Author: catherine

On My Mind

We know Judges matters. They decide everything – our constitutional rights, malpractice judgements, divorces, white collar settlements, everything! So why aren’t we paying attention and demanding more control?

If Trump has done nothing else, he has made crystal clear how very important judges are! Trump has already appointed 2 Supreme Court Justices and 150+ right-wing, ultra-conservative, anti-choice judges, many of whom have been rated “unqualified”, who will change the face of our legal system for decades to come.

But it’s not just Trump. Here in Westchester, one could argue that judicial ethics rules are not truly ethical or impartial or even constitutional.

 Just this election cycle, the Subcommittee Chair of the Judicial Campaign Ethics Subcommittee, Advisory Committee, told judicial candidates they could not accept WCLA PAC’s endorsement. The reasons provided reference our endorsement policy but do so INCORRECTLY. Judicial candidates do not complete questionnaires nor are they asked to support anything that may require going against any law. The only accurate reference is that a candidate may “neither seek nor accept the Right to Life Party (RTL) nomination” – And that criteria seems justifiable because candidates are permitted to accept the RTL Party line, thereby making their opposition to abortion clear.

One must, therefore, ask, “Was this gross misrepresentation intentional or accidental?” Hmmm. Let’s consider these important facts: the Subcommittee Chair who issued this opinion: 1.) ran for Supreme Court 9th Judicial District in 2011 on the Republican and Conservative lines (the same year the Conservative Party and the Right to Life Party joined forces here in Westchester); 2.) was rated “anti-choice” by us, and 3.) then LOST the election. One can only wonder what this Subcommittee Chair’s motivations may be.

Here in New York State, judicial candidates often fear interviews, claiming that the NYS Ethics rules prohibit them from expressing their views on contentious issues like abortion. The rules they reference are in direct opposition to the 2002 US Supreme Court decision Republican Party of Minnesota vs White. In the 5 – 4 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that Minnesota’s clause, which “forbade judicial candidates from announcing their views on disputed legal and political issues”, was unconstitutional. Why are NYS judicial candidates still being held to a pre-2002 standard? In all my years here, I’ve met only one judicial candidate willing to challenge that NYS Ethics position and, perhaps, it’s no surprise that he did not get his Party’s nod to run.

On another judicial note: our NYS Chief Justice is seeking to “streamline” the judicial system. Sounds great and in some ways is much needed, but the devil is in the details. The claim is that we don’t have enough justices where we need them. The proposed solution is to get rid of specific categories of judges including County, Court of Claims, Surrogate’s Court and Family Court. Instead, they will all be “Supreme Court” judges and can be moved around where needed.

Sounds good? Not necessarily. For example, take Family Court. Family Court requires a certain type of personality and commitment. The same person hearing white collar crime cases should not be deciding a custody battle. Who will decide which judge serves where and based upon what criteria? Will the decision be based simply on where a judge is needed? Does this mean that judges elected in northern NYS will be sitting on the bench in Westchester? Will we even still be electing judges or will they all be appointed?

The role personal perspective plays in judicial decisions is seismic, in all courts and at all levels. Personal opinions and biases affect how a judge treats those who come before her/ him/they, the sentence imposed, the bail required, and more.

Yes, the present system is flawed and cumbersome but it’s a lot better than appointments and what we are witnessing in Washington DC. We need a better system for electing judges, not simply replacing it.

Every time you vote for judicial candidates, you are voting for someone with a personal history. That is exactly why WCLA – Choice Matters interviews each judicial nominee and if the nominee refuses to be interviewed, we rate accordingly, as we always have. If someone wants to serve in the courts, we are all entitled to know more, as the US Supreme Court ruled in 2002.

The Story of Pirro & Why Choice Matters’ Questionnaire Matters

Did you know that Jeanine Pirro – presently the Fox News commentator, Trumper & star of Justice with Judge Jeanine – was endorsed by ALL the national and NY statewide pro-choice advocacy groups which helped her win 3 terms as Westchester County District Attorney???

And did you know it was WCLA – Choice Matters’ REQUIREMENT that ALL candidates – incumbents AND challengers – submit completed questionnaires in each election cycle that made it possible for WCLA – Choice Matters  to expose Pirro’s change in position???

In 2001, Pirro’s 3rd race for Westchester DA, we rated her Anti-Choice for the first time as a direct result of the changes in her questionnaire. Unfortunately, other organizations did not reexamine her positions until 2005. The excitement over having the first woman serve as Westchester County DA had created a buzz that basically permitted many to give Pirro a pass as the incumbent, and allowed her to label herself “pro-choice” when, in fact, her position had changed.

2001 ProChoice Voting Guide, Castro article page1 continued on page 6.

2005 New York Time Article.

Since our formation 47 years ago, WCLA – Choice Matters has made our policy perfectly clear to every candidate: submit a questionnaire or you will be rated “Anti-Choice”. No “if’s” “and’s” or “but’s”. The same is true for judicial candidate interviews. NO exceptions. We also go out of our way, often having to reach out numerous times to candidates, to remind them of the due date so that their questionnaires are submitted timely, and stating clearly that if one is not submitted, they will be rated as Anti-Choice. To reiterate, that is not a threat; it has always been our official policy.

Why are we so strict? Because candidates and issues change.

  • It stops anti-choice candidates from avoiding the issue;
  • It educates previously endorsed candidates on the many changes and challenges that have sprung up front-and-center since the last election, like the 20-week abortion ban, the RHA, and the “heartbeat” bills; and
  • It exposes those candidates who have changed their position on Choice but don’t want to tell you.

    Our questionnaires are our contract with the candidate and we treat it exactly that way. It isn’t enough to say “I’m pro-choice”. Incumbents receive the same scrutiny as challengers by WCLA – Choice Matters.

    We hold EVERY SINGLE candidate to the same standard, regardless of gender, party affiliation, or any other way one might identify. NO EXCEPTIONS.

    And we will continue this practice, even when facing threats from candidates and/or elected officials, because it is the only way to protect CHOICE. Just remember Jeanine.

Early Voting – New York State 2019

In January 2019 , New York state lawmakers approved reforms  intended to make it easier to vote, including giving voters 10 days of early access to the ballot box prior to Election Day. The November 2019 elections will be the first to offer early voting in New York State.

Early Voting Begins on Saturday, October 26, 2019, in Westchester County.

Click here to read information provided by the Westchester County Board of Election: Frequently Asked Questions and 2019 Early Voting Polling Locations.

These two links provide a list the 2019 early voting locations in Westchester County as well as responses to frequently asked questions about this new effort. For more information, please call: 914-995-5700.

Join us – Honor Assemblywoman Amy Paulin

On Saturday, June 22nd, we will honor an outstanding Assemblymember, Amy Paulin,
(NYS Assembly District #88.)

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin is a champion for women. She has been a prolific legislator, with more than 200 of her own bills being signed into law. Her diverse legislative agenda includes state government reform, children and families, domestic violence, sex trafficking, education, health care, animal welfare, and preventing gun violence.

Amy’s distinguished record of activism in public policy and community issues before being elected to the Assembly has helped make her the outstanding elected official she is today.  Amy has served as Executive Director of My Sisters’ Place, Founder and Chairwoman of Westchester Women’s Agenda, President of Westchester League of Women Voters, Vice President of NY State League of Women Voters, Citizen Member of County Board of Legislators’ Special Committee on Families, and as a Member of the Board of Directors of WCLA – Choice Matters! What a launching pad for women’s issues!

Choice Matters and the community of advocates and activists are particularly excited by Amy’s writing and sponsoring of the bill that eliminated the statute of limitations for rape, and sponsoring the landmark Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act to dramatically toughen penalties for traffickers and buyers while providing support to the victims of human trafficking to help rebuild their lives. (Click here to read a partial list of Amy’s Bills.)

The HATE GROUP FOF in Times Square

May 4th, some of us joined forces with NYC for Abortion Rights at Bryant Park and then with a march to Time Square. We stood up and said, “NO” to the homophobic anti-abortion hate group Focus on the Family. They are here to generate extremist reactions to the Reproductive Health Act, and we are here to say, “Not in our city, not in our State – NOT NOW, NOT EVER.”

In Somers!

On May 2nd, the Somers Town Board convened its work session. Some of us were there to  thank the Town Board for refusing to entertain a resolution opposing the Reproductive Health Act that Carmel and the Putnam County Legislature had passed in April.

Thank you to the handmaids who came out, representing the chattel from the Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.

Speak Up – Speak Out! Women’s lives depend on it.

Is IDC behavior back in style?

After the IDC (Independent Democratic Conference) we all swore not to be fooled again. No matter whether there was a “D”,  “R” or “WFP” after the name, we were going to watch the actions, instead of simply listening to the words.

Choice Matters has been doing exactly that – and, unfortunately, our findings are not good.

1. Westchester County Government solicited and accepted a Trump Administration HHS grant for abstinence-only education targeted at the most vulnerable – teens – mostly of color, living below the poverty line & designated as “high risk.”  That’s a huge problem. We are balancing our budget on the backs of the most vulnerable, and we are doing it with lies and half-truths.

Choice Matters successfully got the County to reject the abstinence-only, anti-gay intervention curriculum provider but they are still taking the grant money. Choice Matters will work with the County to find a viable curriculum provider who will provide comprehensive sex education. If we cannot, we must demand that the County return the grant.

3.  Another man – this time a Westchester County Democratic leader – told a room full of Democratic committee chairs to ignore whether Choice Matters rates a candidate as pro-choice or anti-choice. Why? Because he does not want his Democratic candidates who are anti-choice to be adversely impacted. He clearly thinks the “D” is more important than women’s constitutional rights.

4. A male candidate for County Court judge lambasted Choice Matters for rating him anti-choice, after all he said he was “pro-choice.” Then he went on to make our point for us by coming out in total opposition to minors’ rights. This candidate has no place on the Bench.

There is no more important an office than that of judge. Choice Matters is the only organization that interviews and rates judicial candidates.

Choice Matters is your feet on the ground. Please contribute today.

Oh, and fyi – let’s not forget the male presidential contender who entered the Democratic field two weeks ago. He thinks campaigning for anti-choice candidates is fine – even those who have a track record of co-sponsoring bills to restrict abortion rights. According to this presidential candidate, “…you can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”

Really??? Women’s reproductive right is just one issue?? According to the Roe v. Wade decision, that one issue is a woman’s constitutional right. Maybe this candidate is willing to forfeit other constitutional rights, maybe those protecting People of Color or LGBTQ folks. Or is it only women’s rights that are expendable?

When you are playing fast and loose with constitutional rights, you never know what might go next! 

It’s official – the Reproductive Health Act is Law!

Today, Tuesday, January 22, 2019, on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade,the NYS Assembly and Senate passed the Reproductive Health Act sending it to Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign into law. AND HE DID!

(Please remember that this Trump Administration and Supreme Court are overtly and outspokenly committed to overturning Roe.)

New York – as of today – finally has legislation that takes abortion out of the penal code, that means no longer legislating abortion as homicide, and instead providing women with 21st century medical reproductive health care.

This could not have happened without YOU!

Choice Matters has been working tirelessly to pass this bill since 2006.

However, not until you voted in 2018 to give NYS a pro-choice Senate with a Democratic majority could we make this pro-woman healthcare, pro-woman’s civil rights law a reality.

We thank you for your support and ask you to recognize that we work day in and day out to pass pro-choice legislation to protect your right to Choose. Now we will focus our attention on making sure that NYS has a budget that enables women who live on the financial borderline to actually be able to use this law!

Sincerely,
Choice Matters Staff

40 NYS-Based Organizations Join Choice Matters Demanding Passage of RHA

Groups Call For Immediate Passage Of The RHA
January 2019

We, the undersigned, ask that you vote for the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) of 2019 during this legislative session. The RHA secures and protects our health and reproductive rights by updating New York’s outdated abortion law passed back in 1970, prior to Roe v. Wade.

According to current state law, New York regulates abortion as a homicide in the penal code. The law as it stands fails to meet the constitutional standard of Roe and is out of step with modern medicine. With the Trump administration determined to limit abortion access and a new anti-Roe majority on the Supreme Court, time is of the utmost importance. This is why we ask that you pass the RHA NOW.

The Reproductive Health Act is important because it:

Updates our laws, securing and protecting the right to abortion in New York. The RHA enshrines in state law the constitutional standard of Roe, affirms reproductive freedoms, and allows New Yorkers to get safe and legal abortions.

Protects health care professionals who provide vital care. The RHA ensures that qualified health care providers with appropriate training and expertise can provide abortion services. This improves access to health care, especially for low income women, women of color and women in rural areas.

Treats abortion as health care, not a crime. The RHA moves the regulation of abortion from the penal code into public health law and repeals a Civil War-era law that criminalizes women who terminate a pregnancy without a medical provider.

Nearly eight out of 10 New Yorkers support protecting a woman’s right to have an abortion. Additionally, one in four women will access abortion care in their lifetime. We want to make sure that New York offers the fullest protections when it comes to reproductive health care.

The policies of the Trump administration and the new Supreme Court make it unsafe and irresponsible for New York to rely on federal protections to ensure our basic rights. ​We need state protections, and we expect our elected officials to show real leadership in defending abortion access.

With your support, New York State can be a national leader when it comes to abortion access and the reproductive rights of women. We strongly urge members of both houses of the legislature to support the Reproductive Health Act of 2019.

WCLA – Choice Matters, the oldest ongoing pro-choice advocacy organization in the nation, proudly joins with the following forty (40) New York State-based organizations, together representing thousands upon thousands of NYS residents, to ask NYS Governor Cuomo, the NYS Senate and the NYS Assembly to pass the Reproductive Health Act into law NOW.

WCLA – Choice Matters stands with the following 40 NYS-based Organizations
Action Together – Northern Westchester
American Muslims Indivisible
Briarcliff Ossining Indivisible
CCoHope Indivisible (Cortlandt, Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining, Peekskill)
CD17Indivisible
Coalition New York
Concerned Citizens for Change
Cortlandt Democratic Committee
Croton Democratic Committee
Croton in Action
Greenburgh Democratic Town Committee
Indivisible New Rochelle
Indivisible Pawling
Indivisible Districts 6 & 7
Indivisible New York
Indivisible Rivertowns
Indivisible Scarsdale
Indivisible Westchester
Indivisible Yorktown NY
Irvington Activists
LarchForward
Left of Main Street
Lower Hudson Valley Progressive Action Network
March on Peekskill
New York Progressive Action Network
Northern Westchester Indivisible
Philipstown Women Are Watching
Progressive Women of New York
Progressive Women of Pelham
Putnam Progressives
Rockland Citizens Action Network
Rockland United
Up2Us
Uptown Progressive Action
WE PERSIST
Westchester Black Political Conference
Westchester Black Women’s Political Caucus
Westchester for Change
Westchester Young Democrats
Westchester Women’s Democratic Alliance

“After 242 years, a woman is in charge of the State Senate”*

On Wednesday, January 8th, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins was voted Senate Temporary President and Majority Leader by her colleagues.

This is the official end of the “3-men-in-a-room” NYS governing process!

AND – In the newly-elected NYS Senate, now 20 of the 63-member body are women – (Still not an accurate reflection of the State’s gender make-up but a heck of a lot better!)

The changing demographics of New York State are more clearly reflected by this Senate body than any before it. Among the newly-elected senators are the first Muslim, first Iranian American, first Chinese America, first Salvadoran American, first Costa Rican American, first Indian American and two Colombian Americans.

And in the NYS Assembly, For The First Time EVER

For the first time in the State’s history, a woman, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo, was named Assembly Majority Leader. Surrounding Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes were 50 women which is a record number for the Assembly.

Approximately 32% of those serving in the NYS Senate and Assembly in 2019 are women. Nevada has the highest percentage in the country of women serving in its State legislature, with 51% being women.

Assembly Majority Leader, Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes said, “I’m not sure I can put into words how insurmountable I think the significance of this day is. It’s exciting. It’s to some extent overwhelming. It’s humbling.”

Governor Cuomo did not attend the opening session of either the NYS Senate or the NYS Assembly.

*For more information, read The Buffalo News, After 242 Years, a woman is in charge of the State Senate.