People For Blog

PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Why Only Two Judges for Hearings This Week?

Good news: For the first time since January, the Senate Judiciary Committee is allowing a hearing on judicial nominations. The bad news: Although seven nominees have been waiting since last November, Chairman Chuck Grassley is only allowing a hearing for two of them.

That's right … although the number of circuit and district court vacancies has increased from 40 to 51 since the beginning of the year, and even though the number of judicial emergencies has jumped from 12 to 22 in that time, and even though there are numerous nominees who could have a hearing this week, all but two of them will have to keep waiting.

Roseann Ketchmark would serve in the Western District of Missouri, and Kara Farnandez Stoll would serve in the Federal Circuit. For those whose legal rights are protected by those courts, tomorrow's hearing is good news.

But why only two nominees on the agenda? Dale Drozd would fill a judicial emergency in California's Eastern District. LaShann DeArcy Hall and Ann Donnelly would serve in New York's Eastern District. Travis McDonough has been nominated for a seat in Tennessee's Eastern District. And L. Felipe Restrepo would fill a judicial emergency on the Third Circuit, where a second vacancy will be opening up in July.  They all have to wait.

This fast-as-molasses action from the Judiciary Committee stands in stark contrast to how the Democratic Senate processed George W. Bush's nominees in the last two years of his presidency. The Senate confirmed 68 circuit and district court nominees during that time, slashing the number of vacancies from 56 at the start of 2007 to as low as 34 in the fall of 2008.

The current Senate should match that dedication to processing judicial nominations. For that to happen, the Judiciary Committee needs to let nominees have timely hearings.

PFAW

McConnell Should Let Senate Confirm Judges

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to schedule a confirmation vote on the four district court nominees who cleared the Judiciary Committee without opposition nearly two weeks ago: Jill Parrish for the District of Utah, and Alfred Bennett, George Hanks, and Jose Rolando Olvera for the Southern District of Texas.

Texas in particular is in desperate need of more federal judges. The Lone Star State has a shocking 11 judicial seats currently vacant (with a twelfth one opening this spring). In fact, the eleventh vacancy opened just today. This opening came as no surprise: Judge Richard Schell of the Eastern District announced back in January of 2014 that he would be taking senior status. Texas Sens. Cornyn and Cruz could have recommended an acceptable nominee to the White House in time for that person to have been fully vetted, nominated, and confirmed last year. Unfortunately, that did not happen; no nomination has been made yet.

Of those eleven vacancies, seven have been designated judicial emergencies. That's nearly one third of all the judicial emergencies nationwide. Confirming the three Texas nominees who have been waiting for Senator McConnell to schedule a floor vote would help alleviate this problem.

All three would serve in the Southern District of Texas, which will still have an additional two vacancies remaining even after these nominees are confirmed. McConnell's delay is adding unnecessarily to the strain on the area's federal court system.

Just how bad is that strain? The Judicial Conference of the United States has asked Congress to create an additional two judgeships in the Southern District of Texas. In other words, even if all three pending nominees were confirmed today, and the other two vacancies were magically filled tomorrow (even though they don't have nominees), the crushing caseload burden on the Southern District is so bad that at least another two judges would be needed to ensure that the people of Texas have access to a fair and efficient federal court system.

A confirmation vote on the Texas (and Utah) nominees is long overdue.

PFAW

Discrimination Masked as Religious Freedom? Not in My Name.

This op-ed by Rev. Timothy McDonald III, co-chair of People For the American Way's African American Ministers in Action, was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Last week, a bill disguised as a "religious liberty" measure that would give a green light to discrimination was passed by the Georgia Senate and will now go to the House.

As a Baptist pastor, I feel called to weigh in on a proposal that is supposedly designed to protect religious rights in my state. I fully support every person's constitutionally-protected right of the free exercise of religion. The right to pray to whatever God you believe in and freely practice your religion is a fundamental one, and one that must be protected.

But I do not support this bill, which is not a true effort to protect First Amendment rights. And the fact that supporters in the state Senate quickly and unexpectedly brought it up in committee when no Democrats were present makes me wonder if even proponents aren't so sure of its merit.

The proposed bill is modeled on a national religious freedom bill that passed in 1993, and supporters claim that it would shield people of all religions from government intrusion. In reality, this is a bill that threatens to allow businesses and individuals to simply flout the laws they don't like. It threatens to turn "religious liberty" law from a shield to guard individual liberties into a sword to bring harm to others.

For example, what happens if medical workers, citing religious beliefs, decide that they won't treat gay or transgender people? If business owners decide that they won't serve Muslims or interracial couples? If landlords decide they won't rent to single women? Beyond anti-discrimination protections, what happens if individuals or business owners claim they are exempt from any number of laws they disagree with? What happens, for example, if employers decide that paying their workers a minimum wage goes against their religious beliefs? Do we want to live in a society where your legal rights depend on the religious beliefs of others in the community?

Basic rights and equality should never yield to discrimination.

Other religious leaders here in Georgia aren't fooled, either. Working with a group of more than 160 clergy across the state, we have been asking our elected officials to abandon this misguided project, urging them not to pass any so-called "religious freedom" legislation that could lead to widespread discrimination. Handing people the "right" to use the mantle of religious liberty to harm others? Not in our name.

It's clear that rather than fixing a problem, as good public policy should, this bill would create problems, and often for those most vulnerable among us.

Even former state attorney general Michael Bowers, who once fought in favor of anti-gay "sodomy" laws, has called the bill "nothing but an excuse to discriminate," saying it is "ill-conceived, unnecessary, mean-spirited, and deserving of a swift death in the General Assembly."

I agree. My faith tells me that I should stand up for the marginalized. That I should speak out against proposals that could deny basic rights to others -- especially when it's being done in the name of religion.

PFAW

PFAW Foundation and Allies Submit Brief to Supreme Court in Support of Marriage Equality

On Friday PFAW Foundation joined the Anti-Defamation League and an expansive coalition of religious and civil rights organizations in submitting an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to rule state-level marriage bans unconstitutional in the four marriage cases before them this term. One specific religious conception of marriage, the signers argue, should not define our nation’s laws on it.

The brief outlines instances in our country’s history in which discriminatory laws have been justified on the grounds of “religious and moral disapproval,” from laws supporting slavery to segregation to discrimination against women. But, the signers note, the Supreme Court has rejected these types of arguments over and over – and should again with regard to the marriage bans.

The brief also takes apart the “religious liberty” arguments of those opposing marriage equality, noting that overturning the bans will not threaten freedom of religion since religious groups will still be able to define what marriage means in their tradition:

[C]ontrary to the arguments of some who defend the marriage bans, invalidating the bans will not jeopardize religious liberty. As an initial matter, the cases before this Court concern whether same-sex couples are entitled to the benefits of civil marriage. Religious groups will remain free, as they always have been, to choose how to define religious marriage and which marriages to solemnize…. Religious liberty should serve as a shield, not as a sword to discriminate against members of a disadvantaged minority group.

This amicus brief was one of a stunning array of briefs filed in the Supreme Court last week in favor of marriage equality, including briefs signed by more than 2,000 clergy; 200 police officers, EMTs, and firefighters; 400 companies, including  forty of the nation’s largest corporations; more than 200 mayors; and more than 300 conservative leaders.

PFAW Foundation

Republicans Stop at Nothing to Attack Immigrants

This op-ed by Michael Keegan, President, People For the American Way was originally published at The Huffington Post.

On March 3, the House of Representatives finally voted for a clean DHS funding bill. Much of the media reported that Republicans saw the irresponsibility of their threats to shut down Homeland Security and passed a clean bill. But they didn't, and no one should lose sight of that.

After trying every trick in the book to scuttle the bill, their leadership allowed the vote to happen, but Republicans never caved. Republicans voted over two to one (167-75)against the bill. It only passed because of full Democratic support.

It's clear that Republicans will stop at nothing to attack immigrants. The fact that national security was on the line was immaterial: Republicans saw an opportunity to display their animus toward all immigrants, and Latinos in particular, and they took it.

This publicity stunt gave Republicans the chance to pander yet again to the most virulent anti-immigrant members of their party. Take, for instance, William Gheen of Americans for Legal Immigration and his comments during the heat of the DHS fight in mid-February:

[I] wouldn't put anything past [the administration, because] the people who are supporting the organized and well-funded illegal alien invasion of our homeland have the blood of many thousands of Americans on their hands that have been killed, injured raped and robbed by illegal immigrants.

Sure, Gheen is a fringe extremist. But what he's saying is strikingly similar to what we're hearing from the Republican Party.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of Mitt Romney's "self-deportation" strategy, entertained the suggestion that Obama's executive actions could eventually result in Latinos conducting an "ethnic cleansing" of their fellow Americans. Sen. Tom Coburn, Rep. Mike Kelly, and Rep. Louie Gohmert have also warned that the president's immigration policies could lead to violence.

While some in the GOP tried to tell a different narrative -- that this was just about reining in presidential excess and not about their being anti-immigrant -- the fact is that the entire Republican Party is at fault. Not one House Republican signed the discharge petition to allow even a vote on the Senate's bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. And Senate Republicans who backed that bill, including Sen. Marco Rubio, now say they no longer support it. At this very minute, House Republicans are bringing up even more anti-immigrant legislation, including deportation-only legislation and a bill that would drastically change U.S. asylum and humanitarian protections to put domestic violence survivors and victims of human trafficking at serious risk.

Ultimately, it was Ann Coulter who summed up the Republican position on the DHS debate: Undocumented immigrants (she calls them "illegal aliens [who] have killed, raped and maimed thousands of Americans") pose a greater threat to our nation than does ISIS." While not all Republicans used language as biting as that, it was crystal-clear that Republicans believe that attacking immigrants, not funding DHS, should be the top priority.

Who would have imagined that a national party, never mind the Republican Party, would be so opposed to finding any solution for the almost 12 million undocumented people already here that they would risk our national security during the dangerous time we are in now? Yet that's the reality of the GOP today, and it's our responsibility to hold them accountable.

PFAW

Big Win for Voting Rights: Oregon Passes New Motor Voter Law

Yesterday the Oregon Senate passed an expansive new voter registration bill, a significant step forward in the fight to make voting easier, more secure, and more accessible for everyone in the state.

The Oregonian explains how the legislation will work:

Under the measure, driver's license data stretching back to 2013 will be used to begin registering Oregon citizens who aren't already signed up to vote. Elections officials will send a postcard to the prospective new registrants giving them a chance to opt out…. The secretary of state's office has estimated that the measure will add about 300,000 to the voting rolls, which now total just under 2.2 million.

Gov. Kate Brown, who as secretary of state supported the bill as a way to make it easier for low-income people and young people to vote, has promised to sign the measure.

With new barriers to voting taking root across the country and voting discrimination still a persistent problem, it can be easy to believe that our country is only turning back the clock on voting rights. But this win in Oregon underscores the fact that when we work together to make it easier rather than harder to cast a ballot, we can set an example of how to strengthen our democracy.

PFAW

From Selma to Shelby County to Ferguson

This op-ed was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Fifty years ago in Alabama hundreds of peaceful marchers calling for voting rights were violently attacked by state police. Fifty years later Americans from all walks of life are expected to gather this weekend to mark the anniversary of what became known as Bloody Sunday and embrace the spirit for courage, sacrifice and justice of those women and men who marched, were beaten and no doubt underestimated the impact that their bruises would have on future generations.

The events of that day and the tense days and weeks that followed shocked our national consciousness and became a catalyst for passage of what some call the "crown jewel" of the civil rights movement, the 1965 Voting Rights Act. It's a law that held bipartisan support and helped protect countless Americans from discrimination at the ballot box for almost five decades.

Every year since that bloody day we have honored those 600-plus marchers who put their lives on the line in pursuit of basic democratic rights and racial justice. But this year, with a passion as never before, we must do more than just give lip service. This time marchers of today must clearly connect with the purpose in the pain that started in prayer on a Sunday morning and ended on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, with blood and tears in the afternoon. Why? Because as John Legend so eloquently put it last week, "Selma is now."

The shadow of Bloody Sunday is there, nearly two years after a core provision of the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in the Shelby County case, as we practice patience for Congress to restore and strengthen what was taken away. When our leaders say that they honor those who refused to turn around, will they also commit to restoring the kinds of voting protections that they were marching for?

Today, 40 bills to restrict voting rights have been introduced in states across the country, from voter ID legislation to proposals reducing access to absentee ballots to bills that would make it more difficult for those with past criminal convictions to vote. When our leaders say they honor those who were beaten and bruised with billy clubs 50 years ago, will they also commit to voting against proposed laws that would make it harder for all people to have an equal voice in our democracy? Will they commit to confirming the highly qualified Loretta Lynch, a woman with a strong commitment to civil rights, to lead -- as the first female African American -- the Justice Department in effectively monitoring and enforcing the voting rights laws we already have and those yet to come?

Today, African Americans and Latinos, especially males, endure being routinely profiled, targeted, and attacked by the police. The report released this week from the Department of Justice about policing in Ferguson, Missouri, revealed that 93 percent of arrests were of African Americans, though they make up only 67 percent of the city's population. It showed and confirmed that African Americans in Ferguson were disproportionately likely to have force used against them by the police. When our leaders say they honor those who were hospitalized for peaceful protest 50 years ago, will they also commit to fighting against discrimination and violence at the hands of those meant to serve and protect our communities?

Selma is now, and the march continues. Selma needed protection for voting rights then, and Selma needs protection for voting rights now. Many civil rights leaders, past and present, and even future leaders, will be in Selma this weekend. But thousands of others who can't be there in person will not be excluded from being a part of a new march. Men and women will with great intent make sure every registered voter gets to the polls to vote in every election, will minister with an activist heart to their neighborhoods when violence upends daily life, will use social media as a tool to motivate participation in work aimed at ending all forms of discrimination in the name of religion, and will organize their communities in active opposition when yet another bill is introduced to undermine, restrict, or deny basic civil and human rights.

On the evening of that Sunday, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. informed the media that ministers would march and called for clergy from around the country to join them. He said, "The people of Selma will struggle on for the soul of America, but it is fitting that all Americans help to bear the burden. ... In this way all America will testify to the fact that the struggle in Selma is for the survival of democracy everywhere in our land."

I was not there then, but today as with every day, especially because of the Shelby Counties and the Fergusons, I give thanks and will not forget that struggle. On March 7, 1965, the world watched as nonviolent mothers, fathers, students, workers, faith leaders were beaten, tear gassed and hospitalized. On March 7, 2015, let the world watch as this next generation genuinely honors those who had the courage to take a stand that Bloody Sunday "for the survival of democracy." How? By registering, advocating, teaching, speaking up, marching and continuing their work in pursuit of voting rights, freedom, and justice as if our unseen bruises, our lives, our souls depend on it.

PFAW Foundation

GOP Senate Moving Obama's Judges Slower than Democrats Moved Bush's

Two months into the new 114th Congress, it's a good time to take stock of how the Republican-controlled Senate is doing when it comes to processing circuit and district court judicial nominations. So far, the Judiciary Committee has held only one hearing to consider such nominations, and that was back in January. And even though no one questioned the four nominees' qualifications, Chairman Grassley delayed a scheduled vote by two weeks without offering an explanation, so it took the committee more than five weeks after their hearing to finally advance them to the floor. No further hearings have been held (but one has been announced for next week).

As we have written before, a key metric for comparing how the Senate is doing in Obama's last two years is how the newly-Democratic Senate handled George W. Bush's nominees in the last two years of his presidency. The Judiciary Committee under Chairman Patrick Leahy was very busy during the first two months of the 110th Congress. There were numerous nominees from the previous Congress approved by the GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee but left unconfirmed at the end of 2006. Rather than force them into new hearings for the benefit of the new committee members, Chairman Leahy arranged for quick votes instead. By this point in 2007, the committee had advanced ten such judicial nominees directly to the full Senate. Eight of them were already confirmed by the full Senate by mid-February. (The remaining two were confirmed on March 8.)

In addition to re-vetting and voting on these ten returning judicial nominees, the Judiciary Committee had also fully processed three first-time nominees by this point in 2007, with hearings quickly followed by committee votes just 3½ weeks later. (All three were confirmed by the end of March.)

In Bush's last two years, the Senate confirmed 68 circuit and district court nominees, slashing the number of vacancies from 56 at the start of 2007 to as low as 34 in the fall of 2008. Today's Republican Senate has confirmed no nominees so far this year. In the meantime, the number of current vacancies has climbed from 40 at the beginning of the year to 47 today, and the number of judicial emergencies has jumped from 12 to 21.

As noted above, the Judiciary Committee has said it will hold a nominations hearing next week. Considering that there are seven circuit and district court nominees who were nominated back in November, they should all have hearings as soon as possible.

PFAW

More Delay on the Restrepo Nomination

Qualified jurists nominated for federal judgeships way back in November are still waiting to have a committee hearing scheduled. They include Kara Farnandez Stoll, who would be the first woman of color on the Federal Circuit, and L. Felipe Restrepo of Pennsylvania, who would be the first judge on the Third Circuit with experience as a public defender. The Third Circuit vacancy has been designated a judicial emergency, and with another vacancy on that court opening on July 1, it is even more important not to keep delaying Restrepo's already overdue hearing.

Yet a Grassley spokeswoman told The Legal Intelligencer (subscription required) that she "couldn't even estimate" a timeframe for Restrepo's hearing. Apparently, that's because the committee is also working on other nominations. She said that processing the Loretta Lynch attorney general nomination had required "all hands on deck," and that the committee was also preparing for the deputy attorney general nomination of Sally Yates.

Surely the committee is capable of handling both executive and judicial nominations.

A comparison to the Bush era is instructive, when the Democratic Judiciary Committee considered Michael Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general. The committee received Mukasey's nomination on September 21, 2007, held hearings, and advanced him to the full Senate on November 6. During that time, the committee was able to hold confirmation hearings on six judicial nominees and advance two to the full Senate. It was also able to advance an additional four judicial nominees the week after voting on Mukasey.

Fast-forward to now, a week after Lynch was advanced to the full Senate. The Judiciary Committee hasn't held a hearing for circuit or district court nominees since January 21, a week before the Lynch hearing. In the meantime, the number of current vacancies has climbed from 40 at the beginning of the year to 47 today, and the number of judicial emergencies has jumped from 12 to 21.

Hearings for Judge Restrepo and other judicial nominees are long overdue.

PFAW

Jeb Bush's version of #GetMoneyOut more like #SaveItForLater

According to The Washington Post, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who has yet to officially announce a presidential run, is trying to keep the biggest of the big money from too quickly overwhelming his anticipated bid.

The move reflects concerns among Bush advisers that accepting massive sums from a handful of uber-rich supporters could fuel a perception that the former governor is in their debt. The effort is also driven by a desire to build as broad a pool of donors as possible among wealthier contributors.

So even as Bush is headlining a series of high-dollar events for a super PAC backing his bid, fundraisers have been instructed not to ask donors to give more than $1 million per person this quarter.

Apparently receiving just $1 million from a donor wouldn’t lead anyone to assume that Bush is indebted to them.

The money spigot, of course, will eventually flow far past this limit. And to call it a limit at all shows just how outsized an influence money holds over our democracy, and what a tiny, unrepresentative sliver of society Bush is catering to.

A minimum wage worker earning $7.25 per hour would have to work full-time for more than 66 years to make $1 million. That's before taxes. And food. And lodging. Raising kids? No room for that, either. That's an entire gross income for what could be an entire working life just for a single political contribution.

Say you're lucky and you make four times that amount, $29 per hour. Making a Bush-style contribution would still consume your entire income for more than 16.5 years.

As Public Campaign's Adam Smith puts it:

#GetMoneyOut is about a lot more than telling the super-rich to #SaveItForLater.

Grassroots activists have been pushing for money in politics reform to make clear that we want a democracy that’s run by the people, not millionaires and billionaires. In just five years since the Supreme Court ruling, 16 states and more than 600 cities and towns have officially called for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, and five million Americans have signed their name to a petition calling for such an amendment. There's also a "Defending Democracy" legislative package that can take critical steps forward while the amendment movement grows even stronger.

There are many solutions working together toward the same end goal: a democracy in which everyone participates, everyone’s voice is heard, everyone knows who is trying to buy influence, and everyone plays by commonsense rules and is held accountable to those rules.

PFAW

YP4 Leads Trainings at “Take Root” Reproductive Justice Conference in Oklahoma

Last week, Young People For (YP4) Director Joy Lawson, YP4 Fellowship Associate Vidushani Jayalal, and current YP4 Fellow Alyssah Roth of El Paso, TX, served as trainers during the pre-conference of the fifth annual “Take Root” reproductive justice conference in Norman, OK.

“Take Root” focuses on sharing the unique perspectives, experiences, and lessons learned from organizing around reproductive justice in conservative states. This year, YP4 developed and led the pre-conference to engage “Take Root” participants on guiding principles for social justice organizing. Participants took part in workshops and conversations on values-centered organizing, navigating ideologies in the reproductive justice movement, and more.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Additionally, several YP4 Fellows and alumni participated in the conference and led workshops and panels related to building access to the reproductive justice movement in under-resourced areas.  After the workshops, many of the participants reflected that the trainings gave them “a vision of what they wanted to accomplish and what the process might look like.”

YP4 is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of young leaders turn their ideals into actions and create lasting change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 develops Fellows’ leadership capacity and strategic thinking through a capstone project — the Blueprint for Social Justice — and offers opportunities to connect with others creating change across the country.

 

PFAW Foundation

Dolores Huerta Discusses the Kochs' Libre Initiative on Univision

This Sunday on Univision America Network’s “Newsmaker Sunday with Fernando Espuelas,” Dolores Huerta, civil rights leader and board member of People For the American Way, discussed the dangers of the Kochs’ Libre Initiative to the Latino community. During the interview, Huerta emphasized that despite the image the Libre Initiative is trying to project to Latino voters, the organization is actually working to get anti-immigrant and anti-worker candidates elected.

“We’ve got to let our community know that Libre, which is funded by the Koch brothers, are not our friends,” Huerta said.

Dolores Huerta: The one thing that’s really concerning just now is that the Koch brothers have started a new initiative, called Libre, which targets Latino voters. They’re really deceiving the voters and trying to make them think that they’re supporting immigration reform, but at the same time, they are supporting all of the Republican candidates that are right now trying to keep Obama’s executive actions from taking effect. They’re putting unlimited amounts of money into getting politicians elected that are anti-immigrant, anti-workers, anti-clean environment, and they’re going to try to confuse Latino voters into thinking that they’re their friends. We’ve got to let our community know that Libre, which is funded by the Koch brothers, are not our friends.

Fernando Espuelas: In particular in the 2014 cycle, Libre spent millions of dollars to bring down certain Latino candidates in Florida and elsewhere, with what objectively would seem to be lies in their commercials. Do you think this is a real menace going forward, including in 2016?

Dolores Huerta: Oh I think so! Basically they’ll just be telling a lot of lies and making people think that the candidates they’re supporting are pro-immigrant, at the same time that they’re voting against everything that we’re trying to get for immigration reform. So it’s a very deceptive, but very well-funded operation….We [have to] spread the message that when people hear the word libre, it doesn’t mean libre [free], it means cadenas, it means chains, just the opposite of libre. This is a ruse that is going to try to entrap people, try to confuse them. We want to do a better job to inform and to educate the Latino voting public who your friends are and who your enemies are. And one of those big enemies is going to be Libre, the group that wants to put us in chains. There’s a good saying in Spanish, dar gato por liebre, so this is dar gato por Libre.

You can listen to the entire interview here:

For more information about the Libre Iniative, see People For the American Way’s report, “The Libre Initiative: The Koch Brothers’ Focus on Latino Voters.” The report is also available in Spanish here
 

PFAW

PFAW and 50+ Allies Ask Obama to Require Government Contractors to Disclose Political Spending

Yesterday People For the American way joined more than fifty other organizations in sending a letter to President Obama asking him to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose all of their political spending.

Right now, corporations with government contracts are able to funnel unlimited sums of dark money to influence the elections of those who can put pressure on the officials deciding who is awarded future contracts. Contracts should be awarded to those best for the job, not those who can shell out the most political cash.

But with the stroke of a pen, President Obama could require that government contractors disclose their political spending. This would increase transparency and accountability in our democracy and bring us closer to the “better politics” the president called for in his State of the Union address – a politics in which we “spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter.”

And we are indeed drowning in dark money. In 2014's ten most competitive Senate contests, more than 70 percent of outside money spent in support of the winner was from dark money groups.

As the letter notes,

Six years into your presidency, and five years after the Supreme Court issued its tragically misguided ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, we’re now living in a Wild West campaign spending world… Against this backdrop, it is imperative that you act.

You can add your name to the chorus of voices calling on the president to issue an executive order and read the full text of the letter here.
 

PFAW

Americans Will Know Who to Blame If the Roberts Court Wrecks Our Healthcare System

This op-ed was originally published at The Huffington Post.

Some Supreme Court cases are really tough ones, with important, difficult, and complex legal questions about constitutional meaning or statutory interpretation, where justices have to choose between two powerful and compelling arguments. Sometimes the court is called upon to resolve an issue that has divided the circuit courts. Other times there is a lower court ruling so at odds with logic or precedent that it needs to be reviewed and corrected.

And then there's King v. Burwell, the Affordable Care Act subsidies case being argued this week.

Those challenging the law have an extremely weak legal case, there is no split in the lower courts, and there is no clearly wrong lower court ruling that needs to be corrected. This is a meritless case that was ginned up by conservatives seeking to enlist the Supreme Court in their political efforts to destroy the ACA. That at least four justices voted to hear the case is ominous enough. But a victory for the challengers would make it more clear than ever that political considerations are infecting a majority of the court.

Some background: Section 1311 of the ACA directs states to establish health insurance exchanges, creating competitive markets in every state for people to buy affordable insurance no matter where they live. But Congress also recognized that states might choose not do this, so Section 1321 says that in those cases the federal government should set up the exchange instead. The purpose of doing this was to ensure that even if states declined to set up an exchange pursuant to Section 1311, fully functional stand-ins would exist. This is essential to the structure of the law: The financial model relies on competitive markets with affordable insurance being available in every state.

To ensure affordability, the law also establishes subsidies for people below a certain income level to make sure they can buy insurance, which is necessary for the entire structure of the ACA to work. One subsection of the law establishes some key definitions, including an "eligible taxpayer" who is entitled to these subsidies, and the main criterion is income level. Try as you might, you won't find anything there saying that eligibility is at all tied to where someone lives.

A separate subsection says how to calculate the amount of the subsidy. Bizarrely, the conservative opponents of the ACA say that it is here that Congress chose to establish an enormously important additional eligibility criterion that, for some reason, they didn't put in the eligibility section: You have to live in a state that has set up its own exchange, rather than in one where the state has allowed the federal government to set it up instead.

This strange interpretation of the ACA depends on a deliberate misunderstanding of the subsidy provision's stating that the amount is based on the monthly premiums for a policy purchased through an exchange "established by the state under [section] 1311" of the ACA. But to interpret this provision the way the anti-Obamacare activists do, we'd have to deliberately blind ourselves to how it clearly fits with the ACA as a whole.

So we're supposed to pretend that Congress didn't specifically empower the federal government to set up fully functional stand-ins for state exchanges in states that declined to create them. And we're supposed to think that Congress hid a critically important criterion for subsidy eligibility in a section on calculating the subsidy amount. And we're supposed to accept that Congress intended to undercut the financial viability of the law and thwart its central purpose of providing affordable health care to all. As D.C. Circuit Judge Harry Edwards wrote, "[i]t is inconceivable that Congress intended to give States the power to cause the ACA to crumble."

No one could possibly believe that. You can't possibly look at the text of the Affordable Care Act and interpret it in the way that its enemies have conjured up.

And as journalists like Glenn Kessler have pointed out, congressional Republicans who today insist that Congress intended for subsidy eligibility to depend on what state you live in were saying nothing of the sort when the law was being debated. Their statements at the time show they assumed subsidies would be available nationwide.

It is also clear that state legislators -- regardless of party -- deciding whether to set up their own exchanges never contemplated the possibility that choosing to let the federal government do it would deny much-needed subsidies to people in their state. In fact, that point is made quite effectively in an amicus brief authored by the Constitutional Accountability Center on behalf of members of Congress and state legislatures.

When this nonsensical lawsuit was heard at the Fourth Circuit, it was rejected by a unanimous panel of judges. In his concurring opinion, Judge Andre Davis wrote:

What [the ACA opponents] may not do is rely on our help to deny to millions of Americans desperately-needed health insurance through a tortured, nonsensical construction of a federal statute whose manifest purpose, as revealed by the wholeness and coherence of its text and structure, could not be more clear.

Yet when the ACA opponents appealed to the Supreme Court, at least four justices (the minimum required to grant certiorari) agreed to hear the case.

It would be nice to believe that the only reason was to issue a 9-0 ruling slapping down this lawsuit and condemning those who would abuse the court system by seeking to enlist federal judges in their political fights. Unfortunately, this is the Roberts court, a court with a history of bending the rules, twisting the law, and doing whatever it takes to get to an outcome beneficial to conservative and corporate interests. With cases like Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, Ledbetter, Shelby County, and so many others, a narrow 5-4 majority has made opponents of the Affordable Care Act think they could gin up a meritless case and carry the day.

If the Roberts Court chooses to sabotage millions of Americans' access to health care, the consequences will be catastrophic for many everyday people, and possibly fatal to some. While there may be Americans who weren't paying attention to some of the wrongly decided cases noted above, it is hard to imagine any American missing this one -- and not knowing exactly who to blame.

PFAW Foundation

Chicagoans Overwhelmingly Approve Resolution for Cleaner, Fairer Elections

On Tuesday night, Chicago residents approved a ballot initiative in support of limiting  the influence of big money in politics by an overwhelming margin of 79 percent to 21 percent. The measure, titled the Fair Elections Illinois ballot initiative, calls on the Chicago City Council and the Illinois state legislature to establish small donor matching fund systems for local and state campaigns. Activists worked with local organizations to coordinate phone banks, robocalls, and distribution of campaign literature in an attempt to reach thousands of voters. The measure was also endorsed by over a dozen organizations, several city alderman, all mayoral candidates, and the Chicago Sun-Times.

People For the American Way is proud to have fought alongside the activists who worked hard to get this measure passed in Chicago, in addition to the thousands of other leaders all across the country pushing to get big money out of our political system.

PFAW