Florida

Voting Rights Advocates Rack Up More Wins

Earlier this month, PFAW reported on what has gone right for voting rights at the state level in 2014. While there is much more work to be done to enact needed reforms and to step up and counter threats when the right to vote is under attack, states like Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina have shown that we can win. Now we've uncovered even more evidence of why we can and should keep fighting the challenges that lay before us.
PFAW

Florida & Oregon Drop Out Of Kris Kobach's Faulty Voter Roll Crosscheck Program

The Miami Herald reported Friday that Florida and Oregon have dropped out of Interstate Crosscheck, the disputed voter-fraud detection service run by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, with Oregon election officials citing "unreliable" data from the program.

Interstate Crosscheck’s reports in 2013 include Florida data based on the 2012 election. However, Florida is absent from the 2014 report.

We asked a spokeswoman for Republican Secretary of State Ken Detzner why Florida dropped out.

“The Department of State and Supervisors of Elections currently work with elections officials in other states to update registrations regarding residency, and we are always exploring options to improve the elections process,” Brittany Lesser said.

Oregon is another state that changed its mind about sharing its voter data with the Kansas project. Its explanation was more blunt than the one we got from Florida.

“We left because the data we received was unreliable and we felt joining the ERIC project would better meet our needs, said Tony Green, spokesman for Oregon Secretary of State.

ERIC is a project of the Pew Charitable Trust  to improve the accuracy and efficiency of state voter registration systems. States must pay to participate in ERIC while the Kansas project is free.

Voting rights opponents went into full-blown panic mode last week when North Carolina elections officials, citing data from Kobach's program, announced that 35,000 people who voted in North Carolina could have also voted in another state. That this number turned out to be completely overblown -- and that the state's top elections official urged caution in jumping to conclusions  -- did not stop Dick Morris and the Tea Party Nation from claiming that as many as a million Democrats voted twice in the 2012 elections.

via Rick Hasen​

The Amazing Coincidence Behind Todd Starnes' Latest Christian Victimization Column

Earlier today we wrote a post about a new Religious Right tale of supposed victimization emerging out of Florida involving a young girl who was allegedly told that she was not allowed to pray in the lunchroom before eating her lunch.

The whole thing seemed rather suspect, as these tales usually are, since it emerged from a video posted on YouTube by the girl's parents and was then immediately turned into a column by Todd Starnes, who is notorious for ginning up these sorts of one-sided, fake controversies:

A Florida school district is giving teachers a refresher course on religious liberty after the parents of a five-year-old kindergarten student said a teacher told their daughter that she was not allowed to pray before eating her lunch time meal.

Marcos Perez, of Oviedo, Fla., said the incident occurred earlier this month in the lunch room at Carillon Elementary School.

He said his daughter  was sitting at a table about to eat when she bowed her head and began to pray.

“A teacher saw her and told her, ‘you’re not allowed to do that,’” he said.

Perez said his little girl replied, “But it’s good to pray.” The teacher alleged replied, “It’s not good.”

He said his daughter tried to pray once more but was admonished by the teacher. The child was not formally punished, he said.

“She’s a really good girl and if there are rules, she follows them,” he said. “She knows the biblical values we are raising her with. She was really conflicted but she wanted to submit to the authority.”

Perez said he and his wife were so upset over the incident they sat down with a video camera and had their daughter recount what happened. They posted the video to YouTube. And they also tried to reassure their daughter that she had done nothing wrong.

As we noted this morning, school officials are denying the incident took place, but now that the story is gaining some national attention, local media outlets have begun reporting on it and revealing interesting things ... such as the fact that this young girl's father, Marcos Perez, just so happens to be the Vice President of Sales at the Christian publishing house that is publishing Todd Starnes' next book:

School officials have not interviewed the girl, who has been pulled from kindergarten at Carillon by her parents, who said they intend to home school her.

Her father is vice president of sales at Charisma House, a Lake Mary-based Christian book publisher. The company is currently promoting the book "God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values," by Todd Starnes.

Just last month, Charisma House issued a press release that featured none other than Perez promoting Starnes' forthcoming book:

“We are highly anticipating the release of God Less America,” said Marcos Perez, vice president of sales at Charisma House. “From a sales standpoint, we believe this contest will engage our partnering bookstores and add to the momentum that is already building for this book release.”

FOX News commentator Todd Starnes’s highly anticipated book God Less America(FrontLine/Charisma House) uses both recent news stories and compelling interviews with today’s top conservative leaders to bring to light what is happening across our country. In his award-winning, satire-meets-serious writing style he strikes an important blow in today’s culture wars.

What are the chances that one month before Starnes' book, in which he seeks to catalog just how religious liberty is being squashed in America, is released, an incident like this takes place that perfectly exemplifies the very thing that Starnes' book claims to chronicle? 

Even more amazingly, it just happens to involve the daughter of the very man responsible for promoting Starnes' book!

What an amazing coincidence!

The Religious Right's Never-Ending Campaign To Gin Up Tales Of Victimization Rolls On

Last week, a video was posted on YouTube featuring a five year-old girl telling her parents that she was told by a "lunchroom teacher" at Carillon Elementary School in Oviedo, Florida that she was not allowed to pray before eating her lunch.

When the little girl responded that "it's good to pray," she claims that she was told "it's not good" and was prevented from praying.

Naturally, after the video was posted on-line, serial fabricator Todd Starnes picked it up and turned it into a column while the Family Research Council featured the story in its daily email. On top of that, attorneys from the Religious Right legal group Liberty Institute are now representing the parents and will hold a press conference today:

Liberty Institute Senior Counsel Jeremy Dys invites all working media to attend a press availability with Mr. Perez, Tuesday, April 1, at 3:30 PM ET on the sidewalk by the sign outside of Carillon Elementary School, 3200 Lockwood Blvd., Oviedo, FL. 

"Of course, students can pray at school!" said Dys.  "As the Supreme Court held over half a century ago: Students do not 'shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.'  The school is in violation of Department of Education guidelines that specifically protect this type of prayer, and thus could jeopardize its federal funding."

The Perez Family cited this offense to their daughter's religious liberty as the most immediate reason to remove their daughter from the public education system. "Mainly because of this incident, we have exercised our option as parents to teach our daughter at home," said Marcos Perez.  "We live in a very good school district, but we cannot, in good conscience, send our daughter to a school where her religious liberty has been compromised."

All the attention is now generating some local media coverage and, as usually happens in these sorts of cases where Religious Right activists gin up some tale of supposed anti-Christian persecution, school officials are saying the incident never happened:

Michael Lawrence told Local 6 that the principal spoke with staff members in the cafeteria at the time of the incident and said no one recalled having any contact with the child.

"The situation as stated by the parent has not occurred according to the school's investigation," said Michael Lawrence, communications officer for Seminole County Schools. "We're dealing with very young children here so there's quite a bit of an opportunity for miscommunication to occur. The timing and the issues were very odd considering that the first thing that happened was that a video was done, it was on YouTube."

...

Lawrence said the lunchroom is not under video surveillance and the alleged incident was not recorded. Lawrence also added that the school district allows children to pray on campus anytime.

"If a student wishes to pray at lunch to herself we do not have a policy against that," said Lawrence. He said the principal will remind staff members that prayer in school is OK.

...

School board member Amy Lockhart told Local 6 the incident cannot be confirmed.

"However, that being said I would be greatly disturbed to find that any Seminole County Public School student had their individual liberties infringed upon in this manner by one of our staff members," said Lockhart. "The freedom to pray when, where and how one chooses is a foundational freedom of our great nation."

If this seems familiar, that is probably because it sounds a lot like the tale of Raymond Raines, a two decade-old myth about a young boy who had supposedly been sentenced to a week of detention for simply praying before eating his lunch in the cafeteria of an elementary school in St. Louis that Religious Right activists still cite today even though it is totally false.

Update: In a totally unsurprising development, The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that the girl's father, Marcos Perez, just so happens to be the VP of sales at the Christian publishing house that is publishing Todd Starnes' forthcoming book:

School officials have not interviewed the girl, who has been pulled from kindergarten at Carillon by her parents, who said they intend to home school her.

Her father is vice president of sales at Charisma House, a Lake Mary-based Christian book publisher. The company is currently promoting the book "God Less America: Real Stories from the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values," by Todd Starnes.

Florida Puts Hold on Voter Purge, North Carolina Lifts the Veil on Voter ID Law

When we last checked in with the controversial Florida voter purge, advocates and media alike were speculating over what route Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner would take in 2014, with Detzner's office considering comparing its voter records with the US Department of Homeland Security's federal citizenship database known as Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE). Now we know: the purge is off for 2014. Also this week, in North Carolina US Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake ruled that lawmakers must release correspondence related to the formation of the state's new voter ID law, saying that though some records might be shielded, many are considered public.
PFAW

Rubio's Delay Increases Urgency of Florida Judicial Nominations

Early this year, President Obama nominated Judge Beth Bloom, Judge Darrin P. Gayles, Judge Carlos Eduardo Mendoza, and Paul G. Byron to the Southern and Middle District Courts of Florida. Of the four vacancies in the Southern District, three have been declared judicial emergencies. The situation in Florida is so dire that even if every vacancy were to be filled tomorrow, it would not be enough to take care of the courts’ growing workloads. In fact, the Judicial Conference has requested a number of new judgeships for the state, including:

• 5 new judgeships for the Middle District, plus a temporary judgeship; and
• 3 new judgeships for the Southern District, plus the conversion of a temporary judgeship to a permanent position.

It is imperative that these nominations be confirmed swiftly; the Senate’s delays in confirming nominees translate to delays for Floridians waiting for their day in court.

Sen. Marco Rubio stated on NPR last month that he did “not anticipate having any objection to moving forward on any of [President Obama’s] nominees” for the district courts in Florida. In fact, the nominees were recommended by Sen. Rubio, along with Sen. Bill Nelson, based upon the recommendations of a bipartisan committee the two senators put together. Yet to date Sen. Rubio –unlike Sen. Nelson—has not signed the “blue slips” the Senate Judiciary Committee customarily requires before nominees are given a committee hearing. This is cause for some concern in light of Sen. Rubio’s refusal last year to sign off on other Florida nominees to seats that he himself had recommended.

Rubio’s slow-walking of his “blue slips” comes in the context of the GOP obstruction that has needlessly delayed the confirmation of most Obama nominees. After committee approval, President Obama’s district court nominees have been forced to wait an average of three times longer for a confirmation vote than President George W. Bush’s at this point in his presidency. Obama’s circuit court nominees are forced to wait nearly two months longer than Bush’s. This slowing down of the process seems completely gratuitous and politically motivated since the overwhelming majority of Obama’s judicial nominees have been confirmed unanimously or near-unanimously.

The current nominees are also important because they represent much-needed diversity in the federal courts. Gayles, for example, would be the first openly gay African-American man on the federal bench. However, with Rubio’s history of unfavorable treatment of previous nominees he has recommended, there is little expectation that he will help move this nomination process forward any faster. Gayles is up for the same seat to which William Thomas, also an openly gay African American man, was nominated in November 2012, a nomination that Rubio sabotaged.

Some were expecting these four Florida nominees (who were nominated in early February) to have their committee hearings this week, but because Rubio has not submitted his blue slips, that will not happen.

We join advocacy groups in Florida in urging Rubio to help get the state’s nominees confirmed as soon as possible.
 

PFAW

Florida Senate Committee Takes Up Voting Rights Bill

SPB 7068 – which cleared a procedural hurdle on March 10 and is expected to come back before the Committee later this month – addresses a number of issues, including the use of certain drop-off locations for the submission of absentee ballots. Last year, Secretary of State Ken Detzner issued a directive against the use of some drop-off sites, such as tax collector offices and county library branches, despite their use in Pinellas County since 2008.
PFAW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PFAW

Public Turning Against the Private Prison Racket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

PFAW

Liberty Counsel: Obama 'Destroying The Judiciary' With Black, 'Practicing Homosexual' Judicial Nominee

This week, President Obama nominated five people to federal judgeships in Florida and New Jersey. Three of these nominees are already judges; two are accomplished attorneys. But what is more relevant to the right-wing Liberty Counsel is that, according to the American Family Association’s OneNewsNow, “among the nominees are four African Americans, one of them homosexual.” (That's not actually true: one of the nominees is African American, one is Latino, and three are white).

Liberty Counsel head Mat Staver told OneNewsNow today that these judicial picks show “ideological bankruptcy” on the part of a president who is “destroying the judiciary.”

"So he gets a black man, who is a practicing homosexual, and now he wants to put this individual in an appointment for life on the federal bench," Staver lamented, referring apparently to Darrin P. Gayes, a state circuit judge in Florida who Obama nominated to a federal district court.

At no point in the article does Staver or OneNewsNow touch on the nominee’s qualifications, other than to note vaguely that “all five nominees are considered liberals.”

Among the nominees are four African Americans, one of them homosexual, and the final one is white.

Mat Staver, who heads Liberty Counsel, tells OneNewsNow the president is reaching out to two communities.

"So he gets a black man, who is a practicing homosexual, and now he wants to put this individual in an appointment for life on the federal bench," Staver advises.

He refers to the situation as "ideological bankruptcy."

Why?

President Obama is "destroying the judiciary because, when he leaves office in 2016, these judges will be around for 20 to 40 years," says the Liberty Counsel attorney. "That is going to be a bad legacy that Obama will leave behind that we'll all have to deal with in the aftermath."

Earlier this year, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio succeeded in torpedoing the nomination of William Thomas, a Florida state judge who was also openly gay and African-American. Rubio also blocked another African-American nominee, Brian Davis, for months before local activists pressured him to let the nomination go forward.

GOP Candidate Who Wants To Hang Obama Also Wants Democratic Congressmen Tried For Treason

Joshua Black, a Republican politician who hopes that President Obama will be hanged for treason, said in an interview with Renew America’s Sher Zieve today that all Democratic politicians should be prepared for such a fate after the second American Revolution.

Black said that Democrats hope to “make us their slaves” and “eagerly sought the death penalty for George W. Bush.”

He added that a bill backed by eight Democratic congressmen to end the death penalty in treason cases is proof that “they know that they could face these charges themselves – if there is a full revolution in America – and they want to leave an opening for them to return to power after people have forgotten their atrocities, ala Nelson Mandela.”

1) The president, when he was a candidate, fought hard for foreigners suspected of terrorism to have their day in court. But, when suspicions arose about the activities of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen living in Yemen at the time, the President merely authorized two separate drone strikes against him and his teenage son, a direct violation of the 14th Amendment.

2) When civil war began to engulf Libya, the President – along with the international community – sent arms and air strikes to assist the rebels on the ground. Little did the American people know that these rebels were flying the flag of al-Qaeda, our enemy in the War on Terror. This is exactly the definition of Treason that the Constitution describes in Article III, the penalty for which, as you well noted and every single politician knows, has been hanging since the Act of Congress, in accordance with the authority given in that same Article, established said penalty.

3) The president has supplied drug gangs with weapons, through Operation Fast and Furious, another direct act of treason (aren't we fighting a "War on Drugs"?) That resulted in the death of at least one American border patrol agent.

There are many more, but those should suffice.

As for the Democrats, their move to lessen the penalty for treason is hypocritical, considering they have eagerly sought the death penalty for George W. Bush for war crimes, Bradley Manning for aiding the enemy, and Eric Snowden for espionage. I think that they know that they could face these charges themselves – if there is a full revolution in America – and they want to leave an opening for them to return to power after people have forgotten their atrocities, ala Nelson Mandela.



In fact, our founding fathers learned from history and the Bible, because they put into place ways of removing unjust officials and bringing them to justice with minimal blood shed [sic]. Impeachment (for the President and all unelected federal officials) and expulsion (for congress) allows us to correct errors and mitigate deceit and wrongdoing in government. Ultimately, though, the People are still in charge. This nation will only be as conservative, free, or just as its People want to be. That's why we all need to be more vigilant to protect ourselves from criminal politicians who would make us their slaves. We do not exist to make them comfortable. They exist to do the jobs that We the People created for them in the Constitution, nothing more, nothing less.

Zieve, for her part, commended Black and claimed he is being persecuted:

However, as the penalty for treason in the USA is still death by hanging for this highest of crimes against the US Republic, Joshua logically agreed with him. However, logic and its conclusions no longer appear to play much of a part – if any – in the now 'brave new world' of dumbed-down-by-the-media-and-government-school-system people who inhabit the United States of America. In November 2014, we shall see whether or not these individuals constitute a majority and whether or not conservatives opt – again – not to vote and, instead, hand our country lock, stock and barrel over to those who are salivating at the prospect of using brute force and violence to subjugate the American people as the Obama/New World Order Police State begins to grow exponentially.

In the meantime, after interviewing him, I found Joshua Black to be one of those intelligent and articulate Constitutional conservatives who made up the majority of our founders and one whom We-the-People need in order to wrest our country back from those who are leading us to abject ruin. I trust you will find him as capable and interesting as do I.

Rubio Unconvincingly Explains Why He Blocked Openly Gay African-American Judicial Nominee

Earlier this month, the White House returned to the Senate 54 federal judicial nominees who Senate Republicans had refused to vote on in the previous year. But one nominee was conspicuously absent from that list: Judge William Thomas, a Florida state judge who had been nominated to sit on a federal trial court.

At first, Thomas’ nomination seemed like a slam dunk: He is an experienced, respected judge who was nominated in 2012 with the support of both of Florida’s senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio. He also would have been the first openly gay black man to sit on the federal bench.

Then, mysteriously, Rubio changed his mind. Taking advantage of a Senate Judiciary Committee policy that allows any senator to block a committee hearing on any nominee from his or her home state, Rubio unilaterally refused to allow a hearing on Thomas. For months, the senator refused to explain why he was blocking Thomas’ nomination, until finally this summer a spokesperson cited “questions about [the nominee’s] judicial temperament and his willingness to impose appropriate criminal sentences.”

Rubio’s office provided two examples of instances in which they believed that Thomas didn’t impose “appropriate criminal sentences.” In both cases, Thomas imposed the highest sentence sought by the prosecution; in both cases, prosecutors praised his handling of the trials. Rubio's staff also claimed that in one of those cases, a grisly murder trial, Thomas “broke down in tears” when sentencing the defendant to death; news reports make clear that the judge's tears came when he was describing the brutal crime. As Chris Hayes put it, none of these complaints “pass the smell test.”

Now, finally, Rubio himself has gone on the record for the first time about why he blocked Thomas’ nomination. In an interview with Michael Putney, political reporter for the Miami-area Local 10 news, Rubio, looking visibly uncomfortable, repeats his office’s talking points about the two criminal cases they allege Judge Thomas imposed insufficiently harsh sentences in. “We are looking for judges that can accurately apply the law, particularly at the federal level,” Rubio said, never quite explaining how Thomas failed to do that.

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This isn’t the first time that Rubio has blocked a Florida judicial nominee for less than convincing reasons. Rubio similarly changed his mind about Florida nominee Brian Davis – who is also African-American – at the behest of Sen. Chuck Grassley . Under pressure from local activists, Rubio eventually changed his mind again and allowed Davis’ nomination to go forward.

As Hayes said, it seems like the most likely explanation is that Judge Thomas was merely an “innocent bystander” in Rubio’s desperate race to win back the right-wing support he lost during his short-lived advocacy for immigration reform – an effort that so far isn’t panning out so well.

Allen West Will 'Definitely' Run For Office Again In 2016

Allen West appeared on Jesse Lee Peterson's radio program yesterday where he vowed that he will "definitely" make another run for public office.

Claiming that he lost his re-election bid in 2012 because Democrats and Republicans conspired to remove him from office because they knew he was "a threat to us and our business as usual way of ruining this great country," West took pride in being a target and declared that he was not going away.

When Peterson asked West if he had any plans to run for office again in the future, West responded that "oh yeah, I will definitely come back ... In the 2016 cycle, we'll look to getting back in and running myself. Whatever God would have me do":

Rubio Should Not Have the Last Word on Florida Nominee

Why did Marco Rubio unfairly attack qualified nominee William Thomas while denying him a chance to correct the record? (VIDEO)
PFAW

PFAW Statement on White House Re-Nomination of 54 Judicial Nominees

WASHINGTON – President Obama today re-nominated 54 federal judicial nominees whose nominations had been sent back to the White House at the end of last year due to Republican obstruction. At the end of last year, Senate Republicans refused to hold over the president’s nominees, sending all but one – D.C. Circuit nominee Robert Wilkins – back to the White House.

Disappointingly, one nominee who had been stalled by GOP obstruction was not renominated: William Thomas of Florida, whom Sen. Marco Rubio singlehandedly blocked from a hearing for over a year.

Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way, issued the following statement:

It is encouraging that the White House has taken the earliest possible opportunity to put these 54 nominees back on the path to Senate confirmation. This is an especially urgent matter given that 22 of these nominees would fill officially-designated judicial emergencies.

It is stunning that this many nominees were been sent back to the president at the end of the year. Most of those who are now starting the confirmation process all over again could have easily received confirmation votes last year if not for Republican obstruction. Nine were waiting for Senate votes when their nominations were sent back and 24 were stalled in the Judiciary Committee by Republican senators abusing the committee’s rules and practices.

While we are pleased that the White House is working for the expeditious confirmation of these 54 nominees, it is disappointing that Judge William Thomas of Florida has been left off the list. Judge Thomas is an eminently qualified nominee and would make history as the first openly gay African-American man to become a federal judge. Yet a campaign of obstruction from Sen. Marco Rubio has kept Judge Thomas from even receiving a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, and has now succeeded in torpedoing his nomination entirely.

The president has also renominated a controversial slate of nominees from Georgia. In a state that is nearly one-third African American, just one of the president’s six nominees is a person of color, and questions have been raised about some of the nominees’ records on voting and civil rights.

Republicans have indicated that they will fight the president’s nominees whoever they are; that makes it all the more important that the best possible nominees are put forward.
 

###

Alabama Delays Approval of History Texts After Anti-Muslim Groups Complain They Promote Jihad

Alabama’s state board of education delayed an approval vote on 12 middle school history textbooks last week after the anti-Muslim groups Eagle Forum of Alabama and ACT! For America claimed that the books promoted Islam over Christianity.

Our Country Deserves Better than ‘Stand Your Ground’ Laws

The following is a guest post from Elder Jabari Paul, a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action, following last week’s Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on Stand Your Ground laws.

My perspective on Stand Your Ground laws (SYG) is shaped by my experience and calling as a young African American clergyman and as a native of Florida, the first state to pass this type of legislation. I believe that these laws raise important questions about the moral values of our country.

The debate around SYG comes during challenging times in America – times when the political landscape is starkly divided and mass slayings in public settings are much too frequent.  These laws have been divisive policies since the first one passed in October 2005 in Florida. Public contentiousness surrounding SYG can be traced back to the choices of many politicians to ignore the will of the majority on SYG laws and to push the agendas of powerful and moneyed interest groups, like the National Rifle Association. SYG has been a wedge issue because politicians, particularly conservatives, have supported such laws to placate their base in spite of a lack of need for these laws.

Stand Your Ground has been championed by its supporters as a type of law that is necessary to prevent crime in urban areas and to protect citizens from the violence of “thugs.” These arguments have clear racial undertones. Words like “urban” and “thug” have been used since America’s post-Reconstruction days to speak in coded language about African Americans and other minorities. SYG tramples upon the civil rights of those perceived to be a threat. The tragedy of these laws is compounded when the person attacked is killed and only their attacker has an opportunity to tell what happened.

As a Christian, minister and an African American male under 35, my views on SYG are shaped by my culture and my religious beliefs. I believe that SYG perpetuates violence in a society that already knows violence too well. Jesus Christ taught the opposite of violence – love. In His renowned “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus said, “Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” In these verses, Jesus is stressing that violence should be the last form of recourse in any situation. SYG, on the other hand, justifies and can even facilitate violence.

Our country deserves better than this. The United States of America is called, and no doubt is, the greatest nation in world. It’s time for our elected officials to drastically amend or repeal Stand Your Ground laws.

PFAW

Discrimination Has No Place In Our Hearts or Our Workplaces

The following is a guest post by Rev. Dorothy Chaney, a licensed Baptist minister in Miami and a member of People For the American Way’s African American Ministers in Action.

I have lived in Florida all my life, but here’s something I didn’t always know: in my state, you can be fired for being gay.

It’s true – although most of us don’t realize it. Here in Florida, we lack both a state and federal law protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) employees from workplace discrimination. That means that even if you are the most dedicated employee – always on time, always going that extra mile – you can still be fired because of who you are or who you love.

That’s not right.

Why? First of all, because ensuring that all of us have the opportunity to provide for our families is a core American value. Passing a bill in Congress called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act would help make sure that LGBT workers across the country are protected from workplace mistreatment. It’s simple – if you work hard, you shouldn’t be fired because of attributes that have nothing to do with your work performance.

Second, my religious beliefs mean I am dedicated to supporting those in need. As Bishop Gene Robinson pointed out in 2011, “The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are filled with admonitions that we will be judged by the way we treat our most vulnerable members.” He wrote that we are “morally bound” to take care of those who are marginalized, such as LGBT Americans.

He’s right. As a Christian minister, I have worked for many years to lift up those most vulnerable in our communities, from counseling women facing unplanned pregnancies to speaking out in support of those needing access to health care. I have come to see that in order to continue my work for justice, I also need to speak out in support of employment protections for LGBT members of my community. Though faith traditions and leaders may have differing beliefs about sexuality, surely we can agree that every person should be treated with dignity in their place of work. Every person should be able to be open about who they are without fearing for their job.

Finally, not only is passing ENDA the moral thing to do, it’s also the popular thing to do.  That’s true here in Florida and also across the country. New polling estimates that more than 60% of Floridians support ENDA.

Unfortunately, those who don’t support these protections are using dishonest arguments to try to mislead the public about the legislation. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, for example, has claimed that if ENDA is passed, “Our freedom of religion will be destroyed.”  This is certainly not true. The ENDA bill even carves out a specific exemption so it will not apply to religious corporations, societies, associations, and schools.  The fact is, it goes the extra mile to protect religious liberty, and it is supported by a broad array of religious groups. The bottom line is that ENDA is in no way an attack on religious liberty any more than existing anti-discrimination laws are.

Others are using repugnant arguments in an attempt not just to defeat the bill, but to attack and malign LGBT members of my community. Last year, Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition went as far as using the Newtown tragedy in a misguided attempt to turn public opinion against ENDA. Referencing a school district anti-discrimination policy in nearby Orange County, Florida, Lafferty argued that while parents are concerned about “protecting our children” in the wake of the Newtown shooting, they should be worried about ENDA’s “devastating effects” as “people with some real issues [play] out their personal problems in the classroom.” These kinds of lies about our LGBT neighbors underscore why the discrimination protections are needed in the first place.

It is my hope that all of our elected officials will choose to stand on the side of pro-equality majorities rather than with those pushing hurtful lies about LGBT Americans. I was heartened to see that Sen. Nelson has signed on as a cosponsor. Now it’s time for Sen. Rubio to step up to the plate, as well.

Because at the end of the day, discrimination is discrimination.  It has no place in our hearts and no place in our workplaces.
 

PFAW
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