discrimination

Paycheck Fairness Act alert – call the Senate today

The Senate is scheduled to take its first votes of the lame duck session soon. Number 2 on the list tomorrow – the Paycheck Fairness Act! They’ll consider what’s called a “motion to proceed.” Overcoming this procedural hurdle would allow the bill itself to come to the floor.

In addition to sharing with you our letter and fact sheet, PFAW is asking you to call the Senate in support of the bill. Here’s today action alert from the American Association of University Women.

Today's the Day: Call for Fair Pay!

We expect the Senate will vote upon the Paycheck Fairness Act as early as tomorrow, Wednesday, Nov. 17th. We may be on the cusp of an historic victory for fair pay, but to achieve it, we need your help.

Today, American Association of University Women members and supporters across the country will join thousands of other pay equity advocates in a nationwide call-in day to support the Paycheck Fairness Act. We have enough votes to pass the bill, which would deter wage discrimination by closing loopholes in the Equal Pay Act and barring retaliation against workers who disclose their wages to coworkers – but we need to win a procedural vote – which has a 60 vote hurdle – so that the bill is considered for passage.

Whether you’ve written, emailed, and called your senators once, twice, or fifty times, today is the day to call again. We want to keep senators’ phones ringing off the hook, and we can do it if you call at least once today and tell your senators that the time has come to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and make real progress on equal pay for equal work. 

Take Action!

Call your senators (toll-free at 877/667-6650 or by entering your zip code above) and urge them to vote for and support the Paycheck Fairness Act without amendments. With a vote as early as tomorrow, your senators need to hear from you TODAY! Once you’ve taken action, forward this alert to your friends and family and encourage them to take action too!

AAUW has been leading the coalition to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would close loopholes, strengthen incentives to prevent pay discrimination, and bring the Equal Pay Act in line with other civil rights laws. It would also prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about employers' wage practices or disclose their own wages. Call your Senators today!

NOTE: If you’re unable to call today, call tomorrow and every day until the bill passes!

We’ll continue urging the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, but your Senators also need to hear from you. Save a few minutes on the national call-in day to dial 877-667-6650. That’s today – the day before the vote.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, the National Committee on Pay Equity, National Women’s Law Center, and hundreds of other organizations nationwide in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

PFAW

Paycheck Fairness Act alert – two days left

The Senate is scheduled to take its first votes of the lame duck session this Wednesday. Number 2 on the list – the Paycheck Fairness Act! They’ll consider what’s called a “motion to proceed.” Overcoming this procedural hurdle would allow the bill itself to come to the floor.

In addition to our recent fact sheet, PFAW has just sent its letter to the Senate urging the bill’s passage.

November 15, 2010

United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

President Obama’s signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act formed a strong foundation for pay equity in this country. Now that fair access to the courts has been restored, it is time to build on that foundation. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of members of People For the American Way, we urge you to support the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 3772) as a clean bill with no amendments.

The Ledbetter v. Goodyear decision was a clear step backward for ending employment discrimination in the workplace, when the Supreme Court held that employees could not challenge ongoing compensation discrimination if the employer’s original discriminatory decision occurred more than 180 days before filing of the claim. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was meant to correct this misinterpretation of the nation’s civil rights laws. It reiterates Congress’ intent to hold employers accountable for discrimination and allows employees a fair chance to fight back.

But they still need the tools to do so. S. 3772 strengthens the remedy, enforcement, and exception provisions of the existing Equal Pay Act. It engages the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Department of Labor in a number areas including technical assistance, data collection and review of existing data, and the provision of wage discrimination training to government employees and individuals seeking their assistance. It supports negotiation skills training for women and girls and general public awareness regarding the means available to eliminate pay discrimination.

S. 3772 sends a clear message: The wage gap is real. No employer should benefit from discriminating against employees like Lilly Ledbetter. Retaliating against employees who fight for equal pay is unacceptable. Pay equity should be the rule, not the exception. What S. 3772 does not do is also clear: It does not eviscerate employers’ legal rights. It does not take away their right to set their own business practices or constrain them in terms of job applicants. It does not create unfair comparisons between jobs performed or where they’re performed. It does not hurt small businesses, and it certainly does not negatively impact women.

In fact, S. 3772 is good for families who are facing daily struggles in this unsteady economy. The last thing they should be worrying about is whether the women who work so hard to support them are being treated fairly in the workplace. Americans know this to be true. According to a June 2010 National Partnership for Women and Families/Lake Research Partners poll(1) regarding the Paycheck Fairness Act, 84% said they supported “a new law that would provide women more tools to get fair pay in the workplace.” 72% expressed strong support. This message resonated with men (81% support/69% strong) and women (87% support/74% strong) and among Democrats (91% support/83% strong), Republicans (77% support/61% strong), and Independents (87% support/70% strong). It also holds up among racial and ethnic groups and across geographic regions.

For these reasons and more, we strongly urge you to support the Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 3772) as a clean bill with no amendments.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Keegan
President

Marge Baker
Executive Vice President for Policy and Program

(1) A press release announcing the poll results is available at http://www.nationalpartnership.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=24776&security=2141&news_iv_ctrl=1741. Visit http://www.nationalpartnership.org/site/DocServer/5-2010_Poll_Data_One_Pager.pdf?docID=6681 for additional information.

We’ll continue urging the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, but your Senators also need to hear from you. Save a few minutes on the national call-in day to dial 877-667-6650. That’s tomorrow – the day before the vote.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, the National Committee on Pay Equity, National Women’s Law Center, and hundreds of other organizations nationwide in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

PFAW

Paycheck Fairness Act alert – mark your calendars

The Senate is scheduled to take its first votes of the lame duck session on Wednesday, November 17. Number 2 on the list – the Paycheck Fairness Act! They’ll consider what’s called a “motion to proceed.” Overcoming this procedural hurdle would allow the bill itself to come to the floor.

So that you’re prepared for next week, we have updated our fact sheet on the bill. Here’s a sample of our talking points.

The Paycheck Fairness Act sends a clear message. The wage gap is real. No employer should benefit from discriminating against employees like Lilly Ledbetter. Retaliating against employees who fight for equal pay is unacceptable. Pay equity should be the rule, not the exception.

What the Paycheck Fairness Act does not do is also clear. It does not eviscerate employers’ legal rights. It does not take away their right to set their own business practices or constrain them in terms of job applicants. It does not create unfair comparisons between jobs performed or where they’re performed. It does not hurt small businesses, and it certainly does not negatively impact women.

We’ll continue urging the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, but your Senators also need to hear from you. Save a few minutes on the national call-in day to dial 877-667-6650. That’s Tuesday, November 16 – the day before the vote.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, the National Committee on Pay Equity, National Women’s Law Center, and hundreds of other organizations nationwide in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

PFAW

Supreme Court Considers Class Action Ban

Corporate interests already exercise an inordinate level of control over Americans' daily lives. This morning, in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that threatens to give yet another advantage to powerful corporations over individual Americans. AT&T is essentially asking the Court to take a wrecking ball to state consumer protection laws.

At issue is whether states have the right to protect consumers from contracts that are so unfair as to be unconscionable - where one party has so much bargaining power over the other that the weaker one has little choice but to agree to highly disadvantageous terms.

This case started when AT&T offered phone purchasers a "free" second phone, then charged the consumers for the taxes on the undiscounted price of the "free" phone. AT&T allegedly pulled this scam on thousands of its customers. One of its victims, the Concepcions, brought a class action suit against AT&T. However, AT&T had a service contract where consumers had to agree to resolve any future claims against the cell phone company through arbitration, rather than the courts. In addition, customers had to agree not to participate in any class action against AT&T. So AT&T asked the court to enforce the agreement it had imposed upon the Concepcions by throwing out the class action suit and forcing them into arbitration, one lone family against AT&T without the protections of courts of law or neutral judges.

However, the court denied AT&T's motion, determining that the "no class action" contractual provision was unconscionable under California law and, therefore, not enforceable. Moreover, the court rejected AT&T's claim that the Federal Arbitration Act preempts state law in this case, making the contract fully enforceable against the Concepcions. (The Federal Arbitration Act generally encourages courts to compel arbitration in accordance with the terms of arbitration agreements.) The Ninth Circuit upheld the lower court decision. However, hoping to get a different result from the corporate-friendly Roberts Court, AT&T appealed.

As countless Americans can attest, it is not at all uncommon for a giant telecommunications service provider to provide extremely complex monthly bills that are nearly impossible for the average person to understand. It is certainly not unheard of for such bills to hide relatively small charges for services never ordered, or mysterious taxes or fees that the company should not be charging. Unfortunately, the vast majority of consumers who are cheated in these situations don't even realize it. Moreover, because the amounts at issue are relatively little, there is little incentive for consumers to undertake the significant expenses of recovering their loss. Even when the company pays out to the tiny percentage of defrauded customers who go to the trouble to engage in lone arbitration against the company, the overall scheme remains profitable.

Class actions are a tool that allows the entire universe of cheated consumers to recoup their losses, making possible a potentially significant financial loss to the company that sets out to defraud its customers. If the Supreme Court rules for AT&T, it will devastate state-level consumer protections and essentially grant a permission slip for rampant corporate fraud against consumers.

As the Alliance For Justice points out in its excellent analysis of this case, it is not only consumer protections that are at risk should AT&T win this case. Class action suits have often been the only way for employees experiencing illegal discrimination to contest it without spending vast amounts of money and risking retaliation. Depending on how the Roberts Court rules, it may enable employers to easily cut off this avenue of anti-discrimination enforcement by simply refusing to hire anyone who does not agree to resolve future conflicts through arbitration, with a ban on class action.

As described in People For the American Way Foundation’s Rise of the Corporate Court report, the Roberts Court has not been shy in twisting the law in order to rule in favor of corporations and against average Americans. AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion may turn out to be another gift of power to the already-powerful.

PFAW

Department of Education takes a stand for LGBT youth

October 28 marked the one-year anniversary of President Obama’s signing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. I recently wrote about how honoring Matthew is part of Making It Better. Not only must we make sure that the law bearing his name is effectively implemented, but we must also ensure school safety for LGBT youth – a fact not lost on the Department of Education.

The Department’s Office for Civil Rights has issued guidance to address bullying in schools, especially as it relates to federal education anti-discrimination laws. One of those laws, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX), prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. While the language does not specify sexual orientation and gender identity, the Department has made clear that harassment on these grounds, under certain circumstances, violates Title IX.

Although Title IX does not prohibit discrimination based solely on sexual orientation, Title IX does protect all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students, from sex discrimination. When students are subjected to harassment on the basis of their LGBT status, they may also [. . .] be subjected to forms of sex discrimination prohibited under Title IX. The fact that the harassment includes anti-LGBT comments or is partly based on the target’s actual or perceived sexual orientation does not relieve a school of its obligation under Title IX to investigate and remedy overlapping sexual harassment or gender-based harassment. [. . .] Had the school recognized the conduct as a form of sex discrimination, it could have employed the full range of sanctions (including progressive discipline) and remedies designed to eliminate the hostile environment.

Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, applauded the guidance.

The Departments of Education and Justice are rightly focused on the plight of certain religious students and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who may not be receiving the full protections from bullying and harassment that are their right. While additional, specific protections are still needed, I commend this Administration for doing all in its power to protect vulnerable students.

David Warren, Director of Education at the Anti-Defamation League, further noted the importance of the guidance.

Federal leadership on this important issue is critical to ensure that schools are safe places for all students, and that they help foster a culture in which bias and bullying are not tolerated. The guidelines will help community members work together to promote a civil and respectful environment for children, online as well as offline.

As did the Human Rights Campaign, who went on to describe next steps.

In order to fully protect LGBT young people, HRC continues to call on the administration to go beyond today’s interpretation of existing law and come out in support of two important pieces of legislation: the Student Non-Discrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. The Student Non-Discrimination Act would explicitly prohibit discrimination by schools against public school students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require schools and districts receiving federal funds to adopt codes of conduct specifically prohibiting bullying and harassment, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
PFAW

Employment Discrimination Case at the Supreme Court

Elections will not be the only thing happening on Election Day. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in an important employment discrimination case where the official who fired the plaintiff was free of bias, but her decision was influenced by the bias of others.

Although Staub v. Proctor Hospital involves a rather narrow federal anti-discrimination statute - the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which generally prohibits discrimination in civilian employment on the basis of military service - the reasoning of the decision could apply to the larger universe of federal anti-discrimination statutes. Therefore, this case might affect millions of American workers both in and out of the military who have the right to be treated fairly.

Vincent Staub sued his employer after he was dismissed from his job as a hospital technician. The hospital official who fired him had no unlawful motives. However, according to Staub, she relied on false information provided to her by his supervisor, who did act out of bias against Staub’s military service. Moreover, according to Staub, the decision-maker failed to vet that information in any meaningful way. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in Staub’s favor, but the hospital won a reversal on appeal.

At issue before the Supreme Court is whether an employer can be held liable for employment discrimination based on the unlawful intent of officials who influenced - but who did not themselves make - an adverse employment decision. If the employer can be held liable, then under what circumstances? How much influence must the biased official’s actions have had before that bias can be attributed to the employer? What if the biased action is not the sole cause for the employment decision? How easy or difficult should it be for an employer to evade liability in these circumstances?

As the Supreme Court determines how to answer these questions, it should keep in mind Congress’s repeated efforts to ensure that discrimination has no place in the modern American workplace.

PFAW

The Voter-Fraud Fraud Continues

As my colleague Paul recently pointed out, the trouble with voter fraud is not that voters are committing fraud – it’s that we’re constantly being told that voter fraud is a pervasive national problem when it simply isn’t. Paul notes that analysis after analysis has shown this to be true. The Right Wing uses this myth to downplay Democratic gains or keep Democrats away from the polls in the first place.

Here’s some more of what the Right Wing has been up to.

Minnesota.
Last year, a group called Minnesota Majority alleged that 1,250 individuals in Hennepin County had committed voter fraud in the 2008 election. This past Tuesday, prosecutor Mike Freeman announced that only a small fraction – 47 – would be charged. And he added that there was no evidence of a coordinated campaign to commit fraud. It’s important to note that Minnesota Majority has admitted membership – but disputes claims of intimidation – in a coalition that Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison condemned for hanging in plain view of students “posters showing a person in handcuffs, with the warning that ‘voter fraud is a felony.’”

Nevada.
If you were to believe a recent fundraising letter from Cleta Mitchell, Counsel to Friends of Sharron Angle, you’d not only think that Harry Reid was committing voter fraud, but you’d think that he had lawlessly hijacked his entire campaign in order to outright steal the election from Angle. In response, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller cautions that such serious allegations must “contain specific information, not conjecture and rumor used in support of a plea for financial contributions, as the foundation of the violation.”

North Carolina.
When poll watching is done right, it serves a very important purpose: root out wrongdoing and help well-intentioned voters make their voices heard. When it’s done wrong, it simply adds another layer of intimidation to the process. Wake County has been plagued by complaints from voters that Republican observers are doing just that. Alarmingly, “the offending observers have reportedly stood behind the registration table (where they're not allowed) and taken pictures of the license plates of voters using curbside voting (also illegal).”

The Right Wing has also taken their campaign online.

Fox News. Megyn Kelly recently disputed good faith efforts by the Department of Justice “to ensure that all qualified voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots and have their votes counted, without incidence of discrimination, intimidation or fraud.” DOJ isn’t doing its job, so Fox will. They’ve set up their very own email account – voterfraud@foxnews.com – to field complaints.



American Majority Action. Not to be outdone, American Majority Action has released a voter fraud app that enables iPhone, BlackBerry, and Droid users to “defend our democracy and uphold credibility directly from your phone.”

PFAW

President Obama and Secretary Clinton: It gets better

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the It Gets Better Project, the Make It Better Project, and the plight of LGBT youth in America. This week, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton added their voices.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made clear that LGBT youth, just like all students, should feel safe and secure when they enter the schoolhouse doors. Now we must make sure that the Administration recognizes the tremendous energy and focus it takes to change the end of this story.

I think Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, put it well.

Sustained federal leadership on these issues is absolutely essential to reassert the fundamental culture of respect that must prevail in our schools. We need the President’s clear endorsement of the vital principles embodied in the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Non-Discrimination Act . . . As the current crisis tragically illustrates, far too many school districts have not taken the actions needed to protect all students. And the tenor of public debate in this country stands in the way of effective local action and finding common ground. At times like these, on the difficult issues that really matter, Presidential leadership is paramount . . . They need his words, delivered now in this message, and they also need his actions.

The time to act is now.

PFAW

Goodbye, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?

A federal judge today ordered the government to stop enforcing the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

Judge Virginia Phillips of California found last month that the policy violates servicemembers’ First Amendment speech rights and Fifth Amendment right to due process. The injunction she issued today takes effect immediately. The Obama Administration can still choose to appeal her decision.

Christian Berle, the Deputy Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, reacted with this statement:

"These soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines sacrifice so much in defense of our nation and our Constitution," Berle said. "It is imperative that their constitutional freedoms be protected as well. This decision is also a victory for all who support a strong national defense. No longer will our military be compelled to discharge service members with valuable skills and experience because of an archaic policy mandating irrational discrimination."

Federal judges in two separate cases this year have found Don’t Ask Don’t Tell dismissals to be unconstitutional. I summed up some other voices of authority weighing in on the DADT debate in this post. The policy is a disgrace, and it’s far past time for it to be a piece of our history.
 

Update: The Advocate talked with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the possibility of appealing the ruling:

At a Tuesday briefing soon after Phillips's issued her judgment, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told The Advocate he did not know whether the Administration would seek a stay of the ruling, nor did he know if any steps have been taken to bring the Pentagon into compliance with the injunction. "Obviously, there have been a number of [DADT] court cases that have ruled in favor of plaintiffs in this case and the president will continue to work as hard he can to change the law that he believes is fundamentally unfair," Gibbs said.

 

PFAW

Don’t forget to honor Matthew Shepard today by making it better

Last week, I wrote about Matthew Shepard and his mother Judy. Today, on the 12th anniversary of Matthew’s death, the Make It Better Project is urging Congress to support the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act. Please join them!

The recent suicides of several LGBT students across the country have highlighted the fact that anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools can have a dramatic and tragic effect on LGBT students, their families, and school communities.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 2262/S. 3739) and the Student Nondiscrimination Act (H.R. 4530/S. 3390) will help make the lives of LGBT youth better!

Call Members of Congress on Tuesday, October 12th and ask them to make sure they cosponsor both bills, H.R. 2262/S. 3739 and H.R. 4530/S. 3390!

Students - Share your story with Congress and tell them how these bills will make life better for you.

Adults - Tell Congress why this is important to you and how these bills will improve the lives of students.

Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected directly to your Members of Congress.

OR CLICK HERE to get talking points and automatically identify your Members of Congress, find their direct numbers.

Please click here for more information.

PFAW

Some Perspective on Park51

The pastor of the oldest Catholic church in New York State was researching his church’s 200-year history this summer and noticed some interesting parallels to a debate going on a few blocks away. In an interview with the New York Times, Rev. Kevin Madigan explained that the anti-Muslim backlash to the proposed Park51 community center in Manhattan echoed the resistance that met St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church after it was built in 1785:

The angry eruptions at some of the demonstrations this summer against the proposed Muslim center — with signs and slogans attacking Islam — were not as vehement as those staged against St. Peter’s, Father Madigan said.

On Christmas Eve 1806, two decades after the church was built, the building was surrounded by Protestants incensed at a celebration going on inside — a religious observance then viewed in the United States as an exercise in “popish superstition,” more commonly referred to as Christmas. Protesters tried to disrupt the service. In the melee that ensued, dozens of people were injured and a policeman was killed.

“We were treated as second-class citizens; we were viewed with suspicion,” Father Madigan wrote in his letter to parishioners, adding, “Many of the charges being leveled at Muslim-Americans today are the same as those once leveled at our forebears.”

The pastor said that Park51’s organizers would have to “make clear that they are in no way sympathetic to or supported by any ideology antithetical to our American ideals, which I am sure they can do.” But he said Catholic New Yorkers have a special obligation to fulfill.

The discrimination suffered by the first Catholics in America, he said, “ought to be an incentive for us to ensure that similar indignities not be inflicted on more recent arrivals.”
 

PFAW

Honor Matthew Shepard by making it better

These words have perhaps never been truer than they are right now.

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

I was reminded of the late Senator Kennedy’s famous quote as I happened upon this blog post this afternoon. Twelve years ago today, Aaron Kreifels found Matthew Shepard clinging to life in a field outside Laramie, Wyoming. Unfortunately, Shepard lost that battle five days later.

Shepard’s story quickly became a rallying cry for the LGBT equality movement, and has remained such to this day. Judy Shepard works tirelessly to help make the world a better place for LGBT individuals. She has spoken out on bullying and the recent suicides of LGBT youth.

Quite simply, we are calling one more time for all Americans to stand up and speak out against taunting, invasion of privacy, violence and discrimination against these youth by their peers, and asking everyone in a position of authority in their schools and communities to step forward and provide safe spaces and support services for LGBT youth or those who are simply targeted for discrimination because others assume they are gay. There can never be enough love and acceptance for these young people as they seek to live openly as their true selves and find their role in society.

Judy Shepard wants you to stand up and speak out. Dan Savage wants you to tell your story. And now the Gay-Straight Alliance Network wants you to make it better. The Make It Better Project is endorsed by dozens of LGBT equality advocates. They are taking action, including a week of action designed to draw attention to school safety for LGBT youth.

We aren’t waiting until high school is over for our lives to get better . . . We are taking action now!

Please click here for more information. You might also want to look back at my blog posts from 10/1/10 and 10/28/09.

PFAW

It gets better

It’s not often that a web site like Gawker makes me stop and think, but staff writer Brian Moylan did just that in a moving post about anti-gay bullying.

If we can't save these kids' lives, then all of our struggles for civil rights and marriage equality aren't worth anything.

Brian’s right. Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Health benefits and housing. Immigration rights. Relationship recognition. Marriage equality. If we don’t save the next generation, what we’re fighting for today won’t mean anything tomorrow.

These days we can’t seem to escape the stories of lives ruined, or even ended, by bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. Tyler Clementi has dominated the news this week. We’ve also heard about Seth Walsh, Justin Aaberg, Billy Lucas, and Asher Brown. One death is too many. Five in such a short period of time is unconscionable. This must stop.

Columnist Dan Savage makes a simple plea to those who think they have nowhere to turn: It gets better.
 


 

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres has a similar message: Things will get easier. People’s minds will change. And you should be alive to see it.
 


 

LGBT youth, just like all students, should feel safe and secure when they enter the schoolhouse doors. We can change the end of this story.

For more information, please click here. And be sure to check out the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

PFAW

Obama to Senate: Stop Playing Games with the Courts

On Wednesday night, the Senate left for recess without confirming a single one of the 23 judicial nominees who had been waiting for a vote, most of them for several months. The GOP blocked the majority of these nominees not because of ideology—19 were approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee—but just for the sake of obstruction. President Obama responded yesterday with this letter to Senate leaders:

Dear Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, Senator Leahy, and Senator Sessions:

I write to express my concern with the pace of judicial confirmations in the United States Senate. Yesterday, the Senate recessed without confirming a single one of the 23 Federal judicial nominations pending on the Executive Calendar. The Federal judiciary and the American people it serves suffer the most from this unprecedented obstruction. One in eight seats on the Federal bench sits empty, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has declared that many of those vacancies constitute judicial emergencies. Despite the urgent and pressing need to fill these important posts, a minority of Senators has systematically and irresponsibly used procedural maneuvers to block or delay confirmation votes on judicial nominees – including nominees that have strong bipartisan support and the most distinguished records. The minority has even been blocking non-controversial nominees – a dramatic shift from past practice that could cause a crisis in the judiciary.

The Judiciary Committee has promptly considered my judicial nominees. Nonetheless, judicial confirmation rates in this Congress have reached an all-time low. At this point in the prior Administration (107th Congress), the Senate had confirmed 61% of the President’s judicial nominations. By contrast, the Senate has confirmed less than half of the judicial nominees it has received in my Administration. Nominees in the 107th Congress waited less than a month on the floor of the Senate before a vote on their confirmation. The men and women whom I have nominated who have been confirmed to the Courts of Appeals waited five times longer and those confirmed to the District Courts waited three times longer for final votes.

Right now, 23 judicial nominees await simple up-or-down votes. All of these nominees have the strongest backing from their home-state Senators – a fact that usually counsels in favor of swift confirmation, rather than delay. Sixteen of those men and women received unanimous support in the Judiciary Committee. Nearly half of the nominees on the floor were selected for seats that have gone without judges for anywhere between 200 and 1,600 days. But despite these compelling circumstances, and the distinguished careers led by these candidates, these nominations have been blocked.

Judge Albert Diaz, the well-respected state court judge I nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, has waited 245 days for an up-or-down vote – more than 8 months. Before becoming a judge, Diaz served for over 10 years in the United States Marine Corps as an attorney and military judge. If confirmed, he would be the first Hispanic to sit on the Fourth Circuit. The seat to which he was nominated has been declared a judicial emergency. Judge Diaz has the strong support of both of North Carolina’s Senators. Senator Burr has publicly advocated for Judge Diaz to get a final vote by the Senate. And just before the August recess, Senator Hagan went to the floor of the Senate to ask for an up-or-down vote for Judge Diaz. Her request was denied.

We are seeing in this case what we have seen in all too many others: resistance to highly qualified candidates who, if put to a vote, would be unanimously confirmed, or confirmed with virtually no opposition. For example, Judge Beverly Martin waited 132 days for a floor vote – despite being strongly backed by both of Georgia’s Republican Senators. When the Senate finally held a vote, she was confirmed to the Eleventh Circuit unanimously. Jane Stranch was recently confirmed by an overwhelming majority of the Senate, after waiting almost 300 days for a final vote. Even District Court nominees have waited 3 or more months for confirmation votes – only to be confirmed unanimously.

Proceeding this way will put our judiciary on a dangerous course, as the Department of Justice projects that fully half of the Federal judiciary will be vacant by 2020 if we continue on the current pace of judicial confirmations. The real harm of this political game-playing falls on the American people, who turn to the courts for justice. By denying these nominees a simple up-or- down vote, the Republican leadership is undermining the ability of our courts to deliver justice to those in need. All Americans depend on having well-qualified men and women on the bench to resolve important legal matters – from working mothers seeking timely compensation for their employment discrimination claims to communities hoping for swift punishment for perpetrators of crimes to small business owners seeking protection from unfair and anticompetitive practices.

As a former Senator, I have the greatest respect for the Senate’s role in providing advice and consent on judicial nominations. If there is a genuine concern about the qualifications of judicial nominees, that is a debate I welcome. But the consistent refusal to move promptly to have that debate, or to confirm even those nominees with broad, bipartisan support, does a disservice to the greatest traditions of this body and the American people it serves. In the 107th Congress, the Judiciary Committee reported 100 judicial nominees, and all of them were confirmed by the Senate before the end of that Congress. I urge the Senate to similarly consider and confirm my judicial nominees.

Back in June, President Obama made a similar plea in a meeting with Senate GOP leaders, but apparently bipartisan cooperation on something as straight-forward as filling seats in the judiciary wasn’t on their list of priorities.

(I also want to point out that while the GOP is holding up most of the 23 stalled nominees for absolutely no reason, there are a handful of nominees who certain GOP senators actively oppose. We’ve explored some of the reasons for this opposition here and here and here.)
 

PFAW

“The ACLU Chromosome” and other judicial disqualifiers

Politico today outlines an emerging trend in judicial obstruction. While partisan battles over judicial nominees have in past years focused on the occasional appellate court judge or Supreme Court justice, these days even nominees to lower-profile district courts are fair game for partisan obstructionism. Among other problems, this doesn’t make it easy to keep a well-functioning, fully staffed federal court system:

According to data collected by Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution and analyzed by POLITICO, Obama’s lower-court nominees have experienced an unusually low rate of confirmation and long periods of delay, especially after the Senate Judiciary Committee has referred the nomination for a confirmation vote by the full Senate. Sixty-four percent of the district court nominees Obama submitted to the Senate before May 2010 have been confirmed — a number dwarfed by the 91 percent confirmation rate for Bush’s district court nominees for the same period.

But analysts say the grindingly slow pace in the Senate, especially on district court nominations, will have serious consequences.

Apart from the burden of a heavier case load for current judges and big delays across the federal judicial system, Wheeler, a judicial selection scholar at Brookings, says that potential nominees for district courts may think twice before offering themselves up for a federal nomination if the process of confirmation continues to be both unpredictable and long.

"I think it means first that vacancies are going to persist for longer than they should. There’s just not the judge power that there should be," Wheeler said. And private lawyers who are not already judges may hesitate to put their practices on hold during the confirmation process, he added, because "you can’t be certain that you’ll get confirmed" for even a district judgeship, an entry-level position to the federal bench.

Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has been at the lead of the GOP’s obstruction of every judicial nominee who can possibly be obstructed. He told Politico that he simply wants to make sure every new federal judges passes his litmus test: "If they’re not committed to the law, they shouldn’t be a judge, in my opinion."

Sounds fair. But the problem is, of course, that Sessions’ definition of “committed to the law” is something more like “committed to the way Jeff Sessions sees the law.”

In a meeting yesterday to vote on eight judicial nominees-- five of whom were going through the Judiciary Committee for the second or third time after Senate Republicans refused to vote on their nominations--Sessions rallied his troops against Edward Chen, nominated to serve as a district court judge in California. Chen is a widely respected magistrate judge who spent years fighting discrimination against Asian Americans for the American Civil Liberties Union. But Sessions smelled a rat: Chen, he said, has “the ACLU chromosome.”

The phrase really illuminates what Sessions and his cohort mean when they talk about finding judges “committed to the law” or who won’t stray from “the plain words of statutes or the Constitution.” It isn’t about an “objective” reading of the Constitution. It’s about appointing judges who will find ways to protect powerful interests like Exxon, BP, and the Chamber of Commerce, while denying legal protections to working people, women, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, and gays and lesbians.

(Sessions himself was nominated for a judgeship in 1986, but was rejected by a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee for his history of not-so-ACLU-like activity).

Sessions’ warns that “Democrats hold federal judiciary as the great engine of the left,” but the reality is far from that. Besides having the most conservative Supreme Court in decades, nearly 40% of all current federal judges were appointed by George W. Bush, who made a point of recruiting judges with stellar right-wing credentials.

No matter how much disarray it causes in the federal courts, it’s in the interest of Sessions and the Right Wing to keep the number of judicial seats President Obama fills to a minimum. If they succeed, they keep their conservative, pro-corporate courts, tainted as little as possible by the sinister “ACLU chromosome.”
 

PFAW

The GOP Displays Effective Use of Taxpayer Dollars

The Senate Judiciary Committee this morning voted to approve seven federal judicial nominees. Four of these nominees are Judiciary Committee pros by now—they’ve already been approved by the committee, but were blocked by Senate Republicans, and had to start the nomination process all over again. Two are going through the process for the third time.

So what high ground is the GOP standing on in their months long blocking of these four nominees and insistence on holding the same debate multiple times?

Well, there are the objections to Rhode Island nominee John McConnell, who had the gall to represent victims of lead paint poisoning, and be proud of it.

Not to mention the record of former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, whose work as a judge irked business interests so much, they spent $1 million to stop his reelection.

Then there’s the outrage against U.S. Magistrate Edward Chen for his work fighting discrimination against Asian Americans for the American Civil Liberties Union.

And then, of course, there’s the all-out battle against Ninth Circuit Appeals Court nominee Goodwin Liu. As the New York Times editorial page points out today, the GOP’s resistance to Liu centers mainly around the fear that he’s so qualified, he might end up on the Supreme Court.

And these are just the nominees to which the GOP has been able to articulate some sort of objection. There are now 23 nominees waiting for votes on the Senate floor--17 of them made it through the Judiciary Committee without the objection of a single Republican.

Witness the trademark efficiency of the Party of No.
 

PFAW

Scalia’s Selective Originalism

Earlier this week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told an audience of law students that the Constitution does not protect against sex discrimination. In a great column for Time today, Adam Cohen outlines what has gone so wrong with the trend toward vehement--but inconsistent--Constitutional originalism that Scalia represents:

The Constitution would be a poor set of rights if it were locked in the 1780s. The Eighth Amendment would protect us against only the sort of punishment that was deemed cruel and unusual back then. As Justice Breyer has said, "Flogging as a punishment might have been fine in the 18th century. That doesn't mean that it would be OK ... today." And how could we say that the Fourth Amendment limits government wiretapping — when the founders could not have conceived of a telephone, much less a tap?

Justice Scalia doesn't even have consistency on his side. After all, he has been happy to interpret the equal-protection clause broadly when it fits his purposes. In Bush v. Gore, he joined the majority that stopped the vote recount in Florida in 2000 — because they said equal protection required it. Is there really any reason to believe that the drafters — who, after all, were trying to help black people achieve equality — intended to protect President Bush's right to have the same procedures for a vote recount in Broward County as he had in Miami-Dade? (If Justice Scalia had been an equal-protection originalist in that case, he would have focused on the many black Floridians whose votes were not counted — not on the white President who wanted to stop counting votes.)

Even worse, while Justice Scalia argues for writing women out of the Constitution, there is another group he has been working hard to write in: corporations. The word "corporation" does not appear in the Constitution, and there is considerable evidence that the founders were worried about corporate influence. But in a landmark ruling earlier this year, Justice Scalia joined a narrow majority in striking down longstanding limits on corporate spending in federal elections, insisting that they violated the First Amendment.

The view of the Constitution that Scalia champions—where corporations have rights that the Constitution’s authors never imagined, but women, minorities, and working people don’t—has become a popular political bludgeon for many on the Right. GOP senators pilloried now-Justice Elena Kagan during her confirmation hearings for offenses such as thinking Congress has the right to spend money, arguing the case against giving corporations the same free speech rights as human beings, refusing to judge according to a subjective view of “natural rights,” and admiring the man who convinced the Supreme Court that school segregation was unconstitutional.

An avowed allegiance to the original intent of the Constitution has become a must-have for every right-wing candidate. The talking point sounds great, but it hides the real priorities behind it. Anyone who needs reminding of what the fidelity to the Constitution means to the Right needs just to look to Scalia.

 

PFAW

Women Are Not WorthLess

With time running short in the 111th Congress, National Women’s Law Center wants the Senate to know that Women Are Not WorthLess.

National Women’s Law Center produced this new video as part of their ongoing efforts to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which People For the American Way supports, along with American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, National Committee on Pay Equity, and hundreds of other organizations and countless advocates nationwide.

Equal pay in America needed to be put back on track after the Supreme Court’s devastating Ledbetter v. Goodyear ruling, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act answered that call – as the first major milestone of the Obama Administration. Still, this new law cannot on its own do the job of eliminating the wage gap. Additional tools are necessary to bring equality to the workplace and prevent further disturbing incidents like the one that befell Lilly Ledbetter. Especially in this unsteady economy, people who are struggling to pay their bills shouldn’t have to worry about whether they are being discriminated against in the workplace. We need the Paycheck Fairness Act.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join National Women’s Law Center and Women Are Not WorthLess in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

PFAW

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" Is Held Unconstitutional

Yesterday in a California courtroom, the already decaying edifice of anti-LGBT discrimination crumbled just a little bit more: U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that Don't Ask Don't Tell violates the United States Constitution. Specifically, she held that DADT violates servicemembers' Fifth Amendment due process rights and their First Amendment speech rights.

With regard to the due process aspect, Judge Phillips cited Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case where the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law criminalizing consensual sex between two people of the same sex. In Lawrence, the Court held that intimate consensual sex is part of the fundamental constitutional right to privacy.

Since a fundamental constitutional right is at stake, Judge Phillips analyzed DADT using a higher level of scrutiny than rational basis: In order for DADT to stand, (1) it must advance an important governmental interest, (2) the intrusion on constitutionally protected intimate conduct must significantly further that interest, and (3) the intrusion must be necessary to further that interest.

Recognizing that judicial deference to Congress is traditionally highest in the context of legislation regulating the military, Judge Phillips correctly noted that "deference does not mean abdication." She carefully examined the evidence provided by the government and found that the Administration failed to demonstrate that DADT significantly furthers the government's interests in military readiness or unit cohesion, the second prong of the constitutional analysis.

Furthermore, the evidence presented by the plaintiffs demonstrated that DADT actually frustrates military readiness and unit cohesion: Qualified servicemembers are discharged under DADT during wartime troop shortages (the same shortage that pressures the military to ramp up "moral waivers" to admit far less qualified convicted felons); servicemembers with critically needed skills and training are discharged; DADT hurts recruiting efforts; and DADT diminishes the otherwise merit-based nature of the military.

Judge Phillips also cited damning evidence that the military doesn't believe its own propaganda about DADT:

Defendants routinely delayed the discharge of servicemembers suspected of violating the Act's provisions until after they had completed their overseas deployments. . This evidence, in particular, directly undermines any contention that the Act furthers the Government's purpose of military readiness, as it shows Defendants continue to deploy gay and lesbian members of the military into combat, waiting until they have returned before resolving the charges arising out of the suspected homosexual conduct. If the warrior's suspected violation of the Act created a threat to military readiness, to unit cohesion, or to any of the other important Government objectives, it follows that Defendants would not deploy him or her to combat before resolving the investigation.

Judge Phillips is right: DADT makes no sense and it violates the Constitution. The House of Representatives has already voted to consign this discriminatory policy to the ash heap of history. It's time for the Senate to do the same and send a bill to the President's desk.

PFAW

Alabama County Brings the Voting Rights Act to Court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If only it had.
 

PFAW