Bush Administration

North Carolina Puts Anti-Equality Amendment on the Ballot

North Carolina’s Senate today passed a measure to put an anti-marriage equality constitutional amendment on next year’s ballot. North Carolina is currently the only Southeast state that hasn’t amended its constitution to ban same-sex marriage, although it already has a statutory ban.

State anti-marriage amendments like North Carolina's are often put on the ballot to boost turnout for other elections – the Bush administration, for instance, was active in getting 11 anti-marriage amendments on state ballots in 2004.

What is remarkable about these amendments is that they change state constitutions to take away rights from citizens, while the traditional role of state and federal constitutions has been to guarantee rights for citizens, especially those who may not be popular among the majority.

It’s sad to see yet another state putting the rights of a minority at the mercy of a majority vote.

 

PFAW

Justice Ginsburg Mourns Breakdown of Judicial Nominations Process

At a speech yesterday at Southern Methodist University, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg touched upon the depressing state of our nation's judicial nominations process. As reported by the Associated Press:

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said Monday that the confirmation process has become much more partisan and that she probably never would have made it to the high court under the current climate.

"I wish we could wave a magic wand and go back to the days when the process was bipartisan," Ginsburg told the crowd of about 2,000 as she spoke as part of a lecture series for Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law.

While most of us cannot wave such a magic wand, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell can. With one word he could stop many of the GOP obstruction tactics against President Obama's judicial nominees. It was just such obstruction that prevented the Senate from voting to confirm twenty pending nominees before it left town several weeks ago, 17 of whom got through committee with no recorded opposition.

As ThinkProgress reported, Justice Ginsburg also noted the hostility felt by some senators toward the ACLU: "Today, my ACLU connection would probably disqualify me."

Unfortunately, she may be right. Late last year, Senator Jeff Sessions – then the Ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee – railed against judicial nominees who had worked with or been a member of the ACLU, specifically targeting William Martinez, Edward Chen, Goodwin Liu, Jack McConnell, Amy Totenberg, Robert Wilkins, and Michael Simon. He concluded his tirade with the following warning to President Obama:

I do believe the administration needs to understand that this is going to be a more contentious matter if we keep seeing the ACLU chromosome as part of this process.

Republican hostility to the ACLU – and to the constitutional rights it regularly protects – is extremely disturbing. At the same time, the blocking of even unopposed nominees suggests that the GOP's main problems with President Obama's nominees is that they are President Obama's nominees.

PFAW

A Supreme Court Win for John Ashcroft, a Grim Reminder for the Rest of Us

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously (with Justice Kagan recused) that former Attorney General John Ashcroft cannot be personally sued for alleged abuse of material-witness arrests in the days after the 9/11 attacks. In the weeks and months after 9/11, innocent people were being rounded up by the federal government with little to no evidence against them through abuse of the Material Witness Statute. However, the Justices agreed that what Ashcroft did was not in violation of "clearly established law" at the time, so he cannot be personally sued for money damages.

But that unanimity hides a deep divide on other issues. Justice Ginsburg's concurrence reminds us of the lawless nature of the Bush Administration. She asks:

what even arguably legitimate basis could there be for the harsh custodial conditions to which al-Kidd was subjected: Ostensibly held only to secure his testimony, al-Kidd was confined in three different detention centers during his 16 days' incarceration, kept in high-security cells lit 24 hours a day, strip searched and subjected to body-cavity inspections on more than one occasion, and handcuffed and shackled about his wrists, legs, and waist.

...

[His] ordeal is a grim reminder of the need to install safeguards against disrespect for human dignity, constraints that will control officialdom even in perilous times.

Americans should never forget the many ways that the Bush Administration violated basic American constitutional principles and the rule of law. After 9/11, People For the American Way Foundation led the nation in exposing and condemning the Ashcroft Justice Department's multifaceted threats to liberty.

Perhaps if the threats had been against Big Business's bottom line, today's corporate-funded Tea Partiers would have joined us in protecting the Constitution. Their silence then makes shameful their current efforts to appropriate the Constitution as uniquely theirs.

PFAW

Murkowski Shows Her Colleagues How to Keep One's Word with Liu Vote

As a bit of follow up to Michael's post about the Goodwin Liu vote, it is worth noting that Sen. Lisa Murkowski was the ONLY Republican senator to break with her party and do the right thing, voting to move the nomination forward to a full floor vote.

In 2005, she said, “Let me make it clear that I support an up-or-down vote on all nominations brought to the Senate floor, regardless of the president nominating them or which party controls the Senate.”

Murkowski said in a statement after today's vote, "I stated during the Bush Administration that judicial nominations deserved an up or down vote, except in ‘extraordinary circumstances’ and my position has not changed simply because there is a different president making the nominations."

Sen. Murkowski deserves to be thanked for her consistency, and for sticking to a commitment that many in her party also made but abandoned.

PFAW

It's Time to Confirm Goodwin Liu

The Senate is currently debating the nomination of Goodwin Liu to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Liu is a phenomenally well qualified legal scholar who has support across the political spectrum, as well as among a majority of U.S. Senators. However, because Senate Republican leaders are putting politics over all else, they are set on stymieing the majority and filibustering the nomination. A cloture vote to end this stalling tactic may occur as soon as tomorrow morning.

People For the American Way supports the nomination. We sent a letter this morning that says much of what we have been saying in person on the Hill for over a year. Among other things, the letter states:

Perhaps the most powerful testament to Professor Liu's superb qualifications is the extensive support his nomination has garnered from across the ideological spectrum. It is not only progressive and moderate legal thinkers who admire his work: He has received endorsements from conservatives such as Ken Starr, Solicitor General under President Ronald Reagan; Richard Painter, the chief ethics counsel for President George W. Bush; and Clint Bolick, Director of the conservative Goldwater Institute.

When a judicial nominee attracts such strong support independent of political ideology, you can be confident that he is exactly the kind of mainstream, talented, and fair jurist we need on the federal bench.

Although Liu has the support of a majority of senators, his opponents are working to block his nomination from receiving an up or down vote. Their claim is that Liu's nomination constitutes one of those rare "extraordinary circumstances" warranting a filibuster, under the benchmark developed by the Gang of 14 during the George W. Bush Administration.

By no measure can this nomination be considered to even approach "extraordinary circumstances." Even a cursory look at President Bush's nominees who were approved using that test – those whose nominations were not considered to constitute "extraordinary circumstances" – makes clear that Liu's nomination must be permitted to go forward.

  • Pricilla Owen's dissenting positions on the Texas Supreme Court were so extreme that even her fellow conservatives on the Supreme Court in different cases described them with phrases like "an unconscionable act of judicial activism," "disregard of the procedural elements the Legislature established," "def[ying] the Legislature's clear and express limits on our jurisdiction," and "inflammatory rhetoric." Her nomination was not considered extraordinary, and the Senate afforded her an up-or-down vote for a seat on the Fifth Circuit, where she is now serving.
  • Thomas Griffith pushed to severely curtail laws ending discrimination against women and girls' participation in school athletic programs, declaring "illegal" a test upheld by all eight of the nation's Circuit Courts of Appeals that had considered the issue. He was also suspended from the DC Bar for failure to pay mandatory Bar dues yet continued to practice law in the District during that time. Published reports and an examination of Utah law indicated that he had been engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Utah for the four years prior to his nomination. Nevertheless, the Senate did not consider Griffith's nomination extraordinary, and he received an up-or-down vote confirming him to a seat on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • Janice Rogers Brown criticized opposition to the Lochner decision, which began the period when the Supreme Court issued its most pro-corporate rulings—rulings that struck down laws requiring minimum wages, regulating working hours and conditions, and banning improper business practices. In addition, despite several Supreme Court rulings to the contrary, she explicitly suggested that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act is unconstitutional. Despite this record, her nomination was not considered an "extraordinary circumstance," and the Senate was allowed to cast an up-or-down vote, confirming her to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • William Pryor called Roe v. Wade "the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history" and urged Congress to consider repealing or amending Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Despite the significant opposition that these and other extreme positions garnered, his nomination was not filibustered, and he was confirmed to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Each of these nominees attracted substantial controversy and was opposed by numerous civil rights and civil liberties groups, but not one was found to constitute "extraordinary circumstances."

The claim that Goodwin Liu is out of the mainstream as compared to any of these nominees simply does not bear scrutiny. In fact, a fair reading of his work makes clear that Liu is well within the judicial mainstream.

By any standard articulated by either party, Goodwin Liu's nomination deserves a vote on the Senate floor, and he should be confirmed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tomorrow, we will learn which Republican senators are willing to toss logic, consistency, principles, and the good of the nation's court system out the window in order to score political points against a Democratic president.

PFAW

A Reminder of the Mendacity of the Bush Administration

The Washington Blade is reporting on a seemingly frivolous lawsuit launched by a former high-level Bush Administration official that tells us a lot about anti-LGBT zealotry and the mendacity of the previous administration. It involves RICO, the federal racketeering statute.

Scott Bloch was President Bush's choice to lead the Office of Special Counsel, the agency designated to protect federal employees from illegal discrimination and to ensure whistleblower protection. During Bush's first term, he ordered the removal of all information on filing complaints of sexual-orientation discrimination from OSC's website and brochures. And he didn't exactly protect whistleblowers in his own office. As reported by Talking Points Memo back in 2007:

Bloch himself has been under investigation since 2005 for a variety of infractions, including retaliating against employees who took issue with internal policies and discriminating against those who were gay or members of religious minorities. At the direction of the White House, the Office of Personnel Management's inspector general has been pressing on with an investigation of Bloch.

During the investigation, Bloch bypassed OSC's tech staff and hired "Geeks On Call" to scrub his office computer files. He was finally removed from office in the final year of the Bush Administration. Last year, he pleaded guilty to contempt of Congress for hiding the computer caper from a House committee.

Now, according to the Blade, Bloch is going after the gays and his former Republican colleagues:

Two gay Obama administration officials and the Human Rights Campaign were lumped in as defendants with former Bush administration operative Karl Rove and more than a dozen others in a federal racketeering lawsuit filed by anti-gay Bush official Scott Bloch.

[The lawsuit] charges the defendants – including former GOP Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia – with conspiring to force Bloch out of his job as head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel through a trumped up criminal investigation, according to Courthouse News Service, which first broke the story. ...

One of the Obama officials being sued is Elaine Kaplan, who ran OSC during the Clinton Administration.

In his lawsuit, Bloch alleges that the Bush White House demanded that he back off from reversing Kaplan's polices at the Office of Special Counsel, saying White House aides threatened to arrange for his dismissal if he failed to comply with their request.

Bloch and his wife, who are representing themselves in the case, filed their suit under a federal statute called the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. The statute allows both criminal and civil charges to be brought in cases where the government or a private party alleges that others conspired to commit an illegal act or to damage a person or a business through a "criminal enterprise."

Other parties named as defendants in the lawsuit include the Executive Office of the President, the Office of Special Counsel, the National Treasury Employees Union, and several government watchdog groups, including the Government Accountability Project.

Bloch and his wife are representing themselves against this giant conspiracy. One has to wonder if the reason Bloch is representing himself is because no other lawyer could be paid to take it.

Bloch makes up in zealotry what he seems to lack in competence, and he is the person Bush chose to head of the Office of Special Counsel. Despite his disregarding of the law in order to hurt gays and strike back at whistleblowers, the White House kept him on. It was only after the FBI investigation and the embarrassing computer episode became public that he was removed from office. That says everything you need to know about the Bush Administration and its commitment to the rule of law.

PFAW

Attorney General Disappoints on Faith-Based Issue

Question: When does a law saying "do not discriminate" really mean "discrimination is allowed"? Answer: Now, since Attorney General Holder yesterday refused to repudiate the Bush Administration’s seemingly deliberate misreading of federal law in the context of grants to faith-based organizations.

One of the gravest flaws of the Faith-Based Initiative that President Obama inherited and has since made his own is that it permits federally funded employment discrimination on the basis of religion. Numerous federal statutes creating grant programs specifically prohibit those receiving funds from engaging in employment discrimination. However, the Bush Administration’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) adopted a policy memo turning those provisions on their head.

According to the memo, requiring compliance with anti-discrimination laws as a condition of receiving federal funds can impose a substantial burden on the religious beliefs of faith-based grant recipients. Therefore, it reasoned, such a requirement may be impermissible under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening religious exercise unless that burden is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest. According to this harshly criticized legal memorandum, RFRA can be interpreted to let religious grantees ignore very specific nondiscrimination provisions within a federal grant program.

At a hearing before the House Oversight Committee yesterday, upon questioning by Rep. Bobby Scott, Attorney General Holder testified that the OLC memo is not being reconsidered. Even worse, when asked the Obama Administration has adopted that interpretation as its policy, Holder gave a meaningless and evasive answer. According to Congressional Quarterly (subscription required):

SCOTT: So if you're running a Head Start Program, they're running the Head Start Program they can discriminate, even though there's a statutory provision prohibiting discrimination? They can discriminate anyway?

HOLDER: What I'm saying is that in terms of -- with regard to that specific OLC opinion, we are not in the process of reconsidering it. That is not something that, as I understand ...

SCOTT: Well I'm not talking about the memo. I'm talking about the policy. Can they discriminate notwithstanding a specific statutory prohibition against discrimination; they can discriminate anyway based on that interpretation?

HOLDER: Obviously discrimination cannot occur, that is, that contravenes federal law.

Since whether an act of employment discrimination violates federal law is the focus of the debate, Holder’s response is not enlightening.

It is hard to believe that less than three years ago, candidate Barack Obama told an audience in Zanesville, Ohio that "if you get a federal grant, you can't use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can't discriminate against them—or against the people you hire—on the basis of their religion."

PFAW

Issa Suddenly Concerned About Capturing Presidential Records (Created After 1/20/2009 Only)

Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, waving an iPad in front of senior White House technology officials earlier today, demanded to know whether administration staffers were flouting the Presidential Records Act by conducting work-related business on their personal email systems instead of on the official server. Issa said his purpose was to address so-called “transparency setbacks” in the administration’s record keeping. Presumably, as Issa noted in the hearing, White House staffers could be communicating with the DNC on their personal property, free from public scrutiny.

But in 2008, that very same scenario seemed preposterous to Issa, who raised this point in a similar hearing about possible improper email use in the Bush Administration:

 

"Are we simply going on a fishing expedition at $40,000 to $50,000 a month?" Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) asked National Archives and White House officials at the hearing. "Do any of you know of a single document, because this committee doesn't, that should've been in the archives but in fact was done at the RNC?"

 

As it turns out, that is quite possibly what happened. Of the 22 million Bush Administration email messages that went missing due to a faulty archiving system, it was widely suspected that Karl Rove and other senior advisors used RNC email systems to conduct official White House business.

Interestingly, Issa defended the loss of the Bush Administration emails because they were using old software. This is just another example of how Issa’s priorities change as quickly as administrations do.

PFAW

The Right's Use of Records Requests to Chill Dissent and Attack Academics

In Wisconsin and Michigan, we are seeing what appears to be the latest right wing tool to intimidate and harass its critics: extensive – and baseless – public records requests against academics at public universities. The consequences for the free and open debate on which our democracy depends are serious indeed.

Last week, Wisconsin Republicans clamped down on criticisms of their party's efforts to undermine workers' rights by filing a broad demand for copies of all of the emails of University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor William Cronon that mention Governor Scott Walker, the eight Republican state senators who have been targeted for recall, or unions that represent government employees. Cronon had recently penned a blog post calling attention to the work of a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its apparently significant influence on Republican state lawmakers, including those in Wisconsin such as Governor Walker. The message was clear. Criticize what we do and we'll come after you to see what we can dig up to smear you with.

Any thought that this might be an isolated response was quickly shattered when similar requests were made for Wisconsin-related e-mails at three Michigan universities. Rather than being from the Wisconsin GOP, these were from a right-wing organization called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. They filed requests for e-mails of the faculty of the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center, the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University, and the Labor Education Program of Michigan State University. The requests cover not only e-mails relating to the Wisconsin clash over the labor rights, but, according to press reports, also any e-mails mentioning Rachel Maddow.

Aside from their far right conservative ideologies, the Mackinac Center and ALEC have something else in common: Although not well known among the general public, they are part of a network of right wing ideological organizations that have been heavily funded over the years by many of the same small group of wealthy funders, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, the Coors family, the Scaife family, and corporate giant Exxon Mobil.

It is not likely a coincidence that these two right wing organizations employed the same unusual tactics in two different states just days apart. Who knows where they will go next. Clearly this is a pattern. And, unfortunately, it's a familiar one. Just as in the McCarthy era, academics face intimidation and harassment and possible threats to their reputations if they take public stands against the far right. The specific method of intimidation may be different (i.e., public records requests), but the goal is the same.

This intimidation is as insidious now as it was more than half a century ago, because it does not matter that the targets have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. As we have seen, all it took was one purloined e-mail, taken out of context and distorted beyond all recognition, to manufacture the phony "Climategate" scandal that threatened the reputation of climate scientists around the world and set back climate change regulations by years.

Anyone doubting that the far right is both willing and able to destroy their reputations with such distortions needs look no farther than the devastating video "exposés" of ACORN, NPR, and Planned Parenthood. The ACORN video came first and essentially destroyed the organization. In the best traditions of McCarthyism, the right now uses any association with ACORN to discredit its opponents. They are hoping for equal success with NPR and Planned Parenthood.

People For the American Way strongly supports the Freedom of Information Act and its state and local equivalents. Opening government records to the public serves as an essential check on the abuse of government power. Indeed, the Bush Administration prepared for its long war against civil liberties in the administration's early days by essentially reversing the Clinton Administration's presumption that FOIA requests should generally be granted unless there is some reason to deny it.

Such laws exist to expand public dialogue and the dissemination of information affecting the public welfare. But the rights granted by FOIA laws, like so many others, have limitations and can be abused. A demand for information can be made not to hold government accountable and enhance public debate, but instead to harass, intimidate, suppress public debate, and keep information and opinions out of the public square. This is particularly true when it is aimed at individuals in state academic institutions.

That's what we see happening in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The public has a right to know about the activities of government entities working in its name. When a government entity has the authority to issue licenses, allocate funds, imprison people, conduct safety inspections, conduct elections – the core activities of government, all of which have substantial impacts on individuals, businesses, and groups – open records laws can help ensure that these tasks are done lawfully, without favoritism or waste. Reflecting how often members of the public request such information, many government organizations have entire offices dedicated to fulfilling these records requests.

So how often does a member of the public submit a record request for, say, the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan? I asked Roland Zullo, a research scientist there. He had to think about it because such requests are so rare, but he thinks the last one was about five years ago, a fishing expedition from a conservative organization essentially seeking all of their records going back to the 1950s. When the organization learned how much it would have to pay to cover the costs of its truly expansive request, it apparently backed off.

The Supreme Court has recognized the unique role that universities, including public universities, play in maintaining our liberties. As it stated in 1957, during the McCarthy era, "[t]eachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die."

That is why the American Historical Society has strongly condemned the efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to intimidate Professor Cronon:

The purpose of the state's Open Records Law is to promote informed public conversation. Historians vigorously support the freedom of information act traditions of the United States of which this law is a part. In this case, however, the law has been invoked to do the opposite: to find a pretext for discrediting a scholar who has taken a public position. This inquiry will damage, rather than promote, public conversation. It will discourage other historians (and scholars in other disciplines) employed by public institutions from speaking out as citizen-scholars in their blogs, op-ed pieces, articles, books, and other writings.

We should recognize that public universities are a unique hybrid. They are funded by the public, and we should be able to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent efficiently and legally. But their work also contributes to the robust debate over public issues without which our freedom will die. And that debate requires that we protect academic freedom and ensure that faculty have no reason to feel intimidated for asking difficult questions, conducting their research and writings, and making statements that those in power do not wish to hear.

That is the American Way.

PFAW

GOP Women Rally Behind Planned Parenthood

Christine Todd Whitman, former Republican governor of New Jersey and member of the George W. Bush administration, wrote an impassioned op-ed for a New Jersey newspaper today, calling attempts to defund Planned Parenthood and other family planning services “unacceptable”:

I know firsthand the value of Planned Parenthood health centers in providing preventive care to women. In rural areas, Planned Parenthood is often the only place to turn for vital health care needs as well as sex education, and in dense urban areas, Planned Parenthood provides these same services to women in disproportionately low income and underserved communities.

Every year, Planned Parenthood’s doctors and nurses provide more than 3 million women with preventive health care, including nearly one million lifesaving screenings for cervical cancer, 830,000 breast exams, contraception to nearly 2.5 million patients and nearly four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Literally, they are a trusted health care provider to millions of women.

For those who oppose abortion, they should know that Planned Parenthood’s services prevent 973,000 unintended pregnancies and 406,000 abortions each year. Those are statistics that Republicans and Democrats should wholeheartedly embrace.

But the extreme proposals undermining both the National Family Planning Program and Planned Parenthood will have an adverse effect on those numbers. While defunding Planned Parenthood will do nothing to reduce the deficit or improve the economy, it will lead to an increase in unplanned pregnancies and abortions and result in escalating Medicaid costs.

Republican senators Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins have also been adamant about preserving federal funding for Planned Parenthood and similar organizations. Murkowski wrote to the leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee, ““I believe Planned Parenthood provides vital services to those in need and disagree with their funding cuts in the bill.” Collins’ spokesman told Politico that federal family planning funds have “successfully reduced the number of unplanned pregnancies, therefore helping to reduce health care costs.”

Meanwhile, social conservatives are continuing to lob at Planned Parenthood every attack they can muster. Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, wrote an op-ed today arguing that the organization is somehow responsible for a hike in abortions and in STDs.

 

PFAW

Still More Bipartisan Support for Goodwin Liu

Richard Painter, once the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, has a comprehensive, well-researched piece in the Huffington Post whose title says it all: "Qualified, Measured, and Mainstream: Why the Senate Should Confirm Goodwin Liu." Now a professor at the University of Minnesota, this conservative lawyer is one of the many legal scholars from across the political spectrum to support Liu's nomination.

Despite this broad support, perhaps no jurist nominated to the federal bench by President Obama has been maligned, mischaracterized, and mistreated by far right extremists more than Goodwin Liu. Point by point, Painter demolishes the myths about Liu. As Painter explains in detail, the caricature the far right has created bears no relation to reality. As he writes:

Liu's opponents have sought to demonize him as a "radical," "extremist," and worse. National Review Online's Ed Whelan has led the charge with a "one-stop repository" of attacks on Liu. However, for anyone who has actually read Liu's writings or watched his testimony, it's clear that the attacks--filled with polemic, caricature, and hyperbole--reveal very little about this exceptionally qualified, measured, and mainstream nominee. ...

This post brings together a variety of material about Liu:

  • First, I review Liu's background, qualifications, and key endorsements.
  • Second, I highlight two letters from respected authorities that shed important light on Liu's scholarly record.
  • Third, I provide several responses to various attacks on Liu.
  • Fourth, I address Liu's opposition to the Supreme Court confirmations of Roberts and Alito, two Justices whom I vigorously supported as a Bush administration lawyer and whom I believe were outstanding additions to the Court.

These materials summarize why Liu is an excellent choice for the federal bench. But even if you read this entire post, nothing substitutes for reading Liu's writings or watching his testimony for yourself. That is how I reached the conclusion that Liu deserves an up-or-down vote in the Senate and ought to be confirmed.

Liu's nomination has been stalled by Republican senators for more than a year. Today, he appears yet again before the Senate Judiciary Committee. When the committee once again approves his nomination and sends it to the Senate floor, leadership should schedule a vote, defy any GOP threats to filibuster, and get this most talented of judicial nominees confirmed at last.

PFAW

In Overcrowded Courts, Justice Delayed

We write a lot about “judicial emergencies”—situations where slow-downs in the judicial nominations process have led court systems to be woefully understaffed. These cases are not emergencies because judges have to work harder—they’re emergencies because when courts are overworked, access to justice is delayed.

Last week, Politics Daily’s Andrew Cohen explained what is happening in Arizona, where Chief District Court Judge John Roll was murdered when he stopped by an event with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to talk with her about the overcrowded courts. Roll had been planning to request that Arizona be labeled a “judicial emergency” in order to loosen restrictions on speedy trials:

Roll did not live to see his request granted. But on Tuesday, less than three weeks after he was shot by accused gunman Jared Lee Loughner, Roll's successor finally did declare a "judicial emergency" in the state after consulting with the 9th Circuit's Judicial Council. The move by Chief U.S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver allows federal judges in the state to wait for as long as 180 days between the time of the indictment or complaint and the time of trial, even if a criminal defendant wants to go to trial more quickly.

The administrative move could delay the Loughner case itself, depending upon whether the 22-year-old defendant's attorneys try to change the trial venue from Arizona to another state or if federal prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty against Loughner. Most federal murder cases do not go to trial quickly anyway, in large part because of the significant pre-trial work it typically takes for lawyers to prepare their cases. The government has not yet charged Loughner with a capital crime. The next hearing in the case is set for March 9.

The extraordinary action by Silver was taken because of the sheer volume of cases. According to the 9th Circuit: "The Arizona federal court has the third highest criminal caseload in the nation, driven by illegal immigration and drug smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border. Criminal cases have increased 65 percent since 2008, when the federal government greatly expanded its law enforcement efforts along the border. The bulk of the criminal caseload is assigned to the court's Tucson division, where three judges currently handle approximately 1,200 cases each" (emphasis added).

There are currently 101 empty seats in the federal courts, 49 of which have been labeled as judicial emergencies [pdf]. Chief Justice John Roberts recently pleaded with the Senate to stop holding up judicial nominees, saying their stalling had resulted in “acute difficulties for some judicial districts.” Justice Anthony Kennedy told the Los Angeles Times, “It's important for the public to understand that the excellence of the federal judiciary is at risk.”

In an editorial memo last week, PFAW outlined the Senate obstruction that has been largely responsible for the slow pace of filling judicial vacancies in the Obama administration:

On the occasions when it has confirmed nominees to the bench, the Senate has slowed down the process to the point of absurdity. During the first two years of the George W. Bush administration, District Court nominees were confirmed in an average of 25 days. Under President Obama, the wait has averaged 104 days. For Circuit Court judges, the time has increased six-fold, from 26 days to 163 days on average.

Senators need only to look to Arizona to see the real impact that playing politics with judicial nominations has on the ability of citizens to get prompt access to justice.
 

PFAW

Johnson Picks Corporate Lobbyist as Chief of Staff

The first major decision any newly-elected member of Congress makes is who will serve as his or her chief of staff. The personnel choice says a lot about the member’s personality and priorities. Off-the-charts extremist Congressman-Elect Allen West, for instance, chose off-the-charts extremist radio host Joyce Kauffman (before the “liberal left” raised some concerns about her role inciting a school shooting plot). It should come as no surprise, then, that Wisconsin Senator-Elect Ron Johnson, whose pro-corporate policies earned him plenty of corporate cash on the campaign trail, has picked a corporate lobbyist to lead his team in Washington.

Johnson’s pick, reports Express Milwaukee, is Don Kent, who after a gig at the Department of Homeland Security in the Bush Administration, “became a lobbyist at Navigators Global, where he ‘heads up the Homeland Security practice.’”:

Johnson’s choice of Kent shows that he’s trying to ingratiate himself with big defense contractors, Big Pharma and anti-worker groups.

Navigator Global’s clients include AgustaWestland North America, the world’s largest helicopter manufacturer; the Coalition of California Growers, which was fighting a bill that would make it easier for workers to organize; the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which was fighting an effort that would allow some taxpayers to file their state tax returns for free; the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, when then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was investigating the industry; Pfizer; and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, which wanted to block the reimportation of Canadian drugs to bring down costs for consumers.

Plenty of people—including members of Congress—go in and out of the revolving door between Capitol Hill and K Street. But Johnson’s choice makes a clear statement about the difference between him and his predecessor, Russ Feingold. Feingold has been one of the Senate’s strongest champions of clean elections and transparent government, and wrote the campaign finance law that was largely gutted by the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. In the first election after Citizens United, Johnson benefitted from a flood of outside money, some from pro-corporate groups, to unseat Feingold.

It’s one of the first signs that the corporate interests that funded Tea Party candidates across the country are going to get what they paid for.

Via The Awl
 

PFAW

Bipartisan Agreement Breaks Out at Hearing on Faith Based Initiatives

At today’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties, there was one item on which witnesses and Members of Congress from across partisan and ideological divides agreed: the Obama administration is ducking an important and controversial decision on whether religious organizations that take federal money to provide social services can discriminate on the basis of religion when hiring people to provide those services.  The administration further dodged the issue and rankled committee members by declining an invitation to testify.

There is some progress to report: the hearing came one day after the White House issued a long-awaited Executive Order (Subcommittee Chair Jerold Nadler called the pace of reform “glacial”) on the topic of federal funding for faith-based groups.  The Executive Order implements a number of recommendations made by an advisory council the administration had created to review what was called the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives by the Bush Administration and what is now called the Office of Faith-Based and Community Partnerships. Melissa Rogers, Director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest Divinity School and a co-chair of the president’s commission, was among those who testified.
 
Among the elements of the new Executive Order and provisions to: require that beneficiaries who object to a religiously affiliated program have access to a secular alternative; clarify rules requiring that federal money not be used for religious activities like worship or proselytizing; ensure that awards are made on the basis of merit, not religious or political considerations; and require meaningful oversight of grants without excessive entanglement in religious groups’ internal affairs.  These provisions were mostly welcomed across the political spectrum (with some sniping from the Religious Right), though there was disagreement in the advisory council over the issue of social services being provided in rooms where religious art or symbols are displayed (the administration OK’d religious symbols in rooms where secular programs are carried out) and over the question of requiring churches to set up separate nonprofit organizations to receive federal money (the administration decided not to require that step).
 
But the big unresolved issue is one that the Obama White House prevented its own advisory commission from addressing – whether groups can decide to hire only people of a certain faith for social service jobs that are being funded by American taxpayers.
 
People For the American Way, like all the Democrats present at the hearing, believes the Obama administration should overturn the poorly reasoned Bush-era Justice Department memo that misinterpreted the law to allow federally funded discrimination.  During his 2008 campaign, Obama explicitly pledged to do so. But since then the administration has declared that the Justice Department would consider the issue on a case-by-case basis. 
 
Religious Right groups and their political allies want the administration to explicitly embrace the status quo set up during the Bush administration, which allows hiring discrimination.  Progressive groups want the administration to revoke the controversial Bush-era legal memo and return to a bright line standard against taxpayer-funded discrimination.  Pretty much everyone agrees that churches and religious groups can and should be able to make religiously-grounded hiring decisions for jobs that are paid for with privately raised funds.  And everyone agrees that administration’s “case by case” approach makes no sense.
 
Come to think of it, there was one other topic of agreement: Rep. Trent Franks doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Franks, who gained a measure of infamy last year when he denounced President Obama as an “enemy of humanity,” popped into the hearing to assert that the administration’s lack of clarity on the hiring issue was stirring controversy over a principle that the federal courts had settled for 50 years, the right of religious groups to hire based on religion.  After Franks left, there was general consensus in the room that, to be charitable, Franks was confusing the basic issue: the difference between private and taxpayer funds.  Franks wrapped his embarrassing confusion in Religious Right rhetoric about groups that supposedly want to erase religion from public life, or in his memorable words, ensure that “anything in the shadow of the American flag cannot be religious.”
PFAW

Tracking the Obstruction: Obama v. Bush

Last month I helped you decipher what progress does and doesn’t mean for executive branch nominations being considered in the Senate. I can now add that President Obama’s executive branch nominations are generally lagging behind President Bush’s when it comes to the Executive Calendar (list of all treaties and nominations that are ready to be taken up on the Senate floor).

On 11/12, the average age of Cabinet nominations ever placed on the Calendar was 34 days, and the average time spent on the Calendar was 10 days. That sounds pretty low, right? Well, it’s not when compared to President Bush’s rates at that same time – an average age of 12 days and an average time of 3 days. Even at the end of his Administration, President Bush was still way ahead of President Obama – an average age of 25 days and an average time of 7 days.

The same holds true for lower level nominations and when you count both Cabinet and lower level together – with one caveat.

On 11/12, the average age of lower level nominations ever placed on the Calendar was 103 days, and the average time spent on the Calendar was 36 days. For President Bush at that same time it was an average age of 68 days and an average time of 16 days. When you count both Cabinet and lower level together, President Obama’s average age was 102 days and the average time was 36 days, with President Bush at 66 days and 16 days at that same time.

The caveat: the numbers draw much closer or even level out by the time you get to the end of the Bush Administration. Where President Obama was at 103 days and 36 days for lower level nominations, President Bush finished out at 103 days and 30 days. Where President Obama was at 102 days and 36 days when you count both Cabinet and lower level together, President Bush finished out at 102 days and 29 days.

It might help to look at the charts from which these statistics were drawn. Please click here to go to our latest report on executive branch nominations. See the “Executive Calendar” section starting on page 3.

So why is there any holdup at all? Simple. Senate Republicans have thus far made the decision to do whatever they can to trip up President Obama, even if that means denying the country a fully-staffed government doing the best possible work. After all, who has time to actually govern when the next presidential election is just two years away?

PFAW

The Voter-Fraud Fraud

"I don't want everybody to vote ... our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." - Paul Weyrich, founding father of the conservative movement, 1980.

When news hit last week that Democrats were doing better than expected in early voting turnout, Republican Dick Armey - whose FreedomWorks organization ensures that the Tea party is well funded by Big Business - immediately took to the airwaves with two goals: to delegitimize any potential Election Day victories for Democrats, and to justify this year's efforts by Republicans and their allies to keep people of color from voting. Armey told Fox News viewers that:

Democrats vote early because there's "less ballot security," creating a "great opportunity" for fraud. He also claimed that such fraudulent early voting is "pinpointed to the major urban areas. The inner city."

Of course, the former congressman had no more evidence to support his false and inflammatory claims than Joseph McCarthy had for his. But he does have an echo chamber of Republican and allied supporters all making the same unsupported claims of rampant voter fraud to justify aggressive efforts to keep likely Democratic voters - especially African Americans - out of the voting booth.

First, let there be mo mistake: Analysis after analysis has shown that there is no national problem with voter fraud. For instance, in its report The Truth About Voter Fraud, the Brennan Center for Justice has

analyzed purported fraud cited by state and federal courts; multipartisan and bipartisan federal commissions; political party entities; state and local election officials; and authors, journalists, and bloggers. Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated - and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked.

Similarly, when the New York Times turned its investigatory resources to the "problem" of voter fraud in 2007, it found that

[f]ive years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department ha[d] turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Nevertheless, the Republicans and their close allies are up to their usual election-time hysterics about voter fraud, especially by nefarious dark-skinned people. They are ginning up fears of stolen elections ... so they can suppress the vote and thereby steal the elections themselves.

Over the past few weeks, as reported in Talking Points Memo and elsewhere:

  • In Illinois, Republican Senate nominee Mark Kirk inadvertently disclosed his plan to send "voter integrity" squads to two predominately African-American neighborhoods of Chicago and two other urban areas of Illinois with significant minority populations "where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat."
  • In Houston, Texas, Tea Party poll watchers claiming to be preventing voter fraud have been accused of "hovering over" voters, "getting into election workers' faces" and blocking or disrupting lines of voters who were waiting to cast their ballots as early voting got underway. The most aggressive poll watching has been at African American and Latino precincts. The Department of Justice is investigating.
  • In Wisconsin, Tea Party groups, the pro-corporate Americans for Prosperity, and the state GOP have been involved in a vote caging operation that seeks to challenge the eligibility of minority and student voters. In addition, dozens of billboards are being put up showing people behind bars with an ominous warning that voter fraud is a felony.
  • The West Virginia Republican Party plans to send "ballot security teams" to all of the state's fifty-five counties in search of "illegal activity" at the polls.
  • In Minnesota, a coalition of Tea Party and other right wing groups is offering a $500 reward for information leading to voter fraud convictions, an inducement that may encourage voter harassment.
  • In Indiana and elsewhere, Republicans and allies are photographing voters at early voting locations.
  • Michelle Malkin went on Fox News to discuss what the far right media outlet described as "reports of voter fraud on a massive scale with the intention of keeping Democrats in office." Malkin poured oil on the fire by claiming that "We are all voter fraud police now," accusing progressives of trying to win elections "by any means necessary."

This isn't new territory for the Right. For instance, in 2006, the Bush Administration fired U.S. Attorneys who refused to press phony voter fraud prosecutions. In 2008, until their plans were exposed, Michigan Republicans planned to use home foreclosure lists to challenge likely Democratic voters at the polls, supposedly to prevent voter fraud. That same year, the Montana Republican Party challenged the eligibility of 6,000 registered voters in the state's Democratic strongholds after matching the statewide voter database with the National Change of Address database to identify voters who aren't living where they are registered to vote. In Ohio, voter caging was used as a prelude to challenge individuals at the voting precinct.

These actions were part of a larger pattern. During the fall of 2008, the Right was setting itself up to challenge the integrity of the election. Across the country, they repeatedly trumped up claims of voter fraud, attacking ACORN and other voter registration efforts and lambasting the Justice Department for its failure to stop this alleged "fraud." However, that effort sputtered when the false claims of voter fraud mushroomed into threats against ACORN workers and vandalism of their offices, which PFAW helped to expose. Last year's doctored "pimp and prostitute" ACORN videos and their aftermath showed the lengths Republicans and their allies are willing to go to demonize and ultimately destroy successful minority voter registration efforts.

Clearly, the Right puts a great deal of energy into tackling a non-existent problem. But while these actions may do nothing to prevent instances of voter fraud that were never going to happen in the first place, they do accomplish something very important, as noted above: They intimidate people, often people of color, into not voting. They also work to paint any election victory by Democrats as illegitimate, thereby seriously destabilizing one of the foundations needed for America's constitutional government to work.

Voting is our assurance that those in power govern only by the consent of the people. The theory of American electoral democracy is that We the People act through government officials who we elect to act on our behalf. However, that assumes that all parties are willing to abide by the results of free and fair elections, win or lose.

Unfortunately, when the most powerful groups in society are willing to ignore democratic principles when it’s convenient - when they are eager to disenfranchise those who are most likely to vote against them - the democratic system fails.

In the past, these forces used poll taxes, literacy tests, and even brute force to keep disfavored Americans from voting, staining the legitimacy of the elected government in the process. Today, far more wary of appearances, they use the false accusation of "voter fraud" to do the same thing, often against the same targets: African Americans and other people of color.

PFAW

Americans For Prosperity Sends Us an Email

Yesterday, PFAW released “After Citizens United,” documenting the torrents of money that have poured into the political system since the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision allowing corporations the same rights as people to influence elections.

Imagine my glee when I found an e-mail from Americans For Prosperity, one of the organizations profiled in the report, in my Inbox this morning:

People for the American Way,

You recently released a report where you parroted a false attack that has repeatedly been levied against Americans for Prosperity. Neither our operations nor our donors were affected in any way by Citizens United. Please see our release below in response to the President’s repeated misrepresentation of this important Supreme Court decision.

I await your clarification.

James Valvo

Director of Government Affairs

Americans for Prosperity

James helpfully included this press release by way of support.

We’re always happy to hear feedback on our reports, even unsubstantiated criticism, so I figured AFP might appreciate some feedback on some of the work it's been doing.

James –

Thanks so much for your note regarding our report.

We’d be more than happy to address your claims just as soon as you address a few concerns that we have.

As our report notes, AFP spent $750,000 on an ad claiming that “government-run health care” would harm cancer patients, especially women with breast cancer. PolitiFact gave the ad its “Pants on Fire” rating for distorting both new recommendations on mammograms and the Health Care Reform bill, which has a provision to “ensure that mammograms for women aged 40 to 50 would be covered,” and FactCheck called it “very misleading.” AFP should retract these ads.

AFP has also run ads concentrated on the Stimulus Plan, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and Health Care Reform. AFP’s ads push the fictitious claim that Health Care Reform creates “Government Healthcare.” PolitiFact points out that “Obama’s plan leaves in place the private health care system, but seeks to expand it to the uninsured.” AFP should certainly retract these ads.

In addition, your group also misleads viewers by interpreting savings from waste and overpayment in the Medicare program as cuts affecting seniors. Americans for Prosperity also employs false attacks against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and groundlessly blames the Stimulus Plan for increased unemployment, even though studies show that the Stimulus stopped the prolongation of the massive job losses which began under the Bush Administration. These claims should be clarified or retracted.

Also, while I have your attention, I’d be curious to get your take on the unethical and possibly illegal voter caging in Wisconsin in which AFP has been implicated. As you know, federal law prohibits racially targeted caging operations as well as the process of challenging voters based solely on returned mail. It seems appropriate for AFP to make public statements affirming the right of all American citizens to cast a vote and to dissociate itself from any attempts at voter suppression.

Once you’ve taken care of those issues, I’d be happy to arrange a time for our lawyers to go over our report with you.

With best wishes,

Drew

Drew Courtney

Director of Communications

People For the American Way

We’ll see if they write back.

In the mean time, read more about Americans For Prosperity, Club For Growth, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other organizations trying to buy the 2010 elections in “After Citizens United.”

PFAW

Today’s GOP “More Extreme” than Bush?

Remember when GOP candidates were doing everything they could to distance themselves from President George W. Bush? Well, the GOP is still moving away from Bush…moving to his right. The Huffington Post’s Sam Stein talked with David Axelrod, President Obama’s strategist, about the upcoming elections:

"I saw that [Alaska GOP Senate candidate] Joe Miller said that he would abolish Social Security if he had the chance and he is not alone," said chief adviser David Axelrod. "This is akin to what [Nevada GOP Senate candidate] Sharron Angle has said in Nevada and also a number of these other Republicans. So, this could go one step beyond the policies of the Bush administration to something more extreme than we have seen."

And it’s not just new faces like Miller and Angle who are moving the Republican part to the right - even key players in the party’s center have moved rightward since President Obama’s inauguration (just look at Maverick McCain’s shifting stands on immigration reform, campaign finance, and religious freedom).

Axelrod is far from an impartial observer, but he makes a good point: this year’s Tea Party-fueled Republican Party is looking a lot more extreme than the right-wing administration Americans rejected two years ago.

But what happens if the political pendulum does swing and extreme-right Republican candidates are faced with acting on their promises? It’s hard to believe that abolishing Social Security, repealing Health Care Reform, and denying citizenship to thousands of children will actually be an effective strategy for governing, let along a long-term political success.
 

PFAW

FL-Senate: Tea Party Candidate Marco Rubio Trumpets the GOP's Backwards, Orwellian Anti-Logic on Deficits and Bush Tax Cuts

Thank you, Heather at Crooks and Liars:

After Dick Cheney famously told us that "deficits don't matter" and the Bush administration broke the bank with their tax cuts for the rich and military occupations, Marco Rubio in this week's Republican Weekly Address tells us that the "American dream" is threatened by deficit spending and for heaven's sake, don't get rid of those Bush tax cuts that helped break the bank in the first place.

I'd like for Marco Rubio to explain why Bush had the worst job creation record of any president if those tax cuts helped to create jobs?

But in the mean time... USA!... USA!... we're the greatest country on the face of the earth. And more tax cuts for the rich. Good grief. Their idea of the "American" dream is for all of us to be living in squalor.

Watch Rubio's address here.

PFAW

Chairman Leahy Reprimands Senate Republicans

After helping Elena Kagan sail through the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Leahy isn’t content resting on his laurels. Yesterday the Chairman censured his Republican colleagues for their obstructionism on lower profile but just as vital judicial nominations. When Republicans foiled his attempt to schedule discussion on 4th Circuit nominee Jane Stranch of Tenessee, who enjoys the bipartisan support of her home state Senators, Chairman Leahy called them out:

Senate Republicans have further ratcheted up the obstruction and partisanship that have regrettably become commonplace this Congress with regard to judicial nominees. We asked merely for a time agreement to debate and vote on the nomination. I did not foreclose any Republican Senator from voting against the nominee or speaking against the nominee but simply wanted a standard agreement in order to allow the majority leader to schedule the debate and get to a vote. This is for a nomination reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee over eight months ago with bipartisan support. Yet the Republican leader objected and blocked our consideration.

For anyone who still thinks that both parties engage in this kind of obstructionism when in the minority, Senator Leahy came prepared with statistics:

No one should be confused: the current obstruction and stalling by Senate Republicans is unprecedented. There is no systematic counterpart by Senate Democrats. In fact, during the first 2 years of the Bush administration, the 100 judges confirmed were considered by the Democratically controlled Senate an average of 25 days from being reported by the Judiciary Committee. The average time for confirmed Federal circuit court nominees was 26 days. The average time for the 36 Federal circuit and district and circuit court judges confirmed since President Obama took office is 82 days and the average time for Federal circuit nominees is 126 days. So when Republicans say that we are moving faster than we did during the first 2 years of the Bush administration they are wrong. It was not until the summer of 2001 that the Senate majority shifted to Democrats, but as soon as it did, we proceeded on the judicial nominations of President Bush, a Republican President. Indeed, by this date during the second year of the Bush administration, the Senate had confirmed 58 of his judicial nominations and we were on the way to confirming 100 by the end of the year. By contrast, Republican obstruction of President Obama's judicial nominees has meant that only 36 of his judicial nominees have been confirmed. We have fallen dramatically behind the pace set for consideration of President Bush's nominees.

…Indeed, when President Bush was in the White House, Senate Republicans took the position that it was unconstitutional and wholly inappropriate not to vote on nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. With a Democratic President, they have reverted to the secret holds that resulted in pocket filibusters of more than 60 nominees during the Clinton years. Last year, Senate Republicans successfully stalled all but a dozen Federal circuit and district court nominees. That was the lowest total number of judges confirmed in more than 50 years. They have continued that practice despite the fact that judicial vacancies continue to hover around 100, with more than 40 declared judicial emergencies.

As Chairman Leahy emphasized, these obstructionist tactics have rarely come with explanations. For example, Judge James Wynn, who was nominated first by President Clinton and then by President Obama and would become the first black Justice on the 4th Circuit, has been on anonymous hold for six months with no reason given.

Our judicial system can’t function properly without qualified judges on the bench. But Senate Republicans are leaving dozens of judicial vacancies open for purely political reasons. Good for Chairman Leahy for speaking out on this.

PFAW