Fair and Just Courts

Supreme Court Dumps PART of DOMA

The Supreme Court today ruled that the core section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. DOMA’s Section 3, which the Court vacated, prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in the states, thereby hitting legally married gay and lesbian couples with extra taxes and depriving them of a slew of federal protections.

People For the American Way Foundation president Michael Keegan said of the Supreme Court’s ruling: “Today’s  DOMA ruling is a profound step forward for loving, committed same-sex couples across the country. The decision is premised on the plain fact that there is no good reason for the government to recognize some legally married couples while discriminating against others.”

PFAW launched a campaign to “Dump DOMA” in 2008. Since then, our petition calling on Congress to repeal the discriminatory law  has gathered 230,000 signatures.

But the effort to overturn DOMA is not over. While Section 3 was the law’s most damaging provision, DOMA’s Section 2, which says that states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, still stands. We will continue to work to overturn the remainder of DOMA and ensure that all gay and lesbian Americans have the right to marriage, no matter which state they make their home.

While our work continues, today’s decision represents a historic turning point for equality.  DOMA will no longer tear apart binational couples. It will no longer impose a “gay tax” on legally married same-sex couples. It will no longer deny benefits to same-sex spouses of federal employees. It will no longer deny gay and lesbian veterans benefits for their spouses.

The story of Edith Windsor, the plaintiff who brought DOMA to the Supreme Court, and Thea Spyer, her late wife and partner of 40 years, illustrates what this decision will mean to so many Americans:
 

PFAW

DOMA Decision Slices Right Wing Talking Point on Referendums

Today's opinion shatters the ridiculous right-wing line that marriage equality laws are illegitimate without a referendum.
PFAW Foundation

The Smoking Gun in the Voting Rights Case

Scalia's comments during oral arguments show that he was guided by personal ideology, not the law.
PFAW

PFAW Foundation: Court Conservatives in Shelby County v. Holder Deal Terrible Blow to the Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON – In response to the Supreme Court’s decision today in Shelby County v. Holder, People For the American Way Foundation President Michael Keegan released the following statement:

“As the Supreme Court swerves further to the right, our constitutional liberties continue to take a beating.  Today, the Supreme Court seriously undermined an important piece of the premier civil rights legislation of the past century – legislation that civil rights heroes gave their lives for.  This decision sends a chilling message to all those Americans who continue to face politically-motivated hurdles on their way to the ballot box.

“In his confirmation hearings, Chief Justice John Roberts pledged to behave like an umpire—just calling balls and strikes, and staying out of the game. Today that umpire upended decades of civil rights law. His decision substitutes his own opinions for the findings of America’s elected representatives in Congress, who found numerous cases of ongoing, racially-based political gerrymandering and trickery. Moreover, it does so in an area in which the Constitution specifically and intentionally gives Congress wide discretion. Reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act received near unanimous support in both houses of Congress just a few years ago, and was signed into law by President Bush. Today’s decision is a blatantly inappropriate exercise in legislating from the bench. Conservatives who have spent decades decrying judicial activism should take note.

“In two separate cases yesterday, Justice Ginsburg called on Congress to fix the damage done by decisions handed down by our nation’s highest court. That need is even greater today. Congress should move quickly to enact a coverage formula under Section 4 to protect voters whose right to participate in our democracy was badly undermined today. The American people deserve no less.”

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Bad News for Workers in the Supreme Court's Vance Case

The Corporate Court ignores the realities of the workplace and frustrates the goals of Title VII in narrowing the definition of a supervisor.
PFAW Foundation

Affirmative Action Remains

Today was a victory for affirmative action, which is vitally important for advancing fairness and equal opportunity.
PFAW Foundation

A Good Day at the Court for Drug Manufacturers (But Not the Rest of Us)

The Court's sharply divided 5-4 opinion in Mutual Pharmaceuticals v. Bartlett leaves severely injured consumers with no remedy.
PFAW Foundation

Corporate Court Lets Monopolists Bypass Antitrust Laws

The Roberts Court empowers big corporations to violate antitrust laws and prevent small business victims from vindicating their federal rights.
PFAW Foundation

Longer and Longer Waits for District Court Nominees

Because of a deliberately created backlog, district court nominees have waited longer and longer for a confirmation vote during the 113th Congress.
PFAW

Local, State and National Leaders Applaud Introduction of Constitutional Amendments to Overturn Citizens United and Related Cases

Today Senators Tom Udall [NM] and Jon Tester [MT] introduced amendment resolutions in the United States Senate that would overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC (2010).  Leaders from state and national organizations applauded the efforts of these US Senators as well as other members of the 113th Congress who are responding to the will of the American people by introducing and co-sponsoring amendments to the US Constitution. 

The group includes leaders from the 15 state across the country that have already passed resolutions or initiatives putting their states on record calling for an amendment to overturn Citizens United and related cases.

“We applaud the leadership of Senator Tom Udall and others in Congress who understand that we must now amend the US Constitution to undo the Supreme Court’s disastrous decisions in Citizens United, in Buckley v. Valeo, and in related cases… For the sake of our democratic future, we must end corporate rule over our political process and enact meaningful election reform in America,” said Mimi Stewart, New Mexico State Representative and lead sponsor of the NM amendment resolution.

"Last month, I was proud to co-sponsor S.J.R. 27, a resolution calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to get money out of politics and overturn the Citizens United ruling. The values expressed in that resolution, which passed with bipartisan support, are reflected in the amendments introduced by Senators Udall and Tester," said Barbara Flynn Currie, Illinois House Majority Leader.

“In my district there has been overwhelming support for reversing the Citizens United ruling.  Last November 74% of Kane County residents voted in favor of a public advisory to reverse the ruling.  I’m proud to represent my constituents and their views in Springfield,” said Karen McConnaughay, Illinois State Senator and lead co-sponsor of the IL amendment resolution.

“California’s Legislature is on record as opposing the Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United ruling and I strongly support attempts by Congress to protect the integrity of our legislative and electoral processes. Congress must act to tip the scales away from the powerful corporate interests and back to the people,” said Bob Wieckowski, California Assemblymember and lead sponsor of the CA amendment resolution.


“The state of Montana has spoken loud and clear on the need for such an amendment, and the time has come for the rest of Montana’s congressional delegation to listen to our voices and go on record in support,” said C.B. Pearson, Stand with Montanans Treasurer.

"The U.S. Constitution belongs to the American people, and in our history we have many times had to amend it to respond to the antics of a conservative Supreme Court playing politics with our most precious document … I am urging the Maryland congressional delegation to join the campaign to reverse the Roberts Court and restore basic democratic and popular meanings to the Constitution," said Jamie Raskin, Maryland State Senator, Majority Whip.

"It is great that more members of Congress are waking up and moving the issue forward. We applaud those in Congress who understand the need for a constitutional change to undo the Court's grave mistake," said Anthony Pollina, Vermont State Senator and lead sponsor of the VT amendment resolution.

"When it comes down to democracy or big, corporate money, Vermonters definitely vote for democracy. Vermonters at 64 town meetings called for an amendment and the Vermont Legislature passed a resolution calling on the Court to reverse the decision last year," said Vermont State Senator and lead sponsor of the VT amendment resolution Virginia "Ginny" Lyons.

“We must now amend the U.S. Constitution to undo disastrous Supreme Court’s decisions that have allowed money to swamp our elections and diminish the voices of everyday people… we must enact meaningful federal election reform that places voters, not wealthy campaign donors and special interests, first in our government,” said Andrew Bossie, Executive Director of Maine Citizens for Clean Elections.

“Americans’ voices are being drowned out by huge corporations and wealthy special interests. We are heartened that these senators understand the need for a constitutional amendment to take our democracy out of the hands of corporations and wealthy special interests  put it back into the hands of everyday people, where it belongs,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy and Program of People For the American Way.

"We applaud Senators Jon Tester and Tom Udall for their outstanding leadership in introducing today their constitutional amendment bills to reclaim our democracy.  We must reverse Citizens United and ensure that people, not corporations, govern in America and that the nation lives up to its fundamental promise of political equality for all.  Senator Tester’s sponsorship of the People’s Rights Amendment and Senator Udall’s re-introduction of his amendment bill on campaign spending represent significant political developments for our movement. They reflect the growing support across the country for overturning Citizens United and restoring democracy to the people,” said John Bonifaz, Executive Director of Free Speech For People.

“The American people are refusing to accept the corporate takeover of our politics and country.  Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have called for a constitutional amendment to restore our democracy, as have nearly 500 cities and towns across the country. Now come U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to supercharge the momentum for constitutional reform,” said Robert Weissman, President of Public Citizen.

“Our country has lived with the disastrous consequences of Citizens United for over three years now. Americans have had enough.  Millions of Americans have registered their anger by filing voter instruction resolutions to overturn Citizens United at the ballot box, in town halls and in state capitols across the country.  We applaud Senators Tester and Udall for taking seriously the voter instruction ballot measure that passed in Montana by 75% and a resolution that passed both chambers of the New Mexico state legislature. We look forward to working with Senators Tester and Udall and other members of the House and Senate as we work in every state to support a constitutional amendment to combat the flood of money unleashed by the Citizens United decision,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, Common Cause Senior Vice President for Strategy & Programs.

“To date, 15 states and nearly 500 municipalities have called upon Congress to overturn Citizens United and related cases by amending the Constitution. The introduction of these two joint resolutions today takes that call seriously and moves us two steps closer to ensuring that in our democracy the size of your wallet does not determine the volume of your voice,” said Blair Bowie, Democracy Advocate of U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
 

PFAW Applauds Proposed Constitutional Amendments to Reverse Citizens United

WASHINGTON –Today two constitutional amendments aimed at undoing the harm caused by the Supreme Court in a series of cases, including Citizens United v. FEC – which held that corporations have the right to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing elections – were proposed by Senators Tom Udall (D-NM) and Jon Tester (D-MT).  

Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way, released the following statement:

“A constitutional amendment is the only way to completely reverse the damage done to our democracy by the devastating Citizens United decision and related cases. No one takes amending the Constitution lightly, but there have been multiple moments in American history where the people have had to collectively undo the harm done by the Supreme Court when it acts against justice, democracy, and the common good. 

“Americans' voices are being drowned out by huge corporations and wealthy special interests. We are heartened that these senators understand the need for a constitutional amendment to take our democracy out of the hands of corporations and wealthy special interests  put it back into the hands of everyday people, where it belongs.”

Across the country there is unprecedented public support for this type of reform. To date fifteen states and more than 400 cities and towns have called for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United and related cases.


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Supreme Court Upholds Voting Rights in Arizona Proof-of-Citizenship Case

The Supreme Court issued 7-2 ruling in favor of voting rights today, finding that a restrictive Arizona law requiring that voters show proof of citizenship when registering by mail is preempted by federal law. The court upheld Arizonans’ right to register to vote by mail using a federal form created by the 1993 “Motor Voter” law, which allows voters to certify under oath that they are citizens. Arizonans will not have to submit information that the federal form does not require.

PFAW Foundation joined in an amicus brief in the case, Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of  Arizona, on behalf of its Young People For program.

The Arizona law, which would have required voters to present one of a narrow set of documents proving citizenship in order to register to vote, would have impeded the voting rights of countless Arizonans. As Demos put it:

Many eligible citizens do not possess these narrow forms of documentation required by the law and, of those who do, many  do not carry them while conducting their daily affairs.  Community-based registration efforts overwhelmingly rely on approaching individuals who did not plan in advance to register at that time or location and who are thus unlikely to be carrying a birth certificate, passport, or other documentation.

Even when a potential registrant does happen to be carrying one of the required documents, logistical hurdles—ranging from an inability to copy documents on the spot to an unwillingness to hand over sensitive identification documents to registration drive volunteers—greatly hinder the ability of community-based organizations to register people in Arizona.

The Supreme Court has yet to issue a decision in the other major voting rights case on its docket this term, the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.

PFAW

First Lesbian Latina Confirmed as Federal Judge

Judge Nitza Quiñones Alejandro broke an important glass ceiling this week, becoming the first openly lesbian Latina confirmed to a federal judgeship.  The Senate confirmed her by voice vote to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania yesterday. Previously Quiñones served for more than two decades on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. 

The Washington Blade notes that Quiñones is only the seventh openly LGBT person in our country’s history to be confirmed as a federal judge.

PFAW has advocated for more diversity in the judiciary, applauding President Obama’s push to bring qualified judges from many backgrounds to the federal bench.  Issuing decisions that affect all communities, the federal bench – and all benches – must reflect the diversity of our nation. 

Last year President Obama said he was committed to ensuring that “the judiciary resembles the nation it serves.”  This week’s confirmation is an important step toward that goal. 
 

PFAW

Demand Answers from Judge Edith Jones

Investigate reports of bias and racism from a federal judge.

Why Senate Republican Claims About the D.C. Circuit Don’t Pass the Pinocchio Test

Earlier this week President Obama nominated three unquestionably qualified candidates – appellate attorney Patricia Millet, former civil rights attorney Cornelia Pillard and D.C. District Court judge Robert Wilkins – to the D.C. Circuit, the second most influential court in the country.  Republicans are already fighting hard against these nominations, claiming that the D.C. Circuit doesn’t have a large enough workload to necessitate filling the vacant seats.  Sen. Chuck Grassley (D-IA) even went as far as to say, “No matter how you slice it, the D.C. Circuit ranks last or almost last in nearly every category that measures workload.”

Not quite.  Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post wrote an article this morning delving deeper into Sen. Grassley’s claims.  Kessler wrote,

“Challenged by Grassley’s claim that the D.C. Circuit is last ‘no matter how you slice it,’ we came up with two other measures that might shed more light on the D.C. Circuit’s workload… One way to measure this is by looking at the data for ‘administrative appeals.’

In 2012, nearly 45 percent of those appeals at the D.C. Circuit involved administrative appeals concerning federal rules and regulations, which many experts say are highly complex and take more time to review.  By contrast, at the other circuits, virtually all of the administrative appeals involve immigration cases. Using the data in Table B-3, we found that in the other circuits, administrative appeals that did not involve immigration matters accounted for less than 3 percent of the appeals. (In some circuits, it was less than 1 percent.)”

In other words, the D.C. Circuit is considering some of the most intricate and far-reaching cases of any court.  The complexity of these types of cases make apples-to-apples comparisons with other circuits difficult. 

Kessler continues:

“Another measure of the complexity of the cases are statistics on written opinions. The raw data suggest that judges on the D.C. Circuit write fewer opinions than judges on other appeals circuits. (This was one stat that Grassley staff sent us.) But Table S-3 shows that the D.C. Circuit produced a greater proportion of written, signed opinions on cases determined on the merits than most other circuits.”

Overall, the Post concludes,

“[T]he certainty in Grassley’s argument is particularly misplaced, given the unusual nature of the D.C. Circuit… you can’t just assert that one appeals filing is equal to another — or that one set of statistics is better than another. Depending on the metrics, the D.C. Circuit could very well be in first place.”

In 2005, Sen. Grassley did not seem to have these workload concerns when he voted to confirm Bush nominees Janice Rogers Brown and Thomas B. Griffith to the tenth and eleventh seats on the D.C. Circuit.  Yet when he and other Republicans cast those votes, the court was handling the same number of cases as it is now.  As President Obama pointed out in his speech announcing the three nominees, this is an overtly political move on the part of Senate Republicans:

“When a Republican was president, 11 judges on the D.C. Circuit Court made complete sense. Now that a Democrat is president, it apparently doesn't – eight is suddenly enough.”

PFAW

President Obama Blasts GOP Obstruction, Nominates Three to Influential Court

Today, President Obama nominated three people – experienced appellate attorney Patricia Millet, Georgetown law professor and former civil rights attorney Cornelia “Nina” Pillard and D.C. District Court judge and former public defender Robert Wilkins – to the influential Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

All three have stellar qualifications. Yet, Senate Republicans were threatening to block all three even before they knew who the nominees would be.

In a Rose Garden speech introducing the nominees, President Obama blasted Republican obstruction and urged the Senate to quickly review and hold votes on all three. “The Constitution demands that I nominate qualified individuals to fill those seats,” he said. “What I am doing today is my job.  I need the Senate to do its job.”


So one of the most important responsibilities of a President is to nominate qualified men and women to serve as judges on the federal bench. 

And Congress has a responsibility, as well.  The Senate is tasked with providing advice and consent.  They can approve a President’s nominee or they can reject a President’s nominee.  But they have a constitutional duty to promptly consider judicial nominees for confirmation.

Now, throughout my first term as President, the Senate too often failed to do that.  Time and again, congressional Republicans cynically used Senate rules and procedures to delay and even block qualified nominees from coming to a full vote. 

As a result, my judicial nominees have waited three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor.  Let me repeat that:  My nominees have taken three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor.  These individuals that I nominate are qualified.  When they were given an up or down vote in the Senate -- when they were finally given an up or down vote in the Senate, every one of them was confirmed.  So this is not about principled opposition.  This is about political obstruction. 

Despite that, some Republicans recently have suggested that by nominating these three individuals, I’m somehow engaging in -- and I’m quoting here -- in “court-packing.”  (Laughter.)  No -- people laugh, but this is an argument I’ve made.  For those of you who are familiar with the history of court-packing, that involved Franklin Delano Roosevelt trying to add additional seats to the Supreme Court in order to water down and get more support for his political agenda.  We’re not adding seats here.  We’re trying to fill seats that are already existing.  Each of the past five Presidents has seen at least three of their nominees confirmed to the D.C. Circuit.  Since I’ve been President, obstruction has slowed that down to one. 

Right now, there are three open seats on a critical court.  I didn’t create these seats.  I didn’t just wake up one day and say, let’s add three seats to the District Court of Appeals.  These are open seats.  And the Constitution demands that I nominate qualified individuals to fill those seats.  What I am doing today is my job.  I need the Senate to do its job.

For more background on the D.C. Circuit, see PFAW’s Marge Baker’s piece in the Huffington Post yesterday, “Five Things Republicans Don’t Want You to Know About the D.C. Circuit.”

PFAW

More Truthiness From Sen. Grassley on the Courts

When the Senate unanimously confirmed Sri Srinivasan to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last month, Republicans patted themselves on the back for cooperating in a relatively efficient confirmation process. But, by any objective standard, Srinivasan’s confirmation process wasn’t that efficient at all. In fact, Republican obstruction of Srinivasan started when they delayed a hearing on his nomination for ten months, from June 2012 to April of this year.

But Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is now pushing an alternate history of this delay on Srinivasan’s nomination. In a floor speech the day Srinivasan was confirmed, Grassley insisted that Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, “made no effort to schedule a hearing on this nominee until late last year.”

In a press release this week, Sen. Leahy explained why this argument is just plain false. In fact, he wrote, it was Senate Republicans who kept insisting that Srinivasan’s hearing be pushed back:

By July 19, 2012, I had determined that the paperwork on the Srinivasan nomination was complete and the nominee could be included in a hearing.  It has been my practice as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee to give the minority notice and allow consultation before scheduling a nomination for a hearing.  At that time, the next July hearing had been discussed as one devoted to the nominee to head the Antitrust Division at the Department of Justice, a nomination that itself had been delayed and to which there was Republican opposition.  During the August recess, my staff asked Senator Grassley’s about holding the hearing on the Srinivasan nomination in September.  They raised objections and concerns about proceeding with the D.C. Circuit nomination at that time but agreed to proceed with four district nominees and a Court of International Trade nominee.

In November, 2012, after the American people reelected President Obama, we raised the need for a hearing on the D.C. Circuit nomination anew.  Republicans objected, again, in spite of the precedent of holding a hearing for one of President Bush’s D.C. Circuit nominees during a similar lame duck session. Instead, they wanted to proceed only with district court nominees during the lame duck.  Republicans insisted that the Srinivasan hearing be put off until the new Congress and the new year.  In deference to the Republican minority, I held off.  They agreed that he would be included at the first nominations hearing of the 113th Congress.

Then, in early January of this year, when called upon to hold up their end of the bargain, Republicans balked.

This isn’t just a matter of settling a complicated Senate score. Instead, Sen. Leahy is pointing out yet another incident of Sen. Grassley’s twisting the truth about judicial nominees and the judicial nominations process in an attempt to cover for slowing down Senate business and ultimately the business of the federal courts. As Leahy says in his statement:

Those erroneous Record statements have me wondering whether I should be so accommodating to Republican scheduling demands given that they forget their demands in their efforts to avoid responsibility and blame others.   
 

PFAW

Tell the Senate: No More Obstruction; Fill the D.C. Circuit!

BREAKING: President Obama Announces Nominees to Fill Critical Seats on D.C. Circuit. Tell the Senate to CONFIRM Cornelia Pillard, Patricia Ann Millet and Robert Leon Wilkins without delay.

PFAW Applauds Nomination of Three to DC Circuit Court

People For the American Way today applauded President Obama’s announcement that he would nominate Cornelia (Nina) Pillard, Patricia Ann Millett and Robert Leon Wilkins to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Today’s announcement is an important step toward filling the remaining vacancies on one of our nation’s highest courts,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way. “These nominees all have accomplished records. They should receive prompt hearings and votes in the full Senate without delay.

“These nominations are a clear statement by the President that he won’t be held hostage by the relentless obstruction by Senate Republicans,” continued Baker. “Nearly five years after he was elected, President Obama has had only one nominee confirmed to the DC Circuit, but Republicans are insisting that fulfilling his constitutional obligation to nominate individuals to fill open seats on this Court is somehow ‘court packing.’ That’s ridiculous. Republican Senators should stop playing political games with the courts and end their mindless obstruction of President Obama’s nominees.”

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