People For Blog

PEOPLE FOR BLOG

President Obama Signs Executive Order Protecting LGBT Workers

Today President Obama signed an executive order protecting LGBT employees of federal contractors from workplace discrimination. In remarks this morning, the president said that our government “will become just a little bit fairer” today.

President Obama pointed out that many Americans go to work every day with the fear that they could lose their job because of who they are. It’s time to “address this injustice for every American,” he said, urging Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). While today’s executive order expands protections to millions of LGBT people who work for federal contractors, we still lack a nationwide law to protect LGBT workers across the board. In many states, you can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Following the Obama administration’s announcement that an executive order was in the works, People For the American Way joined nearly 100 other organizations, including many faith groups, in a letter urging the president to reject a call for an additional religious exemption — which ultimately was not included. The letter noted:

Religious freedom is one of our most cherished values, a fundamental and defining feature of our national character. It guarantees us the freedom to hold any belief we choose and the right to act on our religious beliefs within certain limits. It does not, however, provide organizations the right to discriminate using taxpayer dollars. When a religiously affiliated organization makes the decision to request a taxpayer-funded contract with the federal government, it must play by the same rules as every other federal contractor. [emphasis added]

Jonathan Capehart from the Washington Post reports that in the past few weeks, there have been “extraordinary meetings” in the White House among LGBT and religious communities about both the necessity of protecting workers from discrimination and religious liberty. As Capehart writes, “The president’s action today shows the two are not mutually exclusive.”

PFAW

Diversity Milestone for Obama's Judicial Nominees

Last week's confirmation of Ronnie White was a milestone, and not just because the Senate corrected a 15-year old injustice. It was also a diversity milestone: Ronnie White is the 100th person of color that President Obama has made a federal circuit or district court judge.

That is more than twice the number at the same point in the George W. Bush Administration, and far exceeds Bush's total for his entire eight years in office. In fact, President Obama has had more minority judges confirmed than any other president.

One of the hallmarks of President Obama's judicial nominations has been his commitment to a federal bench that is not only highly qualified, but also reflective of the great diversity of the American people. And he has succeeded on that score, despite unprecedented obstruction from Senate Republicans.

With last week's confirmation of Ronnie White, President Obama reached a milestone in correcting an injustice that goes back not just 15 years, but all the way back to the nation's founding: the systematic exclusion of people of color from the federal bench.

PFAW

National Candidates Share Their Views on Money in Politics in the 2014 Elections

Most Americans recognize money in politics to be a pressing issue, but no one understands it quite like the candidates running for office to try and change our campaign finance system.

In a candidate forum yesterday at Netroots Nation​, moderator and People For the American Way Executive Vice President Marge Baker led panelists – Maine U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows, South Dakota U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland, Wisconsin U.S. House of Representatives candidate Kelly Westlund, and former California Secretary of State candidate Derek Cressman – in a lively discussion of the role of money in politics in the 2014 elections.

Baker kicked off the discussion by noting both the magnitude of outside money flooding into the 2014 elections as compared to earlier elections, as well as the public will to quell this tide. She pointed out that nine in ten voters want to see their elected officials take action to fix our country’s money in politics problem.

The candidates began by telling the audience why they were inspired to make money in politics a central issue for their campaigns. Shenna Bellows, who said that her father was a carpenter and that her family did not have electricity or running water during her childhood, noted that “people like me” – those not from wealthy backgrounds – don’t often run for public office. This fact, she pointed out, contributes to the creation of laws tilted in favor of big business. Rick Weiland echoed that idea, and said that he believes money in politics is the number one issuing facing our country. For Kelly Westlund, the full weight of our country’s money in politics problem hit home for her when she approached her party about running for office and was asked whether she would be able to raise a quarter of a million dollars in three weeks. And Derek Cressman said that he was drawn to the opportunity of using the bully pulpit of a political office like secretary of state (or as Baker added, the platform of a being a candidate for that political office) to get support for measures like Proposition 49, a ballot initiative in California asking Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn cases like Citizens United that will now be on the ballot in the state in November.

Panelists also talked about fighting the cynicism and despair that can surround the issue of big money in politics for voters. Cressman said that while Americans already understand that this is a major problem, they are also eager to support solutions. He underscored the overwhelming grassroots energy around the issue. A number of panelists highlighted the importance of “connecting the dots” between money and policy – drawing the links for voters between progress on the issues they care most about and the creation of a political system not dominated by corporations and the super-rich. Multiple panelists also shared stories of the power of small dollar donors. For Bellows, a full half of the contributions her campaign receives are $6 or less. She lifted up the example of former senator and progressive hero Paul Wellstone, who she noted was outraised seven-to-one but still won his race.

As the panel wrapped up, panelists underscored the importance of pushing for a range of complimentary solutions to our money in politics problem, from the constitutional amendment now moving through the Senate to disclosure legislation to small-donor financing initiatives. As Westlund put it, it’s not enough to recognize the problems. We have to fight for solutions and get the right people at the table so that we can change the system and make sure the government’s policies reflect the will of the people.

Watch a video of the panel here:

PFAW

Will Anti-Gay Groups Learn from Florida Court Ruling for Marriage Equality?

A Florida state court today became the latest in recent months to rule that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violates the U.S. Constitution. (As Freedom to Marry notes, the ruling applies only in Monroe County.)

One interesting part of the Equal Protection portion of the ruling discusses whether proponents of Florida's ban have anti-gay animus. Circuit Judge Luis Garcia discusses the arguments of two parties who had submitted amicus briefs in support of the ban: Florida Family Action (which is affiliated with the Florida Family Policy Council) and People United to Lead the Struggle for Equality. Perhaps not surprisingly, he finds the animus in the types of arguments they choose to make:

The court finds that despite the Amici Curiae assertion that there is no evidence of animus towards homosexuals by the proponents of the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment (FMPA), there is ample evidence not only historically but within the very memorandum of law filed by the Amici Curiae. ... [It] paints a picture of homosexuals as HIV infected, alcohol and drug abusers, who are promiscuous and psychologically damaged and incapable of long term relationships or of raising children. They contend, "the personal, social and financial costs of these homosexual-specific health problems concern not just those who engage in homosexual activity, but also the larger community of citizens who help provide services and who must bear part of the burden imposed by the health challenges. It is eminently rational for the voters of Florida to seek to minimize the deleterious effect of these conditions on public health, safety and welfare by affirming that marriage in Florida remains the union of one man and one woman."

The judge concluded that there was animus behind the Florida ban, such that the law is subject to a somewhat higher level of scrutiny than the ordinary law for Equal Protection purposes. Not surprisingly, the ban fails that scrutiny.

It is not a good day for right-wing groups that peddle in vicious anti-gay stereotypes.

PFAW Foundation

Grassley's Hypocrisy Comes Out in the Ronnie White Debate

Sen. Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, tried today to demonstrate why Ronnie White should not be confirmed as a federal judge in Missouri. But in so doing, Grassley succeeded only in demonstrating his own partisan hypocrisy.

On the Senate floor, Grassley said:

Discussing his judicial philosophy, [Ronnie White] said in 2005 that he thinks it's appropriate for judges to let their opinions be “shaped by their own life experiences.”

I think the personal characteristics of the judge – what this nominee calls his “own life experiences” – should play no role whatsoever in the process of judicial decision making.

"No role whatsoever," Grassley says. Yet when a far-right Bush judicial nominee made a similar statement, Grassley had no problem with it. At his confirmation hearing, Samuel Alito, then a circuit judge, told senators how his judicial opinions were shaped by his family's life experiences. For instance:

When I get a case about discrimination, I have to think about people in my own family who suffered discrimination because of their ethnic background or because of religion or because of gender. And I do take that into account.

Neither White nor Alito was saying they would base their judicial opinions on their own personal political ideologies (although it turns out that is exactly what Alito has done). But Grassley is a conservative with a mission to populate the federal bench with more people like Sam Alito and fewer people like the ones President Obama nominates.

Grassley's power to shape the bench will be greatly augmented should Republicans take over the Senate this fall, as he would then become chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

PFAW

Senate Corrects a 15-Year Old Injustice and Confirms Ronnie White

This afternoon, the Senate confirmed a federal judge for the Eastern District of Missouri. While the confirmation of a district court judge is not usually cause for headlines, this is an exception. In confirming Ronnie White, the Senate is finally correcting a 15-year-old injustice.

In 1997, White was nominated by President Clinton to the same judgeship. However, White's nomination was successfully and unfairly targeted by then-Sen. John Ashcroft. Ashcroft delayed the nomination for two years, and in 1999 he spearheaded a party-line fight to defeat White's confirmation. Ashcroft's distortion of White's record was widely criticized at the time, as well as later when he was nominated to become Attorney General.

The first African American to sit on the Missouri Supreme Court, Ronnie White was then – and remains now – supremely qualified to be a federal judge. He brings to the bench years of experience in both private practice and public service. He began his long and successful career as a public defender, then was elected three times to the state legislature. He was appointed to a state judgeship, and later served for twelve years on the Missouri Supreme Court, including as its Chief Justice. He has spent the past seven years as a partner in a major law firm. His career encapsulates in one person the broad professional diversity that so strengthens our federal courts.

Sen. Claire McCaskill is to be commended for recommending White to the president and giving the Senate a chance to do what it should have done 15 years ago: confirm Judge Ronnie White to the federal bench.

PFAW

PFAW Action Fund Announces Young Elected Progressive Endorsements

People For the American Way Action Fund announced today the endorsements of a slate of dynamic young progressive candidates running for public office across the United States. The endorsees are a diverse mix of candidates 35 and under who are marking a new generation of progressive leadership for the future. These candidates and officials represent a vision that will benefit communities all over the country, as they fight for social, economic, and environmental justice, and equality for all.

The endorsements are part of People For the American Way Action Fund’s Young Elected Progressives (YEP) program. YEP evaluates and endorses young progressive candidates ages 35 and under in their bids for elected office around the U.S. at all levels.

People For the American Way Action Fund is proud to endorse these YEP candidates for 2014:

James Albis – CT House District 99
James Albis is running for reelection to the Connecticut House of Representatives 99th District, representing East Haven. Albis has advocated consistently on behalf of the families of East Haven for better jobs, better schools, and better opportunities. In his second term as Representative, Albis worked to protect the environment, serving on the Speaker’s Task Force on Shoreline Preservation. Dedicated to supporting children and families, Albis has sponsored and voted for numerous laws that would expand family and medical leave, as well as healthcare, and to protect East Haven’s share of state education funding. Visit James Albis’s campaign website for more details.

John Paul Alvarez – FL House District 100
John Paul Alvarez is running for Florida House of Representatives District 100, representing Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Alvarez, a true Floridian born and raised in South Florida, knows first-hand about the issues facing his community and is dedicated to making Florida prosper. As a teacher, mentor, and community leader, Alvarez is a fierce advocate for public education. By fighting for the issues that matter most to students, working families, retired citizens, taxpayers, and South Florida’s most vulnerable citizens, Alvarez is determined to improve his community by creating more jobs, lowering the cost of living, and promoting equality for all. Visit John Paul Alvarez’s campaign website for more details.

Nelson Araujo – NV Assembly District 3
Nelson Araujo is a candidate for Nevada’s Assembly District 3, representing Clark County and Las Vegas. He is a native Nevadan that was born to struggling immigrant parents. Araujo, a determined leader, fought to help his family out of poverty and became the first in his family to graduate high school. As a community leader and elected official, Araujo is dedicated to stimulating job growth, providing greater healthcare access, and making higher education more accessible to everyone. We believe that with his leadership, Nevada will thrive. Visit Nelson Araujo’s campaign website for more details.

Mandela Barnes – WI Assembly District 11
Mandela Barnes is running for reelection in Wisconsin’s State Assembly District 11, representing central Milwaukee. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Barnes has done important work for Milwaukee as a community organizer and youth and development specialist. His dedication to creating jobs, reforming public education, and modernizing public transportation will serve the people of Milwaukee and strengthen the community. Visit Mandela Barnes’s campaign website for more details.

Jonathan Brostoff – WI Assembly District 19
Jonathan Brostoff, lifelong resident of Milwaukee’s East Side, is running for Wisconsin State Assembly’s 19th District representing central Milwaukee. Brostroff’s dedication to Milwaukee and experience as a legislative aide will help him lead Wisconsin toward a brighter future. Brostoff is determined to promote equal rights for all, to reinvest in public education, and to improve public transit in Wisconsin. Brostoff is a capable leader, devoted to making Wisconsin thrive for generations to come, whose real-world solutions will create progress in the state. Visit Jonathan Brostoff’s campaign website for more details.

Marina Dimitrijevic – WI Assembly District 19
Marina Dimitrijevic is running for the Wisconsin State Assembly District 19. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Dimitrijevic made history in 2004, when she became the youngest woman to be elected to the Milwaukee County Board. During her 10 year tenure, she has championed legislative victories on equal rights for the LGBT community, environmental sustainability, public transit, and workers’ rights. Dimitrijevic’s experience, leadership, and commitment to winning on progressive issues are exactly what the community of Milwaukee needs.  Visit Marina Dimitrijevic’s campaign website for more details.

Justin Chenette – ME House District 134
Justin Chenette is running for reelection to the Maine House of Representatives’ 134th District , representing Saco. Before being elected as state Representative, Chenette served on the Maine State Board of Education, and has carried his passion for education into the state legislature. Chenette sponsored several education-related bills including legislation to promote community service in school and require internship experiences for high school students. Chenette, who was 22 years old upon his election to the House, has already proven himself to be a tireless and dedicated advocate and an important member in the next generation of leaders. Visit Justin Chenette’s campaign website for more details.

Luke Diaz –WI Verona Alder District 3
Luke Diaz is seeking reelection to the Verona City Council’s 3rd District, representing central Verona. Diaz has made it his mission to celebrate the city’s culture by cultivating a thriving downtown in Verona, working to expand jobs, improve transit, and provide important services to the community. An experienced city councilman, Diaz is an accessible leader that is dedicated to listening to the needs of his community. Visit Luke Diaz’s campaign page on Facebook for more details.

Zachary Dorholt – MN House District 14B
Zach Dorholt is running for reelection the Minnesota House of Representatives’ District 14B, representing St. Cloud City, and Haven and Minden Townships. Previously elected in 2011, Dorholt has been a champion for progressive values during his time in the House. He is an advocate for women’s rights and has sponsored bills to equalize pay in Minnesota and lengthen paid maternity leave. Dorholt has also fought for public education funding and is dedicated to creating a pathway to higher education for young Minnesotans. A proven leader, Dorholt will continue to make Minnesota a better and more prosperous place for the entire community. Visit Zach Dorholt’s campaign website for more details.

Crisanta Duran – CO House District 5

Crisanta Duran is running for reelection in the Colorado House of Representatives’ 5th District, representing Denver. As chairwoman of the joint budget committee, Crisanta guided the passage of a state budget that helped protect the environment, boost investments in education and job training, provide better women’s health services, help survivors of abuse, and create a better state economy for all Coloradoans. In her position as an elected official, she will continue to build a strong progressive foundation for the state’s future. Visit Crisanta Duran’s campaign website for more details.

Daneya Esgar – CO House District 46
Daneya Esgar is a candidate for Colorado State House of Representatives’ District 46, representing Pueblo. A dedicated public servant and product of Pueblo’s public education system, Esgar has dedicated her career as a television news producer and a community organizer to improving this community. Esgar has a clear vision for the future of Pueblo, and will continue to work toward job growth and improved public education as an elected official. Visit Daneya Esgar’s campaign website for more details.

Ryan Fecteau – ME House District 11
Ryan Fecteau is a Biddeford native running for Maine House of Representatives’ District 11, representing his hometown. Fecteau has a fresh and progressive perspective on the issues affecting Maine today. As representative, Fecteau will bring strong support of public education, women’s rights, and equal opportunity for all Americans by championing for middle-class workers, seniors, and college graduates of his district. Visit Ryan Fecteau’s campaign website for more details.

Joe Fitzgibbon – WA House District 34
Joe Fitzgibbon is running for reelection to the Washington House of Representatives’ District 34, representing Burien, West Seattle, White Center, and Vashon and Maury Islands. Fitzgibbon has been a fierce advocate for undocumented students, voting for both the DREAM Act and for in-state tuition for undocumented students. A champion for equality in Washington, Fitzgibbon has le d efforts to legalize gay marriage and expand healthcare and Medicaid to help ensure safe abortion procedures. Fitzgibbon is a true progressive and will continue to work toward equality for all Washingtonians. Visit Joe Fitzgibbon’s campaign website for more details.

Chris Larson – WI Senate District 7
Chris Larson is running for reelection to the Wisconsin State Senate’s 7th District, representing Milwaukee County. In Larson’s first term as senator, he served as the Minority Leader and worked tirelessly to end marriage discrimination in Wisconsin, to promote public education, and to protect the environment. Larson has worked to stimulate job growth and to increase access to health care, proving that he is truly in-tune with the needs of his community. “Larson is a true progressive leader,” PFAW’s Political Director Randy Borntrager said. “He is clearly dedicated to his community and determined to help each person and his community as a whole.” Visit Chris Larson’s campaign website for more details.

Eric Luedtke – MD House District 14
Eric Luedtke is running for reelection to the Maryland House of Delegates’ District 14, representing Montgomery County. Luedtke, who was first elected in 2010, has already made his mark as a progressive representative for Maryland. Luedtke, a teacher by profession, has advocated for public education reform, especially advocating for equality for students with special needs. Committed to families and children, Luedtke has worked on a variety of issues, from promoting easier access to healthcare to sponsoring bills that provide greater aid and support for survivors of sexual assault. Visit Eric Luedtke’s campaign website for more details.

Stefanie Mach – AZ House District 10
Stefanie Mach is running for reelection to the Arizona House of Representatives’ 10th Distric , representing Tucson. Since she was elected in 2012, Mach has proven herself to be a fighter, both professionally and personally. In her time as representative, Mach has worked to improve public education, to make higher education more affordable, to encourage job growth and the expansion of local businesses. An advocate for women and minorities, Mach has demonstrated she is dedicated to making Arizona a prosperous community for everyone. Visit Stefanie Mach’s campaign website for more details.

Marcus Madison – OH Senate District 13
Marcus Madison is a candidate for the Ohio State Senate’s 13th District, representing Huron and Lorain counties. Madison, currently serving as a city councilman in Elyria, has already proven that he is a dedicated public servant. He is the former student body president of Lorain County Community College, and previously served as deputy field officer for Obama for America, as well as Communications Director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lorain County. A determined advocate, Madison is committed to improving public education, protecting workers, and providing sustainable jobs that will strengthen the middle class. Visit Marcus Madison’s campaign website for more details.

Aaron Marquez – AZ Senate District 27
Aaron Marquez is running for Arizona State Senate District 27, representing Maricopa County. Marquez, a captain with the U.S. Army Reserve, has been a courageous public servant both overseas and at home. Marquez is a fearless advocate for women’s rights, strong supporter of veterans, and a fighter for public education. A dedicated leader, Marquez will be a force for good in the Arizona legislature. Visit Aaron Marquez’s campaign website for more details.

Andrew McLean – ME House District 129
Andrew McLean is running for reelection to the 129th District in the Maine House of Representatives, representing North Gorham, White Rock, Little Falls, the Village and South Gorham. McLean was previously elected in 2012 and has worked tirelessly to support legislation that would protect the environment, expand healthcare, and reform gun laws in Maine. A resilient advocate, as representative McLean will continue to work on behalf of children and families in his next term and for years to come. Visit Andrew McLean’s campaign page on Facebook for more details.

Matt Moonen – ME House District 118
Matt Moonen is running for reelection in the 118th District in the Maine House of Representatives, representing part of Portland. Moonen has been dedicated to improving healthcare in Maine by sponsoring bills that would prohibit smoking in public places and that would expand Medicaid coverage and eligibility. Additionally, Moonen has been a fierce advocate for raising the minimum wage, passing comprehensive immigration reform, and reforming campaign finance. A true progressive candidate, Moonen will continue to make Maine an accepting and thriving place for all. Visit Matt Moonen’s campaign page on Facebook for more details.

Joe Neguse – CO Secretary of State
Joe Neguse, who is running for Colorado Secretary of State is the right choice for Colorado. Neguse brings with him knowledge and experience as a business attorney, member of the University Of Colorado Board Of Regents, and as a public servant. As secretary of state, Neguse will perform his duties with integrity and transparency, and will work to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote in Colorado. Neguse will advocate for everyone, regardless of wealth, age, or social standing. Visit Joe Neguse’s campaign website for more details.

Kesha Ram – VT House District 6-4
Kesha Ram is running for reelection to the Vermont House of Representatives’ District 6-4, representing Chittenden. Ram has worked to promote green job creation, affordable housing, and expanded access to healthcare. Both personally and in her capacity as a representative, Ram has worked to support survivors of domestic violence and is an active advocate for women’s rights. Ram is forward-thinking and dedicated, and her service will help Vermont flourish. Visit Kesha Ram’s campaign website for more details.

Laurie Anne Sayles – MD House District 17
Laurie Anne Sayles is running for Maryland’s House of Delegates District 17, representing Montgomery County. Sayles is a committed parent who has overcome obstacles to become a dedicated public servant in Maryland. A smart and capable leader, Sayles is a determined advocate for affordable healthcare, stronger public education, and accessible public transportation. As an elected official, Sayles will be a truly progressive leader for years to come. Visit Laurie Anne Sayles’s campaign website for more details.

Katrina Shankland – WI Assembly District 71
Katrina Shankland is running for reelection to the Wisconsin State Assembly, representing Stevens Point and its neighboring counties. In her one term as representative, Shankland has become a dedicated advocate for women’s rights and workers’ rights in Wisconsin. Shankland has worked to improve public education opportunities, and has been a fighter for environmental preservation and clean and sustainable energy practices. Visit Katrina Shankland’s campaign website for more details.

Alonzo Washington – MD House District 22
Alonzo Washington is running for reelection to the Maryland House of Delegates’ District 22, representing Prince George’s County. Washington, who has served in the House since 2012, already made a name for himself as a fighter for progressive values. He has sponsored and voted for bills that will increase the minimum wage, expand access to higher education, and strengthen public schools. As an important leader for Maryland’s future, Washington has and will continue to support progress in Maryland. Visit Alonzo Washington’s campaign website for more details.

Faith Winter – CO House District 35
Faith Winter, running for the Colorado House of Representatives’ 35th District to represent Westminster, is the right choice for Colorado. Winter has dedicated her life to public service, previously serving as a city councilwoman, mayor pro tem, and as the Emerge Colorado’s Executive Director, supporting women running for public office. In these capacities, Winter worked to create long-term jobs, expand affordable housing, and increase usage of sustainable energy in Colorado. Visit Faith Winter’s campaign website for more details.

PFAW

Sen. Joe Manchin Expresses his Support for Getting Money out of Politics

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is the latest politician to call out the negative impact big money has on the political process. In an interview this week with Public News Service, Senator Manchin said:

I've watched people being afraid to make a vote because they're afraid of how much money is going to be spent against them. How much time, effort and money they'll need to defend themselves. And that's a sad scenario.

Manchin fears that the trend favoring big money will not come to an end anytime soon,

Billion-dollar presidential race, are you kidding me? In 2016 that'll be for starters. The country's going to the highest bidder, I believe. Or it's perceived to be going to the highest bidder. You're going to have a few people who are able to play the game and that'll be it.

That’s why Manchin supports the proposed constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics — the Democracy for All Amendment — as a way to put a limit on the distorting  influence of outsized spending by corporations and billionaires on our democracy. In Manchin’s words,

Someone has to call a truce here. Get some civility back, and some common sense. There has to be transparency. We've got to put a cap on this. Maybe we could get some Republican support to where we might have a chance of getting it.

Until recently, campaign finance reform proposals have been bipartisan efforts. The first campaign finance regulations, like the Tillman Act of 1907 that banned corporate campaign contributions, were passed with Republican leadership. More recently the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act was passed with the bipartisan leadership of former Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ).

It is time to have a government that promotes democracy for all rather than democracy for the few. The Democracy for All constitutional amendment cosponsored by Manchin advancing in the Senate is a common sense proposal that would help us take back our democracy from billionaires and corporations. Senator Manchin is right to call for such an amendment.

PFAW

Barney Frank: This Year’s Midterm Elections Define Our Courts

In an op-ed printed in the Portland Press Herald this weekend, retired congressman Barney Frank offers a sharp critique of the far right Supreme Court under John Roberts. Explicitly noting the importance of the Court in defining law that affects all citizens, Frank makes clear not only that courts matter, but everyday citizens have a hand in how these courts are shaped.

Reviewing the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions — from overturning “more than 100 years of federal and state efforts to regulate the role of money in campaigns” to declaring that corporations have the right to religious freedom under RFRA—Frank states that “the court has ended this term with a barrage against laws it does not like” (emphasis added).

He continues,

…The Supreme Court is now strongly inclined to impose conservative ideology via Constitutional interpretation on a broad range of public policy. It is true that Kennedy and to some extent Roberts occasionally deviate from this, but Justice Samuel Alito has surpassed even Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in his ideological purity.

The relevance of this to the next two elections is very clear. Four of the sitting justices are in their late 70s or older. This means that there is a strong possibility that President Obama will have a chance to appoint another justice before his term expires, but his ability to do so will be determined not simply by the health of the justices in question, but by the composition of the U.S. Senate. The increasing partisanship in the Senate, the continued virulent influence of the tea party and recent history strongly suggest that even if a vacancy occurs, Obama will be prevented from filling it (emphasis added).

Frank refers to the unceasing Republican obstructionism and argues courts are critical for defining laws that affect Americans on a daily basis, highlighting the importance of this year’s midterm elections. As he concludes in this piece,

This makes it highly likely that among the issues that will be determined in the next senatorial and presidential election will be the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court. Voters should act accordingly.

PFAW

When Will Marriage Equality Head Back to the Supreme Court?

As state and federal courts continue to issue marriage rulings, one question remains – when will marriage equality head back to the Supreme Court?

We're getting closer to the answer.

Late last month, a ruling by a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit concluded that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage violates the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause (by denying a fundamental right to marry) and Equal Protection Clause (by making that right depend on a classification – the sex of the couple – that bears little if any relation to the state's purported goals).

Then yesterday we heard from the Utah Attorney General's office that the state will forego an appeal to the full Tenth Circuit and instead proceed to the US Supreme Court:

The U.S. Supreme Court is not obligated to hear Utah’s appeal — or any case regarding state same-sex marriage bans.

Should the justices decline to hear such a case, the rulings of lower courts, like that of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, would stand as the law of the land.

"We don’t really know if the Supreme Court will take this up or they won’t," said Equality Utah Executive Director Brandie Balken, who attended Wednesday’s march. "Unfortunately, today we have families, couples, children who are living in legal limbo."

Check out our website for more LGBT equality updates.

PFAW Foundation

Judge Strikes Colorado Marriage Ban

If you’re having trouble keeping track of the rapidly falling state marriage bans, you’re likely not the only one. In the latest of a dizzying streak of pro-equality decisions, a judge in Colorado struck down the state’s same-sex marriage ban yesterday.

District Court Judge C. Scott Crabtree stayed the ruling, which means that same-sex couples in Colorado cannot yet begin to marry.

In his decision, Judge Crabtree plainly noted that the ban “bears no rational relationship to any conceivable government interest.” He also underscored the discrimination faced by same-sex couples in the absence of marriage equality:

‘The Court holds that the Marriage Bans violate plaintiffs' due process and equal protection guarantees under the Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution,’ Crabtree said in his ruling.

‘The existence of civil unions is further evidence of discrimination against same-sex couples and does not ameliorate the discriminatory effect of the Marriage Bans.’

PFAW Foundation

PFAWF Celebrates Confirmation of Julián Castro as U.S. HUD Secretary

Andrew Gillum is the Director of Youth Leadership Programs at  People For the American Way Foundation.

Julián Castro, current mayor of San Antonio, was just confirmed in the Senate by a 71-26 vote to lead the Housing and Urban Development Department. Castro, one of the earliest members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, is the first to become a Cabinet member.

I remember meeting Julián at our very first YEO convening in 2006, and being impressed with his passion to serve and better his community in Texas. We are incredibly proud of Julián and excited to see what he’ll accomplish in this new position. His proven leadership in fostering urban revitalization and economic growth make him a natural fit for this position, where he will be able to combat homelessness and help secure access to affordable, quality housing for more Americans.

Julián’s confirmation yesterday demonstrates how supporting young elected officials in our movement can reap tremendous results. I often say that YEOs are the state and local leaders of today as well as the national leaders of tomorrow. While Julián will be the first (former) YEO member to serve in a cabinet level post, I am sure he won’t be the last.

PFAW Foundation

The Supreme Court’s Attack on Working Women

The following is a guest blog by Beth Huang, 2010 Fellow of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.

Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in two critical cases with major implications for working women. The Supreme Court ruled once again that corporations are people, this time conferring religious rights that trump workers’ rights to access full healthcare. In a dissent to the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted “that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.” Justice Ginsberg’s dissent reveals the real impacts of denying coverage of contraception for low-wage working women -- something the slim five-justice, all-male majority fails to comprehend.

To compound the attack on working women, five male Justices severely undermined the ability of care workers – 95 percent of whom are women – to collectively bargain in the case Harris v. Quinn. This assault on working people stems from the Justices’ view that the care workers in the case are not “real” public employees and thus the union cannot charge the appropriate agency fee to all of them for its bargaining services. This ruling serves the interests of anti-worker extremists at the expense of these invaluable workers who care for our families and our children.

It’s clear: a majority of Justices are trampling over the rights of working women. In light of these attacks, it’s time to organize for gender equity and economic justice for working women.

Back in 2010 when I was a student, Young People For helped me develop organizing skills that have led me to effectively advocate for and with women and workers. Through my work in student labor organizing as an undergraduate and since graduation, I have seen that workers’ rights are women’s rights, from having access to comprehensive healthcare to having a voice on the job. To build an economy that works for today’s students and youth, we need to organize locally and train new leaders in the broad effort to advance our agenda for gender equity and economic justice.

At the Student Labor Action Project a joint project of Jobs with Justice and the United States Student Association, we’re doing just that by building student power to advance an agenda that protects the rights of current workers and promotes a more just economy for students to enter when they graduate. Our campaigns focus on demanding funding for public higher education, which we know is a major source of good jobs and upward mobility for women and people of color; pushing back on Wall Street profits that fuel the student debt crisis; and raising the working conditions for Walmart workers, 57 percent of whom are women.

The Supreme Court’s decisions last week underscored the urgency of organizing for these changes. Women’s access to equal rights, power in the workplace, and comprehensive healthcare depends on it.

PFAW Foundation

Claire McCaskill Throws Her Support Behind Amendment to #GetMoneyOut

Yesterday, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill became the latest U.S. senator to cosponsor a proposed constitutional amendment that would give Congress and the states the authority to regulate campaign contributions and expenditures. An overwhelming majority of Americans, over 90%, want politicians to reduce the role money plays in politics. McCaskill’s decision to cosponsor S.J.Res.19, which many are calling the 28th Amendment, is in line with the desires of her constituents and the American people.

Missouri has its own fair share of millionaires and billionaires working to buy elections. Missouri political donor Rex Sinquefield, a major supporter of ALEC and the Club for Growth, spent $3.8 million in disclosed election spending in 2013 – and that only includes his traceable contributions. Fred Palmer, the chief lobbyist for Peabody Energy, contributed $112,500 to Missouri state politicians and party committees during 2012. Ron Fein, the legal director for Free Speech For People, points out in a recent opinion piece that Palmer’s 2012 contributions were more than double what the average Missourian family earns in a year.

When this amendment was first introduced it had only a handful of supporters.  We're making progress in our march towards taking back our democracy from corporations and the super wealthy, and we’re looking forward to a vote in the full Senate this year.

PFAW

Hobby Lobby, Wheaton College, and the Importance of Women Justices

Days after the Supreme Court handed down its damaging 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, SCOTUS issued an order that underscored the danger that Hobby Lobby poses for women’s health.

In Wheaton College v. Burwell, SCOTUS temporarily granted relief to Wheaton College, a religious institution that is “categorically” opposed to providing contraceptive services, from the contraception coverage compromise solution that the  Court explicitly endorsed in Hobby Lobby. The order says that Wheaton may be exempt from submitting a form that would inform the government that they object to covering birth control. Wheaton College argued that submitting this form would make it “complicit in the provision of contraceptive coverage.” The temporary order indicates that the Court’s majority may accept this problematic argument.

In what Think Progress called a “blistering dissent” to the order, Justice Sonia Sotomayor — joined by the two other female Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg — sharply criticized the order. Sotomayor wrote in the dissent:

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”

While this order is temporary until the case may be heard in front of the Court, the female Justices’ strong dissent demonstrates not only the division within the Court, but also the importance of having diversity on our courts. Women on the bench provide a critically important perspective on all cases, but especially those that deal with women’s lives. It is more important than ever, when women’s rights are under assault, that women are more fairly represented at all levels of government.

PFAW Foundation