Fair and Just Courts

Where is Pat Toomey on Phil Restrepo's Nomination?

Five months into Pennsylvanian Phil Restrepo's nomination, Chuck Grassley has not scheduled a hearing. What is Pat Toomey doing to help?
PFAW

Mitch McConnell: Doing the Least He Can Possibly Do

Lest anyone think that Mitch McConnell hasn’t been paying attention to the judicial vacancy crisis or the Americans who pay the price when their cases are delayed or relocated, today everything changed: today Senator McConnell allowed a vote on … one judicial nominee!
PFAW

The GOP Finally Allows a Judicial Confirmation Vote

Later today, the Senate is scheduled to vote to confirm Alfred Bennett to the Southern District of Texas. But if McConnell is expecting congratulations, he should expect to wait a long time … just as he forces judicial nominees to wait for a confirmation vote.
PFAW

The 5 Worst Arguments Against Marriage Equality At The Supreme Court

In the weeks leading up to oral arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, a collection of marriage equality cases being heard at the Supreme Court this month, groups on both sides of the issue have been flooding the Court with amicus briefs.

These have inevitably included some very bad arguments from lawyers arguing on behalf of anti-LGBT groups. Here are five of the worst:

5. Gays Need ‘Tough Love,’ Like Smokers Or Drug Abusers

Mike Huckabee Policy Solutions (which identifies itself as a group “backed by private citizens and organizations who support the national policy aims of Mike Huckabee”) and anti-gay “statistician” Paul Cameron’s Family Research Institute tell the Justices that “[h]omosexuality and same-sex marriage are tied to early death” and thus gay people, much like drug abusers, need “tough love” instead of marriage rights.

As with smoking or drug abuse, it would be neither compassionate nor kind to normalize and encourage a known and significant public health risk such as homosexuality. Heightened early mortality risk suggests that homosexual practice (whether in casual or long-term unions) is self-injurious and therefore would put undue financial, emotional, and health burdens on survivors, especially children, as well as society, pursuant to any normalization of same-sex marriage by decree of this Court.

Just as in the cases of drug abusers or suicidal individuals, it would not be compassionate nor kind of this Court to attempt to further normalize and encourage known and significant public health risks represented by LGBT lifestyles and unions. Thus, the expansion of LGBT activity by decree of this Court is likely to proliferate undue financial, emotional, and health burdens upon survivors, especially children, and upon wider society as well. Far from “hateful,” the amici curiae herein hold that deference to the States in the regulation of lawful marriage, as well as federalist restraint and humility by this Court, would represent an act of love. “Tough love,” perhaps, but love nonetheless.

4. Marriage Equality Will Lead To Civil War

While the Texas chapter of Eagle Forum, in a brief written by Phyllis Schlafly’s son Andrew, never exactly says in its Supreme Court brief that a broad ruling in favor of marriage equality would lead to civil war, it does draw an awful lot of parallels between the effects of Obergefell and those of the infamous pre-Civil War Dred Scott case.

The Texas Eagle Forum brief warns of “a badly fractious effect” if the Court declares that “the Bible is wrong about marriage,” drawing out “regional differences” similar to the regional divide over slavery before the Civil War. The group warns that, like Dred Scott, “any ruling by the Court that imposes homosexual marriage on Texas and every corner of the United States would cause vastly more conflict, along regional lines.”

In 1857, as now, there were sharp regional differences over a fundamental social issue. But rather than allow Congress to sort the disputes out, the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds and attempted to dictate one solution nationwide about slavery. That poured fuel on the fire, as history teaches. Likewise, any ruling by the Court here that attempts to establish homosexual marriage for every region of our country, thereby declaring that the local voters are wrong, their political leaders are wrong, and the Bible is wrong about marriage, will have a badly fractious effect.

The disunity will greatly worsen if the Court rules that Texas and other southern states must begin performing homosexual marriage. Far from unifying the Nation, as some argue, such a Court ruling would have a divisive effect similar to that of the Dred Scott decision. The Dred Scott Court felt that by imposing its view of slavery on the entire Nation, the Court was resolving the conflict. In fact, of course, the decision made the conflict far worse. Likewise, any ruling by the Court that imposes homosexual marriage on Texas and every corner of the United States would cause vastly more conflict, along regional lines.

Texas Eagle Forum specifically argues that the supposedly unbiblical nature of same-sex marriage would “be disastrous for the unity of our Nation” because the Bible is “the strongest link that holds our society together.”

The Bible is perhaps the most unifying force of our Nation.

A Supreme Court ruling that endorses homosexual marriage would directly conflict with clear teachings in both the Old and New Testaments. See, e.g., Genesis 2:24 (“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”) and Mark 10:6-8 (“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’”) (ESV). In essence, the Court would be rejecting the Bible as false, and by implication perhaps even disparaging the Bible as hate speech. Whether the large percentage of Americans who respect the Bible would be persuaded by such a ruling remains to be seen. But if they are persuaded, then the results would be disastrous for the unity of our Nation, because it would weaken the strongest link that holds our society together.

3. Marriage Equality Is Bad For Gay People’s Kids Because Right Wing Watch Criticized Robert Oscar Lopez

There was a big splash in the right-wing media when four adults who were raised for at least part of their lives by same-sex couples, most prominently activist Robert Oscar Lopez, submitted an amicus brief against marriage equality.

Lopez cites one flawed study about same-sex parenting and uses it as a jumping-off point for discussing what he speculates is a trend toward things getting “harder, not easier” for children raised by same-sex couples as “gay marriage has become a broader and more accepted phenomenon."

It has gotten harder, not easier, for COGs [Children of Gays], to the extent that gay marriage has become a broader and more accepted phenomenon. The younger generation of COGs has lived with an enormous amount of surveillance and speech policing by people interested in ensuring that they say nothing to undermine the social prestige of their gay guardians. The younger generation of COGs seems to feel more uprooted from the missing half of their ancestry and more fearful of defying the authority of gay stepparent figures whom they still tend to view as stepparents even if they are fond of them.

COGs are now treated with less dignity, more suspicion, fewer protections and heightened discrimination/harassment/retaliation than they saw before same-sex marriage achieved a level of national success. All of this is emanating from within the gay community, enabled by complacent groups such as COLAGE and emboldened by the gay-marriage equality movement. Put simply, the situation for COGs has worsened as their numbers have multiplied.

Lopez’s main piece of evidence for the “heightened discrimination/harrassment/retaliation” being directed at the children of gay parents since those parents began to gain marriage rights seems to be his own experience being criticized by blogs, including Right Wing Watch, which he details at great length in a separate section of the brief.

2. It’s Okay To Discriminate Against Women, So Why Not Gays?

Mark Joseph Stern at Slate flagged a brief submitted by the state of South Carolina which illustrates at length the concern that the drafters of the 14th Amendment had about it granting rights to women. Since the state at the time sought to discriminate against women, the brief argues, then it is absurd to apply the amendment’s protections to gay and lesbian people who want to get married.

Here’s a representative paragraph:

Nor did the framers and their contemporaries conceive that the definition of marriage consisted of anything other than the union between man and woman. Indeed, the framers insisted upon leaving untouched those state laws depriving women of basic rights upon marriage to a man. Surely then, those state laws exclusively defining marriage as between a man and woman were hands off under the Amendment’s original meaning.

Representatives from the South Carolina solicitor general’s and attorney general’s offices followed up with Stern to clarify that “that their state does not wish to implement the sexist laws outlined in its brief—though it could if it wanted to.”

1. Marriage Equality Will Cause God To Destroy America

Really any constitutional argument you can come up with becomes irrelevant if we are threatened with God’s judgement on America. A coalition of right-wing groups (two of which have close ties with Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore), pulled out that trump card in a brief in which they warn the Justices that should they “require the States and the People to ‘ritualize’ sodomite behavior by government issuance of a state marriage license, it could bring God’s judgment on the Nation.”

The groups, including Public Advocate of the United States and the Institute on the Constitution (run by longtime Moore funder and Maryland GOP official Michael Peroutka) and assisted by former Moore collaborator Herb Titus, assure the Justices that the warnings of Leviticus are still very much in effect:

Should the Court require the States and the People to “ritualize” sodomite behavior by government issuance of a state marriage license, it could bring God’s judgment on the Nation. Holy Scripture attests that homosexual behavior and other sexual perversions violate the law of the land, and when the land is “defiled,” the people have been cast out of their homes. See Leviticus 18:22, 24-30. Although some would assert that these rules apply only to the theocracy of ancient Israel, the Apostle Peter rejects that view: “For if God ... turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly.” 2 Peter 2:4-6. The continuing application of this Levitical prohibition is confirmed by the Book of Jude: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering 1 Kings 14:24. 41 the vengeance of eternal fire.”

The Courts Have to Matter to LGBTQ Americans

The following is a guest post by Erik Lampmann, a 2011 Young People For (YP4) Fellow. It is cross-posted on the Alliance for Justice blog and the YP4 blog.

Federal courts routinely hand down judgments that affect everyday Americans at an immediate, painful, and personal level – for good or ill.

Consider the case of Seamus Johnston, a transgender student expelled by the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown (UPJ) for his use of male restrooms and gym facilities on campus. When he sought redress for his experiences at the hands of UPJ, U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled he had no room to claim discrimination since he was being treated in accordance with his sex as assigned at birth and had not had sex reassignment surgery.

In some ways, Johnson was warranted in thinking he was free to live openly as a transgender man since UPJ offers gender identity and expression protections under its student nondiscrimination statement. Indeed, Johnson had lived openly and without significant difficulty as a man since 2009 — even having taken advantage of men-only exercise courses. Only in 2011 was Johnson first confronted for using a men’s locker room. After issuing Johnson citations, barring him from certain facilities, and eventually arresting him, the university expelled him for his attempt to use the bathroom in which he felt most at peace and which he believed he was permitted to use by university policy. In his appeal for justice, Johnson didn’t ask for much — simply that a university that purports to protect students based on “gender identity and expression” allow him a modicum of relief as a transgender person rather than criminalizing his attempts to live authentically.

Essentially, Judge Gibson acknowledged Johnson’s self-identification as a transgender man, but she didn’t think it really mattered in the context of the Equal Protection Clause or Title IX.  Flatly ignoring guidance from the Department of Education encouraging institutions of higher education to recognize transgender and gender non-conforming students’ right to protections under Title IX, Judge Gibson left Johnston, and other transgender students, without protection from sex discrimination. She wrote:

While Plaintiff might identify his gender as male, his birth sex is female … It is this fact … that is fatal to Plaintiff’s sex discrimination claim. Regardless of how gender and gender identity are defined, the law recognizes certain distinctions between male and female on the basis of birth sex. Thus, even though Plaintiff is a transgender male, his sex is female.

In sum, this decision reflects a sobering reality for LGBTQ people, particularly transgender and gender non-conforming individuals: The government — more specifically, a judge — holds the power to determine if the law protects how you define yourself.

This example dramatizes just one way that our courts fail to live up to the promise of the motto “equal justice under law” by protecting the vulnerable among us from exclusion and discrimination. I’ll admit that several years ago the result in this case might have led me to give up on the courts as an avenue for change.

Recent decisions from the Supreme Court and other federal courts have prompted some progressives to view the courts as a once-relevant institution home only to disconnected jurists. When we as progressives write off the courts and treat them as spaces where our communities were never meant to triumph, we concede the power to speak from our lived experience as those affected by the law and to shift the balance of power within the judiciary.

In reality, the legal knowledge of our communities paired with our deeply personal understanding of how the courts’ decisions impact real people gives us a tremendous power to affect the composition of the courts and to create legal precedents that respect rather than ignore our communities’ needs.

Seamus Johnston’s experiences with the justice system are then instructive for progressives building long-term judicial strategies. His loss in the Western District of Pennsylvania is but one battle in a much longer struggle for social justice.

The courts have to matter for LGBTQ Americans and so many others who find themselves on the losing end of cases like Johnston’s. They have to matter because we cannot afford to write off institutions, elected officials, or organizations as permanent friends or enemies. Rather, if we truly believe another world is possible, we have to build it brick by brick, precedent by precedent, judge by judge.

PFAW Foundation

New Report Examines Supreme Court’s “Citizens United Era”

A new report released today by People For the American Way Foundation explores the extreme pro-corporate jurisprudence of the Supreme Court in recent years, identifying parallels to the Court’s infamous Lochner era a century ago. “The Supreme Court in the Citizens United Era” by PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin explores how the Roberts Court’s right-wing majority has established a precedent for privileging corporations over individuals, allowing corporations to enjoy the rights of the people while reducing the rights that people have against corporations.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United was a disastrous turning point for our democracy,” said People For the American Way Foundation Executive Vice President Marge Baker. “But it also signifies a broader shift in the way the Supreme Court interprets our laws. Most dangerously, the Supreme Court has transformed the First Amendment from a critical protection against government censorship and oppression into a Get Out of Jail Free card for corporations looking to protect their bottom line.”

As Raskin writes in the report:

“Corporations increasingly enjoy all the rights of the people, but the people increasingly have no rights against corporations. Indeed, as we shall see, the conservative majority on the Roberts Court not only interprets federal law in dubious ways to defeat corporate liability but often works its special wonders to preempt state laws that would hold corporations accountable for civil injuries they cause against patients and consumers.”

The report covers cases ranging from Hobby Lobby, which granted corporations religious rights to opt-out of requirements on women’s health, to Sorrell v. IMS Health, which struck down Vermont’s prescription confidentiality law, to Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders, which allowed interlocking corporations to hide assets from individuals defrauded by investment advisors.

Jamie Raskin, who serves as a constitutional law professor at American University Washington College of Law and a Maryland State Senator, in addition to his role as PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow, is available to discuss the report and the Supreme Court’s recent decisions. Please contact media@pfaw.org to schedule an interview.

You can find the full text of the report at: http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/supreme-court-citizens-united-era-century-after-lochner-era-roberts-court-

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The Supreme Court in the Citizens United Era: A Century After the Lochner Era, the Roberts Court Imposes a Startling New Corporatism on America

People For the American Way Foundation's latest report explores the extreme pro-corporate jurisprudence of the Supreme Court in recent years, identifying parallels to the Court’s infamous Lochner era a century ago.

With Court-Stripping Scheme, Ted Cruz Embraces Roy Moore School Of Constitutional Law

Ted Cruz raised more than a few eyebrows last week when, barely a week into his presidential run, he proposed a radical plan to strip federal courts of the ability to decide cases involving marriage equality.

As Esquire’s Charles Pierce notes, Cruz is echoing a time-honored rallying cry of people who are losing a battle in the federal courts: “Previous attempts include trying to remove the Supreme Court's jurisdiction over cases in a number of instances, including those involving school prayer, school busing, abortion, and pornography.”

The strategy has also been used in recent memory by another prominent player in t​oday’s marriage equality debate: Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore.

Back in 2004, shortly after Moore was removed from his first stint in the court after he defied a federal court order to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building, he worked with attorney Herb Titus to draft a bill that would have stripped jurisdiction over all such cases from the federal courts.

The bill, which would have barred federal courts from ruling on cases challenging officials who recognized "God as the sovereign source of law, liberty, or government," never made it out of committee, but it managed to garner 37 cosponsors in the House and five in the Senate; when it was reintroduced the next year, it was up to 50 House cosponsors and nine Senate cosponsors.

Despite the bill’s failure to make it off the ground in Congress, it was a publicity boon for Moore. One of Moore’s top financial supporters, the Christian nationalist and southern secessionist Michael Peroutka, spent $12,000 on a campaign to drum up support for the measure and accompanied Moore to at least one event touting it along with Peroutka’s 2004 campaign for president as the nominee of the Constitution Party.

As far as we know, Moore hasn’t spoken publicly about Cruz’s idea to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over marriage issues. But it seems that on this issue, they are two peas in a pod.

PFAW Edit Memo: Senate Republicans' Failure to Confirm Obama Nominees — By the Numbers

To: Interested Parties
From: Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel, People For the American Way
Date: March 27, 2015
Re: Senate Republicans' Failure to Confirm Obama Nominees—By the Numbers

Three months into the 114th Congress, it's a good time to take stock of how the newly-Republican Senate is doing when it comes to processing circuit and district court judicial nominations. While they are rightly being criticized for the interminable delay in voting to confirm Loretta Lynch as Attorney General, they have also abdicated responsibility for confirming judges, having confirmed a grand total of zero so far. As they head home for a two-week break, Senate Republicans have made it clear that they have no interest in governing responsibly.

A useful basis of comparison is George W. Bush’s final two years in office, when his judicial nominees were considered by a newly-Democratic Senate.  In 2007, the Judiciary Committee under Chairman Patrick Leahy hit the ground running.  There were numerous nominees from the previous Congress approved by the GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee but left unconfirmed at the end of 2006.  Rather than force them into new hearings for the benefit of the new committee members, Chairman Leahy arranged for quick votes instead.  The Committee also processed several first-time nominees.  As a result, by end of March 2007, the Senate had confirmed 15 new judges.

The Senate ended up confirming a total of 68 circuit and district court judges during that two-year period.  The chart below shows how today’s Republican-controlled Senate compares to the Democratic-controlled Senate of Bush’s last two years, and the pace of confirmations they will be compared to this year and next.

Another way of contrasting how seriously the Democrats took their job in 2007-2008 vs. the attitude of Republicans today is to track the number of vacancies.  Judicial vacancies open regularly and predictably, since judges usually announce their intent to retire or go into semi-retirement up to a year in advance.  Just to keep the number of vacancies even requires that several new judges be confirmed each month.

At the beginning of 2007, there were 56 circuit and district court vacancies.  Throughout the next two years, the number of vacancies generally remained at 50 or fewer, getting as low as 34 in the early fall of 2008.  Because an unusually high number of vacancies opened up after Election Day, that number had climbed back to 55 by Inauguration Day, but even with that increase, the number of vacancies ended up at about what it had been two years earlier.

Today, in stark contrast, the number of vacancies is climbing steadily, from 40 at the beginning of the year to 51 today.

We see the same thing with judicial emergencies, which have skyrocketed from 12 at the beginning of the year to 23 today.  As the chart below shows, Democrats in the Senate during Bush’s last two years did not allow the number of judicial emergencies to increase like that, and in fact the number generally remained steady or decreased during most of the two-year time.

Majority Leader McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley have their work cut out for them if they want to reduce the number of judicial vacancies and emergencies.  It should not be difficult to do, if they take governance seriously.

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Supreme Court Sends Alabama Racial Gerrymandering Case Back to Lower Court

The Supreme Court rules in favor of those challenging Alabama's redistricting as racially gerrymandered and harmful to African Americans.
PFAW Foundation

PFAW Member Telebriefing: Preview of Upcoming PFAW Foundation Report, The Supreme Court in the Citizens United Era

Yesterday, PFAW Foundation Senior Fellow Jamie Raskin previewed his upcoming report, The Supreme Court in the Citizens United Era, during a member telebriefing. Executive Vice President Marge Baker and Senior Legislative Counsel Paul Gordon also joined the call to answer questions from members and discuss PFAW efforts to promote fair and just courts. Drew Courtney, Director of Communications for PFAW, moderated.

To kick off the call, Raskin reviewed another period during which the Court granted unprecedented constitutional rights to corporations. Lochner v. NY, Raskin explained, began an era in which government at every level was prevented from interfering with corporate contracts—and thereby prevented from passing sensible health and safety regulations.

Today, said Raskin, we’re in an analogous period, with the Supreme Court now using the First Amendment as an excuse for expanding or inventing the political and religious rights of corporations. This time, it’s beyond what we’ve ever seen before; the Citizens United and the Hobby Lobby cases both demonstrate how the Court is putting the interests of corporations over the rights of people and making it more difficult to hold corporations accountable for their actions. Other cases allow corporations to insulate themselves through a host of legal immunities while at the same time, they’re able to spend unlimited amounts of money  influencing who gets elected to office.

In responding to a question from a PFAW member, Baker outlined the two key ways to fight the Court’s trend of empowering corporations over people: Elect Presidents who will nominate, and Senators who will confirm, Justices who share the ideology that corporations shouldn’t be favored in their legal rights over people; and amend the Constitution, which PFAW and other groups are working on now. She also directed PFAW members to www.united4thepeople.org and www.getmoneyoutaction.org to get more involved in these issues.

You can listen to the full telebriefing here:

PFAW Foundation

Peggy Young Will Get Her Day in Court

The Supreme Court rejects a company's narrow interpretation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
PFAW Foundation

People For the American Way & Allies: Vote “No” on Question 1 to Keep WI Supreme Court Non-Partisan

MADISON - Today, People For the American Way joined with Democracy 2020 coalition organizations to call for a defeat of Question 1, a constitutional amendment from right-wing extremists in the Wisconsin Legislature to make the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court a partisan position.

“Question 1 is a naked power grab by one branch of our state government trying to politicize another,” said Scott Foval, PFAW Regional Political Coordinator. “Defending fair and non-partisan courts is a line that must be held in the Badger state. We cannot allow politicians who think no one is paying attention to rewrite the rulebook.”

Foval was one of many activists at today’s press conference calling for a “No” vote on Question 1 in the upcoming Spring Elections on Tuesday, April 7, 2015. The conference was held at noon at the Wisconsin State Capitol, and other speakers included Mike Wilder from the Democracy 2020 Coalition / Wisconsin Voices, Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice At Stake, former Wisconsin Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, and Legislative Policy Director Analiese Eicher from One Wisconsin Institute.

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A Spiritual Battle For America's Future: Five Takeaways From The Religious Right's Awakening Conference

On Saturday, roughly 2,000 activists gathered at Faith Assembly, a megachurch in Orlando, for the Awakening, an annual “Prayer and Patriotism event” organized by the Christian Right legal group Liberty Counsel. The Awakening, which Liberty Counsel organizes under the auspices of an amalgam of Religious Right groups called the Freedom Federation, brings together activists from the evangelical Right with the GOP politicians who want their votes.

At this year's event, GOP politicians including Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal (via video) and RNC faith director Chad Connelly shared a stage with far-right activists including "ex-gays," a phony ex-terrorist and at least two Religious Right leaders who insist that AIDS is God's punishment for homosexuality. 

Here are five takeaways from a day with the core of the Religious Right.

1. Gay Marriage Will Send Christians To Jail

While some on the Right may be trying to shy away from the issue of marriage equality now that it could be on its way to a Supreme Court victory, the activists at the Awakening were not among them. Throughout the conference, marriage between gay and lesbian couples was portrayed as a demonic and existential threat to liberty, one that if allowed to proceed would end in Christianity being outlawed and Christians thrown in jail.

The Republican National Committee’s faith outreach director, Chad Connelly, who was moderating a panel on abortion rights, echoed the Religious Right’s rhetoric when he warned that LGBT rights activists are “coming for the church.”

Far-right pastor Rick Scarborough, who was sitting beside him, agreed that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality, pastors will be forced to “participate in same-sex marriage ” or be thrown in jail. Liberty Counsel’s Harry Mihet, moderating a separate panel, issued a similar warning.

Scarborough repeated his warning when he told activists that a pro-equality Supreme Court ruling would outlaw anti-gay speech, thus undermining “the whole nature of America.”

Multiple speakers compared a potential Supreme Court decision on marriage equality to Dred Scott, the infamous pre-Civil War decision that barred African Americans from citizenship, declaring that it should be met with similar resistance.

2. Losing The Church on Gay Rights Issues

Although the Awakening took place in what appeared to be a generationally diverse, multiethnic church, the crowd at the conference was overwhelmingly older and white. Throughout the conference, speakers bemoaned the fact that the Religious Right was losing support among younger Christians for its political agenda, especially its opposition to LGBT rights.

Liberty University’s Rena Lindevaldsen told the audience at a breakout panel on “sexual rebellion” that when fellow conservative Christians ask her what the “big deal” is about LGBT rights, she responds “it’s a big deal because it’s a big deal to God.” Marriage equality, she told the enthusiastic audience, matters to God because it is “the heart of where Satan’s attacking”:

Evangelist Franklin Graham also lamented that “a lot of pastors have quit preaching against homosexuality” out of fear of offending people in their churches who might have gay relatives. He told the audience that “God will bless you and he’ll honor you” if you “don’t shut up” about gay rights and abortion:

This was a crowd that had not given up on discredited “ex-gay” therapy. An “ex-lesbian” activist, Janet Boynes, was given a main stage speaking slot and “ex-gay” activist Greg Quinlan earned a roaring round of applause from the audience at the “sexual rebellion” panel when he announced that he had been “out of homosexuality for 27 years.”

3. A Spiritual Battle Against Islam And Progressivism

Just as the crowd at the Awakening was upset that the conservative movement and the church have supposedly become less invested in fighting LGBT rights, they were also wary of any overtures between Christians and Muslims.

Graham declared that “Islam is a wicked system” and blasted Christians who say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Kamal Saleem, the self-proclaimed “ex-terrorist” whose personal story has never quite held up to scrutiny , also warned that churches are being “invaded by ‘Chrislam,’” lamenting that Americans are oblivious to the dangers of radical Islam: “We’re watching American Idol and they are doing jihad.” He also warned of what he called “jihad of the womb,” or Muslim immigrants giving birth in order to outnumber Christians.

What activists at the Awakening saw as a war against Islam was merely part of a larger “spiritual battle” between good and evil, God and Satan. In the panel discussion he led on LGBT rights, Matt Barber declared that there is an “Islamo-progressive axis of evil” with a “common enemy”: Christians.

Maine pastor Ken Graves repeated that theme when he declared that American Christians are fighting “militant Islam” and “militant homofascism” and secularists who want to establish a “secular humanist caliphate”:

4. Time Is Running Out On America, And It’s Up To The Church To Save It

Throughout the day, speakers warned that America is running out of time before it is lost forever, and that it is up to conservative Christians to get involved in politics to save the country.

Graham told the crowd that he is more politically outspoken than his father, Billy Graham, because America is in a more dire state of secularism. “When my father was born, the Ten Commandments were on the wall of every school in America. When my father was born, the teachers still led the class in the Lord’s Prayer. Our country is not that anymore,” he said, declaring that the 2016 election is the last chance for the Religious Right to save the country.

Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate, delivered a similar message, warning that “we are heading down in a direction that, let’s be honest, no civilization has ever been able to recover from.” Conservative Christians, he declared, must reinvest themselves in politics in order, to among other things, put the Bible in public schools:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, another likely GOP presidential hopeful, told the crowd that prayer was needed to bring about “spiritual revival” and change the political direction of the country: “If God’s people truly pray down a spiritual awakening, then the political landscape will change.”

“This country did not start because some people had some brilliant ideas, although they did. This country happened because God’s providence was the foundation of their brilliant ideas,” Huckabee said. “Because of his inspiration, this country has been sustained throughout all of its history because of God’s specific intervention in helping us to win battles we should never have one and in keeping us from losing battles we should have lost.”

The RNC’s Connelly also made a plug for conservative churches to engage in partisan politics , urging pastors to buck IRS rules preventing politicking from the pulpit and declaring that “voting is not political, it’s spiritual.”

5. The Religious Right And The GOP Still Need Each Other

One of the strangest moments of the day came when a George W. Bush impersonator walked onto the stage with Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver as he introduced Huckabee. Staver jokingly reassured the audience that it was not the former president’s brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has clashed with the Religious Right over gay rights issues. It seemed to be a spontaneous addition to the program, it was hard not to see it also as a reminder to the audience of the potential power of the evangelical vote.

Unlike the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, which has become the flagship gathering of the GOP and the Religious Right, the Awakening tends to attract only true believers in the cause. This year, Santorum and Huckabee spoke, while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal submitted a video message. Connelly, who heads the GOP’s outreach to evangelical voters, moderated a panel on abortion rights, but largely deflected difficult questions from the far-right crowd.

Connelly did not, however, shy away from right-wing conspiracy theories, responding to a question about the “culture of death” in end-of-life care by claiming that the Affordable Care Act’s mythical “death panels” are “a reality":

It was clear throughout the day that however wary the Religious Right and the GOP establishment may be of each other, they still need each other. Speakers like Graham urged conservative Christians to revive the powerful Religious Right pressure machine to win GOP politicians to their side, whether or not they agreed with their issues. Meanwhile, the presence of the GOP candidates and Connelly indicated that this is a voting bloc that is still important to the party, however extreme its priorities may be.

GOP's Delay for Loretta Lynch Gets More Ridiculous By the Day

If anyone had said four months ago that we’d still be waiting for the Senate to hold a confirmation vote for Loretta Lynch, no one would have believed it.  Yet here we are.  Although she was approved by the Judiciary Committee three weeks ago, Mitch McConnell just can’t bring himself to schedule a floor vote for her.

Lynch is supremely qualified to be AG.  Progressives and conservatives alike have written to the Senate praising Lynch and urging her confirmation.  In fact, not a single one of the Republicans’ own witnesses at her confirmation hearing actually opposed her confirmation.

Yet Republicans in the Senate continue to make a partisan brawl out of a consensus nomination.

Until now, regardless of which party was in the White House or in control of the Senate, the attorney general nominee has gotten a confirmation vote very quickly upon committee approval.  But Lynch’s nomination has been languishing on the Senate floor for nearly three weeks, longer than the wait-time for the past five attorney general nominees combined.

McConnell has jettisoned his promise to allow a vote this week.  At the beginning of next week, Lynch will have been waiting for a floor vote as long as the previous seven attorneys general combined:

Click chart for larger image.
Chart: Loretta Lynch vs. other attorney general confirmations

McConnell’s latest excuse for delay is that the Senate needs to vote on a human trafficking bill first … a bipartisan bill that Republicans politicized by inserting an anti-choice provision.

The Lynch nomination was a great opportunity for Republicans to show the American people that they can govern.  Instead, they’ve shown the American people that they won’t pass up any opportunity to play politics, as they pile unheard-of delay after delay on the person who should already have been confirmed as our nation’s first African American woman attorney general.

PFAW

Staver: Supreme Court Pro-Marriage Ruling Would Deserve 'No More Respect' Than Dred Scott

In a speech to this weekend’s Awakening conference in Florida, Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver declared that a ruling in favor of marriage equality from the Supreme Court would deserve “no more respect than Dred Scott or Buck v. Bell,” court rulings that, respectively, denied citizenship to African Americans and allowed mandatory state sterilization of mentally disabled people.

“I say this: If the Supreme Court can’t get it right, or any judge get it right, on the fundamental, observable, natural created order of marriage as the union between a man and a woman, they can’t get it right on anything, that’s their own opinion, and it deserves no more respect than Dred Scott or Buck v. Bell,” he declared.

He warned the audience that a “clash is coming” between religious liberty and LGBT rights that is “unprecedented in American history.”

“Tax exemption, income tax exemption, property tax exemption, everything is going to be impacted,” he said. “You cannot navigate around this. This is a collision of two trains coming in opposite directions on the same track. We are on the precipice of a collision of unprecedented magnitude.”

Jindal, Huckabee And Santorum To Join Far-Right Activists At Liberty Counsel's 'The Awakening'

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, after teaming up with Christian nationalist extremists to host his “The Response” prayer rally in Baton Rouge earlier this year, is now continuing his project of endearing himself to the far fringes of the Religious Right by addressing an annual conference hosted by Liberty Counsel this weekend.

Liberty Counsel’s “The Awakening” event will bring Jindal, along with fellow likely GOP presidential hopefuls Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum, together with some of the most unapologetically extreme Religious Right leaders, including Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad Rafael.

With speakers from John Eidsmoe, a founding father of the Religious Right’s current Christian nationalist thought, to Kamal Saleem, the phony ex-terrorist and prolific anti-Obama conspiracy theorist, the candidates are sure to be treated to an exciting array of far-right ideas.

Mat Staver

The Awakening is organized by Liberty Counsel, a legal arm of Liberty University founded and chaired by Mat Staver. Staver is particularly invested in anti-LGBT activism both in the U.S. and abroad, where he has spoken out in favor of laws criminalizing homosexuality. Here at home, he has warned that marriage equality will help bring about God’s destruction of America and will be “the beginning of the end of Western Civilization.”

Staver’s extremism is not limited to LGBT rights. For instance, at the 2010 Awakening conference, Staver agreed with an audience member who asked if the Affordable Care Act created a private army of Brownshirts for President Obama.

Kamal Saleem

Kamal Saleem claims to be an ex-terrorist who worked for a number of Islamist groups before coming to America to build sleeper cells and ultimately converting to Christianity. The fact that Saleem’s story doesn’t add up — and that he’s suspiciously reluctant to talk about the details — hasn’t stopped him from being a popular speaker on the Religious Right conference circuit, where he impresses audiences with his insider knowledge that President Obama is a secret Muslim out to destroy America.

Saleem uses his literally unbelievable personal story to sell a wide range of conspiracy theories, including claims that President Obama attends a mosque in Washington, DC, on Christmas (while he is simultaneously in Hawaii) and that Islamists are working through Sasha and Malia Obama’s babysitters to establish a shadow government.

In 2012, he told The Awakening that when President Obama appeared to be pledging allegiance to the flag, he was actually taking part in an Islamic prayer. The same year, he warned the Values Voter Summit that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be shutting down churches in America within the year:

John Eidsmoe

John Eidsmoe is one of the leading voices behind the Religious Right’s effort to rewrite American history and law to reflect a specific “biblical worldview.” Former Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was a research assistant on Eidsmoe’s influential 1987 book “Christianity and the Constitution,” cites him as an in influence and his work has permeated the segment of the Religious Right that seeks to take “dominion” over America to avoid God’s judgment.

Eidsmoe has specifically warned that gay rights will bring about divine judgment on the U.S. and wrote a whole book, “Gays & Guns,” arguing against allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military, warning that they might molest children.

Eidsmoe, who has gotten in trouble in the past for speaking to white supremacist groups, is currently the “senior counsel and resident scholar” at the Foundation for Moral Law, the Christian nationalist group founded by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a longtime ally.

Rick Scarborough

Rick Scarborough, a Baptist pastor and the head of the Religious Right group Vision America, is one of the most extreme voices in the anti-LGBT movement. Although he insists that he is neither a Democrat or Republican, but a “Christ-ocrat,” he frequently allies with likeminded Republican politicians including Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee to get his followers to the polls.

Scarborough maintains that AIDS is God’s “judgment” for “an immoral act,” warns that the appointment of gay ambassadors would be perfect justification for God to nuke America, and once suggested filing a class action lawsuit against homosexuality.

Scarborough has also dabbled in anti-immigrant nativism, warning that “more non-white families” in the U.S. would lead to fewer Christians and that “if this country becomes 30 percent Hispanic we will no longer be America.”

Franklin Graham

Franklin Graham, a son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, couples his international humanitarian work with an apocalyptic approach to American politics. He predicted that President Obama’sreelectionwould bring about God’s destruction of America and railed that Americans “turned our back on God” by reelecting the president.

Graham’s opinion of the Obama administration was only reinforced when he was disinvited from speaking at an event at the Pentagon because of hishistory of anti-Muslim rhetoric. He has since claimed that the White House has been “infiltrated by Muslims” and is being run by Muslims who “hate Israel and hate Christians.” Just this week, he speculated that Obama’s mother “must have been a Muslim,” which he said explains why the president supposedly won’t fight ISIS.

While he may worry that God is getting ready to judge America for President Obama, Graham has implied that the Almighty is smiling on Russian President Vladimir Putin because of his crackdown on LGBT rights in his country. Graham, who has long claimed that Christianity is on the road to being criminalized in the U.S., said last year that pastors must be prepared to get their “heads chopped off” in the fight against gay rights.

Matt Barber

Matt Barber, a former Liberty Counsel official who still hosts a daily radio program with Staver, is best known for his over-the-top bigoted anti-gay rhetoric.

Barber often frames his battle against LGBT equality and reproductive rights as a “spiritual war” in which he is on the side of God. He has called marriage equality the “bidding of the Devil” and warned that by legalizing same-sex marriage, America is “ tempting the wrath of God.” He claims that HIV/AIDS is divine punishment for homosexuality.

Barber is fond of comparing his opponents to Nazis, calling supporters of reproductive rights “modern day Nazis” and LGBT rights advocates “Rainbowshirts” who have “broken out the long knives” to go after Christians. At the same time, he has supported repressive anti-LGBT regimes around the world, praising Russian President Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay crackdown and saying he’d like to see a ban on “gay propaganda” in the U.S., and defending Uganda’s harsh criminal penalties for LGBT people.

Last year, Barber launched BarbWire.com, an online emporium for right-wing vitriol which he sees as part of his “war” against the “lies” that Satan tells through progressives.​

Cruz: Marriage Equality Decisions 'A Real Danger To Our Liberty'

Sen. Ted Cruz told Iowa talk radio host Jan Mickelson yesterday that he plans to introduce a constitutional amendment to allow states to ban gay and lesbian couples from marrying because court decisions in favor of marriage equality present “a real danger to our liberty.”

The Texas Republican deflected Mickelson’s questions on whether states could simply ignore a Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality, saying he preferred his constitutional amendment as a solution. “If the courts were following the Constitution, we shouldn’t need a new amendment, but they are, as you put it quite rightly, making it up right now and it’s a real danger to our liberty,” he said.

Cruz told a group of Iowa pastors yesterday that judges who have made decisions in favor of marriage equality are “ignoring their oaths, ignoring the Constitution and legislating from the bench.”

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