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PEOPLE FOR BLOG

PFAW Hosts Telebriefing on Emergency Supreme Court Vacancy Campaign

As President Obama prepares to put forward a nominee to fill the Supreme Court vacancy, GOP senators have taken a stance of unprecedented obstruction – refusing to even consider any nominee, regardless of their qualifications.

Yesterday People For the American Way hosted a member telebriefing calling out the ways in which Senate Republicans are irresponsibly abandoning their constitutional obligations to give fair consideration to Supreme Court nominees. Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg discussed the crisis of constitutional proportions that Senate Republicans are leading us towards, and what activists can do to push senators to stop playing political games and do their jobs.

Listen to the telebriefing here:

PFAW

Will Grassley Quit as Judiciary Chair?

Imagine if Senate Republicans meant what they said when they come up with rationales to explain their unprecedented obstruction of the regular process for filling Supreme Court vacancies.  We’d see a news story like this:

The partisan fight over replacing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia took a dramatic and unexpected turn today when Republican Chairman Chuck Grassley stepped down as chairman and turned control of the committee to the Democrats.

Grassley told surprised reporters that he was acting in order to be consistent with the standard he and his fellow Republicans have been using as a rationale to deny President Obama the right to nominate the next justice, or to hold a hearing for any such nominee.

When today’s conversation with reporters began, no one expected any surprises.  Grassley has been unable to explain when or how the constitutional provision that the president serves a four-year term was changed to three years.  Nor has he even tried to explain how the American people’s overwhelming reelection of Barack Obama was, in reality, a call for him not to exercise the powers of his office.  No one expected him to come up with reasonable responses to these criticisms.  The surprise came when a reporter asked Grassley if he was putting party politics over the interests of his constituents:

“My constituents?  My only constituent is my party leader, Mitch McConnell, here in Washington.  I actually have no constituents in Iowa.  None.  Zero.  When they reelected me to a six-year term in 2010, I fully understood that I would not be able or expected to exercise the prerogatives of my office during the sixth year.  I am running for reelection this November, and the people of Iowa deserve a voice in how their senator will react to a potential Supreme Court nomination, or, in fact, to any federal judicial nomination coming from the White House.  Remaining as chairman of this committee would deny Iowans their voice.

“So I am stepping down as chairman, and while I will attend hearings and business meetings, I will cast no votes.”

Grassley mentioned two fellow Republican committee members, Mike Lee of Utah (who is in the sixth year of his six-year term and is running for reelection) and David Vitter of Louisiana (who chose not to run for reelection this year), saying he fully expects them to follow his principled position and refrain from casting votes in committee.

Thus, while the partisan breakdown of the Senate Judiciary Committee remains 11-9 in the Republicans’ favor, Democrats now hold a 9-8 advantage on any matter involving committee votes, including the selection of a new chairman.  Senate Democrats have not subscribed to the GOP view that a political party can unilaterally amend the Constitution to shorten officials’ terms or trim those officials’ constitutional powers and responsibilities.  So Democratic committee members up for reelection this year intend to serve their entire six-year terms, as the Constitution spells out and as voters in their states expected when electing them in 2010.

It is currently unclear whether other Senate Republicans will similarly abdicate their right to vote in committee and on the floor in order to exercise the principle they are demanding in the context of filling the current Supreme Court vacancy.

PFAW

Unlike Senate GOP, Obama Continues to Do His Job on Judges

Senate Republicans insist they will not even consider any Supreme Court nominee put forth by the president of the United States, prompting calls from around the country: #DoYourJob!  But that’s not their only campaign of obstruction aimed at the judiciary. They’ve been abdicating their responsibilities to consider and vote on lower federal court nominees, as well.  Last year’s total of only 11 judicial confirmations is the lowest in more than 50 years (and there were a LOT fewer judgeships to fill back then).

Fortunately, President Obama and the White House are continuing to take their responsibilities seriously.  Just today, Obama nominated federal district court judge Lucy Koh of California to fill a vacancy on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Two weeks ago, he nominated judge Abdul Kallon of Alabama to fill a longtime vacancy on the Eleventh Circuit.  In January, he nominated Jennifer Kelmetsrud Puhl of North Dakota to serve on the Eighth Circuit, as well as Donald Schott of Wisconsin and Myra Selby of Indiana for the Seventh Circuit.  The president is also continuing to make nominations for federal district courts, as well.

The White House does not need to be told to #DoYourJob.  They’re already doing it, just as the Constitution contemplates.  Now Senate Republicans need to do their jobs on staffing our federal district courts, circuit courts, and, of course, the Supreme Court.

PFAW

PFAW Kicks Off Emergency Campaign to Fill the Supreme Court's Vacancy

Senate Republicans took their partisan obstructionism to an unprecedented, wildly irresponsible level this month – they are flat out refusing to even consider any Supreme Court nominee put forth by President Obama. It’s a blatantly political move that the GOP is trying to justify with nonsense explanations, like “we’ve never confirmed a Supreme Court justice in an election year before” (false), and “the American people should have a say in the selection of the next justice” (they did, when they re-elected President Obama in 2012). As much as they might want to pretend otherwise, Republicans are refusing to do their jobs – and threatening to keep a seat on our nation’s highest court empty until 2017!

But we're not about to let them get away with it. That's why we've launched an emergency campaign to counter the GOP's blockade and fill the Supreme Court's vacancy. PFAW is uniquely qualified to lead this fight. Since the 1980s we've been the national leader in fighting the Right's efforts to pack the courts with extreme right-wing ideologues. And that's exactly what they're trying to do now, by keeping a vacancy on the Court for an entire year and playing politics with our federal judiciary. Republicans are shirking their constitutional responsibility to give fair consideration to a Supreme Court nominee and they must be held accountable. We have a long, tough road ahead of us, but we're not backing down, and we're so grateful to have PFAW members like you on board with us for this historic fight.

SCOTUS rally

Just hours after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Republicans made their intentions known: no fair consideration of any nominee put forward by President Obama. So we leapt into action that weekend, mobilizing supporters and activists for an impromptu rally outside of the Supreme Court that has already become the image of the movement, appearing in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Economist, the Atlantic, and more. We also held a campaign kickoff telebriefing this month for PFAW members across the country, to discuss our strategy for pushing the GOP to back off their unprecedented obstructionism

We're also fighting back by turning up the pressure on Senate Republicans. We teamed up with partner organizations to deliver over 500,000 petition signatures calling for fair consideration of a nominee to Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Kentucky office. And this week we delivered one million signatures to the U.S. Senate! Americans want to see this Supreme Court vacancy filled, and we're making sure Republicans know that by refusing to consider a nominee, they're going against their constituents.

GOP senators’ refusal to even consider any Supreme Court nominee isn’t just a violation of their constitutional responsibility – it’s also not what their constituents want! Recent polls have shown that a majority of Americans support filling the Supreme Court vacancy, and for some Republican senators, the blockade is already hurting them with voters. We’re working to identify those Senators, and hit them where it hurts: with their constituents. In a robocall we released in Wisconsin this month, activists heard from Martin Sheen about Sen. Ron Johnson’s obstruction of President Obama’s nominee. Sheen asked Wisconsinites to call Sen. Johnson and tell him to put his constitutional duties first, and give fair consideration to whoever President Obama nominates. The robocalls received immediate media attention – exactly what Sen. Johnson doesn’t want. We’re strategizing similar actions for other states where Republican senators are facing tough re-election battles.

PFAW

Donald Trump Is Disrupting The Religious Right's Christian-America Dreams

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The closed-door meeting in Texas in December at which dozens of Religious Right leaders agreed to rally around Ted Cruz for president was in some ways a big payoff for years of work by Republican political operative David Lane. Lane believes America was founded by and for Christians and has a national mission to advance the Christian faith. He sees politics as spiritual warfare against the evil forces of secularism and “pagan” homosexuality. Lane has been building an “army” of conservative evangelical pastors to run for office and turn their churches into get-out-the-vote operations for Republican candidates.

Lane’s allies and funders played an essential role in putting together that secret endorsement meeting for Ted Cruz, which came after months of indications that Cruz, who has never met a Religious Right figure too extreme to embrace, was winning the“Christian-nation primary.” Shortly after that meeting, Cruz and his Religious Right fans gathered at a ranch owned by Farris Wilks, a fracking billionaire who, with his brother, gave $15 million to a pro-Cruz super PAC. The Wilks brothers are big fundersof Lane’s efforts and other far-right political causes. A separate, but affiliated, Cruz super PAC is being run by another Christian-nation activist, right-wing “historian”David Barton.

Lane believes that conservative evangelicals split their votes in the 2008 and 2012 Republican primaries and were stuck with nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney, vowing that this year would be different. Conservative evangelicals would be inspired into action by politically engaged pastors and would choose a presidential nominee who shared Lane’s Christian-nation vision. They would elect an evangelical president who would help lead the nation to spiritual and political renewal.

But 2016’s campaign is different in ways Lane could not have anticipated. In South Carolina, the divinely anointed Cruz campaign took third place, with Donald Trump sweeping the most heavily evangelical parts of the state and beating Cruz handily among evangelical voters.  Many of the state’s Republican leaders threw their support not to Cruz, but to Marco Rubio; chief among them was Gov. Nikki Haley, who hadhosted one of Lane’s political prayer rallies last summer. Trump won by an even bigger margin in the Nevada caucuses.

Shortly before the South Carolina primary, Cruz was in Spartanburg to meet privately with “hundreds of pastors and their wives” at a meeting sponsored by David Lane’s American Renewal Project. Cruz’s appearance was supplemented by a softballinterview with Lane’s “good friend” David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network. In that interview, Cruz made a version of his standard pitch for a presidential run based on turnout of evangelical Christians. Cruz told Brody,

"If we allow our leaders to be selected from non-believers we shouldn't be surprised when our leaders don't share our values. So what I'm working to do more than anything else is energize and empower the grassroots and do everything we can for Christians to stand up and vote biblical values.”

After the election, Brody acknowledged that Trump had beaten Cruz among the state’s evangelical voters. Brody’s explanation?

Evangelicals are upset with the Republican Party too. They’ve felt like cheap political pawns for years, constantly being used by the GOP to get out and vote and then having nothing to show for it. With Trump, many of those evangelicals feel like they’ve found the politically incorrect mouthpiece to channel their inner frustration. Is he the most righteous man to carry the torch? No. Is he the most transparent and authentic one? Clearly, they believe so.

Journalist Sarah Posner has written about the ways that Trump divides the Christian Right. Trump has been endorsed by Jerry Falwell, Jr. even though the candidate is “unabashedly ignorant of the biblical imperatives that form the foundation of evangelical culture and politics.” Trump’s support indicates that many evangelicals do not, in fact, share the culture-war priorities of the movement’s leaders, Posner suggests, adding that Trump is the candidate who most resembles a prosperity-gospel televangelist who portrays wealth as a sign of God’s favor. Says Posner, “Trump’s supporters -- both evangelical and not -- apparently are willing to believe that worshiping self-serving hype will somehow produce a miracle for them.”

Along similar lines, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said in January that Ted Cruz was leading in the Jerry Falwell wing of the evangelical movement, Marco Rubio in the Billy Graham wing, and Trump in the Jimmy Swaggart wing.

In a recent article for In These Times, Theo Anderson also took a look at the “great puzzle” of evangelical Christians flocking to Trump, “the Republican candidate most out of step with evangelicals on social issues and the most tin-eared regarding religion.” Anderson concludes that Trump’s success reflects many evangelicals’ desire for an “anti-establishment” candidate as well as what he calls Trump’s performance of a prophetic style of politics practiced by conservative radio preachers who encourage their listeners to stand against the corruptions of the world: “Trump’s speeches and social media output are a stream of falsehoods that speak to the certainty - the ‘higher truth’ - that white Christians, and the nation they love, are being betrayed and targeted.”

Trump, for his part, has embraced the Religious Right’s claims that Christians in America are under “assault,” particularly from department stores and coffee chains that don’t show due reverence to Christmas, and that Muslims pose an existential threat to the country.

Trump’s success among evangelicals is maddening to some of Cruz’s backers. Glenn Beck, who believes God has called Cruz to save America from the abyss, had urged his viewers to fast on Cruz’s behalf before the Nevada caucuses. Beck says he fears that Trump is the embodiment of “The Bubba Effect,” in which a group of people are pushed over the edge into violence by an overbearing government. Beck says that only the election of Ted Cruz can save America from violent revolution, warning that the country will not be able to recover if it elects a socialist, authoritarian, or member of the status quo.

Speaking of authoritarians, political scientist Matthew MacWilliams wrote recently that the single most significant predictor of a voter’s support for Trump is their level of authoritarian inclinations, which suggests that support for Trump’s blustery strongman routine is detached to some degree from a voter’s ideological or theological leanings. That’s one reason Trump’s campaign frightens some conservatives who see Trump’s insistence that he’d be a fix-it strongman (to some commentators, a would-be Mussolini), as undermining conservatives’ political and intellectual campaign against a strong federal government.

Of course, Trump hasn’t rejected the Religious Right policy agenda. In fact he has fully embraced much of it, pledging to defund Planned Parenthood as long as the organization performs abortions. He has supported Senate Republicans’ vow not to consider any Obama Supreme Court nominee and vowed to nominate Supreme Court justices “as close to Scalia as you could find.” He has called the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling “shocking” and suggested Religious Right activists should trust him to put judges on the Court who would “unpass” that ruling and Roe v. Wade. Those kind of pledges may help Trump win conservative evangelical votes, or at least make evangelicals feel more comfortable voting for him in spite of a political and personal record that contravenes the values they say they hold dear.

The campaign for the GOP nomination isn’t over, but Religious Right leaders must be wondering how it is that their Chosen One has faltered and seems to be losing ground to the charlatan Trump. In fact, National Review reported on Wednesday that Religious Right leaders who rallied around Cruz are talking amongst themselves aboutabandoning him for Rubio if Cruz doesn’t do well on “Super Tuesday” next week.

If Trump is the nominee, many religious conservatives will vote for him because he is the Republican candidate. But it could be a bitter pill, one that some may not be able to swallow. In National Review’s seemingly ineffectual issue devoted to making a case against Trump as the Republican nominee, Russell Moore of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission wrote:

Trump can win only in the sort of celebrity-focused mobocracy that Neil Postman warned us about years ago, in which sound moral judgments are displaced by a narcissistic pursuit of power combined with promises of “winning” for the masses. Social and religious conservatives have always seen this tendency as decadent and deviant. For them to view it any other way now would be for them to lose their soul.

But Trump continues to reach out to the conservative evangelical leaders. He headed to Pat Robertson’s Regent University on Wednesday, where Robertson told him, “you inspire us all,” and invited him to come back to Regent after the election as President Trump. And while Trump isn’t the candidate around whom many Religious Right leaders decided to coalesce, Christian-nation activist David Lane may harbor some hopes for a Trump candidacy. Last summer Lane said of Trump, “America is starving for moral, principled leadership. I hope that Donald Trump brings that.”

PFAW

The Extremists Behind the 2016 GOP Presidential Candidates

As People For the American Way (PFAW) Senior Researcher for Special Projects Miranda Blue explained on the most recent telebriefing for PFAW members, “In past years, we’ve seen extreme endorsers for Republican presidential candidates, but there was always a level of extremism that the candidates wouldn’t go past. This year, it’s completely different. Leading 2016 Republican presidential candidates have shared the stage with individuals who say that the government should kill gay people, embrace a Christian Nation ideology, and more.”

This unprecedented extremism was discussed during last Thursday’s telebriefing, and has been closely tracked by PFAW’s Right Wing Watch team.

Some of the most striking examples come from Ted Cruz. He spoke at a conference alongside far-right pastor Kevin Swanson, who believes that according to the Bible, our government should impose the death penalty on gay people. Troy Newman, who Cruz appointed to co-chair his anti-abortion committee, has argued that the government should execute abortion providers. And Cruz touted the endorsement of Mike Bickle, who says that Hitler was a “hunter” sent by God for the Jewish people. But don’t just take our word for it – watch this clip from the Rachel Maddow Show last month, which uses research from PFAW’s Right Wing Watch:

It’s not just Ted Cruz who’s courting extremists. Donald Trump, for example, has campaigned with the support of people like Sarah Palin and Ann Coulter. Coulter is not quite the household name that Palin is, but they’re two peas in a pod in their far-right extremism. Coulter said recently that Donald Trump’s call to ban all Muslims from entering the United States was her “best birthday gift ever!”

Far-right figures also exert undue influence in the 2016 election through campaign spending. Because of Citizens United, millionaires and billionaires are able to push a far-right agenda in the Republican Party through unlimited expenditures. As PFAW Senior Fellow Peter Montgomery discussed on the telebriefing, Farris and Dan Wilks are top donors to Ted Cruz’s super PACs. The Wilks brothers hold strongly anti-gay, anti-choice and anti-government views. Peter was quoted earlier this month in the Houston Chronicle discussing the Wilks brothers: "Their willingness to pour millions of dollars into the presidential race and to write enormous checks for Religious Right organizations give them the potential to make a huge and destructive impact on our politics.”

Marco Rubio, for his part, is bankrolled both personally and professionally by billionaire Norman Braman. Marco Rubio returned the favor to Braman when he was in the Florida state legislature; Rubio “has steered taxpayer funds to Mr. Braman’s favored causes, successfully pushing for an $80 million state grant to finance a genomics center at a private university and securing $5 million for cancer research at a Miami instate for which Mr. Braman is a major donor.”

As the 2016 election continues, we’re sure to see more of the far-right financing and supporting the leading 2016 candidates. Be sure to follow our coverage at www.rightwingwatch.org.

PFAW

No, Biden Didn't Call For Rejecting All Supreme Court Nominees In Election Years

Within hours of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia earlier this month, conservatives retroactively invented a bogus “tradition” that Supreme Court justices are never confirmed in presidential election years. That claim is demonstrably false, but conservatives are sticking with it in an attempt to justify their efforts to keep President Obama from naming the next Supreme Court justice.

Today, the pro-obstruction crowd thought it got a boost when a short clip of now-Vice President Joe Biden was unearthed from the depths of the C-SPAN archives. In the clip of the 1992 floor speech, Biden, who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during what turned out to be the last year of George H.W. Bush’s presidency, urges the president to, in the event of a Supreme Court vacancy, “not name a nominee until after the November election is completed.”

Hypocrisy!

Well, not quite.

As ThinkProgress’ Igor Volsky and Biden himself have pointed out, when taken in context, that wasn't Biden's point. The then-senator made the remarks in the context of a long speech bemoaning the increased politicization of the confirmation process and, in Biden’s words, urging the White House and the Senate to “work together to overcome partisan differences to ensure the Court functions as the Founding Fathers intended.”

Secondly, even if you were to claim that Biden were offering some new rule for blocking Supreme Court nominations, that rule wouldn't cover the current situation.

Look at the timestamp on the video. Biden was speaking on June 25, 1992 about filling a vacancy if a justice “resigns tomorrow or within the next several weeks resigns at the end of the summer.” By June 25, the presidential primaries were over and Bill Clinton was the presumptive Democratic nominee. That’s a very different point in an election year than we are in today, when the vacancy opened so very early on in the presidential nominating contests and with the risk of a Supreme Court seat remaining open for more than a year, severely disrupting two consecutive terms.

If you go back to read the transcript of Biden’s remarks, he repeatedly states that he is concerned about vacancies that occur “in the summer or fall of a presidential election year” — not vacancies that occur as early in the year as Justice Scalia’s did. The last four Supreme Court confirmations took an average of 75 days from nomination to confirmation, meaning that if President Obama nominates anyone in the next month, they could be confirmed well before the period that Biden was supposedly arguing should be off-limits for Supreme Court nominations.

There is still no “tradition” of shutting down judicial nominations for the entire last year of a presidency or of leaving the Supreme Court short-handed for an entire year.

And, as Volsky notes, while Biden didn’t face a Supreme Court vacancy in 1992, his Judiciary Committee did continue approving Circuit Court nominees well through the summer and fall of the election year, a stark contrast to current Republican threats to shut down the judicial nominations process entirely this year:

 

 

PFAW

New Poll Shows Obstructionist Stance on Supreme Court Vacancy is Hurting Toomey and Portman With Voters

Note to senators in tough reelection battles: putting your Washington DC party bosses over the Constitution by standing in the way of filling the vacancy on the Supreme Court is not only the wrong thing to do for our country, it’s also making voters less likely to support you.

New Public Policy Polling surveys released today show that large majorities of voters in Pennsylvania and Ohio, where Senators Pat Toomey and Rob Portman are running for reelection, want the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death to be filled this year. According to the polling memo:

  • Strong majorities of voters – 58/35 in Ohio and 57/40 in Pennsylvania – think that the vacant seat on the Supreme Court should be filled this year. What’s particularly noteworthy about those numbers – and concerning for Portman and Toomey – is how emphatic the support for approving a replacement is among independent voters. In Ohio they think a new Justice should be named this year 70/24 and in Pennsylvania it’s 60/37.
  • …Voters are particularly angry about Senators taking the stance that they’re not going to approve anyone before even knowing who President Obama decides to put forward. By a 76/20 spread in Pennsylvania and a 74/18 one in Ohio, voters think the Senate should wait to see who is nominated to the Court before deciding whether or not to confirm that person. Toomey and Portman are out of line even with their own party base on that one – Republicans in Pennsylvania think 67/27 and in Ohio think 63/32 that the Senate should at least give President Obama’s choice a chance before deciding whether or not to confirm them. [emphasis added]

Perhaps most notable for the senators, more than half of voters (52 percent in both states) say they would be less likely to vote for Toomey or Portman if they “refused to confirm a replacement for Justice Scalia this year no matter who it was.” Among independents, the numbers were even higher.

Senators Toomey and Portman would be wise to take heed of their constituents, and of the Constitution, and stop refusing to even consider any Supreme Court nominee, regardless of his or her credentials. Any nominee must be treated fairly and honestly. The Supreme Court is far too important to be held hostage to the overtly political obstruction of GOP senators.

PFAW

The Democracy Awakening Mobilization Is Coming to DC

American democracy is premised on the fundamental tenet of “one person, one vote,” but since the very beginning, we’ve had to fight for every voice to be heard and every vote to be counted. Today an array of barriers are keeping regular Americans shut out of the political process, from restrictive voting laws suppressing the voting rights of people of color, students, and low-income Americans, to a campaign finance landscape that allows big money to increasingly shape elections and the policy-making process. For both issues, Congress has solutions in front of them, but has so far failed to pass them into law. It’s time for us to come together and claim a democracy where every voice is heard and every vote counts equally.

This April thousands of people will convene in Washington, D.C. for the Democracy Awakening, a long weekend of workshops, trainings, speakers, rallies, lobbying and direct action, calling for voting rights and money in politics reform. This groundbreaking event marks the first time that some of the largest progressive reform organizations – representing the environmental, labor, social and economic justice, and youth movements – have worked together to turn out their members for a collaborative, transformative event. This Democracy Awakening is only the beginning, kicking off a broader “year of action” that will unite the efforts of more than 160 organizations working on the local, state and national level.

 

Want to be a part of the Democracy Awakening? Sign up here for more information and to receive regular updates. 

GOP vs. the Integrity of the American Judicial System

The nation is mourning the loss of Justice Antonin Scalia, who served on the nation’s highest court for nearly 30 years.  Since he became a justice in 1986, Americans have – appropriately and vigorously – debated the merits of his approach to the law.  The Constitution could not be any clearer that such debate is protected as vital to our democracy.

The Constitution also could not be clearer about what happens next:  The president nominates someone to fill the vacancy, and the Senate votes on whether to confirm the nominee.  President Obama has, responsibly, said he plans to fulfill his constitutional duty.  Yet bizarrely, many Senate Republicans are standing behind their Majority Leader’s insistence that the vacancy should be filled only by the next president, the Constitution notwithstanding, since this is a presidential election year and Obama’s final year in office.

He and other GOP senators have said that the American people deserve to have their voices heard and weigh in on who should fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.  That clever bit of misdirection suggests that this hasn’t already happened.  However, the public did weigh in and make their voices heard in 2012, when the American people overwhelmingly re-elected President Obama to remain president for the next four years (and not just three).  The losing candidate’s political party does not have the right to simply nullify the American people’s choice, or to unilaterally amend the United States Constitution to limit the president’s responsibilities and powers during their final year.

We have a president, and he has nearly a year left in office.

Interestingly, the principle Senate Republicans would impose on the president are ones they are not imposing on themselves.  For instance, Florida Sen. (and presidential candidate) Marco Rubio is  serving out his last year in office, just as President Obama is.  Will he abstain from participating in votes because doing so would deny Floridians a chance to weigh in on the matter?  The same could be asked of retiring Sens. Dan Coates (Indiana) and David Vitter (Louisiana)?  Are conservatives seeking to delegitimize their roles in Senate consideration of judicial nominees or any other matter because they are retiring in eleven months?  Of course not.  While the Senate awaits President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination, it should be working overtime to consider and vote on the three-dozen circuit and district court nominees pending before the Judiciary Committee and on the Senate floor.

Just as the Constitution and principle are not on the GOP’s side, neither are the facts.  For instance, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman has said that “it's been nearly 80 years since any president was permitted to immediately fill a vacancy that arose in a presidential election year.”  His constituents could be forgiven for inferring that the situation we now face is common, and that nomination and confirmation of Scalia’s replacement this year would go against historical norms.

However, the current situation is anything but common.  The fortunate reality is that it is extremely rare for a Supreme Court justice to die in office.  In fact, since 1950, this is only the fourth time a sitting justice has passed away, and this is the only time it has happened in a presidential election year:

1.      Chief Justice Fred Vinson – died in 1953

2.      Justice Robert Jackson – died in 1954

3.      Chief Justice William Rehnquist – died in 2005

4.      Justice Antonin Scalia – died in 2016

Thankfully, this is an extremely unusual situation.  Republicans cannot cite precedent for an incumbent president under these circumstances to abstain from carrying out his constitutional duties and force Americans to wait a year or more for the next president to fill a sudden, unexpected vacancy on the nation’s highest court, simply because it was a presidential election year when a justice died.

Justices who retire often time their announcements in time for a replacement to be nominated and confirmed by the beginning of the next Supreme Court term.  That is why most of the current justices were able to take their seats in time for the traditional First Monday in October, ensuring a full complement of nine justices.  As an alternative way to protect the institution, Sandra Day O’Connor agreed to remain on the Court until her replacement could be confirmed.  So even though Justice Alito was confirmed in January 2006, the middle of the term, the nation’s highest court was not forced to operate short-staffed.  In ways such as these, retiring justices have sought to protect the integrity of the Court by ensuring it be able to operate at full capacity.

Unfortunately, despite Justice Scalia’s devotion to the Court he served on for three decades, he did not have the opportunity to protect it from having to operate short-staffed.  And yet many Republicans are vowing to keep the Court hobbled for as long as possible.

Waiting until 2017 to nominate and confirm the next justice would force our nation’s highest court to operate understaffed not just for the remainder of the current term (which ends in June), but for at least half of the 2016-2017 term, as well. The Court’s term begins in October, and it generally hears oral arguments until April.  Even if the next president’s pick were confirmed quickly (say, in February 2017), the new justice would have already missed oral arguments in the majority of cases that term and would not be able to vote on them.  Having only eight justices would very likely lead to numerous cases being tied 4-4, and such cases have no precedential effect.

Intentionally crippling the Supreme Court for two consecutive terms would be the height of irresponsibility.

Public rejection of the GOP’s explicit obstructionism has made some Republican try to walk back their inflexible stance, but actions will speak louder than words.  The president’s nominee should be given a timely and fair committee hearing, be fully vetted, and receive a timely confirmation vote by the full Senate based on the nominee’s qualifications.

This shouldn’t be about politics.  It should be about the Constitution, our democracy, and the integrity of the United States justice system.

PFAW Foundation

Latino Celebrities Call Out GOP Candidates' Anti-Immigrant Fear Mongering in PFAW's New Letter

PFAW

Jeb! Wants to Overturn Citizens United, But Not to Get Big Money Out of Politics

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

It’s safe to assume that when most people say they want the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United decision to be overturned, it’s because they’ve seen its disastrous effects and they want to see big money have less influence in politics. But GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who inspired a flurry of headlines on Monday when he expressed his support for reversing the decision, actually wants instead what many would consider an even worse system: one where billionaires can give unlimited money directly to the candidates themselves.

It’s almost hard to imagine a campaign finance landscape more broken than the one we currently have, but Jeb! has done it. As MSNBC’s Steve Benen points out, his vision seems to rest on the question: why have donors give millions to outside groups like super PACs, when you can have those millions just go straight to the candidates?

For one, because this would plainly undermine one of the few remaining rules aimed at preventing “corruption” in our democracy. Even the conservative majority of the Supreme Court has recognized that donors shouldn’t be able to directly hand unlimited sums of money to campaigns.

Another reason -- and one that Bush and the other national GOP leaders would be wise to pay more attention to -- is that Americans across the board, including Republican voters, overwhelmingly want to see real reforms to our system, reforms that actually curtail the outsized influence of wealthy special interests in our democracy rather than simply redirect the big money from super PACs straight to the campaigns. More than seven in ten Republicans favor limits on how much money people can give to campaigns. Eight in ten Republicans say that money has too much influence in political campaigns, and that our campaign finance system needs either “fundamental changes” or to be remade entirely. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to see it rebuilt in order for candidates to be able to directly collect eight-figure checks from the likes of Sheldon Adelson.

It makes sense that presidential candidates from both political parties are “talking the talk” on money in politics. Calling out the harmful influence of our big money system ispolitically popular, and candidates are smart to bring it up. But until GOP candidates are willing to walk the walk by calling for a comprehensive set of solutions to big money in politics, the gap between Republican voters and national Republican leaders on this issue will continue to grow.

As more than five million Americans agree, overturning Citizens United is an idea whose time has come. But it also matters what happens after it’s overturned. And if what comes next is a system where campaigns can take multi-million dollar contributions directly from billionaire donors, as Jeb Bush would like to see, then our money in politics problem will certainly not have been solved.

PFAW

Don't Be Fooled: Marco Rubio And Rick Santorum Are Two Of A Kind

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Some were taken by surprise when former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum endorsed his former opponent Marco Rubio as soon as he dropped out of the Republican presidential race on Wednesday. But it shouldn’t come as a shock that the conservative true believer, notorious for his anti-gay and anti-abortion crusades, would back the supposedly “mainstream” Florida senator.

While the press likes to portray Santorum as a kooky culture warrior and Rubio as an establishment square, the two hold many of the exact same positions.

The similarities start with their dangerous views on abortion rights. Rubio wants to ban all abortions with no exceptions even for survivors of rape and incest or for women withlife-endangering pregnancies. In the very first 2016 Republican presidential debate, Rubio went so far as to suggest that the U.S. Constitution may already ban abortion. Rubio has hailed anti-abortion activists as similar to those who fought for the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage and civil rights for African Americans and has pledged to “immediately” re-impose the Mexico City Policy, which would block crucial funding to women’s health groups outside of the U.S. A vocal critic of Planned Parenthood, Rubio once made the absurd claim that women at Planned Parenthood clinics are “pushed into abortions so that those tissues can be harvested and sold for a profit.”

He told one conservative pundit that because “there is no way that you can read that Constitution and deduce from it that there is constitutional right to an abortion,” he would only appoint Supreme Court justices who see Roe v. Wade as a “flawed” decision.

The Florida senator is aggressively courting the Religious Right, which should come as no surprise since his stances on social issues are barely distinguishable from Santorum’s.

Rubio joined Santorum and four other Republican presidential candidates in pledgingto sign legislation making it legal to discriminate against same-sex couples. He even implied his support for Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who attempted to use her county office to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, by claiming that people can and should “ignore” laws or court rulings that do not “adhere to God’s rules” because “God’s rules always win.” “We cannot abide by that because government is compelling us to sin,” he said.

Rubio has called same-sex marriage “a real and present danger” to freedom and religion, arguing that only someone who has a “ridiculous and absurd reading of the U.S. Constitution” would agree with the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality decision and promising that his nominees to the Supreme Court would disagree with the ruling.

The potential for a President Rubio to be nominating the next few Supreme Court justices could prove especially frightening seeing that the senator, in an address to afar-right Florida grouprejected the separation of church and state as unconstitutional.

He has also embraced the Right’s phony religious persecution rhetoric, running campaign ads and delivering speeches about how conservative Christians like himself who oppose gay marriage are the real victims of discrimination in America. During Saturday’s debate, he said that Christians in America face far more discrimination than Muslim-Americans.

On the economy, Rubio might even be furtherto the right of many in the GOP. For starters, as New York Times reporter Josh Barrow explained, Rubio “would impose no tax at all on interest, dividends or capital gain income from stocks” as part of a larger tax-slashing regimen that Barro called “a big tax cut for people who are already doing well.” Think of it as the Bush tax cuts on steroids: disproportionate government aid to the ones who need it the least that costs the government trillions of dollars in revenue.

Rubio, who was first elected to the Senate as a Tea Party favorite, has also vowed torepeal Wall Street reform and oppose any increase in the minimum wage, and has adopted a “do-nothing” and denialist approach to climate change.  

Despite this record, the media has given Rubio flattering coverage, portraying him as a mainstream candidate who can thwart radicals like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Part of Rubio’s reputation as somehow more “moderate” or “mainstream” comes from his previous support for a bipartisan immigration reform bill. But of course Rubio ended uprenouncing the bill and tacking further to the right on immigration than many of his Republican colleagues.

Even though Santorum, when asked last week, couldn’t name a single legislative accomplishment of Rubio’s, it is obvious that Rubio has succeeded in doing at least one thing: embracing the ideology of the GOP’s extremist wing without being held accountable for it.

PFAW

New Report Looks at Wins on Money in Politics Reform Since Citizens United

It’s no secret that the Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United decision in 2010 opened the floodgates for an influx of money into our elections. But a new report released today by PFAW and six other organizations highlights what else it did: energize a movement to fight big money in politics that’s made real progress in the six years since the decision was handed down.

As the report notes, since 2010:

  • More than 5 million people have signed petitions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United. Sixteen states and more than 680 cities and towns – as well as a majority of the U.S. Senate in 2014 – have called for an amendment.
  • At least 23 states have put in place disclosure rules to ensure the peoples’ right to know about the big donors trying to buy political influence.
  • States and cities across the country have acted to pass or strengthen publicly funded election systems to amplify the voices of small donors, including Seattle and Maine in 2015.

As the 2016 presidential race sees an increasing focus on the problem of big money in politics, the magnitude of our country’s current crisis can make progress seem unlikely, or even impossible. But as this report outlines, change is already happening in cities and states across the country, as people organize in their own communities for solutions to make sure that our democracy is working for everyone – not just for billionaires and corporations.

You can read the full report here.

PFAW

Rating States' Commitment To Public Education

In the wake of National School Choice Week, the Brookings Institution released a report card on the largest school districts, which were ranked according to how open the districts are to school choice. That reflects a common assertion among education “reformers” that maximizing choice will always be best for students, a presumption also evident in scorecards from right-wing groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and corporate-minded reform groups like Students First.

But such an assumption is not true. We know that charter schools, for example, have a mixed record of success and failure. And a recent report from scholars at Berkeley, Duke, and MIT found that the test scores of Louisiana students who won a voucher to attend a private school “dropped precipitously in their first year of attending private school, compared to the performance of lottery losers.”

This week the Network for Public Education released a different kind of report card, one that grades all 50 states and the District of Columbia according to how well they support their public schools. “Valuing Public Education: A Fifty State Report Card” was released at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where Network for Public Education co-founder and president, education historian Diane Ravitch, and NPE Executive Director Carol Burris spoke about the report.

Ravitch said the NPR report is based on factors that have proven to be important to the success of public schools. The report draws on the work of the University of Arizona’s Francesca Lopez and a team of researchers. They identified 29 measurable factors that could be used to evaluate states on six criteria: use of high-stakes testing; professionalization of teaching; resistance to privatization; school finance; spending taxpayer resources wisely; and “chance for success.” The latter category recognizes that factors outside schools that are influenced by policymaking decisions also have a big impact on schools and students, such as the percentage of children living in poverty even though someone in the household works full time, and the extent to which schools are segregated racially and ethnically.

Grading in the report is tough: while some states receive “A” grades in particular categories, no state earns higher than a C overall, and a majority were graded D or F. Ravitch said those scores reflect in part the impact of the “unprecedented assault” that is being waged against public education and the teaching profession, as well as the “unconscionable” number of American children now living in poverty.

Burris, a 2013 New York state high school principal of the year, said improving a school is hard work and happens incrementally over time – “there are no silver bullets.”

Regarding school finances, she said, the report considers not only funding levels but whether money is spent on things that are known to make a difference, such as class size in elementary schools.

Ravitch said that the current policy framework grounded in high-stakes testing has proven to be a failure, and that standardized tests in general reflect income levels more than anything else. Burris said that closing the opportunity gap is essential to closing the achievement gap, noting that schools with a high percentage of children in poverty need resources like social workers, guidance counselors, and nurses. But many poorer schools have been “stripped clean” of those resources, said Ravitch.

The report, “Valuing Public Education: A 50 State Report Card” is available online, and as an interactive map.

PFAW