Legislation

The Strategy Behind the Maryland Marriage Bill Withdrawal

Advocates of equality were disappointed Friday when Maryland's pending marriage bill failed to pass the House of Delegates. It had already passed the Senate, in part because the vitriol of equality opponents had prompted one legislator to switch from opposing to supporting the bill. Unfortunately, advocates were unable to garner a majority of the House.

However, the bill was not defeated in a floor vote, but instead was "recommitted to committee." This is a critical distinction, one that allows advocates to introduce the bill again next year with a greater chance of success. Equality Maryland board member David Lublin explains the strategy on Maryland Politics Watch:

The House of Delegates agreed on a unanimous voice vote to recommit the bill to the House Judiciary Committee. This decision effectively kills the bill for the year. Many people naturally wonder why no vote was taken after all of the hard work that was done to advance the bill by so many people inside and outside of the legislature. Proponents agreed to this because they fell a few votes short of those needed to pass the bill on the floor of the House.

The argument for a vote is clear. People have a right to know where their legislators stand on such an important issue. Regardless of the outcome, it would have been the democratic process in action with delegates reflecting the will of their constituents and acting as our representatives.

On the other hand, proponents would have lost by a greater number than the closeness of the unofficial count because some "yes" votes would have become "no" votes. Legislators in marginal districts who might have been willing to stick their necks out to pass a meaningful piece of legislation would not do so if the legislation was going to fail.

Additionally, going forward, it is a lot harder to convert the votes of people who have cast a vote on the floor against marriage than it is to gain the votes of the undecided or who have said they oppose it but have yet to cast an actual vote on the topic. The thought behind not holding a vote is that it makes it easier to bring it up again next year and also does not demoralize opponents in other states. That was the thinking behind the decision to recommit.

Had the bill been defeated in a floor vote, then it would have been hard to reintroduce it successfully until after the next legislative elections, which are not until November 2014. But with the bill recommitted, advocates are freer to introduce it next year. In the meantime, they can spend the intervening months reaching out to legislators and the general population.

PFAW

As Walker Signs Union Busting Bill, GOP Admits It’s All About Politics

Earlier today, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law a bill that strips public workers of their rights to collectively bargain after the Republican-controlled legislature rushed through the legislation. While Walker maintains that the bill is necessary to solve the budget crisis, it is becoming increasingly clear that the move was purely a power grab by the GOP and its pro-corporate allies.

As previously reported, Walker’s bill makes special exemptions for the two labor unions which endorsed his campaign for governor. The workers who were members of unions that supported his opponent, on the other hand, were the targets of the legislation. Moreover, despite claiming that they are simply trying to be fiscally responsible, Walker and his GOP allies backed massive corporate giveaways that expanded the deficit.

But now, Republican leaders in the state legislature are practically admitting that the bill was about partisan politics.

Republican State Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald told Fox News that the bill was passed in order to dramatically weaken the clout of unions who could support President Obama’s reelection campaign in the swing state: “If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.”

Randy Hopper, a Republican State Senator who could be recalled by voters this year, also said in an interview with Fox News, “I think there’s absolutely no question that this is an issue for 2012.”

As Republicans admit that the union-busting bill is all about punishing progressive groups and rewarding corporate backers, it is clear that the GOP’s rhetoric on “fiscal conservatism” should not be taken seriously.

PFAW

Wisconsin Librarian Speaks Out Against the “Vilification of Public Employees”

A key part of the Republican strategy in efforts to bust public employee unions in Wisconsin and around the country is a concerted attempt to demonize teachers, nurses, firefighters, and other dedicated public workers. Audrey Barbakoff, a Milwaukee librarian, writes for American Libraries magazine on what it’s like to be made a scapegoat:

It’s funny that legislation meant to malign and eviscerate unions has made me realize how vibrant and vital they can be. But my renewed respect for the critical role of collective bargaining only makes it clearer to me that, for librarians, union-busting isn’t the biggest problem. Yes, I’m angry that a politically motivated gubernatorial power grab could set back the rights and quality of life of the middle class for decades. Yes, I’m deeply worried that I, along with many others, could lose the right to have any say about my workplace. And yes, I recognize that such an outcome would be to the detriment of all working middle-class families in Wisconsin, whether employed in the public or private sectors.

But none of it triggers the almost nauseating fury I feel every time I open the newspaper.

Legislation—no matter how destructive—doesn’t last forever. Eventually, new politicians will be elected and new political theories will come into vogue; the pendulum will continue to swing between extremes with an occasional and too-brief pause in the middle. Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting is horrible and lives may be ruined needlessly in the process, but in the long-term view, it’s temporary.

What is not temporary is the effect of the governor’s favorite tactic in the service of this legislation: the vilification of public employees. It’s the old divide-and-conquer routine. By turning private employees against public ones, Walker can break up the largest constituency that might oppose his ideas. It’s a savvy political tactic, but it will cause permanent, irreparable damage for the most educated and hardworking public employees in Wisconsin and throughout the country. In order to turn the public at large on its own employees, supporters of this bill must paint us as lazy, stupid, overpaid freeloaders. They must imply that we are in our jobs only for the “sweet bennies” they provide.

The enduring problem here is one of value, one of respect. That’s why librarians around the country need to be upset about what’s going on in Wisconsin, whether you belong to a union or not. The governor of Wisconsin is telling us that we are worthless, that we add nothing and contribute nothing, that we are parasites and moochers.

It’s one thing to ask for monetary sacrifices; most librarians have already sacrificed money to do what we love. We’re an intelligent, educated bunch who could have pursued degrees in any number of more lucrative fields, or trotted our little MLISes right over to some hotshot tech company and doubled our salaries. It’s not the fiscal cuts in the bill that make me angry. I’m furious at the insinuation that we are nothing but takers.

via Rita Meade


 

PFAW

Supreme Court Decision Exposes Religious Right Deceit on Hate Crimes Laws

When Congress debated and ultimately passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, detractors unfairly criticized the law as a threat to free speech and religious freedom. Opponents, especially from the Religious Right, tried to cover up their animus by maintaining that efforts to protect people against violent crime were really attempts to ban “hate speech,” and consequently “criminalize religion."

Rob Boston, a senior policy analyst of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, writes about how the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Snyder v. Phelps yet again exposes the dishonesty of the Religious Right’s arguments:

There has been no end of discussion about this church and its antics. Today I want to focus on an overlooked aspect of the controversy: For years, we’ve been hearing Religious Right leaders claim that their freedom to speak out on issues like homosexuality and abortion is at risk. To hear them tell it, “hate speech” laws are just around the corner, and Pastor Bob is only one step away from being tossed in the hoosegow if he dares to read from the Book of Leviticus in the pulpit.

It’s hard to imagine speech more hateful than that put forth by Westboro Baptist’s members. They think God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality, so they hoist signs reading, “God Hates Fags,” “Thank God for IEDs” and “Pray for More Dead Soldiers.”

This is some seriously hateful stuff – and by an 8-1 vote the Supreme Court said in Snyder v. Phelps that it is protected speech. If Westboro Baptist can claim the mantle of the First Amendment to unleash this stuff, I don’t think Pastor Bob has to worry about his pulpit criticisms of same-sex marriage. W

henever cases like this come up, the term “hate speech” is thrown around a lot in the media. Although this term appears in common parlance, it’s not something the courts have adopted. Sure, a lot of speech can be termed “hateful” – and it’s also protected speech. The First Amendment does not require that speech be polite, rational or popular. After all, the First Amendment wouldn’t be very useful if all it did was protect your right to say something everyone agrees with.



The claim that “hate speech” laws are going to shut down fundamentalist churches and gag conservative pastors is, to put it politely, bunk. It was never a persuasive argument, and in light of Wednesday’s ruling stands in shreds. I’m hoping Religious Right leaders will have the decency to stop saying it – but I won’t hold my breath.
PFAW

Wisconsin YEO Chris Larson Stands Up To GOP Power Play

Republicans in the Wisconsin State Senate announced that they will penalize the fourteen boycotting Senators by imposing a $100-a-day fine and taking away their parking spaces, but the chamber’s Democrats are determined to block the GOP’s radical anti-labor legislation. In an interview with Talking Points Memo, Democratic State Sen. Chris Larson described the group’s resolve not to budge in the face of Republican threats. Sen. Larson is a member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, and is working closely with PFAW to build momentum to stop Governor Scott Walker’s plan to quash workers’ rights. He makes clear that the public is increasingly turning against Walker’s plans, and that the Republicans’ latest move only shows their desperation to quickly pass their extreme legislation:

"They've become increasingly desperate with these petty things that they're throwing out there," Larson said. "The next thing they're gonna throw out is we're gonna have to say 'Mother, may I' before anybody can talk."

TPM asked Larson, who said he was at a rest stop in Illinois, whether he was prepared to pay the fines. "You know, it's not about us, it's not about the finances," said Larson. "It's about the cuts that they're doing to workers rights, it's about the cuts that they're doing to educators, and throwing out Medicare, Medicaid and Seniorcare, and trying to change these provisions."

Larson also was not entirely sure whether the fines were legally permissible. "First of all, it's in the Constitution that you cannot diminish a person's wages," said Larson. "But it's beside the point. The fact that they're trying to hold our paychecks and have these fines, it's petty and it's not impacting anybody. We had a meeting and nobody flinched at it. It was just like, wow, he's [Fitzgerald] looking really desperate."

Later in the interview, TPM noted to Larson that the fines appeared to be based on a provision in the state Constitution that the legislature "may compel the attendance of absent members in such manner and under such penalties as each house may provide."

"Well, we'll have to see when we go back," said Larson. "We'll go over it with some lawyers. The fact is, it's giving - it's not making us think about it twice. We're focused on preserving workers' rights, preserving the way of life in Wisconsin without these huge cuts to rights. That's what we're focused on.

"If they want to throw out fines, if they want to call us names and if they want to take over our staff, they're doing everything they can to ignore what the real issue is, and that's that they're going too far with their power grab. The public is crying foul and calling them out on their power grab, and they're just ignoring it."

He also added: "What they do to us is of little consequence, compared to what they're doing to themselves right now."
PFAW

Supreme Court Recusal Bill Introduced

For several weeks now, more and more people have been paying attention to the general absence of enforceable standards for the recusal of Supreme Court Justices from cases in which their impartiality is in question. Rep. Chris Murphy (CT) has introduced a bill, cosponsored by Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY), that would introduce significant reforms to the manner in which Supreme Court Justices recuse themselves – or don't – from cases in which their impartiality may reasonably be questioned.

Currently, Justices decide for themselves whether they will recuse themselves. They do not need to state the reasons for their decision to recuse or not to recuse, and their decisions are non-reviewable. This can be a problem. As Talking Points Memo reports:

Justices Thomas and Scalia have been under frequent fire in liberal circles over their attendance at conferences sponsored by Koch Industries in recent years, a company whose owners have been major financial backers of conservative political causes. Thomas' wife, Ginni Thomas, runs a conservative nonprofit group, Liberty Central, and some have suggested her activism against President Obama's health care legislation could be a conflict of interest for her husband if the new health care reform law -- as expected -- reaches the Supreme Court. Justice Thomas raised eyebrows this weekend when he said in a speech at a banquet that his wife was working "in defense of liberty" and that they "love the same things, we believe in the same things."

Rep. Murphy discussed this at an event yesterday to generate support for his reform bill.

"The problem is the only person who can decide whether Justice Thomas can recuse himself is Justice Thomas," Murphy told reporters at a press conference outside the Capitol. "That's wrong and that needs to change."

Fortunately, by the time the Supreme Court hears the healthcare case, Americans might not have to rely only on Justice Thomas' goodwill. As described on Rep. Murphy's website, his bill would:

  • apply the Judicial Conference's Code of Conduct, which applies to all other federal judges, to Supreme Court justices. This would allow the public to access more timely and detailed information when an outside group wants to have a justice participate in a conference, such as the funders of the conference;
  • require the justices to simply publicly disclose their reasoning behind a recusal when they withdraw from a case;
  • require the Court to develop a process for parties to a case before the Court to request a decision from the Court, or a panel of the Court, regarding the potential conflict of interest of a particular Justice.

Until the bill passes, we will continue to strongly urge Justice Thomas to recuse himself from future healthcare reform cases, as requested by Rep. Weiner and 73 of his colleagues.

PFAW

GOP’s Corporate Backers Intent on Busting Unions, Not Solving Budget Problems

In both Wisconsin and Ohio, Republican governors are attempting to rush through legislation that would devastate workers’ rights that would in reality do little to help close their states’ budget shortfalls. Behind their proposals to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights is actually a political power play to diminish the voice of organized labor in American politics, a move sponsored by corporate interest groups.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s desire to eliminate collective bargaining has more to do with political baiting than sound fiscal policy.

For example, Walker specifically exempts the four public employee unions that endorsed his gubernatorial bid in his plan to eliminate collective bargaining. Labor law professor Paul Secunda of Marquette University called it “the worst type of favoritism there could be.” And despite his claim to be a fiscal hawk, the Governor pushed through costly corporate giveaways that jeopardized the state’s balanced budget and rejected a Republican’s compromise bill that would permit only a temporary curb on collective bargaining while preserve unions’ financial concessions.

History shows that states that stripped their public employees’ collective bargaining rights did nothing to solve their fiscal problems. Policy Matters Ohio notes that while Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri recently eliminated public workers’ bargaining rights, “the budget shortfalls of these states in 2010 ranged from 10.6 percent of general revenue fund (Indiana) to 14.5 percent (Kentucky) to 22.7 percent (Missouri), mirroring the fiscal crisis of states across the nation.”

Rather than solve the budget problems, doing away with a key right of workers only advances the agenda of the corporate interests funding Republican campaigns.

Jonathan Salant of Bloomberg looked into the ties between virulently anti-labor corporations like Koch Industries and Wal-Mart and the radical GOP proposals in Wisconsin and Ohio:

Koch, a closely held energy and chemical company based in Wichita, Kansas, is controlled by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch. Along with other corporations, Koch Industries has often opposed organized labor on regulation and free trade, Holman said. Now they see a chance to cripple unions in the name of balancing budgets, he said.

The $1.2 million in Koch support for Republican governors includes $1.1 million given to the Republican Governors Association, which spent more than $3.4 million in support of Walker, according to Common Cause, a Washington-based advocacy group that opposes the governor’s proposal.

In addition, Koch gave $43,000 directly to Walker, his single largest corporate source; $11,000 to the Wisconsin Republican party; $22,000 to Kasich; and $34,000 to the Ohio Republicans.

Koch also supported the 2008 campaign of Indiana’s Daniels, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The Republican Governors Association, which received $25,000 from Koch, was the biggest source of campaign cash for Daniels, institute records show.

In addition, Americans for Prosperity spent $1.2 million in support of Republican candidates for Congress last year, Federal Election Commission records show. Koch Industries’ federal political action committee contributed $1.3 million to candidates for the 2010 elections, 90 percent of it to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Bentonville, Arkansas, subject of a campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, also contributed to the campaigns of Walker and Daniels, and donated more than $340,000 to the Republican Governors Association for the 2010 elections, according to the Internal Revenue Service and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
PFAW

A Third Judge Upholds the Healthcare Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Bruesewitz v. Wyeth: As Sotomayor Comes Out Strong Against Pro-Corporate Judicial Activism, Scalia May Have Met His Match

There is something wearily predictable about Justice Scalia’s straitjacket reinterpretation of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (NCVIA) to eliminate the possibility of injured families suing manufacturers for design defects in vaccines. Justice Scalia brings his trademark sleight-of-hand to the task of explaining why the law does not provide for citizens what it obviously does provide and offers his well-developed rhetorical polish and high-minded sarcasm as a way to assure everyone that there is no reasonable alternative to his vigorous rewrite of the law in the interest of corporate immunity. Ah, another federal law, another judicial gloss for the corporations: business-as-usual on the Roberts Court.

What is startling and refreshing about this decision is that Justice Scalia has finally met his match in Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who comes out swinging hard in her powerful dissenting opinion against this aggressive pro-corporate judicial activism and impressionistic rewrite of the statute at hand. It seems that Justice Sotomayor is finding her voice defending popular legislation and democratic rights against the finger-painting and cut-and-paste rewrites of legislation that have become the specialty of free-wheeling conservative Justices.

Consider the numerous hard and effective punches Justice Sotomayor’s throws back at Justice Scalia here, quoting Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the “plain text and structure” of the statute, and the essential canons of statutory construction, to show who the real “judicial activists” are:

She starts off by blowing the whistle on Justice Scalia’s substitution of his political views for those of Congress: “In holding that the . . . Act pre-empts all design defect claims for injuries stemming from vaccines covered under the Act, the Court imposes its bare policy preference over the considered judgment of Congress.”

After a masterful explanation of the Act and why it permits causes of action related to design defects, Justice Sotomayor writes: “In contrast to the interpretation . . . set forth above, the majority’s interpretation does considerable violence to the statutory text, misconstrues the legislative history, and draws the wrong conclusions from the structure of the Vaccine Act . . .”

And, to leave no doubt about what has just taken place to rob the Bruesewitz family--whose daughter suffered more than 100 seizures after being vaccinated with the DTP vaccine made by Lederle Laboratories--of its fair day in court, she concludes that “whatever the merits of the majority’s policy preference, the decision to bar all design defect claims against vaccine manufacturers is one that Congress must make, not this Court.”

It’s good to know that Justice Sotomayor at least has woken up to the fact that we are headed at a high speed right back into a Lochner-era jurisprudence where conservative Justices work overtime to undo progressive legislation and substitute their own authoritarian judgments for democratic decision-making. The combination of this judicial assault on popularly enacted statutes with the decision in the Citizens United case to arm private corporations with political campaign spending rights under the First Amendment makes for a pretty scary polity and economy. We need more judges and Justices like Justice Sotomayor to stand up for democracy and the rule of law.

Jamie Raskin is a Maryland state senator, constitutional law professor at American University's Washington College of Law, and Senior Fellow at People For the American Way.

PFAW

The House GOP's Aboogaboogaboogabooga Constitution

For the past few decades, Republicans have aggressively and notoriously acted as if only they love the flag, only they appreciate families, only they are religious, and only they care about national defense. In the past couple of years, inspired by the Tea Party, they've added a new object to which they falsely lay sole claim: the United States Constitution.

Of course, for many of them, it's little more than a fetish. After all, the Republican Party's Constitution has long denied the right to abortion (and, in many cases, the right to privacy altogether), denied church-state separation, denied the right to vote, and denied equality under the law for LGBT people. The Tea Party's version of the Constitution is even more removed from the real thing, as analyzed in a recent PFAW report, Corporate Infusion: What the Tea Party's Really Serving America.

So it's no surprise that House Republicans' latest effort to lay claim to the Constitution – requiring bill sponsors to submit statements specifying the constitutional authority for their legislation – has turned out to be meaningless. As reported by Congressional Quarterly (subscription required):

During a Feb. 11 subcommittee markup on a bill (HR 358) offered by Joe Pitts, R-Pa., to prohibit federal funds from being used to pay for health insurance that covers abortion, New York Democrat Anthony Weiner offered a point of order against the legislation on grounds that its "statement of constitutional authority" does not point to any specific authority for Congress to take such action.

The bill's statement says: "The Protect Life Act would overturn an unconstitutional mandate regarding abortion in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act," last year's health care overhaul.

The markup soon became chaotic as lawmakers clashed for nearly an hour over whether the statement passed muster, and whether the Republicans were flouting their own rule. "The rules are the rules, and the Constitution is the Constitution," Weiner exclaimed.

Eventually, Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., consulted the Rules Committee, which in January issued a handy guide to complying with the new rule. The Rules Committee provided guidance on how statements of constitutional authority might be phrased, but said the only requirement is that a statement be submitted.

"The question of whether the statement is sufficient is a matter for debate and a factor that a member may consider when deciding whether to support the measure," Upton said.

The committee's top Democrat, Henry A. Waxman of California, called that “a mockery” of the rules. "The ruling is that it doesn't make any difference what you say,” he said. “You could say, 'Aboogaboogaboogabooga!' and that's enough to justify the constitutionality of the proposal."

The Constitution that established a careful separation of powers, an independent court system, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the eradication of slavery, and equality for all is far too precious a document to become just a symbol in meaningless political posturing. Shame on the House Republicans.

PFAW

Arizona Effort to End Constitutional Citizenship Faces Backlash

Two bills proposed by Republican legislators in Arizona that would revoke constitutional citizenship are running into trouble in the State Senate. State Senate President Russell Pearce, a key force behind the state’s draconian SB-1070 anti-immigration law, is leading efforts to deny citizenship to US-born children of undocumented parents, rescinding a right plainly guaranteed by the Constitution's 14th Amendment.

The Arizona Daily Star reports that the bills were unlikely to win the approval of the Judiciary Committee, and now Pearce may bring the legislation to a more sympathetic committee. Children of undocumented parents, immigration activists, and members of the business community spoke out against what they called an unpopular, confusing, and dangerous attempt to undermine the Constitution:

A bid to deny citizenship to the children of illegal immigrants faltered Monday when proponents could not get the votes of a Senate panel.

After more than three hours of testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, yanked the two measures.

Gould said he lacked the backing of four other members of the Republican-controlled panel, which he chairs. Gould said he will keep trying to secure votes. And Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said, if necessary, he will reassign the proposal to a more friendly committee.



Even before any testimony, Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, said the proposal, based on that idea of Arizona citizenship, raises a host of unanswered questions.

"I don't understand how you become an Arizona citizen if you move to Arizona, what the bureaucratic model would be," he said. "Do you then need to bring your own birth certificate and both of your parents' birth certificates?"

There were also several children who spoke against the bill, including 12-year-old Heide Portugal who said she was born in this country but her parents were not and that a measure like this, had it been in effect, would have denied her citizenship.

The proposals also drew opposition from the business community.

Kevin Sandler, president of Exhibit One, said he worried about the message adopting such a law would send.

Sandler said his firm, which provides audiovisual equipment to courts across the nation, had to lay off six employees after some out-of-state firms boycotted Arizona businesses after lawmakers adopted SB 1070 last year. That measure gives police more power to detain illegal immigrants.

"We've created a toxic environment," he told lawmakers. "Businesses don't want to move here."

He said companies looking to relocate pay attention to the political climate in a state.

"What we've really done is create a not-open-for-business environment here."



Jennifer Allen, executive director of the Border Action Network, said denying citizenship to children born in this country based on a parent's citizenship would create "a permanent underclass" of people in the state.
PFAW

Another Attempted Smear of Planned Parenthood

Live Action, the anti-choice group that has been attempting to smear Planned Parenthood with heavily edited videos of its activists posing as sex traffickers in Planned Parenthood offices, has released another video. And this one, according to a Planned Parenthood press release, has also been heavily altered:

In an interview with the FBI, the two health center workers featured in the video said that they did not hear the words “sex work” or “sex worker,” uttered by the actors on camera who were hired by Live Action to play the role of a “pimp” on the videotape in an effort to undermine the credibility of Planned Parenthood staff in Live Action’s coordinated lobbying effort to support legislation that would bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds.

In addition, it is clear from the edited tape that there are two or more video sources, as well as an additional audio source, increasing the opportunity for manipulation and selective editing.

Unlike other publicized tapes, the hoax “patients” in New York were not able to get beyond the reception desk for a private consultation. Like other encounters that have been recently publicized in Virginia, our staff responded professionally to questions, discussed these encounters with management, and provided a report to the FBI.

We expect Live Action, a political operation, to continue publicizing a number of secretly recorded videotapes made at our health centers in an effort to undermine health center services and support federal legislation designed to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds.

Multiple media organizations have analyzed Live Action’s videos and found them to be fraudulent, and the claims that they are meant to back up misleading.

Although the mainstream media has for the most part recognized Live Action’s smear campaign as the fraud it is, Live Action isn’t giving up. Last week, a coalition of progressive groups, including People For, sent a letter to members of Congress supporting Planned Parenthood as the organization faces continued right-wing smears.

For more background, read our Right Wing Watch: In Focus report on the anatomy of Live Action’s campaign, and watch PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery's analysis on the Thom Hartmann show:
 

PFAW

New Legislation Threatens Critical Women’s Health Services

In wake of Live Action’s smear campaign against Planned Parenthood, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) introduced the “Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act.” Pence’s bill would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, which Katha Pollitt of The Nation notes is the “largest network of clinics for family planning and women’s health, and in many regions the only provider within reach,” especially for women without health insurance. Republicans in Congress and their far-right allies have consistently attempted to de-fund Planned Parenthood, and Pence’s legislation wouldn’t de-fund abortion but instead seriously jeopardize other women’s health services.

“The funding that Planned Parenthood receives from the government goes to family planning, contraception, sex education, and prevention and treatment of STIs,” writes Robin Marty of RH Reality Check, “and is carefully monitored so that none of it is used to provide abortions, as per federal law.”

The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Information has more information on the importance of Title X and the important role clinics like Planned Parenthood play in providing access to vital health services for women:

In addition to contraception, Title X funds a range of preventive health care services free of charge to individuals at or below the poverty level. A sliding fee scale ensures that low to moderate income women are also able to access these services, including:

• Comprehensive, culturally competent counseling and services

• Breast and pelvic examinations

• Breast and cervical cancer screening

• Healthy body weight screening and counseling

• HIV testing

• Screening for and treatment of sexually transmitted infections

• Screening for high blood pressure and high cholesterol

• Pregnancy testing and counseling
PFAW

Horrible, Terrible Anti-Choice Bill Now Only Terrible

The House GOP met with widespread outrage last week when the news broke that a radical anti-abortion bill it is backing would, among other things, exclude many instances of rape from already very limited federal abortion coverage. The bill, written by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, would have only allowed for abortion coverage for pregnancies resulting from “forcible rape”—a radical redefinition of rape that would exclude instances where a woman is drugged, statutory rape of a minor, and many instances of date rape.

The swift response from pro-choice groups and strong outcry from Americans (including a popular Twitter campaign) has now led the House GOP to back down on the rape provision, removing “forcible” from the language in the bill. But Smith’s bill, if passed, would still be disastrous for reproductive choice rights. The “No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act,” which has 173 Republican co-sponsors, would make the Hyde Amendment—the provision that prohibits Medicaid funding for abortion—permanent and apply it to all areas of the federal budget. It would, among other restrictions, prohibit people who use federal subsidies for private insurance coverage from purchasing insurance plans that cover abortion—thereby jeopardizing abortion coverage on the private market.

The fight over the bill coincided with another right-wing attempt to limit reproductive choice, particularly that of low-income women—an anti-choice group’s ACORN-style video hoax attempting to bring down Planned Parenthood. The hoax, a nationwide “sting” intended to prove that Planned Parenthood cooperates with child prostitution rings, in fact proved the opposite—Planned Parenthood promptly reported visits from activists claiming to be child sex traffickers to the FBI. But the Religious Right has been quick to jump on the videos and publicize them in their latest attempt to discredit and stop federal funding for reproductive health organizations.

As Jamelle Bouie points out in the American Prospect today, attempts to limit women’s access to reproductive health care are not only dangerous for women—especially low-income women who rely on government assistance and organizations like Planned Parenthood—but hurt programs that actually lower the instances of unwanted pregnancy:

Here are the facts. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the medical costs of unintended pregnancy range from increased likelihood of infant and maternal illness, to a greater likelihood of abortion. Women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to expose the fetus to tobacco or alcohol, and as mothers, are less likely to breast feed. Children of such pregnancies are at greater risk of low birth rate, abuse, poor development, and death in the first year. Fertility isn't a "pathological condition," but the problems of unintended pregnancy are so significant that, as Guttmacher notes, the Centers for Disease Control cites its own work to prevent unintended pregnancy as "one of the top 10 public-health achievements of the 20th century.

While many women will carry an unintended pregnancy to term, many others won't, and the data bears this out. When asked their reasons for having an abortion, three-quarters of women cited concern or responsibility for other individuals, three-quarters said that they couldn't afford a child, and three-quarters said that another child would interfere with work, school, or the ability to care for dependents. Indeed, among women who have obtained abortions, about 61 percent had one or more children. The implications are clear: You can't help families and you can't lower the abortion rate without ensuring access to affordable reproductive health care.

This chart  (from Planned Parenthood via Daily Kos) shows the services that Planned Parenthood provided in 2008--services essential to helping millions of women prevent and treat sexually transmitted diseases and prevent unwanted pregancies:

The Right’s multi-front war against reproductive choice and access to reproductive health care is not going to be stopped by reason or compassion. But, as the victory over the GOP’s redefinition of rape shows, it can be stopped by the voices of those committed to fighting back.

Click here to sign a letter to President Obama and Members of Congress in support of Planned Parenthood.


 

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House GOP Plans Attack on Fair Elections

After taking power in the House, the new Republican majority is preparing to eliminate one of the most significant efforts to ensure fair elections: the public finance system in presidential races. Instead of making the public finance system stronger, the GOP wants to do away with it altogether with little if any debate. Already, many House Republicans are pushing legislation that would allow corporations to make direct donations to candidates for public office even though “85% of voters say that corporations have too much influence over the political system today.” By eliminating the ability of campaigns to opt to receive public finances, candidates will become more, not less, dependent on the shadowy corporate dollars flowing into our elections.

Andy Kroll of Mother Jones reports on the GOP’s plan to scrap public financing of presidential campaigns:

On Wednesday, House Republicans plan to rush to the floor a bill that would eliminate the federal government's presidential financing system—in the process, violating recent pledges by the GOP's leadership of increased transparency and debate in Congress. Not one hearing has been held on the legislation, nor has a single committee debated its merits. If it passes, it will roll back more than 30 years of law born out of the Watergate scandal, eviscerating one of the few remaining protections stopping corporations from heavily influencing, if not outright buying, American elections, reform experts say.

Democratic lawmakers and campaign finance reformers blasted the bill, not only for seeking to kill public financing but for breaking the GOP's campaign promises on transparency and accountability. "This is a sneak attack on the system," says Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). "It's a total break from their public pledge for transparency and openness." Fred Wertheimer, a longtime campaign finance reform advocate at Democracy 21, called the bill "a gross abuse of the legislative process."



Public financing of presidential campaigns provides matching tax dollars to the small donations received by candidates who agree to publicly finance their campaigns, instead of relying on private donations. The intent is to encourage small donations, and the burden on taxpayers isn't much: Americans can voluntarily contribute $3 to the fund on their federal tax filings. The public finance system was created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal in the mid-1970s. After President Richard Nixon's re-election campaign was found to have illegally accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from big corporations, Congress created a public financing system so that candidates wouldn't have to rely on corporations and deep-pocketed donors to finance their campaigns.



The way reformers see it, the presidential public financing system needs repair, not repeal. Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, says the amount of public funds currently available to candidates is too small to be competitive in modern presidential races. She says lawmakers need to update the system to better emphasize small donations to candidates and raise the total amount of public funding available. "Imagine if you didn't make any changes to the tax code since 1976. Of course public financing is outdated. The issue, then, is not to get rid of, but how to fix."

Update: The House of Representatives voted 239-160 to end the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, although it's chances to pass the Senate are low.

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Thomas and Scalia, the Commerce Clause, and the Healthcare Law

Justices Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, issued an interesting dissent yesterday to the Supreme Court's decision not to hear a challenge to a federal law making it a federal crime for a convicted felon to buy, own, or possess body armor (such as a bullet-proof vest) that had ever been sold in interstate or international commerce, even if the felon himself did not obtain it through interstate or international commerce. Congress passed the law as an exercise of the power granted it by the Constitution's Commerce Clause.

The rejected challenge in Alderman v. U.S. asserted that Congress had gone beyond the power granted to it by the Commerce Clause - the same argument that opponents of the landmark healthcare reform legislation have made. Since the constitutionality of the healthcare law under the Commerce Clause will likely be decided by the Supreme Court, Thomas and Scalia's dissent in this case may be a window into how they will rule in that case.

The Los Angeles Times gives one interpretation of the Court's decision:

The Supreme Court may not be so anxious to rein in Congress' broad power to pass regulatory laws under the Constitution's commerce clause, the key point of dispute in the pending court battles over President Obama's health insurance law. ...

The majority's decision, rendered without comment, could make it more difficult for those challenging health insurance reform to win court orders overturning parts of the new law. ...

Thomas referred to a pair of decisions, beginning in 1995, in which the court's conservatives, led by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, sought to put clearer limits on Congress' power. ...

But since Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. arrived in 2005, the court has not moved to restrain federal power.

A Justice can have any number of reasons for not wanting to hear a case — perhaps the Justice agrees with the lower court, or the issue is not important enough, or the facts of the case make it an inconvenient vehicle to discuss the legal issue, or there has not yet been enough debate among the circuit courts. As in this case, the public rarely knows why the Court voted not to grant cert.

For any of the Justices to voice their disagreement when cert is denied is unusual, and it suggests that they feel strongly about the issue at stake. In the body armor case, Justices Thomas and Scalia wrote:

Today the Court tacitly accepts the nullification of our recent Commerce Clause jurisprudence. Joining other Circuits, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [uses reasoning that] threatens the proper limits on Congress' commerce power and may allow Congress to exercise police powers that our Constitution reserves to the States. ...

[The lower courts’ interpretation of the Commerce Clause] seems to permit Congress to regulate or ban possession of any item that has ever been offered for sale or crossed state lines. Congress arguably could outlaw the theft of a Hershey kiss from a corner store in Youngstown, Ohio, by a neighborhood juvenile on the basis that the candy once traveled to the store from Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Such an expansion of federal authority would trespass on traditional state police powers. We always have rejected readings of the Commerce Clause and the scope of federal power that would permit Congress to exercise a police power.

While the dissent addresses this case alone, the fact that they issued it may reflect a strong desire to limit the scope of the Commerce Clause across the board. That would likely have an impact on the healthcare case when it reaches the Supreme Court. It may also signal their willingness to strike down acts of Congress that would unquestionably have been found constitutional in the past.

Historically, the Commerce Clause has been one of the most powerful tools that the American people have to impose reasonable regulations on giant corporations — and to hold them accountable when they do wrong. Justices Thomas and Scalia have been reliable supporters of Big Business on the Corporate Court. Any narrowing of the scope of the Commerce Clause needs to be viewed with caution.

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When Even the Right-Wing Media Stands Up to the GOP

Republicans in Congress have finally backed down and have stopped blocking a bill to provide health care to 9/11 first responders.

It seems that one factor in the GOP’s giving in on the bill is that the right-wing media for once did not unquestioningly buy its talking points. The New York Times reports:

Headlines in normally conservative news outlets blasted Republicans. Newsmaxx.com wrote, “Giuliani Raps Fellow Republicans for Holding Up 9/11 Heroes Money‎.” The Fox News host Shepard Smith drew attention to Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who has said he will try to block the legislation.

“He is the man who is vowing to slow this down or block it, so the necessary funding for the illnesses of the first responders who made it to ground zero to try to save lives on the day that America changed — remember?” Mr. Smith said during his broadcast Tuesday. “This is the senator who is vowing to block it so that it doesn’t make it through.”

On Wednesday morning, the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, called the G.O.P.’s opposition to the bill “a terrible mistake” for the party.

“It’s a terrible, terrible mistake to be seen as opposing relief for 9/11 heroes,” he said. “This is one of those times when you get so wrapped up in the game that you forget to look and see what’s happening. Here, the Republicans, whether they know it or not, look horrible.”

Think Progress reported last week that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had lobbied against the bill because it opposed the method of funding it—closing a tax loophole for foreign corporations. When Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand changed the mechanism for funding the bill to a 2% excise tax on some foreign companies, the Chamber still opposed it.

The debate over the 9/11 bill may be so stunning because it perfectly crystallizes the choice that the far right wing of the GOP makes again and again—given the choice between the profits of corporations and the welfare of individuals, they fight for the corporations. It’s no surprise that people across the political spectrum were upset by the GOP’s opposition to a bill that should have been a no-brainer. But the logical pattern that their opposition to the bill took is nothing new.

Jon Stewart, who devoted an entire show last week to the bill, started skewering the GOP over its choice of foreign corporations over the heroes of 9/11 back in August:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
I Give Up - 9/11 Responders Bill
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Arlen Specter Denounces Roberts Court, Republican Obstructionism

In his farewell speech, US Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania called on Congress to move quickly to counter the burgeoning right-wing extremism of the Roberts Court and the Republican caucus. Specter, who was first elected to the US Senate in 1980 as a Republican, spoke about how the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has shown little respect for their own precedents or congressional fact-finding while pursuing a hard line pro-corporate bent. The increasingly conservative Court has consistently ruled in favor of corporations over the rights of workers and consumers, and the concerns of environmental protection and fair elections. Specter specifically pointed to the Roberts Court’s decision in Citizens United, which gave corporations the right to spend unlimited and undisclosed funds from their general treasuries in elections and overturned decades of Court precedents and congressional measures limiting corporate influence in politics. Specter said:

This Congress should try to stop the Supreme Court from further eroding the constitutional mandate of Separation of Powers. The Supreme Court has been eating Congress’s lunch by invalidating legislation with judicial activism after nominees commit under oath in confirmation proceedings to respect congressional fact finding and precedents, that is stare decisis.

The recent decision in Citizens United is illustrative: ignoring a massive congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony, given under oath, and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising, thus effectively undermining the basic democratic principle of the power of one person, one vote.

Chief Roberts promised to just “call balls and strikes,” and then he moved the bases.

Specter also blasted Republican obstructionism in the Senate. He said that even though 59 Senators backed ending debate on the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required groups to publicly disclose their donors, the important bill never received an up-or-down vote due to Republican procedural moves:

Repeatedly, senior Republican Senators have recently abandoned long held positions out of fear of losing their seats over a single vote or because of party discipline. With 59 votes for cloture on this side of the aisle, not a single Republican would provide the sixtieth vote for many important legislative initiatives, such as identifying campaign contributors to stop secret contributions.

The Pennsylvanian later criticized the GOP for preventing judicial nominees from also having up-or-down votes:

Important positions are left open for months, but the Senate agenda today is filled with un-acted upon judicial and executive nominees. And many of those judicial nominees are in areas where there is an emergency backlog.

When discussing how Senate Republican leaders, such as Jim DeMint (R-SC), supported ultraconservative candidates against Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Bob Bennett (R-UT), and Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE), Specter condemned the GOP’s embrace of “right-wing extremists,” adding: “Eating or defeating your own is a form of sophisticated cannibalism.”

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Speaker Pelosi sends DADT repeal to President Obama

People For the American Way attended today’s enrollment ceremony for the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal bill. Representatives and Senators stood alongside those discharged under this discriminatory policy to formally send the bill to President Obama for his signing. Each should be commended for their dedication to this cause, especially Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA8), a veteran himself and the lead House sponsor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. From CNN:

Earlier, Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania told the gathering of an e-mail he received from a company commander in Afghanistan, who mentioned how he often had to counsel soldiers who received divorce papers or "Dear John" letters from spouses or opposite-sex partners.

Murphy continued: "This young company commander, this captain, on his fourth deployment, wrote in that e-mail saying, 'I never thought I'd see the day when I got one of those letters myself. And I'm sitting here at three o'clock in the morning in Kabul, Afghanistan, and I have no where to go because I happen to be gay, and I can't walk to the chaplain, and I can't go to a battle buddy, and I can't walk to my commander's office, so I'm sitting here cradling my 9 mm pistol thinking about blowing my brains out. But I read this article about this Iraq war veteran named Patrick Murphy from Pennsylvania that's fighting for me, and it gives me hope.'"

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD5) had this to say about the American promise of equality for all.

Perhaps the most memorable sound bites came from, as they often do, Representative Barney Frank (D-MA4).

This one, in particular.

For those who are worried about the radial homosexual agenda, let me put them on notice – two down, two to go.

Representative Frank’s message is simple.

LGBT equality advocates aren’t working some nefarious plot. What the Right labels as radical isn’t radical at all. It’s about fairness, freedom, and the Constitution. It’s about core values and fundamental rights that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, hold dear and should enjoy.

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House debate: Murphy, Green, and Lewis on DADT repeal

There were many strong speeches during the House debate on repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Part 1. Part 2.

I wanted to share three highlights with you now.

Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA8) is the lead sponsor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. He shared his personal experience: “When I deployed to Iraq as a captain with the 82nd Airborne Division, my team and I didn't care about someone else's sexual orientation. We cared whether everyone could do their job so we could all come home alive.”

Representative Al Green (D-TX9), a veteran civil rights advocate, is heading into his 4th term in Congress. He fought on a battlefield of a different sort: “Mr. Speaker, life has prepared me for this vote. When you have had to sit at the back of the bus, in the balcony of the movie and have had to stand in a line for colored only, then you are prepared for this vote.”

But there’s perhaps no more passionate a civil rights voice serving in Congress today than Representative John Lewis (D-GA5), who led marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in what’s since become known as Bloody Sunday. His plea was simple: “Vote ‘yes’ because discrimination is wrong.”

Repeal is now before the Senate, where we need your help to make sure that the bill is taken up, passed, and sent to the President’s desk. Call now! (202) 224-3121

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