National Equality March

Sunday, October 11, 2009 marked Coming Out Day and the National Equality March in Washington DC. The sun was shining but it wasn’t too hot. There was a large crowd of tens of thousands of people who came from near and far to attend the march. There were lots of college students who came from all over the country to march. The area was well guarded with police officers on segways and on foot. The atmosphere was peaceful and upbeat.

I only encountered a few protesters saying that gay people are going to hell and that they are here to save us. These protesters also had anti-choice posters with pictures of aborted fetuses. Although I am not sure how gay rights and abortion are related, my guess is these right wingers just wanted to lump all the liberally minded causes together.

Most of the homemade signs addressed the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. One favorite sign: “Obama—let mommy marry momma!” and the chant “Hey-hey! Ho-ho! Homophobia has got to go!” I carried my handmade sign reading “Pass a trans-inclusive ENDA” while a friend I marched with carried their sign reading “Equali(t)y—the T is not silent!” although there were very few other signs addressing ENDA or other gender identity-specific sentiments. Our chant of “Hey-hey! Ho-ho! Transphobia has got to go!” caught on for a while but didn’t seem to gain as much momentum as some of the other chants.

With the combination of perfect weather, good company, and an excellent cause, I left the march feeling excited about how many young people were at the march and the energy that we—as young activists—have towards LGBT issues. And even as we push to repeal DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it’s important that we make sure that the ENDA gets the grassroots support it deserves.


Fourteen Years Later, PFAW Continues to Denounce ‘Irresponsible Speech’ and Intolerance in Our Country

It’s no mistake that freedom of speech is in the first Amendment to the Constitution.  It’s impossible to overstate its importance to our democratic system.  But respect for free speech doesn’t give us the right to turn a blind eye to dangerous, irresponsible speech.  As we’ve seen through the explosion on rightwing hate, violent rhetoric can lead to violent actions, and we have a duty to stand up to it and call it by name.

Fourteen years ago, a PFAW memorandum (pdf) was released, focusing on the hateful rightwing speech on issues like racism, abortion, and LBGT rights.  It is no coincidence that names like Rush Limbaugh, Pat Robertson, Newt Gingrich, and Randall Terry rise to the top of both this fourteen year old memorandum and the news headlines of today.  In comparing this article to our current situation, it is easy to see that too little has changed in the last fourteen years.

People For stood up to hateful speech then, and we’ll continue to stand up to it as long as it takes.

After you read the memo, be sure to sign our petition calling on the Department of Homeland Security to reissue its report on rightwing extremism.

Don’t Believe the Right’s Propaganda on the Supreme Court

With everyone talking about the retirement of Justice David Souter, the Radical Right’s propaganda machine is set to max.

Right Wing Watch is reporting on the Right’s reaction.  One of the more laughable claims comes from Wendy Long of the Judicial Confirmation Network:

The current Supreme Court is a liberal, judicial activist court.  Obama could make it even more of a far-left judicial activist court, for a long time to come …

Calling the current Court liberal is like calling Mitt Romney consistent – you can’t say it with a straight face.  In fact, no less an authority than Justice John Paul Stevens has pointed out that “every judge who’s been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell has been more conservative than his or her predecessor,” with the possible exception of Justice Ginsburg.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s review some of the highlights of the current “liberal” Supreme Court.

In order to achieve their desired ideological results, the Far Right justices have recklessly toppled precedents, or even ignored them while pretending not to, with alarming frequency.  For example, the restrictive federal abortion ban upheld by the Roberts Court was essentially identical to one the Court had struck down before Roberts and Alito joined the bench.  Unfortunately, extreme Right Wing ideology trumped the rule of law.

Voting rights have also come under attack.  The Roberts Court upheld the constitutionality of the most restrictive voter ID law in the country, an Indiana law requiring people to present a currently valid, government-issued photo ID in order to vote.  This imposes a substantial burden on the elderly who don’t drive, college students, and the poor who don’t own cars.  Indiana was unable to identify a single case of in-person voter fraud occurring in its history.  That didn’t stop the Roberts Court from upholding a restriction that kept many Americans from being able to go to the polls on Election Day and cast a vote.

Even our very access to the courts has come under attack from the “liberal” Supreme Court.

Lilly Ledbetter was a victim of sex discrimination effectively barred from the courthouse.  Late in her career, she learned that she had, over the years, been subjected to salary discrimination on the basis of her sex, and she sued.  A jury found that she had been illegally discriminated against.  Yet a 5-4 Right Wing majority held that she should have sued within 180 days of the initial discriminatory conduct—even though she didn’t learn that she was being discriminated against for more than a decade.

The Court also closed the courthouse door in Riegel v. Medtronic, holding that patients injured by a defective medical device cannot sue for damages for violations of state common law if it was approved for marketing by the Food and Drug Administration and made to the agency’s specifications.  To reach this result, the Court had to interpret a federal law in a manner directly contrary to how its Senate sponsor said it was intended.

Keith Bowles was yet another victim denied his day in court.  After Bowles was denied relief in federal district court, the judge informed him that he had 17 days to file an appeal.  Unbeknownst to him, the rules really gave him only 14 days.  So when Bowles, relying on the federal judge, filed on day 16, a narrow 5-4 Supreme Court majority said that he had filed too late.  In so doing, the Court majority overruled clear and principled precedent that protected people in his situation.  In dissent, Justice Souter correctly wrote that “it is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way, and there is not even a technical justification for this bait and switch.”

The danger from right-wing justices was clear in Boumediene v. Bush, a case related to the then-President’s claim of virtually unlimited executive powers to conduct the war on terror.  The case involved the constitutionality of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which eliminated federal court jurisdiction over habeas corpus claims by certain foreign detainees.  The Court rebuked President Bush’s vision of the presidency as an office of limitless power and declared that the president of a free nation cannot simply lock people up and throw away the key like some third-world dictator.  Chillingly, with Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas dissenting, the case was decided by a single vote, 5-4.  One more hard-right justice on the Court, and the decision would likely have gone the other way.

That’s why it’s crucial to have justices who are committed to our core constitutional values of justice and equality under the law.

It is of the utmost importance that Justice Souter be replaced by a powerful advocate for our Constitution—a justice in the mold of great jurists like Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan.  Our nation cannot afford anything less.


South Dakota Abortion Ban Fails - Again

For the second consecutive election, a South Dakota ballot initiative to ban abortion has failed by double digits.

The initiative proposed to criminalize abortions - with a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and $20,000 fine - except for those done to save the life or health of a pregnant woman or performed to terminate a pregnancy that resulted from rape or incest. The scope of those exceptions was a point of contention during the campaign.
A ban without rape, incest and health exceptions passed the 2006 Legislature. Gov. Mike Rounds signed it into law, but opponents circulated petitions to place it on the general election ballot where it failed. Abortion foes in South Dakota responded to that defeat by crafting Initiate Measure 11 and including the exceptions.
This year’s result, along with the outcome in 2006, likely ends any hope of making South Dakota the flagship state for anti-choice activism.

The Choice Is Clear

If you haven't already gotten a chance, be sure to read Joan Biskupic's article on the Supreme Court in today's USA Today, a good primer on the choice that voters face on Election Day.

The appointment of life-tenured judges can be an administration's most consequential legacy, as Obama and McCain observed in last week's debate. Five of the nine Supreme Court justices are age 70 or older, so a new president might have to make multiple appointments.

Because the court is tightly split over issues such as abortion rights, race-based policies and the handling of Guantanamo Bay detainees, even a change of one justice could alter the law across the nation for decades to come.

The article does contain one line of very generous understatement.

[Palin] has invoked God on public occasions and suggested she does not believe in a high wall to separate church and state.

I think that's a pretty safe inference.

The website also offers a fun little SCOTUS quiz.  (I don't mean to brag, but I aced it.)


VIDEO: The End of Choice?

In case you aren't already convinced that next month's election is pretty frickin' important, here's something else to consider: the next president will almost certainly have the power to shape the future of the Supreme Court for decades to come.

What does that mean for Roe v. Wade — and the future of reproductive rights in this country? We put together a short video that walks through some scary math. Click here to check it out.


Don’t Worry, Sarah. We’ll tell you about the Court!

In an interview with Katie Couric, it appears as if Sarah Palin was unable to name a single Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade.

The Palin aide, after first noting how "infuriating" it was for CBS to purportedly leak word about the gaffe, revealed that it came in response to a question about Supreme Court decisions.

After noting Roe vs. Wade, Palin was apparently unable to discuss any major court cases.

There was no verbal fumbling with this particular question as there was with some others, the aide said, but rather silence.

I like to think that if prompted, she could tell us what Brown v. Board of Education accomplished, but I’ve learned not to take anything for granted.

Anyway, Sarah, allow us to tell you about one or two cases that your own running mate has had a hand in bringing about.  Thanks to the confirmation of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, you can use any of these cases to talk about how the Court affects ordinary Americans.

  • Ledbetter v. Goodyear – Makes it harder for women to sue when they’ve been discriminated against.
  • Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 – Makes it harder to desegregate schools.
  • Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation – Makes it harder for to preserve the wall between church and state.
  • Garcetti v. Ceballos – Makes it harder for students to exercise free speech.
  • Gonzales v. Carhart – Makes it harder for women to get abortion procedures they need.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!  Thanks to your running mate, there are all sorts of terrible, terrible Supreme Court decisions that limit our rights and freedoms.  Better get studyin’.


It’ll Start a Debate Alright

Via Think Progress comes this article from the Times-Picayune detailing state Rep. John LaBruzzo’s novel solution to fighting poverty:

Worried that welfare costs are rising as the number of taxpayers declines, state Rep. John LaBruzzo, R-Metairie, said Tuesday he is studying a plan to pay poor women $1,000 to have their Fallopian tubes tied ... LaBruzzo said he worries that people receiving government aid such as food stamps and publicly subsidized housing are reproducing at a faster rate than more affluent, better-educated people who presumably pay more tax revenue to the government. He said he is gathering statistics now.

"It's easy to say, 'Oh, he's a racist,' " LaBruzzo said. "The hard part is to sit down and think of some solutions."

LaBruzzo said he opposes abortion and paying people to have abortions. He described a sterilization program as providing poor people with better opportunities to avoid welfare, because they would have fewer children to feed and clothe.

He acknowledged his idea might be a difficult sell politically.

"I don't know if it's a viable option," LaBruzzo said. "Of course people are going to get excited about it. Maybe we'll start a debate on it."


We're All "Pro-Life"

Pop quiz, fellow progressives: how do you refer to the two sides of the abortion debate?

Did you say "pro-life" and "pro-choice"? Those are the terms I generally use when talking about the issue too. And, as I was reminded by a conversation between colleagues this morning, it doesn't make much sense.

In reality, people who are against reproductive rights don't have a monopoly on being pro-life. As a colleague of mine said this morning, "We're all pro-life."

I think you'd be pretty hard-pressed to find somebody who really thinks there should be more abortions. Progressives, conservatives, moderates, people of no political persuasion whatsoever: I think we're all agreed there.


Oh, What a Week

Sarah Palin and John McCain

By the end of the Democratic National Convention last week my feet were aching but my spirit was soaring. I loved meeting People For members, and had a chance to connect with a lot of progressive advocates, political leaders, and potential donors. Our standing-room-only panel on the future of the Supreme Court was thoughtful and lively. Several of our staff did magnificent jobs in other panel discussions throughout the week. And the whole event felt like history in the making.


The Supreme Court: What a Difference an Election Makes

April 18, 2007 is the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling upholding a federal ban on certain abortion procedures even though the law did not include an exception to protect a woman’s health. And that ruling, which significantly chips away at women's reproductive freedom, upheld the federal ban even though the Court had struck down a virtually identical state law several years ago.


Roe v. Wade at 35: Up For Grabs in the Next Election

January 22, 2008 is the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision recognizing that a woman’s constitutional right to privacy includes the right to choose to end a pregnancy. Without question, Roe is one of the leading examples, and certainly one of the most famous, of the Court’s vital role in protecting Americans’ individual rights and freedoms.