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PEOPLE FOR BLOG

Texas Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Struck Down

In another win for the marriage equality movement, today U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia struck down Texas’ ban on marriage for same-sex couples.  The judge wrote that "Texas' current marriage laws deny homosexual couples the right to marry, and in doing so, demean their dignity for no legitimate reason.”

The Washington Post reports:

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia did not say gay marriages could be performed immediately. Instead, he stayed the decision, citing a likely appeal.

"Without a rational relation to a legitimate governmental purpose, state-imposed inequality can find no refuge in our United States Constitution," Garcia wrote in his decision. "These Texas laws deny Plaintiffs access to the institution of marriage and its numerous rights, privileges, and responsibilities for the sole reason that Plaintiffs wish to be married to a person of the same sex."

Similar bans have been struck down in states across the country – most recently in Virginia less than two weeks ago. Today’s victory in a state with a whopping 26 million residents brings us one important step closer to nationwide marriage equality.

PFAW Foundation

Reid Calls Out Republicans on Obstruction of Judicial Nominees

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) responded to Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R-Iowa) absurd claim that this Congress has done well in confirming judicial nominees. In fact, Republicans have not consented to even one judicial confirmation vote since November. The few votes that have been held since then have been over GOP filibusters. Unfortunately, Senate rules allow them to demand hours of needless “post cloture debate” after every cloture vote, so it could take weeks and weeks of Senate floor time to get through all the nominees waiting for a simple yes-or-no vote.

Reid was quick to voice that the confirmation process has been unnecessarily delayed by GOP obstruction:

Everyone knows that we are in this situation because of Republicans slow-walking every nomination—every nomination. There is no reason, no reason whatsoever that we are having votes on cloture on these judges.

“It is a waste of the taxpayers’ time to go through the process we’ve been going through.

Reid, aware of the prolonged time they will spend clearing the backlog due to these procedural delays, promised that they will get through filing cloture on all of the nominees.

If that’s what the Republicans want us to do, then that’s what we’ll do. The American people will see this colossal waste of time that we’ve been going through.

PFAW

Rubio and Sessions Can Prevent Delay of Critical 11th Circuit Vote

Get ready. There’s more Republican obstruction on the way.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on 11th Circuit nominee Robin S. Rosenbaum for this Thursday, which is an important step forward in the fight to address our judicial vacancy crisis. Fully a third of the 11th Circuit’s twelve active judgeships are currently vacant, and all four of its empty slots have been declared judicial emergencies by the Administrative Offices of U.S. Courts.

The vacancy crisis in the 11th Circuit is so bad that the court’s chief judge, Edward Carnes, issued an order in December temporarily suspending the standard rule that at least two judges on a three-judge 11th Circuit panel must be members of that court. That means that going forward, two of three judges on these panels could be visiting from someplace else, potentially outvoting the one 11th Circuit judge. It is vital that Judge Rosenbaum be confirmed in a timely manner. And that starts with a timely committee vote.

But it’s unlikely that’s enough reason for GOP Senators to drop their campaign of endless delays for judicial nominations.

Republicans are expected to delay that committee vote using a procedural tactic that they have deployed against all but five of President Obama’s judicial nominees.

That is, unless Sen. Marco Rubio or Sen. Jeff Sessions steps in.

Rosenbaum is from Florida, which gives Rubio a special responsibility to urge Republican senators on the committee not to delay the vote. It is a chance for him to prioritize his constituents over politics. Similarly, Sessions, who represents a state (Alabama) covered by the 11th Circuit, also has a unique responsibility, as a member of the Judiciary Committee, to avoid such needless delay.

Will either Rubio or Sessions step up and help move the process in a more functional direction? We’ll learn on Thursday, but if past events are a predictor of future behavior, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
 

PFAW

Public Turning Against the Private Prison Racket

PFAW’s 2012 report, “Predatory Privatization: Exploiting Financial Hardship, Enriching the One Percent, Undermining Democracy,” included a section titled, “The Pernicious Private Prison Industry.” We reported that across the country, private prisons were often violent, poorly run facilities that put prisoners, employees and communities at risk even while failing to deliver on promised savings to taxpayers. But state legislators, encouraged by ALEC and by private prison interests’ lobbying and campaign expenditures, continued to turn prisons over to private corporations, often with contract provisions that acted as incentives for mass incarceration.

A new story in Politico Magazine, “The Private Prison Racket” comes to the same conclusions. “Companies that manage prisons on our behalf have abysmal records,” says author Matt Stroud. “So why do we keep giving them our business?”

The Politico story slams “bed mandates” – guarantees given by states to private companies to keep prisons full.  Contracts like that build in incentives for governments to lock people up – and punish states financially when they try to reduce prison populations.

Politicians are taking notice. Last month, In the Public Interest reported that reality has turned the tide against private prisons: “Coast-to-coast, governments are realizing that outsourcing corrections to for-profit corporations is a bad deal for taxpayers, and for public safety.” The dispatch cited problems with private prisons in states as diverse as Arizona, Vermont, Texas, Florida, and Idaho, where Gov. Butch Otter, a “small government” conservative, announced last month that the state would take control of the Idaho Correctional Center back from private prison giant Corrections Corporation of America due to rampant violence, understaffing, gang activity, and contract fraud.

But the huge private prison industry is not going away anytime soon. As In the Public Interest notes:

All of this momentum does not suggest the imminent death of the for-profit prison industry. Some states, including California and West Virginia, are currently gearing up to send millions more to these companies. But the past year has been a watershed moment, and we are heading in the right direction. In light of these developments, these states would be wise to look to sentencing reform to reduce populations, rather than signing reckless outsourcing contracts.

The arguments against private prisons are myriad and compelling. Promised savings end up as increased costs. Lockup quotas force taxpayers to guarantee profits for prison companies through lock up quotas hidden in contracts. They incentivize mass incarceration while discouraging sentencing reform in an era when crime rates are plummeting.

But more than anything else, the reality of the disastrous private prison experiment has turned the public against the industry.

 

PFAW

The GOP's Ted Nugent Problem

The Republican Party in the era of the Tea Party and the "autopsy" can't make up its mind. Torn between expanding its base so that it can survive in the long term and appeasing its loyalists so it can survive in the short term, the party doesn't know where to go. The choice boils down to winning a few more seats in November and writing off the future of the party. Oddly, November seems to be winning every time.

For Texas gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott the choice seems easy. He chose Ted Nugent, the physical embodiment of the off-the-rails toxicity that Republicans just don't know how to quit. Abbott certainly had to know the stir he'd cause when he invited Nugent to join him on the campaign trail last week.

Ted Nugent is not just a former rocker who happens to be a Republican. Nugent's infamous "subhuman mongrel" slur is just a representative sample of the bile he produces on a regular basis. He has threatened the president, saying, "Obama, he's a piece of shit, and I told him to suck on my machine gun," told an audience to "keep a fucking gun in your hand, boys" in response to the Obama administration, implied the president is like a coyote who needs to be shot, and said before the 2012 election that if the "vile, evil America-hating" Obama were to be reelected, Nugent would be "either dead or in jail by this time next year."(For the record, Nugent is still very much alive and free to make statements like the above.)

Why listen to Nugent (as People For the American Way's Right Wing Watch does more often than they would probably like)? Because he doesn't just shout his rants from the stage at his concerts. He shares the stage with people like Greg Abbott.

In a time when many Republicans are trying to moderate the rhetoric they use to explain their extreme policies, Greg Abbott is just the latest who apparently has no such concerns. He 's more than happy to provide a platform for Nugent, an unabashedly violent, and unapologetic racist spokesperson who exults in attacking the president- - when the president is Barack Obama, that is.

Nugent has speculated whether "it would have been best had the South won the Civil War"; suggested banning people who owe no federal income tax from voting; lashed out at "those well-fed motherfucker food stamp cocksuckers"; and blamed Trayvon Martin's death on the "mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America."

In other words, Nugent's not the sort of person any reasonable candidate would invite along on the campaign trail. But reason is not the way to prove one's bona fides to a large share of the Tea Party that has taken over the Grand Old Party. When Nugent said in a campaign appearance that "we don't have to question Greg Abbott's courage, because he invited me here today," he was reassuring the base that "autopsy reports" aside, the GOP has no intention of changing.

And that's the problem. Ted Nugent isn't a Greg Abbott gaffe. His presence on the Abbott campaign trail represents a deliberate effort to cultivate the most extreme elements of the Republican base. The party can moderate its positions to attract more voters. Or it can stick with extremism to keep a core of the voters it has. But it can't have it both ways.

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Senate to Vote Today on Four Federal District Court Nominees

The Senate is scheduled to vote to end filibusters and then to confirm four federal district court nominees tonight and tomorrow morning, two for the Northern District of California, one for the Eastern District of Arkansas, and one for the District of Connecticut. All four of these nominees were thoroughly vetted and approved by unanimous voice vote by the Judiciary Committee last year. They should have and could have been confirmed months ago. (In contrast, George W. Bush’s confirmed district court noms only waited about a month on average between committee approval and confirmation.) However, because of Republican obstruction, all four nominees have waited months for a simple confirmation vote. And Senate Republicans are indicating that they won’t stop their obstruction anytime soon.  In fact, it looks like they are willing to waste weeks of time in “post-cloture debate” on these and subsequent nominees.

Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer of Connecticut has been waiting for a confirmation since he was first approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 19. Judge James Maxwell Moody, Jr., of Arkansas has been waiting since November 14. The two nominees from Northern California, Judge James Donato and Judge Beth Labson Freeman, have both been waiting since October 31st.

This frustratingly slow process is the result of layers of delaying tactics by GOP senators. Republicans refused to hold votes on these nominees for months, and now that they are being called on their obstructionism through filibuster-ending cloture votes, they’re making the votes take as long as possible by demanding that each take hours of “post-cloture debate.” This is especially ridiculous for nominees whom the Republicans actually support. Not only is this delaying confirmation of judges in these particular states; it’s also delaying nominees in other states waiting in line for their turn, including many for posts that have been deemed “judicial emergencies.” This delaying tactic from Republicans not only slows what should be a simple process, it deprives these states’ constituents the fully functioning justice system they deserve.

PFAW

Pressure Mounts for Brewer to Veto Anti-Gay Law

Ever since Arizona’s legislature passed a bill that would allow business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers, pressure has been mounting on Governor Jan Brewer to veto the law.

The bill has drawn sharp criticism from LGBT and human rights groups (in addition to quick witted pizza shop owners and crewmembers of the Starship Enterprise) and now GOP politicians are lining up to call for it to be blocked. Last week, the state’s junior senator, Jeff Flake, tweeted his opposition to the law. This morning he was joined by the state's senior senator, John McCain. As if that weren't enough, TPM reports that state senator Steve Pierce, who voted for the legislation, is reversing himself and calling on Brewer to issue a veto.

It’s clear that the issue isn’t going away soon. Despite the already embarrassing attention that Arizona has received since the law was passed, Governor Brewer still has the opportunity to avoid adding another black mark on her state’s recent history. Millions of Americans are watching closely.

PFAW

Will McCain and Flake Let GOP Obstruct AZ Nominees?

Next Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on six district court nominees in Arizona. Odds are it won't happen.

That's because delaying the committee vote is a small but reliably constant way that Senate Republicans delay and obstruct all of President Obama's judicial nominees. Committee rules let the minority have a vote "held over" until the next meeting without providing a reason. That next meeting is often a week later, but when it comes before a recess, the delay can be significant. As part of the massive escalation in obstruction that Republicans launched the moment President Obama took office, they have routinely held over nominees, even for completely unopposed nominees. In fact, only five Obama judicial nominees have actually been allowed by the GOP to have their committee vote held as scheduled. The last time they let one through on time was in 2011, and that was for an Arizona nominee to replace the murdered Judge John Roll.

Perhaps they will make another Arizona exception this time. Arizona has 13 federal district judgeships, but six of them are vacant. That is a substantial vacancy rate. And because of the high caseload in Arizona courts, the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts has formally designated all six of the vacancies as "judicial emergencies."

Sen. Jeff Flake, himself a member of the Judiciary Committee, told his colleagues last month how desperately the people in his state need these vacancies filled: "Talking to those serving on the bench in Arizona now, they're happy to see the caseload probably cut in half" when the six nominees are confirmed. Sen. McCain has also stressed the urgency: "The recent judicial vacancies in Arizona have created an unsustainable situation for the Court and are a serious impediment to the administration of justice for the people of Arizona. The need to fill these vacancies is critical as the District of Arizona ranks as one of the top ten busiest district courts in the country."

The six nominees were originally scheduled for a committee vote on February 13, but the hearing was cancelled due to a snowstorm. Then came a week's recess. Now they are scheduled for February 27, next Thursday. Since this will be the first meeting of the committee with the Arizona nominees on the voting agenda, Republicans can be expected to needlessly request that the vote be held over … unless McCain and Flake can convince them not to obstruct.

Since Flake is on the committee, eyes will be particularly focused on him. Can he convince his GOP colleagues not to prolong the crisis in his state by delaying the vote? Will he even try?

PFAW

Tom DeLay: Americans Have Forgotten That God Wrote The Constitution

This post originally appeared on our Right Wing Watch blog.

As we noted earlier this year, Matthew Hagee has been hosting a weekly talk show called "The Difference" where he interviews people like Rick Santorum and now Tom DeLay, who declared that a lot of the problems in America can be traced back to the moment when "we allowed our government to become a secular government."

DeLay said that Americans have forgotten "that God created this nation [and] that He wrote the Constitution, that it's based on biblical principles," but he is also optimistic that the tide is beginning to shift, noting that when he was in Congress, he sealed off the rotunda in the Capitol building so that leaders from Congress could come together for three hours to get on their knees and seek the face of God.

"And I really feel now," DeLay said, "that the Lord has heard us and I see the Holy Spirit moving":

Walker’s 2016 Presidential Hopes In Doubt After Email Dump

First Chris Christie, now Scott Walker – the future is not so bright for yet another 2016 GOP presidential hopeful after a revelation about questionable ethical conduct.  Last month, New Jersey Governor Christie’s administration became embroiled in the now-infamous “Bridgegate” scandal.  Now Wisconsin Governor Walker seems to be caught between not one, but two “John Doe” investigations.

A “document dump” of more than 27,000 emails and other evidence released this week by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals documents activities that resulted in the convictions of six former Walker aides, associates, and a political campaign donor on fifteen felonies and three misdemeanors.  Reporters and researchers have scoured the documents for the last 48 hours, revealing some key findings of the probe, including:

  • Milwaukee District Attorney Bruce Landgraf asked on November 1, 2010, the day before Scott Walker was elected governor, to expand his John Doe probe to then-Milwaukee County Executive Walker’s official staff upon discovery of a secret network of campaign-related email activity inside Walker’s official County Executive office during business hours. His investigation targeted four top Walker aides -- Chief of Staff Tom Nardelli, Deputy Chief of Staff Kelly Rindfleisch, Communications Director Fran McLaughlin and scheduler Dorothy Moore. Prior to that, the probe had targeted illegal campaign donations to Friends of Scott Walker by railroad magnate William Garder, campaign blogging by Walker aide Darlene Wink, and $27,000 stolen from a veterans’ fund run by former Walker deputy chief of staff Tim Russell. – Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 20, 2014

  • An investigator testified that he believed Scott Walker knew about the secret wireless network and private laptop use in his Milwaukee County Executive office while he was running for governor.  Walker sent an email to former Chief of Staff Tim Russell, convicted in the probe for theft of $27,000 from a veterans’ fund that Walker appointed him to, mentioning the activity, saying "We cannot afford another story like this one. No one can give them any reason to do another story. That means no laptops, no websites, no time away during the work day, etc."– Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 19, 2014

  • A follow-up email from former Walker aide Kelly Rindfleisch, also convicted in the probe for performing campaign work on Milwaukee County work time, acknowledges that she disabled the secret network, responding “I took down the wireless, it’s in my bag for now.” – Wisconsin State Journal, Feb. 20, 2014

  • Emails between Walker’s administrative director Cynthia Archer and Rindfleisch discuss communicating with the governor and Chief of Staff Thomas Nardelli using private email accounts, Archer directing Rindfleisch to check her private email account regularly “throughout the day.” – Slate, Feb. 20, 2014

A second John Doe criminal investigation currently is underway, and appears to focus on illegal campaign contributions and illegal coordination between Walker’s 2012 gubernatorial campaign and independent expenditure political group Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America, Americans For Prosperity, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, and the Republican Governor’s Association.  So far, two separate lawsuits have been filed, with plaintiffs’ names kept secret, to try to halt the second John Doe probe. – PRWatch, Feb. 7, 2014

Whether the second John Doe probe, which is ongoing, actually ensnares Scott Walker himself remains to be seen.  So far, the first probe, and yesterday’s document dump, already have caused national Republicans to circle the wagons and ask themselves whether either Chris Christie or Scott Walker are viable 2016 GOP presidential candidates.  Stay tuned.

Burr's Blue Slip Abuse Continues

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr has been justly criticized for his obstruction of Jennifer May-Parker, a judicial nominee who he originally recommended to the White House back in 2009. If confirmed, May-Parker would become the first African American federal judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina. Without Burr's support, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy won't even schedule a hearing for the nominee. Unfortunately, the senator has steadfastly refused to say why he is blocking her.

NC Policy Watch's Progressive Pulse blog has posted the brief form letter Burr is sending to constituents who want to know why he is single-handedly keeping this seat empty. Remember as you read this that the nominee Burr is blocking is one that he himself recommended in 2009:

In July 2009, I provided a list of recommendations to President Obama with candidates who could fill this position, along with recommendations for other judicial vacancies in North Carolina. While it is my policy not to publicly discuss conversations I have had with the White House regarding these recommendations, I am committed to seeing that our judicial vacancies are filled with qualified judges.

The blogger's response:

How's that for some misleading, mealy-mouthed hogwash? Not only did the Senator offer up the bogus "I don't talk about such things with my constituents" excuse, he clearly implies that it's the President's fault for not nominating someone on his (Burr's) list. But, of course, as has been known for some time, May-Parker WAS on Burr's list!

This is hardly the first time that Burr has been caught misleading people who have the audacity to ask him to explain his official actions as a U.S. senator. Last month, he deflected a reporter by claiming that "I just don't share anything about the judicial nominations process." Unfortunately for Burr, that was revealed not to be true.

Perhaps Burr should remember that the people of North Carolina are his employers. If he does not want to explain his official actions to them, perhaps he should consider another line of work.

In fact, a committee hearing would be the perfect place for Burr to raise whatever problems he might have with the nominee. That would also give May-Parker a chance to answer any questions Burr and other senators might have. But he seems willing to continue his abuse of the current blue slip system, in which Chairman Leahy does not hold a hearing without the consent of both home state senators.

PFAW

New Mexicans unite for marriage

December 2013 marked a southwestern step toward marriage equality nationwide when the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state is required by its constitution to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Today the state said no to dismantling that progress when its legislative session ended without any consideration of a proposed constitutional amendment. With bipartisan support, SJR 6 is dead, and New Mexico still represents the seventeenth state (plus DC) to have legalized marriage for same-sex couples.

New Mexicans United for Marriage:

When the Supreme Court ruled that our state constitution guarantees all New Mexicans the rights and responsibilities of marriage, we expected there would be some who would seek to overturn the decision. But the Legislature listened to the citizens of New Mexico and stood strong against attempts to deny New Mexicans their constitutional right of marriage equality. This should prove once and for all that marriage equality is here to stay in New Mexico and that all families in our state are valued and secure.

Freedom to Marry:

In the end, as we’re finding in so many other states, the freedom to marry was protected by bipartisan support. We’re indebted to the leadership of our co-chairs, including former Gov. Gary Johnson, a libertarian who speaks directly to many New Mexicans who believe that freedom means freedom for everyone.

The timing of today’s victory bodes well as two important federal court challenges to marriage bans are headed to the 10th Circuit Court in Denver. New Mexico is one of the six states served by that court and we hope the resounding silence by its political and legislative leaders to challenge the freedom to marry resonates with the justices.

PFAW stood with Freedom to Marry and other NMUM partners in asking members to make calls on behalf of fairness for all couples. We will continue to support the freedom to marry nationwide and will remain vigilant against backlash in the Land of Enchantment.

PFAW

Cruz: 'Our Heart Weeps' Due To Marriage Equality Gains

This post originally appeared on our Right Wing Watch blog.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz joined Family Research Council president Tony Perkins on Washington Watch on Thursday to discuss his proposed State Marriage Defense Act, which as we explained earlier would “make it more difficult for married same-sex couples to receive legal recognition.”

Cruz said that the Obama administration’s support for LGBT equality represents an “abuse of power and lawlessness” and chided gay rights advocates for their “litigation approach.”

“Our heart weeps for the damage to traditional marriage that has been done,” Cruz said, warning that marriage is “under attack.”

“We need to stand up and defend traditional marriage and especially do everything we can to prevent the federal government from forcing a different definition of marriage that is contrary to the views to the citizens of each state.”

The Texas senator also agreed with Perkins’ assessment that and Obama administration officials want to “move quick[ly]” on marriage equality “because there will be pushback from the country when people see the consequences of this redefinition of marriage; they are trying to lock this in quickly hoping that it cannot be reversed.”

Ending the Disenfranchisement of Formerly Incarcerated Americans

The following is a guest blog from Reverend Michael Couch, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers In Action.

On Tuesday, while speaking at the Georgetown University Law Center, Attorney General Eric Holder called for a repeal of state voting laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people. In a country where nearly six million citizens are unable to vote because of felony convictions, these changes could not come quickly enough.

State laws dictating voting rights for those who have served time in prison vary, from an automatic restoration of rights after sentence completion in some states to outright bans in others. Restrictions on this civil right in states like Kentucky, Florida, Iowa, and Virginia should no longer be subject to criteria such as the type of convictions, arbitrary time frames, petitions to clemency boards and/or the state governor.

I work daily with others around the country to make sure nonpartisan voting education and voter registration of women and men who have completed their sentences takes place. Laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated people take away the single most fundamental American right, and they do so disproportionately to people of color. As Attorney General Holder pointed out in his speech, restrictive laws prohibit a shocking one in thirteen African Americans adults from voting.

As an African American faith leader, I find this to be both morally unacceptable and counterproductive to the goal of fostering supportive, engaged communities. I know from experience if someone has committed a crime, served their time in prison, and is released, no good could come of permanently stripping them of their most basic right and responsibility. Moreover, what isn’t often addressed is how restrictive laws keep families of those adults from helping them transition back to being a responsible, contributing citizen of their community. It’s time to change the message sent to the nearly six million Americans who have lost their voice and civic responsibility in our democracy.

Attorney General Holder is right: These laws are “unwise…unjust, and… not in keeping with our democratic values.” It’s time for states to get rid of laws that suppress those who have served their time and prevent them from fully participating in our democratic system.

PFAW

Virginia Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Struck Down

On Thursday evening a federal judge ruled that Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen stayed the decision pending appeal, meaning that while the ban has been struck down, the ruling will not immediately take effect.

Close on the heels of a federal judge’s decision earlier this week directing Kentucky to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, Judge Wright Allen’s decision makes Virginia the first state in the South where a statewide ban has been entirely struck down.

In the South and across the country, it’s clear that Americans increasingly believe it is wrong to block committed couples from the protections and responsibilities that only marriage can provide. As Judge Wright Allen wrote in her decision:

Our nation's uneven but dogged journey toward truer and more meaningful freedoms for our citizens has brought us continually to a deeper understanding of the first three words in our Constitution: we the people. "We the People" have become a broader, more diverse family than once imagined.

PFAW Foundation