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PFAW Foundation Statement on DACA+/DAPA Case

In response to the Supreme Court’s 4-4 tie in DACA+/DAPA, which leaves in place a nationwide injunction against these programs, Catalina Velasquez, the director of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For leadership program, released the following statement:

“Today the Supreme Court failed to protect millions of people in our country from deportation. Family separation is abhorrent, and it goes against our core values as a society, ripping families apart just because of their immigration status.

“As a transgender, undocumented immigrant from Colombia whose family was deported my first semester at Georgetown University, I know just how critical programs like these can be for a person’s personal safety and how harrowing the effects of mass deportation can be for our community. It’s profoundly upsetting that the Supreme Court today will allow the deportation of millions of people. And it is disheartening that an administrative policy like this one aimed simply at facilitating the right to provide for ourselves is still a contested issue.

“Today’s decision affects almost half of the 11.2 million undocumented immigrants who would have benefited from the short term relief from deportation these plans offered. At Young People For, we will continue to advocate for  the case to be reargued, and stand with young undocumented people and their families in support of immigration reform, so immigrants are treated with the dignity and respect we deserve.”

Catalina Velasquez will be available for interviews in English or Spanish. To schedule an interview, please call 202-467-4999.

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PFAW Foundation Applauds Supreme Court Ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin

In a 4-3 decision today, the Supreme Court upheld the University of Texas at Austin’s equal opportunity admissions policy.

“The Court’s Fisher decision today is an important win for the Constitution, for students, and for all Americans,” said Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way Foundation. “By upholding the admissions policy at the University of Texas, the Court made clear that programs designed to further equal opportunity serve a critical role in addressing the racism that continues to permeate our country. Students from all backgrounds deserve a fair shot in our education system.

“From universities to the workplace, diversity policies are among the many needed programs to combat structural racism and strive towards equal opportunity for every American.”

People For the American Way Foundation is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.

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Young Elected Officials Network Statement on Orlando Shooting

In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in our country’s history in Orlando this weekend, People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network released the following statement:

“Our hearts are extremely heavy today. Everyone in the YEO Network is thinking of the victims of this horrific attack, their friends and loved ones, and LGBTQ communities in Orlando and across the state and country.

“We also know that out of this heartbreak must come real change. It is not inevitable that weapons of war, like the assault-style rifles used in Orlando, San Bernardino, Aurora, and Newtown, are within easy reach. We can no longer allow pro-gun extremists to set our political agenda; we have to stand up for common-sense gun violence prevention measures. As the president noted on Sunday, to ‘actively do nothing’ in response to this horrific violence is a choice. But it’s not a choice we are willing to make.

“As elected leaders, it is our responsibility to do all we can to serve, represent, and keep safe members of our communities. The fact that this attack was targeted specifically at LGBTQ people is a sobering reminder of the moral imperative to stand up against bigotry in all of its forms. We stand against the hate that divides us, whether its target is the LGBTQ community, the Muslim faith, Black lives, or women’s agency. Today we redouble our resolve to fight for a country where – whether in a bar or at a church or in a workplace – no one has to fear for their life or their safety.”

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'We Are Living The Milgrim Experiment': Glenn Beck Blames Obama For Nasty Facebook Comments

On his radio program today, Glenn Beck declared that "we are right now living the Milgrim Experiment" and, of course, it is all President Obama's fault.

Beck was referencing the famous series of social psychology experiments done at Yale University back in the 1960s, which found that many people were willing to inflict increasingly painful punishments upon a subject simply because they were ordered to do so by someone in authority.

Today, the comments being left on Facebook show that this mentality has overtaken our entire society, Beck said, and it can all be traced directly back to Obama.

"Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, they're all, in their own ways, hammering people who disagree with them," Beck stated. "So they are setting for an example for both the left and the right, it's okay to be vile, it's okay to be uncivil. How are we living the experiment? Have you read Facebook lately? Have you read the comments section lately?"

"I contend, if you read Facebook, if you read anything, you read any comments right now, we are living the Milgrim Experiment," he continued. "We are living in a time where people will say, 'It's okay you do that.' And people in authority — Barack Obama is the first one, he's the first president; if you remember, even George Bush treated Cindy Sheehan with respect, she didn't treat him with respect but he treated her with respect. Surrogates might have said things, but the president did not, the president did not. Barack Obama was the first to say, 'You're walking around with your little tea bags.' That was the beginning of the Milgrim Experiment. Somebody in authority was saying it's okay to bash them."

Remembering Courageous Activist Muhammad Ali

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali died this weekend at the age of 74. In addition to being an extraordinary athlete -- 'The Greatest of All Time' -- Ali was also a courageous activist who publicly challenged racism throughout his life. 

Ali was also a friend of People For the American Way. In 1981, PFAW founder Norman Lear and director Jonathan Demme created a series of PSAs to emphasize that the right to freely express opinions was a critical piece of the American way.

The spots end with the tagline: "Freedom of thought. The right to have and express your own opinions. That's the American Way." Ali appeared in two of them, below. We're proud that Muhammad Ali was a part of our organization's history, and we're proud to honor his legacy with our ongoing work to fight bigotry and protect our basic rights. 

PFAW Foundation

Harming Justice: Effects of an Eight-Justice Supreme Court

To: Interested Parties
From: People For the American Way Foundation, Constitutional Accountability Center
Date: June 2, 2016
Re: Harming Justice: Effects of an Eight-Justice Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is about to embark on the most consequential portion of its Term: handing down decisions on some of the biggest questions facing the country today, questions ranging from immigration to abortion to affirmative action. It will be tackling those questions without a full complement of justices.  Justice Antonin Scalia died in February, leaving only eight members on the Supreme Court. Since Justice Scalia’s death, President Obama followed his constitutional duty and duly nominated the highly qualified and impeccably credentialed Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the Court. However, conservative Senators have refused to do the jobs the people of their state sent them to Washington to do. The previous four Justices named to the Court waited an average of 74 days from nomination to confirmation; Judge Garland passed that mark on May 28 and has yet to be even given a hearing by the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley.

Having only eight Justices on the Supreme Court for a prolonged period of time diminishes the Court, diminishes the country, and diminishes the rule of law. With only eight justices, all too often the Supreme Court cannot do the job the Framers of the Constitution assigned to it.

The diminishing effects of an eight-Justice Court include:

  • A 4-4 divided opinion means that major national questions go unresolved, as an equally divided Court cannot set a binding, uniform, nationwide rule of law. Different federal legal rules can apply to different people and businesses right across state lines. The Court has already handed down a number of 4-4 divided opinions; as of June 1, 2016, there are still 25 cases awaiting decision by the Court.
    • For instance, the Supreme Court has already divided 4-4 in Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore. Now one set of rules about whether spouses are required to guarantee loans applies in some jurisdictions, and another set in others.
    • The Justices themselves have repeatedly made clear that providing a uniform rule of law is one of the most important functions of the Supreme Court. From Chief Justice Roberts to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the members of the Court have consistently affirmed this principle.
    • Some of the biggest, most important questions are frequently the most divisive and have the greatest potential to divide the Justices 4-4, especially at a time when the number of 5-4 splits is at an historic high.
  • In order to avoid a 4-4 split, the Supreme Court has already had to make unusual moves, punting on important legal questions because there is not a fully-staffed bench that can resolve these questions. Thus, even when the Court doesn’t split 4-4, it may still be unable to truly resolve the important questions before it, thus leaving legal uncertainty in place.
    • Rather than issue an opinion on the merits, the Supreme Court issued an unsigned order in Zubik v. Burwell, a case involving the accommodation granted to religious nonprofits that object to the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. The order vacated the decisions of the lower courts and remanded the issue  back to the lower courts to try to achieve a compromise,  thus leaving the central question unresolved, thousands of women around the country in limbo, and a strong possibility that the Court will have to revisit the question again once it is fully staffed. Given the time it takes for issues to work their way through the federal courts, it could be years before the issue is resolved.
  • The Supreme Court may also be less inclined to tackle tough questions in the first place if its members think they cannot avoid dividing 4-4 on a question. The Court already has a small docket, only hearing approximately 70-80 cases a Term; the pace of grants of review in cases the Court has decided to hear for next Term is well below the average for this point in the year.

The effects of an eight-Justice Court ripple far outside of Washington, DC. Millions of American lives are impacted by the decisions the Court makes – or doesn’t make. The sooner Senators set aside partisanship in favor of doing their jobs, the better off the Court and the country will be. For more information on the effects of an eight-member Court, please see the report Material Harm to Our Justice System: The Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court.

Resources

Material Harm to Our Justice System: The Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court

Everything You Need to Know About an Eight Justice Supreme Court

The Originalist Case for the Senate to Do Its Job

The Supreme Court’s Role in Our Constitutional Scheme: Why Eight is Not Enough

Justice Waits for a Nine Member Supreme Court

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: 8 Is Not a Good Number

Supreme Court Punts in Zubik Case – and Shows Again the Crucial Importance of a Fully-Staffed Supreme Court

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The Movers Behind The Anti-LGBT 'Religious Liberty' Movement

This post originally appeared on Right Wing Watch.

In the first few months of this year, for the second year in a row, more than 100 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures, many of them promoted under the banner of protecting religious liberty.  A new report by People For the American Way Foundation, “Who is Weaponizing Religious Liberty?,” explains that “it takes a right-wing village to turn a cherished American principle into a destructive culture-war weapon.”

The report makes clear that the wave of anti-equality legislation promoted in the name of religious liberty is not an outgrowth of local conflicts but the latest step in a long-term campaign by national Religious Right legal and political groups to resist legal equality for LGBT people. As Americans have come to know and embrace their LGBT family members and friends, harsh anti-gay rhetoric has become less effective, says the report, leading social conservatives to try to reclaim the moral and political high ground by reframing debates over marriage equality and nondiscrimination protections as questions of religious liberty.

These efforts are being promoted by “a network of national Religious Right organizations that oppose legal recognition for the rights of LGBT people,” notes the report, which profiles some of the leading organizations while noting that they “represent the tip of the iceberg of a much larger movement that is trying to eliminate legal access to abortion and roll back legal protections for LGBT people, couples, and families — and trying to do so in the name of religious liberty.”

The groups covered in the report include:

·         Family Research Council and FRC Action

·         Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action

·         National Organization for Marriage

·         Alliance Defending Freedom

·         Liberty Counsel

·         American Family Association

·         Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

·         American Principles Project

The report includes links to additional resources on the organizations behind the Right’s use of religious liberty as political strategy for resisting equality. 

PFAW Foundation

The Movers Behind The Anti-LGBT 'Religious Liberty' Movement

In the first few months of this year, for the second year in a row, more than 100 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures, many of them promoted under the banner of protecting religious liberty.  A new report by People For the American Way Foundation, “Who is Weaponizing Religious Liberty?,” explains that “it takes a right-wing village to turn a cherished American principle into a destructive culture-war weapon.”

The report makes clear that the wave of anti-equality legislation promoted in the name of religious liberty is not an outgrowth of local conflicts but the latest step in a long-term campaign by national Religious Right legal and political groups to resist legal equality for LGBT people. As Americans have come to know and embrace their LGBT family members and friends, harsh anti-gay rhetoric has become less effective, says the report, leading social conservatives to try to reclaim the moral and political high ground by reframing debates over marriage equality and nondiscrimination protections as questions of religious liberty.

These efforts are being promoted by “a network of national Religious Right organizations that oppose legal recognition for the rights of LGBT people,” notes the report, which profiles some of the leading organizations while noting that they “represent the tip of the iceberg of a much larger movement that is trying to eliminate legal access to abortion and roll back legal protections for LGBT people, couples, and families — and trying to do so in the name of religious liberty.”

The groups covered in the report include:

·         Family Research Council and FRC Action

·         Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action

·         National Organization for Marriage

·         Alliance Defending Freedom

·         Liberty Counsel

·         American Family Association

·         Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

·         American Principles Project

The report includes links to additional resources on the organizations behind the Right’s use of religious liberty as political strategy for resisting equality. 

New Report Details the Religious Right Groups Weaponizing Religious Liberty

Today, People For the American Way Foundation (PFAW Foundation) released a new report analyzing the Religious Right groups that are co-opting the American principle of “religious liberty” to drive anti-LGBT legislation across the country. The report, “Who Is Weaponizing Religious Liberty? It Takes a Right-Wing Village to Turn a Cherished American Principle Into a Destructive Culture-War Weapon,” details the efforts of key groups including the Family Research Council and FRC Action, Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action, the National Organization for Marriage, the Alliance Defending Freedom, Liberty Counsel, the American Family Association, the Becket Fund, and the American Principles Project.

PFAW Foundation President Michael Keegan stated:

“The discriminatory and unconstitutional anti-LGBT laws that we’re seeing across the country aren’t emerging organically; they’re part of a deliberate strategy to attack LGBT people. This report shows how national Religious Right groups are driving this state-by-state campaign, and they’re undermining real religious liberty in the process.” 

The report explains:

“[The] flood of anti-LGBT and ‘religious liberty’ legislation is not the result of isolated local efforts. It is part of a larger campaign by Religious Right groups to resist and reverse advances toward equality for LGBT Americans by portraying equality as inherently incompatible with religious freedom.

“Together these organizations constitute a powerful cultural and political force that will not disappear after a few losses in the courtroom or at the ballot box. Indeed, in the wake of their marriage equality defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015, they have redoubled their efforts. They are eagerly creating folk heroes out of public officials and business owners who refuse to provide services to same-sex couples. And they are pushing Republican officials to enact legislation at federal as well as state levels that would further weaponize religious liberty, turning it from a shield meant to protect individual religious practice into a sword to be wielded against individuals and groups disfavored by Religious Right leaders.”

As the report notes, opposition to reproductive choice and the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act are also part of social conservatives’ “religious liberty” strategy.

You can read the report here. For questions, or to schedule an interview with an expert on the issues discussed in this report, please email media@pfaw.org.

People For the American Way Foundation is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.

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Who Is Weaponizing Religious Liberty?

It takes a right-wing village to turn a cherished American principle into a destructive culture-war weapon.

Virginia Rev. Gregory King, Sr. Statement on Supreme Court’s Decision in Wittman v. Personhuballah

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the challenge to a lower court’s ruling that rejected racial gerrymandering, Virginia Rev. Gregory King, Sr., a pastor at Russell Temple Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and a member of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, released the following the statement:

“Yesterday, the Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the challenge to a lower court’s decision against partisan gerrymandering, thus ensuring that the right to vote of African Americans in Virginia is equal to all others in the state. This was not the first and certainly will not be the last time we fight against racial discrimination at the ballot box, and I’m thankful that the Supreme Court did the right thing by leaving in place the lower court’s decision to protect our voting rights.”

People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council represents an ecumenical alliance of 1,500 African-American clergy working toward equality, justice and opportunity for all. 

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New Report Details Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court

Today, People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) and the Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) released the new report, “Material Harm to Our System of Justice: The Consequences of an Eight-Member Supreme Court.”

The report details:

  • Statements by current and former Supreme Court justices – including Scalia, Rehnquist, and Roberts – on the importance of a nine-justice Supreme Court.
  • Ramifications we’ve already seen from an eight-member Court. This includes the effects of 4-4 decisions like Hawkins v. Community Bank of Raymore and Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, and the Supreme Court punting in Zubik v. Burwell.
  • The growing ideological divisions on the Court, making split decisions more likely.
  • Why an eight-member Court could endanger voting rights leading up to the 2016 elections.
  • How individuals and companies are impacted by an eight-member Court on a wide variety of issues including healthcare, banking, and more.

Read the report here.

Constitutional Accountability Center President Elizabeth Wydra stated:

“The virus of dysfunction afflicting the Senate is showing symptoms at the Court, and the prospect of this blockade extending from the current Term into the next is outrageous. Former Justices have spoken on the need for a fully staffed Court, including former Chief Justice Rehnquist and even Justice Scalia in years past, as well as former Justices Stevens and O'Connor in recent weeks. As today’s report explains, an understaffed Court is hamstrung by its inability to fully perform its essential role in resolving important constitutional and legal questions for the American people.”

People For the American Way Foundation Senior Fellow Elliot Mincberg added:

“The current obstruction that President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Garland is facing is unprecedented, and there are real consequences for the American people because of this obstruction. Current and former Supreme Court justices – including Scalia, Roberts, and Rehnquist – have detailed the reasons why the Court needs nine members to properly execute its duties. From 4-4 splits that fail to set national precedent to potentially blocking the Court’s ability to protect voting rights, an eight-member Supreme Court simply cannot function as it should.”

To schedule an interview with PFAW Foundation and/or CAC experts on this report, please email lepstein@pfaw.org or Pennington@theusconstitution.org.

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Young Leaders Join Members of Congress to tell Senators: #DoYourJob

Today, national youth-led and youth-serving organizations released an open letter to U.S. Senators calling for fair consideration for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland.

At the press conference releasing the letter today at the Supreme Court, young leaders from across the country joined members of Congress and discussed why Senator Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, needs to do his job and schedule hearings and a vote for Judge Garland instead of engaging in unprecedented partisan obstruction. Speakers also shared what’s at stake for young people in the Supreme Court vacancy fight.

The letter released today is signed by Young People For, Generation Progress, NAACP Youth and College Division, Sierra Student Coalition, the Roosevelt Institute, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Energy Action Coalition, American Constitution Society Student Chapters, the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network, Student Debt Crisis, Advocates for Youth, and the Micah Leadership Council. Text of the letter is below.

Key remarks from Senators, Representatives, and young leaders:

Sen. Cory Booker: “It’s energizing to see so many young leaders at the front of the growing chorus of voices urging Senate leaders to do their job and provide a fair process for the consideration of Chief Judge Merrick Garland. The decisions made at the Supreme Court don’t just impact us today, they impact generations to come. That’s why it’s so important that the Senate do its constitutional duty to provide advice and consent by giving Merrick Garland a fair hearing and an up-or-down vote.”

Sen. Al Franken: “It’s been more than three months now since a vacancy opened on the U.S. Supreme Court, and during that time, we’ve seen a whole lot of partisan bickering, obstructionism, and political maneuvering. But you know what we haven’t seen: Senate Republicans doing their job as outlined by the Constitution. The President has fulfilled his duty by nominating Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the highest court in the land, and now, it’s the responsibility of us—the Senate—to fulfill our duty as well. That means we need Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, and ultimately, an up or down vote on Judge Garland’s confirmation. I was pleased to join these young American leaders today to remind Senate Republicans that it’s time to take off their political blinders. This is far too important to ignore.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego: “As a member of Congress who was elected to do my job, I take my constitutional duty seriously. Senate leadership should stop their obstructionism and take their duties seriously, too. A lengthy Supreme Court vacancy can have severe and lasting consequences. It’s time for the Senate to do their jobs and give Judge Garland a fair hearing and a timely vote.”

Rep. Linda Sánchez: “This Supreme Court vacancy is critically important for all Americans, but especially for Latinos living in the United States.  We are an especially young community with more than 14 million millennials. So our message is simple: The President has done his job, now it is time for Republican Senators to do their job.”

Oscar Conejo, Hanover, New Hampshire: “I know some senators want to wait until after the election, until the next President is elected, to choose the next Supreme Court justice. But the Senators need to do their job, not play politics with the Supreme Court. As an undocumented student, I know just how critical the decisions are that they make on important issues that affect me and my family, from education to immigration and so much more.”

Consuelo Hernandez, Tucson, Arizona: “I’m here today because I’m tired of conservatives in the Senate choosing politics over precedent and chaos over constitutional duty. On issues as wide-ranging as voting, reproductive justice, and economic justice, the day-to-day lives of young people are directly impacted by the decisions made at the Supreme Court. By choosing not to give Chief Judge Merrick Garland the fair and timely consideration afforded past nominees, conservatives are abandoning their constitutional duties and turning their backs on the constituents like me who put them in office.”

Max Levy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: “As the president of the College Dems chapter at the University of Pennsylvania, I know how important it is to work with organizations from across the political spectrum.  Even though we don’t always agree, we work hard to foster productive dialogue on our campus. Right now, some Senators are saying we shouldn’t even hold a hearing for President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, and that’s just plain wrong. Dialogue is healthy for democracy. I know that's true on my  campus, and it's true for the Senate.”

Mary Marston, Concord, North Carolina: "Young people now make up the largest voting bloc in America and many are just becoming politically active. It is critical that our elected officials follow through on their constitutional commitments to keep young people engaged in the democratic process."

Zach Wahls, Iowa City, Iowa: “I see the marriage between my moms—the possibility of their marriage—as our legal system keeping up its end of the American promise to a fair hearing and due process. Because the Court was able to act, and its decision was recognized as legitimate, my parents’ marriage is recognized in all fifty states—my parents’ sacred promise is recognized to mean the same thing in Iowa as in Alabama. We got a fair hearing, and we need to make sure that America can get a fair hearing, too.”

Peter Cheun, American Constitution Society Student Chapter President at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law (Illinois): “Law students across the ideological spectrum may disagree on who their ideal Supreme Court nominee would be. But in my experience, they have been nearly unanimous in their agreement that the Senate should do its job: Give Judge Garland a fair hearing and an up or down vote.”

Max Eichenberger, American Constitution Society Student Chapter President at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law (Illinois): “When employees fail to do their jobs, it is their business and consumers that ultimately suffer. For the U.S. Senate, their business is administering our representative government, and we are all the consumers. Give Judge Garland a fair hearing and keep this shop running.”

Joelle Gamble, National Director, Network at the Roosevelt Institute: "So far, in 2016, we've seen that young people just want the political process to work the way it is supposed to. If our leaders want us to participate, they have to ensure that the political process works in the first place. They must restore our faith in democracy."

Karissa Gerhke, Sierra Student Coalition National Director: “Young people working for just, sustainable communities and the protection of the environment are not taking a back seat in this fight. We can’t and we won’t let obstructionists threaten everything we’re fighting for on our campuses and in our communities. The Senate should do its job to fill this vacancy.”

Stephen A. Green, NAACP National Youth and College Director: "Young people from across the country have courageously come together to call upon Congress to do their job or lose their job. We deserve a democracy that works for all people, give Judge Garland a fair hearing!"

Erik Lampmann, People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For Public Affairs & Policy Manager: “Keeping the Court understaffed is simply indefensible. Until our Supreme Court is empowered to function as it was designed, we will not stop calling on Senators to “Do Your Job” and treat the Court, the Constitution, and us with respect.”

Layla Zaidane, Generation Progress Managing Director: “As a generation, Millennials have grown up amid partisan gridlock and politicians more interested in playing political games than doing their job. But the Supreme Court vacancy isn’t a game to us: from marriage equality to reproductive rights, the decisions the Court makes affect our lives, every day. Millennials overwhelmingly support a hearing and a vote on President Obama’s nominee—it’s time for the Senate to do its job and ensure a fully-functioning, fully-staffed Supreme Court.”

For follow up interviews, pictures or videos from today’s event, please email media@pfaw.org.

Open Letter to the Senate

Dear United States Senators,

We, the undersigned youth-led and youth-serving organizations, call on all U.S. senators to give fair and timely consideration to President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Chief Judge Merrick Garland.

On issues as diverse as immigration policy, voting rights, and reproductive rights, the daily lives of young people are affected by what happens in our nation’s courts. We represent broad youth constituencies seeking to ensure that their rights are protected at the local, state, and federal level — including young immigrants, youth of color, trans* and queer youth, students, low-income youth, and differently-abled young people. We know the communities we work with are just some of the over 100 million people in this country who stand to be directly impacted by cases before the Court just this term.

A fully-functioning judiciary is essential to a flourishing democracy and critical to our ability to protect our rights and seek justice. Purposefully keeping the Supreme Court understaffed, as some senators are proposing, is indefensible.

Chief Judge Garland deserves the treatment traditionally afforded past Supreme Court nominees: prompt hearings and an up-or-down vote in the Senate. Senators who believe Chief Judge Garland should not serve on the Supreme Court are free to vote against him, but blocking the process entirely is an abdication of senators’ constitutionally-defined responsibilities and an insult to the people who elected them.

Young people are working each day to provide for themselves and their families; some are also studying for advanced degrees and vocational certificates or organizing their communities to create change. Across the country, young people are working hard at their jobs. They should be able to expect the same of their senators.

The undersigned organizations call on all senators to do their jobs and consider the President’s nominee to the nation’s highest court in a timely fashion. There are too many critical issues at stake for young people, and for all people, for ideologically motivated senators to play politics with our Supreme Court.

Respectfully,

Advocates for Youth
American Constitution Society Law Student Chapters
Energy Action Coalition
Generation Progress
Sierra Student Coalition
Student Debt Crisis
Micah Leadership Council
NAACP Youth and College Division
NARAL Pro-Choice America
Network at the Roosevelt Institute
Young Elected Officials Network
Young People For

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Supreme Court Punts in Zubik Case – and Shows Again the Crucial Importance of a Fully-Staffed Supreme Court

The Supreme Court issued a brief unsigned opinion today in the Zubik case, and vacated the conflicting opinions on whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) allows religious nonprofits to effectively take away Affordable Care Act-required contraceptive coverage from their employees. The result is to punt the issue away until the Court again has nine justices, reinforcing again why the Court must have a full complement of justices and why the Supreme Court is such a critical issue in the 2016 elections.

Before the Court in Zubik were a series of cases in which federal appeals courts had ruled that objections by religious colleges and other employers to contraceptive coverage had already been accommodated by the Administration by making clear that the coverage was to be provided by insurers and not involve any employer who expressed a religious objection, so that RFRA was not violated and coverage should continue. The more conservative justices on the Court, including Justice Kennedy, were nonetheless troubled by the claim that the religious employers were still involved in providing the coverage, at least by specifically having to provide notice to object to it. So the Court ordered supplemental briefing in the case on whether it was possible to continue to provide the coverage with no involvement by the employers, other than providing insurance that did not include contraceptive coverage.

In its opinion today, the Court vacated the decisions being considered in Zubik and directed that, on remand, the lower courts should give the government and the objecting employers the opportunity to try to resolve the issue, in light of what the Court characterized as the possibility, as expressed in the supplemental briefs, of ensuring that the coverage can be provided without involving the employers. If needed, the lower courts would then issue opinions on the issue, which could be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Interestingly, the Court also gave the same treatment to the single appellate court opinion that ruled in favor of religious employers and was not included in the Zubik case, vacating that decision as well to be reconsidered again if necessary. The Court specifically made clear that while this process is going forward, women covered by the insurance plans should “receive full and equal health coverage, including contraceptive coverage," and that the “Government may not impose taxes or penalties” on the religious employers for failing to provide the formal notice of their religious objection which they had complained about in their lawsuits. In other words, no harm should occur to any of the parties while the government and the employers try to work out the problem and litigate it in the lower courts if necessary. A separate concurrence by Justices Sotomayor and Ginsburg further emphasized that the decision does not resolve either way the substantive issues, including whether the religious employers do incur a “substantial burden” that triggers RFRA.

While both sides can therefore claim some temporary victory from the Court’s ruling, the clear loser is our American justice system. A crucial legal issue that clearly divides the justices on the Court concerning the application and meaning of RFRA and contraceptive rights remains unresolved. Despite the apparent optimism in the Court’s brief opinion, it seems unlikely that every  religious employer in the country will agree to any accommodation under which its employees will still get contraceptive coverage, so that the issue is very likely to remain unresolved and return to the Supreme Court again. Without nine justices on the Court, it seems clear that the Court will not be able to resolve the issue, just as it could not at present. That makes the issue of filling the current vacancy on the Court, and who will be the president that fills future vacancies on our closely divided Supreme Court, extremely crucial now and in November.

PFAW Foundation

For Earth Day, Young Elected Officials Network Releases Statement in Support of the Clean Power Plan

For Earth Day today, more than 80 members of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network – the first and only national network of young progressive leaders at every level of elected office – released the following statement in support of the Clean Power Plan and the goal of 50% clean energy by 2030:

The Young Elected Officials Network is committed to ensuring a sustainable future for our families, our communities, and our planet. Climate change is a crisis that demands a policy response and urgent action. The United States has a responsibility to cut back on its carbon emissions and secure a path toward a clean energy future. As young people, we will be forced to deal with the consequences of inaction, and as elected officials, we see how important addressing this crisis immediately is for the health, security, and prosperity of everyone we represent. Though climate change is a global issue, its effects are especially pronounced for communities of color, low-income families, and Indigenous communities. Power plants are often located near these communities and threaten those families with respiratory disease, heart attack, and premature death – along with a host of other environmental and socioeconomic impacts.

As leaders of states and municipalities across the country, we support the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) which takes critical steps to addressing the unfolding climate crisis. The CPP lays out a flexible blueprint for states to achieve significant reductions in their emissions. The CPP is critical to meeting our commitments to greenhouse gas reductions made at COP21, and to being a responsible member of the international community. It is tied to our national security, our economic growth and sustainability, as well as our health and well-being.  While the Supreme Court has issued a stay on the CPP, we call for its implementation and for state and local leaders to take action to further its goals. Furthermore, during this time of transition, we call on all leaders to place environmental and economic justice at the forefront of the CPP’s design and implementation and to commit to equity for the marginalized communities who have borne—and continue to bear—the brunt of so much environmental degradation. 

We are committed to sourcing our electricity from renewable sources—not from nuclear, natural gas, or other fossil fuels—and we believe that a new energy economy built around clean power will generate jobs and prosperity for our communities. To that end, we are committed to sourcing 50 percent of the nation’s power with clean energy by the year 2030. The CPP makes this goal an entirely achievable one, and will result in cleaner, cheaper, more reliable power.

This statement was organized by the elected officials who participated in the Young Elected Officials Network’s Clean Energy & Environmental Justice Policy Academy – which launched in Denver, Colorado this February – as part of their ongoing efforts to promote environmental justice.

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In Memory of Doris Roberts, Longtime People For Friend and Supporter

The People For family was saddened to learn of the passing of Doris Roberts, a longtime friend and a committed supporter of our work.

Doris Roberts hugs founder Norman Lear at PFAW Foundation’s 30th Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles, December 2011.

For many years, Roberts was an active supporter of People For, speaking at and attending events, helping to spread the word about our work, even recording robo-calls for our campaigns. She was especially passionate about fighting for LGBT equality and acted as a strong advocate in the height of the AIDS crisis and beyond.

People For founder Norman Lear tweeted yesterday that he is “forever in her debt.”

Our thoughts today are with her family and friends. Doris Roberts’ commitment to making our country a stronger, more just place was inspiring – and she will be deeply missed.
 

PFAW Foundation

Equal Pay Day Shows How Far Women Still Have to Go

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post

Today marks “Equal Pay Day,” the day when women’s pay finally catches up to men’s pay from last year. You’ll have to forgive me for not cheering too loudly.

Each year Equal Pay Day highlights how far we still have to go in the fight for pay equity, and it’s striking how little headway has been made on closing the gap in recent years, with progress all but stagnating in the past decade. Across the board, women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts — a fact that takes on new significance in an election year where the views of the Republican presidential candidates on the gender pay gap range from dismissive to downright hostile.

But the numbers speak for themselves: according to the latest data, women earn on average 79 cents for every dollar that men earn. When you consider a full lifetime of work, the scope of inequality becomes far more dramatic. A new report from the National Women’s Law Center on the “lifetime wage gap“ shows that across 40 years of working, based on the current figures, women lose more than $430,000. When you break down the numbers by race, it’s even more stark; African-American women lose over $877,000, and Latinas more than a million dollars. When women are making hundreds of thousands of dollars less than men over a lifetime, it affects not only women’s financial stability while working and during retirement, but also the financial stability of our families.

Not to mention that it’s spectacularly unfair.

A gender pay gap exists for women in almost all occupations, from teachers to lawyers to cooks to mail carriers, and even in the entertainment field. Demos reports that for retail salespeople, the most common occupation in the country, the gender pay disparity is “particularly stark,” with women who are working full-time earning just 68 cents for each dollar earned by their male co-workers. For women struggling financially, the earnings lost simply for being a woman can mean the difference between barely making ends meet and being forced to choose between basic necessities like food and rent.

When you look at the presidential candidates’ stances on pay equity, it’s clear that the 2016 election will be a pivotal moment for whether progress is possible in the near future. Trump claims to “love equal pay,” but says he won’t support the legislative efforts necessary to make it happen. At an event last year, he told a woman asking about the pay gap that “you’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.” Sen. Ted Cruz voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act and derided it as a “political show vote.” A 2014 newspaper investigation found that in Gov. John Kasich’s office, women were paid nearly $10 less per hour than men, yet on the campaign trail, Kasich blamed not discrimination, but paid leave laws, for causing the wage gap!

Despite Republicans’ dismissal of the issue, equal pay for equal work remains a goal rather than a reality for women across the country. And until we close the gap, Equal Pay Day will remain an unhappy reminder of this continuing inequality.

Kathleen Turner is an advocate and Academy Award-nominated actress, and serves on the board of People For the American Way’s affiliate, PFAW Foundation.

PFAW Foundation

Mississippi Pastor Speaks Out Against “Appalling” Right-to-Discriminate Law

On Tuesday Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed into law a sweeping bill that allows businesses, individuals, and organizations to cite religious or moral beliefs in order to discriminate. As the ACLU outlines, the new law is likely to have far-reaching implications for LGBT people as well as single mothers, who “could be turned away from social services like homeless shelters, denied medical care, or be fired from their jobs.” The specific beliefs “protected” include the views that marriage is between opposite-sex partners only; that sex should only occur within marriage; and that gender identification is based only on the sex a baby was assigned at birth. People with different religious beliefs on the same issues receive no such special treatment under the law.

Dr. Christopher Cockrell, a Meridian, Mississippi member of People For the American Way Foundation’s African American Ministers Leadership Council, released the following statement:

“This is a very sad week for our state. People being turned away from shelters or denied medical care simply because of who they are is unjust and discriminatory, and it flies in the face of basic human decency. This is not a law that reflects the values of most Mississippians, including religious leaders, and it may open up a Pandora’s box for more discriminatory bills to come.

“Religious freedom should never be cited as an excuse to harm others. Targeting people who are already vulnerable for state-sanctioned discrimination can only be described as appalling.”

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Modern-Day MLK Glenn Beck Volunteers To Be Punched In The Face By Trump Supporters

Convinced that 2016 will see a repeat of the riots and assassinations of 1968 and that God has been preparing his audience for years for this moment to save America, Glenn Beck is now contemplating going to Cleveland for the Republican convention this summer, where he hopes to become this generation's Martin Luther King Jr. by allowing himself to be punched in the face by angry Donald Trump supporters.

Alarmed by longtime Trump ally Roger Stone's threat to disclose the hotel room numbers of any Republican delegates who try to "steal" the nomination from Trump at the convention, Beck declared on his radio program today that perhaps God has been preparing him and his audience to go to Cleveland and link arms around the hotels in order to protect the delegates by taking a beating.

"This may be what we have been preparing for," Beck stated. "This is maybe what I've been prepared for, this is maybe what I've been hearing, what I'm supposed to do and I haven't understood it ... I do believe that Martin Luther King was right; where there is good versus evil and it is side by side, Americans will always side with good." 

"This is about good versus evil," he said. "I'm wondering if we're supposed to go to Cleveland ourselves and I don't know yet what, ring those hotels, stand someplace arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder and be immovable and let them punch us in the face."

Supreme Court Rules that Everyone Deserves Representation

Justice Ginsburg writes for a six-justice majority, rejecting an assertion that states must count only eligible voters when drawing legislative districts.
PFAW Foundation
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