Texas

Ms. Angle’s Civics Class

In a remarkable speech reported today in the Mesquite (Nevada) Local News, Sharron Angle seemed to be taking her cues directly from our Rogues’ Gallery of right-wing candidates.

She started off with a novel civics lesson, telling her audience, "Government isn't what our founding fathers put into the Constitution.” (A statement that covers two favorite Tea Party themes: suspicion of the federal government as a whole, and made-to-order “facts” about the founding fathers).

Then, she articulated her priorities for the money saved by phasing out social safety net programs like Social Security and Medicare: eliminate industry regulation, and “lower the corporate income tax from 35% to 20%.”

Finally, Angle threw in some classic right-wing fear-mongering. Asked a question about “Muslims taking over the U.S.," Angle replied that yes, a few U.S. cities with large Muslim populations are at risk of coming under Sharia law:

"We're talking about a militant terrorist situation, which I believe isn't a widespread thing, but it is enough that we need to address, and we have been addressing it," Angle said.

"Dearborn, Michigan, and Frankford, Texas are on American soil, and under Constitutional law. Not Sharia law. And I don't know how that happened in the United States. It seems to me there is something fundamentally wrong with allowing a foreign system of law to even take hold in any municipality or government situation in our United States."

Historical revisionism? Check.

Focus on corporate profits above the welfare of individuals? Check.

Stoking xenophobia for political gain? Check.

Angle’s statements are over the top even for this year’s far-right candidates—but the sentiments she expresses are being repeated by candidates across the country. Read more in the  Rogues’ Gallery.
 

PFAW

Senate Dysfunction Continues as Two Republicans Block Women's Museum

Republican obstructionism found another victim today in the senate: a bipartisan bill to sell unused land for the construction of the National Women’s History Museum has been held up in the Senate. Senators Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) have both placed holds on the bill that would sell land near the Smithsonian to the private group planning the Women’s Museum. Unless the holds are withdrawn, the Senate must go through the protracted process of holding a cloture vote, which requires the support of 60 Senators.

Even though all the preparations and finances for the museum would be privately funded, the two Republican Senators found their personal problems with the Museum to be so egregious that they are delaying the Senate’s ability to vote on the land deal. Senator DeMint, who is the head of the Senate Conservatives Fund and driving the GOP even farther to the right, believes that the Museum will be used to advance abortion-rights. Despite claims from the Museum organizers that the Museum does not intend to discuss the abortion issue, the far-right group Concerned Women for America is baselessly charging that the Museum will be biased towards the choice-activists. Of course, no one should have expected any less from DeMint, who most recently claimed that “this idea that government has to do something is not a good idea” and promised to “block all legislation that has not been cleared by his office in the final days.”

Oklahoma’s Senator Coburn’s reasons are more personal: he just doesn’t like the idea.

Gail Collins in the New York Times writes:

Coburn’s office said the senator was concerned that taxpayers might be asked to chip in later and also felt that the museum was unnecessary since “it duplicates more than 100 existing entities that have a similar mission.”

The office sent me a list of the entities in question. They include the Quilters Hall of Fame in Indiana, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Texas and the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Washington.

There also were a number of homes of famous women and some fine small collections of exhibits about a particular locality or subject. But, really, Senator Coburn’s list pretty much proved the point that this country really needs one great museum that can chart the whole, big amazing story.

Neither Senator has a sound record on women’s issues to begin with: both support a sweeping criminalization of abortion, and Coburn even said: “I favor the death penalty for abortionists.” DeMint wants unmarried pregnant women to be banned from teaching in public schools.

But due to the combination of unprecedented Republican obstructionism with opposition to women’s rights, the National Women’s History Museum may have to wait for quite some time for the bill to get an up-or-down vote in the Senate.

 

PFAW

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" Is Held Unconstitutional

Yesterday in a California courtroom, the already decaying edifice of anti-LGBT discrimination crumbled just a little bit more: U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that Don't Ask Don't Tell violates the United States Constitution. Specifically, she held that DADT violates servicemembers' Fifth Amendment due process rights and their First Amendment speech rights.

With regard to the due process aspect, Judge Phillips cited Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case where the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law criminalizing consensual sex between two people of the same sex. In Lawrence, the Court held that intimate consensual sex is part of the fundamental constitutional right to privacy.

Since a fundamental constitutional right is at stake, Judge Phillips analyzed DADT using a higher level of scrutiny than rational basis: In order for DADT to stand, (1) it must advance an important governmental interest, (2) the intrusion on constitutionally protected intimate conduct must significantly further that interest, and (3) the intrusion must be necessary to further that interest.

Recognizing that judicial deference to Congress is traditionally highest in the context of legislation regulating the military, Judge Phillips correctly noted that "deference does not mean abdication." She carefully examined the evidence provided by the government and found that the Administration failed to demonstrate that DADT significantly furthers the government's interests in military readiness or unit cohesion, the second prong of the constitutional analysis.

Furthermore, the evidence presented by the plaintiffs demonstrated that DADT actually frustrates military readiness and unit cohesion: Qualified servicemembers are discharged under DADT during wartime troop shortages (the same shortage that pressures the military to ramp up "moral waivers" to admit far less qualified convicted felons); servicemembers with critically needed skills and training are discharged; DADT hurts recruiting efforts; and DADT diminishes the otherwise merit-based nature of the military.

Judge Phillips also cited damning evidence that the military doesn't believe its own propaganda about DADT:

Defendants routinely delayed the discharge of servicemembers suspected of violating the Act's provisions until after they had completed their overseas deployments. . This evidence, in particular, directly undermines any contention that the Act furthers the Government's purpose of military readiness, as it shows Defendants continue to deploy gay and lesbian members of the military into combat, waiting until they have returned before resolving the charges arising out of the suspected homosexual conduct. If the warrior's suspected violation of the Act created a threat to military readiness, to unit cohesion, or to any of the other important Government objectives, it follows that Defendants would not deploy him or her to combat before resolving the investigation.

Judge Phillips is right: DADT makes no sense and it violates the Constitution. The House of Representatives has already voted to consign this discriminatory policy to the ash heap of history. It's time for the Senate to do the same and send a bill to the President's desk.

PFAW

The Tea Party and the Religious Right at "Restoring Honor"

Many political commentators suggested that the emergence of the Tea Party would diminish the foothold and clout of the Religious Right in American politics, especially within the Republican Party. Politico’s Ben Smith said that social conservative leaders mistrust and fear the rising influence of the Tea Party. David Waters, the Religion editor of the Washington Post, expressed skepticism of any alliance between “Tea Partying fiscal conservatives” and the “Christian Right,” claiming: “this is an anti-government movement, not a pro-God movement.” “So far,” Waters said, “it seems the Tea Partiers are mostly interested in reclaiming America for the Chamber of Commerce.”

But the Religious Right’s free-market ideology is tremendously consistent with the Tea Party’s pro-corporate agenda. Sharron Angle, Nevada’s Tea Party-backed Republican nominee for US Senate, believes that government programs such as Social Security and Medicare violate the Ten Commandments: “We have become a country entrenched in idolatry, and that idolatry is the dependency upon our government. We're supposed to depend upon God for our protection and our provision and for our daily bread, not for our government.” Texas Governor Rick Perry, a favorite of the Tea Party, expressed his fight against “big government” in religious terms: “Do you believe in the primacy of unrestrained federal government? Or do you worship the God of the universe, placing our trust in him?” Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, founder of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, is a prominent Religious Right activist, and led a prayer ceremony calling for the defeat of health care reform. Michele Goldberg notes that along with Christian Right superstar Sarah Palin, the Tea Party National Convention featured leaders such as “Rick Scarborough, Roy Moore, and Joseph Farah, men who are radical even by religious-right standards.”

The ever-present religious rhetoric of the Restoring Honor rally and the Divine Destiny reception demonstrated the use of religion to legitimize the Tea Party and justify its political goals. One speaker at Restoring Honor claimed that “we are Americans and we stand together: Black, White, Jew, Gentile, together in unity as one strong group of people of Americans, today in the name of Christ.” Rev. C. L. Jackson said that supporters should follow the “servant of God, son of God, Glenn Beck,” and another speaker called for attendees to become “covenant warriors in Christ.”

At “Divine Destiny,” Beck introduced David Barton, a frequent guest on his show, as “a true American hero.” Barton and his organization, WallBuilders, were extremely influential in the Far-Right’s rewriting of history and science curriculum in the Texas textbook controversy, and is a leading opponent of the separation of Church and State. Barton and WallBuilders promote a discredited and religious interpretation of American history that claims that the Founding Fathers meant to build a Christian nation ruled according to the Bible. Now Beck and Barton want to export the Texas textbook battle to the rest of the country in their efforts to modify American history and distort the Constitution.

One lesson from this weekend is that the political leaders of the Tea Party and Religious Right movements believe they have a shared interest in convincing Americans that their agendas represent the supposedly “original vision” of the Founding Fathers.

PFAW

Thurgood Marshall Roundup

We were far from the only ones noting the surprising volume of GOP attacks on Justice Thurgood Marshall on Monday. Talking Points Memo counted the number of references to the illustrious Justice on the opening day of Kagan’s hearings:

In an example of how much the GOP focused on Marshall, his name came up 35 times. President Obama's name was mentioned just 14 times today.

Harpers Magazine shared my confusion about what might have motivated Republican Senators to engage in these attacks:

So what made Marshall the image of an “activist judge”? Was it his role in Brown v. Board of Education, the decision that put an end to the lie of “separate but equal” education across the American South, forcing desegregation in public education? Or perhaps it was the fact that he won nearly all of his Supreme Court cases, most of them on behalf of the NAACP, and all of them testing the official refuges of bigotry and racism?

The attacks were led, predictably, by neoconfederate senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Republican ranking member and the Theodore Bilbo of his generation, who snarled that Kagan’s affection for her former boss “tells us much about the nominee”—a comment clearly intended as an insult. But so many other Republican senators joined in—Orrin Hatch, John Cornyn, and Jon Kyl, for instance—that it appears to have been an agreed talking point. (I see Dana Milbank reports that Republican staffers were actually handing out opposition research on Marshall’s voting record after the hearing–another sign that the war on Marshall was a formal strategy.)

At first it was unclear to me what possible complaint about Justice Marshall the Republican Senators could have had. But Dana Milbank at the Washington Post cleared things up:

Republicans saw trouble in this Marshall fellow. "In 2003, Ms. Kagan wrote a tribute to Justice Marshall in which she said that, 'in his view, it was the role of the courts in interpreting the Constitution to protect the people who went unprotected by every other organ of government,' " Kyl complained.

Protecting the unprotected? Say it ain't so!

And that wasn't all. Kagan also emphasized Marshall's "unshakable determination to protect the underdog," Kyl said.

Let’s take a moment to remember all the great things Justice Marshall did for this country. Stephanie Jones’ thoughtful piece in the Washington Post this morning details his vital role in fulfilling the promises of the Constitution. She summarizes:

Marshall was a great jurist who used his skills to move this country closer to being a more perfect union. As a lawyer and a justice, he protected us from activist judges and the cramped thinking of politicians who tried to keep our country in the muck. And he never forgot how the high court's rulings affect the least of us.

So what do Republicans have to gain from attacking this giant? Out west at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, columnist Joel Connelly reminded us that attacks on Marshall are just part of a larger right wing trend to de-legitimize American heroes with whom they disagree:

The political right has taken to beating up on great American presidents, with the "progressive" Theodore Roosevelt demonized by Fox's Glenn Beck, and Thomas Jefferson ordered banished from textbooks by the Texas Board of Education.

At confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Senators from the party of Abraham Lincoln have discovered -- literally -- a new black hat. They are denouncing and labeling Thurgood Marshall, our country's greatest civil rights lawyer.

 

UPDATE: even conservatives are perplexed by the Republicans' anti-Marshall strategy. Check out Joe Scarborough mocking Senate Republicans:

 

PFAW

Who in the World is Thurgood Marshall??

It isn't just Republican senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee who are attacking Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP attorney and American hero whose brilliant long-term litigation strategy led to Brown v. Board of Education, the end of Jim Crow, and eventually to a seat on the Supreme Court. In fact, if they and their compatriots had their way, the next generation might not even know who Thurgood Marshall was. As our affiliate PFAW Foundation has reported, Justice Marshall just barely survived the recent ideological purge of Texas textbooks, despite urgings from Religious Right "advisors" that he be erased from history.

What we're seeing at the Kagan hearings is just part of a larger far right campaign to vilify a man who symbolized the best of America.

PFAW

Texas Textbooks: What happened, what it means, and what we can do about it

People For has been tracking the Religious Right’s crusade to politicize textbooks—and fighting against it—since the 1980s. Our new Right Wing Watch: In Focus report outlines how the latest right-wing takeover of Texas textbooks fits into the history of the religious right’s efforts to influence public education:

Religious Right leaders in Texas have been waging war against science and history for the past few decades. A primary target and battleground has been the state’s public schools, in particular the statewide approval process for textbooks. People For the American Way Foundation first started working with Texans to resist Religious Right takeovers of textbooks back in the 1980s.

The Religious Right has invested so heavily in Texas textbooks because of the national implications. School districts in Texas have to buy books from a state-approved list, and Texas is such an enormous market that textbook publishers will generally do whatever they can to get on that list. Textbooks written and edited to meet Texas standards end up being used all over the country. So Religious Right leaders in Texas can doom millions of American students to stunted, scientifically dubious science books and ideologically slanted history and social studies books. Advances in printing technology make it easier to prevent that from happening now, but it will take vigilance to keep publishers from following the path of least resistance.

Earlier this month, we led a coalition of groups to deliver over 130,000 petitions to a textbook publisher in New York urging them to reject Texas’s new right-wing curriculum standards. You can sign the petition here.

Read the full Right Wing Watch report here.
 

PFAW

The Freedom to Marry

The American Foundation for Equal Rights has posted a transcript of yesterday's closing arguments in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the trial challenging the constitutionality of California's ban on same-sex marriage. Theodore B. Olson, the attorney for the couples who are challenging the ban, went straight for the definition of marriage and what it means to individuals and to society.

Here are some excerpts from his closing arguments:

I think it's really important to set forth the prism through which this case must be viewed by the judiciary. And that is the perspective on marriage, the same subject that we're talking about, by the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court -- the freedom to marry, the freedom to make the choice to marry. The Supreme Court has said in -- I counted 14 cases going back to 1888, 122 years. And these are the words of all of those Supreme Court decisions about what marriage is.

And I set forth this distinction between what the plaintiffs have called it and what the Supreme Court has called it. The Supreme Court has said that: Marriage is the most important relation in life. Now that's being withheld from the plaintiffs. It is the foundation of society. It is essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness. It's a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights and older than our political parties. One of the liberties protected by the Due Process Clause. A right of intimacy to the degree of being sacred. And a liberty right equally available to a person in a homosexual relationship as to heterosexual persons. That's the Lawrence vs. Texas case.

Marriage, the Supreme Court has said again and again, is a component of liberty, privacy, association, spirituality and autonomy. It is a right possessed by persons of different races, by persons in prison, and by individuals who are delinquent in paying child support.

I think it's really important, given what the Supreme Court has said about marriage and what the proponents said about marriage, to hear what the plaintiffs have said about marriage and what it means to them, in their own words.

They have said that marriage means -- and this means not a domestic partnership. This means marriage, the social institution of marriage that is so valuable that the Supreme Court says it's the most important relation in life. The plaintiffs have said that marriage means to them freedom, pride. These are their words. Dignity. Belonging. Respect. Equality. Permanence. Acceptance. Security. Honor. Dedication. And a public commitment to the world.

One of the plaintiffs said, "It's the most important decision you make as an adult." Who could disagree with that?

...

On the one hand, we have the proponents' argument that it's all about procreation and institutionalizing -- deinstitutionalizing marriage, but was not supported by credible evidence. I couldn't find it. That's the one hand.

On the other stands the combined weight of 14 Supreme Court opinions about marriage and the liberty and the privacy of marriage. The testimony of the plaintiffs, about their life and how they are affected by Proposition 8, and the combined expertise of the leading experts in the world, as far as we were able to find. It is no contest.

 

PFAW

Oil Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico: Reflections of Rev. L. Charles Stovall

Editor's note: Rev. L. Charles Stovall, a member of People For's African American Ministers in Action, contributed this post. Rev. Stovall is a pastor at St. Luke United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas.

I met a man recently at a bus stop on my way to the office. Our conversation eventually came to the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He said that he once owned a scuba diving company in the Gulf and his clients were usually associated with oil companies that siphoned oil from the Gulf of Mexico.

One day while diving, they discovered an accumulation of oil on the Gulf floor. He said that the oil had formed a pool about six feet deep on the bottom. When reported to the oil company that had hired his service, he was told that if anything was reported to anyone else, his company would either be delayed in getting paid, or might not be paid at all. It was not reported.

Because of that encounter he is skeptical about what is currently happening and the “truth” being told about the oil disaster. He said the oil companies will lie, mislead, and try their best to wash their hands of responsibility. He also said that the oil on top of the water is only a fraction of the oil that we should be concerned about. According him, some of the oil will float to the surface, but much of the oil will remain underwater.

Read more...

PFAW

Breathing While Undocumented in Arizona

Linda Greenhouse, writing for the New York Times Opinionator blog, rightly points out that Arizona's new anti-immigrant law quite literally creates a new crime of "breathing while undocumented" due to a provision that someone lacking authorization to be in the country is "trespassing," even on public land.

Greenhouse wonders what Arizonan libertarian and conservative icon Barry Goldwater would have to say about the law, writing, "Wasn’t the system of internal passports one of the most distasteful features of life in the Soviet Union and apartheid-era South Africa?"

She discusses possible responses to the law and importantly notes that even though the law might seem blatantly unconstitutional to many:

[Her] confidence about the law’s fate in the court’s hands is not boundless, however. In 1982, hours after the court decided the Texas case [Plyler v. Doe, which overturned a Texas law depriving undocumented immigrant children of public education], a young assistant to Attorney General William French Smith analyzed the decision and complained in a memo: “This is a case in which our supposed litigation program to encourage judicial restraint did not get off the ground, and should have.” That memo’s author was John G. Roberts Jr.

PFAW

The First Corporate Ad – An Avalanche Begins with One Flake

The ad below may not look like much, but it’s a sign of much greater – and troubling – things to come. It appears to be the very first political ad purchased with corporate money, all thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.

The ad ran in a handful of small Texas newspapers and was purchased by KDR Development Inc., a local real estate firm, to oppose a political enemy of the firm’s president, Larry Durrett.

Durrett, who also runs a chain of fast food franchises, told the Texas Tribune that his “businesses do better under conservative people.” Asked why he used corporate rather than personal money, Durrett said that he took “the money out of the pocket that's got some money in there.”

Apply the same logic to giant corporations, and you can see we have a massive problem on our hands. The Supreme Court gave Exxon the same right to spend a billion dollars as it gave Durrett to spend a few thousand.

Durrett’s modest ad buy is a warning to us all – the avalanche of corporate cash is coming. Click here to join our campaign for government by the people, not corporations.

PFAW

Efforts to End DADT Stalled in Key Senate Committee

The Senate Armed Services Committee has confirmed that a scheduled November hearing on the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) has been indefinitely postponed. The delay has been attributed to the pressures of Committee work on other issues, including the recent shootings at Ft. Hood, Texas and the possibility of sending additional troops to Afghanistan.

Committee Chairman Carl Levin said that one possibility for ending DADT could be attaching the legislation to the 2011 Defense Reauthorization Bill, a tactic that was used to pass hate crimes legislation this year. This approach is supported by the White House and several Democratic leaders in the House.

PFAW

Young Elected Officials Stand Up for Domestic Partner Benefits

Congratulations to El Paso, Texas, where unmarried partners of both gay and straight city employees will be eligible for insurance benifits.  And congratulations to City Representatives Eddie Holguin, Rachel Quintana, and Suzie Byrd, members of PFAW Foundation's Young Elected Officials Network who made it happen.

Citizens spoke up on both sides of the debate, and, as usual, some right-wing lies made it into the debate, but the YEOs weren't buying it.

"One of the gentleman compared homosexuality to pedophilia, and that is just false, and I am absolutely not going to stand for that," said City Rep. Susie Byrd.

Lower Valley City Rep. Eddie Holguin said it is precisely because of his religious upbringing that he voted for the benefits.

"In that upbringing I have always been taught not to judge... And that's why I have supported and do support treating everyone equally."

He also commented on some of the criticism speakers have leveled against the proposal in the past several weeks. "Why do many of the hateful things that are said here come from people who call themselves Christian?"

Eastside City Rep. Rachel Quintana said before the debate, she was only 60 percent sure she favored the plan.

"I have gone (up) 40 percent to being 100 percent in favor of this today."

Thanks to El Paso for taking a stand for equality!

PFAW

Texas May Bar Students from Learning About Cesar Chavez, Thurgood Marshall

From the AFL-CIO's blog:

United Farmworkers founder César Chávez is an unfitting role model for students, and former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall is not an appropriate historical figure. So say “expert reviewers” in their report to the Texas State Board of Education, which recommends removing the two U.S. leaders from the social studies curriculum taught to its 4.7 million public school students.

The ranting of these extremists has the potential to turn into mass censorship—Texas is such a mega-purchaser of textbooks that the state’s required curricula drives the content of textbooks produced nationwide.

Read the whole post here >

 

PFAW

NAMUDNO In the Supreme Court

This morning the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Eric Holder, a case involving a small municipal district in Austin, Texas seeking to invalidate a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 - one of the most important civil rights laws in American history.

With the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Congress finally acted to prevent discriminatory tactics designed to prevent minorities from exercising their fundamental right to vote. Section 5, in particular, is the centerpiece of the Act, and requires certain covered jurisdictions where voting discrimination has been the most flagrant to seek a preclearance from the Justice Department or a three-judge panel of the federal court in DC for any voting related changes. According to the statute, preclearance will be given as long as the proposed change does not have the purpose or the effect of denying or infringing on the right to vote because of one’s race or color.

In this case, the party seeking to invalidate Section 5 is a municipal utility district in Travis County, Texas, that conducts elections to select the members of its board of directors. Because the State of Texas is a covered jurisdiction, the district is subject to the preclearance requirements of Section 5, and sought relief under the Act’s bailout provision in federal court in the days following the reauthorization of the Act in 2006. Alternatively, the utility district sought to invalidate the provision if it could not bailout from its requirements. It failed on both counts in the courts below.

Today’s arguments confirm that Justice Kennedy again holds the deciding vote on whether the Court will weaken or invalidate a provision upheld by the very same Court four times in the past.

To those who argue that Section 5 is no longer needed because racial discrimination no longer exists, as evidenced by the election of the country’s first African American president, look at the facts. Because of Section 5’s sunset provisions, Congress was required to re-examine whether the statute is needed and last conducted an examination of this type in 2006. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees held a combined 21 hearings over 10 months and received testimony from over 90 witnesses, including state and federal officials, experts and private citizens. And although they concluded that significant progress had been made, they recognized that “[d]iscrimination today is more subtle than the visible methods used in 1965” and concluded that discrimination continues to result in “a diminishing of the minority community’s ability to fully participate in the electoral process and to elect their preferred candidates of choice.” Congress voted 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate that, among other things, Section 5 was still necessary.

We hope that Justice Kennedy will remember the extensive record finding Congress performed in 2006 and remember his words earlier this year when he wrote in Bartlett v. Strickland, “Still, racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history. Much remains to be done to ensure that citizens of all races have equal opportunity to share and participate in our democratic processes and traditions. . .”


Deborah Liu is General Counsel to People For the American Way, which is a defendant-intervenor in the case.

PFAW

Stop Voter ID in Texas

The New York Times editorial board probably didn’t write their piece today directly in response to a vote in the Texas State Senate yesterday, but they might as well have. 

From the NY Times editorial:

In last year’s presidential election, as many as three million registered voters were not allowed to cast ballots and millions more chose not to because of extremely long lines and other frustrating obstacles. Ever since the 2000 election in Florida, the serious flaws in the voting system have been abundantly clear. More than eight years later, Congress must finally deliver on its promise of electoral reform.

At a hearing last week, the Senate Rules Committee released a report sponsored by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the sorry state of voting. It said that administrative barriers, such as error-filled voting lists or wrongful purges of voter rolls prevented as many as three million registered voters from casting ballots. Another two million to four million registered voters were discouraged from even trying to vote because of difficulty obtaining an absentee ballot, voter ID issues and other problems.

More on the voter ID bill from the Dallas Morning News:

Senate Republicans pushed through a bill Tuesday that would require Texans to show a photo ID or two alternative IDs before voting, while Democrats shifted their efforts to derail the legislation to the House.

The measure, commonly referred to as "voter ID," was approved 19-12, with all Senate Republicans voting for the bill and all Democrats voting against it. A final vote will be required Wednesday before the proposal is sent to the House.

As if we need any extra barriers to an already broken system.

The article goes on to say that there’s a 50-50 chance of passage in the House. There are 76 Republicans and 74 Democrats in the House. That means your calls and advocacy are crucial. If you’re a Texas resident, make sure to call your representative and tell them that to stop this thinly-veiled attempt to keep certain kinds of voters – voters who wouldn’t vote for them – away from the polls.
 

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

Remembering Barbara Jordan

Every February, People For the American Way, along with the rest of the country, celebrates Black History Month. And this year, more than ever, it's humbling to see just how far our nation has moved. And how far we still have to go.

I'm proud that People For the American Way can point to its own history to demonstrate why Black History Month is relevant to people of all backgrounds. Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate, the first African American woman to represent a southern state in Congress, and one of the founders of People For the American Way.

In 1981, when U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan joined Norman Lear to form People For the American Way, they understood that the promise of our nation, that all men (and women) are created equal, was not just unrealized, but was under active attack. But instead of focusing on what was wrong with our country, they used their powerful, utterly unique voices to speak for America's highest ideals and to push forward towards a better America.

Rep. Jordan was an energetic advocate of our Constitution's core values of fairness and equality under law. She continues to be an inspiration in our work, and it's not an exaggeration to say that it's because of leaders like Barbara Jordan that we were all able to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama last month.

But still, there are those who are intent on dragging us backwards. While the inauguration was still fresh in our minds, People For was forced to lead an aggressive campaign to help confirm President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder -- the first African American to hold the position. After eight years spent undermining the crucial work of the Department of Justice, the Right is fighting hard to prevent the new administration from truly restoring justice at the DOJ. This is why Attorney General Holder's comments about the racism in America ring true to so many of us in this constant battle against those who would turn back the clock on civil rights. And just last week we all got an ugly reminder of this pervasive racism and racial insensitivity in America when the New York Post published an offensive cartoon depicting President Obama as a chimp getting shot by two white police officers. The cartoon literally included several layers of tastelessness: the comparison of our first African American president to an ape, what could be construed as an invitation for violence against the president AND the stirring up of racial issues with law enforcement in a city that has particularly sensitive recent history in that area.

Many have pointed out that the lack of diversity in senior management and on the editorial staff of the Post was a major contributing factor to how a cartoon like that could get published in the first place. That's why I'm proud that People For and our affiliate foundation have taken so seriously our mission to help promote diversity. It can be seen very clearly in People For the American Way Foundation's leadership development programs, the Young Elected Officials Network and Young People For, which are among the most diverse programs of their kind -- ever. And it can be seen in our groundbreaking efforts to promote equality for all, like with People For Foundation's work with African American ministers to combat homophobia in the Black Church.

We're working hard to make sure that civil rights remain a top priority for this administration, and fighting against those who are intent on erecting barriers to the ballot, not to mention advocating for a more just Supreme Court, organizing for marriage equality for all and defending religious liberty by maintaining the separation between church and state.

Barbara Jordan made clear that there are certain principles that are not negotiable, values she called "indigenous to the American idea." Opportunity. Fairness. Equality under law. Those are still the values that bind our community together, and every day we're moving closer to that nation that she envisioned.

PFAW

Have You Voted?

In case you needed more reason to get out and vote, the interwebs are virtually flooded today with stories of people voting, and loving it.

In New York

Even more people out there now. I walked across the street and down the one block to Stroud elementary, and turned the corner to see the line. I have voted in this neighborhood for the past seven years, and the longest line I've ever seen was one snaking out from the gymnasium where the booths are, to the front door, about 20 feet away.

This morning, the line stretched past that point, out through the cast iron gates, turned to the left, and went nearly halfway down the New York City block street to Washington Avenue. It was 6:00 a.m. There were hundreds of people already on line, waiting patiently to cast their vote.

In Chicago

The guy behind me, in the line, was telling another voter that he hadn't voted or even registered to vote in 20 years. He had been moving around a lot and didn't have the time to register or give much thought to elections. He had recently moved from Louisiana to Texas, but this time he registered to vote. He registered twice to make sure that he'll get his card on time. I turned back and smiled at him when he said that. He was in his late fifties and looked excited to be there.

In DC

My precinct (68) has 1,740 registered voters, 814 of which turned out for the presidential primary. Voting at the precinct could be done by computer or paper ballot, and there were two paper ballot counting machines. The one I slipped my ballot into had already counted nearly 400 others, suggesting that the primary numbers may already have been topped before noon. My precinct may see something like 70% turnout on the day. Absolutely remarkable.

Lots of smiles all around.

In Maine

I popped over to the polling station in Rockland, and at 8:10 this morning there were about 40 people in line:

I ran into Rep. Ed Mazurek on the way out, and learned that over 1,400 absentee ballots had been cast in Rockland alone.

In Ohio

I waited in line for three hours to vote the other day. What amazed me was all the different people out there voting. There was this ridiculous line and a single mother was in front of me, she was trying to feed her child in her arms and scooted the baby carrier on the ground with her foot. I saw men and women in uniform, I saw elderly in wheelchairs, elderly standing in the line wheeling oxygen tanks along with them. When I got up to the poll worker who printed off my ballot for me, I asked her if it was like this every day. She said for the past week or so it had been, averaging thirty thousand people a day coming in to vote early. Then I read in the paper this morning about how Ohio is expecting an 80% voter turnout. It is absolutely amazing

In Seattle

6:45 am at Northgate - line going out the door already. 7:05 in the voting room - all booths full, lines for booths three people deep. Never thought I’d want to take a picture of me and a ballot before. I wish I had volunteered to work at a polling place, I want to be around that kind of vibe all day long!

And there are more. If you have a voting story you'd like to share, you can e-mail blogtalk@pfaw.org.

And, of course, if you have any trouble voting, you should be sure to call 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

PFAW

The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long

The Austin-American Statesman has a story on a 109 year old woman – the daughter of a slave – who cast a vote for Senator Obama in this year’s election.

Jones' father herded sheep as a slave until he was 12, according to the family, and once he was freed, he was a farmer who raised cows, hogs and turkeys on land he owned. Her mother was born right after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, Joyce Jones said. The family owned more than 100 acres of land in Cedar Creek at one point, she said.

Amanda Jones' father urged her to exercise her right to vote, despite discriminatory practices at the polls and poll taxes meant to keep black and poor people from voting. Those practices were outlawed for federal elections with the 24th Amendment in 1964, but not for state and local races in Texas until 1966.

Amanda Jones says she cast her first presidential vote for Franklin Roosevelt, but she doesn't recall which of his four terms that was. When she did vote, she paid a poll tax, her daughters said. That she is able, for the first time, to vote for a black presidential nominee for free fills her with joy, Jones said.

Something to think about if you’re stuck in a long line on Election Day.

PFAW