People For Blog

PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Great Progress in Judicial Nominations

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Ted Cruz and the Myth of the Censored Grandma

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW Foundation

North Carolina GOP Senate Candidate Thom Tillis Marginalizes Minority Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Obama to Issue Executive Order Protecting Federal Contractors’ LGBT Employees

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

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

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

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

PFAW

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

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

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

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

Attorney Josh Newville in the Argus Leader:

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

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

Plaintiff Bernie Erickson on Valley News Live:

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

Onward!

Check out our website for more LGBT equality updates.

PFAW Foundation

What Cantor’s Defeat Says About Money In Politics

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW Foundation

Poll Confirms Majority Support for Immigration Reform, Explains GOP Obstruction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

One Third of Americans Live in Cities or States Calling for Amendment to #GetMoneyOut

The movement to get big money out of politics has made remarkable progress. Four years ago, after the Supreme Court issued its Citizens United ruling, there were just four senators cosponsoring an amendment to overturn that decision and related cases. Today, nearly half the US Senate and more than 100 representatives want to amend the Constitution to #GetMoneyOut. Another leap forward came last week when the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on one of the amendment proposals, SJ Res 19.

Cities and states have made their own strong showings of support.

Sixteen states, with a total population of 97,906,434, have passed resolutions demanding a constitutional amendment. An additional 168 cities, counties, and towns outside those borders have taken similar action, bringing the total to 120,981,141 people. This means that about one third of Americans live in areas that have taken official steps to reclaim our democracy from special interests and corporations.

PFAW

Money in Politics Takes Top Billing on Congress.Gov

Attending the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on a proposed amendment to get big money out of politics last Tuesday, it was hard not to feel a special kind of energy and excitement in the room. So when the most viewed piece of legislation on Congress.Gov — the official source for federal legislative information — was the proposed amendment (Senate Joint Resolution 19), it was another sign that despite Republican obstruction, the American people want campaign finance reform, and they want it now.

SJ Res 19 on Congress.Gov

More than nine in ten voters believe it is important that our elected leaders reduce the influence of money in political elections. And according to a 2012 Associated Press survey, more than four in five Americans support campaign contribution limits for corporations. The American people want more than what the post Citizens United campaign finance era has offered. Congress.gov saw so many views of S.J. Res. 19 because Americans across the country are interested in creating an America that does not allow corporations to use their money to cozy up with politicians.

It was James Madison in Federalist Paper 57 who said it the best:

Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives?  Not the rich, more than the poor; not the learned, more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscure and unpropitious fortune.  The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States.

Today, it seems more and more like the rich have taken over our democracy, and the American people want solutions to clean up the mess that Citizens United and related cases have created.

PFAW

BREAKING: Wisconsin Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional

A District Court judge ruled today that Wisconsin’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional.  Judge Barbara Crabb relied on equal protection law to strike down the ban:

"My task under federal law is to decide the claims presented by the plaintiffs in this case now, applying the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court," she said. "Because my review of that law convinces me that plaintiffs are entitled to the same treatment as any heterosexual couple, I conclude that the Wisconsin laws banning marriage between same-sex couples are unconstitutional."

Congratulate Wisconsinites by sharing our graphic below:

 

PFAW Foundation

President Obama’s Support for Amendment to #GetMoneyOut Predates Public Announcement, According To New Book

Nearly two years ago, President Obama caused a splash by expressing support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United during a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session. Asked during the online forum what he was going to do to “end the corrupting influence of money in politics,” President Obama put the spotlight on the movement for a constitutional amendment by explicitly mentioning the amendment strategy:

Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United (assuming the Supreme Court doesn't revisit it).

A new book released this week by POLITICO reporter Ken Vogel shows that President Obama had been privately discussing an amendment months before his public comment in August 2012. Vogel’s book describes President Obama telling Democratic donors in February of that year:

“Now, I taught constitutional law…I don't tinker with the Constitution lightly. But I think this is important enough that citizens have to get mobilized around this issue, and this will probably be a multiyear effort. After my reelection, my sense is that I may be in a very strong position to do it.”

The fact that President Obama was sharing support for an amendment even earlier than previously known underscores the importance of the issue to our nation’s president. In addition to President Obama, 44 U.S. senators, 123 U.S. representatives, and more than 1,700 state legislators have gone on record in support of an amendment to get big money out of politics.

PFAW

Udall Constitutional Amendment to Restore Our Democracy: PFAW Member Telebriefing

The day after Sen. Tom Udall’s proposed constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics was considered at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Udall joined People For the American Way activists, supporters, and staff members on a member telebriefing to discuss the amendment and what Americans can do to support it.

Sen. Udall noted in his introduction that together we have come a long way in the movement to get big money out of politics, due in part to the work of People For the American Way. He said that in the last few years, our nation’s campaign finance laws have come under increasing attack. There are only two ways, Sen. Udall said, to have lasting reform on this issue: either the Court can reverse itself, or we can amend the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC. Sen. Udall pointed out that elections should be about the quality of ideas, not the size of bank accounts. 

When asked by a participant to address the false claim pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz and other right-wing politicians and activists that this amendment is an attack on the First Amendment, Sen. Udall explained: “This is about restoring the First Amendment so it applies equally to all Americans.” He pointed out that our access to constitutional rights and our ability to participate in the democratic process should not be based on our net worth. 

Sen. Udall urged activists on the call to voice their support at every opportunity they have. Specifically, he encouraged advocates to get a copy of the amendment and urge their local officials to support it by passing resolutions. Despite the lengthy process of amending the Constitution, Sen. Udall asked participants not to be discouraged; with a strong grassroots movement, he said, we can make it happen.

PFAW executive vice president Marge Baker also fielded questions from participants on the call. She urged activists to connect campaign finance reform to the issues most important to them and their communities, whether that’s fighting for health and safety on the job, defending the environment, or protecting voting rights. On voting rights, Baker pointed out that the Supreme Court’s attacks on campaign finance laws go hand in hand with their attacks on the right to cast a vote; both have the effect of disempowering average Americans in our democracy. This is why, Baker pointed out, we must take on the Supreme Court and reclaim our political system – making it a democracy truly of, by, and for the people. 

You can listen to the call here:

PFAW