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PEOPLE FOR BLOG

"I Was Arrested to Send a Message to Congress. Here's Why."

Laura Arrested

On Monday, People For the American Way staffer Laura Williamson was one of many activists arrested outside of the U.S. Capitol during the Democracy Awakening protests. Laura writes:

Yesterday I sat on the steps of the U.S. Capitol with 300 others, singing, chanting, and eventually being arrested, to send a message to Congress --  amend the Constitution to get big money out of politics, restore the right to vote for all Americans, and do your job on the Supreme Court. With our arrests, we joined hundreds of others who have been arrested since last Monday as part of the Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening; all told, more than 1,400 people were arrested as part of this escalated effort to save our democracy.

 

As I marched to the Capitol and occupied those steps  --  our steps  --  my spirit was buoyed thinking of the rich legacy of civil disobedience in our country.

The risks we faced sitting at the Capitol were negligible compared to the dangers associated with civil disobedience over the course of our nation’s history. However, the imperiled state of our democracy today must be taken just as seriously. In 2010, the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations could spend unlimited amounts of money to influence our elections, and three years later in Shelby v. Holder it held that the protections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, that so many fought and died for during the Civil Rights Movement, were no longer necessary. Both decisions delivered devastating blows to our democracy, but from both new movements of conscience have been born.

 

Read Laura's full story here.

PFAW

PFAW Hosts Member Telebriefing on the Democracy Awakening

As thousands of activists from around the country head to Washington, DC for the Democracy Awakening, a weekend of marches, rallies, workshops, lobby visits, and – for some – nonviolent civil disobedience, PFAW hosted a member telebriefing Thursday about the upcoming mobilization. Through the Democracy Awakening, Americans are demanding that Congress take action to fix our democracy, from protecting voting rights to getting big money out of politics to giving the president’s Supreme Court nominee fair consideration.

“These are all connected issues,” PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker said on the call. She emphasized that auctioning off democracy “to the highest bidder,” suppressing the vote, or obstructing justice through Republican senators’ “absurd and totally indefensible” position that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee shouldn’t be given fair consideration are all threats to our democracy.

“We have to take back the engines of our government for the American people,” Baker said.

PFAW Government By the People Campaign Manager Rio Tazewell outlined the schedule for the weekend and noted that even people who can’t travel to DC can still take action in their own towns through letters to the editor, contacting elected representatives, and taking action on social media.

You can listen to the full telebriefing below, and visit www.democracyawakening.org for more information:

PFAW

Equal Pay Day Shows How Far Women Still Have to Go

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post

Today marks “Equal Pay Day,” the day when women’s pay finally catches up to men’s pay from last year. You’ll have to forgive me for not cheering too loudly.

Each year Equal Pay Day highlights how far we still have to go in the fight for pay equity, and it’s striking how little headway has been made on closing the gap in recent years, with progress all but stagnating in the past decade. Across the board, women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts — a fact that takes on new significance in an election year where the views of the Republican presidential candidates on the gender pay gap range from dismissive to downright hostile.

But the numbers speak for themselves: according to the latest data, women earn on average 79 cents for every dollar that men earn. When you consider a full lifetime of work, the scope of inequality becomes far more dramatic. A new report from the National Women’s Law Center on the “lifetime wage gap“ shows that across 40 years of working, based on the current figures, women lose more than $430,000. When you break down the numbers by race, it’s even more stark; African-American women lose over $877,000, and Latinas more than a million dollars. When women are making hundreds of thousands of dollars less than men over a lifetime, it affects not only women’s financial stability while working and during retirement, but also the financial stability of our families.

Not to mention that it’s spectacularly unfair.

A gender pay gap exists for women in almost all occupations, from teachers to lawyers to cooks to mail carriers, and even in the entertainment field. Demos reports that for retail salespeople, the most common occupation in the country, the gender pay disparity is “particularly stark,” with women who are working full-time earning just 68 cents for each dollar earned by their male co-workers. For women struggling financially, the earnings lost simply for being a woman can mean the difference between barely making ends meet and being forced to choose between basic necessities like food and rent.

When you look at the presidential candidates’ stances on pay equity, it’s clear that the 2016 election will be a pivotal moment for whether progress is possible in the near future. Trump claims to “love equal pay,” but says he won’t support the legislative efforts necessary to make it happen. At an event last year, he told a woman asking about the pay gap that “you’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Sen. Ted Cruz voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act and derided it as a “political show vote.” A 2014 newspaper investigation found that in Gov. John Kasich’s office, women were paid nearly $10 less per hour than men, yet on the campaign trail, Kasich blamed not discrimination, but paid leave laws, for causing the wage gap!

Despite Republicans’ dismissal of the issue, equal pay for equal work remains a goal rather than a reality for women across the country. And until we close the gap, Equal Pay Day will remain an unhappy reminder of this continuing inequality.

Kathleen Turner is an advocate and Academy Award-nominated actress, and serves on the board of People For the American Way’s affiliate, PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

On Senate Floor, Sen. Reid Slams GOP Senators for Backtracking on Supreme Court Vacancy

In recent weeks, two Republican senators who had previously expressed their support for the Senate giving fair consideration to the president’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, have now both backtracked from their initial positions.

In February, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) was the first Republican senator to support hearings for the president’s nominee, but did an about-face just days later. Similarly, after Sen. Jerry Moran (Kansas) said in late March “I have my job to do” and that “the process ought to go forward,” he faced a hostile response from extremist right wing groups and obediently reversed his position. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that after Moran’s initial comments,

The Judicial Crisis Network announced it was putting the finishing touches on an advertising campaign bashing Moran, and the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund said it was considering backing a primary challenger.

On the Senate floor today, Minority Leader Harry Reid slammed the GOP senators for reversing course.

“Senator Moran’s backtracking is especially alarming because it appears to be the result of a multi-million dollar campaign urging the Senator to reverse his support for a hearing for Judge Garland,” Reid said. “Senator Moran was for meeting with Merrick Garland and holding confirmation hearings until the Judicial Crisis Network and the Tea Party Patriots threatened him. It will surprise no one to learn that the Koch brothers and their dark money help fund both of these radical organizations.”

The conservative, moneyed backlash came all because Sen. Moran “dared to do his job,” Reid said, asking if the GOP had become “a party dictated by menace and intimidation.”

Sen. Reid wrapped up his remarks by noting that he hopes other GOP senators will not follow suit: “Instead of caving to the Republican leader and the Koch brothers, it’s time for Republican senators to take a stand.” The American people, Reid said, want Republican senators to stop “cowering” and simply do their jobs.

Indeed, polling shows that Americans across the political spectrum want GOP senators to give Judge Garland fair consideration. A national Monmouth University poll last month found that nearly seven in ten Americans want the Senate to hold hearings, including 56 percent of Republicans. Perhaps even more revealing: 62 percent of Republicans believe that GOP leadership’s obstructionist stance is “mainly a political ploy.”

PFAW

Supreme Court Rules that Everyone Deserves Representation

In a great victory for American democracy, the Supreme Court ruled 8-0 today in Evenwel v. Abbott that when states fulfill their Equal Protection requirement to equalize populations within state legislative districts, they can use total population to do so.  The Court rejected the invitation to rule that states must use eligible voters as the measure, rather than total population.

Justice Ginsburg wrote for a six-person majority that included Chief Justice Roberts, as well as Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan.  (Justices Alito and Thomas each concurred with the result but rejected the majority’s reasoning.)  Justice Ginsburg discussed the framers’ decision to write the Fourteenth Amendment to require representational equality in congressional House districts, which undermines the idea that the same amendment would prohibit states from taking the same approach to in-state legislative districts.  She also noted that the Court has never used eligible-voter data or registered-voter data in its analyses of permissible population variances among state districts.  The majority said that for decades in some cases and centuries in others, all states and countless local jurisdictions have used total population (with occasional small exceptions for non-permanent residents such as military personnel from out of state or inmates originally from out of state).

So why does this matter?  As Justice Ginsburg wrote:

As the Framers of the Constitution and the Fourteenth Amendment comprehended, representatives serve all residents, not just those eligible or registered to vote. Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates—children, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public-education system—and in receiving constituent services, such as help navigating public-benefits bureaucracies. By ensuring that each representative is subject to requests and suggestions from the same number of constituents, total-population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation.

It’s simple:  Everyone deserves representation.  And that is hard to square with the idea that only eligible voters should be counted.

As we wrote in our preview of the current Supreme Court term:

A ruling in favor of Evenwel would not just be a dramatic shift for the Court: It would be a dramatic shift in American politics, as well, with diverse urban areas losing political power to suburban and rural areas.  It is for this reason that Richard Hasen has called this case “an attempted [partisan] power grab in Texas and other jurisdictions with large Latino populations.”

There are other problems, as well.  For instance, if you base the population count on registered voters or on actual voters, then both systemic and intentional obstacles to voter registration and voting are made even worse, by further weakening the political influence of the targeted communities.  A community that has a lower registration rate or turnout for any reason should not be penalized by losing their right to representation in the legislature.

Today’s majority didn’t just give a powerful defense of using total population.  They also rejected an invitation to address the merits of using eligible voters.  An opinion upholding that approach as constitutional even if not mandatory could have served as a political weapon for conservatives seeking to use that system in the next round of state and local redistricting after the 2020 Census.  But Justice Ginsburg and the rest of the majority refused to take the bait, saying that simply was not an issue before the Court and need not be addressed.

But given her powerful defense of the current system of counting total population, conservatives will be hard pressed to argue for limiting the population count to those who are eligible to vote.  In today’s decision, only Justice Thomas’s concurrence concluded that such a system would be constitutional.

PFAW Foundation

Supreme Court Obstruction is Continuation of GOP’s Disrespect for First African American President

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

From the right-wing obsession with President Obama’s birth certificate to a GOP Representative interrupting one of his speeches by yelling “you lie,” our nation’s firstAfrican American president has endured an unprecedented level of disrespect throughout his time in office. The current blockade against considering President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court is the latest example of this trend, and it stems from the same racist efforts to paint his presidency as illegitimate.

The Republican anti-Obama crusade began on day one, with GOP leaders meeting on the evening of his inauguration to strategize about how to block the president’s agenda at every turn. That campaign has only grown uglier since then, with many Republicans taking every opportunity to demean President Obama, paint him as a suspicious outsider, and accuse him of overstepping his authority. It is a flawed strategy and a failed campaign that has run its course.

It was disrespectful when Texas Representative Randy Weber, for example, called the president a “socialistic dictator” and asked whether he is “intent on bringing America down.” It was a show of disdain for 2016 GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to tell Pat Robertson that “deep inside of” President Obama “there is a sense in which he doesn’t want America to be [a] superpower.” It was with absolute contempt that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, who has long questioned President Obama’s birthplace, suggested that his birth certificate might say “he is a Muslim” and floated the idea that maybe the president “doesn’t want to get rid of the problem” of terrorism. It was an absence of professional courtesy when former presidential candidate Rick Santorum failed to correct or disagree with an audience member who called President Obama an “avowed Muslim” with “no legal right to be calling himself president.” While President Obama is not a Muslim, I am certain there is no place in the position description that says a Muslim American, if elected, could not serve in this country’s highest office.

I cannot recall any other president facing this kind of treatment. The current obstruction campaign blocking the president’s Supreme Court nominee may not feature the same brand of name-calling and wild accusations as previous anti-Obama campaigns. However, let’s not be naïve at their attempt to use language that may appear more palatable; the grounding is still in the same racist assumptions that his presidency, elected not only once but twice, is somehow not valid.It causes me to wonder what they truly think of democracy and Americans who exercise their right to vote.

A Senate majority has never refused to consider a president’s nominee to the Supreme Court. It is an unprecedented rebuke of the president’s constitutionally-guaranteed authority to nominate justices. Refusing to meet with, hold hearings on, or give a simple up-or-down vote to Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s exceptionally qualified nominee, is an insult to Judge Garland, the president,and the American people. But the truth is that Republican leadership was already bent on categorically rejecting any nominee he put forward no matter how qualified they were. North Carolina Representative G.K. Butterfield, who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, was right when he told the New York Times that “if this was any other president who was not African-American, it would not have been handled this way.”

The Constitution makes clear that it is President Obama’s right, and his duty, to make a nomination, and that it is the Senate’s job to provide advice and consent. That GOP senators are ignoring their constitutional responsibilities and refusing to consider President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court isn’t just politics as usual. It’s one of the most outrageous examples yet of the Republican Party treating the president, a man of color, an American of African ancestry, a Black man, like he didn’t really earn that job. Not only did he earn it, but he is doing it quite well – and that is why this obstructionist Senate should follow his lead and stop the obstruction, stop the racially motivated disrespect, and do their job.

PFAW

Norman Lear: Why I'm a Man for Choice

Norman Lear

More than forty years ago, the writers and I on our TV show "Maude" did something which apparently no one had done before on television: We showed our main character making the decision to have an abortion.

This was 1972, the year before the Supreme Court affirmed the right for all women to make their own reproductive health-care decisions. Back then, abortion wasn't something that was being discussed on television. But, of course, millions of women, and men, and families were discussing it in their own homes. So, we wrote some episodes that included Maude's discovery that, at age 47, after her daughter was grown, she found herself pregnant. We explored her conversations with friends and family about that pregnancy, and her ultimate decision with her husband to end that pregnancy. To no one's surprise, the world continued to turn on its axis.

As with our character, Maude Findlay, the majority of women who have an abortion today are already mothers, and don't make the decision lightly. At that time, a woman's ability to make the decision to create or expand her family was dependent on the state she lived in and how much money was in her bank account.

I never would have thought that, more than 40 years later, we would still be waging these same fights over women's reproductive rights that we were facing in the 1970s.

Yet, in June, the Supreme Court will decide the most consequential abortion case in decades involving a Texas law that could force the closure of abortion clinics in the state.

As America celebrates Women's History Month this March, we recognize the incredible strides our country has been able to make because of the hard work, creativity and resolve of American women. Our country is stronger when all Americans are empowered to make their own decisions about their health, their bodies and whether to start and grow their families.

It is unfortunate that, in this heated political season, we are still debating whether women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. Seven in 10 Americans support a woman's right to an abortion. Congress and state legislatures should be following the will of the people and get out of the way.

Instead, states from Texas to Mississippi to Ohio are leaving millions of women without access to health-care clinics that provide the reproductive healthcare services they deserve. Women – particularly poor women, women of color, and those living in red states – are losing access to their constitutional right to abortion at a frightening pace.

The very same politicians who are closing clinics in the name of protecting women and families are actively harming them by cutting off funding for preventative health care, cancer screenings and HIV prevention as part of an ideological war against abortion. Putting up barriers to accessing health care is not the way to support and empower women in this country.

But really, this is not about abortion for the anti-choice movement. Cutting off access to health care is one tool in their playbook that pushes a worldview where women are kept out of positions of power.

We know that one in three women in the United States will have an abortion in their lifetime. Most women who choose to have an abortion are in their twenties — the same decade in which their careers are just starting to take off. By depriving a woman of her right to an abortion, we're boxing her into a world where she cannot choose her own destiny, take advantage of the career opportunities she wants, or simply live the life that's best for her and her family.

f we trust women to run businesses, fight for our country, raise children, and hold the highest political offices (and we all should), we need to also trust that they are capable of making their own decisions about what is best for their own body, family and future. When the anti-choice movement doesn't trust women to make these personal decisions, we can only assume they don't trust women to lead either.

I am proud to stand with NARAL Pro-Choice America and call myself a "Man for Choice" because I believe it is time for men to stop pretending that we know better what women's health-care needs are. Women have proven that they are up to any task set before them and are more than capable of deciding their own futures. We can't afford to wait another 40 years before politicians figure this out.

This post originally appeared on CNBC.

PFAW

A Baseless Attack Against Garland on ACA Cases

When you have a Supreme Court nominee as well respected across the political and ideological spectrum as Merrick Garland, it’s no wonder that far right groups’ attacks against him make so little sense.  Their “he hates the Second Amendment” attack last week was so illogical that it just made them look foolish.   A new attack relating to religious liberty and the Affordable Care Act is equally baseless.

As with the Second Amendment example, the new attack is not based at all on any substantive ruling by Judge Merrick – not a written dissent, nor a majority opinion he authored or joined, nor a concurrence he penned.  Instead, his critics are reading into his votes on whether certain three-panel decisions should be reconsidered by the entire D.C. Circuit in what is called an en banc review.

The first involved a D.C. Circuit panel decision called Priests For Life v. HHS, which is currently one of the many cases consolidated into Zubik v. Burwell, which will be argued before the Supreme Court later this week.  The case concerns the ability of religiously affiliated nonprofits to opt out of the requirement to provide their employees certain contraception health insurance coverage without a co-pay.  The law allows an accommodation so the employees can get the coverage without their employers having to contract, arrange, or pay for it.  Instead, the employers simply tell the insurer or the federal government of their objection, at which point the insurer must offer the coverage separately to employees who want it.  But some religious nonprofits assert that even this accommodation violates their religious liberty.  A unanimous three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit (which did not include Garland) upheld the law as not violating the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  Hardly an outlier, the same legal conclusion has been reached by the 2nd Circuit, the 3rd Circuit, the 5th Circuit, the 6th Circuit, the 7th Circuit, the 10th Circuit, and the 11th Circuit.  Last fall, the 8th Circuit reached the opposite conclusion, creating a circuit split that will be resolved by the Supreme Court.

In any event, Life Site News slams Judge Garland for voting against having the entire D.C. Circuit rehear the Priests for Life case.  A vote for or against en banc review, absent an accompanying opinion, does not necessarily tell you anything about why the judge voted that way.  In fact, several of the judges wrote or joined lengthy opinions explaining why they were for or against an en banc review.  Chief Judge Garland joined none of them.  Neither did George W. Bush nominee Thomas Griffith or Clinton nominee David Tatel, both of whom voted along with Chief Judge Garland not to rehear the case.  The majority of the court voted against en banc review, so we don’t know how Garland would have voted on the merits of the case.

There could be any number of reasons not to want to review a panel decision; perhaps you agree with it; perhaps you think the issue is not important enough to merit that unusual step; perhaps you think a different case would be a better vehicle for addressing the legal issues; perhaps you’re concerned about the court’s workload; perhaps you know that numerous other circuits are addressing the exact same question and that – regardless of whether your court reconsiders the panel decision – the issue will be resolved by the Supreme Court, so that an en banc review would be a pointless waste of time and resources.

Indeed, that last scenario is what happened in the second ACA case that Life Site News attacks Judge Garland for.  In that case, Halbig v. Burwell, a D.C. Circuit panel struck down the ACA’s subsidies structure in response to a legal attack widely recognized as purely politically motivated and legally weak (to be charitable) effort to destroy the ACA.  In September 2014, the full D.C. Circuit voted without noted dissent to rehear the case, with no judge writing separately to explain their reasoning.  The parties submitted detailed briefs and replies, in preparation for scheduled oral arguments in December.  But then the Supreme Court accepted a case from the 4th Circuit raising the same issue, King v. Burwell, leading the D.C. Circuit to cancel its own planned oral arguments as a waste of time.  So we don’t know how Chief Judge Garland would have voted on the merits of the case.  (The conservative Roberts Court rejected the challenge in a 6-3 vote.)

Perhaps Chief Judge Garland, seeing how much effort went into an ultimately unnecessary en banc proceeding in the ACA subsidies case, didn’t want to repeat that scenario in the ACA contraception coverage case, knowing that the Supreme Court would likely be the ultimate arbiter of the legal issue.

The point is, we don’t know.  We can’t know.  Chief Judge Garland’s votes on whether to reconsider panel opinions simply don’t tell us anything about his views on the merits of the case, unless he writes or joins an opinion explaining his reasoning, which he did not do in these cases.

PFAW

Meet President Obama's Supreme Court Nominee Merrick Garland

On March 16, President Obama nominated Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to fill the vacant seat on the US Supreme Court. His background and record, and the bipartisan acclaim he has previously received, make clear that he is an extremely well qualified jurist who would ably serve as a Supreme Court justice, and that there is absolutely no basis but pure politics for the refusal of most Republican senators to even consider his nomination.

Garland, 63, was born in Chicago. His father ran a small advertising firm out of the family’s home and his mother coordinated volunteer services for Chicago’s Council for Jewish Elderly. His grandparents were refugees from anti-semitism in Russia. After graduating with honors from Harvard College and Law School, Garland went on to clerk for appellate court judge Henry Friendly and noted Supreme Court Justice William Brennan. He then worked briefly as special assistant to Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti during the Carter Administration and then as an associate and a partner at the Washington law firm of Arnold & Porter, where he specialized in corporate litigation. In 1989 he became an Assistant US Attorney in Washington and, after a brief return to Arnold & Porter, joined the Clinton Administration as deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Justice Department and then as principal assistant deputy attorney general. In that capacity, he supervised the investigation and prosecution of a number of key domestic terrorism cases, including the Oklahoma City bombing and the Unabomber case.

Garland became a judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in 1997, winning bipartisan praise from lawyers, judges, and senators ranging from Edward Kennedy to Orrin Hatch. During most of the 19 years he has been on the bench, Garland has also tutored poor children at a DC elementary school. He became chief judge in 2013.

Garland has continued to win bipartisan and both liberal and conservative praise during his service on the court of appeals. Most of his opinions are for unanimous three-judge panels, bringing together both conservative and liberal judges. As now-Chief Justice Roberts has commented, however, when Judge Garland disagrees with you as a judge, “you know you’re in a difficult area.” (In the particular case Roberts was referring to, Garland dissented from a ruling by Roberts that limited the ability of whistleblowers to bring lawsuits to vindicate fraud against the government.) Garland is a clear and careful writer, who is appropriately deferential to Congressional statutes, agency rules, and past precedent. Although he has a reputation for tending to favor the government in criminal law and terrorism cases, he has not hesitated to rule against the government where it oversteps its authority in such matters. For example, he ruled in one case (In re Sealed Case) that a lower court made a mistake and had to order the prosecution to look for and disclose to a defendant any evidence that would tend to show innocence. In another (Parhart v Gates), he ruled that the Combatant Status Review tribunal had improperly relied on hearsay evidence to indefinitely detain someone as an enemy combatant. He has a generally positive record in such areas as labor law, environmental law, and individual civil rights. Overall, Garland has more federal court experience than any Supreme Court nominee in history.

Despite Judge Garland’s stellar record, Republican leadership has continued to insist that his nomination should not be considered, reviewed, and voted on at all by the Senate, with Republican Majority Leader McConnell refusing even to meet with Judge Garland. Even conservative columnist George Will has recognized that the only reason for this obstuctionist blockade is political, with the hope that a Republican president elected in November (Donald Trump?) will be able to fill the vacancy. Despite claims to the contrary, Democrats have not stooped to such political gamesmanship, as is best shown by their decision to confirm Reagan Supreme Court nominee Anthony Kennedy when they controlled the Senate in presidential election year 1988. No, Judge Garland won’t be the far-right conservative that Republicans hope to get from a President Trump or Cruz, but that is simply no reason for Republican senators to refuse to do their job and at least act on the nomination. Cracks have already begun to appear in the Republican blockade, with Sen. Mark Kirk stating that Garland should receive a hearing and a vote. With continued pressure from Americans across the country, Judge Garland will hopefully receive the hearing and the vote that the Senate owes to him, the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the American people.

PFAW

PFAW Hosts Telebriefing on the President's Supreme Court Nominee

One day after President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to serve on the Supreme Court, PFAW held a telebriefing for members about the extraordinarily qualified nominee and the GOP’s unprecedented obstruction campaign aimed at bringing the process of filling the vacancy to a halt.

PFAW’s Michael Keegan, Marge Baker, Elliot Mincberg, Drew Courtney, and Brian Tashman discussed the Republican blockade, Garland’s record as a judge, and what’s at stake in the confirmation fight for our constitutional rights and liberties.

“This nominee, when confirmed, will shift the balance” of a Supreme Court that has been one of the “most conservative Courts in decades,” Baker said. PFAW released a report last year, “Judgment Day 2016,” reviewing many of the 5-4 decisions that have had an enormous impact on the daily lives of Americans and highlighting how the composition of the Court is a key issue in 2016 and beyond.

Speakers outlined why it’s critical that Senate Republicans do their jobs and give Judge Garland the fair consideration that he deserves. Tashman noted that the Right’s encouragement of the GOP obstruction is nothing more than an “effort to delegitimize the president and play politics with the Court.”

You can listen to the full telebriefing here:

PFAW

A Circuit Court Nominee for Mitch McConnell to Consider

Two days after nominating Rebecca Haywood to the Third Circuit, and one day after nominating Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, President Obama today continued to work to make sure that our nation’s appellate vacancies are filled with qualified judges.  Specifically, he has nominated Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth T. Hughes to the Sixth Circuit, which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.  Upon confirmation, she would become the first woman from Kentucky on the 6th Circuit.

This seat has been vacant since Judge Boyce Martin retired back in 2013.  The court’s caseload is so heavy that the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts has officially designated the vacancy as a judicial emergency.

This nomination comes after long and extensive consultations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, the nominee’s two home state senators.  In fact, press reports from more than two years ago noted that Justice Hughes was being vetted by the White House.  No one can credibly claim that the president didn’t engage in adequate consultation.

For six years as Minority Leader and now as Majority Leader, McConnell has done everything he can do obstruct President Obama’s judicial nominees.  Even as Minority Leader, he was able to needlessly block votes on highly qualified consensus nominees for months.  As Majority Leader, it is even easier to cause needless delay in floor votes, and McConnell’s Senate confirmed only 11 judges last year, the lowest number since 1960 (when there were hundreds fewer judgeships to fill).

McConnell has already led his party to say they will refuse to consider Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, a position so absurd and so widely unpopular that several cracks have already appeared in the party’s wall of obstruction.  We certainly hope that McConnell doesn’t show similar partisanship with Justice Hughes’s nomination.  There is a judicial emergency that needs to be filled, and a qualified nominee stands ready to fill it.

PFAW

GOP's Newest Defense of SCOTUS Obstruction Falls Apart

GOP talking points have continued to fall apart upon even minimal reflection and scrutiny, only to be revised and discredited yet again.  That is not a surprise, since they were so hastily thrown together as a post-hoc justification for a political decision Mitch McConnell made with unseemly haste as soon as he heard that Justice Scalia had passed away.

Now Republicans are trying out some new iterations in a desperate attempt to find some rationale to justify their decision to not do their job and consider – or even meet with – the president’s nominee for the Supreme Court.

For instance, Sen. Orrin Hatch says:

although in recent years it’s become customary to hold hearings on Supreme Court nominations, for the first 130 years of our nation’s history the Senate never held a hearing on any Supreme Court nominee

They didn’t have hearings, but that doesn’t mean the Judiciary Committee and Senate simply ignored the nomination.  It just means the Judiciary Committee and full Senate did their job and fully considered the merits of the nominations without feeling there was a need for hearings at the beginning of the process.  That is a far cry from today, when not having committee hearings means the Senate not taking any actions whatsoever to consider the nomination.  The senator’s argument is so pitifully irrelevant as to show that the GOP is desperate to trick the American people into thinking there is some principle behind their decision.

Hatch also says:

And a justice has never died in office this late in a term-limited President’s last year, when voting on the President’s successor has already begun.

As GOP talking points are repeatedly refuted by fact, they keep modifying them.  Before, they were suggesting there was no precedent for SCOTUS confirmations in an election year.  As Justice Kennedy can attest, that simply is not true.  Now they add more detail – when the vacancy is due to death, this late in an election year, but only an election year where the president is term-limited.  Of course, presidents were not term limited until the 22nd Amendment was adopted in 1951 (when Sen. Hatch was 16), so as a historical example, it conveniently ignores the vast majority of American history.

It also implicitly refutes the GOP’s own previous suggestion that they were acting in conformity with tradition.  If their newest TP is that this is a situation that has never arisen before (given their narrowing of the conditions), then they are also admitting that their decision to do their job is without historical precedent.  And they are right, as Lindsey Graham has candidly acknowledged.

Hatch also picks out a completely irrelevant historical example to justify inaction on the part of Senate Republicans:

In one case, Congress even abolished a Supreme Court seat rather than confirm the President’s nominee.

He is referring to a nomination by Andrew Johnson, where one house of Congress had already passed the bill eliminating the seat before the nomination was even made.  Eliminating a seat is action, not inaction.  Republicans are not talking about exercising congressional authority to establish the number of seats on the Supreme Court.  To the contrary, they are talking about eliminating the president’s constitutional authority to make nominations to fill the seats that Congress has established.  They want to keep the seat in existence, but just have it occupied by a justice selected by someone other than the person Americans already elected to fill it.

While Senate Republicans continue to throw out new post-hoc justifications in the hopes that something will stick, President Obama is doing his job.  Today, he is nominating someone to the Supreme Court.  Now the Senate needs to do their job and give the nominee timely consideration.

PFAW

Some People Are Still Doing Their Job on Judges

President Obama has nominated Rebecca Haywood of Pennsylvania to fill a vacancy on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that opened last July.  She would bring to the bench her many years of experience with the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Western District of Pennsylvania, where she is now Chief of the Appellate Division.  If confirmed, she would be the first woman of color to ever serve on the Third Circuit.

“If confirmed.”  It’s up to the Senate to thoroughly vet the nominee and vote on whether to confirm her.  Yet Senate Republicans who are refusing to #DoYourJob with any Supreme Court nomination have also been bottling up President Obama’s lower court nominees, as well.  There are already five other circuit court nominees who have yet to be granted hearings before the Judiciary; some have been waiting for more than two months already.

The bottleneck must end.  The president continues to do his job by nominating qualified jurists to serve on our nation’s courts.  Haywood and all of the other judicial nominees should receive the timely and fair consideration contemplated by the Constitution.

PFAW

Ron Johnson's Revisionist History

There’s good news and bad news regarding Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson and the longtime effort to fill that state’s vacancy on the Seventh Circuit, which has been empty for more than six years.

The good news is that, almost two months after Donald Schott’s nomination, Johnson has at last said he has signed his “blue slip” of approval to the Judiciary Committee.  Under current committee practice, both home state senators must give their approval for the committee to process a circuit or district court nomination.  Since Sen. Tammy Baldwin had already submitted hers, there should be no more obstacles to finally letting Schott have a hearing.

The bad news is that Johnson’s statement announcing this is also a needless attack against any number of Democrats, including Baldwin.  He also offers a surprising explanation for why it took so long for their nominations commission to get around to seeking qualified individuals for this seat:

“The bipartisan compact worked beautifully, filling the Western District vacancy as well as a vacancy that opened on Wisconsin's Eastern Federal District Court.

“Our commissioners then began working on the appeals court vacancy. We worked on this last because it was not a judicial emergency and we knew there would be a smaller pool of applicants”  [emphasis added]

Sen. Johnson may not have wanted the commission to work on the circuit vacancy, but he is apparently not being accurate when he says what his reasons were. That’s because the Seventh Circuit seat was a judicial emergency when the commission began its work and all through the time that it was considering potential district court nominees.  Here is the chronology:

Johnson’s proffered reason for putting off work on filling the circuit seat for as long as possible certainly does not appear to be completely accurate.  Perhaps he should tell his constituents the real reason.

In the meantime, he could do Wisconsinites a great favor by pressing his fellow Republican, Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, to hold Schott’s confirmation hearing as soon as possible.  This seat has been vacant for far too long.

PFAW

“Hobby Lobby II” Distorts the Principle of Religious Freedom

The following is a guest blog by Rev. Faye London, a member of the VASHTI Women’s Initiative within People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council.

The Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged v. Burwell case – which has now been consolidated with similar cases under the name Zubik v. Burwell – is a continuation of a strategy by the Right to gut the Affordable Care Act since they have been unable to repeal it. All of these cases are framed as "religious freedom" cases, yet trying to limit women’s reproductive freedom is based on a twisted understanding of what the original Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was meant to address.

Congress passed RFRA more than 20 years ago when the Supreme Court refused to protect native and indigenous individuals from being denied government benefits because of drug tests detecting peyote, a substance that was used in their religious ceremonies. RFRA was passed to protect people from having their free exercise of religion violated by the government.

Like so many others, this law has become a victim of targeted reinterpretation. In 2014, the Hobby Lobby decision made it legal for a corporation to act as an individual with regard to religious freedom. It also redefined religious freedom, so that people and corporations could use RFRA to avoid obeying laws that offend their religious beliefs, but don’t actually limit their free exercise of religion. Several states also considered laws intended to make it legal for any person or business to cite religion in order to ignore laws prohibiting discrimination against same gender loving people. And while that aspect of the debate was all over the news, the threat to women’s health posed by laws like this grew quietly in the background.

The case now at the Supreme Court attacks a vital piece of the puzzle by which ACA protects women's health by requiring health insurance to include contraception coverage without charge. There is an accommodation already in the law that sets an alternative route to coverage for women who work for nonprofit religious organizations that disapprove of contraception. All the organization has to do is fill out a very short and simple form or write a letter stating that as an organization they do not want to provide contraception, and they are relieved from that responsibility and the government takes over, directing the insurance company to pay for the contraception rather than the religious nonprofit. The Little Sisters of the Poor organization and others are saying that signing a one-page form is an "undue burden" on them morally, as it still constitutes participation in opening the way for women to access "sinful" contraceptive care.

This new trend is just another way to strip rights from poor people who depend on these services for survival. It is not about religious freedom. The accommodation is sufficient to protect the Little Sisters' religious freedom. This is about controlling women's bodies (and particularly poor women's bodies, since women of means can afford to pay out of pocket), in order to make space for those who would relieve themselves of any responsibility for ethical treatment of their employees or the public.

PFAW Foundation