Category Archives: Politics

Mini-DOMAs as Political Process Failures: The Case for Heightened Scrutiny of State Anti-Gay Marriage Amendments

Source: Steve Sanders, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 288, June 30, 2014

From the abstract:
Lawsuits seeking gay and lesbian marriage equality are piling up — more than seventy separate cases in thirty-two jurisdictions as of this writing — and advocates are racing to the Supreme Court to see which case might settle the question for the whole nation. As these cases move up swiftly through the federal courts, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see how the Justices can avoid a final reckoning on the question of same-sex marriage during their October 2014 term.

This Essay suggests that political process theory provides the most democratically legitimate justification for the Supreme Court to step in and resolve the question of same-sex marriage for the whole country, as it seems increasingly likely to do, at a time when a majority of states still outlaw the practice. In focusing on same-sex couples’ right to marry, courts and commentators have largely overlooked the history of how and why the mini-DOMAs were enacted. The history and circumstances surrounding the twenty-eight mini-DOMAs that are embedded in state constitutions deserve a more prominent examination in federal marriage litigation.

Collectively, these laws represent a troubling failure of the political process. By strong-arming marriage discrimination into state constitutions — which typically are far more difficult to change than ordinary statutes — during a relatively brief period from 1998 to 2012, mini-DOMA proponents intended to freeze marriage discrimination in place and put it beyond the reach of ordinary democratic deliberation, future legislative reconsideration, and state judicial review. And so the remaining mini-DOMAs should receive searching, skeptical judicial review of their substance because they are the products of a constitutionally suspect lawmaking process.

Split Definitive: How Party Polarization Turned the Supreme Court into a Partisan Court

Source: Neal Devins, Lawrence Baum, William & Mary Law School Research Paper No. 09-276, May 2, 2014

From the abstract:
Starting in 2010 the Supreme Court has divided into two partisan ideological blocs, with all the Court’s Democratic appointees on the liberal side and its Republican appointees on the conservative side. Correspondingly, since 1990 there has been a dramatic increase in the ideological gap between Democratic and Republican appointees. In this article we make use of original empirical research to establish that this partisan division is unprecedented in the Court’s history, and we undertake a systematic analysis of how it came about. We show that it is linked to growing partisan polarization among political elites, polarization that has shaped the Court in multiple ways. The sorting of elites into the two parties on the basis of ideology has greatly reduced the numbers of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans who might be selected as Justices. The same sorting has prompted presidents — for the first time ever — to make ideology the dominant factor in appointing Justices.
Finally, political elites that tended to lean in a moderate-to-liberal direction during the 1960s through much of the 1980s have become far more polarized along ideological lines. As we show through original research on the voting patterns of Justices over the past forty years, Justices who once might have been drawn toward moderation are increasingly reinforced in their liberal or conservative orientations. One key reason is that the rise of the conservative legal network has worked against the “drift” of Republican appointees toward more moderate positions that was common a few decades ago. This analysis indicates that the current partisan division on the Court is not a temporary phenomenon; rather, it is likely to continue as long as the current partisan polarization continues.

Union Member Recruitment by Vermont Progressives

Source: Steve Early, Social Policy, Summer 2014

…In 2012–14, deepening labor disillusionment with the performance of Democratic office holders led “intelligent, honest, earnest trade unionists” around the country to enter the political arena themselves, as candidates for municipal office. Rather than being ignored as the work of marginal “spoilers,” some of these insurgent campaigns by shop stewards, local union officers, and rank-and-file activists actually won substantial union backing, while generating valuable publicity for key labor causes….As labor-backed independent electoral efforts proliferate, more activists in other state are looking to the example of the Vermont Progressive Party (VPP). More than any other third-party formation in the country, the VPP has campaigned successfully for state legislative seats and municipal office, “while building support for reform and nudging the Democrats left….What distinguishes the VPP from almost all state and local Democratic Party organizations, backed by labor elsewhere, is its year-round engagement with grassroots labor causes and campaigns, as well as legislative/ political issues like single-payer health insurance…

Millennial Movements: Occupy Wall Street and the Dreamers

Source: Ruth Milkman, Dissent Magazine, Vol. 61 no. 3, Summer 2014

… Occupiers and Dreamers alike are sharply critical of the political establishment, Obama included, and of the explosive growth in inequality since the 1970s. Both movements use the tactics of civil disobedience and direct action, including occupations of public spaces. Both support racial and gender equality and LGBT rights. Both movements also rely heavily on social media, as Millennials famously do in every aspect of their lives.

But despite their many similarities, Occupiers and Dreamers also differ in some key respects. One is demographic: white males were overrepresented among Occupy activists. Although many women and people of color were involved, they were less numerous and less visible. By contrast, the Dreamers are disproportionately led by Latina and Asian women, and nearly all participants are people of color.

The two movements also differ in their discursive strategies. The Dreamers made extensive use of storytelling as they built their movement. Occupiers occasionally told stories as well, but their main public narrative targeted class inequality and “the 1 percent.”

Finally, the two movements featured different organizational structures. The Dreamers used conventional political organizations and methods of decision making and had identifiable leaders. But Occupy rejected traditional structures in favor of “participatory democracy” and making all decisions by consensus. While Occupy shunned immediate demands, the Dreamers focus on specific policies, like in-state tuition rates for undocumented students as well as the DREAM Act itself.

The activism of both groups reflects the demographic makeup of Millennials and their economic prospects. They are more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation: about 43 percent are non-white (Latinos are the largest and fastest growing group). And they are the most highly educated generation in U.S. history: a third of Millennials over age twenty-six have a four-year college degree or more. But they have paid a high price for this achievement: two-thirds of recent college graduates have outstanding student debt, averaging $27,000….

How Social Movements Can Win More Victories Like Same-Sex Marriage

Source: Mark Engler and Paul Engler, Dissent blog, July 16, 2014

Not long ago, same-sex marriage in America was not merely an unpopular cause; it was a politically fatal one—a third-rail issue that could end the career of any politician foolish enough to touch it. The idea that gay and lesbian couples would be able to legally exchange vows in states throughout the United States was regarded, at best, as a far-off fantasy and, at worst, as a danger to the republic. …

… Currently, nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages, a number that is increasing at a brisk rate. An ever-growing majority of the public expresses its support in national polls, and statistician Nate Silver projects that majorities favoring marriage equality will coalesce in even deeply conservative Southern states by 2024. …

…What is striking about this is not just the seeming suddenness of the reversal. It is that the rapidly expanding victory around same-sex marriage defies many of our common ideas about how social change happens.

This was not a win that came in measured doses, but rather a situation in which the floodgates of progress were opened after years of half-steps and seemingly devastating reversals. It was not something enacted thanks to a senate majority leader twisting arms or a charismatic president pounding his bully pulpit. Instead, it came about through the efforts of a broad-based movement, pushing for increased acceptance of LGBT rights within a wide range of constituencies. The cumulative result was to change the terms of national debate, turning the impossible into the inevitable.

This is perhaps the most important point: Rather than being based on calculating realism—a shrewd assessment of what was attainable in the current political climate—the drive for marriage equality drew on a transformational vision. It was grounded in the idea that if social movements could win the battle over public opinion, the courts and the legislators would ultimately follow.

For those interested in promoting further transformation in the United States and beyond, there are few ideas more worthy of careful and sustained examination….

Why the White Working Class Matters

Source: Stanley Greenberg, Washington Monthly, Vol. 46 nos. 6/7/8, June/July/August 2014

The bad news: Dems can’t govern without them. The good news: Blue-collar whites are far more diverse than during the era of the Reagan Democrats.
Beyond Identity Politics
Source: Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, Washington Monthly, Vol. 46 nos. 6/7/8, June/July/August 2014

To reach the white working class, promise an economy that “works for everyone.”

Forum: Populists and Progressives, Capitalism and Democracy

Source: Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, Vol 13, no. 3, July 2014
(subscription required)

From the introduction:
The next four essays are revised versions of talks given at a roundtable at the 2012 Organization of American historians conference in Milwaukee. … Asked to consider the place of populism and progressivism in present-day politics, the four participants in this forum responded with New history-style reflections on the uses of past politics on the present and the usefulness of populist and progressive concerns, attitudes, and ideas for contemporary agendas.

Articles include:
Capitalism and Politics in the Progressive Era and in Ours Capitalism and Politics in the Progressive Era and in Ours – Daniel T. Rodgers
If They Repeal the Progressive Era, Should We Care? If They Repeal the Progressive Era, Should We Care? – Charles Postel
Long Live Teddy/Death to Woodrow: The Polarized Politics of the Progressive Era in the 2012 Election Long Live Teddy/Death to Woodrow: The Polarized Politics of the Progressive Era in the 2012 Election – Robert D. Johnston

Why Collective Bargaining Is a Fundamental Human Right

Source: Robert Creamer, Huffington Post, July 9, 2014

The ability for ordinary working people to organize and collectively bargain over their wages and working conditions is a fundamental human right. It is a right just as critical to a democratic society as the right to free speech and the right to vote.

Over the last 30 years many in corporate America and the big Wall Street banks have conducted a sustained attack on that human right. Unionization dropped from 20.1 percent of the workforce in 1983 to 11. 3 percent in 2013 — and the results are there for everyone to see.

During that period productivity and Gross Domestic Product per capita both increased by roughly 80 percent in America. But the wages of ordinary Americans have remained stagnant. Virtually all of the fruits of that increased productivity have gone to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. …

…The right to freedom of association – and to collectively bargain wages and working conditions — is a foundational principle of every democratic society on earth. That right is rooted in the United States’ Bill of Rights, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, Conventions 87 and 98 of the International Labour Organization, and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It’s time for us to make the right to join a union and bargain collectively the keystone of the progressive agenda. …

Party Polarization and Campaign Finance

Source: Thomas E. Mann and Anthony Corrado, Brookings Institution, July 2014

From the summary:
There is a lively debate today over whether or not campaign finance reforms have weakened the role of political parties in campaigns. This seems an odd argument in an era of historically high levels of party loyalty — on roll calls in Congress and voting in the electorate. Are parties too strong and unified or too weak and fragmented? Have they been marginalized in the financing of elections or is their role at least as strong as it has ever been? Does the party role in campaign finance (weak or strong) materially shape the capacity to govern?

In addition, the increasing involvement in presidential and congressional campaigns of large donors – especially through Super PACs and politically-active nonprofit organizations – has raised serious concerns about whether the super-wealthy are buying American democracy. Ideologically-based outside groups financed by wealthy donors appear to be sharpening partisan differences and resisting efforts to forge agreement across parties. Many reformers have advocated steps to increase the number of small donors to balance the influence of the wealthy. But some scholars have found evidence suggesting that small donors are more polarizing than large donors. Can that be true? If so, are there channels other than the ideological positioning of the parties through which small donors might play a more constructive role in our democracy?

In this paper, Thomas Mann and Anthony Corrado attempt to shed light on both of these disputed features of our campaign finance system and then assess whether campaign finance reform offers promise for reducing polarization and strengthening American democracy. They conclude that not only is campaign finance reform a weak tool for depolarizing American political parties, but some break in the party wars is probably a prerequisite to any serious pushback to the broader deregulation of campaign finance now underway.

Hobbled IRS can’t stem ‘dark money’ flow / Mystery political spending to continue unabated through midterm elections

Source: Julie Patel, Center for Public Integrity, July 15, 2014

….The tea party scandal, combined with Congress systematically stripping the IRS of resources and clout over decades, has led to an exempt organizations division that has all but quit regulating politically active nonprofits in any consistent, demonstrable way, a six-month Center for Public Integrity investigation reveals.

The investigation, which involved a review of thousands of pages of IRS documents and interviews with more than two dozen current and former IRS employees and administrators, finds the agency’s nonprofit regulation division has:
– Bled 14 percent of its staff positions during the past two decades while the number of nonprofits it regulates has grown by more than 40 percent.
– Scaled back inquiries, as the number of nonprofit group tax returns investigated recently fell by 10 percent, from 11,699 in 2011 to 10,575 last year. Applications for “social welfare” nonprofit status jumped 27 percent from 1,777 to 2,253 during the same time.
– Reduced the number of denials for exempt status for social welfare nonprofits from nearly 4 percent during the early 1980s to less than a quarter-percent in 2013.
– Softened, tabled or reversed course on at least a dozen proposed policy positions or enforcement plans after criticism from politicians and lobbyists….