Government By the People

Trump Gives Another Gift To Far Right With New Supreme Court List

According to news reports, Donald Trump is set to release today more names of individuals whom he would consider nominating to the Supreme Court if elected, a key part of his strategy to win over the Religious Right and the conservative establishment.

The new list includes Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, who, as Peter noted earlier this year, is not only a staunch social conservative but also believes that large parts of the federal social safety net are unconstitutional:

Lee dismisses Supreme Court rulings upholding a women’s right to abortion . He called the court’s marriage equality ruling a “breathtaking presumption of power.” People For the American Way noted in a 2010 report that Lee “has denounced as ‘domestic enemies’ those who disagree with his radically limited view” of the Constitution.

Here are a few things that Sen. Mike Lee believes are unconstitutional for the federal government to be engaged in:

Lee also has some ideas about how he’d like to change the Constitution. We wrote when Lee was running for Senate in the Tea Party wave of 2010:

He wants to eliminate capital gains taxes and make the current tax system more regressive – more reliant on lower income taxpayers – and says his favorite approach to taxation would actually be to repeal the 16th amendment altogether, strip the federal government of the power to tax income, and leave it to the states to determine how they would tax their own citizens to pay for the limited federal government that would be left.

He’s a constitutional lawyer who’d like to make lots of changes to the Constitution: he has said he supports repeal of the 17th Amendment, which calls for popular election of U S Senators; he wants to "clarify" the 14th Amendment through legislation to deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. to parents who are not citizens or legal residents; he wants to amend the Constitution to require a balanced federal budget and to impose congressional term limits.

Other names on Trump’s expanded list are also sure to please those who are hoping to radically reshape American law.

The Trump campaign’s statement boasts that one potential pick, Michigan Chief Justice Robert Young, is part of a court majority that has “embraced originalism and led what one scholar described as a ‘textualism revolution.’” The article in question notes that much of the Michigan majority’s philosophy draws on the arguments of the late Justice Antonin Scalia (while differing with Scalia in some ways).

In 2007, Young wrote a majority opinion upholding Michigan’s voter ID law, writing that it was a “reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction designed to preserve the purity of elections and to prevent abuses of the electoral franchise."

The new list also includes Charles Canady, a Florida Supreme Court justice who served four terms as a Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1990s. In the House, Canady was the first to introduce the so-called ban on “partial-birth” abortion, a term that had been newly coined by anti-choice activists to stir up opposition to a specific abortion procedure and prompt a legal challenge to undermine Roe v. Wade.

Also on Trump’s list is Timothy Tymkovich, the chief judge of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, who wrote that court’s opinion in favor of Hobby Lobby’s attempt to cite religious objections to deny its employees health insurance coverage for contraception. That case later made it to the Supreme Court, resulting in a dramatic reinterpretation of the idea of religious liberty in America.

Trump’s new Supreme Court list is, like his original list released in May, clearly aimed at pacifying social conservatives who want assurance that his federal judges will uphold their policy priorities and by conservative legal groups intent on remaking American law.

People For the American Way Statement on Hiring of David Bossie

In response to Donald Trump hiring David Bossie as deputy campaign manager, People For the American Way (PFAW) Executive Vice President Marge Baker issued the following statement:

“During the primary, Trump railed against everything he’s now doing when it comes to money in politics: He has welcomed Super PACs and he’s actively courting special interests. To top it all off, he’s now hired an ardent foe of campaign finance regulation, the man who helped open the floodgates for unlimited corporate political spending as  the president of Citizens United.

“This is just the latest addition to the mountain of evidence that as president Donald Trump would give free reign to special interests and appoint Supreme Court justices who will protect the privileges of the wealthy and powerful, but not the rights of ordinary people.”

To schedule an interview with Marge Baker, please email media@pfaw.org.

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

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PFAW Applauds Clinton Pledge to Introduce Amendment in First 30 Days

In response to reports that Hillary Clinton will pledge to introduce an amendment to overturn Citizens United and related decisions in the first 30 days of her administration, Marge Baker, Executive Vice President at People For the American Way, issued the following statement:

“Plenty of politicians talk the talk about taking on the challenges of big money in our democracy, but Hillary Clinton is showing us that she’ll walk the walk. This is a crystal clear indication that Hillary Clinton absolutely understands the gravity of the problem and will make the fight for a democracy for all the people a top issue in her administration.

“Americans overwhelmingly favor common sense reforms, including amending the Constitution, to make sure our government is one of, by and for the people—not just wealthy corporations and special interests. Momentum is building in the movement to restore our democracy, and voters across the ideological spectrum who care about protecting the core values of our democracy should cheer Secretary Clinton’s announcement."

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A Big Week for #Demcoracy4All

We reached a major milestone in the House and also made progress in the Senate.
PFAW

PFAW Commends Hillary Clinton’s Commitment to Fighting Big Money in Politics From Day One

Earlier today during a speech in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton committed to making money in politics reform a top priority from the beginning of her time in office if elected president. Clinton said that “it is past time to end the stranglehold of wealthy special interests in Washington and get back to government of the people, by the people, and for the people” and promised that “as president, from my very first days, I will make campaign finance reform a top priority.”

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

“We applaud Hillary Clinton for her commitment to prioritizing the fight to get big money out of politics from day one. Clinton is right that a true democracy means a government of, by, and for the people – not of, by, and for wealthy special interests. Clinton had already made clear her commitment to overturning decisions like Citizens United, increasing disclosure, empowering small donors, and ensuring that wealthy interests do not run our democracy. Her willingness to make this a top priority is great news for the American people, who overwhelmingly want to see major money in politics reforms. We look forward to hearing additional details about the steps she would take on this issue in her first 100 days as president.”

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

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Major Win for Democracy in New York

Last week New York became the 17th state to formally call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. This landmark achievement came as the result of a multiyear collaborative campaign involving several advocacy groups including People For the American Way.

On behalf of the 156,000 PFAW members who live in New York, Government By the People Campaign Manager Rio Tazewell spoke at the state capitol in Albany on Wednesday to help commemorate this significant victory. After remarks from activists, organizational leaders, and lawmakers, a strategy session was held to discuss what comes next for democracy reform organizing in the state of New York.

Over twenty municipalities from across the state including Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Mt. Vernon, Ithaca and New York City have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the constitution. Moreover, since 2010 — the year of the Citizens United decision — nearly 700 cities and towns nationally have passed resolutions calling for an amendment and more than five million petition signatures have been gathered in support.

People in this country want a government that represents them and their interests. In New York and across the nation, poll after poll shows that reforming our big money system is a top priority for Americans. Not only does this win help affirm the hard work and value of partnerships on the ground between activists, organizations and lawmakers, it helps drive a national narrative that the days of Citizens United are numbered.

PFAW

Big Win for Democracy in New York

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Today the people of New York scored a significant victory for democracy in the United States by officially becoming the 17th state on record in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn disastrous Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. This decision, among others, has created an out-of-balance system that allows powerful corporations and other wealthy interests to spend unlimited amounts of money to buy access and influence to advance their political agenda at the expense of everyone else.

This landmark accomplishment in New York comes as the result of a multi-year effort to encourage legislators in the state Senate and Assembly to sign onto a formal letter calling for such an amendment. Because of the work of dedicated activists and a broad coalition of organizations, lawmakers from both parties, representing a majority of each house of the legislature, have joined to represent the will of the people. Over twenty municipalities from the state of New York including Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Mt. Vernon, Ithaca and New York City have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the constitution. Moreover, since 2010 — the year of the Citizens United decision — nearly 700 cities and towns nationally have passed resolutions calling for an amendment and more than five million petition signatures have been gathered in support.

This victory represents the results of collaborative campaigning, with a diverse coalition of organizations coming together to educate, organize, and apply the political pressure necessary to win. On behalf of our more than 156,000 New York members,  People For the American Way is proud to have been one of several national organizations to play a role in advancing this effort. Since the start of this campaign several years ago, our members have signed petitions, written letters, called their legislators and shown up to advocate and protest in person.

In New York and across the country, poll after poll shows that reforming our big money system is a top priority for Americans. And with this historic win, the people of New York have contributed to the momentum of a growing national movement calling for a constitutional amendment to remedy a system that is tilted in the favor of wealthy special interests. If history is any guide, it’s not a  question of whether unaccountable money in politics will be addressed, it’s a question of when. Since our founding, this country has been on an uneven but ultimately forward-moving path towards creating a government that is truly of, by and for all the people. New York has just helped the nation take yet another step in making this promise a reality.  

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Call on Platform Committees to Incorporate Money in Politics Reforms

As the Democratic and Republican platform drafting committees gear up in advance of the party conventions, PFAW joined other national democracy organizations this week in submitting letters calling for the committees to include a comprehensive package of reform measures to fight big money in politics in the platforms.

Specifically, the groups called for the policy reforms outlined in the “Fighting Big Money” agenda — which was released by 13 reform organizations last year — to be incorporated. These measures include: a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United, small donor public financing, a restoration of the Voting Rights Act, increased disclosure of political spending, and stronger enforcement of existing campaign finance rules.

The letters note that the presidential candidates have talked about the need to reform our big money system throughout their campaigns, and polling consistently shows that voters of all political backgrounds agree. With an overwhelming majority of Americans frustrated with our out-of-balance political system, incorporating a comprehensive reform agenda within the party platforms is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

You can read the letters to the DNC and RNC platform committees here and here.
 

PFAW

Larry Pratt: Gun Owners Keeping Hillary Clinton From Imposing Tyranny

Larry Pratt, the former executive director of Gun Owners of America, added Hillary Clinton this week to the list of public officials who he has warned will face violence from gun owners if they impose regulations on guns.

Pratt, who said last month that if conservatives lose at the “ballot box” they might “have to resort to the bullet box,” said in an interview on the “Crosstalk” radio program on Tuesday that Clinton’s support for some gun regulations may be an attempt to disarm civilians so that she can impose tyranny.

The Second Amendment means, he told Clinton, that “if you even try to go off in a tyrannical direction, the Constitution protects the people’s right to protect the people themselves against people like you.”

What she’s telling me is that she may understand the meaning of the Second Amendment, which is even scarier, because the Second Amendment is meant to tell people like her that might be thinking about going off in a tyrannical direction: ‘Don’t even think about it.’ Because the Second Amendment has recognized the right people have to possess the kind of firearms that your protectors have, Mrs. Clinton, and if you even think, if you even try to go off in a tyrannical direction, the Constitution protects the people’s right to protect the people themselves against people like you.

Pratt has made similar comments about other public officials including President ObamaRep. Carolyn Maloney and Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

PFAW Applauds Money in Politics Reform Package Introduced in Senate

People For the American Way today applauded a package of money in politics reform legislation introduced in the United States Senate by Sheldon Whitehouse, Tom Udall and Jeff Merkley along with other Senate Democrats. In addition to important reforms including stricter rules on coordination and disclosure, the package includes support for the Democracy For All constitutional amendment that would overturn Citizens United and related cases. Marge Baker, executive vice president at People For the American Way issued the following statement:

“Today’s package of reforms would go a long way towards limiting the influence of big money in our democracy and putting voters in charge of our elections. In particular, anyone who cares about our system of government should be glad that senators are continuing to push for an amendment to the Constitution that would undo some of the damage that’s been done by the Supreme Court in recent years. These are big problems and we need bold solutions. The Democracy For All amendment had the support of 55 senators in the last congress and, more importantly, has the support of the vast majority of Americans across the country.

“Lots of politicians talk about how money is harming our political system. This legislation is a concrete step toward fixing that problem. Senators who want to do more than score political points should support these reforms enthusiastically.”

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

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Budget Bills Provide Another #DoYourJob Moment For GOP Congress

PFAW will continue to stand strong with the more than 100 groups insisting on no riders in spending legislation.
PFAW

GOP Lawmaker Calls Pregnancy God's 'Silver Lining' For Rape

The Missouri House of Representatives gave preliminary approval on Tuesday to a measure that would place a constitutional amendment on the state’s ballot giving full legal rights to “unborn human children at every stage of biological development.” Such personhood amendments not only aim to criminalize nearly all abortions, but also jeopardize some common forms of birth control.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Mike Moon, previously introduced a similar measure that he called the “All Lives Matter Act” and has said he approaches the abortion issue as “a former embryo.”

Moon recently made national headlines when he called for a special legislative session to stop “the potential Islamization of Missouri.” In 2014, he joined an attempt to impeach the state’s Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, for allowing gay couples married in other states to file joint tax returns.

But Moon is far from alone. One of his fellow Republican state legislators, Rep. Tila Hubrecht, reportedly defended the personhood measure’s lack of an exception for rape survivors by saying that pregnancy can be the “silver lining” of a rape:

Democratic opponents in the House said if enshrined in the Missouri Constitution, the measure would ban abortion, including in cases of rape, incest and in which the life of the mother is at risk. Democrats also said it could bar contraception, which some Republicans disputed.

"Do you believe that it's just or compassionate to force a woman who's been raped to have the child of the man who raped her?" said Kansas City Democratic Rep. Lauren Arthur.

Dexter Republican Rep. Tila Hubrecht said she asked her doctor "to save the baby, no matter the cost" before she received an emergency cesarean section. She also said she's met people conceived by rape and that "there's a reason for their life."

"Sometimes bad things happen, and they're horrible things," she said. "But sometimes God can give us a silver lining through the birth of a child."

Cruz & Backers Exploit Broken Campaign Finance System

“Emergency: Ted Cruz under attack” declares the urgent subject line in Monday morning’s email. “The attacks from Donald Trump and the establishment are absolutely blistering,” reads the letter begging for contributions, “and Ted Cruz urgently needs our help to lock up this nomination.”

Really? Hasn’t the “establishment” been busy easing Cruz’s path to the nomination by trying to derail Donald Trump? Never mind. “With the continued support of grassroots patriots like us, Ted is well on his way to securing the necessary delegates and winning the nomination.”

This fundraising pitch did not come from the Cruz campaign, but from one of the growing army of super PACs working to get him elected. The “grassroots patriots” behind this particular super PAC, Keep the Promise III, are fracking billionaires Dan and Farris Wilks, who along with their wives gave $15 million to get the super PAC going. Keep the Promise III also goes by the name “Reigniting the Promise.”

Cruz’s presidential bid is benefitting from the no-holds-barred campaign finance system created by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority, which trashed previous campaign finance regulations in Citizens United and other rulings. Those rulings gave rise to the creation of super PACs, which are allowed to take contributions of unlimited size.

Super PACs are only permitted by law to make independent expenditures. They are not allowed to coordinate with campaigns. But thanks to loose rules and enforcement by the perpetually gridlocked Federal Election Commission, Cruz and the super PACs supporting him have made a mockery of those rules.

Last week the Washington Post reported that super PACs are no longer just raising money and buying ads, but are actually taking over operations traditionally performed by candidates’ campaign committees, like holding pre-election rallies featuring the candidate. Cruz super PACs have, the Post reported, been “effectively serving as an extension of Cruz’s official campaign, hosting major rallies for him from South Carolina to Utah.”

The tactic serves to offload costs onto the super PAC, which has been financed by six-figure checks from wealthy Cruz supporters — allowing Cruz to harbor his resources for a drawn-out Republican nomination battle with front-runner Donald Trump.

How is this possible given rules against coordination? Cruz supporters say the candidate is simply invited to appear at the events as a “special guest,” which his campaign lawyers say is good enough to meet flimsy campaign finance rules. But Larry Noble of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center told the Post, “It’s one thing to have a candidate appear at something billed as a super PAC fundraiser. What this has morphed into is the super PAC putting on campaign events, and that is illegal.”

It’s actually hard to keep track of all the Cruz-supporting super PACs. There’s a family of four separate but affiliated super PACs operating under the Keep the Promise name – all funded by wealthy individuals, one of them now run by discredited Christian-nationalist “historian” David Barton. In December the Sunlight Foundation counted eight pro-Cruz super PACs. Since then, former Texas governor Rick Perry helped launch Keep the Promise to Veterans, and some of the same people behind the Keep the Promise super PACs decided that Cruz needed yet another one, and the Trusted Leadership PAC was born.

Politico reported in February that five of the major Cruz super PACs had spent $10.5 million in January and had $25.6 million cash on hand at the end of that month. Since then they’ve been spending heavily and the new Trusted Leadership PAC is meant to replenish the coffers for all the delegate battles between now and the convention. Cruz also benefits from super PAC spending that is aimed at denying Trump the delegates he needs to win the nomination.

The super PACs wield their muscle in a variety of ways. Last month Keep the Promise hosted a campaign rally for Cruz in Arizona, and the super PAC denied access to a reporter from the Phoenix New Times because a KTP official said the paper writes “hit pieces on Republicans.”

If Republicans Get Their Wish On The Supreme Court, What Would Trump Or Cruz Do?

By Miranda Blue, Elliot Mincberg and Brian Tashman

Republicans in the Senate, pushed by outside conservative interest groups, are promising to block President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, and arguing that the next president should fill the current vacancy, in the hope that a Republican president will name a conservative ideologue to the bench.

Even if the Senate does confirm Garland, the next president will likely be charged with nominating at least one person to the Supreme Court, and possibly more. Since it looks like either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz will win the Republican presidential nomination, looking at both men’s past statements gives us an idea of the kind of justices that Republicans are hoping for.

Trump and Cruz have both signaled that they would appease their base by nominating justices who would shift the court far to the right. Cruz has lamented that some justices nominated by Republican presidents have strayed from the party line on issues like abortion rights and has vowed that he would appoint “rock-ribbed conservatives” who have a “long paper trail” to demonstrate their “conservative” bona fides.

Trump, dogged by worries among movement conservatives that he would betray them when it comes to Supreme Court nominations, has promised to pick any Supreme Court nominees off a list he develops in partnership with the conservative Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.

Both candidates have indicated that they would nominate judges who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark abortion rights and marriage equality decisions. Trump, although he appears not to understand the central legal issue of Roe, has said that the decision “can be changed” through the right judicial nominations since “you know, things are put there and are passed but they can be unpassed with time.” Cruz has warned that unless a true conservative like him picks the next justice, the Supreme Court will soon be “mandating unlimited abortion.” Trump has said that Obergefell was wrongly decided, while Cruz has called the decision “fundamentally illegitimate” and said it can be ignored by the president.

Cruz has made the future of the court a centerpiece of his campaign, while Trump may not actually understand how the Supreme Court works. But both have made clear that as president they would work to shift the court even farther to the right on the issues important to social conservatives and to the corporate Right.

What would a court shaped by a President Trump or a President Cruz look like? Looking at a few of the possible judicial nominees whose names have been dropped by candidates or who have been recommended by the Heritage Foundation, we can get an idea of the kind of ideological conservatives whom Republicans are hoping to put on the bench.

William H. Pryor

One possible Supreme Court nominee whom Trump has specifically praised is William H. Pryor, selected by President George W. Bush to be on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Formerly Alabama’s attorney general, Pryor has a history of extreme right-wing activism, severely criticizing not just women’s right to choose under Roe v. Wade but even the constitutionality of the New Deal.

Pryor has called Roe the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.” He has claimed that with the New Deal and other measures, the U.S. has “strayed too far in the expansion of the federal government,” and asserted that it “should not be in the business of public education nor the control of street crime.” As a judge, he has helped uphold a restrictive Georgia voter ID law and joined just one other judge on the 11th Circuit in claiming that “racially disparate effects” should not be enough to prove a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, even though the Supreme Court has ruled precisely the opposite.

Pryor came first on a wish list of Supreme Court picks that the Heritage Foundation published shortly after Trump promised to consult them before naming justices.

Diane Sykes

Trump has also repeatedly named Diane Sykes, a Seventh Circuit federal appeals court judge appointed by President George W. Bush, as a potential Supreme Court nominee. Sykes, who previously served on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and a trial court, has also won high praise from the Heritage Foundation and from right-wing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

In a series of dissents, Sykes has argued in favor of big business and against consumers and discrimination victims, including cases where she tried to limit corporate liability for product defects and overturn a $1 million damages award, to protect a corporation from having to defend against an employee’s claim of discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and to reverse a $3.5 million bad faith judgment in favor of a Lutheran church against its insurance company.

She showed her anti-reproductive-choice views in providing a lenient sentence to two anti-abortion protesters who had to be forcibly removed from blocking the entrance to a Milwaukee abortion clinic and had previously been arrested 100 times for such offenses; Sykes nevertheless praised them for their “fine character” and expressed “respect” for the “ultimate goals” the blockade “sought to achieve.”

She asserted in dissent that a jury verdict against a criminal defendant should have been upheld even though there was extensive evidence that one of the jurors did not understand English (including a statement from the juror himself), which disqualified him from serving on a jury under Wisconsin law; that a prosecutor should be immune from a claim that he fabricated false evidence that wrongly convicted a man for 17 years; and that a conviction under federal law against someone convicted of domestic violence for possessing firearms should be reversed and that the law itself could well be unconstitutional, in disagreement with all 10 other judges on the court of appeals. She voted in favor of a Wisconsin voter ID law and of a claim by a student group that it should receive state funding and recognition despite its violation of a university rule prohibiting against discrimination based on sexual orientation, an issue on which the Supreme Court reached exactly the opposite conclusion several years later.

Steven Colloton

The third name on Heritage’s list of possible Supreme Court nominees is Judge Steven Colloton, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, after previous service for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and as a U.S. attorney.

Colloton has been at the forefront of a number of troubling Eighth Circuit rulings, including writing decisions that reversed an $8.1 million award to whistleblowers who helped bring a defective pricing and kickback claim against a large corporation and a nearly $19 million class action judgment against Tyson Foods for violating the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. He also joined a ruling making the Eighth Circuit the only appellate court in the country that found that the Obama administration’s efforts to accommodate religious universities and other religious nonprofit objectors to the provision of contraceptive coverage under the ACA was insufficient, an issue now being considered by the Supreme Court.

Even more troubling, Colloton has dissented from a number of Eighth Circuit rulings that have upheld the rights of employees, consumers and others against big business and government agencies. He dissented from a decision giving African-American shoppers the opportunity to prove discrimination claims against a large department store, and then saw his view prevail by one vote when the full Eighth Circuit reheard the case. In another case, he dissented from a decision finding that a city had violated the Voting Rights Act by improperly diluting the voting strength of Native Americans.

Colloton dissented from rulings that gave individuals a chance to prove claims of use of excessive force and, in one case, that a city’s policy to use police dogs to bite and hold suspects without any warning was unconstitutional. In three separate cases, he dissented from decisions that employees should at least get the chance to prove in court that their employers retaliated against them for filing sex harassment, age discrimination, or other discrimination claims. In two more decisions, he argued in dissent that public employees should not have the opportunity to prove that they were retaliated against for speaking out in violation of their First Amendment rights. Yet he also claimed in a dissent that the First Amendment rights of a candidate for state supreme court justice were violated by a state judicial code of conduct restricting solicitation and other campaign activity in order to promote judicial impartiality and ethical conduct by judges. Even the conservative Roberts Court that decided the Citizens United case has agreed that these concerns justify solicitation restrictions in state supreme court elections.

Mike Lee

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah is Cruz’s closest ally in the Senate and Cruz has said that Lee “would look good” on the Supreme Court. Lee also made the Heritage Foundation’s shortlist of potential Supreme Court justices.

Lee is a fervent “tenther,” someone who believes the 10th Amendment to the Constitution radically restricts the authority of the federal government. As Jeffrey Rosen wrote in the New York Times Magazine in 2010, “Lee offered glimpses of a truly radical vision of the U.S. Constitution, one that sees the document as divinely inspired and views much of what the federal government currently does as unconstitutional.” Among the areas that Lee has suggested it is unconstitutional for the federal government to be engaged in:

  • Social Security,
  • Medicare and Medicaid,
  • child labor laws,
  • food safety,
  • disaster relief,
  • food stamps,
  • the Violence Against Women Act,
  • and, of course, the Affordable Care Act.

Lee has criticized the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion rights and marriage equality, calling Roe v. Wade an “unconscionable decision” that “defied the spirit and the letter” of the Constitution and responding to Obergefell by introducing a measure that would protect anti-LGBT discrimination.

Ted Cruz

While we don’t expect Cruz to name himself to the Supreme Court, as recently as December Trump was receptive to the idea of extending an olive branch to his main Republican presidential rival in the form of a Supreme Court nomination.

A Justice Cruz would certainly align with Trump’s stated priorities of reversing the Obergefell marriage equality decision and making sure Roe v. Wade is “unpassed.” Cruz, who served as the solicitor general of Texas before his election to the U.S. Senate, has gone so far as to call for the U.S. government to defy Obergefell and to claim that Congress could ban abortion without overturning Roe. Before running for the Senate, Cruz proposed an unconstitutional plan to nullify the Affordable Care Act; last year, he said that a Supreme Court ruling rejecting a clearly meritless challenge to the ACA was the “lawless” work of “rogue justices.” Cruz is known for having politicized the Texas solicitor general’s office, filing dozens of Supreme Court amicus briefs defending conservative positions on hot-button issues such as gun rights and abortion. On the campaign trail, he frequently boasts of his work as an attorney fighting church-state separation.

If Cruz were to become a Supreme Court justice, however, we wonder if he would stick with his idea of subjecting justices to retention elections.

This post has been updated to clarify the circumstances of a case in which Sykes asserted in a dissent that a jury verdict should have been upheld despite evidence that one juror was disqualified from serving.

Heritage List Gives Glimpse Of Far-Right Justices Sought By Trump And Cruz

One of the conservative establishment’s greatest fears about a Donald Trump presidency has been that he wouldn’t pick movement ideologues to sit on the Supreme Court. Trump attempted to put that concern to rest last week when he announced that he was working with the conservative behemoth the Heritage Foundation to shape a list of 10 possible Supreme Court picks from whom he would choose nominees if he were to become president. (Whether he would actually keep that promise, however, is an open question.)

Meanwhile, Trump’s main GOP presidential rival, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, has promised to make nominating ultra-conservative justices a “priority” of his presidency. He has even made a point of criticizing past Republican presidents for appointing insufficiently conservative jurists.

Trump hasn’t released his list of candidates, but today the Heritage Foundation published a “non-exclusive” list of eight people that it said “illustrates the kind of highly qualified, principled individuals the new president should consider” for the high court — and who, it’s safe to assume, represent the kind of judges the conservative movement would pressure Trump and Cruz to pick for the federal courts.

Two of Heritage’s picks, federal appeals court judges William Pryor and Diane Sykes, have been mentioned repeatedly by Trump on the campaign trail. The name of another, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, has been brought up by Cruz, who even picked up the Utah senator’s endorsement.

In a profile of Sykes last month, ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser wrote:

… Sykes, who currently sits on the Seventh Circuit, backed a voter ID law . She also wrote a decision expanding religious objectors’ ability to limit their employees’ access to birth control coverage that SCOTUSBlog’s Lyle Denniston described as “ the broadest ruling so far by a federal appeals court barring enforcement of the birth-control mandate in the new federal health care law.”

Millhiser noted that Sykes also ruled “that anti-gay groups have a constitutional right to continue receiving government subsidies even if they engage in discrimination,” another troubling indication that she could support conservative groups’ attempts to justify discrimination.

Pryor, a former Alabama attorney general, also has a history of right-wing activism. Pryor has called Roe v. Wade the “ worst abomination in the history of constitutional law” and said that it created “ a constitutional right to murder an unborn child.” He has claimed that with “the New Deal” and other measures, the U.S. has “strayed too far in the expansion of the federal government,” and asserted that the federal government “should not be in the business of public education nor the control of street crime .” Like Sykes, Pryor has upheld a voter ID law.

Lee, a Tea Party favorite who has been Cruz’s strongest ally in the Senate, has a legal philosophy that might be even more troubling, dismissing large swaths of the federal government’s work as unconstitutional. As Peter summarized recently:

Here are a few things that Sen. Mike Lee believes are unconstitutional for the federal government to be engaged in:

Peter noted that Lee “dismisses Supreme Court rulings upholding a woman’s right to abortion” and has “called the court’s marriage equality ruling a ‘breathtaking presumption of power.’”

Also on Heritage’s list is Brett Kavanaugh, a George W. Bush appointee to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where he is a colleague of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Kavanaugh, who before his career as a judge worked on the notorious “Starr Report” about President Clinton, is just one example of Bush’s effort to put ideologically motivated conservatives on the federal bench.

Kavanaugh’s rulings on the D.C. Circuit include striking down important EPA air pollution rules in an opinion that one columnist called “60 pages of legal sophistry, procedural hair-splitting and scientific conjecture.” PFAW summarized the issue at hand:

Last summer, two Bush-nominated judges on the D.C. Circuit issued a much-criticized ruling in EME Homer City Generation, striking down important new EPA rules on air pollution that crosses state lines. In 2011, the EPA issued new regulations to limit the levels of sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emitted by coal-fired power plants and crossing state lines. Based on the administrative record and its expertise on environmental health, the agency concluded that the new rules would prevent 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 heart attacks, and 400,000 cases of asthma. As if that weren’t important enough, the rules would also save $280 billion a year in healthcare costs.

In 2011, Kavanaugh dissented from a ruling that found ExxonMobil was not immune from being sued by Indonesians who said they had been “beaten, burned, shocked with cattle prods, kicked, and subjected to other forms of brutality and cruelty" by the company’s security forces. Dissenting from a ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act the same year, Kavanaugh suggested that a president who thinks the ACA is unconstitutional could simply decline to enforce it.

Also on Heritage’s list are Paul Clement, who served as solicitor general in the Bush administration and is just 49 years old, and federal appeals court judges Steven Colloton and Raymond Gruender. Another Heritage suggestion is Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who was nominated by then-Gov. Rick Perry after helping Bush run his faith-based initiatives in Texas and in the White House.

PFAW Statement on President Obama’s “Better Politics” Remarks

President Obama is Right to Use His Bully Pulpit to Highlight Money in Politics Issues; Should Take Concrete Action By Issuing an Executive Order

President Obama returned to Springfield, IL today, nine years after he announced his presidency, for a speech about “fixing our broken politics.” In the speech, the president emphasized his support for reforms to reduce the influence of big money in politics – including a constitutional amendment – as well as reforms to make it easier, rather than harder, to vote.

People For the American Way executive vice president Marge Baker released the following statement:

“We celebrate that President Obama is using his bully pulpit to call for expanded access to the voting booth and a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics. Our democracy today isn’t working, and he’s right to call for change on a national stage.

“At the same time, the president’s legacy on this issue hinges on his willingness to move from calling for change to making change happen. Time is running out for President Obama to heed the call of more than a million Americans to issue an executive order on secret money. He should listen to the voices of people across the country and turn inspiring words into real reform.”

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

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PFAW Statement on Jeb Bush’s Citizens United Remarks

Following reports today that GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush supports overturning Citizens United but wants to allow unlimited contributions to candidates, People For the American Way executive vice president Marge Baker released the following statement:

“The vast majority of Americans oppose the Citizens United decision, including eight in ten Republicans, so it’s understandable that any candidate would want to go on the record opposing it. But replacing unlimited outside spending with unlimited contributions to candidates’ campaigns would not be real reform – not even close. The bottom line, which Bush still seems to miss, is that billionaires and wealthy special interests should not be able to pour unlimited money into our elections, period.”

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New Report Looks at Wins on Money in Politics Reform Since Citizens United

It’s no secret that the Supreme Court’s misguided Citizens United decision in 2010 opened the floodgates for an influx of money into our elections. But a new report released today by PFAW and six other organizations highlights what else it did: energize a movement to fight big money in politics that’s made real progress in the six years since the decision was handed down.

As the report notes, since 2010:

  • More than 5 million people have signed petitions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United. Sixteen states and more than 680 cities and towns – as well as a majority of the U.S. Senate in 2014 – have called for an amendment.
  • At least 23 states have put in place disclosure rules to ensure the peoples’ right to know about the big donors trying to buy political influence.
  • States and cities across the country have acted to pass or strengthen publicly funded election systems to amplify the voices of small donors, including Seattle and Maine in 2015.

As the 2016 presidential race sees an increasing focus on the problem of big money in politics, the magnitude of our country’s current crisis can make progress seem unlikely, or even impossible. But as this report outlines, change is already happening in cities and states across the country, as people organize in their own communities for solutions to make sure that our democracy is working for everyone – not just for billionaires and corporations.

You can read the full report here.

PFAW

PFAW and Allies Release Report on Money in Politics Reform Victories Since Citizens United

WASHINGTON – In a new report released today, “Our Voices, Our Democracy: Victories Since Citizens United and the Road Ahead Empowering Voters Over Wealthy Special Interests,” People For the American Way and six other national organizations leading the effort to empower voters over wealthy special interests document a national movement gaining steady momentum since the Supreme Court’s disastrous decision in Citizens United.

Citizens United did more than usher in unprecedented outside spending – it also invigorated a national movement to ensure democracy for all that’s seen some real wins in the past six years,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way. “Heading into the 2016 election, it’s critical that we continue to build on that momentum across the country.”

As the report notes: “Opportunities to reduce the influence of big money in elections are everywhere – in local towns and communities, in city halls and state legislatures, and in the White House and in Congress.”

According to the report:

  • From California to South Dakota, there are more ballot initiatives in 2016 to rebalance the system so it works for voters than in any previous election cycle.
  • After receiving more than one million petition signatures in support, President Obama is “seriously considering” signing an executive order to disclose political spending by federal contractors.
  • Thousands of Americans organized by hundreds of organizations representing a diverse array of constituencies will pour into Washington D.C. between April 11-18 for mass civil disobedience, demonstrations, concerts, teach-ins, a rally, lobbying and more.
  • More than 200,000 Americans have called on the presidential candidates to get serious about fighting big money in elections. For the first time ever, every Democratic candidate for president has publicly embraced a comprehensive plan to fight big money and many Republicans are embracing solutions of their own.

In addition to outlining a strong, coordinated plan of action that will make 2016 a critical year for ensuring a government truly of, by, and for the people, the report summarizes the range of nationwide victories building momentum for change.

According to the report:

  • More than 5 million people have signed petitions urging Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United since 2010. Moreover, sixteen states, the District of Columbia, more than 680 cities and towns, and a majority of the U.S. Senate in 2014 have called for an amendment.
  • At least 23 states have enacted new disclosure rules since 2010 to ensure the public’s right to know the big donors trying to influence our elections.
  • States and cities have acted to pass, defend, and strengthen citizen-funded election systems that amplify the voices of small donors, including in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland’s Montgomery County, Seattle, and Tallahassee.

The organizations that authored the report – Center for Media and Democracy, Common Cause, Demos, Every Voice, People For the American Way, Public Citizen, and U.S. PIRG – conclude, “The debate about the problem of money in politics is over. The question is not ‘if’ but ‘when and how’ we will reform our democracy. The movement for common-sense, winnable solutions is paving the way forward – to a government truly of, by, and for the people.”

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U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch and Academy Award-Nominated Actress Kathleen Turner Gather to Name Winners of Democracy For All Video Challenge and Raise Awareness of Big Money in Politics

Americans Speak Up about Big Money in Politics as Part of Competition
to Produce Public Service Videos

WASHINGTON – Today the winners of the Democracy For All Video Challenge were announced at an event aimed at putting the issue of big money in politics front-and-center and creating a platform for people to express themselves and take action to support the Democracy For All Amendment. Two advocacy organizations, Say No To Big Money and People For the American Way, created the video challenge that encouraged Americans to produce public service announcements supporting the proposed Democracy For All Amendment.

Speaking at the National Press Club event was U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and U.S. Representative Ted Deutch (FL-21), who are lead cosponsors of the Democracy For All Amendment (H.J.Res.22, S.J.Res.5). The winning videos were announced by Academy Award-nominated actress Kathleen Turner, with Say No To Big Money president Jeff Haggin and People For The American Way president Michael Keegan and executive vice president Marge Baker also speaking.

The grand prize video, “Voters, assemble!” was created by Bryan Warner – a nonprofit communications director from Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina – and uses animation to depict a secret meeting between a group of villains who are plotting to nefariously influence politics by using big money. The video illustrates how easy it is for corporations and special interest groups to buy their way into Washington and influence policy in their favor. As the grand prize winner of the video challenge, Warner will receive $25,000.

“Americans are fed up with millionaires and billionaires pumping money into shadowy Super PACs to buy our elections,” said Sen. Udall. “And thanks to the Supreme Court’s flawed decisions, including Citizens United six years ago, Congress is powerless to pass common-sense campaign finance laws. That’s why I’m pushing for a constitutional amendment to overturn those bad decisions so we can get big money out of politics. Millions of Americans nationwide have joined this grassroots push, and the Democracy For All video challenge has been a creative way to amplify our cause. Each video speaks to the core of our message – voters should have the loudest voices in our democracy, not wealthy special interests.” 

Congressman Deutch added, “A democracy for sale is not a democracy for all. Until we overturn Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, corporations and a handful of billionaires will continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying our elections and setting the agenda in Washington. Like the Democracy for All Amendment, the Democracy for All video contest is about elevating the voices of everyday Americans who may not be able to afford their own Super PACs but who have every right to be heard.”

Awards were also given to five other videos, with the creators receiving $5,000 each. The winners were: “The Most Influential Man” (funniest video), “Voice of the 99” (most dramatic video), “American Show” (best original song), “Why Our Democracy Needs to be Changed” (best student video) and “Our Democracy is Not For Sale” (most creative video). All the winning videos can be viewed at www.democracyforall.com/winners.

“The Democracy For All Video Challenge was created to tap into the creative potential of Americans who support a constitutional amendment that allows for reasonable limits to be set on money in elections,” said Jeff Haggin, president of Say No To Big Money. “Instead of hiring an advertising agency to produce spots promoting campaign finance reform, we decided to enable the true voice of Americans to be heard and give people across the country a chance to earn money for their efforts.”

“This contest, like the amendment itself, was all about restoring the true spirit of the First Amendment,” added Marge Baker, executive vice president of People For the American Way. “There’s so much creative energy in the movement to get big money out of politics, and we wanted to put the voices of everyday Americans front and center.”

The Democracy For All Amendment, currently being considered by Congress with 144 cosponsors in the House and 41 supporters in the Senate, would overturn cases such as Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court case that paved the way for unlimited political spending by corporations and the super wealthy. 

People For the American Way (PFAW) is a progressive advocacy organization founded to fight right-wing extremism and defend constitutional values including free expression, religious liberty, equal justice under the law, and the right to meaningfully participate in our democracy.More information is available at www.PFAW.org.

Say No To Big Money is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation for the public benefit with the mission of supporting the ratification of the Democracy For All Amendment that will regulate campaign contributions. Say No To Big Money is nonpartisan and does not promote or take sides on any political issues nor endorse candidates or elections. More information is available at www.SayNoToBigMoney.com.

NOTE TO MEDIA: Photography is available at: https://goo.gl/JX79zB.

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