Virginia

Supreme Court Chips Away at Voting Rights Protections

Twenty four hours after thousands celebrated “Bloody Sunday” earlier this week – a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery where civil rights marchers including Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) were attacked and brutally beaten by Alabama state and local police, but ultimately led to the historic passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – the Supreme Court undermined some of the enforcement mechanisms of the Voting Rights Act.

I was troubled, in particular by this reference in a NY Times article about Richard Pildes, an expert whose views the Justices relied on in Mondays’ decision, who, according to the Times, “said that current events, including the fact that both major political parties are led by African-Americans, had complicated the legal landscape, creating ‘tremendous pressure on a statute that was primarily structured for an earlier era in which blacks were completely excluded from office.’ “

There’s no disputing the fact that much progress has been made, but even today, we’re a far cry from the post-racial world that MLK described in his famous I Have a Dream speech. To it's credit, even the Supreme Court recognized that racial discrimination and racially polarized voting are not ancient history. This issue is not simply about having an African American President or leader in the Republican Party. This is a larger issue of opportunity for all citizens and one federal election has not summarily changed the reality existing in this country still. There’s no African American representing an overwhelmingly white district in the House, and no African American governors representing a Southern state (there’s only been one in history – Douglas Wilder of Virginia).

I recognize that there’s been much progress, but there’s more work to be done and vital protections such as those in the VRA are still necessary.
 

PFAW

On Fair Courts and Big Coal

Today in the Supreme Court, a case was argued that makes a pretty compelling case for a fair and independent judiciary. Robert Barnes at the Washington Post did a good overview yesterday.

Caperton and his little coal company sued a huge coal company on claims that it unlawfully drove him out of business, and a jury agreed, awarding him $50 million.

That company's chief executive vowed an appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court -- but first, he spent an unprecedented $3 million to persuade voters to get rid of a justice he didn't like and elect one he did.

Today during arguments the Court was (no surprise) divided. But the real principle may be bigger than simply campaign donations.

The Constitution sets up the judiciary as the branch of government dedicated to ensuring that the rule of law applies equally to all people. When it's broken – or perceived to be broken, -- there's scant reason for citizens to put their full faith in the government. And yet over the last years, President Bush has systematically flooded the courts with jurists who put political ideology over our most basic constitutional principles.

No longer fearing the worst when it comes to judicial appointments is, well, a big sigh of relief, but this case makes very clear how crucial it is that we repair the damage eight years of George Bush has done.

PFAW

It's Our Moment, Let's Make the Most of It!

This Tuesday marks what I hope will be the beginning of a dramatic new direction for our country. The relevance of President-elect Obama's inauguration falling one day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not lost on any of us. The swearing in of the first African American president will be one of the great moments in America's history and a massive leap toward the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream, not only because of Obama's race, but because the movement that swept him into office was born of the American people's desire to pursue a more just path as a nation. That in itself is something that Dr. King would have been proud to have witnessed.

I said that I "hope" this will be the beginning of a big change in direction because it's up to all of us to make sure that change actually happens, to make sure the new administration corrects the last president's worst mistakes in a timely fashion. And it's not just the Obama administration that needs to feel constant pressure from us, it's Congress as well. I've seen reports of senators and representatives showing some reluctance to make many of the bold changes we need. And as expected, we're seeing the resurgence of the Far Right as a backlash to new progressive power. The Radical Right is not only in a position to strengthen its grip on power in the Republican Party, it's ready to pounce on any anti-government sentiment that may bubble up in the coming months and years, especially -- and ironically -- as a result of the economic hard times their very policies have left us with. Long story short: People For the American Way is more needed than ever, and we need your support and your vigilance in the months and years to come.

When a group of activists confronted him shortly after his first inauguration seeking a list of specific reforms, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, "I agree with you. I want to do it. Now make me do it." That is what grassroots democracy is all about -- making our leaders do what's right. January 20 is the end of our eight-year national nightmare, but it's just the beginning of a new chapter in which we must all do our part.

In the first two weeks of 2009, People For's been fighting the good fight -- our long-term efforts on two pay equity bills are paying off and the legislation has passed the House and is making its way through the Senate. And we've been answering the Right's attacks against Attorney General-nominee Eric Holder, whose Senate confirmation hearing I attended yesterday. Let me say that it was VERY gratifying to hear Holder clearly state that he believes waterboarding is torture, that renditions to countries where there reason to believe they will torture is wrong and that he is committed to restoring the DOJ's Civil Rights Division to a position of prominence and effectiveness). After this week's release of the Inspector General's report on politicization in the Justice Department, it's even more apparent that confirming Holder will be a great beginning to undoing that damage.

On the legal front, the Supreme Court handed People For the American Way Foundation (and the First Amendment) a victory by upholding the policy of the Fredericksburg, Virginia, City Council requiring that the official prayers recited at the beginning of its meetings be non-sectarian. Accepting one of the most important cases of the term, it also chose to hear an appeal of Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Mukasey, in which People For the American Way is defending the constitutionality of an important provision of the Voting Rights Act.

We couldn't do any of our important work without your steadfast support. And with your continued support, People For the American Way will continue to carry the progressive flag and advocate your values on Capitol Hill.

Right now is a time to celebrate. Have an amazing Inaugural weekend, MLK Day and Inauguration Day. Congratulations to Barack Obama and congratulations, America!

PFAW

Virgil Goode Loses Seat

Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode (R) lost his reelection bid to Democrat Tom Perriello by 745 votes, according to official results certified today by the Virginia State Board of Elections.

Goode gained prominence when he joined the far-right attack on Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress, who had chosen to use a Quran in a swearing-in photo-op. Previously known for his focus on illegal immigration and sponsorship of bills to build a fence on the US-Mexican border and amend the Constitution to prevent children of illegal immigrants from becoming citizens, Goode managed to connect those issues with Ellison’s Quran in a letter to some of his constituents:

Dear Mr. Cruickshank:

Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The Ten Commandments and “In God We Trust” are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, “As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office.” Thank you again for your email and thoughts.

Sincerely yours,
Virgil H. Goode, Jr.
70 East Court Street
Suite 215
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151

When the statements attracted controversy, Goode stood by the letter, which he had personally written. He responded to the criticism in an op-ed in USA Today, where he played the 9/11 card:

Let us remember that we were not attacked by a nation on 9/11; we were attacked by extremists who acted in the name of the Islamic religion. I believe that if we do not stop illegal immigration totally, reduce legal immigration and end diversity visas, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to infiltration by those who want to mold the United States into the image of their religion, rather than working within the Judeo-Christian principles that have made us a beacon for freedom-loving persons around the world.

Ironically, Ellison was ultimately sworn in on Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, and Monticello, Jefferson’s estate, is in Goode’s district.

Goode later continued his attention-seeking extremism as one of the leading proponents of the North American Union/ NAFTA superhighway conspiracy theory, along with Jerome Corsi, Phyllis Schlafly, and the John Birch Society. He warned that immigration reform “will lead us on a path to likely have a North American currency, will further break down the borders between our countries, and it really undermines the concept of the United States of America in favor of something called North America. And it will harm the lifestyles and the status and standing of most American citizens.”

Goode has requested a recount, which he is entitled to, but it appears that he no longer has the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives.

 

PFAW

A Good Day for Small-"D" Democracy

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

The Politico reports today:

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

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

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

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

PFAW

A Long Night

If Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, and Florida go decisively for Obama, those of us on the east coast may have a pretty good idea of who the next president will be and still get a good night’s sleep.

But there’s at least one contest that’s certainly worth waiting up for – the fight to defeat Prop 8 in California, which would amend the state constitution to prohibit same-sex couples from getting married. The polls don’t close until 11 p.m. eastern time, and the results probably won’t be known until well after that.

While you’re waiting up, you can use the time to read Andrew Sullivan’s short, lovely piece on his own nuptials and what they say about the institution of marriage in America.

The wedding occurred last August in Massachusetts in front of a small group of family and close friends. And in that group, I suddenly realized, it was the heterosexuals who knew what to do, who guided the gay couple and our friends into the rituals and rites of family. Ours was not, we realized, a different institution, after all, and we were not different kinds of people. In the doing of it, it was the same as my sister’s wedding and we were the same as my sister and brother-in-law. The strange, bewildering emotions of the moment, the cake and reception, the distracted children and weeping mothers, the morning’s butterflies and the night’s drunkenness: this was not a gay marriage; it was a marriage.

PFAW

Fighting Voter Suppression in Big Sky Country

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Don't Mourn, Organize!

If you're following the election news as closely as I am, you're probably finding a lot of reasons to holler at your TV. How about Todd Palin refusing a subpoena from the legislative committee investigating "Troopergate" in Alaska, and Sarah Palin ducking requests to testify with claims of "executive privilege" (sound familiar?) — haven't we had enough of executive branch officials insisting they're above the law? Or maybe for you it's the sight of the "get government out of the way" Republicans suddenly claiming that they're the ones to bring more effective government oversight to Wall Street. So much for free-market fundamentalism! Or maybe it's the implication by the McCain-Palin campaign with their "Country First" signs that anyone who does not support their ticket is not patriotic!

Another thing that is making me furious is that people may be kept from casting their vote. Our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation has been documenting and mobilizing opposition to voter suppression efforts around the country — but conservative officials keep finding new ways to try to keep some voters away from the polls. In Michigan — a key presidential battleground state — the Republican Party is training people to challenge voters at the polls, and is even planning to try to deny voters the chance to cast a ballot if their home has gone into foreclosure. It's disgusting, but it's only part of a much bigger picture -- we're seeing official efforts in other key states like Virginia, Ohio and Florida to find reasons to knock people off the voting rolls.

Whatever is driving you to distraction this week, keep in mind labor organizer Joe Hill's famous admonition: "Don't mourn, organize!"

There's a huge amount of exciting organizing People For and other progressive groups are doing right now — and a lot of ways for you to get involved in these last few weeks before the election.

First and foremost you should VOTE and take at least five friends to the polls with you. If your state lets you vote early, do it. But don't stop there. Here are three other things you can do to keep the White House and Supreme Court out of the hands of the radical Religious Right:

  1. Get your ringside seats on October 2 when "Amtrak Joe" debates "Mooseburger Sarah"... Host a People For vice presidential debate watch party with your friends. We have been documenting Sarah Palin's record of extremism, and we're going to keep it up — we'll help you host a great party and send people off with new ammunition for their conversations with friends and family. Sign up at http://site.pfaw.org/parties.

  2. Volunteer some of your time to a progressive campaign during the next six weeks. Campaigns need help with voter identification and turnout, and in a close election year, this kind of ground work is vitally important -- and it's a fun way to get to know others in your community who share your political passions. Soon we will have a complete list of the candidates who are endorsed by the People For the American Way Voters Alliance. Click here to affirm your membership with People For in one simple step so we can share those endorsements with you.

  3. Be on the front lines to protect voting rights and democracy. We can help you find a way to volunteer in key states on or before Election Day. Sign up here!  

Let's make sure that on November 5, we're tired but elated!

P.S.  Are you doing something new this election year that you've never done before? Do you have a creative idea for energizing people to take action? Let me know and we'll share some of your stories. You could inspire someone else to take the next step — and you could help turn the tide! E-mail me at Kathryn@pfaw.org.

PFAW

"Macaca" Does Minority Outreach

Considering that George Allen's electoral hopes essentially crashed at the moment he called one of his rival's volunteers "macaca" during a campaign event in Virginia back in 2006, how does the Virginia Republican Party think this is a good idea:  

Northern Virginia Republicans, realizing they need to improve their appeal among the region's large ethnic population, will stage a "unity" rally Saturday that they say will draw 1,000 people.

Organizers said the annual rally, which has grown in recent years, is particularly significant this year because ethnic minorities represent an increasingly powerful voting bloc that will help decide which presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama or Sen. John McCain, wins the state Nov. 4.

...

[Jim Hyland, chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee] said he expects as many as 1,000 supporters to turn out for the event at Edison High School, where former senator George Allen and Reps. Tom Davis and Frank R. Wolf are expected to speak. Former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore III is planning to attend, as is a widely known surrogate from McCain's campaign, organizers said.

PFAW

Holding Goodling Accountable

It seems that at least someone is attempting to hold Monica Goodlling accountable for her law-breaking - from the Richmond Times Dispatch:

A request for a disciplinary investigation of a former U.S. Justice Department official who improperly screened job candidates has been filed with the Virginia State Bar.

Monica Goodling resigned as the department's liaison to the White House last year. A Justice Department investigation recently concluded that she violated civil-service law and department policy by considering political affiliations in hiring decisions.

Lawyer William R. Wilder, who drafted the complaint signed by a dozen other lawyers, said yesterday he was concerned about Goodling's conduct and that she has apparently not been charged with a crime or disciplined elsewhere.

The Sept. 8 letter to the state bar alleges that Goodling violated at least two rules of professional conduct and asks that the state bar start a disciplinary investigation.
 

PFAW

Fourth Circuit Victory For Religious Liberty

If you read my post back in March after the oral argument before the Fourth Circuit in Turner v. City Council of Fredericksburg, Virginia, you know that it was quite an honor to have had retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the three-judge panel. And now Justice O’Connor has written the court’s opinion in the case, a July 23 unanimous decision in favor of our client, the Fredericksburg City Council.

PFAW

Reflections on Mildred Jeter Loving, an American Hero, and the Importance of the Supreme Court

A very heroic woman died yesterday. She probably never wanted to be a hero. She did want to be a wife, though. But back in Virginia in the late 1950s, when Mildred Jeter, a black woman, fell in love with Richard Loving, a white man, and they decided to marry, that was indeed a heroic act. Not only because of society's prejudices, but also because it was a crime — a felony punishable by one to five years in prison.

PFAW

Reflections on Fourth Circuit Oral Argument in Church-State Case

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit does not inform those who argue before it of the identities of the judges on the three-judge panels who will be hearing specific cases until the very morning of the oral argument. And so it was a great surprise — and an even greater honor — to learn yesterday when we walked into the courthouse in Richmond that retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor would be a member of the panel hearing Turner v. City Council of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The other panel members were Fourth Circuit Judges Diana Gribbon Motz and Dennis Shedd.

PFAW