Voting

Trading Judges

As the Senate prepares to vote this week on the Supreme Court confirmation of Elena Kagan, there is also reportedly a deal in the works to finally confirm dozens of the executive branch and judicial nominees who have been waiting—many of them for months—for votes on the Senate floor.

CQ reports:

After seeing only two nominees confirmed during July, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are discussing terms for advancing at least some of the 84 nominations awaiting floor votes, aides said Monday. “We have a number of nominations that we’re looking at,” said Reid.

But some of the more controversial nominees are unlikely to be confirmed before the Senate returns in mid-September, if then. That may tempt Obama to use recess appointments to fill those vacancies at least temporarily — unless the White House agrees to pass up the opportunity to make recess appointments in exchange for Senate action on some nominees this week.

It’s about time that the Senate gets around to clearing the nominations backlog. But voting on nominees that were reported months ago without any opposition is no great concession by the Republican minority. It’s time to end the charade and the gamesmanship.

Take for example North Carolina judge Albert Wynn, whose nomination to fill a long-vacant seat on the Fourt Circuit Court of Appeals was approved by the Judiciary Committee in an 18-1 vote six months ago, and has been held up by GOP leadership ever since. David Savage at the Los Angeles Times describes the holdup of Wynn’s nomination as part of a political battle similar to “an old family feud”:

The GOP leader had no objection to Wynn. Instead, he said, he was getting back at Democrats who had blocked President George W. Bush's nominees to the same court. "My perspective on the 4th Circuit covers a little longer period of time," McConnell said.

The Senate's dispute over judicial nominees resembles a family feud that stretches over several generations. Judges are being opposed not because of their records, but because of what happened several years earlier to other nominees. Use of the filibuster rule, which the GOP had insisted was unconstitutional several years ago, has become a routine stalling tactic.

If confirmed, Wynn would fill a North Carolina seat on the 4th Circuit that has been vacant since 1994.

Let’s have a vote on James Wynn. Or let’s have a vote on Jane Stranch of Tennessee, nominated to fill a seat on the Sixth Circuit, who has the support of both of her home state Republican Senators. And let’s have a vote on Goodwin Liu, nominated for a seat on the Ninth Circuit, who has endorsements from across the ideological spectrum, including Clint Bolick and Ken Starr.


The debate over judicial nominations has become not about qualifications or the law, or about the urgent needs of the justice system, but about political game-playing. It’s great that the GOP has finally agreed to confirm some nominees who they never objected to in the first place. Maybe now they can move on to having a substantive debate on those, like Wynn, Stranch, and Liu, against whom they continue to use every passive-aggressive rule of Senate procedure.
 

PFAW

Chairman Leahy Reprimands Senate Republicans

After helping Elena Kagan sail through the Judiciary Committee, Chairman Leahy isn’t content resting on his laurels. Yesterday the Chairman censured his Republican colleagues for their obstructionism on lower profile but just as vital judicial nominations. When Republicans foiled his attempt to schedule discussion on 4th Circuit nominee Jane Stranch of Tenessee, who enjoys the bipartisan support of her home state Senators, Chairman Leahy called them out:

Senate Republicans have further ratcheted up the obstruction and partisanship that have regrettably become commonplace this Congress with regard to judicial nominees. We asked merely for a time agreement to debate and vote on the nomination. I did not foreclose any Republican Senator from voting against the nominee or speaking against the nominee but simply wanted a standard agreement in order to allow the majority leader to schedule the debate and get to a vote. This is for a nomination reported favorably by the Judiciary Committee over eight months ago with bipartisan support. Yet the Republican leader objected and blocked our consideration.

For anyone who still thinks that both parties engage in this kind of obstructionism when in the minority, Senator Leahy came prepared with statistics:

No one should be confused: the current obstruction and stalling by Senate Republicans is unprecedented. There is no systematic counterpart by Senate Democrats. In fact, during the first 2 years of the Bush administration, the 100 judges confirmed were considered by the Democratically controlled Senate an average of 25 days from being reported by the Judiciary Committee. The average time for confirmed Federal circuit court nominees was 26 days. The average time for the 36 Federal circuit and district and circuit court judges confirmed since President Obama took office is 82 days and the average time for Federal circuit nominees is 126 days. So when Republicans say that we are moving faster than we did during the first 2 years of the Bush administration they are wrong. It was not until the summer of 2001 that the Senate majority shifted to Democrats, but as soon as it did, we proceeded on the judicial nominations of President Bush, a Republican President. Indeed, by this date during the second year of the Bush administration, the Senate had confirmed 58 of his judicial nominations and we were on the way to confirming 100 by the end of the year. By contrast, Republican obstruction of President Obama's judicial nominees has meant that only 36 of his judicial nominees have been confirmed. We have fallen dramatically behind the pace set for consideration of President Bush's nominees.

…Indeed, when President Bush was in the White House, Senate Republicans took the position that it was unconstitutional and wholly inappropriate not to vote on nominees approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. With a Democratic President, they have reverted to the secret holds that resulted in pocket filibusters of more than 60 nominees during the Clinton years. Last year, Senate Republicans successfully stalled all but a dozen Federal circuit and district court nominees. That was the lowest total number of judges confirmed in more than 50 years. They have continued that practice despite the fact that judicial vacancies continue to hover around 100, with more than 40 declared judicial emergencies.

As Chairman Leahy emphasized, these obstructionist tactics have rarely come with explanations. For example, Judge James Wynn, who was nominated first by President Clinton and then by President Obama and would become the first black Justice on the 4th Circuit, has been on anonymous hold for six months with no reason given.

Our judicial system can’t function properly without qualified judges on the bench. But Senate Republicans are leaving dozens of judicial vacancies open for purely political reasons. Good for Chairman Leahy for speaking out on this.

PFAW

Saying No To Good Government

Although Elena Kagan’s nomination moved out of committee yesterday, almost every Republican committee member voted against her, and most Senate Republicans are expected to follow suite. Why? As an editorial in the New York Times pointed out , Republican opposition to the broad interpretation of the commerce clause in recent decades may partly explain their refusal to support Kagan:

[D]ozens of Senate Republicans are ready to vote against [Kagan], and many are citing her interpretation of the commerce clause of the Constitution, the one that says Congress has the power to regulate commerce among the states. At her confirmation hearings, Ms. Kagan refused to take the Republican bait and agree to suggest limits on that clause’s meaning. This infuriated the conservatives on the Senate Judiciary Committee because it has been that clause, more than any other, that has been at the heart of the expansion of government power since the New Deal.

The clause was the legal basis for any number of statutes of enormous benefit to society. It is why we have the Clean Air Act. The Clean Water Act. The Endangered Species Act. The Fair Labor Standards Act, setting a minimum wage and limiting child labor. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing segregation in the workplace and in public accommodations. In cases like these, the Supreme Court has said Congress can regulate activities that have a “substantial effect” on interstate commerce, even if they are not directly business-related.

…Make no mistake that such a vote is simply about her, or about President Obama. A vote against the commerce clause is a vote against some of the best things that government has done for the better part of a century, and some of the best things that lie ahead.

In voting against Kagan’s anticipated interpretation of the commerce clause, the “Party of No” isn’t just opposing the confirmation of extremely qualified Supreme Court Justice; they’re also opposing the government fulfilling its responsibility to protect clean air and water, fair labor standards, and civil rights for all.

PFAW

Thurgood Marshall Roundup

We were far from the only ones noting the surprising volume of GOP attacks on Justice Thurgood Marshall on Monday. Talking Points Memo counted the number of references to the illustrious Justice on the opening day of Kagan’s hearings:

In an example of how much the GOP focused on Marshall, his name came up 35 times. President Obama's name was mentioned just 14 times today.

Harpers Magazine shared my confusion about what might have motivated Republican Senators to engage in these attacks:

So what made Marshall the image of an “activist judge”? Was it his role in Brown v. Board of Education, the decision that put an end to the lie of “separate but equal” education across the American South, forcing desegregation in public education? Or perhaps it was the fact that he won nearly all of his Supreme Court cases, most of them on behalf of the NAACP, and all of them testing the official refuges of bigotry and racism?

The attacks were led, predictably, by neoconfederate senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the Republican ranking member and the Theodore Bilbo of his generation, who snarled that Kagan’s affection for her former boss “tells us much about the nominee”—a comment clearly intended as an insult. But so many other Republican senators joined in—Orrin Hatch, John Cornyn, and Jon Kyl, for instance—that it appears to have been an agreed talking point. (I see Dana Milbank reports that Republican staffers were actually handing out opposition research on Marshall’s voting record after the hearing–another sign that the war on Marshall was a formal strategy.)

At first it was unclear to me what possible complaint about Justice Marshall the Republican Senators could have had. But Dana Milbank at the Washington Post cleared things up:

Republicans saw trouble in this Marshall fellow. "In 2003, Ms. Kagan wrote a tribute to Justice Marshall in which she said that, 'in his view, it was the role of the courts in interpreting the Constitution to protect the people who went unprotected by every other organ of government,' " Kyl complained.

Protecting the unprotected? Say it ain't so!

And that wasn't all. Kagan also emphasized Marshall's "unshakable determination to protect the underdog," Kyl said.

Let’s take a moment to remember all the great things Justice Marshall did for this country. Stephanie Jones’ thoughtful piece in the Washington Post this morning details his vital role in fulfilling the promises of the Constitution. She summarizes:

Marshall was a great jurist who used his skills to move this country closer to being a more perfect union. As a lawyer and a justice, he protected us from activist judges and the cramped thinking of politicians who tried to keep our country in the muck. And he never forgot how the high court's rulings affect the least of us.

So what do Republicans have to gain from attacking this giant? Out west at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, columnist Joel Connelly reminded us that attacks on Marshall are just part of a larger right wing trend to de-legitimize American heroes with whom they disagree:

The political right has taken to beating up on great American presidents, with the "progressive" Theodore Roosevelt demonized by Fox's Glenn Beck, and Thomas Jefferson ordered banished from textbooks by the Texas Board of Education.

At confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Senators from the party of Abraham Lincoln have discovered -- literally -- a new black hat. They are denouncing and labeling Thurgood Marshall, our country's greatest civil rights lawyer.

 

UPDATE: even conservatives are perplexed by the Republicans' anti-Marshall strategy. Check out Joe Scarborough mocking Senate Republicans:

 

PFAW

A Victory For Religious Liberty

In today's 5-4 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court correctly ruled that a publicly funded law school need not provide funding and recognition to a campus group with policies that discriminate based on religion and sexual orientation.

The University of California, Hastings College of Law, is a public institution with a viewpoint-neutral policy of recognizing and providing some funding to official student organizations, as long as the groups open their membership to all comers regardless of their status or beliefs. The campus Christian Legal Society (CLS) denies voting membership to those who do not subscribe to its religious beliefs, including those which condemn sex outside of heterosexual marriage. Because the CLS's discrimination on the basis of religion and sexual orientation violates the school's "all comers" policy, Hastings denied them official recognition.

All student groups, the CLS included, are subject to the same rules. But the CLS demanded – and the four arch-conservative Justices would have given them – a special favored status denied to other groups: the right to the funds and benefits of recognition from a public institution, along with an exemption from the rules that apply to any other group seeking those funds and benefits.

People For the American Way Foundation filed an amicus brief with other civil rights organizations in support of Hastings College of Law in the case. The brief emphasized that the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld the right of the states to withhold public funding that would support discrimination. This is particularly relevant in the context of government-funded "faith-based initiatives," where conservative Christian groups are demanding the right to receive public funds and then use them to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Had the four-Justice dissent carried the day, grave damage would have been done to the power of government to prohibit public funds from being used to forward invidious discrimination. Today is a victory for religious liberty.

PFAW

The Roberts Court’s Pro-Corporate Batting Average

The Constitutional Accountability Center has just released a statistical study of the current Supreme Court’s pro-corporate voting patterns. And guess what? The numbers back the trend that’s anecdotally hard to miss.

CAC’s statistical study tests empirically the idea that the conservatives on the Roberts Court tend to side with corporate interests. Our study examined every opinion released by the Roberts Court since Justice Samuel Alito began participating in decisions, and in which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was either a party or an amicus curiae — a universe of 53 cases. This study reveals an overall success rate for the Chamber of 64% (34 victories in 53 cases), and a success rate of 71% in cases decided by a narrow (five-Justice) majority. The Court’s conservatives (Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy) tend to vote together in their support for the Chamber, while the Court’s moderate/liberal bloc (including former Justice David Souter, who was on the Court for most of these rulings) was more centrist, casting only 41% of its votes in favor of the Chamber.

These data strongly support the proposition that there is a strong ideological component to the Justices’ rulings in business cases, with the Court’s conservatives frequently adopting the Chamber’s position. In one particularly startling finding, Justice Alito, since joining the Court, has never cast a vote against the Chamber of Commerce’s position in a closely divided case. This statistical evidence supports the charge by President Obama and Chairman Leahy that the Court’s conservative majority has a disturbing pro-corporate tilt, and this reality should provide an important frame for General Kagan’s upcoming confirmation hearing.

You can find CAC’s full report and analysis here. And check out People For’s extensive report on the Rise of the Corporate Court from earlier this year.
 

PFAW

Party Line Vote on Goodwin Liu in Committee

In a vote that surprised absolutely no one, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously against the confirmation of Goodwin Liu, President Obama’s nominee for a seat on the Ninth Circuit Court of appeals. Nevertheless, he passed out of committee by a vote of 12 to 7.

Since even Liu’s critics concede that he’s brilliant, the GOP decided to attack him as “outside the mainstream” and for lacking judicial experience.

By now it’s well established that the Senate GOP will attack anyone as outside the mainstream, so that attack merits little more than a hearty yawn.

But lacking judicial experience? That’s relatively new for Senate Republicans. They sure didn’t mention it when they were voting for 24 courts of appeals judges nominated by President George W. Bush without any judicial experience, or when they were praising former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William Rehnquist who went to the high court without ever having been a judge. And maybe they didn’t notice that the American Bar Association declared Liu “well qualified,” its highest possible endorsement.

Then again, Senate Republicans have never been shy about applying a double standard when it comes to judicial nominations.
 

PFAW

Justice delayed is justice denied

I recently reported that an agreement had been reached to move forward on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act. Four days later came word that this was no longer the case. The fight is not over, but DC’s centuries-long wait to have a voting voice in Congress will continue.

The right-wing forced an agreement with which nobody was happy. And in the end it turns out to have not been an agreement at all but a way for the right-wing to delay their inevitable counterpunch. DC can’t keep fighting these intrusions without a meaningful way to say “aye” or “no” when those infamous bells ring calling members to the House floor.

I cannot speak for Dorothy Height on the events of the last week. But I want to honor her for her commitment to DC voting rights. I remember her arrival at a hearing on a previous iteration of the bill. Without saying a word, her entry alone commanded respect.

I’m not sure if this photo was taken that same day, but Life noted one such occasion on which Dr. Height visited the Hill to champion our cause.

PFAW

Senator Sessions Plays the “Judicial Activism” Card

At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today, Senator Jeff Sessions said that that Goodwin Liu’s writings represent “liberal judicial activism.” And he doesn’t like it!

But what Sessions apparently does like is conservative judicial activism. Overturn more than a century of settled campaign finance law? Limit women’s ability to recover for being discriminated against on their jobs? Hand billions of dollars to Exxon? Rewrite the Voting Rights Act? That’s a-ok! “Liberal judicial activism,” (by which I assume he means opposing those decisions)? Bad.

Senator Sessions’s ability to keep a straight face while delivering such patently farcical attack is impressive. His stale talking points aren’t.
 

PFAW

DC voting rights bill expected to move next week

DC has waited over 200 years to have a voting voice in Congress. Today the nation’s capital may be as close as it’s ever come to making that dream a reality.

On Wednesday afternoon came the breaking news that an agreement had been reached to move forward on the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act, which would give DC a full Representative with the same voting power as other House members. Just this morning, I joined a room full of concerned citizens and activists for a briefing lead by DC Vote and DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. We then took to the halls of Congress in support of the Delegate’s tireless efforts on this issue.

Nobody is happy that this agreement comes at the price of right-wing interference in local affairs. But to go any longer without voting rights is an even higher price to pay. DC can’t keep fighting these intrusions without a meaningful way to say “aye” or “no” when those infamous bells ring calling members to the House floor. As Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights put it:

The civil rights community recognizes that it must be prepared to accept some setbacks in the name of long-term progress. Virtually every major piece of civil rights legislation, from 1957 onwards, has involved difficult and often painful tradeoffs. In this case, given the fundamental importance of gaining a vote in Congress, we are prepared to move forward with the voting rights bill.

People For the American Way believes that the right-wing should stay away from this bill. But we also believe it’s a tragedy that our Democracy has allowed DC residents to live without voting representation for over 200 years. Any citizen who pays taxes, and is otherwise legally eligible to vote, should be able to vote. And certainly no member of the armed services should be robbed of the right to vote simply because of where they live.

The fight will not be over even when DC can cast a House vote. It is high time the nation’s capital be given both House and Senate representation, with voting power in both chambers.

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

A New Meaning of "Yes"

Newt Gingrich, it seems, has learned a new word. The title of his talk tonight at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference is “Becoming the Party of Yes.”

The party of “yes”?

It’s a worthy goal, but the GOP has a long way to go to get there. Last year, Republican Senators went to unprecedented lengths to slow down legislation, even targeting bills that many in their own party ended up voting for. They’ve blocked Executive Branch nominees at a rate never before seen. They even forced a time consuming cloture vote on judicial nominee Barbara Keenan even though not a single Republican was willing to oppose her on her merits. And, for a while, GOP Senators decided that it was in the best interest of the country if they didn’t show up to work after lunch.

Gingrich himself isn’t known as a fan of cooperation. But maybe he’s as confused by the “party of yes” concept as Sarah Palin is about the “party of no.”
 

PFAW

Marriage Equality in DC

It took a while, and opponents of equality still insist they'll fight it, but marriage equality legislation finally took effect this morning in Washington, DC.

Washington, D.C., became the nation’s sixth jurisdiction to allow same-sex marriage Wednesday when it opened its marriage license application process to gay and lesbian couples.

More than one dozen couples lined up outside the D.C. Superior Court building — some arriving even before sunrise — to become the first same-sex pairs to obtain their applications to wed. Couples alternately smiled and wept as emotion swept the crowd.

“Love has won out over fear,” said Rev. Dennis Wiley, co-pastor at Covenant Baptist Church and co-chair of DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality. “Equality has won out over prejudice. Faith has won out over despair.”

Congratulations to the happy couples, and congratulations to everyone who contributed to this victory.  The DC community produced a vibrant, diverse coalition in support of equality, and it has paid enormous dividends.

Next up: voting rights.

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

Voter ID Battles on the Horizon

The fight to protect voting rights celebrated a victory last fall in the Indiana State Court of Appeals. There, the court struck down what has become known as the strictest voter identification law in the country.

But it’s an election year again, and, as Tova Wang points out at TPM, it's not over in the Hoosier state.

An Indiana state court recently struck down the state's voter ID law, the most restrictive ID law in the country, and the Indiana State Supreme Court has just announced it will hear arguments on appeal March 4.

And that's not the only place voter ID laws are cropping up:

At least nine states and a city in Massachusetts (of all places!) are considering bills introduced in January 2010 that make identification requirements for voting more strict and/or require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. As usual, the debates are partisan. This is particularly true in South Carolina where it is estimated that 178,000 South Carolinians do not have the photo identification they would need to vote under the proposal.

There has yet to be any proof of significant voter fraud, but it seems to be political concerns, not principle, pushing these initiatives forward.

Instead of working to suppress the votes of American citizens, perhaps these legislators could help fix the real problems in the nation’s flawed voter and electoral systems--systems that are integral to our democracy.

PFAW

Specter Says He’ll Support Dawn Johnsen

In what can only be taken as good news for the rule of law, Senator Arlen Specter said today that he’ll support Dawn Johnsen’s nomination to head the Office of Legal Counsel.

UPDATE (3:48 p.m.): A statement from Specter's office: “After voting 'pass' (which means no position) in the Judiciary Committee, I had a second extensive meeting with Ms. Johnsen and have been prepared to support her nomination when it reaches the Senate floor.”

Johnsen has received support from across the political spectrum, but her nomination has so far been blocked in the unprecedented obstruction that we’ve seen from Senate Republicans. Today’s announcement from Senator Specter is a major step forward.

PFAW

Supreme Court Takes Church-State Case

Yesterday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case with important consequences for church-state separation.

The group, the Christian Legal Society, says it welcomes all students to participate in its activities. But it does not allow students to become voting members or to assume leadership positions unless they affirm what the group calls orthodox Christian beliefs and disavow “unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle.” Such a lifestyle, the group says, includes “sexual conduct outside of marriage between a man and a woman.”

The law school, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, part of the University of California, allows some 60 recognized student groups to use meeting space, bulletin boards and the like so long as they agree to a policy that forbids discrimination on various grounds, including religion and sexual orientation. The school withdrew recognition from the Christian group after it refused to comply with the policy.

Hastings is a public university, and it has a clear policy requiring all student groups to be open to all comers. So, to make a long story short, the group, CLS sued and the case made its way to the Supreme Court.

At stake is whether or not tax dollars—your tax dollars—should go to fund a group which specifically excludes people based on religion or sexual orientation. The answer, in case you were wondering, is “no.”

PFAW

New GAO Report Exposes More About Politicization of Department of Justice Under Bush

With a new Government Accountability Office report on the activities of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice between 2001-2007, we are learning even more about a department that had been politicized to a dangerous degree under the Bush Administration. Instead of representing the best interests of the American people, the DOJ had been turned into a political machine. The report, obtained by The New York Times, found:

When compared with the Clinton administration, its findings show a significant drop in the enforcement of several major antidiscrimination and voting rights laws. For example, lawsuits brought by the division to enforce laws prohibiting race or sex discrimination in employment fell from about 11 per year under President Bill Clinton to about 6 per year under President George W. Bush.

The report also found that recommendations of career DOJ lawyers to pursue voter intimidation and other cases were inexplicably rejected, with the supervisors leaving no information explaining why the cases had been closed.

The office also found that case files often had no information explaining why supervisors had decided to close cases, sometimes against the recommendation of career officials. In a companion report, it also found that six years of internal audits about the division’s case-tracking system were missing.

People For the American Way followed the politicization of the DOJ during the Bush Administration, calling for the resignation of then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and others who played a part in the department’s politicization. We reported on the U.S. attorneys scandal, in which career attorneys at the department were instructed to follow the lead of the White House, not the rule of law, to smear Democratic candidates, protect GOP candidates, and suppress voter turnout through overzealous pursuit of baseless voter fraud claims. We responded to the Inspector General’s report which confirmed the inappropriate actions surrounding their firing.

PFAW

Despite Anti-Choice Health Care Attacks, RNC Covered Abortion Services Since 1991

Despite 176 House Republicans voting for the Stupak amendment that makes it nearly impossible for private insurance companies participating in the new healthcare system to cover abortion services, as of yesterday, the Republican National Committee provided employees with an insurance plan that covered elective abortion procedures. The plan has been available to RNC employees since 1991.

According to the insurance provider, Cigna, customers can opt out of elective abortion coverage, but the RNC did not do so. RNC Chairman Michael Steele has instructed staff to stop providing the coverage to RNC employees. Steele said, "I don't know why this policy existed in the past, but it will not exist under my administration. Consider this issue settled."

Not only will women lose coverage for abortion services under the Stupak amendment, but Republican support of the amendment has caused the RNC to strip employees of coverage as well.

PFAW

DOJ Won’t Prosecute Schlozman

In a disappointing move, Attorney General Eric Holder has decided not to prosecute former head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division and interim U.S. Attorney Bradley Schlozman for lying to Congress, instead giving deference to the decision of the Bush Administration.  Operatives like Schlozman led to the massive politicization of the Justice Department during the years of the Bush Administration and created an atmosphere of distrust by the very citizens the DOJ was meant to protect. 

During Schlozman’s testimony to the Senate in 2007, he repeatedly evaded questions regarding his actions, including hiring practices during his tenure.  Furthermore, Schlozman repeatedly refused to take responsibility for the Civil Rights Division’s failure to fully investigate thousands of claims of disenfranchisement during elections, instead choosing to pursue unmeritorious claims of voter fraud in key battleground states.

Because of such politicization by operatives like Schlozman, People For the American Way Foundation and numerous other civil rights and voting rights organizations were forced to defend the rights of voters across the country and protect them from disenfranchising tactics such as voter ID laws and overly stringent registration policies.  Fortunately, massive mobilization efforts like the Election Protection program were able to help meet this challenge, but it should not have to been our responsibility to protect voters from their own Department of Justice. 

While we understand the desire of Attorney General Holder to move forward and applaud his steps to reinvigorate the Civil Rights Division and eliminate the tarnish left by the previous Administration, we should not allow bad acts to go unpunished.  It is clear that Schlozman perjured himself during his testimony to the Senate, as concluded by the Office of Professional Responsibility’s internal report.  The American people deserve justice and we had hoped that bad actors such as Schlozman would be prosecuted as a testament to the American public that the DOJ will no longer play politics with justice.     

PFAW