Political Notebook

Obama will appeal Day of Prayer ruling

AERIAL TABLEAU — Workers constructed a speaker and light tower on the Mall in Washington yesterday in preparation for an Earth Day rally and concert on Sunday. AERIAL TABLEAU — Workers constructed a speaker and light tower on the Mall in Washington yesterday in preparation for an Earth Day rally and concert on Sunday. (Cliff Owen/Associated Press)
April 23, 2010

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MADISON, Wis. — The Obama administration said yesterday it will appeal a court decision that found the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional.

US District Judge Barbara Crabb in Madison ruled last week the National Day of Prayer that Congress established 58 years ago amounts to a call for religious action.

The Justice Department said it will challenge the decision in the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago. The notice came after about two dozen members of Congress condemned the ruling and pressed for an appeal.

The case was brought by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based group of atheists and agnostics who argue the National Day of Prayer violates the separation of church and state. Its co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said she was disappointed in the decision to appeal.

“I would have expected something better from a legal scholar,’’ she said, referring to President Obama’s background as a law professor.

Her group planned to launch an online petition praising Crabb’s decision and asking Obama, the principal defendant in the lawsuit, to “leave days of prayer to individuals, private groups and churches, synagogues, mosques and temples.’’

The administration had argued the law simply acknowledges the role of religion in the United States.

Congress established the day in 1952 and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray. An Obama spokesman has said the president plans to issue a proclamation for the upcoming prayer day, May 6. Many other state and local officials typically follow suit.

The Justice Department signaled it would appeal not only Crabb’s decision on the merits of the case but also her ruling last month that the defendants had the standing to bring the lawsuit in the first place.

— Associated Press

Senate votes to forgo its automatic pay raise
WASHINGTON — Yielding to election-year reality, the Senate approved a bill yesterday to deny members of Congress a built-in pay raise next year.

Russ Feingold, a Wisconsin Democrat, engineered the surprise passage of the legislation, which would deny senators and members of the House an automatic pay raise of about $1,600 next year. Members of Congress make $174,000 a year.

The Senate passed the measure unanimously without a roll call vote. The House has yet to act on it but probably will go along, given election-year pressures.

Lawmakers receive an automatic cost-of-living pay increase unless they pass legislation to block it — as they did last year. The last time they took the increase was in 2008, which meant they received a $5,000 raise last January.

Automatic pay raises were part of an ethics reform bill in 1989, and Congress at that time gave up its ability to accept pay for speeches.

In the early days of GOP control of Congress, lawmakers routinely denied themselves the annual raise. But they accepted it during most of the past decade.

Now, with high unemployment nationally and with Congress suffering from abysmal approval ratings, it was a politically easy decision to decline the pay hike.

“Not many Americans have the power to give themselves a raise whenever they want, no matter how they are performing,’’ Feingold said. “Yet Congress has set up a system whereby every year members automatically get a pay increase without having to lift a finger.’’

Most members, however, privately support the pay raise as a means of retaining experienced lawmakers and of making sure that Congress is not simply dominated by wealthy people. Many lawmakers maintain homes both in the expensive Washington housing market and back in their districts. On most days, they meet with lobbyists making far more than they do.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, makes $223,500 and minority leader John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, makes $193,400. President Obama makes $400,000.

— Associated Press

Romney backing Hoekstra in bid for Mich. governor
LANSING, Mich. — Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has endorsed US Representative Peter Hoekstra in Michigan’s race for the Republican nomination for governor.

Romney is a Michigan native who won Michigan’s 2008 GOP presidential primary before dropping out of the race. He is considered a possible 2012 presidential candidate.

He praised Hoekstra in a statement yesterday as having “the capability and the right policies to get Michigan’s economy moving again.’’

Romney will attend a fund-raiser Wednesday for Hoekstra in Grand Rapids and his political action committee has contributed $3,400 to the congressman’s gubernatorial campaign.

Other Republicans in the race are Attorney General Mike Cox, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder, and state Senator Tom George.

— Associated Press