Ken Buck, one of a handful of Senate candidates this year riding a wave of Tea Party support to victory in his Republican primary, is no stranger to extremism. Yet the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll in Colorado shows him leading Sen. Michael Bennet (D) in the U.S. Senate race, 49% to 40%.
It's still early and poll numbers are changing daily, but these latest results are all the more reason why it's important for the public to know that Buck, while running in his primary:
said voters should pick him because he does not "wear high heels" (his primary opponent was a woman),
said of Social Security and Medicare, "the idea that the federal government should be running healthcare or retirement or any of those programs is fundamentally against what I believe and that is that the private sector runs programs like that far better," and
questioned the constitutionality of Social Security, displaying a flawed Tea Party-understanding of the Constitution that even former Bush speech writer and conservative Washington Post op-ed columnist Michael Gerson thinks is scary and could be "toxic" for the GOP.
Buck also called the "progressive liberal movement" is the "largest threat" to the country, saying it poses a bigger threat than al Qaeda or Iran.
Senator Bennet is just one solidly progressive Senator facing a tough challenge from a radically far-right challenger. Just another piece of evidence that progressives have our work cut out for us this election. We here at People For hope you'll stand with us to rise to the challenge.
Suhail A. Khan, who served as a liaison to faith communities in George W. Bush’s White House, writes this week in Foreign Policy that he finds himself increasingly alone as a Muslim Republican. Many American Muslims have conservative values, Khan writes, but the GOP won’t win their support “until the party finds leadership willing to stop playing to the worst instincts of its minority of bigoted supporters”:
In recent weeks, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and other prominent Republicans have loudly voiced their opposition to the proposed Cordoba House project near ground zero in lower Manhattan, fanning the flames of a protest that has since spread into a more generalized criticism of Muslim institutions in the United States. But even before this month's controversy, the exodus of Muslim Americans from the Republican Party was nearly complete. In 2008, this country's more than 7 million Muslims voted in record numbers, and nearly 90 percent of their votes went to Obama.
It wasn't always this way. Muslim Americans are, by and large, both socially and economically conservative. Sixty-one percent of them would ban abortion except to save the life of the mother; 84 percent support school choice. Muslims overwhelmingly support traditional marriage. More than a quarter -- over twice the national average -- are self-employed small-business owners, and most support reducing taxes and the abolition of the estate tax. By all rights they should be Republicans -- and not long ago they were. American Muslims voted two to one for George H.W. Bush in 1992. While they went for Bill Clinton by the same margin in 1996, they were brought back into the Republican fold in 2000 by George W. Bush.
Kahn compares the GOP’s current alienation of Muslim Americans to the party’s history with Hispanics. George W. Bush won 44% of the Hispanic vote in 2004; in 2008, with the GOP ramping up its anti-immigrant rhetoric, only 31% of Hispanics voted for John McCain.
In the Washington Post today, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson writes of what are likely to be the far-reaching unintended consequences of the GOP’s embrace of the Tea Party’s more nativist and xenophobic strands:
[A] question of Tea Party candidates: Do you believe that American identity is undermined by immigration? An internal debate has broken out on this issue among Tea Party favorites. Tom Tancredo, running for Colorado governor, raises the prospect of bombing Mecca, urges the president to return to his Kenyan "homeland" and calls Miami a "Third World country" -- managing to offend people on four continents. Dick Armey of FreedomWorks appropriately criticizes Tancredo's "harsh and uncharitable and mean-spirited attitude on the immigration issue." But the extremes of the movement, during recent debates on birthright citizenship and the Manhattan mosque, seem intent on depicting Hispanics and Muslims as a fifth column.
There is no method more likely to create ethnic resentment and separatism than unfair suspicion. The nativist impulse is the enemy of assimilation. In a nation where minorities now comprise two-fifths of children under 18, Republicans should also understand that tolerating nativism would bring slow political asphyxiation.
The Tea Party is undoubtedly on a bit of a roll. Last night, Sarah Palin-endorsed Tea Party candidates won (or look likely to win) Republican primaries in Alaska, Arizona, and Florida as did John McCain, who compromised many of his famed “maverick” positions to compete with a far right-wing challenger. And extreme right-wingers Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, and Rand Paul have already grasped their party’s nominations after campaigns tinged with racially divisive rhetoric.
The Tea Party movement is not all about the politics of fear and exclusion—but to the extent that it is, it may face a limited, if dangerous, shelf life. For many on the far Right, short-term political expedience trumps doing what is right; but doing what is wrong may have long-term political consequences.
Even after the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision rolled back longstanding state and federal laws that attempted to limit corporate influence in democracy, opponents of any type of campaign finance rules have redoubled their efforts to weaken transparency in elections. Two right-wing political organizations and a business group recently sued to block the state of Minnesota from enforcing campaign disclosure and donation laws. They are seeking an injunction to prevent the implementation of the state's rule for corporations to disclose their political activities. In addition, they "seek to overturn prohibitions on corporations contributing directly to campaigns and parties." Currently, as a result of Citizens United, corporations can fund advocacy groups who can support and oppose certain candidates, but not the candidates themselves. If their lawsuit is successful, corporate financing of campaigns would expand to even greater levels.
Due to the state's current disclosure rules, donations from companies such as Target and BestBuy to the right-wing group MN Forward came to light. Without the DISCLOSE Act, organizations involved in federal elections are already able to conceal their donors, and President Obama recently warned against "a flood of attack ads run by shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names." "They don't want you to know which interests are paying for the ads," Obama said; "The only people who don't want to disclose the truth are people with something to hide."
If the plaintiffs in Minnesota (which includes a for-profit business and two conservative non-profits: the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life) are successful, not only would corporations be allowed to hide their political financing from the public, but may even be able to directly contribute to the campaigns of candidates for public office.
It is already extremely difficult, especially without the DISCLOSE Act, to discover corporate financing of political groups. As a report by the Washington Post explains:
Long-standing IRS regulations require some groups to reveal their donors, and that is why the agency suddenly finds itself with what some might see as a more crucial watchdog role, stepping in to monitor disclosure in the absence of the FEC. But the IRS rules also have long-standing loopholes and, with limited resources and enforcement tools, the nation's tax collector is not set up to be a campaign regulator.
"The chances of the IRS being able to catch a violation of the tax law around campaigns is virtually nil," said Marcus S. Owens, a lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale who directed the agency's tax-exempt organizations division for 10 years. "Certainly if it happens, it's going to be well after the election has already ended."
As the assault on the remaining campaign disclosure laws intensifies, spending in elections is about to climb to new heights. Borrell Associates predicts that the Citizens United decision will lead to $400 million in new ads this election season, and that "political ad spending will reach $4.2 billion this year, double the $2.1 billion the firm estimated was spent in 2008."
But the most serious opponents of the effort to shed light on corporate financing in elections are obstructionists in the Senate: the Republicans who vote lock-step to prevent the DISCLOSE Act from coming up for an up-or-down vote. President Obama's call for the Senate to reconsider the DISCLOSE Act, which already passed the House, reminds us that the fight against the enormous corporate clout in our democracy is not over:
Target’s misguided donation to a pro-corporate, anti-gay Minnesota gubernatorial candidate has (with good reason) caused quite an uproar recently. But the dominant narrative – that Target will serve as a cautionary tale warning other big corporations against getting involved in politics – isn’t quite right.
As an NPR story yesterday made clear, the lesson of the Target story for many like-minded corporations is: don’t get caught.
Target gave to a group that is legally bound to identify its contributors. That's why Target's contribution became known.
Many other groups don't have to disclose a thing. So a company can channel its money — and its message — through a business association or an advocacy group, and outsiders will never know.
"Given all these different ways that you can spend your money without generating a national news story, certainly I think a lot of corporate executives are saying this is just a reminder to use all those other tools that we have in our tool kit," says Robert Kelner, a campaign finance lawyer in Washington.
The DISCLOSE Act, which was brought down by Republican obstruction earlier this summer, is likely to return to the Senate in September. Its passage would oblige all corporations to be transparent about their political involvement, making the Target story a true cautionary tale.
The GOP has already set to work making the proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan – and President Obama’s support for the project – into a midterm campaign issue. Sharron Angle accused President Obama of siding “against the families of 9/11 victims.” John Boehner called the President’s stance “deeply troubling.”
But Mark Halperin at Time Magazine urged the GOP to reconsider its cynical strategy:
It isn't clear how the battle over the proposed center should or will end. But two things are profoundly clear: Republicans have a strong chance to win the midterm elections without picking a fight over President Obama's measured words. And a national political fight conducted on the terms we have seen in the past few days will lead to a chain reaction at home and abroad that will have one winner -- the very extreme and violent jihadists we all can claim as our true enemy.
Greg Sargent of the Washington Post concurred, writing:
It's one thing for Republicans to argue the case against the center on the merits. Fine. Agree or disagree, the same First Amendment that protects the right of the group to build the center also protect the right of conservatives to make a case against it.
But it's another thing entirely if Republicans adopt criticism of Obama's speech as part of a concerted electoral strategy. As Halperin notes, doing this strays perilously close to stoking anti-Muslim bigotry and religious intolerance in the quest for electoral gain.
Incidentally, if Rep. Boehner was really interested in honoring the victims of September 11, I can think of at least one more positive thing he could have done on their behalf: voted for the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010, which would have helped the many 9/11 heroes who are still with us afford health care for long term injuries and illnesses caused by the attacks. Boehner and many of his fellow GOP Representatives obstructed that particular bill from becoming law, choosing instead to focus their energies on a publicity war against Muslim Americans.
Fisher argues that since 37 votes were cast against Kagan, and since the GOP could pick up Senate seats in November, Obama will be forced to nominate a “moderate.”
Not so fast.
The fact that 37 Senators voted against Elena Kagan is a sign that Senate Republicans will fight anyone who gets nominated to the high court, no matter how unobjectionable (a fact that’s borne out by their disgraceful treatment of lower court nominees.) If Republicans are willing to attack a Supreme Court nominee endorsed by Jack Goldsmith, Miguel Estrada, Ken Starr and Ted Olson, they’re not going to let anyone off without a food fight.
Will more Republicans mean a bigger fight next time? Maybe, but there’s nothing to be done about it. President Obama should consider himself free to nominate whoever he wants: if we’re going to fight, it might as well be a fight worth having.
In another stunning moment of out-of-touch kowtowing to industry lobbyists, House Republican Leader John Boehner has told reporters that he would support a moratorium on all new federal regulations…with an exemption for “emergencies.” Greg Sargent at the Washington Post contacted Boehner’s office to see if the moratorium would include a halt to new oil industry regulations:
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel gets in touch to clarify that this moratorium would not apply to new regs for the oil industry.
"Boehner said at the same press event that we need to find out what happened in the Gulf and how we can make sure it never, ever happens again," Steel said. "So it is clear that would fall under the `emergency' regulations exception he described."
Asked how this would work, Steel said the idea had first surfaced today during the much-publicized meeting with trade groups, which was streamed online. He said it was too early to go into detail on how such a moratorium would function.
To summarize: Boehner went to a meeting with industry lobbyists and came away with the idea to let those industries avoid all new government regulation…until AFTER that lack of regulation has created a disastrous situation that can be classified as an emergency.
Great idea. After all, that attitude workedso well for George W. Bush.
Yesterday I joined fellow advocates and members of Congress for a press conference to support LGBT equality and comprehensive immigration reform.
We are pushing for the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) to be included in all reform proposals. Incorporating UAFA would be a meaningful step taken toward providing equality to same-sex couples and keeping their families together. UAFA allows many same-sex partners to begin the immigration process more quickly and efficiently, and with fewer limitations. Gay men and lesbians whose partners are US citizens or legal permanent residents could apply for family-based visas and green cards.
Representative Nadler (D-NY8), UAFA’s lead sponsor in the House, laid out our demands.
As the urgency for comprehensive immigration reform increases nationally, and the debate in Washington widens, it is essential to ensure that the LGBT community is included in the reforms we propose and pass.
Representative Gutierrez (D-IL4) described the plight of the LGBT community.
Right now, too many same-sex, binational couples face an impossible choice: to live apart or to break the law to be with their partners, families, and children. That's not good for them and it is not good for the rest of us either.
Representative Polis (D-CO2) emphasized why equality is important not only for them but for us all.
We are a nation of immigrants and, as a result, our diversity is our greatest strength . . . Unfortunately, our out-dated immigration system contains laws that discriminate against LGBT families and hinder our economy, our diversity, and our status as a beacon of hope and liberty to people across the world. To be truly comprehensive and achieve real, long-lasting reform, we must provide all domestic partners and married couples the same rights and obligations in any immigration legislation.
As my fellow advocates and I stood in solidarity behind these champions of LGBT equality and comprehensive immigration reform, I was struck by the words of Erwin de Leon.
We are not asking for special rights. We are only asking for equal rights.
Erwin works hard at his job and his education and does what he can to help the community. He has been in a committed relationship for 12 years. He and his partner are married in DC. Yet his partner cannot sponsor him for residency. Their family will be torn apart if Erwin is forced to leave the country after completing his PhD.
The Washington Postis reporting that Wall Street contributions to Democratic campaign committees are markedly lower than this time in 2006 or 2008.
The drop in support comes from many of the same bankers, hedge fund executives and financial services chief executives who are most upset about the financial regulatory reform bill that House Democrats passed last week with almost no Republican support. ... This fundraising free fall from the New York area has left Democrats with diminished resources to defend their House and Senate majorities in November's midterm elections.
With Democrats seeking to impose reasonable regulations designed to protect the American people, this is no surprise.
The Republican Congress was a dream come true for the rapacious financiers who dragged our economy over a cliff, just as it was for all manners of giant corporations. We're seeing the results of the Republican ideology of allowing the most powerful industries to write their own laws and draft their own regulations. Not even the Supreme Court is immune, as a recent report from our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation demonstrates.
Deregulation has made the most powerful even more powerful, while the rest of us find ourselves more and more helpless against corporate behemoths.
Anyone who's spent an hour on hold waiting to get through to a large corporation knows who holds the power in our society, and it isn't us. These companies have been allowed to become so large that they can afford to mistreat their consumers in ways that no business would have gotten away with a generation ago.
Are you happy with the level of corporate influence on our politicians and on our lives? Do you wish you could make Big Business even stronger?
Or do you think it's time for Americans to retake control of our lives? If so, then it's time to act. Because the corporations aren't sitting this election out.
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:
It seems that the Right is all agog over this article in the "National Review" by Shannen Coffin, claiming that Elena Kagan "manipulated the statement of a medical organization to protect partial-birth abortion" while working in the Clinton White House.
Here is the gist of Coffin's "bombshell":
There is no better example of this distortion of science than the language the United States Supreme Court cited in striking down Nebraska’s ban on partial-birth abortion in 2000. This language purported to come from a “select panel” of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), a supposedly nonpartisan physicians’ group. ACOG declared that the partial-birth-abortion procedure “may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman.” The Court relied on the ACOG statement as a key example of medical opinion supporting the abortion method.
Coffin points to this draft copy [PDF] of the ACOG statement which does not include the phrase “[An intact D & X] may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman." Instead, that phrase was handwritten in as a suggestion from Kagan.
The phrase was included in the final version and has apparently been cited by judges in cases involving the prodecure ... and this is somehow proof that Kagan is willing to "override a scientific finding with her own calculated distortion in order to protect access to the most despicable of abortion procedures seriously twisted the judicial process" and therefore is unfit for the Supreme Court.
Of course, if you bother to actually read the document Coffin cites, or the final ACOG statement itself, it is abundantly clear that this one sentence fits with the overall position being advocated by ACOG, which was that any "legislation prohibiting specific medical practices, such as intact D & X, may outlaw techniques that are critical to the lives and health of American women. The intervention of legislative bodies into medical decision making is inappropriate, ill advised, and dangerous.."
Here is the entire ACOG statement, so you can judge for youself wheter the inclusion of this one sentence in any way changes ACOG's fundamental point or distorts science:
THE AMERICAN COLLEGE OF OBSTETRICIANS AND GYNECOLOGISTS,
ACOG Statement of Policy
STATEMENT ON INTACT DILATATION AND EXTRACTION
The debate regarding legislation to prohibit a method of abortion, such as the legislation banning ``partial birth abortion,'' and ``brain sucking abortions,'' has prompted questions regarding these procedures. It is difficult to respond to these questions because the descriptions are vague and do not delineate a specific procedure recognized in the medical literature. Moreover, the definitions could be interpreted to include elements of many recognized abortion and operative obstetric techniques.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) believes the intent of such legislative proposals is to prohibit a procedure referred to as ``Intact Dilatation and Extraction'' (Intact D & X). This procedure has been described as containing all of the following four elements:
1. deliberate dilatation of the cervix, usually over a sequence of days;
2. instrumental conversion of the fetus to a footling breech;
3. breech extraction of the body excepting the head; and
4. partial evacuation of the intracranial contents of a living fetus to effect vaginal delivery of a dead but otherwise intact fetus.
Because these elements are part of established obstetric techniques, it must be emphasized that unless all four elements are present in sequence, the procedure is not an intact D & X.
Abortion intends to terminate a pregnancy while preserving the life and health of the mother. When abortion is performed after 16 weeks, intact D & X is one method of terminating a pregnancy. The physician, in consultation with the patient, must choose the most appropriate method based upon the patient's individual circumstances.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 5.3% of abortions performed in the United States in 1993, the most recent data available, were performed after the 16th week of pregnancy. A preliminary figure published by the CDC for 1994 is 5.6%. The CDC does not collect data on the specific method of abortion, so it is unknown how many of these were performed using intact D & X. Other data show that second trimester transvaginal instrumental abortion is a safe procedure.
Terminating a pregnancy is performed in some circumstances to save the life or preserve the health of the mother. Intact D & X is one of the methods available in some of these situations. A select panel convened by ACOG could identify no circumstances under which this procedure, as defined above, would be the only option to save the life or preserve the health of the woman. An intact D & X, however, may be the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman, and only the doctor, in consultation with the patient, based upon the woman's particular circumstances can make this decision. The potential exists that legislation prohibiting specific medical practices, such as intact D & X, may outlaw techniques that are critical to the lives and health of American women. The intervention of legislative bodies into medical decision making is inappropriate, ill advised, and dangerous.
Approved by the Executive Board, January 12, 1997.
[Thurgood Marshall] taught us all what it means to love our country enough to work to make it a little better, a little stronger and a little closer to what it's supposed to be. That's not activism. That's patriotism.
Stephanie Jones’ op-ed in the Washington Post this morning explains perfectly why the Republican line of attack against Justice Marshall is so, so wrong. All senators who have hopped on to the anti-Marshall train this week need to read it, and then explain themselves.
Near the end of his questioning, Senator Patrick Leahy addressed the accusation that Elena Kagan is somehow "anti-military." He points out an op-ed in the Washington Post written by a Harvard Law School grad who demolishes that particular attack.
If Elena Kagan is "anti-military," she certainly didn't show it. She treated the veterans at Harvard like VIPs, and she was a fervent advocate of our veterans association. She was decidedly against "don't ask, don't tell," but that never affected her treatment of those who had served. I am confident she is looking forward to the upcoming confirmation hearings as an opportunity to engage in some intellectual sparring with members of Congress over her Supreme Court nomination. I would respectfully warn them to do their homework, as she has a reputation for annihilating the unprepared.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post highlighting some really excellent articles that have come out in response to former Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s recent takedown of the highly flawed (to put it mildly) analogy of the Justice as a sort of robotic constitutional umpire. Since then, the debate as continued, and I wanted to point out a few more that make for great reading going into Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings next week.
Donald Ayer, who was a deputy solicitor general in the Reagan Administration wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining why the Supreme Court’s work can’t be done by a constitutional calculator:
Here's the rub: In nearly all the high court's cases, doubt exists not because the half or so of judges who decided the issue are stupid, don't get it or otherwise made some identifiable mistake. Rather, doubts exist because there are substantial persuasive arguments on both sides that cannot be dismissed as invalid or wrong. These cases must be resolved by deciding which collection of arguments is the more compelling; the justices make decisions by choosing to give priority to one set of contentions or another. This is true of many constitutional cases, both because the Constitution is often unspecific and, as retired Justice David Souter recently observed, because its splendid generalities, such as equality and liberty, are sometimes in tension with one another. It is also true in the much greater number of more routine cases, such as where the words of a statute leave doubt about its coverage or effect.
Sonja West in Slate, says Kagan “needs to throw away the script”:
The absence of any dialogue on substantive law at these hearings is regrettable, but the political theater of discussing judging as mere law-to-fact application is truly alarming in that it goes to the heart of the public's understanding of what it is Supreme Court justices actually do. That's why Kagan needs to talk to the American people honestly next week about the job for which she is applying and why she is so qualified to get it.
And, in the New York Times Magazine, Noah Feldman calls for a new progressive vision of the Constitution that deals with macroeconomics just as much as civil rights:
Why does the absence of this vision constitute a crisis for liberals? The answer is that new and pressing constitutional issues and problems loom on the horizon — and they cannot be easily solved or resolved using the now-familiar frameworks of liberty and equality. These problems cluster around the current economic situation, which has revealed the extraordinary power of capital markets and business corporations in shaping the structure and actions of our government. The great economic and political challenges of our present decade — salvaging and fixing financial institutions, delivering health care, protecting the environment — have major constitutional dimensions. They require us to determine the limits of government power and the extent to which the state can impinge on collective and individual freedoms. Progressive constitutional thinkers, so skilled in arguing about social and civil rights, are out of practice in addressing such structural economic questions.
In a ruling that may bode well for the longevity of the campaign finance disclosure law currently being considered by Congress, the Supreme Court today ruled that the First Amendment does not give people a blanket right to keep their political activity under wraps. But the Justices disagreed on the extent to which the First Amendment allows privacy for controversial political activity.
The case, Doe v. Reed, was brought by a group of people who had signed a petition to put a measure on the ballot in Washington that would have voided the state’s domestic partnership laws. Washington’s law says that the names on such petitions have to be publicly available. The group of plaintiffs argued that the exposure of their names would expose them to harassment, therefore violating their First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, disagreed that the disclosure law was unconstitutional on its face, but left the door open for the anti-marriage equality petitioners to claim the law was an unfair burden in their specific case.
The spread of the justices’ opinions on the specific case of Protect Marriage Washington shows their ideological differences on the subject—and could shed light on what will happen if the Court considers something like the DISCLOSE Act.
There were several separate opinions. Justice Alito wrote a separate concurrence that is quite sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ as-applied challenge on remand. Justice Sotomayor wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justices Stevens and Ginsburg, that is very doubtful about that challenge. Justice Stevens also wrote his own concurring opinion, joined by Justice Breyer, to make the same point, albeit perhaps not as strongly, while Justice Breyer wrote a separate concurring opinion indicating that he doesn’t think that Justice Stevens’ opinion is inconsistent with the Chief Justice’s opinion. Justice Scalia wrote a concurring opinion which takes the position that such a First Amendment claim could never prevail. Justice Thomas was the only dissenter; he would have held that the plaintiffs prevailed on their broad facial challenge to the disclosure provision.
The plaintiffs, having lost their broad facial claim, thus also face significant difficulty in prevailing in their remaining challenge to the disclosure of their identities with respect to this specific referendum. Justices Thomas and Alito are obviously sympathetic to that claim. But five Justices – a majority of the Court – take the opposite view; Justice Scalia rejects it outright and the four more liberal members of the Court express significant doubts about the claim’s viability.
Rachel wrote earlier today about Justice Scalia’s vocal support for transparency laws, and his opinion in Doe v. Reed confirms that he walks his talk. As Goldstein calculates, if a campaign finance disclosure law comes before the Supreme Court, Scalia’s vote could break up the Citizens United majority and shift the Court’s majority toward disclosure and transparency.
In the wake of the Citizens United decision, the Supreme Court may choose to determine whether corporations have additional rights to free speech under the First Amendment. On June 24th, justices will meet to decide whether to hear a group of cases the government has brought against Big Tobacco, and the court will announce its decision the following Monday, the first day of Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings.. At issue are a host of First Amendment issues, namely a corporation’s right to make assertions that may be fraudulent, in the interest of trying to influence public policy. To say the least, the cases are complicated. According to a lawyer representing Big Tobacco,
“Some law clerk at the Supreme Court is probably pulling his hair out as we speak,” said Jones Day partner Michael Carvin, who represents R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Brown & Williamson Holdings, Inc. before the Supreme Court. “It's like a jigsaw puzzle.”
These cases demonstrate the potentially far reaching effects of the Court’s radical decision in Citizens United, which first recognized a First Amendment right to speech for corporations in the form of independent expenditures on elections. Now, corporations are seeking even more free speech protections.
“Tobacco company briefs cite the Citizens United decision for the proposition that they too deserve First Amendment protection for statements they made about the health effects of tobacco, statements that helped form the basis of the government suit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law. In many of the tobacco company briefs, the First Amendment argument is the leading issue.”
The tobacco companies are responding to the DC Circuit’s finding that Big Tobacco’s advertising that claimed smoking was not harmful violated RICO. In contrast, documents presented to the court confirm that Philip Morris knew cigarettes were harmful, and released the advertisements in spite of this information.
The government presented evidence from the 1950s and continuing through the following decades demonstrating that the Defendant manufacturers were aware—increasingly so as they conducted more research—that smoking causes disease, including lung cancer. Evidence at trial revealed that at the same time Defendants were disseminating advertisements, publications, and public statements denying any adverse health effects of smoking and promoting their “open question” strategy of sowing doubt, they internally acknowledged as fact that smoking causes disease and other health hazards.
An added complication to these cases is that Elena Kagan, if confirmed as a Supreme Court justice will likely have to recuse herself from deliberations, because she was Solicitor General in February, when the United States filed its petition for the Supreme Court to hear one of the cases.
The cases, depending on how many the court chooses to accept, will likely turn on a test of equitable balance between the government’s interest in preventing fraud, and a corporation’s interest in defending itself.
“This is an enormously powerful tool for the government,” said Carvin. “If you knock out corporations from public debate, that's pretty frightening stuff … The Washington Legal Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce of the United States have also filed briefs emphasizing the First Amendment issue among others. But Crystal asserts that “you don't have a First Amendment right to commit fraud.” Carvin replies that “yes, you can stop someone from saying that his cereal stops cancer,” but the kind of statements at issue in the tobacco cases amount to “classic public policy speech” that deserve First Amendment protection.
Given the likely absence of Kagan on the bench, and the recent pro-business history of the Roberts Court, it’s fair to assume that corporations will find themselves with even more powers under the First Amendment. It is a truly scary notion for the average American, and something that further highlights the damage Citizens United will have on the rights of individuals in our democracy.
Waxman and Stupak also said BP apparently rejected advice of a subcontractor, Halliburton Inc., in preparing for a cementing job to close up the well. BP rejected Halliburton's recommendation to use 21 "centralizers" to make sure the casing ran down the center of the well bore, they said. Instead, BP used six centralizers.
In an e-mail on April 16, a BP official involved in the decision explained: "It will take 10 hours to install them. I do not like this." Later that day, another official recognized the risks of proceeding with insufficient centralizers but commented: "who cares, it's done, end of story, will probably be fine."
In spite of the well's difficulties, "BP appears to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure," Waxman and Stupak said.
Dawn Johnsen, the law professor who was forced in April to withdraw her nomination to head the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, has written a forceful op-ed in today’s Washington Post. Johnsen, an exceedingly qualified candidate who was the victim of a fifteen month Republican obstruction effort, writes that the President and Senate need to quickly install a new OLC head—and to pick someone who will lead the office in an honest and nonpartisan way:
In 2004, the leak of a controversial memo on the use of torture catapulted the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel into the spotlight. Fallout and debate continue, including in the context of my nomination -- withdrawn this spring -- to head this office. While attention understandably is focused on confirming the president's Supreme Court nominee, the OLC remains, after six years, without a confirmed leader.
It is long past time to halt the damage caused by the "torture memo" by settling on a bipartisan understanding of the proper role of this critical office and confirming an assistant attorney general committed to that understanding.
There is no simple answer to why my nomination failed. But I have no doubt that the OLC torture memo -- and my profoundly negative reaction to it -- was a critical factor behind the substantial Republican opposition that sustained a filibuster threat. Paradoxically, prominent Republicans earlier had offered criticisms strikingly similar to my own. A bipartisan acceptance of those criticisms is key to moving forward. The Senate should not confirm anyone who defends that memo as acceptable legal advice.
Johnsen is right that the OLC should be led by a fierce advocate of the rule of law—someone like Johnsen herself. We hope that the debate over the next OLC nominee will, unlike the last debate, reflect the importance of this qualification.
As BP begins a risky attempt to stem its still-leaking oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and oil starts to lap against the shores of the Gulf Coast, lawsuits against the oil giant have begun. The devastating oil spill has already surpassed the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, and the litigation that follows it is sure to be just as contentious and lengthy. Two years ago, 19 years after the Valdez spill, the tens of thousands of victims of the disaster saw their case end up before the Supreme Court…and the Court gave Exxon Mobil a huge handout. While the facts this time are different and the legal issues won’t be exactly the same, if their case ends up before the high court, victims of the BP spill will have a legitimate reason to worry –the Roberts Court has displayed a clear willingness to go out of its way to keep individual citizens from holding big oil accountable.
In 1989, an Exxon oil tanker carrying over a million barrels of crude oil crashed off the coast of Alaska, spilling at least ten million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound. The spill destroyed wildlife habitats and the livelihoods of fishermen up and down the Northwest coast. Those affected by the spill entered into years of litigation to try to recover from Exxon some of what they had lost. In 1994, a jury awarded the 32,677 plaintiffs in the case $5 billion in punitive damages. An appeals court judge halved the amount to $2.5 billion.
[E]ven this pared-down judgment was way too much for Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas, Souter and Scalia. In 2008, this bloc reduced the punitive damage award from $2.5 billion to $507.5 million. Indeed, the only thing that stopped them from deleting the award altogether was that they were one vote short of being able to find that a corporation is not responsible for the reckless acts of its own managers acting in the scope of their employment.
What the 5-justice majority found, over the objections of dissenting liberal justices who accused them of legislating from the bench, was that it would impose in maritime tort cases a 1-1 ratio between compensatory and punitive damages—a formula found nowhere in the statute and essentially pulled out of a hat made by a big corporation. In dissent, Justice Stevens chastised the majority for interpreting the "congressional choice not to limit the availability of punitive damages under maritime law" as "an invitation to make policy judgments on the basis of evidence in the public domain that Congress is better able to evaluate than is this Court."
But Exxon, which amazingly ended up making money on the spill because of the resulting increase in oil prices, got its way with a corporate-leaning Court and ended up paying punitive damages equal to a day or two of company profits.
Not surprisingly, the lawsuits from those who are losing their livelihoods have begun. As of May 21, more than 130 had been filed.
Lawsuits against BP will no doubt involve millions, and probably billions of dollars in both compensatory and punitive damages. While compensatory damages are essential to helping victims recover from a disaster of this size, punitive damages serve to dissuade the company and others like it from acting recklessly in the future. The Roberts Court’s willingness to invent a rule capping punitive damages against Exxon doesn’t bode well for anyone hoping to hold BP accountable for this disaster and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
The Court has a responsibility to ensure that ordinary people get treated fairly, even when pitted against big corporations—but the current Supreme Court has made it clear that we can’t always count on that.
This disaster is a tragic reminder of why we need Justices who won’t favor the interests of the powerful over the rights of ordinary citizens.
A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday indicates that 78 percent of the public supports allowing openly gay people to serve in the military, with one in five opposed.
"Support is widespread, even among Republicans. Nearly six in ten Republicans favor allowing openly gay individuals to serve in the military," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "There is a gender gap, with 85 percent of women and 71 percent of men favoring the change, but support remains high among both groups."
And congressional leaders aren’t sure if they can get the votes to repeal the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. It’s another stark example of Washington politicians lagging far behind their constituents when it comes to gay rights.