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NC Voting Restrictions Struck Down as Intentionally Discriminatory

A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today reversed a lower federal court and struck down North Carolina’s notorious voter ID law, as well as its provisions curtailing or eliminating early voting, same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and preregistration of 16 and 17 year-olds.

Significantly, the unanimous circuit court concluded that the law does more than “just” have a discriminatory impact, in violation of a section of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).  The court also found that the law’s purpose was to discriminate, putting it in violation of the United States Constitution.  One piece of evidence: state officials moved to enact the law within days of the Shelby County case removing any preclearance requirements under Section 5 of the VRA.

The district court had concluded that the provisions at issue had neither a discriminatory intent or effect, noting that there was little “official discrimination” in the state since the 1980s.  The unanimous Fourth Circuit took a more careful look:

The record reveals that, within the time period that the district court found free of “official discrimination” (1980 to 2013), the Department of Justice issued over fifty objection letters to proposed election law changes in North Carolina -- including several since 2000 -- because the State had failed to prove the proposed changes would have no discriminatory purpose or effect. …

During the same period, private plaintiffs brought fifty-five successful cases under § 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In other words, it was only the VRA (including its preclearance provision) that prevented discriminatory voting changes from being enacted and enforced.

In the court’s analysis of the law’s elimination of one of two Sunday early voting days (which were used as “souls to the polls” voting turnout efforts by African Americans), the judges pointed to North Carolina’s own attorneys’ explanation to the lower court of why the state did this.  Among other things, the state claimed it had an interest in more uniform rules across the state, and not all counties had Sunday early voting.  The attorneys elaborated on its justification, noting that counties with Sunday early voting in 2014 were disproportionately African American and disproportionately Democratic.  The Fourth Circuit judges called this as close to a smoking gun as we’re likely to see in modern times.

Using race as a proxy for party may be an effective way to win an election. But intentionally targeting a particular race’s access to the franchise because its members vote for a particular party, in a predictable manner, constitutes discriminatory purpose. This is so even absent any evidence of race-based hatred and despite the obvious political dynamics. A state legislature acting on such a motivation engages in intentional racial discrimination in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act.

In 2008 and 2012, the state’s more open voting laws empowered more African Americans to vote.  Armed with this knowledge, and soon after Shelby County, the state legislature took action to adopt the laws being challenged in this case.  The discriminatory intent was transparent, but with a wink and a nod, conservatives devised rationales for the restrictions.  The Fourth Circuit today rejected those rationales and recognized that these were all “solutions in search of a problem.”  Those bogus explanations may not get probed very deeply by the media, but it is harder to get away with the “wink and nod” approach before an effective federal court.  All three judges agreed that the provisions were adopted with the intent to discriminate, in violation of the Constitution.  (One of the judges would have sent the case back down to the district court to see if post-enactment changes to the voter ID law affected the court’s legal analysis.)

Although the court could have used the unconstitutional motivation as a basis to impose a preclearance requirement on the state, the judges concluded that would not be necessary in this case.

If you ever wonder if courts matter, think about this case.  We need fair and independent courts with highly qualified judges to protect our rights and our democracy.  Courts matter immensely, as does the identity of the president who nominates federal judges to the bench.

PFAW Foundation

New Guard of Progressive Elected Officials Represented On Stage at DNC

Something the planners of the Democratic National Convention seem to be getting very right is the selection of top-notch speakers, which include some of the strongest progressive voices in national politics and reflect the ever-increasing diversity of America. Communities of color, the LGBT community, disabled and Native communities, and young people are all represented.

Activist leaders and various everyday heroes are taking the stage to speak simultaneously to the vast diversity of American experiences and the common needs and values, hopes and desires, that unify us as one people.

Included in the impressive list of speakers are several dynamic young elected leaders, and among them, some very familiar faces to the People For family. And we could not be prouder.       

Mayor Andrew Gillum

Andrew Gillum, 37, is the mayor of Tallahassee, Florida. He has repeatedly set the example for unapologetic progressive leadership, and was included in Huffington Post’s “50 Young Progressive Activists Who Are Changing America.” He is the youngest person to ever be elected to the Tallahassee City Commission, assuming that office at the age of 23.

Andrew is the national Director of Youth Leadership Programs for PFAW’s affiliate, People For the American Way Foundation (PFAW Foundation).

US Rep. Joaquin Castro

Joaquin Castro, 41, uses his strong progressive voice to superbly represent the people of Texas’s 20th District in the US Congress.

Both Joaquin and his twin brother Julian -- the current US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, former mayor of San Antonio, and keynote speaker of the 2012 Democratic convention -- were charter members of PFAW Foundation’s nonpartisan Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network, which works to nurture the leadership abilities and provide a supportive nationwide network to America’s young progressive elected officials.

Colorado Rep. Crisanta Duran

Crisanta Duran, 35, is the Majority Leader of the Colorado House of Representatives and one of America’s boldest progressive champions in such an influential state-level leadership position.

Crisanta is also an active member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network.

This is just a small sampling of the growing number of young progressive champions running for and winning elected office at every level around the country.

Be on the lookout for live or recorded speeches from all of these excellent young leaders, and you will no doubt find inspiration and hope about the future of our movement.

We will try to obtain video clips after the speeches to embed in this post as updates. So stay tuned!

Update 1: Mayor Andrew Gillum's 2016 DNC speech:

PFAW

PFAW's Peter Montgomery Discusses the Trump-Pence Ticket and the RNC on Democracy Now!

Last week People For the American Way Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery was in Cleveland, Ohio, covering this year’s Republican National Convention for Right Wing Watch.

On Thursday, he joined Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! to discuss Donald Trump’s selection of Governor Mike Pence as his running mate, the Religious Right’s response to this choice, and Montgomery’s recent piece in Right Wing Watch entitled, “How Would Religious Right Respond to Pence as VP?” Montgomery told Goodman:

“I think he [Trump] probably chose Mike Pence because Mike Pence is close to both the Koch brothers’ political network and to the Religious Right. And those are two hugely important parts of the Republican infrastructure that have not been uniformly excited about Trump.”

While on the program, Montgomery also detailed some instances of hate speech and intolerance that he observed in Cleveland, including misogynistic rhetoric about Hillary Clinton, attacks on Black Lives Matter activists, and attacks on immigrants. “It’s really been a disturbing show,” Montgomery said.

You can watch the full interview here:

[https://publish.dvlabs.com/democracynow/360/dn2016-0721.mp4?start=4548&end=5065]

PFAW

Trump: "I alone can fix this."

Donald Trump’s big speech last night was full of false humility, false promises, false sympathy (for minorities, women, and workers), and outright falsehoods. He affirmed various right-wing tropes for his base, but the speech was -- at its core -- a naked attempt to con the voters Trump and the Republicans need to sway to their side by November.

Trump was introduced by his daughter Ivanka, who was completely out of touch with the Republican Party by claiming that Trump would change labor laws to ensure equality in the workplace for women and, especially, mothers. Of course, the Republican Party has firmly opposed those same policies for years, and the federal judges promised by Trump subscribe to an ideology that shuns protections for women -- not to mention the fact that Trump himself has called pregnancy “an inconvenience” for business.

Citing the recent mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Trump promised to keep LGBTQ Americans, specifically, safe from Islam … but what they really need is to be kept safe from Republican policies.

Trump’s chosen running mate, Mike Pence, is the most anti-gay vice presidential nominee in memory. He once called for HIV/AIDS funding to be reallocated to “gay conversion therapy.”

This Republican Convention, just days before Trump’s speech, passed the most anti-gay major party platform EVER -- including opposition to same-sex marriage, adoption by LGBT people, and protections for transgendered students, as well as support for, you guessed it, “gay conversion therapy.”

And almost the very next part of Trump’s speech focused on the kind of Supreme Court justices he wants to appoint -- the kind that have consistently opposed legal protections for LGBT rights! (Let’s not forget that earlier this year Trump pledged to nominated justices who were against what he called the “shocking” Supreme Court decision affirming marriage equality as a right.)

Trump also distorted statistics to gin up the anxiety and inflame many of the false perceptions driven by right-wing media lies, oversaturation of sensationalistic news stories, and the violent videos and memes that constantly go viral on social media.

The reality is that, despite recent high-profile, and rightfully concerning, tragedies, violent crime is at historically low levels, and has been trending down, not up. Same goes for illegal immigration. And those are just two examples -- Trump also promoted Orwellian notions about our military being “depleted,” refugees not being vetted, and the US being humiliated on the global stage that run directly counter to the actual facts.

As one of my colleagues here at PFAW pointed out, Trump was lying from his very first breath last night, when he said he “humbly” accepts his party’s nomination -- clearly, this is not a man who does anything “humbly.” In fact, Trump seems to believe a previous convention speaker’s assertion that he “is sent from God.”

The entire theme of Trump’s speech was that the country is beset by crises of a historic magnitude and that Trump and ONLY Trump can save us. His speech, which has widely been called "apocalyptic," made the case that Americans are completely unsafe, and are under siege from enemies both within and outside our borders … that the state of the economy is terrible.

He said he would fix all of our problems quickly upon taking office -- make the streets safe, bring back all of our lost manufacturing jobs, expand opportunity for young people and minorities, and more -- but declined to say how.

He also reminded the crowd that his economic “plan” includes the biggest tax cut of all of this year’s candidates in either major party -- weighted heavily for the ultra-rich, of course -- but at the same time promised wildly expensive programs, including his infamous border wall -- the price tag of which analysts estimate would be at least $25 billion (no, Mexico is not going to pay for it). It’s a recipe for a behemoth deficit … but of course, facts don’t matter … and never have for Trump.

Now, as if all of that wasn’t scary enough, here’s the really scary part: There are many -- too many -- Americans that will find all of Trump’s blustery rhetoric and empty promises appealing. If there is anything history has taught, it’s that when people are afraid, they will put power in the hands of strongman leaders who promise safety and national glory. We’re even seeing it right now in other places in the world.

Sadly, no one should be surprised to see Donald Trump get a significant post-convention bump in the polls, both nationally and in key swing states (like the Rust Belt states he is specifically targeting).

We need to keep voters’ attention on the GOP’s radical agenda, and on the hate and extremism that were on display all week long at their convention.

We need to ERASE any polling bounce and success Trump gets from last night’s speech.

And we need to DEFEAT right-wing extremists like Trump and many of the other candidates running in the GOP.

PFAW

Pew Report: With GOP Presidents, We Get Fewer Judges of Color

The Pew Research Center has released a new report (“More minority federal judges have been appointed under Democratic than Republican presidents”) examining the presence of people of color serving as judges in our nation’s federal judiciary.  Their study’s conclusion, apparent from the title, quantifies what many Americans probably already suspected: Democratic presidents have done more to increase judicial diversity than have GOP presidents.

Pew’s report shows that:

The number of minorities named to the federal courts has increased faster under Democratic presidents than Republican presidents. From 1945 to today – a period in which Republicans and Democrats have each occupied the White House for a total of 36 years – Democratic presidents have appointed three times as many black judges as their Republican counterparts (162 vs. 49). Democrats have also named more Hispanic judges to the federal bench (73 vs. 51).

Pew’s analysis also indicates that President Obama has put more Asian Americans on the federal bench than all his predecessors combined:

Before 2009, Republicans had appointed 10 Asian judges, while Democrats appointed six. During Obama’s presidency the number of Asian federal judges greatly increased: About half (17) of the 33 Asian American judges to ever serve on the federal bench were appointed by Obama.

As we have written before in discussing why it is important to have a judiciary that looks like America:

For much of our nation's history, judges were uniformly white men. When women argued for equality under the law, they were repudiated with sexist arguments that only men could have come up with. African Americans were told that separate can be equal. Native Americans were told that they never really owned the land they had been on for centuries, but were only in temporary possession of it until Europeans arrived.

A judiciary that looks nothing like America is far less likely to understand how the law affects other people, a misunderstanding that has often led to great injustice. As Republicans exacerbate judicial emergencies, their obstruction is preventing us from having a judiciary that looks more like America.

We see this at all levels, including at the Supreme Court.  Justice Sotomayor’s dissent in the Schuette affirmative action case and her condemnation of a prosecutor’s attempt to substitute racial stereotype for evidence are great examples.  At the Obergefell oral arguments, when Justice Scalia suggested that a ruling for same-sex couples could force anti-gay clergy to conduct marriages against their religious beliefs, Justice Kagan had to inform him what Jewish Americans already know: that many rabbis refuse to conduct marriages between Jews and non-Jews without raising any constitutional problem.

Diversity brings people with more varied life experiences to our courtrooms, and that helps judges make better decisions.  And when Senate Republicans engage in record obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees, the result is a less diverse federal bench.

PFAW

GOP's Record-Breaking SCOTUS Obstruction

A lot can be accomplished in 125 days.  It took less time than that for the Allies to liberate Paris after D-Day.  And Franklin Roosevelt’s first 100 days are still remembered for the incredible amount that was accomplished in such a short time.

So surely the United States Senate could manage to hold a hearing within 125 days for an unquestionably qualified, uncontroversial Supreme Court nominee with strong support from across the ideological spectrum.  But the Republicans who control the Senate have continued to simply pretend that President Obama hasn’t nominated anyone to fill the vacancy.  And at Day 125 of the nomination, the GOP has set a shameful record:  D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland is now the longest pending Supreme Court nominee in American history, and he still has not been allowed to have a committee hearing.

Of course, Senate Republicans can act quickly when they want to.  For instance, it was only a few hours after Justice Antonin Scalia’s untimely death that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that, contrary to all precedent, the Senate would refuse to consider anyone nominated by President Obama to fill the vacancy, no matter who it might be.  This was at a time when there was still nearly a full year left in Obama’s presidency, so McConnell’s lightning-fast decision for obstruction and politicization guaranteed that the Court vacancy would remain open not only for the rest of that Supreme Court term, but also for most or even all of the following term as well.

Unfortunately, neither McConnell nor his fellow GOP senators seem to care about the damage an extended vacancy can do to a Court characterized by important and headline-grabbing 5-4 decisions.  These are analyzed in Material Harm to Our System of Justice: The Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court, a report by our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation and the Constitutional Accountability Center.  Senate Republicans are unmoved that their unprecedented obstruction is politicizing what is supposed to be an apolitical institution.  They are not bothered that their unprecedented obstruction is harming their constituents and people and businesses across America.

But if they don’t care about harming the Constitution, the American judicial system, and their own constituents, maybe these GOP senators will care if it hurts them.  They should be concerned about the finding in a new polling memo out today from the Constitutional Responsibility Project and Hart Research.  The memo shows that:

  • As the GOP’s obstruction has dragged on, even more voters want a hearing than on the day he was nominated.  National surveys have all registered at least 60 percent in favor, with political independents and voters in battleground states with vulnerable Republican senators demonstrating comparable levels of support.
  • Nearly two-thirds of voters consider it to be “wrong” that Senate Republicans are refusing to hold hearings.
  • In battleground states, support for Garland’s nomination grows as voters learn more about his background and extensive qualifications.
  • At least seven out of ten voters think Republicans are playing politics with the Supreme Court, and a supermajority is convinced that the Senate is failing to fulfill its constitutional duty. No GOP framing to justify their obstruction is considered nearly as compelling.
  • In key battleground states, 40 percent or more of voters say that they are less likely to support incumbent senators because they are obstructing Chief Judge Garland’s nomination.  At the same time, most voters don’t seem to know what their own senator’s position is.  So when they find out, vulnerable GOP senators could find themselves even more vulnerable.

So on this record-breaking 125th day of the GOP’s refusal to do its job, let us hope that Senate Republicans will move to hold a hearing and vote on Judge Garland as soon as they return in September, even if it’s only to save their own skin.

PFAW

At Committee Meeting, PFAW & Allies Urge Senators to #DoYourJob

Thursday, July 14, marked the 120th day since Chief Judge Merrick Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court. July 14 was also the Senate Judiciary Committee’s final markup before the August recess. In order to highlight Republican senators’ irresponsible obstruction on  judicial vacancies, People For the American Way staff members attended and stood in solidarity with activists from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Americans United for Change at the markup.

We wore buttons that read “#DoYourJob” and some advocates silently held signs when the meeting concluded. Our presence put additional pressure on Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley and his Republican colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee to give Garland fair consideration and to fill the growing number of other judicial vacancies.

On the agenda for the markup meeting were four judicial nominees: Jennifer Puhl, Don Coggins, David Nye, and Kathleen Sweet. Puhl, Coggins, and Nye were unanimously approved by the committee on a voice vote, but they join a long list of nearly 20 other nominees who are still waiting for consideration from the full Senate. They are unlikely to receive a vote before the fall.

During the committee proceedings, ranking member Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) gave voice to our frustrations, and the frustrations of so many Americans, by directly addressing the rising number of judicial vacancies across the United States and the failure of Republican senators to fulfill their job requirements by adequately processing judicial nominees:

“The sharply rising number of judicial vacancies across the country is the direct consequence of Republican leadership neglecting the Senate’s duty to ensure the federal judiciary can function. When Senate Republicans took over the majority last year, there were 43 judicial vacancies, 12 of which were emergency vacancies. Because of the Republicans’ refusal to do their jobs, vacancies have nearly doubled to 83, and emergency vacancies have nearly tripled to 30.”

Astoundingly, at the last markup session before the congressional recess, and 120 days since Merrick Garland’s nomination, Sen. Chuck Grassley did not even speak about the most pressing judicial vacancy: the open ninth seat on the Supreme Court. Sen. Leahy, however, did, saying:

"Republicans are failing our justice system and the American people by continuing their unprecedented blockade of Chief Justice Merrick Garland’s nomination for the Supreme Court.”

We agree with Sen. Leahy and so many Americans. The American people deserve a fully-functioning judicial system, including a Supreme Court with nine justices. Republican Senators’ refusal to adequately process judicial nominees is disgraceful. Tell Sen. Grassley to stop playing politics with our justice system, and tell GOP senators to do their jobs. 

PFAW

Beyond the plagiarism: 9 more important stories from Day 1 of the convention

By now, it’s likely that you’ve seen the reports that last night’s featured speaker Melania Trump, in a move that would seem typical of her husband, PLAGIARIZED Michelle Obama, from the First Lady’s convention speech in 2008.

But while the media today remains distracted by Mrs. Trump’s ironic theft of a Michelle Obama passage about family and community values, it’s vitally important that we try to keep some attention on the truly shocking and frightening -- things that happened yesterday both on- and off-stage at the convention.

Here’s a quick recap of some of the other biggest stories from Day 1 of the GOP Convention.

Anti-Trump delegates attempted a brief but chaotic revolt on the floor of the convention hall -- seemingly more as a show than an actual attempt to seek a different nominee.

The protest, while offering a bit of early drama, was quickly scuttled by Trump loyalists, giving us the day’s first concrete demonstration of the GOP now being, definitively, the Party of Donald Trump -- but just the first example of many.

One of the more high profile offsite events of the day was the “America First Unity Rally,” hosted by unhinged radio conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a hate radio talker who has been embraced by Trump, and Trump adviser and legendary political dirty trickster Roger Stone. PFAW’s Right Wing Watch was on the ground to cover the event, which definitely did not shy away from inflammatory speakers or topics.

During one of the many media discussions with Republican leaders from the convention hall, Rep. Steve King of Iowa -- one of the GOP’s loudest xenophobic voices -- defended the politics of racial resentment that is driving much of Trump’s movement by insisting that white people have contributed more to civilization than “any other subgroup of people.”

Then it was time for the evening program of speakers…

Grieving family members of people who lost their lives in Benghazi and to crimes involving undocumented immigrants were trotted out as sympathetic and relatable figures to rally viewers against the people the GOP says are responsible for all of those tragedies: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and all 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the US.

Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato, Jr. were among the first “celebrities” to take the stage and speak on behalf of their friend Donald Trump. They both gave subsequent interviews in which the former defended his posting of a meme referring to Hillary Clinton as a “cunt” and the latter said he "absolutely" believes President Obama is a Muslim.

An anti-government extremist sheriff gave a taunting speech in which he called Black Lives Matter “anarchy” and celebrated the latest acquittal of one of the Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray as a victory over “malicious prosecution.”

Republicans like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani gave characteristically bombastic speeches.

Then, Donald Trump took the stage -- to Queen’s We Are the Champions, a song that the band’s guitarist Brian May was outraged to hear Trump was using on the campaign trail before he specifically asked Trump not to use it months ago. It’s perhaps worth mentioning that Queen’s singer, Freddie Mercury, was a gay man who died of AIDS, and Donald Trump’s running mate, Mike Pence, once advocated that money for HIV/AIDS care be reallocated to groups conducting gay conversion therapy (something that is also, incidentally, promoted in this year’s official Republican Party Platform).

During one of the evening’s earlier speeches, Donald Trump had called into Fox News to bash his former primary rival Gov. John Kasich and claim credit for the idea of holding the Republican Convention in Ohio -- a demonstrable outright lie.

It’s going to be an interesting week.

Continue to check PFAW’s Right Wing Watch at rightwingwatch.org for ongoing convention coverage.


 

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PFAW

A Big Week for #Demcoracy4All

People For the American Way and our pro-democracy allies have been working hard to boost House and Senate cosponsorship of the Democracy For All Amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United and get big money out of politics.

Based on the pressure we have brought to bear, we just reached a major milestone in the House. Eleven new cosponsors have signed on since July 8. That makes 159 total – as many as all House amendments from the last Congress combined, and then some. That's more than halfway to the two-thirds majority needed to send an amendment to the states for ratification.

We also made progress in the Senate this week, adding Maria Cantwell of Washington and Chris Coons of Delaware to our list of supporters, bringing the total to 44 – more than sixty percent of the votes needed.

Thank you for helping us get to this point.

We hope that you'll continue to stand with us and tell Congress to overturn Citizens United.

PFAW

Far Right Co-opts Tragedy To Promote Hate, Again

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post

Last week, in which the police shootings of two African American men were followed by the assassination of five police officers guarding a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, was wrenching. Sadly, in this atmosphere of mourning, anger and grief, too many on the far right have done what they do best: co-opt tragedy to promote hatred and fear. These are more than just a few absurd and cringe-worthy comments; instead, they represent a line of thinking that has elevated many right-wing politicians who wield significant power in this country.

After the Dallas shootings, Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman turned radio host from Illinois, tweeted: “This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.” He later tried to claim that he wasn’t calling for violence against the president. Ted Nugent, a board member of the National Rifle Association, said that President Obama “wants a racewar [sic].”

Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas and, probably not coincidentally, a former conservative talk radio personality, blamed the innocent bystanders at the Dallas attack, saying that they were “hypocrites” for running from gunfire while relying on the police to protect them. His point seems to have been that the Black Lives Matter movement doesn’t want police protecting communities, which is clearly not true.

Rush Limbaugh called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist group,” as did right-wing authorBrad Thor. One conservative commentator called Black Lives Matter “the new KKK.” The ever-perceptive Sarah Palin said that the social justice movement is promoting “the antithesis of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message” by saying that “one race matters more than another.” Mike Huckabee said that the real movement should be “Male Lives Matter.”

Others fell back to their standard talking points, no matter how irrelevant. Frank Gaffney, an anti-Muslim activist who advised Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign,claimed that Black Lives Matter was working with “Islamic supremacists” to foment revolution. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, a great favorite of presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, claimed that liberal philanthropist George Soros engineered the whole thing in order to start a race war. Conservative activist Jesse Lee Peterson said it was all a plot to distract from Hillary Clinton’s emails. The Oath Keepers, an anti-government group, called for the formation of citizen militias.

These aren’t just fringe activists and media personalities; as much as we’d like to ignore them, we can’t afford to. Their cynical exploitation of bigotry and fear has already caused too much damage in our country. This is the same media swamp that has for years promoted the idea that white people in America are the real victims of racial prejudice, the same people who have spent more than seven years claiming that the first African-American president is an outsider impostor who possibly even lied about his heritage to earn his seat. Is it any surprise that the right-wing media was ready to demonize Black Lives Matter when it emerged and to claim that the movement’s critiques are illegitimate? Is it any wonder that they were ready to blame a gruesome crime against police officers on the president’s concern for racial justice?

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the wake of last week’s tragedies, some conservativesapproached the national conversation with genuine attempts to speak honestly and thoughtfully about race in America. We might not always agree, but if we can speak with open minds, that’s a good start.

Indeed, as much as the right-wing media would like us to think it, the tragedies of last week weren’t about taking sides in a political debate or a “race war.” You can believe that Black lives matter and see the weight that disparities in policing have on people of color and, at the same time, grieve and be angry at the mass murder of police officers who were trying to protect a peaceful protest. Millions of Americans feel both. Let’s not allow the right-wing swamp to skew these tragedies to promote bigotry and fear.

PFAW

Senate GOP Keeping Court Vacancies Open So Trump Can Transform America’s Judiciary

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The Constitution sets up an independent judiciary as the third branch of government, intended to protect people’s rights and to serve as a check on the power of the other two branches. Our nation’s charter tasks the president and the Senate with the job of selecting and vetting the people who would serve on those courts.  President Obama has been doing his duty by nominating qualified women and men to serve as judges at all levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court.

But the GOP-controlled Senate is not living up to its constitutional responsibilities. While this has always been harmful to America, it is even more so with Donald Trump the presumed presidential nominee of his party.

Mitch McConnell and his party have slow-walked or outright blocked so many nominees that the number of circuit and district court vacancies has risen from 40 when they took over the Senate to 80 today. (There are also several vacancies for the Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.) In that same time, the number of vacancies formally designated as judicial emergencies has skyrocketed from 12 to 29. The Senate has not been allowed to vote on nominees who were thoroughly vetted and approved months ago by the Judiciary Committee with strong bipartisan support.

Yesterday, Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin went to the floor to draw attention to the problem. She noted that while the Senate GOP’s blockade of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland has been in the headlines, that has not been the case with the obstruction of lower court nominees.

She focused particularly on Seventh Circuit nominee Donald Schott, who not only has Democrat Baldwin’s support, but also that of his other home-state senator, Republican Ron Johnson.  Schott would fill the nation’s longest circuit court vacancy, which has been open for well over six years.  Since the Supreme Court takes so few cases, the Seventh Circuit is usually the last word on the meaning of the Constitution and federal laws for millions of people in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana, and every day that goes by with that vacancy open hurts everyone in those states.  Schott earned strong bipartisan support from the Judiciary Committee, which advanced his nomination to the full Senate four weeks ago.  Baldwin noted that Schott also has the support of a bipartisan group of former Wisconsin Bar presidents.  Saying that “the people of Wisconsin and our neighbors in Illinois and Indiana deserve a fully functioning appeals court,” Baldwin urged McConnell to finally allow votes on Schott and on all of the judicial nominees who have cleared the Judiciary Committee.  Many of them have been waiting for more than half a year for a floor vote, with several having been approved by the Judiciary Committee last year.

But Republicans are fighting to keep vacancies open for as long as possible so that they will be filled by a President Donald Trump.

Donald Trump, who wants to make it easier for the government to punish media sources whose reporting he disagrees with.

Donald Trump, who has said that Latinos cannot serve effectively as unbiased judges.

Donald Trump, who would ban certain people from entering the country based on their religion.

Donald Trump, who has demeaned and humiliated women at every opportunity.

Donald Trump, who has used hate groups’ blatantly anti-Semitic imagery in his campaign.

Donald Trump, who has said he is considering firing all Muslim TSA agents.

With serious discussion among scholars, political figures, and Americans across the political spectrum on whether Trump’s extreme views amount to fascism, we need a strong, effective, and independent federal judiciary more than ever. Yet Senate Republicans are pulling out the stops to allow Donald Trump to move quickly to dramatically transform our judiciary from the Supreme Court on down.

The Senate GOP is abdicating their constitutional and moral responsibility to the American people and to our democracy.

PFAW

PFAW Hosts Member Telebriefing on the SCOTUS Term

As the Supreme Court session wrapped up for the term, PFAW hosted a member telebriefing on Thursday to analyze the impact of the term's decisions and to look towards the future of the Court overall. The latest term was atypical in a number of ways, from the death of Justice Antonin Scalia to Republican senators’ unprecedented and unconstitutional refusal to consider Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination, leaving the Court with only eight justices to decide cases. 

On the call were PFAW’s Executive Vice President Marge Baker, Communications Director Drew Courtney, Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon, and Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg, who discussed the Republicans' blockade of the Garland nomination, the impact of the court being forced to operate with only eight justices for a significant portion of the term, and the future of the Supreme Court in coming years, with three of the current justices soon to be over the age of 80. They also fielded questions from members around the country, unpacking the outcomes of cases such as Fisher v. University of Texas, Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, U.S. v. Texas and others.

Mincberg said that “this term turned out very differently” than many expected because of two primary reasons: Justice Scalia’s passing, and Justice Kennedy joining the moderate justices in decisions on cases such as Fisher.  Baker stressed that “we need a full Court” in order for the Supreme Court to work effectively and encouraged members to speak out about the issue. She also emphasized that “it does make a difference to vote,” and that Americans need to have their voices heard by their representatives about the Court.    

You can listen to the full telebriefing here:

 

PFAW

House GOP Follows Orlando Tragedy with a License to Discriminate

On June 12, in a brazen attack on the LGBT community, a gunman walked into Pulse nightclub in Orlando and killed 49 people.

Since then, House Republicans have refused to take meaningful action on hate violence and gun violence prevention.

So what are they taking up instead?

On July 12, the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, an odious anti-LGBT bill that would redefine and hijack the Constitution’s protection of religious liberty.

One month to the day that 49 lives were lost and 53 others were injured in Orlando, Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Representative Raúl Labrador, the bill's sponsor, are renewing their push for legislation that attempts to turn religious liberty into a license to discriminate against LGBT people. It's beyond shameful.

People For the American Way joined the American Civil Liberties Union and over 70 national, state, and local organizations in urging Chairman Chaffetz to cancel this hearing and instead consider how best to ensure that no one in this country is subjected to violence or discrimination based on who they are or who they love.

Please join us: Take a stand for equality and against hate -- add your name now to STOP the so-called First Amendment Defense Act.

PFAW

The Fisher Decision Was a Victory for Equality of Opportunity

Last month the Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in a case about equal educational opportunity for all people, regardless of their race. In a 4-3 decision, the Court upheld the University of Texas’s diversity admission policies, with Justice Anthony Kennedy writing the majority opinion. Justice Kennedy remarked that “courts must give universities substantial but not total leeway in designing their admissions program.”

Some backstory on the case: in 2008, Abigail Fisher applied to the University of Texas-Austin undergraduate program and was denied admission. Fisher, who is white, filed a lawsuit against the university claiming that she was denied admission based on her race. In 2014, the conservative Fifth Circuit Court affirmed the District Court’s decision in the case, in which it sided with the University of Texas. Fisher then filed a petition to the Supreme Court to hear the case, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments for the case in 2015.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Fisher v. University of Texas case was a crucial victory for racial justice in America. The Supreme Court upheld the right of the University of Texas to use race as part of the admissions policy for prospective students. The decision not only reflected the need for equality of opportunity for all people, it was also a step toward addressing the deep-seated racism that unfortunately is still present in our society. As PFAW Foundation president Michael Keegan put it: “From universities to the workplace, diversity policies are among the many needed programs to combat structural racism and strive towards equal opportunity for every American.”   

PFAW

We the People versus Donald Trump

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Donald Trump is an unhinged con man who regularly fans the flames of racism, sexism and xenophobia. Yet disturbingly, he has become the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States. Part of what appears to be bolstering the support he does have is his supposed business success and his claim to be insulated from special interest pressure by “self-funding” his campaign. But these claims, like so many others, are egregiously misleading. Whether it’s the predatory scheme known as Trump University, or his recent slew of fundraising events catering to wealthy donors, it’s clearer with each passing day that much of Trump’s support is built on manipulation and outright deceit.

Trump’s claims about not being beholden to rich donors was understandably appealing to an electorate that’s tired of an out-of-balance political system that shuts out the voices of everyday Americans. Throughout the Republican primary, Trump repeatedly lambasted his opponents for being in the pockets of wealthy donors. When Sheldon Adelson was considering supporting Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, Trump tweeted that Adelson wanted to support Rubio so he could make him into “his perfect little puppet.” But Trump’s actions don’t live up to his rhetoric.

Trump has made raising money from wealthy interests a top priority in recent weeks. As noted in a recent Bloomberg report, last week in New York City a cabal of hedge fund managers and private equity executives held a joint fundraiser for Trump and the RNC, at a price of $50,000 per person, with the hosts paying $250,000 per couple. Trump also recently held a fundraiser at the former residence of the late Senator Barry Goldwater, with attendees shelling out thousands of dollars per seat. Apparently Trump and the donors he was wooing didn’t mind that Goldwater’s widow said the senator himself would be appalled by Trump’s candidacy.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump’s campaign is expressing support for a super PAC founded by billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer. The super PAC – called Make America Number 1 – is reportedly soliciting contributions from a who’s who of conservative mega-donors, including casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has pledged to spend $100 million backing Trump.

Trump is also using this campaign to line the pockets of his own companies. A significant amount of the money that the Trump campaign has spent so far has gone to companies owned by Trump himself. In fact, according to Fortune magazine, an estimated 10 percent of total campaign expenditures thus far have gone to companies that bear his name. That doesn’t include expenditures billed to his estate, Mar-a-Lago, or his private plane, which has its own holding company.

What’s more, Trump has used deceitful, disingenuous and predatory business practices to further enrich himself at the expense of anyone and everyone else. Hundreds of former employees and contractors allege that they still haven’t been paid for work done for companies controlled by Trump, and literally thousands of lawsuits have been filed against him. One high profile example is a class-action suit regarding Trump University. Former employees of Trump University, an institution which never had accreditation, have testified in saying that they essentially “engaged in a methodical, Systematic Series of misrepresentations” designed to separate people from their money. This case is one of many that show Donald Trump for who he really is: a fraud who regularly exploits people for personal gain.

Donald Trump is a dangerous con man of epic proportions, taking money from – and profiting off of – the same special interests he has railed against. He is running on a business record rife with misconduct and malicious practices. The American people cannot afford to sit this one out – there is simply too much at stake. Trump must be taken down by the greatest political force ever known: “We the People.”    

PFAW