discrimination

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.

 

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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.

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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.”
 

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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.

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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.

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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.
 

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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.

 

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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.

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"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.

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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.
 

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Focus on the Family’s New Target: Anti-Bullying Policies

Maintaining that “activist groups that want to promote homosexuality in kids” seek to violate the “innocence and purity of children,” Focus on the Family has launched the “True Tolerance” campaign to prevent “homosexuals” from capturing “the hearts and minds of our children at their earliest ages.” The Orwellian-named True Tolerance project believes that efforts by school districts to improve safety among their students through enacting anti-bullying policies are actually trying to send a “message about homosexuality — that it's normal and should be embraced.”

According to Focus on the Family, anti-bullying and anti-harassment laws are only meant to produce “special protections” for LGBT students and “reverse discrimination.” The far-right group says that schools should instead “unite around the teachings of our Founding Fathers— in particular, the principle that all men are created equal and that they are endowed with unalienable rights.” However, Focus on the Family believes that the sexual orientation and gender identity of students should determine just how “equal” they are.

Research from GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) shows that the vast majority of LGBT students have experienced verbal harassment in schools, and that 44.1% of LGBT students “reported being physically harassed and 22.1% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.” Educators are solidly in favor of strategies to thwart bullying, and 85% of secondary school teachers “agree that they have an obligation to ensure a safe learning environment for LGBT students.”

The push to stop schools from implementing policies to prevent harassment and bullying is a dangerous new low in the Religious Right’s long and vicious fight against equality for the LGBT community. Currently, only twelve states and the District of Columbia have policies meant to protect students based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. With increased attention on the Safe Schools Improvement Act and the Student Nondiscrimination Act, Focus on the Family intends to gear up its fight to block school districts from protecting some of their most vulnerable students from maltreatment and violence.

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When Will it Stop Being Cool to Be an Anti-Gay Republican?

Last night, Ken Mehlman, the man who orchestrated George W. Bush’s 2004 reelection campaign--including, we can presume, its electorally popular anti-gay positions--came out as gay himself. Mehlman says he’s now working with American Foundation for Equal Rights to advocate for marriage equality.

The National Organization for Marriage immediately attacked Mehlman for “abdicating core Republican values.” But mainstream Republicans, whose bread and butter in recent years has relied on stoking anti-gay resentments, have been for the most part supportive of Mehlman personally and silent on his new advocacy work.

That’s not surprising. Earlier this week, People For’s president, Michael B. Keegan, wrote a piece in the Huffington Post on how anti-gay politics are increasingly confined to the Republican party’s extreme-right fringe…and the fringe is beginning to see the writing on the wall:

For years, the Right has watched its anti-gay agenda lose credibility as public acceptance of gays and lesbians has steadily grown and intolerance has declined. And that trend is going strong, as young people of all political stripes are more likely to know gay people and more willing to grant them equal rights and opportunities, including the right to marriage. A CNN poll this month found that a majority of Americans think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry--the first time gay marriage dissenters had slipped solidly into the minority in a national poll. Even in California, where Proposition 8 passed on the ballot in 2008, a poll earlier this year found a majority now support same sex marriage rights. Indeed, this change is even visible on the Right, where the fight against equality is being waged by an increasingly marginalized movement. Who would have ever thought that Ann Coulter would be booted from a right-wing conference for being "too gay friendly"?

Pam Spaulding points to a piece in the Frum Forum outlining the Far Right’s panic that gay-hating is rapidly becoming passé among mainstream political conservatives:

These swift changes in the GOP from gay bashing a la Patrick Buchanan’s 1992 convention speech towards tolerance and even support of gay equality is both astonishing and alarming to elements of the far right. Several prominent social conservatives have decried these changes. WorldNetDaily Editor David Kupelian recently wrote “Much of conservatism has now morphed into libertarianism…even high profile conservative warriors seem to be abandoning the gay issue” and went on to list recent examples of gay rights making progress within the GOP such as Glenn Beck’s announcement that gay marriage presents no threat to America, Ann Coulter addressing the gay conservative group GOProud, and CPAC’s refusal to ban GOProud. Social conservative Robert Knight bemoaned the fact that Republicans are increasingly supportive of gay equality in his column “Smarter than God”; and the American Family Association’s radio host Bryan Fischer also blasted Republicans for failing to sufficiently support the anti-gay cause.

This past week the Washington Blade even published an article titled “Conservatives take the lead in marriage fight” arguing that libertarian-leaning conservatives are advancing gay rights, perhaps more so than Democrats. Who would have thought in 1992 we would one day see Republicans lauded by the gay press?

This shift toward acceptance—and away from the divisive anti-gay politics exemplified by Bush’s campaign strategy—is clearly taking place. But it’s far from over. Even if mainstream conservatives are starting to shy away from anti-gay politics, the mess that the homophobic politics of the past decades has left is still here, and still harmful. If members of the party that exploited homophobia for years to create our strongly anti-gay status quo remain silent on gay rights, they condone discrimination.

The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy still keeps gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military. Hundreds of hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation are committed each year—but all but 18 Republicans in the House and five in the Senate opposed the bill last year that expanded hate crimes laws to prevent these. 30 states have passed constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage—11 of these were put on the ballot in an effort to draw voters for Bush and his fellow Republicans in 2004.

Asked by the Advocate about his role in crafting the strategy that led to those 11 constitutional amendments, Mehlman said, “I can’t change that – it is something I wish I could and I can only try to be helpful in the future.”

Mehlman, whatever you think of his past actions, is right—there is a lot of positive work that needs to be done to undo the damaging anti-gay crusades of the past. It’s great that at least some in the Republican Party are beginning to accept gay people, or at least are refraining from being virulently homophobic. But they won’t be off the hook until they start working to actively undo the destructive policies of the past.

And, as Gabriel Arana points out, though Mehlman’s political change of heart was tied up with his own personal struggle, “you don’t have to be gay to do the right thing.”
 

PFAW

Douthat’s Two Americas

Writing on the controversy over a planned Islamic community center near Ground Zero, conservative columnist Ross Douthat asserted that nativism and xenophobia have played a positive role in American history.

Douthat argued that there are “two Americas,” one principled and pluralistic, the other reactionary and culturally rigid. The second, in his opinion, has been just as responsible for our current cultural diversity as the first:

…Both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

…So it is today with Islam. The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.

That intolerance for change has played a role in American history is indisputable. But intolerance still isn’t the “right” way to press for integration.

By defending the right of Muslim Americans to build a community center in lower Manhattan, the “first America” is working to protect the rights of mainstream Muslims and the foundational ideals of our country. Meanwhile, some on the right have used the controversy over the Islamic center to stir up anti-Muslim sentiment or score political points, potentially alienating moderate Muslims by lumping them together with radical terrorists. Such behavior may have precedent – but that doesn’t make it acceptable.

PFAW

Senators Set the Record Straight on Just Who the “Activist” Justices Are

A recent PFAW poll revealed that the vast majority of Americans are intensely concerned about the growing corporate influence in our country and disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United. Judging from numerous remarks made during last week’s Senate hearings on Elena Kagan’s confirmation to the Court, it seems that many of our elected representatives feel the same way. Though Republicans attempted to vilify Kagan (and Thurgood Marshall!) with accusations of judicial activism, Democrats fired back, pointing out that in fact it is the conservative Court majority that has employed such activism in going out of its way to side with corporate America. Senators used the floor debate to decry the Roberts Court’s record of favoring corporations over individuals and its disregard for Congressional intent and legal precedent:

Senator Schumer:

The American people are reaping the bitter harvest from new laws that have been made and old precedents that have been overturned. Put simply, in decision after decision, this conservative, activist Court has bent the law to suit an ideology. At the top of the list, of course, is the Citizens United case where an activist majority of the Court overturned a century of well-understood law that regulated the amount of money special interests could spend to elect their own candidates to public office.

Senator Gillibrand:

Narrow 5-to-4 decisions by a conservative majority have become the hallmark of the Roberts Court. These decisions have often been overreaching in scope and have repeatedly ignored settled law and congressional intent. For example, in the Citizens United case, the Court not only disregarded the extensive record compiled by Congress but abandoned established precedent.

Senator Franken:

[A]bove the entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court are four words, and four words only: ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ When the Roberts Court chooses between corporate America and working Americans, it goes with corporate America almost every time, even when the citizens of this country, sitting in a duly appointed jury, have decided it the other way. That is not right. It is not equal justice under the law.

Senator Leahy:

It is essential that judicial nominees understand that, as judges, they are not members of any administration . . . Courts are not subsidiaries of any political party or interest group, and our judges should not be partisans. That is why . . . the recent decision by five conservative activist Justices in Citizens United to throw out 100 years of legal developments in order to invite massive corporate spending on elections for the first time in 100 years was such a jolt to the system.

Senator Whitehouse:

On the Roberts Court, one pattern is striking, the clear pattern of corporate victories at the Roberts Court. It reaches across many fields—across arbitration, antitrust, employment discrimination, campaign finance, legal pleading standards, and many others. Over and over on this current Supreme Court, the Roberts bloc guiding it has consistently, repeatedly rewritten our law in the favor of corporations versus ordinary Americans.”

Senator Cardin:

Well, this Supreme Court, too many times, by 5-to-4 decisions by the so-called conservative Justices, has been the most activist Court on ruling on the side of corporate America over ordinary Americans.

Senator Dorgan:

What I have seen recently and certainly in the case of Citizens United—and I believe it is the case in Ledbetter v. Goodyear—the Supreme Court too often these days divides into teams. By the way, the team that seems to be winning is the team on the side of the powerful, the team on the side of the big interests, the team on the side of the corporate interests. That ought not be the way the Supreme Court operates.

 

PFAW

Proposition 8: Just the Facts

Yesterday afternoon, federal Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that Proposition 8 violated the United States Constitution. This is an important milestone.

One reason it is so important is the factual record that was compiled for the case. Judge Walker developed an extremely detailed factual record upon which to base his legal conclusions - a record of the significant harm that marriage inequality causes, of the history of discrimination faced by lesbian and gay people, and of the animus behind Prop 8. In fact, more than 50 pages of the opinion are devoted to his findings of fact.

For instance, there's Fact 55: "Permitting same-sex couples to marry will not affect the number of opposite-sex couples who marry, divorce, cohabit, have children outside of marriage or otherwise affect the stability of opposite-sex marriages."

Or Fact 56: "The children of same-sex couples benefit when their parents can marry."

Or Fact 66: "Proposition 8 increases costs and decreases wealth for same-sex couples because of increased tax burdens, decreased availability of health insurance and higher transactions costs to secure rights and obligations typically associated with marriage. Domestic partnership reduces but does not eliminate these costs."

Or Fact 74: "Gays and lesbians have been victims of a long history of discrimination."

Or Fact 76: "Well-known stereotypes about gay men and lesbians include a belief that gays and lesbians are affluent, self-absorbed and incapable of forming long-term intimate relationships. Other stereotypes imagine gay men and lesbians as disease vectors or as child molesters who recruit young children into homosexuality. No evidence supports these stereotypes."

This factual record is very important, because when Prop 8 supporters appeal the decision, the appellate court will have to accept these facts. Appellate federal courts are generally limited to deciding issues of law, not of fact. Well-supported facts like these will make it much harder for an appellate court to reverse the decision.

More broadly, this case shows us that when the forces of the Right face an independent judge, the arguments that serve them so well on Fox News wither before genuine scrutiny. It also shows the beauty of the American constitutional system, where our independent judiciary protects Equal Justice Under the Law.

PFAW

A Win for Fact Over Prejudice

California federal judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion yesterday in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger—in which he struck down the state’s ban on gay marriage—was a strong defense of the values embodied in the Constitution. But it was also something more. In his 136-page opinion, Judge Walker carefully dismantled dozens of the myths that opponents of marriage equality have attempted to use as legitimate legal arguments against allowing gay people to marry. And unlike the defenders of marriage discrimination, Walker didn’t make up evidence out of whole cloth—in his analysis, he relies on expert testimony, statistics, and the lessons of history. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick writes:

It's hard to read Judge Walker's opinion without sensing that what really won out today was science, methodology, and hard work. Had the proponents of Prop 8 made even a minimal effort to put on a case, to track down real experts, to do more than try to assert their way to legal victory, this would have been a closer case. But faced with one team that mounted a serious effort and another team that did little more than fire up their big, gay boogeyman screensaver for two straight weeks, it wasn't much of a fight. Judge Walker scolds them at the outset for promising in their trial brief to prove that same-sex marriage would "effect some twenty-three harmful consequences" and then putting on almost no case.

The stunning thing is that the feeble arguments that Prop 8 defenders were able to muster against marriage equality were in fact the best they could come up with. Kyle at Right Wing Watch writes that there was some in-fighting among the Right Wing over who would get to defend Proposition 8 in court. The fervently anti-gay Liberty Council tried to wrest the defense away from the equally anti-gay but slightly more street-smart Alliance Defense Fund, because the ADF wanted to base its case partially on factual evidence rather than purely on vitriol. The ADF won out, but they were left with a small problem: there was no factual evidence to be found.
 

PFAW

Kyl's Hypocrisy on the Kagan Nomination

Senator Jon Kyl just finished speaking against Elena Kagan's confirmation to the Supreme Court, but he seemed a bit confused. According to Kyl, he will vote against her because she believes that the role of the court is to solve society's problems. Kyl said that's the role of the legislature, not the courts.

Yet when our elected representatives HAVE acted to solve society's problems - to protect our elections from being bought by corporations, to protect people from defective medical devices, to protect workers from unfair discrimination by powerful corporations, to protect our environment from polluting corporations - the Roberts Court has gone out of its way to dismantle these protections.

How does Senator Kyl square his support for the arch-conservatives on the Court with his claim that the elected branches should be allowed to solve society's problems?

PFAW