With so many distractions these days, from an ongoing government shutdown, to debt limit deadlines, you can imagine how easy it may be for other issues to go by the wayside. That’s why it’s increasingly important that we keep pressing elected leaders to act on major concerns, such as comprehensive immigration reform (CIR), that have been targeted by conservative extremists looking to stall and derail every bit of President Obama’s agenda.
As has been report on many news outlets, that fight continued earlier this week as activists called attention to the need for CIR with rallies on the National Mall and around the country. This and so many other issues have hit road blocks in congress because of right-wing voices stymieing progress.
People For made a point of calling out those extreme voices in a report released earlier this summer entitled, “Congressional Republicans' Clear Choice on Immigration.” This report shines a light on many of the activists working to block CIR, and calls on congressional leaders to stand with the majority of both parties to move forward on this important issue.
Right Wing Watch reported this summer about the creation of the Black American Leadership Alliance (BALA), a new anti-immigrant group designed to appeal to African Americans, which is just the latest member of a closely knit circle of anti-immigrant groups tied to Nativist leader John Tanton.
Also part of that circle are the three most prominent groups working to stop immigration reform in Congress: The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and Numbers USA.
Our friends at the immigrants’ rights groups America’s Voice, Black Alliance For Just Immigration and Center for New Community have put together a great, short video illustrating the ties between these groups and how they’re working together to try to bring down the new immigration law.
Last week, People For the American Way issued its latest Right Wing Watch: In Focus report on the stark choice presented to congressional Republicans: stand up for the comprehensive immigration reform supported by a strong majority of Americans, or stand with anti-immigrant extremists using lies and bigotry to derail it.
On Tuesday, we hosted a telebrieifing with PFAW members to discuss the report, the prospects for reform in the House of Representatives and how activists can help make a difference.
If you missed it, you can listen to the call here.
And, of course, take a look at the report itself, Congressional Republicans' Clear Choice on Immigration: Stand With Pro-Reform Majorities or Cave to Anti-Immigrant Extremists.
In a presentation last week at the offices of New Democrat Network, a Washington, D.C. think tank, political analyst Simon Rosenberg challenged the Republican resistance to comprehensive immigration reform. According to Rosenberg, the GOP’s arguments against legalization of undocumented immigrants are based on faulty numbers and false proselytizing. The GOP argues that the border is violent and therefore requires greater security and more border patrol officers. They criticize the track record of the Obama administration and argue that the president can’t be trusted to secure the border. They argue that once we reward those who have entered the country illegally with citizenship, the floodgates will open, and immigrants will flock from countries all across Latin America.
According to Rosenberg, the reality is just the opposite.
“The border is safer, the immigration system is better, and Mexico is modernizing and growing,” Rosenberg said. From 2004 to 2012, the number of border patrol agents on the ground has doubled. The yearly apprehension rate fell to only 19 apprehensions per agent in 2012, a dramatic decrease from the average rate of 306 per agent back in 1992. Rosenberg argued that the increasing number of patrol officers and the steadily declining apprehensions rate indicate that the current border patrol is more than capable of handling the border situation. While the Republicans are arguing for thousands more officers, the workload per officer is already reasonable.
Rosenberg also argued that the Obama administration has made great gains in improving the immigration system. The use of more targeted I-9 audits and the use of prosecutorial discretion to prioritize criminals for deportation are both notable gains that the White House and the Department of Homeland Security should take credit for.
Lastly, Rosenberg argued that Mexico’s own success in terms of GDP growth and increased trade with the U.S. bodes well for the future of the country. Increased cooperation with Mexico is yet another avenue for improving the immigration system.
Rosenberg’s closing message was clear. We have made great progress, but we need a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a reasonable path to citizenship. And if we have any hope of reaching a bipartisan agreement, the GOP’s lies need to be repudiated.
Earlier this week, PFAW’s Right Wing Watch caught this rant by American Family spokesman and all-purpose bigot Bryan Fischer, who declared on his radio program that American Latinos voted Democratic in record numbers this year because “they want big government goodies.”
Hispanics are not Democrats, don’t vote Democrat, because of immigration. That’s not the main reason why they vote for Democrats. It doesn’t have anything to do with lax immigration policy. It has to do with the fact that they are socialists by nature. They come from Mexico, which is a socialist country. They want big government intervention. They want big government goodies. It’s primarily about that.
Now, they want open borders, make no mistake, because they’ve got family and friends that they want to come up and be able to benefit from the plunder of the wealth of the United States just as they have been willing to do. Republicans can pander all they want to Hispanics, to immigrants, and it will not work. There is no way on Earth you’re going to get them to leave the Democratic party, it’s one reason we’ve got to clamp down on immigration.
Fischer’s racist diatribe echoes generations of right-wing innuendo about “handouts” for minorities. It also, as it happens, lines up pretty closely with the worldview of 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. In a call with donors today, Romney blamed his presidential loss on the “gifts” President Obama offered to African Americans, Latinos, women and young people. What “gifts” did he mean? Universal health care, contraception coverage, college loans and the DREAM Act.
The New York Times reported on the call:
A week after losing the presidential election to President Obama, Mitt Romney blamed his overwhelming electoral loss on what he said were big “gifts” that the president had bestowed on loyal Democratic constituencies — including young voters, African-Americans and Hispanics.
In a conference call on Wednesday afternoon with his national finance committee, Mr. Romney said that the president had followed the “old playbook” of wooing specific interest groups — “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people,” Mr. Romney explained — with targeted gifts and initiatives.
“In each case they were very generous in what they gave to those groups,” Mr. Romney said.
“With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift,” he said. “Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.”
“You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity, I mean, this is huge,” he said. “Likewise with Hispanic voters, free health care was a big plus. But in addition with regards to Hispanic voters, the amnesty for children of illegals, the so-called Dream Act kids, was a huge plus for that voting group.”
Sure, Bryan Fischer is more willing than Mitt Romney to say outright racist things. But the content of what they’re saying is pretty much the same. Bill O’Reilly put it even more clearly when he opined that “traditional America” was being lost to people of color who “want stuff.”
I have to guess this is not going to be the way for Republicans to win back non-white voters, women and young people, all of whom have been fleeing their party in droves.
Losing the Latino vote "spells doom for us." - Mitt Romney, April 15, 2012
"Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community." - President Obama, October 26, 201 2
At last, bipartisan agreement! You don't need a degree in political science to know this: demonizing and alienating the fastest-growing group in the country is no way to build long-term political success. Pair that with the fact that demonizing any group of Americans is un-American and just plain wrong. But in recent years, Republicans, and especially party standard-bearer Mitt Romney, just haven't been able to help themselves. In an effort to win over a shrinking and increasingly extreme base, Romney and team have sold their souls to get the Republican presidential nomination. And they went so far to do it that even their famous etch-a-sketch won't be able to erase their positions.
As Mitt Romney knows, the slipping support of the GOP among Latinos is no mystery. We've seen this movie before, in 1994, when Republican California Gov. Pete Wilson pushed anti-immigrant smears to promote California's anti-immigrant Prop 187 which in turn buoyed his own tough re-election campaign. It worked in the short term - both the ballot measure and Gov. Wilson won handily - but what a long term price to pay as California became solidly blue for the foreseeable future.
We're now seeing what happened in California at a national scale. Harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric helped Romney win the Republican primary. But in the general election, it may well be his downfall.
In case you tuned out Romney's appeals to the anti-immigrant Right during the primaries, here's a quick recap. He ran ads specifically criticizing Sonia Sotomayor, the first Latina Supreme Court justice. He says he'd veto the DREAM Act , a rare immigration provision with overwhelming bipartisan support. He took on anti-immigrant leader Kris Kobach, architect of the draconian anti-immigrant measures in Arizona and Alabama as an adviser , then said his immigration plan was to force undocumented immigrants to"self-deport." He even endorsed Iowa Rep. Steve King, who suggested building an electric fence at the Mexican border, comparing immigrants to "livestock" and "dogs." Romney's new attempts to appeal to Latino voters are clearly empty - he's already promised the Right that he will use their anti-immigrant rhetoric whenever it's convenient and shut down any reasonable attempts at immigration reform.
If President Obama wins reelection, however, we have a real chance for real immigration reform. He told the Des Moines Register last week that if reelected he will work to achieve immigration reform next year. Beyond incremental steps like his institution of part of the DREAM Act by executive order, real comprehensive immigration reform would finally ease the uncertainty of millions of immigrants and the businesses that hire them. It's something that George W. Bush and John McCain wanted before it was thwarted by extremists in their own party. It's something that Mitt Romney clearly won't even try.
If President Obama wins, and especially when he wins with the help of Latino voters turned off by the GOP's anti-immigrant politics, he will have a strong mandate to create clear and lasting immigration reform. And Republicans will have to think twice before hitching their futures on the politics of demonization and exclusion. Whereas George W. Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004 and John McCain 31 percent in 2008, Mitt Romney is polling at just 21 percent among Latinos. That's no coincidence.
My group, People For the American Way, has been working to make sure that the GOP's anti-Latino policies and rhetoric are front and center during the presidential election. We're running a comprehensive campaign aimed at the large Latino populations in Nevada and Colorado and the rapidly growing Latino populations in Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia, and North Carolina. In each of those states, we're strategically targeting Latino voters with TV and radio ads, direct mail, internet ads and phone banking to make sure they hear the GOP's message about their community. In Colorado, we're going up against Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS , which knows just as well as Romney that the loss of Latino voters "spells doom" for Republicans. In all of these states, higher turnout among Latinos motivated by Mitt Romney's attacks could swing critical electoral votes.
This is a battle where the right thing to do and the politically smart thing to do are one and the same. Republicans have embraced racially-charged attacks against Latinos, pushing English-only laws,attempting to legalize racial profiling by immigration enforcement, dehumanizing immigrants, and even attacking the first Latina Supreme Court justice for talking about her heritage. They deserve to lose the votes of Latinos and others for it. This presidential election is a choice between right-wing scare tactics-- the last resort of those fighting to return to an imaginary America of the past-- and policies that embrace and celebrate our growing Latino population as an integral part of what is the real America.
This week, the White House made public President Obama’s endorsement interview with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board. In the interview, the president is frank about what he thinks could be the deciding factor in this election – the votes of Latinos:
The second thing I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform. And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community. And this is a relatively new phenomenon. George Bush and Karl Rove were smart enough to understand the changing nature of America. And so I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done. And I want to get it done because it’s the right thing to do and I've cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.
The president is right that as the United States’ Latino population has grown in recent years, the GOP has increasingly pushed Latinos aside. While John McCain and George W. Bush both to some extent supported bipartisan efforts at comprehensive immigration reform, Mitt Romney has embraced some of his party’s most extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. He touted the endorsement of Kris Kobach, the man behind draconian anti-immigrant measures in Arizona and Alabama, then took Kobach on as an adviser. He said he would veto the DREAM Act if it were to be passed by Congress. He says his immigration strategy is to make the lives of immigrants so miserable that they are forced to “self-deport.” He endorsed Steve King, the Iowa congressman who has compared immigrants to “cattle” and “dogs.”
Unsurprisingly, Latino voters haven’t been responding well to Romney’s record. Bush won 40 percent of the Latino vote in 2004, and McCain won 31 percent in 2008. Romney is currently polling at 20 -25 percent among Latinos.
Earlier this month People For the American Way launched a 5-week, $1.2 million campaign to remind Latino voters about Mitt Romney’s policies. We’re running TV ads in four states (Ohio, Wisconsin, Virginia and Nevada), radio ads in five (with the addition of North Carolina), and operating a direct mail program. Here are the three of the TV ads that we’ve run so far. English translations are available in the description of each video on YouTube.
UPDATE: On October 29, we expanded the campaign to Colorado.
Here’s a quick recap of the Supreme Court’s decisions during the past week: Unions are now further disadvantaged and despite some important changes to the state’s immigration law, racial profiling remains a viable option for Arizona law enforcement.
On June 21, the Supreme Court issued its decision on Knox v. Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000. The case dealt with a labor policy several states have, known as agency shops, in which employees are not required to become members of the union representing their place of employment, but must pay dues since they benefit from the work the union does. At the point in which all employees working at an establishment that has a union presence are receiving higher wages, more vacation days, and overall better working conditions, it is only fair that all employees pay union dues and not free-ride off of just the union members who pay.
However, in the case of public sector unions, the Supreme Court held a generation ago that non-members have the right to opt out of having their dues used for political activity by the union, effectively weakening the union’s ability to operate on its members’ behalf. In Knox, the Court criticized the balance struck in 1986 and ruled that when the union has a mid-year special assessment or dues increase, it cannot collect any money at all from non-union members unless they affirmatively opt-in (rather than opt-out). This ruling addressed an issue that wasn’t raised by the parties and that the union never had a chance to address, furthering the Right Wing’s goal to hamper a union’s ability to collect dues and make it harder for unions to have a voice in a post-Citizens United political environment. To add insult to injury, Justice Alito let his ideological leanings shine through when he essentially claimed right-to-work laws are good policy.
After the Knox v. SEIU decision, the court released its ruling on the highly contentious 2010 Arizona anti-immigration law, known as S.B. 1070. In a 5-3 decision, the court struck down the majority of the southwestern state’s draconian immigration policy. The court ruled that much of the state’s law unconstitutionally affected areas of law preempted by the federal government, acknowledging the impracticality of each state having its own immigration policy. Oppressive anti-immigrant provisions were struck down, such as one criminalizing the failure to carry proof of citizenship at all times, and a provision making it illegal under state law for an undocumented immigrant to apply for or hold a job. The decision also recognized that merely being eligible for removal is not in itself criminal, and thus the suspicion of being eligible for removal is not sufficient cause for arrest.
Although the majority of S.B. 1070 was overturned by the Supreme Court this week, one component remains, at least for the moment. Officers can still check the immigration status of anyone stopped or arrested if they had “reasonable suspicion” that the individual may be undocumented. This keeps the door wide open for racial profiling. Arresting an individual is not the same as being convicted for a crime. Latinos and other minority groups can be stopped for a crime as simple as jaywalking and “appear” suspicious enough to warrant an immigration background check. By leaving this portion of the law, the US Supreme Court has, for the time being, allowed the potential profiling of thousands of Arizona residents, regardless of whether they are immigrants or US citizens, but has left open the ability to challenge the manner in which this provision is put into practice.
This piece originally appeared on Huffington Post.
Eric Segall, a professor of constitutional law at Georgia State University, has just written a provocative book called Supreme Myths: Why the Supreme Court Is Not a Court and Its Justices Are Not Judges. The thesis is that the Supreme Court, unbound by any court above it, unfastened by the vagueness of constitutional text, and uninhibited by the gift of life tenure, operates like a freewheeling political "veto council" and not like any court that we would recognize as doing judicial work. Professor Segall challenges the legitimacy of the Court's decisions and essentially mounts an attack on the whole institution of constitutional judicial review except where the text of the Constitution is perfectly plain and clear.
It is easy to share Professor Segall's exasperation these days, but his argument is not wholly convincing. It understates how often our other courts--federal appeals and district courts and state courts--operate in a political vein and how often they too find themselves in deep ideological conflict. It also understates how clear, coherent, and logical the Warren Court was when it interpreted even vague constitutional language, like "equal protection" or "freedom of speech." Yet, Segall's clarion call to roll back judicial review today will be read by conservative judges as an invitation to negate and undo essential lines of doctrinal development that began in the Warren Court, especially the "right to privacy" decisions under Due Process, like Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade, which Professor Segall in no uncertain terms asserts were wrongly decided.
The claim that the Supreme Court is "not a court" distracts us from what is truly at issue today. The Supreme Court is a court alright--indeed, it is the most powerful court in America, perhaps the world, and there's not much getting around that. It takes cases and controversies, writes opinions that refer to precedents and principles, and operates with the full panoply of constitutional powers reserved to the judiciary. The problem is that it is not a court committed to the rights of the people or to strong democracy unencumbered by corporate power. Indeed, it acts with most energy vindicating the rights of the powerful and the unjust. Alas, this hardly makes it an outlier in American history.
With its 2010 decision in Citizens United, the Roberts-led Court essentially cemented the institution's return to a class-bound right-wing judicial activism. Just as the Supreme Court went to war against social reform and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s, just as it nullified the meaning of Equal Protection in sanctifying "separate but equal" in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, just as it expressed the Supreme Court's pro-slavery and racist jurisprudence in the Dred Scott decision in 1857, the Citizens United decision secured the contemporary Court's unfolding legacy as the unabashed champion of corporate power and class privilege.
The 2011-2012 Supreme Court Term
Several cases currently on the Court's docket will tell us whether the Roberts Court will accelerate its assault on public policies that advance the rights and welfare of the vast majority of "natural persons" in the country. Consider:
Legal War on "Obamacare": Health Care Reform and the Contractible Commerce Clause: Of course, the blockbuster of the Term is the cluster of cases that the Court is hearing on the constitutionality of Obamacare. There are two principal challenges to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The first, and certainly the one with the most political traction on the GOP campaign trail, is the claim that Congress has exceeded its Commerce Clause powers by compelling taxpayers to buy themselves health insurance or else pay a penalty in the program. However, the political ubiquity of this claim contrasts sharply with its feather-like legal force. Commerce Clause jurisprudence is replete with cases of Congress regulating national economic policy by compelling individuals to take actions that they would prefer not to take, such as serving customers in their restaurant that they don't want to serve or recognizing a union in their factory and reinstating workers who they fired for organizing it (see my Report for PFAW Foundation, The True Spirit of the Union: How the Commerce Clause Helped Build America and why the Corporate Right Wants to Shrink It Today, for a detailed accounting).
The ACA comes well within Congress's broad authority to address issues of national importance that affect the lives of millions of people moving and working in the streams of interstate commerce. Despite recent efforts by conservative Justices to constrict Congress's powers under the Commerce Clause, the vast majority of lawyers still believe that such powers are expansive and will be upheld even by the Roberts Court. An ABA poll of legal academics, journalists, and lawyers that allowed respondents to remain anonymous showed that fully 85% believe that the Court will uphold the ACA in full, and with a 6-3 vote seen as the most likely outcome. While the Supreme Court in the Citizens United era has been ready and willing to ignore precedent and defy logic in order to achieve its political goals, this law is so mainstream that even they are not expected to do so in this case.
The second challenge, a bit of a sleeper that saw little success in lower courts but now fascinates conservative lawyers, is that Congress has exceeded its powers under the Spending Clause and violated federalism by tying too many strings to federal Medicaid funding and thereby "coercing" states into accepting federal policies. The idea is that Medicaid has grown so big and pervasive that any conditions attached to it constitute a kind of Godfather offer that the states simply cannot refuse. From a doctrinal standpoint, the claim is somewhere between unlikely and silly, which is why no federal law or program has ever been found to unconstitutionally coerce the states under the Spending Clause . Experts in the ABA poll mentioned above predict that this outlandish argument will be rejected in an 8-1 split. A decision to strike down the ACA on this basis would be a stunning development indeed. As with the Commerce Clause issue, a decision to strike down the Medicaid expansion as unconstitutionally coercive would be recognized instantly as an exercise of political will rather than legal judgment.
Of course, should the Court uphold the ACA, as expected by most lawyers, that should not distract anyone from the damage it is doing in other ways, from the constitutional glorification of corporate political power to the continuing erosion of public health, environmental and workplace standards.
Immigration Law: the Arizona Case: Arizona v. United States addresses Arizona's efforts to develop and enforce an immigration law all its own. The statute in question provides law enforcement officers with the power to arrest someone without a warrant based on probable cause to believe that the person committed a deportable act. It also makes it a criminal offense for an undocumented immigrant to apply for a job without valid immigration papers. This presents a clear case of a law that is preempted by federal laws governing and defining U.S. immigration policy, which is committed by the Naturalization Clause of the Constitution to Congress. This case should offer no dilemma for conservatives on the Court, who almost always side with the Executive branch in preemption controversies relating to national security, police enforcement and immigration law. However, underlying all of the debate is legislation hostile to one of America's most scapegoated populations, the undocumented, and that political reality may change the legal calculus.
Attack on Labor Unions: From the repressive "labor injunctions" of the late-19th and early 20th-centuries to the Supreme Court's decisions undermining the right to organize during the New Deal, periods of judicial reaction have always included judicial assaults on the rights of labor to organize unions and fight for their interests. This period is no different, and the Supreme Court has given itself an opportunity, probably irresistible to the five conservative Justices, to take another whack at labor this Term. The case is Knox v. SEIU. It poses the question whether public sector unions must notify members of the union's political expenditures every time they happen so that employees who pay union agency fees to the union for purposes of collective bargaining only may demand a proportional rebate in advance for political expenditures. Or, alternatively, does it suffice to give an annual budgetary statement with notice of political expenditures and invite the "objectors" to seek a rebate at that point? The case, fairly frivolous on its face, but deadly serious in its political mission and reception on the Roberts Court, is obviously designed to further hobble unions and render them ineffectual political actors. The irony is that, through decisions like Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977) and Communication Workers of America v. Beck (1988), the Court has granted muscular rights and powers to dissenting union members that are totally undreamed-of when it comes to dissenting corporate shareholders. Company shareholders who object to corporate political expenditures have no right to a proportional rebate of their corporate shares, much less that they must be told of such corporate treasury political expenditures in advance. While defenders of the Court's decision in the Citizens United case love to observe that the decision opened the floodgates not just on corporate treasury money but on union treasury money too (as if the two were comparable!), they never follow through and make the obvious point that corporate shareholders should, therefore, enjoy the same rebate rights against "compelled speech" as union members presently enjoy. In any event, the war on unions continues and accelerates, with the Supreme Court poised again to undercut the political effectiveness of public sector labor unions, the last meaningful bulwark of labor solidarity in America.
The Surprising Early Return of College Affirmative Action to the Court: In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Supreme Court has, surprisingly, decided to review its holding in Grutter v. Bollinger and explore dismantling what remains of affirmative action in the next Term. The 2003 Grutter decision preserved a soft form of affirmative action at the college and university level for young people who belong to racial and ethnic minority groups, but only for a period that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor suggested would be 25 years. Now, just nine years later, the ruling bloc is ominously poised to wipe out affirmative action entirely, a prospect we must judge a rather likely prospect given the Court's express loathing of progressive race-conscious measures and its brazen disregard for the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, whose framers clearly contemplated such measures. Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts insist that the Equal Protection Clause compels government to be "color-blind" even if seeks to remedy the effects of historical and continuing racism. This rhetorical gloss is a fundamental distortion of the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, whose framers clearly championed race-conscious measures, like the Freedmen's Bureau, to assist the historical victims of racism. The current project of using the Equal Protection Clause against racial and ethnic minorities seeks to deny any relationship between historical and present-day discrimination and continuing inequalities of opportunity.
The Supreme Court is, of course, still a court, no matter how much certain Justices behave like partisans. Yet, the Court's ideological politics are in full swing these days as the 5-4 conservative majority fleshes out one-sided doctrines in areas from corporate political rights to corporate commercial speech rights to affirmative action to Congressional power to union rights. This is a Court that almost always chooses corporate power over democratic politics and popular freedoms. In a Court of logic and precedent, a Court without aversion to the channels of popular democracy, the challenge to Obamacare would be a total non-starter. But here we are again, waiting to see whether the Court will follow the path of justice or the path of power.
Jamin Raskin is an American University Law Professor, Maryland State Senator and People For the American Way Senior Fellow.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio is something of a hero to the anti-immigrant Right. He was one of the most outspoken proponents of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law last year, in a large part because he had already been using the racial profiling tactics it authorized for years. He delighted in punishing prisoners –including protestors of his tactics – by making them wear pink underwear, a practice he commemorated last month by giving Sarah Palin her very own pair. He briefly had his own reality TV show. He was courted by the Tea Party. GOP presidential candidates, including Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain vied for his endorsement, which he ultimately gave to Rick Perry before joining the candidate on the campaign trail.
Arpaio’s reckless flair for self-promotion and disregard for civil rights have been well-known for as long as he has had national fame. But today, the Justice Department released a long and scathing report detailing the Sheriff’s record of civil rights violations, including his discrimination against Latinos and non-English speakers, “excessive use of force” and “unlawful retaliation against individuals exercising their First Amendment right to criticize MCSO’s policies or practices.”
The AP outlines some of the most shocking allegations in the report:
The civil rights report said Latinos are four to nine times more likely to be stopped in traffic stops in Maricopa County than non-Latinos and that the agency's immigration policies treat Latinos as if they are all in the country illegally. Deputies on the immigrant-smuggling squad stop and arrest Latino drivers without good cause, the investigation found.
A review done as part of the investigation found that 20 percent of traffic reports handled by Arpaio's immigrant-smuggling squad from March 2006 to March 2009 were stops - almost all involving Latino drivers - that were done without reasonable suspicion. The squad's stops rarely led to smuggling arrests.
Deputies are encouraged to make high-volume traffic stops in targeted locations. There were Latinos who were in the U.S. legally who were arrested or detained without cause during the sweeps, according to the report.
During the sweeps, deputies flood an area of a city - in some cases, heavily Latino areas - over several days to seek out traffic violators and arrest other offenders. Illegal immigrants accounted for 57 percent of the 1,500 people arrested in the 20 sweeps conducted by his office since January 2008, according to figures provided by Arpaio's office.
Police supervisors, including at least one smuggling-squad supervisor, often used county accounts to send emails that demeaned Latinos to fellow sheriff's managers, deputies and volunteers in the sheriff's posse. One such email had a photo of a mock driver's license for a fictional state called "Mexifornia."
The report said that the sheriff's office launched an immigration operation two weeks after the sheriff received a letter in August 2009 letter about a person's dismay over employees of a McDonald's in the Phoenix suburb of Sun City who didn't speak English. The tip laid out no criminal allegations. The sheriff wrote back to thank the writer "for the info," said he would look into it and forwarded it to a top aide with a note of "for our operation."
Federal investigators focused heavily on the language barriers in Arpaio's jails.
Latino inmates with limited English skills were punished for failing to understand commands in English by being put in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day or keeping prisoners locked down in their jail pods for as long as 72 hours without a trip to the canteen area or making nonlegal phone calls.
The report said some jail officers used racial slurs for Latinos when talking among themselves and speaking to inmates.
Detention officers refused to accept forms requesting basic daily services and reporting mistreatment when the documents were completed in Spanish and pressured Latinos with limited English skills to sign forms that implicate their legal rights without language assistance.
The agency pressures Latinos with limited English skills to sign forms by yelling at them and keeping them in uncomfortably cold cells for long periods of time.
These allegations are disturbing enough in themselves. But what’s even more troubling is that the person behind them has been not only held up as a hero by the Right, but has served as an inspiration for immigration legislation around the country. In a report last year, we examined the ways the anti-immigrant Right has worked to dehumanize immigrants in order “to inflame anti-immigrant sentiment and build political opposition to comprehensive immigration reform.” It should come as no surprise that Sheriff Joe is the movement’s figurehead.
The choice of a Supreme Court nominee is one of a president's most important roles, one that has an impact on every American for decades. When Americans vote for president, they are also voting for what the Supreme Court will look like. While that has always been the case, several high-profile cases are making unlikely that anyone will overlook the importance of the Court when they cast their vote in 2012. In recent days, the Court announced that it would hear cases on:
As a result, a number of press outlets are out with stories on the Court and the election. The Washington Post's The Fix blog has a headline proclaiming "Supreme Court inserts itself into 2012 election in a major way." Politico reports:
Together, the cases will help shape the national political debate as well as the direction of policy on one of the most contentious issues of the election: the power of the federal government. On immigration, the justices will decide whether the federal government has the right to block state efforts to enforce immigration laws. On health care, the high court will wrestle with the question of whether the national government can require individuals to purchase health insurance.
While the political impact of the high court's entrance into these pivotal cases won't be clear until the justices rule, some analysts believe Obama would benefit from a decision on his health care law, regardless of the outcome.
"If the court does the unlikely and strikes the law down, he could try to run against the court. And if they uphold it, it takes some of the other side's rhetoric away" by undercutting arguments that the law is unconstitutional, said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. "Immigration is harder to figure," he added.
Politico also quotes a number of legal and political experts and activists discussing the importance of the Court in 2012:
Thomas J. Whalen, Professor of Social Science, Boston University: [The Supreme Court] is one of President Obama's best political trump cards heading into his reelection campaign. He can reasonably argue to independents that although they're not crazy about how he's handled the economy, they'd be even more upset with a staunchly conservative Supreme Court intent on overturning almost a century of social and political reform dating back to the New Deal. ...
Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way: The current Supreme Court, the most conservative in decades, has repeatedly gone out of its way to rule against individual Americans and in favor of powerful corporations, and yet is still little discussed in presidential politics. I hope that the legal battles over Arizona's immigration law and health care reform will focus wider attention on the true importance of the Court in all of our lives.
As Newt Gingrich concocts radical plans to undermine judicial independence and Mitt Romney hires extremist Robert Bork as his legal adviser, the importance of Supreme Court nominations is a conversation that all Americans need to have.
SCOTUSBlog has a good round-up of coverage:
"Yesterday the Court (with Justice Kagan recused) granted cert. in Arizona v. United States, in which the state has asked it to overturn the lower courts' decisions blocking enforcement of four provisions of its controversial immigration law, S.B. 1070 . . . several journalists – including Adam Liptak of the New York Times, Warren Richey of the Christian Science Monitor, Robert Barnes of the Washington Post, and Nina Totenberg of NPR — focused on the case's potential effect on the upcoming presidential election, particularly when combined with the Court's expected rulings on the health care and Texas redistricting cases."
It is hardly news that the Supreme Court is one of the most important issues in any presidential election. George Bush's nominations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito have led to a number of 5-4 decision finding novel ways to prevent individual Americans from exercising their legal rights when they have been wronged by powerful corporations. People's ability to pursue the legal remedies written against employment discrimination, consumer scams, and misleadingly labeled prescription drugs have all been severely undermined by an arch-conservative Supreme Court.
There's no doubt that the Supreme Court is a critical presidential campaign issue.
What a huge day for progressive power! Yesterday, voters in nearly every region of the country turned out and resoundingly defeated right-wing attacks on:
In the nationally-watched races and ballot initiatives across America, progressives won across the board. These hard-fought victories are not just wins for people in these states. The results have important ramifications moving forward into the 2012 elections, with this flexing of political muscle providing a good source of hope that maybe 2012 can be our 2010.
Let’s remember that most of the Republican presidential candidates came down on the losing side of virtually every one of these issues, showing how out of touch they and their party are with Americans’ values. Frontrunner Mitt Romney, whom many consider to be the presumptive nominee, after his usual hemming and hawing, came out strongly against workers’ rights in Ohio and said he would support the shockingly extreme “personhood” amendment in Mississippi that would have given fertilized eggs the rights of human beings. Even the overwhelmingly Republican -- and culturally conservative -- electorate of deep red state Mississippi rejected that radical position by a whopping 58%-42%. An astute political observer might accurately say that Mitt Romney was in fact yesterday’s, and thus Election 2011’s, biggest loser.
Ohio – workers’ rights and defending the middle class WIN
In Ohio, voters stood up their neighbors -- their nurses, teachers, policemen and firefighters -- and successfully repealed the right-wing governor’s Wisconsin-style attack on the fundamental collective bargaining rights of public employees -- the law known as SB 5. Tallies are showing that over 60% of voters voted “No” on Issue 2, to repeal SB 5, with only six counties in the entire state showing majorities in favor of keeping the law. In all those counties, Republican Governor John Kasich won with more than 60% of the vote in 2010.
We worked hard, with PFAW activists in Ohio playing a critical role in the effort. Our allies in Ohio, especially our friends at We Are Ohio, led an inspiring and effective campaign. This victory will have a lasting impact in Ohio and national politics, as it staved off an attack that could have been crippling to progressives in a critical swing state.
The attacks on working people in Ohio, Wisconsin and other states are part of a right-wing effort to break the back of organized labor, which is a major source of progressive power and one of the only political counterweights to the corporate special interests that fund the Right. Like laws that disenfranchise voters in communities that traditionally vote more progressive, these new policies are a naked partisan power grab by Republican politicians, and at the same time serve as a big gift, basically a policy kickback, to their corporate contributors like the Koch brothers.
We will work hard to help replicate nationally for 2012 the Ohio organizing model that mobilized a middle-class revolt against right-wing extremism in that state.
Mississippi – reproductive rights WIN
As I mentioned above, voters in Mississippi, a state in which Democrats didn’t even bother to run a candidate in several statewide races, overwhelmingly rejected a state constitutional amendment that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person. That dreadful law would have effectively turned ALL abortions, without exception for rape, incest of the health of the mother, into murder under state law. It would have done the same with many popular forms of birth control and the processes involved in fertility treatment, even creating legal suspicion around miscarriages.
A similar “personhood” amendment had twice been rejected by voters in Colorado by similarly large margins, but polling leading up to Election Day in Mississippi showed a toss up. It’s important to note that while many anti-choice conservatives expressed reservations about the far-reaching extremity of the amendment, just about every Religious Right group and Republican supported it … and it lost by 16 points … IN MISSISSIPPI.
Maine – voting rights WIN
Maine voters yesterday voted to preserve their same-day voter registration policy after the right-wing legislature passed a law to repeal it.
In another example of the Right doing everything it can to make ballot access more difficult for some voters, after Republicans took control of the governorship and the legislature in 2010, one of the first things on the chopping block was Maine’s same-day voter registration law.
Voters have been able to register at their polling place on Election Day in Maine since 1973 -- if there is anything ingrained in the voting culture of Maine it’s same-day registration. Same-day voter registration is the reason Maine has one of the highest voter turnouts in the country (states with same-day registration average 6% higher turnout than states without it). It’s good for democracy … but apparently that’s bad for the Right.
Republicans had used the bogus straw man argument about “widespread voter fraud” -- even though it’s never been a reported problem in Maine. They amazingly trotted out the argument that people who wait until Election Day to register are not “engaged” enough in the process, even though same-day registrants are simply abiding by the law of nearly 40 years, and showing up on Election Day is the ultimate demonstration of “engagement.”
The Maine Republican Party even ran a full page newspaper ad just before the election trying to portray the ballot initiative to “repeal the repeal” and save same-day registration as some sort of gay activist plot. The ad implied that Equality Maine’s support of the referendum was somehow insidious and revealing of some problem with the long-standing, pro-democracy law. In reality, LGBT rights groups did have stake in the results of yesterday’s same-day voter registration ballot initiative because if Mainers would not join together to defeat such a radical right-wing usurpation of voters’ rights, then the Equality movement in that state concluded there would be little hope in waging another campaign to enact same-sex marriage equality by referendum. So, yesterday’s victory for voting rights effectively leaves the door open for a future victory for marriage equality as well.
Iowa – marriage equality WIN
While the victory in Maine opens the possibility of a future win for marriage equality in that state, in Iowa, the state’s existing marriage equality law won a major victory with the election of the Democrat running in a special election for state Senate. Party control of the Senate hinged on this race and if the Republican had won, the legislature would surely move to undo marriage equality for same-sex couples in Iowa.
The Senate seat in question became open when Republican Governor Terry Branstad appointed incumbent Democratic Senator Swati Dandekar to a high paying post on the Iowa Utilities Board. Republicans knew full well that the bare majority Democrats held in the Senate would then be up for grabs, and with it, the fate of marriage equality. Congratulations to Democratic Senator Elect Liz Mathis, the voters who elected her and all the people of Iowa whose rights will continue to be protected by a state marriage law that holds true to our core constitutional values of Fairness and Equality.
Arizona – immigrant rights and democracy WIN
Voters in Arizona really made an impressive show of strength yesterday when they voted to RECALL Republican State Senator Russell Pearce, the architect of Arizona’s infamous draconian “show me your papers” immigration bill, SB 1070. Arizonans did themselves and the country a great service in rejected the lawmaker who pioneered the shameful racial profiling bill.
This is not just a victory for fair and humane immigration policy. The often untold story of SB 1070 is that it was engineered by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a policy group funded by corporate special interests that essentially writes many of the laws pushed every year by right-wing state legislators across the country. SB 1070 was on its face an ugly, racist backlash against undocumented immigrants, but it was also a handout to the powerful private prison industry, which stood to benefit financially by mass roundups of undocumented immigrants who would, of course, be held in prisons.
The successful recall of the right-wing, anti-immigrant icon Russell Pearce was a win for fairness, for civil liberties and for the dignified treatment of America’s immigrant communities. But it was also a triumph over corrupt corporate influence in government and a victory for Government By the People.
Wake County, North Carolina – public education and racial equality WIN
Last month, voters in Wake County, North Carolina decisively defeated four conservative school board candidates responsible for scrapping the district's lauded diversity policies. Yesterday, the final runoff election was decided by Wake County voters who handed victory, and majority control of the school board, to the Democrats.
The ousted board members had been backed by the Koch-funded Tea Party group Americans For Prosperity (AFP). This past summer, People For the American Way and PFAW's African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA) program joined with Brave New Foundation to cosponsor the release of their “Koch Brothers Exposed” video that told the story of AFP’s involvement in the school board election and the board’s effort to resegregate schools. I’m proud that we were able to help shine a light on the Right’s unconscionable attack on public education, racial equality and civil rights.
More Notable Results
The citizens of Missoula, Montana passed a resolution in support of amending the Constitution to end corporate personhood and undo the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizen's United v. FEC. The referendum was initiated by a City Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken, an active member of our affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Official (YEO) Network.
In Kentucky, Democrats won four out of five statewide races with incumbent Democratic governor Steve Beshear winning in a landslide over his Republican challenger
In New Jersey, after two years on the losing side of confrontations with Gov. Chris Christie, Democrats seemed to turn the tide, fighting off well-funded Republican challenges and gaining one seat in the state Legislature.
And in Virginia, the GOP was expected to take majority control of the state Senate -- which they only needed two seats to do – but might have fallen just short. With a paper-thin margin of 86 votes in one race handing preliminary victory to the Republican, there will surely be a recall and Democrats are at least publicly optimistic.
There were more progressive victories in local races around the country, and some losses. For the most part, however, the losses were either very minor or very expected. Where the eyes of the nation was focused, and where progressives put energy and resources, we won across the board. This morning, as we look ahead to 2012, the Right should be very nervous.
Thank you for your ongoing support -- it makes all the difference, every time … and 2012 will be no exception.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman made a surprisingly refreshing statement in Wednesday's GOP presidential debate, when, answering a question about immigration reform, he said, “I hope that all of us as we deal with this immigration issue will always see it as an issue that revolves around real human beings.”
That Huntsman’s basic call for human empathy was surprising to hear at a GOP debate shows just how radically the party has shifted to the right in recent years. Outside the Beltway digs up this clip of George H.W. Bush and GOP hero Ronald Reagan discussing immigration reform at a debate in 1980:
Bush argues in favor of allowing the children of undocumented immigrants to attend public school, saying “We’re creating a whole society of really honorable, decent, family-loving people that are in violation of the law.” Reagan adds, “Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems, make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then while they’re working and earning here, they pay taxes here.”
Contrast this with today’s Republican Party, where a growing contingent is pushing to amend or just intentionally misread the Constitution’s definition of citizenship, and where the two top GOP presidential candidates, when asked about the issue at last night’s debate, talked only about building a border fence and eliminating benefits to the children of undocumented immigrants.
Earlier this week, PFAW’s Michael Keegan wrote that Ronald Reagan, as much as he is a hero to today’s GOP, could never have gotten the Republican nomination in today’s polarized political climate. It’s remarkable that in today’s Republican Party, acknowledging the humanity of people who your policies affect makes you an outlier and a curiosity.