senate

Judge's Children Respond to GOP Congressman Who Wanted to Put Their Father "On the Endangered Species List"

In an address to the Montana State Legislature, Republican Congressman and Senate-candidate Denny Rehberg blasted a federal judge who ruled that the grey wolf had to remain on the Endangered Species list, saying: “When I first heard his decision, like many of you I wanted to take action immediately. I asked: how can we put some of these judicial activists on the Endangered Species list?”

Despite the call for greater civility in politics after the shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that left a federal judge and five others dead, Rehberg continued to employ violent rhetoric to score political points against a judge who was simply doing his job.

In the wake of the Tucson shooting, People For the American Way President Michael Keegan said that all people have a “duty to consider the impact of our words and to approach political discourse with honesty and responsibility,” and the politicians “who denounce violence should also denounce the rhetoric that can incite it.”

Now, the children of the vilified judge are speaking out against the Congressman’s ferocious language targeting their dad in a letter to the Helena Independent Record. The judge’s children ask Rehberg “to remember that words matter, and inflammatory words inflame,” and point out that their father was simply following his role as a judge to “interpret and apply the laws” no matter how unpopular. The judge’s children remind Rehberg and all politicians that such vicious rhetoric has no place in the political and legal debate:

We are writing to express our disappointment and voice our concerns over the comments that Congressman Rehberg recently made at a joint session of the Montana Legislature. Although Congressman Rehberg didn’t identify by name U.S. District Judge Don Molloy — our dad — it was clear to whom he referred.

For the benefit of those not there, here is what was said: When referring to a recent federal court decision about wolves and the Endangered Species Act, Rehberg stated, “When I first heard his decision, like many of you I wanted to take action immediately. I asked: ‘How can we put some of these judicial activists on the endangered species list.’ I am still working on that!”

We, too, are still trying to figure out exactly how he thought it appropriate or responsible to make these comments, especially in light of recent events in Tucson.

We fully recognize that the wolf issue has become a polarizing, politicized issue. Through the years, we have come to understand that the press and public will often critique court decisions without a full understanding of the law or facts. Many cases, like the one involving wolf delisting, are complicated. Politicians like Congressman Rehberg have every right to comment, and like the rest of the public, they have the right to do so on an uninformed basis. But a line is crossed when language such as that used by Congressman Rehberg is spoken. It is not acceptable or appropriate to make veiled or outright threats of harm toward anyone, including a judge who is performing a constitutional responsibility to interpret and apply the laws that Congress enacts, based on the facts and law presented in the court room, and not on public opinion.

This is a personal issue for us, and not only because of these comments about Judge Molloy. We are proud Montanans. In fact, we are fourth-generation Montanans and our parents raised us to respect other people, even people with whom we may disagree. We grew up in a Montana where threats and jeers were unwelcome on a school playground and unheard of in political discourse.

It is our firm belief that we must hold our elected officials to a standard of conduct that is representative of Montanans and how we wish to be known. The respect and civility that we call upon Congressman Rehberg to demonstrate are qualities that we see every day in our fellow Montanans. Each of us can and should rise above the divisive and shallow rhetoric that is becoming so common in public discourse. Each of us can commit to showing through our own words and actions how we can debate the issues with respect, thoughtfulness and vigor.

It is our hope that the image of Montana and its citizens that we have grown up holding tightly to remains — that we are strong in our willingness to stand up and behave responsibly and respectfully to all. For all Montanans, and on behalf of our family, we ask Congressman Rehberg to remember that words matter, and inflammatory words inflame.

Molly, Brynn, Jennifer and Daniel TC Molloy are the children of U.S. District Judge Don Molloy of Missoula.
PFAW

Anti-Equality Testimony May Have Backfired in Maryland

Yesterday in Maryland, both equality advocates and far right groups testified before a state senate panel considering a marriage equality bill. Opponents of the bill offered their standard arguments against marriage equality. And those arguments did succeed in giving at least one legislator second thoughts.

But not in the way the far right hoped.

State Sen. James Brochin had earlier this week announced that he would vote against the bill. Yet he was so moved by the vitriol of the bill's opponents that he is now considering changing his position and voting in favor of marriage equality. As the Baltimore Sun's Maryland Politics blog reports:

Baltimore County Sen. James Brochin found the testimony Tuesday by opponents of gay marriage "troubling," and said this morning that he may support the bill. The Baltimore County Democrat had previously said he was against same-sex marriage.

"The demonization of gay families really bothered me," Brochin said. "Are these families going to continue to be treated by the law as second class citizens?"

The Washington Post adds:

Brochin said in [a] news release that he was moved by testimony at the hearing, particularly that of the bill's opponents, which he called "appalling."

"Witness after witness demonized homosexuals, vilified the gay community and described gays and lesbians as pedophiles," Brochin said.

The testimony of the far right – their own opinions in their own words – has pushed a legislator from the “no” column into the “maybe” column. It's too early to say for sure how Senator Brochin will vote on the issue, but his reaction to the ugliness of the arguments against equality speaks volumes.

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

Senate Confirms Three Judges…But What About the 99 Vacancies Left?

Last night, the Senate struck an agreement to confirm three of President Obama’s non-controversial judicial nominees. That’s great—but, as of this morning, it leaves 99 seats on the federal judiciary left to fill. And, as the long road to last night’s three easy confirmations shows, if the Senate’s behavior with judicial nominations doesn’t change, that number is not going to dwindle fast.

The stories behind the three nominees confirmed last night clearly illustrate the Senate dysfunction that has led to one in nine seats on the federal judiciary being vacant. Marco Hernandez, an Oregon judge, was first nominated to the federal district court in 2008…by George W. Bush. When President Obama renominated him July, 2010, he did not receive a vote in the Senate. When his nomination finally went to a vote yesterday, after three years and three nominations, he was confirmed unanimously.

Attorney Paul Kinloch Holmes was nominated for the federal bench in Arkansas in April, 2010. His nomination stalled all last year in the Senate, and President Obama renominated him last month. He was confirmed without a single dissenting vote. Diana Saldana of Texas, also confirmed without dissent last night, had also been nominated twice and seen her nomination languish on the Senate floor for almost a year.

The Washington Post today reports on the crisis in the federal judiciary created by the Senate’s failure to confirm judges at the rate that they’re retiring:

The crisis is most acute along the southwestern border, where immigration and drug cases have overwhelmed court officials. Arizona recently declared a judicial emergency, extending the deadline to put defendants on trial. The three judges in Tucson, the site of last month's shooting rampage, are handling about 1,200 criminal cases apiece.

"It's a dire situation," said Roslyn O. Silver, the state's chief judge.

In central Illinois, three of the four judgeships remain vacant after two of President Obama's nominees did not get a vote on the Senate floor.

Chief Judge Michael McCuskey said he is commuting 90 miles between Urbana and Springfield and relying on two 81-year-old "senior" judges to fill the gap. "I had a heart attack six years ago, and my cardiologist told me recently, 'You need to reduce your stress,' '' he said. "I told him only the U.S. Senate can reduce my stress.''

As we’ve pointed out here before, the judicial crisis is about far more than the health of overworked judges. Overworked courts mean slower access to justice for citizens:

The effect is most visible in civil cases, with delays of up to three years in resolving discrimination claims, corporate disputes and other lawsuits.

"Ultimately, I think people will lose faith in the rule of law,'' said Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in California. "We as a nation believe that if you have a dispute, you go to court and within a reasonable period of time, you get a decision.''

Ultimately, it’s ordinary citizens who pay for the Senate’s failure to perform one of its simplest and most essential tasks—ensuring the fairness and functioning of the federal judiciary.
 

PFAW

White House Counsel Calls for End to Judicial Gridlock

The Obama Administration is making another call for the Senate to stop its unprecedented holdup of the president’s judicial nominations. White House Counsel Bob Bauer said today that it’s time for the Senate to end its “cold war” over judicial nominees, reports TPM:

"We will do what it take to try to break through gridlock over some of these nominations," Bauer said at an American Constitution Society panel. He said the judicial crisis creates "egregious delays for Americans seeking their day in court around the country."

Bauer said there has been a disturbing lack of urgency in the political class about the crisis in the judicial system, but said he didn't want to get into the typical finger-pointing about who is responsible for the crisis.

"The facts speak for themselves," Bauer said, noting that the confirmation rate is perilously low and that the problem has been developing for a long time.

Numbers compiled by Senate Democrats in December said that the Senate saw the slowest pace of judicial staffing in a generation, with just 39.8 percent of Obama's judges being confirmed.

But however the process got to this point, Bauer said that there is a growing recognition that "we can not in good conscious" allow it to continue.

"Republicans as well as Democrats increasingly acknowledge -- some privately, some publicly -- that we are witnessing something profoundly troubling," Bauer said.

The slow pace of judicial confirmations has begun to have a real impact on the federal courts and their ability to provide swift access to justice. 49 vacancies on the federal bench have been labeled “judicial emergencies,” resulting in long delays for citizens waiting for their day in court. In all, there are over 100 empty seats in the federal courts.
 

PFAW

In Overcrowded Courts, Justice Delayed

We write a lot about “judicial emergencies”—situations where slow-downs in the judicial nominations process have led court systems to be woefully understaffed. These cases are not emergencies because judges have to work harder—they’re emergencies because when courts are overworked, access to justice is delayed.

Last week, Politics Daily’s Andrew Cohen explained what is happening in Arizona, where Chief District Court Judge John Roll was murdered when he stopped by an event with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to talk with her about the overcrowded courts. Roll had been planning to request that Arizona be labeled a “judicial emergency” in order to loosen restrictions on speedy trials:

Roll did not live to see his request granted. But on Tuesday, less than three weeks after he was shot by accused gunman Jared Lee Loughner, Roll's successor finally did declare a "judicial emergency" in the state after consulting with the 9th Circuit's Judicial Council. The move by Chief U.S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver allows federal judges in the state to wait for as long as 180 days between the time of the indictment or complaint and the time of trial, even if a criminal defendant wants to go to trial more quickly.

The administrative move could delay the Loughner case itself, depending upon whether the 22-year-old defendant's attorneys try to change the trial venue from Arizona to another state or if federal prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty against Loughner. Most federal murder cases do not go to trial quickly anyway, in large part because of the significant pre-trial work it typically takes for lawyers to prepare their cases. The government has not yet charged Loughner with a capital crime. The next hearing in the case is set for March 9.

The extraordinary action by Silver was taken because of the sheer volume of cases. According to the 9th Circuit: "The Arizona federal court has the third highest criminal caseload in the nation, driven by illegal immigration and drug smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border. Criminal cases have increased 65 percent since 2008, when the federal government greatly expanded its law enforcement efforts along the border. The bulk of the criminal caseload is assigned to the court's Tucson division, where three judges currently handle approximately 1,200 cases each" (emphasis added).

There are currently 101 empty seats in the federal courts, 49 of which have been labeled as judicial emergencies [pdf]. Chief Justice John Roberts recently pleaded with the Senate to stop holding up judicial nominees, saying their stalling had resulted in “acute difficulties for some judicial districts.” Justice Anthony Kennedy told the Los Angeles Times, “It's important for the public to understand that the excellence of the federal judiciary is at risk.”

In an editorial memo last week, PFAW outlined the Senate obstruction that has been largely responsible for the slow pace of filling judicial vacancies in the Obama administration:

On the occasions when it has confirmed nominees to the bench, the Senate has slowed down the process to the point of absurdity. During the first two years of the George W. Bush administration, District Court nominees were confirmed in an average of 25 days. Under President Obama, the wait has averaged 104 days. For Circuit Court judges, the time has increased six-fold, from 26 days to 163 days on average.

Senators need only to look to Arizona to see the real impact that playing politics with judicial nominations has on the ability of citizens to get prompt access to justice.
 

PFAW

In State of the Union, Obama Calls for Immigration Reform and DREAM ACT

In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama made a common-sense plea for comprehensive immigration reform, including a reference to the DREAM ACT, the popular measure that would provide a path to citizenship for young adults who, through no fault of their own, were brought into the country illegally as children, provided they graduate from high school with a commitment to go to college or join the military. The DREAM Act was blocked by Senate Republicans at the end of last year.

One last point about education. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet they live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense.

Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. And I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I know that debate will be difficult. I know it will take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.

Opposition to the DREAM Act and to comprehensive reform has been based largely on reactionary anti-immigrant politics—politics that, as Obama said, shouldn’t trump human decency and economic sense.
 

PFAW

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.

PFAW

Senator Max Baucus Introduces Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United

While Republicans in Washington are celebrating the anniversary of Citizens United by threatening to scrap the public finance system for elections and allow corporations to donate directly to candidates, Senator Max Baucus of Montana is standing up with the vast majority of Americans who want to see Congress curb the enormous political clout of corporations and overturn Citizens United. Yesterday, Senator Baucus said he will reintroduce a Constitutional Amendment that would give elected officials the right to regulate corporate contributions to political organizations and reverse the Court’s sweeping ruling:

“The foundation of democracy is based on the ability of the people to elect a government that represents them - the people, not big business or foreign corporations. As Montanans, we learned our lesson almost a century ago when the copper kings used their corporate power to drown out the people and buy elections. Today, we have some of the toughest campaign finance laws in the land, and they work. Now we've got to fight to protect the voices on hard-working Montanans and keep elections in the hands of the people, and that's just what I intend to do,” Baucus said.

In the Citizen’s United case, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations, including foreign corporations, had the right to spend unlimited dollars from their general funds to make independent expenditures at any time during an election cycle - including directly calling for the election or defeat of a candidate.

As a result of the Supreme Court's ruling, Montana's century-old campaign finance laws limiting corporate spending are now also in jeopardy.

Baucus’ Constitutional amendment would restore the authority to regulate corporate political expenditure and protect states' right to regulate contributions in the way that works best for them. The amendment does not modify the First Amendment, and the language specifies that this does not affect freedom of the press in any way.
PFAW

One Year After Citizens United, Right-Wing Demands Even More Corporate Money and Less Transparency in Politics

As Americans remember the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United with calls for action to limit corporate influence in politics and reverse the Court’s reckless decision, pro-corporate activists and their Republican allies in Congress seek to further erode corporate accountability and transparency. As American University Constitutional law professor, Maryland State Senator, and People For Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin writes, Citizens United not only ushered an avalanche of corporate and secret money in elections but also paved the way for more attacks on restrictions on corporate power. Raskin asks:

Do you want to wipe out the ban on federal corporate contributions that has been in place since 1907? This should be a piece of cake. If a corporation is like any other group of citizens organized to participate in politics for the purpose of expenditures, why not contributions too?

Apparently, the answer is “yes.”  While the majority decision in Citizens United said that corporations can use money from their general treasuries to finance outside groups, the ban on direct donations from corporations to candidates was left intact. But as profiled in People For’s report “Citizens Blindsided,” corporations have a number of mouthpieces, front groups, and political allies who want to create even more ways for Big Business to influence American politics.

NPR’s Peter Overby reports that pro-corporate activists from groups like Citizens United and the Center for Competitive Politics now want Republicans in Congress to further weaken already-diluted laws on transparency and fairness in elections:

Citizens United has helped to upend the debate over political money — so much so that when the American Future Fund ran a radio ad targeting Sen. Kent Conrad earlier this month for the 2012 Senate race, it was treated as just part of the political game. Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said this week that he won't seek re-election.



Michael Franz, a political scientist with the Wesleyan Media Project, tracks political ads.

"The effect of Citizens United in 2010 may not have been as huge, because what was going on had been set in motion earlier," he said. "But what the court did in Citizens United could suggest huge effects for other campaign finance laws down the road."

First of all, disclosure is under attack.

"Just because it may be constitutional to impose these disclosure rules, doesn't mean it makes for sound policy," said Michael Boos, counsel to the group Citizens United.

The federal ban on foreign donors faces a court challenge. House Republicans plan to vote next week to kill off public financing in presidential elections.

And the Center for Competitive Politics, an anti-regulation group, wants to undo the century-old ban on corporate contributions to federal candidates.

That was one of the first campaign finance laws on the books. The center says the corporate world now is far different from what it was in 1907, when Congress imposed the ban.
PFAW

More Voices Call For a Constitutional Amendment to Reverse Citizens United as Ruling’s Anniversary Approaches

Friday is the first anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which helped unleash massive corporate spending in the 2010 elections, and more voices have emerged to denounce the Court’s wrongheaded and extreme ruling. The decision’s impact on public policy debates became more apparent today as the House of Representatives prepares to vote to repeal the health care reform law after pro-corporate groups spent handsomely to discredit the law with bogus charges and attack Congressmen which supported reform.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, along with companies like Patagonia, Stonyfield Farms and Honest Tea, have launched Business for Democracy, “a coalition of like-minded businesses to protest a Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on corporate campaign spending in candidate elections.” The Wall Street Journal reports that “members of ‘Business for Democracy’ believe ‘the decision is inconsistent with the basic ideal of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’" and support a constitutional amendment to reverse the decision.

In today’s Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel discussed how the vast corporate spending to influence the midterm elections was “just an experiment” compared to how corporations plan to sway the 2012 election. But despite the push by pro-corporate groups to keep spending by businesses in elections unchecked, the efforts for legislative remedies and the push for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United persevere:

According to Bill de Blasio, New York City's public advocate, Citizens United spending - that is, spending that was only made possible by the court's ruling - accounted for 15 percent of the roughly $4 billion spent on the 2010 midterm elections. Eighty-five million dollars of Citizens United money was spent on U.S. Senate races alone. Worse, 30 percent of all spending by outside groups was funded by anonymous donations, an illegal action prior to the ruling. Forty million of the dollars spent on Senate races came from sources that might never be revealed.

But as striking as these consequences might be, the 2010 election was just an experiment, the first opportunity to test the new law. In future elections, corporations and shadowy organizations will have a clearer understanding of the boundaries they are operating within, a reality that is sure to translate into more undisclosed cash. And the savvier corporate players know that the mere threat of a corporate onslaught of funding for or against a candidate is enough to win legislative favor, in effect blunting prospects for sound regulation, consumer protection and fair tax policies. As former senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), himself a victim of Citizens United spending, said, "It is going to be worse in 2012 unless we do something - much worse."

Yet even as we lament this decision, we should recognize the opportunity it presents. Justice Roberts and his allies overreached so brazenly that they have created an opening for genuine reform.



The clearest and boldest counter to the court's ruling would be a constitutional amendment stating unequivocally that corporations are not people and do not have the right to buy elections. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) introduced such an amendment to counter Citizens United during the last session of Congress and views it as the only sure way to beat back the court. "Justice Brandeis got it right," she noted last February. " 'We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.' "

Campaigns for constitutional amendments demand a great deal of patience and tenacity. But as Jamie Raskin, a Democratic Maryland state senator and professor of constitutional law at American University, notes, "American citizens have repeatedly amended the Constitution to defend democracy when the Supreme Court acts in collusion with democracy's enemies." Not only is a push for an amendment a worthy act, it also provides a unique opportunity to educate the broader public, raise the profile of this important issue and force elected officials to go on record as to where they stand. The campaign could create enormous pressure on state legislatures and Congress, prompting changes to campaign finance even before an amendment is ratified.

Success will require a coalition that transcends party. In this case, there is promising news. An August 2010 Survey USA poll found that 77 percent of all voters - including 70 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of independents - view corporate spending in elections as akin to bribery. Broad majorities favor limiting corporate control over our political lives. A coordinated effort, executed right, could unite progressives, good-government reformers and conservative libertarians in a fight to restore democracy.
PFAW

Chief Justice Roberts Urges Senate to Confirm Judicial Nominees

Chief Justice John Roberts called on Friday for Senate Republicans to stop playing politics with judicial nominees. Referring to “the persistent problem of judicial vacancies,” Roberts urged the president and the Senate to find a way to fill the growing number of vacancies in the federal courts:

“We do not comment on the merits of individual nominees,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote on Friday. “That is as it should be. The judiciary must respect the constitutional prerogatives of the president and Congress in the same way that the judiciary expects respect for its constitutional role.”

But he identified what he called a systemic problem.

“Each political party has found it easy to turn on a dime from decrying to defending the blocking of judicial nominations, depending on their changing political fortunes,” he said.

The upshot, he said, was “acute difficulties for some judicial districts.”

The chief justice noted that the Senate recently filled a number of vacancies. Including 19 recently confirmed judges, the Senate has confirmed 62 of Mr. Obama’s nominees. There are 96 federal court vacancies, according to the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.

“There remains,” the chief justice wrote, “an urgent need for the political branches to find a long-term solution to this recurring problem.”

Before the Senate left town for Christmas, it confirmed only 19 of the 38 judicial nominations that had been pending on its calendar. Many of the nominees, easily confirmed once their nominations reached a vote, had been waiting as long as a year just to get a vote from the Senate. Of the 19 nominees left on the calendar, the vast majority had little or no opposition from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee...but they all will start the confirmation process over again in the new year.
 

PFAW

2008’s Court

David Savage of the Los Angeles Times and Adam Liptak of the New York Times both examined this week how president Obama’s two Supreme Court picks are changing the dynamic of the high court. “Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan,” writes Savage, “have joined the fray and reenergized the liberal wing.”

Gone are the mismatches where the Scalia wing overshadowed reserved and soft-spoken liberals like now-retired Justices David H. Souter and John Paul Stevens. Instead, the liberals often take the lead and press attorneys defending the states or corporations.

"They're clearly on a roll," said Washington attorney Lisa S. Blatt, who has argued regularly before the high court. "They are engaged and really active. It just feels like a different place."

That dynamic was on display this fall, when a court that leans conservative on cases of crime and punishment heard California's appeal in a case where a panel of three federal judges had ordered the release of about 40,000 prisoners. The state's lawyer stepped to the lectern with reason to expect a friendly reception.

The order is "extraordinary and unprecedented," Carter G. Phillips began, and "extraordinarily premature" because the state was not given enough time to solve its prison problems.

But Sotomayor soon cut him off.

"Slow down from the rhetoric," she said, launching into a withering discussion of the state's 20-year history of severe prison overcrowding and "the needless deaths" from poor medical care.

Kagan picked up the theme, contending that the state had spent years fighting with the judges but not solving the problem. It's too late now for "us to re-find the facts," Kagan said. The California judges had delved into the details for 20 years, and it was time now to decide whether the remedy was right, she said.

While Kagan, due to her recent role as the administration’s Solicitor General, has had to sit out many of the most contentious cases since she took her seat on the court, Sotomayor has clearly shown herself “alert to the humanity of the people whose cases make their way to the Supreme Court,” writes Liptak. He looks at the three opinions Sotomayor has written commenting on the court’s decision not to hear particular cases:

Justice Sotomayor wrote three of the opinions, more than any other justice, and all concerned the rights of criminal defendants or prisoners. The most telling one involved a Louisiana prisoner infected with H.I.V. No other justice chose to join it.

The prisoner, Anthony C. Pitre, had stopped taking his H.I.V. medicine to protest his transfer from one facility to another. Prison officials responded by forcing him to perform hard labor in 100-degree heat. That punishment twice sent Mr. Pitre to the emergency room.

The lower courts had no sympathy for Mr. Pitre’s complaints, saying he had brought his troubles on himself.

Justice Sotomayor saw things differently.

“Pitre’s decision to refuse medication may have been foolish and likely caused a significant part of his pain,” she wrote. “But that decision does not give prison officials license to exacerbate Pitre’s condition further as a means of punishing or coercing him — just as a prisoner’s disruptive conduct does not permit prison officials to punish the prisoner by handcuffing him to a hitching post.”

In the courtroom, she was no less outraged at the argument in a case concerning prison conditions in California, peppering a lawyer for the state with heated questions.

“When are you going to avoid the needless deaths that were reported in this record?” she asked. “When are you going to avoid or get around people sitting in their feces for days in a dazed state?”

In her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kagan praised her former employer and mentor Justice Thurgood Marshall, saying his “whole life was about seeing the courts take seriously claims that were not taken seriously anyplace else.” Obama’s appointment of two justices who follow vocally in his path may be one of the most profound and lasting results of the 2008 elections.
 

PFAW

Sessions Puts His Lab Coat Back On

Back in September, we wrote about Sen. Jeff Sessions’ discovery of what he called the “ACLU chromosome”—according to the senator, a common genetic defect that disqualifies bearers from the federal judiciary.

Well, Dr. Sessions is back at it. TPM has this video of Sessions ranting yesterday about the supposed prevalence of the “ACLU chromosome” in President Obama’s judicial nominees:

As Sen. Mark Udall later pointed out on the Senate floor, it’s unlikely that Sen. Sessions would have a similar reaction to a “Federalist Society chromosome”. While a few of President Obama’s nominees have had a history working with the ACLU—for instance, Edward Chen of California who worked to prevent discrimination against Asian Americans—President Bush made a point of packing the courts with judges who belonged to the far-right Federalist Society.

It’s absurd arguments like Sessions’ that are keeping qualified, well-respected nominees like Chen from even receiving an up or down vote in the Senate. While reports say that the Senate GOP has finally agreed to vote on 19 judicial nominees who they have been stalling despite little or no opposition to their confirmations, four nominees, including Chen, will be left out to dry without even a vote.

And, for the record, the ACLU had this to say about Sessions’ rant:

"Senator Sessions' reference to 'ACLU DNA' in President Obama's judicial nominees should be greeted as a welcome discovery by all Americans, regardless of party. For 90 years, the ACLU has defended the rights enshrined in the Constitution for everyone, regardless of their political beliefs. While not everyone agrees with us on every issue, Americans have come to rely on the ACLU for its unyielding dedication to principle."

"There is a long record of highly respected ACLU-affiliated lawyers who have been appointed to the federal bench, including luminaries such as Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall, Felix Frankfurter, Arthur Goldberg and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. All have demonstrated their dedication to the Bill of Rights in important decisions supporting freedom of speech, the right to due process and gender and racial equality. There are also dozens of highly regarded district court and appellate court judges who have served or serve now on federal benches throughout the nation. Their ACLU background has helped them bring to the judicial system a steadfast commitment to constitutional values and an understanding of the critical role that the judiciary plays in safeguarding them."

"If you ask us, ACLU chromosomes make for a pretty remarkable gene pool," she added.


 

PFAW

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.”

PFAW

Progress in Maryland Voter Suppression Investigation

There has been a development in investigating one of the Election Day efforts to suppress the Democratic vote.

On Election Day, Maryland Democrats received telephone calls late on Election Day telling them that Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley had won reelection, so they could "relax" (i.e., not vote). It was soon discovered that the calls were generated by an operative working for the campaign of O'Malley's Republican opponent, former Governor Bob Ehrlich.

On Friday, state police raided that operative's home. According to the Baltimore Sun:

Investigators for the state prosecutor on Friday raided the home and office of Julius Henson, the political operative who ordered the controversial Election Day robocalls for former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich. ...

Henson, a Democratic operative who was working this year for the Republican Ehrlich, ordered more than 112,000 robocalls before the polls closed on Election Day last month.

The calls focused on Democratic precincts in Baltimore and Prince George's County. The recorded message featured a female voice suggesting that Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley had already won the election and encouraging supporters to stay home. ...

Ehrlich, who paid Henson $111,000 for "community outreach," told the Annapolis Capital last week that the calls were "done outside of my purview." When news of the calls broke on Election Night, an Ehrlich spokesman called them "absolutely irresponsible."

Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler has filed a civil lawsuit against Henson, alleging voter intimidation and vote suppression.

By the way, the effort to suppress the Democratic vote failed. Not only did Governor O'Malley win reelection by 14 points (double the margin over the same opponent in 2006), but Democrats gained seats in the state senate.

PFAW

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

PFAW

Breaking news: House passes DADT repeal, sends bill to Senate

On a 250-175 vote, the House just passed repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. People For the American Way and African American Ministers in Action issued the following statements:

 

Michael Keegan, President of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:

“The House has once again stood with the American people, the leaders of our military, and our men and women in uniform in voting to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. The minority of Republican senators who are fighting to save this discriminatory and failed policy have resorted to far-fetched arguments and procedural excuses in their efforts to stall the process of repeal. Secretary of Defense Gates and Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mullen have spoken clearly and eloquently about the need for immediate repeal, and more than 60 senators have said they will listen to their advice. It’s now time for the Senate to put aside excuses, and do what’s right for the military and the country.”

Leslie Watson Malachi, Director of African American Ministers in Action, added:

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell forces men and women serving this country to make compromises with the values of honor, integrity, faithfulness and service. Until the policy is repealed, gay and lesbian service members will continue to be forced to lie about their identities in order to serve their country. Gay and lesbian individuals are ready and willing to step up, and have stood up to the challenge of military service. They share in the sacrifices made by their family, friends, and neighbors. During this season of giving, give what they deserve - to serve honestly and openly with dignity.”

Repeal now goes to 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

PFAW and AAMIA have already sent letters to the Senate urging the same.

From the PFAW letter:

Nationwide polls and the Pentagon’s own working group have shown strong support for the right of servicemembers to serve their country openly and honestly. We ask you to make open service a priority by casting your vote to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

From the AAMIA letter:

There is a time and a season for every activity, every purpose. Now is the time, this is the season to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

I know there’s been a lot of confusing procedural wrangling lately, but the time is now. The Senate must take up the House bill. It must be sent to the President’s desk. Call (202) 224-3121.

On a personal note, one of the newspapers in my alma mater’s hometown recently published an editorial on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the DREAM Act. Please click here to read Terry Smith’s piece in the Athens News.

PFAW

Another Poll Finds Wide Support for DADT Repeal

A new poll from ABC News and the Washington Post shows that a staggering 77% of Americans believe that Congress should let gay and lesbian Americans serve openly in the military. The poll, conducted from December 9 to 12, reflects previous surveys that show overwhelming support for repealing the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. Even self-described Republicans (74%), conservatives (67%), and white evangelical Christians (70%) believe that gay and lesbian soldiers who publicly disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve.

Just as the vast majority of Americans think that the military should not discriminate against gay and lesbian soldiers, a Pentagon study showed that the majority of military service members do not oppose repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Today the House of Representatives is set to vote today on a stand-alone bill to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell introduced by Congressmen Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Patrick Murphy (D-PA), an Iraq war veteran. If the bill wins approval in the House, the measure will be taken up in the Senate with the support of a bipartisan group of Senators.

With the military leadership and service members and the American people all in agreement that it is time to drop Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the only thing that stands in the way of the discriminatory policy’s repeal are Senate Republicans who want to obstruct legislative action no matter the cost.

PFAW

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal: The fight is not over

PFAW was just as disappointed as anyone to see last Thursday’s procedural defeat of the FY11 Defense authorization bill.
 

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell has been a failed experiment in discrimination—it has kept countless patriotic Americans from serving their country in the military, and sent thousands of brave men and women packing after honorable careers in the armed forces. For too long, an unjust, ineffective, and unpopular policy has been kept in place by the divisive politics of the far-right fringe. As Sec. Gates has acknowledged, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell won’t hold up for long in the court of law. The Senate’s refusal to end the policy at Sec. Gates’ request—and to sink an important Defense bill along with it—is short-sighted and irresponsible, and puts right-wing politics ahead of national security.

But we have called on you to keep fighting, in particular on behalf of S. 4023 – the stand-alone repeal bill introduced by Senator Lieberman, with Senators Collins, Gillibrand, Mark Udall, and 38 other cosponsors (at press time).

Last night, a Department of Defense Authorization bill that contained the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell was successfully blocked, falling three votes short of the 60 needed for the bill to get an up-or-down vote on the Senate floor. But there's good news… Several senators who voted to block the bill did so not because they oppose repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell but because they had procedural objections to how the bill was being pushed forward.

Shortly after the vote, Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) announced they were introducing Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal as a stand-alone bill and expressed confidence that they had more than the 60 votes required to move the bill forward. It's been rare in recent years that we could count Sens. Lieberman and Collins as allies in the fight for progress on many of the issues we care about. But in this instance, they deserve to be commended. They are matching their words with action and moving a bill which could, once and for all, be the final nail in the coffin for the discriminatory policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Help shore up your senators' support for repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell by calling them now and urging them to vote YES on repeal.

Capitol Switchboard - (202) 224-3121

Last Friday, repeal advocates gathered on Capitol Hill to make sure that the Senate keeps fighting. From Metro Weekly:

I attended the rally and was heartened by the passionate voices emanating from the podium. More information about those speakers, including additional video, is available here and here.

PFAW