Supreme Court

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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Fourth Circuit Victory For Religious Liberty

If you read my post back in March after the oral argument before the Fourth Circuit in Turner v. City Council of Fredericksburg, Virginia, you know that it was quite an honor to have had retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the three-judge panel. And now Justice O’Connor has written the court’s opinion in the case, a July 23 unanimous decision in favor of our client, the Fredericksburg City Council.

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The Muppets Take Philadelphia

Happy Fourth of July! After a busy week traveling to Pittsburgh and San Francisco, talking to activists about the Supreme Court and to donors about People For's work, I'm using the long weekend to spend some much needed time with my family. I hope you too will have a happy and healthy Fourth of July! I heard from many of you in the last week in response to my Friday Note about George Carlin and Big Bird. Your ideas about how best to use culture to bring change to America were wonderful. I hope that in the coming months I will have the opportunity to talk with you more about the direction of our country and what People For can do to create an America that values religious liberty and free speech, a democracy where all our voices and votes count.
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The Power of Culture

What do seven dirty words, Big Bird and Archie Bunker have in common? George Carlin, the envelope-pushing, line-crossing comedian was probably most famous for "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." That routine provoked countless conversations about censorship and the First Amendment, both before and after the Supreme Court upheld a Federal Communications Commission order against his "indecency." I didn't remember until reading his obituary that he had actually been arrested several times for delivering "Seven Words" in a show.
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Five Years Later: Decriminalizing Gay People

Many people probably don’t recall much, if anything, about June 26, 2003, but I recall a great deal. That’s because it’s the day on which the Supreme Court issued one of its most important rulings in the area of individual rights and human dignity. In Lawrence v. Texas, a sharply divided Court struck down a Texas state law that prohibited consensual, private sex between adults of the same gender, a law that essentially made criminals out of gay men and lesbians. Five justices held that the law was an improper intrusion on the right to liberty guaranteed to everyone by the Constitution, effectively invalidating all state laws that invade the home to prohibit so-called sodomy.

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Five Years After Lawrence: Decriminalizing Gay People

Many people probably don’t recall much, if anything, about June 26, 2003, but I recall a great deal. That’s because it’s the day on which the Supreme Court issued one of its most important rulings in the area of individual rights and human dignity. In Lawrence v. Texas, a sharply divided Court struck down a Texas state law that prohibited consensual, private sex between adults of the same gender, a law that essentially made criminals out of gay men and lesbians. Five justices held that the law was an improper intrusion on the right to liberty guaranteed to everyone by the Constitution, effectively invalidating all state laws that invade the home to prohibit so-called sodomy.

Five years later, I can still recall vividly the absolute joy and elation that I felt learning that these pernicious laws were no more. The Court’s ruling meant not only that these laws could no longer be used to intrude into a realm of personal conduct in which government has no place, but also that they could no longer be cited to deny gay people jobs or participation in any other aspect of human endeavor on the ground of criminality.

Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion was a ringing endorsement of constitutional liberty. According to Justice Kennedy:

Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home. And there are other spheres of our lives and existence, outside the home, where the State should not be a dominant presence. Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct. The instant case involves liberty of the person both in its spatial and more transcendent dimensions.

As news of the Court’s decision unfolded, it was equally wonderful to learn that the five-justice majority had also overturned the Court’s 1986 ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick, in which the Court, by a vote of 5-4, had upheld a Georgia anti-sodomy law under which Michael Hardwick had been arrested for having had sex in his own home with another man. Bowers was a strikingly anti-gay decision in substance and language and, like Plessy v. Ferguson, a low point in Supreme Court history and an instance of the Court’s abject failure to protect the constitutional rights of minorities. Justice Kennedy, writing for the Court in Lawrence, soundly declared that Bowers "was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today. It ought not to remain binding precedent."

One of my law school classmates was Michael Hardwick’s original attorney. I accompanied her to the Supreme Court that day in March 1986 when Bowers was argued, and I commiserated with her when that terrible ruling came down several months later. She was the first person I called after learning that Bowers had been overturned, and we shared a long-delayed moment of joy.

And so June 26, 2003 is a day that I remember quite well. But as significant as the Lawrence ruling was, I am mindful that four justices did not join Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was part of the majority in Bowers (truly a low point in her judicial career as well), declined to join the majority in overruling that decision. She agreed, however, that the Texas "sodomy" law was unconstitutional, but only because it treated same-sex and opposite-sex couples differently.

Three justices dissented outright from the ruling in Lawrence: then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Scalia and Thomas are still on the bench today. The late Chief Justice Rehnquist has been replaced by the equally ultraconservative John Roberts, while Justice O’Connor has been replaced by the extreme right-wing Samuel Alito.

Counting the numbers, then, it’s very clear that the constitutional protection of the essential human dignity of gay men and lesbians is hanging by a slender thread on the Supreme Court. John McCain has praised Justice Scalia and has also promised to put more justices like Roberts and Alito on the Court, which should be a consideration for any voter who cares about gay rights and the future of the Supreme Court.

Cross-posted on The Huffington Post

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97-Year-Old Arizona Woman Disenfranchised by Voter ID Law

Shirley Preiss was born in Kentucky in 1910 — a full 10 years before American women gained the right to vote. She first voted in a presidential election in 1932, for FDR. She’s voted in every presidential election since, but that’s all about to change due to Arizona’s draconian voter ID law.

As Art Levine reported, Shirley effectively lost her right to vote when she moved to Arizona:

After living in Arizona for two years, she was eagerly looking forward to casting her ballot in the February primary for the first major woman candidate for President, Hillary Clinton. But lacking a birth certificate or even elementary school records to prove she’s a native-born American citizen, the state of Arizona’s bureaucrats determined that this former school-teacher who taught generations of Americans shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

The state’s voter ID law, passed in 2004, requires voters to show ID at the polling place and to provide proof of citizenship in order to register. But birth certificates weren’t issued in 1910 in Shirley’s birthplace of Clinton, KY, and her elementary school no longer exists.

Shirley appeared on the local news Monday night in Phoenix to tell her story:

 

 

She’s far from the only victim of this law. The Arizona Advocacy Network reports that nearly 40,000 voter registration forms have been rejected due to inadequate proof of citizenship. And it’s getting to be a national problem.

The Supreme Court gave Indiana the green light last month on its restrictive voter ID law, and other states have already or are in the process of passing similar laws. Everywhere such laws are enacted, the voting rights of thousands of Americans - especially among the poor, elderly, and minorities - are put at risk. Fortunately many other states have fended off voter ID laws, and I’m proud that People For the American Way’s Democracy Campaign played a role in many of those fights. Nothing short of a concerted effort by the progressive movement over the coming years will succeed in safeguarding the right to vote.

Cross-posted on CrooksAndLiars.com

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Supreme Court Narrows Protections for Public Employees

In a 6-3 ruling on June 9, the Supreme Court made it harder for public employees who are victims of arbitrary or malicious firings to obtain justice. In doing so, the Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts, rejected an approach followed by nine federal appellate courts that had allowed a public employee who is arbitrarily treated differently from other similarly situated employees to bring an equal protection claim under the 14th Amendment, even if that employee had not been discriminated against because of membership in a particular class (e.g., African Americans or women).

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