Nel's New Day

June 26, 2018

Conservative Supremes Move U.S. to Christian-only Nation

After several mild—in fact, wishy-washy—decisions earlier this month, the Supreme Court came out today with two rulings that eradicate any hope for freedom of religion. Instead, the five conservative justices pushed its Christian message and support for an anti-freedom president.

In Trump v. Hawaii, the conservative majority ruled that Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) can ban people from majority-Muslim countries under the guise of “national security.” DDT has spent the past three years denouncing all religions except Christians and assuring people that he bill ban them from the United States. Four old white men and Clarence Thomas has given him that right to—quoting DDT—call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Accused of being anti-Muslim in court rulings, he said that he’ll just use territory instead of religion to accomplish his anti-Islam goals.

Chief Justice John Roberts admitted that after his inauguration, DDT “retweeted links to three anti-Muslim propaganda videos” and that he connected the content to his ban on travel.  To Roberts, however, DDT’s open anti-Muslim bias makes no difference because he doesn’t want “inhibit the flexibility to respond to changing world conditions.” Declaring that the ban was not from “animus,” Roberts wrote that authority was not undermined by “this President’s words,” ignoring that the intent to discriminate is not constitutional. After lower courts ruled against DDT’s two earlier iteration of a Muslim ban, the somewhat watered-down version doesn’t protect “national security,” but it does create a symbolic ban against Muslims.

In an ironic twist, Roberts refused to use DDT’s words to rule against a travel ban on Muslims, but he used the words of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to permit a baker to discriminate against a gay couple trying to purchase a wedding cake. These two decisions each set precedents on the opposite sides of an issue. Lawyers can use Hawaii to argue that prior words don’t matter while others can argue the opposite position with a recent ruling of Masterpiece Cakeshop.  

In her rebuttal to Hawaii, Justice Sonia Sotomayor quoted DDT’s hateful comments and said that today’s decision “repeats the tragic mistakes of the past” and “tells members of minority religions” in the United States that “they are outsiders.” The court, she said, “blindly accepts the government’s invitation to sanction an openly discriminatory policy” and is essentially “replacing one gravely wrong decision with another.” She also compared the Hawaii decision to that of the 1944 Korematsu v. United States when the Supreme upheld the detention of Japanese Americans during World War II with no justification.  

Roberts strenuously objected and wrote, “It is wholly inapt to liken that morally repugnant order to a facially neutral policy denying certain foreign nationals the privilege of admission.” While still supporting the Muslim ban, he repudiated Korematsu by saying that it has “no place in law under the Constitution.”

In one way, Korematsu differs from Hawaii because justices didn’t realize that the lawyers arguing for the case hid evidence and lied to the court. DDT’s incessant tweets, rally speeches, and other statements clearly showed his intent to discriminate although the DOJ Solicitor General Noel Francisco, arguing for the travel ban, did lie about DDT’s statements of animus. Francisco also lied that the travel ban had a “waiver” program to show that DDT’s ban was fair. No one in charge of immigration knows anything about any program because it is a sham.

Two presidents, Gerald Ford in 1976 and Jimmy Carter in 1980, took actions to clear the interned Japanese-Americans, and U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel vacated Fred Korematsu’s conviction for evading internment. She wrote:

“The judicial process is seriously impaired when the government’s law enforcement officers violate their ethical obligations to the court. [The original Supreme Court opinion in Korematsu] stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability.”

Roberts has added to his record of opposing civil rights, allowing unlimited donations to campaigns, and putting Christianity above all other beliefs in the diverse United States with this shameful decision. His court will go down in the history books for its infamy. Some day, a more rationale Supreme Court will hopefully repudiate Hawaii in the same way that Roberts tried to salvage his career by overturning Korematsu.  

In a second opinion today, this one for NIFLA v. Becerra, the same conservative majority ruled that Christian crisis pregnancy centers cannot be required to tell clients about state-offered reproductive services because it opposes the centers’ mission of not having abortions. The centers also do not have to tell clients whether the centers are licensed as medical facilities. The California law did not focus on crisis pregnancy centers: all medical facilities have the same requirements whether they are CPCs or not.

This ruling against a content-based regulation of speech comes from the same court that upholds state laws providing the text that doctors must read to women seeking abortions. Sometimes this mandated information contains lies that doctors are ordered to tell their patients in the privacy of medical counseling. Planned Parenthood v. Casey allows states to mandate that abortion providers tell patients about the age of the fetus, health risks, and the “availability of printed materials from the State” in an effort to discourage women from having abortions. Six states tell women that personhood begins at conception, and 13 states require women be told that fetuses feel pain.

Yet Thomas’ opinion stated that California’s law is unconstitutional because anti-choice advocates are required to “speak a particular message” while reiterating the ruling in Casey.

Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out that almost all disclosure laws might be considered “content based” because they all require people “to speak a particular message.” In this case, the conservatives assume that “speech about abortion is special.” Laws about this simple medical procedure, connected to religious beliefs, should apply fairly to diverse points of view. Anthony Kennedy took the position that mandated lies in warning women about the procedure are no problem, but that demanding the truth from the religious centers is authoritarianism. The ruling in Becerra gives anti-choice people First Amendment rights while abortion providers lack the right to free speech.

Imagine if other businesses–maybe contractors or taxi services–would not need to tell clients if they are licensed. Although this suggestion may sound far-fetched, so is the current government.

As the conservative court moves the United States toward a forced following of Christianity and away from individual rights, conservatives are preening themselves on the new justice who DDT appointed. Religious fundamentalist VP Mike Pence Senate takes great pride in removing all reproductive rights from girls and women, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who used to criticize DDT’s hatred for Muslims, is now in full support of the travel ban. Neil Gorsuch (center) is on the court only because McConnell held up all hearings for an appointed Supreme Court Justice for almost a year, blocking President Obama’s nominee. Until Gorsuch, presidents appointed nominees, and the Senate vetted them. Sometimes they turned them down, but never before did a Senate leader refuse to allow even a committee hearing on a president’s nominee. [Photo: Reuters/Joshua Roberts]

McConnell has set a new pattern of absolute rule in the Senate. He can push through as many conservative judicial nominees as possible until he loses the majority. If Democrats pattern themselves after Republicans, Democrats can refuse to give any conservative nominees even a hearing. The nation objects to the constant gridlock that comes from the GOP determination to block Democrats at any cost. The schism in Republicans only adds to the problem. At this point, however, the United States may be better off with gridlock than the egregious legislation that the GOP promotes.

 

March 22, 2018

Could ‘NIFLA v. Becerra’ Change Free Speech, Abortion Law?

The past week has been again filled with chaos—firings of the national security council, resignation and appointments of the legal team for Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), continued lawsuits against the federal government, additional information about DDT’s sexual misconduct as more women join Stormy Daniels, and concerns regarding the retention of special investigator Robert Mueller. No wonder that a case before the Supreme Court last Tuesday got little attention from the media. In normal times that case would have been front and center on television because it’s one of seven cases thus far this judicial year that addresses free speech—two of them major lawsuits.

Last December the religious legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the federal government argued before SCOTUS that a cake in Colorado is free speech because the baker is an “artist.” A ruling in his favor and opposing service for a gay couple would permit rampant discrimination across the United States, not only against LGBTQ people but also anyone else who offended the religious and moral sensibilities of everyone in all businesses—retail, health care, food services—everyone.

Last Tuesday’s case, NIFLA v. Becerra, the federal government joined ADF to oppose a California law that requires community clinics to post notices about their licensing (or lack thereof), the availability of a medical provider, and patients’ access to abortion and other family planning services in the state. The 2015 California Reproductive FACT Act mandates that licensed community clinics whose “primary purpose is providing family planning or pregnancy-related services” disclose to all patients that California offers “free or low-cost” contraception, prenatal care, and abortion. These clinics must provide a telephone number that patients can call for more information about state-funded services. Clinics focusing on pregnancy or family planning but are unlicensed must clearly provide a warning in the clinic and in advertising that they have “no medical provider.”

Many of California residents are unaware of expanded funding for prenatal and family planning services from the Affordable Care Act, and many clinics, especially the anti-abortion crisis pregnancy clinics (CPCs) pressure women to not have an abortion. Many CPCs hide religious affiliations and claim that they provide more services than available in the clinics. Owners and employees of the CPCs use “free speech” to object to the law by arguing that it makes them “complicit in facilitating an act they believe hurts women and destroys innocent lives.” They maintain that the FACT Act is “gerrymandered” to “commandeer” their expression, “manipulat[ing] the marketplace of ideas” to favor abortion in violation of the First Amendment.

The argument from Michael Farris, a member of ADF, is that not all doctors are required to post the information, only community clinics with pregnancy-related services. He wants to move the law to heightened judicial scrutiny, which raises the legal bar for California to keep the law. Justice Samuel Alito bought the argument that the “crazy exemptions” of the law creates “a very strange pattern.” California Solicitor General Joshua Klein explained that the law targets community clinics where millions of low-income Californians get health care and exempts private physicians because they usually don’t have poorer women patients.

Jeffrey Wall, the deputy U.S. solicitor general who joined Farris on behalf of the federal government, tried to persuade the justices that informing pregnant women about alternatives to abortion are necessary only when medical procedures are provided and that unlicensed clinics don’t provide medical procedures. Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out that CPCs sometimes provide medical procedures such as ultrasounds and pregnancy tests and give pregnancy counseling, much like doctors’ medical advice in discussing abortion procedures.

The case also addresses whether clinic users should know which clinics are licensed and provide a full range of subsidized medical options. Sotomayor described Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center’s website:

“There is a woman on the homepage with a uniform that looks like a nurse’s uniform in front of an ultrasound machine. It shows an exam room. It talks about ‘abortion,’ ‘your options,’ and ‘our services,’ advertising ‘free ultrasounds.’ But in fact, the Fallbrook Pregnancy Resource Center is an unlicensed CPC. If a reasonable person could look at this website and think that you’re giving medical advice, would the unlicensed notice be wrong?”

Sotomayor compared NIFLA to Planned Parenthood v. Casey that allows states to pass “informed consent” laws forcing abortion providers to deliver a state-approved anti-abortion canned statement before the procedure even if the information is false. Both situations mandate information for women, one on alternatives to the clinics and the other about termination of pregnancies. Justice Stephen Breyer dubbed this issue “what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” Denying California the right to require postings at all community clinics regarding availability of free and/or inexpensive family planning services could give free speech to only one side of the abortion argument.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court after a federal district court and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court denied an injunction in favor of CPCs. Both lower courts maintained that California’s law was constitutional in the same way that Pennsylvania could require doctors to tell abortion patients about the “nature” of the procedure and the “probable gestation age” of the fetus.

Observers watching the negative comments from some justices believe that at least part of the FACT Act will be struck down; the question is how much and on what grounds. Mandatory disclaimers in multiple languages on advertising for unlicensed CPCs may be unconstitutional. Requiring clinics to tell patient about a lack of license seems legal. The middle ground is the crux: whether states can force CPCs to tell patients about services elsewhere.

A serious problem in this case comes from dangers in CPCs that promise medical assistance but have the sole purpose of forcing a woman to carry a fetus to full term. Over 2,700 CPCs throughout the nation lure pregnant women into their facilities and then terrify them with lies about their future if they have abortions.

States like Texas are using public funds from bona fide community clinics to unlicensed CPCs exempt from regulations or credentialing because they provide only non-medical services such as self-administered pregnancy tests or parenting classes. One-fourth of Texas’ 200 CPCs are funded by federal taxpayer money through the $38 million operating budget of “Alternatives to Abortion” for low-income women. With no government oversight, the “Texas Pregnancy Care Network” subcontracts with 51 CPCs with most money going to “counseling,” a term with no definition. Another $739,000 went to advertising. When asked if the CPCs were medically licensed, a state spokesperson said that they are not medical clinics.

People who go to CPCs don’t know they won’t get any medical care. Austin (TX) tried to pass an ordinance requiring that clinics state whether they have doctors. A federal judge struck down the ordinance with the argument that it violated CPCs’ due process. Texas law does require doctors to lie to women about medical risks of abortions, a procedure with less risks than pulling wisdom teeth or taking out tonsils.

In his 12 years as Chief Justice, John Roberts has greatly expanded the definition of free speech for corporations. To him and a majority of the justices in Citizens United, all money is free speech meaning unlimited anonymous corporate donations to political candidates, a ruling later expanded in McCutcheon v. FEC. These cases, and others such as Hobby Lobby allowing corporations to deny birth control to employees using faulty scientific information, shows that Roberts’ defense of the First Amendment protects only corporations. He uses the same argument to give corporations benefits in cases involving drug advertising and trademark regulations as well as removal of unions’ rights. A recent case argued whether state laws can permit mandatory fees for workers to pay for the support services that unions are legally to provide all employees.

The ruling in NIFLA, most likely in June, will either leave the California law in place or give pro-choice activists the grounds to argue against laws in other states that require doctors to give pregnant patients the false information that abortions cause breast cancer and infertility. The NIFLA lawyers argue that posting information “unconstitutionally compels [the clinics] to speak messages that they have not chosen, with which they do not agree, and that distract, and detract from, the messages they have chosen to speak.” A ruling in their favor might take the shackles off abortion providers and other doctors so they can deliver “the messages they have chosen to speak.” Breyer said that the court’s most important job is “to keep sauces the same.”

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