Legal

Trending Toward Greater Acceptance

GLAAD today published a new survey of Americans' feelings on GLBT issues.  The news, I'd say, is generally positive.

    • Three-quarters of U.S. adults (75%) favor either marriage or domestic partnerships/civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. Only about two in 10 (22%) say gay and lesbian couples should have no legal recognition. (Gay and lesbian couples are able to marry in two states, and comprehensive civil union or domestic partnership laws exist in only five others and the District of Columbia.)

    • U.S. adults are now about evenly divided on whether they support allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry (47% favor to 49% oppose).

    • Almost two-thirds (64%) of U.S. adults favor allowing openly gay military personnel to serve in the armed forces. (The current “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law bans military service by openly gay personnel.)

But it also called to mind a fascinating piece by Ann Friedman in The American Prospect.

This is something I've heard a lot in the wake of the passage of California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. "History is on our side! Don't worry, the demographic trends are with us!"

I'm sorry, but that's just not good enough. These are the kind of conciliatory comments that go part and parcel with the culture-war frame. Civil-rights era activists knew history was on their side. But their goal was not to make every white American comfortable with the idea of sharing public spaces and power with people of color. It was to guarantee people of color those rights, regardless of where the culture stood. That's the thing about rights. You have to claim them.

If you're interested in claiming a few rights, you should sign onto People For's petition to stop federal discrimination against some married couples and Dump DOMA.

PFAW

Virgil Goode Loses Seat

Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode (R) lost his reelection bid to Democrat Tom Perriello by 745 votes, according to official results certified today by the Virginia State Board of Elections.

Goode gained prominence when he joined the far-right attack on Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress, who had chosen to use a Quran in a swearing-in photo-op. Previously known for his focus on illegal immigration and sponsorship of bills to build a fence on the US-Mexican border and amend the Constitution to prevent children of illegal immigrants from becoming citizens, Goode managed to connect those issues with Ellison’s Quran in a letter to some of his constituents:

Dear Mr. Cruickshank:

Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran. We need to stop illegal immigration totally and reduce legal immigration and end the diversity visas policy pushed hard by President Clinton and allowing many persons from the Middle East to come to this country. I fear that in the next century we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America and to prevent our resources from being swamped.

The Ten Commandments and “In God We Trust” are on the wall in my office. A Muslim student came by the office and asked why I did not have anything on my wall about the Koran. My response was clear, “As long as I have the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives, The Koran is not going to be on the wall of my office.” Thank you again for your email and thoughts.

Sincerely yours,
Virgil H. Goode, Jr.
70 East Court Street
Suite 215
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151

When the statements attracted controversy, Goode stood by the letter, which he had personally written. He responded to the criticism in an op-ed in USA Today, where he played the 9/11 card:

Let us remember that we were not attacked by a nation on 9/11; we were attacked by extremists who acted in the name of the Islamic religion. I believe that if we do not stop illegal immigration totally, reduce legal immigration and end diversity visas, we are leaving ourselves vulnerable to infiltration by those who want to mold the United States into the image of their religion, rather than working within the Judeo-Christian principles that have made us a beacon for freedom-loving persons around the world.

Ironically, Ellison was ultimately sworn in on Thomas Jefferson’s Quran, and Monticello, Jefferson’s estate, is in Goode’s district.

Goode later continued his attention-seeking extremism as one of the leading proponents of the North American Union/ NAFTA superhighway conspiracy theory, along with Jerome Corsi, Phyllis Schlafly, and the John Birch Society. He warned that immigration reform “will lead us on a path to likely have a North American currency, will further break down the borders between our countries, and it really undermines the concept of the United States of America in favor of something called North America. And it will harm the lifestyles and the status and standing of most American citizens.”

Goode has requested a recount, which he is entitled to, but it appears that he no longer has the honor of representing the citizens of the 5th District of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives.

 

PFAW

This American Moment

I think one of the most exciting things about the recent presidential election is the amazing number of Americans who have been inspired to get involved -- to work phone banks, join neighbors in door-to-door canvasses, talk to friends about why they were working so hard to achieve change. And on Election Day, we saw that all that work can not only make a difference, it can make history.

I've talked to some friends who were deeply involved in election activities and who are asking, what now? I'd like to offer you an answer.

I take seriously our responsibility to nurture progressive leaders and activists. One way People For the American Way Foundation does that is through our leadership programs like Young People For and the Young Elected Officials Network, which support and mentor outstanding college activists and young public servants. But we also want to give progressive activists of all ages and experience levels an opportunity to volunteer their time to promote constitutional values and progressive change.

We're in the process of developing a national network of Change Agents. We'll supply information and activist tools online, and connect our Change Agents from the across the country with each other. The Change Agent network will be critical in monitoring right-wing attacks on our constitutional values and promoting those same values in your communities, states and on the national level.

Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks as the program takes shape. The Right is already gearing up to block the change that Americans voted for -- and we can't let them do it.

Even this Election Day reminded us that our constitutional ideals are never safe -- and that promoting those ideals is never a once-and-done process. The bitter defeat of marriage equality in California and the passage of other anti-gay constitutional amendments in other states made it clear that there's still plenty of work to do. But that bad news came with a silver lining. In 2000, California voters backed a ban on gay couples getting married by about 20 percent; this year, after a well-funded campaign of lies by the Right, the ban passed by only four percent. Younger and first-time voters overwhelmingly voted to uphold marriage equality, which means that if we keep pushing, victory will be in our future. I am not selling short the heartache felt by the thousands of Californians who have been denied the opportunity to marry, or the personal heartache I feel on their behalf. But the trend is positive. This is what progress looks like.

And the defeats have sparked an exciting and encouraging outpouring of grassroots action. Tomorrow, there are coordinated rallies going on all around the country in support of LGBT equality -- and in protest of Prop 8's passage. This mini-movement grew out of a few scattered protests when some energized individuals took it upon themselves to launch a web site encouraging people to organize more. Now there are rallies scheduled in cities in all 50 states!

I'll be attending the rally in Philadelphia. I hope you can show up to one near you. Find out more about where they are taking place at http://jointheimpact.wetpaint.com/.

If you do attend a rally, please take pictures and send them my way (or video, via a YouTube or other host site link) along with a note about your experience at Kathryn@pfaw.org.

In the fight for full legal equality and on so many other fronts, whether or not we achieve real and lasting progress is up to us. In Washington, restoring the terrible damage done by the Bush administration needs to be at the top of President-elect Obama's, and the new Congress's, agenda. The fundamental constitutional principles that define us as a nation need to be restored. People For the American Way is collecting petition signatures to make sure this stays a top priority in the transition process -- things are moving fast and key staff positions and appointments are soon to be named so please add your name now.

We'll make history in the next few years, but only with the crucial participation of activists like you!

P.S. As we mourn the temporary defeat of marriage equality in California, this week we can celebrate that same-sex couples began to wed in Connecticut following the court ruling upholding marriage equality there. People For the American Way Foundation had filed an amicus brief in the case.

PFAW

Change Doesn't Just Happen

With just over a week to go until the election, things are popping at People For. I want to let you know how we're using your support to make an impact on many fronts.

The Voters Alliance: Building Progressive Power

People For the American Way's federal political action committee is helping build a progressive majority in Congress. We were thrilled that an extremely successful online contest run by the Voters Alliance raised more than $130,000 for 24 progressive House candidates. And now the Voters Alliance is working with Oscar-winning director Errol Morris and volunteers from the award-winning advertising firm Chiat Day (of Apple fame) to create short but powerful online profiles of moderate voters who have decided that Obama has earned their vote. The spots are being digitally filmed and edited this week in time for a final pre-election push. I'll let you know when they're ready to watch online and forward to your friends.

Sounding the Alarm: The Court is at Stake

People For the American Way has succeeded in getting media and progressive candidates talking about the importance of the Supreme Court in this election. Now we're kicking it up a notch, with TV spots for Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon, reminding voters that senators have hurt their interests by backing Bush's extreme judges. People For the American Way Action Fund has been running radio ads holding John McCain and other senators accountable for voting to confirm Bush's worst judicial nominees.

Confronting Homophobia and Anti-Gay Discrimination

In California, where the Right has stirred a vicious backlash against a state Supreme Court ruling protecting marriage equality, People For the American Way Foundation's African American Ministers Leadership Council has launched a radio ad campaign calling on African Americans to reject anti-gay discrimination. Check out the ads here. This work is part of a long-term effort to engage clergy and challenge homophobia in the Black Church and in African American communities. Rev. Kenneth Samuel, the courageous and inspiring head of AAMLC's Equal Justice Task Force, is on the ground in California now, and he'll be leading this groundbreaking effort to create social change in the months and years ahead.

Calling out the Promoters of Fear and Hatred

We're also challenging campaign tactics that are stirring up a dangerous brew of fear and bigotry. For example, when John McCain falsely accused a progressive voter registration group of trying to steal the election, its offices were barraged with hateful and threatening messages. We made it impossible to ignore this hostility and bigotry by posting images and audio of the actual messages online for the world to see. And with a full-page ad in the New York Times and other media outreach we have worked hard to help people understand that bogus charges of voter fraud are meant to give cover to the real threat to the election from right-wing voter suppression. Our Right Wing Watch blog has been all over the Religious Right's bigotry and fearmongering.

Overcoming Voter Suppression

People For the American Way Foundation's Democracy Campaign staff have been traveling the country training community organizers who are running election protection efforts and distributing in-depth, state-specific voter protection toolkits. With the help of SEIU, NAACP, NEA, Unity 08, Democracia Ahora and other partners, our Foundation has distributed more than 180,000 palm cards in key states to help voters understand and protect their rights. The Foundation is working with allies to recruit poll workers where they're sorely needed and will be distributing inexpensive video cameras to members who will document what happens on Election Day. There's no way to stop all the dirty tricks that the Right has in store, but People For Foundation has been working hard to put protections in place, and after the election it will work hard to figure out what went wrong this time, and fight for legal and regulatory fixes. Two New York Times editorials in the past week have confirmed that voter fraud is a myth and affirmed the importance of the Election Protection work the Foundation is doing to help voters understand and assert their rights.

Change is in the air, but as you know, it doesn't just happen. We all need to make it happen. With your help, we and our allies are going to change the country! Thanks so much for making it all possible.

PFAW

More Ugliness from the Right: Anti-Gay Sentiment in Campaign Literature

As we have documented in recent days, the approaching elections have, with an assist from the McCain campaign and GOP strategists, brought some real ugliness into the open, including outright racism. 

Of course, an election year would not be complete without overt and covert appeals to anti-gay sentiment from right-wing politicians.  It’s at its most overt in the anti-equality ballot campaigns in California, Florida, and Arizona, which are being massively funded by national Religious Right groups and Mormon donors. 

But it also shows up in appeals grounded in the favored language of family values.  Below you can see scans of a mailing for an Ohio State Representative candidate who announces, under the heading “Love of Family,” that “Michael Keenan will strengthen families by keeping marriage between a man and a woman.”

No word on how that strengthens Ohio families who might be dealing with lost jobs, slumping wages, lack of affordable health care, or any of the other difficulties that could put stress on marriages.  Thank goodness he’ll keep committed gay couples from the legal protections that marriage can provide!  Think how much that will strengthen Ohio’s struggling families!

Kennan Flyer Page 1

Kennan Flyer Page 2

PFAW

Three Decades of Covering the Court

Radar magazine has a great interview this week with Linda Greenhouse, who recently retired after 30 years of covering the Supreme Court for The New York Times.

It's a long, wide-ranging interview, so I'd recommend reading the whole thing, but here's one of the best bits:  Greenhouse talking about the Court's power to make the world better — particularly in terms of advancing gay rights. She refers here to the Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas to strike down a law that essentially made it a crime to be gay.

I talk about gay rights quite a lot as a marker of how much better off we are. I believe that very strongly. I think that was probably the most gripping scene I ever witnessed at the Court—when Kennedy read the majority opinion in Lawrence v. Texas. Usually, when you go up to the Court, you don't know what's coming that day. But it was the last day of the term, and Lawrence was the last undecided case. So everybody knew, and the Court was filled with gay and lesbian members of the Supreme Court bar. When Kennedy got to where he said Bowers v. Hardwick was wrong when it was decided, it's wrong today, and we hereby overrule it, all these lawyers in the bar section started crying. It was just a wonderful scene. It was great.

Judith Schaeffer, our former legal director, wrote a great reflection on Lawrence v. Texas this past June, on the five-year anniversary of the landmark decision. Read it here.

PFAW

Unpleasant Business and the First Amendment

Glen Greenwald has a thoughtful and interesting reaction to the conviction of a man who might generously be called a “smut purveyor.”  After being found guilty of distributing pornography, the defendent, Paul Little, was sentenced to 3 years and 10 months in federal prison.  It probably doesn’t hurt to point out that the line between obscenity and art isn’t always easy to find (paging Robert Mapplethorpe!) but Greenwald takes a very different tact.  Why is it illegal to depict fake torture on film but legal to perpetrate real torture in Abu Ghraib?

So, to recap, in the Land of the Free: if you're an adult who produces a film using other consenting adults, for the entertainment of still other consenting adults, which merely depicts fictional acts of humiliation and degradation, the DOJ will prosecute you and send you to prison for years. The claim that no real pain was inflicted will be rejected; mere humiliation is enough to make you a criminal. But if government officials actually subject helpless detainees in their custody to extreme mental abuse, degradation, humiliation and even mock executions long considered "torture" in the entire civilized world, the DOJ will argue that they have acted with perfect legality and, just to be sure, Congress will hand them retroactive immunity for their conduct. That's how we prioritize criminality and arrange our value system.

Of course, consistency has never been one of the Bush administration’s strong suits.  And neither has adherence to the Constitution.

PFAW

Palin Takes Page from Bush-Cheney Abuse of Power Manual

Here's some more evidence of just how well Sarah Palin would have fit in with the Bush-Cheney style of governing, where the executive claims all the power with no accountability. It's a pretty astonishing article about how Palin's attorney general - an under-qualified person she appointed for the job - is thwarting the law by telling state employees not to comply with legislative subpoenas in the Troopergate affair. There is no legal justification, only the political claims by the governor, who has "strongly stated that the subpoenas issued by your committee are of questionable validity." It looks like what she's most likely to "shake up" if she comes to Washington is the rule of law.

PFAW

More on the Human Toll

Earlier this week, People For the American Way Foundation released its Human Toll report with eye-opening stories of American men, women and children whose cases have come before judges nominated by George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate. It puts a human face on the dangers posed by the political ideology of Bush judges. They are not alone in coming to this conclusion.  Check out this op ed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. And check out as well this piece in the Legal Times on the recent Brookings Institution study indicating that under a McCain presidency, Republicans could increase their current 15 percent majority on federal courts of appeals by another 18 percent.  Thanks to my colleague Glenn Sugameli at Earthjustice for bringing these items to my attention.

PFAW

Bad Medicine

Legal terms are often so dry that it's hard to get excited about them.  After all, who could possibly be affected by something as abstract as "preemption?"

From the Times:

In the spring of 2000, suffering from a migraine, Ms. Levine visited a clinic near here for a treatment she had received many times: Demerol for the pain and Wyeth’s drug Phenergan for nausea.

“Nothing wrong with either drug,” Ms. Levine said. “They’re both safe when given the right way.”

But if Phenergan is exposed to arterial blood, it causes swift and irreversible gangrene.

You can imagine how this story ends.  Diane Levine, a musician, lost her arm because of improperly administered medication (which didn't give appropriate warning on the lable), and now the pharmacutical company insists that she's not allowed to sue under state law.

Now the case is coming to the Supreme Court, which hasn't been a particularly good friend to people like Ms. Levine these last few years.

This is a perfect example of the up-is-down, black-is-white argument that the right has been making (and winning) in courts: that the FDA should protect pharmacutical companies, not individual Americans, when something goes horribly wrong.

PFAW

Victory for Equal Rights in Maryland

Need a bit of good news this gloomy-weather Friday? Here's some: there was a great victory for equal rights in Montgomery County, Maryland earlier this week.

As the good women of Feministing report, the county council passed a law a year ago prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity, but right-wing groups' efforts to prevent it from taking effect have delayed its enforcement. On Wednesday, a court put an end to the right-wingers' obstructive tactics.    

PFAW

Matching the Right's Passion

This week gave me a sobering reminder of just how motivated and organized the Radical Right is. I think it's a real challenge to us to match their passion and commitment. On Wednesday, national and local Religious Right leaders convened a call of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of pastors and activists at 215 locations in California, Florida and Arizona. Those are the three states with constitutional amendments banning marriage for same-sex couples on the ballot this year. They rallied their troops for what they describe as nothing less than warfare against "Satan." The call's main focus was Proposition 8 in California, which Watergate felon-turned-Religious Right organizer Chuck Colson called "the Armageddon of the culture war."
PFAW

The Power of Culture

What do seven dirty words, Big Bird and Archie Bunker have in common? George Carlin, the envelope-pushing, line-crossing comedian was probably most famous for "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." That routine provoked countless conversations about censorship and the First Amendment, both before and after the Supreme Court upheld a Federal Communications Commission order against his "indecency." I didn't remember until reading his obituary that he had actually been arrested several times for delivering "Seven Words" in a show.
PFAW

Religious Right Using Lawsuit in Attempt to Undermine Church-State Separation

In 2006, the Rev. Hashmel Turner, a member of the Fredericksburg City Council, took the bizarre step of suing his own City Council. Councilor Turner’s complaint? As an elected government official, he wants the special right to begin City Council meetings by offering a City Council prayer in the name of Jesus — a sectarian, non-inclusive prayer that excludes many Fredericksburg citizens. The City Council, however, following the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent, wisely adopted an inclusive policy requiring that any prayers offered to begin its meetings be nondenominational.

PFAW

The State of the Judiciary and the Bush Legacy

Individual Rights, Access to Justice Threatened
President Bush's final State of the Union address will in part be an effort to shape the public view of his presidency. But here's something he won't say: a long-lasting part of his legacy will be the weakening of Americans' rights and legal protections due to the dangerous state of the federal judiciary created by judges he has placed on the federal bench.

PFAW

Washington Post Editorial Gets It Wrong On Nominees

An editorial in today's Washington Post calls on the Senate to act quickly on President Bush's nominees to the Fourth Circuit. But as PFAW Legal Director Judith E. Schaeffer pointed out in a Letter to the Editor, the Post has ignored serious concerns that make these nominees very controversial, and the Senate should not rush to confirm them. You can read that letter below:

To the Editor:

PFAW

Senate Confirms Nominee Unfit for Federal Bench

In response to today’s Senate vote to confirm Leslie Southwick to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, People For the American Way Legal Director Judith E. Schaeffer released the following statement:

“Following the 2006 election, President Bush pledged to move ahead in a cooperative and bipartisan manner. But mere days after the new Congress was sworn in, he submitted the controversial nomination of Leslie Southwick.”

“Southwick’s disturbing legal record and lack of commitment to equality before the law make him unfit for a powerful lifetime seat on the federal bench. We are deeply disappointed in the Senate Democrats who acquiesced to the President today on Southwick’s nomination.

PFAW

PFAWF Files Supreme Court Amicus Brief In Employment Discrimination Case

On October 19, 2007, PFAWF joined 11 other civil rights groups in filing an amicus curiae brief in Sprint v. Mendelsohn, an employment discrimination case pending in the Supreme Court and one of the cases that we highlighted in our preview of the Court's term because of its importance to the right of employees who believe that they have been subjected to workplace discrimination to obtain justice in the courts. Other groups joining this brief include the NAACP, MALDEF, the National Women's Law Center, the Asian American Justice Center, and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a diverse coalition underscoring the importance of this case to the civil rights community.

PFAW

Countering Time Magazine on the Court's Relevance to Americans

TIME magazine’s cover story this week told Americans they don't need to care about the Supreme Court because its decisions don’t make a difference in most people’s lives. That premise is just wrong, as the letter we submitted to TIME makes clear (see below). It’s also pretty astonishing to have that article appear the very same week that the GOP presidential candidates will appear before right-wing activists and the so-called "Values Voter Summit" and enthusiastically pledge to put more Justices like Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas on the Court — and cement for a generation the right-wing trends that are undermining Americans’ legal rights and protections.

PFAW

Proving Once Again That Courts Matter

American Federation of Labor, et al. v. Michael Chertoff, No. C 07-04472 CRB (N.D. Cal.)

A federal district court judge in California last week gave America another good example of why courts matter. Judge Charles R. Breyer put a stop, at least for now, to a governmental effort that would likely have resulted in the firing of potentially tens of thousands of legal workers this fall, all in the guise of a crackdown on illegal immigration.

PFAW