strikes Against Senator Inhofe

Senator Inhofe announced earlier this week that he would filibuster the nomination of David Hamilton for a seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. And on the Senate floor he elaborated—he said this was because, in a case involving a ban on the Indiana House of Representatives’ use of opening prayers to advance a particular religion, Hamilton placed limits on prayers that used Christ’s name, but, according to Inhofe, said that invoking the name of “Allah” would be permissible.

There are two major problems with Senator Inhofe’s announcement.

First is the senator’s statement, back in 2005, that filibusters of judicial nominees were contrary to the Constitution. Of filibusters of judicial nominations he said: “I don’t think it should be used where it is contrary to the Constitution.” If you watched Rachel Maddow last night you go this point loud and clear. You can’t have it both ways – the Constitution didn’t change between 2005 and 2009; what changed is the President making the nominations.

The second is the Senator’s gross misreading of Hamilton’s opinion. As noted in an earlier post, Hamilton never ruled that prayers to Christ were impermissible, while Muslim prayers were permissible. What he said was that any prayers that advanced a particular religion were impermissible and that on the record before the court, the official prayers being offered in the Indiana House “repeatedly and consistently” advanced the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, but that the single instance of a Muslim imam offering a prayer was not distinctly Muslim in its content.

In a ruling on a post judgment motion, Hamilton did say that prayers to “Allah” would be permissible, but what Senator Inhofe’s statement leaves out is both the context and the full content of the statement. Hamilton was asked in the post judgment motion to rule on whether a prayer can be addressed to “Allah.” Explaining that this is the Arabic word for “God” used in translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures, Hamilton ruled this permissible. He went on to say: “If those offering prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives choose to use the Arabic Allah, the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language’s terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers contemplated in Marsh v. Chambers, the court sees little risk that the choice of language would advance a particular religion or disparage others.”

If Senator Inhofe would carefully review the record, either Judge Hamilton’s or his own, he’d see that his pledge to filibuster this nomination is a very poor idea.

PFAW

More Nonsense from the Right on Hamilton

Late last week several leaders of the Right, including Tony Perkins, Edwin Meese, and Alfred Regnery issued a statement opposing the nomination of David Hamilton (currently the Chief Judge of the Southern District of Indiana) to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Among other things the statement recycles the screed working its way through the right wing blogoshpere that treats Hamilton's one-month job as a canvasser for ACORN thirty years ago when he was twenty two as if it constitutes a major portion of his career.  And it repeats the gross mischaracterization of a decision by Hamilton that police shouldn’t be allowed to violate “the privacy and sanctity of family relations” by directing a school social worker to interrogate a nine-year old student to get evidence against her mother.

And, now, for the first time as far as I’m aware, the statement levels charges that Hamilton ruled that prayers to Jesus Christ offered at the beginning of state legislative sessions were impermissible, but that prayers to Allah were not.

Of course, that’s not an accurate reading of Hamilton’s opinion. Rather, he concluded, as the Supreme Court has said, that “any official prayers [must] be inclusive and non-sectarian and not advance one particular religion.” And he found, based on an in-depth analysis of the record, that the official prayers being offered in the Indiana House in fact “repeatedly and consistently” advanced the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, and as such, were impermissible. He also said that Muslim prayers that similarly advanced the Muslim faith were also impermissible, but that the one and only instance of a prayer being offered by a Muslim imam “was inclusive and was not identifiable as distinctly Muslim from its content.”

A debate on the merits of judicial nominees is perfectly appropriate. But let’s at least get the facts straight.

PFAW

Obama's First Judicial Nomination: A Good Start

News reports state that David Hamilton, a federal district court judge in Indiana, will be President Obama’s first judicial nominee. He will apparently be nominated to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

I am just learning about Judge Hamilton. In 2005, according to the New York Times, "he made news by ruling that the legislature was prohibited from beginning its sessions with overtly Christian prayers. The decision drew widespread criticism in the legislature and across the state."

I can only imagine.

The overwhelming majority of Indianans are Christian. I’d venture to guess that very few of them have ever lived in a society where theirs was a minority religion, and where the government officially promoted a religion that condemned theirs. The experience of their lives is one where they are comfortably in the majority.

As a Jew who grew up in conservative Texas, my experience is different. I know how it felt in elementary school when public school teachers imposed their Christianity upon the classroom. Officially-sanctioned Christianity regularly made it clear that I was an outsider in my own society: I did not belong.

That is but one of the many excellent reasons that the Founders wisely adopted the First Amendment’s prohibition of the establishment of religion by government. But it’s the one that first occurred to me as I read about the Indiana legislative prayer case.

It is important that judges as a group reflect the diversity of America, so the bench is filled with jurists with a wide variety of life experiences, ranging from the top to the bottom of the social ladder. But that does not excuse the individual judge from being able to step outside their own life experience and recognize that what is not a problem for them can be a severe problem for someone whose life has been different. That is an essential quality for a judge. It’s what made the Brown v. Board of Education decision so different from Plessey v. Ferguson, even though both cases were decided by all-white Courts. Similarly, it’s what made 1976’s Craig v. Boren (establishing a higher level of scrutiny for legal sex-based classifications) so different from 1872’s Bradwell v. Illinois (upholding the state’s prohibition against women attorneys), even though both cases were decided by an all-male Court.

Perhaps Judge Hamilton’s ability to step outside his own experiences helped him decide the legislative prayer case. Either way, he clearly was willing to enforce the First Amendment and clear Supreme Court precedent in a case where he knew that he would be condemned by many people in his state. He put the law over ideology. That’s another quality needed in a judge.

This is an encouraging first judicial nomination from President Obama.

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

A Good Day for Small-"D" Democracy

Yesterday was obviously a really good day for progressives, but it was also a pretty amazing day for democracy -- note the small "d."

The Politico reports today:

More than 130 million people turned out to vote Tuesday, the most ever to vote in a presidential election.

With ballots still being counted in some precincts into Wednesday morning, an estimated 64 percent of the electorate turned out, making 2008 the highest percentage turnout in generations.

In 2004, 122.3 million voted in what was then the highest recorded turnout in the contest between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

Previously red states targeted by the Barack Obama campaign demonstrated remarkable turnout, setting records in North Carolina and elsewhere. Increased turnout was also reported in states including Virginia and Indiana.

PFAW

Fighting Voter Suppression in Big Sky Country

Is “pursuing other interests” code for “ I want to figure out how to disenfranchise more people “?

After several weeks of employing controversial state-wide voter caging efforts, Montana GOP Director Jake Eaton resigned from his post to “pursue other interests.” He will be replaced by former Montana State Representative Larry Grinde.

Under Eaton’s leadership, the Montana Republican Party conducted unprecedented challenges of over 6,000 voters in Missoula, Butte-Silver Bow, Lewis and Clark, Deerlodge, Glacier, and Hill Counties. Though the party claimed that the challenges were non-partisan efforts to preserve election integrity and were based on where the most voter registration discrepancies occurred, the counties targeted were known to be Democratic strongholds.

Eaton’s resignation comes only one day after students at the University of Montana published an op-ed in the Missoulian condemning and calling for criminal penalties for the voter caging efforts conducted under Eaton’s leadership. These efforts have been determined to disproportionately affect the student population.

Such voter challenges are characteristic of nationwide partisan efforts to suppress voter turnout this election season, particularly among the student population, which continues to face numerous barriers to civic participation. The Student Association for Voter Empowerment (SAVE) is currently joining hands with local groups to fight youth voter suppression not only in Montana, but also in Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. People For the American Way Foundation and SAVE recently held a press conference on Capitol Hill with members of Congress highlighting some of the voter suppression tactics that disproportionally affect student voters.

With so much at stake in this election, and with so many young voters becoming civically engaged for the first time in their lives, it is imperative that we protect our democratic process from the egregious effects of the  voter suppression tactics like those that happened in Montana and across the nation.

PFAW

97-Year-Old Arizona Woman Disenfranchised by Voter ID Law

Shirley Preiss was born in Kentucky in 1910 — a full 10 years before American women gained the right to vote. She first voted in a presidential election in 1932, for FDR. She’s voted in every presidential election since, but that’s all about to change due to Arizona’s draconian voter ID law.

As Art Levine reported, Shirley effectively lost her right to vote when she moved to Arizona:

After living in Arizona for two years, she was eagerly looking forward to casting her ballot in the February primary for the first major woman candidate for President, Hillary Clinton. But lacking a birth certificate or even elementary school records to prove she’s a native-born American citizen, the state of Arizona’s bureaucrats determined that this former school-teacher who taught generations of Americans shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

The state’s voter ID law, passed in 2004, requires voters to show ID at the polling place and to provide proof of citizenship in order to register. But birth certificates weren’t issued in 1910 in Shirley’s birthplace of Clinton, KY, and her elementary school no longer exists.

Shirley appeared on the local news Monday night in Phoenix to tell her story:

 

 

She’s far from the only victim of this law. The Arizona Advocacy Network reports that nearly 40,000 voter registration forms have been rejected due to inadequate proof of citizenship. And it’s getting to be a national problem.

The Supreme Court gave Indiana the green light last month on its restrictive voter ID law, and other states have already or are in the process of passing similar laws. Everywhere such laws are enacted, the voting rights of thousands of Americans - especially among the poor, elderly, and minorities - are put at risk. Fortunately many other states have fended off voter ID laws, and I’m proud that People For the American Way’s Democracy Campaign played a role in many of those fights. Nothing short of a concerted effort by the progressive movement over the coming years will succeed in safeguarding the right to vote.

Cross-posted on CrooksAndLiars.com

PFAW

The Supreme Court Makes It Harder To Vote

The state of Indiana has the most restrictive voter I.D. law in the country. Show up at the polls without a currently valid, government-issued photo I.D., and you can’t vote. I realize that to many Americans, that doesn’t sound like much of a burden. And for many Americans, it isn’t.

But it is a very substantial burden for many groups of eligible voters, including the elderly who don’t drive, college students, and the poor who don’t own cars. There’s a great deal of overlap between those who are unduly burdened by this law and Democratic voting constituencies. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that support for Indiana’s restrictive law came from Republicans in the state legislature.

PFAW

Supreme Court Hears Argument on Indiana Voter ID Law

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the consolidated cases of Crawford v. Marion Cty. Election Board and Indiana Democratic Party v. Rokita, a case that could affect the fundamental right of Americans to vote and possibly even the outcome of future elections, including the 2008 election.

At issue in the case is whether Indiana’s photo voter ID law, which is the most restrictive in the nation, unconstitutionally burdens the fundamental right to vote.

PFAW

DOJ Supports Restrictive Voter ID Law

This week, the Bush Department of Justice filed an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court in the Indiana voter ID case (Crawford v. Marion Cty. Election Board), supporting the state's imposition of the most restrictive voter ID barriers in the nation.

PFAW

Supreme Court to Hear Arguments on Indiana Voter ID in January

Today, the Supreme Court set oral argument in the Indiana voter ID case for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, January 9, only 12 days after briefing is completed in this case. PFAWF has joined with many other civil rights groups, academics, and election officials in arguing that the restrictive voter ID laws imposed by Indiana disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of eligible voters, and disproportionately affect minorities, students, elderly, women, and the poor, while doing nothing to enhance the integrity of elections. A decision is expected by the end of the term in June.

PFAW

PFAWF Files Amicus Brief in Indiana Voter ID Case

As PFAWF has previously noted on Court Watch, the Supreme Court this term will be hearing an important case challenging the constitutionality of Indiana's restrictive voter ID law, which unnecessarily burdens the rights of eligible voters, particularly minorities, the elderly, students, women, and the poor, without justification. On November 13, PFAWF joined other civil rights organizations in filing an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court in support of those challenging this law.

PFAW

Another Courthouse Door Closed to Religious Liberty Plaintiffs

One of the Supreme Court's disturbing 5-4 decisions last term — Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation — is already coming home to roost in the lower courts. On October 30, 2007, relying on Justice Alito's purality decision in Hein, a sharply divided three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit ruled, 2-1, in Hinrichs v. Bosma that taxpayers in Indiana do not have standing to challenge the practice of the state House of Representatives of opening its sessions with a sectarian (typically Christian) prayer.

PFAW

Court to Consider Constitutionality of Indiana's Voter ID Law

This week, the Supreme Court added 17 more cases to the 26 it has already agreed to hear during its upcoming term, which starts on Monday, October 1. Among the newly-added cases is one that is likely to have far-reaching consequences on the abllity of many Americans to be able to go to the polls on election day and cast a vote. The case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, is a challenge to the constitutionality of Indiana's voter ID law, which requires voters to show a current, government-issued photo identification at the polls in order to be allowed to vote, allegedly to combat voter fraud.

PFAW