Nel's New Day

July 4, 2019

Will the Judicial Branch Protect Democracy?

July 4—the date that people in the United States celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress. For the past 243 years, some people have tried to protect the nation from the erosion of democracy, a far more difficult task in the past two years as Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) destroyed U.S. relationships with all countries except those run by autocrats and dictators. Setting himself up as the supreme ruler with no checks, DDT is enabled by congressional Republicans. Although the third branch of government, the judicial branch, has tried to protect democracy, DDT is loading lifetime judgeships with mostly young white men who follow his authoritarianism.

DDT’s latest move outside the law came from his determination to put a question about citizenship on the 2020 census. A week ago, the Supreme Court decision gave DDT two options: print the census without the question or go back to court to with a better reason and fewer lies to include the question. Over the weekend, DDT’s administration looked for ways to stall—with DDT even suggesting that the constitutionally mandated census might be delayed.

Four days later, the DOJ said it would not return to court, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (bottom left) announced that the census forms were sent to the printers without the question. Yet DDT tweeted that the question would be on the 2020 census, catching the attention of a judge. Yesterday, the judge convened a telephone conference with government and Maryland immigrant-rights groups lawyers to address DDT’s declaration that the government was “absolutely moving forward” with its citizenship question plan for the 2020 census, defying a Supreme Court ruling and contradicting the DOJ and Commerce Department statements. Josh Gardner, DOJ’s civil division lawyer, said he knew nothing about DDT’s position until he read the tweet. Assistant AG Jody Hunt told the judge that DOJ lawyers “have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision” to include the question. The DOJ also warned the New York court ruling opposing the question that it might again appeal the case to the now-recessed Supreme Court. 

Lawyers from the rights groups requested a court order requiring the government to agree that “there will be no further effort to inquire about citizenship status as part of the 2020 census.” They also asked the judge to compel the administration to “publicly counter any such misinformation that comes from government officials.”

The judge said that he might not be able to “enjoin the President of the United States from tweeting things” but ordered the DOJ to explain by tomorrow at 2:00 pm EST whether the government would still try to add the question to the 2020 census forms. DOJ lawyers asked if they could have until Monday. The judge said, “No.” Lawyers for the rights groups reminded the judge that DOJ lawyers previously insisted the printing process for census forms begin by last Monday. The Census Bureau already botched a contracting process when the Government Publishing Office awarded its single largest printing contract to a bankrupt company. 

On Independence Day, DDT’s latest ploy is to overturn the Supreme Court decision by ordering the citizenship question through an executive order.

Judges across the country are opposing DDT’s positions. A federal judge in Seattle blocked AG Bill Barr’s order [Barr: right of Ross] to keep thousands of migrants indefinitely detained while waiting for asylum case decisions. Denying migrants a bail hearing is unconstitutional, according to the judge; a bond hearing must be granted within seven days or migrants will be released. DHS has raised fees for asylum seekers, slowed the processing and forced over 13,000 migrants to wait in Mexico for movement on their legal cases. Barr’s order is one reason for the seriously overcrowded facilities.

DDT claims that living conditions in his detention camps are “better than where they came from,” but a report from his own DHS Inspector General tells of horrific conditions with filth and overcrowding at the migrant detention centers. People lie in cages on bare cement floors with nothing to do, and men are held for weeks in a room with standing room only—88 of them in a room designed for 40. Children have no access to showers, clothing changes, laundry facilities, and hot meals. 

A federal judge ordered lawyers representing detained migrants and US Customs and Border Protection to rapidly resolve allowing health experts to examine children and inspect detention facilities inside a Florida migrant facility. The order covers all CBP’s El Paso and Rio Grande Valley sectors. Children lack access to soap, clean water, toilets, toothbrushes, medical care, and adequate nutrition and sleep. With infants and pregnant women, they “are dirty, cold, hungry and sleep-deprived,” according to the court filing. Children are required to care for infants and toddlers, some of whom show signs of illness. John Kelly, former DHS director and DDT’s chief of staff, is on the board of the company owning the Florida facility.

A federal judge expanded a previous ruling to block DDT from taking billions of dollars in military funds for his southern border wall in New Mexico, California, Arizona and Texas. DDT claimed “national emergency”; the judge said that there was no new evidence for changing an earlier decision. He also stated that the wall would cause “irreparable harm” because it “will harm [the plaintiffs’] ability to recreate in and otherwise enjoy public land along the border.” A 2-1 vote in a 9th Circuit Court panel denied DDT’s request to halt the order blocking military funds for a border wall.

The 9th Circuit Court sent a decision against DDT’s transgender ban in the military back to federal judge, Marsha Pechman, ruling that she should have given the military’s judgment more deference. The Supreme Court lifted lower court injunctions blocking the ban from going into effect although it didn’t address the ban’s legality. Pechman was one of four federal judges ruling against the ban on the basis of the constitution’s equal protection guarantee. DDT’s used inaccurate figures in a claim of “tremendous medical costs”; no one in the military has cited DDT’s claim of “disruption” regarding transgender military members.

The 9th Circuit Court also vacated a unanimous three-judge panel decision allowing DDT’s gag rule on facilities serving low-income women seeking abortions. DDT’s orders prevented clinics receiving federal funds from making abortion referrals and sharing space with abortion providers. Injunctions against DDT’s declaration will continue in Oregon, Washington, and California as the issue works its way throughout the courts.

The 9th Circuit Court denied an appeal from three University of Oregon basketball players who were expelled from the school for rape allegations. They had originally sued in 2015 on the basis of gender discrimination; a federal court threw out their lawsuit.

The 4th Circuit Court ruled 2-1 that the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act applying severe criminal penalties for violent acts motivated by race, religion, and other protected classifications applies to workplace assaults. A defendant lost his claim that the law didn’t apply to his punching a gay co-worker in the face.

A Montana district court blocked Canadian mining company Lucky Minerals Inc. from exploring for gold just north of Yellowstone National Park.

Scott Warren, an Arizona activist on trial for saving the lives of migrants in the desert, was acquitted by a hung jury. Federal prosecutors plan to seek a retrial for Warren, hoping to put him in prison for several years for giving food, water, clean clothes, and beds to migrants in the desert. 

A last-minute change in testimony exonerated Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher in the 2017 murder of a 15-year-old captive in Iraq. Given immunity, medic Corey Scott changed his previous statements and claimed he killed the boy after several Navy Seals testified they saw Gallagher stab the boy to death. Gallagher had texted a photo of himself posing with the body and the message, “Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.” DDT had previously arranged for Gallagher’s release from confinement and suggested he would pardon him.

The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that going on someone else’s land without their permission is trespassing. Two people sued a giant corporation for building roads and drilling a well without permission to get gas from adjacent lands.

For almost a decade, Republicans worked to destroy the Affordable Care Act. Some are now getting nervous about their re-elections of they succeed in the goal. With two conservative judges on a panel who might strike down the ACA, the GOP state AGS asked the 5th Circuit Court to delay oral arguments, but the court gave them one business day until July 9. The court will begin by deciding whether states and the House of Representatives have standing to defend the ACA.

House Democrats, led by the Ways and Means Committee Chair Richard E. Neal (D-MA), are suing the IRS and Treasury Department to gain access to DDT’s tax returns. Both Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig consistently refused to obey the 1924 law requiring them to release DDT’s tax returns. One reason given for obtaining the tax returns is DDT’s incessant complaining about how unfair the audit process is. House members need to see his returns to evaluate his complaints.

This year, the Supreme Court couldn’t decide Carpenter v. Murphy; it is “restored to the calendar for reargument.” The question is whether Oklahoma can prosecute major crimes committed by Native Americans on reservation land for the Five Civilized Tribes, covering the eastern half of the state including Tulsa. Deciding for the defendant, Patrick Murphy, would threaten the validity of past convictions—something that didn’t bother conservative justices in other decisions this year—or replace past law regarding the dissolution of Native American reservations. States have something to look forward to next year because Oklahoma may not be alone in backlash to the decision.

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