People For the American Way

The Commerce Clause and American Progress

In the Tea Party, it’s all the rage these days to declare everything unconstitutional – Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, disaster relief, federal civil rights laws, health care reform, basically any law that enables the federal government to take on national-scale problems.

One of the main strategies that the Tea Party has been using to push this extreme and regressive view of the Constitution is pushing aside the Commerce Clause, the clause in the Constitution that gives Congress the power “to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”

The Commerce Clause, long recognized by courts as the rationale for important progressive economic programs, has come under fire from opponents of health care reform, who are arguing in the courts – with mixed success -- that the clause does not allow the Affordable Care Act’s individual health insurance mandate.

In a new report, People For the American Way Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin argues that “a powerful case can be made “that the Commerce Clause is “the most important constitutional instrument for social progress in our history.”

Without it, Congress could not have passed the National Labor Relations Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Clayton and Sherman Anti-Trust Acts, the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition of race discrimination in hotels, restaurants and other places of public accommodation, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and dozens of other federal statutes protecting the environment and establishing the rights of citizens in the workplace and the marketplace.


Why, then, does the Commerce Clause seem pale and dull next to the Free Speech and Equal Protection Clauses?
Perhaps it is because these provisions clearly declare radiant principles of liberty and equality that translate into easily understood and intuitively attractive protections against arbitrary government power.

Because the Commerce Clause has been a powerful instrument of social reform over the last century, its meaning has periodically provoked deep jurisprudential controversy. This is ironic since the Court routinely and unanimously upheld congressional assertion of a comprehensive federal commerce power before broad democratic purposes entered the picture. The commerce power became the target of virulent attack by corporate conservatives when progressives and labor gained political influence and used this power as the constitutional basis upon which to regulate and improve the character, terms and conditions of the American workplace and marketplace in favor of large numbers of the American people.


Raskin follows the Commerce Clause from its origins at the Constitutional Convention, through the Lochner era, when an activist court “put the Commerce Clause in a straightjacket” to strike down federal worker protection laws and other attempts to regulate interstate commerce, to the late 1930s, when the court returned to a more expansive view of the clause, allowing progressive economic programs and civil rights reforms to flourish, to the Rehnquist Court, which again began to narrow down the scope of Congress’s constitutional regulatory power, to challenges to the Affordable Care Act, which threaten to take us back to the Lochner era.
 

You can read the full report here.

PFAW

Don't Ask Don't Tell: So Long, Farewell

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the discriminatory law that banned gays and lesbians from openly serving in our nation’s armed forces, has been officially been relegated to the history books after a devastating 18-year existence that snatched away the careers of more than 14,000 capable and dedicated servicemembers. With repeal celebrations happening across the country, President Obama released a statement, which said in part,

Today’s achievement is a tribute to all the patriots who fought and marched for change; to members of Congress, from both parties, who voted for repeal; to our civilian and military leaders who ensured a smooth transition; and to the professionalism of our men and women in uniform.

Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal is a major achievement in itself, but it is also indicative of where we are as a country regarding LGBT equality. While the Right Wing has issued statements condemning this historic occasion, Republican members of Congress have largely remained silent. Opponents of gay rights realize that their discriminatory views are quickly becoming outdated, and that younger voters overwhelmingly support LGBT equality.

Celebrations have been occurring across the country. One moving video in particular has gone viral on Youtube. In it, a gay soldier from Alabama, currently stationed in Germany, calls his father right after Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal is finalized to come out. The soldier is greeted with acceptance and loving support. After the long fight waged by People For the American Way, other progressive groups and brave men and women in uniform who often risked their careers to fight for what they believe in, it’s heartening to see how America has become a little more just, equal and fair today than it was before.

 

 

PFAW

New York Couple Denied Marriage Rights; PFAW Foundation Helps them Fight Back

When Katie Carmichael and Deirdre DiBiaggio went to their town clerk in Ledyard, New York recently to obtain a marriage license, they were met with an unwelcome surprise. The town clerk, Rose Marie Belforti, refused to grant them a license because she objected to New York’s new law legalizing same-sex marriages. She told Carmichael and DiBiaggio to come back on another day to obtain a license from a subordinate officer.

Marriage equality loses some of its “equality” when same-sex couples are forced to jump through hoops that weren’t there before in order to obtain a marriage license. Carmichael and DiBiaggio contacted People For the American Way Foundation to help them fight back against this clear instance of discrimination. PFAW Foundation recruited the law firm Proskauer Rose, LLP to provide pro bono counsel to the couple, and the firm sent a letter to town officials urging the town clerk to follow the laws of the state or resign her position.

In a town meeting on Monday night, the issue of the clerk’s refusal to do her job was not addressed. In response, PFAW Foundation launched a petition demanding that Belforti to perform her job duties, follow the laws of New York and grant same-sex marriage licenses or resign her post.

You can sign the petition here.
 

PFAW

Kathleen Turner Praises the YEO Network

The actress Kathleen Turner, who has been a People For the American Way Foundation board member for more than 20 years, stopped by WGN in Chicago last Thursday to discuss her career and her work with People For. Turner, who was in town for the first of PFAW Foundation’s 30th anniversary celebrations, had special praise for the Young Elected Officials Network.

Watch the video at WGN.

The YEO Network, which includes hundreds of elected officials around the country, earlier this summer met with President Obama and White House officials.
 

PFAW

Anonymous Attacks Against LA Progressives

This summer, an organization called Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) finds itself the target of dozens of baseless public records requests instigated by an anonymous right wing entity apparently seeking to intimidate and harass the organization.

LAANE has long fought for policies to raise wages, protect the environment, and enhance community input on new box stores. In other words, they have gotten in the way when giant corporations have put profit maximization over the rights of workers, consumers, and communities. Perhaps that is why they now find themselves the subject of an extensive fishing expedition for public records that can be taken out of context and demagogued ad nauseam.

An opposition research company that has worked with conservative candidates and causes in California has sent dozens of letters to public officials across the state demanding all communications between LAANE and more than 70 public officials going back a number of years.

So who hired the opposition research firm? Who is it that is apparently hoping to use public disclosure laws to do a hatchet job on LAANE?

Good question, since they refuse to identify themselves.

At least when conservatives in Wisconsin and Michigan used baseless public records requests to intimidate and harass academics at public universities, we knew which far right pro-corporate entities were doing it (ALEC and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy).

In light of the numerous deceptive actions designed to destroy Planned Parenthood, ACORN, NPR, and Shirley Sherrod, it is more important than ever to fight right wing efforts to smear people and organizations who they see as standing in the way of their agenda.

People For the American Way stands with LAANE in demanding an end to the anonymous attack, and you can, too, by signing this petition calling on those who are behind the attack on LAANE to reveal their identities. Democracy is strengthened by the free and robust exchange of ideas and arguments, not by anonymous efforts to intimidate and discredit those who disagree with you.

PFAW

The Play Rick Perry Didn’t Want Performed

The Austin Chronicle has set up a new Twitter account devoted exclusively to digging up old stories on the shenanigans of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. They’ve pulled up some good stuff, including this story from last year on the governor’s involvement in shutting a planned student production of a controversial play at Texas’ Tarleton State University.

The play in question was Terrence McNally’s Corpus Christi, which provoked a furor from Religious Right groups when it was first released in 1998 because of its depiction of a gay Christ. The production was canceled after the playwright and theater staff received death threats, but it was later reinstated – with metal detectors at the door. People For the American Way Foundation was among the groups defending the right of the play to be put on in peace at the time, staging "A Quiet Walk for the First Amendment" in front of the theater on opening night.

How times have not changed. When a student at Tarleton State started working on a production of Corpus Christi last year, he ran up against opposition from none other than Texas’ Lieutenant Governor, David Dewhurst. Dewhurst issued a press release attacking the student production as a “lewd display” and “morally reprehensible to the vast majority of Americans.” The backlash unleashed by Dewhurst’s statement was so strong that the professor in charge of the show ultimately decided to cancel it and three other student productions because of “safety and security concerns for the students.”


While Perry’s deputy was the public face of the opposition to the show, the Chronicle dug up a tidbit from the Texas GOP website that made it clear that the governor himself was not only aware of but also involved in the censorship effort:


In a "thank you" note on the Texas GOP Vote website, Conservative Republicans of Texas President Steve Hotze gives credit (a-hem) to Dewhurst for his moment of censoriousness, but then adds this interesting little factoid:


We also owe a debt of gratitude to Governor Perry for his behind the scenes work to stop the play at Tarleton State. Ray Sullivan, the Governor’s Chief of Staff, was notified of the play on Thursday and after discussing it with the Governor, the necessary steps were taken to ensure that its performance was canceled.


This all brings to mind the GOP’s latest successful censorship attempt, targeting a recent exhibition about gays and lesbians in American Art at the National Portrait Gallery. Like the criticism of Corpus Christi, the criticism of the exhibit centered on both its acknowledgement of gay people and on a depiction of Christ that some on the Religious Right found objectionable. The groups targeting the exhibit were led by the far-right Catholic League, which also, not coincidently, was a leader in the fight against the original production of Corpus Christi.

The success of Religious Right censorship campaigns depends, in a large part, on the willingness of elected officials to play along. In the 1980s and 1990s, Jesse Helms took on the role of censorship champion. In the most recent Smithsonian scandal, John Boehner and Eric Cantor were more than willing to echo the complaints of far-right groups like the Catholic League. And if Perry’s involvement in the Tarleton Corpus Christi incident is any indication, if he were president he would be happy to lend his hand to similar efforts.

PFAW

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

Koch Brothers Sink to a New Low to Undermine Public Education

The Koch brothers have had a piece of the right-wing anti-public education franchise for some time, through their sponsorship of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The corporate-funded think tank has churned out all sorts of model legislation for right-wing state legislators aimed at undermining and defunding public education.

Now, through the Koch-created and funded Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the Koch brothers have taken their attacks on public education to a new level: attempting to reinstitute school segregation.

A brand new video from our friends at Brave New Foundation -- a part of their "Koch Brothers Exposed" series -- details the disturbing rise of racial resegregation in one award-winning North Carolina school district. The story goes like this: AFP supported a slate of right-wing school board candidates who ran on a platform that echoed those of 1960's southern segregationists like George Wallace almost verbatim ... they won, and now they are using their power to hurt the public school system by not only erasing the district's commendable achievements of diversity, but hurting the quality of public education received by all the district's students.

People For the American Way and PFAW's African American Ministers in Action (AAMIA) program are both incredibly proud to cosponsor the release of this video, and we're hopeful that we can help shine a light on this latest right-wing attack on public education, racial equality and civil rights.

Watch the video, and help spread the word by sharing this post.

After you watch the video, please call David Koch at his Manhattan office at 212-319-1100 and tell him to "stop funding school resegregation now."

PFAW

After 2 big wins, what now? We keep fighting!

dont retreat recall

The political balance of power in Wisconsin was decided last night by just a few thousand votes. We were just two thousand votes from a political earthquake, but the fact remains that we gained ground, they lost it. Republicans held on to their majority -- barely -- by cashing in on their massive corporate support and the unlimited dollars which flowed from that support in the post-Citizens United era. But we changed the game and seized momentum heading into the next battles.

This David vs. Goliath fight, in which underdog progressives successfully took down two Goliaths and came incredibly close to defeating a third and taking back the State Senate, has inspired progressives across the country ... helped expose the corporate interests so intent on keeping right-wing officials in power ... and shown that if we can compete this closely in heavily Republican districts, we can definitely win statewide.

Thank you so much for your incredible energy, support and activism, all of which fueled our campaign and will be indispensible in the next part of the effort.

People For the American Way's Recall the Right the campaign, due to the overwhelming support and generosity of members like you:

  • Distributed more than 89,000 direct mail pieces, 4,300 TV spots and 170,000 calls to persuadable voters,
     
  • Engaged thousands of activists, and
     
  • Aired final-week ads against right-wing Sen. Alberta Darling which undoubtedly contributed to the unexpected closeness of her race against Democrat Sandy Pasch.

The two progressive wins last night -- the successful recalls of Sens. Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper -- were in two districts where PFAW was very active, with our final-week ad-buys in the Hopper race arguably making the difference that put Democratic Senator Elect Jessica King over the top. PFAW enthusiastically endorsed both Jessica King and Senator Elect Jennifer Schilling -- two strong progressive women who will be strong advocates for working families in the Wisconsin Senate.

I won't sugar coat it. It was extremely painful to come SO close to the "Grand Prize" of three wins, which would have flipped control of the Senate, and to fall slightly short.

But being demoralized and focusing on where we fell short gets us nowhere, while remaining energized and focusing on what we achieved will propel us into the next round of -- even more impressive -- victories.

  • We have cause for optimism that the dynamic in the State Senate will be completely different and while Democrats won't have the majority, they will be able to stop much of the far-right agenda.
     
  • We know that we are in better position than ever to recall Gov. Walker at the beginning of next year -- if we made this much of an impact in "red," Republican districts, our statewide campaign to recall Walker, in which we'll be able to turn out masses of voters in the most progressive-leaning cities and counties in Wisconsin, should have Republicans very nervous.
     
  • Most urgent, this coming Tuesday, August 16, we need to defend our victories from last night by defending the two remaining Democratic incumbents who have been targeted by the Right Wing with their own recall efforts.

Two members of the heroic "Wisconsin 14" have been targeted by the Republicans and their corporate backers for recall, this Tuesday. These are the Democratic senators who pulled out all the stops, courageously left their state and made tremendous sacrifices trying to stop Gov. Walker's infamous union-busting plan. They fought hard for Wisconsin's working families and we have to fight hard for them. If right-wing Republicans are able to unseat even one of the two Democratic incumbents on Tuesday, they will have gone a long way in taking last night's victories away from us.

Protecting those Democratic incumbents is so important that PFAW will be sending staff to Wisconsin to help with the field campaign.

Right-wing pols, pundits and Fox News hosts are already trying to spin and distort the results as a victory for the Tea Party, Gov. Walker and the GOP on the whole, but that is utter nonsense. Progressives gained two senate seats and Republicans lost two, significantly weakening Walker's majority. Gov. Walker caught a glimpse of how vulnerable he will be to recall next year. And we must stay mindful that the "victory" the Right Wing is gloating about in the first place is one against working people -- teachers, firefighters, cops, nurses, snowplow drivers and the rest of the middle-class Wisconsinites who went head to head with America's greediest corporate interests in these recall elections.

Last night we won two historic victories by removing from office two right-wing Republican state senators who had been considered entrenched, safe in their seats, before they joined Gov. Scott Walker's assault on workers' rights and the middle class. That's what democracy looks like. And that's what accountability looks like.

Thanks again for everything you've done and continue to do in the Recall the Right campaign. It's not over until the polls close next Tuesday. We hope you'll help us seal up these important wins!

 

PFAW

Taking it Back to 1987, Mitt Romney Teams Up with Judge Bork

Mitt Romney yesterday announced the members of his campaign’s legal advisory team, which will be led by none other than Robert Bork.

This is interesting because Judge Bork’s views of the law and Constitution were so extreme that his 1987 Supreme Court nomination was rejected by the Senate.

Here’s the TV spot People For the American Way aired about Bork at the time:

Among the reasons PFAW, the United States Senate, and the American people concluded that Bork was not suitable for a seat on the nation’s highest court:

  • Bork rejected the idea of a constitutional right to privacy – the basis for our freedom to use contraception, choose whether to have an abortion, and engage in private consensual sexual activity – putting him far to the right of most sitting Supreme Court justices.
  • He regularly interpreted the law to favor the powerful, to the particular detriment of women and people of color, including opposing the Civil Rights Act and claiming that the Equal Protection Clause does not apply to women.

As another Massachusetts political leader, Sen. Edward Kennedy famously put it:

Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.

America is a better and freer nation than Robert Bork thinks.

And in the years after his failed Supreme Court nomination, Bork kept on reminding us of why he would have been a disastrous Supreme Court Justice. From a 2002 PFAW report:

Robert Bork has carved out a niche for himself as an acerbic commentator on the Supreme Court, as well as various cultural issues. In fact, to Bork the two topics are closely related and the Supreme Court’s “illegitimacy” and its departure from the Constitution are in many ways responsible for our growing “cultural depravity.”

According to Bork, we are rapidly becoming a fragmented society that has totally lost its nerve and is now either unwilling or unable “to suppress public obscenity, punish crime, reform welfare, attach stigma to the bearing of illegitimate children, resist the demands of self-proclaimed victim groups for preferential treatment, or maintain standards of reason and scholarship.” Abortion, technology, affluence, hedonism, and modern liberalism are gradually ruining our culture and everywhere you look “the rot is spreading.”

Bork has denounced the public education system that “all too often teaches moral relativism and depravity.” He considers sensitivity training to be little more than “America’s version of Maoist re-education camps.” He has shared his fear that recognition of gay marriage would lead to accommodation of “man-boy associations, polygamists and so forth.” And he has criticized the feminist movement for “intimidat[ing] officials in ways that are destructive of family, hostile to masculinity, damaging to the military and disastrous for much education.”

It appears as if almost everything within contemporary culture possesses the capacity to offend Bork. He attacks movies for featuring “sex, violence and vile language.” He faults television for taking “a neutral attitude toward adultery, prostitution, and pornography” and for portraying homosexuals as “social victims.” As for the art world, most of what is produced is “meaningless, uninspired, untalented or perverse.” He frets that the “pornographic video industry is now doing billions of dollars worth of business” and the invention of the Internet will merely result in the further indulgence of “salacious and perverted tastes.” When it comes to music, “rock and rap are utterly impoverished … emotionally, aesthetically, and intellectually.”

More to the point, Bork is not content merely to criticize; he wants the government to do something about it. “Sooner or later,” he claims “censorship is going to have to be considered as popular culture continues plunging to ever more sickening lows.” So committed is he to this cause that he dedicated an entire chapter in his 1996 book Slouching Toward Gomorrah to making “The Case for Censorship.” In it, he advocates censoring “the most violent and sexually explicit material now on offer, starting with obscene prose and pictures available on the Internet, motion pictures that are mere rhapsodies to violence, and the more degenerate lyrics of rap music.”

When asked by Christianity Today about how he would decide what should and should not be censored, Bork announced: “I don’t make any fine distinctions; I’m just advocating censorship.” He went on to argue that the United States has a long history of censorship, and that such censorship “didn’t suppress any good art, it didn’t eliminate any ideas.” He goes on to state that, were individuals to decry such censorship as inhibiting their individual liberty or right to express themselves, he would reply “… yes, that is precisely what we are after.”

In choosing Bork to head his legal team, Mitt Romney is sending a clear message to the farthest right of the Right Wing... \and reminding us all that our 2012 vote for president is also a vote for the Supreme Court for the next generation.

PFAW

The Supreme Court for Beginners

Do you care about clean elections, fair pay, civil rights, environmental protections, and the right to seek justice when you’ve been wronged?

Then you should care a whole lot about the Supreme Court.

In a new video, People For the American Way Foundation provides an animated guide to the Supreme Court and how its decisions impact all Americans. Enjoy:

 

PFAW

Too Many Rulings are Supremely Courteous to Corporations

This op-ed was originally published at OtherWords.org

Americans realize that our rights and liberties depend on having a system of justice that we can trust. We know we should be able to show up in court to contest anything from a parking ticket to felony and make our case — whether we're rich or poor.

But there's one U.S. court where it's increasingly hard for individual Americans to have their voices heard. The Supreme Court — our court of last resort — is making it harder for individual citizens to hold the rich and powerful accountable.

In recent years, the high court has consistently twisted the law and Constitution to put giant corporations' profits over the rights of individual Americans. That means it's getting harder for citizens to seek justice when corporations stiff us.Supreme Corp.

In June, for instance, the Supreme Court ruled that more than a million women who had suffered wage discrimination as employees of Walmart couldn't join together to sue the company. Several women had filed a class action suit against the company on behalf of themselves and up to 1.5 million other women who faced similar treatment, seeking to pool their resources in order to go up against one of the most powerful corporations in the world. But the majority opinion ignored what the women had in common and focused instead on the differences bound to arise within a group that large, ruling that they couldn't go in it together to hold Walmart accountable. By sharply reducing the ability of employees to pool their resources, the court has made it easier for big employers to discriminate.

The Walmart case is only one example of the Supreme Court's growing tendency to side with the interests of big corporations over the rights of ordinary citizens. Earlier this year, the court ruled that Californians who had fallen prey to an alleged scam by their cell phone company couldn't join together to hold the company accountable. Because each customer was cheated out of a relatively small amount, few customers would go to the trouble of recovering their money. Many victims had not even noticed the relevant charge in their bill.

For these reasons, only a large class action lawsuit would serve to hold the company accountable. In another case, the court ruled that a financial firm accused of defrauding its investors couldn't be held liable because the firm had protected itself with a cleverly designed corporate structure. In doing so, the court both ignored the clear meaning of the law and essentially provided financial firms with an instruction manual on how to defraud their clients without being caught.

In the past year, the Supreme Court also handed two big victories to pharmaceutical companies. In one, it ruled that a state couldn't prohibit the sale or use of pharmacies' prescription data by drug companies without the prescribing doctor's authorization. In the other, the court let a pharmaceutical company off the hook for failing to warn about the dangerous side effects of a drug it was selling — a failure that resulted in at least one patient developing a painful and incurable neurological disorder.

Of course, sometimes the law really is on the side of big business. Our justice system requires that big corporations get a fair hearing just as ordinary citizens do. But they don't deserve more of a voice than the rest of us. The Supreme Court, guided by a right-wing majority, has increasingly bought the convoluted arguments of moneyed corporations lock, stock, and barrel, while turning a blind eye to the law — to say nothing of the impact on ordinary Americans. These decisions don't just hurt the individuals directly involved in them. They hurt us all, by limiting our rights and sending a signal to the wealthy and powerful that they can go ahead and abuse the rest of us without consequence.

Our founders wrote the Constitution to protect individuals against the whims of the powerful. But too often lately, the Supreme Court has twisted our laws to protect the powerful from being held accountable by individuals. Supreme Court justices and lower federal court judges must defend the Constitution, not twist it beyond recognition.

Marge Baker is executive vice president of People For the American Way.

PFAW

PFAW Looks Into Rick Perry's Extremist Ties

PFAW President Michael Keegan today wrote in the Huffington Post today about the radical and fanatical figures organizing Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s The Response prayer rally on August 6. Research from PFAW’s Right Wing Watch exposed many of Perry’s allies’ bizarre views, including interesting theories about Oprah Winfrey and the Statue of Liberty. Keegan writes, “The Response has turned out to be a powerful draw for the farthest of the far Right, attracting all varieties of extremists, whom Perry and his allies have welcomed with open arms.” Read the whole article at the Huffington Post and make sure to watch this must-see video on just some of The Response organizers:

As this is probably the kickoff event for Perry's run for the presidency, we should all know the backgrounds of the people and organizations that Perry is working with to promote the proselytizing event, known as The Response. His choice of allies belies the claim that it will be "apolitical" or even quasi-tolerant of non-Christians. Co-organizing and largely funding the rally is the American Family Association, a Religious Right group dedicated to infusing right-wing evangelical views into American politics. The AFA's chief spokesman, Bryan Fischer, is one of the most offensive voices in politics today. He has compared gays to Nazis and said gay people should be banned from public office; he has called for an end to Muslim immigration into the United States and a ban on the building of new mosques; he has said that Native American communities deserved past persecution and current poverty because of a refusal to convert to Christianity; he has even compared low-income African Americans to animals. In line with Fischer's views, the AFA dedicates itself to launching boycotts against companies that treat their gay employees well and sponsoring political get-togethers for the far right.

Then there is the International House of Prayer (yes, "IHOP"), the 24-hour-a-day worship powerhouse that has lent several senior staff members to planning The Response. IHOP's affiliated The Call rallies - politically charged events that gather hundreds of people to pray for anti-gay and anti-choice policies -- also serve as the model for Perry's event. As People For the American Way reported this month, the church's leader, Mike Bickle, has some pretty extreme views: he has warned that Oprah Winfrey is the harbinger of the Antichrist, and that marriage equality would result in the banning of marriage in some parts of the world.

And these are just the main organizers of the event. The Response has turned out to be a powerful draw for the farthest of the far Right, attracting all varieties of extremists, whom Perry and his allies have welcomed with open arms. Displayed prominently on the official "endorsers" page of The Response website are the names of pastors who have called the Statue of Liberty a "demonic idol"; blamed the 9/11 attacks on America's growing acceptance of gays and lesbians; blamed the mysterious bird deaths in Arkansas on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell; and advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. government. Several participants are prominent advocates of "Seven Mountains" dominionist theology, which is basically the idea that a certain far-right breed of evangelical Christians need to take over all aspects of American society -including government, business and entertainment - to pave the way for the Second Coming of Christ. Fittingly, in a perfect illustration of the increasing acceptance of extremism on the Right, Perry even welcomed the endorsement of John Hagee, the pastor whose anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic statements were so shocking that John McCain had to publicly reject his endorsement in 2008.

Perry, questioned about the ragtag team of extremists he has assembled to help him launch his possible presidential run, has repeatedly claimed that he is not responsible for the views of everyone with whom he associates. He's not - but he should know who he's going to for advice, and whose profile he's lifting with a national soapbox. Perry says that The Response is meant in part to seek spiritual guidance for the political problems our nation faces. If these are the people he's going to for guidance, and who he's lifting up to help solve the nation's problems, we should all be concerned. What these groups want is for a very small sliver of American Christians with a certain narrow set of beliefs to control American politics - and to restrict everybody else's freedom to worship or not as they choose. Rick Perry, citing his own religious freedom, seems more than happy to lend them a megaphone.
PFAW

Empowering LGBT youth: Stephen Colbert, “It gets better”

Stephen Colbert, an actor, comedian, and host of the political satire show, The Colbert Report, dropped his usual sarcastic persona to speak candidly about the problems of teen bullying.

In this video for the “It Gets Better Project,” Colbert discusses his own experience with being harassed at school, as well as a lesson he learned after one his own friends courageously stood up to a bully after being called a “queer”.

If you don’t give power to the words that people throw at you, to hurt you, they don’t hurt you anymore—and you actually have power over those people.

      

Colbert adds another voice to the over ten thousand people who have contributed messages of hope and support to LGBT youth, including President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, numerous senators, and several celebrities.

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks that LGBT youth deserve support. People For the American Way has been tracking right-wing activists who have been intervening in the problem of teen bullying…by supporting the bullies.

PFAW

Is Rick Perry a moderate? Perhaps, if the price is right.

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

Here at People For the American Way, we’ve spent the last several weeks marveling as Texas Gov. Rick Perry plans a blockbuster Christian prayer rally in Houston, gathering around him a remarkable collection of Religious Right extremists – from a pastor who claims that the Statue of Liberty is a “demonic idol” to a self-described “apostle” who blamed last year’s mysterious bird deaths in Arkansas on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Perry claims the event is apolitical, but it is conveniently timed to coincide with the possible launching of his presidential bid and bolstered by groups that are dedicated to working far-right evangelical values into American politics.

Which is why we were all surprised today to find a story in The Hill titled “At second glance, Texas Gov. Rick Perry not as conservative as some think.” Really?


The evidence presented for Perry’s maverick-moderate tilt is that the governor has taken some reasonable positions on immigration reform and that he once angered Religious Right groups by requiring that all 6th grade girls in the state receive a vaccine for HPV, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to cervical cancer.


Perry’s 2007 executive order requiring that the vaccine be offered to Texas’s sixth graders was a wonderful, progressive public health policy…but seemed a little odd coming from a far-right Texas governor. Interestingly, while the move angered Perry’s supporters on the Religious Right, it made one constituency very happy: lobbyists for Merck & Co., the pharmaceutical giant that manufactured the vaccine and stood to gain billions from the new law. The Associated Press reported at the time on the cozy relationship Merck had developed with the newly-reelected Texas governor:


Merck is bankrolling efforts to pass laws in state legislatures across the country mandating it Gardasil vaccine for girls as young as 11 or 12. It doubled its lobbying budget in Texas and has funneled money through Women in Government, an advocacy group made up of female state legislators around the country.

Details of the order were not immediately available, but the governor's office confirmed to The Associated Press that he was signing the order and he would comment Friday afternoon.

Perry has several ties to Merck and Women in Government. One of the drug company's three lobbyists in Texas is Mike Toomey, his former chief of staff. His current chief of staff's mother-in-law, Texas Republican state Rep. Dianne White Delisi, is a state director for Women in Government.

Toomey was expected to be able to woo conservative legislators concerned about the requirement stepping on parent's rights and about signaling tacit approval of sexual activity to young girls. Delisi, as head of the House public health committee, which likely would have considered legislation filed by a Democratic member, also would have helped ease conservative opposition.

Perry also received $6,000 from Merck's political action committee during his re-election campaign.

Maybe Gov. Perry just really cared about helping prevent an epidemic and helping girls in Texas receive good medical care. On the other hand, health care for Texans doesn’t seem to have been a major priority for Perry: by last year, the tenth year of his governorship, Texas ranked last in the country in terms of the percentage of the population with health insurance and the percentage of insured children.


The “Perry bucks the Religious Right for the health of young girls” story will probably continue to reappear as he continues to be lauded as the Republican Party’s last, best hope for 2012. But the full story in no way proves that Perry’s an independent-minded moderate. Instead, it offers a case study of the sometimes conflicting priorities of the Religious and Corporate Right, and a politician who tries to appease them both.

 

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

Judiciary Committee Republicans: More and More Delay

As People For the American Way has noted before, Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans have exercised their prerogative to delay committee consideration of every single one of President Obama's judicial nominees by at least one week, with only four exceptions. More than seventy of these nominees were confirmed without opposition.

Republicans have no good explanation for this. They are doing this simply to obstruct. The routine use of this hold, without cause and almost without exception, is unprecedented. It is part of a larger set of procedural roadblocks the Senate GOP uses to obstruct confirmation of qualified nominees whose only "fault" is that they were nominated by a Democratic president.

This morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on the nominations of eleven judicial nominees, five of whom were scheduled for the first time. To the surprise of no one, they, too, fell victim to this form of partisan obstruction.

There is no reason that Republicans should have delayed committee consideration of Second Circuit Court nominee Christopher Droney or district court nominees Robert D. Mariani, Cathy Bissoon, Mark R. Hornak, and Robert N. Scola, Jr. All five appeared before the committee last month to answer questions. However, of the eight Republican members of the committee, only Ranking Member Grassley showed up for the hearing, where he spent just a few minutes asking questions of each nominee. Although all committee senators had an opportunity to ask follow-up questions in writing, no Republican but Senator Grassley did so.

So there really is no good reason for Senate Republicans to have exercised their prerogative to hold the vote over by a week for any of these nominees. But Republican obstructionism has become the rule: Highly qualified judicial nominees are blocked solely because they were nominated by a Democratic president.

Committee Republicans should be asked what exactly they need to learn about these nominees that they don't know already ... and, if they have questions, why they chose not to avail themselves of the many opportunities they have had to ask them.

More importantly, they should be asked why they are actively sabotaging the confirmation process when there are judicial crises all around the country. Americans need access to the courts, not partisan mudfights.

PFAW

Maddow Shines Light On Perry's Extreme Prayer Rally Endorsers

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

Last night Rachel Maddow looked into the radical views of the preachers and activists that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is partnering with to put on his The Response prayer rally. Utilizing research from People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch, Maddow featured video of Mike Bickle, John Hagee, Bryan Fischer, Cindy Jacobs, John Benefiel and C. Peter Wagner, and discussed Perry’s attempts to win support from the Religious Right as he weighs a run for the presidency.

 

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

PFAW

Today's Supreme Court: Not Since the Gilded Age

There was once a Monty Python sketch about Dennis Moore, a confused Robin Hood wannabe who steals from the poor and gives to the rich. Minus the laugh track, that more and more seems to be the mission of the Corporate Court. The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne has a terrific column on this: "The Supreme Court's Continuing Defense of the Powerful."

The United States Supreme Court now sees its central task as comforting the already comfortable and afflicting those already afflicted.

If you are a large corporation or a political candidate backed by lots of private money, be assured that the court's conservative majority will be there for you, solicitous of your needs and ready to swat away those pesky little people who dare to contest your power.

After discussing some of the outrages of the arch-conservative majority, Dionne writes:

[P]ay heed to how this conservative court majority bristles at nearly every effort to give the less wealthy and less powerful an opportunity to prevail, whether at the ballot box or in the courtroom. Not since the Gilded Age has a Supreme Court been so determined to strengthen the hand of corporations and the wealthy.

People For the American Way Foundation recently submitted testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee analyzing the ominous pro-corporate tilt of the Roberts Court in the term that just ended.

PFAW

Senate Judiciary Committee Exposes the Corporate Court

The Senate Judiciary Committee held an important hearing this morning looking into the disturbing trend of the Roberts Court to shut down people’s access to justice when they go to court to vindicate their rights against large corporations.

The hearing was on Barriers to Justice and Accountability: How the Supreme Court's Recent Rulings Will Affect Corporate Behavior. Chairman Leahy opened the hearing discussing how recent Supreme Court cases are making it harder for working Americans to get their day in court. He expressed particular concern about three cases:

  • Wal-Mart v. Dukes, which will make it harder to hold big companies accountable when they violate civil rights laws;
  • Janus Capital Group v. First Derivative Traders, which shielded from accountability those who knowingly committed securities fraud; and
  • AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, which prevents victims of consumer fraud from the protections of jury trials and class actions.

The committee invited four distinguished people to address the issue: Betty Dukes (plaintiff in the sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart) was the one panelist who was also a party to one of the cases being discussed. She spoke poignantly about her experience at Wal-Mart and the fear that so many women have of going against their employer, especially one as powerful as Wal-Mart. She promised to continue her fight, but knows that without a national class action, many women will be intimidated into not litigating.

Andrew J. Pincus (a Washington lawyer who has argued many cases before the Court) and Robert Alt (from the Heritage Foundation) denied that the Court was tilting unfairly to favor corporations, argued that the cases were decided rightly, and stated that the Court was simply upholding existing law. In contrast, Melissa Hart (law professor at the University of Colorado) and James Cox (law professor at Duke) took the position that the Court is wrongly shielding wrongdoers from accountability.

Professor Hart correctly characterized as a policy decision the Roberts Court's tendency to interpret procedural law so restrictively, despite congressional intent otherwise, so that Americans become unable to present their case to an impartial court.

Senator Whitehouse discussed the critical role juries play in American government. He noted that juries are mentioned three times in the Constitution, and that they remain a government institution that Big Business cannot corrupt. For years, the far right has been denigrating "trial lawyers" and "runaway juries" in an effort to keep Americans from being able to hold the powerful accountable. Whitehouse argued that the Roberts Court is acting consistently with that pattern.

People For the American Way Foundation submitted testimony to the committee on how the Roberts Court has removed substantive and procedural protections that are the only way that individuals can avoid becoming victimized by giant corporations that dwarf them in size, wealth, and power. These decisions often provide road maps to corporate interests in how to avoid accountability for harm that they do. The constitutional design empowering individuals to consolidate their power against corporations is slowly being eroded by a fiercely ideological Court. Today's hearing is part of an effort to expose the harm that is being done.

PFAW