People For Blog

PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Toomey Can Protect the 3rd Circuit from Having Two Simultaneous Vacancies

Tomorrow’s hearing for Judge L. Felipe Restrepo’s Third Circuit nomination is occurring shortly before another vacancy opens on that same court, yet precedent shows that he can be confirmed in time to protect that court from having two vacancies at the same time.

When President Obama nominated Restrepo way back in November, it seemed unlikely that he would have to wait seven months just for his committee hearing. Unfortunately, Republican control of the Senate has caused the confirmation process to move slowly for all judicial nominations.

As a result, when the hearing occurs this Wednesday, it will be a mere three weeks before another vacancy opens on the same court on July 1. Considering that the vacancy that Judge Restrepo would fill has been formally designated as a judicial emergency, senators should be bending over backwards to confirm him before the next vacancy opens.

Fortunately, precedent shows that this can be done. Restrepo is helped by the fact that he is a known quantity – the Senate unanimously confirmed him to his current position just two years ago – and he has the bipartisan support of his home state senators.

Such an efficient process going forward would hardly be unprecedented. While no Obama circuit nominee has advanced from committee hearing to confirmation within three weeks, nine of George W. Bush’s circuit court nominees did. Notably, half of these nominations from the most recent GOP president were considered by a Senate controlled by Democrats.

  1. Roger Gregory, Fourth Circuit: 9 days (2001)
  2. William Riley, Eighth Circuit: 9 days (2001)
  3. Michael Melloy, Eighth Circuit: 18 days (2002)
  4. Jeffrey Howard, First Circuit: 12 days (2002)
  5. Consuelo Callahan, Ninth Circuit: 15 days (2003)
  6. Richard Wesley, Second Circuit: 20 days (2003)
  7. Michael Chagares, Third Circuit: 21 days (2006)
  8. Milan Smith, Ninth Circuit: 21 days (2006)
  9. G. Steven Agee, Fourth Circuit: 19 days (2008)

(The first one, Roger Gregory, was a unique case, since he had originally been a 2000 Bill Clinton nominee and recess appointee who was renominated by Bush.)

Fast forward to today: The clock is ticking toward July 1.

Just as Democrats and Republicans alike worked to confirm a number of President Bush’s circuit court nominees within three weeks of their committee hearings, Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey can work together to make this happen again. They both expressed strong support for Restrepo when he was nominated last year, and they can both see the harm to their constituents if the court has a second vacancy added to the already-existing judicial emergency.

Toomey has gotten a lot of bad in-state press criticizing him for his role in delaying Restrepo’s hearing for more than half a year. That delay is the reason there are only three weeks left before the next vacancy opens.

But with the Senate under Republican control, Toomey now has an opportunity to showcase his ability to influence Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and protect Pennsylvanians’ access to justice. A public statement by Toomey at the hearing on the pressing need for the Senate to act quickly to prevent a second vacancy on the court would send an important signal to his constituents, as well as to his Senate colleagues.

Ten of George W. Bush’s circuit court judges were confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate in his last two years in office, three of them by this same point in 2007. The count for the current Senate is zero. But with Toomey’s help, there could be a Third Circuit confirmation before Independence Day.

PFAW

What’s at Stake in the Supreme Court’s Fair Housing Case?

Although the case hasn’t gotten as much mainstream press attention as the forthcoming blockbuster rulings on marriage and on the ACA, the Supreme Court will be issuing a crucial decision on fair housing in the next few weeks in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project. A bad decision would reverse decades of positive decisions and progress in  fair housing.

As our nation learned during the riots of the 1960s, and is tragically re-learning today, segregation in housing is both a major cause and effect of our urban problems and inequality. Partly in response, Congress enacted the Fair Housing Act in 1968, with the explicit purpose to “provide, within constitutional limitations, for fair housing throughout the United States.” For almost four decades, every appellate court that has considered the issue and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) under both Republican and Democratic administrations have interpreted the Act to prohibit conduct that has a discriminatory effect based on race, color, religion, gender, disability, or familial status without a good justification. The issue in Texas Department is whether the Court will overturn that standard and rule that you don’t have a case under the Fair Housing Act unless you can prove specific intent to discriminate.

Why is this important? On a practical level, requiring proof of intent will make fair housing enforcement much more difficult; as one court noted, “clever men may easily conceal their motivations.” More broadly, discrimination and segregation often result from policies that may not be motivated by specific bad intent but that build on historic and systemic patterns of discrimination and lock out racial and other minorities. The “disparate impact” test, which is the legal term for the standard based on unjustified discriminatory effects, has helped combat that problem.

For example, in one case a building policy that imposed a limit of two people per bedroom resulted in the effective eviction from a one-bedroom apartment of a young couple who had just had a child. The policy was challenged based on disparate impact. It turned out there was no good business justification for the policy, and 150 units were opened up for families with children as a result. Similar challenges to policies that excluded disabled veterans by requiring residents to have full-time jobs or zoning restrictions that excluded racial minorities by requiring large lot sizes have helped break down long-entrenched problems of discrimination and exclusion.

All eleven federal courts of appeal that have considered this issue since the 1970s have approved the disparate impact standard. As explained in a brief to the Supreme Court by former Republican and Democratic HUD appointees, HUD has also followed this standard for decades. As a former HUD official and career-long civil rights attorney, I know the importance of the disparate impact test. As I wrote in a law review article more than 35 years ago, “only by concentrating on effect can the issue of discrimination be realistically addressed at all.”

If the Supreme Court overturns the long-accepted disparate impact standard, the continuing problems of discrimination and segregation in our country will only get worse in the years to come. The outcome of this case will have an enormous impact on millions of people throughout America, and on the nature of who we are as a nation.

PFAW Foundation

On Circuit Courts, An Opportunity for McConnell to Show He Can Govern

Late last week, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt excitedly tweeted out a headline guaranteed to excite the far right Republican base:

@SenateMajLdr rules out … confirming any more President Obama circuit or SCOTUS judges.justices

But what Mitch McConnell had actually said was more ambiguous than that tweet (and the headlines it generated) suggested. In fact, it was not at all clear what he meant.

His spokesperson said over the weekend that McConnell had "said nothing of the sort." But the words of a spokesperson don't mean anything until they are matched by actions from the senator.

If the headlines were accurate, it would be a dramatic escalation in the GOP's partisan war against the efforts of Democratic presidents to fulfill their constitutional duty to fill the federal courts with qualified, fair judges. Indeed, it would make the 114th Congress the first and only one since the creation of the modern circuit court system in the 1890s not to confirm any circuit court judges.

The headlines said exactly what the radical base wants to hear. As Senate Minority Leader, McConnell clearly played to the base and used the Senate rules masterfully in order to significantly obstruct the confirmation process for all of President Obama's judicial nominees, regardless of what court they were nominated for, regardless of their record, and regardless of support from most or even all senators. McConnell damaged both the Senate and our country during this time.

But since becoming Majority Leader, McConnell has wanted to persuade Americans that he can actually run the Senate effectively and responsibly. However, making the Senate dysfunctional is not the mark of a responsible and effective Senate Majority Leader. The timely confirmation of federal judges is one of the most important tasks the Senate has, since the entire Third Branch of the U.S. government relies on the other two branches to keep it functioning. A dysfunctional Senate that will not confirm qualified judges in a timely manner threatens the American ideal of equal justice under law.

So after the headlines of the past few days, the eyes of the country are on McConnell, waiting to see if he will cater to the rabidly anti-Obama base and prevent votes on any circuit court nominees, or whether he will – as his spokesperson suggested – govern more responsibly.

Fortunately for him, he can make that clear quite easily, by scheduling a vote on Kara Farnandez Stoll, nominee to the Federal Circuit. Stoll was cleared by the Judiciary Committee without opposition more than six weeks ago, on April 23. No circuit or district court nominee has been waiting for a floor vote longer.

Another circuit court nominee – Pennsylvanian L. Felipe Restrepo, for the Third Circuit – will have his hearing before the Judiciary Committee this week. With the bipartisan support of his home state senators and having been confirmed to a district judgeship two years ago, Judge Restrepo is another clear consensus nominee. He should be approved quickly by the Judiciary Committee and sent to the Senate floor, where McConnell should schedule a timely vote for him, as well.

It would be the mark of a Senate Majority Leader who is willing and able to govern.

PFAW

#Democracy4All Reaches Important Milestone

People For the American Way and its pro-democracy allies have been working in Congress and the states to boost House and Senate cosponsorship of the Democracy for All constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens Unitedand get big money out of politics.

This week we watched as Democracy for All reached an important milestone – it now has as many House cosponsors, 130, as it did at the end of the previous Congress.

27 of them have come during the last six weeks alone, since we first launched the campaign:

Representative Pete Aguilar [CA-31]
Representative Joyce Beatty [OH-3]
Representative Robert Brady [PA-1]
Representative Kathy Castor [FL-14]
Representative John Delaney [MD-6]
Representative Suzan DelBene [WA-1]
Representative Marcia L. Fudge [OH-11]
Representative Tulsi Gabbard [HI-2]
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee [TX-18]
Representative William R. Keating [MA-9]
Representative John Lewis [GA-5]
Representative Ted Lieu [CA-33]
Representative Doris O. Matsui [CA-6]
Representative Betty McCollum [MN-4]
Representative Jim McDermott [WA-7]
Representative Gregory W. Meeks [NY-5]
Representative Grace Meng [NY-6]
Representative Seth Moulton [MA-6]
Representative Grace F. Napolitano [CA-32]
Representative Donald Norcross [NJ-1]
Representative Bill Pascrell Jr. [NJ-9]
Representative Scott Peters [CA-52]
Representative Collin C. Peterson [MN-7]
Representative Tim Ryan [OH-13]
Representative Robert C. Scott [VA-3]
Representative Albio Sires [NJ-8]
Representative John A. Yarmuth [KY-3]

The next step is 155 – if Democracy for All gets to 155, then it will have as many cosponsors as all House amendments from the previous Congress combined.

Click to find out if your Representative has signed on to Democracy for All.

And check out United For The People for ongoing coverage of the far-reaching amendment movement.

PFAW

We're Finally Talking About 2016's Most Consequential Issue: The Future of the Supreme Court

This piece was originally published in The Huffington Post.

Yesterday, in a speech in Texas on the importance of voting rights, Hillary Clinton made one of the most important remarks of her campaign so far: "We need a Supreme Court who cares more about the right to vote of a person than the right to buy an election of a corporation." It wasn’t the first time she’d made similar statements, and to let us know she meant it, her official twitter account posted the line a few minutes later.

She’s not the only Democratic candidate to talk about what she’s looking for in a Supreme Court Justice. Bernie Sanders said last month that he’d appoint judges who would overturn the Court’s decision in Citizens United. Martin O’Malley made a similar statement just this week.

In a universe that made more sense, it wouldn’t be news that Presidential candidates are talking about the kind of jurist they’d like to see on our nation’s highest court. It’s oft repeated (and true) that aside from going to war, selecting a Supreme Court Justice is the most important single choice any President makes in office.

Yet Democrats haven’t traditionally spent much time talking about what they’d like that choice to look like.

Certainly, we know what we don’t want in a Supreme Court Justice. We don’t want someone who will overturn Roe. Or someone who would give us a decision like Ledbetter. Or, generally, act like an unelected agent of the Republican Party. Near general election time, Democrats have used the Court as a reminder of the devastating impact that would come from allowing a Republican to place yet another conservative hardliner on the bench.

All of those fears are well founded. But progressives shouldn’t spend the campaign talking only about what we don’t want on the Court—now is the time to talk about what we do want.

For the last three decades, conservative have used presidential primaries to push Republican candidates to articulate a vision of the Supreme Court. Republican candidates have identified sitting Justices (mostly Scalia and Thomas) they’d use as models when choosing a nominee, decried the Court’s supposed liberal tilt, picked apart decisions they don’t like, and, above all, emphasized their commitment to placing “strict constructionists” on the bench. Republican primary voters and conservative leaders, focused on abortion, race, deregulation, law enforcement, and marriage have taken those statements into account when deciding which candidate to support for the nomination—and they’ve reaped substantial rewards for their efforts.

So it’s a welcome relief to see Democrats talking about the Court so much earlier, and better, than ever before. Thus far, that conversation has focused on the need to restore some balance to the Supreme Court and restore the American people’s ability to impose reasonable limits on money in politics, but that shouldn’t be the end. Hillary Clinton has emphasized the Court’s role protecting voting rights. Likewise, we progressives should ask, and hear, about the Court’s role as defender of civil liberties and equal justice. Candidates should share their vision of a court whose doors are open to workers and consumers vindicating their rights, and to environmental activists looking for government agencies to fulfill their commitments to ensure clean air and water.

Decades after our next President leaves office, his or her appointees to the Supreme Court (to say nothing of the lower federal courts) will be affecting our lives in ways we can’t possibly foresee. We should expect candidates to tell us what kind of values they’ll look for when they decide who those people will be—and we should applaud them when they do it well.

We’ve got months left in primary season, and plenty of time for a robust conversation about the Supreme Court. It should play out in debates and town halls and prepared speeches. And we’re already off to a good start.

PFAW

Reuters Report: Voters Won't Let Billionaires Buy the Next Election

 With the 2016 national elections upcoming, wealthy donors supporting both parties are gearing up to throw hundreds of millions of dollars into the races; billionaires David and Charles Koch have already pledged to spend $889 million. But a report from Reuters shows that Americans, frustrated by the overwhelming influence of big money in politics, are organizing to fight back.

 In the Philadelphia mayoral race, three billionaires spent $7 million to elect Anthony Hardy Williams. In response, unions and community groups rallied around his challenger, Jim Kenney, organizing a march to stop the wealthy donors from “buying [their] next mayor.” Technological developments are making such organization easier: the creators of Crowdpac, an app that lets entrepreneurs gather funding towards donations, say that they want the app to be used to organize small donors to counteract the effects of billionaire spending.

  This is reflective of a wider trend in public opinion. Americans are sick of letting big money influence their elections; 84 percent say that money has too much influence in political campaigns today and nearly 3 in 4 Americans support a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United decision and limit campaign spending.

“There's growing public awareness about rich people trying to buy elections and that makes the task of winning all the more difficult," said Darrel West of the Brookings Institute.

  Americans have organized at all levels of government to get big money out of politics. Activists have held rallies and marches devoted to the cause and demanded that their representatives in Congress take steps to reduce big money’s influence. Five million of them have signed a petition calling for a constitutional amendment to limit the amount of money spent in politics. Sixteen states and more than 650 cities have already called for an amendment.

 President Obama is on board, and presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton, Lindsey Graham, and Bernie Sanders have expressed support for a constitutional amendment. Clinton and Sanders have also emphasized the importance of nominating Supreme Court Justices who would restore balance to the Supreme Court and restore the American people’s ability to impose reasonable limits on money in politics.

  The movement against big money in politics is gaining momentum as the election nears.

 

PFAW

ALEC’s Secret Meetings Exposed in Georgia

Last week a local Atlanta television station went to an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) conference in Savannah GA to expose the secret relationship ALEC legislators have with corporate lobbyists. Watch the investigation unfold as ALEC’s staff scrambled to respond.

This investigation shows us firsthand how ALEC members are working in secret to develop policies that impact average Americans on behalf of corporate special interests without the public’s input. To learn more about ALEC, check out the PFAW Right Wing Watch report, “ALEC: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in State Legislatures.”

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Tell Congress to #GetMoneyOut

Last month, as part of a multi-pronged campaign to boost House and Senate cosponsorship of the Democracy for All constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United and get big money out of politics, People For the American Way kicked off a campaign to send letters to Congress.

PFAW’s letter highlighted the grassroots momentum around an amendment:

While amending the Constitution is unquestionably a weighty matter—only warranted in rare and compelling circumstances—this is one of those moments in our nation’s history. The American people and their elected officials are increasingly speaking out about the need for an amendment. As of April 30, H.J.Res. 22 had 108 cosponsors,xvi and S.J.Res. 5 had 40 cosponsors.xvii The building momentum in Congress for an amendment mirrors the robust grassroots organizing taking place across the country at the state and local levels. Since the landmark Citizens United decision, 16 states and more than 650 municipalities, including large cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, have gone on record supporting congressional passage of a constitutional amendment to be sent to the states for ratification. Transcending political leaning and geographic location, voters in states and municipalities that have placed amendment questions on the ballot have routinely supported these initiatives by large margins.xviii Five million American have signed their names to the amendment support petitions circulated by dozens of reform groups.xix The momentum to address the issue of big money in politics grows stronger by the day.

Since then, eight other organizations have sent their own letters to Congress.

U.S. PIRG:

The call for a solution is also clear. To return control of our elections to average constituents, we need an amendment to correct the Supreme Court’s misguided interpretation that money is speech protected under the First Amendment and reestablish the principle of protecting political equality. The drumbeat of support for this amendment has been heard loud and clear. 16 states and over 650 municipalities have gone on record against the flood of big money in our elections and called on their congressional delegations to pass the amendment and send it back to the states to be ratified.

Common Cause:

We cannot fully address the many challenges our country faces—jobs and the economy, energy independence, housing security, and many others—until we solve the root issue of money dominating politics. Passing a constitutional amendment is a critical way to elevate the voices of everyday Americans so that everyone, not just the wealthy few, can be heard.

American Association of University Women (AAUW):

American women fought too hard for their votes to count. Congress needs to get big money out of our elections—and put the focus back on the people—by passing a Democracy for All constitutional amendment.

MoveOn.org Civic Action:

It's a simple and direct solution to the problems of money in politics that were multiplied many times over by the Supreme Court's decisions in Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC. Since those decisions opened the floodgates of unregulated political spending, we've seen an already fragile system become even further compromised. As spending on elections increases dramatically, a small handful of the wealthiest Americans control a growing percentage of the campaign donations—locking out millions upon millions of regular Americans from our democracy.

Daily Kos:

The flow of money into our political system—and the associated effects on our democratic processes—has reached a crisis level. In the wake of Citizens United v. FEC, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), McCutcheon v. FEC, 134 S.Ct. 1434 (2014), and other damaging Supreme Court decisions that have left Congress and the states unable to enact election spending regulations, American elections have grown increasingly expensive.

Public Citizen:

America faces great and serious challenges – putting people back to work, addressing deepening inequality, averting catastrophic climate change, fixing our schools, ensuring quality and affordable health care for all, and much more. Our country has the wealth and wherewithal, and the creativity and conscience, to meet these challenges. But we will fall short unless we repair our democracy.

Greenpeace:

Climate change is a salient example of the outsized influence of special interest money and Congress’ failure to address issues of highest national importance.

Sierra Club:

For at least the last decade, it has been abundantly clear that the people responsible for polluting our air, our water, and our climate with toxic contamination are many of the same ones responsible for polluting our democracy with hundreds of millions of dollars in toxic money. Fortunately, big money campaign donors are not getting away with this corruption of our democracy without the American people putting up a fight.

Click to learn more about Democracy for All and how you can be part of the solution.

And check out United For The People for ongoing coverage of the far-reaching amendment movement.

PFAW

Jeb Bush Shirks Campaign Finance Laws by Delaying Candidacy Announcement

A number of leading campaign finance lawyers assert that Jeb Bush’s continued refusal to declare himself as a 2016 presidential candidate, despite his robust fundraising, is a blatant evasion of campaign finance restrictions. The New York Times reported  today that campaign experts consider Bush’s activities, such as traveling to Iowa and other swing states and making stump speeches on his vision for the country, to have crossed the barrier into campaigning months ago. Organizations that work to eradicate big money in politics have taken action:

“Last week, two campaign watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and the Campaign Legal Center, called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether Mr. Bush had broken election law by evading restrictions on candidates. The groups called his noncandidacy ‘a charade’ and called on prosecutors to intervene because they said the F.E.C. — perpetually gridlocked — was unlikely to do anything.”

Skirting campaign finance restrictions for as long as possible is profitable for Jeb Bush as it allows him to rake in contributions exceeding the $2,700 limit for official candidates and to continue to coordinate with his super PAC. By delaying his official announcement of candidacy, Jeb Bush is able to bring in an exorbitant amount of donations from wealthy backers and corporations, ensuring that big money has a substantial voice in the 2016 election.

Learn more about Jeb Bush with our 2016 Republican Candidates Report.

PFAW

Money in Politics Survey Shows the Toxic Legacy of the Roberts Court

The New York Times published a poll this morning that reveals - not at all surprisingly - that overwhelming majorities of Americans are thoroughly fed up with money in politics.

Among the findings:

  • Fewer than a third of Americans think all Americans have an equal chance to influence the elections process, while two-thirds say that the wealthy have more influence.
  • 85% said our system for funding political campaigns either needs fundamental changes or, even more, needs to be rebuilt completely.
  • Nearly three in five are pessimistic that changes will be made to improve campaign funding.

So a substantial majority of Americans think that the wealthy few have so much sway over elected officials that changes wanted by 85% of the population will not be made.

Such a lack of faith in the ability of our electoral system to channel popular will cannot be healthy for a democracy. For this, we can thank the Roberts Court, which helped create this situation with decisions like Citizens United and McCutcheon.

The far right conservatives on the Supreme Court have severely narrowed the permissible goals of laws regulating money in politics. They acknowledge that laws can be passed to prevent corruption and its appearance, but they have reduced that concept to little more than outright bribery. In other words, the current 5-4 majority on the Court has ruled that our elected governments cannot pass laws to address the arrogation of political influence and power by campaign funders with vast concentrations of wealth. When a narrow sliver of the nation's wealthiest individuals and families are able to leverage their political spending into special attention and favorable treatment from elected officials, democracy is not harmed in the eyes of the Roberts Court, but is instead working the way it is supposed to. It's simply constituents supporting candidates they support, and elected officials being appropriately responsive to their concerns.

So five years after Citizens United, it is not surprising that so many Americans have so little faith in the ability of our electoral democracy to function properly. This is just another part of the toxic legacy of the Roberts Court.

But it isn't the end of the story. As Americans' level of revulsion at the extent of money in politics continues to rise, elected officials will eventually have to take notice. It will not be the first time that a popular movement has prompted electoral and political changes too strong to be stopped by those who President Theodore Roosevelt once called the malefactors of great wealth. As with movements of the past, the will of the many can overcome the might of a few.

PFAW Foundation

Scott Walker Doesn't Get Why His 'Cool' Ultrasound Remark Was So Offensive -- And That's The Problem

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Gov. Scott Walker was chatting recently with right-wing radio host Dana Loesch about his efforts to set up regulatory hurdles to abortion access in Wisconsin, when heoffered this defense of a law he signed that would require a woman to undergo a medically unnecessary ultrasound before exercising her constitutionally protected right to an abortion:

I'm pro-life. I've passed pro-life legislation. We defunded Planned Parenthood, we signed a law that requires an ultrasound. Which, the thing about that, the media tried to make that sound like that was a crazy idea. You know, most people I talked to, whether they're pro-life or not, I find people all the time that pull out their iPhone and show me a picture of their grandkids' ultrasound and how excited they are, so that's a lovely thing. I think about my sons are 19 and 20, we still have their first ultrasounds. It's just a cool thing out there.

Right Wing Watch, a project of People For the American Way, was listening to the show and brought attention to Walker's comments, and they understandably hit a nerve.

Sure, an ultrasound could be "cool" if you are a woman carrying a healthy child, surrounded by family, love and support and making your own medical choices along with your doctor. Or you are excited grandparents looking forward to years of joy with a child. What's not "cool" is if the state mandates that you undergo a medically unnecessary procedure in an effort to prevent you from making a choice that you, an adult woman whose circumstances your politicians have no right to know or judge,have already made and are unlikely to change

Even less "cool" is the fact that the ultrasound bill was passed as part of an explicit effort to undermine women's access to health care. Its companion bill was an "admitting privileges" requirement, a common anti-choice tactic, that threatened to close two abortion clinics in the state. Since then, Walker has boasted to anti-choice leaders of using deceptive rhetoric about the ultrasound bill in order to downplay its true intentions.

Unlike the ultrasounds of the Walkers' children, forced ultrasounds like these aren't the kind that anyone wants to show off. What's astonishing is that Walker doesn't seem to get this. Instead, he's accusing the "gotcha" media of being "biased" and "lazy" and twisting the meaning of his comments. Unfortunately, some of the media are taking him at his word.

Walker's remarks weren't twisted. You can listen to his whole answer to the questionhere. The problem is that Walker just doesn't seem to get why what he said was so offensive. For someone who wants to be president, that's deeply troubling.

PFAW

Maryland Governor Vetoes Important Voting Legislation

Last Friday Maryland Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would allow formerly incarcerated persons to regain the right to vote upon release from prison. The bill had passed through Maryland’s General Assembly with a significant majority. Hogan’s veto sustains current Maryland law, which prohibits people from voting until they have completed their entire sentence – including parole and probation.

This decision impacts approximately 40,000 Marylanders who live, work, and pay taxes in the state. The bill would have both supported formerly incarcerated persons in the reintegration process and addressed the systemic disenfranchisement of ex-offenders. As Maryland Delegates Cory McCray and Alonzo Washington put it:

In representative democracy, the right to vote is a fundamental interest. When folks have their access to the ballot box restricted, they lose their ability to have a voice in the decision making process.

PFAW advocates in Maryland, and members of PFAW’s African American Ministers In Action, have been organizing with supporters to restore full voting rights to formerly incarcerated persons. They called on local community leaders and state representatives to promote this important cause.

Hogan’s decision is deeply disappointing and disproportionately marginalizes people of color, continuing a legacy of racially discriminatory ex-offender laws. It highlights how harmful the power to veto can be in the wrong hands. But the fight for voting rights for all is far from over, and activists in Maryland and across the country will continue to push to ensure that fundamental democratic rights are protected.

PFAW

Cornyn and Cruz Are Devastating Texas Courts

It is no exaggeration to say that the federal court system in Texas is in dire straits. Anyone doubting that need look no further than the state's two senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

Even with judicial nominees they themselves recommended, Cornyn and Cruz don't lift a finger to help to prevent delays in committee or on the floor. Just ask Jose Rolando Olvera, who was denied a floor vote until nearly three months after his approval by a unanimous Judiciary Committee in February. That's particularly ironic, since at Olvera's hearing, Cornyn had said that he and Cruz would push for his "swift confirmation."

But even worse than this snail's pace post-nomination is the senators' foot-dragging pre-nomination, as they delay making recommendations to fill vacancies in the state's federal courts.

Even if there were no vacancies in Texas, the state would need more judges: The Judicial Conference of the United States has asked Congress to add eight new judgeships in the Lone Star State.

But Texas, in fact, does have judicial vacancies – nine of them, seven of which have been designated as judicial emergencies (meaning the current caseload is too much for the judges to handle). Not one has a nominee, because Cornyn and Cruz have shown little interest in recommending nominees to the White House in anything approaching a timely manner.

They have put together a Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee to vet potential nominees and make recommendations to the senators. But they wait absurdly long after learning about a vacancy before tasking the Evaluation Committee to address it, guaranteeing that the vacancy rate will remain needlessly high.

For instance, in April, the senators announced that the Evaluation Committee was accepting applications for vacancies in the Eastern District (Plano) and the Western District (Midland), both of which are judicial emergencies. This was two months after the Midland vacancy opened, but Cornyn and Cruz's delay was far longer than "just" two months. Midland Judge Robert Junell had actually announced his plans to go into semi-retirement more than a year in advance, in January of 2014. Waiting 15 months after learning of a planned vacancy before even beginning the process to fill it is hardly a sign of deep commitment to the federal courts in Texas.

As for the Eastern District seat in Plano, it had become vacant a month earlier when Judge Richard Schell took senior status. But Judge Schell's plans had been formally announced in March of 2014, a year in advance, and they were known even earlier than that, in January of 2014. Nevertheless, the senators chose to wait more than a year to activate their Evaluation Committee.

That Plano vacancy isn't the only one in the Eastern District. Almost a full year ago, in June of 2014, Judge Leonard Davis announced that he would be taking senior status in May of this year. That left more than enough time for a replacement to be identified by the senators, nominated by the White House, and confirmed by the Senate. After all, that's the reason departing judges tend to make their plans known so long in advance. However, Senators Cornyn and Cruz still have not publicly asked their Evaluation Committee to start work on this vacancy. As a result, the vacancy opened two weeks ago without a nominee. To no one's surprise – but to the detriment of people in Texas – it was immediately designated a judicial emergency.

The April directive to the Evaluations Committee was actually the second one this year. In January, they directed it to start vetting applicants for vacancies in the Southern District (Corpus Christi) and the Northern District (Lubbock). The Lubbock vacancy had just opened, but it had been announced nearly six months in advance. The Corpus Christi seat has been vacant since Judge Janis Jack took senior status in 2011.

And last July, the senators tasked their committee to begin work on vacancies in the Southern District (Galveston) and the Northern District (Dallas). The Dallas vacancy had been announced in April 2013, more than a year before. The Galveston vacancy had opened just a few weeks earlier when Judge Gregg Costa had been elevated to the Fifth Circuit, but he had been nominated with the senators' full support in December of 2013, so this, too, was a vacancy that was known well in advance.

Yet even though these long-delayed Evaluation Committee processes have finally begun, they have still resulted in a total of zero nominees so far.

Then there are the two longstanding judicial emergencies at the Fifth Circuit. Traditionally, home state senators play a much smaller role in filling circuit court seats than they do with district court seats. Nevertheless, the White House has long been consulting extensively with Cornyn and Cruz, who have apparently stated their opposition even to moderate district judges originally recommended for those positions by Republicans.

So it is not a surprise that Texas has nine vacancies without nominees, seven of them judicial emergencies. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz seem to be doing everything they can to maximize the number of vacancies available for (what they hope will be) a Republican president to fill starting in 2017, heedless of the harm this does to their constituents.

Senator Cornyn recently blamed the White House for the vacancies he and Cruz have fostered:

We can't nominate the judges. The president has to nominate the judges.

Given the senators' deliberate and successful sabotage of the federal court system in Texas, the President would be more than justified in going forward with nominations to these vacancies. Then Senators Cornyn and Cruz should press for fair hearings before the Judiciary Committee on which they both serve.

PFAW

From Wisconsin to Washington, Anti-Choice Legislators Push Unconstitutional 20-Week Abortion Bans

In Congress and state legislatures across the country, right-wing politicians are pushing hard to construct new barriers to women exercising the constitutional right to have an abortion.

Earlier this month the U.S. House passed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and GOP legislators in Wisconsin are staging a parallel attack. They introduced a similar 20-week ban, which Gov. Scott Walker has indicated he would sign, and have scheduled a hearing on the bill for next week. PFAW supporters in Wisconsin will be out in force to demonstrate their commitment to protecting this core right.

A couple of important points about 20-week bans: first, they are plainly unconstitutional. One of the main holdings of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was a woman’s right to an abortion before the fetus becomes viable – that is, the point when a fetus could survive outside the uterus. As Imani Gandy writes at RH Reality Check:

In the past 40 years, the Court has never wavered from the fetal viability benchmark…Courts have consistently smacked down legislative attempts to ban abortions at 20 weeks. But states are undeterred by such pedestrian concerns as constitutionality.

Pushing these bans are a deliberate effort to prompt a challenge to the Roe decision, which anti-choice groups believe they can win.

Second, the overwhelming majority of abortions (close to 99 percent) happen before 21 weeks. Those that happen after that are often because of a complicated situation – such as the discovery of a severe fetal abnormality – and the path forward should be determined by a woman and her doctor, not by politicians looking to score points with their base.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, these bans are part of an anti-choice agenda with a much broader goal: banning abortions across the board. From mandatory waiting period laws to “personhood” efforts which would give embryos full legal rights from the moment of conception, the anti-choice movement is playing the long game and slowly “chipping away at choice.”

When legislators try to insert themselves into decisions that should be made by women and their health care providers, it’s more than a political ploy. It’s a real threat to every woman’s health and autonomy.

PFAW

Arkansas Attorney General Delays Ballot Initiative to #GetMoneyOut: Coalition Will Continue Pressing

This week Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge rejected a proposed 2016 ballot initiative that seeks to increase disclosure in election spending and support an amendment to overturn Supreme Court cases like Citizens United. Groups leading the effort, including the Arkansas Democracy Coalition, People For the American Way and other national allies, plan to resubmit the ballot initiative language today, as the objections given by the attorney general are minor and can be easily addressed. Once submitted the attorney general will have ten business days to respond with her decision.

The rejection has generated a flurry of media attention and comes in the wake of a series of events in support of the initiative held last week in Little Rock. As PFAW and allies prepare to potentially launch a full-scale ballot initiative campaign, the decision of the Arkansas Attorney General remains an obstacle in the path of making Arkansas the 17th state to pass a resolution in support of a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics.

Paul Spencer, Chairman of Regnat Populus, a convening organization of the Arkansas Democracy Coalition, said in a news release the group would revise the measure and submit a fifth version.

“The people of Arkansas deserve the opportunity to vote on these important issues,” he said. “We intend to respond to the very few points the attorney general has raised and trust that the office will not find any further reasons to block the campaign to put this on the ballot.”

PFAW