PFAW Foundation Helps Launch "Constitutional Progressives"

This morning, People For the American Way Foundation joined with the Constitutional Accountability Center and the Center for American Progress to launch “Constitutional Progressives,” a comprehensive effort designed to restore the Constitution as a document that honors the Constitution’s progressive text and history and unifies and inspires Americans around the core values embedded in the Constitution.

The following are the prepared remarks of Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy and Program at People For the American Way Foundation.

Good morning. I’m Marge Baker, Executive Vice President for Policy and Program at People For the American Way Foundation and I’m delighted to be here today to lend our support to this important effort.

This year People For the American Way Foundation is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and throughout those 30 years we have dedicated ourselves to defending core constitutional values -- religious liberty, free speech, equal justice and opportunity for all -- under attack from forces on the right that threatened to undermine those core values.  Early on we understood that central to that mission was the need for the public to fully understand the critical role that courts play in Americans’ daily lives and so we have dedicated ourselves to that task.

On several occasions in honor of Constitution Day, PFAW Foundation has staged a dramatic reading of the Constitution -- the whole Constitution. On one such occasion Sen. Robert Byrd honored us with a moving reading of the preamble, that honestly, brought  people to tears.  Readings by Tuskegee Airmen and Japanese American WWII veterans made vividly clear the meaning and the power of the Constitution.  It is a majestic document, a brilliant document that has afforded our nation and our democracy a strong foundation precisely because it was conceived as a document that had to grow and evolve through the ages to meet the demands of our nation as we grew and evolved.

Today, that constitutional design is under fierce attack. It’s under attack from those who either ignore or want to roll back whole portions of the Constitution in the name of some pinched and strained view of what “liberty” actually means. And it’s under attack from forces within the judiciary, particularly the conservative wing of the current Supreme Court, that is regularly bending the law and the Constitution to favor corporate special interests over the rights of individuals. The most notable example of this, of course, is the Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, where an activist Court eagerly reached out to decide an issue that had not been presented in the case, overturning a number of precedents and a hundred years of settled law to unleash the onslaught of third-party, special interest spending to influence elections that now threatens to undermine our democracy.

People For the American Way Foundation is honored to have as our Senior Fellow, Professor Jamin Raskin, from American University’s Washington College of Law, who is producing a series of “user-friendly” reports that help to put these trends into context. Let me quickly mention two recent reports that you can find on our website -- www.pfaw.org.  One on the Tea Party’s skewed view of the Constitution, is entitled “Corporate Infusion:  What the Tea Party’s Really Serving America.” The other is: “The Rise of the Corporate Court: How the Supreme Court is Putting Business First.  This series will continue over the course of the next year, including several others we will be releasing in the near future, one on the importance of the Commerce Clause and the role it has played in building America and another that is a sequel to the initial “Corporate Court” report.  We hope you will use Jamie and this series of products as resources in your ongoing reporting on these topics.

In conclusion, let me point out how very timely this issue of “constitutional progressivism” is.  We are in a ferocious debate about the role of government in addressing our nation’s problems.  That debate was evident in last year’s fight over health care and financial reform.  It’s playing itself out as we speak in the struggle to address our economic crisis and get people back to work. We’ve even see it played out in the series of Republican Presidential debates that have begun. What’s important to note is that this is the same issue that is playing itself out in the Courts over the extent of the government’s constitutional powers to meet the urgent demands of the American people today -- right now.  That’s why it is so important for progressives to proudly -- and clearly -- claim the whole Constitution and the rich history embedded in it so that we are protecting our government’s power today to act for the common good.

In his speech last week announcing the American Jobs Act, President Obama touched on this theme. He said in response to claims that the best way to address the current jobs crisis is to dismantle government, let everyone write their own rules and tell everyone they’re on their own.  He said “that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.” 

Let me also add -- that’s not the story of the Constitution.  And that’s one of the many reasons why we are part of this “Constitutional Progressives” effort -- to help tell that story.

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