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PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Cleaning Up the Supreme Court's Democracy Mess

This post was originally published at the Huffington Post.

One year ago this week, the Supreme Court's conservative majority struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act and took yet another step toward undermining our democracy. Since then, civil rights leaders have been hard at work trying to clean up the Court's mess.

The Shelby decision was a devastating loss, especially for those who fought to see the original Voting Rights Act enacted. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, the sole surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington and a leader of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, accused the Supreme Court of "stab[bing] the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in its very heart." Civil rights advocates mourned the naïve assumption that Selma had been relegated to ancient history and that racial discrimination in voting went with it. People For the American Way's director of African American religious affairs noted on the day of the decision: "Those who sided with the majority clearly have not been paying attention, reading the paper, attending community meetings, living in America."

Indeed, anyone who has been paying attention knows that voting discrimination is far from ancient history. A new report by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights found nearly 150 documented instances of voting rights violations since 2000, with each case affecting between hundreds and tens of thousands of voters.

Happily, reform is finally underway in the Senate. On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on legislation to put the VRA back together again. It's a critically important first step in getting our country's laws back to where they need to be on voting rights protections. But so far House Republican leadership has refused to move forward. Maybe they think that if they pretend a problem doesn't exist, they won't have to fix it.

The push for voting rights protections isn't the only effort underway to clean up the mess the Supreme Court has made of our democracy. With the 2012 election the most expensive in history, this week the Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC, the infamous 2010 ruling that paved the way for unlimited corporate political spending. Like Shelby, Citizens United was a contentious 5-4 decision with a strong dissent. Also like Shelby, it set our democracy back dramatically. Citizens United let corporate bank accounts overwhelm the voices of everyday Americans. Shelby made it easier for state and local governments to create barriers to voting.

But Americans know that the answer to attacks on our democracy isn't despair -- it's action. Sixteen states and more than 550 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics like the one moving forward in the Senate, and that number is growing rapidly.

National leaders are also speaking out. President Obama has expressed his support for an amendment to overturn Citizen United multiple times since the decision. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens are just a handful of other high-profile amendment supporters. And earlier this month, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg did not hold back her disdain for the recent democracy-harming decisions coming from the Supreme Court's majority: "Like the currently leading campaign finance decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, I regard Shelby County as an egregiously wrong decision that should not have staying power."

The Supreme Court has made some very bad calls when it comes to protecting the rights of all Americans to participate meaningfully in our political system. But Justice Ginsburg is right: these wrong-headed decisions shouldn't have staying power. And if the American people have anything to do with it, they won't.

PFAW

"Citizen Koch" Premieres Nationwide (And We Highly Recommend It!)

All around the country, the important film "Citizen Koch" is premiering in cities large and small. Find a screening near you!

The movie tracks the effects of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that lifted a century-long ban on corporate election spending by looking at the standoff in Wisconsin between state employees and GOP Governor Scott Walker. During his election and recall campaigns, Walker was bankrolled by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, demonstrating the torrent of unlimited, anonymous political spending by corporations and billionaires that was unleashed through this Supreme Court decision. As the film follows this story, it also shows the fracturing of the Republican Party and proves how Citizens United fundamentally changed how our democracy works.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funding, and even losing its public television distributor, the movie finally comes to theatres this summer. The process that led to it being pulled from public television airwaves illustrates exactly what “Citizen Koch” depicts—that money buys not only action, but also silence. As Buddy Roemer, whose presidential run is chronicled in the film, stated, “Sometimes it's a check. Sometimes it's the threat of a check. It's like having a weapon. You can shoot the gun or just show it. It works both ways.”

People For the American Way hosted the DC premiere of the documentary film “Citizen Koch” at the Washington’s West End Cinema Friday night to a sell out crowd. Friday’s premiere was followed by a panel discussion with one of the documentary’s Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Tia Lessin, along with PFAW’s director of outreach and partner engagement Diallo Brooks and PFAW president Michael Keegan. After the screening, the audience participated in a question and answer session on the effects of big money in politics and what different organizations and mobilized citizens are doing to reverse the effects of Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.

 

PFAW

PFAW Files Amicus Brief Supporting Fair Trials for Undocumented Immigrants

Last Thursday, People For the American Way, joined by the UC Hastings Appellate Project (HAP) and the ACLU of Southern California, submitted an amicus brief to the California Court of Appeal in Velasquez v. Centrome, Inc. dba Advanced Biotech, a toxic tort case brought by an undocumented immigrant that resulted in a gross denial of justice.

Wilfredo Velasquez filed a lawsuit against a chemical manufacturer seeking damages for medical expenses after contracting a devastating lung disease due to exposure to one of the company’s toxic chemicals while on the job. During the jury selection process, where prospective jurors are questioned to discover potential biases, the trial judge wrongly disclosed Mr. Velasquez’s immigration status to the entire jury pool, despite the fact that it was not relevant to any issues in the case. The disclosure appears to have harmed Mr. Velasquez’s pursuit of justice: Even though the jury ultimately found the chemical manufacturer negligent, it awarded no damages to Mr. Velasquez. He effectively lost his case. The court refused to grant a mistrial for its error in possibly tainting the jury, and Mr. Velasquez appealed the verdict. 

PFAW submitted its amicus brief in support of a new trial for Mr. Velasquez because of the highly prejudicial nature of the court’s wrongful disclosure of his citizenship status, explaining, “Rather than protect against prejudice, the judge’s statement unnecessarily injected prejudice into the [jury] selection process, making it impossible to know whether Mr. Velasquez received his constitutionally guaranteed fair trial by impartial jurors.” Given the ongoing hostility towards undocumented immigrants, as chronicled by PFAW’s Right Wing Watch blog, PFAW’s brief urges the appellate court to find that when a trial court erroneously discloses a litigant’s citizenship status to the jury during voir dire a new trial must be awarded.

Read the full text of the amicus brief for more information
 

PFAW

Roberts Court Upholds but Limits EPA's Authority to Regulate Greenhouse Gases

The conservative wing of the Roberts Court today ruled that the EPA cannot regulate greenhouse gases in certain contexts — but acknowledged that the agency can continue to do so in others. Despite the negative part of the ruling, the EPA retains its general authority to regulate greenhouse gases, a result that the EPA calls "a good day for all supporters of clean air and public health." Environmental organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice issued generally positive statements in response to the ruling.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases count as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. While that case involved the regulation of cars and trucks, today's case involved two sections of the Clean Air act relating to "stationary sources," like power plants.

In the now-predictable 5-4 lineup, the Justices sided with polluters in ruling that the Clean Air Act prohibits certain permitting requirements for facilities that emit large amounts of greenhouse gases. Under the Clean Air Act, facilities emitting pollutants above a certain level (250 tons per year) are subject to EPA permitting requirements. Congress set that level with traditional pollutants in mind, but since greenhouse gases are emitted in far greater volumes than other pollutants, millions of industrial, commercial, and even residential sources exceed the statutory threshold. To avoid tremendous costs to both industry and state permitting authorities, the EPA chose to initially subject only the largest sources of emissions to mandatory greenhouse gas permitting – those emitting far, far more than 250 tons per year.

All the Justices agreed that when Congress passed the Clean Air Act, it wanted permitting requirements only for the largest polluters. So how do you reconcile the Act's requirements for a permitting program for places emitting "any air pollutant" over 250 tons per year, with the fact that including greenhouse gases over that amount leads to results that Congress didn't want?

As Justice Breyer stated in his dissent, all the Justices agreed that the statute has to be interpreted as having an implicit exception, or else it doesn't make sense. But they disagreed sharply over what that implicit exception is. The conservative majority used this as an opportunity to poke a hole in the definition of "air pollutant" in the specific sections of the Act at issue in this case, so they basically apply to "any air pollutant except greenhouse gases." This would allow the largest contributors to greenhouse gas pollution escape reasonable regulations under the sections of the Clean Air Act at issue in this case.

In contrast, the dissent would attach the implied exception to the types of sites that are subject to the mandatory permitting requirements. That would let the EPA adopt regulations affecting only the main sources of the problem, exactly as Congress intended. And it would prevent an interpretation of the Clean Air Act where greenhouse gases count as pollutants in one section but not another. The dissent's approach lets the EPA respond flexibly to new information and advances in science since the Clean Air Act was adopted, just as Congress intended.

Yet, as noted above, this was not the only part of today's opinion. Importantly, the Court also upheld EPA regulatory authority in another context, with only Justices Thomas and Alito dissenting. If a facility is already subject to EPA regulations due to more traditional air pollutants, then the EPA can require it to use the best available technology to control its greenhouse gas emissions, as well. During oral arguments, the Obama Administration said that this covers 83% of the greenhouse gas emissions that come from stationary sources in the United States.

Justices Alito and Thomas wrote that the greenhouse gases aren't covered by any part of the Clean Air Act, period. Fortunately, their position did not carry the day. And the day ends with EPA's authority mostly intact.

PFAW Foundation

People For the American Way Action Fund Endorses Young Progressive Candidates in Michigan

People For the American Way Action Fund today announced its endorsements of a slate of young progressive candidates running for the Michigan State Legislature. The endorsees include a diverse mix of 35-and-younger candidates running for the Michigan state House of Representatives and state Senate, representing a new generation of progressive leaders who will put Michigan’s legislature back-on-track towards a common sense, inclusive, accountable public policy agenda for the state’s future. Their leadership represents a progressive vision that will benefit all Michiganders as they fight for social, economic, environmental justice and equality for all.

The endorsements are part of People For the American Way Action Fund’s Young Elected Progressives (YEP) program. YEP evaluates and endorses young progressive candidates age 35-and-younger in their bids for elected office around the U.S. at all levels.

People For the American Way Action Fund is proud to endorse these Michigan YEP candidates for 2014:

Stephanie Chang – MI House District 6

Running for Michigan’s House of Representatives District 6, Stephanie Chang is a Michigander whose dedication to the community has benefited many. Chang has worked around the state advocating for Affirmative Action, serving as a mentor for Detroit Asian Youth Project, and promoting a fair justice system. Chang’s knowledge and breadth of experience in Michigan make her an important leader for the state as she fights for social, economic, and environmental justice. Visit Stephanie’s page for more details.

Jon Hoadley – MI House District 60

Jon Hoadley is the clear choice to represent Michigan’s 60th District in the state House of Representatives. Hoadley, a small business owner and member of several advocacy organizations in Kalamazoo, is deeply ingrained and in tune with the needs of his community, which makes him the ideal representative. He has already worked to better Kalamazoo advocating for full LGBTQ equality, creating strong and sustainable public schools, and protecting the environment. Visit Jon’s page for more details.

David Knezek – MI Senate District 5

David Knezek is running for Michigan state Senate’s 5th District and has proven that he is the ideal candidate for the position. Knezek is a true leader, having been promoted to the rank of Sergeant during his time in the U.S. Marine Corps. At the University of Michigan-Dearborn, he was elected Student Government President, and in his senior year of college he was elected to be a Michigan state representative. Knezek has proven that he will advocate for his community and improve education, public safety, and job opportunities for Michigan citizens. Visit David’s page for more details.

Kristy Pagan – MI House District 21

Born and bred in Michigan, Kristy Pagan is the ideal candidate for the 21st District of Michigan’s state House of Representatives. She has worked in Washington, D.C. as a legislative aide and a national grassroots organizer. Her determination to serve coupled with her knowledge of and dedication to Michigan will serve the state well. Pagan is a true progressive, and has both the resolve and the passion to reform Michigan’s educational system, advocate for women and children, and improve job growth. Visit Kristy's page for more details.

Rebecca Thompson – MI District 1

Rebecca Thompson is running for election to the 1st District of the Michigan state House of Representatives. Thompson was born and raised in Detroit, and overcame experiences with poverty and homelessness to become a leader in the community. She has worked tirelessly to better Detroit for everyone, using her own experiences to positively impact those around her. Thompson is passionate about affordable education, improving safety, protecting women’s rights, and advocating for her community. Visit Rebecca's page for more details.

Robert Wittenberg – MI House District 27
                                                                                                                     
Robert Wittenberg is running to represent District 27 in the Michigan state House of Representatives. After being inspired by his parents’ and brothers’ work, he is determined to follow in their footsteps and serve his community. As a public servant, he advocates for full equality for the LGBTQ community, increased public transportation, and access to healthcare for all. Visit Robert's page for more details.

PFAW

Great Progress in Judicial Nominations

During the past several months, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy have clearly made judicial nominations a priority. Taking advantage of last year's rules change and standing up against GOP filibusters of every judicial nominee without exception, Senate Democrats have made great strides in addressing the vacancy crisis.

So far in 2014, the Senate has confirmed 50 federal circuit and district court judges. That's more than were confirmed during all of last year, or during the year before. With the Senate finally able to do its job, the number of current vacancies has gone down from 92 at the beginning of the year to 60 today. The number of current vacancies is lower than it has been since the earliest weeks of the Obama Administration, when the GOP began its mission of obstructing his judicial nominees.

None of this is because Republicans have suddenly ended their obstruction. Far from it: They have not consented to a single one of this year's confirmation votes. Of course, once their filibusters are beaten back, they usually vote to confirm the nominee overwhelmingly.

Next to be confirmed are a diverse group of 16 pending nominees fully vetted by the Judiciary Committee (11 of them voted out just this morning). Of these 16 nominees, 11 are women or people of color. They would add to the experiential and professional diversity on the bench, as well. For instance, Florida's Beth Bloom and Paul Byron, Georgia's Leigh Martin May, and Louisiana's John deGravelles have private practice experience representing injured plaintiffs; Missouri's Ronnie White and California's André Birotte bring experience as public defenders; Florida's Carlos Mendoza and Paul Byron served in the military as criminal defense lawyers in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army, respectively.

There is no reason not to have confirmation votes for all 16 of them before the long summer recess. If that happens, then the total number of current vacancies will drop into the 40s for the first time since before George W. Bush left office.

Every American has the right to protect their legal rights in a court of law, but judicial vacancies make that harder. Harry Reid, Patrick Leahy, and the Democrats are to be commended for making judicial confirmations such a high priority.

PFAW

“I’m Afraid to Do What I Think Is Right”: Report Highlights Real-World Impact of Outside Political Spending

While we may be accustomed to seeing charts and tables about the impact of big money in politics, it’s far less common to hear about the real-world stories of its influence. Yesterday researchers from Ohio State University released a new report on “The New Soft Money,” a first-of-its-kind look at the day to day impact of independent expenditures (such as spending by super PACs) on federal campaigns and governance.

Through interviews with former members of Congress, campaign and legislative staff, candidates, and other political figures, the report details — in the interviewees’ own words — the effects of the explosion of independent spending into our political system following the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC.

A few highlights from the report make clear the enormous impact outside spending has on the functioning of our democracy:

“No one’s saying, ‘Here’s $50 million for a good  compromise.” -Former Rep. Dan Boren (pg. 93)

“When Club for Growth first came out we used to laugh about them, we used to chuckle on the floor… But, after the Citizens United case, they became….much more active….if you didn’t behave in a certain way they would come into your district and spend a lot of money to make sure you were defeated in the primary.”  -Former Rep. Steve LaTourette (p. 87-88)

Some political insiders described the ongoing implicit threat of independent spending on attack ads as just as effective as an explicit threat would be:

“You’re already threatened.... You’re sitting there saying ... is Americans for Prosperity going to advertise against me in a primary, yes or no?....If you’re sitting there making a decision, [thinking]… we’d better do something about it, but if I do something about it, I know the Koch brothers are going to run an ad against me. I know they’re going to put a lot of money to try to defeat me in a primary. I know it… They don’t have to threaten me…the net effect is the same. I’m afraid to do what I think is right.” -Former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who ran for Senate again in 2012 (p. 82)

The report was released on the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Constitution Subcommittee voted to move forward a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn decisions like Citizens United, serving as even more evidence of the pressing need to reform our campaign finance system.

PFAW

Ted Cruz and the Myth of the Censored Grandma

In today’s Senate subcommittee markup on a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and get big money out of politics, Sen. Ted Cruz was ready with a long line of scary predictions as to what the proposed amendment would really do. From claiming that it would repeal the First Amendment to asserting that under the original proposed amendment, a “little old lady” could be put in jail for spending five dollars to put up a political yard sign, Cruz had horror stories at the ready. During the markup, Sen. Cruz dramatically tweeted that a “constitutional amendment proposed by Democrats would allow Congress to ban books!”

As we have pointed out before, Sen. Cruz’s doomsday predictions are far cry from reality.

Here’s what is reality: the proposed amendment would allow Congress and the states to be able to set reasonable limits on the raising and spending of money in elections, as they did for years and years before the Citizens United decision. It would not change the landscape with respect to books. Grandmas would still be able to put out their candidate yard signs. The First Amendment would be restored from the damage done by Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United.

Fortunately other members of the subcommittee were able to set the record straight. Sen. Durbin underscored the idea that a large bank account does not “entitle you to buy every seat at the table, control the agenda, silence your opponents.” In other words, the First Amendment is about protecting the right to free speech, not the “right” of wealthy special interests to buy elections and drown out all other voices. As Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, has noted previously: “I’m still looking for the word ‘money’ in the First Amendment.

But presumably the goal of Sen. Cruz’s censored-grandma myth and other horror stories is to pull the conversation far away from the actual merits of the proposal at hand. Rather than talking about the influx of money flooding our elections, we’re talking about book banning. But with across-the-board support for efforts to get big money out of politics, it’s a distraction ploy that Americans aren’t buying.

PFAW

America's History of Amending the Constitution to Expand Democracy (And Overturn the Supreme Court)

Although Congress and the American people have been very careful to preserve the Constitution throughout our history, they have not hesitated to amend it in order to correct harmful Supreme Court rulings and to promote popular democracy. That is precisely the purpose of the proposed 28th Amendment, which would overturn cases like Citizens United and enhance political democracy and the First Amendment by allowing Congress to ensure that the voices of the people are heard in campaigns. In fact, 7 of the 17 amendments to the Constitution adopted since the Bill of Rights — more than 40% —corrected dangerous Supreme Court decisions which, like Citizens United , undermined popular democracy, whether by undermining the ability of some Americans to participate in our democratic process, or by limiting the ability of all Americans to address issues of pressing national concern through the political branches of government. These have included some of the most important amendments in U.S. history. Specifically:

  • The 13th and 14th Amendments, which banned slavery and required the states to provide equal protection of the laws, were enacted after the Civil War to overturn the disgraceful Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), which had claimed that blacks were inferior to whites and upheld slavery.
  • The 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920, reversed several court decisions, including the Supreme Court’s ruling in Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162 (1875), which disenfranchised women and ruled that they did not have the right to vote under the Constitution.
  • The 24th Amendment in 1964 abolished poll taxes that literally taxed people who wanted to vote, reversing the Supreme Court’s decision in Breedlove v. Suttles, 302 U.S. 277 (1937), which had ruled that such taxes were constitutional.
  • The 26th Amendment made clear that all U.S. citizens 18 years of age and older have the right to vote in 1971. That overruled the Supreme Court’s ruling in Oregon v. Mitchell, 400 U.S. 112 (1970), which said that Congress could not reduce the voting age from 21 to 18.

Opponents claim that the 28th Amendment would be different than these amendments because it would allegedly restrict rather than expand rights. But the defenders of political inequality protested that granting women and young people the right to vote violated their own rights, just as corporations and the ultra-rich today claim a “right” to spend unlimited amounts on elections and drown out the voices of the people. Moreover, even accepting the opponents’ narrow interpretation of expanding or diminishing “rights,” several constitutional amendments have overturned damaging Supreme Court decisions and did not “expand” rights. Specifically:

  • The 16th Amendment in 1913 gave Congress the authority to enact  income taxes, overturning the Supreme Court’s ruling in Pollack v. Farmers’ Loan and Trust Co., 157 U.S. 429 (1895), which said that Congress could not do so. No one would claim that having to pay income taxes expands individuals’ rights. But the Amendment was adopted so that the people through their Congressional representatives could make that decision, just as the 28th Amendment would restore that authority concerning campaign finance reform.
  • The 11th Amendment in 1795 overturned Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1793), and provided that a citizen of one state could not sue another state in federal court. That amendment clearly took away a “right” that the Court said that citizens had. But shortly after the founding of our republic, Congress and the people felt that providing such sovereign immunity to states was very important to our new democracy, and reversed the Supreme Court. The 28th Amendment is even more important today in order to restore the damage done recently by the Court to our popular democracy.

In truth, SJ Res 19 is only the latest in a long American tradition of constitutional amendments enacted to overturn dangerous decisions handed down by our nation’s highest court.

PFAW Foundation

North Carolina GOP Senate Candidate Thom Tillis Marginalizes Minority Communities

In an interview recorded in September 2012, North Carolina Speaker of the House and U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis compared the growing population of African Americans and Latinos to a stagnant “traditional population of North Carolina and the United States.”

In an interview highlighted by Talking Points Memo, which first spotted the 2012 interview, a spokesman for Tillis claimed that “traditional North Carolinians refers to North Carolinians who have been here for a few generations.”

If you listen to the full context of Tillis’ remarks, however, it is clear that he was referring to the “traditional population” as a group distinct from the “Latino population” and the “African American population.”

Right Wing Watch points out that “traditional population” and “traditional Americans” are frequently used by anti-immigrant extremists as euphemisms for “white population.” For instance, in The Social Contract, a journal founded by an influential anti-immigrant leader, the term is used in a 2012 essay by Brenda Walker when she says, “Traditional Americans are assailed by affirmative action and benefits for illegal aliens, which are not available to citizens.”

In speaking of the “traditional population,” Tillis stands alongside people like William Gheen, founder of anti-immigrant group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, who said that immigration reform would create a situation in which “traditional Americans, like those who that have been here for hundreds of years in descendancy, will no longer govern our own nation.”

It is true that North Carolina’s African American, Latino, and Asian American populations are growing faster than its white population. For instance, the Latino population in North Carolina grew by 111.1 percent from 2000 to 2010, increasing from 4.7 percent of the population to 8.4 percent. Yet Tillis has consistently worked to marginalize Latinos, by cutting spending on education, opposing healthcare reform, and supporting a restrictive voter identification law ironically called “VIVA.” That’s why People for the American Way is working in North Carolina this year to make sure Latino voters know the threat posed by Tillis’ extreme agenda.

Last year PFAW’s Spanish-language advertising helped spur turnout among Latinos in Virginia’s gubernatorial elections, and did the same in many 2012 battleground contests. As we look to the 2014 elections, Tillis’ actions and statements marginalizing the Latino community will represent a real challenge to his standing in an increasingly powerful voting bloc.

PFAW

Obama to Issue Executive Order Protecting Federal Contractors’ LGBT Employees

The White House announced today that President Obama will issue an executive order protecting the employees of federal contractors from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the White House, it is an action rooted in the principle that “your ability to get ahead should be determined by your hard work, ambition, and goals – not by the circumstances of your birth, your sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Though most Americans don’t realize it, in the majority of states you can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. But across the board Americans believe that workplace discrimination is wrong, and that employees should be judged on how well they do their job, not on who they are or who they love.

The upcoming executive order, which ThinkProgress characterizes as “the single largest expansion of LGBT workplace protections in our country’s history,” could protect up to 16 million workers — a major step forward for LGBT equality and for basic fairness in the workplace. But even as we celebrate the anticipated expansion of protections, it’s important to remember that our country still needs a federal law like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to protect LGBT workers across the country — not just those who work for federal contractors — from employment discrimination. In addition to covering more workers, ENDA would not be at risk of being undone by a future president, as the upcoming order may be.

No one should be forced to choose between risking their job and hiding who they are or who they love.

PFAW

Dakotans File Suit, All Fifty States Now Have Either Marriage Equality or a Legal Challenge in Progress

In May, when we last updated our numbers on the fight for marriage equality, there were just two states left with unchallenged bans on same-sex marriage.

Today that number is zero – every state now either has marriage equality (19 and DC) or a legal challenge in progress (the other 31).

First we heard from South Dakota on May 22, where Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard has been filed on behalf of six couples.

Attorney Josh Newville in the Argus Leader:

With the filing of this lawsuit, South Dakota will join the many other states in the nation who are engaged in a historic and very important discussion about it what means to treat each other equally under the law.

Two weeks later, on June 6, Newville was back in court putting the last state on the board by filing Ramsay v. Dalrymple on behalf of seven North Dakota couples.

Plaintiff Bernie Erickson on Valley News Live:

We are simply looking for the same recognition that every other couple has, every other loving couple[].

Onward!

Check out our website for more LGBT equality updates.

PFAW Foundation

What Cantor’s Defeat Says About Money In Politics

As the news of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s surprising loss last night to Tea Party challenger David Brat sinks in, Brat’s anti-immigrant extremism is increasingly coming into the spotlight. Today Right Wing Watch wrote that Brat actively sought out the endorsement of ALIPAC, an anti-immigrant hate group whose leader has suggested that violence may be necessary to quell President Obama’s supposed war on “white America.” Brat campaigned on the claim that a vote for Cantor was “a vote for amnesty.”

But there is another aspect to the race also worth paying attention to: Brat’s focus on corruption in Washington. This morning our friends at Public Campaign pointed out that Brat, who was vastly outspent by Cantor, consistently made speaking out against political corruption a part of his campaign. In his victory speech, Brat said to supporters: “What you proved tonight was dollars don’t vote — you do.”

The overwhelming majority of Americans (92 percent of voters, according to a November 2013 poll) think it’s important for elected officials do more to reduce money’s influence on elections — a statistic we often highlight in our work for urgently-needed campaign finance reforms. What last night’s news brings to the foreground is the obvious fact that this 92 percent cannot possibly reflect Americans of only one political leaning. A commitment to fighting corruption and the outsized influence of big money in politics is a deeply-held belief of people of all political stripes, whatever their other beliefs may be.

This morning Politico proclaimed, “Big money couldn’t save Eric Cantor.” And despite Brat’s extremism, there is something hopeful about the fact that people can fight back against the tidal wave of cash flooding our electoral system. To be sure, this outcome is the exception rather than the rule. More than nine times in ten, the better-financed congressional candidate wins. In the post-Citizens United and post-McCutcheon campaign finance landscape, to pretend that money doesn’t matter hugely in the outcome of elections — and in who has access to and influence over politicians once the election is over — is to be willfully blind.

But it’s also important to be reminded that when voters set their minds to it, they still have the power to reshape our nation — for good or ill.

PFAW

Same-Sex Marriages Continue in Wisconsin After Federal Judge Denies Motion to Stay

Since last Friday’s ruling by Federal Judge Barbara Crabb that Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, hundreds of same-sex couples have lined up to get marriage licenses across the Badger State. Immediately after receiving the ruling, clerks in Dane and Milwaukee counties began issuing marriage licenses, and in both areas, facilities stayed open late on Friday and continued issuing licenses on Saturday. Officiants, including judges, ministers, and commissioners, married couples on-site at their respective county courthouses.

Similar to actions in other states where courts have struck down same-sex marriage bans, Wisconsin’s right-leaning GOP Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen filed multiple motions to “preserve the status quo” attempting to stop same-sex marriages from happening.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 48 of the state’s 72 counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite the ongoing legal battle. Wisconsin’s Vital Records Office is accepting the licenses, but holding them until they receive further guidance from Van Hollen.

For its part, the ACLU filed a proposal of how to implement same-sex marriage in the state. If approved, the plan would force Governor Scott Walker, Attorney General Van Hollen, and county clerks across the state to treat all same-sex and opposite-sex couples equally under the law.

Judge Crabb is set to have another hearing on June 19th.

PFAW Foundation

Poll Confirms Majority Support for Immigration Reform, Explains GOP Obstruction

A survey released today by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution finds strong public support, across political and religious lines, for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for people now living in the country illegally.

When asked how the immigration system should deal with immigrants currently living in the country illegally, 62 percent of Americans favor allowing them a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, 17 percent favor allowing them to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, and 19 percent favor identifying and deporting them.

A significant finding of the survey is that over the past four years, Americans went from evenly divided on the question about whether immigrants threaten American values or strengthen the country, to saying by an almost 20 percentage point margin that immigrants strengthen American society.

So why won’t the House of Representatives take up immigration reform?  The poll includes data that explains the lack of action from Republican leaders:  the party’s Tea Party base is the group most hostile to immigration reform, and white evangelical Protestants are the religious group most likely to favor mass deportation (30 percent) over a path to citizenship (48 percent) or other legal status (18 percent).

While a majority of Republicans, 51 percent, support a path to citizenship, about 30 percent of Republicans want to deport all immigrants living in the US illegally, compared to only 11 percent of Democrats.  Tea Party members are even worse, with as many Tea Party members supporting deportation as support a path to citizenship (37 percent). 

Also making action less likely in this election year are declining approval numbers for President Barack Obama, and a troubling lack of enthusiasm for voting in the mid-term elections among voters who most favor reform.  Latino voters and voters under the age of 30 are dramatically less likely than Republican leaning groups to say they are sure to vote this year: 30 percent for Hispanic voters and 24 percent for voters under 30, compared to 86 percent for Tea Party voters, 74 percent for seniors and 78 percent for Republicans.

The poll also demonstrates the influence of Fox News within the conservative movement and the GOP. Some 53 percent of Republicans said they trust Fox over any other news source: those Fox News Republicans are more than 20 percentage points more likely than other Republicans to say that immigrants today burden the country rather than strengthen it, and almost 20 percent less likely to support a path to citizenship.  There is a similar Fox effect among Independents.

One panelist commenting on the poll results was Robert Costa, a political reporter for the Washington Post, who said that when he or other political reporters are looking to get a comment from a Republican politician, they head to Fox News’s Washington bureau.  Costa said he sees obstacles to action on immigration reform next year, as the 2016 Republican presidential primary jockeying heats up, noting that Ted Cruz is pulling the party to the right on this and other issues.

PFAW