Supreme Court

Marriage in Connecticut!

Break out the chilled champagne!

As you may have already heard, the Connecticut State Supreme Court today ruled that the state constitution prohibits marriage discrimination.  That means that *gasp* same-sex couples will be treated like everyone else!

It is, of course, worth pointing out one really obvious fact that the right wing will no doubt conveniently forget.

The ruling does not affect church's decisions about which marriages to perform and which not to.

Please, repeat that statement whenever you hear someone talking about how this decision "infringes on religious liberty."  (It doesn't.)  Churches will always have final say over their own ceremonies.

You can read more about the myths surrounding this decision here.

Now where's that champagne?

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LA Times: Roe in the Balance

In case you didn't see, our president, Kathryn Kolbert, was quoted in the Los Angeles Times yesterday:

Some advocates worry that the perennial cries of "Roe is falling" has had the effect of muting such claims.

"What we find scary is that people don't understand what's at stake," said Kathryn Kolbert, president of People for the American Way. "In the next four years, one to as many as three Supreme Court justices may step down, and they all will come from the liberal end of the court."

It is absolutely critical that voters understand that the Supreme Court is on the ballot this Election Day.  The kind of judges the next president will nominate to the Court will determine its direction for decades.

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Biden on Bork

At the Vice Presidential debate last night, Joe Biden referenced his leadership against Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

And it didn't take me long -- it was hard to change, but it didn't take me long, but it took about five years for me to realize that the ideology of that judge makes a big difference.

That's why I led the fight against Judge Bork. Had he been on the court, I suspect there would be a lot of changes that I don't like and the American people wouldn't like, including everything from Roe v. Wade to issues relating to civil rights and civil liberties.

Biden is entirely correct.  The ideology of a judge matters immensely.  Right wing judges who bring a political agenda to the courts have no business being nominated or confirmed.

Of course, Joe Biden wasn’t alone in leading the fight against Bork.  People For the American Way led the campaign in the public arena, including this ad, narrated by Gregory Peck.

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Video: Palin on the Supreme Court

Here's more video from Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric — in which Couric asks her to name Supreme Court decisions she disagrees with and she lapses into confounded silence after naming only one, Roe v. Wade.

I realize that the larger thing we should be concerned about is McCain and what sorts of justices he'd nominate as president — because the next president could potentially name up to three, going by the current justices' ages and chances of retiring.

But it's worth noting (and being kinda horrified by) the fact that Palin — the person who could be, as the media likes to say, "a heartbeat away" from having the power to shape the direction the high court takes for the next 40 years — can't extemporaneously name more than one Supreme Court case she disagrees with.


COURIC: What other Supreme Court decisions [than Roe v. Wade] do you disagree with?

PALIN: Well, let's see. There's — of course — in the great history of America rulings there have been rulings, that's never going to be absolute consensus by every American. And there are — those issues, again, like Roe v Wade where I believe are best held on a state level and addressed there. So you know — going through the history of America, there would be others but —

Video/transcript via Ben Smith of The Politico.

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Dissecting Sarah Palin's Logic: Ledbetter and Fair Pay

A portion of Katie Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin that aired Tuesday focused, among other things, on equal pay.  The transcript:

Couric: Where do you stand on the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?

Palin: I’m absolutely for equal pay for equal work. The Ledbetter pay act - it was gonna turn into a boon for trial lawyers who, I believe, could have taken advantage of women who were many, many years ago who would allege some kind of discrimination. Thankfully, there are laws on the books, there have been since 1963, that no woman could be discriminated against in the workplace in terms of anything, but especially in terms of pay. So, thankfully we have the laws on the books and they better be enforced.

Couric: The Ledbetter act sort of lengthens the time a woman can sue her company if she's not getting equal pay for equal work. Why should a fear of lawsuits trump a woman's ability to do something about the fact that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. And that's today.

Palin: There should be no fear of a lawsuit prohibiting a woman from making sure that the laws that are on the books today are enforced. I know in a McCain-Palin administration we will not stand for any measure that would result in a woman being paid less than a man for equal work.

Couric: Why shouldn’t the Ledbetter act be in place? You think it would result in lawsuits brought by women years and years ago. Is that your main problem with it?

Palin: It would have turned into a boon for trial lawyers. Again, thankfully with the existing laws we have on the books, they better be enforced. We won't stand for anything but that. We won't stand for any discrimination in the workplace - that there isn't any discrimination in America.

At first blush, it looks like Palin is just rehashing McCain’s argument against Ledbetter: “I don’t believe that this would do anything to help women except maybe help trial lawyers and others in that profession.”  She does manage to eke out the lawyer-bashing McCain line, while asserting that McCain-Palin “won’t stand” for discrimination, but after that she appears to get a little lost.  She seems to think that the “fear of lawsuits” Couric refers to in the second question are people suing women to prevent them from enforcing “the laws on the books.”

But a closer look reveals an even more fundamental misunderstanding.  She says that “thankfully, we have the laws on the books."  Well, yes, but thanks to Samuel Alito, that law means a lot less than it used to.

Ledbetter v. Goodyear, the Supreme Court decision that led to the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, involved a woman, Lilly Ledbetter, who worked at a Goodyear Tire plant for almost twenty years, for a salary much less than her male co-workers.  The “laws on the books,” as read by Justice Alito and the rest of his voting bloc, said that Ledbetter’s discrimination claim needed to be filed within 180 days of the first discriminatory paycheck.  The only problem: Ledbetter first found out about the unequal pay through an anonymous tip, sixteen years after that first paycheck.

Of course, it’s not surprising that Palin doesn’t know the substance of the Ledbetter case—apparently, when asked to name Supreme Court cases, the only one she could produce was Roe v. Wade.

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Don’t Worry, Sarah. We’ll tell you about the Court!

In an interview with Katie Couric, it appears as if Sarah Palin was unable to name a single Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade.

The Palin aide, after first noting how "infuriating" it was for CBS to purportedly leak word about the gaffe, revealed that it came in response to a question about Supreme Court decisions.

After noting Roe vs. Wade, Palin was apparently unable to discuss any major court cases.

There was no verbal fumbling with this particular question as there was with some others, the aide said, but rather silence.

I like to think that if prompted, she could tell us what Brown v. Board of Education accomplished, but I’ve learned not to take anything for granted.

Anyway, Sarah, allow us to tell you about one or two cases that your own running mate has had a hand in bringing about.  Thanks to the confirmation of John Roberts and Samuel Alito, you can use any of these cases to talk about how the Court affects ordinary Americans.

  • Ledbetter v. Goodyear – Makes it harder for women to sue when they’ve been discriminated against.
  • Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1 – Makes it harder to desegregate schools.
  • Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation – Makes it harder for to preserve the wall between church and state.
  • Garcetti v. Ceballos – Makes it harder for students to exercise free speech.
  • Gonzales v. Carhart – Makes it harder for women to get abortion procedures they need.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!  Thanks to your running mate, there are all sorts of terrible, terrible Supreme Court decisions that limit our rights and freedoms.  Better get studyin’.

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A Victory for Voting Rights in Ohio

Today, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld a week-long window during which new voters can register and vote via absentee ballot on the same day. (

Another federal court decision was expected later in the day over the early voting window, which begins Tuesday and has become a partisan battle in a swing state where President Bush narrowly clinched re-election in 2004.

In a 4-3 decision, the Ohio Supreme Court said Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner was correct in ruling that voters don't need to be registered for at least 30 days before receiving an absentee ballot.

Republicans, who claimed that Brunner was misinterpreting the law to benefit her party, had backed lawsuits filed against the measure.

The decision is a real victory for voting rights and another acknowledgement that government should encourage people to vote, not make it more difficult for them to do so.  And, of course, it will likely help increase turnout in Ohio, one of the crucial states this November.

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Double Talk Express: McCain and Fair Pay

At a town hall meeting last week, John McCain appeared to pledge in earnest to fight discrimination and, if necessary, take offenders to court:

But it was McCain who sided with corporate lobbyists earlier this year and opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. Why, you might ask? He claimed “it would lead to more lawsuits.”

Later, at a different town hall meeting, he told a 14-year-old girl that the Fair Pay Act wouldn’t help anyone but “trial lawyers and others in that profession.”

What’s worse, McCain has helped confirm hundreds of right-wing federal judges to the very courts that he claims he would use to fight discrimination. The problem is, those judges – including Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito – have consistently whittled away at Americans’ protections against discrimination. And they’ve made it increasingly difficult for those Americans’ who do suffer discrimination to win just compensation.

The Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, for instance, was created to undo the damage done by the Supreme Court in the Ledbetter ruling, which made it easier for companies to get away with pay discrimination. McCain not only endorsed the ruling, but he has vowed to nominate more judges like the ruling’s author – Justice Samuel Alito.

If McCain wanted to try some real straight talk for a change, he’d simply tell the women of America that under a McCain administration, they’d be on their own.

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Don't Mourn, Organize!

If you're following the election news as closely as I am, you're probably finding a lot of reasons to holler at your TV. How about Todd Palin refusing a subpoena from the legislative committee investigating "Troopergate" in Alaska, and Sarah Palin ducking requests to testify with claims of "executive privilege" (sound familiar?) — haven't we had enough of executive branch officials insisting they're above the law? Or maybe for you it's the sight of the "get government out of the way" Republicans suddenly claiming that they're the ones to bring more effective government oversight to Wall Street. So much for free-market fundamentalism! Or maybe it's the implication by the McCain-Palin campaign with their "Country First" signs that anyone who does not support their ticket is not patriotic!

Another thing that is making me furious is that people may be kept from casting their vote. Our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation has been documenting and mobilizing opposition to voter suppression efforts around the country — but conservative officials keep finding new ways to try to keep some voters away from the polls. In Michigan — a key presidential battleground state — the Republican Party is training people to challenge voters at the polls, and is even planning to try to deny voters the chance to cast a ballot if their home has gone into foreclosure. It's disgusting, but it's only part of a much bigger picture -- we're seeing official efforts in other key states like Virginia, Ohio and Florida to find reasons to knock people off the voting rolls.

Whatever is driving you to distraction this week, keep in mind labor organizer Joe Hill's famous admonition: "Don't mourn, organize!"

There's a huge amount of exciting organizing People For and other progressive groups are doing right now — and a lot of ways for you to get involved in these last few weeks before the election.

First and foremost you should VOTE and take at least five friends to the polls with you. If your state lets you vote early, do it. But don't stop there. Here are three other things you can do to keep the White House and Supreme Court out of the hands of the radical Religious Right:

  1. Get your ringside seats on October 2 when "Amtrak Joe" debates "Mooseburger Sarah"... Host a People For vice presidential debate watch party with your friends. We have been documenting Sarah Palin's record of extremism, and we're going to keep it up — we'll help you host a great party and send people off with new ammunition for their conversations with friends and family. Sign up at http://site.pfaw.org/parties.

  2. Volunteer some of your time to a progressive campaign during the next six weeks. Campaigns need help with voter identification and turnout, and in a close election year, this kind of ground work is vitally important -- and it's a fun way to get to know others in your community who share your political passions. Soon we will have a complete list of the candidates who are endorsed by the People For the American Way Voters Alliance. Click here to affirm your membership with People For in one simple step so we can share those endorsements with you.

  3. Be on the front lines to protect voting rights and democracy. We can help you find a way to volunteer in key states on or before Election Day. Sign up here!  

Let's make sure that on November 5, we're tired but elated!

P.S.  Are you doing something new this election year that you've never done before? Do you have a creative idea for energizing people to take action? Let me know and we'll share some of your stories. You could inspire someone else to take the next step — and you could help turn the tide! E-mail me at Kathryn@pfaw.org.

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Bad Medicine

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

From the Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fair Pay Issue Growing in Campaign ‘08

As you may have seen, the Obama campaign is running ads focusing on McCain’s opposition to fair pay for women.  I think it’s safe to say that everyone around here is glad to see Obama talking about the issue and eager to see McCain’s response.

But looking at the conversation, it’s important to remember that we aren’t moving forward on this issue.  Thanks to the Supreme Court, we’re actually moving backwards.  It was, after all, the very bad decision to take away Lilly Ledbetter’s fair pay that brought pay discrimination to the fore.  And regardless of whether or not we manage to pass the Fair Pay Act, more bad Supreme Court Justices could make the situation much, much worse.

Our friends at the National Organization of Women have put together a great fact sheet on Equal Pay which is fascinating and disturbing at the same time.  (Via Dana Goldstien at TAPPED)

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Have They No Shame?

In an election in which so much is at stake, and so many crucial differences between the presidential tickets, our national conversation keeps getting stuck — and not by accident. It dawned on me this week that race and gender are the elephant (and donkey) in the room — they’re more often exploited in subtle and cynical ways than discussed honestly. You need only witness the side show about "lipstick" that Republicans are using to keep the campaign away from issues that affect Americans and our shared future.

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Cheer Up, Gary Bauer

Gary Bauer is all gloom and doom about the prospect of Obama-appointed Supreme Court Justices.

“[I]f the next two or three Supreme Court appointments are appointments made by Barack Obama, confirmed by a Democratic Senate...' -- my friends, the things we have been fighting for 30 years will not only be lost, they may, in fact, be lost permanently," Bauer contends.

But cheer up, Gary! Most Court-watchers speculate that the next few openings on the Court will come from the moderate/progressive wing of the Supreme Court.

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Voting Rights Opponent Appeals to Supreme Court

 As expected, the Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One (NAMUDNO), a public utility district in Travis County, Tex., filed a direct appeal yesterday with the Supreme Court from a unanimous ruling last May by a three-judge federal district court rejecting NAMUDNO's claims that it is exempt from Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and, in the alternative, that Section 5 is unconstitutional.

People For and a number of other parties intervened as defendants in the district court in order to help defend the constitutionality of Section 5. Section 5 of the VRA requires all or part of 16 states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to have their voting procedures pre-approved, or "pre-cleared," by the Department of Justice or a three-judge federal district court in Washington before they can be changed.

For more information, view People For's statement on the district court ruling. You can also view the district court's ruling here.

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Another Shot At Fair Pay

Via TAPPED, it looks like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will be up for another vote in the Senate this month. John McCain has opposed it in the past, and last time it was defeated in a procedural vote. But if Sen. McCain wants to admit his mistake and support the bill now, we’d all welcome his change of heart.

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A Judicial Victory For Church-State Separation in Florida!

Yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling that rejects the latest efforts by the far right to undermine religious liberty in that state and pave the way for the return of a state voucher program. Just a few hours after hearing oral argument, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously held that two proposed state constitutional amendments that would undermine religious freedom and overturn the Court's ruling a few years ago striking down the state's publicly-funded school voucher program cannot be placed on the November ballot.
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Oh, What a Week

Sarah Palin and John McCain

By the end of the Democratic National Convention last week my feet were aching but my spirit was soaring. I loved meeting People For members, and had a chance to connect with a lot of progressive advocates, political leaders, and potential donors. Our standing-room-only panel on the future of the Supreme Court was thoughtful and lively. Several of our staff did magnificent jobs in other panel discussions throughout the week. And the whole event felt like history in the making.

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Governor Palin is Wrong; There's No Scientific "Debate" Over Evolution to Teach

Sarah Palin

As soon as news broke last Friday that Senator John McCain had chosen the relatively unknown governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, as his running mate, a media scramble began to find out more about her. In the brief period since then, one of the most concerning things to come to light about someone who holds public office and aspires to higher office is her belief that creationism should be taught alongside evolution in public school science classes. As Palin has put it, "let kids debate both sides." This is a regurgitation of the right wing's "teach the debate" campaign. On the face of it, it sounds sort of benign, doesn't it? Give kids more information, let them decide? What could be wrong with that?

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Matching the Right's Passion

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

I'm writing to you today from San Francisco, where it's been an energizing, thought-provoking week. Last night, Ambassador James Hormel, a member of People For's board, hosted an event at his home to help me get acquainted with some friends and People For supporters. Jim's commitment to public service has benefited San Francisco and the country in many ways, and he is an incredible asset to People For. Joining me was Rev. Kenneth Samuel, who is helping lead People For the American Way Foundation's efforts in California this year to create constructive conversation in black churches around discrimination and marriage equality.
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