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Survey: how are we doing?

By Adam Bink

Earlier this year, we did a full-length survey at Prop8TrialTracker.com, digging deep to see what everyone liked, didn’t like, and wanted to improve. We learned a GREAT deal and made a number of adjustments and improvements to writers, content, technical aspects and more. Thanks to everyone who participated.

The staff here just wants to check in again and see how everyone’s doing, but without a long survey — just a check-in over in the comments. Tell us how we’re doing… what do you like about the content (the blog posts) and what could use improvement? The technical aspects of the site? The writers? Features you’d like to see? Please be as candid as possible and leave a comment. As always, you’re welcome to e-mail a comment in private to prop8trial at couragecampaign dot org as well.

Let us know in the comments, and thanks for reading P8TT. This survey will run each day this week.

23 Comments August 27, 2012

Announcement: Vote for Marriage Ballot

By Adam Bink

Hey P8TT, it’s been a long while. I haven’t found as much time to write in the past few weeks as I’ve been immersed more in organizing projects this year (Courage is co-sponsoring State Sen. Lieu’s bill to ban ex-gay “therapy” for minors in California, for example). We’ve had great success getting several bills through the California State Legislature on both LGBT and non-LGBT fronts in the past few months (specifically, Homeowner Bill of Rights, Election Day Registration, and a bill to translate signature-collecting petitions for ballot measures into all languages covered by the Voting Rights Act, with others still pending in session). But unfortunately it’s taken quite a bit of time away from here. I’ve had fun reading and commenting occasionally, though and hope to write more when the occasion strikes.

There is one project on which I did want to update everyone here. Earlier this week, Courage Campaign launched the Vote for Marriage Ballot. It’s a survey of where Courage should spend its greatest commitment on ballot measures concerning marriage equality this fall.

As many of you saw earlier this year with Amendment 1, and in 2009 with Question 1 in Maine, and in 2008 with Proposition 8, we and our members like to put our nose to the grindstone to win these votes. We go all in blogging, raising money, helping volunteers travel, getting out the vote, and more. However, that was the case with one measure at a time, and this year, there are four. Because we are member-driven and almost entirely member-funded, we continually poll our members on the direction we should take. And because we are an organization with limited resources, that means we need to know on which state we should place our biggest commitment — Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, or Washington.

Because everyone here is part of the Courage family and you all help drive a lot of our activism on these ballot measures, your input is needed. Please take a second to vote in the Vote for Marriage Ballot and tell us where we should place our biggest commitment. You can vote once per day through August 28th at 11:59 PM PST.

The campaign with the most support will receive a number of things including a commitment to raise at least $25,000, drive 50,000 voter contacts, and I’ll be loaned out to help the campaign win. Because we don’t believe in leaving any state behind, we’ll help every other state too, mobilizing in other ways. But we’re going all in for the campaign with the most support. We just are looking for your input on who that should be. Then we’ll go and help get it done.

Thanks for voting. Next week, we’ll have a survey up and running on how things are going generally here, and in late September, we’ll have some news about improvements to the site we’ve been working on over the past few weeks. Stay tuned!

18 Comments August 24, 2012

How the lawsuit challenging constitutionality of the filibuster could affect LGBT equality

By Adam Bink

We didn’t get to this in a busy week last week, but Atlanta-area members of the U.S. House of Representative, joined by Common Cause and of late by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), filed a lawsuit last week to challenge the constitutionality of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate. As most of you know, the U.S. Senate functions under a unique rule requiring 60 Senators voting in the affirmative for “cloture” to proceed to debate on a bill or nomination. If cloture is not invoked, it is known as carrying out a filibuster. The lawsuit — Common Cause v. Biden, Vice President — challenges the constitutionality of such a rule, based on how the DREAM Act failed to reach cloture and was filibustered several times in late 2010, failing to reach cloture by as little as four votes. The lawsuit claims that the filibuster provided direct injury to three young Mexicans who were born abroad but grew up in the U.S. and would like to avoid deportation.

Obviously, this case carries very important implications for LGBT rights in Congress. A brief tour of issues concerning LGBT equality for which the Senate’s 60-vote cloture rule had or has implications:

  • Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” failed twice on cloture votes in late 2010. On September 21, 2010, 56 Senators voted in favor of the National Defense Authorization Act which included repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and it failed because of the filibuster. On December 9, 2010, another vote was held which failed to muster 60 votes in favor of cloture. Only later when a stand-alone bill was introduced, in what amounted to a last-ditch attempt at the very end of the congressional session, was 60 votes reached.
  • In mid-2010, with Democrats controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) had 45 Senate co-sponsors — usually enough to find an additional 5 or more Senators who would vote to pass the bill, enough if operating under rules requiring a simple majority. But ENDA did not advance in committee or on the floor in part because Senate leadership knew 60 votes were not to be found.
  • The filibuster also affects legislative maneuvering and the likelihood of a bill or amendment succeeding if not added in committee. Last year, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held a markup of legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), including reforms of No Child Left Behind. Two important and relevant bills addressing bullying of LGBT in schools — the Safe Schools Improvement Act, with 41 Senate co-sponsors, and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, with 37 — were not added to the package reauthorizing ESEA, or even voted upon as amendments, despite the lead sponsors of both bills sitting on the committee and a the two bills enjoying support from a majority of committee members who co-sponsored or otherwise voiced support for the bills. What that means is that it will take 60 votes to add these two bills to the package on the Senate floor, instead of having them included as part of the overall bill with broad support (the package reauthorizing ESEA passed the HELP Committee on October 20, 2011, by a bipartisan vote of 15-7). While passage of legislation reauthorizing ESEA and reforming No Child Left Behind has since become more unlikely in this Congress, a significant chance was missed to address bullying on a federal level and remains tough because of the 60-vote rule.
  • The Respect for Marriage Act, which repeals the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), will face the 60-vote threshold sooner or later if DOMA does not fall in the courts first. There are currently 33 co-sponsors.
  • There are also any number of judges known to be more likely to support equality for LGBT people who have been blocked by the filibuster. An example would be Goodwin Liu, whose nomination for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit failed despite 52 Senators voting in favor. Liu, a former law professor at UC-Berkeley, was one of 17 law professors who urged the California Supreme Court to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in the landmark In re Marriage Cases. His nomination for the 9th Circuit was later withdrawn and he went on to be nominated and confirmed for a seat on the California Supreme Court.

Opinions on whether the lawsuit is likely to succeed are mixed. Article 5, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution says the House and Senate have the authority “to determine the rules of its proceedings,” to which the plaintiffs respond by noting that Senate Rule 22 (which governs the filibuster) violates other parts of the U.S. Constitution, something the Supreme Court said was unconstitutional in United States v. Ballin. Other commentators have noted the Supreme Court’s history in refusing to wade into rules of the other branches, observing separation of powers. Our colleague Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSBlog (writing at the National Constitution Center blog) notes that the District Judge before whom the lawsuit will be heard — Emmit Sullivan — has a reputation for bold decision-making, but notes that the case may hinge on whether there is a “live controversy” that allows for standing to sue. He explains:

The Constitution’s Article III allows the federal courts to decide only “cases or controversies,” and the Supreme Court has interpreted that to mean that the only people or groups allowed to sue in federal courts are those able to show that they face a genuine injury, that their harm was caused by the government action they challenge, and that the courts can fix it.

That is what is called “standing to sue.”  The courts are generally not open to hear claims by members of Congress who lost battles in the legislative halls, and turn to the courts for relief, so lawmakers who feel frustrated by Senate Rule XXII probably can’t complain on that basis alone.   And the courts look with disfavor on lawsuits by individuals who only have a civic grievance that they share with many others in the political community.

But this lawsuit, reflecting attorney Bondurant’s extensive research on the subject, is based on claims of more direct harm to Common Cause and those who joined it in the lawsuit: four Democratic members of the House and three young adults who were born in Mexico but have grown up in the U.S. and would like to become citizens in order to avoid deportation.

Each of those suing claims that the filibuster, and its practical effect of requiring 60 votes to get virtually anything done in the Senate, has had a direct, negative impact on them.

The lawmakers’ strongest claim to injury is that a filibuster barred the passage of a new law to force disclosure of the identities of corporations and wealthy individuals who are spending heavily in federal election campaigns, and as a result the lawmakers and their constituents have no way to track the sources of financial influence on campaigns.

The House members’ separate claim of injury – that bills they had supported in the House died due to Senate filibusters – appears to be weaker.

The three young Mexican nationals claim a very specific injury from a filibuster: that their path to U.S. citizenship has been closed by a Senate filibuster that prevented the passage of what is called the DREAM Act to facilitate early entry into a legal status in the U.S.  Those three would have benefited personally if that measure had passed.

The Common Cause claim to injury does not seem as compelling, or as direct: It claims it has had to spend money and energy trying to get new campaign finance disclosure bills through Congress.  That, however, is the fate of anyone who wants a bill passed, but doesn’t get it enacted.

There is another potential question hanging over this lawsuit: is there really constitutional status for majority rule?  The lawsuit, of course, contends that, when the Framers wanted more than majority rule in Congress, they spelled it out explicitly (a two-thirds vote, for example, to override a presidential veto or to propose a constitutional amendment).  And there is language in Supreme Court opinions (and in the Federalist Papers) lauding majority rule, but it may not be so firmly embedded in the structure of the Constitution that it can be enforced by the courts.

Moreover, while the lawsuit argued that there was a clear majority in favor of each of the bills that did not get passed and that would have benefited the members of the House and the three young Mexican nationals, the proof of that – usually, the number of votes cast on a failed motion to move the bills forward – might not be interpreted by the courts as proof of what the tally would actually have been on final passage, had the measures come to such a vote.

Full text of the lawsuit can be found here.

5 Comments May 22, 2012

Recapping the week of May 7-13 at Prop8TrialTracker.com

By Adam Bink

What you may have missed over the past week at Prop8TrialTracker.com…

On Monday, May 7th, Jacob Combs gave the final updates before Election Day in North Carolina on anti-gay Amendment 1, and recapped the broad points of how the campaign went. Later in the day, Scottie Thomaston broke the news to us that Alliance Defense Fund (surprise!) was largely responsible for writing the language of Amendment 1 in the first place. Scottie also reported that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan came out for same-sex marriage, just two days after VP Biden did the same (and we know what happened from there). Later that day, Matt Baume did his usual video round-up of news on marriage equality, civil unions and all else.

In the evening, Scottie reported on the status of the Colorado civil unions bill (which is expected to be considered in a special session called by Gov. Hickenlooper starting tomorrow). Finally, to cap off a busy day, Scottie gave us the final pre-Election Day updates in North Carolina, including new endorsements released by the campaign.

On Tuesday, Jacob opened the morning with an overview of Election Day in NC as well as updates on twists and turns of the civil union bill in Colorado. Starting at 7 PM EST that evening, Scottie live-blogged election results from NC while I gave some updates on the ground in the campaign war room. Traffic here on P8TT went through the roof as folks from all over the web came to find updates. Unfortunately, we did not get the result we wanted, but kudos to all of you in the comments, Scottie and Jacob for intrepid updates and reporting.

On Wednesday, Jacob reported the decision of the Colorado House Republican leadership to obstruct floor consideration of the civil union bill and over 30 other bills (which led to the special session beginning tomorrow). Scottie reported on “what now” that Amendment 1 had passed, including the involuntary annulment of domestic partnerships in the state, and what it’s like to live in another Southern state (Scottie is an Alabama resident) while this was happening.

Then, boom: President Obama announced his support for same-sex marriage as Jacob, Scottie and all of you in the comments covered the twists and turns. It was an exciting post to read for all the reaction and coverage. Later that day, Scottie reported that Sen. Reed (D-RI) also endorsed marriage equality as well as the Respect for Marriage Act to repeal DOMA, and that Sen. Reid announced his somewhat lukewarm support for the idea that “people should be able to marry whomever they want, and it’s no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married.” Not exactly a ringing an endorsement, but good of him to do so anyway.

On Thursday, Jacob rounded up the reaction to President Obama’s announcement and other equality headlines of the morning. Scottie reported the spilling over of good tidings on marriage when it comes to the news that the Senate HELP Committee would consider a transgender-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act in hearings on June 12th. Later that day, Scottie also rounded up some news including implications of Pres. Obama’s decision, what was happening in North Carolina post-Amendment 1, and other news.

On Friday, I wrote an essay reflecting on Amendment 1 (cross-posted at The Huffington Post), what was accomplished, why the results ended up falling short of expectations, and other notes from my trip down there and work on the issue. A robust discussion followed in the comments, as it did when Jacob wrote a post later that day, making the case for keeping the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte despite the results in North Carolina. Scottie reported on more legislators coming out for marriage equality, including Illinois’ Gov. Quinn, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and the Democratic members of the congressional delegation of Washington becoming united in their support for repealing DOMA. Late in the day, Scottie reported on the decision of many same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses throughout North Carolina and the reaction to that.

Lastly, on Saturday, Scottie rounded up the news on DOMA cases, DOMA repeal, commentary after Pres. Obama’s decision from Ted Olson and others, and Mitt Romney’s socially conservative views. Quite a week!

As always, remember that Quick Hits can always be found to the right of the main blog posts (and if someone’s interested in rounding up Quick Hits for the week like this, drop us a line!). And don’t forget to follow Equality on Trial on Facebook and on Twitter for more coverage and updates! All P8TT posts are published on Twitter immediately after they go up, so you can get word that way too. We’re tweaking the e-mail subscriptions tool, so that’ll be in better shape this week as well. And of course, if you like the coverage we do here and the work we’re doing to bring you all this news, it ain’t free. Please consider tossing a few bucks in the hat to help us do it — or better yet, become a small monthly donor like the 60+ people you see at top right who have since Amendment 1 passed on Tuesday night. We’re working hard to cover these issues and we appreciate your support so we can keep doing so.

Thanks for reading Prop8TrialTracker.com!

1 Comment May 13, 2012

A look at what happened on Amendment 1 in North Carolina

By Adam Bink

First, apologies for not finding much time to write over the past few weeks — efforts spent online and offline organizing against Amendment 1 had considerably drained my time, and so Jacob and especially Scottie have been holding down the fort so admirably here at P8TT.

I returned back from the Raleigh/Durham area yesterday and had a chance to chew on the outcome on Amendment 1. It’s been my habit after major wins or losses to reflect on what went right and what went wrong, and offer some thoughts (see Maine 2009 Part 1 and Part 2, along with the 2009 New York State Senate fight on same-sex marriage here and here). Below are some of those along with some analysis.

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30 Comments May 11, 2012

Housekeeping: Prop8TrialTracker.com twin columns to be added

By Adam Bink

A minor site update to note that will launch later today, and I wanted to give everyone a heads up. We’ve added a second twin column for P8TT on the left side of the page that will have Quick Hits, DOMA updates, Recent Posts, Categories and more. On the right side we’ll have login, social media, and a few other things. The reason for this is because our list of items on the current right side of the page in one columns has gotten so long that people cannot find the e-mail subscription tool, hunt for posts on a specific topic using our tag system, or currently have to scroll way down to find it. So we simply added a twin column on the left side of the page with the most popular items (Quick Hits, login) close to the top and letting other items not get buried.

As usual, feedback is appreciated, and you can provide it by dropping in a comment on this post.

One other note as long as we’re on housekeeping — Jacob and I are off to get out the vote in North Carolina this weekend through Election Day, so we’ll be bringing you some special coverage from down there. I’ll be sending in a few dispatches from on the ground (and probably some photos and video), and Jacob will be writing regularly next week as well. Scottie will be holding down the fort otherwise.

Thanks as always for reading P8TT.

16 Comments May 4, 2012

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