Constitution

First Day of Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings

Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings began this morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee with the opening statements of Chairperson Leahy and Ranking Member Sessions, followed by each of the remaining members in order of seniority.

Most Senators lauded Judge Sotomayor’s experience on the bench and academic credentials, but Republicans took the opportunity to accuse Sotomayor of being unable to rule impartially.

But Sotomayor's opening statement refuted that, underscoring her “rigorous commitment to interpreting the Constitution according to its terms…and hewing faithfully to precedents established by the Supreme Court and by [her] Circuit Court.

Senator Hatch noted that while he will question Judge Sotomayor vigorously, “[T]he Senate owes some deference to the [P]resident's qualified nominees.” Senator Graham followed suit, stating that “President Obama won. And that ought to matter. It does to me.” He went so far as to add that “unless [Judge Sotomayor had] a complete meltdown,” she would be confirmed.

Tomorrow brings one-on-one questioning by Judiciary Committee members broadcast live, beginning at 10 a.m. Stay tuned for updates as the hearings progress.

PFAW

Indefinite Detention: Wrong Under Bush, Wrong Under Obama

For some people in Guantanamo Bay who are found not guilty in a court of law for whatever they are eventually put on trial for, the Obama Administration is floating the idea of keeping them in "indefinite detention" anyway. According to the Washington Post:

Guantanamo Bay detainees who are acquitted by civil or military courts may still be imprisoned indefinitely if the government determines that they pose a national security threat, the Defense Department's chief lawyer said yesterday. "The question of what happens if there's an acquittal is an interesting question -- we talk about that often within the administration," Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson said at a Senate hearing. "If, for some reason, he's not convicted for a lengthy prison sentence, then, as a matter of legal authority, I think it's our view that we would have the ability to detain that person," he said.

Reading this sends a chill down my spine. We are a country governed by law, and we cherish our liberty. The United States Constitution establishes a number of safeguards to limit the government's ability to use its awesome power to simply lock people away. That's why we have trials. That's why we have juries. That's why we prevent the police from beating confessions out of people. That's why we give defendants the right to cross-examine those testifying against them. And when the government loses at trial and a person is found not guilty, our liberty is further protected by the Constitution's prohibition of double jeopardy.

Our nation's founders knew that the system wouldn't be perfect, but they recognized that protecting the rights of all people - even bad people - is what liberty is all about.

An LA Times editorial put it simply two years ago, when President Bush proposed the same idea as the one currently being discussed: "[A]n acquittal must mean more than a return trip to a prison cell."

Just because it would be Barack Obama and not George Bush holding the prison door key does not make this any less of a threat to America's constitutional principles.

PFAW

233 Years Old and Still Looking Good

Birthdays are a good time to look back and take stock of the previous year’s events.  Usually a person tries to get a hold of the where they have been and where they want to go.  On July 4th, you might want to celebrate our nation’s birthday by looking back, and forward, by watching People For the American Way Foundation’s reading of the US Constitution

Four of our readers in particular gave us a reason to be proud of our past, and two others should make us all feel good about the future.

Two Japanese-American WWII Veterans and two Tuskegee Airmen honored us by agreeing to participate in the reading.  Grant Ichikawa and Kelly Kuwayama read Article II, Section 2, and LeRoy Gillead and Dabney Montgomery read the 23rd and 24th Amendments.  Looking at the inauguration weekend it is clear that it’s because of what people like Mr. Ichikawa, Mr. Kuwayama, Mr. Gillead and Mr. Montgomery did that so many people truly believed, “Yes, We Can.”

At the same event, we were proud to host two local high school students Sakinah Muhammad and Joel Carelafrom Caesar Chavez Public Charter School in Washington, DC. Their enthusiasm and excitement at being able to take part in our celebration was a reminder of how important it is to engage the next generation in civic education—and how capable young people are of understanding and embracing our nation’s legacy of liberty and justice for all.

On behalf of everyone at People For the American Way and People For Foundation, I hope you enjoy the 4th and that you use the occasion to re-commit yourself to keeping this “Grand Experiment” going.

PFAW

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

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

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

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

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

James von Brunn Finds Inspiration from the Work of Other White-Supremacists

James von Brunn, the 88 year old man who opened deadly gun fire on D.C.’s Holocaust Museum yesterday, was a member of multiple anti-Semitic groups. During his time living in Hayden, Idaho, von Brunn became a member of Aryan Nations, run by the late Richard Butler. As our archives show, Butler was no one to be admired, and his opinion editorial published in the USA Today (pdf) in 1985 shows the true hate this man possessed.

The right to self-preservation for the individual, or of a racial nation composed of individuals, is an inalienable, fundamental right. Therefore, our white or Aryan nation has a right and is under an obligation to preserve itself and its members.

The “we the people” in the Constitution’s preamble were and are the Aryan or white race of people who became the lawful de jure citizens of this new national state for our race.

The views of Butler and the actions von Brunn show how easily hateful words can turn into deadly violence.
 

PFAW

Wendy Long May Have More in Common with Sotomayor Than She Thought

If you’ve been following the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the term “reverse-racist” has undoubtedly appeared in a story you’ve read. Rush Limbaugh branded Sotomayor a ‘reverse-racist’ on his radio show, while Newt Gingrich labeled her a racist when he posted a statement on his Twitter account.

Some right wing groups claim that Sotomayor is a judicial activist who will bend the law based on her own personal views.

Wendy Long of The Judicial Confirmation Network, a conservative-leaning organization involved with judicial nominations, sent a letter to Senators yesterday outlining these concerns:

“Judge Sotomayor challenges the belief that the law needs to be knowable and predictable . . .” 

Long accused Sotomayor of embracing judicial activism, and claims that “when judges drive such change, based not on the written Constitution and laws enacted by the people, judges use their own sense of personal "justice," based on their own experiences, personal views, feelings, and backgrounds.”

Sadly, the facts get in the way of Long’s argument. Take, for instance, Sotomayor’s ruling in the case of Pappas v. Giuliani. In short, the case involved Thomas Pappas, an employee of the New York City Police Department, who was fired for mailing racially offensive, anonymous letters to organizations that had solicited him for donations.

A reverse-racist, judicial activist, such as Sotomayor, must have ruled in favor of the city, claiming that Thomas violated the rights of others through his offensive remarks, right?

Wrong. It turns out that Judge Sotomayor did exactly what Wendy Long would have wanted―she made her ruling based “on the written Constitution and laws enacted by the people.” Citing the NYCLU’s briefing on the case, Sotomayor and her Second Circuit panel concluded that: 

“The reduced free-speech protections accorded to public-employee speech related to the workplace also extended to private and anonymous speech by employees that took place away from the workplace and that was unrelated to the workplace” 

 Rather than let her personal beliefs get in the way of her ruling, Sotomayor upheld one of America's oldest laws by defending a bigot’s right to be a bigot.

PFAW

Empathy as the Enemy

Taking a cue from Karl Rove’s playbook, the Right is trying to transform one of the key strengths of a top-quality jurist – empathy – into a serious flaw. For example, earlier today, Michael Steele told an audience that "the President is looking to put Doctor Phil on the Court."

Last Friday’s Washington Post reported on the Right’s strategy:

An early line of attack emerged last week when Obama told reporters that his eventual nominee would have, among other characteristics, a "quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes."

Wendy Long, chief counsel of the Judicial Confirmation Network, a small Manassas-based group that has been active in conservative judicial battles, immediately pounced on the remark. "What he means is he wants empathy for one side, and what's wrong with that is it is being partial instead of being impartial," said Long, a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas. "A judge is supposed to have empathy for no one but simply to follow the law."

A judge who is willfully blind to impact of the law on real people would be a throwback to the type of jurisprudence that once kept women from becoming lawyers, that kept blacks and whites in separate schools, that kept Japanese Americans in detention camps, and that kept gay men in constant fear of arrest and imprisonment.

Just take a look at Plessey v. Ferguson, the 1896 case that upheld racial segregation. The Court deliberately ignored the real-world effect of segregation:

We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument [that state-mandated segregation violates the Constitution] to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.

African Americans living under Jim Crow would have to wait more than a half century before Justices with empathy would reconsider the issue.

Empathy is not a strike against a judge: No jurist committed to our core constitutional values can be without it. And that’s the type of jurist we need on the Court.

PFAW

Proposition 8: Open Season on Minorities?

We’re all waiting to see how the California Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of Proposition 8. Equality advocates argue that stripping lesbian and gay people of the right to marry was what California law calls a revision: a constitutional change so fundamental that it should not have been allowed on the ballot without first being approved by a constitutional convention or a legislative supermajority.

In contrast, Proposition 8’s far right supporters claim it was a constitutional amendment: a non-fundamental change that properly went directly to the voters. Supporters of Prop 8 have also loudly condemned equality advocates for going to court after the election, saying that such a move is illegitimate because the people have already spoken.

The Right is wrong on both counts.

PFAW

Maine Becomes Latest State to Make Gay Marriages Legal

Today, Maine became the latest state to affirm the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont when Gov. John Baldacci signed into law LD 1020, An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom. People For the American Way applauds Gov. Baldacci for recognizing that this is about fairness and equal protection under the law for all citizens of Maine. In a public statement, Gov. Baldacci said:

“In the past, I opposed gay marriage while supporting the idea of civil unions. I have come to believe that this is a question of fairness and of equal protection under the law, and that a civil union is not equal to civil marriage.

“Article I in the Maine Constitution states that ‘no person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor be denied the equal protection of the laws, nor be denied the enjoyment of that person’s civil rights or be discriminated against.’

“This new law does not force any religion to recognize a marriage that falls outside of its beliefs. It does not require the church to perform any ceremony with which it disagrees. Instead, it reaffirms the separation of Church and State.

“It guarantees that Maine citizens will be treated equally under Maine’s civil marriage laws, and that is the responsibility of government.”

This news comes a day after the D.C. Council voted 12-1 to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Congratulations to the Maine Legislature and all those who are working hard to make fairness and equality for same-sex couples in Maine a reality.

PFAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Two Strikes Against Senator Inhofe

Senator Inhofe announced earlier this week that he would filibuster the nomination of David Hamilton for a seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. And on the Senate floor he elaborated—he said this was because, in a case involving a ban on the Indiana House of Representatives’ use of opening prayers to advance a particular religion, Hamilton placed limits on prayers that used Christ’s name, but, according to Inhofe, said that invoking the name of “Allah” would be permissible.

There are two major problems with Senator Inhofe’s announcement.

First is the senator’s statement, back in 2005, that filibusters of judicial nominees were contrary to the Constitution. Of filibusters of judicial nominations he said: “I don’t think it should be used where it is contrary to the Constitution.” If you watched Rachel Maddow last night you go this point loud and clear. You can’t have it both ways – the Constitution didn’t change between 2005 and 2009; what changed is the President making the nominations.

The second is the Senator’s gross misreading of Hamilton’s opinion. As noted in an earlier post, Hamilton never ruled that prayers to Christ were impermissible, while Muslim prayers were permissible. What he said was that any prayers that advanced a particular religion were impermissible and that on the record before the court, the official prayers being offered in the Indiana House “repeatedly and consistently” advanced the Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, but that the single instance of a Muslim imam offering a prayer was not distinctly Muslim in its content.

In a ruling on a post judgment motion, Hamilton did say that prayers to “Allah” would be permissible, but what Senator Inhofe’s statement leaves out is both the context and the full content of the statement. Hamilton was asked in the post judgment motion to rule on whether a prayer can be addressed to “Allah.” Explaining that this is the Arabic word for “God” used in translations of Jewish and Christian scriptures, Hamilton ruled this permissible. He went on to say: “If those offering prayers in the Indiana House of Representatives choose to use the Arabic Allah, the Spanish Dios, the German Gott, the French Dieu, the Swedish Gud, the Greek Theos, the Hebrew Elohim, the Italian Dio, or any other language’s terms in addressing the God who is the focus of the non-sectarian prayers contemplated in Marsh v. Chambers, the court sees little risk that the choice of language would advance a particular religion or disparage others.”

If Senator Inhofe would carefully review the record, either Judge Hamilton’s or his own, he’d see that his pledge to filibuster this nomination is a very poor idea.

PFAW

Does the National Organization for Marriage want to overthrow the government?

If the National Organization for Marriage was attempting to position itself as a respectable group, they’ve been having a rough time of it lately.

First, they created the hilariously inept “Gathering Storm” ad which generated a blizzard of mockery.

Now, via Box Turtle Bulletin, we learn that they’ve announced that science fiction writer Orson Scott Card will serve on their board.

The problem?  He’s advocated the overthrow of the government as an appropriate response to pro-marriage equality decisions.

What these dictator-judges do not seem to understand is that their authority extends only as far as people choose to obey them.

How long before married people answer the dictators thus: Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.

Biological imperatives trump laws. American government cannot fight against marriage and hope to endure. If the Constitution is defined in such a way as to destroy the privileged position of marriage, it is that insane Constitution, not marriage, that will die.

One would like to believe that even NOM realizes that this kind of rhetoric is beyond the pale.  If so, they should be coming out with a statement disavowing Card’s views any minute now.  Or do they agree with him?

We’re waiting . . .

PFAW

Restore Justice -- Impeach Bybee

Sunday's New York Times included an editorial calling for the impeachment of Jay Bybee, a U.S. Appeals Court Judge on the Ninth Circuit (nominated by Bush) who, while at the Department of Justice, authored memos providing the "legal" justification for the Bush administration's torture policies.

The Times is absolutely right: "These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him."

Here's some more from the excellent editorial regarding the investigation that should take place (my emphasis added):

That investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury, who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.

...

And if the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues, then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable. If that means putting Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales on the stand, even Dick Cheney, we are sure Americans can handle it.

If the administration won't do it, Congress must hold the executive branch accountable. Sounds familiar.

PFAW's Campaign to Restore Justice

Checks and balances. What a novel concept...

PFAW

More Good News from Iowa

While national Religious Right leaders have reacted with predictably apocalyptic venom to the unanimous Iowa Supreme Court ruling upholding marriage equality, there's more good news from the state's political leaders. According to the national Stonewall Democrats, the Iowa Democratic Party has long been on record supporting marriage equality, with a position clearly and unequivocally written in the state party platform.

And while state Religious Right leaders are demanding that the legislature begin the process of amending the state constitution, legislative leaders instead praised the Supreme Court's decision. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and Iowa House Speaker Pat Murphy issued a strong statement. Here's an excerpt:

Thanks to today's decision, Iowa continues to be a leader in guaranteeing all of our citizens' equal rights.

The court has ruled today that when two Iowans promise to share their lives together, state law will respect that commitment, regardless of whether the couple is gay or straight.

When all is said and done, we believe the only lasting question about today's events will be why it took us so long. It is a tough question to answer because treating everyone fairly is really a matter of Iowa common sense and Iowa common decency.

Marriage equality is a done deal in the state for now. Even if legislative leaders were eager to amend the state constitution, it's a long and complicated process that requires action by both houses in two consecutive general assemblies to put an amendment before the voters. According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa Family Policy Center President Chuck Hurley "acknowledged that until a constitutional amendment could be placed on the ballot, there's nothing gay-marriage opponents can do to stop gay couples from marrying in Iowa. The soonest such a vote could take place would be 2012."

Congratulations and thanks, Iowa. Next up: Vermont, where marriage equality has passed both houses with large majorities in spite of a veto threat from the governor. The vote to override is expected to be a close one.

PFAW

Iowa Marriage Decision Recognizes Religious-Civil Distinction

People For the American Way Foundation's recent Right Wing Watch In Focus report documented the deceptive ways that Religious Right leaders blur the distinction between civil and religious marriage in order to convince Americans that marriage equality is a threat to religious liberty. Today's thrilling unanimous Iowa Supreme Court decision that it is unconstitutional to deny marriage to same-sex couples in the state included a powerful and respectful section on the same topic. Here's how it concludes:

In the final analysis, we give respect to the views of all Iowans on the issue of same-sex marriage—religious or otherwise—by giving respect to our constitutional principles. These principles require that the state recognize both opposite-sex and same-sex civil marriage. Religious doctrine and views contrary to this principle of law are unaffected, and people can continue to associate with the religion that best reflects their views. A religious denomination can still define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and a marriage ceremony performed by a minister, priest, rabbi, or other person ordained or designated as a leader of the person’s religious faith does not lose its meaning as a sacrament or other religious institution.

The sanctity of all religious marriages celebrated in the future will have the same meaning as those celebrated in the past. The only difference is civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law. This result is what our constitution requires.

PFAW

Do elephants really never forget?

From today's Politico:

McConnell said that Coleman’s team seems to have been laying the groundwork for a federal appeals challenge by citing the 2000 Supreme Court case in Bush v. Gore, which ended the Florida recount. McConnell argued that the equal protection clause of the Constitution ensures that each county should use similar standards in counting its ballots, which the Coleman campaign asserts was not done in Minnesota.

"We all remember Bush v. Gore," McConnell said.

I am not sure Senator McConnell remembers.

It's interesting that McConnell is willing to let an election -- which has already had a recount -- hang in the air for two months. After all, less than a month after the 2000 election, McConnell was already demanding that Al Gore concede to George W. Bush. McConnell's comments to the Lexington Herald-Leader on Nov. 27, 2000:

We've had a count, we've had a recount, we've had a recount of the recount. It's been three weeks since the election and it's time for Gore to be a statesman and give it up.

But do not worry, others have not forgotten, Senator McConnell.

PFAW

Obama Rebukes Radical Right on Stem Cells

The week started on a very positive note Monday morning with President Obama signing an executive order to overturn the ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. It was a great step toward "restoring scientific integrity to health care policy," as one administration official phrased it. But it was a somewhat bittersweet for me as I remembered Christopher and Dana Reeve, who were such amazing champions for this issue and unfortunately passed away before being able to enjoy the moment. In fact, the order came only three days after the third anniversary of Dana's death on March 6.

When he died, Christopher Reeve was scheduled to participate in the upcoming edition of Justice Talking, a talk radio show I produced before a live audience at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia. His wife Dana joined us for the event. Both Christopher and Dana were very active with many progressive causes and organizations including People For the American Way.

Despite the scientific and medical communities' optimism about the cures embryonic stem cell research might produce and significant majorities of Americans supporting this research, the reaction of the Right's anti-choice zealots was less than jubilant. From Right Wing Watch:

"As expected, President Barack Obama overturned the Bush administration ban on using federal funds for embryonic stem cell research.  Needless to say, the Religious Right is livid: FRC called it a 'slap in the face'; Gary Bauer called it 'a tragedy'; Operation Rescue called it 'morally, unethical and fiscally irresponsible'; and others weighed in as well."

But perhaps the most absurd response was the comparison of stem cell research to eugenics by Fox News' Glenn Beck. Of course, right-wing talk show hosts crossing the line on this issue is nothing new. We can all remember Rush Limbaugh's sick attack on stem cell research advocate Michael J. Fox and his cruel mocking of the actor's Parkinson's disease symptoms. Limbaugh has long been part of the Right's misinformation campaign about this important scientific research.

The new administration's policy is a great step towards correcting our nation's path, not only because it's a victory for science and the economic competitiveness and medical breakthroughs this biotechnology can yield. It also marks a much-needed departure from the Religious Right being able to shove its views down the throats of all Americans via federal policy.

PFAW

Republican Senators Make Threats on Judges, Try to Force "Bipartisanship" at Gunpoint

From Poltico:

President Barack Obama should fill vacant spots on the federal bench with former President Bush's judicial nominees to help avoid another huge fight over the judiciary, all 41 Senate Republicans said Monday.

...

"Regretfully, if we are not consulted on, and approve of, a nominee from our states, the Republican Conference will be unable to support moving forward on that nominee," the letter warns. "And we will act to preserve this principle and the rights of our colleagues if it is not."

In other words, Republicans are threatening a filibuster of judges if they're not happy.

The letter talks about "bipartisanship" and, separate from the letter, several Republicans have been warning the president for some time against nominating "far left judges." But for all this talk about "bipartisanship" and throwing terms around like "far-left judges," what do they really mean?

Does bipartisanship mean nominating half right-wing judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade and don't believe in the Constitution's promise of equal rights under the law; half who agree that the Constitution makes certain guarantees in terms of people's rights and liberties and that it gives the government the authority and the responsibility to protect those rights, not undermine them?

Or does it mean that all of the president's judicial nominees must be "moderates," and if so, what is their definition of "moderate?" Is a moderate someone who is respectful of fundamental constitutional rights and principles like privacy, equality, the right to choose and checks and balances… as long as they are pro-corporate? We already have a Supreme Court that is overwhelmingly pro-business, much more so than many precious Courts, including the four supposedly "liberal" Justices.

Of course that's probably not the case (not that the president should feel compelled to nominate judges with a corporate-friendly bent anyway, especially now that we are in the middle of the havoc wreaked by corporate greed and excess, but I digress).

When it comes to this issue, what they really care about is pleasing their base. And when it comes to their base, the ONLY judges who are acceptable are extreme right-wing ideologues. So any actual "moderate," mainstream judges of course will be rejected -- and they will be cast as "far-left."

The Right sees the Judicial Branch in very black and white terms. They have accused the Democrats of having a litmus test on judges when it comes to Roe v. Wade. But that was obviously proven wrong by the fact that both Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito were confirmed even though they both, according to many experts, would vote to overturn Roe. No, it's the Right that has strict litmus tests on everything from Roe v. Wade and gay rights to free speech, the separation of church and state and, yes, how "business-friendly" a judge may be. Their base demands it! And Republican Senators -- even the so-called moderates like Snowe, Collins and Specter -- are unified on this one.

The judicial philosophies of the jurists respected by the Right are defined by extremism -- plain and simple. It's one thing for a judge to find legal exception with the way a certain case was decided (even if that decision protects a fundamental right, like Roe v. Wade), but quite another to subscribe to theories and views that fly in the face of mainstream judicial thought like:

  • "Constitution in Exile," which takes an extreme and limited view of the Commerce Clause and basically states that the regulatory policies of the New Deal were unconstitutional... and a huge number of policies and Supreme Court decisions going back nearly a hundred years, including civil rights protections, are unconstitutional as well. (Opinions expressed by Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia support "restoring the lost constitution.")
     
  • "Unitary Executive Theory," which has been used to justify insanely expansive views of executive power that defy the most commonsense understanding of our founding principles relating to checks and balances and a limited executive (remember, our founders were breaking from a monarchy - they obviously didn't want to create another one). The Bush administration exploited this theory over and over again its now infamous abuses of executive power.; and
     
  • a blatant disregard for the bedrock judicial principle of stare decisis (which Justice Clarence Thomas is said, even by Justice Scalia, to show).  

This is par for the course for right-wing judges. While those of us on the progressive side are not devoid of ideology, and are proud to have our own ideology when it comes to the Constitution and the law, the Right is by far more ideological and Republicans need to be called out for doing the Far Right's bidding once again.
 
President Obama and the Senate Democrats should challenge these Republican Senators to define their terms more specifically -- to tell them and the country EXACTLY what they mean by "bipartisanship" in this case and what they would consider acceptable or "moderate" nominees.  And the president should reject the GOP's attempt to force bipartisanship at gunpoint, by making threats and trying to use coercion to get him to appease their base on judges.

PFAW

On Fair Courts and Big Coal

Today in the Supreme Court, a case was argued that makes a pretty compelling case for a fair and independent judiciary. Robert Barnes at the Washington Post did a good overview yesterday.

Caperton and his little coal company sued a huge coal company on claims that it unlawfully drove him out of business, and a jury agreed, awarding him $50 million.

That company's chief executive vowed an appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court -- but first, he spent an unprecedented $3 million to persuade voters to get rid of a justice he didn't like and elect one he did.

Today during arguments the Court was (no surprise) divided. But the real principle may be bigger than simply campaign donations.

The Constitution sets up the judiciary as the branch of government dedicated to ensuring that the rule of law applies equally to all people. When it's broken – or perceived to be broken, -- there's scant reason for citizens to put their full faith in the government. And yet over the last years, President Bush has systematically flooded the courts with jurists who put political ideology over our most basic constitutional principles.

No longer fearing the worst when it comes to judicial appointments is, well, a big sigh of relief, but this case makes very clear how crucial it is that we repair the damage eight years of George Bush has done.

PFAW

Remembering Barbara Jordan

Every February, People For the American Way, along with the rest of the country, celebrates Black History Month. And this year, more than ever, it's humbling to see just how far our nation has moved. And how far we still have to go.

I'm proud that People For the American Way can point to its own history to demonstrate why Black History Month is relevant to people of all backgrounds. Barbara Jordan was the first African American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate, the first African American woman to represent a southern state in Congress, and one of the founders of People For the American Way.

In 1981, when U.S. Representative Barbara Jordan joined Norman Lear to form People For the American Way, they understood that the promise of our nation, that all men (and women) are created equal, was not just unrealized, but was under active attack. But instead of focusing on what was wrong with our country, they used their powerful, utterly unique voices to speak for America's highest ideals and to push forward towards a better America.

Rep. Jordan was an energetic advocate of our Constitution's core values of fairness and equality under law. She continues to be an inspiration in our work, and it's not an exaggeration to say that it's because of leaders like Barbara Jordan that we were all able to celebrate the inauguration of President Barack Obama last month.

But still, there are those who are intent on dragging us backwards. While the inauguration was still fresh in our minds, People For was forced to lead an aggressive campaign to help confirm President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder -- the first African American to hold the position. After eight years spent undermining the crucial work of the Department of Justice, the Right is fighting hard to prevent the new administration from truly restoring justice at the DOJ. This is why Attorney General Holder's comments about the racism in America ring true to so many of us in this constant battle against those who would turn back the clock on civil rights. And just last week we all got an ugly reminder of this pervasive racism and racial insensitivity in America when the New York Post published an offensive cartoon depicting President Obama as a chimp getting shot by two white police officers. The cartoon literally included several layers of tastelessness: the comparison of our first African American president to an ape, what could be construed as an invitation for violence against the president AND the stirring up of racial issues with law enforcement in a city that has particularly sensitive recent history in that area.

Many have pointed out that the lack of diversity in senior management and on the editorial staff of the Post was a major contributing factor to how a cartoon like that could get published in the first place. That's why I'm proud that People For and our affiliate foundation have taken so seriously our mission to help promote diversity. It can be seen very clearly in People For the American Way Foundation's leadership development programs, the Young Elected Officials Network and Young People For, which are among the most diverse programs of their kind -- ever. And it can be seen in our groundbreaking efforts to promote equality for all, like with People For Foundation's work with African American ministers to combat homophobia in the Black Church.

We're working hard to make sure that civil rights remain a top priority for this administration, and fighting against those who are intent on erecting barriers to the ballot, not to mention advocating for a more just Supreme Court, organizing for marriage equality for all and defending religious liberty by maintaining the separation between church and state.

Barbara Jordan made clear that there are certain principles that are not negotiable, values she called "indigenous to the American idea." Opportunity. Fairness. Equality under law. Those are still the values that bind our community together, and every day we're moving closer to that nation that she envisioned.

PFAW