People For Blog


PFAW Launches “Donald Trump’s Year of Hate” Campaign with Dolores Huerta and Former Miss Universe Alicia Machado

On Wednesday, People For the American Way marked the one year anniversary of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign through launching a new campaign, “Donald Trump’s Year of Hate.” Yesterday’s event, which was cohosted by CASA in Action (Virginia), featured six speakers, including actress and former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, civil rights leader and PFAW board member Dolores Huerta, former Arlington County Board Member and Virginia community leader J. Walter Tejada, Virginia State Delegate Alfonso Lopez, CASA in Action’s advocacy and elections specialist Luis Aguilar, and PFAW’s own Lizet Ocampo, who serves as director of Latinos Vote! and manager of political campaigns.

The six speakers discussed how Donald Trump’s candidacy has directly harmed people of color in the United States, particularly Latinos. The bilingual event addressed the negative impact of Trump’s candidacy, the dangers of a Trump presidency, and the need to mobilize the Latino vote in local, state, and national elections. 

The first speaker was actress and former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, who spoke about how Donald Trump humiliated and belittled her when she was just a teenager. Trump referred to her as “Ms. Housekeeping,” in reference to her Venezuelan accent and heritage. Machado said that Donald Trump’s disrespect has compelled her to become an American citizen in order to vote against him. She closed by urging other Latinos living in the United States to vote against Trump and become citizens if they aren’t already.

Following Machado, civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and PFAW board member, some of the many reasons why Donald Trump is “unfit to be president.” She cited examples of Trump’s racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia. She then urged the Latino community to vote against him, saying:

“We can’t let Donald Trump be president, and I know that we won’t. We won’t because we will get out to vote against him, we will talk with our friends and our families and make sure they go out to vote against him as well… We have the power of the vote, and that can overcome the hate that Donald Trump spews day after day after day.” 

Arlington community leader J. Walter Tejada and Virginia’s only Latino state lawmaker, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington), both called out the hateful rhetoric used by Donald Trump and the divisive nature of his campaign. Lopez stated that the tactics used by Trump are “not worthy of America, not worthy of our heritage, and definitely not worthy of Virginia.” Both Tejada and Lopez stressed the importance of the Latino vote in Virginia, with Tejada pointing out that “the road to the White House goes through the Latino vote,” and Lopez saying, “as Virginia goes, so goes the nation. And as Latinos vote in Virginia, so goes Virginia.” They both closed by urging Latinos in Virginia to register to vote and vote in November in order to protect their communities and protect Latinos everywhere from the negative impact of a Trump presidency.

PFAW’s Lizet Ocampo and CASA in Action’s Luis Aguilar both echoed the same sentiments: a Donald Trump presidency represents a very real danger for women, people of color, and immigrants, especially Latinos. Ocampo said, “Trump is the most hateful, anti-immigrant presidential candidate that any of us have ever seen. His hate harms every one of us and goes against the American values of welcoming immigrants and celebrating diversity.” They both ended their remarks by restating their commitment to mobilizing voters and combating the hateful ideology of Donald Trump. 

To mark the campaign launch anniversary, PFAW has also released a Spanish language ad in eight key target states. The ad, which is running on TV and online, highlights just some of the ways Trump's divisive rhetoric and policies hurt Latino communities, and urges people to stand -- and vote -- against Trump's hate. 


Money in Politics: a Barrier to Civil Rights Progress in the 21st Century

Panelists at the conference “Money in Politics: A Barrier to a 21st Century Civil Rights Agenda?” on Thursday last week, including PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker, held an important conversation about how big money in politics today is impeding crucial civil rights progress. Baker was joined on the panel — which was moderated by The American Prospect’s Eliza Newlin Carney — by Rashad Robinson of, Spencer Overton of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Janai Nelson of the NAACP, and Heather McGhee of DEMOS. Their dialogue explored the socioeconomic and racial implications of the way we fund elections, and how big money in politics serves as a barrier to a working and representative democracy in the United States. As the panelists made clear, in today’s political system, people of color, women, and low-income people often do not have an equal voice in our democracy.


Heather McGhee remarked that “the campaign finance system currently has inherent racial bias,” and noted that the money coming into our political system is overwhelmingly from wealthy white communities. Baker elaborated on this by discussing how many of the policies now in place are those favored by these wealthy interests, and highlighting the lack of adequate disclosure of political contributions as a barrier to organizing against these discriminatory policies. Robinson picked up that theme, discussing how the lack of timely disclosure becomes a barrier for activists trying to connect the dots between political contributions and political outcomes. Overton, who has direct experience with fundraising for campaigns, discussed the pressure to court super-rich donors who have the capacity to give massive sums, rather than reaching out to larger numbers of more modest donors. And Nelson tied money in politics reform to voting rights and outlined the need for a “deliberative democracy” that is responsive to the people.

As the panel drew to a close, panelists discussed how to address this issue moving forward. Baker made the point that currently there aren’t enough elected officials who are fighting for solutions to counteract big money in politics. McGhee reiterated that, despite a few notable exceptions, there has not been sufficient attention given to this issue from politicians serving in office.

It is time for a campaign finance system and a political system no longer run only by those with money and power. To achieve equitable public policies we need a fully representative democracy where all people, no matter their race or socioeconomic status, have an equal voice in the democracy, and that currently is simply not the case.


Big Win for Democracy in New York

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Today the people of New York scored a significant victory for democracy in the United States by officially becoming the 17th state on record in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn disastrous Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. This decision, among others, has created an out-of-balance system that allows powerful corporations and other wealthy interests to spend unlimited amounts of money to buy access and influence to advance their political agenda at the expense of everyone else.

This landmark accomplishment in New York comes as the result of a multi-year effort to encourage legislators in the state Senate and Assembly to sign onto a formal letter calling for such an amendment. Because of the work of dedicated activists and a broad coalition of organizations, lawmakers from both parties, representing a majority of each house of the legislature, have joined to represent the will of the people. Over twenty municipalities from the state of New York including Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Mt. Vernon, Ithaca and New York City have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the constitution. Moreover, since 2010 — the year of the Citizens United decision — nearly 700 cities and towns nationally have passed resolutions calling for an amendment and more than five million petition signatures have been gathered in support.

This victory represents the results of collaborative campaigning, with a diverse coalition of organizations coming together to educate, organize, and apply the political pressure necessary to win. On behalf of our more than 156,000 New York members,  People For the American Way is proud to have been one of several national organizations to play a role in advancing this effort. Since the start of this campaign several years ago, our members have signed petitions, written letters, called their legislators and shown up to advocate and protest in person.

In New York and across the country, poll after poll shows that reforming our big money system is a top priority for Americans. And with this historic win, the people of New York have contributed to the momentum of a growing national movement calling for a constitutional amendment to remedy a system that is tilted in the favor of wealthy special interests. If history is any guide, it’s not a  question of whether unaccountable money in politics will be addressed, it’s a question of when. Since our founding, this country has been on an uneven but ultimately forward-moving path towards creating a government that is truly of, by and for all the people. New York has just helped the nation take yet another step in making this promise a reality.  


PFAW and Allies Call on Platform Committees to Incorporate Money in Politics Reforms

As the Democratic and Republican platform drafting committees gear up in advance of the party conventions, PFAW joined other national democracy organizations this week in submitting letters calling for the committees to include a comprehensive package of reform measures to fight big money in politics in the platforms.

Specifically, the groups called for the policy reforms outlined in the “Fighting Big Money” agenda — which was released by 13 reform organizations last year — to be incorporated. These measures include: a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, small donor public financing, a restoration of the Voting Rights Act, increased disclosure of political spending, and stronger enforcement of existing campaign finance rules.

The letters note that the presidential candidates have talked about the need to reform our big money system throughout their campaigns, and polling consistently shows that voters of all political backgrounds agree. With an overwhelming majority of Americans frustrated with our out-of-balance political system, incorporating a comprehensive reform agenda within the party platforms is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

You can read the letters to the DNC and RNC platform committees here and here.


Criticism Mounts for Senate GOP Obstruction of Judges

Perhaps the most vital role the United States Constitution assigns to the Senate is the vetting of federal judicial nominees.  An efficient and independent judiciary is vital to those seeking to vindicate their legal rights.  It is also vital to maintaining the separation of powers, which the Founders recognized as a cornerstone of our freedom.

Yet Republicans have done everything in their power to obstruct all of President Obama’s judicial nominees.  Since they’ve taken control of the Senate, Republicans have used their enhanced power to slow down the confirmation rate to historic lows. And by blockading a Supreme Court nominee regardless of his qualifications, they have drawn more attention recently to how they’ve been sabotaging the confirmation process for federal judges at all levels.

Today’s New York Times has a devastating editorial – The Senate’s Confirmation Shutdown – detailing the obstruction.  Beginning with the most prominent example – the refusal to allow President Obama to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, regardless of the nominee’s qualifications – the editorial sets out a powerful indictment of how the Senate GOP has used its control of the chamber to keep federal courts around the country understaffed:

 This has been enormously damaging to the district courts, which deal with hundreds of thousands of cases annually, and where backlogs drag out lawsuits and delay justice. It also harms the appeals courts, whose rulings are the final word in nearly all litigation, since the Supreme Court hears only about 75 cases a year.

 How bad has it gotten? Compare the current Senate’s abysmal record with the Democratic-led Senate that President George W. Bush faced in the last two years of his administration. By June 2008, the Senate had approved 46 of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees; they confirmed a total of 68 by September. In contrast, Mr. McConnell’s Senate has confirmed only 20 of Mr. Obama’s judges since Republicans took control in January 2015, the slowest pace since the early 1950s. Appellate judges accounted for just two of those confirmations, fewer than at any time since the 19th century.

Those twenty confirmations during the past year-and-a-half include two for the Court of International Trade.  The other 18 are for district and circuit courts, fewer than the number of post offices they’ve renamed so far this Congress.

The result is a substantial increase in the number of vacancies since the GOP took over the Senate, with the number of judicial emergencies (vacancies with overwhelming backlogs that impede access to justice) skyrocketing to 2½ times what it was at the beginning of this Congress.  The Times continues:

It would be easy to fill most of these vacancies if the Senate did its job. Currently, 37 of Mr. Obama’s nominees remain bottled up in the Senate Judiciary Committee, 30 of whom are still waiting for their hearing; 17 more have been approved by the committee but have not been scheduled for a full Senate vote. To make matters worse, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has said he will shut down the confirmation process, such as it is, before the presidential nominating conventions in July.

Not mincing words, the Times editorial calls this behavior “disgraceful and disgusting,” warning that Senate Republicans “should not be surprised if, come November, the voters choose representatives who actually do their job.”

Indeed, the message Senate Republicans are hearing from Americans is to #DoYourJob.

They could start by holding a hearing for Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.  They could also stop delaying committee votes on nominees like Don Schott for the Seventh Circuit (whose vote today was delayed simply because committee Republicans could delay it).  They could hold hearings for qualified circuit court nominees like California’s Lucy Koh for the Ninth Circuit and North Dakota’s Jennifer Kelmetsrud Puhl for the Eighth Circuit, both of whom have the support of their home state senators.  Republicans could also stop blocking hearings for Indiana’s Myra Selby for the Seventh Circuit, Alabama’s Abdul Kallon for the Eleventh Circuit, Kentucky’s Lisabeth Tabor Hughes for the Sixth Circuit, and Pennsylvania’s Rebecca Haywood for the Third Circuit, all of whom are currently facing obstruction by Republican home state senators who simply want to prevent President Obama from filling these vacancies.

Whether it’s the Supreme Court, the circuit courts, or the district courts, Senate Republicans are keeping as many vacancies open for as long as possible, so that they can be filled by a President Donald Trump, whose racist comments about judicial qualifications and whose attacks on judicial independence should, in a sane party, disqualify him from being given the power to nominate judges at all.


Donald Trump Cozies Up to Anti-LGBT Activists

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Donald Trump has been called “the most pro-gay Republican nominee ever,” but he hardly deserves that reputation.

He has sharply criticized the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling and pledged to appoint judges “as close to Scalia as you could find,” referring to the late justice known for his broadsides against gay people and the “homosexual agenda.”
Not only would Trump radically reshape the judiciary, where many key LGBT issues are decided, but he has also vowed to sign anti-LGBT activists’ top legislative priority, the misnamed First Amendment Defense Act, which would give legal approval to discrimination against LGBT people, and gave his blessing to Kentucky clerk Kim Davis’ attempt to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
And that’s not to mention the fact that his attacks on women, Latinos and immigrants are also attacks on many LGBT people.

Despite his “LGBT-friendly“ reputation, Trump has cozied up to some of the country’s most extreme Religious Right leaders.

Frank Amedia, a pastor who serves as Trump’s “liaison for Christian policy,” describes HIV/AIDS as “a disease that comes because of unnatural sex.” Trump’s frequent campaign surrogate Robert Jeffress, a Southern Baptist preacher, has blasted gays for living a “filthy,” “miserable” and “perverse” “lifestyle” that he says encourages child abuse and the coming of the Antichrist.

One of Trump’s top advisers, Ben Carson, made waves during his unsuccessful presidential bid with his bizarreludicrous and offensive diatribes against gay rights.
Trump has also partnered with Harlem’s notorious “stone homos“ pastor James David Manning and far-right radio show host Alex Jones, who thinks the LGBT rights movement is a “suicide cult” bent on the destruction of humanity.

Tomorrow, the business mogul is scheduled to speak at the Road to the Majority summit in Washington, D.C., an event sponsored by two anti-LGBT groups, the Faith and Freedom Coalition and Concerned Women for America.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition was founded by Ralph Reed, who got his start in politics when his mentor Pat Robertson recruited him to lead the Christian Coalition in the late 1980s. (Robertson, incidentally, is another anti-LGBT leader who has been courted by Trump.)

Reed started the FFC in 2009, a few years after he lost his own campaign to become the lieutenant governor of his native Georgia, in part thanks to reports that emerged during the election implicating him in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. It turned out that Reed had taken money from casino and lottery interests, including those with ties to Abramoff, to help his consulting firm’s conservative Christian clients wage anti-gambling campaigns that just so happened to block the funders’ potential competitors from entering the market.

Despite the scandal, Reed eventually found a way to return to his old passion of opposing LGBT equality, demanding that the government withdraw an arts grant for repairing the Washington National Cathedral because the Episcopal Church performs weddings for same-sex couples and attacking the Employment Non-Discrimination Act as “a dagger aimed at the heart of religious freedom.”

Concerned Women for America, for its part, is so hostile to LGBT rights that it even opposes the Violence Against Women Act because it includes protections for LGBT victims of abuse and attacked Obama for daring to criticize a Ugandan law that imprisons gay people with up to life terms.

Along with Trump, the upcoming conference will feature Religious Right activists like Jim Garlow, Tony Perkins, Matt Barber and Jason and David Benham, who have allderided gay rights as Satanic.

Later this month, Trump is set to attend an event with many of these same activists, in addition to Cindy Jacobs, a self-proclaimed prophet who believes the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell led to the freak death of birds, and Rick Scarborough, who once suggested filing a “class action lawsuit” against homosexuality and said he was willing to burn to death while fighting marriage equality.

While Trump may focus his stump speeches on building a border wall and torturing prisoners of war, his promise to appoint far-right judges to the bench and his attempts to win the support of radical anti-LGBT activists should give no comfort to those who hope a President Trump might advance LGBT rights.


New Campaign Slogan for Pat Toomey?

Last month, Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put on a great dog-and-pony show to make it look like Toomey was working to get his home-state nominees confirmed.  This afternoon, Toomey had a chance to really support those nominees, and he was – surprise! – missing in action.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren asked for unanimous consent for the Senate to vote to confirm all 15 federal district court nominees pending on the Senate floor.  Most have been waiting for more than four months since committee approval for a floor vote, including two from Pennsylvania who were jointly recommended by Sens. Toomey and Bob Casey.  In fact, six of the nominees have been waiting for a vote since last year!

McConnell objected.  Toomey was nowhere to be found to stand up for his nominees, who would fill vacancies that have been open since August and September of 2013.

Then Sen. Warren sought unanimous consent to vote on a smaller list, one that still included the Pennsylvania nominees.  And once again, McConnell objected, and Toomey was nowhere to be found.

(Warren then tried with only four non-Pennsylvania nominees, then only one, but her efforts were nevertheless shot down, this time by Republican Orrin Hatch.)

This would have been a great opportunity for Toomey to stand up to his party boss and demand a vote for his nominees, who were fully vetted and approved unanimously by the Judiciary Committee way back in January.  As a member of the majority party, Toomey’s requests would presumably carry more weight with McConnell than Casey’s.  But we’ll never know, because Toomey would not publicly stand up against McConnell.

This is sadly reminiscent of Toomey’s non-supportive “support” for Pennsylvanian Phil Restrepo for the Third Circuit, when Toomey cooperated with GOP leadership in their efforts to slow down the confirmation process as much as possible.

And of course, Toomey quickly obeyed when McConnell demanded that his fellow Republicans refuse to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.  This unprecedented act of obstruction has significant harmful consequences, as described in a recent report by our affiliate People For the American Way Foundation and the Constitutional Accountability Center.

So perhaps Toomey could adopt this as a campaign slogan:

Pat Toomey:  Putting Pennsylvania first  (Except when his Washington DC party boss tells him not to)


While Trump Makes Racist Attacks On Judge, GOP Holds a Supreme Court Seat for Him to Fill?

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

It was both completely in character and shamefully beyond the pale when Donald Trump accused Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over two lawsuits against Trump University, of having an “inherent conflict of interest” in the cases because of the judge’s Mexican heritage. On Sunday he extended that charge to Muslim judges, who he also suspects would be unable to remain unbiased. If there was a shred of doubt remaining on the question of whether Donald Trump is fit to make judicial nominations before this attack, that debate is now over. Even GOP senators arespeaking out against Trump’s remarks. But in a contortion act that defies logic, those same senators continue to go to extraordinary lengths to hold open the vacant Supreme Court seat for the very person whose approach to judicial matters they are condemning.

GOP leaders rushed to denounce Trump’s remarks about Judge Curiel, with Republican senators including Kelly Ayotte, Jeff Flake, Rob Portman, and Mitch McConnell speaking out against his comments and House Speaker Paul Ryan calling them “out of left field” even though even a casual observer knows they were coming right from home plate for the past year. Trump has been consistent in his baseless attacks on entire communities since the first day of his campaign, when he smeared Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers. And if some in the GOP are (rightly) condemning Trump’s vision of a justice system in which some judges are prohibited from doing their jobs because of their ethnic background, why are they going to extraordinary lengths to put him in the driver’s seat of our nominating process?

GOP senators are still doing everything they can to block President Obama from filling the Supreme Court vacancy. Rather than follow the Constitution and give fair consideration to President Obama’s extraordinarily qualified and respected nominee, GOP senators are running a campaign of unprecedented obstruction in order to allow Trump to make the Supreme Court nomination instead.

Let’s be clear: Trump had already provided countless reasons to call into question his fitness to nominate judges. This is a man who supports killing the family members of terrorists and wants to “open up” libel laws so he can go after journalists. That he’s now implying whole swaths of people are not fit for the federal bench is one of the most disturbing examples yet of Trump’s contempt for the independence of the judiciary and for Americans different from him. It goes against the most fundamental values of our country, and it is Exhibit A of why he should never be the person nominating judges at the Supreme Court or any level.

It’s no wonder Americans are worried about the prospect of Donald Trump making judicial nominations. Even before his attack on Judge Curiel, a recent poll found that the majority of Americans don’t trust Trump to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, and they’re none too pleased with the senators obstructing President Obama’s nominee.Half of voters say they are “less likely to vote for a senator who opposed having confirmation hearings” for Judge Merrick Garland. For Republican senators in tight reelection battles, their unwillingness to do their jobs is increasingly and rightfully becoming a liability with voters.

The fact that GOP senators are flat-out refusing to do their jobs on the Supreme Court was already an outrage. That they are now working to hold the seat open for a man who thinks some judges can’t do their jobs because of their ethnic background or religion is unconscionable and should be, quite frankly, embarrassing to all Republicans. GOP leaders are in a position of both condemning Trump’s approach to judicial issues and working to make sure he’s the one to make lifetime judicial appointments. Make sense? It doesn’t to me, either.

The choice is now crystal clear. It’s time to call the question and give Merrick Garland a vote.  


Budget Bills Provide Another #DoYourJob Moment For GOP Congress

Last December, months before the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and the nomination of DC Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland to fill his seat, the GOP-led Congress faced another #DoYourJob moment. With a government shutdown looming, they introduced a budget proposal chock-full of harmful policy riders that undermine our rights, our health, and our democracy. We eventually won on some riders but lost on others.

Today another federal budget process is underway, and we are once again facing the threat of sneaky provisions that help special interests exert outsized influence over the political process:

Last year, hundreds of riders were proposed for inclusion in the omnibus spending legislation, and in this year’s budget process, some members of Congress already have started to insist on them. Even though the congressional leadership appears determined to return to regular order by passing 12 smaller spending bills instead of a last-minute omnibus, the threat of riders remains.

PFAW will continue to stand strong with the more than 100 groups insisting on no riders in spending legislation.

We urge Members of Congress to oppose flawed funding proposals that include ideological policy riders. We further urge the administration in the strongest possible terms to oppose any funding bills that have such riders, whether moving via regular order or as part of a funding package.

Congress needs to do its job and fund must-needed programs and services for the American people, NOT use must-pass appropriations bills to advance ideological agendas.


More and More Agree: Eight is NOT Enough for the Supreme Court

Over the last few days, both the Washington Post and prominent constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe have joined the growing chorus of voices, including Republican as well as Democratic judges, making clear that eight justices are NOT enough for the nine-member Supreme Court, and that the continuing vacancy caused by Senate Republicans’ unprecedented refusal to even consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for the vacant Court seat is unconscionable. As the Post put it, the continued vacancy has required the Court to “punt, duck, dodge and weave around contentious issues,” creating “dysfunction.” These problems are documented in more detail in the recent report by PFAW Foundation and the Constitutional Accountability Center, “Material Harm to our System of Justice: the Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court.”

As the report explains, the continuing vacancy has already produced several 4-4 splits on the Court, leaving the contested lower court decision in place but setting no national precedent. In one situation, the result was that the Court could not resolve conflicting interpretations of federal law on loan discrimination in different lower courts, causing confusion and different rules for different people around the country. Specifically, as a result of this Supreme Court 4-4 split, people in some states can be required to get their spouse to co-sign a bank loan, while in other states, some right next door, that requirement is illegal.

In addition to several 4-4 splits, the continued vacancy has caused the eight-member Court to effectively punt several important cases for later review by a full Court, again leaving uncertainty and confusion as a result. For example, in the Zubik case concerning whether religious employers can effectively deny to their employees contraceptive coverage required by the ACA because of religious objections, the Court vacated conflicting lower court decisions and suggested that the government and the employers try to find a compromise and then go back to the lower courts, and the Supreme Court, if necessary. The continued litigation by some religious employers makes clear that future resolution by a nine-member Court will be necessary. But in the meantime, uncertainty about these important rights remains. As the report explains, the continued vacancy also appears to have decreased the number of important cases the Court has agreed to review next term starting in October, and makes it difficult for the Court to issue important temporary stay decisions in divisive cases where decisions must be made quickly, as in cases seeking temporary halts of executions or new election rules.

As a result, both Republican and Democratic-appointed judges and justices, including Chief Justice Roberts, Retired Justice John Paul Stevens, and the late Justice Scalia himself, have explained that having a full complement of nine members is important for a fully-functioning Court. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed last week, commenting publicly that “eight is not a good number” for the Court.

And as the Post also explained, the Senate Republican leaders that are responsible for this problem “are doing more than ever to discredit themselves,” claiming that their blockade is about the non-existent “principle” that a vacancy that arises in an election year should be filled by the next president, contrary to history and the Constitution, while at the same time claiming that Republicans could find no “worse nominee” than Judge Garland. This is despite the fact that these very same Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have agreed that Judge Garland is “well-qualified.”  As the Post concludes, this admission should “end the discussion”: Judge Garland should receive a hearing and should be confirmed. But if the Senate Republican blockade continues, the eight-member Court will only cause further harm to our system of justice.


Remembering Courageous Activist Muhammad Ali

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali died this weekend at the age of 74. In addition to being an extraordinary athlete -- 'The Greatest of All Time' -- Ali was also a courageous activist who publicly challenged racism throughout his life. 

Ali was also a friend of People For the American Way. In 1981, PFAW founder Norman Lear and director Jonathan Demme created a series of PSAs to emphasize that the right to freely express opinions was a critical piece of the American way.

The spots end with the tagline: "Freedom of thought. The right to have and express your own opinions. That's the American Way." Ali appeared in two of them, below. We're proud that Muhammad Ali was a part of our organization's history, and we're proud to honor his legacy with our ongoing work to fight bigotry and protect our basic rights. 

PFAW Foundation

Report by Elizabeth Warren Slams GOP Obstruction of Nominees

Since Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley is making sure that the committee he runs completely ignores Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination, one might think that he’s using the extra time to at least process the president’s many circuit and district nominees. Not!

While Grassley and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s brazen and unprecedented refusal to consider Garland has drawn a great deal of attention,  PFAW has long reported on how this obstruction, far from being unique to Garland, is an extension of how the Senate GOP has treated President Obama’s lower court nominees for most of his time in office.

Today, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made a tremendous contribution to the national conversation, issuing a new report entitled Going to Extremes: The Supreme Court and Senate Republicans’ Unprecedented Record of Obstruction of President Obama’s Nominees.  The senator covers how Republicans have worked hard not to thoughtfully vet both judicial and executive branch nominations, but to slow down their confirmations as much as possible, or block their confirmations altogether.

She uses Senate Republicans’ own statements about the Garland nomination to show the disingenuousness of the rationales for obstruction they present to the public and demonstrates that their obstruction is unprecedented.  And with a prosecutor’s efficiency, she makes the powerful case that the GOP has consistently and deliberately slow-walked or blocked altogether the president’s circuit and district court nominees, as well as his executive branch nominees.

Supported with facts and figures from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, Sen. Warren’s new report is a devastating indictment of a political party that has misused the confirmation process to prevent the executive and judicial branches from functioning effectively to protect consumers and workers, hold large corporations accountable, and protect equality.

As she notes in the report’s conclusion:

From the moment the Supreme Court vacancy arose, Senate Republicans linked arms in an attempt to deny President Obama the full authority of his office in the final year of his presidency. They cynically claimed they wish to “let the people decide,” but the people have already decided. Twice. They elected President Obama in 2008 by nine million votes and re-elected him in 2012 by five million votes. Republicans’ statements over many weeks have made clear that their true interest is what it has been for the past eight years: to block and hinder President Obama at every turn, dragging out or blocking outright the confirmation of nominees across the government and the courts.

As the report shows, the GOP has a shameful record of obstruction going back to President Obama’s first days in office.  The unprecedented blockade against Garland is only the apex of a pattern that has gone on for years.


Do Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley Agree With Trump That No Mexican Americans Should Serve On The Supreme Court?

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear this week not only that he wants Donald Trump to be president, but that the main reason he wants Trump to be president is so that he will be the one picking Supreme Court justices.

The Republican leader told radio host Hugh Hewitt that “the Supreme Court is the biggest thing the next president will deal with.” He continued, “I made sure of that by making sure that this president doesn’t get to pick this nominee and get them confirmed on the way out the door. But that alone, that issue alone will define much of what America is like for the next generation.”

According to McConnell, “That issue alone is enough to convince me to support Donald Trump.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley also recently expressed his support for Trump selecting a Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. He told the Des Moines Register, “Based upon the type of people he’d be looking for, I think I would expect the right type of people to be nominated by him to the Supreme Court.”

Yesterday, Trump made clear that he applies a racial test when assessing the impartiality of judges, telling The Wall Street Journal that Judge Gonzalo Curiel should not preside over a fraud case involving his Trump University scam real estate seminars case because the federal judge has “an absolute conflict.”

According to Trump, Curiel’s “Mexican heritage” is “an inherent conflict of interest” because “I’m building a wall.” Curiel, whose parents are from Mexico, was born in Indiana.

Trump’s pronouncement raises a serious question for the Republicans who are engaging in an unprecedented effort to stop President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, from so much as getting a Senate hearing, with the apparent goal to keep the seat open for a President Trump to fill.

Trump claims that a judge’s heritage is a conflict of interest because it means that he will be biased against Trump.

During every president’s term, numerous cases involving their policies or interpretations of the law are argued before the Supreme Court. If Trump believes a district court judge’s heritage creates an unfair bias against him, then one can assume that he thinks this same bias would exist in a judge on the highest court.

Approximately 10 percent of our country’s population is of Mexican heritage, and Donald Trump’s racial test would exclude every single one of them from the judiciary. Perhaps this explains why the list of potential Supreme Court nominees that Trump released last month was 100% white.

McConnell, Grassley and other Republicans obstructing President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as they hope for a Republican victory in November now need to answer whether or not they too would apply Donald Trump’s racial test to the court.


Supreme Court’s Recent Non-Decisions Highlight Importance of the Court in June and Beyond

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Perhaps the most important thing about the Supreme Court this May was what it didn’t decide. As Justice Ginsburg candidly admitted to a group of lawyers, having only eight justices hamstrings the Court by making it more difficult to decide closely-divided cases. Far from suggesting that the Court’s importance has diminished, however, the Court’s non-decisions in May show just how important the Court continues to be, particularly in this fall’s elections.

With only eight justices, the Court issued two non-decision decisions in May that effectively punted important controversies for a future, fully-staffed Court to decide, but leaving significant confusion and uncertainty in the meantime. In the Zubik case, rather than splitting 4-4, the Court issued a brief unsigned opinion and vacated conflicting rulings in the lower courts on whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allows religious nonprofit colleges and other employers to effectively take away Affordable Care Act-required contraceptive coverage from their female employees. The Court directed that the lower courts should give the government and the objecting employers another opportunity to try to resolve the issue, and then decide the cases again if necessary, with Supreme Court review after that if needed. While resolving such controversies voluntarily is a desirable goal, it is clear from the prolonged litigation that at least some religious employers will not agree to any resolution under which its employees will get contraceptive insurance coverage from its insurer. The result is uncertainty for millions of women about their contraceptive coverage, as well as for religious employers about their claims.

The same day that the Court effectively punted in Zubik, it also issued a non-decision decision in the Spokeo case. In that case, the Court was to decide whether Congress may give individuals the right to sue for damages in federal court, so that they have “standing” to sue, when a federal law has been violated even in the absence of other actual injury.  This is an important issue since it affects the ability of Congress and individuals to hold companies accountable when they violate federal law.  In a 6-2 decision, the Court did not resolve the question of whether the individual in Spokeoactually had standing, but instead suggested that the lower court’s analysis was “incomplete,” and sent the case back to that court to reconsider the issue, without taking any position on the key issue presented by the case. This important question will need to be revisited by the Court again, after it again has nine justices.

During May, the Court accepted only three new cases for review starting in October, making a total of eight since Justice Scalia’s death. Legal commentators have suggested that the decisions not to take up more significant cases for  review is another result of an eight-justice court, with the remaining justices concerned about their ability to resolve controversial cases — again creating uncertainty about people’s rights.

Finally, non-decisions in three major pending cases in May, concerning affirmative action, reproductive rights, and immigration, will almost certainly lead to some kind of decisions in these cases in June, as the Court completes its work this term, with significant consequences for millions of Americans. Some decision on the merits is most likely in the Fisher case concerning affirmative action in college admissions, since Justice Kagan’s recusal from the case leaves the Court with seven members. The precise result will likely depend on swing Justice Anthony Kennedy, and may affect millions of minority students across America.

4-4 ties are quite possible in some of the remaining cases, including Whole Women’s Health, which concerns the constitutionality of extreme and unnecessary restrictions on abortion clinics in Texas. Advocates strongly believe the Court should resolve this case in favor of reproductive rights, which would protect the rights of millions, but the Court is clearly divided. Although not setting any national precedent, a simple tie vote in this case would leave the lower court opinions standing, which could effectively deprive all but the richest women in Texas of the ability to choose abortion. The Court will clearly be taking significant action soon.

In the meantime, Senate Republican leaders have refused to budge on their unprecedented blockade of the President’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacant seat on the court, refusing even to grant him a hearing. It is becoming increasingly clear that they are trying to hold open that vacancy to be filled by, they hope, a President Trump. Trump’s list of potential nominees (also released in May) includes people who have called Roe v. Wade the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law” and two others who voted to make their appellate court the only one in the country that sided with religious nonprofits’ efforts to deprive female employees of birth control.

To Senate Republican leaders and their right-wing allies, the stakes are clear. They will do everything they can to ensure that the current Court vacancy, and the additional vacancies very likely to arise in the next president’s term, are filled by far-right justices who will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, limit contraceptive coverage, and set the clock back on civil rights and liberties for America. That is why continuing efforts to push Senate Republican leaders to take action on President Obama’s nomination is so important, and why the Supreme Court is such a critical issue in this fall’s elections.


The Movers Behind The Anti-LGBT 'Religious Liberty' Movement

This post originally appeared on Right Wing Watch.

In the first few months of this year, for the second year in a row, more than 100 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures, many of them promoted under the banner of protecting religious liberty.  A new report by People For the American Way Foundation, “Who is Weaponizing Religious Liberty?,” explains that “it takes a right-wing village to turn a cherished American principle into a destructive culture-war weapon.”

The report makes clear that the wave of anti-equality legislation promoted in the name of religious liberty is not an outgrowth of local conflicts but the latest step in a long-term campaign by national Religious Right legal and political groups to resist legal equality for LGBT people. As Americans have come to know and embrace their LGBT family members and friends, harsh anti-gay rhetoric has become less effective, says the report, leading social conservatives to try to reclaim the moral and political high ground by reframing debates over marriage equality and nondiscrimination protections as questions of religious liberty.

These efforts are being promoted by “a network of national Religious Right organizations that oppose legal recognition for the rights of LGBT people,” notes the report, which profiles some of the leading organizations while noting that they “represent the tip of the iceberg of a much larger movement that is trying to eliminate legal access to abortion and roll back legal protections for LGBT people, couples, and families — and trying to do so in the name of religious liberty.”

The groups covered in the report include:

·         Family Research Council and FRC Action

·         Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action

·         National Organization for Marriage

·         Alliance Defending Freedom

·         Liberty Counsel

·         American Family Association

·         Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

·         American Principles Project

The report includes links to additional resources on the organizations behind the Right’s use of religious liberty as political strategy for resisting equality. 

PFAW Foundation