Justice Department

Court Rejects Florida's Efforts to Curtail Early Voting

In an opinion affecting 5 counties, a federal court rules that Florida's curtailed early voting would disproportionately harm African Americans.
PFAW Foundation

ACLU DNA, Lead Paint, and the Judges who Made it Through GOP Obstruction

As we like to remind anyone who will listen, the current GOP senate has been shameless in its enthusiasm for obstructing judicial nominees just for the sake of obstruction. For instance, a PFAW memo on August 2 reported that of 24 nominees then waiting for confirmation votes, 21 had been voted through the Senate Judiciary Committee with no recorded opposition. Instead of sending through at least the unopposed nominees in a voice vote and moving on with its business, the Senate decided to keep these potential jurists off the bench for as long as possible – despite the pressing problem of unfilled judicial seats leading to slowed down justice. Ultimately, 4 of those nominees were confirmed by the Senate before it left for its August recess, and 20 remain waiting. (The Washington Post this morning lamented that such “gamesmanship is not only frustrating but also destructive”)

This sort of thing is a clear example of obstruction for obstruction’s sake. But what about the nominees who do face some GOP opposition? Last week, The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen took an in-depth look at some of President Obama’s nominees who were ultimately confirmed by the Senate, but who received more than 25 “no” votes. The reason? Most were opposed because of a record fighting for civil liberties or against big corporations. Here are a few of Cohen’s examples:

7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Hamilton (Votes 59-39). Even though his local Federalist Society endorsed this nephew of former Congressional leader Lee Hamilton, Senate Republicans mostly didn't because, as a trial judge, Hamilton had issued this 2005 ruling which had infuriated the religious right. Citing Supreme Court precedent, Judge Hamilton had ruled that Indiana's legislative prayer before each session could no longer be "sectarian" and regularly invoke the name of Jesus Christ.


Northern District of Ohio Judge Benita Y. Pearson (Votes 56-39). The first black female federal jurist in Ohio almost didn't get the gig. The precise reasons why are unclear. The People for the American Way suggested that she was a member of an animal rights group and thus earned the wrath of those in the cattle industries -- although 39 "no" votes is quite a lot of beef to have against a pioneering jurist.


District of Colorado Judge William J. Martinez
(Votes 58-37). By contrast, it is not hard to understand why this Mexico-born nominee roused so much Republican opposition on the floor of the Senate. Before he was nominated, Martinez advised the Americans with Civil Liberties Union and was a lawyer for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (just like Clarence Thomas before him, only Justice Thomas' EEOC experience evidently was a boon for his nomination). Of nominee Martinez, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said: "It seems that if you've got the ACLU DNA you've got a pretty good leg up to being nominated by this president."


District of Rhode Island Judge John J. McConnell (Votes 50-44). It's also fairly clear why Judge McConnell almost didn't make it onto the bench. Senate Republicans didn't like him because the U.S. Chamber of Commerce didn't like him because, as a lawyer, McConnell had successfully sued Big Tobacco and fought for those harmed by lead paint. Evidently that's five Republican votes more serious in the Senate than ticking off Big Beef.


Northern District of California Judge Edward M. Chen
(Votes 56-42). Like Judge Martinez, Edward Chen evidently was touched with the "ACLU gene," which rendered him objectionable to Senate Republicans. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), whose state's Asian population is nearly three times lower than the American average, voted against Chen because he thought the well-respected former magistrate judge employed the "empathy standard" of judging.


District of Oregon Judge Michael H. Simon
(Votes 64-35). Harvard educated? Check. Prior government experience with the Justice Department? Check. So why 35 "no" votes? Because Simon had worked for the ACLU. The seat he took on the federal bench, reported the Oregonian, had been vacant for 664 days, two months short of two years. How would you like to have been a litigant in Oregon during that time?


All of these nominees were ultimately confirmed – but not after plenty of stalling and debate over the value of “ACLU DNA” or of holding big corporations accountable for their actions. When we talk about the many nominees who are unopposed yet unaccountably stalled, it’s important to remember that the few nominees who do face GOP opposition don’t always face that opposition for the most convincing of reasons.
 

PFAW

Ensuring accountability in a post­-Citizens United era

The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision was quickly followed by warnings of the disastrous consequences of opening the floodgates for corporate spending in future elections, but few would have predicted something as bizarre as what was recently discovered in Delaware.

“Restoring Our Future,” a pro-Romney Super PAC, recently received a generous donation of $1 million from W Spann LLC. However, little is known about the firm that only operated in the state for a period of four months, including even the most basic information about its owners. And experts suggest that this arrangement may well be illegal.

“If they put money into the corporation specifically for the purpose of making a political donation that would constitute, in my view, illegally making a donation to avoid disclosure,” says Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center.

While individuals can of course make contributions to PACs and other political organizations, there are disclosure laws in place to help voters and watchdogs understand where the money is coming from. But because the owners of this corporation don’t need to make their names public, Ryan and others suspect the mysterious firm, W Spann LLC, was set up in order to make a large contribution and avoid disclosing any information about the money’s origins.

Ryan’s group along with other watchdog organizations such as the Public Campaign Action Fund and Democracy are calling on Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden as well as officials from the Justice Department and FEC to look into this questionable conduct. But as we wait to see what happens next, it’s clear that this is yet one more of the many examples illustrating how destructive the Citizens United decision has been to our democracy.

With the important elections in 2012 a little more than a year away, it is incumbent on our elected officials to enact meaningful remedies to ensure the integrity of our elections is protected.

PFAW

Who's Who in Today's DOMA Hearing

Cross-posted on RIght Wing Watch

Senate Republicans have called Tom Minnery of Focus on the Family, David Nimocks of the Alliance Defense Fund and Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center as witnesses in today’s hearing on the “Defense of Marriage Act.” The groups these witnesses represent have a long record of extreme rhetoric opposing gay rights:

CitizenLink, Focus on the Family’s political arm, is a stalwart opponent of gay rights in every arena:

• Focus on the Family has consistently railed against the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, demanding the discriminatory policy’s reinstatement.

• The group claims anti-bullying programs that protect LGBT and LGBT-perceived youth in schools amount to “homosexual indoctrination” and “promote homosexuality in kids.”

• The group insists that House Republicans investigate the Justice Department over its refusal to defend the unconstitutional Section 3 of DOMA.

The Ethics and Public Policy Center is backed by the far-right Sarah Scaife Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the Koch- backed Castle Rock Foundation, all well-known right-wing funders.

• George Weigel of EPPC wrote in June that “legally enforced segregation involved the same kind of coercive state power that the proponents of gay marriage now wish to deploy on behalf of their cause.”

• Ed Whelan spearheaded the unsuccessful and widely panned effort to throw out Judge Vaughn Walker’s 2010 decision finding California’s Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional on the grounds that Walker was in a committed same-sex relationship at the time of the decision.

The Alliance Defense Fund, which bills itself as a right-wing counter to the American Civil Liberties Union, is dedicated to pushing a far-right legal agenda:

• The ADF has been active on issues including pushing "marriage protection," exposing the "homosexual agenda" and fighting the supposed "war on Christmas."

• The ADF claims 38 “victories” before the Supreme Court, including: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allows corporations to spend unlimited money on elections in the name of “free speech” and Boy Scouts of America v. Dale (2000), which allowed the Boy Scouts to fire a Scout Leader because he was gay.

PFAW

PFAW Denounces Voter Suppression Laws

At yesterday’s press conference on Capitol Hill, People For the American Way joined with Rev. Jesse Jackson, 12 other national civil rights organizations and numerous members of Congress to denounce the draconian and suppressive voting measures that have been enacted or are being considered by states across the country.

These laws, which create strict voter ID requirements, will have the effect of disenfranchising over 20 million potential voters who do not have any form of government-issued identification. Voters targeted by this legislation are disproportionately minority, low-income, disabled, elderly or student voters – all populations that the measures’ proponents see as an obstacle to their agenda. Strict voter ID measures have been introduced in more than half of the states so far this year, and Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina and Wisconsin have already passed the legislation.

Of course, past investigations of voter fraud in this country have come to a startling conclusion: it doesn’t exist.  Even during a five-year campaign by President Bush’s Justice Department to prosecute voter fraud, only a few dozen people were ever convicted.  In most cases, they had cast votes without knowing they weren’t eligible.

We believe that it is every eligible American’s constitutional right to cast a vote that counts on Election Day. Efforts to prevent students, minorities, and disabled, elderly or low-income individuals from engaging in our nation’s civic and political life will not be tolerated and are simply not the American Way. People For the American Way is committed to fighting these suppressive voting measures alongside our civil rights allies and will continue to work with our network partners across the U.S. to ensure that every eligible American is able to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Courtesy of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the following map shows vote suppression legislation by state:

PFAW

After Long Delays, Senate Confirms 3 DOJ Nominees

The Senate today confirmed three of President Obama’s nominees to fill long-vacant posts in the Justice Department, including, at long last, a leader for the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The Senate confirmed attorney Virginia Seitz to head the Office of Legal Counsel, which hasn’t had a permanent, Senate-confirmed head since 2004. President Obama’s first nominee to fill the position, the well-respected and highly qualified law professor Dawn Johnsen, came under fire from Republicans for her support of abortion rights and opposition to torture, and withdrew her nomination last year after over a year of obstruction and gridlock

The OLC essentially acts as the White House’s private law firm, advising the president and executive branch agencies on the constitutionality of their actions

Besides Seitz, James Cole was confirmed to serve as Deputy Attorney General, a position that has been vacant since February 2010, and Lisa Monaco was confirmed to lead the DOJ’s National Security Division, which has been vacant since March.

PFAW

A Supreme Court Win for John Ashcroft, a Grim Reminder for the Rest of Us

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously (with Justice Kagan recused) that former Attorney General John Ashcroft cannot be personally sued for alleged abuse of material-witness arrests in the days after the 9/11 attacks. In the weeks and months after 9/11, innocent people were being rounded up by the federal government with little to no evidence against them through abuse of the Material Witness Statute. However, the Justices agreed that what Ashcroft did was not in violation of "clearly established law" at the time, so he cannot be personally sued for money damages.

But that unanimity hides a deep divide on other issues. Justice Ginsburg's concurrence reminds us of the lawless nature of the Bush Administration. She asks:

what even arguably legitimate basis could there be for the harsh custodial conditions to which al-Kidd was subjected: Ostensibly held only to secure his testimony, al-Kidd was confined in three different detention centers during his 16 days' incarceration, kept in high-security cells lit 24 hours a day, strip searched and subjected to body-cavity inspections on more than one occasion, and handcuffed and shackled about his wrists, legs, and waist.

...

[His] ordeal is a grim reminder of the need to install safeguards against disrespect for human dignity, constraints that will control officialdom even in perilous times.

Americans should never forget the many ways that the Bush Administration violated basic American constitutional principles and the rule of law. After 9/11, People For the American Way Foundation led the nation in exposing and condemning the Ashcroft Justice Department's multifaceted threats to liberty.

Perhaps if the threats had been against Big Business's bottom line, today's corporate-funded Tea Partiers would have joined us in protecting the Constitution. Their silence then makes shameful their current efforts to appropriate the Constitution as uniquely theirs.

PFAW

Republicans Across the Country Work to Disenfranchise Voters

In the buildup to the 2012 election, Republican legislatures across the nation are implementing a tactic many hoped would die with the signing of the Voting Right Act of 1965 -- silencing the voices of those who disagree with them by simply not allowing them to vote. GOP legislators in at least 20 states are working hard to push through restrictive voter-ID laws that all but disenfranchise large, traditionally Democratic segments of the electorate. These laws would require voters to show a government issued photo ID at the polling place, something 11% of US citizens currently lack.

The facts are firmly against such laws. Voters are more likely to be struck by lightening than to commit fraud, and the Bush Justice Department’s five-year “War on Voter Fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions out of nearly 200 million votes cast (a rate of .0000004%). Furthermore, these laws are expensive to implement, wasting millions of dollars in a time when most states are under severe budgetary restraints. So why would Republicans advocate for such an obviously unnecessary law?

Politics, of course.

While 11% of the general population lack government issued photo ID, the number jumps dramatically when looking at traditionally Democratic segments of the population. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice notes that 15% of low-income citizens, 18% of young eligible voters, and 25% of black voters lack identification that would allow them to vote under these new laws. In addition, such ID is more difficult to obtain for these parties, many of whom can’t drive to the DMV to get an ID or lack the supporting documents, such as a birth certificate, necessary to receive an ID.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker just signed a bill that will require voters to show photo identification at the polls. This bill has provoked outrage amongst Wisconsin Democrats, with Stephanie Findley, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party Black Caucus, declaring:

Our proud tradition of open elections and high voter turnout will suffer. And with a stroke of the pen, thousands of African-American citizens will no longer be able to vote, solely because of their lack of identification. We now return to the days before the Voting Rights Act, where literacy tests and poll taxes were the rule.

This is backed up by the numbers. Fewer than half of African Americans in Milwaukee County hold ID that would be accepted at the polls, as compared to 83% of whites.

Florida already had a photo identification law in place, but Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a bill that goes even further, making it more difficult for third-party voter registration organizations to operate. Some such organizations, such as the non-partisan League of Women Voters, are pulling out of Florida all together, claiming the law will make it impossible to operate within the state.

In addition to making life difficult for voter-registration organizations, the new law also stops voters from making out-of-county address changes at the polls, making it more difficult for college students to vote, and shortens the early voting window from 14 days to eight. Five counties in Florida governed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act are declining to implement the new law, waiting for Justice Department approval before making any changes.

Early voting in also being targeted by Republican officials in North Carolina, who are studying how it helped Barack Obama win that state in 2008.

PFAW

Rep. Patrick McHenry Attacks Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, calls Elizabeth Warren a Liar

House Republicans once again showed their lack of concern for the American consumer, using a subcommittee hearing about the nascent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to personally attack Elizabeth Warren, who helped develop the agency.

McHenry had called Warren to a hearing entitled (yes, really) “Who’s Watching the Watchmen,” discussing her role in the Consumer Financial Protection Board. Before the hearing even began, McHenry appeared on CNBC and charged Warren with lying about her advisory role to the CFPB, despite the fact that both the Treasury and Justice Department officials had asked for her assistance.

McHenry continued to attack Warren during the hearing, which devolved into a debate about the true meaning of the word “advice”. By the end of the hearing, McHenry’s attacks on Warren had become so forceful that Representative John Yarmuth felt compelled to apologize to Warren for the “rude and disrespectful behavior of the chair.”

The hearing’s absurdity reached its peak when McHenry tried to call a temporary recess. Warren objected, citing an agreement they had made earlier to end at 2:15 so she could attend other meetings. Though the 2:15 end time was later confirmed correct by the CFPB, McHenry didn’t believe Warren’s claim, and told her she “had no agreement” and that she was “making this up.”

Disagreeing with Warren’s policies? Acceptable. Baselessly calling her a liar, for the second time in one day? Not so much.

Public opinion has stood strongly on Warren’s side, flooding McHenry’s Facebook fan page with angry comments, such as “Your display with Ms. Warren disgusted me” and “As someone with southern roots, we don't treat guests like you did to Ms. Warren.” Despite the public outcry and the facts against him, McHenry refuses to issue an apology for the incident.

PFAW

Roles of Justices Scalia and Thomas in Citizens United Under Scrutiny

Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas raised eyebrows and ethics questions late last year when they attended a conference sponsored by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who head Koch Industries. A comprehensive expose from The New Yorker reported on the Koch Brother’s immense financial and ideological ties to right-wing and pro-corporate groups, and the Koch-sponsored event that Scalia and Thomas attended was held “to review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.” The Koch Brothers have greatly benefited from the Supreme Court’s pro-corporate rulings, including the Citizens United decision which allowed corporations to use funds from their general treasuries to finance, sometimes secretly, political organizations. Tomorrow is the first anniversary of Citizens United, and Common Cause is requesting that the Justice Department look into whether Justices Scalia and Thomas should have recused themselves from the case:

The government reform advocacy group Common Cause today asked the Justice Department to investigate whether Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia should have recused themselves from the landmark Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision because they were involved with an array of conservative groups that stood to benefit from it.

In the case, the Supreme Court by a 5-4 margin struck down a provision of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance act that prevented corporations and unions from spending an unlimited amount of money on electioneering, such as campaign ads. Scalia and Thomas sided with the majority in the decision, which was made a year ago this week.

In a letter addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder, Common Cause President Bob Edgar said both justices should have been disqualified from hearing the case because of their ties to Charles and David Koch, wealthy brothers who fund an array of conservative causes.

The justices both attended “retreats” held by Koch Industries, Edgar said, that focused on championing conservative ideas including opposition to campaign finance laws.

Their attendance raises the question of whether the two judges were impartial in their decision, Edgar said. He also questioned Thomas's impartiality because his wife, Ginny, ran a nonprofit group that Edgar said benefited greatly from the Citizens United decision.

“Until these questions are resolved, public debate over the allegations of bias and conflicts of interest will serve to undermine the legitimacy of the Citizens United decision,” Edgar said.
PFAW

Justice Department, Civil Rights Division: It gets better

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

As you can see:

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

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

PFAW

The Long Term Cost of GOP Obstruction

Usually when we talk about Republican obstruction, it’s to explain the immediate problems that need to be fixed, but can’t because Republican Senators won’t let the solutions come up for a vote—an understaffed Department of Justice, empty seats languishing on the federal judiciary, an impending budget deadline, etc.

Currently, for example, there are 34 judicial nominees pending on the Senate floor, the vast majority of which are to fill vacancies deemed “judicial emergencies.” 26 of those nominees have faced no Republican opposition; one received only one negative vote - but all of them are held up anyway, waiting endlessly to start their new jobs.

But perhaps the most damaging effect of this delay won’t become apparent for years. Delaying simple confirmation votes forces nominees to put their lives on hold for months or even years, for a job with longer hours and less pay than they could find elsewhere. The excruciatingly long confirmation process is making it harder and harder to recruit qualified candidates to fill critical government positions.

Already, some nominees have decided that they couldn’t, or didn’t want to, deal with the ugly process any longer.

Dawn Johnsen, President Obama’s pick to head the Office of Legal Counsel, eventually withdrew her name because Republican senators so politicized her nomination that they undermined her primary goal of depoliticizing the OLC itself. Mary Smith, nominated to head the Tax Division of the Justice Department, asked for her name to be withdrawn when she concluded GOP obstruction would drag on for months longer. And any number of judicial nominees have displayed borderline heroism by sitting by silently as their reputations are smeared by critics playing fast and loose with the truth.

After seeing the treatment that even exceedingly well qualified nominees receive from the Senate, should it be any surprise if well qualified individuals in the future just decide that they don’t want the trouble?

Of course, if you’re in the business of attacking the Obama Administration at all costs, maybe scaring off qualified government officials isn’t a problem, it’s the goal.

 

PFAW

Bipartisan Agreement Breaks Out at Hearing on Faith Based Initiatives

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

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

How DOMA Harms Real People in Real Ways: Exhibit A

The Justice Department today refused to step in to prevent the deportation Genesio Oliveira, a Brazilian man recently reunited with his husband, an American citizen, in Massuchusetts. In March, Oliveira and his husband followed the procedure to obtain a green card for Oliveira, as the immigrant spouse of an American citizen. But because the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, they were out of luck.

Oliveira’s case became a high-profile cause after his husband, Tim Coco, invested in ads to bring attention to the couple’s plight. Senator John Kerry also took up the case.

Coloradoan Joshua Vandiver and his Venezualan husband Henry Velandia face the same legal roadblock. Watch them tell their story:

In June, a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled unconstitutional the section of DOMA that prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, finding that the law was motivated simply by “irrational prejudice.” The Obama Administration has appealed the ruling.
 

PFAW

The Voter-Fraud Fraud: And On It Goes

As we get closer to Election Day, the cacophony over "voter fraud" grows louder. Here are just a few of the items we're seeing:

  • Fox News hypes the conspiracy theory that the Justice Department is sending out poll monitors to facilitate voter fraud.
  • Republicans are motivating their base by trotting out their baseless charge that Al Franken stole the Minnesota 2008 Senate election.
  • Georgia GOP groups and candidates are helping Tea Party groups access precincts as poll watchers to fight "voter fraud."
  • Rep. Keith Ellison calls out Minnesota "anti-fraud" group for voter intimidation. The "dead voter" cited by a Republican candidate to attack voter fraud last week is, in fact, quite alive.
  • Nevada’s Secretary of State thoroughly debunks Republican allegations of voter fraud and voting machine tampering.

It is important to remember why the Right puts so much energy into the Voter-Fraud Fraud, screaming and yelling and working overtime to tackle a mostly non-existent problem. While they don't root out the voter fraud that was never going to happen in the first place, they do intimidate people, often people of color and likely Democratic voters, into not voting. They also work to paint any election victory by Democrats as illegitimate.

PFAW

The Voter-Fraud Fraud

"I don't want everybody to vote ... our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." - Paul Weyrich, founding father of the conservative movement, 1980.

When news hit last week that Democrats were doing better than expected in early voting turnout, Republican Dick Armey - whose FreedomWorks organization ensures that the Tea party is well funded by Big Business - immediately took to the airwaves with two goals: to delegitimize any potential Election Day victories for Democrats, and to justify this year's efforts by Republicans and their allies to keep people of color from voting. Armey told Fox News viewers that:

Democrats vote early because there's "less ballot security," creating a "great opportunity" for fraud. He also claimed that such fraudulent early voting is "pinpointed to the major urban areas. The inner city."

Of course, the former congressman had no more evidence to support his false and inflammatory claims than Joseph McCarthy had for his. But he does have an echo chamber of Republican and allied supporters all making the same unsupported claims of rampant voter fraud to justify aggressive efforts to keep likely Democratic voters - especially African Americans - out of the voting booth.

First, let there be mo mistake: Analysis after analysis has shown that there is no national problem with voter fraud. For instance, in its report The Truth About Voter Fraud, the Brennan Center for Justice has

analyzed purported fraud cited by state and federal courts; multipartisan and bipartisan federal commissions; political party entities; state and local election officials; and authors, journalists, and bloggers. Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated - and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked.

Similarly, when the New York Times turned its investigatory resources to the "problem" of voter fraud in 2007, it found that

[f]ive years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department ha[d] turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Nevertheless, the Republicans and their close allies are up to their usual election-time hysterics about voter fraud, especially by nefarious dark-skinned people. They are ginning up fears of stolen elections ... so they can suppress the vote and thereby steal the elections themselves.

Over the past few weeks, as reported in Talking Points Memo and elsewhere:

  • In Illinois, Republican Senate nominee Mark Kirk inadvertently disclosed his plan to send "voter integrity" squads to two predominately African-American neighborhoods of Chicago and two other urban areas of Illinois with significant minority populations "where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat."
  • In Houston, Texas, Tea Party poll watchers claiming to be preventing voter fraud have been accused of "hovering over" voters, "getting into election workers' faces" and blocking or disrupting lines of voters who were waiting to cast their ballots as early voting got underway. The most aggressive poll watching has been at African American and Latino precincts. The Department of Justice is investigating.
  • In Wisconsin, Tea Party groups, the pro-corporate Americans for Prosperity, and the state GOP have been involved in a vote caging operation that seeks to challenge the eligibility of minority and student voters. In addition, dozens of billboards are being put up showing people behind bars with an ominous warning that voter fraud is a felony.
  • The West Virginia Republican Party plans to send "ballot security teams" to all of the state's fifty-five counties in search of "illegal activity" at the polls.
  • In Minnesota, a coalition of Tea Party and other right wing groups is offering a $500 reward for information leading to voter fraud convictions, an inducement that may encourage voter harassment.
  • In Indiana and elsewhere, Republicans and allies are photographing voters at early voting locations.
  • Michelle Malkin went on Fox News to discuss what the far right media outlet described as "reports of voter fraud on a massive scale with the intention of keeping Democrats in office." Malkin poured oil on the fire by claiming that "We are all voter fraud police now," accusing progressives of trying to win elections "by any means necessary."

This isn't new territory for the Right. For instance, in 2006, the Bush Administration fired U.S. Attorneys who refused to press phony voter fraud prosecutions. In 2008, until their plans were exposed, Michigan Republicans planned to use home foreclosure lists to challenge likely Democratic voters at the polls, supposedly to prevent voter fraud. That same year, the Montana Republican Party challenged the eligibility of 6,000 registered voters in the state's Democratic strongholds after matching the statewide voter database with the National Change of Address database to identify voters who aren't living where they are registered to vote. In Ohio, voter caging was used as a prelude to challenge individuals at the voting precinct.

These actions were part of a larger pattern. During the fall of 2008, the Right was setting itself up to challenge the integrity of the election. Across the country, they repeatedly trumped up claims of voter fraud, attacking ACORN and other voter registration efforts and lambasting the Justice Department for its failure to stop this alleged "fraud." However, that effort sputtered when the false claims of voter fraud mushroomed into threats against ACORN workers and vandalism of their offices, which PFAW helped to expose. Last year's doctored "pimp and prostitute" ACORN videos and their aftermath showed the lengths Republicans and their allies are willing to go to demonize and ultimately destroy successful minority voter registration efforts.

Clearly, the Right puts a great deal of energy into tackling a non-existent problem. But while these actions may do nothing to prevent instances of voter fraud that were never going to happen in the first place, they do accomplish something very important, as noted above: They intimidate people, often people of color, into not voting. They also work to paint any election victory by Democrats as illegitimate, thereby seriously destabilizing one of the foundations needed for America's constitutional government to work.

Voting is our assurance that those in power govern only by the consent of the people. The theory of American electoral democracy is that We the People act through government officials who we elect to act on our behalf. However, that assumes that all parties are willing to abide by the results of free and fair elections, win or lose.

Unfortunately, when the most powerful groups in society are willing to ignore democratic principles when it’s convenient - when they are eager to disenfranchise those who are most likely to vote against them - the democratic system fails.

In the past, these forces used poll taxes, literacy tests, and even brute force to keep disfavored Americans from voting, staining the legitimacy of the elected government in the process. Today, far more wary of appearances, they use the false accusation of "voter fraud" to do the same thing, often against the same targets: African Americans and other people of color.

PFAW

Justice Department Files a Brief Confirming that Islam is a Religion

To the litany of public safety threats resulting from anti-Muslim fear-mongering, add the fact that Justice Department officials have had to spend time writing a brief explaining that Islam is, in fact, a religion. TPM reports on the DOJ’s amicus brief supporting the expansion efforts of the Islamic Center of Mufreesboro, TN. Opponents have claimed that the Islamic Center can’t get a religious permit to build a new mosque because, they say, Islam isn’t really a religion. The Justice Department did a little research:

"To suggest that Islam is not a religion is quite simply ridiculous. Each branch of the federal government has independently recognized Islam as one of the major religions of the world," Martin said in the press release.

The brief painstakingly cites proof, from the Oxford English Dictionary, Supreme Court rulings, presidential proclamations by Clinton and George W. Bush and the writings of Thomas Jefferson, that Islam has long been recognized as a major world religion.

It also notes the definition of religion set forth by other federal courts, including that a belief system must address "fundamental and ultimate questions having to do with deep and imponderable matters" in order to be considered a religion.

In the brief, the DOJ argues that the lawsuit implicates two federal civil rights statutes, the Religious Land Use Act and the Church Arson Prevention Act, which fall under the DOJ's purview. The county, the brief argues, would be in danger of violating the land use act were it to deny building permits for the mosque.

A concerted right-wing misinformation campaign has succeeded in making denial of the scientific consensus about climate change a politically acceptable position. Will denying the existence of one of the world’s largest and diverse religions be next?
 

PFAW

Supreme Court to Hear Ashcroft Appeal

The Supreme Court today agreed to decide if former Attorney General John Ashcroft can be personally sued for alleged abuse of his authority in the days after 9/11 attacks. According to Bloomberg News:

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider reinforcing the legal immunity of top government officials, agreeing to decide whether a man can sue former Attorney General John Ashcroft after being detained without charge for 16 days.

The justices will review a ruling that allowed a suit filed by Abdullah al-Kidd, a Muslim U.S. citizen who was arrested in 2003 and held as a material witness in a terrorism probe. Al- Kidd says the government classified him as a material witness because it lacked enough evidence to hold him as a suspect.

A panel of the Ninth Circuit held that Ashcroft was not immune from being sued personally for the illegal abuse of authority that was the subject of al-Kidd’s claim. Ashcroft, with the support of the Obama Administration, asked the Supreme Court to reverse this decision and not allow the lawsuit to go forward. In his brief urging the Supreme Court not to hear Ashcroft’s appeal, al-Kidd claims that:

The impetus for arresting [him and other] individuals was not to secure their testimony for a criminal proceeding. Rather, these were individuals whom the government viewed as suspects and wished to detain and investigate. But because the government lacked probable cause to arrest these individuals on criminal charges, it had them arrested as material witnesses, thereby circumventing the Fourth Amendment’s traditional probable cause standard and distorting the basic purpose of the material witness statute.

The Court will likely hear arguments in the case next year and issue an opinion by summer. Justice Kagan has recused herself.

This case is a reminder that in the weeks and months after 9/11, innocent people were being rounded up by the federal government with little to no evidence against them. With Bush’s popularity at its height and few willing to oppose him and his administration publicly, People For the American Way Foundation led the nation in exposing and condemning the Ashcroft Justice Department’s multifaceted threats to liberty.

It will be interesting to see if all of those Tea Partiers who claim to oppose big government encroaching on individual liberties will take a stand against the excesses of the Bush years - and explain why they were silent at the time.

PFAW

Judge Finds Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Dismissal Unconstitutional

A district court judge has ruled that the Air Force violated Maj. Margaret Witt’s constitutional rights when it fired her for being a lesbian.

In 2008, a federal appeals court panel ruled in her case that the military can't discharge people for being gay unless it proves their firing furthered military goals.

After a six-day trial, the judge said testimony proved that Witt was an outstanding nurse and that her reinstatement would do nothing to hurt unit morale.

Two weeks ago, a federal judge in California found the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy unconstitutional and ordered that the Obama Administration stop enforcing the policy. The Justice Department, which has to enforce the laws that are on the books, has objected and is pushing forward in the case to keep DADT.


At this point, the GOP’s refusal to end Don’t Ask Don’t Tell seems not only embarrassing, but futile. After Senate Republicans blocked DADT repeal earlier this week, I compiled a list of the prominent arguments for and against repeal. I’ll add the Constitution to the “for” column. Again.
 

PFAW