People For Blog


Donald Trump: King of Facebook (…and What That Means)

At the time I am writing this, Donald Trump’s last post on Facebook has 145,257 likes and 6,434 shares. His most popular post of the week has a shocking 186,007 likes and 32,405 shares.

That’s way higher social media engagement than any other Republican presidential candidate.

For some more perspective, President Barack Obama’s most popular post of the week has 55,742 likes and 3,448 shares.

Hillary Clinton’s most popular post has 62,925 likes (and whopping 48,611 shares), but that’s an anomaly and is about six-to-seven times higher than her average post. The subject of that post? Donald Trump.

No other notable politician is even in the same universe. And Hillary’s viral post was a video, which often inherently gain more traction on a platform like Facebook. Meanwhile, it seems like every time Trump updates his status he goes viral.  

Generally speaking, the reach of Donald Trump’s Facebook posts is more on pace with that of Justin Bieber than with any other politician.

And yes, he is also a celebrity… a very famous name with a large media presence. But the popularity of his self-aggrandizing and bombastic social media posts only buttress the validity of his soaring poll numbers in the Republican primary – he’s now at the very top of the field in several polls.

What’s behind The Donald’s freakish popularity? It’s that, like Fox News, he displays a savant-like expertise in being able to push the buttons that tap into the simmering bigotries, frustrations, and insecurities of the right-wing base.

Donald Trump, perhaps more than any other candidate, represents the Frankenstein’s monster created by Republicans’ nurturing of the radical Tea Party movement. Right-wing politicians, pundits, and activist leaders are constantly giving the base some “other” to fear … a target for all their frustrations who doesn’t deserve the same rights as them, who is tearing America down from within -- whether it’s the poor, racial minorities, LGBT people, women who demand equality, or, in the case of Trump’s most infamous rhetorical attacks, immigrants.

There’s always someone to hate and someone’s “ass to kick.”

Trump, perhaps as a byproduct of his time spent in the world of reality television, also seems uniquely willing among Republicans to make a caricature of himself – in some cases, literally, like when he posted his face superimposed onto a poster of Uncle Sam.

Uncle Donald

Or when he posted:

“Can you envision Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton negotiating with 'El Chapo', the Mexican drug lord who escaped from prison? Trump, however, on the other hand would kick his ass!”

Or tweeted:

“This very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop. Our planet is freezing, record low temps,and our GW scientists are stuck in ice”

Or, taking the “Birther” conspiracy theory to new heights, tweeted:

“How amazing, the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s “birth certificate” died in plane crash today. All others lived”

But this is not some silly carnival act, to be ridiculed and brushed aside. We’ve seen the Far Right’s eagerness to embrace cartoonish and outlandish extremism before, with Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, and others.

As PFAW president Michael Keegan recently wrote:

“Even if, as many in the media insist, Trump’s popularity as a candidate is just a flash in the pan, what it represents is something very real that is not going away. And whoever the GOP candidate ends up being will be tasked with the unenviable job of trying to keep a lid on all of the Right’s unbridled hate.”

Not only does Trump’s moment in the sun tell a story that can’t be ignored about the right-wing movement and the Republican Party, but the kind of extremism that creates fertile ground for vapid demagogues of his ilk is a significant barrier to progress that we need to face head on.


Wisconsinites: Don’t Let Walker Do to America What He Did to Wisconsin

A crowd of roughly 300 rallied against Scott Walker Monday evening at his presidential announcement in Waukesha, Wisconsin. People from across the state shared their stories of his extreme agenda as governor, touching on the environment, labor, immigration and a host of other issues.

People For the American Way, Voces de la Frontera Action, Americans United for Change, We Are Wisconsin, and a coalition of more than 20 local and national grassroots activist groups led the gathering. Wisconsinites spoke out about Walker’s far-right policies, as well as his close relationship with the Koch brothers who have vocally expressed their support of his candidacy.

PFAW and Voces de la Frontera Action also emphasized how terrible a Scott Walker presidency would be for the Latino community. Yesterday, the groups launched a Spanish-language radio ad criticizing Walker for supporting mass deportation policies, eliminating in-state tuition for DREAMers, and drastically cutting education funding. PFAW board member and civil rights icon Dolores Huerta also spoke out against Walker, warning that a Walker presidency would be “devastating.” She reminded voters that “as governor, [Walker] gutted education funding, lied to voters about his anti-choice stances, and attacked workers’ rights.”

Walker is currently positioned as a favorite among the growing list of GOP candidates; however, his campaign began on a rocky note after Walker called the minimum wage a “lame” idea. Previously, he’s drawn criticism for calling mandatory ultrasounds “a cool thing,” as well as backing an extremely conservative abortion ban in the Wisconsin legislature. He has also called himself a “lifelong supporter of the pro-life movement,” compared teachers protesting in Wisconsin to ISIS and claimed that equal pay is used to “'pit one group of Americans versus another.”

Walker, who called his presidential bid “God’s will,” is the 14th GOP candidate to join the race.


Yet Another Circuit Court Upholds ACA Accommodation for Religious Nonprofits

The Tenth Circuit today released its opinion in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell, becoming the latest federal appellate court to reject the claim that the Obama Administration’s contraception coverage accommodation for religious nonprofits violates their religious liberty.

This is the latest effort by the far right to redefine “religious liberty” and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to use as a sword to deprive third parties of their legal rights.  Under RFRA, no federal law imposing a substantial burden on religious exercise can be sustained unless it is the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government purpose.

The Tenth Circuit now joins the DC Circuit, the Third Circuit, the Fifth Circuit, and the Seventh Circuit in rejecting this attack on the accommodation for religious nonprofits.  Notably, all these decisions came after the Supreme Court rewrote the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in the Hobby Lobby case, giving certain for-profit corporations and their owners greater latitude to exempt themselves from laws they find personally offensive.  (The Sixth Circuit also reached the same conclusion, but it is still in the process of reconsidering it to make sure it is consistent with Hobby Lobby.)

The Obama Administration created a process whereby religious nonprofits can exempt themselves from the federal requirement that its employees have certain contraception healthcare coverage: Fill out a form (or now, just send a letter) and let the Department of Health and Human Services know that you won’t be providing it and say who your insurance carrier is, so that officials can inform them of their legal requirements to provide the coverage.  The religious right has called even this accommodation a violation of the religious liberty rights of nonprofits, saying it makes them complicit in the provision of contraception that violates their religious beliefs.

The Tenth Circuit concluded that the accommodation does not substantially burden Plaintiffs’ religious exercise and therefore does not violate RFRA.  The court stated:

The accommodation relieves Plaintiffs from complying with the Mandate and guarantees they will not have to provide, pay for, or facilitate contraceptive coverage.  Plaintiffs do not “trigger” or otherwise cause contraceptive coverage because federal law, not the act of opting out, entitles plan participants and beneficiaries to coverage.  Although Plaintiffs allege the administrative tasks required to opt out of the Mandate make them complicit in the overall delivery scheme, opting out instead relieves them from complicity.

The court does not question the sincerity of the plaintiffs’ assertion that filling out the form violates their religious beliefs.  But it also pointed out that under RFRA, whether a burden is substantial is a legal question that is up to the court, not the plaintiff, to answer:

If plaintiffs could assert and establish that a burden is “substantial” without any possibility of judicial scrutiny, the word “substantial” would become wholly devoid of independent meaning.  Furthermore, accepting any burden alleged by Plaintiffs as “substantial” would improperly conflate the determination that a religious belief is sincerely held with the determination that a law or policy substantially burdens religious exercise.  (internal citation removed)

Whether it’s women’s ability to access their legal right to healthcare or same-sex couples’ ability to exercise their constitutional right to marry, imagine the chaos if people could simply exempt themselves from – and severely weaken – laws they disapprove of by citing their personal religious beliefs.

But that is a recipe for a Balkanized society, not a healthy pluralistic democracy.  Citing a previous case, the Tenth Circuit states: “Law accommodates religion; it cannot wholly exempt religion from the reach of the law.”

PFAW Foundation

Toomey Apparently Fails to Press McConnell on Timing for Restrepo Vote

Third Circuit nominee L. Felipe Restrepo was approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee last week, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell is expected to delay a confirmation vote unless Senator Pat Toomey intervenes on behalf of a nominee he says he supports.  Consistent with how Democrats in the Senate treated George W. Bush’s Third Circuit nominee from Pennsylvania in 2007, when Thomas Hardiman was confirmed just one week after his committee vote, Toomey ought to be pushing McConnell for a vote this month, before the August recess.

Toomey and McConnell are apparently trying to make Pennsylvanians think Toomey is doing that, but they have not actually stated anything of the sort.  Keep in mind that the key item Toomey is being asked to address is timing, with a vote this month.  Pennsylvania newspaper The Legal Intelligencer reports:

Toomey's spokeswoman, E.R. Anderson, said the senator has already approached McConnell.

“Sen. Toomey supports the nomination of Judge Restrepo for the Third Circuit,” Anderson said in an email to The Legal. “As part of his efforts on this issue, the senator has spoken directly with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to emphasize the importance of getting Judge Restrepo confirmed.”

Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said that while a date for the vote has not yet been scheduled, “Sen. Toomey has been calling us, so it's on the leader's radar.”

Note that Toomey and McConnell omit any mention of timing.  Did Toomey ask for a prompt confirmation vote?  Did he urge McConnell to let the Senate vote this month?  Did he mention the precedent of confirming Judge Hardiman in 2007 just one week after he was approved by the Judiciary Committee?

Considering that timing is the crux of the issue, it is interesting that Toomey and McConnell’s characterizations of their communication both omit any mention of timing.

So will McConnell allow a vote this month?  If Toomey chooses not to press for a July vote, he’ll certainly be making deliberate delay by McConnell much easier.


North Carolina Courts Test State Voter Restrictions

On Monday, a federal trial began in Winston-Salem, North Carolina to see if recent changes in the state’s election laws unfairly and purposefully discriminate against minority voters. The changes in question include an end to same-day registration, an end to a high school voter registration program, and a reduction in early voting days.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act by striking down a coverage formula that identified nine states – including North Carolina – with a history of voter discrimination. Before the 2013 ruling, federal approval was needed before any changes in election laws in these states could go into effect. However, in the immediate aftermath of Shelby County, Republicans in the North Carolina state legislature were able to implement the restrictions without federal approval.

The North Carolina N.A.A.C.P, League of Women Voters, a group of college students, and the Department of Justice initiated the case, arguing that the measures should be struck down, and that North Carolina should be required by the court to submit voting proposals to federal approval since the contested measures were intended to discriminate, in violation of the Constitution.

Several states remodeled their voting laws following the Shelby decision; however, North Carolina’s restrictions represent some of the broadest changes in the country.

This case is the latest development in a series of initiatives to protect the right to vote across the United States, including by restoring and strengthening the Voting Rights Act. PFAW recently participated in a rally in Roanoke, Virginia, and members of our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s leadership networks are participating in today’s events surrounding the beginning of the trial in Winston-Salem. 

PFAW Foundation

Campaigns and Their Super PACs: Not As Autonomous As One Would Hope

Thanks to damaging Supreme Court decisions and a gridlocked FEC, Super PACs have become a central element in our presidential elections. Yet, Americans could at least comfort themselves with the notion that these PACs and the candidates they support were at least required to operate independently from one another. A recent article in the Washington Post proves otherwise.

The article argues that a close reading of the Federal Election Commission rules shows that candidates and interest groups can do more than make public statements about their needs and hope their counterparts are listening; they can actually communicate with one another directly. According to the Washington Post piece, “Operatives on both sides can talk to one another directly, as long as they do not discuss candidate strategy. According to an FEC rule, an independent group also can confer with a campaign until this fall about “issue ads” featuring a candidate. Some election-law lawyers think that a super PAC could share its entire paid media plan, as long as the candidate’s team does not respond.” The coordination is more extensive than people imagine, and, apparently, perfectly legal.

But even the lawyers working on this issue do not agree on what is legal and what is not. Phil Cox who works for America Leads (a Super PAC supporting Chris Christie), says, for example, “The system makes no sense. It’s crying out for reform. We need to put the power back in the hands of the candidates and their campaigns, not the outside groups.” Bob Bauer, a campaign finance lawyer, agrees,

“The problem isn’t that the law isn’t being enforced — the problem is that we need to rethink the whole thing from the ground up.”

This coordination is already affecting the 2016 elections. But even beyond returning power to the candidates, we need to return the power of influencing elections back to the people. Because, in the end, it is the people who need to be represented and therefore, heard. Perhaps this regulation avoidance will cause people to realize that it is the system that needs reform.


Donald Trump Grows More Toxic By the Day

Donald Trump began his campaign for the presidency with incendiary remarks about immigrants, and he has not let up. During his first speech as a candidate, Trump stated "when Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. …  They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists.” Despite the backlash to his comments, Trump has doubled down on his extremist views on immigration. In an interview with NBC, Trump said “there's nothing to apologize for” and added that any immigration policy less strict than his own would “let everybody come in… killers, criminals, drug dealers.”

Now, companies are responding by severing ties with Trump. Univision pulled out of its contract to broadcast Trump’s Miss USA pageant and NBC cut all ties with Trump, dropping not only the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, but also Trump’s role in Celebrity Apprentice. With this list continuing to grow, one organization is conspicuously missing: the Republican National Committee.

PFAW’s partners at the Latino Victory Project are calling on RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and the Republican Party to renounce Trump as a candidate for the Republican nomination for President. With the Republican Party claiming that they are committed to strengthening ties with the Latino and immigrant communities, surely it is time for the RNC to reject a candidate who makes such hateful and racist remarks. 


PFAW Members, Local Activists Hold Kelly Ayotte Accountable For Opposing Amendment to Overturn Citizens United

People For the American Way members and other supporters of the movement to get big money out of politics delivered a clear message last night about Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s refusal to support a constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United.


Activists took to the South Willow Street Bridge in Manchester to hold boxes with LED lights to spell out the words “AYOTTE WON’T #GETMONEYOUT.” Ayotte has described a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics as “dangerous” – despite the fact that a majority of New Hampshire voters who support such an amendment.


Voters in New Hampshire and beyond are increasingly concerned about the amount of money in politics, and the proposed constitutional amendment would dramatically curb political spending to help ensure that our elections can’t be bought by wealthy special interests. New Hampshire activists are committed to holding Ayotte accountable for her refusal to support the movement to undo big money’s corrosive influence on our elections.



Bush Fundraising Numbers Illustrate The Problem of Big Money in Elections

 Earlier this week, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush released his fundraising amount for the upcoming elections. Right to Rise, a Super PAC backing the candidate, announced that it had raised $103 million in the last six months, while Bush’s campaign had raised $11.4 million in the two weeks since his announcement, bringing the fundraising total to a stunning $114 million, 17 months away from Election Day. For comparison, at this point in 2011, Restore our Future, a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, had raised only $12.2 million.

 These shocking figures demonstrate the growing influence of big money on our elections and political process. $1 billion was spent in the 2012 federal elections, and the Koch brothers alone vowed to raise at least $889 million in 2016 from other wealthy donors. Since the wealthy have policy views that are strikingly different from that of the rest of Americans, this new system has disturbing implications for the state of democracy in the U.S. A Princeton study found that the viewpoints of the bottom 90 percent of income earners have no significant effect on public policy.

 One particularly troubling aspect of the Right to Rise fundraising numbers is their definition of “small donors” as those who donated less than $25,000. The fact that the Super PAC considers $25,000 to be the cutoff for small donations raises questions of exactly how much the 500 who raised more than that amount donated.

 Most Americans agree that the campaign finance system has gotten out of hand. Three out of four Americans support a constitutional amendment that would allow Congress to set limits on campaign spending, and even presidential candidates such as Lindsey Graham, Bernie Sanders, and Hillary Clinton have stated their support for overturning  cases like Citizens United through a constitutional amendment.  With the American people so determined to maintain the integrity of our elections, a national conversation about the influence big money in politics is unfolding, laying a foundation for real reform in 2016 and beyond.



Americans Push To Shed Light on Dark Money

 With outside contributions in the 2012 federal elections totaling $1 billion, and with the Koch brothers alone already pledging to spend $889 million from their political network in 2016, it’s no wonder 85 percent of Americans agree that the campaign finance system needs serious reform. A particularly disturbing aspect is the prevalence of “dark money,” or political spending by outside Super PACs and so-called social welfare groups with no disclosure requirements. In the 2014 elections, 31 percent of all independent campaign spending was from groups that had no obligation to disclose their donors.

 Despite deep concern from their constituents, Congress has been hesitant to take action against dark money being funneled into our elections. Though Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced the Disclose Act, which would require that all organizations disclose their political expenditures, Senate Republicans blocked the Senate majority from being able to vote on it.

 The American people haven’t given up just yet. 73 percent support a constitutional amendment that would allow lawmakers to limit political spending. Further, more than 550,000  have signed a petition urging President Barack Obama to issue an executive order requiring government contractors to disclose their political spending.

 Just this week, advocates for campaign finance reform experienced a major victory when the DC Circuit unanimously upheld the “pay-to-play” provision that bars federal contractors from donating to federal candidates and party committees. In addition, presidential candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Lindsey Graham, and Hillary Clinton have all expressed support for removing big money’s electoral influence. 

 “We have to stop the endless flow of secret, unaccountable money that is distorting our elections, corrupting our political process, and drowning out the voices of our people,” said Clinton in her kick-off campaign speech.

 The movement against dark money clouding our elections has experienced a momentous push as Americans demand a more transparent campaign finance system.




With Toomey's Help, Senate Could Confirm Restrepo Quickly

The Senate Judiciary Committee just held a long overdue vote on Third Circuit nominee Phil Restrepo of Pennsylvania.  To no one’s surprise, he has the committee’s unanimous support.  His nomination now moves to the Senate floor, where it is up to Mitch McConnell to schedule a confirmation vote.

So let’s review some of the reasons McConnell should let the Senate vote to confirm him quickly:

  • The vacancy Restrepo would fill has been designated a judicial emergency.
  • There’s a second vacancy on the same court, adding to the strain on the serving judges, as well as the parties before them.
  • Restrepo has the bipartisan support of his home state senators.
  • He has been vetted and approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee.
  • The vacancy Restrepo would fill has been open for more than two years already.
  • He was nominated eight months ago, way back in November of last year.
  • The Senate needs to make up for lost time, since committee chairman Chuck Grassley refused to even hold a hearing for Restrepo until seven months after the nomination.  (Senator Pat Toomey’s collaboration with Grassley by withholding his “blue slip” made that delay possible.)
  • Restrepo would expand experiential diversity on the Third Circuit, becoming the first judge on that court to have experience as a public defender.
  • He’d be the first Latino from Pennsylvania on the Third Circuit.
  • Everyone on the ABA panel that looked at his qualifications agreed that he was qualified.  In fact, a substantial majority of the panel said he was “well qualified,” which is the highest rating.

Now let’s look at the reasons McConnell might have for refusing to hold a timely confirmation vote:

  • The nominating president is a Democrat.
  • The nominating president is a Democrat.
  • The nominating president is a Democrat.

It’s pretty clear that the reasons for a quick confirmation vote are a lot better than the reasons for delay.  But given McConnell’s appetite for obstruction, it’s equally clear that he is more likely to choose needless delay.

The person best positioned to help Restrepo is McConnell’s fellow Republican, Senator Toomey.  As noted above, despite his public statements praising Restrepo, Toomey collaborated with Grassley when the committee chair was looking for a way to delay the nominee’s hearing.  Appropriately enough, Toomey got slammed in the Pennsylvania press for this until he finally relented.

Then when faced with the knowledge that the committee would needlessly delay its vote by at least two weeks unless he intervened with Grassley, Toomey not only did nothing, he offered an amazingly lame explanation for his refusal to stand up for Restrepo.

It makes you wonder just how much Toomey’s statements of support are worth.

Toomey can do better.  He can talk to McConnell, who has every reason to be responsive to members of his caucus.  And while Toomey’s talking about the needs of Pennsylvanians, he can also remind McConnell how the Democratic-controlled Senate treated George W. Bush’s Third Circuit nominee from Pennsylvania in his last two years.

Like Restrepo, nominee Thomas Hardiman was a district court judge; he had been nominated to the federal bench by Bush earlier in the president’s term.  Like Restrepo, Hardiman was nominated to fill a judicial emergency.  And like Restrepo, Hardiman had the unanimous support of the Judiciary Committee.

And in March of 2007, then-Majority Leader Reid scheduled a confirmation vote just one week after the committee vote.

So is a confirmation vote for Restrepo this month too much to ask?  Perhaps the question is whether it’s too much for Pat Toomey to ask.


Hobby Lobby: One Year Later

This post is written by YP4 intern Christina Tudor.

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) recently released a report listing all the ways in which the year old Hobby Lobby decision has opened the door to allowing religious exemptions for all sorts of things. NWLC’s report “The Hobby Lobby ‘Minefield’: The Harm, Misuse, and Expansion of the Supreme Court Decision,” highlights how the decision has set the stage for perpetuating discrimination beyond limiting access to birth control and placing restrictions on coverage.

The distortion of “religious liberty” and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that informed the Hobby Lobby case has led to a paramedic student claiming his religious beliefs should exempt him from vaccination requirements and some religious groups refusing to provide health care services to sexually-abused refugees. It’s even been used as a defense to try to avoid criminal prosecution for a violent kidnapping.

One Supreme Court decision can do all that damage?


Unfortunately, yes.

As Justice Ginsburg warned in her dissent, “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

It turns out that she was very right.

According to NWLC’s report, in the last year, there have been “attempts to use RFRA to challenge laws that: protect women, LGBTQ individuals, and students from discrimination; protect employees by allowing them to unionize; promote public health by requiring vaccinations; and require pharmacies to fill lawful prescriptions.”

Distorting the true meaning of religious liberty, the Supreme Court ruled that employers and businesses can use RFRA to justify their incompliance with the ACA. In other words, this decision gives bosses the freedom and the power to discriminate against their employees, and this disproportionately impacts women and their families.

The Hobby Lobby ruling has an even greater impact on working class women and their access to affordable, readily available birth control and health care services that they are entitled to and need. Lack of birth control access can also greatly increase economic instability, therefore further increasing inequality.

Equally troubling are objections to D.C. anti-discrimination laws by The Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, Alliance Defending Freedom, USCCB and eleven other organizations based upon the distortion of religious liberty.

Clearly Hobby Lobby will continue to have a serious impact on men and women across the country, especially women of color and low-income women, as more individuals and companies try to deny basic rights under the mantle of “religious accommodations.” 

PFAW Foundation

Unanimous D.C. Circuit Rejects Attacks on "Pay to Play" Prohibition

The D.C. Circuit did something today it doesn’t do very often:  It issued a unanimous en banc opinion.  All 11 judges on the court, conservative as well as progressive, rejected as meritless an effort to strike down a federal law prohibiting federal contractors from contributing money to federal candidates, parties, or committees.  This common-sense “pay to play” prohibition has been on the books for 75 years and, fortunately, will remain in force.

In Wagner v. Federal Election Commission, the plaintiffs are individuals who are also federal contractors, and they claim their First Amendment rights are violated by the ban.  In an opinion written by Chief Judge Merrick Garland, the court disagreed.  The court showed how the federal ban serves two key governmental interests: (1) preventing real and perceived corruption (even as narrowly defined by the Roberts Court); and (2) protecting merit-based government administration.

The opinion delves in great detail into the history of campaign finance corruption involving contractors, as well as others similarly situated to contractors (such as federal employees).  Decade after decade, from the 19th century to the 21st, the judges take us on a tour of one example after another, on both the state and federal level, of the corrupting influence of money.  It is hard to read this section of the opinion and not want to shower afterward.

Refreshingly, the court doesn’t close its eyes to how the world really works.  For instance, the plaintiffs argued that the introduction of formalized competitive bidding since the ban was passed in 1940 immunized the system from the type of political interference that motivated passage of the statute.  But as several of the examples show, contracting is anything but immune from political interference, including from members of Congress and the executive branch.  As the court writes:

Unlike the corruption risk when a contribution is made by a member of the general public, in the case of contracting there is a very specific quo for which the contribution may serve as the quid:  the grant or retention of the contract.  Indeed, if there is an area that can be described as the “heartland” of such concerns, the contracting process is it.

Today’s opinion applies only to bans on contributions to candidates, parties, and committees; the issue of independent expenditures wasn’t before the court.

But here’s a question to ponder after reading this opinion’s long history of corruption surrounding the nexus of federal contracts and money in politics:  If a contractor publicly giving $100 to a candidate creates an appearance of corruption that can be banned, then why do we let that contractor secretly give $1 million in dark money to some shadowy entity buying ads slamming that candidate’s opponent?  Shouldn’t we know how the money is flowing?  As today’s court ruling shows, federal contractors are right at the nexus of concerns about money in politics.

PFAW Foundation

On Judicial Confirmations, 4 ≠ 21

Politico is reporting today on how the Senate GOP is blocking President Obama’s judicial nominees:

The GOP-controlled Senate is on track this year to confirm the fewest judges since 1969, a dramatic escalation of the long-running partisan feud over the ideological makeup of federal courts.

The standoff, if it continues through the 2016 elections as expected, could diminish the stamp that President Barack Obama leaves on the judiciary — a less conspicuous but critical part of his legacy. Practically, the makeup of lower-level courts could directly affect a number of Obama’s policies expected to face legal challenges from conservatives.

As we’ve written before, to determine how fairly or unfairly Republican-controlled Senate is treating Obama’s circuit and district court nominees during his last two years in office, the fairest and most accurate comparison is with how the newly-Democratically-controlled Senate treated George W. Bush’s nominees during his last two years:

  • So far this year, the Senate has confirmed only four judicial nominees.  By this same point in 2007, the Senate had confirmed 21 of Bush’s judicial nominees.
  • Since the beginning of the year, circuit and district court vacancies have jumped from just 40 to 59, a nearly 50% increase.  In contrast, in 2007, vacancies dropped from 56 at the beginning of the year to 51 on July 1.  In fact, by the fall of 2008 the Democratic-controlled Senate had confirmed so many of Bush’s nominees that the number of vacancies got as low as 34.
  • Judicial emergencies have skyrocketed from 12 at the beginning of this year to 27 today.  In contrast, in 2007, emergencies dropped from 25 at the start of the year to 18 as of July 1.

When asked about the GOP’s slow-walking of judicial nominees, Republicans went into full avoidance and distraction mode, echoing talking points that Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley has given before.  Politico reports:

Republicans say statistics show that Obama is receiving comparable treatment to Bush. So far, Obama has gotten 311 judges installed nationwide — compared to 276 for Bush at the same point in his presidency.

The following passage did not appear in Politico, but it would have been great if it had:

Grassley has not publicly turned beet red with embarrassment for taking credit for so many confirmations when, in fact, he and his party opposed even allowing the Senate to vote on an enormous percentage of them.  The GOP forced time-consuming cloture votes on 93 of President Obama’s judicial nominees, even though Republican senators voted to confirm most of them anyway.  The number is high not because of Republicans but in spite of Republicans.  And cloture votes only tell part of the story of the obstruction.  Although Senate Republicans did everything they could to gum up the works and prevent timely confirmation votes for President Obama’s nominees, they seem more than happy to take credit for their eventual confirmation.

Back to the real Politico article:

And while Democrats boast that they had confirmed 21 judges at this point in 2007, Republicans noted that 13 of them had been awaiting floor consideration the previous year. In contrast, Democrats confirmed 27 judges during the lame-duck session late last year before Republicans took over.

And here is how that paragraph might have appeared without the prism of Republican talking points:

By this time in 2007, the Senate had confirmed 13 judges left over from 2006 who were denied a vote during the lame duck not by Democrats, but by Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas.  The Senate had by this point in 2007 also confirmed an additional eight judges who had cleared the Judiciary Committee for the first time that year, a number that by itself is twice the number confirmed by the current Senate.

It is also unclear how mentioning last year’s lame duck confirmations makes the GOP look any better.  If Mitch McConnell was unwilling to schedule more than a mere four confirmation votes during the first half of the year, forcing nominees to wait month after month after committee approval before a vote, then it is hardly realistic to think that adding last year’s lame duck nominees to the mix would have done anything except increase the size of this year’s bottleneck.

The Republican talking points also don’t mention that all but three of the lame duck confirmations had unanimous Republican support.  Even though the nominees had been fully vetted, and even though Republican senators concluded that they were qualified for a lifetime position on the federal bench, they still filibustered most of them before voting to confirm them.  They apparently believed then and believe now that the judgeships these nominees filled should have remained vacant well into this year, even though the Senate was prepared to confirm them last year, and despite the harm that delay would have caused to Americans across the country.

But put all that aside.  At mid-year, here’s the short version:  The GOP-controlled Senate confirmed only four Obama judicial nominees in the first half of this year.  By the same point in 2007, the Democratic-controlled Senate had already confirmed 21 of Bush’s.

No matter how you slice it, 4 ≠ 21.


PFAW Telebriefing Analyzes End of Supreme Court Term

The Supreme Court finished its session on Monday, ending a term filled with landmark decisions regarding fair housing, marriage equality, and healthcare.

On Wednesday, PFAW hosted a telebriefing for members about the end of the Court’s term and the implications of several cases. PFAW Communications Director Drew Courtney moderated a dialogue among PFAW Senior Fellows Elliot Mincberg and Jamie Raskin, Right Wing Watch researcher Miranda Blue, and PFAW Executive Vice President for Policy and Program Marge Baker.

Raskin covered Obergefell v. Hodges and Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. He first noted that Obergefell would not be possible without the “many decades of intense social struggle and millions of people coming out of the closet” which created a momentous societal shift in public opinion of LGBT rights. The Arizona case, which effectively obstructed state legislature’s gerrymandering efforts, was also a huge triumph for democracy, because, as Raskin notes, “the whole point of democracy is that power begins and resides with people.”

Mincberg discussed King v. Burwell as well as Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project—two cases that, according to Mincberg, represent “attempts by the far right to push legal theories that had been rejected by the lower courts over and over again.” The fair rulings in both cases have led many analysts to assume an overall shift left in the Court; however, Mincberg asserts that their inclusion on the docket in the first place contradicts this assumption.

Finally, Blue reviewed reactions from the Religious Right regarding the marriage decision from this session. Presidential candidates and conservative pundits alike have voiced their disapproval of the decision, with responses ranging from terrorist attack predictions to calls for a revolution. “This is a defining moment for the Religious Right,” said Blue. “It’s a test of whether the movement can survive into the future as it exists now.”

At the end of the briefing, Courtney asked the panelists about the next session of the court, including a union case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, that was recently added to the docket. Raskin labeled the case as “the new wedge to destroy unions,” and another GOP attempt to use legal doctrine to undermine progressive initiatives like public sector unions.

Listen to the full briefing here: