People For Blog


Restore The Voices Of The Excluded

After more than two years stymied by congressional inaction on voting rights, House Democrats this week renewed their efforts to Restore The Voices Of The Excluded – to #RestoreTheVOTE.

The new legislative mobilization is designed to drive more support to the Voting Rights Advancement Act, a bill introduced this June to restore what the Voting Rights Act of 1965 lost when the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 in Shelby County v Holder, and to make additional, critical updates to the landmark law.

Representative Terri Sewell:

My hope is that by launching #RestoreTheVOTE we gain grassroots support for restoring the right of every American to vote. In order to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act we must get everyday Americans to care and demand congressional action to protect voting rights. We cannot silence ANY voices within our electorate.  We must RESTORE THE V.O.T.E. — the VOICES OF THE EXCLUDED!

Want to get involved?

Sign the PFAW petition telling Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Make sure that your Representative is on H.R. 2867 and that your Senators are on S. 1659.


See, It's Not So Hard to Be Fair to Judicial Nominees!

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley scheduled a committee vote on five judicial nominees for this morning.  Four of them had their hearings just two weeks ago.  It is hardly the norm for Grassley to hold committee votes for Obama judicial nominees so quickly.

So what’s so special about these four?  Well, actually, it’s just two of them that are the cause of this departure from Grassley’s pattern of obstruction: Leonard Strand and Rebecca Ebinger are from his home state of Iowa, and Grassley is the one who recommended them to the White House.

Ebinger was leapfrogged over ten other nominees so Grassley could include her in the committee hearing two weeks ago.  In fact, Grassley and fellow Iowa senator Joni Ernst turned in their blue slips approving her nomination before her paperwork was even submitted to the Judiciary Committee.  How’s that for effectiveness?

Fortune is shining down on two other nominees, as well.  Gary Brown (Eastern District of New York) and Mark Young (Central District of California) had the good fortune to share a hearing day with the Iowa nominees, and they were also scheduled for a committee vote today, just two weeks later.

But it wasn’t only the scheduling of the committee vote that was unusual: the fact that Republicans didn’t delay the vote by at least a week was equally out of the ordinary for them.  Once Obama became president, Republicans began to exercise the right of the minority party to have a committee vote “held over” (delayed) by at least a week without cause in all but a handful of exceptions, an unprecedented abuse of the rules.  They have continued this practice as the majority party, even though they are the ones scheduling the initial votes in the first place. 

As we said when we first wrote about this particular tool of obstruction in 2011:

Voting on a federal judicial nomination is an extremely serious responsibility and one that requires diligent research and thought. So if senators sincerely have questions that have not been answered, or genuine and substantial concerns about a nominee's fitness for the bench, then no one should begrudge them an extra few days to gather additional information.

But when Republicans exercise this option for every nominee, even those who are strongly supported by their home state Republican senators and have no opposition whatsoever, then their sincerity must be called into question.

But today, although it was the first time on the agenda for Strand and Ebinger (the two Iowa nominees) and for Brown and Young (the New York and California nominees), Chairman Grassley made sure they all got a timely vote rather than holding them over.

That was the right thing to do.  Would that it weren’t so rare.

As today’s committee meeting shows, it really isn’t hard to treat judicial nominees fairly, giving them full but timely consideration.  You shouldn’t have to be Chuck Grassley’s hand-picked judges (or be lucky enough to share a hearing with them) to get that fair treatment.


35 Years After Reagan's Election, His Justices Still Have a Huge Impact

On November 4, 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected president, setting in motion a number of trends that continue to harm our country today.

Reagan and his ideological followers set out to delegitimize efforts to use our elected government to benefit the common good, to accomplish things that the market cannot do effectively or fairly, and to correct for the massive imbalance in power between large corporations and lone individuals.  Two specific actions he took continue to have a direct and devastating impact on our nation today: his selection of Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy as Supreme Court justices.

Scalia and Kennedy are part of the narrow 5-4 majority that has decimated Americans’ ability to limit money in politics, empowered the disenfranchisement of targeted Americans, severely weakened our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and found ways to prevent everyday Americans from having their day in court.  Reagan may have been elected 35 years ago, but his chosen Supreme Court justices continue to make the difference in narrowly-decided cases involving any number of issues … money and politics, civil and voting rights, reproductive freedom and women’s rights, religious liberty, and so many more.

With the Court divided 5-4 in favor of the far-right conservatives on so many issues, the fact that four of the justices will be in their 80s by the end of the next president’s first term becomes enormously important.  Presidential candidates in both parties have made it clear what kind of justices they would place on the Court.  If a Republican wins the White House next year, the Supreme Court’s sharp and damaging rightward shift of the past ten years will continue and likely become even worse.  In contrast, a Democratic president’s chosen justices would likely restore a fairer and more balanced court, one that no longer bends the law and ignores logic in order to favor corporate and wealthy interests and undermine our country’s democracy.

Anyone seeking examples of just what a difference one justice can make on any number of issues need look no farther than People For the American Way’s Judgment Day 2016 report.

It’s a chilling summary of just how many rights and liberties have been eroded by the conservative 5-4 majority of the Roberts-Alito Court.  And each of those decisions was made possible by the two justices nominated by the president elected 35 years ago today.


2015 Election Recap

As the dust settles from many important elections around the country yesterday, we have some great news to report.

In the race PFAW put our focus on in Virginia, we won! Progressive Jeremy McPike captured the Senate seat. I’m happy to report that PFAW’s work in this election on the air and on the ground -- which Virginia and regional PFAW members supported with their volunteer time and hundreds of PFAW members from around the country stepped up to support with donations -- was effective.

In addition to the victory in this race, we made important inroads into the Latino community that will be critical in 2016, when Virginia is expected to be perhaps THE most important swing state and the Latino vote could be THE deciding factor. We were proud to produce the first ad ever to use Donald Trump’s hateful immigrant-bashing rhetoric as a vote motivator, rightly tying that bigotry to the Republican brand.

Image - Legendary Civil Rights Activist & PFAW Board Member Dolores Huerta campaigns for PFAW in Virginia’s 29th Senate District

In other great news from Virginia, a radical anti-gay and anti-immigrant county supervisor in northern Virginia, who PFAW’s Right Wing Watch has long tracked, lost his seat. As Right Wing Watch has reported, Republican Eugene Delgaudio has said the “homosexual lobby” wants to make it legal to “rape and murder young boys” and has warned that allowing LGBT people to adopt would lead to gay men “skipping down to adoption centers to pick out a little boy for themselves.” He also referred to his county’s growing Latino immigrant population as “hordes” that are exacting “a greater and greater toll.”

And in both Maine and Seattle, voters dealt a serious blow to big money in politics!

In Maine, a Clean Elections initiative passed by 10 points that strikes back against Citizens United and bolsters the state’s public financing system. In Seattle, by an even wider margin of 20% voters passed a sweeping initiative to limit the influence of big money in politics by, among other things, capping contributions by corporations with city contracts or that spend significant funds lobbying, making it illegal for city officials and their top aides to take lobbying jobs immediately after leaving office, empowering low-dollar donors, and increasing transparency and accountability.

Election Day didn’t bring only good news though.

The results statewide in Virginia were a mixed bag, and because of strong Republican showings in other parts of the state, effective GOP gerrymandering, and, yes, a ton of money spent, the GOP was able to maintain party control of the state Senate.

And in other parts of the South, far-right -- and I mean very far-right -- Republicans won races for governor that will have a tremendously detrimental impact on the people of those states.

In Kentucky, the election of Republican Matt Bevin to governor yesterday means that the more than half a million Kentuckians who have health insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act could lose their health care very soon. Bevin has promised to eliminate Kynect, Kentucky’s state exchange established under the ACA, and could undo the Medicaid expansion accepted by the outgoing Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, which insured 400,000 people alone and cut the state’s uninsured rate by more than half.

It’s worth noting that Tea Party Governor-elect Matt Bevin’s winning strategy was to turn out his right-wing base by campaigning on themes such as the backlash to marriage equality, support for county clerk and Religious Right cause célèbre Kim Davis, and promises to defund Planned Parenthood.

And, in Texas, there was the defeat of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, leaving Houston the largest city in the country and the only major city in Texas with no nondiscrimination protections for LGBT residents. That election was especially ugly. Anti-equality groups resorted to fearmongering and inflamed prejudice, distorting the true purpose of the ordinance by referring to it derogatorily as the “Bathroom Ordinance.” Sadly, there is still a lot of work to do in Texas and the South.

One thing is clear: yesterday’s wins AND losses both point to the need to keep fighting.

Americans deserve better than the regressive, draconian agenda that right-wing Republicans are offering. And because the Right is so well-funded and tenacious, we must fight to defend our gains -- some on the Right are already talking about legal challenges to yesterday’s victories for the People over big money in politics.


Coalition Nearly 200-Strong Takes a Stand and Says "NO" to Harmful Policy Riders

Today, a coalition of nearly 200 organizations, including People For the American Way, took a stand against another tactic that special interests have attempted to use to exert outsized influence over the political process – harmful policy riders attached to must-pass appropriations bills in order to advance ideological agendas rather than fund must-needed programs and services for the American people.

Far-right members of Congress take a dislike to something, say . . . the critical reproductive and preventive healthcare services offered by Planned Parenthood, and they write a line or two into an appropriations bill that says that government money cannot be used for that purpose.  All kinds of programs and laws are subject to this kind of indirect assault: Just prohibit any money from being spent on it.

In its letter, the coalition urges President Obama and members of Congress to oppose any funding bill that contains such dangerous proposals.

With the passage of the framework bill for funding the government, attention now turns to how to allot the monies and what may be attached. Appropriations bills have been used before to undermine essential safeguards through “policy riders” – provisions that address extraneous policy not funding issues, and are slipped into appropriations bills to win approval as part of must-pass funding legislation. These are measures that the public opposes, and the President would likely veto as standalone legislation. The American people support policies to restrain Wall Street abuses and ensure safe and healthy food and products, to provide for clean air and water and keep workplaces safe, to prevent consumer rip-offs and corporate wrongdoing, and to ensure continued access to vital health care services.

These inappropriate riders are intended to advance the priorities of special interest donors and supporters. They have become the “new earmarks,” but they are actually far worse than the old earmarks, because they have vastly greater reach and consequence for the American people. Some Members of Congress have even gone so far as to say they are willing to shut down the entire government over outrageous policy riders like the defunding of Planned Parenthood which provides health services to millions of low-income Americans.

[ . . . ]

We urge Members of Congress and Senators to oppose flawed funding proposals such as the non-exhaustive list of examples above if they come to the floor attached to the omnibus funding package. We further urge the administration in the strongest possible terms to oppose any funding package that includes these or any other dangerous legislative proposals. If included in a final package, any ideological policy riders would undo key safeguards and protections for Main Street.

Think the EPA should be able update air quality standards?

How about the SEC's ability to require political disclosures from publicly traded companies?

The FDA and drug safety labeling?

That's what we're talking about here.


Eliminating Courts, Eliminating Justice

If you ever think that courts don’t matter, ask yourself this: Why are major corporations and arch-conservative judges going to such lengths to prevent you from having your day in court when someone has violated your legal rights?

The New York Times has an in-depth three-part series of reports on arbitration, the system by which ordinary people are increasingly being coerced into surrendering their right to the protections provided by the American judicial system. Agreements to resolve disputes by arbitration are increasingly becoming a standard part of the all-or-nothing contracts that enormous corporations force individuals to sign as a condition of doing business with them. With private arbitration, you surrender your right to a courtroom with a neutral judge and a wide variety of substantive and procedural protections for all parties. Instead, the company picks a private arbitrator whose living depends on getting cases from corporate interests. The protections of the court system are cast aside. And you can’t have class action lawsuits, which are often the only way to hold wrongdoers accountable when they harm large numbers of individuals relatively small amounts, so it is often not worthwhile for a wronged party to pursue arbitration.

Contracts have existed for centuries. In theory, they are negotiated by two people or businesses in a process of give-and-take, where both parties fully understand what they are agreeing to. But as anyone who has cable TV or a cell phone can tell you, most contracts we sign are handed to us “as is,” take it or leave it. If you don’t agree to the terms imposed by some enormous corporation with millions of customers, the cost to you (life without a phone) is a lot more than the cost to the company (the loss of one of millions of customers). With vastly unequal bargaining power, the consumer has little choice but to agree. And, in fact, most people sign consumer contracts or click the “I agree” box online with little to no knowledge or understanding of the agreement.

As the Times reports:

By inserting individual arbitration clauses into a soaring number of consumer and employment contracts, companies like American Express devised a way to circumvent the courts and bar people from joining together in class-action lawsuits, realistically the only tool citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices.

Over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to apply for a credit card, use a cellphone, get cable or Internet service, or shop online without agreeing to private arbitration. The same applies to getting a job, renting a car or placing a relative in a nursing home.

By banning class actions, companies have essentially disabled consumer challenges to practices like predatory lending, wage theft and discrimination, court records show.

“This is among the most profound shifts in our legal history,” William G. Young, a federal judge in Boston who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, said in an interview. “Ominously, business has a good chance of opting out of the legal system altogether and misbehaving without reproach.”

How did we reach a point where individuals can be routinely victimized by large corporations and denied access to the courts to vindicate their legal rights?

To a great extent, the blame can be laid at the feet of five people: The conservative majority of the Supreme Court. Their devastating 5-4 rulings like those eviscerating the Voting Rights Act or allowing billionaires and special interests to spend unlimited money in politics are well known. Less well known are 5-4 decisions in arbitration cases. Particularly notorious are AT&T v. Concepcion, where the conservatives ruled that giant corporations can use arbitration agreements to undermine state consumer protection laws across the country, and American Express v. Italian Colors Restaurant, where the conservatives empowered monopolists to use arbitration agreements to bypass federal antitrust laws.

As if this weren’t bad enough, arbitration is hardly the only weapon corporate interests are using to block their victims from vindicating their rights in court.

In fact, just today, the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in Spokeo v. Robins, where corporate interests claim that their victims can’t sue in federal court if their “only” injury is that a right created by Congress was violated. Last month, the Court heard oral arguments in Campbell-Ewald Company v. Gomez, where a large company argued for the power to terminate a class action suit against it early on by quickly offering a settlement to the lead plaintiff representing the class.

Fair and just courts are vitally important in providing equal justice under the law to those who would otherwise be powerless against the enormous entities who have so much more power and resources. So it is no surprise that those powerful interests are so dedicated to blocking ordinary people from having their day in court.

PFAW Foundation

Courts' Vital Role in Protecting Women's Health and Everyone's Rights

This morning, a federal judge in Alabama blocked that state’s efforts to cut off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood.  Federal law protects Medicaid recipients’ right to choose their own qualified healthcare providers.  As the Montgomery Advertiser reports:

The governor’s office has cited an ‘at-will’ provision for the cancelation of the contract.  [Judge Myron] Thompson disagreed, writing that it “falls well outside the range of grounds germane to the purposes of the Medicaid Act.”

“To conclude otherwise would not only strip the Medicaid Act’s free-choice-of-provider provision of all meaning, but also would contravene clear congressional intent to give Medicaid beneficiaries the right to receive covered services from any qualified and willing provider,” Thompson wrote.

Unfortunately, Alabama is not alone among states where GOP officials have sought to prevent women from accessing healthcare from Planned Parenthood, federal law notwithstanding.  But fortunately, Alabama is not alone among states where federal judges have protected women and the rule of law.  We have seen similar rulings in states like Arkansas, Utah, and Louisiana.

So much of the far right’s agenda flies in the face of the law, often including the U.S. Constitution.  Our system of fair and independent federal courts exists to protect everyone’s legal rights, regardless of political pressure or ideology.  That is why it is so important to make sure that our courts are adequately staffed by highly qualified judges who will live up to the trust we place in them.  Unfortunately, Senate Republicans have spent the last 6½ years making it as hard as possible for President Obama to do that, in the hopes of keeping as many seats as possible vacant so a Republican president can fill them with right-wing ideologues.

We don’t know who the next president will be.  But we do know that it is critically important for President Obama to nominate qualified jurists to the federal bench to fill the growing number of circuit and district court vacancies, and for the Senate to give them fair and timely consideration.


Poll Has Ben Carson Now LEADING Trump

A New York Times/CBS News poll has Ben Carson now leading Donald Trump in the GOP presidential contest. Apparently all somebody had to do to edge out Trump was to sink to his level and then keep going, by spewing even more extreme and bigoted positions!

For example, here are just a few of the things Carson has gotten press for over the last few weeks:

  • He compared abortion to slavery -- and women who have abortions to slaveholders -- and reiterated his belief that all abortions should be banned, even in cases of rape and incest.
  • He said he thought someone who is Muslim should not be president because that person’s religious beliefs are not “consistent with the Constitution,” despite the Constitution’s explicit rejection of religious tests for office.
  • He blamed the Holocaust on gun control, saying that if not for Hitler confiscating guns, Germans -- Jews and non-Jews alike --would have fought back against his plans for genocide.
  • He also blamed the victims of the Oregon mass shooting for not attacking the shooter, saying HE “would not just stand there and let him shoot me.”

The reason Carson’s rise amidst these controversial comments is so important is because it shows that the more hateful and detached from reality a candidate appears, the more the far-right base will favor him.

Make no mistake -- the demagogues of the Religious Right and the Tea Party are a problem, but base voters they are so eager to please with wild internet-fueled conspiracy theories and naked bigotry are arguably the bigger problem.

A September poll from Public Policy Polling found that 54 percent of Republican voters believe the president is a Muslim. Let that sink in.

This isn’t just benign wackiness that’s confined to Republican nominating contests, it’s a SIGNIFICANT chunk of the American electorate. And it’s the people who represent those views who are now IN CHARGE of Congress and fighting to get into the White House!

Rep. Paul Ryan looks all set to come in as the new Speaker of the House -- and there’s a faction of House Republicans who are accusing this rigidly anti-choice, Medicare-slashing Ayn Rand fanboy of being “too moderate!”

And whoever the eventually wins the GOP nomination for president, we know he or she will be one of the most right-wing candidates, pursuing one of the most extreme right-wing agendas, ever.

The GOP lives to serve its base. Let’s not forget exactly who is in charge. Ben Carson’s rise is a good reminder.

* * * * *

For much, much more on Ben Carson’s radical views, check out

Here are some particularly off-the-wall examples:


Why Next Week's Election in Virginia is So, So Important

Next Tuesday, November 3, Virginia will have its state elections and who votes, how they vote, and the work that goes into mobilizing voters in advance of Election Day are all critically important to 2016.

Virginia is more likely than not to be THE deciding swing state in 2016. So we need to lay the groundwork NOW for victory next year, and that means building voter turnout infrastructure, especially for the Latino vote, in key parts of the state.

A recent analysis from Moody’s Analytics projected that (based on current economic and political indicators), Democrats would win the White House by just 2 electoral votes -- which would be the closest margin in U.S. history. Their findings concluded that one state -- Virginia -- would deliver the election for the Democratic nominee.

There are few states that can change the electoral math more than Virginia, and one of the most important factors is the Latino share of the electorate -- a crucial 5% of the vote that will determine who wins and loses in the state.

PFAW is already on the air in Virginia with a Spanish-language ad that’s been getting a lot of press attention – highlighting for Latinos the importance of voting against the party of Donald Trump and its anti-immigrant, anti-working family agenda.

Spanish-language newspaper La Opinión said of our ad (translated):

“It’s the first ad that uses Trump to drive Latino voters to the polls, but it won’t be the last. Its focus on women and on two generations, immigrants and first generation, is innovative.”

And it’s not just 2016 that makes Virginia important on the national level. The upcoming 2015 elections for Virginia’s state legislature matter too.

In a recent court filing, Republicans ADMITTED that the GOP intentionally rigged the state’s congressional districts in order to produce a delegation heavily tilted their way.

It’s the Republican state legislature that has made Virginia one of the most gerrymandered states in the country. In 2012, President Obama won Virginia narrowly, but Republicans still picked up 8 of the state’s 11 congressional seats under the GOP-friendly maps drawn by the state legislature.

Now, party control of the state legislature is up for grabs.

If we can flip control of the State Senate away from right-wing Republicans, it will be a MAJOR DEFEAT for the Radical Right in what was once one of their most reliable strongholds!

Virginia not only housed the capital of the old Confederacy, it's the home of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, the Founding Fathers of the modern radical Religious Right -- as well as the foundational institutions of the movement they created, like Robertson's Regent University and Falwell's Liberty University.

It's so sweetly fitting that People For the American Way -- the organization founded to counter their hate that was a constant thorn in their sides -- would be instrumental in finally turning what was once their deep red home state solid blue.

La Opinion Quote

Virginia is an Early Opportunity to Tarnish the GOP Brand

This year’s fight for control of the State Senate in Virginia has emerged as an excellent opportunity to engage Virginia’s Latino community and to further attach the extreme rhetoric and policies of the Republican Presidential candidates to the overall GOP brand. Targeting the Northern Virginia area, with its large Latino population, we’ll have an impact in the Senate District 29 race -- which is likely to determine party control of the state Senate. It will also allow us to connect with the Latino community and deepen the association of radical, anti-immigrant sentiment with the Republican Party at the local, state, and national level.

Building on our previous work and refining it ahead of 2016, PFAW’s 2015 plans include:

  • Radio and digital advertising targeting the Latino community in Northern Virginia, with the message that the state elections are the best way to make their voice heard ahead of 2016.
  • Media strategies to capitalize on the consistent stream of anti-immigrant remarks from national Republican candidates.
  • On the ground events and mobilizing volunteers along with partner organizations and PFAW Board Member Dolores Huerta ahead of Election Day.

Not only will these efforts boost Latino turnout in 2015, they will further damage the Republican brand with Latinos and help increase civic participation -- boosting the “muscle memory” of voting ahead of 2016.

Turn this purple state blue

PFAW’s Proven Track Record of Success

People For the American Way has a demonstrated record of mobilizing Latino voters, especially in Virginia, where our Latinos Vote! campaign has been active since 2012. That year, we made a full investment in Virginia and built a comprehensive program of outreach to the Latino community through TV, radio, digital, and direct mail. In the 2013 Governor’s race, we worked hand-in-hand with the McAuliffe campaign to secure victory over Tea Party darling Ken Cuccinelli and in 2014, we ran targeted digital ads to help secure Senator Warner’s re-election. In each of these races the Latino vote proved decisive in the Democratic candidates’ success. 2015 presents an excellent opportunity to continue to engage the Latino community and to further build the overall narrative about the dangerous policies and ideology that Republican candidates hold.

Is this a plan you can support? If so, please help PFAW fund this work with a donation today>>


Senate GOP Deigns to Allow One Judicial Confirmation Vote

Mitch McConnell is allowing the Senate to vote on a judicial nominee later today, only the ninth such vote the majority leader has allowed this year.  The long journey of New York’s Lawrence Vilardo from nomination to confirmation typifies the dramatically different ways Senate Democrats and Republicans regard our nation’s federal judicial system.

In July of 2014, Judge Richard Arcara of Buffalo announced his plans to take senior status early in 2015.  Just three weeks later, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer recommended Vilardo to the White House, which thoroughly vetted him and nominated him on February 4 of this year.  Especially since the last remaining active judge in Buffalo was going to be taking senior status a month later, leaving it without an active federal judge for the first time in more than half a century, needless delay would be particularly harmful.  Unfortunately, although Vilardo could have been confirmed months ago, it is only today that the Senate is acting to fill the vacancy.

First, his hearing was delayed.  Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley holds confirmation hearings infrequently and forces nominees to wait weeks or months longer than necessary for their hearing.  In the first ten months of the year, Grassley has held only seven confirmation hearings for circuit and district court nominees, and they usually could have accommodated more nominees than Grassley allowed.  So it wasn’t until early May that Vilardo had his hearing.

Next, the Judiciary Committee was scheduled to vote on Vilardo’s nomination on May 21.  However, Grassley delayed the vote for two weeks without explanation.  This actually came as no surprise, since Senate Republicans have made unexplained and unjustified delays of President Obama’s judicial nominations a routine part of the confirmation process.  But after this delay, the committee approved Vilardo by unanimous voice vote on June 4, sending his unopposed nomination to the full Senate.

In the nearly five months since, the nomination has languished, as Senate Republicans have refused to schedule a vote.  Schumer took to the Senate floor to formally request a vote in July, so that this and two other New York vacancies could be filled before the Senate’s extended summer recess.  It only takes one senator to scuttle such a request, and Grassley took to the floor to say no.  Grassley did not claim that senators needed more time to vet the nominees.  Nor did he claim that there were problems with the nominees.  Instead, he said the Senate should not vote on any of the New York nominees because the Senate was planning to vote in September on a Missouri nominee who had been waiting longer.  He also cited the previous confirmation of many of President Obama’s judicial nominees throughout the country as an excuse, as if that were somehow a justification for denying New Yorkers effectively functioning courts even though the Senate was fully prepared to vote.  Grassley's action made clear that even when everyone agrees that particular nominees are highly qualified to fill critically important positions in our nation’s judiciary, the GOP regards allowing our courts to function effectively as a major concession to the Democrats.

The same thing happened in mid-September, this time with Texas Senator John Cornyn instead of Grassley serving as the hatchet man.  Cornyn claimed the Senate should delay voting on the New York nominees because Senate Democrats had held confirmation votes for several judges at the end of last year’s lame duck session – as if that were a legitimate justification.  Further weakening Cornyn’s credibility, he failed to mention that three of those nominees were from Texas, and that he himself had specifically urged the Democrats to confirm them during the lame duck.

At the end of September, the president of the New York State Bar Association condemned the delays and urged the Senate to swiftly vote on Vilardo and all the other pending nominees.

Last week, McConnell allowed the Senate to confirm one of the New York nominees, Ann Donnelly.  And today, he is finally allowing a vote on Vilardo.

As noted above, this is only the ninth judicial confirmation of the year.  In contrast, when Democrats took over the Senate during George W. Bush’s last two years in office, they had let the Senate confirm 34 judicial nominees at this same point.  So while judicial vacancies and judicial emergencies fell during 2007, both have risen significantly in 2015 due to GOP refusal to process nominations in a timely manner.

So Lawrence Vilardo’s confirmation later today is something to celebrate.  But it also begs the question of why Senate Republicans are limiting today’s vote to just one nominee.


Don't Like Fracking? #GetMoneyOut

Last week, PFAW’s Government By the People campaign coordinator Rio Tazewell joined Food and Water Watch, along with a dozen partner organizations, in delivering more than 350,000 petitions in support of the Protect Our Public Lands Act. This bill would outlaw the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, commonly known as “fracking”, on federally-owned lands. In his remarks, Tazewell highlighted the importance of connecting the dots between issues like protecting our public lands and the influence of unchecked, unlimited and undisclosed money in our elections, as well as the need for an amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United.

If scientific and public opinion were the driving forces in Congress, this bill would likely be passed with little resistance. But given that big money and corporate interests have rigged the electoral process to gain undue influence on the legislative process, reform organizations have to work even harder to advance commonsense legislation. Passing the Protect Our Public Lands Act would be a significant step toward ensuring a more sustainable country for all Americans to enjoy, present and future.

The groups represented in the petition delivery understand that in order to protect our public lands from the perils of fracking we must also address an underlying problem: too much corporate special interest money flowing into our elections. Fortunately organizations are already mobilizing around a set of solutions to address this issue. First and foremost, we need an amendment to the Constitution to reverse Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United. A monumental effort like amending the Constitution will require extensive cross-issue organizational collaboration, and last week’s petition delivery built on the foundation of what is becoming a broad movement to address the influence of big money in politics. 


Why Is Jeb Bush Courting Pat Robertson?

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Jeb Bush, battling slumping poll numbers, will travel to Regent University this Friday for an interview with the school's founder, televangelist Pat Robertson.

Jeb's decision may be mystifying, particularly to millennial voters who knowRobertson mostly as a televised buffoon given to outrageous and embarrassing comments, bad advice, faulty predictions, and personal conversations with God about presidential politics. But while Robertson's influence has diminished over the years, he has had a lasting (and damaging) impact on American culture and politics.

Like the late Jerry Falwell, Robertson was a pioneer in the use of television to build a Christian ministry, and Robertson joined Falwell and other televangelists who teamed up in the late 1970s to create the Religious Right political movement. Falwell was a fundamentalist Baptist and Robertson a charismatic Pentecostal, but they found common ground in promoting a sustained, religion-based attack on separation of church and state, feminism, gay rights, unions, and other enemies of the right-wing political strategists, like Paul Weyrich, who recruited them into politics

Robertson actually ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988. He didn't get very far as a candidate, but he built a huge list of supporters. Political operative Ralph Reed turned that list into the Christian Coalition, which at the beginning of the 1990s set itself the goal of taking working control of the Republican Party.

Pat Robertson, in other words, helped create today's polarized politics -- a Republican Party that is much further to the right than Ronald Reagan's and far less willing to engage in the compromises required to govern, and a Religious Right movement that continues to poison our political climate by treating politics as spiritual warfare and political opponents as demonic enemies of faith and freedom.

A memorable example of that attitude came just after the 9/11 attacks, in which Robertson joined Jerry Falwell in blaming the attacks on gays, feminists, defenders of church-state separation, and People For the American Way. But we can hear the same attitude from GOP candidates and right-wing activists every day.

Regent University, where Jeb Bush will speak on Friday, is part of the massive cultural and political infrastructure that Religious Right leaders like Robertson have built in recent decades. Religious Right schools of government and law produce people like Michele Bachmann and former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who see public office as a way to make America conform to their "biblical worldview."

Another part of Robertson's infrastructure is the American Center for Law and Justice, which he created to be a Religious Right counterpart to the ACLU. The ACLJ has undermined church-state separation in the U.S. and promotes global culture war through offices in Europe, Russia, and Africa. While it portrays itself as a champion of religious freedom, the ACLJ fought bitterly against the building of a Muslim community center that was falsely dubbed the "Ground Zero Mosque." 

ACLJ founder and chief counsel Jay Sekulow is scheduled to moderate the audience Q&A at Bush's appearance. He may or may not mention that his son Jordan, executive director of the organization, was hired earlier this year as an adviser to Jeb's Right to Rise PAC.

Jordan Sekulow's hiring was seen as a signal that the Bush campaign was serious about competing for conservative evangelical voters who might initially be more excited about other candidates. Bush's pilgrimage to Regent University is another sign that even "establishment" Republican candidates are dependent on the Religious Right activists who make up a big part of the party's base.

And Bush, whose plans to run as the financially dominant above-it-all powerhouse were derailed by Donald Trump, is back to the GOP primary slog. And he's looking for support from Religious Right leaders with their own political agenda, one that threatens the rights of women, LGBT people, religious minorities, and anyone who doesn't meet their definition of a real American.


Leapfrog Day at the Judiciary Committee

Progress in moving judicial nominations is always welcome.  But small increments of progress also serve to shine a light on the greater obstruction that is going on.  That happened earlier this week when the Senate held a confirmation vote on one long-waiting nominee, but did nothing on eight additional nominees who were long ago fully vetted and advanced without opposition by the Judiciary Committee.

And it’s happening Wednesday morning, as the Committee holds a hearing for four district court nominees.  It’s good that Chairman Chuck Grassley is holding a hearing for two nominees from Iowa and one apiece from New York and California.  But it begs several questions.  For instance, since there are ten other nominees waiting for their opportunity to appear before the committee, why are there only four nominees at today’s hearing, rather than five or six?  And why has Grassley never held more than one hearing per month?  No wonder there is such a backlog of nominees at the committee stage, most of whom were nominated back in July or earlier.

In fact, all of them were nominated before one of the nominees up today, Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger, who Grassley allowed to leapfrog over all the others since he recommended her to the White House to serve in Iowa’s Southern District.  President Obama nominated Ebinger last month.  So why no hearing for Mary Barzee Flores of Florida, who was nominated way back in February on the recommendation of Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio?  Why no hearing for any of the four nominees for district courts in Pennsylvania, who were nominated in July upon the joint recommendation of Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey?

You shouldn’t have to have been hand-picked by Chuck Grassley to deserve a timely committee hearing.  As chairman, Chuck Grassley should be treating all nominees fairly.  If he wants to be taken seriously in his claims that he is conducting himself responsibly as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he should ensure that each of the remaining ten nominees has a hearing before Thanksgiving.


Today's Vote Highlights Senate's Failures on Confirming Judges

Good news:  The Senate held a confirmation vote on a judicial nominee today.  Bad news: The Senate held a confirmation vote on only one judicial nominee today.

Ann Donnelly, set to fill a judicial emergency in the Eastern District of New York, was cleared by a unanimous Judiciary Committee way back on June 4, more than four months ago.  On the same day, the committee also unanimously voted to advance two other New York nominees to the full Senate.  Yet after months of delay, Majority Leader McConnell is finally allowing a vote on only one of the three.  Also being ignored are an additional six judicial nominees from other states who were unanimously approved by the Judiciary Committee.  Most of the stalled nominees have been awaiting their floor vote since June or July.  All should have been confirmed by now.

It is hard to fathom a legitimate reason to refuse to schedule a vote on judicial nominees who have been fully vetted and approved by the Judiciary Committee.  After all, that is one of the most important functions of the United States Senate, one that is specifically tasked to it by the Constitution.  Article III, which established the federal courts, was not some afterthought tossed into the nation’s charter document.  When the Senate abdicates its responsibility to consider judicial nominees, it sabotages the effectiveness of the judicial system that is indispensable in protecting the rights of the American people.

Like President Obama, George W. Bush had a Senate controlled by the opposing party in his last two years in office.  But the disparity in how the Senate carried out its constitutional responsibilities is stark.  While the Democratically-controlled Senate had voted on 33 of Bush’s judges at this point in 2007, New York’s Ann Donnelly will be only the eighth judge voted on this year.  Vacancies nationwide are up by more than 50% since the beginning of the year, and judicial emergencies have more than doubled.

So why are Senate Republicans refusing to hold confirmation votes for New York nominees Lawrence Vilardo and LaShann DeArcy Hall?  Why must individuals and businesses in Tennessee be forced to endure understaffed courts rather than have the Senate vote on nominees Waverly Crenshaw and Travis McDonough?  Why do Senate Republicans refuse to allow votes on Mimi Wright of Minnesota, Paula Xinis of Maryland, and John Vazquez of New Jersey?

Perhaps most egregious is the Senate GOP’s obstinate refusal to grant timely consideration to L. Felipe Restrepo of Pennsylvania, whose nomination to the Third Circuit is nearly a year old.  Nominated with the support of both home state senators – Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Pat Toomey – Restrepo was fully vetted and approved by the Judiciary Committee without opposition.  He would fill a vacancy that has been designated a judicial emergency.  While his nomination has been pending, a second vacancy has opened on the same court, making his confirmation even more vital.  Yet despite his words of support for Restrepo, Toomey has collaborated with his GOP colleagues in making sure that his eventual confirmation be delayed as long as possible.

So today’s confirmation vote for Ann Donnelly is good news.  But the Senate’s refusal to vote on the eight other long-waiting circuit and district court nominees is bad news – bad news for the Senate, bad news for the judiciary, and bad news for the Americans whose access to justice is being sacrificed for partisan reasons.


PFAW's Right Wing Watch Riles Up the Far Right

At Right Wing Watch – a project of People For the American Way – we know we’ve done our job when we’ve made the Right Wing really, really mad. So if the coverage we’ve been seeing in the right-wing media is any indication, we’ve been doing our job especially well lately. Here’s a roundup of some recent anti-endorsements:

  • The conservative blog Newsbusters calls Right Wing Watch PFAW’s “hit squad” in an article we couldn’t have written better ourselves. In addition to crediting PFAW with “destroying Reagan Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s reputation in the 1980s,” the article touts some of Right Wing Watch’s greatest successes – including its coverage of the anti-choice and anti-gay HGTV stars David and Jason Benham. Newsbusters correctly notes that Right Wing Watch broke the news when then-presidential candidate Scott Walker defended mandatory and medically unnecessary ultrasounds as “a cool thing out there” (though they incorrectly allege that the reporting “twisted” Walker’s words). And while the Newsbusters article fails to achieve its goal of discrediting Right Wing Watch, it does provide many great examples of Right Wing Watch’s reporting appearing in major news outlets like USA Today, MSNBC, Salon, Slate, and the Huffington Post.
  • In an interview with Family Research Council Vice President Jerry Boykin, far-right radio host Rick Wiles suggested that the gunman in the recent mas shooting at Umpqua Community College might have been inspired by reading Right Wing Watch. Boykin went on to accuse Right Wing Watch of using the “exact same tactics as ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
  • Despite messianic rabbi Jonathan Cahn’s doomsday prophecy, the United States didn’t experience a cataclysmic disaster this past September, which must have rattled right-wing pundits like Glenn Beck and Pat Robertson who have spent months anticipating it. Right Wing Watch pointed out that the prophecy didn’t come true -- much to the frustration of WND, a Religious Right news site that Right Wing Watch has been reading and covering for years. WND took specific issue with Right Wing Watch blogger Brian Tashman, who had reported on the Cahn prophecy, for his “slander” and “lack of truthfulness.” It’s not clear how pointing out that the world didn’t end last month qualifies as slanderous, but you can read the rest of WND’s criticism here.
  • Right Wing Watch might consider outlandish criticism from the Radical Right to be a sign of a job well done, but many on the Right feel the same way about a mention on Right Wing Watch. Ann Corcoran, an anti-refugee resettlement advocate, has made several appearances on Right Wing Watch for her xenophobic remarks about Syrian refugees, posted on her blog that she considered the coverage to be “a great honor” and “a goal to work toward” for other right-wing activists.

Right Wing Watch is as committed as ever to monitoring and exposing the activities of the right-wing movement – no matter what they might say about us. Read more Right Wing Watch coverage.