Maryland Governor Vetoes Important Voting Legislation

Last Friday Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would allow formerly incarcerated persons to regain the right to vote upon release from prison. The bill had passed through Maryland’s General Assembly with a significant majority. Hogan’s veto sustains current Maryland law, which prohibits people from voting until they have completed their entire sentence – including parole and probation.

This decision impacts approximately 40,000 Marylanders who live, work, and pay taxes in the state. The bill would have both supported formerly incarcerated persons in the reintegration process and addressed the systemic disenfranchisement of ex-offenders. As Maryland Delegates Cory McCray and Alonzo Washington put it:

In representative democracy, the right to vote is a fundamental interest. When folks have their access to the ballot box restricted, they lose their ability to have a voice in the decision making process.

PFAW advocates in Maryland, and members of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action, have been organizing with supporters to restore full voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons. They called on local community leaders and state representatives to promote this important cause.

Hogan’s decision is deeply disappointing and disproportionately marginalizes people of color, continuing a legacy of racially discriminatory ex-offender laws. It highlights how harmful the power to veto can be in the wrong hands. But the fight for voting rights for all is far from over, and activists in Maryland and across the country will continue to push to ensure that fundamental democratic rights are protected.


Maryland Passes Bill Bolstering Voting Rights for Formerly Incarcerated People

Today the Maryland legislature passed a bill that would allow people to regain the right to vote as soon as they are released from prison. The legislation rights a wrong in current Maryland law, which denies people voting rights until their entire sentence has been completed, including probation and parole. Without this bill, thousands of formerly incarcerated Marylanders — many of whom are people of color — will continue to be needlessly forced to stay home on Election Day.

PFAW activists in Maryland and members of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action have been working with allies to help change this, calling their state representatives and urging them to support the immediate restoration of voting rights.

Disenfranchising those who have served their time in prison hampers the process of reintegration and shamefully blocks thousands of Americans from participating in elections. It worsens the discrimination already faced by formerly incarcerated people — who pay taxes, work, and contribute to their communities — and it weakens our democracy.

Passage of this bill is a big step forward in the movement for voting rights for all. Now it’s up to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to sign it and help make the state’s democratic process as fair and accessible as possible.


Signs of Progress on Voting Rights for Formerly Incarcerated Persons

It's fitting that Maryland is showing signs of progress just as its US Senators are reintroducing the Democracy Restoration Act in Congress.

Fairer Elections Through Public Financing: Montgomery County, Maryland, Leads the Way

It’s no secret that our country’s elections have been taken over by out-of-control spending, and this year’s rapidly approaching midterms are no exception. Maybe that’s why it’s so refreshing to read about some recent progress in the fight to reclaim our democracy from corporations and billionaires. Today the Montgomery County Council in Maryland is set to vote on legislation that would create a system of small-donor public financing for local elections — and it’s looking likely to pass.

It’s a system based on a simple premise: swap in lots of small donations from local community members in place of a handful of large donations from powerful interests. Encourage local people to give money to candidates they support by matching those donations with public funds. Not only does this empower regular people to get involved in campaigns, since they see their dollar going further, but it makes it smart for candidates to seek support from, and be accountable to, their own community members rather than wealthy special interests.

The Baltimore Sun explains how it would work in Montgomery County:

Beginning in 2015, candidates for county executive or council would qualify to have their political campaigns publicly funded if they attracted a sufficient number of small contributions of $5 to $150. In the case of a council race, for instance, it would be 125 donations adding up to at least $10,000. After that, campaigns would be largely publicly financed on a matching basis….The system would be voluntary, but participants would not be able to accept donations larger than $150 or from political action committees or labor organizations.

Public financing has worked in other cities across the country. Take New York City as an example. A 2012 Brennan Center analysis of the effects of the city’s public finance model found that the matching system helped “bring participants into the political process who traditionally are less likely to be active.” The study suggested that the model encouraged candidates to reach out to a more diverse group of people to support their campaigns, rather than centering all of their efforts on the wealthiest donors.

And when candidates start getting into office because of the support of their constituents, rather than because a few wealthy special interests have bankrolled their campaigns, the policy agenda can shift from one designed to keep powerful interests happy to one designed to serve the common good.

Legislators across the country should take note of what’s happening in Montgomery County. Polling consistently shows that the overwhelming majority of voters want to see elected officials work to lessen big money’s impact on our elections. In other words, Americans understand the problem but are hungry for solutions. Along with long-term fixes like pushing to amend the Constitution to overturn decisions like Citizens United, small donor public financing can be a way to put everyday Americans’ voices at the center of our political process, where they belong.


PFAW Action Fund Announces Young Elected Progressive Endorsements

People For the American Way Action Fund announced today the endorsements of a slate of dynamic young progressive candidates running for public office across the United States. The endorsees are a diverse mix of candidates 35 and under who are marking a new generation of progressive leadership for the future. These candidates and officials represent a vision that will benefit communities all over the country, as they fight for social, economic, and environmental justice, and equality for all.

The endorsements are part of People For the American Way Action Fund’s Young Elected Progressives (YEP) program. YEP evaluates and endorses young progressive candidates ages 35 and under in their bids for elected office around the U.S. at all levels.

People For the American Way Action Fund is proud to endorse these YEP candidates for 2014:

James Albis – CT House District 99
James Albis is running for reelection to the Connecticut House of Representatives 99th District, representing East Haven. Albis has advocated consistently on behalf of the families of East Haven for better jobs, better schools, and better opportunities. In his second term as Representative, Albis worked to protect the environment, serving on the Speaker’s Task Force on Shoreline Preservation. Dedicated to supporting children and families, Albis has sponsored and voted for numerous laws that would expand family and medical leave, as well as healthcare, and to protect East Haven’s share of state education funding. Visit James Albis’s campaign website for more details.

John Paul Alvarez – FL House District 100
John Paul Alvarez is running for Florida House of Representatives District 100, representing Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Alvarez, a true Floridian born and raised in South Florida, knows first-hand about the issues facing his community and is dedicated to making Florida prosper. As a teacher, mentor, and community leader, Alvarez is a fierce advocate for public education. By fighting for the issues that matter most to students, working families, retired citizens, taxpayers, and South Florida’s most vulnerable citizens, Alvarez is determined to improve his community by creating more jobs, lowering the cost of living, and promoting equality for all. Visit John Paul Alvarez’s campaign website for more details.

Nelson Araujo – NV Assembly District 3
Nelson Araujo is a candidate for Nevada’s Assembly District 3, representing Clark County and Las Vegas. He is a native Nevadan that was born to struggling immigrant parents. Araujo, a determined leader, fought to help his family out of poverty and became the first in his family to graduate high school. As a community leader and elected official, Araujo is dedicated to stimulating job growth, providing greater healthcare access, and making higher education more accessible to everyone. We believe that with his leadership, Nevada will thrive. Visit Nelson Araujo’s campaign website for more details.

Mandela Barnes – WI Assembly District 11
Mandela Barnes is running for reelection in Wisconsin’s State Assembly District 11, representing central Milwaukee. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Barnes has done important work for Milwaukee as a community organizer and youth and development specialist. His dedication to creating jobs, reforming public education, and modernizing public transportation will serve the people of Milwaukee and strengthen the community. Visit Mandela Barnes’s campaign website for more details.

Jonathan Brostoff – WI Assembly District 19
Jonathan Brostoff, lifelong resident of Milwaukee’s East Side, is running for Wisconsin State Assembly’s 19th District representing central Milwaukee. Brostroff’s dedication to Milwaukee and experience as a legislative aide will help him lead Wisconsin toward a brighter future. Brostoff is determined to promote equal rights for all, to reinvest in public education, and to improve public transit in Wisconsin. Brostoff is a capable leader, devoted to making Wisconsin thrive for generations to come, whose real-world solutions will create progress in the state. Visit Jonathan Brostoff’s campaign website for more details.

Marina Dimitrijevic – WI Assembly District 19
Marina Dimitrijevic is running for the Wisconsin State Assembly District 19. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Dimitrijevic made history in 2004, when she became the youngest woman to be elected to the Milwaukee County Board. During her 10 year tenure, she has championed legislative victories on equal rights for the LGBT community, environmental sustainability, public transit, and workers’ rights. Dimitrijevic’s experience, leadership, and commitment to winning on progressive issues are exactly what the community of Milwaukee needs.  Visit Marina Dimitrijevic’s campaign website for more details.

Justin Chenette – ME House District 134
Justin Chenette is running for reelection to the Maine House of Representatives’ 134th District , representing Saco. Before being elected as state Representative, Chenette served on the Maine State Board of Education, and has carried his passion for education into the state legislature. Chenette sponsored several education-related bills including legislation to promote community service in school and require internship experiences for high school students. Chenette, who was 22 years old upon his election to the House, has already proven himself to be a tireless and dedicated advocate and an important member in the next generation of leaders. Visit Justin Chenette’s campaign website for more details.

Luke Diaz –WI Verona Alder District 3
Luke Diaz is seeking reelection to the Verona City Council’s 3rd District, representing central Verona. Diaz has made it his mission to celebrate the city’s culture by cultivating a thriving downtown in Verona, working to expand jobs, improve transit, and provide important services to the community. An experienced city councilman, Diaz is an accessible leader that is dedicated to listening to the needs of his community. Visit Luke Diaz’s campaign page on Facebook for more details.

Zachary Dorholt – MN House District 14B
Zach Dorholt is running for reelection the Minnesota House of Representatives’ District 14B, representing St. Cloud City, and Haven and Minden Townships. Previously elected in 2011, Dorholt has been a champion for progressive values during his time in the House. He is an advocate for women’s rights and has sponsored bills to equalize pay in Minnesota and lengthen paid maternity leave. Dorholt has also fought for public education funding and is dedicated to creating a pathway to higher education for young Minnesotans. A proven leader, Dorholt will continue to make Minnesota a better and more prosperous place for the entire community. Visit Zach Dorholt’s campaign website for more details.

Crisanta Duran – CO House District 5

Crisanta Duran is running for reelection in the Colorado House of Representatives’ 5th District, representing Denver. As chairwoman of the joint budget committee, Crisanta guided the passage of a state budget that helped protect the environment, boost investments in education and job training, provide better women’s health services, help survivors of abuse, and create a better state economy for all Coloradoans. In her position as an elected official, she will continue to build a strong progressive foundation for the state’s future. Visit Crisanta Duran’s campaign website for more details.

Daneya Esgar – CO House District 46
Daneya Esgar is a candidate for Colorado State House of Representatives’ District 46, representing Pueblo. A dedicated public servant and product of Pueblo’s public education system, Esgar has dedicated her career as a television news producer and a community organizer to improving this community. Esgar has a clear vision for the future of Pueblo, and will continue to work toward job growth and improved public education as an elected official. Visit Daneya Esgar’s campaign website for more details.

Ryan Fecteau – ME House District 11
Ryan Fecteau is a Biddeford native running for Maine House of Representatives’ District 11, representing his hometown. Fecteau has a fresh and progressive perspective on the issues affecting Maine today. As representative, Fecteau will bring strong support of public education, women’s rights, and equal opportunity for all Americans by championing for middle-class workers, seniors, and college graduates of his district. Visit Ryan Fecteau’s campaign website for more details.

Joe Fitzgibbon – WA House District 34
Joe Fitzgibbon is running for reelection to the Washington House of Representatives’ District 34, representing Burien, West Seattle, White Center, and Vashon and Maury Islands. Fitzgibbon has been a fierce advocate for undocumented students, voting for both the DREAM Act and for in-state tuition for undocumented students. A champion for equality in Washington, Fitzgibbon has le d efforts to legalize gay marriage and expand healthcare and Medicaid to help ensure safe abortion procedures. Fitzgibbon is a true progressive and will continue to work toward equality for all Washingtonians. Visit Joe Fitzgibbon’s campaign website for more details.

Chris Larson – WI Senate District 7
Chris Larson is running for reelection to the Wisconsin State Senate’s 7th District, representing Milwaukee County. In Larson’s first term as senator, he served as the Minority Leader and worked tirelessly to end marriage discrimination in Wisconsin, to promote public education, and to protect the environment. Larson has worked to stimulate job growth and to increase access to health care, proving that he is truly in-tune with the needs of his community. “Larson is a true progressive leader,” PFAW’s Political Director Randy Borntrager said. “He is clearly dedicated to his community and determined to help each person and his community as a whole.” Visit Chris Larson’s campaign website for more details.

Eric Luedtke – MD House District 14
Eric Luedtke is running for reelection to the Maryland House of Delegates’ District 14, representing Montgomery County. Luedtke, who was first elected in 2010, has already made his mark as a progressive representative for Maryland. Luedtke, a teacher by profession, has advocated for public education reform, especially advocating for equality for students with special needs. Committed to families and children, Luedtke has worked on a variety of issues, from promoting easier access to healthcare to sponsoring bills that provide greater aid and support for survivors of sexual assault. Visit Eric Luedtke’s campaign website for more details.

Stefanie Mach – AZ House District 10
Stefanie Mach is running for reelection to the Arizona House of Representatives’ 10th Distric , representing Tucson. Since she was elected in 2012, Mach has proven herself to be a fighter, both professionally and personally. In her time as representative, Mach has worked to improve public education, to make higher education more affordable, to encourage job growth and the expansion of local businesses. An advocate for women and minorities, Mach has demonstrated she is dedicated to making Arizona a prosperous community for everyone. Visit Stefanie Mach’s campaign website for more details.

Marcus Madison – OH Senate District 13
Marcus Madison is a candidate for the Ohio State Senate’s 13th District, representing Huron and Lorain counties. Madison, currently serving as a city councilman in Elyria, has already proven that he is a dedicated public servant. He is the former student body president of Lorain County Community College, and previously served as deputy field officer for Obama for America, as well as Communications Director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lorain County. A determined advocate, Madison is committed to improving public education, protecting workers, and providing sustainable jobs that will strengthen the middle class. Visit Marcus Madison’s campaign website for more details.

Aaron Marquez – AZ Senate District 27
Aaron Marquez is running for Arizona State Senate District 27, representing Maricopa County. Marquez, a captain with the U.S. Army Reserve, has been a courageous public servant both overseas and at home. Marquez is a fearless advocate for women’s rights, strong supporter of veterans, and a fighter for public education. A dedicated leader, Marquez will be a force for good in the Arizona legislature. Visit Aaron Marquez’s campaign website for more details.

Andrew McLean – ME House District 129
Andrew McLean is running for reelection to the 129th District in the Maine House of Representatives, representing North Gorham, White Rock, Little Falls, the Village and South Gorham. McLean was previously elected in 2012 and has worked tirelessly to support legislation that would protect the environment, expand healthcare, and reform gun laws in Maine. A resilient advocate, as representative McLean will continue to work on behalf of children and families in his next term and for years to come. Visit Andrew McLean’s campaign page on Facebook for more details.

Matt Moonen – ME House District 118
Matt Moonen is running for reelection in the 118th District in the Maine House of Representatives, representing part of Portland. Moonen has been dedicated to improving healthcare in Maine by sponsoring bills that would prohibit smoking in public places and that would expand Medicaid coverage and eligibility. Additionally, Moonen has been a fierce advocate for raising the minimum wage, passing comprehensive immigration reform, and reforming campaign finance. A true progressive candidate, Moonen will continue to make Maine an accepting and thriving place for all. Visit Matt Moonen’s campaign page on Facebook for more details.

Joe Neguse – CO Secretary of State
Joe Neguse, who is running for Colorado Secretary of State is the right choice for Colorado. Neguse brings with him knowledge and experience as a business attorney, member of the University Of Colorado Board Of Regents, and as a public servant. As secretary of state, Neguse will perform his duties with integrity and transparency, and will work to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote in Colorado. Neguse will advocate for everyone, regardless of wealth, age, or social standing. Visit Joe Neguse’s campaign website for more details.

Kesha Ram – VT House District 6-4
Kesha Ram is running for reelection to the Vermont House of Representatives’ District 6-4, representing Chittenden. Ram has worked to promote green job creation, affordable housing, and expanded access to healthcare. Both personally and in her capacity as a representative, Ram has worked to support survivors of domestic violence and is an active advocate for women’s rights. Ram is forward-thinking and dedicated, and her service will help Vermont flourish. Visit Kesha Ram’s campaign website for more details.

Laurie Anne Sayles – MD House District 17
Laurie Anne Sayles is running for Maryland’s House of Delegates District 17, representing Montgomery County. Sayles is a committed parent who has overcome obstacles to become a dedicated public servant in Maryland. A smart and capable leader, Sayles is a determined advocate for affordable healthcare, stronger public education, and accessible public transportation. As an elected official, Sayles will be a truly progressive leader for years to come. Visit Laurie Anne Sayles’s campaign website for more details.

Katrina Shankland – WI Assembly District 71
Katrina Shankland is running for reelection to the Wisconsin State Assembly, representing Stevens Point and its neighboring counties. In her one term as representative, Shankland has become a dedicated advocate for women’s rights and workers’ rights in Wisconsin. Shankland has worked to improve public education opportunities, and has been a fighter for environmental preservation and clean and sustainable energy practices. Visit Katrina Shankland’s campaign website for more details.

Alonzo Washington – MD House District 22
Alonzo Washington is running for reelection to the Maryland House of Delegates’ District 22, representing Prince George’s County. Washington, who has served in the House since 2012, already made a name for himself as a fighter for progressive values. He has sponsored and voted for bills that will increase the minimum wage, expand access to higher education, and strengthen public schools. As an important leader for Maryland’s future, Washington has and will continue to support progress in Maryland. Visit Alonzo Washington’s campaign website for more details.

Faith Winter – CO House District 35
Faith Winter, running for the Colorado House of Representatives’ 35th District to represent Westminster, is the right choice for Colorado. Winter has dedicated her life to public service, previously serving as a city councilwoman, mayor pro tem, and as the Emerge Colorado’s Executive Director, supporting women running for public office. In these capacities, Winter worked to create long-term jobs, expand affordable housing, and increase usage of sustainable energy in Colorado. Visit Faith Winter’s campaign website for more details.


PFAW Releases New Toolkit on Getting Money Out and Voters In to Our Democracy

We believe in a democratic system where all Americans have equal access to the voting booth and can express their views on a level playing field.

As Washington Begins Debate on Gun Violence Bills, National Responses Vary

As the U.S. Senate prepares to consider a package of gun violence prevention proposals this week, the current debate on the role of guns in society has led to a variety of legislative responses in D.C. and across the nation.

When Government Officials Encourage Voting

In Maryland, the governor extends early voting.
PFAW Foundation

Disturbing Campaign Literature in Maryland

A candidate's campaign material seems to imply there are too many Jews in the U.S. Senate.
PFAW Foundation

Ben Cardin Urges a Vote on a Maryland Judicial Nominee

Among the 19 judicial nominees who Republicans are blocking from a floor vote is an experienced Maryland state judge with bipartisan support.

Marriage Equality Advances in Maryland

Last night the Maryland State Senate approved legislation ending the prohibition against marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. Governor Martin O’Malley has promised to sign the bill into law.

4th Circuit Upholds Rule of Law in Healthcare Case

In a badly-needed boost to the rule of law and the nation's much-abused new health reform, a three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit today rejected two attacks on "Obamacare." In one case, Virginia v. Sebelius, the appeals court found that the Commonwealth of Virginia lacked standing to challenge the individual mandate provision and in the other, Liberty University v. Geithner, it ruled that a challenge to the plan's financial penalty for not purchasing individual health insurance coverage was not ready to be heard since the penalty constitutes a tax and taxes may not be challenged until after they have gone into effect and been paid. Both decisions by Circuit Judge Diana Gribbon Motz are a breath of fresh air in a legal and political environment now polluted by partisan and ideological attacks on the health plan.

The decision in the Virginia case, brought by the state's Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, was an emphatic victory for basic rules of federalism and judicial restraint. Judge Motz found that the court could not hear the case because Virginia lacked standing under long-established jurisdictional principles. As a state, Virginia suffered no "injury in fact" because of the individual insurance mandate it was challenging; the state itself is not "burdened" by it, state officials are not "commandeered" by it, and state sovereignty is not impaired in any way by it. Virginia asserted that it had standing because of a conflict between the new law and a state statute, the "Virginia Health Care Freedom Act," a statute which was transparently cooked up by the legislature for the sole purpose of creating a conflict with the federal health reform law. This state law simply declared that no resident of Virginia "shall be required to obtain or maintain a policy of individual insurance coverage." It had no enforcement mechanism and existed solely for purposes of organizing litigation against the national government. Judge Motz correctly found that, if this kind of metaphysical declaration were enough to create standing, a state could concoct jurisdiction to challenge any federal law just by writing a "not-X" statute. I recall that opponents of the health reform introduced the same meaningless legislation in Maryland and I took great pleasure in pointing out that it had no content. At any rate, Judge Andre Davis dissented from the decision, arguing that the standing problem was no big deal; he would have simply ruled that the individual mandate provision did not exceed Congressional power under the Constitution—and, on this point, he is clearly right.

The other decision, in the Liberty University case, was based on the significant new ruling that the individual insurance mandate is actually a form of federal taxation and the federal Anti-Injunction Act prevents the court from entertaining challenges to taxes until they actually go into effect and have been paid by the litigants. "A taxpayer can always pay an assessment, seek a refund directly from the IRS, and then bring a refund action in federal court," Judge Motz wrote, but the Anti-Injunction Act bars pre-enforcement actions. It is definitely of note that Judge Motz found that, under the Act, financial penalties and exactions are to be treated like a "tax." Both supporters and critics of the decision are noting that this may mark an effort to define and defend the individual insurance mandate as a legitimate exercise of the congressional Taxing power, but this may be over-reading into the court's interpretation of the Anti-Injunction Act, which does have its own body of rules and precedents.

It's not clear yet whether the disappointed litigants will try to take the case en banc to the full right-leaning Fourth Circuit or petition for appeal directly to the Supreme Court. All roads lead to the Supremes in this case since there is currently a split between the Sixth Circuit, which upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate, and the Eleventh Circuit, which struck it down. In addition, the DC Circuit will be hearing oral arguments in a healthcare challenge in two weeks, so it, too, may add its voice to the discussion by the end of the year. At some point next year, the justices will have to grab the bull by the horns and decide whether they want to fully revive the class-driven judicial activism of the Lochner period by knocking down laws promoting public health and welfare.


The Slow Pace of Diversity in the Courts

NPR reports today on President Obama’s unprecedented efforts to bring diversity to the federal bench:

The White House says almost half of the 97 candidates who have won confirmation during Obama's presidency are women; about a quarter are black. And Obama has nominated four openly gay people, more than any other president. He's also doubled the number of Asian-American judges on the bench.

Obama continued that pattern earlier this week when he nominated Adalberto Jose Jordan to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and Miranda Du, an Asian American who lived in a refugee camp in Malaysia for almost a year as a child before coming to the U.S., for the district court in Nevada.

But that strategy may have a cost, says Caroline Fredrickson, who leads the American Constitution Society and has been following the judge nominees closely.

"Obama is nominating many more diverse nominees than his predecessors ... strikingly so," Fredrickson says. "But the nominees are not getting confirmed with the same kind of success."

Some of the longest waiting nominees, Louis Butler of Wisconsin, Charles Bernard Day of Maryland and Edward Dumont of Washington happen to be black or openly gay.

"For women and minorities, it's just been a bigger hill to climb before they actually get a vote," Fredrickson says. "And so for whatever the reasons, the facts speak for themselves."

Yes, the facts do speak for themselves. PFAW, in a memo released Tuesday, calculated that so far, the president’s women and minority nominees have waited on average 22 percent longer for a Senate confirmation vote than white men.

But the Senate’s slow pace confirming women and minority nominees has fed into a larger, equal opportunity obstruction agenda. As of Tuesday, there were 89 open seats on the federal judiciary, 37 of which had been designated as “judicial emergencies.” Pending on the Senate floor were 24 nominees who the Senate could easily have voted on, 21 of whom had no recorded opposition whatsoever in committee. Yet Republicans allowed a vote on only four of them. Twenty are still waiting for votes allowing them to take their posts.


The Tea Party Constitution and the Debt Ceiling

Last year, we released a report on the myriad ways that the Tea Party movement – supposedly obsessed with the Constitution – twists the United States’ founding documents beyond recognition.

This month, in the debate over the normally routine process of raising the nation’s debt ceiling to prevent a default and the resulting massive setback to the recovering economy, we get another example.

Republicans in the House have introduced a plan that would, among other demands, require the passage of a constitutional “balanced budget” amendment before they will consider taking a simple step to avert economic disaster. In Slate on Friday, Dahlia Lithwick and Doug Kendall explained why a balanced budget amendment -- championed by Utah senator and Tea Party favorite Mike Lee -- would not just be bad policy…it would be a big departure from the original text and intent of the Constitution:

It's fairly certain that George Washington and the other Founders gathered in Philadelphia in 1787 would be appalled by the Lee amendment. It is not an accident that the first two enumerated powers the Constitution vests in Congress are the power "to lay and collect Taxes … to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States" and "to borrow money on the credit of the United States." The Constitution's broad textual grant of power was a direct response to the Articles of Confederation, which had imposed crippling restrictions on Congress's power to borrow and tax. These restrictions plagued the Revolutionary War effort and made a deep and lasting impression on Washington and other war veterans. Lee and the other proponents of shrinking the federal government to restore freedom misapprehend that the Constitution recognized there would be no freedom without a strong federal government to promote it.

Finally, in a Constitution filled with broad principles of governance, the amendment's arbitrary spending limit of 18 percent of GDP—an awkward and unworkable figure—would stick out like a sore thumb. Contrary to Chief Justice John Marshall's warning in the landmark decision of McCulloch v. Maryland (1819), Lee's arbitrary spending limit "partake[s] of the prolixity of a legal code," and would be out of place in a document that is designed to "to endure for ages to come … to be adapted to the various crises of human affairs."

We face a high duty when amending the Constitution: to match the Framers' maturity and foresight. By every measure that would have mattered to the Founders, Lee's proposed amendment easily flunks this test. Sen. Lee fancies himself a friend to the Constitution and an originalist. So why is he pushing for the ratification of an amendment that would take us back to the days before the Constitution was even ratified? The framers trusted in the wisdom of future legislators. The Balanced Budget Amendment represents a betrayal not only of our future but of our past as well.

Of course, the most pressing issue here is that House Republicans are playing chicken with the world economy in order to uphold massive tax breaks for the rich. But that they’re using such a misguided constitutional amendment as a bargaining chip speaks volumes about the Tea Party’s priorities.


Indictments in Maryland Voter Suppression Case

On Election Day last year, while the polls were still open, Maryland Democrats received telephone calls late in the day telling them that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley had won reelection, so they could "relax" (i.e., not vote). It was soon discovered that the calls were generated by an operative working for the campaign of O'Malley's Republican opponent, former Governor Bob Ehrlich. Yesterday, criminal indictments were handed down against a close Ehrlich aide and a political operative for their efforts to suppress the African American vote. According to the Washington Post:

One of former Maryland governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s most trusted aides and a campaign consultant were accused Thursday of orchestrating tens of thousands of anonymous election-night robo-calls last year that prosecutors said were part of a larger attempt to suppress the black vote.

Paul E. Schurick, 54, Ehrlich's de facto campaign manager, and Julius Henson, 62, a paid consultant, were indicted on multiple counts of election law violations stemming from an automated call that was placed to more than 110,000 Democrats in Baltimore and Prince George's County, according to prosecutors.


The indictments might be the first in the country involving Election Day attempts to suppress voting using robo-calls, experts said. The case also appears to be a rarity nationwide, one in which prosecutors might have the physical evidence necessary to prove intent to commit voter suppression, experts said.


"There is a long history in urban areas of people passing out fliers that say Republicans vote on Tuesday and Democrats vote on Wednesday, and specifically in Maryland of ploys telling people if you owe tickets or back child support that you can't vote," [Gilda Daniels, an elections law expert at the University of Baltimore Law School] said. "But this isn't someone printing off fliers that can't be easily tracked. These are phone calls, and there are records of them."

The Baltimore Sun provides some more details:

The indictment describes a document titled "The Schurick Doctrine" and says that it was "designed to promote confusion, emotionalism, and frustration among African-American Democrats."

The indictment quotes from the document: "The first and foremost desired outcome [of the Schurick Doctrine strategy] is voter suppression."

While the criminal case progresses, Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler is pursuing a civil suit in federal court:

Gansler alleges that the robocalls were made with the intent to suppress and intimidate voters in predominately African-American Democratic neighborhoods. The attorney general says 112,000 such calls were made on election night, and if found to be violations, each carries a $500 fine.