Washington

Hundreds Turn Out at Rally to Support Wisconsin's Working Families

People For the American Way joined a coalition of progressive and labor organizations protesting a high-dollar fundraiser for Wisconsin Republican legislators in Washington D.C. today. After the Republicans pushed through extreme legislation to take away the rights of Wisconsin workers, they came to D.C. for high-dollar fundraiser hosted by a major corporate lobbyist firm, the BGR Group. To show solidarity with the people of Wisconsin, PFAW and activists from around Washington came to the BGR Group’s headquarters for a massive demonstration against union-busting and the GOP’s pro-corporate agenda.


Here are a few pictures from the protest. You can see more on our Facebook page.


PFAW

School Voucher Hypocrisy

In the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes the Speaker of the House to task on his hypocrisy in supporting the slashing of vitally important programs while setting some funds aside for a pet project of his in the District of Columbia.

Let me get this straight. As far as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is concerned, the United States government is "broke," which means we can't afford to pay for key domestic priorities, even if we want to.

Boehner, however, is also convinced that we have federal funds lying around to pay for private school tuition. …

[He] wants U.S. taxpayers to spend $20 million for private school tuition in D.C. over the next five years.

Maybe this is just an extension of Boehner's deep and abiding passion for looking out for struggling children? I have a strong hunch that's not it. After all, the Speaker's budget plan calls for devastating cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, among other things.

If Boehner were motivated solely by a desire to help children and students, these cuts would be off the table. Instead, they remain near the top of the GOP to-do list.

So what's really going on here? It's simply a matter of priorities. Boehner supports brutal spending cuts for most domestic priorities, but he loves vouchers, especially those that benefit Roman Catholic private schools and undermine public education (which his party is growing increasingly hostile towards).

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program certainly does help religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. In other words, the program funnels taxpayer money into religious organizations. In addition to the many other arguments against school vouchers, this program raises significant First Amendment concerns.

Does the Speaker support the program because he thinks it helps students achieve academically? In fact, neutral analyses of the program demonstrate clearly that it simply has not significantly improved the educational attainment of the enrolled students. The Department of Education has concluded that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same for students who applied from schools in need of improvement.

Does the Speaker think that the people of DC want this voucher program? In fact, the city’s mayor opposes it, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and numerous members of the DC Council. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.

So why support a program that the locals don’t want and that the local population’s elected officials have asked you not to impose on them?

Throughout America and within Congress, there are ideologues seeking to privatize education as part of a larger push to privatize a wide swath of core government functions. Other ideologues chafe against the restrictions on government-funded religion that the Founders wisely placed in the First Amendment. So-called “opportunity scholarships” are an opportunity for them, but not for students.

People For the American Way opposes the Speaker’s bill, H.R. 471. It has been passed by committee, and a floor vote is expected near the end of March.

PFAW

Help “Welcome” the Wisconsin GOP to DC this Afternoon!

A bunch of us from the PFAW office will be heading downtown this afternoon to show our support for Wisconsin’s workers, and to tell the state’s GOP legislators what we think of their union busting—in person. Join us! Here’s some info about the rally, in front of the Republican lobbying firm BGR:

Angry about the Republican shenanigans in Wisconsin? Well, now you have the chance to let them know in person!

TODAY (Wednesday), at 5pm, labor, environmental, consumer and civil rights groups will gather for a protest outside a corporate lobbyist fundraiser being held for Wisconsin Republican state and federal lawmakers by the Washington, D.C.-based firm BGR Group.

Please join us there!

What: Protest/speakers outside Wisconsin Republican fundraiser

When: Wednesday, March 16th at 5:00 p.m.

Where: 601 13th Street NW, Washington, D.C.

Last week, Wisconsin Republicans stripped middle class workers of their basic rights under the guise of fixing their state's budget. This week, they are in Washington to receive campaign donations from corporate lobbyists and donors. Wisconsin state Republican lawmakers, including the Senate and House leaders, are expected to attend. Wisconsin's federal delegation was also invited. BGR clients include foreign corporations and governments, health insurers, energy companies and others.

The fundraiser starts at 5:30, so we want to make sure we amass our numbers by 5 and catch some of the legislators on their way in. The event is rain or shine, so please be prepared to take your umbrella if needed.

Hope to see you there!
 

PFAW

Government Shutdown Would Close Courts, with “Dire Consequences”

As if the current judicial vacancy crisis wasn’t enough, now a group of federal judges is warning that a government shutdown over budget issues could lead to courts closing, accused criminals going free, and Americans waiting even longer for access to justice. Judge David Sentelle, chairman of the 27-member Executive Committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference, told reporters that a government shutdown could have “potentially dire consequences” for the courts:

Federal judges would still get paid because under the Constitution, judges’ pay cannot be decreased, Sentelle said. But no other federal employees in the courthouses, like clerks, stenographers, bailiffs and security guards, would get paychecks, making it difficult if not impossible to hear cases, he said.

Also, jury trials would have to end because there would be no money to pay jurors to compensate for them missing work, he said.

If the government shuts down, Sentelle said they would ask essential personnel to work anyway and get their money after a budget is approved. “We’ve been there before and it’s not something you want to ask your employees to do,” Sentelle said.

Without personnel to hear cases, some suspected criminals could be released from prison because their case was not heard before a judge within a required deadline.

A government shutdown would be a one-two punch to the federal courts, which are already severely hampered by a vacancy crisis caused by politically motivated gridlock in the Senate confirmation process. As of March 8, there were almost 100 seats open on the federal bench, 41 of which have been declared “judicial emergencies” by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Too often the courts are forced to be a pawn in political maneuvering in Washington—in this case, with “dire consequences” for ordinary Americans seeking justice.

PFAW

Japanese American Groups Supporting American Muslims in Fight Against Discrimination

The Washington Post today reports on the work some Japanese American groups are doing to support American Muslims, who are increasingly the objects of widespread fear and suspicion because of their faith. These groups see echoes of the persecution Japanese Americans faced during World War II in the scapegoating and vilification of American Muslims, exemplified by the congressional hearings Rep. Peter King is beginning this week:

Spurred by memories of the World War II-era roundup and internment of 110,000 of their own people, Japanese Americans - especially those on the West Coast - have been among the most vocal and passionate supporters of embattled Muslims. They've rallied public support against hate crimes at mosques, signed on to legal briefs opposing the government's indefinite detention of Muslims, organized cross-cultural trips to the Manzanar internment camp memorial near the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, and held "Bridging Communities" workshops in Islamic schools and on college campuses.

Last week, Rep. Michael M. Honda (D-Calif.), who as a child spent several wartime years living behind barbed wire at Camp Amache in southeastern Colorado, denounced King's hearings as "something similarly sinister."

"Rep. King's intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia," Honda wrote in an op-ed published by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Last November, in the heat of the debate over the Park51 Islamic community center in lower Manhattan (aka the “Ground Zero Mosque”), former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens spoke [pdf] about the parallel between the prejudice Japanese Americans faced during World War II the demonization that American Muslims are facing today. Stevens, a WWII veteran, recalled a visit to Pearl Harbor in 1994, when he spotted a group of Japanese tourists and had to fight his first reaction, which was that “those people really don’t belong here”:

But then, after a period of reflection, some of those New Yorkers may have had second thoughts, just as I did at the Arizona. The Japanese tourists were not responsible for what some of their countrymen did decades ago; the Muslims planning to build the mosque are not responsible for what an entirely different group of Muslims did on 9/11. Indeed, terrorists like those who killed over 3, 000 Americans -including Catholics , Jews , Protestants, atheists and some of the 600 ,000 Muslims who live in New York -have also killed many more Muslims who disagree with their radical views in other parts of the world. Many of the Muslims who pray in New York mosques may well have come to America to escape the intolerance of radicals like those who dominate the Taliban. Descendants of pilgrims who came to America in the 17th century to escape religious persecutions -as well as those who thereafter joined the American political experiment that those people of faith helped launch -should understand why American Muslims should enjoy the freedom to build their places of worship wherever permitted by local zoning laws.

Our Constitution protects everyone of us from being found guilty of wrongdoing based on the conduct of our associates. Guilt by association is unfair. The monument teaches us that it is also profoundly unwise to draw inferences based on a person's membership in any association or group without first learning something about the group. Its message is a powerful reminder of the fact that ignorance -that is to say, fear of the unknown -is the source of most invidious prejudice.


PFAW

The Corporate Discount: Who the Republican Spending Cuts Really Benefit

In the Huffington Post today, People For the American Way's President Michael Keegan connects the extreme pro-corporate policies being pushed by federal and state GOP officials with the new liberty that corporations have to buy influence in elections:

One year after Citizens United v. FEC, when the Supreme Court opened American elections to a corporate spending free-for-all, elected officials in Washington and in statehouses around the country are pushing a stunning set of financial policies that, if passed, will provide a windfall for giant corporations at the expense of already-hurting individual taxpayers. Largely proposed under the guise of financial responsibility, these proposals threaten job creation and essential government services while ensuring the coffers of corporations remain untouched.

American taxpayers are beginning to fight back against some of the most egregious proposals, such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's attempt to bust public employee unions and the House GOP's slashing of funding for women's health care. But as long as corporations can buy unlimited political influence, these battles will only escalate and they will continue to be just as lopsided.

In the coming weeks, we will see the interests of corporate funders and the interests of individual taxpayers go head-to-head as Congress and the president attempt to hammer out a continuing spending resolution that will keep the government running for the rest of the year. The Republican House wants to block funds to reproductive health services, gut the Affordable Care Act, and even prevent the Environmental Protection Bureau from regulating pollution -- all while costing an estimated 700,000 American jobs. The winners in the House's proposal? Large corporations and the wealthy, who under the proposal astoundingly would not even be asked to give up a single tax loophole.

Read the whole thing here.

PFAW

GOP’s Corporate Backers Intent on Busting Unions, Not Solving Budget Problems

In both Wisconsin and Ohio, Republican governors are attempting to rush through legislation that would devastate workers’ rights that would in reality do little to help close their states’ budget shortfalls. Behind their proposals to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights is actually a political power play to diminish the voice of organized labor in American politics, a move sponsored by corporate interest groups.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s desire to eliminate collective bargaining has more to do with political baiting than sound fiscal policy.

For example, Walker specifically exempts the four public employee unions that endorsed his gubernatorial bid in his plan to eliminate collective bargaining. Labor law professor Paul Secunda of Marquette University called it “the worst type of favoritism there could be.” And despite his claim to be a fiscal hawk, the Governor pushed through costly corporate giveaways that jeopardized the state’s balanced budget and rejected a Republican’s compromise bill that would permit only a temporary curb on collective bargaining while preserve unions’ financial concessions.

History shows that states that stripped their public employees’ collective bargaining rights did nothing to solve their fiscal problems. Policy Matters Ohio notes that while Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri recently eliminated public workers’ bargaining rights, “the budget shortfalls of these states in 2010 ranged from 10.6 percent of general revenue fund (Indiana) to 14.5 percent (Kentucky) to 22.7 percent (Missouri), mirroring the fiscal crisis of states across the nation.”

Rather than solve the budget problems, doing away with a key right of workers only advances the agenda of the corporate interests funding Republican campaigns.

Jonathan Salant of Bloomberg looked into the ties between virulently anti-labor corporations like Koch Industries and Wal-Mart and the radical GOP proposals in Wisconsin and Ohio:

Koch, a closely held energy and chemical company based in Wichita, Kansas, is controlled by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. Along with other corporations, Koch Industries has often opposed organized labor on regulation and free trade, Holman said. Now they see a chance to cripple unions in the name of balancing budgets, he said.

The $1.2 million in Koch support for Republican governors includes $1.1 million given to the Republican Governors Association, which spent more than $3.4 million in support of Walker, according to Common Cause, a Washington-based advocacy group that opposes the governor’s proposal.

In addition, Koch gave $43,000 directly to Walker, his single largest corporate source; $11,000 to the Wisconsin Republican party; $22,000 to Kasich; and $34,000 to the Ohio Republicans.

Koch also supported the 2008 campaign of Indiana’s Daniels, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The Republican Governors Association, which received $25,000 from Koch, was the biggest source of campaign cash for Daniels, institute records show.

In addition, Americans for Prosperity spent $1.2 million in support of Republican candidates for Congress last year, Federal Election Commission records show. Koch Industries’ federal political action committee contributed $1.3 million to candidates for the 2010 elections, 90 percent of it to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Bentonville, Arkansas, subject of a campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, also contributed to the campaigns of Walker and Daniels, and donated more than $340,000 to the Republican Governors Association for the 2010 elections, according to the Internal Revenue Service and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
PFAW

Bruesewitz v. Wyeth: As Sotomayor Comes Out Strong Against Pro-Corporate Judicial Activism, Scalia May Have Met His Match

There is something wearily predictable about Justice Scalia’s straitjacket reinterpretation of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (NCVIA) to eliminate the possibility of injured families suing manufacturers for design defects in vaccines. Justice Scalia brings his trademark sleight-of-hand to the task of explaining why the law does not provide for citizens what it obviously does provide and offers his well-developed rhetorical polish and high-minded sarcasm as a way to assure everyone that there is no reasonable alternative to his vigorous rewrite of the law in the interest of corporate immunity. Ah, another federal law, another judicial gloss for the corporations: business-as-usual on the Roberts Court.

What is startling and refreshing about this decision is that Justice Scalia has finally met his match in Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who comes out swinging hard in her powerful dissenting opinion against this aggressive pro-corporate judicial activism and impressionistic rewrite of the statute at hand. It seems that Justice Sotomayor is finding her voice defending popular legislation and democratic rights against the finger-painting and cut-and-paste rewrites of legislation that have become the specialty of free-wheeling conservative Justices.

Consider the numerous hard and effective punches Justice Sotomayor’s throws back at Justice Scalia here, quoting Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the “plain text and structure” of the statute, and the essential canons of statutory construction, to show who the real “judicial activists” are:

She starts off by blowing the whistle on Justice Scalia’s substitution of his political views for those of Congress: “In holding that the . . . Act pre-empts all design defect claims for injuries stemming from vaccines covered under the Act, the Court imposes its bare policy preference over the considered judgment of Congress.”

After a masterful explanation of the Act and why it permits causes of action related to design defects, Justice Sotomayor writes: “In contrast to the interpretation . . . set forth above, the majority’s interpretation does considerable violence to the statutory text, misconstrues the legislative history, and draws the wrong conclusions from the structure of the Vaccine Act . . .”

And, to leave no doubt about what has just taken place to rob the Bruesewitz family--whose daughter suffered more than 100 seizures after being vaccinated with the DTP vaccine made by Lederle Laboratories--of its fair day in court, she concludes that “whatever the merits of the majority’s policy preference, the decision to bar all design defect claims against vaccine manufacturers is one that Congress must make, not this Court.”

It’s good to know that Justice Sotomayor at least has woken up to the fact that we are headed at a high speed right back into a Lochner-era jurisprudence where conservative Justices work overtime to undo progressive legislation and substitute their own authoritarian judgments for democratic decision-making. The combination of this judicial assault on popularly enacted statutes with the decision in the Citizens United case to arm private corporations with political campaign spending rights under the First Amendment makes for a pretty scary polity and economy. We need more judges and Justices like Justice Sotomayor to stand up for democracy and the rule of law.

Jamie Raskin is a Maryland state senator, constitutional law professor at American University's Washington College of Law, and Senior Fellow at People For the American Way.

PFAW

Obama Rescinds Dangerous Bush-Era "Conscience Regulation"

Earlier today, the Obama Administration rescinded most of a Bush-era "conscience clause" regulation that gave special legal rights to health workers who refuse to provide care they find objectionable on personal or religious grounds. Under the Bush rule, hospitals, health plans, and clinics would lose federal funding unless they allowed doctors and other employees to refuse to provide medical care that violated their personal, moral, or religious beliefs. As reported in the Washington Post:

The Health and Human Services Department eliminated nearly the entire rule put into effect by the administration of President George W. Bush during his final days in office that was widely interpreted as allowing such workers to opt out of a broad range of medical services, such as providing the emergency contraceptive Plan B, treating gay men and lesbians and prescribing birth control to single women. ...

The rule was sought by conservative groups, which argued that workers were increasingly being fired, disciplined or penalized in other ways for trying to exercise their "right of conscience."

Women's health advocates, family-planning proponents, abortion rights activists and others had condemned the regulation, saying it created a major obstacle to providing many health services, including abortion, access to the emergency contraception Plan B, birth control pills and other forms of family planning, as well as infertility treatment and possibly a wide range of scientific research. Advocates for end-of-life care also said it could enable doctors, nurses and others to refuse to honor patients' wishes.

Hospitals and other healthcare providers should not be denied the freedom to put the needs of their patients first. If a woman who has been raped needs emergency contraception, a hospital should have the right to actually require its employees to provide that essential care, regardless of their personal beliefs. When a patient needs medical help in an emergency, she shouldn't have to keep her fingers crossed that she happens to get a doctor whose religious beliefs don't clash with hers. When a family has to make an agonizing end of life decision, they should be able to do what's best for their loved one, not what's best for a complete stranger. Medical organizations should be able to hold themselves out as reliable providers of the services they offer.

Under the Bush rule, such entities were forced to run their operations in a way that put people's health - especially women's health - at severe risk, just to please the religious right.

It is important to note that the Obama Administration's move comes on the same day that the House of Representatives voted to deny all federal funding to Planned Parenthood clinics.

The religious right's war against women's rights goes on.

PFAW

Anti-Equality Testimony May Have Backfired in Maryland

Yesterday in Maryland, both equality advocates and far right groups testified before a state senate panel considering a marriage equality bill. Opponents of the bill offered their standard arguments against marriage equality. And those arguments did succeed in giving at least one legislator second thoughts.

But not in the way the far right hoped.

State Sen. James Brochin had earlier this week announced that he would vote against the bill. Yet he was so moved by the vitriol of the bill's opponents that he is now considering changing his position and voting in favor of marriage equality. As the Baltimore Sun's Maryland Politics blog reports:

Baltimore County Sen. James Brochin found the testimony Tuesday by opponents of gay marriage "troubling," and said this morning that he may support the bill. The Baltimore County Democrat had previously said he was against same-sex marriage.

"The demonization of gay families really bothered me," Brochin said. "Are these families going to continue to be treated by the law as second class citizens?"

The Washington Post adds:

Brochin said in [a] news release that he was moved by testimony at the hearing, particularly that of the bill's opponents, which he called "appalling."

"Witness after witness demonized homosexuals, vilified the gay community and described gays and lesbians as pedophiles," Brochin said.

The testimony of the far right – their own opinions in their own words – has pushed a legislator from the “no” column into the “maybe” column. It's too early to say for sure how Senator Brochin will vote on the issue, but his reaction to the ugliness of the arguments against equality speaks volumes.

PFAW

Senate Confirms Three Judges…But What About the 99 Vacancies Left?

Last night, the Senate struck an agreement to confirm three of President Obama’s non-controversial judicial nominees. That’s great—but, as of this morning, it leaves 99 seats on the federal judiciary left to fill. And, as the long road to last night’s three easy confirmations shows, if the Senate’s behavior with judicial nominations doesn’t change, that number is not going to dwindle fast.

The stories behind the three nominees confirmed last night clearly illustrate the Senate dysfunction that has led to one in nine seats on the federal judiciary being vacant. Marco Hernandez, an Oregon judge, was first nominated to the federal district court in 2008…by George W. Bush. When President Obama renominated him July, 2010, he did not receive a vote in the Senate. When his nomination finally went to a vote yesterday, after three years and three nominations, he was confirmed unanimously.

Attorney Paul Kinloch Holmes was nominated for the federal bench in Arkansas in April, 2010. His nomination stalled all last year in the Senate, and President Obama renominated him last month. He was confirmed without a single dissenting vote. Diana Saldana of Texas, also confirmed without dissent last night, had also been nominated twice and seen her nomination languish on the Senate floor for almost a year.

The Washington Post today reports on the crisis in the federal judiciary created by the Senate’s failure to confirm judges at the rate that they’re retiring:

The crisis is most acute along the southwestern border, where immigration and drug cases have overwhelmed court officials. Arizona recently declared a judicial emergency, extending the deadline to put defendants on trial. The three judges in Tucson, the site of last month's shooting rampage, are handling about 1,200 criminal cases apiece.

"It's a dire situation," said Roslyn O. Silver, the state's chief judge.

In central Illinois, three of the four judgeships remain vacant after two of President Obama's nominees did not get a vote on the Senate floor.

Chief Judge Michael McCuskey said he is commuting 90 miles between Urbana and Springfield and relying on two 81-year-old "senior" judges to fill the gap. "I had a heart attack six years ago, and my cardiologist told me recently, 'You need to reduce your stress,' '' he said. "I told him only the U.S. Senate can reduce my stress.''

As we’ve pointed out here before, the judicial crisis is about far more than the health of overworked judges. Overworked courts mean slower access to justice for citizens:

The effect is most visible in civil cases, with delays of up to three years in resolving discrimination claims, corporate disputes and other lawsuits.

"Ultimately, I think people will lose faith in the rule of law,'' said Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in California. "We as a nation believe that if you have a dispute, you go to court and within a reasonable period of time, you get a decision.''

Ultimately, it’s ordinary citizens who pay for the Senate’s failure to perform one of its simplest and most essential tasks—ensuring the fairness and functioning of the federal judiciary.
 

PFAW

Progressive Coalition Stands Up for Planned Parenthood

A diverse coalition of twenty six progressive groups, including People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action, signed on to a letter to Congress standing up for Planned Parenthood against right-wing attacks originating from the radical anti-choice group Live Action. Politico reports:

Liberal groups are banding together to come to the defense of Planned Parenthood in the wake of the recent controversy over videos taped inside the clinics. Conservative groups say that the films provide more than enough evidence for Congress to immediately de-fund the women’s health centers.



“We realized very quickly we needed to get together and stand up against the right wing smear machine and make a strong statement in solidarity with an important organization,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for People for the American Way, another progressive group that signed onto the letter. “The bigger picture is too important- that’s why you see such a range of organizations on this letter.”

Read the letter below:

Dear Members of Congress,

Right-wing groups are once again attempting to destroy an organization dedicated to providing crucial primary care services to Americans that need them most. Armed with heavily edited videos, countless lies, and a shameless echo chamber that repeats unfounded accusations ad nauseam, they’ve now turned their sights to Planned Parenthood, which offers a range of important health and reproductive services that help both women and men prevent unintended pregnancies and provide screenings for cervical and other cancers.

We are writing to inform you that our organizations stand united in opposition to any effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

These attacks are not about the issue of choice. Instead they are designed to systematically vilify and destroy institutions dedicated to helping America’s most vulnerable citizens with "evidence" that does not support their claims. They're about disempowering those who don’t share their world view. And they're about intimidating those in desperate need of help.

Your constituents sent you to Washington to be a strong advocate for their interests and stand up for the quintessential American values of justice and fairness -- and this latest digital witch hunt is neither just nor fair.

Sincerely,

Julian Bond, Board Chairman Emeritus, NAACP

Accountable America

African American Ministers in Action

Alliance for Justice

Center for Community Change

Center for Media & Democracy

Common Cause

Courage Campaign

CREDO Action

Demos

EMILY's List

Feminist Majority Foundation

Friends of the Earth

Keystone Progress

Media Matters Action Network

Midwest Academy

MoveOn.org Political Action

NARAL Pro-Choice America

National People's Action

People For the American Way

ProgressNow

Project Vote

Public Campaign

Service Employees International Union

Sierra Club

USAction

Voices for Progress
PFAW

PFAW Calls On Smithsonian Secretary to Step Down

People For the American Way has called on Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough to resign following his handling of a censorship controversy that resulted in a work of art being removed from one of the Smithsonian’s museums. In the Huffington Post today, People For’s president, Michael Keegan, writes:

The controversy around "Hide/Seek" will not be an isolated incident. Instead, with the rise of the Tea Party and the GOP takeover of the House, the far right has found new and stronger voices in its effort to rewrite American history, redefine American values and narrow the range of the American experience. House Speaker John Boehner has already promised "tough scrutiny" of the Smithsonian's budget--and, presumably, its collections and research. Like with the right-wing campaigns against climate science and American Muslims, the campaign against the Smithsonian is likely to be loud and sensationalized. The institution, one of our greatest national resources, deserves a leader who will stand up for its integrity and fight for its future, not one who will so easily cave to the political pressures of the moment.

The Smithsonian’s board will be meeting in Washington on Monday. We’ll be joining ART+ there in a demonstration calling for Clough’s ouster. If you’re interested in joining the demonstration, details are here.

People For has also joined with a dozen other anti-censorship organizations to recommend [pdf] that the Smithsonian’s board adopt a set of policies to protect free expression when similar issues arise:

We urge you to adopt explicit policies that uphold First Amendment principles, as well as a procedure for responding to complaints, whether coming from the general public or from elected politicians. The latter entails creating an open process of careful review and discussion, which should take into account the facts that

  1. members of the American public hold diverse beliefs and values,

  2. that some of the most vital issues facing us are subject to controversy,

  3. and that controversy in a museum setting, when handled well, can productively illuminate such issues and advance public dialogue.

 

PFAW

Justice Scalia Teaches at Michele Bachmann's Constitution School

People For's president, Michael Keegan, has a piece it the Huffington Post today on Justice Antonin Scalia's visit to Rep. Michele Bachmann's Constitution class:

Yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia traveled to the Capitol to teach a class about the Constitution to members of Congress, led by controversial Tea Party caucus chairwoman Michele Bachmann. Justice Scalia's participation in Bachmann's Constitution school has prompted a heated debate about the proper relationship between Supreme Court justices and political leaders. But the real debate that should be raging is not about judicial ethics, but about the dubious vision of the Constitution that Scalia and leaders of the Tea Party will be discussing.

As Jonathan Turley pointed out in the Washington Post this weekend, while Supreme Court Justices across the ideological spectrum have taken on increasingly prominent public roles, Scalia has become a true "celebrity justice." But Scalia's pugnacious celebrity is in service of a distorted and bizarre reinterpretation of the Constitution championed by the Tea Party movement.

Although the Tea Party seeks to wrap the Constitutional founding in religious doctrine and intention, this view conveniently ignores the Establishment Clause, the clause forbidding religious tests for public office, and the fact that neither the Bible nor God is mentioned in the Constitution's text. Meanwhile, the Tea Party's Constitution offers very few of the hard-won protections ensuring equal rights and liberties for all Americans, and all but eliminates the power of government to protect and empower its citizens in interstate commerce. Tea Party candidates across America in 2010 also called for repeal of the 16th Amendment (making federal income taxation possible), the 17th Amendment (providing for direct popular election of U.S. Senators), and parts of the 14th Amendment.

Bachmann's Constitution classes are not so much an introduction to the founding documents, but to a new interpretation of the Constitution that mirrors the Tea Party's radical political agenda.

Read the whole thing here.

PFAW

Senator Max Baucus Introduces Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United

While Republicans in Washington are celebrating the anniversary of Citizens United by threatening to scrap the public finance system for elections and allow corporations to donate directly to candidates, Senator Max Baucus of Montana is standing up with the vast majority of Americans who want to see Congress curb the enormous political clout of corporations and overturn Citizens United. Yesterday, Senator Baucus said he will reintroduce a Constitutional Amendment that would give elected officials the right to regulate corporate contributions to political organizations and reverse the Court’s sweeping ruling:

“The foundation of democracy is based on the ability of the people to elect a government that represents them - the people, not big business or foreign corporations. As Montanans, we learned our lesson almost a century ago when the copper kings used their corporate power to drown out the people and buy elections. Today, we have some of the toughest campaign finance laws in the land, and they work. Now we've got to fight to protect the voices on hard-working Montanans and keep elections in the hands of the people, and that's just what I intend to do,” Baucus said.

In the Citizen’s United case, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations, including foreign corporations, had the right to spend unlimited dollars from their general funds to make independent expenditures at any time during an election cycle - including directly calling for the election or defeat of a candidate.

As a result of the Supreme Court's ruling, Montana's century-old campaign finance laws limiting corporate spending are now also in jeopardy.

Baucus’ Constitutional amendment would restore the authority to regulate corporate political expenditure and protect states' right to regulate contributions in the way that works best for them. The amendment does not modify the First Amendment, and the language specifies that this does not affect freedom of the press in any way.
PFAW

More Voices Call For a Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United as Ruling’s Anniversary Approaches

Friday is the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which helped unleash massive corporate spending in the 2010 elections, and more voices have emerged to denounce the Court’s wrongheaded and extreme ruling. The decision’s impact on public policy debates became more apparent today as the House of Representatives prepares to vote to repeal the health care reform law after pro-corporate groups spent handsomely to discredit the law with bogus charges and attack Congressmen which supported reform.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, along with companies like Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms and Honest Tea, have launched Business for Democracy, “a coalition of like-minded businesses to protest a Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on corporate campaign spending in candidate elections.” The Wall Street Journal reports that “members of ‘Business for Democracy’ believe ‘the decision is inconsistent with the basic ideal of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’" and support a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision.

In today’s Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel discussed how the vast corporate spending to influence the midterm elections was “just an experiment” compared to how corporations plan to sway the 2012 election. But despite the push by pro-corporate groups to keep spending by businesses in elections unchecked, the efforts for legislative remedies and the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United persevere:

According to Bill de Blasio, New York City's public advocate, Citizens United spending - that is, spending that was only made possible by the court's ruling - accounted for 15 percent of the roughly $4 billion spent on the 2010 midterm elections. Eighty-five million dollars of Citizens United money was spent on U.S. Senate races alone. Worse, 30 percent of all spending by outside groups was funded by anonymous donations, an illegal action prior to the ruling. Forty million of the dollars spent on Senate races came from sources that might never be revealed.

But as striking as these consequences might be, the 2010 election was just an experiment, the first opportunity to test the new law. In future elections, corporations and shadowy organizations will have a clearer understanding of the boundaries they are operating within, a reality that is sure to translate into more undisclosed cash. And the savvier corporate players know that the mere threat of a corporate onslaught of funding for or against a candidate is enough to win legislative favor, in effect blunting prospects for sound regulation, consumer protection and fair tax policies. As former senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), himself a victim of Citizens United spending, said, "It is going to be worse in 2012 unless we do something - much worse."

Yet even as we lament this decision, we should recognize the opportunity it presents. Justice Roberts and his allies overreached so brazenly that they have created an opening for genuine reform.



The clearest and boldest counter to the court's ruling would be a constitutional amendment stating unequivocally that corporations are not people and do not have the right to buy elections. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) introduced such an amendment to counter Citizens United during the last session of Congress and views it as the only sure way to beat back the court. "Justice Brandeis got it right," she noted last February. " 'We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.' "

Campaigns for constitutional amendments demand a great deal of patience and tenacity. But as Jamie Raskin, a Democratic Maryland state senator and professor of constitutional law at American University, notes, "American citizens have repeatedly amended the Constitution to defend democracy when the Supreme Court acts in collusion with democracy's enemies." Not only is a push for an amendment a worthy act, it also provides a unique opportunity to educate the broader public, raise the profile of this important issue and force elected officials to go on record as to where they stand. The campaign could create enormous pressure on state legislatures and Congress, prompting changes to campaign finance even before an amendment is ratified.

Success will require a coalition that transcends party. In this case, there is promising news. An August 2010 Survey USA poll found that 77 percent of all voters - including 70 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of independents - view corporate spending in elections as akin to bribery. Broad majorities favor limiting corporate control over our political lives. A coordinated effort, executed right, could unite progressives, good-government reformers and conservative libertarians in a fight to restore democracy.
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Cue the Violins: Inanimate Corporations Have Feelings, Too

On Wednesday, in a case involving the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the nation's corporate giants are asking the Supreme Court to rule that they have a right to "personal privacy" just as people do. If the Corporate Court ignores the ordinary meaning of the term "personal privacy" and grants corporations their wish to have the same rights as people, as in Citizens United, corporations will be able to block the news media and government watchdogs from accessing important government records that corporations would prefer remain hidden.

The case started several years ago, when the FCC investigated alleged overcharges by AT&T. After the investigation, AT&T's competitors filed a FOIA request to get the FCC to release documents on what they had found. The FCC said it would not disclose confidential commercial information about AT&T, pursuant to a specific exemption in the FOIA statute. However, the company argued that certain additional material would cause the company embarrassment and therefore fell into a separate statutory FOIA exemption - Exemption 7(C) - allowing government agencies not to disclose material compiled for law enforcement purposes that would "constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

The FCC ruled that Exemption 7(C) does not cover a corporation's "privacy interest," noting that a corporation's interests are of necessity business interests, not privacy ones.

However, the agency was overruled by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that FOIA's statutory language "unambiguously" indicates that a corporation may have a personal privacy interest within the meaning of this FOIA exemption. The court said that:

  • FOIA defines "person" to include a corporation; and
  • the term "personal" is derived from the word "person" and is simply the adjectival form of the word.

Therefore, the court reasoned, corporations have personal privacy under the FOIA exemption. And because this interpretation was unambiguous, the court said statutory purpose, legislative history, and contrary case law from other circuits were not relevant.

Nevertheless, it did devote a footnote apiece to these three factors and claimed they were not inconsistent with its interpretation. For instance:

Finally, the [DC Circuit Court of Appeals] in Washington Post noted that Exemption 7(C) concerns only "intimate" details, including "marital status, legitimacy of children, identity of fathers of children, medical condition, welfare payments, alcoholic consumption, family fights, and reputation." But a corporation, too, has a strong interest in protecting its reputation.

Cue the violins: Inanimate corporations have feelings, too.

Numerous corporate interests, including the Chamber of Commerce, have filed amicus briefs in support of AT&T, arguing that inanimate corporations have "personal privacy."

If the Roberts Court - with Justice Kagan recused - rules in favor of AT&T, it will significantly weaken the ability of news organizations and government watchdogs to examine government records containing vital information about corporate behavior affecting public health and safety – records that would otherwise remain hidden from the American people. In addition, the Court may seize the opportunity to lay the legal groundwork for treating inanimate corporations like people in other respects.

At least before Pinocchio became human, he had to prove himself truthful and unselfish. Here, in contrast, we have profit-seeking entities asking for humanity so they can hide their embarrassing conduct.

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DC Voting Rights: First Test for Newly Elected Tea Partiers

Many of the new members of Congress campaigned under the Tea Party banner, loudly warning their future constituents about the grave dangers of tyranny.

As one of the very first acts they will take as members of Congress, they will be asked by party leaders to eliminate the already-limited representation that residents of Washington DC have on the floor of the House. These taxpaying American citizens will have to comply with the laws this new Congress passes, yet their right to be represented in that body may be taken away completely.

Some might say this is the very definition of tyranny.

It's unquestionably an anathema to the principles of the American Revolution, which the Tea Party claims to support.

So this will be an educational opportunity for the entire country. Will the Tea Party members of Congress be true to the principles they claim to hold? Or, now that they are comfortably ensconced in power, will they abandon those principles when directed to by their Party leaders?

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2008’s Court

David Savage of the Los Angeles Times and Adam Liptak of the New York Times both examined this week how president Obama’s two Supreme Court picks are changing the dynamic of the high court. “Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan,” writes Savage, “have joined the fray and reenergized the liberal wing.”

Gone are the mismatches where the Scalia wing overshadowed reserved and soft-spoken liberals like now-retired Justices David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens. Instead, the liberals often take the lead and press attorneys defending the states or corporations.

"They're clearly on a roll," said Washington attorney Lisa S. Blatt, who has argued regularly before the high court. "They are engaged and really active. It just feels like a different place."

That dynamic was on display this fall, when a court that leans conservative on cases of crime and punishment heard California's appeal in a case where a panel of three federal judges had ordered the release of about 40,000 prisoners. The state's lawyer stepped to the lectern with reason to expect a friendly reception.

The order is "extraordinary and unprecedented," Carter G. Phillips began, and "extraordinarily premature" because the state was not given enough time to solve its prison problems.

But Sotomayor soon cut him off.

"Slow down from the rhetoric," she said, launching into a withering discussion of the state's 20-year history of severe prison overcrowding and "the needless deaths" from poor medical care.

Kagan picked up the theme, contending that the state had spent years fighting with the judges but not solving the problem. It's too late now for "us to re-find the facts," Kagan said. The California judges had delved into the details for 20 years, and it was time now to decide whether the remedy was right, she said.

While Kagan, due to her recent role as the administration’s Solicitor General, has had to sit out many of the most contentious cases since she took her seat on the court, Sotomayor has clearly shown herself “alert to the humanity of the people whose cases make their way to the Supreme Court,” writes Liptak. He looks at the three opinions Sotomayor has written commenting on the court’s decision not to hear particular cases:

Justice Sotomayor wrote three of the opinions, more than any other justice, and all concerned the rights of criminal defendants or prisoners. The most telling one involved a Louisiana prisoner infected with H.I.V. No other justice chose to join it.

The prisoner, Anthony C. Pitre, had stopped taking his H.I.V. medicine to protest his transfer from one facility to another. Prison officials responded by forcing him to perform hard labor in 100-degree heat. That punishment twice sent Mr. Pitre to the emergency room.

The lower courts had no sympathy for Mr. Pitre’s complaints, saying he had brought his troubles on himself.

Justice Sotomayor saw things differently.

“Pitre’s decision to refuse medication may have been foolish and likely caused a significant part of his pain,” she wrote. “But that decision does not give prison officials license to exacerbate Pitre’s condition further as a means of punishing or coercing him — just as a prisoner’s disruptive conduct does not permit prison officials to punish the prisoner by handcuffing him to a hitching post.”

In the courtroom, she was no less outraged at the argument in a case concerning prison conditions in California, peppering a lawyer for the state with heated questions.

“When are you going to avoid the needless deaths that were reported in this record?” she asked. “When are you going to avoid or get around people sitting in their feces for days in a dazed state?”

In her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kagan praised her former employer and mentor Justice Thurgood Marshall, saying his “whole life was about seeing the courts take seriously claims that were not taken seriously anyplace else.” Obama’s appointment of two justices who follow vocally in his path may be one of the most profound and lasting results of the 2008 elections.
 

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Judge Said to Have Made "Obvious and Significant Error" In Health Care Ruling

Once people had time to look past the headlines and actually read this week's opinion striking down a key component of the Affordable Care Act, a number of them are pointing out what they consider a serious flaw in Judge Hudson's reasoning. The key error, they claim, is when the judge wrote:

If a person's decision not to purchase health insurance at a particular point in time does not constitute the type of economic activity subject to regulation under the Commerce Clause, then logically an attempt to enforce such provision under the Necessary and Proper Clause is equally offensive to the Constitution.

Calling the opinion "Amateur Hour," Talking Points Memo writes:

Legal experts are attacking Judge Henry Hudson's decision on the merits, citing an elementary logical flaw at the heart of his opinion. And that has conservative scholars -- even ones sympathetic to the idea that the mandate is unconstitutional -- prepared to see Hudson's decision thrown out.

"I've had a chance to read Judge Hudson's opinion, and it seems to me it has a fairly obvious and quite significant error," writes Orin Kerr, a professor of law at George Washington University, on the generally conservative law blog The Volokh Conspiracy.

Kerr and others note that Hudson's argument against Congress' power to require people to purchase health insurance rests on a tautology. ...

The Necessary and Proper Clause allows Congress to take steps beyond those listed in the Constitution to achieve its Constitutional ends, including the regulation of interstate commerce. Hudson's argument wipes a key part of the Constitution out of existence. Kerr says Hudson "rendered [it] a nullity."

Kerr's co-blogger, Case Western Reserve University Law Professor Jonathan Adler agreed, though he cautioned that Hudson's error doesn't necessarily imply that the mandate is constitutional.

In an interview with TPM this morning, Timothy Jost of Washington and Lee University, a supporter of the mandate, called the logic on this point "completely redundant."

Ouch.

Steve Benen in the Washington Monthly wrote:

That's a rather bizarre legal analysis.

"Bizarre" is one way to describe it. Perhaps another way would be "outcome-based judicial activism."

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