Virginia

The Voter-Fraud Fraud

"I don't want everybody to vote ... our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." - Paul Weyrich, founding father of the conservative movement, 1980.

When news hit last week that Democrats were doing better than expected in early voting turnout, Republican Dick Armey - whose FreedomWorks organization ensures that the Tea party is well funded by Big Business - immediately took to the airwaves with two goals: to delegitimize any potential Election Day victories for Democrats, and to justify this year's efforts by Republicans and their allies to keep people of color from voting. Armey told Fox News viewers that:

Democrats vote early because there's "less ballot security," creating a "great opportunity" for fraud. He also claimed that such fraudulent early voting is "pinpointed to the major urban areas. The inner city."

Of course, the former congressman had no more evidence to support his false and inflammatory claims than Joseph McCarthy had for his. But he does have an echo chamber of Republican and allied supporters all making the same unsupported claims of rampant voter fraud to justify aggressive efforts to keep likely Democratic voters - especially African Americans - out of the voting booth.

First, let there be mo mistake: Analysis after analysis has shown that there is no national problem with voter fraud. For instance, in its report The Truth About Voter Fraud, the Brennan Center for Justice has

analyzed purported fraud cited by state and federal courts; multipartisan and bipartisan federal commissions; political party entities; state and local election officials; and authors, journalists, and bloggers. Usually, only a tiny portion of the claimed illegality is substantiated - and most of the remainder is either nothing more than speculation or has been conclusively debunked.

Similarly, when the New York Times turned its investigatory resources to the "problem" of voter fraud in 2007, it found that

[f]ive years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department ha[d] turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.

Nevertheless, the Republicans and their close allies are up to their usual election-time hysterics about voter fraud, especially by nefarious dark-skinned people. They are ginning up fears of stolen elections ... so they can suppress the vote and thereby steal the elections themselves.

Over the past few weeks, as reported in Talking Points Memo and elsewhere:

  • In Illinois, Republican Senate nominee Mark Kirk inadvertently disclosed his plan to send "voter integrity" squads to two predominately African-American neighborhoods of Chicago and two other urban areas of Illinois with significant minority populations "where the other side might be tempted to jigger the numbers somewhat."
  • In Houston, Texas, Tea Party poll watchers claiming to be preventing voter fraud have been accused of "hovering over" voters, "getting into election workers' faces" and blocking or disrupting lines of voters who were waiting to cast their ballots as early voting got underway. The most aggressive poll watching has been at African American and Latino precincts. The Department of Justice is investigating.
  • In Wisconsin, Tea Party groups, the pro-corporate Americans for Prosperity, and the state GOP have been involved in a vote caging operation that seeks to challenge the eligibility of minority and student voters. In addition, dozens of billboards are being put up showing people behind bars with an ominous warning that voter fraud is a felony.
  • The West Virginia Republican Party plans to send "ballot security teams" to all of the state's fifty-five counties in search of "illegal activity" at the polls.
  • In Minnesota, a coalition of Tea Party and other right wing groups is offering a $500 reward for information leading to voter fraud convictions, an inducement that may encourage voter harassment.
  • In Indiana and elsewhere, Republicans and allies are photographing voters at early voting locations.
  • Michelle Malkin went on Fox News to discuss what the far right media outlet described as "reports of voter fraud on a massive scale with the intention of keeping Democrats in office." Malkin poured oil on the fire by claiming that "We are all voter fraud police now," accusing progressives of trying to win elections "by any means necessary."

This isn't new territory for the Right. For instance, in 2006, the Bush Administration fired U.S. Attorneys who refused to press phony voter fraud prosecutions. In 2008, until their plans were exposed, Michigan Republicans planned to use home foreclosure lists to challenge likely Democratic voters at the polls, supposedly to prevent voter fraud. That same year, the Montana Republican Party challenged the eligibility of 6,000 registered voters in the state's Democratic strongholds after matching the statewide voter database with the National Change of Address database to identify voters who aren't living where they are registered to vote. In Ohio, voter caging was used as a prelude to challenge individuals at the voting precinct.

These actions were part of a larger pattern. During the fall of 2008, the Right was setting itself up to challenge the integrity of the election. Across the country, they repeatedly trumped up claims of voter fraud, attacking ACORN and other voter registration efforts and lambasting the Justice Department for its failure to stop this alleged "fraud." However, that effort sputtered when the false claims of voter fraud mushroomed into threats against ACORN workers and vandalism of their offices, which PFAW helped to expose. Last year's doctored "pimp and prostitute" ACORN videos and their aftermath showed the lengths Republicans and their allies are willing to go to demonize and ultimately destroy successful minority voter registration efforts.

Clearly, the Right puts a great deal of energy into tackling a non-existent problem. But while these actions may do nothing to prevent instances of voter fraud that were never going to happen in the first place, they do accomplish something very important, as noted above: They intimidate people, often people of color, into not voting. They also work to paint any election victory by Democrats as illegitimate, thereby seriously destabilizing one of the foundations needed for America's constitutional government to work.

Voting is our assurance that those in power govern only by the consent of the people. The theory of American electoral democracy is that We the People act through government officials who we elect to act on our behalf. However, that assumes that all parties are willing to abide by the results of free and fair elections, win or lose.

Unfortunately, when the most powerful groups in society are willing to ignore democratic principles when it’s convenient - when they are eager to disenfranchise those who are most likely to vote against them - the democratic system fails.

In the past, these forces used poll taxes, literacy tests, and even brute force to keep disfavored Americans from voting, staining the legitimacy of the elected government in the process. Today, far more wary of appearances, they use the false accusation of "voter fraud" to do the same thing, often against the same targets: African Americans and other people of color.

PFAW

When Even Disclosure Rules Fail

527 “Super PACs” are permitted to explicitly urge viewers to vote for or against a candidate running for office, but are required to disclose their contributors. In the case of Citizens for a Working America PAC, which can raise unlimited funds from corporations and individuals, the “Citizens” represent just one group: an organization called “New Models.”

According to its FEC filing, New Models is the PAC’s single donor. Citizens for a Working America’s lone expenditure was $250,000 for ads opposing South Carolina Democrat John Spratt, and the PAC raised $255,000 from New Models, a 501(c)4 that does not disclose its donors. Therefore, Citizens for a Working America’s only “Citizen” is not a citizen at all, but a 501(c)4 firm that claims to specialize in political communication.

The Sunlight Foundation profiles the connection between a top Republican consultant, pro-GOP political groups (including Sarah Palin’s leadership PAC), and Citizens for a Working America:

According to records kept by the Virginia Secretary of State, the president and treasurer of New Models is Tim Crawford. According to reports published earlier this year, Crawford was also involved in a shadowy political advertising campaign in Ohio. His firm was the sole funder of a $1.5 million anti-slot machine campaign. People involved in the case in Ohio charged that New Models was a front organization bankrolling the political agendas of certain powerful players.

Crawford is also listed as the treasurer of Sarah Palin’s Political Action Committee, SarahPAC. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, SarahPAC made a $3,500 contribution to Republican candidate Mick Mulvaney--who's running against Spratt in South Carolina.

Including Citizens for a Working America PAC, Spratt has been targeted by seven outside groups. Club for Growth, an organization that's supported Tea Party candidates, has spent $209,000 opposing the South Carolinian Democrat. According to TransparencyData.com, the group has also contributed $1,000.00 to Mulvaney.

Mulvaney is also a recipient of $2,000 from Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who has supported Tea Party-backed candidates.

Sen. DeMint has not only contributed to help Mulvaney win along with Club for Growth and SarahPAC, but has received money for his own campaign from those groups as well. Club for Growth is DeMint’s top contributor giving him almost $150,000 since 2005. He's received $2,500 from SarahPAC.

To date, $1.6 million has been spent to oppose Spratt’s bid for re-election. Citizens for a Working America has spent $250,000.
PFAW

First Amendment Alliance: Energy Industry Front Group

The First Amendment Alliance is a 527 “Super PAC” that can raise unlimited funds from corporations and individuals for independent expenditures on the election, and the group is currently smearing Democratic candidates for Senate with negative ads in competitive races. So far, the First Amendment Alliance has spent over $800,000 running attack ads against Democrats Michael Bennet of Colorado, Jack Conway of Kentucky, Chris Coons of Delaware, and Harry Reid of Nevada. 

On its website, the organization says “we communicate instances of waste, fraud, hypocrisy, and general disregard for standards of civility in society,” and its contact information only lists a mailbox in Alexandria, Virginia. Its President, Anthony Holm, works on the campaign of Texas Governor Rick Perry and was tied to a GOP scheme to place a Green Party candidate on the ballot for governor in order to take away votes from Rick Perry’s Democratic opponent. But Holm is also a representative for GOP mega-fundraiser Bob Perry, who contributed $4.45 million to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth in 2004 and recently donated $2.5 million to the Republican Governors Association.

According to a review of the group's recent FEC filings, it's clear that the First Amendment Alliance is a sham group for the energy industry whose office is a mailbox. Nearly every single donor, including businesses and individuals, has links to the energy industry. Of the 73 contributors, 39 are businesses and 34 are individuals, and 70 of the donors are clearly tied to the oil and gas industry. The group raised close to $1.1 million, and of that amount more than $300,000 came from businesses tied to the energy industry and over $600,000 came from individuals with energy connections.

Here is just a sampling of some of the group’s most generous donors: Oilman Russell Gordy contributed $150,000, Clayton Williams of Clayton Williams Energy and Earl Rodman of Rodman Petroleum both donated $100,000. The Anschutz Corporation donated $50,000, and Melange Associates and Chisos LTD, which are both involved in oil and gas exploration, gave $25,000 each.  And of course, Bob Perry gave the group $50,000 this year.

The First Amendment Alliance has to disclose its donors according to FEC rules for “Super PACs,” but many political organizations that are 501(c) groups, like Crossroads GPS and the Chamber of Commerce, never have to disclose the sources of their funding. As a result of such disclosure rules, we now know who is behind the First Amendment Alliance’s attack ads in Senate races across the country.

Using those funds, the group launched an aggressive, and sometimes plainly dishonest, campaign aimed at defeating Democratic candidates for the Senate.

In addition to attacks against Senators Bennet and Reid, the First Amendment Alliance’s ad against Jack Conway was so misleading that one TV station pulled it from the airways. In the ad, the First group used information showing the increased numbers of meth-labs shut down by police officers as evidence that the number of meth-labs increased while Conway was Attorney General. In essence, it used statistics pointing to increased effectiveness by Kentucky law enforcement to deceptively claim that Conway was unsuccessful in fighting drugs. Conway actually presided over the largest drug-bust in state history, and the Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police cited Conway’s achievements in cracking down on drugs as one of the reasons the group endorsed him. The Glasgow Daily Times reports that “Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton says law enforcement ‘would be lost’ in the war on drugs if it weren't for federal help, funding assistance opposed by Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul.” Paul, Conway’s Republican opponent, also asserted that drug abuse was not “a pressing issue” in the state.

In its Delaware ad, the First Amendment Alliance accuses Democratic Senate candidate Chris Coons of “bankrupting New Castle County,” even though the county under Coons’s leadership received a triple-A bond rating, which Moody’s Investors Services said “reflects the county’s strong financial operations bound by conservative policies.” Despite such proof of sound fiscal leadership, the First Amendment Alliance falsely claims that Coons is responsible for an “economic train wreck.”

With enormous backing from the energy industry, it is no wonder why the First Amendment Alliance wants to defeat progressives running for the US Senate.  Find out about the other pro-corporate groups spending tens of millions of dollars in an attempt to influence the election in People For the American Way's report, "After Citizens United: A Look Into the New Pro-Corporate Players in American Politics."

 

PFAW

Extremely Extreme Extremism Update

With Election Day fast approaching, tens of millions of dollars from corporations flooding the airwaves each week and seemingly endless news stories about apathy in the Democratic base, right-wing candidates are getting more brazen -- advancing ever more extreme positions and spreading outright lies.

Sharron Angle, the Republican running to unseat Harry Reid in Nevada, told a crowd that Dearborn, Michigan and a town named Frankford, Texas are under Islamic Sharia Law. Utter nonsense. The statement earned her a strong rebuke from the Mayor of Dearborn and it turns out that Frankford, TX doesn't even exist!

Rand Paul, running for Senate in Kentucky, now supports ending the income tax in favor of a more regressive national sales tax that would hit the poor and middle class far more harshly than the income tax. After saying a few months back that he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and making controversial statements about mining and the BP oil spill, Paul's handlers have tried hard to keep his extremism under wraps. But for someone as "out there" as Rand Paul, that's hard to do for very long.

In a debate on Wednesday night, Tea Party favorite and Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell, perpetuating an attack that has been thoroughly discredited, accused her Democratic opponent Chris Coons of being a Marxist, based on Coons' tongue-in-cheek comment in an article he wrote as a student. On a roll, O'Donnell launched into a rant that included attacks on Coons for things he never said and completely fabricated declarations about the "tenets" of Marxism.

These are just some of this week's salvos from the right-wing Rogue's Gallery of Senate candidates -- let's not forget some of the past gems from Tea Party candidates. Sen. Russ Feingold's opponent in Wisconsin, Ron Johnson, is such an extreme pro-corporate ideologue that he tries to push the notion that global warming is caused by sunspots in order to cover for corporate polluters... he also wants to drill for oil in the Great Lakes and even fought against protections for victims of child abuse on the grounds that it would be bad for business.

But the worst of the bunch has to be Colorado's GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck. When he was a county D.A., he refused to prosecute a rape that the accused essentially admitted he had committed. Instead, Buck chose to blame the victim, calling her charges a case of "buyer's remorse." Perhaps most disturbingly, it appears his statement and inaction might have been retribution for what some claimed was an abortion the victim had a year before (despite the victim's claim that she had a miscarriage). Keep in mind this is a man who is against legal abortion even in the cases of rape and incest, and apparently agrees with Sharron Angle that rape victims who become pregnant as a result of their assault should make "lemonade" out of "what was really a lemon situation."

If this weren't enough, this week an interview from March reemerged in which the "get rid of government no matter what the cost" Buck actually came out in favor of privatizing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention! Imagine the CDC privatized -- the profit motive being the sole determination for whether the Center might act to save millions of lives... or let millions suffer or even die.

This is what extremism looks like. These could be the new people making our laws.

But it's not too late. We can Stamp Out Extremism. Please, this election, dig deep, speak out and get involved.

The latest poll numbers have progressive Democrat Joe Sestak ahead of pro-corporate extremist Pat Toomey in the Pennsylvania Senate race for the first time... Colorado is a very tight race and our endorsed candidate Michael Bennet is in position to defeat Buck with enough of our help... the progressive Senate candidate in Kentucky, Jack Conway, is running very close and could actually beat Republican Rand Paul because of his extremism... and we are fighting tooth-and-nail to keep Russ Feingold in the Senate and stop the radically right-wing Ron Johnson. We are in the process right now of producing ads for all of these states and more, and finalizing our field plan to get out the vote.

Please stay tuned for more on those products and activities, and, in the meantime, help spread around our resources, like our "Rogues Gallery" report, which calls out the GOP's extremist Senate candidates, and our "After Citizens United" report, which exposes the corporate front groups that are trying to buy this election for the Republicans.

UPDATE: Jed Lewison at Kos highlights right-wing candidates attacks on the miminum wage:

As Joan McCarter (here, here, and here) and DemFromCT (here) have documented, in the past few weeks leading Republican candidates have come out against the minimum wage, either calling for it to be lowered or for eliminating it altogether because they think it's unconstitutional. And now West Virginia GOP Senate nominee Joe Raese is once again vowing to repeal the Fair Labor Standards Act which established the minimum wage.

The key thing about the GOP position is that it's not just the minimum wage that they want to get rid of. They want to nuke virtually every law and regulation that protects workers. And that includes another provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act: overtime pay.

UPDATE 2: Tea Party House candidate in California's 11th Congressional District, David Harmer, wants to abolish public schools. Sharron Angle and others want to do away with the Department of Education, but Harmer's position could be an even more extreme attack on public education. Harmer is leading progressive incumbent Rep. Jerry McNerney in the polls...

PFAW

Goodbye, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell?

A federal judge today ordered the government to stop enforcing the discriminatory Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy.

Judge Virginia Phillips of California found last month that the policy violates servicemembers’ First Amendment speech rights and Fifth Amendment right to due process. The injunction she issued today takes effect immediately. The Obama Administration can still choose to appeal her decision.

Christian Berle, the Deputy Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, reacted with this statement:

"These soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines sacrifice so much in defense of our nation and our Constitution," Berle said. "It is imperative that their constitutional freedoms be protected as well. This decision is also a victory for all who support a strong national defense. No longer will our military be compelled to discharge service members with valuable skills and experience because of an archaic policy mandating irrational discrimination."

Federal judges in two separate cases this year have found Don’t Ask Don’t Tell dismissals to be unconstitutional. I summed up some other voices of authority weighing in on the DADT debate in this post. The policy is a disgrace, and it’s far past time for it to be a piece of our history.
 

Update: The Advocate talked with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the possibility of appealing the ruling:

At a Tuesday briefing soon after Phillips's issued her judgment, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told The Advocate he did not know whether the Administration would seek a stay of the ruling, nor did he know if any steps have been taken to bring the Pentagon into compliance with the injunction. "Obviously, there have been a number of [DADT] court cases that have ruled in favor of plaintiffs in this case and the president will continue to work as hard he can to change the law that he believes is fundamentally unfair," Gibbs said.

 

PFAW

Disgusting

THIS is faction that's setting the Republican Party's agenda and that will cement its complete control over the GOP -- and perhaps Congress -- if enough Tea Partiers and hard-right candidates are successful in their bids for office this November.

From DownWithTyranny:

Within hours of their dramatic unveiling on The Pledge in a Virginia hardware store, the House overwhelmingly passed H.R. 3470, Steve Cohen's Nationally Enhancing the Wellbeing of Babies through Outreach and Research Now Act, which was deemed too favorable to poor people and to people of color to be approved by the new guard of the GOP. Although most Republicans (106 of them) joined every single Democrat to vote YES, 64 of the furthest right members voted NO. That 64 included teabaggy favorites like Michele Bachmann (MN), Paul Broun (GA), Dan Burton (IN), John Campbell (CA), Virginia Foxx (NC), Scott Garrett (NJ), Louie Gohmert (TX), Jeb Hensarling (TX), Darrell Issa (CA), Steve King (IA), Ron Paul (R-TX), Tom Price (GA), Pete Sessions (TX), Lynn Westmoreland (GA) and-- in a very noticeable break from Boehner and Ryan-- Young Guns Eric Cantor (VA) and Kevin McCarthy (CA). They're the ideological tip of the spear the ones who are setting the real Republican Party agenda which is all about shipping middle class jobs overseas to low wage markets while crushing the small businesses they pretend to worship.

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

"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

The Far-Right Agenda Rolls On In the Courts

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson refused to dismiss a lawsuit, filed by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, challenging the constitutionality of the recently passed healthcare reform bill. This procedural ruling will likely lead to years of litigation surrounding the law, which many constitutional law experts believe is well in line with the parameters of the Commerce Clause and Congressional authority.

But much as we have seen, this is just another example of right-wing judges pursuing an ideological agenda to harm progressive goals. Though Judge Hudson’s ruling (see career background here) did not explicitly discuss the merits of the case, it’s pretty clear which side he would rule on, according to Steven Schwinn at the Constitutional Law Prof Blog:

[H]e clearly framed the issues in terms of Virginia's theory of the case--that the mandate is a regulation of a decision not to participate in the interstate economy--and commented throughout on the "complex constitutional issues”. . . The federal government will likely have a tough time getting Judge Hudson to move away from Virginia's view of the case.

This is yet another reason why conservatives are so intently set on packing the courts with right-wing extremists. Time will tell if their strategy works with regards to ideological courts bending the law in order to strike down healthcare reform.

PFAW

Ken Cuccinelli Will Not Be Outdone

Virginia’s crusading attorney general Ken Cuccinelli has a new cause: ensuring that Virginia keeps up with Arizona in the race to become the most anti-immigrant state in the union.

On Friday, prompted by an inquiry from Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, Cuccinelli decreed that Virginia police can grill people about their immigration status when stopped for traffic violations or at police checkpoints:

A 2008 Virginia law requires that law enforcement check the immigration status of anyone taken into custody on suspicion of having committed a separate crime. Cuccinelli's opinion could expand such inquiries to those who have been legally stopped by law enforcement, for instance those pulled over for a traffic violation or at a police checkpoint.

Cuccinelli writes in the July 30 opinion that while local law enforcement have the ability to arrest those they suspect of committing criminal violations of immigration laws but not those they believe have violated civil immigration statutes. But he says inquiring into status is different than arresting for a violation and that law enforcement can inquire. While it is a crime to illegally cross the border, many other immigration violations are civil offense, like overstaying a valid visa.

"Virginia law enforcement officers have the authority to make the same inquiries as those contemplated by the new Arizona law. So long as the officers have the requisite level of suspicion to believe that a violation of the law has occurred, the officers may detain and briefly question a person they suspect has committed a federal crime," he writes.

In Virginia, official opinions of the attorney general are considered law unless a judge disagrees with the legal analysis after an opinion has been challenged in court.

A similar provision in Arizona’s law was blocked by a federal judge last week before it could take effect. Arizona’s law required police to make such checks when they suspect that a person they have stopped is in the country illegally, whereas Cuccinelli’s pronouncement merely allows police to make that check. The effect, however, is similar: state police are given the broad authority to determine whom to quiz about immigration status in situations that are unrelated to immigration. And, however many racial profiling disclaimers are written into a law, a regulation like that is going to unduly burden Virginia’s Latino residents, who now must be prepared to prove their immigration status every time they drive to the grocery store.
 

PFAW

A New Brand of Umpire

In a compelling new piece at Slate, Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center and Jim Ryan of the University of Virginia argue that when Elena Kagan faces the Senate Judiciary Committee she shouldn’t ignore or reject strict Constitutionalism—she should wrest its definition back from the Right wing:

…Kagan should take the opportunity provided by this week-long constitutional seminar to chronicle the arc of our constitutional progress and make it clear that she will faithfully adhere to the whole Constitution, including the amendments passed over the last 220 years. The amendments passed since the founding era have been glossed over a lot lately, at the Tea Parties, in the states, and even at the Supreme Court, where the conservative "originalists" seem to view what was originally drafted by the framing generation as better, and more legitimate law, than the changes made since. This view is absurd and should be forcefully rejected by Kagan. Perhaps she could follow Chief Justice Robert's umpire analogy, in which he famously likened judges to umpires calling balls and strikes. No one would claim that modern umpires have the power to enforce the "original" rules of baseball, even if those rules have been changed. The same is true of justices enforcing the Constitution.

As Rand Paul and the RNC have recently learned the hard way, most Americans accept that our Constitution, like our society, has changed over the past 200 years. Kendall and Ryan are right that progressives shouldn’t downplay the written document—they should brandish it.
 

PFAW

Equal Protection Under Attack: Doe v. Vermilion Parish School Board

Last week, People for the American Way Foundation signed on to an amicus brief urging the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a lower court’s decision allowing a Louisiana middle school to segregate classrooms by sex. The amicus brief, led by the National Women’s Law Center, argued that sex-segregated classrooms are harmful to members of both sexes and violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.

Parents of the Rene A. Rost Middle School were informed in 2009 that classes for the school would be segregated by sex for the coming fall semester. A parent whose children were placed in sex-segregated classes without receiving constitutionally mandated coeducational options objected and was told that because the coed classes had already been filled, the only option left for one of her daughters was a special needs class. Represented by the ACLU, the parent sued and the trial court dismissed the case by wrongly shifting the burden of proof, requiring the victim to prove discrimination by demonstrating an “intent to harm” - a new standard that is almost impossible to meet and not recognized by the Supreme Court.

As the Supreme Court held in its 1996 decision requiring the Virginia Military Institute to admit women, for a state to permissibly classify on the basis of sex, it “must carry the burden of showing an exceedingly persuasive justification for the classification.” Additionally, the state must not “rely on overbroad generalizations about the different talents, capacities, or preferences of males and females.” Simply put, the Court has found that a state must have a very good reason before it decides to discriminate on the basis of sex.

NWLC’s brief cites evidence that suggests a total lack of adequate justification for the school’s policy, both from a legal and practical perspective, specifically a flawed study performed by Rost Middle School’s principal. Simply put, if the Fifth Circuit were to uphold the District Court’s decision, it would ignore almost 30 years of settled Equal Protection law in order to endorse a discriminatory policy that is harmful to all students regardless of gender.
 

PFAW

Sessions warns of Obama’s “dangerous” SCOTUS philosophy

Don’t say he didn’t warn you. Sen. Jeff Sessions has taken issue with several of President Obama’s criteria for picking a Supreme Court nominee, but he’s especially concerned about the stipulation that the new justice have a “keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people.”

That priority, Sessions warned ABC News this week, is “dangerous.”

One has to wonder if Sessions was similarly terrified in 2006, when in his confirmation hearings before Sessions’ committee, now-Justice Samuel Alito made an eloquent speech about his ability to identify with the concerns of immigrants, children, victims of discrimination, and people with disabilities.

He shouldn’t have worried: despite his professed understanding, Alito helped bring us a variety of decisions that have ignored the realities of daily life in America.

But if he sees out-of-touch as the most desirable quality in a Supreme Court justice, Sessions may have found his ideal Justice in John G. Roberts. Roberts has already reassured us that he missed the Internet age entirely. And on Monday, the Chief Justice showed us his lack of concern for low-wage laborers when he belittled the situation of workers forced to sign bad contracts as “economic inequality or whatever.”

If Sessions is looking for a Supreme Court that disregards the lives of ordinary Americans, he’s got it. But maybe it wouldn’t be so dangerous for our newest Justice to understand the difference between “economic inequality” and “whatever.”

PFAW

Corporate Spending in Judicial Elections Skyrocketing

For those still in doubt about the potential for corporate influence in national elections in the post-Citizens United world, it might be helpful to look at the growing sway of corporate money in state-level judicial elections.

Eliza Newlin Carney at the National Journal found some staggering statistics:

Predictions that the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling will unleash a torrent of corporate money are wildly overblown, free speech advocates insist. As evidence, they argue that corporate money has yet to flood elections in the 26 states that already impose no limit on corporate spending.

But a closer look at state-level elections suggests that independent political expenditures by corporations, unions and other special interests are substantial. This is particularly true in judicial elections, which have gotten dramatically costlier, nastier and more controversial over the past decade. The Citizens United ruling may impact judicial races even more drastically than federal elections, some experts argue.

Campaign spending in state Supreme Court elections for the 2008 cycle topped $45 million, continuing a trend that started in the early 1990s, according to Justice at Stake, a nonprofit promoting judicial impartiality. Judicial campaign fundraising totaled $206.4 million between 2000 and 2009, according to a forthcoming Justice at Stake report, more than double the $83.3 million raised between 1990 and 1999.

Corporate money dominated those expenditures, according to Justice at Stake spokesman Charles Hall, who said some 30 percent of the $206.4 million had "clear links" to the corporate sector. Other big judicial campaign money sources were lawyers and lobbyists, who accounted for about 28 percent of the $206 million-plus total.

The Supreme Court itself highlighted the dangers of this trend in last year’s decision banning a West Virginia Supreme Court justice from participating in a case involving a man who had spent $3 million helping him get elected. The funder in question was Massey Energy Company owner Don Blakenship—who has recently earned criticism as an example of what can happen when corporations have more regulatory influence than the citizens they employ.

PFAW

Bob McDonnell vs. the Right to Vote

Mere days after rewriting the history of the Civil War - turning it into a war for independence with nothing to do with slavery - Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has done it again. But this time, instead of denying people's humanity, he's "just" making it a lot harder for them to vote.

According to the Washington Post, McDonnell plans to place a significant new burden in front of non-violent felons seeking to have their voting rights restored:

McDonnell will require the offenders to submit an essay outlining their contributions to society since their release, turning a nearly automatic process into a subjective one that some say may prevent the poor and less-educated from being allowed to vote. ...

McDonnell's administration said the essay requirement is designed to put a human face on each applicant and to help staff members better understand each person's situation.

And if you can't read and write well? Or if you're intimidated by things like essays? Or if you just can't express yourself well in writing? You're out of luck.

Even worse, restoration of the right to vote will not be based on a set of objective criteria, but will instead be based on whether McDonnell or some designated official thinks the applicant is worthy of the right to vote:

In coming weeks, McDonnell will start requiring nonviolent offenders to write a letter to him explaining the circumstances of their arrest; their efforts to get a job, seek an education and participate in church and community activities; and why they believe their rights should be restored. Some applicants already have been notified that letters will be required.

In a democracy, the right to vote should never depend on whether the governor finds you worthy of that right. It is not the place of government to make sure that only the "right" type of people vote.

It seems that every day, Virginia is becoming a more and more frightening place to live.

PFAW

More evidence that in Virginia, the Radical Right's in charge

The Washington Post reported today that Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has sent a letter to the Commonwealth’s public colleges and universities asking them to rescind policies that ban discrimination against LGBT people, stating:

"It is my advice that the law and public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia prohibit a college or university from including 'sexual orientation,' 'gender identity,' 'gender expression,' or like classification as a protected class within its non-discrimination policy absent specific authorization from the General Assembly."

Colleges that have included such language in their policies -- which include all of Virginia's leading schools -- have done so "without proper authority" and should "take appropriate actions to bring their policies in conformance with the law and public policy of Virginia," Cuccinelli wrote.

I posted last week on the new Virginia Governor's assault on LGBT Virginians, in his rush to carry out the agenda of the Religious Right. Clearly it's not just Gov. Bob McDonnell who poses a threat to Virginians’ rights. The Religious Right has spread its tentacles throughout the upper echelons of Virginia’s state government, and with its grip firmly on the levers of power, Virginians have a lot to be worried about.

More brutal evidence of the fact that elections matter... Progressives will have a lot of work to do fighting back the policies of McDonnell, Cuccinelli and right-wing state legislators in Virginia.

PFAW

Virginia's New Radical Right Governor Begins His Assault

Pat Robertson's man in the Virginia State House, Governor Bob McDonnell, has been in office less than a month and is already delivering on the Religious Right's agenda ... at the expense of Virginians' civil rights.

A February 5 executive order from the 'Gov stripped gay and lesbian state workers of protections against job discrimination. It was that simple: signing an order that prohibits discrimination based on nearly every category except sexual orientation (which had been included under McDonnell's predecessor, Gov. Tim Kaine). The move has already been praised by Radical Right groups like Tony Perkins' Family Research Council.

This is a painful, cringe-inducing "I told you so" moment that brings no satisfaction to anyone and certainly no desire to gloat. It's a sad reminder that when we snooze, we lose -- in this case, progressive voters snoozing has led to LGBT Virginians losing, but rest assured, there will be more to come and enough misery to go around.

Bob McDonnell's opponent in the gubernatorial race was Creigh Deeds, who failed to inspire his progressive base. Deeds campaign ran away from progressive values instead of embracing and fighting for them, and the Democratic ticket paid the price on Election Day. Deeds got the Democratic nomination in the first place because of dreadful turnout, particularly among progressives, in that party's primary election.

The other lesson we must take away is that we must EXPOSE right-wing candidates for what they are. This need makes organizations like PFAW and blogs like RightWingWatch very important. McDonnell is an undoubtedly intelligent and charismatic politician. He seems like a very nice guy, a good family man and emanates a sincerity that might be genuine. But this persona belies his radical beliefs.

McDonnell could rightly be called a "wolf in sheep's clothing" for running a campaign that avoided the polarizing issues on which his Religious Right agenda is focused. But the evidence was there all along. He was elected, in part, due to progressives' and Democrats' failure to expose his true radical right-wing inclinations despite a wealth of evidence.

His master's thesis (at Pat Robertson's Regent University, which itself should have been portrayed as a bigger red flag to VA voters) espoused extremely radical views. It became a major campaign issue for his opponent Deeds but somehow McDonnell was able to diffuse it by saying those were the views of a younger, less lived and learned version of himself. He was 34 YEARS OLD when he wrote the thesis, though, and hardly some naïve kid. McDonnell's record as Attorney General and statements he had made in the past, as well as his close connection to Pat Robertson, should have been additional red flags.

But here we find ourselves, with LGBT Virginians taking the first of what will likely be many blows to their basic rights throughout Gov. McDonnell's tenure. And it's not only Virginians who are going to suffer.

McDonnell has been unleashed onto the national political scene too. Americans already have enough fear from hatemongers like Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum and others who threaten America with their potential candidacy for president. Now, we have Bob McDonnell (Pat Robertson's protégé!!!) who is clearly being groomed to be a national leader of the Republican Party after he gave the GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union Address -- a response that was very well executed and positioned the articulate family man McDonnell as what one would imagine to be a Tea Party activist's ideal alternative to our current president. (The fact that McDonnell is white is sadly of central importance in the GOP's ploy, but that's a topic that deserves further dissection in another post).

It's been said that we get the government we deserve, based on who we vote for or whether or not we choose to vote at all. But no one deserves a governor like Bob McDonnell. And the likes of Pat Robertson and Tony Perkins certainly do not deserve to have their errand boy serving them up one wish list item at a time wrapped all pretty with a bow on it.

Progressives stay at home on Election Day at all of our peril. And that goes for the primaries especially. The progressive "base" can't just be the voters whose turnout makes the difference for Democrats in general elections (young voters, low-income voters, etc.). People who truly embrace what it means to be progressive need get out there and stand up for our values within the political party structure. If there's one thing this current crop of Democratic members of Congress has made all too clear, it's that no one else is going to assert those values (the same ones that made and continue to make America great, I might add) if we don't do it in the voting booth.

We must do better.

In the meantime, we need to keep an eye on Governor Bob McDonnell, lest he follow the path of another perceived "every man" who was strong on "family values" and played the part of a "uniter, not a divider." That "every man," George W. Bush, served up the most radical right-wing policies of any modern president and was quick to empty the nation's treasury into the pockets of war profiteers and his other corporate sponsors. Let's learn from the past.
 

PFAW

10 Year Old Stands Up for Equality

Will Phillips, a 10 year old boy in Arkansas, recently refused to stand and recite the pledge of allegiance. His reason? He said he could not pledge allegiance to a country that continues to deny equality to the LGBT community.

Will's teacher tried to reprimand him for not participating in the pledge, despite his constitutional right to do so. His principal acknowledges that students cannot be forced to recite the pledge, but is refusing to apologize to the 10 year old.

While some classmates are supportive of Will's stand for equality, others have taunted him with homophobic remarks. His mother commented that, "It's really frustrating to him that people are being so immature." When asked what it means to be an American, Will said, "Freedom of speech. The freedom to disagree. That's what I think pretty much being an American represents."

We couldn't agree more.

PFAW

What Do the Results of this Year’s Gubernatorial Races Tell Us About 2010?

With right wing candidates winning both Virginia and New Jersey's gubernatorial elections, the Far Right is gleefully portraying these victories as a national repudiation of President Obama - and a foreshadowing of crushing defeats for progressives in 2010.

But it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that's nonsense.

Go back eight years, to when George W. Bush was in his first year of office like Obama is today. In November of 2001, Democratic gubernatorial candidates in both Virginia and New Jersey handily won their elections, shifting party control of the governor's mansion in both states. What did this tell us about GOP weakness in the next year's midterms?

Not much.

The same month that Democrats won in Virginia and New Jersey, Bush was at the height of his popularity, scoring approval ratings in the mid-to-high 80s. And in the 2002 midterms, he parlayed that popularity into stunning successes for the Republicans in both the Senate and the House.

So what do the results of this year's races tell us about 2010?

Not much.

PFAW

Balls and Strikes for Drunk Drivers

Question: Can a police officer pull a driver over on suspicion of drunk driving based only on an anonymous tip? Based on the quotations below, can you guess what governmental body was asked this week to answer that question?

Every year, close to 13,000 people die in alcohol-related car crashes - roughly one death every 40 minutes. ... Ordinary citizens are well aware of the dangers posed by drunk driving, and they frequently report such conduct to the police. A number of States have adopted programs specifically designed to encourage such tips ...

[Another lawmaking body] adopted a rule that will undermine such efforts to get drunk drivers off the road. [It] commands that police officers following a driver reported to be drunk do nothing until they see the driver actually do something unsafe on the road - by which time it may be too late.

There is no question that drunk driving is a serious and potentially deadly crime ... The imminence of the danger posed by drunk drivers exceeds that at issue in other [situations]. In a case [with an anonymous tip that someone at a bus stop is carrying a gun], the police can often observe the subject of a tip and step in before actual harm occurs; with drunk driving, such a wait-and-see approach may prove fatal. Drunk driving is always dangerous, as it is occurring. ...

The conflict is clear and the stakes are high. The effect of [needing more than an anonymous tip to permit the police to stop a driver] will be to grant drunk drivers "one free swerve" before they can legally be pulled over by police. It will be difficult for an officer to explain to the family of a motorist killed by that swerve that the police had a tip that the driver of the other car was drunk, but that they were powerless to pull him over, even for a quick check.

Is this a legislator urging his colleagues how to vote on an important policy question?

No. It's Chief Umpire John Roberts, and he's not exactly neutrally calling balls and strikes.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari in Virginia v. Harris, declining to hear the appeal of a drunk driving case involving a police stop based only on an anonymous tip. Roberts, joined by Justice Scalia, issued a stinging dissent from that decision not to hear the case. Their dissent was brimming with ... policy considerations.

This blog has written before on the pernicious myth that judges shouldn't affect policy, pointing out that that's exactly what courts are supposed to do. It's inherent in interpreting the law in difficult cases. Yet part of the Far Right's propaganda to demonize liberal judges and portray them as anti-American is the line that they "legislate from the bench," usurping policymaking powers from the people's elected representatives.

No one should be fooled into buying the Right's framing. Progressives shouldn't be bullied into parroting it. And the press needs to start asking why the Right always remains silent when conservative jurists engage in this perfectly normal, long-accepted practice.

PFAW