In another win for the marriage equality movement, today U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia struck down Texas’ ban on marriage for same-sex couples. The judge wrote that "Texas' current marriage laws deny homosexual couples the right to marry, and in doing so, demean their dignity for no legitimate reason.”
The Washington Post reports:
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia did not say gay marriages could be performed immediately. Instead, he stayed the decision, citing a likely appeal.
"Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution," Garcia wrote in his decision. "These Texas laws deny Plaintiffs access to the institution of marriage and its numerous rights, privileges, and responsibilities for the sole reason that Plaintiffs wish to be married to a person of the same sex."
Similar bans have been struck down in states across the country – most recently in Virginia less than two weeks ago. Today’s victory in a state with a whopping 26 million residents brings us one important step closer to nationwide marriage equality.
PFAW’s 2012 report, “Predatory Privatization: Exploiting Financial Hardship, Enriching the One Percent, Undermining Democracy,” included a section titled, “The Pernicious Private Prison Industry.” We reported that across the country, private prisons were often violent, poorly run facilities that put prisoners, employees and communities at risk even while failing to deliver on promised savings to taxpayers. But state legislators, encouraged by ALEC and by private prison interests’ lobbying and campaign expenditures, continued to turn prisons over to private corporations, often with contract provisions that acted as incentives for mass incarceration.
A new story in Politico Magazine, “The Private Prison Racket” comes to the same conclusions. “Companies that manage prisons on our behalf have abysmal records,” says author Matt Stroud. “So why do we keep giving them our business?”
The Politico story slams “bed mandates” – guarantees given by states to private companies to keep prisons full. Contracts like that build in incentives for governments to lock people up – and punish states financially when they try to reduce prison populations.
Politicians are taking notice. Last month, In the Public Interest reported that reality has turned the tide against private prisons: “Coast-to-coast, governments are realizing that outsourcing corrections to for-profit corporations is a bad deal for taxpayers, and for public safety.” The dispatch cited problems with private prisons in states as diverse as Arizona, Vermont, Texas, Florida, and Idaho, where Gov. Butch Otter, a “small government” conservative, announced last month that the state would take control of the Idaho Correctional Center back from private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America due to rampant violence, understaffing, gang activity, and contract fraud.
But the huge private prison industry is not going away anytime soon. As In the Public Interest notes:
All of this momentum does not suggest the imminent death of the for-profit prison industry. Some states, including California and West Virginia, are currently gearing up to send millions more to these companies. But the past year has been a watershed moment, and we are heading in the right direction. In light of these developments, these states would be wise to look to sentencing reform to reduce populations, rather than signing reckless outsourcing contracts.
The arguments against private prisons are myriad and compelling. Promised savings end up as increased costs. Lockup quotas force taxpayers to guarantee profits for prison companies through lock up quotas hidden in contracts. They incentivize mass incarceration while discouraging sentencing reform in an era when crime rates are plummeting.
But more than anything else, the reality of the disastrous private prison experiment has turned the public against the industry.
In June, the Supreme Court struck down the key enforcement mechanism of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which mandated Justice Department review of election law changes in states and counties with a history of voting discrimination.
The state of Texas responded almost immediately by going ahead with an arduous photo ID requirement that had until the Supreme Court’s decision been blocked by federal courts.
As the Justice Department and voting rights advocates feared, Texas’ law, which went into effect on Monday, is already keeping qualified people from registering to vote. So far, only 41 of the 1.4 million people who lack an eligible voter ID have obtained a substitute “election identification certificate.” But the new requirement isn’t just preventing people who don’t have certain forms of ID from registering to vote – it’s also threatening to disenfranchise women who changed their names when they married.
Policy Mic notes that the Texas law “requires all voters to provide a photo ID that reflects their current name. If they cannot, voters must provide any of a series of other acceptable forms of identification all of which must match exactly and match the name on their birth certificate." This presents a problem for the 34 percent of women who lack an ID that shows their current name, including those who changed their names when they married:
In fact, only 66% of women have an ID that reflects their current name. If any voter is using name different than what appears on their birth certificate, the voter is required to show proof of name change by providing an original or certified copy of their marriage license, divorce decree, or court ordered name change. Photocopies aren’t accepted.
Now ask a woman who’s been married for years where her original marriage certificate is. Ask a woman who’s been divorced — maybe more than once — where all the divorce decrees are. Ask elderly women where their original birth certificate is.
Today, Think Progress reports on one Texas woman caught in this trap: a state district court judge who has been voting for nearly 50 years but whose registration was almost blocked because her drivers’ license lists her maiden name as her middle name, while her voter registration form did not:
As she told local channel Kiii News, 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts was flagged for possible voter fraud because her driver’s license lists her maiden name as her middle name, while her voter registration form has her real middle name. This was the first time she has ever had a problem voting in 49 years. “What I have used for voter registration and for identification for the last 52 years was not sufficient yesterday when I went to vote,” she said.
Watts worried that women who use maiden names or hyphenated names may be surprised at the polls. “I don’t think most women know that this is going to create a problem,” the judge said. “That their maiden name is on their driver’s license, which was mandated in 1964 when I got married, and this. And so why would I want to use a provisional ballot when I’ve been voting regular ballot for the last 49 years?"
The Justice Department is currently suing Texas over the law and asking a federal court to require preclearance in the future, under a section of the Voting Rights Act not affected by its recent ruling.
We’re already well aware that the voter ID laws that have been passed in many states are designed not to prevent fraud but to deter certain groups of people from voting, as several Republicans have admitted in the past. But even without those accidental moments of honesty, it would be clear that something other than an epidemic of voter fraud was motivating the passage of these laws, because there is nothing close to an epidemic of voter fraud.
Today, we have some new evidence of that. Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News reviewed the 66 voter fraud cases prosecuted by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott since 2004 and found that just four cases would have been prevented by the state’s voter ID law. The law was passed in 2011 and blocked by a unanimous three-judge panel of federal judges until this spring, when the Supreme Court gutted the key enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act. Just two hours after the Supreme Court handed down its decision, Abbott declared the voter ID law to be once again…which in turn led to another Justice Department lawsuit.
The numbers that are supposedly driving Texas’ voter ID push are so ridiculous that they’re actually quite difficult to illustrate. Consider this: Texas had 13,594,264 registered voters in 2012. Four cases of fraud out of 13,594,264 voters works out to… actually, it’s a percentage so small my calculator won’t even display it. Of course, voter fraud is a serious felony that Texas is right to prosecute on the rare occasions that it happens. But Greg Abbott considers the crime widespread enough to pass a law that will disenfranchise thousands of voters who can’t access the ID they need, or will be confused or otherwise deterred by the restrictions and won’t go to the polls.
Perhaps the most telling part of Slater’s piece is this:
“Abbott acknowledged that voter ID wouldn’t have made a difference in most of the cases he has prosecuted.”
Instead, Abbott’s response to Slater’s data on the ineffectiveness of voter ID was as logical as can be expected: Obamacare!
So Abbott’s solution to prevent potential voter fraud is one that he admits won’t address most of the (very few) actual instances of fraud, yet he’s pushing ahead with instituting a law that will disenfranchise thousands? To me, it looks like he doesn’t even believe his own spin anymore. The only “problem” this law addresses is that some people want to vote for Democrats—and Greg Abbott knows it.
The Senate Judiciary Committee today held a hearing for the first of President Obama’s three recent nominees to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, attorney Patricia Ann Millett. Republican committee members, having no actual objections to Millett’s qualifications, used the opportunity to grandstand about what they see as the enormous injustice of a Democratic president nominating people to open seats on the federal judiciary.
Chief among the grandstanders, of course, was Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who spent most of his time telling Millett that Republican opposition to her nomination has nothing to do with her and has everything to do with President Obama’s supposed effort to “pack” the DC Circuit.
Very little of what he said had any basis in reality. He started out by claiming that the DC Circuit is currently “evenly divided” between Democratic and Republican nominees and that President Obama and Democrats are now trying to “pack the court” with Obama’s nominees:
Right now, the DC Circuit is evenly divided among active judges, with four Republicans and four Democrats. And you find yourself one of three nominees from the president. The president and senior Democrats on this committee have made clear that they want to pick a fight on the DC Circuit. They want to pick a fight on the DC Circuit, and unfortunately I believe part of this pressure, part of the effort of stopping qualified Republican nominees and then deciding to pick a fight now, is a desire to pack the court.
While it’s true that there are currently four Democratic nominees and four Republican nominees in active service on the court, Cruz obscures the fact that the court has an active backbench of six senior judges – five of whom are Republican nominees:
This imbalance exists because Republican presidents have nominated the bulk of DC Circuit judges in the past three decades -- 15 of the last 19 confirmed to the DC Circuit were nominated by Republicans. Far from “packing” the court, President Obama has had fewer judges confirmed to the DC Circuit than any of his four most recent predecessors.
Cruz continued, insisting that President Obama is trying to “pack” the court because it is “holding this administration accountable, and in particular, holding rule-making accountable that has been contrary to federal law”:
The DC Circuit has been a court that has been holding this administration accountable, and in particular, holding rule-making accountable that has been contrary to federal law. And I believe that there is an activist base that is pressuring the president, that has been pressuring senior Senate Democrats to get judicial nominees on the DC Circuit to protect the regulations coming from this administration. And I think any effort to pack the court because the administration doesn’t like the outcomes of judges applying the law fairly should be decried.
What Cruz is referring to is the fact that the D.C. Circuit is currently dominated by right-wing Republican nominees, who have delved into far-right legal theory to strike down common-sense protections for workers, consumers and voters – you can read about some of their most appalling decisions here. President Obama is not trying to “pack” the court to get the decisions that he wants, as Cruz alleges. Instead, he is using his mandate from American voters to pick judges who will restore some ideological balance to one of the farthest-right courts in the country.
Finally, Cruz declares that his objections to Millett have nothing to do with her “very fine professional qualifications” and instead have to do with too much “partisan politics” in judicial confirmations – partisan politics which he seems to have very little interest in putting aside.
Because I think partisan politics has driven this committee’s approach to the DC Circuit for over a decade. And I think that’s unfortunate, I would rather see a situation where able judges are confirmed irrespective of that. But it is not consistent with our responsibility to let one party prevent qualified judges from going to the court, and at the same time to enable packing the court to reach preferred outcomes. So I thank you for being here, and I think it’s regrettable, the overall context of this dispute, which as I said is irrespective of your very fine professional qualifications.
So, Cruz is refusing to support Millett, who he thinks is unquestionably qualified for the job, for purely political reasons… because he thinks the judicial nominations process has become too politicized.
Guest post from Robin Lane, alumni board member of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.
Tuesday afternoon in Austin, I arrived at the Capitol and was swallowed in a sea of orange, ready to support Senator Wendy Davis and her filibuster of Senate Bill 5. Sen. Davis began by reading the testimonies of women who would be affected by SB5, limiting abortion rights in Texas, getting so emotional reading one woman’s story that she struggled to continue speaking through her tears. Senators Watson, Van de Putte, and West helped her buy time. We cheered every time we heard someone say, “Parliamentary inquiry, Mr. President.” The filibuster continued late into the evening.
At 11:30, Sen. Watson had the floor. Sen. West requested that the motion to close the previous question be put into writing, “in as large a font as possible.” I couldn’t breathe. And then, Sen. Van de Putte made the comment that erupted the entire Capitol: “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over her male colleagues?”
Sen. Duncan announced over the noise, “We will have to suspend the vote until the gallery is in order.” The clock ran out. At midnight, the auditorium erupted in cheers. But when all of the Senators remained in front of the podium, the cheers faded. Several news outlets reported that SB5 passed. Conflicting outcomes were coming in droves.
A large crowd from the auditorium raced upstairs into the rotunda and the sight took my breath away – every inch was packed with people chanting. At around 2:15 AM, we heard a text message sent from Sen. Davis to an ally in the rotunda: Senate Bill 5 was officially dead. There was a request to sing, “The Eyes of Texas,” and the Capitol sang together. Someone raised a Texas flag on the rotunda floor. People were crying.
I have never been so proud to call myself a Texan.
Although I didn’t grow up in the Lone Star state, my mother did – and so did my grandmother, and my great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandfather. Texas is in my blood. I came to Texas after leaving the University of Pittsburgh, where I had been organizing for reproductive justice since 2007. I came because I saw so clearly how my issue intersected with the struggles of communities of color, low-income communities, immigrant communities, education justice, LGBTQ rights, environmental justice, and food justice – and I saw Texas as ground-zero for many of these battles. We won the battle, for now, on SB5 – but with Section 4 of the Voting Rights struck down, Texas immediately began advancing a discriminatory redistricting plan. A woman in San Antonio is in deportation proceedings after she took her sick child to the hospital. Senators Cornyn and Cruz continue to fight us on truly inclusive immigration reform. And on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry called another special session of the Texas legislature, set for July 1, to act on the sweeping anti-choice proposals. Yes, we won this battle – but the war continues.
Still, the victory at the Capitol this week inspired me to keep up the difficult work of organizing in the state of Texas – from now until the next election, and beyond.
It’s been a chaotic week for the Texas legislature, but the drama isn’t over. Following state Senator Wendy Davis’ epic filibuster of a bill that would limit Texas women’s access to abortion, Governor Rick Perry has called yet another special session to push the legislation through.
The bill would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy – with no exceptions – and would place burdensome requirements on abortion providers, effectively shutting down all but five clinics in the state.
Sen. Davis filibustered the legislation for more than twelve hours and, with the aid of hundreds of protesters, effectively blocked Senate Bill 5 from passing the Senate and reaching the governor’s desk before midnight. Davis was championed around the country as a political celebrity standing, quite literally, for women’s rights. People For the American Way recognized Davis’ efforts, encouraging members to sign a note of appreciation and support.
However, her victory may be short lived.
Perry called the first special session to give the legislature more time to consider anti-choice legislation that failed to advance during the regular legislative period. A special session follows different rules than the normal session, as the governor has sole discretion over what the legislature can work on. Perry said that the legislature also failed to pass bills on infrastructure funding and mandatory life sentences for 17 year-olds committing capital felonies, providing convenient additional justifications for the necessity of a second session. Perry said,
"Texans value life and want to protect women and the unborn. Texans want a transportation system that keeps them moving. Texans want a court system that is fair and just. We will not allow the breakdown of decorum and decency to prevent us from doing what the people of this state hired us to do."
Davis refused to let Perry’s affront go unanswered, firing back that it was Perry and Lt. Gov. Dewhurst who had “led the charge” in the breakdown of decorum and “made a mockery of all of the rules we run by in this state.”
As the New York Times reported yesterday, it is unlikely that the Democrats will manage to block the bill for another 30-day session. It will probably pass. But as the governor can call as many special sessions as he likes, even a successful second filibuster may not be enough to stop the Republicans’ anti-choice agenda.
The second session begins July 1st. The war on women rages on.
The Huffington Post clips this exchange from yesterday’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday, which pretty much encapsulates the gridlock that Republicans have inflicted on the Senate during the Obama administration:
HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery summarizes the exchange between Texas Republican John Cornyn and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee:
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Cornyn was arguing for more immigration judge slots in Texas when he got called out by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) for gumming up the district court nomination process. Immigration judges are different from district court judges, but Whitehouse questioned why the Senate should add more immigration judgeships in Texas if Cornyn isn't trying to fill empty district court slots there.
"I don't see why you need additional judges when there have been multiple vacancies that have been left without nominees for years," Whitehouse said. "I have an issue with that."
Cornyn said his answer to that was "simple:" It's Obama's fault.
"The president's got to nominate somebody before the Senate can act on it," Cornyn said.
But the process for approving a new district court judge, per longstanding tradition, begins with a senator making recommendations from his or her state to the president. The president then works with that senator to get at least some of the nominees confirmed -- the idea being that those senators, regardless of party, are motivated to advocate for nominees from their states. The White House may look at other nominees on its own, but typically won't move forward without input from home state senators.
That's when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) stepped in to remind Cornyn what he already knows: that if he wants to see movement on district court nominees, he needs to make recommendations to the president.
"Based on 38 years experience here, every judgeship I've seen come through this committee during that time has followed recommendations by the senators from the state," Leahy said. "You have to have recommendations from the senators, especially since I've been chairman, because ... as the senator from Texas knows, if senators have cooperated with the White House and the White House sends somebody they disagree with ... I have not brought the person forward, even when it's been importune to do so by the White House."
Cruz tried to absolve himself of the matter altogether, saying he just got to the Senate in January.
In short, Cornyn was blaming President Obama for gridlock that Cornyn himself has created. In fact, Texas has eight current federal judicial vacancies, one dating back as far as 2008. All are on courts so overworked that they have been labeled “judicial emergencies.” Thanks to Cornyn and Cruz, not one of those vacancies has a nominee.
And in July, one more vacancy will open up in a district court seat based in Fort Worth. When it comes open, Fort Worth will be reduced to just one active federal judge for the first time in over two decades.
Rob Boston at Americans United notes that the Arkansas House just voted to require the state’s Education Board to approve elective classes about the Bible if they meet appropriate standards. The Supreme Court has said the Bible may be taught about in public schools when “presented objectively as part of a secular program of education.”
But teaching about the Bible without teaching it religiously is not an easy thing to do. It requires carefully designed curricula, well-intentioned and well-trained educators, and a commitment to meaningful oversight. People For the American Way was part of a religiously and politically diverse group of organizations that worked together to produce the 1999 publication The Bible in Public Schools, a First Amendment Guide. That guide emphasized that how any such course is taught will determine whether it passes constitutional muster:
When teaching about the Bible in a public school, teachers must understand the important distinction between advocacy, indoctrination, proselytizing, and the practice of religion – which is unconstitutional – and teaching about religion that is objective, nonjudgmental, academic, neutral, balanced, and fair – which is constitutional.
But that’s not how if often works in practice. In 2000, People For the American Way Foundation published a scathing expose, The Good Book Taught Wrong: Bible History Classes in Florida Public Schools. The PFAW Foundation investigation found that “Bible History” classes were often being taught more like Christian Sunday School classes from a sectarian, Protestant perspective. Bible stories were treated as literal history. Among lessons and exam questions asked of students:
That expose led Florida officials to yank those classes and revamp the curricula.
But more than a decade later, similar problems persist, as the Texas Freedom Network documented in a January report that found classes designed more to evangelize students to a literalist, fundamentalist view of the Bible rather than to teach about its role in literature and history. Included in the lesson plans examined by TFN were characterizations of Judaism as a flawed and incomplete religion, Christian-nation approaches to US history, and material “explaining” racial origins via the sons of Noah.
Are Arkansas legislators and education officials prepared to invest in the development of curricula, the training of educators, and meaningful oversight into how the classes are taught?
Yesterday morning, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Fisher v. University of Texas, a landmark case that could determine whether public colleges and universities can consider race as one of many factors when making admission decisions. Plaintiff Abigail Fisher, a white woman, alleges that the University of Texas discriminated against her based on her race when she was not admitted to the University of Texas in 2008. Should the Supreme Court choose to rule in favor of Fisher and rescind equality measures that were upheld by the Court just nine years ago in Grutter v. Bollinger, public colleges and universities would lose their ability to ensure a diverse student body.
People For the American Way, along with many proponents of affirmative action, rallied in front of the Supreme Court, stressing the necessity of diversity and inclusiveness in higher education. Champions of fairness and racial equality spoke, reflecting upon their own educational triumphs as a result of affirmative action and warning against a color-blind perspective that the Supreme Court may uphold. Speakers emphasized that individuals are multi-faceted, and cannot be judged solely by an SAT score or a GPA.
Speakers at the rally emphasized that a student must be evaluated wholly as an individual. A person’s race and ethnicity is part of their background and part of what they offer to the diverse university community, just like their athletic abilities or legacy family roots.
While people of color have made great strides in closing the education gap, disparities in higher education remain widespread. Colleges and universities must foster diversity and represent the vast spectrum of aspiring students and professionals. This will only enhance ingenuity, bridge the racial divides of our history, and preserve America’s platform of fairness and justice.
The mass exodus from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) continued today, as an additional 13 members of the state legislature cut ties with the corporate bill factory. Progress Texas reports:
As we have written many times before, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a corporate bill factory for model laws. The organization arranges for corporate lobbyists and conservative legislators to hold joint secret meetings to craft cookie-cutter bills that increase the profits of private companies at the public’s expense. Following public pressure from Progress Texas and its membership, 25 legislators have dropped - including every Democrat. A majority of the Texas Legislature – 96 of 181 members – is now no longer a part of ALEC.
32 corporations from across the country have also left ALEC. A complete list can be found here.
The PFAW Foundation has been key in exposing ALEC’s efforts at influencing governmental agendas at the local, state, and federal level.