Census

To Defeat Obama, A Simple, Dishonest Plan

We’ve been covering a number of attempts by state GOP lawmakers to prevent traditionally Democratic voters from casting votes that count – including a flood of new laws requiring photo ID to vote.

But all those are nothing compared to what Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled legislature is considering: changing the state’s system of apportioning electoral votes so that even if President Obama wins the state’s popular vote in 2012, he’d take less than half of its electors. Nick Baumann at Mother Jones reports:

The problem for Obama, and the opportunity for Republicans, is the electoral college. Every political junkie knows that the presidential election isn't a truly national contest; it's a state-by-state fight, and each state is worth a number of electoral votes equal to the size of the state's congressional delegation. (The District of Columbia also gets three votes.) There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs; win 270, and you're the president.


Here's the rub, though: Each state gets to determine how its electoral votes are allocated. Currently, 48 states and DC use a winner-take-all system in which the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all of its electoral votes. Under the Republican plan—which has been endorsed by top Republicans in both houses of the state's legislature, as well as the governor, Tom Corbett—Pennsylvania would change from this system to one where each congressional district gets its own electoral vote. (Two electoral votes—one for each of the state's two senators—would go to the statewide winner.)


This could cost Obama dearly. The GOP controls both houses of the state legislature plus the governor's mansion—the so-called "redistricting trifecta"—in Pennsylvania. Congressional district maps are adjusted after every census, and the last one just finished up. That means Pennsylvania Republicans get to draw the boundaries of the state's congressional districts without any input from Democrats. Some of the early maps have leaked to the press, and Democrats expect that the Pennsylvania congressional map for the 2012 elections will have 12 safe GOP seats compared to just 6 safe Democratic seats.


Under the Republican plan, if the GOP presidential nominee carries the GOP-leaning districts but Obama carries the state, the GOP nominee would get 12 electoral votes out of Pennsylvania, but Obama would only get eight—six for winning the blue districts, and two (representing the state's two senators) for carrying the state. This would have an effect equivalent to flipping a small winner-take-all state—say, Nevada, which has six electoral votes—from blue to red. And Republicans wouldn't even have to do any extra campaigning or spend any extra advertising dollars to do it.
 


Baumann adds:

Nebraska and Maine already have the system the Pennsylvania GOP is pushing. But the two states' small electoral vote values mean it's actually mathematically impossible for a candidate to win the popular vote there but lose the electoral vote, says Akhil Reed Amar, a constitutional law professor at Yale University. Pennsylvania, however, is a different story: "It might be very likely to happen in [Pennsylvania], and that's what makes this something completely new under the sun," Amar says. "It's something that no previous legislature in America since the Civil War has ever had the audacity to impose."

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with apportioning electoral votes by congressional district like Maine and Nebraska do – but when the strategy is combined with political gerrymandering and applied only selectively it becomes decidedly undemocratic. That Pennsylvania Republicans are not planning to divvy up the state’s electoral votes to match the percentage breakdown of the popular vote indicates that this has nothing to do with reflecting the will of the people, and everything to do with aggressive anti-democratic power plays.

The plan, though dishonest, is perfectly legal – and available to a number of large states now controlled by GOP legislatures.

The plan seems almost too convenient for the Pennsylvania GOP, but I wonder if it would backfire – suppressive laws like voter ID requirements can be hidden under made-up “voter fraud” threats, but what excuse could a legislature come up with for a plan to make every single Democratic voter in the state count for less? I’d like to think that once fair-minded Pennsylvanians get a whiff of this, they won’t let their legislature get away with it.

h/t Digby’s Hullabaloo
 

PFAW

ACLU DNA, Lead Paint, and the Judges who Made it Through GOP Obstruction

As we like to remind anyone who will listen, the current GOP senate has been shameless in its enthusiasm for obstructing judicial nominees just for the sake of obstruction. For instance, a PFAW memo on August 2 reported that of 24 nominees then waiting for confirmation votes, 21 had been voted through the Senate Judiciary Committee with no recorded opposition. Instead of sending through at least the unopposed nominees in a voice vote and moving on with its business, the Senate decided to keep these potential jurists off the bench for as long as possible – despite the pressing problem of unfilled judicial seats leading to slowed down justice. Ultimately, 4 of those nominees were confirmed by the Senate before it left for its August recess, and 20 remain waiting. (The Washington Post this morning lamented that such “gamesmanship is not only frustrating but also destructive”)

This sort of thing is a clear example of obstruction for obstruction’s sake. But what about the nominees who do face some GOP opposition? Last week, The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen took an in-depth look at some of President Obama’s nominees who were ultimately confirmed by the Senate, but who received more than 25 “no” votes. The reason? Most were opposed because of a record fighting for civil liberties or against big corporations. Here are a few of Cohen’s examples:

7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Hamilton (Votes 59-39). Even though his local Federalist Society endorsed this nephew of former Congressional leader Lee Hamilton, Senate Republicans mostly didn't because, as a trial judge, Hamilton had issued this 2005 ruling which had infuriated the religious right. Citing Supreme Court precedent, Judge Hamilton had ruled that Indiana's legislative prayer before each session could no longer be "sectarian" and regularly invoke the name of Jesus Christ.


Northern District of Ohio Judge Benita Y. Pearson (Votes 56-39). The first black female federal jurist in Ohio almost didn't get the gig. The precise reasons why are unclear. The People for the American Way suggested that she was a member of an animal rights group and thus earned the wrath of those in the cattle industries -- although 39 "no" votes is quite a lot of beef to have against a pioneering jurist.


District of Colorado Judge William J. Martinez
(Votes 58-37). By contrast, it is not hard to understand why this Mexico-born nominee roused so much Republican opposition on the floor of the Senate. Before he was nominated, Martinez advised the Americans with Civil Liberties Union and was a lawyer for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (just like Clarence Thomas before him, only Justice Thomas' EEOC experience evidently was a boon for his nomination). Of nominee Martinez, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said: "It seems that if you've got the ACLU DNA you've got a pretty good leg up to being nominated by this president."


District of Rhode Island Judge John J. McConnell (Votes 50-44). It's also fairly clear why Judge McConnell almost didn't make it onto the bench. Senate Republicans didn't like him because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce didn't like him because, as a lawyer, McConnell had successfully sued Big Tobacco and fought for those harmed by lead paint. Evidently that's five Republican votes more serious in the Senate than ticking off Big Beef.


Northern District of California Judge Edward M. Chen
(Votes 56-42). Like Judge Martinez, Edward Chen evidently was touched with the "ACLU gene," which rendered him objectionable to Senate Republicans. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), whose state's Asian population is nearly three times lower than the American average, voted against Chen because he thought the well-respected former magistrate judge employed the "empathy standard" of judging.


District of Oregon Judge Michael H. Simon
(Votes 64-35). Harvard educated? Check. Prior government experience with the Justice Department? Check. So why 35 "no" votes? Because Simon had worked for the ACLU. The seat he took on the federal bench, reported the Oregonian, had been vacant for 664 days, two months short of two years. How would you like to have been a litigant in Oregon during that time?


All of these nominees were ultimately confirmed – but not after plenty of stalling and debate over the value of “ACLU DNA” or of holding big corporations accountable for their actions. When we talk about the many nominees who are unopposed yet unaccountably stalled, it’s important to remember that the few nominees who do face GOP opposition don’t always face that opposition for the most convincing of reasons.
 

PFAW

Wisconsin News Round-Up, 8/5

News from Wisconsin:

  • Election Day is only four days away, but there’s still a long road ahead. RNC Chair Reince Priebus, in a spectacular failure of expectations management, said Friday that the RNC is “all in” on the Wisconsin recalls, and that they’re “not nervous” about winning the elections. I’m not sure I believe him, especially as his position has now shifted to “nothing to see here, move along please”, telling reporters these are local races and there's no national significance to the recalls. That would be why the Republican National Committee that Priebus chairs is pouring money into the race, right? He might be on to something, though: regardless of the outcome of the elections, the people have already won by shining a light on the plight of working people and the dangerous policies of Walker’s right-wing agenda. Still, with We Are Wisconsin announcing they have contacted one million voters, and absentee voting at “near record pace” in some areas, I think Priebus has reason to be nervous. Even Dan Kapanke seems to agree, with the Pierce County Herald reporting that Kapanke said Republicans better hope public employees sleep through Election Day. Except it’s not just public employees he has to worry about: it’s seniors, students and ordinary working families across Wisconsin who have been damaged by Walker’s policies, and unfortunately for Kapanke, I think they already woke up.
  • Still, that doesn’t mean the radical Right isn’t fighting with all they’ve got (which is a lot) to win this thing, and they’re not playing by the rules, either. Americans For Prosperity, a Koch brothers front group which has already funded Walker’s campaign against Wisconsinites, is sending out absentee ballots with false information on them, telling voters to return their ballots after election day, to a non-government address used by other right-wing groups in the past. Stay classy!
  • Last week, we learned that Kim Simac thinks our public schools have similarities to schools under the Nazi regime. This week she’s clarifying those comments, by telling us our public schools have similarities to Nazi schools. Asked about her comments, she told WPR that she’s “not worried that we're going that way, absolutely not”, but then went on talk about “similarities that seem to happen”, concluding that this isn’t “a conversation that I should hide from.” Please, Kim, let’s keep talking about our Nazi schools. It’s not like there’s an economy that needs fixing or anything.
  • Alberta Darling is still managing to surprise us with her detachment from reality: she thinks people who earn over $250,000 “aren’t wealthy people” and thus deserve a tax break, while working families continue to struggle with the consequences of Walker’s massive cuts. By the way, the median household income in Wisconsin is less than one-fifth of that at $49,994 (which means half the households in Wisconsin earn less than that). About 2% of Americans, and 3% of small businesses for that matter, make more than $250,000 a year.
  • In other news, the “chokehold” incident between Justice David Prosser and Justice Ann Bradley is facing further investigation, with the Dane County District Attorney asking that a special prosecutor be appointed.
  • On Monday, the State Senate approved the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, with Assembly Republicans supporting the bill because it saves the state money- despite the reality that unemployment benefits are one of the best forms of stimulus, generating a return to the economy of $1.64 for every $1 spent. But Republicans don’t really care about the economic crisis’ impact on ordinary people, as long as their friends in the top 2% get their tax break. Welcome to Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.
PFAW

Wisconsin News Round-Up, 8/2

More news from Wisconsin:

  • Election Day is only a week away, but there’s still a long road ahead. RNC Chair Reince Priebus, in a spectacular failure of expectations management, said Friday that the RNC is “all in” on the Wisconsin recalls, and that they’re “not nervous” about winning the elections. I’m not sure I believe him. With We Are Wisconsin announcing they have contacted one million voters, and absentee voting at “near record pace” in some areas, I think Priebus has plenty of reason to be nervous. Even Dan Kapanke seems to agree, with the Pierce County Herald reporting that Kapanke said Republicans better hope public employees sleep through Election Day. Except it’s not just public employees he has to worry about: it’s seniors, students and ordinary working families across Wisconsin who have been damaged by Walker’s policies, and unfortunately for Kapanke, I think they already woke up.
  • Still, that doesn’t mean the radical Right isn’t fighting with all they’ve got (which is a lot) to win this thing, and they’re not playing by the rules, either. Americans For Prosperity, a Koch brothers front group which has already funded Walker’s campaign against Wisconsinites, is sending out absentee ballots with false information on them, telling voters to return their ballots after election day, to a fake address used by other right-wing groups in the past. Stay classy!
  • Alberta Darling is still managing to surprise us with her detachment from reality: she thinks people who earn over $250,000 “aren’t wealthy people” and thus deserve a tax break, while working families continue to struggle with the consequences of Walker’s massive cuts. By the way, the median household income in Wisconsin is less than one-fifth of that at $49,994 (which means half the households in Wisconsin earn less than that). About 2% of Americans, and 3% of small businesses for that matter, make more than $250,000 a year.
  • In other news, the “chokehold” incident between Justice David Prosser and Justice Ann Bradley is facing further investigation, with the Dane County District Attorney asking that a special prosecutor be appointed. Yesterday, the State Senate approved the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, with Assembly Republicans supporting the bill because it saves the state money- despite the reality that unemployment benefits are one of the best forms of stimulus, generating a return to the economy of $1.64 for every $1 spent. But Republicans don’t really care about the economic crisis’ impact on ordinary people, as long as their friends in the top 2% get their tax break. Welcome to Scott Walker’s Wisconsin.  
PFAW

PFAW urges you to contact Congress tomorrow on Equal Pay Day

Equal pay in America needed to be put back on track after the devastating Ledbetter ruling, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act answered that call – but it wasn’t the last word. The Paycheck Fairness Act would move us even further forward by providing the tools necessary to enforce equity in the workplace and prevent further disturbing incidents like the one that befell Lilly Ledbetter. It strengthens the remedy, enforcement, and exception provisions of the existing Equal Pay Act. It engages the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Labor in a number areas including technical assistance, data collection and review of existing data, and the provision of wage discrimination training to government employees and individuals seeking their assistance. It supports negotiation skills training for women and girls and general public awareness regarding the means available to eliminate pay discrimination.

Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT3) and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) are expected to reintroduce the Paycheck Fairness Act tomorrow in honor of Equal Pay Day. Ask your Representative and Senators to support this important legislation. Be sure to thank them if they’re already cosponsors.

According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, tomorrow:

[S]ymbolizes how far into 2011 women must work to earn what men earned in 2010.

Equal Pay Day was originated by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) in 1996 as a public awareness event to illustrate the gap between men's and women's wages.

Since Census statistics showing the latest wage figures will not be available until late August or September, NCPE leadership decided years ago to select a Tuesday in April as Equal Pay Day. (Tuesday was selected to represent how far into the work week women must work to earn what men earned the previous week.) The date also is selected to [avoid] religious holidays and other significant events.

Because women earn less, on average, than men, they must work longer for the same amount of pay. The wage gap is even greater for most women of color.

In addition to NCPE, National Women’s Law Center, the American Association of University Women, and the American Civil Liberties Union are among the many good resources for information and action. I would also encourage you to check out MomsRising. Then visit our web site for a fact sheet and letters to the House and Senate.

PFAW

Scalia Asked to Withdraw from Speaking to Bachmann’s Far-Right Caucus

As first reported by Right Wing Watch, Justice Antonin Scalia is set to lecture about the Constitution for the opening class of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s new Constitutional Conservative Caucus. Bachmann, a favorite of Tea Party and Religious Right groups alike, hopes to promote to her peers her far-right and fringe perspective on the Constitution. For example, Bachmann bizarrely rejects the notion of “negative rights” as “infantilism,” even though negative rights are the basis of constitutionally protected non-interference, such as freedom of speech or the freedom from slavery.

But for Bachmann’s Tea Party-inspired caucus, the language and spirit of the Constitution is altered and manipulated to fit their ultraconservative outlook on the country.

On Saturday, the New York Times called on Justice Scalia to bow out from his class for Bachmann’s group in order to maintain the independence of the Supreme Court and to avoid lending credence to the Tea Party’s radical approach to the Constitution:

The Tea Party epitomizes the kind of organization no justice should speak to — left, right or center — in the kind of seminar that has been described in the press. It has a well-known and extreme point of view about the Constitution and about cases and issues that will be decided by the Supreme Court.

By meeting behind closed doors, as is planned, and by presiding over a seminar, implying give and take, the justice would give the impression that he was joining the throng — confirming his new moniker as the “Justice from the Tea Party.” The ideological nature of the group and the seminar would eclipse the justice’s independence and leave him looking rash and biased.

There is nothing like the Tea Party on the left, but if there were and one of the more liberal justices accepted a similar invitation from it, that would be just as bad. This is not about who appointed the justice or which way the justice votes. Independence and the perception of being independent are essential for every justice.



By presiding over this seminar, Justice Scalia would provide strong reasons to doubt his impartiality when he ruled later on any topic discussed there. He can best convey his commitment to the importance of his independence, and the court’s, by deciding it would be best not to attend.

Just as Bachmann’s caucus won’t include balanced perspectives on the Constitution, there is nothing apolitical about Bachmann’s caucus either. Other lecturers for Bachmann’s group include right wing Fox News commentators Sean Hannity and Andrew Napolitano. She is also organizing a lecture by pseudo-historian David Barton, a Republican Party activist who has no training or expertise in history but publicizes the belief that the Framers intended to create a Constitution that reflected Biblical law.

Bachmann recently floated conspiracy theories about the Census and AmeriCorps, which she likened to reeducation camps, and demanded investigations of “people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America?” But with increased influence in the House GOP and help from Justice Scalia, Bachmann and her radical ideas will have more power as Republicans hold the majority in the House next session.

PFAW

Alabama County Brings the Voting Rights Act to Court

An 87% white county in Alabama is arguing that some of the anti-discrimination protections in the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary…and its case might end up in the Supreme Court.

Shelby County is protesting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires counties with a history of discriminatory election practices to run new election rules by the Justice Department.

"For Congress to continue to interfere with Shelby County's electoral autonomy in 2010 based on conditions that existed in 1965 is both arbitrary and without constitutional justification," according to one of the county's written arguments in the case.

Shelby County's complaint is that Section 5 of the law -- which says the Justice Department has to make sure election-related changes don't discriminate against minority voters -- is no longer necessary and that complying with the law is a significant legal expense for county taxpayers.

The county, however, does not provide any details about the "taxpayer dollars, time and energy" it has spent over the years asking the federal government to pre-approve things like new district lines or polling place changes. The U.S. Justice Department, the defendant in the lawsuit, argues the claim about expenses is vague and unsupported by evidence.

A number of African American residents of Shelby County disagree that voter discrimination is an outdated problem, and have tried to stop the county’s suit from going forward. They have some concrete examples to back them up. Just in 2008, a redistricting plan for one city in Shelby didn’t pass Justice Department muster because it eliminated the city’s one majority-black council district.

Shelby County’s argument recalls some of the right-wing objections to the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland said of the 1965 bill, "It was set up to be temporary, just to get things to where they should be," he said. "And if you look at the results we have here in Georgia, I think you can see that it's worked. Its time has passed."

If only it had.
 

PFAW

Mississippi is 37% Black; It May Soon Have Its First African American Federal Appeals Court Judge

Last week’s appointment of James E. Graves Jr. to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t get a lot of attention. But his nomination represents a remarkable milestone. Graves is currently the only African American justice on the Supreme Court of Mississippi and, if confirmed, he will become the first African American Mississippi has ever sent to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mississippi, keep in mind, has the largest percentage of African American residents of any state in the country—37% at the time of the last census.

It’s a remarkable milestone…and it’s even more remarkable that it’s just now being reached.
 

PFAW

PFAW Opposes Unconstitutional Vitter-Bennett Amendment

Today, People For the American Way was represented by our General Counsel Debbie Liu at a press conference to oppose the Vitter-Bennett amendment, which would require Census workers to ask all Americans their citizenship and immigration status in the 2010 census. Doing so could discourage minority communities’ participation in the 2010 census, and would result in an inaccurate census. Not only is the amendment unconstitutional, it is a thinly-veiled effort by the radical Religious Right and their counterparts in Congress to target undocumented immigrants. 

Above, attendees at the press conference to oppose the Vitter-Bennett amendment.

The New York Times featured an editorial citing how changing the census would waste time and valuable resources. Should the Vitter-Bennett amendment pass, the Census Bureau would have to reprint forms, promotional materials and training software:

As required by law, the Census Bureau gave Congress the exact wording of the survey’s 10 questions in early April 2008 — more than 18 months ago. Changing it now to meet Mr. Vitter’s demand would delay the count, could skew the results and would certainly make it even harder to persuade minorities to participate.

It would also be hugely expensive. The Commerce Department says that redoing the survey would cost hundreds of millions of dollars: to rewrite and reprint hundreds of millions of census forms, to revise instructional and promotional material and to reprogram software and scanners.

Other civil rights groups including the Center for American Progress (CAP), the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), Demos, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) attended the press conference.

PFAW

President Obama, Census Bureau Looking at Ways to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages in 2010 Census

Pres. Obama and the White House are now looking at ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data – another small step of what we hope will be a larger agenda toward equal justice under the law for gays and lesbians in America. Last year, PFAW launched a petition drive urging the Census Bureau to reverse its policy of ‘editing’ the data from same-sex couples who accurately report that they are legally married, and re-classifying them as “unmarried partners.” From the Wall Street Journal:

The White House said Thursday it was seeking ways to include same-sex marriages, unions and partnerships in 2010 Census data, the second time in a week the administration has signaled a policy change of interest to the gay community.

The administration has directed the Census Bureau to determine changes needed in tabulation software to allow for same-sex marriage data to be released early in 2011 with other detailed demographic information from the decennial count. The bureau historically hasn't released same-sex marriage data.

The gay community strongly supported President Barack Obama during the 2008 election. But some gay activists say they have been frustrated by what they see as his slow approach to rolling back discriminatory policies.

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said "the administration continues to make progress on the president's longstanding commitment to promoting equality for [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] Americans."

This is a positive step forward although there’s no word on an actual policy proposal yet. In the meantime, People For the American Way is helping activists tell President Obama and Congressional leaders to “Dump DOMA.” You can find the petition here.

PFAW