People For Blog


Bush Will Back GOP Nominee, Even If It’s Trump

Last week, Jeb Bush said “Of course I would” support Donald Trump if he won the Republican nomination. Bush’s embrace of Donald Trump and, in turn, Trump’s xenophobia, racism, sexism, and homophobia is disturbing but unsurprising. As PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager put it:

“Naturally Jeb Bush has no qualms about supporting Donald Trump. From speaking out against increases to the minimum wage to opposing a woman’s right to choose, Bush and Trump are united in pushing an extreme agenda that would be devastating to working class families. Moreover, the fact that Bush would support Donald Trump and his mass deportation policies shows that Bush’s loyalties lie only with the extreme Republican base, not immigrants or working families.”

Bush, Trump, and the rest of the GOP presidential candidates have shown time and again during the primary campaign that no idea is too extreme if it can win votes from the party’s radical base. 

From ignoring the science of climate change to supporting tax plans that favor the wealthiest in our society while harming  working families, on critical issues, PFAW Coordinator of Political Campaigns Carlos A. Sanchez pointed out, “Trump and his less flamboyant competitors all share virtually identical positions.” At points, Trump has even been the voice of moderation in the GOP field. As PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker wrote last month, Trump has been one of the few Republican presidential candidates to speak out against the undue influence of big money in elections.

In every primary election, candidates cater to their base. But Republicans have outdone themselves this year. Pledging to support Trump if he becomes the party’s nominee, as Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates have done, is just the latest example of how extreme Bush, Trump, and all of the leading GOP candidates are.


House Judiciary Committee Takes Up Planned Parenthood Witch Hunt, Women And Voting Rights Suffer

Earlier today the House Judiciary Committee opened its fall session with the first public hearing in its investigation into Planned Parenthood, placing a one-sided, far-right smear campaign as a clear priority over a full and fair examination of the facts. Or as PFAW Senior Researcher Miranda Blue put it, "one piece of the larger far-right effort to not only shutter Planned Parenthood’s critical women’s health services but to end legal abortion entirely."

Take the title of the hearing – Planned Parenthood Exposed: Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation's Largest Abortion Provider. Ranking Member John Conyers called it "one-sided." Representative Jerrold Nadler of the Constitution Subcommittee agreed that it was a "farce" for having stated the Committee's conclusion at the outset.

Then there's the witness list – Not one majority witness with direct knowledge of current Planned Parenthood practices, nor any who could speak with authority on the Center for Medical Progress. Representative Nadler pointed out that if the majority had any confidence in CMP's David Daleiden that they "would have bought him here to testify before this committee." In fact, as James Bopp twice testified, he was told by the majority that the videos were not the subject of their investigation. A further line of questioning pressed by Representative David Cicilline made clear just how little consideration the Committee has for CMP and its own practices.  

Finally the discussion itself – An overwhelming amount of energy spent rehashing decades of settled law and Supreme Court precedent at the expense of women who seek not only abortion services from Planned Parenthood, a very small portion of their work, but a wide range of reproductive and preventive healthcare.

Don't forget the discussion that they aren't having – As they take up Planned Parenthood, Congress is more than two years past due in restoring what the Voting Rights Act lost in 2013 through the Supreme Court's damaging Shelby County v. Holder decision. They should instead be holding a hearing on the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Many of you stood up to Tell House Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte: Focus on Restoring the Voting Rights Act, Not Attacking Women with Planned Parenthood Witch Hunt.  

Your petition signatures were hand-delivered to the Committee prior to its hearing.

PFAW petition drop for Planned Parenthood and the Voting Rights Act


Watch Sarah Palin Remind Us That She's Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin gave an interview on CNN that was just about as Palin as you could get. She is definitely “keeping it 100,” and then some.

She’d love a position in the administration of a President Donald Trump! Specifically, Energy Secretary – because “Energy is my baby… oil and gas and minerals, those things that God has dumped on this part of the Earth.”  Never one for holding down a job, her tenure would be short as she would then “get rid of” the Department of Energy.

More gems like that in the video. Watch it on CNN's website.



House Judiciary Committee Investigates Planned Parenthood But Still Refuses To Hold VRA Hearing

On Wednesday the House Judiciary Committee announced the first public hearing in its investigation into Planned Parenthood.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte and Subcommittee Chair Trent Franks set the tone:

Planned Parenthood and its executives must answer for the alleged atrocities brought to light in the videos by the Center for Medical Progress. For the past two months, the House Judiciary Committee has been investigating the alleged acts of Planned Parenthood and its affiliates, and now the American people will have a chance to understand just how horrific these practices are to the unborn.

As PFAW recently explained, the Center for Medical Progress is linked to far-right activists such as Live Action founder Lila Rose, who has launched similar “sting” operations against Planned Parenthood in the past. Operation Rescue head Troy Newman, who runs a website listing personal information and photographs of abortion providers and once publicly celebrated the death of a provider, serves on CMP's Board.

PFAW Senior Researcher Miranda Blue:

It’s important to see the latest attacks for what they are: one piece of the larger far-right effort to not only shutter Planned Parenthood’s critical women’s health services but to end legal abortion entirely.

The Committee is putting its commitment to this far-right smear campaign ahead of its commitment to democracy. As they take up Planned Parenthood, Congress is more than two years past due in restoring what the Voting Rights Act lost in 2013 through the Supreme Court's damaging Shelby County v. Holder decision. They should instead be holding a hearing on the Voting Rights Advancement Act.

PFAW called for the Advancement Act's passage back in June.

Two years after the Shelby County ruling gutted the heart of the Voting Rights Act, voters in cities and states that were once protected by federal oversight are facing laws that make it harder to vote – laws that disproportionately affect people of color. This is unacceptable. Voting discrimination is still a very real, pervasive problem, even if some members of Congress choose to ignore it.

Some members – led by Chairman Goodlatte.

PFAW supporters have spoken loud and clear in favor of restoring the VRA and standing with Planned Parenthood.


Bush Judge Stretches to Exempt Group from Contraception Coverage Requirement

Yesterday, Washington DC federal district court Judge Richard Leon – one of George W. Bush’s earliest judicial nominees – issued a bizarre ruling exempting a secular anti-abortion group from complying with the ACA’s contraception coverage requirement.  Judge Leon ruled that not giving March For Life the same exemption as religious entities like churches violates the Equal Protection Clause, and that requiring its employees to have insurance that covers contraception violates their religious liberty under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Leon concluded that, even under the lowest level of Equal Protection scrutiny, there is no rational basis for treating an organization opposed to contraception for moral grounds differently from one opposed on religious grounds.  But that goes against a long legal tradition of recognizing the unique position of religion in our society and under our Constitution.  The Supreme Court has made clear that when the government creates an exemption to a regulation that might otherwise interfere with religious organizations’ exercise of religion, the government does not have to offer that same exemption to secular organizations.  Judge Leon even cites a Supreme Court case saying that, but then proceeds to ignore it on the basis of seeming identity between religious and non-religious opponents of certain methods of contraception.

His RFRA analysis of March For Life’s religiously-motivated employees was no less flawed.  Leon rejected the government’s assertion that their religious exercise isn’t substantially burdened because they don’t have to use the contraception they oppose.  He called that a “veiled attack” on their religious beliefs, which he wrote are not just about using the contraception, but also about participating in a health insurance plan that covers such contraception.  This is the fruit of Hobby Lobby, the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling in which the far-right Justices distorted RFRA and gave the green light to religious conservatives to seek to equate being religiously offended with having a substantial burden placed on their exercise of religion.

Adding insult to injury, Judge Leon didn’t even follow the appropriate process in granting the exemption.  Early in his opinion, he violated a judicial doctrine known as a “constitutional avoidance,” where a judge is supposed to decide cases on statutory bases if possible in order to avoid making unnecessary constitutional rulings.  In this case, Leon declined to “delv[e] into the thicket” of an inquiry into whether the rules comply with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which might have allowed him to avoid ruling on any constitutional issues, and instead jumped right to two constitutional arguments and one additional statutory one:

The APA permits a reviewing court to set aside an agency action that is “(A) arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law” or, alternatively, that is (B) contrary to constitutional right, power, privilege, or immunity.” 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A)-(B). Stated differently, the APA allows courts to right two types of agency wrongs: procedural missteps and substantive transgressions. While procedural correctness is, to be sure, an important facet of any judicial inquiry, compliance with the law is the true touchstone of legality. Thus, in a context such as this, where plaintiffs have alleged serious constitutional and statutory infirmities, the appropriate starting point for the Court’s analysis is not the integrity of the agency’s decision-making process, but rather the lawfulness of the Mandate itself. I will therefore begin by addressing plaintiffs’ Fifth Amendment, RFRA, and First Amendment arguments and, because I find the first two challenges meritorious, I will refrain from delving into the thicket of an APA review.

A fair reading of the law shows that both statutes and the Constitution make clear that no exemption should have been granted. But in this case the judge’s reluctance to address the APA issue allowed him to make a much more dramatic ruling, one with potentially wide repercussions if upheld by an appeals court, without even doing the tedious work of properly adjudicating it under the APA.

It is hard to imagine this decision not being reversed by the DC Circuit.  As to what the five Supreme Court Justices who gave us Hobby Lobby would do if they took the case, it might be better not to have to find out.

PFAW Foundation

Millennials Won't Fall for the Koch's 'Generation Opportunity'

This piece by Joy Lawson, Director of YP4, was originally published in the Huffington Post.

Despite attempts to label millennials as unengaged and apathetic, there's no denying the younger generation's vote means a lot in elections. A-list celebrities like Lena Dunham and Lil Jon are the new faces of the Get Out the Vote movement, and reports from 2012 reveal the youth vote was decisive in President Obama's victory.

So it's no surprise that the Koch Brothers, notoriously right-wing billionaires, are using their fortunes to promote radical, conservative priorities to millennials through their organization, Generation Opportunity.

However, reading through American Bridge's report about the group, it's clear that they'll face an uphill battle. That's not just because young people tend to disagree with the priorities the Koch Brothers are putting forth, but especially because young people are actually working against the very issues that GenOpp stands for.

Generation Opportunity opposes government subsidized student loans, federal aid to colleges, lowering loan rates - basically, any realistic measure that could make a college education more accessible to millions of students. With 71% of students graduating from college with debt and low-income students bearing the greatest brunt of tuition increases, making college more - not less - affordable is critical in order for students of all backgrounds to attend college. That's a big reason why every day, I work with students through People For the American Way Foundation's Young People For (YP4) program that are fighting directly against Koch priorities that seek to restrict college access.

Look no further than Torii Uyehora, a student at Southern Oregon University and YP4 fellow. As a college student she knows the struggles of student loans, and she recently organized 75 students to attend a rally to support public funding of higher education. Taynara Costa-Maura, a YP4 Fellow from Santa Monica, CA is encouraging her friends and fellow students to engage in the progressive movement through advocating for college affordability measures, like Prop 30, which prevented massive tuition increases and saved her community college - and many other community colleges across the state - from having to make big cuts to classes offered.

Torii and Taynar are just two of the thousands of students across the country pushing for affordable higher education. It's comical to imagine a headline of "Students Lobby for Higher Debt" or "Rally at University Calls for Raising Student Loan Rates." But that's what the Kochs support. Students agree with - and fight hard - for progressive measures so that more students can access higher education. Unless they're able to deceive millennials about their real motives, I'm not sure the Kochs will get anywhere trying to change that.

It's not just college affordability. While Generation Opportunity speaks out against net neutrality, 77% of 18-29 year olds believe in the principles of net neutrality. And student activists are engaging their fellow students to discuss how critical net neutrality is.

Another YP4 Fellow, Areeba Kamal at Mount Holyoke College, has written pieces for outlets including USA Today about why net neutrality is so essential. She detailed the efforts of young people on this issue: "Students and young adults have organized teach-ins in public locations, where they explain the issue and reiterate their support for net neutrality to the general public."

The fact is, millennials increasingly align themselves with progressive priorities, spanning from gay marriage to immigration. As Chris Cillizza wrote in the Washington Post last year, "More important -- and ultimately more impactful, politically speaking -- is how millennials feel about issues in the national conversation. Time and again, they come down on the more liberal side of those arguments."

Generation Opportunity can give out all the beer koozies and pizza they want (yes, they tried that to stop young people from signing up for health care...), but millennials won't be fooled by the shiny packaging--their peers are already fighting against the failed right-wing policies that the Kochs promote.

PFAW Foundation

Shame on Those Who Smear Planned Parenthood, an Essential Resource to Latinos

This piece by PFAW board member Dolores Huerta was originally published in the Huffington Post.

Despite all of the undeserved controversy and lies swirling around about Planned Parenthood, many -- but not all -- of us already know how essential the work of the organization is to our nation as a whole and the Latino community in particular: In 2013, millions of people visited Planned Parenthood for a wide variety of health services -- and 22% of those patients were Latino.

That's a high number, and it underscores how critical Planned Parenthood's work is in our community. Latinos are disproportionately uninsured and more likely to have trouble affording contraception. We're at a higher risk of death from cervical cancer and breast cancer and of contracting HIV and other STDs. Sadly, the list could go on and on. But that's exactly why the sexual and reproductive health services that Planned Parenthood provides are absolutely vital to the health and wellbeing of our community. In particular, when Latinas most need health services but have nowhere else to turn, Planned Parenthood is there.

People who oppose women's access to health care have spent years attacking Planned Parenthood with too many smears and distortions to count. But the one that truly makes my blood boil is the claim that because so many women who turn to Planned Parenthood are people of color ... Planned Parenthood must be racist! A spokesperson for the right-wing Libre Initiative just made this attack, accusing Planned Parenthood of "target[ing] minority communities" and of working to diminish the "political power" of women of color.

That's as ridiculous as it is offensive.

When we say that Planned Parenthood does extensive work in communities of color, that's because women in those communities are deciding for themselves that they need the help Planned Parenthood offers. When a woman -- especially a low-income woman -- needs or desires access to contraception, a cancer screening, and yes, even an abortion, she can go to Planned Parenthood. Having that access means she has the ability to control her own health and her own future. That is not targeting or diminishing women. Instead, it's allowing them to have the dignity of making their own medical decisions, a right that so many people in the United States take for granted but that Latinas are too often denied.

Hundreds of thousands of Latinos turn to Planned Parenthood every year, but it's not just about the numbers. I've worked all of my life with members of our community, fighting for our rights, and I've seen far too many times the harm that lack of access to affordable, quality healthcare has done to our community. That's why I've worked so hard on grassroots efforts to promote health care access among low-income families and families of color during my time leading the Dolores Huerta Foundation. There's so much more we can and should be doing right now to better the health and wellness of Latinos across the country, but one step that would only make matters much worse would be to defund Planned Parenthood.

To put it simply: Attacking Planned Parenthood for providing Latinas with reproductive health services is another way of saying that Latinas shouldn't have access to reproductive health services at all.

If some people want to attack Planned Parenthood, that's their right. But they should be honest about what they're attacking. They're attacking our access to health care, birth control and abortion. Latinas have made clear that we want and need access to those services. And that's exactly why it's so important that we stand with Planned Parenthood.

Dolores Huerta is a civil rights leader and board member of People For the American Way.


Expanding Democracy by Amending the Constitution to Get Money Out of Politics

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Ninety-five years ago today, we added an amendment to the U.S. Constitution saying that women have a right to vote in our elections. While today women's suffrage seems like a no-brainer to everyone -- except maybe Ann Coulter -- it was not an inevitability that simply fell into place. Women were not "given" the right to vote. It was an amendment that women fought for, tooth and nail, for more than 70 years in every state across the country

In a 2010 piece about the suffrage movement, New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote that "behind almost every great moment in history, there are heroic people doing really boring and frustrating things for a prolonged period of time." It was a painstaking process of organizing, state by state, that ultimately led to the 19th Amendment.

It's not a fast process to amend the Constitution -- just ask Susan B. Anthony, who organized for decades and didn't live to see the passage of the women's suffrage amendment. It shouldn't be easy to change our country's guiding document. But we have a history of passing amendments, when necessary, to make our democracy more inclusive, and often to correct serious harm done by the Supreme Court. The women's suffrage amendment overturned a 1875 decision that held women didn't have a right to vote. In all, seven of the 17 constitutional amendments adopted since the Bill of Rights have reversed damaging Supreme Court decisions that threatened popular democracy.

Today we're facing another serious threat to our democracy: Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United. 

In the wake of decisions allowing unlimited spending to influence elections, money has inundated our political system like never before. 2014 was the most expensive midterm in history, but with fewer donors than in past elections. The 2016 presidential election is already on its way toward eclipsing all previous records. We're seeing more and more money from fewer and fewer donors, and it's taking a real toll on the functioning of our system.

There is a nationwide movement pushing for a constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United and take our political process back from the tremendous influence of big corporations and moneyed interests. Like the women's suffrage movement, it's a slow process of building support city by city, state by state, one conversation at a time. So far 16 states and 650 cities and towns have gone on record in support of an amendment, and momentum continues to build

The campaign for an amendment, like the Democracy For All amendment being considered in Congress, is grounded in simple ideas: we should be able to set reasonable limits on money in elections. The size of your wallet shouldn't determine the strength of your voice. Our elected officials should be paying attention to the needs and priorities of everyday Americans rather than following a political agenda set by wealthy special interests.

On Women's Equality Day we celebrate the expansion of political rights almost a century ago. It was an expansion based on the recognition that our political system is for all of us. But as the foundation of representative democracy is threatened by an overwhelming influx of money in elections -- to the point where all of us can no longer be heard in our democracy -- we are called to amend the Constitution again.


The Constitution The Republicans Can't Stand

This post was written by PFAW President Michael B. Keegan and originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

If you are running for office as a Republican today, you have to mention your reverence for the Constitution at least as much as you mention your love for Ronald Reagan.

The Second Amendment-- every word should be taken literally because it was literally ordained by God! The First Amendment protects my right to discriminate against gay people! Neither the Constitution nor the Bible contains the word "Obamacare"!

But Republican politicians have a few glaring blind spots when it comes to the Constitution. One of those is the 14th Amendment, a pillar of our inclusive democracy, a key component of which Republican presidential candidates are now asking us to ignore or change.

In its infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the descendants of enslaved people were disqualified from U.S. citizenship. After we fought a civil war, the U.S. ratified the 14th Amendment to the Constitution in 1868, which overturned Dred Scott in its opening lines, declaring, "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

During the congressional debate over the 14th Amendment, both its supporters and detractors recognized that this birthright citizenship clause would apply to everyone born on U.S. soil, not just the descendants of slaves. In 1898, the Supreme Court ruled that even after the passage of the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act, the U.S.could not deny citizenship to Wong Kim Ark, a California-born son of Chinese immigrants, because the 14th Amendment guaranteed him citizenship.

Yet, anti-immigrant activists and their allies in the GOP are now fighting against this most American of constitutional principles.

In an immigration plan released this week, GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for ending birthright citizenship. No matter that he didn't say how he would do that(while most people acknowledge that it would take a constitutional amendment to change the policy, some claim it was never included in the 14th Amendment in the first place). His Republican rivals started jumping to join him. Scott Walker told reporters that he "absolutely" wanted to change the Constitution's definition of citizenship, adding, paradoxically, that "to me it's about enforcing the laws in this country." Ben Carson said it "doesn't make any sense" to allow "anchor babies." Bobby Jindal joined the fray. So did Lindsey Graham. Rand Paul and Rick Santorum had already expressed their support for undoing the citizenship provision, with Paul sponsoring a constitutional amendment to do so and Santorum saying the 14th Amendment doesn't even say what it says.

Jeb Bush has been getting unearned credit for acknowledging that birthright citizenship is a "constitutional right" that we shouldn't "take away" -- just a few days after implying that if he had a "magic wand" to change the Constitution he would use it to do just that. Similarly, John Kasich has renounced his previous support for repealing birthright citizenship, but now says he doesn't want to "dwell on it." Carly Fiorina's and Rick Perry's passionate defense of the 14th Amendment is that it would take too much work to change it. This is what now passes for moderation. What ever happened to defending basic constitutional rights?

The Republican presidential contenders' rush to badmouth a basic constitutional right -- in an apparent attempt to appeal to their supposedly Constitution-loving far-right base -- speaks volumes about what they really mean when they talk about constitutionalism. They use their pocket Constitutions for the parts that come in handy. The rest of it? Not so much.


Kasich and Bush: More Like Other Extreme GOP Candidates Than Perceived

This post by PFAW Political Director Randy Borntrager was originally published in the Huffington Post. 

Discussions of Governor Kasich's role in the 2016 election have centered around his strategy of defining himself to voters as an alternative to Jeb Bush: a moderate, compassionate conservative without Bush's last name. This strategy presupposes that both Bush and Kasich are in fact middle-of-the-road Republicans who hold moderate positions that would make them electable next November.

That proposition is false. While Kasich and Bush certainly took a more measured tone in the first Republican debate compared to, say, Donald Trump, their policy positions and records as governor in Ohio and Florida show that they're just as extreme and far-right as the rest of the Republican field.

Few issues demonstrate the extreme agenda of Bush, Kasich, and the Republican Party more than a woman's right to choose. Kasich has directly targeted access to legal abortion in Ohio though enacting medically unnecessary, cumbersome laws that closed abortion clinics. He signed a bill including a policy that restricts rape crisis counselors from providing referrals to abortion services to rape survivors. Jeb Bush calls himself the "most pro-life governor in modern times." As governor, he tried to restrict the ability of a mentally disabled rape victim to have an abortion. The "Scarlet Letter" law enacted during Bush's term as governor required a single mother who did not know the father of her child to pay for a month-long newspaper ad before putting her child up for adoption. The ad had to include personal details about the mother and her sexual history, complete with dates and locations where the child could have been conceived. Bush and Kasich are just as bad as their fellow candidates like Scott Walker, who recently signed a 20-week abortion bill even though he promised voters in his last campaign that the right to choose is between a woman and her doctor; or Marco Rubio, who co-sponsored a 20-week abortion bill in the Senate.

On Social Security, Kasich and Bush support former President George W. Bush's plan to privatize Social Security. Had his plan been enacted, the stock market crash of 2008 would have decimated Social Security savings of seniors across the country. That doesn't seem to bother anyone in the Republican field other than, of all people, Donald Trump. He's actually spoken out against cuts to Social Security and Medicare, calling them "not fair" to workers. On immigration, Kasich and Bush have used less offensive language than Donald Trump, but both - and the rest of the leading Republican candidates - oppose President Obama's policies that protect DREAMers and families from deportation. Neither Bush nor Kasich nor any leading Republican candidate supports comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship, even though that's a commonsense policy that would enable undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, stay with their families, and contribute to the American economy.

Kasich and Bush have reiterated time and again that their economic experience would make them ideal presidential candidates. The extreme GOP base might like those policies, but the fact is, they've made it more difficult for working class families to get ahead. After accounting for inflation, the average Ohio household earned less in 2013 than it did in 1984. Kasich's 2015 budget cut taxes by only $24 for middle-class Ohioans, raised taxes by $20 for taxpayers in the lowest income bracket, yet included a $10,000 tax cut for the wealthiest Ohioans. Bush keeps trumpeting his tenure as governor, but as the Washington Post reported, "Florida owed a substantial portion of its growth under Bush not to any state policies but to a massive and unsustainable housing bubble -- one that ultimately benefited rich investors at the expense of middle-class families." Bush also provided tax cuts to the wealthiest Floridians while cutting funding for essential programs for senior citizens and children. Kasich and Bush's failed economic policies are par for the course for Republican candidates: Bobby Jindal and Chris Christie have both been hammered for their states' economic woes.

Far-right policy positions defined the gubernatorial terms of Bush and Kasich. Now that they're running for president, we can't let them run from their records. Bush and Kasich's extreme agendas are in line with every single other Republican candidate that was on stage during the first debate.

Randy Borntrager lives in Ohio and is the political director of People For the American Way, D.C.-based progressive advocacy organization. He has previously served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy and the communications director and interim executive director of the Ohio Democratic Party.


Time to End a Bush-Era Error on RFRA

Quiz:  Does the Religious Freedom Restoration Act give federal grant recipients the right to use federal funds to engage in employment discrimination on the basis of religion?

If you answered no, then you read RFRA correctly.  That law was not intended to empower anyone to cite their own religion to harm others by denying them their legal rights.  Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has continued a significant misinterpretation of RFRA by the Bush-era Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).  Even when Congress specifically includes an anti-discrimination provision when authorizing a grant program, the Administration’s policy is that RFRA allows grant recipients to ignore it.

Today, People For the American Way and African American Ministers In Action are among 130 religious, education, civil rights, labor, LGBT, women’s, and health organizations urging the president to revisit the issue.  In a letter sent to the White House today, we state:

Contrary to the conclusion in the OLC Memo, RFRA is not a tool to categorically override statutory protections against religious hiring discrimination. Nor does it create an absolute free exercise right—without regard to countervailing compelling interests, as required by RFRA—to receive government grants without complying with applicable regulations that protect taxpayers and participants in federally funded programs.

With the far right increasingly trying to reframe religious liberty from a shield designed to protect religious exercise into a sword to deny other people their rights, it is more important than ever for the Administration to reconsider this holdover Bush-era policy.  A course correction now would be consistent with the many other advances in civil rights that have characterized the Obama Administration.


The Right Sees 2016 as a Chance to Take Over the Supreme Court, Reverse Marriage Equality

Right-wing leaders have spent the past month denouncing as illegitimate and tyrannical the Supreme Court’s June 26 decision that declared state laws banning same-sex couples from getting married to be unconstitutional. In addition to waging a campaign of resistance to the ruling, right-wing activists are looking toward the 2016 presidential elections as a chance to pack the Court with far-right justices who will overturn the decision.

Journalist Paul Waldman argued recently that 2016 will be a Supreme Court election because right-wing voters will be motivated by anger over their losses on marriage and health care, even though “the Roberts Court has given conservatives an enormous amount to be happy about” – gutting the Voting Rights Act and giving corporations and zillionaires the right to spend as much as they want to influence elections, and much more.

Waldman says even though the Court’s conservative are likely to do more damage to workers’ rights and women’s access to health care during the next term, “All that is unlikely to banish the memory of the last couple of weeks from Republicans' minds, and you can bet that the GOP presidential candidates are going to have to promise primary voters that they'll deliver more Supreme Court justices like Alito, and fewer like Anthony Kennedy or even Roberts.”

Indeed, presidential candidates have been making such promises.

  • Jeb Bush told right-wing radio host Hugh Hewitt that he would focus on “people to be Supreme Court justices who have a proven record of judicial restraint.”
  • Donald Trump denounced Jeb Bush for having supported the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts, even though Roberts has presided over the most corporate-friendly Court in modern history and vigorously dissented from the marriage equality ruling. A Trump advisory said Supreme Court appointments were among the “many failings of both the Bush presidencies.”
  • Ted Cruz has vowed to make the Supreme Court “front and center” in his presidential campaign; he called the Court’s rulings on marriage equality and the Affordable Care Act among the “darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history” and is calling for constitutional amendments to limit Court terms and require justices to face retention elections.
  • Marco Rubio: “The next president of the United States must nominate Supreme Court justices that believe in the original intent of the Constitution and apply that. We need more Scalias and less Sotomayors.”
  • Rick Perry: Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he is disappointed with the ruling and pledged to "appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written."
  • Chris Christie: “If the Christie-type justices had been on that court in the majority, we would have won those cases in the Supreme Court rather than lost them.”
  • Bobby Jindal: "So it's not enough just to get a Republican in the White House, we need to have a Republican that will appoint justices that actually read the Constitution. [Justice Antonin] Scalia said it best on the Obamacare case. He said 'look, this means that words no longer have meanings. This means we've got a court where they don't read the Constitution, they don't read a dictionary.'…"It's time to get some justices that will stop being politicians, stop obeying the public opinion polls, and actually read and obey the Constitution."
  • Mike Huckabee, who has made an attack on “judicial supremacy” the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, said. “I guarantee you in a Huckabee administration there will be very different kind of people appointed to the court.”
  • Scott Walker denounced the Court’s decision on marriage, saying “The states are the proper place for these decisions to be made, and as we have seen repeatedly over the last few days, we will need a conservative president who will appoint men and women to the Court who will faithfully interpret the Constitution and laws of our land without injecting their own political agendas.

Candidates are responding to the demands of right-wing leaders and organizations, who see the 2016 election as a chance to cement right-wing control of the Supreme Court for a generation.

The National Organization for Marriage says that the definition of marriage should be a “pivotal issue” in 2016, and called on Americans to elect a president who will appoint "new justices to the Supreme Court who will have the opportunity to reverse" the decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.

At a Heritage Foundation panel discussion on the Court’s marriage ruling, Carrie Severino of the right-wing Judicial Crisis Network, declared, “The next president will likely have one, two, maybe three Supreme Court nominations,” adding that the Court’s Obergefell ruling “is not the final decision in this series….”

She also looked ahead to the elections and the “generational impact” of future Supreme Court justices:

“I think it’s important to have judges on the court that are going to be faithfully interpreting the Constitution, and therefore to make sure that there’s a president in place, and senators in place, who recognize the overarching importance of this issue….

Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation said that Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell cited “new insights” into marriage and that a Court with more right-wing justices could use their own “new insights” to overturn the marriage equality decision. He urged the anti-marriage-equality movement to conduct new research into gay parenting (citing the widely discredited Mark Regnerus study on “family structures) to give future right-wing justices some justification for overturning the recent ruling. 

“I could see a situation in which the Court has a different composition, as Carrie mentioned, chances are the next president will have up to four seats to fill. At Inauguration Day three of the justices will be in their 80s and one of them will be 78. So there’s a chance that there will be a different composition of the Court. And if there are new insights into marriage, and new insights into the rights of children, that could be a possibility for the Court to reconsider.

Also weighing in, the notorious Frank Schubert, architect of the anti-equality movement’s anti-gay messaging strategy:

The court’s decision will also powerfully inject marriage into the 2016 presidential contest. The most direct course to reverse this ruling lies in the next president appointing new justices to the Supreme Court. Social conservatives will do everything possible to ensure that the Republican nominee is a strong pro-marriage champion, making this a litmus test throughout the GOP primaries and caucuses.

Paul Waldman says that, believe it or not, John F. Kennedy was the last Democratic president who had the chance to nominate a replacement for a conservative Supreme Court justice. Given the age of the justices, he says, “it would be strange if at least one or two didn't retire in the next president's term (the last three presidents each appointed two justices).”

If the next president gets that chance, no matter which party he or she comes from, it will profoundly affect the court's direction. If a Republican could appoint someone to replace Ginsburg or Breyer, it would mean a 6-3 conservative majority, which means that Kennedy would no longer be the swing vote and there would be a margin for error in every case. If a Democratic president were to replace Scalia or Kennedy, then the court would go from 5-4 in favor of the conservatives to 5-4 in favor of the liberals.

Those two outcomes would produce two radically different Supreme Courts, with implications that would shape American life for decades.

If progressives want to see a Court that vigorously protects the right to vote, that does not regularly bend the law in order to give more power to the already-powerful, that recognizes that the “equal” in “Equal Protection” means what it says, that does not regard the separation of church and state as some jurisprudential mistake, and that understands that Americans have a right to limit the corrosive influence of money on our elections, then they should make the Court an overriding issue for progressives in the 2016 elections.  Those who see a very different role for the Supreme Court, and wish for a very different America, have already made the connection.



PFAW Mourns Julian Bond, Civil Rights Icon and Longtime Board Member

Julian Bond, a monumental figure of the civil rights movement and a longtime board member of People For the American Way, passed away at the age of 75 on Saturday. The following is a note that PFAW President Michael Keegan sent to PFAW members:

Dear PFAW member,

Longtime People For the American Way board member Julian Bond died on Saturday at the age of 75.

President Obama rightly called him a hero in his statement yesterday, and said, “Justice and equality was the mission that spanned his life … Julian Bond helped change this country for the better. And what better way to be remembered than that.”

Julian was both a towering figure of the civil rights movement and a deeply humble man who was eager to contribute to the work of our organization.

There is much being written and talked about in tribute to Julian. He made history over and over again and was a force for progress in everything he did, whether as a student organizer and founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee … or as the founding president of the Southern Poverty Law Center … or as the longtime chairman of the NAACP … or as a Georgia state legislator.

This passage from a Sunday piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides a wonderful window into the progressive change to which Julian devoted his life:

After Selma and the passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, African-Americans around the South were finally able to run for office.

Bond was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1965, one of 11 who were the first black members elected to the Georgia Assembly in 58 years, the result of reapportionment and a special election after the Voting Rights Act.

“It was exciting to be a pathbreaker,” he said.

However, just before he was to be seated in 1966, Bond voiced support for a SNCC statement that denounced U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and sympathized with draft evasion. As a result, members of the Georgia Legislature accused Bond of treason and disorderly conduct, voting 184-12 to bar him from being seated.

Four days later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march of 1,000 people to the Georgia Capitol protesting Bond’s ouster.

For the next year Bond pushed his case through the judiciary system all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he fought for his right to speak his mind in Bond v. Floyd. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously for him.

Julian was a leader for whom intersectionality was not a buzzword, but a principle he felt at the core of his being. He saw all the issues we work on as connected by a broad commitment to human dignity and equality.

I was reminded by a colleague over the weekend about Julian’s decision not to attend the 2006 funeral for Coretta Scott King because it was being held in the church run by a minister who was, in Julian’s words, a "raving homophobe.” Julian thought that Coretta Scott King, as a vocal advocate for LGBT equality, would be "twisting in her grave" about having her funeral there, and said he would twist in his if he attended. That was an incredibly powerful statement and act of solidarity with LGBT people, one that required personal sacrifice.

Especially at this important time in history, the nation and certainly this organization will miss the wisdom and guidance of Julian Bond. Thank you for all you do to help America live up to the ideals he championed.

Michael Keegan, President

P.S. Many of America’s top news outlets are paying tribute to Julian with coverage, and I hope you’ll take a few minutes of your day to read a little bit about a dear friend and a man the AJC called a “civil rights titan.”

Here are just a couple of articles from:

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution>>

The Washington Post>>


Who Said It? Donald Trump Or Another GOP Candidate?

Think Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration is leaps and bounds worse than the rest of the Republican candidates running for president?

Test your knowledge by taking our quiz! Each of the statements below were made by Donald Trump or one of the other GOP candidates in the 2016 race.


Who Said It?


2016 Candidates and the Fight to Get Big Money Out of Politics

There’s no denying it: the destruction of our campaign finance laws has created an out of control system that poses a serious threat to our democracy. The announcement that Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has raised over $114 million, along with the fact that the Koch brothers plan to spend almost $900 million, feeds into the fears of many that the U.S. is turning into an oligarchy, where the views of wealthy donors are the only ones that matter. A huge majority of Americans think the campaign finance system needs reform, and this is an issue that presidential candidates can’t ignore.

This week, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, an outspoken opponent of big money in politics, pledged to introduce legislation at the start of the next session that would provide public financing for elections. Hillary Clinton has also stated her support for small-donor public financing. A bill introduced earlier this year by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD) attempted to level the playing field by providing voters with $25 to spend on elections and to match small individual donations to a candidate  6 to 1 with public money, which would turn into a 9 to 1 match for candidates that rejected large donations altogether.

In addition, both Sanders and Clinton have expressed their support for a constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, as has Sen. Lindsey Graham.  These two solutions, public financing of elections and an amendment to get big money out of politics, are both highlighted as measures needed to fix the broken campaign finance system in “Fighting Big Money, Empowering People: A 21st Century Democracy Reform Agenda,” released by PFAW and other campaign finance reform proponents.  As the agenda makes clear, for lasting change we have to move beyond “individual statements or even individual solutions” toward a comprehensive set of policy solutions.

Three out of four Americans are in support of a constitutional amendment, and over 5 million people have signed a petition in favor of it. Many other political leaders at the state and local level from both major parties want to put an end to the post-Citizens United big donor arms race.

 As Sen. Sanders has pointed out:

The need for real campaign finance reform is not a progressive issue. It is not a conservative issue. It is an American issue.