District of Columbia

To Defeat Obama, A Simple, Dishonest Plan

We’ve been covering a number of attempts by state GOP lawmakers to prevent traditionally Democratic voters from casting votes that count – including a flood of new laws requiring photo ID to vote.

But all those are nothing compared to what Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled legislature is considering: changing the state’s system of apportioning electoral votes so that even if President Obama wins the state’s popular vote in 2012, he’d take less than half of its electors. Nick Baumann at Mother Jones reports:

The problem for Obama, and the opportunity for Republicans, is the electoral college. Every political junkie knows that the presidential election isn't a truly national contest; it's a state-by-state fight, and each state is worth a number of electoral votes equal to the size of the state's congressional delegation. (The District of Columbia also gets three votes.) There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs; win 270, and you're the president.


Here's the rub, though: Each state gets to determine how its electoral votes are allocated. Currently, 48 states and DC use a winner-take-all system in which the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all of its electoral votes. Under the Republican plan—which has been endorsed by top Republicans in both houses of the state's legislature, as well as the governor, Tom Corbett—Pennsylvania would change from this system to one where each congressional district gets its own electoral vote. (Two electoral votes—one for each of the state's two senators—would go to the statewide winner.)


This could cost Obama dearly. The GOP controls both houses of the state legislature plus the governor's mansion—the so-called "redistricting trifecta"—in Pennsylvania. Congressional district maps are adjusted after every census, and the last one just finished up. That means Pennsylvania Republicans get to draw the boundaries of the state's congressional districts without any input from Democrats. Some of the early maps have leaked to the press, and Democrats expect that the Pennsylvania congressional map for the 2012 elections will have 12 safe GOP seats compared to just 6 safe Democratic seats.


Under the Republican plan, if the GOP presidential nominee carries the GOP-leaning districts but Obama carries the state, the GOP nominee would get 12 electoral votes out of Pennsylvania, but Obama would only get eight—six for winning the blue districts, and two (representing the state's two senators) for carrying the state. This would have an effect equivalent to flipping a small winner-take-all state—say, Nevada, which has six electoral votes—from blue to red. And Republicans wouldn't even have to do any extra campaigning or spend any extra advertising dollars to do it.
 


Baumann adds:

Nebraska and Maine already have the system the Pennsylvania GOP is pushing. But the two states' small electoral vote values mean it's actually mathematically impossible for a candidate to win the popular vote there but lose the electoral vote, says Akhil Reed Amar, a constitutional law professor at Yale University. Pennsylvania, however, is a different story: "It might be very likely to happen in [Pennsylvania], and that's what makes this something completely new under the sun," Amar says. "It's something that no previous legislature in America since the Civil War has ever had the audacity to impose."

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with apportioning electoral votes by congressional district like Maine and Nebraska do – but when the strategy is combined with political gerrymandering and applied only selectively it becomes decidedly undemocratic. That Pennsylvania Republicans are not planning to divvy up the state’s electoral votes to match the percentage breakdown of the popular vote indicates that this has nothing to do with reflecting the will of the people, and everything to do with aggressive anti-democratic power plays.

The plan, though dishonest, is perfectly legal – and available to a number of large states now controlled by GOP legislatures.

The plan seems almost too convenient for the Pennsylvania GOP, but I wonder if it would backfire – suppressive laws like voter ID requirements can be hidden under made-up “voter fraud” threats, but what excuse could a legislature come up with for a plan to make every single Democratic voter in the state count for less? I’d like to think that once fair-minded Pennsylvanians get a whiff of this, they won’t let their legislature get away with it.

h/t Digby’s Hullabaloo
 

PFAW

PFAW and AAMIA react to DC approps, reaffirm support for White House rally

Last week, DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton hosted a press conference on Capitol Hill in defense of her city. Speaking out against several policy riders that have been passed or threatened by conservatives in Congress, Delegate Norton, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, DC Vote, and members of the civil rights community, including People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action, voiced their support for autonomy and the right to self-government for the people of the District of Columbia.

PFAW and AAMIA just got their first glimpse of the FY12 DC appropriations bill. While some issues were spared, other riders are in.

Roll Call:

The bill that funds the District includes a provision restricting the city from spending federally appropriated and locally collected funds on abortion services, except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger or the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest.

It also includes $60 million for a federally funded, private-school voucher program, a key priority for Boehner.

Delegate Norton warns that we’re not out of the woods on any issue.

The introduction of the bill is only the first step in a long appropriations process, and action by the new national coalition is essential as the bill goes to committee and to the floor.

We are currently waiting for news from the first of the committee meetings.

PFAW President Michael B. Keegan recently noted:

Rather than address the many complex issues facing our nation, House Republicans are choosing to threaten women's constitutional rights by attacking choice and preventive care, and they are taking every chance they get to force their social priorities on the people of Washington, DC.

And while there is no doubt that educational opportunities and standards must be improved across the country, allocating money to private schools at the expense of public school students is not the way to succeed. Public dollars must continue to fund public services.

PFAW and AAMIA continue to believe that enough is enough – the people of DC deserve a voice. We hope that voice will be heard loud and clear on June 25 at the White House Rally for DC Democracy, organized by our friends at DC Vote.

Date: Saturday, June 25, 2011

Location: Lafayette Square Park, 16th Street & H Street NW (in front of the White House)

Time: 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM

Click here to RSVP, and here to learn about additional opportunities to support DC Vote on June 25.

As you may know, there have been dozens of civil disobedience arrests this year of citizens who stood up for the District’s right to self-govern. Neither PFAW nor AAMIA are organizing a civil disobedience action for June 25. If you need assistance, you may contact DC Vote directly.

For more information, please click here.

PFAW

PFAW and AAMIA condemn riders, sponsor White House rally

Last week, DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton hosted a conference on Capitol Hill in defense of her city. Speaking out against several policy riders that have been passed or threatened by conservatives in Congress, Delegate Norton, DC Mayor Vincent Gray, DC Vote, and members of the civil rights community voiced their support for autonomy and the right to self-government for the people of the District of Columbia.

Michael B. Keegan, President, People For the American Way:

The extreme social policies that threaten Washington, DC are yet another example of the hypocrisy of the GOP leadership . . . We hope that the Senate and President Obama will join us and say that enough is enough – the people of DC deserve a voice. Our democracy demands nothing less.

Leslie Watson Malachi, Director, African American Ministers in Action:

The people of Washington, DC are tired of being taken advantage of . . . It’s time to end the institutional repression of Washingtonians, and in the meantime, it’s time for Congress to stop playing political games with the lives of those who make their home in our nation’s capital.

Today, PFAW and AAMIA have taken their actions one step further by sponsoring the White House Rally for DC Democracy on June 25, organized by our friends at DC Vote.

Date: Saturday, June 25, 2011

Location: Lafayette Square Park, 16th Street & H Street NW (in front of the White House)

Time: 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM

Click here to RSVP, and here to learn about additional opportunities to support DC Vote on June 25.

As you may know, there have been dozens of civil disobedience arrests this year of citizens who stood up for the District’s right to self-govern. Neither PFAW nor AAMIA are organizing a civil disobedience action for June 25. If you need assistance, you may contact DC Vote directly.

For more information, please click here and here.

PFAW

Voucher Provision in Budget Bill Shows the Mendacity of the Right

If you were negotiating in good faith in order to make budget cuts for the current year – cuts that were so important to the nation's welfare you were willing to shut down the entire federal government over them – then what sort of provisions would you insist on, regardless of the opposition from the president and the other party?

Surely not a provision adding $100 million to the deficit for a five-year period that won't start until after the current fiscal year ends. Yet that's exactly what Republicans demanded be inserted into the 2011 budget bill. In addition to reviving the discredited private school voucher program for the District of Columbia for the rest of this year, it separately authorizes the program for five years beginning in 2012.

This has nothing at all to do with the 2011 budget or deficit reduction. It has everything to do with advancing a right wing ideological agenda to funnel taxpayer money to churches and to privatize public education.

Republicans were willing to threaten Americans throughout the country with the crippling shutdown of our federal government just to advance their right wing agenda however they could.

That's not deficit reduction; that's integrity reduction.

PFAW

House Passes DC Vouchers, Bypasses DC Rights and Church-State Separation

This afternoon, the House of Representatives passed a bill to resurrect private school vouchers in the District of Columbia.

While Tea Party Republicans are claiming to take the high ground on government spending, they vote to throw millions of dollars at reviving a program that the Department of Education has shown is ineffective. After studying the program for four years, the Department found that use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same when the Department looked only at students who had applied from schools in need of improvement. As the Obama Administration stated in opposing the bill: "The Federal Government should focus its attention and available resources on improving the quality of public schools for all students. Private school vouchers are not an effective way to improve student achievement."

So if the program doesn't educate kids effectively, what exactly does it do?

For one thing, it helps religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. While Congress is slashing government spending on public education in communities across the country, the House decided to throw a few million dollars to keep religious schools afloat. This raises significant First Amendment concerns.

It also insults the 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia. The mayor opposes this program, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.

Finally, it furthers the right wing's drives to privatize core government functions and get around First Amendment restrictions on government-funded religion.

For some people, those are apparently good enough reasons to support the bill.

PFAW

States’ Rights! Smaller Federal Government! But Not for DC

We should have known what was coming in January when the House GOP, in one of its first acts in the majority, took away the limited floor voting rights of the District of Columbia’s one delegate in Congress. The move was depressingly ironic coming from a party that had swept to power on a movement that claimed to echo the spirit of the American Revolution and its call for “no taxation without representation.” But the irony was lost on most of the GOP, and, it seems, hasn’t been found yet.

Today, the House will vote on whether to spend $100 million of federal tax dollars over five years to impose a school voucher program in the District that doesn’t work and that the local government doesn’t even want. The voucher program, which funnels federal money to religious schools, is a pet project of House Speaker John Boehner, who has shown no qualms about cutting other education programs—including Head Start and Title I grants for low-income school districts.

A similar program was eliminated in 2009 after it was found to be ineffective in increasing student achievement, and DC’s mayor and non-voting congressional delegate both oppose reinstating it.

The voucher bill, expected to pass in the House, is the latest in a string of House GOP efforts to use DC as a pawn in the culture wars. The GOP’s radical anti-choice bill, HR 3, includes a provision that would prevent DC from using its own, locally raised tax dollars to provide abortion services. And now, Rep. Jim Jordan, leader of the 176-member Republican Study Group, is pushing for a bill that would overturn the District’s law allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry.

And this is on top of efforts to overturn DC’s local decisions on gun control and its needle exchange program.

Just to be clear, an elected body in which DC residents have no voting representation has decided to spend its time imposing programs the city doesn’t want, overturning its laws, and deciding how it can spend its own local tax dollars. Somebody call the Tea Party – I bet they’ll be furious.

PFAW

Boehner Takes a Hit from the Right on DC Vouchers

House Speaker John Boehner took a hit yesterday in, of all places, the conservative Washington Examiner, a newspaper owned by the same folks who own the conservative Weekly Standard. Columnist Harry Jaffee slammed the Speaker for his plans to impose a reinvigorated private school voucher program on the District of Columbia. Jaffe states he is neutral on the issue of private school vouchers in general, but "with one caveat: The scholarships should not be used for parochial school tuition. And that is exactly where they have been going."

The Founding Fathers must be frowning on House Speaker John Boehner; you can almost envision the furrow on Thomas Jefferson's brow.

How could this fine conservative lawmaker from Ohio, who often cloaks himself in the Constitution, go on a crusade to give federal funds to D.C.'s Catholic schools? What happened to the separation of church and state?

Why is this a church-state issue? Because the vouchers are overwhelmingly used for religious education. In fact, the Department of Education reports that about 80% of the participating students have used the voucher to attend religious schools. Although the program may not expressly favor religious schools over others, you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief to think that that's not one of the goals of the program's proponents.

Jaffe ties the program directly to Boehner's upbringing.

So let's not let Boehner kid anyone. He's a good Catholic, attended Catholic schools in Cincinnati, has raised funds for D.C.'s Catholic schools, reads to their students, invited Cardinal Donald Wuerl to the State of the Union. His bill is a subsidy, plain and simple.

Catholic schools provide a strong education, build character and give poor kids a way out. No doubt. In Chicago and other cities, Catholic congregations support vibrant school systems. The truth is that D.C.'s Catholic community can no longer finance more than a few schools, which is why Wuerl turned seven into charter schools.

When John Boehner attended Archbishop Moeller High in Cincinnati, his parents split the cost with the local parish. When his brothers attended, Boehner helped.

That's the American way, where congregations and families helped their own get religious education. That's the way Thomas Jefferson saw it, at least.

Indeed, that is the American Way. But apparently it's not John Boehner's way.

PFAW

School Voucher Hypocrisy

In the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen takes the Speaker of the House to task on his hypocrisy in supporting the slashing of vitally important programs while setting some funds aside for a pet project of his in the District of Columbia.

Let me get this straight. As far as House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is concerned, the United States government is "broke," which means we can't afford to pay for key domestic priorities, even if we want to.

Boehner, however, is also convinced that we have federal funds lying around to pay for private school tuition. …

[He] wants U.S. taxpayers to spend $20 million for private school tuition in D.C. over the next five years.

Maybe this is just an extension of Boehner's deep and abiding passion for looking out for struggling children? I have a strong hunch that's not it. After all, the Speaker's budget plan calls for devastating cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty), and nutritional aid for pregnant women and women with young children, among other things.

If Boehner were motivated solely by a desire to help children and students, these cuts would be off the table. Instead, they remain near the top of the GOP to-do list.

So what's really going on here? It's simply a matter of priorities. Boehner supports brutal spending cuts for most domestic priorities, but he loves vouchers, especially those that benefit Roman Catholic private schools and undermine public education (which his party is growing increasingly hostile towards).

The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program certainly does help religious schools stay open. This voucher program has been in existence since 2003, and more than three fourths of the students in it have used these government funds for private religious schools. In other words, the program funnels taxpayer money into religious organizations. In addition to the many other arguments against school vouchers, this program raises significant First Amendment concerns.

Does the Speaker support the program because he thinks it helps students achieve academically? In fact, neutral analyses of the program demonstrate clearly that it simply has not significantly improved the educational attainment of the enrolled students. The Department of Education has concluded that the use of a voucher had no statistically significant impact on overall student achievement in math or reading. The results were the same for students who applied from schools in need of improvement.

Does the Speaker think that the people of DC want this voucher program? In fact, the city’s mayor opposes it, as does Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and numerous members of the DC Council. If the people of DC wanted a voucher program, they would adopt one, something they have never done.

So why support a program that the locals don’t want and that the local population’s elected officials have asked you not to impose on them?

Throughout America and within Congress, there are ideologues seeking to privatize education as part of a larger push to privatize a wide swath of core government functions. Other ideologues chafe against the restrictions on government-funded religion that the Founders wisely placed in the First Amendment. So-called “opportunity scholarships” are an opportunity for them, but not for students.

People For the American Way opposes the Speaker’s bill, H.R. 471. It has been passed by committee, and a floor vote is expected near the end of March.

PFAW

Sweeping Anti-Choice Bill Passes House Committee

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill today that would severely restrict reproductive rights, including undercutting women’s ability to buy their own insurance coverage for abortion.

Lawmakers stripped the bill, H.R. 3, of some of its most controversial provisions, including language that would redefine rape, and changed it to clarify that insurance must cover “life-saving” abortions.

But, as Amanda Terkel writes in the Huffington Post, the sweeping anti-choice bill is still troubling:

Arons points out that H.R. 3 would still impose "a permanent, blanket prohibition on any and all federal spending for abortion care," whereas under current law, only specific programs have such restrictions and they must be renewed every year.

The bill would also deny tax credits to businesses that offer employees health insurance plans that happen to cover abortion care, as well as disallow any medical deductions for expenses related to abortion. Women would not be able to set aside their own money in pre-tax health accounts for abortion coverage.

The revised H.R. 3 would also still hit the District of Columbia particularly hard. In 2009, Congress voted to lift the District's abortion funding restrictions and allow it to make its own choices. Smith's bill denies the Capitol "home rule."

"Each of these provisions represents an expansion, not simply a codification of abortion funding restrictions that now exist in federal law," Maloney said.

H.R. 3 is part of the expansive Republican war on women, which on the federal level has included efforts this year to slash federal funds to family planning clinics. Republican efforts on the state level have sought to regulate abortion clinics into the ground, impose potentially dangerous ultrasound requirements, force women to go to anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers” before obtaining abortions, and even legalize the killing of abortion providers.
 

PFAW

A Third Judge Upholds the Healthcare Law

Another federal district judge has found the healthcare reform law constitutional. Judge Gladys Kessler in the District of Columbia becomes the third federal judge to uphold the law. As the New York Times reports:

The judge suggested in her 64-page opinion that not buying insurance was an active choice that had clear effects on the marketplace by burdening other payers with the cost of uncompensated medical care.

"Because of this cost-shifting effect," she wrote, "the individual decision to forgo health insurance, when considered in the aggregate, leads to substantially higher insurance premiums for those other individuals who do obtain coverage."

Judge Kessler observed that the basic argument against the law's constitutionality "ignores reality."

As previous Commerce Clause cases have all involved physical activity, as opposed to mental activity, i.e. decision-making, there is little judicial guidance on whether the latter falls within Congress's power. [internal citation omitted] However, this Court finds the distinction, which Plaintiffs rely on heavily, to be of little significance. It is pure semantics to argue that an individual who makes a choice to forgo health insurance is not "acting," especially given the serious economic and health-related consequences to every individual of that choice. Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something. They are two sides of the same coin. To pretend otherwise is to ignore reality.

Perhaps that is why many of those on the right screaming most loudly that the law is unconstitutional were expressing the exact opposite opinion before the corporate-funded Tea Party arose, with its bizarre version of the United States Constitution seemingly written for We the Corporations, rather than We the People. After all, the individual mandate was a Republican idea and originally championed by many of those who now scream that it is an unconstitutional usurpation of power by the federal government. For instance, Senators Orrin Hatch and Charles Grassley co-sponsored legislation during the Clinton Administration that featured an individual mandate. As recently as June 2009, Sen. Grassley expressed his belief that there was a bipartisan consensus for individual mandates in the health care legislation. Both have completely flip-flopped on the issue.

Whatever this debate is about, it certainly isn't constitutional principle. Pretending otherwise is, to use Judge Kessler's words, ignoring reality.

PFAW

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.

PFAW

Justice delayed is justice denied

I recently reported that an agreement had been reached to move forward on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act. Four days later came word that this was no longer the case. The fight is not over, but DC’s centuries-long wait to have a voting voice in Congress will continue.

The right-wing forced an agreement with which nobody was happy. And in the end it turns out to have not been an agreement at all but a way for the right-wing to delay their inevitable counterpunch. DC can’t keep fighting these intrusions without a meaningful way to say “aye” or “no” when those infamous bells ring calling members to the House floor.

I cannot speak for Dorothy Height on the events of the last week. But I want to honor her for her commitment to DC voting rights. I remember her arrival at a hearing on a previous iteration of the bill. Without saying a word, her entry alone commanded respect.

I’m not sure if this photo was taken that same day, but Life noted one such occasion on which Dr. Height visited the Hill to champion our cause.

PFAW

DC voting rights bill expected to move next week

DC has waited over 200 years to have a voting voice in Congress. Today the nation’s capital may be as close as it’s ever come to making that dream a reality.

On Wednesday afternoon came the breaking news that an agreement had been reached to move forward on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act, which would give DC a full Representative with the same voting power as other House members. Just this morning, I joined a room full of concerned citizens and activists for a briefing lead by DC Vote and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. We then took to the halls of Congress in support of the Delegate’s tireless efforts on this issue.

Nobody is happy that this agreement comes at the price of right-wing interference in local affairs. But to go any longer without voting rights is an even higher price to pay. DC can’t keep fighting these intrusions without a meaningful way to say “aye” or “no” when those infamous bells ring calling members to the House floor. As Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights put it:

The civil rights community recognizes that it must be prepared to accept some setbacks in the name of long-term progress. Virtually every major piece of civil rights legislation, from 1957 onwards, has involved difficult and often painful tradeoffs. In this case, given the fundamental importance of gaining a vote in Congress, we are prepared to move forward with the voting rights bill.

People For the American Way believes that the right-wing should stay away from this bill. But we also believe it’s a tragedy that our Democracy has allowed DC residents to live without voting representation for over 200 years. Any citizen who pays taxes, and is otherwise legally eligible to vote, should be able to vote. And certainly no member of the armed services should be robbed of the right to vote simply because of where they live.

The fight will not be over even when DC can cast a House vote. It is high time the nation’s capital be given both House and Senate representation, with voting power in both chambers.

PFAW

“A new breed of judicial activist” on the D.C. Circuit

With public attention now focused on the selection of a new Supreme Court Justice, it might be easy to forget the federal judicial appointments that get a lot less press, but which can also make a whole lot of difference in the lives of ordinary people.

Steven Pearlstein, a business columnist for the Washington Post, wrote a great column this morning—just before the news of Justice Stevens’ retirement broke—about how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has been instrumental in slowing down or stopping altogether important regulations of drug companies, mutual funds, telecommunications providers, and other industries.

There's a lot of talk these days about how Washington has become dysfunctional. While most of the focus has been on Congress, the inability to perform even basic functions also extends to the agencies that are charged with protecting workers, consumers and investors. Unfortunately, it often takes a global financial crisis or a deadly coal mine explosion to remind us of the serious consequences of regulatory failure.

Much of the blame belongs with regulators who have been captured by the industries they are meant to oversee or have been swept up in the general political drift toward deregulation. But, as we were reminded by a case this week involving the Federal Communications Commission, another big culprit is the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which over the past decade has intimidated, undermined and demoralized the regulatory apparatus.

Pearlstein singles out conservative judges whose regulatory reluctance has kept the Food and Drug Administration for ensuring the speedy availability of generic drugs, and the Federal Trade Commission from disciplining a tech company monopolist.

These cases, Pearlstein writes, “are the means by which a new breed of judicial activist is quietly undermining the reach and the effectiveness of government.”

The leaders of this new breed were, unsurprisingly, nominated by former Presidents George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Yet another reminder that judicial nominations at all levels make up one of any president’s most enduring legacies.
 

PFAW

DC Victory for Marriage Equality

Yesterday, PFAW staff joined hundreds of DC residents at the Rally for Marriage Equality at the Kennedy Recreation Center in Washington, DC to support the DC Council’s vote on marriage equality.

Several lead sponsors of the bill including Jim Ward, David A Catania, and Harry Thomas Jr. addressed the boisterous crowd to declare their emphatic support for marriage equality. Community organizers and activists also shared their thoughts on the battle they have waged for years for marriage equality.

Earlier today, the DC Council voted 11-2 in favor of marriage equality. Mayor Adrian Fenty is expected to immediately sign the bill. Congress has 30 legislative days to review the measure.

PFAW President, Michael B. Keegan, issued the following statement:

“Today’s vote is a major step forward for equality and a proud day for all the residents of the District of Columbia. At long last, same-sex couples will be allowed the same protections and responsibilities that straight couples have always enjoyed.

“This vote wouldn’t be possible without the years of hard work by activists from every ward in the city. Today’s legislation is supported by people of every race and religion. I am especially proud of the many clergy members who spoke out in favor of equality as a core value that all of us share.
 

PFAW

D.C. Strikes Down Anti-Marriage Equality Initiative

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics issued a memorandum today keeping anti-marriage equality legislation off the ballot in the District of Columbia. A public hearing was held on October 26, 2009 on the “Marriage Initiative of 2009”, which would establish that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in the District of Columbia.” D.C. law currently recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions and there is pending pro-marriage equality legislation in the D.C. council. Board Chairman Errol R. Arthur said today,

“We have considered all of the testimony presented to the Board and understand the desire to place this question on the ballot. However, the laws of the District of Columbia preclude us from allowing this initiative to move forward.”
Bishop Harry Jackson proposed the initiative and is leading the push for anti-marriage equality legislation in D.C.
 
PFAW

A Not-So-Great End to a Very Good Week

In many ways it was a very good week for anyone interested in LGBT equality. Marriage equality legislation took a big step forward in the District of Columbia, federal hate crimes legislation was signed into law after a decade long fight, and today the President reauthorized the Ryan White Act and announced that he would take the final steps to rescind the HIV travel ban. So it’s too bad that the week ended on a disappointing note.

In a brief filed today in federal court, the DOJ moved to dismiss the challenge against DOMA lodged by the state of Massachusetts on behalf of the legally married same-sex couples in the state who are nevertheless being denied federal benefits.

To be clear: Massachusetts is right in this case and the DOJ is wrong. DOMA is unconstitutional and should be struck down.

But the brief (much like most of the other briefs we’ve seen) took pains to point out that the President is defending the law not because he likes it, but because he’s compelled to. In fact, the brief points out, the President is opposed to DOMA and supports its repeal.

Great. Let’s do that.

It’s time for the President to make clear that repealing DOMA is a priority, and that his support is more than lip service. No one expects repeal to be immediate, but it won’t happen without Presidential leadership.

Then we can have good weeks, that are just plain old good weeks.

(If you want to push the process forward, don’t forget to sign our Dump DOMA petition.)
 

PFAW

Marriage Equality Marathon

Almost 100 people testified on Monday, October 26 in a 7 ½ hour hearing on marriage equality legislation moving in the District of Columbia council. Another 169 people who signed up will testify on Monday, November 2. After that, marriage equality will move from committee to the full council and should be passed into law by the end of the year.

The hearing was inspiring and invigorating. I testified in support of the bill on behalf of People For the American Way and as a DC resident hoping to get married next year. I was at the halfway point of the hearing but stayed until almost 11 p.m. to hear everyone speak.

The good news is that pro-equality speakers, and pro-equality clergy, vastly outnumbered opponents. Included were other professional advocates from the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU; a dozen pro-equality religious leaders, men and women representing many faiths, races, and ethnicities, among them Rev. Dennis Wiley of Covenant Baptist Church and Rev. Robert Hardies of All Souls Church, Unitarian, leaders of DC Clergy United for Marriage; pro-equality leaders from the local Democratic and Republican political parties; and a long list of DC residents, LGBT and not, testifying on behalf of themselves, their partners, their families and friends, and their children.

There were many moving moments: a young gay couple, one of them a vet, tightly holding hands and fighting back tears to testify; a heterosexual married man who testified with his seven-year old daughter at his side, because she already understands that it's wrong that the gay people in her life, including the parents of her best friends, aren't treated equally under the law; dozens of women and men speaking the truth about their lives, their eagerness to protect their loved ones, and their desire to be treated equally in the city that is their home.

Opposing the measure were Bishop Harry Jackson, who leads the city's anti-equality forces, a handful of local civic activists, and a group of officials from the Catholic archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities. The most interesting back-and-forth of the night took place between the panel of Catholic leaders and Councilmembers David Catania and Tommy Wells over the scope of the religious liberty protections in the bill. Councilmember Catania had said earlier in the day that he was willing to consider changes to those provisions, but he and Wells were deeply skeptical of demands that Catholic Charities be given carte blanche to discriminate against same-sex couples in provision of services and treatment of its employees when 75 percent of its revenues are from public funds. Notably, a few panels earlier, Professor Joseph Palacios from Georgetown University had testified in favor of the legislation, citing recent research showing strong support for marriage equality among lay Catholics nationally and even stronger support in the District of Columbia.

The legislation is assured of passage: it was co-sponsored by nine of the 12 councilmembers, and another councilmember announced his support at the hearing. DC Mayor Adrian Fenty has pledged to sign it. Activists are working with congressional leaders to make sure that the legislation survives the legislative review period that DC's laws are subjected to. The council's overwhelming support for the measure was a source of frustration to some of the anti-equality speakers, who angrily denounced the hearing as a sham and demanded that the issue be put to a public vote. Earlier in the day, Jackson and other anti-equality speakers urged the District's Board of Elections to allow them to put marriage equality before the voters, even though the board had ruled earlier this year that doing so would violate DC law against putting human rights protections on the ballot.

Watch my testimony here: 

PFAW

Patrick Leahy is fed up ... and he should be

Patrick Leahy is fed up and he should be.

Dawn Johnsen, President Obama's nominee to head the all important Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department, has been awaiting action by the full Senate since mid-March.

David Hamilton, President Obama's first judicial nomination, has been waiting since the beginning of June. 

Marisa Demeo, nominated to be an Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia has been waiting since the end of May.

These are just three of the 15 Justice Department and Judicial nominees that Republicans have been stalling for months!
"The Senate has to do better," says
Judiciary Chairman Leahy — and we couldn't agree more.

Click here to read more.

And take action by signing onto our petition urging the Senate to confirm Dawn Johnsen.

PFAW

Does the Anti-Gay Movement in DC think that Congress should run the District?

As a supporter of marriage equality for all people, I'm thrilled at the almost-unanimous vote of the DC City Council to recognize marriages of same-sex couples performed elsewhere.

As a supporter of marriage equality for all people and voting rights for the residents of DC (myself included,) I'm a little concerned about the response from the anti-marriage forces on the right.

Another protester, C.T. Riley, added: "This is not over. We are going to the Hill with this issue."

. . .

Bishop Harry Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, who opposes gay marriage, said opponents are developing a "political and legal strategy" to block same-sex marriage in the District.

Does this imply that right wing activists are going to attempt to ignore the decision of the elected representatives of the District of Columbia by asking a body in which District residents have no representation to overrule the decision?

I look forward to discovering how this jives with the right's opposition to pro-gay rulings from "unelected judges" and allegations that it's the pro-gay rights community which is "usurping" the legacy of civil rights movement.

PFAW