Civil Liberties

Video: African American Ministers Leadership Council Signs Immigration Reform Covenant

People For has been documenting the dangerous and divisive Right Wing rhetoric surrounding immigration reform….rhetoric that has led to, among other things, Arizona’s new civil liberties-smashing anti-immigrant law.

But, despite the overwhelmingly cynical national dialogue on immigration reform, there remain individuals and groups who insist on treating immigrants and the issue of reform with reason and respect.

One of those groups is the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a project of PFAW Foundation. On Cinco de Mayo, several representatives of AAMLC gathered on Ellis Island to sign a multi-faith covenant calling for honesty, respect and dignity in the conversation about immigration reform—and promising that they would follow those principles in their outreach to their own faith communities.

We recently put together a short video of the event:

You can read more about the event in our post from May 6, and can find the full covenant here.

PFAW

Taking a Stand on Immigration Reform

The New York Times ran a powerful editorial today on the stark contrast between the courage of activists fighting for fair and comprehensive immigration reform and the somewhat less courageous behavior of those in power in Washington.

They highlight the story of four students—three of them undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children— who were arrested Monday for staging a sit-in in Sen. John McCain’s Tucson office to advocate for the DREAM Act.

Who else has shown such courage in the long struggle for immigration reform? Not Mr. McCain, who ditched his principled support of rational immigration legislation to better his odds in a close re-election campaign against a far-right-wing opponent. Not President Obama, who has retreated to lip service and vagueness in his calls for reform. Not his administration. The Justice Department has stood by as a civil-rights coalition — the American Civil Liberties Union, Maldef, the N.A.A.C.P., the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and others — has swiftly sued to block the Arizona law.

Other supposed defenders of immigrants, Democrats in Congress, have lost their voices. Senators Charles Schumer, Robert Menendez and Harry Reid, mindful of November elections and frustrated Latino voters, have unveiled a blueprint for immigration reform that parrots Republican talking points about clamping down the southern border and treating the undocumented as a swelling tide of criminals.

Good immigration reform needs a good bill, and the administration and the president and Democratic leaders haven’t yet offered or convincingly fought for one. The fight for reform is stalled. It could be simple acts of protest that ignite a fire. Half a century ago it was young people, at lunch counters and aboard buses across the South, who help galvanize the movement for civil rights, and to waken more powerful elders to injustice.

Last month, we documented the dangerous and deceitful playbook that the right wing has constructed to stamp out any attempt at advancing reasonable immigration reform…and then we saw the playbook at work in Arizona, where moderate legislators supported an appalling anti-immigrant bill by an extreme right wing politician; in the rapidly changing immigration views of Sen. McCain; and in the reluctance of congressional Democrats to get near the issue in an election year.

The right wing certainly hasn’t made it easy for elected leaders to stand up for a fair and pragmatic approach to immigration reform…but it’s sad to see how few are willing to take the risk.
 

PFAW

People For Signs on to Arizona Travel Boycott

Last month, Arizona’s governor signed a draconian anti-immigrant law that has come under fire from civil rights and civil liberties groups, sports teams, the president, and even the occasional outspokenly anti-immigrant politician.

People For has now joined a number of other national groups in signing on to a travel boycott of Arizona until the law is reversed. The groups—including the National Council of La Raza, the American Civil Liberties Union, SEIU, the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, and the Center for Community Change—have agreed to:

  • Not hold any conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.
  • Strongly discourage their affiliates, chapters, or members from holding any conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.
  • Widely disseminate the adverse consequences of this legislation to their key stakeholders, for the purpose of encouraging informed judgments regarding whether stakeholders should hold, convene, sponsor, or otherwise support any conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.
  • Call on all other major American institutions to consider choosing alternative locations for conventions, conferences, special events, or major meetings already scheduled involving significant travel to Arizona from out of state, while this law is in force.
  • Call on their affiliates, chapters, members, stakeholders, all major American institutions, and people of conscience everywhere to carefully consider whether the dollars they spend as consumers of goods and services could end up, directly or indirectly, supporting the perpetuation of this unjust law.

Arizona is already hurting from this and other boycotts. Less than three weeks after the new law was passed, Arizona’s hotel and lodging association had already counted a loss of 23 meetings, at an estimated loss to the state of $6 to $10 million. And a city official in Phoenix has predicted that boycotts could cost his area $90 million over the next five years.

Read questions and answers about the boycott here.
 

PFAW

Give the gift of equal pay on Mother’s Day

As we mark Mother’s Day this Sunday, think about taking action to support women’s rights. Ask your Senators to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. Be sure to thank them if they’re already cosponsors.

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 ensures that employers would not have the incentive to continue to discriminate against workers like Lilly Ledbetter, and in doing so actually increases employer incentives for pay equity. It would also prohibit retaliation against workers who ask about employers’ wage practices and increase educational outreach to employers and employees about proper pay practices.

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 the National Committee on Pay Equity.

PFAW

Extremism and Hypocrisy: A Capitol Tea Party

Yesterday's protest in front of the U.S. Capitol, organized by Rep. Michele Bachmann, had the usual cast of tea-party extremists. But this time, they were openly assembled by GOP leaders as an official House Republican event. Republican members of Congress stoked the crowd's extremism and gave them their seal of approval.

Dana Milbank described the scene:

In the front of the protest, a sign showed President Obama in white coat, his face painted to look like the Joker. The sign, visible to the lawmakers as they looked into the cameras, carried a plea to "Stop Obamunism." A few steps farther was the guy holding a sign announcing "Obama takes his orders from the Rothchilds" [sic], accusing Obama of being part of a Jewish plot to introduce the antichrist.

But the best of Bachmann's recruits were a few rows into the crowd, holding aloft a pair of 5-by-8-foot banners proclaiming "National Socialist Healthcare, Dachau, Germany, 1945." Both banners showed close-up photographs of Holocaust victims, many of them children.

Not just their extremism and frothing-at-the-mouth hatred of Barack Obama was on display. The crowd's hypocrisy was also on full display. Again from Milbank's column:

[A] man standing just beyond the TV cameras apparently suffered a heart attack 20 minutes after event began. Medical personnel from the Capitol physician's office -- an entity that could, quite accurately, be labeled government-run health care -- rushed over, attaching electrodes to his chest and giving him oxygen and an IV drip. ...

By the time it was over, medics had administered government-run health care to at least five people in the crowd who were stricken as they denounced government-run health care. But Bachmann overlooked this irony as she said farewell to her recruits.

"You," she said, "are the most beautiful sight any of us freedom fighters have seen for a long time."

Talk about hypocrisy - and not just about government-run health care. They say they're "freedom fighters." Whatever principle it is that motivates these extremists, it sure isn't freedom.

Where were they when President Bush claimed that simply by declaring an American citizen an "enemy combatant" - a decision unreviewable by a court or any other entity - he could have that person arrested without a warrant and imprisoned for life without access to a lawyer or an impartial judge?

Where were they when Americans were arrested at Bush events simply for wearing John Kerry tee-shirts and having anti-war bumper stickers? Or when President Bush planned a Total Information Awareness program, in which the federal government would regularly monitor our credit card purchases, our travel, our telephone records, and other everyday activities? Or when President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program was executed in flagrant violation of the law, to say nothing of the Bill of Rights?

Where were they? These "freedom fighters" did nothing.

Perhaps some enterprising journalist will ask people who attended yesterday's staged event where they were when freedom was genuinely threatened during the course of the Bush presidency.

Of course, journalists don't need to ask where the people who organized the event were while Bush was engaged in a war against America’s civil liberties: They were helping him.

PFAW

Obama Nominates First Openly Gay EEOC Commissioner

President Obama recently nominated Chai Feldblum to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  She'll be the first openly gay person to hold that post.

Feldblum, a law professor at Georgetown University Law Center, previously served as legislative counsel to the AIDS Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, where she played a role in the drafting of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

"She has also worked on advancing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights" and "been a leading expert on the Employment Nondiscrimination Act," according to a biography released by the White House.

Her degrees are from Harvard Law School and Barnard College, and she went on to clerk for Judge Frank Coffin on the First Circuit Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun.

Of course, the Right Wing has lost no time at all in branding her "general counsel to the Forces of Darkness."  Stay classy, you guys.

PFAW

Witness List for Sotomayor Hearing Announced

Today, Senators Leahy and Sessions released the list of witnesses who will testify at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

We’re happy to see that Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel will be among those testifying. He was a big hit at our “Four Years of Forty” panel on the Supreme Court that People For hosted at the DNC in Denver last year.

But the list has some disappointments as well, like Peter Kirsanow, who after 9/11 raised the possibility of internment camps for Arab Americans.

If there's a future terrorist attack in America "and they come from the same ethnic group that attacked the World Trade Center, you can forget about civil rights," commission member Peter Kirsanow said.

The reason, he said, is that "the public would be less concerned about any perceived erosion of civil liberties than they are about protecting their own lives."

Not exactly the kind of person who should be front and center discussing an institution that should be devoted to protecting the rights and liberties of ordinary Americans .
 

PFAW

Justice Souter to Retire at the End of the Term

Ending months of speculation, several news outlets reported last night Supreme Court Justice David Souter is planning to retire at the end of the term, after 19 years on the bench. People For the American Way released a statement expressing gratitude Justice Souter’s years of service to the Court, and called on President Obama to nominate “someone who can continue his work to defend our personal freedoms and ensure that every person has equal access to justice.”

On the campaign trail, then-Sen. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, told Wolf Blitzer of CNN “I I think that my first criteria is to make sure that these are people who are capable and competent, and that they are interpreting the law. And, 95 percent of the time, the law is so clear, that it's just a matter of applying the law. I'm not somebody who believes in a bunch of judicial lawmaking.” An excerpt from the transcript:

What you're looking for is somebody who is going to apply the law where it's clear. Now, there's going to be those 5 percent of cases or 1 percent of cases where the law isn't clear. And the judge then has to bring in his or her own perspectives, his ethics, his or her moral bearings. …

That's been its historic role. That was its role in Brown vs. Board of Education. I think a judge who is unsympathetic to the fact that, in some cases, we have got to make sure that civil rights are protected, that we have got to make sure that civil liberties are protected, because, oftentimes, there's pressures that are placed on politicians to want to set civil liberties aside, especially at a time when we have had terrorist attacks, making sure that we maintain our separation of powers, so that we don't have a president who is taking over more and more power.

I think those are all criteria by which I would judge whether or not this is a good appointee.

Well put, Mr. President. November’s election results were a mandate to President Obama to appoint judges committed to justice, equality, and opportunity for all Americans.

Soon after the election, People For the American Way Foundation hosted a panel called “Beyond the Sigh of Relief: Justices in the Mold of Marshall and Brennan.” It’s newly relevant, so take a look.
 

PFAW

Mark Gitenstein for Office of Legal Policy

I’ve seen some concerns expressed about the possible nomination of Mark Gitenstein to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, including questions about whether he’s sufficiently committed to protecting the rule of law to serve in the position at Justice involved in selecting and vetting potential federal judicial nominees. I want to weigh in on this conversation because I know Mark well.

I worked very closely with him when he was serving as Senator Biden’s Chief Counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee and I was counsel to Senator Howard Metzenbaum. If you’re looking for someone committed to the rule of law, no need to look further. Mark can claim a lifetime of service to advancing the cause of civil rights and civil liberties in this country. As chief counsel to Senator Biden, Mark fought against the confirmation of federal judicial nominees who were not committed to protecting the civil rights and individual liberties of all Americans. He worked tirelessly in his position with Senator Biden to help protect the Civil Rights Commission and to extend the Voting Rights Act.

As counsel on the Senate Intelligence Committee he played a leadership role in the oversight investigation of the FBI abuses in the illegal surveillance and intimidation of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights and anti-war activists. He played a key role in the development of FISA, which grew out of that investigation.

As an advisor to Senator and presidential candidate Biden, Mark helped focus on the plight of the shrinking middle class advancing measures such as reforming health care to permit middle class and disadvantaged families to buy into the same health care insurance program available to members of Congress and expanding the availability of health insurance for children and expanding employer based retirement programs.

Mark has the smarts, integrity and values that we need in someone heading this critical office.

PFAW

Where Is Today’s Deep Throat?

Mark Felt - better known as the anonymous source Deep Throat - died yesterday at the age of 95.  The deputy director of the FBI in the early 1970s, Felt secretly led Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to the information that eventually toppled the lawless presidency of Richard Nixon.

Felt was hardly a liberal: He had supported several violations of civil liberties perpetrated by the FBI during the 1960s-1970s.  Nevertheless, Nixon’s full-scale assault against the Constitution and the rule of law during Watergate compelled Felt to put his country first and talk to the press about what he knew, albeit anonymously.

Today, we are nearing the end of another presidency that has engaged in a full scale assault against the Constitution and the rule of law.  But unlike a generation ago, the current president’s allies in Congress put partisanship above patriotism and prevented genuine investigations of the administration.

Mark Felt’s death reminds me of another key difference between the era of Watergate and today: Back then, because someone talked, those in power were held accountable.  Today, we are still waiting for people to talk – to tell us what they know and to provide us with the documents shedding light on illegal domestic spying, the outsourcing of torture, the illegal sabotage of Democratic GOTV efforts in 2002, the suppression of voting rights, the politicization of the Department of Justice, Bush’s unlawful signing statements, the arrests of peaceful anti-administration protesters … the list goes on.

The outrages committed by George Bush, Dick Cheney, and others did not happen in a vacuum.  Their illegal policies were carried out by public employees scattered across the government, from the highest levels on down.  There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people who know where the bodies are buried.

For the sake of our country, it is time for them to talk.

PFAW

Bill Moyers Journal: Russ Feingold On The Rule Of Law

Senator Russ Feingold, one of Washington's leading voices for civil liberties and constitutional rights, was on Bill Moyers Journal over the weekend discussing some of the steps he hopes the incoming Obama administration will take to restore the rule of law.

Nicole Belle at Crooks and Liars has a video, transcript and Sen. Feingold's Daily Kos post on the issue. Read more and check out the video.

Russ Feingold on Moyers screen cap

PFAW

Putting the Justice back in the DOJ

In Washington, we're hearing rumblings that the Right may be looking to start a fight over Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, whose confirmation hearing will be in early January. It's tough to imagine the kind of audacity it would take to challenge Holder's nomination after Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales.

After eight years of being dominated by politicization, cronyism and extremism, the Department of Justice is in desperate need of a good housecleaning. The Department, like the Attorney General, is supposed to defend the rule of law and Americans' constitutional rights. But under the Bush administration, the DOJ has been used as a weapon against constitutional values, used to fight the administration's ideological and political battles.

In the wake of 9/11, John Ashcroft's Justice Department led the Bush administration's relentless assault on civil liberties. The DOJ was on the forefront of the draconian expansion of surveillance and police powers, and contributed heavily to post-9/11 era of extreme government secrecy. Career lawyers at the DOJ were subtly -- and not so subtly -- pushed out in favor of attorneys more politically and ideologically aligned with the administration. The Civil Rights Division was completely politicized and instead of using its resources to protect voters' rights (by enforcing the Voting Rights Act among other things), the DOJ waged an attack on voting rights by supporting disenfranchising policies like Georgia's restrictive voter ID law. The Department also exploited the 'widespread voter fraud' myth for politically motivated witch hunts -- part of a larger trend of selectively targeting political and ideological opponents for investigation and prosecution.

And how can we forget the Gonzales era at the DOJ! The Attorney General is supposed to be the people's lawyer, but Gonzales was more the president's bag man. The problems that existed under Ashcroft continued or got worse. As more and more news came out about the NSA's illegal warrantless spying on Americans, the torture of U.S. detainees, legally questionable military tribunals and other subversions of the rule of law, we found out that the DOJ had expressly signed off on these administration policies and in some cases even supplied the legal and intellectual underpinning out of the Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). And when a scandal broke over the firing of U.S. attorneys, it became clear exactly how politically motivated hiring and firing practices had been at the DOJ, which evidently was staffed with a disproportionate number of graduates of Pat Robertson's law school (including one of the people tasked with the hiring/firing)!

Attorney General Mukasey has been arguably better than his two predecessors, but following the records of Ashcroft and Gonzales, that's not very hard. Eric Holder is a stellar choice: smart, capable and able to lead the DOJ in a new direction. But he will have his work cut out for him and he'll need help from people like you and me. First, we need to make sure he's confirmed, and that could mean a campaign to defeat whatever attacks right-wing senators throw at him. Then, because of the politically skewed hiring practices, he's going to need the support of the people to make dramatic changes at one of the government's most important agencies.

For eight years, the Department of Justice -- a government agency with a rich history of enforcing civil rights and the rule of law -- has served the worst ideological and partisan impulses of the Bush administration. The era of overzealous ideologues and partisans like Ashcroft and Gonzales is coming to an end.

Thank goodness.

But now it's time to dig in our heels and do our part to put the justice back in the Department of Justice. I hope you don't mind if I call on you for help in the coming months.

PFAW

Obama Endorsements and the Court

As the Editor & Publisher reported yesterday, Barack Obama is winning the race for newspaper endorsements in a landslide, 112-39.  Especially notable is the fact that at least 25 papers that supported Bush in 2004 have endorsed Obama this time around.

The Supreme Court consistently appears as one of the foremost concerns.

The Kansas City Star, a key swing state paper, touts a prospective Obama administration as a “safeguard for liberties”:

Obama wants judges who won’t favor the strong at the expense of the weak. He offers hope for a Supreme Court that would reject excessive executive power and protect precious freedoms.

The Santa Fe New Mexican writes:

At least as important is that we can also trust him to restore the credibility of our judiciary as vacancies occur at district and appellate levels, as well as at the Supreme Court. Civil liberties in particular, and justice in general, have suffered enormously in recent years.

Obama endorsers understand that the Supreme Court is on the ballot November 4th, and they understand the importance of repairing the damage done to the federal court system by the Bush administration.  Obama, if elected, will have a mandate to do just that.

PFAW