discrimination

Senate Confirms Three Judges…But What About the 99 Vacancies Left?

Last night, the Senate struck an agreement to confirm three of President Obama’s non-controversial judicial nominees. That’s great—but, as of this morning, it leaves 99 seats on the federal judiciary left to fill. And, as the long road to last night’s three easy confirmations shows, if the Senate’s behavior with judicial nominations doesn’t change, that number is not going to dwindle fast.

The stories behind the three nominees confirmed last night clearly illustrate the Senate dysfunction that has led to one in nine seats on the federal judiciary being vacant. Marco Hernandez, an Oregon judge, was first nominated to the federal district court in 2008…by George W. Bush. When President Obama renominated him July, 2010, he did not receive a vote in the Senate. When his nomination finally went to a vote yesterday, after three years and three nominations, he was confirmed unanimously.

Attorney Paul Kinloch Holmes was nominated for the federal bench in Arkansas in April, 2010. His nomination stalled all last year in the Senate, and President Obama renominated him last month. He was confirmed without a single dissenting vote. Diana Saldana of Texas, also confirmed without dissent last night, had also been nominated twice and seen her nomination languish on the Senate floor for almost a year.

The Washington Post today reports on the crisis in the federal judiciary created by the Senate’s failure to confirm judges at the rate that they’re retiring:

The crisis is most acute along the southwestern border, where immigration and drug cases have overwhelmed court officials. Arizona recently declared a judicial emergency, extending the deadline to put defendants on trial. The three judges in Tucson, the site of last month's shooting rampage, are handling about 1,200 criminal cases apiece.

"It's a dire situation," said Roslyn O. Silver, the state's chief judge.

In central Illinois, three of the four judgeships remain vacant after two of President Obama's nominees did not get a vote on the Senate floor.

Chief Judge Michael McCuskey said he is commuting 90 miles between Urbana and Springfield and relying on two 81-year-old "senior" judges to fill the gap. "I had a heart attack six years ago, and my cardiologist told me recently, 'You need to reduce your stress,' '' he said. "I told him only the U.S. Senate can reduce my stress.''

As we’ve pointed out here before, the judicial crisis is about far more than the health of overworked judges. Overworked courts mean slower access to justice for citizens:

The effect is most visible in civil cases, with delays of up to three years in resolving discrimination claims, corporate disputes and other lawsuits.

"Ultimately, I think people will lose faith in the rule of law,'' said Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in California. "We as a nation believe that if you have a dispute, you go to court and within a reasonable period of time, you get a decision.''

Ultimately, it’s ordinary citizens who pay for the Senate’s failure to perform one of its simplest and most essential tasks—ensuring the fairness and functioning of the federal judiciary.
 

PFAW

Justice Scalia and Sex Discrimination

Justice Antonin Scalia is in the news again, having pronounced yet again that the United States Constitution does not prohibit the government from discriminating against women. The Huffington Post reports on a newly-published interview with the legal magazine California Lawyer:

[Interviewer:] In 1868, when the 39th Congress was debating and ultimately proposing the 14th Amendment, I don't think anybody would have thought that equal protection applied to sex discrimination, or certainly not to sexual orientation. So does that mean that we've gone off in error by applying the 14th Amendment to both?

[Scalia:] Yes, yes. Sorry, to tell you that. ... But, you know, if indeed the current society has come to different views, that's fine. You do not need the Constitution to reflect the wishes of the current society. Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn't. Nobody ever thought that that's what it meant. Nobody ever voted for that. If the current society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey we have things called legislatures, and they enact things called laws. You don't need a constitution to keep things up-to-date. All you need is a legislature and a ballot box.

The Huffington Post notes:

Marcia Greenberger, founder and co-president of the National Women's Law Center, called the justice's comments "shocking" and said he was essentially saying that if the government sanctions discrimination against women, the judiciary offers no recourse.

Although you might not know it from what Scalia says, there is nothing in the Fourteenth Amendment that puts women outside its scope. The text is quite plain on that regard: "No state shall ... deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws" (emphasis added). The last anyone checked, women are people.

Scalia has previously discussed with legal audiences his opposition to constitutional equality for women. In fact, he wrote a lone dissent 15 years ago in United States v. Virginia making his view clear: He believes that the landmark 1971 Supreme Court case ruling that the government cannot discriminate against women simply because they are women was wrongly decided. (Then-litigator Ruth Bader Ginsburg helped write the brief arguing for equality in that case.)

When it comes to the rights of women, Scalia’s Constitution is a stiff, brittle document, relegating women to the limited rights they were allowed to have in 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted.

Interestingly, his approach is far more flexible for corporations, as we saw in Citizens United, when he concluded that mega-corporations have the same First Amendment rights as people for the purposes of election law.

Perhaps if a woman wants to have full constitutional protection from Justice Scalia, she needs to incorporate.

PFAW

Sessions Puts His Lab Coat Back On

Back in September, we wrote about Sen. Jeff Sessions’ discovery of what he called the “ACLU chromosome”—according to the senator, a common genetic defect that disqualifies bearers from the federal judiciary.

Well, Dr. Sessions is back at it. TPM has this video of Sessions ranting yesterday about the supposed prevalence of the “ACLU chromosome” in President Obama’s judicial nominees:

As Sen. Mark Udall later pointed out on the Senate floor, it’s unlikely that Sen. Sessions would have a similar reaction to a “Federalist Society chromosome”. While a few of President Obama’s nominees have had a history working with the ACLU—for instance, Edward Chen of California who worked to prevent discrimination against Asian Americans—President Bush made a point of packing the courts with judges who belonged to the far-right Federalist Society.

It’s absurd arguments like Sessions’ that are keeping qualified, well-respected nominees like Chen from even receiving an up or down vote in the Senate. While reports say that the Senate GOP has finally agreed to vote on 19 judicial nominees who they have been stalling despite little or no opposition to their confirmations, four nominees, including Chen, will be left out to dry without even a vote.

And, for the record, the ACLU had this to say about Sessions’ rant:

"Senator Sessions' reference to 'ACLU DNA' in President Obama's judicial nominees should be greeted as a welcome discovery by all Americans, regardless of party. For 90 years, the ACLU has defended the rights enshrined in the Constitution for everyone, regardless of their political beliefs. While not everyone agrees with us on every issue, Americans have come to rely on the ACLU for its unyielding dedication to principle."

"There is a long record of highly respected ACLU-affiliated lawyers who have been appointed to the federal bench, including luminaries such as Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. All have demonstrated their dedication to the Bill of Rights in important decisions supporting freedom of speech, the right to due process and gender and racial equality. There are also dozens of highly regarded district court and appellate court judges who have served or serve now on federal benches throughout the nation. Their ACLU background has helped them bring to the judicial system a steadfast commitment to constitutional values and an understanding of the critical role that the judiciary plays in safeguarding them."

"If you ask us, ACLU chromosomes make for a pretty remarkable gene pool," she added.


 

PFAW

House debate: Murphy, Green, and Lewis on DADT repeal

There were many strong speeches during the House debate on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Part 1. Part 2.

I wanted to share three highlights with you now.

Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA8) is the lead sponsor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. He shared his personal experience: “When I deployed to Iraq as a captain with the 82nd Airborne Division, my team and I didn't care about someone else's sexual orientation. We cared whether everyone could do their job so we could all come home alive.”

Representative Al Green (D-TX9), a veteran civil rights advocate, is heading into his 4th term in Congress. He fought on a battlefield of a different sort: “Mr. Speaker, life has prepared me for this vote. When you have had to sit at the back of the bus, in the balcony of the movie and have had to stand in a line for colored only, then you are prepared for this vote.”

But there’s perhaps no more passionate a civil rights voice serving in Congress today than Representative John Lewis (D-GA5), who led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in what’s since become known as Bloody Sunday. His plea was simple: “Vote ‘yes’ because discrimination is wrong.”

Repeal is now before the Senate, where we need your help to make sure that the bill is taken up, passed, and sent to the President’s desk. Call now! (202) 224-3121

PFAW

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal: The fight is not over

PFAW was just as disappointed as anyone to see last Thursday’s procedural defeat of the FY11 Defense authorization bill.
 

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been a failed experiment in discrimination—it has kept countless patriotic Americans from serving their country in the military, and sent thousands of brave men and women packing after honorable careers in the armed forces. For too long, an unjust, ineffective, and unpopular policy has been kept in place by the divisive politics of the far-right fringe. As Sec. Gates has acknowledged, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell won’t hold up for long in the court of law. The Senate’s refusal to end the policy at Sec. Gates’ request—and to sink an important Defense bill along with it—is short-sighted and irresponsible, and puts right-wing politics ahead of national security.

But we have called on you to keep fighting, in particular on behalf of S. 4023 – the stand-alone repeal bill introduced by Senator Lieberman, with Senators Collins, Gillibrand, Mark Udall, and 38 other cosponsors (at press time).

Last night, a Department of Defense Authorization bill that contained the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was successfully blocked, falling three votes short of the 60 needed for the bill to get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. But there's good news… Several senators who voted to block the bill did so not because they oppose repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell but because they had procedural objections to how the bill was being pushed forward.

Shortly after the vote, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) announced they were introducing Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal as a stand-alone bill and expressed confidence that they had more than the 60 votes required to move the bill forward. It's been rare in recent years that we could count Sens. Lieberman and Collins as allies in the fight for progress on many of the issues we care about. But in this instance, they deserve to be commended. They are matching their words with action and moving a bill which could, once and for all, be the final nail in the coffin for the discriminatory policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Help shore up your senators' support for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell by calling them now and urging them to vote YES on repeal.

Capitol Switchboard - (202) 224-3121

Last Friday, repeal advocates gathered on Capitol Hill to make sure that the Senate keeps fighting. From Metro Weekly:

I attended the rally and was heartened by the passionate voices emanating from the podium. More information about those speakers, including additional video, is available here and here.

PFAW

White House: Judicial Nominations are a Priority for Lame Duck

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters yesterday that pushing through stalled judicial nominations would be one of the president’s priorities in the last days of the lame duck session of Congress.

People For released a memo last week detailing why it’s important for the Senate to confirm all 38 stalled nominees immediately:

As the end of the 111th Congress approaches, 38 judicial nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee are waiting for a vote on the Senate floor. Many of the nominees have been waiting for months, while a few have been waiting for almost a year.

Of these nominees:

  • 21 (55%) have been nominated to fill emergency slots.
  • 29(76%) are women or people of color.
  • 29 (76%) came out of committee without opposition and an additional 3 came out of committee with significant bipartisan support.

There’s no question that a majority of senators will vote to confirm every one of these nominees, and it’s unlikely that any of them would fail to garner the 60 votes necessary to overcome procedural hurdles that the GOP has deployed on virtually every function the Senate has performed since President Obama took office. (This is doubly true considering that many members of the GOP have publicly asserted that filibusters of judicial nominees aren’t just wrong, but actually unconstitutional.)

Now, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to be offering Democrats a devil’s bargain: confirm a number of the nominees that don’t have any opposition at all, but send the rest back to the White House at the end of the Congress. The group being sent back to the White House will almost certainly include four of the eminently qualified – and mainstream -- nominees who have had the misfortune of being tagged as “controversial” by Republicans:

  • Rhode Island nominee John McConnell, who has been opposed by the US Chamber of Commerce for his willingness to represent victims of lead paint poisoning.
  • Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, whose work as a judge irked business interests so much, they spent $1 million to prevent his reelection.
  • U.S. Magistrate Edward Chen, who has been attacked for his work fighting discrimination against Asian Americans for the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • And then, of course, Ninth Circuit Appeals Court nominee Goodwin Liu. As the New York Times editorial page has pointed out, the GOP’s resistance to Liu centers mainly around the fear that he’s so qualified, he might end up on the Supreme Court.

Senator Reid and his colleagues should call Senator McConnell’s bluff and start holding cloture votes on these nominees. The process will take time, but adding time to the calendar is entirely within the Democratic leadership’s purview. By confirming McConnell, Butler, Chen, and Liu, Senators can make clear that they will fight the unprecedented and enormously damaging obstruction of highly qualified judicial nominees. Walking away from these nominees delivers the confirmation process to the GOP: they’ll effectively block confirmable jurists without even having to go on record with their obstruction.

President Bush worked hard to pack the courts with far-right, Federalist Society judges. Confirming Obama’s picks will not only fill vacancies causing judicial emergencies and add much-needed diversity to the federal bench, it will prevent the federal bench from continuing to be dominated by Bush’s far-right appointments.

 

PFAW

Chamber of Commerce Targets Workers' Families

Miriam Regalado and her fiancé Eric Thompson both worked at North American Stainless. In 2003, after Regalado filed a sex discrimination complaint against the company, it fired her fiancé, Thompson, in retaliation. The Supreme Court is now considering whether Title VII gives Thompson the right to sue the company. While the parties disagree on whether Thompson can sue, they agree that Regalado, the one who was being retaliated against, could sue the company for firing her fiancé.

As noted in a previous blog post, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed an amicus brief taking a far more extreme position: There was no unlawful retaliation in the first place, because the company never altered the working conditions of the woman who filed the initial complaint. A company is completely within its rights to intimidate its workers by firing the family members of anyone who dares assert their rights under Title VII.

Unfortunately, it turns out that the Chamber is not alone. SCOTUSBlog reports that during oral arguments, Justice Scalia actually chided the company's attorney for acknowledging that a company can't retaliate against an employee for exercising her Title VII rights by firing her fiancé.

Congress specifically wrote a prohibition against retaliation into Title VII to ensure that workers would not be bullied or threatened into surrendering the rights guaranteed by that law. Congress recognized that without this protection, the rest of the statute would be meaningless. The Supreme Court has previously made clear that the primary purpose of the anti-retaliation provision is "[m]aintaining unfettered access to statutory remedial mechanisms."

Perhaps for as long as there have been families, bullies ranging from neighborhood thugs to totalitarian dictators have used the threat of retaliation against loved ones to keep people cowering in fear, afraid to exercise their basic rights. It is hard to imagine a more effective method of neutering Title VII - and keeping American workers too intimidated to exercise their rights.

It is equally hard to imagine that this is not exactly the sort of retaliation that Congress set out to prevent.

No respectable person should support a company's right to keep its workers too terrified to complain when they are illegally discriminated against. Yet that is the position of the corporate titans who run the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This should give local Chambers another reason to separate themselves from the national organization.

PFAW

Justice Department, Civil Rights Division: It gets better

In recent months I’ve written about various contributions to the It Gets Better Project. Dan and Terry. Ellen DeGeneres. President Obama. Secretary Clinton. Today brought a video from the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.

As you can see:

The Civil Rights Division, and the entire Justice Department, is committed to ending bullying and harassment in schools, and the video highlights the Department’s authority to enforce federal laws that protect students from discrimination and harassment at school because of their race, national origin, disability, religion, and sex, including harassment based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes. The video also features Division employees who share their individual stories and personal messages that a better future awaits youth who may be experiencing bullying or harassment.

PFAW agrees that every student, LGBT or not, has the right to be educated in the same way. Click here for more information.

PFAW

Evolving Media Narrative of the Roberts Court

More and more Americans have noticed the Roberts Court's habit of twisting the law in order to benefit powerful corporations over the rights of individuals. As recently as a year ago, the national dialogue on the Court rarely touched on this issue. But last January's Citizens United decision was so outrageous that it made people see both the Court's previous decisions and its current work through a new lens. Evolving press coverage reflects the changing paradigm in how Americans view the Supreme Court.

For instance, earlier this week, the Supreme Court announced that it had agreed to hear a case of sex discrimination against Wal-Mart and a separate case involving global climate change. Press coverage recognized the common factor in the Court's decisions to hear these very different and unrelated cases.

The Los Angeles Times wrote:

The Supreme Court announced Monday it will hear two major appeals from corporate America that seek to block mass lawsuits, one involving a huge sex bias claim against Walmart and the other a massive environmental suit that seeks to hold coal-fired power plants liable for causing global warming.

In both cases, the justices agreed to consider stopping these suits before they can move toward a trial.

Monday's move is only the latest sign that the Roberts Court is inclined to rein in big-money lawsuits against business. The conservative justices have been particularly skeptical of sprawling suits that could run on for years and lead to enormous verdicts.

Under a headline reading "Two Supreme Court Cases to Test Corporate Interests," the Washington Post reported:

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear two major challenges brought by corporate interests, ...

In both cases, corporations are challenging decisions by federal appeals courts that the suits can go forward. They come before a court that traditionally has been sympathetic to business interests, but is sensitive about recent criticism from the left that it favors corporations over consumer and environmental groups.

Time wrote:

Two federal courts have ruled that their suit can proceed as a class action on behalf of between 500,000 and 1.5 million women, but on Monday the Supreme Court announced it would review that decision. It looks suspiciously like another case in which the court's conservative majority will twist a procedural rule to prevent victims of discrimination from getting a fair chance at justice

As Jeffrey Toobin observed in the New Yorker this week:

This is the rule in the current Supreme Court. If there is a human being on one side of the "v." and a corporation on the other, the corporation wins.

The Roberts Court is learning that if you look like a duck, walk like a duck, and quack like a duck for long enough, people will eventually realize that you are, indeed, a duck.

PFAW

Policy Questions at the Supreme Court

At yesterday's oral arguments on Thompson v. North American Stainlessthe case of the fired fiancé – the Justices discussed whether Title VII allows Eric Thompson to sue his employer for firing him in retaliation for a discrimination complaint lodged by his fiancée. Everyone agrees that Title VII prohibits the company from firing her. The Justices of the Supreme Court are trying to figure out if that federal law also protects her fiancé.

The Washington Post reports:

But Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wondered if the betrothed were included, how far would the law extend.

"Does it include simply a good friend?" he asked. "Does it include somebody who just has lunch in the cafeteria every day with the person who engaged in the protected conduct? Somebody who once dated the person who engaged in the protected conduct?"

[The fired employee's attorney] said the person fired would have to prove the intent was to punish the person who complained. And then the person would have to show that the retaliatory action was serious enough to dissuade a reasonable person from filing a complaint.

Justice Antonin Scalia put himself in the role of employer, saying he would want a clear rule on who he "had to treat with kid gloves."

Note that Justices Alito and Scalia are not mechanically calling balls and strikes, as in the severely flawed umpire metaphor then-Judge John Roberts used at his confirmation hearings - and which conservatives have been using since to bamboozle the American public. In interpreting Title VII, they are taking policy considerations into account: How would their interpretation work? How could any line-drawing be justified? How could the needs of employers for clarity be met?

This is exactly what we expect judges to do.

Conservative supporters of Alito and Scalia who repeat the tired "balls and strikes" line simply cannot be taken seriously. They simply use it to mask their extremist, results-oriented viewpoint that no matter what the Constitution and statutes actually say, corporations and powerful special interests should win, while workers, women, gays, immigrants, and liberals should lose.

PFAW

Many Opportunities for Corporations at the Court This Term

Now seems as good a time as any to take a brief look at just how many cases are before the Supreme Court this term that threaten to take away people's right to hold giant corporations accountable. The Court is being asked to:

  • Empower retaliation against employees who file discrimination complaints;
  • Prohibit a class-action discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart on behalf of its 1.5 million women employees;
  • Bar states from using federal nuisance law to hold power companies accountable for the climate damage they are causing;
  • Make it harder for employees to hold their employers accountable for providing inaccurate summaries of major changes in their pensions plans;
  • Demolish class-action suits and cripple state consumer protection laws through corporate-imposed arbitration agreements;
  • Protect pharmaceutical corporations from lawsuits from those who are injured by unsafe child vaccines; and
  • Recognize "personal privacy rights" of corporations.

There are other cases, as well, and their number will increase as the Court continues to accept new cases. It makes one realize just how big an impact the Supreme Court has on all our lives.

PFAW

The Case of the Fired Fiancé

Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Thompson v. North American Stainless, an employment retaliation case that threatens to keep illegally fired employees from holding accountable the companies that fire them.

In 2003, North American Stainless fired Eric Thompson in retaliation against his fiancée, who also worked for the company and had just filed a sex discrimination complaint against it. Such retaliation against an employee seeking to vindicate her rights under Title VII is illegal. So Thompson sued.

Two separate provisions of Title VII are relevant here:

  • First, to remove employees' fear of retaliation, Section 704(a) states that an employer may not "discriminate against any of his employees ... because he has ... made a charge ... under this title."
  • Second, in a provision relating to employment discrimination overall and not just retaliation, Section 706(f )(1) authorizes a person aggrieved by an unlawful employment action to file suit to enforce Title VII.

The firing was designed to retaliate against an employee seeking to vindicate her rights and was therefore clearly an unlawful employment action. Thompson, who lost his job, was undoubtedly aggrieved by this unlawful employment action. There shouldn't be any question that Congress gave him the right to sue.

Yet the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, dominated by nominees of George W. Bush, held otherwise. Ten judges (nine of whom were nominated by Republican presidents, a full seven by George W. Bush) held that Thompson cannot sue because he wasn't the person who was being retaliated against. North American Stainless is asking the Supreme Court to uphold that holding.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has filed an amicus brief that is even more extreme: There was no unlawful retaliation in the first place, because the company never altered the working conditions of the woman who filed the initial complaint. In the frightening world the Chamber wants us to live in, firing a complaining employee's fiancé, spouse, daughter, etc. is not at all considered unlawful retaliation.

As the Obama Administration points out in its amicus brief supporting the fired employee, the Sixth Circuit opinion ignores the plain language of Title VII. In addition, if upheld, it will have a devastating real-world impact. Most lay people unassisted by lawyers would naturally assume that the person who was fired - not the one who is still employed - should be the one to sue. If the Supreme Court bars suits by the most obvious plaintiffs, the ones who have suffered the most, then many injured parties will in the real world be left without a remedy.

PFAW

Wal-Mart Class Action at Issue

Earlier today, the Supreme Court accepted a high-profile case that will likely have a substantial impact on employees all over the country. Wal-Mart, the nation's largest employer, is being sued for unlawfully discriminating against its women employees. It is a class-action suit on behalf of the corporate giant's 1.5 million women employees. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the case could proceed as a class action.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Wal-Mart's appeal. As the Washington Post reports:

[The Court] will be looking at the question of whether a single suit is proper when alleging charges of pay discrimination and lack of promotions spread across thousands of stores in every region of the country. ...

Business groups say certification of a class action puts enormous pressure on a company to settle regardless of whether the charges can be proved, because of the cost of the litigation and the potential award at stake. In the case of Wal-Mart, the nation's largest employer, the amount could be billions of dollars.

But civil rights groups say class-actions are the most effective way of making sure a business ends discriminatory practices and pays a price for its actions.

Large corporations, with resources dwarfing those available to the average individual, clearly benefit when their victims are unable to pool resources through a class action. Indeed, this is not the only case this term where the Supreme Court is being asked to dismantle this vital tool, one that has proved time and again to be the only way to hold corporate wrongdoers accountable.

We will learn this spring whether the Roberts Court will continue its trend of twisting the law in order to benefit powerful corporations over the rights of individuals.

PFAW

Desperate GOP Now Attacks DADT Report

With top leaders of the military and the majority of Americans all calling for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Right is desperately trying to find ways to maintain the ban on gays from serving openly.

After months of emphasizing the need to wait for the Pentagon’s comprehensive report on the impact of allowing gay and lesbian soldiers to serve openly in the armed forces, now conservative opponents of repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) have dismissed the report altogether. The Right’s rejection of the Pentagon study is not surprising since the report found that repealing DADT won’t have negative consequences on military effectiveness or cohesion, and that the vast majority of soldiers do not oppose its repeal. According to the report, “69 percent of respondents believe they have already served alongside a gay person” and among “those who believed that, 92 percent said their units were able to work together and 8 percent said the units functioned poorly as a result.”

But the support for repealing DADT by military leaders, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and most Americans can’t overcome the doggedly anti-gay and anti-equality views of many conservative politicians and groups. Instead of considering and evaluating the clear and unequivocal conclusions of the Pentagon study, defenders of DADT decided to target the report itself: rather than studying and assessing the impact on military cohesion and effectiveness, many Republicans say, the report should have been a referendum on the policy.

John McCain, the Senate GOP’s point person on opposition to repealing DADT, essentially asked for an unprecedented referendum to see if the policy should be repealed or not:

“How best are you going to assess the effect on morale and battle effectiveness and retention unless you consult and find out what the view of the troops is?” McCain said in a brief interview on Monday.



"It is not part of the working group's mandate to ask service members the broad question of whether they think DADT should be repealed, which, in effect, would amount to a referendum," Gates said in an October letter to McCain. "I do not believe that military policy decisions ... should be made through a referendum of service members."

McCain went on to attack Gates as a “political appointee who’s never been in the military,” even though Gates is a veteran of the US Air Force and also served in the CIA.

McCain’s support for what would effectively be a referendum also contradicts his previous claim that military leaders should be the ones deciding the future of DADT, telling Chris Matthews: “the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says ‘Senator we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it because those leaders in the military are the ones we give the responsibility to.”

South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham sent a similar message, saying that the troops should participate in a referendum on the policy decision:

Graham, who opposes repeal of the ban on gays in uniform, agreed with McCain that the survey “asked the wrong question” of the troops. “The question that needs to be asked of our military is: Do you support repeal? Not how do you repeal, how do you implement repeal,” Graham said.

The Family Research Council also rejected the report outright because it wasn’t a referendum on DADT in a statement:

“Media reports to the effect that a majority of servicemembers ‘would not have a problem’ with homosexuals in the military overlook the fact that the surveys did not ask whether respondents support repeal of the current law. If most servicemembers say that under a different policy, they would continue to attempt to do their job in a professional manner, that is only what we would expect. This does not mean that a new policy would not undermine the overall effectiveness of the force. And if even a small percentage of our armed forces would choose not to re-enlist, or part of the public would choose not to serve in the first place, the impact on the military would be catastrophic.”

Frank Gaffney of the right-wing Center for Security Policy also commented that asking service members’ opinions of serving with openly gay and lesbian members was not enough, and that they should have been polled on DADT itself:

The question occurs: How many of our servicemen and -women will decide they don't want to submit to a "zero-tolerance" enforcement of the new homosexual-friendly regulations that will be promulgated if the present statute proscribing LGBT service is repealed?

Don't expect an answer from the Pentagon "study" that will be released with much fanfare next week - after more than a fortnight of misleading leaks and pre-publication spin. After all, questions Congress expected to have answered about whether folks in uniform would support the law's repeal and, if it occurs, whether they would leave the military were not even asked. We can only infer the answers from questions that were asked, notably about how problematic implementation would be.

With little left to stand on, the Right’s new demand that the repeal of DADT be determined by a poll of the troops, rather than a decision by military and legislative leaders, only demonstrates the desperation of their attacks. Judging by their reaction to the comprehensive report, it is doubtful that they would even accept the results of a hypothetical and unprecedented poll of the troops if it doesn’t conform to their staunchly anti-gay beliefs.

PFAW

Will Republicans Stay True to Their Word on the DADT Report?

Opposition to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has ranged from subtle and outright homophobia to claims that the House, in passing repeal, was “dissing the troops.” Many Republican senators who voted to stop the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell from coming to a vote earlier this year said that they were uncomfortable with voting for or against repeal until the Pentagon completed its study of the policy.  The study, released today, finds that an overwhelming majority of both soldiers and their spouses had absolutely no problem with letting gay and lesbian soldiers serve openly. The report found that “69 percent — believed they had already worked with a gay man or woman, and of those the vast majority — 92 percent — reported that the unit’s ability to work together was very good, good or ‘neither good nor poor.’” The authors of the report, Jeh C. Johnson, the Pentagon’s chief counsel, and Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commander of the United States Army in Europe, even wrote that “we are both convinced that our military can do this, even during this time of war.”

Now that the Pentagon has conclusively found that unit cohesion and effectiveness won’t be jeopardized by a repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, it is important to remember the Republican senators who said Congress should wait for the report before an up or down vote on repealing DADT.

Mark Kirk (R-IL):

I think we should wait for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to report. This was actually the recommendation of Secretary Gates and the President, but Speaker Pelosi wanted to move forward anyway. The problem here is that when you remove the policy, you got to have a new policy….I’m going to read every word of that study.

Scott Brown (R-MA):

I am keeping an open mind, but I do not support moving ahead until I am able to finish my review, the Pentagon completes its study, and we can be assured that a new policy can be implemented without jeopardizing the mission of our military.

Olympia Snowe (R-ME):

Moreover, as I have previously stated, given that the law implementing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy has been in place for nearly 17 years, I agree that it is overdue for a thorough review. The question is, whether we should be voting on this issue before we have the benefit of the comprehensive review that President Obama’s Secretary of Defense ordered in March, to secure the input of our men and women in uniform during this time of war – as the Joint Chiefs of Staff from all of the services have requested prior to any vote. We should all have the opportunity to review that report which is to be completed on December 1, as we reevaluate this policy and the implementation of any new changes.

John Ensign (R-NV):

“It is my firm belief that Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be able to fight and risk their lives in defense of this great nation. As a nation currently engaged in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, the focus of all decisions affecting military readiness, recruiting and retention, and unit cohesion should be to maximize the success of ongoing operations.”

Ensign spokesperson Jennifer Cooper reiterated this point: "Senator Ensign is waiting on the report from the Pentagon and the testimony of the military chiefs to see if any changes to this policy can or should be done in a way so as not to harm the readiness or war fighting capabilities of our troops."

Roger Wicker (R-MS):

Congress should refrain from conducting any legislative action on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ until the Defense Department has concluded its comprehensive review of the policy.

Richard Burr (R-NC):

Don't Ask Don't Tell has worked. Now personally I don't see a reason to reverse it. But that's a personal opinion. I think the country should have a debate. And what we should do is we should wait until the Department of Defense has gotten back the survey of those individuals who serve. That survey's back in December. This is not too far off…. Now I'm not scared to have the debate, I welcome the debate, but I'm also very confident that we should time this in a way that makes as little impact on those troops that are deployed as we possibly can.

John Thune (R-SD):

I believe it is in the best interest of our military to allow the DOD to complete its review of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, before Congress injects politics into the process.
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The Majority of Americans Want to End Discrimination in the Military. The Tea Party Doesn’t. Who’s the GOP Listening to?

A new Pew Research survey confirms, again, that a large majority of Americans support repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and allowing gay and lesbian Americans to serve openly in the military:

As the Pentagon prepares to release its highly anticipated survey of military personnel about the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, most Americans (58%) say they favor allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the armed forces. Fewer than half that number (27%) oppose allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly.

These opinions have changed little in recent years. Since 2005 – including three surveys this year – roughly 60% have consistently favored permitting homosexuals to serve openly in the military. There is greater support for permitting gays to serve openly today than there was in 1994, after President Clinton put in place the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. In July of that year, 52% said they favored allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military while 45% said they opposed allowing this.

Pew found that majorities in each age group and education level favor DADT repeal. Large majorities of Democrats and Independents favor repeal, and Republicans are about evenly split. Interestingly, one group that Pew found is resoundingly against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly is people who say they identify with the Tea Party: “Only about four-in-ten (38%) Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party favor allowing gays to serve openly while 48% are opposed.” About half of the Republicans surveyed chose to align themselves with the Tea Party.

The Senate will mostly likely take a final vote on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal after this week’s release of the Pentagon’s report on repeal. A handful of GOP senators have indicated that they’ll vote to get rid of the discriminatory policy in the likely event that the Pentagon’s report supports the move. Pew’s survey is yet another piece of evidence that the senators who continue to back Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell are not supporting the majority of Americans, the needs of the armed forces, or even the preference of the majority of their own party. Instead, in trying to hold on to a discriminatory and failed policy, they pander almost exclusively to the extreme social conservatism of a vocal right-wing movement.
 

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Standing together for schools that are safe and free of discrimination

Last Thursday I attended a press conference convened on Capitol Hill in support of the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act. It was a diverse mix of speakers. Representatives Linda Sánchez and Jared Polis and Senators Robert Casey and Al Franken showed their support as our legislative champions. Clay Aiken (American Idol) and Louis Van Amstel (Dancing with the Stars) talked about using their star power to advance the cause. Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and Dr. Cathy Minke, President of the National Association of School Psychologists, shared the work they do everyday as advocates and practitioners. Then there were the people for whom this issue hits closest to home: Sirdeaner Walker, mother of Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover; Tammy Aaberg, mother of Justin Aaberg; and Joey Kemmerling, a 16-year-old gay student from Bucks County, PA.

Something Dr. Byard said really stuck with me.

This is an issue of behavior, not belief.

Ensuring that schools are safe, as does the Safe Schools Improvement Act, and free of discrimination, as does the Student Nondiscrimination Act, isn’t about sexual orientation and gender identity, or how you might feel about LGBT issues being raised in schools. This is about stopping abhorrent behavior that prevents victimized students from accessing the quality education they need and deserve. Every student, LGBT or not, has the right to be educated in the same way.

Click here for more information, and be sure to take a look at this video posted by Senator Franken.

 

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Paycheck Fairness Act defeated, but we shouldn't be

There’s no denying the fact that it was frustrating to see the Paycheck Fairness Act defeated in a 58-41 vote – 2 votes shy of overcoming a procedural hurdle that has stopped the bill itself from coming to the floor.

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement, was herself frustrated.

Today, only Democratic senators voted to support Paycheck Fairness for women -- not a single Republican voted to allow the Senate to move forward. It is notable that the first vote after the election in which the American people sent a clear message that they want Washington to work better, the Republicans blocked a common sense measure aimed simply to help ensure that women get the pay they deserve.

But in the same post, it’s clear that neither she, nor President Obama, nor his Administration are ready to give up.

Despite today’s vote, the Administration will continue its fight for equal pay for women – an issue that in these trying economic times is even more pressing given American families’ reliance on women’s income. The National Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force, with representatives from the Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Office of Personnel Management, (“OPM”) continues its pursuit of pay equity for women. The agencies are strengthening their own enforcement efforts and working together, building regional partnerships to promote earlier and more effective collaboration on investigations. And with leadership from OPM, we will continue to improve the federal government’s role as a model employer.

This Administration will keep fighting to improve the economic security for women and their families. This includes working hard in this session and the next Congress we will keep fighting for things such as an extension of emergency unemployment insurance, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other measures we have supported that must now be extended. The President is committed to working with the women who joined us today and people around the country to support women and their families.

I think the President himself said it best.

Click here for People For the American Way’s statement on the vote.

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Bipartisan Agreement Breaks Out at Hearing on Faith Based Initiatives

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

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

This week, People For and 46 other progressive groups sent a letter to the leaders of the U.S. Senate urging them to end the backlog of judicial nominees before the end of this session of Congress. Republican obstruction has prevented dozens of nominees from even receiving a vote on the Senate floor, leaving the federal court system with over 100 vacancies and the slowing down the process of bringing more diversity to the federal bench. Read the full letter:

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

The undersigned organizations strongly urge you to end the troubling backlog of judicial nominees that exists to date in the 111th Congress. The obstruction of many of President Obama’s nominees through filibuster threats and anonymous “holds” is hindering the important work of our judicial branch, particularly in the many areas of our nation that now face judicial emergencies due to unfilled vacancies on the bench.

Throughout the 111th Congress, President Obama has worked with the Senate on a bipartisan basis to select extraordinarily well-qualified judicial nominees who could easily be confirmed by wide margins and begin serving the public, if brought to a vote before the full Senate. Yet a troubling number of these nominees, many of whom have been cleared by the Committee on the Judiciary with little or no opposition, have been blocked from up-or-down confirmation votes for reasons that defy explanation. Indeed, many of President Obama’s judicial nominees who have been confirmed, to date, have been confirmed by unanimous votes – but only after languishing for many months on the Senate floor, raising significant doubts about the legitimacy of the ongoing delays in confirmation proceedings.

Due to arcane floor procedures that allow a single member to impede the important business of the Senate, our judicial branch has reached a state of crisis. Out of 872 federal judgeships, 106 are currently vacant, with 50 of those vacancies now characterized as “judicial emergencies” in which courts are being overwhelmed by filings that cannot be considered. As a result, a growing number of Americans, from all walks of life and across all economic strata, are finding it increasingly more difficult to assert their legal rights and to have their fair day in court.

In the meantime, the Senate is badly failing in its constitutionally-mandated role of considering the nominees that President Obama has selected. Prior to entering its pro forma session, the Senate failed to confirm any of the 23 nominees who are currently pending on the Senate floor, 17 of whom advanced through the committee process with no opposition whatsoever. Moreover, 11 of the pending nominees would fill seats designated as judicial emergencies – and more than half of the pending nominees are people of color, while 10 of them are women, who would bring badly-needed and long-overdue diversity to our judicial branch.

We write to you at a time when our nation faces numerous challenges that cry out for bipartisan cooperation, including major economic challenges and continued international threats. We strongly believe that the continued obstruction of nominations will poison the political atmosphere, needlessly heighten partisan tensions, and make it far more difficult for the federal government to serve the public interest in any respect. These consequences are all but certain to continue into the 112th Congress and beyond.

For these reasons, in the remaining weeks of the 111th Congress, we strongly urge you to work together in a bipartisan fashion to proceed with confirmation votes on the two dozen judicial nominees who remain pending on the Senate floor. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

AFL-CIO

Alliance for Justice

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

American Association for Affirmative Action

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Association of University Women

American Federation of Government Employees

American Federation of Teachers

Americans for Democratic Action

Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Asian American Justice Center

Common Cause

Constitutional Accountability Center

Equal Justice Society

Families USA Foundation

Feminist Majority

Hispanic National Bar Association

Hispanics for a Fair Judiciary

Human Rights Campaign

Japanese American Citizens League

Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Lambda Legal

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

League of United Latin American Citizens

Legal Momentum

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

NAACP

NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc.

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse

National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum

National Association of Consumer Advocates

National Association of Human Rights Workers

National Association of Social Workers

National Black Justice Coalition

National Congress of Black Women, Inc.

National Council of Jewish Women

National Disability Rights Network

National Employment Lawyers Association

National Fair Housing Alliance

National Partnership for Women & Families

National Urban League

National Women’s Law Center

OCA

People For the American Way

Secular Coalition for America

SEIU

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Sikh Coalition

 

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