Supreme Court

Santorum Slamming JFK, Secularism

Fifty years ago, the man who would become America’s first Catholic president delivered a historic speech that helped reduce anti-Catholic prejudice in our public life. Five decades later, a man who would like to be the nation’s second Catholic president celebrated the occasion by slamming Kennedy. It’s a remarkable reversal. 

Former Senator Rick Santorum has been using the anniversary of then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy’s famous address on church-state separation to decry the destructive forces of secularism that he says Kennedy unleashed. (People For the American Way is among Santorum’s targets.)
 
Santorum’s attack deserves attention, especially at a time when religious and political leaders, Santorum among them, are eagerly fanning the flames of religious intolerance. Much of Santorum’s recent speech – delivered in Houston on September 9 and reprised since then at events like Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference – is given over to repeated claims that Kennedy emboldened secularists who want a public square “cleansed of all religious wisdom and the voice of religious people of all faiths.” He says Kennedy’s speech launched a movement that is “repressing or banishing people of faith from having a say in government.”
 
These inflammatory claims are regularly advanced by Religious Right leaders who portray supporters of church-state separation as hostile to faith and religious liberty. But how can they be taken seriously?
 
Choose any topic that is being debated in the public square, and you’ll find people of faith advancing their values, probably on both sides of the issue – and not just on abortion and gay rights.  Religious Right activists spouted Tea Party arguments about the evils of government while progressive religious leaders worked hard to promote health care reform. The Catholic hierarchy is among the religious organizations working to deny gay couples legal recognition while other religious groups like the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism are working for full marriage equality.  At the same time, the two groups are both lobbying for humane immigration reform.
 
It’s a complicated scene, and it’s a noisy one. Who has been silenced? Not Ralph Reed, who is bragging that he’s planning to mobilize conservative evangelical voters to turn Election Day into a historic rout for Democrats.  And certainly not conservative Catholics like Santorum.  At Reed’s Faith and Freedom conference, a panel included leaders of two groups organized to promote conservative Catholic values in the public arena – Catholic Advocate and Faithful Catholic Citizens.
 
There are situations that bring constitutional values into tension. America, via the Supreme Court and civil rights legislation, has decided (Rand Paul notwithstanding) that a business owner’s desire to discriminate against racial minorities does not trump other individuals’ right to equal access to public accommodations, even if the desire to discriminate was based on sincerely held religious beliefs.  Courts and legislatures are wrangling with similar situations that consider religious beliefs about homosexuality, abortion, and contraception alongside LGBT Americans’ right to legal equality, and all Americans’ access to medical care.
 
But the fact that some court cases have gone against those seeking a religious exemption to a generally applied law is no grounds for claiming that religious people have been silenced, or no longer have the right to make their case in the public square. What Santorum seems to want is a kind of double standard: religious conservatives can take part in public debate but should be shielded from criticism. They can engage in legal and political advocacy, but if they lose they can claim the process has been stacked against them by sinister anti-religious forces.
 
Santorum argues that the secularist forces unleashed by Kennedy threaten peaceful coexistence and even put American civilization at risk. He says the founders believed that “if they fostered religion and the Judeo-Christian moral code we would achieve something that was never before seen in a country with so many competing faiths - a truly tolerant, democratic and harmonious public square.”
 
But Santorum himself is actively undermining the possibility for a “tolerant, democratic and harmonious” public square. He seeks political gain by branding his opponents as enemies of religious liberty. And he has played a significant role in inflaming an ugly anti-Islamic wave of public opinion that has resulted in fatal violence and could leave communities damaged and divided for years.
 
Santorum portrays himself as heroic, telling audiences, “I have been criticized in the media for daring to speak out on these sensitive moral issues.”  That’s not true.  Santorum is criticized not for “daring to speak out” but for saying things many people disagree with. Santorum has every right to denigrate the loving relationships of same-sex couples by comparing them to man-on-dog sex. But just as surely others have the right to criticize and even ridicule him for those statements.  
 
The First Amendment is a two-way street. But that seems to be one truth that Santorum and his allies refuse to acknowledge.
PFAW

First Monday in October

Today, as the Supreme Court opens its new term, the major news concerns a decision from last term: the solid rebuke of Citizens United by a bipartisan group of more than 50 legal scholars and public officials. The impact of that decision is poisoning election campaigns around the country and, through the Congress that will be elected as a result, will doubtless impact the lives of every American.

This term, the Court will be deciding at least one new corporate personhood case, as well as other cases affecting our most important rights, including freedom of speech, church-state separation, and due process. Some of the ones we'll be looking at:

Corporate Personhood & Privacy: AT&T v. FCC. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) generally requires federal agencies to disclose records to the public upon request. There are numerous exceptions, such as records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes whose disclosure could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of "personal privacy." The Supreme Court will decide if "personal privacy" applies to corporations, as well as to people.

Free Speech: Snyder v. Phelps. Fred Phelps and his fellow fanatics from the Westboro Baptist Church are infamous for picketing the funerals of military personnel with messages such as "God Hates Fags." According to Phelps, the deaths of U.S. servicemembers are God's punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality. The Supreme Court will determine whether Phelps' funeral-picketing activities are protected by the First Amendment. The case will be argued Wednesday.

Free Speech: Schwarzenegger v. Video Software Dealers Association. The Supreme Court will address whether a California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors violates the free speech protections of the First Amendment. California argues that states can restrict minors' access to violent material just as they can with sexual material. During oral arguments in November, we may get a sense as to whether the Supreme Court agrees.

Church-State Separation: Arizona Christian Tuition v. Winn. Arizona has a program that gives parents tax credits for tuition at private schools. Most parents use these credits toward tuition at religious schools. A group of taxpayers sued, arguing that this violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Before the Supreme Court can decide that issue, it must first determine if the plaintiffs have standing to sue. In 2007, the Roberts Court limited the circumstances in which taxpayers can challenge government expenditures that violate the Establishment Clause, and they may do so again in this case.

State Secrets Privilege: General Dynamics v. U.S. and Boeing v. U.S. These cases are actually not about the most infamous uses of the states secret privilege, which notoriously has been used to shut down lawsuits against the government alleging U.S. complicity in torture and other illegal activities. This time, it's the federal government that has initiated the lawsuit, which raises interesting Due Process issues. These consolidated cases address whether the United States can sue two defense contractors for failing to fulfill their contractual obligations, while at the same time using the state secrets privilege to prevent the companies from presenting a defense.

Employment of Immigrants: Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Whiting. In 2007, Arizona passed a law targeting employers who hire undocumented immigrants by revoking their licenses to operate in the state. The state law also requires employers to participate in a federal electronic employment verification system that federal law specifically makes voluntary. The Supreme Court will decide whether federal immigration legislation preempts Arizona's laws.

Preemption - Right to Sue Drug Manufacturers: Bruesewitz v. Wyeth. The federal Vaccine Act preempts certain design defect lawsuits in state court against child vaccine manufacturers "if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings." The Bruesewitz family argues that their lawsuit isn't preempted because the side effects were not unavoidable: A safer, alternative vaccine was available. The Supreme Court will decide if the Vaccine Act preempts the family's suit.

Preemption - Right to Sue Car Manufacturers: Williamson v. Mazda. An accident victim sued Mazda in state court for negligently choosing to install a lap-only seatbelt in the back center seat instead of a safer lap/shoulder belt. However, federal car safety regulations at the time specifically allowed lap-only seatbelts. The Supreme Court will decide if Congress intended the federal safety regulations to preempt such state lawsuits.

PFAW

Pro-GOP Outside Groups Eclipse Parties in Spending

Traditionally, political parties and their campaign arms spend the most amount of money promoting their congressional and senatorial candidates across the country. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, however, a flurry of outside groups has materialized with gigantic war chests. As profiled in After Citizens United: A Look into the Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics, the Court’s decision allowed for new groups to surface and older organizations to increase their fundraising capacities. In the midterm elections, Kristin Jensen and Jonathan D. Salant of Bloomberg report that political committees supporting Republicans and attacking Democratic officials have so-far outspent both the Republican and Democratic parties’ campaign arms in 2010:

Republican-leaning groups outspent the two political parties combined during September’s first four weeks in a bid to sway the U.S. congressional elections, Federal Election Commission reports show.

The groups -- including Crossroads GPS, advised by Republican strategist Karl Rove, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce -- spent more than $33 million, mainly on advertising. That compares with just under $20 million spent by the Republican and Democratic committees charged with electing their party’s candidates.

Outside organizations are focusing most of their fire on Senate races, particularly in California, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Nevada and Pennsylvania, their reports to the FEC show. Many of the groups are registered as nonprofits that don’t have to disclose their donors, drawing protest from Democrats including President Barack Obama and Montana Senator Max Baucus.

“Republican operatives in the shadows are clearly winning the hidden money game,” said Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

Obama has used two of his recent weekly addresses to blast Republicans for blocking legislation that would make groups engaged in political activity report their contributions. Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, today asked Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Doug Shulman to investigate the organizations.

While political parties and their campaign arms must disclose their donors and have caps on contribution amounts, many outside groups accept unlimited amounts of money from individuals and corporations and do not have to disclose the sources of their funding. Thanks to such organizational advantages, such outside groups are now overshadowing political parties as regulations concerning transparency and spending fall by the wayside.

PFAW

Americans For Prosperity Sends Us an Email

Yesterday, PFAW released “After Citizens United,” documenting the torrents of money that have poured into the political system since the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision allowing corporations the same rights as people to influence elections.

Imagine my glee when I found an e-mail from Americans For Prosperity, one of the organizations profiled in the report, in my Inbox this morning:

People for the American Way,

You recently released a report where you parroted a false attack that has repeatedly been levied against Americans for Prosperity. Neither our operations nor our donors were affected in any way by Citizens United. Please see our release below in response to the President’s repeated misrepresentation of this important Supreme Court decision.

I await your clarification.

James Valvo

Director of Government Affairs

Americans for Prosperity

James helpfully included this press release by way of support.

We’re always happy to hear feedback on our reports, even unsubstantiated criticism, so I figured AFP might appreciate some feedback on some of the work it's been doing.

James –

Thanks so much for your note regarding our report.

We’d be more than happy to address your claims just as soon as you address a few concerns that we have.

As our report notes, AFP spent $750,000 on an ad claiming that “government-run health care” would harm cancer patients, especially women with breast cancer. PolitiFact gave the ad its “Pants on Fire” rating for distorting both new recommendations on mammograms and the Health Care Reform bill, which has a provision to “ensure that mammograms for women aged 40 to 50 would be covered,” and FactCheck called it “very misleading.” AFP should retract these ads.

AFP has also run ads concentrated on the Stimulus Plan, the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and Health Care Reform. AFP’s ads push the fictitious claim that Health Care Reform creates “Government Healthcare.” PolitiFact points out that “Obama’s plan leaves in place the private health care system, but seeks to expand it to the uninsured.” AFP should certainly retract these ads.

In addition, your group also misleads viewers by interpreting savings from waste and overpayment in the Medicare program as cuts affecting seniors. Americans for Prosperity also employs false attacks against the American Clean Energy and Security Act, and groundlessly blames the Stimulus Plan for increased unemployment, even though studies show that the Stimulus stopped the prolongation of the massive job losses which began under the Bush Administration. These claims should be clarified or retracted.

Also, while I have your attention, I’d be curious to get your take on the unethical and possibly illegal voter caging in Wisconsin in which AFP has been implicated. As you know, federal law prohibits racially targeted caging operations as well as the process of challenging voters based solely on returned mail. It seems appropriate for AFP to make public statements affirming the right of all American citizens to cast a vote and to dissociate itself from any attempts at voter suppression.

Once you’ve taken care of those issues, I’d be happy to arrange a time for our lawyers to go over our report with you.

With best wishes,

Drew

Drew Courtney

Director of Communications

People For the American Way

We’ll see if they write back.

In the mean time, read more about Americans For Prosperity, Club For Growth, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other organizations trying to buy the 2010 elections in “After Citizens United.”

PFAW

New Term for the Supreme Court, New Opportunities for Corporations

As detailed in PFAW Foundation’s report Rise of the Corporate Court, the Roberts Court has been routinely and consistently bending the law and the Constitution to elevate the rights of corporations over the rights of individuals. To borrow a metaphor from Chief Justice Roberts, when corporate power over employees, consumers, and the American population at large is at risk, the umpire is biased. Corporations win, people lose.

In January, this judicial tilting of the scales of justice to favor corporate America reached a new height with Citizens United.

So what’s in store for the Supreme Court term that begins next Monday? While we will not know for sure until the opinions are issued, we are beginning to see some of the cases that may become important. For instance, the Court earlier today added a number of new cases to its docket, including three focusing on the rights of corporations in what the New York Times characterizes as “unusual settings.”

In two of the cases, the justices will consider how the state secrets privilege, which can allow the government to shut down litigation by invoking national security, applies in a contract dispute between the Navy and military contractors hired to create a stealth aircraft.

In the third case, the justices agreed to decide whether corporations have privacy rights for purposes of the Freedom of Information Act. ...

The privacy case [FCC v. AT&T] will consider whether a provision of the Freedom of Information Act concerning "personal privacy" applies to corporations. ...

AT&T seeks to block the release of documents it provided to the FCC, which conducted an investigation into claims of overcharges by the company in a program to provide equipment and services to schools. The documents were sought under the freedom of information law by a trade association representing some of AT&T's competitors.

AT&T relied on an exemption to the law for law enforcement records that could "constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." ...

The federal government, represented by Solicitor General Kagan, urged the Supreme Court to reject the argument that the exemption "protects the so-called 'privacy' of inanimate corporate entities."

This case will turn on the language and legislative history of the FOIA statute, as well as prior Court rulings. Court watchers will be looking out for any efforts by the Roberts Court to use this case, as it did in Citizens United, to aggrandize corporate power far beyond anything contemplated by the law or even the parties themselves.

PFAW

Conservative Groups Saturating the Airways

The Associated Press and the Washington Post described today what many predicated after the Supreme Court in Citizens United knocked down most restrictions on corporate spending in elections: political groups with a pro-corporate agenda and little transparency have flooded the airways.  Jim Kuhnhenn and Liz Sidoti of the AP write that “groups allied with the Republican Party and financed in part by corporations and millionaires have amassed a crushing 6-1 advantage in television spending, and now are dominating the airwaves in closely contested districts and states across the country.”   Many of these organizations, like Crossroads GPS and Americans for Job Security, can take unlimited amounts of money from both individual and corporate donors without having to disclose the sources of their funding.

In the Washington Post, Dan Eggen and T.W. Farnam describe the rapid growth of so-called “super PACs.”  Such super PACs have “spent $4 million in the last week alone and are registering at the rate of nearly one per day.” The foremost super PAC today is the right-wing group American Crossroads, Crossroads GPS’ sister organization.  Although such committees must disclose their donors, “unlike regular political action committees, there are no limits on how much money can be raised or spent.  And unlike some other types of committees, super PACs can explicitly urge voters to oppose or support a candidate in an election.”

American Crossroads, which was founded by Repulican patriarchs Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, has received huge contributions from a handful of wealthy individuals and corporations.   Although they cannot coordinate with campaigns, “In two days last week, American Crossroads' super PAC reported spending $2.8 million on ads attacking Democratic candidates, including Rep. Joe Sestak (Pa.), Jack Conway (Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.).”   With more and more money poured into politics as a result of the Citizens United ruling, the burst in television advertising in the 2010 midterm election is just the beginning, as many of these outside groups prepare for the presidential election in 2012.

PFAW

“The ACLU Chromosome” and other judicial disqualifiers

Politico today outlines an emerging trend in judicial obstruction. While partisan battles over judicial nominees have in past years focused on the occasional appellate court judge or Supreme Court justice, these days even nominees to lower-profile district courts are fair game for partisan obstructionism. Among other problems, this doesn’t make it easy to keep a well-functioning, fully staffed federal court system:

According to data collected by Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution and analyzed by POLITICO, Obama’s lower-court nominees have experienced an unusually low rate of confirmation and long periods of delay, especially after the Senate Judiciary Committee has referred the nomination for a confirmation vote by the full Senate. Sixty-four percent of the district court nominees Obama submitted to the Senate before May 2010 have been confirmed — a number dwarfed by the 91 percent confirmation rate for Bush’s district court nominees for the same period.

But analysts say the grindingly slow pace in the Senate, especially on district court nominations, will have serious consequences.

Apart from the burden of a heavier case load for current judges and big delays across the federal judicial system, Wheeler, a judicial selection scholar at Brookings, says that potential nominees for district courts may think twice before offering themselves up for a federal nomination if the process of confirmation continues to be both unpredictable and long.

"I think it means first that vacancies are going to persist for longer than they should. There’s just not the judge power that there should be," Wheeler said. And private lawyers who are not already judges may hesitate to put their practices on hold during the confirmation process, he added, because "you can’t be certain that you’ll get confirmed" for even a district judgeship, an entry-level position to the federal bench.

Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has been at the lead of the GOP’s obstruction of every judicial nominee who can possibly be obstructed. He told Politico that he simply wants to make sure every new federal judges passes his litmus test: "If they’re not committed to the law, they shouldn’t be a judge, in my opinion."

Sounds fair. But the problem is, of course, that Sessions’ definition of “committed to the law” is something more like “committed to the way Jeff Sessions sees the law.”

In a meeting yesterday to vote on eight judicial nominees-- five of whom were going through the Judiciary Committee for the second or third time after Senate Republicans refused to vote on their nominations--Sessions rallied his troops against Edward Chen, nominated to serve as a district court judge in California. Chen is a widely respected magistrate judge who spent years fighting discrimination against Asian Americans for the American Civil Liberties Union. But Sessions smelled a rat: Chen, he said, has “the ACLU chromosome.”

The phrase really illuminates what Sessions and his cohort mean when they talk about finding judges “committed to the law” or who won’t stray from “the plain words of statutes or the Constitution.” It isn’t about an “objective” reading of the Constitution. It’s about appointing judges who will find ways to protect powerful interests like Exxon, BP, and the Chamber of Commerce, while denying legal protections to working people, women, racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, and gays and lesbians.

(Sessions himself was nominated for a judgeship in 1986, but was rejected by a bipartisan majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee for his history of not-so-ACLU-like activity).

Sessions’ warns that “Democrats hold federal judiciary as the great engine of the left,” but the reality is far from that. Besides having the most conservative Supreme Court in decades, nearly 40% of all current federal judges were appointed by George W. Bush, who made a point of recruiting judges with stellar right-wing credentials.

No matter how much disarray it causes in the federal courts, it’s in the interest of Sessions and the Right Wing to keep the number of judicial seats President Obama fills to a minimum. If they succeed, they keep their conservative, pro-corporate courts, tainted as little as possible by the sinister “ACLU chromosome.”
 

PFAW

The GOP Displays Effective Use of Taxpayer Dollars

The Senate Judiciary Committee this morning voted to approve seven federal judicial nominees. Four of these nominees are Judiciary Committee pros by now—they’ve already been approved by the committee, but were blocked by Senate Republicans, and had to start the nomination process all over again. Two are going through the process for the third time.

So what high ground is the GOP standing on in their months long blocking of these four nominees and insistence on holding the same debate multiple times?

Well, there are the objections to Rhode Island nominee John McConnell, who had the gall to represent victims of lead paint poisoning, and be proud of it.

Not to mention the record of former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler, whose work as a judge irked business interests so much, they spent $1 million to stop his reelection.

Then there’s the outrage against U.S. Magistrate Edward Chen for his work fighting discrimination against Asian Americans for the American Civil Liberties Union.

And then, of course, there’s the all-out battle against Ninth Circuit Appeals Court nominee Goodwin Liu. As the New York Times editorial page points out today, the GOP’s resistance to Liu centers mainly around the fear that he’s so qualified, he might end up on the Supreme Court.

And these are just the nominees to which the GOP has been able to articulate some sort of objection. There are now 23 nominees waiting for votes on the Senate floor--17 of them made it through the Judiciary Committee without the objection of a single Republican.

Witness the trademark efficiency of the Party of No.
 

PFAW

Scalia’s Selective Originalism

Earlier this week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told an audience of law students that the Constitution does not protect against sex discrimination. In a great column for Time today, Adam Cohen outlines what has gone so wrong with the trend toward vehement--but inconsistent--Constitutional originalism that Scalia represents:

The Constitution would be a poor set of rights if it were locked in the 1780s. The Eighth Amendment would protect us against only the sort of punishment that was deemed cruel and unusual back then. As Justice Breyer has said, "Flogging as a punishment might have been fine in the 18th century. That doesn't mean that it would be OK ... today." And how could we say that the Fourth Amendment limits government wiretapping — when the founders could not have conceived of a telephone, much less a tap?

Justice Scalia doesn't even have consistency on his side. After all, he has been happy to interpret the equal-protection clause broadly when it fits his purposes. In Bush v. Gore, he joined the majority that stopped the vote recount in Florida in 2000 — because they said equal protection required it. Is there really any reason to believe that the drafters — who, after all, were trying to help black people achieve equality — intended to protect President Bush's right to have the same procedures for a vote recount in Broward County as he had in Miami-Dade? (If Justice Scalia had been an equal-protection originalist in that case, he would have focused on the many black Floridians whose votes were not counted — not on the white President who wanted to stop counting votes.)

Even worse, while Justice Scalia argues for writing women out of the Constitution, there is another group he has been working hard to write in: corporations. The word "corporation" does not appear in the Constitution, and there is considerable evidence that the founders were worried about corporate influence. But in a landmark ruling earlier this year, Justice Scalia joined a narrow majority in striking down longstanding limits on corporate spending in federal elections, insisting that they violated the First Amendment.

The view of the Constitution that Scalia champions—where corporations have rights that the Constitution’s authors never imagined, but women, minorities, and working people don’t—has become a popular political bludgeon for many on the Right. GOP senators pilloried now-Justice Elena Kagan during her confirmation hearings for offenses such as thinking Congress has the right to spend money, arguing the case against giving corporations the same free speech rights as human beings, refusing to judge according to a subjective view of “natural rights,” and admiring the man who convinced the Supreme Court that school segregation was unconstitutional.

An avowed allegiance to the original intent of the Constitution has become a must-have for every right-wing candidate. The talking point sounds great, but it hides the real priorities behind it. Anyone who needs reminding of what the fidelity to the Constitution means to the Right needs just to look to Scalia.

 

PFAW

Citizens United Impacts Ohio Senate Race

Senator Sherrod Brown, in this morning's debate over the DISCLOSE Act, noted an article in today's Columbus Dispatch demonstrating the great need for this law:

Before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in January, the most Cincinnati billionaire Carl Lindner could directly contribute to Senate candidate Rob Portman was $4,800.

But because of a decision opening campaigns to corporate contributions, Lindner's American Financial Group was able to give 83 times that amount, $400,000 ... to American Crossroads, a group that former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove helped create to aid GOP candidates. In mid-August, American Crossroads launched a statewide TV ad backing Portman's Senate candidacy.

In this case, a newspaper exposed the corporate spending. But that disclosure to the voters is the exception, not the rule. DISCLOSE would change that - and that's why Senate Republicans are fighting it tooth and nail.

It's worth noting that Portman's Democratic opponent, Lee Fisher, has signed People For the American Way and Public Citizen's Pledge to Protect America's Democracy and supports a constitutional amendment to correct Citizens United.

 

 

PFAW

Senator Sessions Can’t Get His Stories Straight

In a “Critical Judiciary Alert” released today on Facebook (where else?), Senator Jeff Sessions went on the attack against five of President Obama’s judicial nominees that the GOP has worked overtime to obstruct.

The whole piece is a fine example of the out of context scare quotes and blatant distortions that are the stock in trade for Senate Republicans trying to block President Obama’s judges. But it seems that Senator Sessions can’t even keep his arguments in line for the length of one piece.

Take for instance, his attacks against Jack McConnell, a nominee for the District of Rhode Island.

After McConnell’s questionable theory of liability against lead paint manufacturers was unanimously rejected by the Rhode Island Supreme Court, he publicly attacked the decision as letting “wrongdoers off the hook,” revealing a preference for outcome-driven judicial decisions.

Setting aside the fact that fighting against the ingestion of lead paint by children is apparently not a good thing in the eyes of the GOP, Sessions clearly doesn’t like “outcome-driven” judicial decisions (although any lawyer not looking for a positive outcome for his client, as McConnell was doing, seems like a pretty poor attorney to me.) Got it. Outcome driven rulings = bad.

But then, take a gander at Sessions’ attack on Louis Butler, a nominee for the Second Circuit and a former state judge.

In one case, he held that a manufacturer could be held liable for injuries from a product that, as the dissent explained it, the manufacturer “may or may not have produced, which may or may not have caused the plaintiff’s injuries, based on conduct that may have occurred over 100 years ago when some of the defendants were not even part of the relevant market.”

Why, it sounds like Sessions doesn’t like the outcome! And this unhappy outcome is apparently reason to think the judge is doing a poor job. Outcome driven rulings = good?

So what does Senator Sessions want? Outcomes that go his way, or judges who ignore political pressure to rule according to the law?

Of course, there might be a third option: It doesn’t matter. Senator Sessions will say whatever it takes to block judges nominated by President Obama.

PFAW

“The Money’s Flowing,” But From Where?

Michael Luo and Stephanie Strom of The New York Times profiled the rapid growth of political organizations that can receive unlimited contributions but do not have to disclose their donors. 501(c)(4) groups* have become more numerous, and unlike 527’s, do not have to reveal the sources of their funding, which is “arguably more important than ever after the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case earlier this year that eased restrictions on corporate spending on campaigns.”

“I can tell you from personal experience, the money’s flowing,” said Michael E. Toner, a former Republican F.E.C. commissioner, now in private practice at the firm Bryan Cave.

The growing popularity of the groups is making the gaps in oversight of them increasingly worrisome among those mindful of the influence of money on politics.

“The Supreme Court has completely lifted restrictions on corporate spending on elections,” said Taylor Lincoln, research director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, a watchdog group. “And 501(c) serves as a haven for these front groups to run electioneering ads and keep their donors completely secret.”

Almost all of the biggest players among third-party groups, in terms of buying television time in House and Senate races since August, have been 501(c) organizations, and their purchases have heavily favored Republicans, according to data from Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks political advertising.

These organizations are considered “social welfare” groups that are legally allowed to lobby on certain issues, but until Citizens United, were not permitted to explicitly urge voters to vote for or against a candidate. “As a result, rarely do advertisements by 501(c)(4) groups explicitly call for the election or defeat of candidates,” Luo and Strom write, “Instead, they typically attack their positions on issues.” That has changed dramatically since Citizens United, as seen in the rise of organizations like American Crossroads GPS. 501 (c)6 groups that are “business associations” like the US Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Job Security are “spending heavily in support of Republicans.”

But with weak and ineffective regulatory oversight, many of these political organizations disguised as “social welfare” groups can continue to hide their donors from the public eye:

In fact, the I.R.S. is unlikely to know that some of these groups exist until well after the election because they are not required to seek the agency’s approval until they file their first tax forms — more than a year after they begin activity.    

"These groups are popping up like mushrooms after a rain right now, and many of them will be out of business by late November,” Mr. Owens said. “Technically, they would have until January 2012 at the earliest to file anything with the I.R.S. It’s a farce.”    

Social welfare nonprofits are permitted to do an unlimited amount of lobbying on issues related to their primary purpose, but there are limits on campaigning for or against specific candidates.

I.R.S. officials cautioned that what may seem like political activity to the average lay person might not be considered as such under the agency’s legal criteria.



* People For the American Way is a 501(c)(4) organization.

 

 

PFAW

So Much for "Prompt Disclosure"

When the Supreme Court decided earlier this year to allow corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections, the justices in the majority (save Justice Clarence Thomas) took care to note that “prompt disclosure” of political spending would allow citizens to hold candidates, and their funders, accountable. It’s a nice idea…but things haven’t exactly worked out that way.

Instead, Public Citizen reported last week, in the first election after Citizens United, groups funneling money to political activities have increasingly been hiding where their money comes from.

Only 32 percent of the organizations broadcasting electioneering communications in the 2010 primary season revealed in their filings with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) the identities of donors funding their advertisements, according to Public Citizen’s analysis of FEC filings. In contrast, nearly 50 percent revealed their donors in the 2008 election cycle, and close to 100 percent did so in the 2004 and 2006 cycles. Electioneering communications are campaign ads run shortly before elections that focus on candidates but don’t expressly urge a vote for or against them.

Only 10 percent of Republican groups disclosed their funders, in contrast to 50 percent of Democratic groups.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. As Target learned the hard way this summer, shareholders, consumers, and voters aren’t particularly keen on large corporations bankrolling political campaigns. Funneling money through secretive groups allows corporate political spenders to have the best of both worlds: they can fund the campaigns of candidates favorable to them, and never have to be held accountable.

An attempt this summer to patch up the loophole that allows corporations to keep their election spending secret ran up against stiff opposition from corporate lobbyists and a unified filibuster from the GOP. President Obama summed up the result in his weekly radio address Saturday:

What is clear is that Congress has a responsibility to act. But the truth is, any law will come too late to prevent the damage that has already been done this election season. That is why, any time you see an attack ad by one of these shadowy groups, you should ask yourself, who is paying for this ad? Is it the health insurance lobby? The oil industry? The credit card companies?

But more than that, you can make sure that the tens of millions of dollars spent on misleading ads do not drown out your voice. Because no matter how many ads they run – no matter how many elections they try to buy – the power to determine the fate of this country doesn’t lie in their hands. It lies in yours. It’s up to all of us to defend that most basic American principle of a government of, by, and for the people. What’s at stake is not just an election. It’s our democracy itself.

This fall, the Senate will have another chance to bring the DISCLOSE Act to a vote. As the New York Times pointed out yesterday, the vote should be a no-brainer for moderate senators like Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine:

The Citizens United decision, paradoxically, supported greater disclosure of donors, but Senate Republicans have filibustered a bill that would eliminate the secrecy shield. Just one vote is preventing passage. That act is coming back for another Senate vote. The two Republican senators from Maine, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, might want to read a recent poll by the Maine Citizens for Clean Elections, which showed that 80 percent of the state’s voters support public disclosure.

In a poll we commissioned in June, 85% of Americans said that corporations already have too much influence over the political process. Voters want information. Will Congress provide it?
 

PFAW

Obama Speaks Out, Again, on Citizens United

While addressing a fundraiser in Connecticut for Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is running against self-funding multimillionaire Linda McMahon, President Obama laid into the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and its devastating consequences. With the possibility of the Senate passing a new version of the DISLCOSE Act, which would mitigate the Supreme Court’s ruling by requiring political organizations to publicly disclose its financial backers, President Obama reminded us again on why Citizens United is so dangerous to democracy:

This is a tough election season. People are hurting and they are understandably frustrated. And a lot of them are scared. And a lot of them are anxious. And that means that even when people don't have ideas, if they've got enough money behind them, they may be able to convince some folks that, you know what, just cast a protest vote, throw the bums out. That's a mentality that has an appeal. And you can't blame folks for feeling that way sometime. But that's not a future for our country, a country that's more divided, that's more unequal, that's less dynamic, where we're falling behind in everything from investment in infrastructure to investment in R&D. That's not a vision for the future.

And if that's not a future you accept for this nation, if that's not the future you want for your kids and for your grandkids, then we are asking you for help in this election.


Because if you don't think the stakes are large -- and I want you to consider this -- right now, all across the country, special interests are planning and running millions of dollars of attack ads against Democratic candidates. Because last year, there was a Supreme Court decision called Citizens United. They're allowed to spend as much as they want without ever revealing who's paying for the ads. That's exactly what they're doing. Millions of dollars. And the groups are benign-sounding: Americans for Prosperity. Who's against that? Or Committee for Truth in Politics. Or Americans for Apple Pie. Moms for Motherhood. I made those last two up.


None of them will disclose who's paying for these ads. You don't know if it's a Wall Street bank. You don't know if it's a big oil company. You don't know if it's an insurance company. You don't even know if it's a foreign-controlled entity. In some races, they are spending more money than the candidates. Not here because here the candidate is spending a lot of money. They're spending more money than the parties. They want to take Congress back and return to the days where lobbyists wrote the laws. It is the most insidious power grab since the monopolies of the Gilded Age. That's happening right now. So there's a lot of talk about populist anger and grassroots. But that's not what's driving a lot of these elections.


We tried to fix this, but the leaders of the other party wouldn't even allow it to come up for a vote. They want to keep the public in the dark. They want to serve the special interests that served them so well over the last 19 months.


We will not let them. We are not about to allow a corporate takeover of our democracy. We're not about to go back to the days when special interests took advantage of Main Street families. We're not going to go back to the days when insurance companies wrote the rules that let you languish without health care because you had a preexisting condition. We're not going to go back to the exact same agenda we had before I took office.

PFAW

PFAW Sends Letters to GOP Leaders Urging them to Denounce Fischer, Skip Values Voter Summit

People For's President, Michael Keegan, sent the following letter today to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, all of whom are scheduled to appear this weekend at the Values Voter Summit, alongside the virulently anti-Muslim and anti-gay Bryan Fischer.

Dear ________:

I am writing to express my concern about your appearance this weekend at the upcoming Values Voter Summit. Among the participants this weekend will be Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association. We urge you to publically denounce Fischer’s record of hate speech and extremism, and reconsider appearing beside him this weekend.

People For’s RightWingWatch.org blog has tracked Fischer’s career over the past several years. His long and prolific record of hate speech and extremism includes the following recent statements. Just in the past year, Fischer has:

I am attaching the names of over 6,500 concerned citizens who have signed the following letter regarding your participation in the summit:

Values Voter Summit Participants:

Reasonable people can, and do, have reasonable differences of opinion. Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, is not a reasonable person.

By sharing a stage with Fischer at this year's Values Voter Summit, public figures acknowledge the credibility of his shameless anti-Muslim and anti-gay propaganda. Any candidate thinking seriously of running for president in 2012 should think twice about standing alongside a man who has called for the deportation of all Muslims in America; insulted Muslim servicemembers; claimed that brave Americans died in vain because Iraq was not converted to Christianity; and called gay people deviants, felons, pedophiles and terrorists. Bryan Fischer is no mainstream conservative. And neither is any person who shares a platform with him while refusing to denounce his hate-filled propaganda.

We urge you to denounce Fischer's extremism and separate yourself from his comments.

For more background on Fischer’s extreme rhetoric, please click here.

Fischer’s appearance with conservative leaders such as yourself lends his extreme hate speech credibility. We urge you to publicly denounce Fischer’s record and to think twice about sharing the stage with him.

Sincerely,

Michael B. Keegan
President, People For the American Way

 

PFAW

Women Are Not WorthLess

With time running short in the 111th Congress, National Women’s Law Center wants the Senate to know that Women Are Not WorthLess.

National Women’s Law Center produced this new video as part of their ongoing efforts to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which People For the American Way supports, along with American Association of University Women, American Civil Liberties Union, National Committee on Pay Equity, and hundreds of other organizations and countless advocates nationwide.

Equal pay in America needed to be put back on track after the Supreme Court’s devastating Ledbetter v. Goodyear ruling, and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act answered that call – as the first major milestone of the Obama Administration. Still, this new law cannot on its own do the job of eliminating the wage gap. Additional tools are necessary to bring equality to the workplace and prevent further disturbing incidents like the one that befell Lilly Ledbetter. Especially in this unsteady economy, people who are struggling to pay their bills shouldn’t have to worry about whether they are being discriminated against in the workplace. We need the Paycheck Fairness Act.

It was way back in January 2009 that the House passed the Paycheck Fairness Act. Please join National Women’s Law Center and Women Are Not WorthLess in calling on the Senate to do the same and send this important legislation to the President’s desk.

PFAW

The Citizens United Fallout Reaches Ohio

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, state-level laws regulating corporate election spending have been crumbling. Today, yet another bit the dust:

An agreement between Ohio elections officials and an anti-abortion group voids a state ban that kept businesses and unions from funding pre-election broadcast ads in support of specific candidates.

The Wednesday agreement in U.S. District Court in Columbus settles part of a 2008 lawsuit brought by Ohio Right to Life Society Inc. against the Ohio Elections Commission and Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner. It follows a January U.S. Supreme Court decision that strikes down a similar federal ban.
 

PFAW

Is “Eagerness to Obstruct” a Requirement for New GOP Senators?

Yesterday, former New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte narrowly defeated Tea Party insurgent Ovide Lamontagne in the state’s Republican senate primary.

Ayotte is hardly a political moderate—Sarah Palin has anointed her a “Mama Grizzly”—but that didn’t keep her from being attacked from the right. One of Lamontagne’s charges against her? Ayotte said that if she were in the Senate she would have voted to confirm Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Lamontagne’s full-on attack on Ayotte for conceding that Sotomayor was qualified to sit on the Supreme Court helped to propel him to within 2,000 votes of the much better-known, better-funded Ayotte. In addition to a lengthy screed on “Obama Judges” on his website, Lamontagne got a leg up from the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which spent $50,000 on an ad campaign attacking Ayotte for her Sotomayor support.

Never mind that in 2009, a full nine Republican senators voted to confirm Sotomayor—including New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, who said of the nominee, “Her views and decisions, although strongly stated, are certainly not out of the mainstream of American jurisprudence or political thought."

Cooperating with the president to put moderate judicial nominees on the bench is apparently no longer a legitimate GOP position. Gregg (who is vacating the seat Ayotte is seeking) was one of only five Republicans to vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan this spring. But the Kagan vote was an example of outright bipartisan bonhomie compared with the GOP’s stand on lower court nominees. Fewer Obama nominees have made their way through the Senate than under any president since Nixon—in a large part the result of the GOP’s unified refusal to vote on even those nominees with no Republican opposition.

By the time the Kagan nomination came around, Ayotte had learned her lesson on moderate judicial nominees, and issued a statement panning the Solicitor General. Ayotte’s struggle shows the enormous amount of energy the Right is spending on obstruction as a strategy in itself—and the danger for those who occasionally try saying something other than “No.”

 

 

PFAW

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" Is Held Unconstitutional

Yesterday in a California courtroom, the already decaying edifice of anti-LGBT discrimination crumbled just a little bit more: U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ruled that Don't Ask Don't Tell violates the United States Constitution. Specifically, she held that DADT violates servicemembers' Fifth Amendment due process rights and their First Amendment speech rights.

With regard to the due process aspect, Judge Phillips cited Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case where the Supreme Court struck down the Texas law criminalizing consensual sex between two people of the same sex. In Lawrence, the Court held that intimate consensual sex is part of the fundamental constitutional right to privacy.

Since a fundamental constitutional right is at stake, Judge Phillips analyzed DADT using a higher level of scrutiny than rational basis: In order for DADT to stand, (1) it must advance an important governmental interest, (2) the intrusion on constitutionally protected intimate conduct must significantly further that interest, and (3) the intrusion must be necessary to further that interest.

Recognizing that judicial deference to Congress is traditionally highest in the context of legislation regulating the military, Judge Phillips correctly noted that "deference does not mean abdication." She carefully examined the evidence provided by the government and found that the Administration failed to demonstrate that DADT significantly furthers the government's interests in military readiness or unit cohesion, the second prong of the constitutional analysis.

Furthermore, the evidence presented by the plaintiffs demonstrated that DADT actually frustrates military readiness and unit cohesion: Qualified servicemembers are discharged under DADT during wartime troop shortages (the same shortage that pressures the military to ramp up "moral waivers" to admit far less qualified convicted felons); servicemembers with critically needed skills and training are discharged; DADT hurts recruiting efforts; and DADT diminishes the otherwise merit-based nature of the military.

Judge Phillips also cited damning evidence that the military doesn't believe its own propaganda about DADT:

Defendants routinely delayed the discharge of servicemembers suspected of violating the Act's provisions until after they had completed their overseas deployments. . This evidence, in particular, directly undermines any contention that the Act furthers the Government's purpose of military readiness, as it shows Defendants continue to deploy gay and lesbian members of the military into combat, waiting until they have returned before resolving the charges arising out of the suspected homosexual conduct. If the warrior's suspected violation of the Act created a threat to military readiness, to unit cohesion, or to any of the other important Government objectives, it follows that Defendants would not deploy him or her to combat before resolving the investigation.

Judge Phillips is right: DADT makes no sense and it violates the Constitution. The House of Representatives has already voted to consign this discriminatory policy to the ash heap of history. It's time for the Senate to do the same and send a bill to the President's desk.

PFAW

Alabama County Brings the Voting Rights Act to Court

An 87% white county in Alabama is arguing that some of the anti-discrimination protections in the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary…and its case might end up in the Supreme Court.

Shelby County is protesting Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires counties with a history of discriminatory election practices to run new election rules by the Justice Department.

"For Congress to continue to interfere with Shelby County's electoral autonomy in 2010 based on conditions that existed in 1965 is both arbitrary and without constitutional justification," according to one of the county's written arguments in the case.

Shelby County's complaint is that Section 5 of the law -- which says the Justice Department has to make sure election-related changes don't discriminate against minority voters -- is no longer necessary and that complying with the law is a significant legal expense for county taxpayers.

The county, however, does not provide any details about the "taxpayer dollars, time and energy" it has spent over the years asking the federal government to pre-approve things like new district lines or polling place changes. The U.S. Justice Department, the defendant in the lawsuit, argues the claim about expenses is vague and unsupported by evidence.

A number of African American residents of Shelby County disagree that voter discrimination is an outdated problem, and have tried to stop the county’s suit from going forward. They have some concrete examples to back them up. Just in 2008, a redistricting plan for one city in Shelby didn’t pass Justice Department muster because it eliminated the city’s one majority-black council district.

Shelby County’s argument recalls some of the right-wing objections to the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland said of the 1965 bill, "It was set up to be temporary, just to get things to where they should be," he said. "And if you look at the results we have here in Georgia, I think you can see that it's worked. Its time has passed."

If only it had.
 

PFAW